Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"Seafaring Wisdom"

John 5:19-20, 30

Proverbs 12:15: 15:31-33

      I have become convinced, now cruising into my 64th year on God’s green earth, that there are

some people on God’s green earth who are un-teachable.  Now I’m not suggesting that such folks

are cognitively impaired or intellectually incapable.  On the contrary, they may be intellectually

super-capable and cognitively ultra-gifted.  It’s less about inability to be taught; more about

unwillingness to be taught.  And it’s usually because, at least in their own minds, they already

know it all.  Have you ever met a know-it-all?  I think the writer of the Biblical book of Proverbs

may have had know-it-all’s in mind when he wrote this:

“Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice.”

“The ear that heeds wholesome admonition will lodge among the wise. Those who ignore

instruction despise themselves, but those who heed admonition gain understanding.

The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility goes before honor.”

      An officer in the Navy had dreamed from childhood of commanding a great battleship one day.

He finally achieved his dream, and was given commission of the newest and proudest ship in the

fleet.  One stormy night at sea, the captain was on duty on the bridge when he spotted a strange

light rapidly closing with his own vessel.  As his ship plowed through the giant waves, the light fell

and rose just above the horizon of the sea.  He ordered his signalman to flash a message to the

unidentified craft on his port side: Alter your course ten degrees south.

      Within seconds, a reply came:  Alter your course ten degrees north.  Determined that his ship

would never take a back seat to any other, the captain snapped a second order:  Alter your course

ten degrees south.  I am the CAPTAIN!  The response was beamed back:  Alter your course ten

degrees north.  I am Seaman Third Class Smith.  By this time, the light was growing even brighter

and larger.  Infuriated, the captain grabbed the signal light and personally signaled:  Smith, alter

your course at once.  I am a battleship!  The reply came just as quickly:  Captain, alter your course. 

I am a lighthouse!

      The writer of the Proverbs, possibly old King Solomon, or a perhaps a scribe influenced by

Solomon’s wisdom, may have had in mind someone like the seafaring captain when he was

inspired to write: “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice.” 

Again, have you ever known someone who was prepared to run their ship aground so as not to have to admit

they were on a wrong course?  So they wouldn’t have to concede that they didn’t know it all?  So

they didn’t have to – as they say – swallow their pride?  I think if we’re honest with ourselves,

we’d all have to admit that we’ve been there at one time or another in our lives.  I know I’ve run

my ship aground more than once because I thought I knew it all. 

      In my previous career which included production engineering, I was once assigned to develop

a heat treatment process on a grade of steel I wasn’t familiar with.  It was suggested to me by a

superior that I sit down with the shop metallurgist, and review things like chemical composition

and physical properties of that steel grade before developing what was called an “annealing

protocol.”  This metallurgist had been around the industry for a long time, and could give me some

advice that just might save me lot of trouble.  But no.  I already had in my mind a process I was

sure would succeed.  I did a work-up of a protocol and predicted the microstructural outcome

which would suit the needs of the customer; which by the way was an IBM plant in Lexington, Kentucky.

As far as I was concerned, I had it wrapped.  I sure didn’t need the advice of some codger metallurgist on the shop floor. 

My course was set, and I wasn’t altering course one degree north or south.

      Disregarding my superior’s suggestion, I went ahead and ordered a trial heat treating run.  To

make a long and painful story short, IBM received that trial lot, produced the part, put the part into a few thousand

of their new model typewriters [anyone remember those], and sent them into the marketplace. 

Within a month, IBM was receiving back a few thousand typewriters because of

what they assessed as component fatigue and failure.  That was a scientific way of saying: they

were junk.  The report of the IBM metallurgical engineers concluded that improper heat treatment

in primary processing (that was my area) caused the part to crack under stress.  Within days, I

found myself sitting in the offices of IBM, Lexington, Kentucky, confessing my sin, and admitting

that I didn’t know it all.  I came this close to losing a twenty million dollar account.

      Luckily for me, my boss – knowing that I was young and stupid – had mercy on me and let me

keep my job.  I’m just glad the Lord gave me a big enough throat to swallow that horse pill called

“foolish pride.”  And from that point forward, the codger shop metallurgist whose advice I didn’t

want or need? He seemed a whole lot smarter.  I suppose I was the classic example of the

Proverb which says:  “The ear that heeds wholesome admonition [ie. advice, counsel, warning]

will lodge among the wise.  Those who ignore instruction despise themselves [ie. make utter

fools of themselves], but those who heed admonition gain understanding.”

      What is it that so often renders us un-teachable; unable to take good advice or accept wise

counsel?  Our pride.  Our self-certainty that our course is the right one in spite of every signal we

see rising and falling just above the horizon.  And I suppose the incongruity of this is the greater

our gifts – of intellect, of skill, of insight – the greater the risk that pride and over-blown ego will

choke us going down.  Now I’m not suggesting that self-certainty, self-assurance, a clear sense of

our gifts and abilities, our clarity of direction and purpose are negatives.  People who achieve

great things possess some measure of these qualities.  But these very qualities can move from

asset to liability on the swelling current of arrogance.  Our greatest confession outside of our con-

fessing Christ as Lord and Savior is confessing that however smart, skilled or certain we are, we

don’t know it all.  And when we think about it, is not confessing Christ as Lord and Savior in itself

an admission that we don’t have it all together; don’t know it all?  We do, and always will, have a

lot to learn.  And when we make that confession – both of Christ, and of our own limits – we

become teachable persons; capable of growing in wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

      From a Christological standpoint, I find it momentous that Jesus Himself confessed His own

utter dependence on the instruction and counsel of God the Father.  Listen to what Jesus says to

the crowds as recorded in the 5th chapter of John:  “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing

on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does

likewise.”  Jesus expresses here a clear willingness to be taught; to be given counsel and direction. 

And on this point, we can move from the practical to the spiritual.

      The writer of Proverbs continues:  “The fear [better translated in 21st century English, the

absolute respect and reverence] of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility goes before

honor.”  You see, to be teachable assumes and requires humility.  And a life steeped in Christian

discipleship assumes and requires a life steeped in a willingness to be taught; a willingness to

accept advice and counsel from the One whose disciples we profess to be.  Jesus is also recorded

as saying in John’s Gospel that what He had received from the Father - wisdom, counsel, instruction

 – He in turn made known to His disciples.  I would be so bold as to suggest that if one

renders him or herself un-teachable, so filled with hubris and self-certainty in his or her knowing

it all, they cannot grow as a Christian disciple.  In order to follow Jesus, one must have a willing-

ness to learn from Jesus.  For the will and desire to learn and grow is the very essence of what it

means to be a disciple. 

      How teachable am I?  How teachable are you?  I can’t answer for anyone but myself.  But I’ll

tell you this.  Each day, I find it necessary to humble myself before the Lord.  As I consider my

education, my skills, my accomplishments, the laurels I’m sometimes tempted to wear like the

cap of a seafaring captain, I’d like to think I’m on the right course.  Therein lies the risk of my

pride and self-assurance.  It is then I need to remember who is at the mercy of the rising and

falling waves, and who keeps this seafarer on course from the stability of the lighthouse. I can’t

speak for you, but as for me, I have an awful lot to learn about negotiating the sea.


Heavenly Father, may our minds be always open to Your instruction, and our hearts always

open to Your inspiration.  May we, as disciples of Your Christ, be lifelong learners, increasing

daily in our faith, understanding and wisdom, always remembering the Source of all truth and

all knowledge.  Grant us the very mind and heart of Christ, as we seek to grow and serve.