Proverbs is a treasure. Filled with pithy maxims, the book of Proverbs can help you live a life of skill. In a waffling world, we need the bottom lining Proverbs provides. It gets to the point. I know you have your favorite blog or podcast, but Proverbs is better. I promise.
Proverbs deals with life right now. There are approximately 900 brief precepts that deal with everything earthy. Success and self-control. Finances and friendship. Marriage and masculinity. Citizenship and sex. Generosity and joy. It's all there.
Proverbs covers life now. Little is mentioned of the after life. Proverbs deals with what you deal with, the here and now.
What is a Proverb? The word originates from a verb meaning “to be compared with.” So Proverbs often draw a comparison, and the choice is yours. Wisdom or folly. Life or death. Riches or poverty. Health or sickness. Love or hate. Proverbs are designed to help you choose well.
This wisdom is powerful in the age we swim in. to be transformed into the image of Christ, we need mind renewal (see Romans 12:2). The age we are in has its own wisdom. It always has, always will. But we need more.
In Proverbs, wisdom means skill. The same Hebrew word described those who skillfully crafted the tabernacle (Exodus 31:6). In the Bible, good leaders and sailors are described with this word. Singers and counselors too. This is the kind of wisdom found in the Proverbs. Proverbs wisdom helps us gain skills, skills for life.
But how is a Christian to read the Proverbs? How can we glean the most from them?
We ought to read Proverbs with desperation. If we feel Proverbs is optional, just another man’s opinion, we will miss out. With a humble spirit be teachable. A desperation to acquire the skill we need should drive us. We must feel we don’t have it all together, that we need guidance.
Without this we won’t pursue the wisdom full on, but we must. This life is short. We only live it once. Eternal life is a different kind of life. Our time on earth is our only chance to live by faith. As Jesus illustrated with the parable of the talents, we must steward these lives well. This is our one shot.
Folly gets in the way so often. Skill can help us overcome. This desperation is vital to the reading of Proverbs. Need must be felt.
We ought to read the Proverbs knowing they are generalizations. In other words, these are statements that are generally true in life. They aren’t meant as absolute rules, but as the general realities. Solomon, the main author, helps us understand how the world works. But the world is broken, so there will be exceptions to the rules.
Take Proverbs 22:6, for instance. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Got it. I build up my children, train them, and when their older the path I’ve shown them will be there fore them. Do not neglect this truth. Many have and have paid the price.
But many Christian parents have considered this an absolute promise. If their child strays from the path they take it as a personal failure. “I thought I trained them,” they say, “Yet they departed from the path, so I must not have.” But this is a false reading of Proverbs. Generally, what a parent puts into a child will remain with the child, but this is not a guarantee of saving faith. Generally, though, that is how it works. Teach them. When they are old they won’t depart from it.
This is found often in the Proverbs. We will read of lazy men whose lives are in shambles. This is generally so, but in life we will find exceptions, lazy men who have wealth. We will read of hard working men who receive promotions. But in life we’ll see hard working men who never get the promotion they deserve.
The Proverbs describe the general rules of life and society. These aren’t hard rules and promises, but generalities, inspired guidelines for life.
We ought to read the Proverbs with a fear of the Lord. One factor separating Proverbs from other non-biblical wisdom literature is the existence of God. Fifteen times in Proverbs we are exhorted to fear the Lord. This is the beginning of wisdom. The life of skill starts with reverence.
To fear God means to stand in awe of God. We are to be moved by His righteousness, majesty, and power. Humility ought to penetrate our hearts because of His incredible nature. As I said, other ancient wisdom literature is devoid of God. A deep respect for God is embedded in Proverbs.
Why is this important? Why isn’t this just a common sense book? Why must God be involved? God is the designer of the world, man, and society. He made the world with wisdom. He embedded this wisdom into the fabric of our lives. If we don’t revere the designer we won’t savor the design. We need Him.
A person could apply some Proverbs without any reverence for God. But they'd only get a shell, not the inner power. They would experience the surface wisdom, but not the depth. Only by allowing a poverty of spirit (see Matthew 5:3) to come upon us do we run towards all God has for us.
We ought to read the Proverbs knowing that Jesus is the fullness of wisdom. In Jesus “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Proverbs is a earthy book, but our faith goes to the heavenlies. Jesus takes Proverbs there. There are times Proverbs appears cold and calculating in comparison with self-giving Christian love. Jesus takes us further than Solomon could take us.
If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, the cross of Christ is the depth of it. You must read the Proverbs from a New Testament, New Covenant vantage point. You must know of God’s grace for failure.
There are moments in Proverbs we will come up against our own folly, our failures in life. In these moments we must remember the redemption found in Christ. He took us from the ash heap. We may have been the adulterer, the murderer, the glutton, or the lazy man found in the Proverbs, but no more! Christ has set us free. He has forgiven me. I must know the cross of Christ as I read the Proverbs.
We ought to read the Proverbs with dependence on the Holy Spirit. Since we know Jesus, we also know the power Jesus gives us. Upon belief in Him we are born again, born of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit comes to live inside of us.
This is beautiful for us, because it makes Proverbs doable. We aren’t left to try hard to live the life of skill, well informed but powerless. No, we are given Christ’s Spirit to enable us to walk it out. As we learn of this life of skill we also have the power to live it.
At times, Solomon will tell his son to take the word and write it on his heart. With the Spirit, we actually can. God says, “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts.” (Hebrews 8:10) God takes His word and embeds it into our hearts, changing us from the inside out.
The Life Of Skill
Proverbs are a chainsaw for life. You can chop down a tree with a dulled axe, but it will be harder than it has to be. Living life without the wisdom of God is possible, but it’s harder than it has to be. The Proverbs, however, give us the sharp edge, the power, we need.