As far back as I can remember there has always been a strong but somewhat unclear emphasis on the book of Proverbs for Christians. Like some of you may already know, the Proverbs have always been considered by Jews as part of both the Law and the Prophets and I am sure were read repeatedly in synagogues throughout the time leading up to Jesus’ public ministry. Yet after the Lord came, walked the earth and then sent His disciples out to go preach the Gospel to the nations of the world, we don’t really see much mention of the Proverbs with respect to daily living in any of their teachings?
Yes, there are only a few mentions from the book of Proverbs in the NT, like about 8, and of those only 1 or maybe 2 might be viewed as some kind of a how-to statement. And the most likely of those quotes comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans, which should cause us to question its how-to usage! LOL.
As a kid who was raised in a main-stream denomination, I knew the book of Proverbs was found in the Bible — and I can remember having heard mentions of certain proverbs during sermons or Bible classes. I think may have even skimmed through that book on occasion (like when I was bored while at Church). My early memories include statements about the importance of knowledge and wisdom; listening to my parents; staying away from sinners, those evil men who lie in wait; and keeping clear of wicked or strange women — the adulteress — whose “feet go down to death” and whose “steps take hold on hell.” Honestly, I wasn’t entirely sure what kind of a woman this referred to, as my imagination conjured up some rather vivid pictures of a woman who had some kind of an inner doorway that led down into the burning pit of hell.
Now, when I attended Bible College back in the mid-70s, I was inundated with Proverbs, as they were quoted on a regular basis. Our evangelistic motto was even based upon a Proverb: The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. Proverbs 11:30 (KJV)
One of my classes covered the book of Proverbs. And I was shown the logic of making the Proverbs part of my daily routine — after all, 31 chapters strangely coincides with the number of days in a month. I mean, might not God have been telling us something? After all, listen to opening statement of the whole book:
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. Proverbs 1:1-4 (KJV)
With the premise of increased wisdom and understanding, how could I go wrong? So for a while, at least, I read one chapter from the book of Proverbs every day. But like everything else, it became rather hit or miss, although I read it enough to know that I had a long way to go in my Christian life.
When you look at our modern method of reading scripture one can’t help but see Proverbs as the perfect writings to meet the demand. I mean most of what the book contains are bite-sized statements that resemble the format of a fortune-cookie riddle that can easily be applied as principles for one’s daily living. The set-up here is absolutely perfect for the natural mind of man to run his course as he seeks to apply law to become wise like God.
I’m sure that right at this point, our listeners are going to have some varied reactions to what you just proposed. Some will gladly consider it, while others have already concluded that we’re just heretics who slice and dice Scripture to fit our own beliefs (after all, didn’t we just throw the whole book of Proverbs out?) — and then there are still others who may be finding their world turned upside down as they struggle with the possibility, or probability, that they’ve been basing much of their own Christian life upon law-based principles rather than upon Christ himself.
It all seems so obvious to me now. I mean for years I had never really connected the dots, even after I came to understand that the Proverbs were considered a central part of the Law. I know now that seeking out the Proverbs for instruction on “how to live”-is really just seeking out the bondage of the Law. Yes, quite literally.
Viewing Proverbs as a guide or as a set of instructions on how to live the Christian life describes my perception to a “T”. For that’s exactly how I had been instructed to regard the book of Proverbs. I want to include that I had instructed others in the very same way. For those who assume we’re suggesting that the Proverbs are somehow bad or wrong or maybe that they’re not a legitimate part of the Bible, I want you to keep in mind that as part of the Law, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with them. No! Rather, the Proverbs cannot acheive their goals for the same reason the Law couldn’t … and that’s because they are weak through the flesh!
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, Romans 8:3 (NASB)
How else do we suppose that so many of those who have set themselves to follow the principles found in Proverbs have fallen so far short? Haven’t we yet figured out that the ones who make the most noise about keeping their principles are the same ones who make the biggest thud when they hit the ground? I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t read the Proverbs, just that you don’t let them become your how-to guide. Sure, there is much wisdom to be found in those pages, but the fleshly mind turns that wisdom into a substitute for the life of Christ that is already within you.
Jim can I share a personal story here? Many years ago when I was a young man, I had a time in my life where I found myself in the midst of some deep personal insecurities regarding Christian living and “godly” decision-making. At the time I had a very influential friend give me something akin to a “word from the Lord” that came directly from the Proverbs. I still remember that moment and I have always had the Scripture in the back of my mind. The way he meant it at the time was something of a spiritual principle that “spoke” to my situation in life.
