Proverbs doesn’t seem like the kind of book that is made for reading straight through in one sitting, or in one day. It seems like the kind of book which lends itself reading a few verses until you find one that “speaks to you.” Though I don’t think it was necessarily meant to be read in one sitting, here are some of the incredibly valuable insights I took away from considering all the proverbs as a whole.
There are plenty of individual proverbs that any person can pull out of the book and say, “See, I do this. This is how my parents and grandparents taught me to live. It’s just common sense.” Some will pull out passages about:
- hard work
- individual responsibility
- moral uprightness
They will say, “See, the Bible is full of practical instructions about how to be successful. Just work hard and take care of your responsibilities and you’ll get along well in life.”
But others will focus on proverbs that promote
- social justice
- responsibility for the poor
- speaking up for the oppressed
- equity for all people in the community
They will say, “See, the Bible teaches us to live modest lifestyles and give away much of our time, resources, and possessions to those who are disadvantaged.”
Both of these viewpoints are incredibly common. You can find millions of people who are in one of these two camps. This is what you call “common sense” or common wisdom. It is the wisdom of just looking around and seeing how the world works and saying, “I think people ought to love this way,” and then finding Bible verses that support our particular view point. That is incredibly common.
What is uncommon is the person who holds all of these truths in his or her heart simultaneously. After all, when was the last time you met someone who was equally concerned about moral uprightness as social justice? That is the uncommon wisdom of Proverbs and it is uncommon because it is spiritual and not worldly. A person with worldly wisdom sees half the truth and holds on to that half for dear life. A person with wisdom from above is willing to embrace the whole truth.
Stop Being a Fool
I used to read through the book and find proverbs that simply reinforced what I was already doing and think to myself, “It’s other people who are fools. If they would just straighten up, the world would be a better place.” But then I let the proverbs convict me and reveal to me that I am the one who has been foolish. I have not been upright, righteous, or wise. I have been the fool.
But over and over again, the proverbs make the point that you don’t have to keep being a fool. You can learn. You can accept correction. You can humble yourself. You can ask for forgiveness and find God’s mercy.
The upright and wise are not perfect people. They are people who accept God’s correction and repent of their foolish ways. Just because you’ve acted foolish doesn’t mean you have to keep living a foolish life.
Hopeful, Not Practical
It’s also obvious that the book of Proverbs teaches that if you live an upright, righteous, and wise life, things tend to work out well for you. So it is very easy to think the proverbs are simply teaching us to live well because it is “practical” to do so. But from the beginning to the end, the message is that we should live well because it is pleasing to the Lord. The fear of the Lord must be the driving factor behind wise living.
Wisdom is knowing the will of the Lord and doing what pleases him. Consider the very import nuance between these two different types of people, who seem to be living very similar lives:
- One person is motivated to do good because he loves and fears the Lord, and his actions end up benefiting his own life.
- Another person is motivated to do good simply because he is seeking the benefit it will bring to himself.
It seems to me, the first man is painted as wise and the second is painted as foolish. Those who do the Lord’s will very often prosper; but there is a vast difference between those who do the Lord’s will because they fear the Lord and those who do it just because they are just seeking to prosper. The second type of man will eventually come to ruin.
When people turn the book of Proverbs into a book of pragmatic advice, sort of an ancient book of life hacks, they are totally missing the point of the book as a whole. The book is promoting wise living as defined by – and motivated by – the Lord.
As Christians, it is our hope, our confident expectation, that all who put their trust in the Lord, even if they died in poverty and shame, will be raised in honor and glory at the coming of Lord Jesus Christ. That is the wisdom that the world finds foolish. That is the wisdom of the Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 2).
So, we do good NOT because we are trying to maximize our pleasure and minimize our pain; we do good because we fear the Lord. The result is the best possible life now, and also an unimaginably great life in the age to come.
I love you and God loves you,