A first grade teacher collected well-known proverbs. She gave each child in her class the first half of a proverb and asked them to come up with the remainder of the proverb. Their insight may surprise you.
- As you shall make your bed so shall you ... Mess it up
- Better to be safe than … Punch a 5th grader
- Strike while the … Bug is close
- It's always darkest before … Daylight Savings Time
- Don't bite the hand that … looks dirty
- A miss is as good as a … Mr. (mile)
- You can't teach an old dog new ... math
- If you lie down with dogs, you'll ... stink in the morning
- The pen is mightier than the ... pigs
- A penny saved is ... not much
- Don't put off till tomorrow what ... you put on to go to bed
- Children should be seen and not ... spanked or grounded
- If at first you don't succeed ... get new batteries
- When the blind leadeth the blind ... get out of the way
- Ecclesiastes: The Fear of the Lord is the only thing that lasts
- Proverbs 1-9: Wisdom and Folly are competing forces offering life and death
1) Proverbs demands that we have a humble, teachable spirit:
a) Proverbs explicitly teaches us to seek wisdom
The book of proverbs teaches us to have a humble and teachable spirit. Many of the proverbs explicitly teach this:
- The wise person accepts instruction; but the one who speaks foolishness will come to ruin (10:8)
- Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray. (10:17)
- Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (12:1)
- The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. (12:15)
- A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.(13:1)
- Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded.
- The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death. (13:13-14)
- The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. (15:33)
- How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver. (16:16)
b) The organization of Proverbs requires us to seek wisdom
Yet not only does the book of Proverbs teach us explicitly that we are to seek wisdom and instruction, in humility and with a teachable spirit, the form of the book itself humbles us and makes us search out wisdom. Proverbs can be a very difficult book to read, particularly the last 20 chapters. It is a list of pithy statements about life seemingly unconnected to each other. There doesn’t seem to be any logical order or outline to the book – in fact some proverbs repeat themselves and at times the book itself simply says, here are some more statements of the wise. Proverbs are like the books in our church library right now – screaming out for someone to arrange them and place them in some sort of comprehensible order. Yet what if that is the point. As I go through the books in my office to put them in order, I have to pick each one up, examine it, and consider it in relation to other books in the library so that I know where it goes. Sometimes I get carried away and find myself forgetting about my task of ordering and just sitting down with one book and getting carried away in it – that’s what proverbs does. The sheer disorganization of the book requires you to really delve into it to be able to start seeing it clearly. Find a way to get into proverbs. Seek the wisdom in it.
c) The genre of Proverbs requires us to seek wisdom
The very form of the sayings themselves require us to seek wisdom and understanding. The proverbs are very short statements, usually two line couplets contrasting or comparing two ideas. Sometimes these are humorous: The sluggard says, "There is a lion in the road! There is a lion in the streets!" (26:13) – meaning he’ll think of any excuse not to go out and do his work. Sometimes they are graphic: Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman without discretion (11:22). Sometimes they pose riddles to us, for example, the famous “contradiction” that skeptics love to bring up, two verses in a row in chapter 26 that seem to give contradictory advice: “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” So, what am I supposed to do, answer or not answer the fool? Yes!
When we come to the book of proverbs we have to understand a few things so we are able to interpret and apply them correctly:
a) Proverbs are not promises: They are not a magical formula. Sometimes “the evil person is not punished and the descendents of the righteous suffer unjust judgement” (contra. 11:21). Sometimes you can train up a child in the way he should go, and nevertheless, he still departs from it (contra 22:6)
b) Proverbs are not commands: Many contain imperatives, yet must be applied in wisdom, for example (24:7) “Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.” This is very similar to look before you leap, but if we took it as a literal command to do manual labor before building a house, we would be misinterpreting it.
c) Proverbs are not always prescriptive, but may be descriptive: Some proverbs simply explain how life works without condoning or decrying what is being described: (17:8) “A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers.” So is the Bible condoning bribery? No – its saying that sometimes bribery works. Proverbs are realistic – not allowing us to look at the world through rose colored glasses. We are to see men as they are, and sin for what it is. Consequently, Proverbs describes life as it is, not necessarily as it should be. While it is wrong to attempt to pervert justice with a bribe (17:23; 29:4), in the world it is often a bribe that gets things accomplished (17:8). Proverbs teach us that while riches cannot provide a man with real security (11:4,28), some may think so (18:11). Money appears to gain friends (19:4, 6), but only for as long as it lasts (19:7). We can live wisely and righteously only as we view life as it really is. Proverbs is a book of reality.
d) Proverbs are general principles of life to be meditated upon and fit together like the books in my library. They must be internalized and that takes work. Proverbs requires us to sit under the Holy Spirit’s instruction and ask him for the correct application by interpreting Scripture with Scripture. This requires humility, study and discipline.