Hey, I understand the insecurities found in those attempts to make godly decisions, and there are different viewpoints on how you can know whether you’ve heard the voice of God before making those decisions that seem to warrant an intensive examination.
There have been a few times in my life where a well-placed Bible verse impacted me in a similar way to what you’ve described here. I also remember having been broadsided a few times by well-meaning brothers who seemed to think God told them what he wanted me to do or not to do. Whether or not I took heed to the supposed word they had been given, I often found myself struggling with the thought that I might be missing what God may have wanted for me — and I can tell you that I was often left with more insecurity and indecision.
Anyhow, the reference my friend was using turned out to be from Proverbs 10:24. Let me read that here for you so you can get a sense of the story:
“What the wicked fears will come upon him, But the desire of the righteous will be granted.”
I am, for I would often parallel that verse with another from the Psalms; Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Psalms 37:4 (KJV). Of course, the verse in Psalms doesn’t reflect the first half of the Proverbs quote “What the wicked fears will come upon him”, and something tells me that your story has more to do with that part. LOL!
Now the way I was hearing this caption was something like this: “Whatever personal or even shared fears I have inside my heart- God Himself would be forced to bring it into my life as reality if I wasn’t going to face them one by one.” In the world they call this “desensitization therapy”. You know, it’s when someone has a fear and the only way to get rid of it is by facing it head on. Basically freak yourself out until you just get used to it! Lol
I mean, really, I don’t need a Scriptural premise to understand how desensititzation therapy works. All I have to do is to get on the Order Picker where I work and take it up as far as it can go — and the overhead protective frame of the machine will hit the metal roof trusses in the lower back half of the store, and hit it with a jolt. It shakes me every time. But you know what? After a few trips up and down again, the effect lessens until it’s almost gone … and those who come along and see me at that point assume I must have no fear of heights. You think this might have something to do with how we view those mature Christians who seem to have no fear whatsoever? Maybe they just get themselves desensitized before they put us on all those how-to principles, you think?
Now this idea of going to the Proverbs to learn how God wanted me to live was pretty confusing for me, I will have to admit. For on the one hand, I wanted to be a good Christian and do what everybody said was good to do. On the other hand, I could not get past the unclear language, the constant accusation of evil and wickedness, nor the fact that it was never mentioned in the New Testament as a way to live?
Somehow in those early days, the apostles would examine the Scriptures — the Old Testament Scriptures, mind you — and come out of their study and preach Christ; we seem to have learned how to examine the Scriptures — both the OT and the NT — only to speak of anything other than Christ. How many of us would consider it a stretch to read a book like Proverbs and end up preaching Christ because of it? No, I think most of us either use Proverbs as a How-To guide or we avoid it altogether. What if we were to examine it, not with the mind of one looking for good advice, but with the renewed mind of Christ?
Jim let’s face it, the temptation for the flesh is to apply principles in view of the utter lack of understanding of anything real. Notice I said “understanding”, I mean it is a fact that we who are placed into Christ DO indeed have the reality but are persuaded to not walk in that reality from those who walk after the voice of the outward man.
Yes, and for the outward man, the book of Proverbs represents a gold mine of principles needing to be applied. After all, how could someone who walks according to outward principles persuade you to walk in the reality of Christ — even if he tells you that it must be done from the heart? In other words, how can someone encourage you in something he himself does not know that he does not know?
Look, Adam and I use the word principles a lot, and it’s mostly in a negative sense. It’s not that the word can’t be used otherwise, but we want you to understand why we make such a sharp point of contrast by placing the concept of principles against the reality we have in Christ. You see, those who do not have the love of God in their hearts may be able to tell you to love, oh yeah, and with God’s love, they might say — that is, they can speak the words … even with passion — but their directive has nothing to do with the love of God.
Now, we might say that it makes no difference because, after all, we do know God’s love — and I can agree to a point. But if it truly makes no difference, then why are we repeatedly finding ourselves caught back up into that same old religious, fleshly, legalistic mindset? Why do we seem to so often need a refresher course in the grace of God? I’m telling you right now that it’s not because God designed grace to be so elusive and hard to hang onto. We keep getting entangled so as to lose focus because we keep trying to reconcile the old mind with the new. And that’s not going to happen! What I’m saying is that we so desperately want to find our place in this world (which may be our old religious setting) that we turn a blind eye to the premise upon which those true statements are made.
