Timeless – Growth-Minded Wisdom

At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called “Timeless.”

Things aren’t always as simple as black and white. So how do we navigate the gray? In our series Timeless, we explore wisdom in a nuanced world. Drawing inspiration from popular sayings and proverbs worldwide, each message aligns them with Biblical wisdom. Maneuvering life’s complexities, we want to bridge the gap between human insight and the guidance that God’s Word and His Spirit offers us.

“The wise create proverbs for fools to learn, not to repeat.” – Nigerian Proverb 

We are wise when we learn from everything and everyone.

Digging Deeper:

Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.

Discussion Questions

Message Video:

Message Audio:

Message Notes:

When I was new to following Jesus, my most common prayer was for humility and boldness. In part because I was judgmental and anxious. I’ve come to realize those are generational sins passed down from generation to generation.

I discovered early on that if you don’t choose humility, you might still get to the same place by experiencing humiliation.

Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself but choosing to think more highly of others. Being willing to learn from others, serve others, and not looking down on others.

I knew I was making progress one time when I asked my pastor in Los Angeles how I could improve in my role along with what I was doing well. He said: “you know, Eric, you are really good at working with people more talented than you are.”

Thank you?

He went on to explain that some people only want to lead people they are more talented than, which leaves a very small number of people that might follow them, but the number of people I could serve and influence and lead was unlimited.

Even after being in ministry for over 30 years, every week I ask my wife how I could have improved my message. In between services I ask some of the production teams what I need to tweak in the message. I try to help with set up or clean up at home or at the church when I can. 

Just as in recovery, we say that you need to work the steps the rest of your life or else you will relapse into destructive habits, I don’t want to relapse into a mindset in which I don’t see the image of God in other people or I miss out on the wisdom of others’ perspectives because their experience has been different than mine.

I wish I could say I was always like this, but I relapse into thinking I know best from time to time. From time to time, I can get defensive. Even though I know that the proverbs says: “A rebuke from a friend is like a kiss on the lips.” It still stings like a slap to the face at first.

We have people around us who try to guide us to learn from the wisdom of those who have gone before us.

  • Are we listening to them?
  • Or are we easily offended?
  • Are we quick to become defensive?
  • Or are we willing to get past our feelings to see the truth they may have to offer us?

If we aren’t careful we find ourselves repeating the same mistakes instead of learning from others and avoiding those troubles.

In week one of this series we learned that God is the source of wisdom and He has revealed himself to all of creation. We see this in Psalm 19: 1-4.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.  – Psalm 19: 1-4

We know this is true when we are someplace remote and we look up at a perfectly clear night sky and see billions of stars overhead. Something deep within us cries out inviting us to consider our smallness and think about a power higher than ourselves. 

Because we are made in the image of God we have the ability to live out God’s attributes here on earth. We can create, discover, and grasp wisdom. The proverbs we find that have been written down throughout all of time are evidence that humans have tapped into the heart of God. Societies who know God and those who don’t all seem to discover and point to the same wisdom that we find written in scripture and demonstrated in the life of Jesus. 

In this series we are exploring proverbs from all around the world that point to different aspects of wisdom. We have looked at a proverb from China, one from India, and today one from Nigeria.

The proverb we are looking at today is a Nigerian proverb: “The wise create proverbs for fools to learn, not to repeat.”

It’s meaning is pretty straightforward. The sayings, or proverbs, of the wise and old are there for us to learn from, so we don’t have to repeat all the mistakes they have made on their way to becoming wise! 

So are you a person who learns from everyone and everything around you, or do you have a thing or two to learn when it comes to wisdom? 

There are 3 books in the Bible that are written as wisdom literature. They teach and point to wisdom over and over. These books are Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job. Read together they give us a holistic view of what “the good life is” and how to be wise. We also get pictures of wisdom throughout the stories we read in the rest of the scriptures. These stories are found all over the Old and New Testament. Ultimately, Jesus comes and lives a perfect life of Wisdom and embodies all the truth that has come before him. 

There is a passage in one of the wisdom literature books, Proverbs,  that hits on the same theme that the Nigerian Proverb points to. 