2) Proverbs teaches us that the secular is sacred
One of the most undermining lies of the evil one which has snared many Christians is the dichotomy between the secular and the sacred. That is, that there are things in life that are spiritual – like religious practices, prayer, church services, religious ceremonies, even people like pastors or missionaries or priests – and then there is another sphere of life that is secular – like my job, my family, my hobbies, my money, basically everything that occurs between Sundays. Some of us keep these things very separate – kind of like the separation of Church and State. So you have your church friends and your life friends and never the twain shall meet. You have your mode of operation in the office or at school, and then Sunday comes along and now you’re ready to be a Christian. This is the dominant principle regarding faith in North American culture – keep it private, keep it to yourself, keep it for Sunday, don’t bring your beliefs into the public sphere, or the rest of your life, it’s got nothing to do with weekday living.
The word of God rebukes this lie from the enemy. Prophets like Isaiah were appalled at a people who continued religious practices even while their business practices and pursuing of personal happiness at the expense of others remained:
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Isaiah 58:3-8
Jesus likewise warned against those who were careful to tithe on the weekend, but “neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23)
Robert Deffinbaugh writes: “The Book of Proverbs will not allow Christians to linger in the land of the theoretical. We love to keep Christianity on an abstract level, rather than on an applicational one. Our greatest failing as Christians is not that we know too little (while this is often regrettably true), but that we fail to do what we know we should. The emphasis of Proverbs is both on the acquisition of wisdom and the application of it. Seldom do we find ourselves “in church” in this book, but rather in the home, on the job, and dealing with the mundane matters of daily living.”
Esteemed commentator Charles Bridges: “While other parts of Scripture shew us the glory of our high calling; this book may instruct in all minuteness of detail how to ‘walk worthy of it.’ Elsewhere we learn our completeness in Christ: and most justly we glory in our high exultation and ‘joint heirs’ with Christ, made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. We look into this book, and, as by the aid of a microscope, we see the minuteness of our Christian obligations; that there is not a temper, a look, a word, a movement, the most important action of the day, the smallest relative duty, in which we do not either defense or adorn the image of our Lord and the profession of his name.”
3) Proverbs teaches us that character is everything
One of the most successful ad campaigns of 1990 was Canon camera’s “Image is Everything,” series featuring tennis star Andre Agassi. Agassi was the flamboyant bad-boy of tennis, flaunting tradition with movie star looks and rock star hair. And if your selling cameras, image truly is everything. Yet it was clear that the advertisements were not only selling cameras, but an attitude toward life in which the image you project matters more than the substance of who you are. I recently read a book about the Myspace generation in which teens were projecting an image of themselves on their Myspace page which seemed inconsistent with who they really were according to people who knew them – for example, a quiet shy boy would be outspoken and flashy on his Myspace page, or a seemingly conservative girl would project a bi-sexual love-em-and-leave-em attitude on her page. Interestingly, when these teens were interviewed, they admitted that their pages were indeed projections and not consistent with their real lives. Yet when the researches asked the teens which –the real or the projections – were the “real you” the teens invariably answered the myspace versions of themselves. Image had become everything.
How very different from Abraham Lincoln’s remark that “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
Above all else, the book of Proverbs is concerned with the cultivation of godly character.
Every Christian needs to become a student of character. Let me mention just a few of the reasons why we need to discern character. First, the highest goal of the Christian is to become like Christ. While there are other dimensions of Christlikeness, the most essential is that we be like Him in character. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Notice that learning from Jesus is immediately tied to his character.
Second, we need to be able to discern the character of others. This is especially important in biblical counseling, for if we are to counsel others, we must be able to discern their character because a wise man is counseled differently than a fool (26:5). Parents need to be able to recognize the character traits of their children. A child who has disobeyed because he did not listen carefully to instructions should be disciplined differently from a child who understood directions perfectly, but willfully did what he wanted.
The ability to discern the character of others is essential if we are to give heed to the teaching of Proverbs about our friends and associations. Those who are wicked and violent should be avoided. Those who are dishonest should not be our partners (The partner of a thief hates his own life; he hears the curse, but discloses nothing 29:24). You will be hurt if you befriend people who hold grudges (17:9 Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends). A true friend “loves at all times” (17:17) and are faithful to you, yet “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (27:5-6). Consider the character of your best friends. Are they iron which sharpens iron (27:17)? Are you becoming wise as you walk with the wise (13:20)?
Especially important is one’s choice of a life’s mate. There is no more important qualification for marriage than the evidence of godly character. Thus is the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31:10-31 described. An unloved woman will only bring grief to the one she marries, like an slave unfit to rule becomes king and the people suffer for it (30:21-23). Its better to live with in the attic or the desert than with a nagging and quarrelsome wife (21:9,19). And girls, stay away from the guy who cannot control his temper, for it will cause you to become bitter and angry yourself (22:24-25).
Take my yoke upon me and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.