There is a push from the natural mind of man to be absolutely ACCURATE [fleshy accuracy] about EVERYTHING we encounter in this world. It is framed as the very antidote of protection for all of the things we fear. So we are then compelled to pursue knowledge and more flesh focused wisdom in order to quench the burning fires of fear that lives in us. The effort and strain we endure is unbearable and some of us are able to carry its burden for many years until we finally succumb to the weight of its inability to empower in any way.
Paul wrote about this whole unbearable setup in his letter to the Galatian believers, he said: “But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. Galatians 2:17-18 (NASB)
I suspect that many of us might get thrown off by how Paul referred to rebuilding what he destroyed … which was the premise that he could justify himself by the works of the Law (as he stated in verse 16). I used to wonder why it sounded as if he was claiming that he had somehow destroyed the Law. But I’ve come to realize that it’s only the legal mind that thinks up such ridiculous notions. No, Paul would have been referring to the destruction of that old perception. It’s the same thing he referred to by the putting off or putting to death of the old man. Jesus Christ put him to death on the cross, we put him to death in our minds … our perceptions. In other words, we count it as true. We rebuild the thing we destroyed when we bring that flesh-focused wisdom to bear upon our justification in Christ. I think we need to see Paul’s reference to “but if, while seeking to be justified in Christ” as an extension of our former attempts to justify ourselves by the works of the Law. For that is what he was telling the Galatian believers they were being persuaded to do by the lawmen who were trying to help them as they followed after Christ.
Maybe you don’t think you’re rebuilding what you once destroyed, but I’m telling you that as long as whatever it is you are doing causes you to conclude that you are a sinner, then rebuilding what you once destroyed is exactly what you’re doing.
Would I encourage you to walk on a path that I have no comprehension of? Would I actually suggest that you walk on a path that I don’t really believe is even there? Of course not. But if I did suggest such a thing, you might ought to ask what path it is that I’m really referring to. You might ought to ask yourself what you’re really buying into when you take my blind advice. Consider Paul’s words to Timothy:
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NASB)
I used to wonder what kind of a society Paul could have possibly referred to. I mean, come on, why would anybody have to point out something so obvious to those who have been united to Christ … unless perhaps, things don’t look as obvious when you’re in the midst of them. My friends, we have come to accept so much religious propaganda that we’ve accepted such men as having been put in spiritual authority over us. And do you know what fools us? It’s the form of godliness they hold to and preach to us! Never mind the fact that they have denied the true power of godliness, we’ll still let them dictate how we’re supposed to live.
An example of how the natural mind might try to create godliness through applying the principals in the scriptures is found right smack dab in the middle of the example we already used in Proverbs. Let’s read Proverbs 10:24 one more time: “What the wicked fears will come upon him, But the desire of the righteous will be granted.”
And, for you, this verse meant that God was going to rid you of fear through some kind of desensitization process? In other words, he was going make you face all the fears you tried to hide from?
After reading this aloud to yourself as a potential requirement of action to rid yourself of fear you might have a few valid objections to what it is written and might start considering a rebuttal. Ahh but, it is at that time when someone might come along and add in another random quote such as “do not worry about those who kill the body but, cannot kill the soul”.-Why this passage you ask? Well the one offering it might be thinking that this “solves” the dilemma for just about ANTYHING we are fearing! I mean after all if we are to “obey” the scriptures then not fearing the ultimate of all ultimate’s SHOULD be the solution right? Just “apply” it and viola! You have the solution, problem is solved. But, what if that was NOT at all what the Spirit Himself had in mind?
Yeah, I just love it when some spiritual leader tells me that I’m supposed to obey the particular Scripture or Scriptures he claims to have a handle on. It is just a form of godliness that’s being pulled over on us, isn’t it? I mean, in order to obey the Scriptures as he puts them forth, I have to buy into his basic premise of life, which is nothing other than a law-based, natural-minded wisdom. If I read Proverbs according to natural wisdom, then I will have to automatically adjust my perception to accept the basic premise that I have not really been made righteous in Christ. That way, I’m able to approach the Proverbs in the same way one under the Law would have: as principles. And let’s face it, if the Proverbs could have led us to true wisdom, would we have needed Christ to become wisdom to us?