Buy—and do not sell—truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

Our Sunday School lesson this week was on Stormproofing Your Home. That is to say, preparing for the storms of life that will inevitabley come our way.

The verse that stood out most for me was Proverbs 23:23, “Buy—and do not sell—truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding.” (HCSB)

I spent a good deal of time contemplating this verse. My first thought was, “So we’re supposed to buy something that no one is supposed to sell?” That just didn’t make sense to me.

So I had to consider, “How do we go about ‘buying’ truth, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom?” I think “to buy” these things means that we must make an investment of our time, energy, and other resources to gain them, and then we  follow a process to grow them that is laid out throughout the book of Proverbs.

The process begins with instruction, or knowledge. We can get instruction from a variety of places: an article on the Internet, a book we buy, a class we take, a sermon or lesson at church, a word from a friend, or even something we hear on the radio. Knowledge is all around us. In fact, we are bombarded with knowledge every day. The first step is to make an investment in seeking out knowledge, or in recognizing the knowledge that is already before us.

After we have gained knowledge or instruction, we can then move to the next step–understanding. Understanding is where we begin to investigate the knowledge at a deeper level. We test it to see if it is truth. We apply it. We meditate on it. We interact with the knowledge or instruction we have gained. Through that process we will realize that some of the knowledge we gain isn’t grounded in truth. Those things that are revealed to not be truth should be forgotten so we can focus on growing in those things that are true.

As we apply our understanding of knowledge, we then grow in wisdom. Wisdom is the ultimate application of understanding. We reach this point when we have been applying knowledge for some time, have proven it to be truth, and can share what we have learned with others.

Rarely is anything of value free. Even when we do receive things for free, they don’t usually have a profound effect on our lives and we tend to take them for granted. Truth, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom aren’t free–we “buy” them by investing ourselves and our resources in seeking them.

So then, why are we told “do not sell?” In my job, I’m a computer instructor. I make money through selling my services as an instructor and author. I also sell other information. This is an honest living. There is nothing scripturally wrong about selling knowledge and instruction. In fact, everyone used their knowledge, understanding, and wisdom in their job and career.

I don’t think the word “sell” here is referring to making a profit from our knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. We “sell” our knowledge, understanding, or wisdom when we trade what we know for our own selfish gain. We know to do what is right, but for some reason we decide to do the wrong thing. We usually think that we are strong enough, or smart enough that we won’t have to suffer the consequences. How arrogant we are to think that!

Let’s consider an example–the consumption of alcoholic beverages. (Note that in the next several sentences, I’m not looking down on anyone who drinks alcohol. Indeed, a lot of people even in the church strongly debate this. I just happen to think that drinking alcohol is unwise, and therefore I choose not to.) First we get a piece of knowledge, perhaps from a person we admire, saying that drinking alcohol is unwise. We begin to contemplate this information and research it. We might look at the statistics of alcohol related accidents, or read the stories of how alcohol has affected families. Then we begin to apply the knowledge by going for a period of time without drinking. We see that our relationships improve when we are not under the influence of alcohol. We may realize that while a lot of people who drink don’t become alcoholics, every alcoholic has had at least one drink. Through this process, we develop understanding. Then we continue to apply what we’ve learned and even share that information with others. Through this process, it becomes wisdom–we now know that consuming alcohol is unwise. Then, suppose we are at a party one night and we decide to violate our wisdom. We have a drink, then a second, and then a few more. While under the influence we may say some things that damage a relationship. We may decide to drive home and either get a citation that affects our lives for years, or maybe even get in an accident that injures someone. When we made the decision to violate our truth, knowledge, understanding, and wisdom we chose to “sell” it–trade it for a few moments of selfish pleasure.

It is so easy to do this in so many areas where we have knowledge. We know that we should do right–eat right, exercise, read frequently, not watch much TV, work honest, share quality time with our families, share regular time communing with God, etc…–yet we choose to “sell” that knowledge for something of lesser value. This proverb provides a stern warning we would all do well to keep in mind. 

You may be wondering what this has to do with our lesson of Storm Proofing Your Home, since that was the title of my Sunday School lesson. All too often, many of the storms (financial storms, relationship storms, health storms, morality storms, etc…) in our life are the direct result of selling our knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.  

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  • Reply
    Reinout van Rees
    6/18/2008 at 2:35 am

    In my church I’m the only male sunday school teacher. That’s a recipe for some giggles if the subject is (amongst others) the circumcision of all Israelian males right after crossing the Jordan. Did I mention I have only 11-12 year old girls in my group this year? 🙂

    Anyway, thanks for sharing the helpful explanation of an otherwise initially strange verse! I’m printing it and I’ll do some more thinking on it.


  • Reply
    6/19/2008 at 9:18 am

    Reinout – I teach an adult class of folks that are mostly around my own age. Before this I taught a class where most of the folks were 15-20 years older than myself. Years ago I taught younger children, just like you. I’ve discovered they all have their challenges. Better yet, they all have wonderful rewards as well. Thank you for your service to our King!

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