As a dog returns to its vomit,  so a fool repeats his foolishness. There is more hope for fools than for people who think they are wise. – Proverbs 26:11-12

If you have a dog and have for any length of time you know that this is true and disgusting. An important thing to point out for us modern people is that to the ancient Isrealites, not all dogs were household pets. Instead they were dangerous and wild and thought to be unclean. So, don’t picture your cute little rescue dog who you take to get a teddy bear haircut, has a flowery collar with their name on it, and sleeps on a fluffy dog bed. Instead, imagine a more sinister animal as the reference here, that will help you with this imagery.

It is in a dog’s nature to return to its vomit, just like a person who is foolish by nature is bound to repeat their mistakes and decisions. 

You’ve experienced this as true haven’t you. There is that neighbor, co-worker, or fellow student who doesn’t ever seem to learn from their mistakes and missteps. But be a little more honest and this has been you at times hasn’t it? 

We all have room to grow. None of us have arrived!

The proverb then progresses to say, but this fool has more hope of change than a person who thinks they are wise, but in reality they are deceived about who they are. Another way to translate “think they are wise” is “wise in their own eyes”. 

So, there is hope that they could have someone come to them with correction, or make a mistake so painful that they choose to learn- then change is possible. 

Reality check here everyone- We all play a fool sometimes. 

We are born into the world as fools and it is only through humility that we change. Think about kids. Most kids say things like, “I got this” or “I know.” Ever hear your kids say that?

We all have foolishness in us and have the potential to be a fool, and if ignored, foolishness has the ability to turn to self-righteousness where you feel justified and lack the wisdom to see clearly your reality.

I don’t want to be a fool, and I definitely don’t want to be a person who thinks I am wise, when I am not!

The way to avoid this is to develop and maintain a growth mindset, Because, the wise are open to learning wisdom from everyone and everything that God may put in their path.

Coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, a growth mindset is the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication, hard work, and the right kind of encouragement

  • This is a contrast to a fixed mindset, where people believe their talents and abilities are innate gifts and unchangeable.
  • Those with a growth mindset embrace challenges, perceive effort as a pathway to mastery, and view setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow. 
  • Those with a growth mindset learn from their mistakes, while those with a fixed mindset, do not. 
  • A Growth mindset looks like someone who is given feedback that they complain when plans change, so they decide to grow in this area and actively work towards shifting the way they respond. 
  • They ask for feedback and believe they can get better at this. 
  • Someone with a fixed mindset with the same feedback would say something like, “well that is just how I see it, I don’t like change, so that’s how it is.”

God has made us thinking, learning, curious beings. So, by design we have the ability and opportunity to always be growing and becoming more wise! 

We have the ability to stop and observe, learn and grow no matter where we are or who is around us. In fact we see this in Jesus himself in Luke 2:52 as, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”

Do you have a Growth mindset or are you stuck and feel like change is impossible? 

If we choose to have a Growth mindset then there are several key factors that will help us to become people who, like the Nigerian proverb said, Learn from the proverbs of the wise and don’t repeat their mistakes: 

1. Be a person open to learning from everyone and everything.

God has made us thinking, learning, curious beings. We have the ability to stop and observe or learn no matter where we are or who we are with.

Paul, was a pharisee who persecuted Christians and was stopped in his tracks by Jesus, then set on an opposite path actually sharing the good news of Jesus and ministering alongside the very people he used to oppose. 

Near the end of his life he wrote a letter to the Philippian church. In it he says this about who he is: 

“although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ….”Phil 3:4-8

Paul, was a man who through humility and a steady pursuit of Jesus was changed and made into someone Christians all around the world are impacted by today. 

Before coming to know Christ He had all the right accolades and awards for a Jewish man. He was of a good tribe, the highest level of holy (a pharisee), Zealous for his religion, and blameless from the outside looking in, but when he found Jesus he realized that all of those exterior things don’t matter. 

In verse 8 He says, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus! He gave up status and money and still says that he is living the BEST life! Paul had all the titles and accolades, but he chose to learn from all kinds of people. The Jewish leaders who persecuted him after he came to know Jesus, the Gentiles, those who he persecuted, the rich and the poor. Through humility he became wise. 

This is true of us as well. You can learn from anyone in your life! 

You can learn from people who are from different cultures than you, and those who are of a different socio-economic status. 

That’s one of the reasons I love how diverse our church is. We have so much wisdom because we come from so many different places with so many different experiences!

Again, do you have a growth mindset where you are open to learning from those God has put in your path? 

We can learn from what is around us. If we are humble and open to gaining wisdom, then God will use anything around us to instruct us and transform us. This is true of nature, of circumstances we find ourselves in, and I would argue, especially  in times of suffering. 

Back in Philippians in chapter 4 of his letter he shares wisdom he has learned through life:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. – Phil. 4:11-12

Now often in western culture we pull out verse 13 and put it on EVERYTHING. It sounds really beautiful, but what is it really saying? Is it saying that your rec team, who is the worst at softball, can go out and win the tournament, because God is on your side? No, no it is not. 

Paul has learned how to be content in every kind of circumstance, whether good or bad. His contentment is not found in himself, but in Christ. He knows he can face anything because Christ is his everything. He has nothing to lose! And in case you don’t know,  Paul spent quite a bit of time in prison and he was even stoned and left for dead once. 

We also see in James 1:2-4: 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2-4

Our circumstances don’t have to be perfect or easy for us to grow and gain wisdom. In fact, scripture speaks more about trials and hardships as the path to the “good life”. 

Do you count it joy when you meet trials? 

But when we go through trials in relationship with Jesus they have the ability to produce steadfastness and as that grows in us we become mature (or moving toward the perfection of Jesus who we were designed after).

We can have courage to go through trials because Jesus has promised never to leave us, in fact he said, I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Matthew 16:33). 

In fact, Jesus went before us in suffering (Hebrews 5:8), so when he says “you will have trouble, that is from a place of personal experience. We know and love a God who has experienced suffering and can comfort us when we suffer. 

2. Learn from your mistakes and failures.

We don’t have to be afraid to make mistakes and fail! Failure is a part of learning. You know that don’t you?  So then why do we try our hardest to avoid failure? 

What if a child decided that they never wanted to fail, so they refused to learn new concepts at school? We’d all say that is ridiculous! 

So, let me say this to us as adults – we are still learning, so that means we will make mistakes AND we will fail. That is how we keep growing! 

But how, how can I have the courage to learn from everyone and everything. That takes a lot of humility and can be really hard in practice. 

How can I press through the fear of failure and try new and hard things knowing that I will make mistakes and maybe look stupid or be embarrassed? Well that leads us to the most important part to becoming a wise person and avoiding being a fool. 

3. Learn that your identity is in Jesus and nothing else. 

When we have our identity in Jesus we can feel as Paul did when he said he counts all of his accolades in life as trash compared to what he has in Jesus. 

We can say what Paul did in Philippians 4 – “I’m content in all things”, because we know the maker of all things. 

We can count it all joy when we go through trials, because we know that God is good and he won’t leave us AND that one day all things will be made right. 

So, do you know your identity in Christ if you have given your life to Him? 

  • You are His child that he knows by name
  • You are forgiven
  • You are chosen
  • You were worth it to Jesus to endure the worst death and rejection in order for there to be a path for us back to God. 
  • You are given the Holy Spirit (God himself) to dwell with us. 
  • And One day you’ll be united with God and live in perfection with him forever. 

Our proverb from today is, “The wise create proverbs for fools to learn, not to repeat.” 

So it’s time for an honest evaluation. 

  • Do you have a Growth mindset or are you stuck believing change isn’t possible? 
  • What aspect of wisdom from today could you apply and begin growing again?
  • Is it learning from everyone and everything? 
  • Is it being open and courageous to learn from failures and mistakes? 
  • Or maybe you need to get in the scriptures and in a group and really figure out your identity in Jesus or if you aren’t sure about God yet, explore Him with others in a group. 

Gateway, imagine what we would look like as a community if we all applied what we are learning in this series. We would be people who are marked by wisdom. We would look more and more like Jesus with each passing year. We’d have deeper contentment and make a greater impact in the world. That sounds pretty good to me. And you know what, that is the vision that God has for us, His people, the church.  Let’s press in over the next few weeks and grow in wisdom.

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