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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

- Proverbs

by Multiple Authors

Introduction:

The very first word found in Proverbs is the Hebrew word masal. The Hebrew word masal is translated proverbs in the 1901 ASV and is defined as “byword, saying, maxim... a saying, usually brief, stating observations from experience so arrestingly that it gains popularity. The purpose is to warn against dangerous conduct, while encouraging behavior that promotes personal and social well-being" (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia vol. 3 page 1012). The very purpose of this book is given in the first six verses of chapter one. Attaining wisdom and understanding through the process of instruction and prudence ought to be man’s primary objective.

The proverbs of this book belonged to Solomon (Proverbs 1:1). Solomon was known for his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29). The Bible tells us that Solomon had composed 3000 proverbs (1 Kings 4:32). Other authors were Agur (Proverbs 30:1) and Lemuel’s mother (Proverbs 31:1).

Date

The date of compilation of Proverbs into book form can be no earlier than the reign of Hezekiah (715 – 690 BC). Proverbs 25:1 states, These also are proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out.”

Content of Proverbs

The theme of Proverbs is found at Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 4:7. Solomon writes, "The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge; but the foolish despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7). Again, he writes, "Wisdom is the principle thing; therefore get wisdom; yea, with all thy getting get understanding" (Proverbs 4:7). That which is to be first, highest, and foremost in a person’s life is obtaining wisdom. Solomon depicts wisdom as the greatest treasure a man may own (see Proverbs 8:18-19; Proverbs 16:16; Proverbs 20:15). When one comes to view wisdom with such precedence in life they will do all they can do to obtain it as though it were a precious treasure. Solomon wrote, "Buy the truth and sell it not; yea, wisdom, and instruction, and understanding" (Proverbs 23:23). Parents often contemplate how they may instill faith, conviction, and the pursuit of wisdom within their children. Solomon tells us that the way to instill these eternal characteristics within man is to help them understand the great value of wisdom. Jesus said, " The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in the field; which a man found, and hid; and in his joy he goes and sells all that he hath, and buys that field" (Matthew 13:44-45).

Solomon spends a considerable amount of time defining wisdom in the book. Solomon writes, "I wisdom have made prudence my dwelling, and find out knowledge and discretion" (Proverbs 8:12). Wisdom is identified as prudence, knowledge, and discretion. The word prudence "expresses caution and wisdom in the conduct of affairs...implies not only caution but the capacity for judging in advance the probable results of one’s actions" (American Heritage Dictionary {hereafter AHD} 998). "Discretion" is "to be discreet ... having or showing a judicious reserve in one’s speech or behavior; prudent... lacking ostentation or pretension; modest" (AHD 403). " Knowledge" is "familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study... the sum or range of what has been perceived, discovered, or learned" (AHD 705). Wisdom is the ability to gain understanding of life issues and to exercise reserve due to a perception of probable outcomes. Knowledge, prudence, and discretion will keep man out of much trouble in life and bring a great deal of happiness now and forevermore.

The book of Proverbs paints pictures of various topics that wisdom affects. The book focuses heavily upon the consequences of man’s choices in this life. Proverbs reveals the grave consequences for rejecting wisdom in life. Solomon writes, " Good understanding giveth favor; But the way of the transgressor is hard" (Proverbs 13:15). The life of the fool is likened unto making your way through a "hedge of thorns" (Proverbs 15:19). When a person rejects wisdom for foolishness they bring trouble (Proverbs 15:6; Proverbs 21:23), destruction (Proverbs 13:13), mischief (Proverbs 28:14), and calamity (Proverbs 22 :) to their lives and the lives of those they touch. The foolish experience trouble, destruction, mischief, and calamity in life because of the poor decisions they make. The fool will have evil companions (Proverbs 1:10-14; Proverbs 4:14-19; Proverbs 13:20; Proverbs 20:19; Proverbs 24:1-2; Proverbs 28:9), participate in sexual immorality (Proverbs 5:7-9; Proverbs 9:14-15; etc.), be too lazy to work (Proverbs 6:6-11; etc.), use filthy language (Proverbs 4:24-27; Proverbs 8:7-9), hunger and thirst for riches (Proverbs 11:4-6; Proverbs 11:27-28; Proverbs 13:7-8; Proverbs 13:11; Proverbs 18:11; Proverbs 18:23; Proverbs 23:4-5; etc.), angry (Proverbs 19:19; Proverbs 29:11), bear false witness (Proverbs 19:5; Proverbs 19:28; Proverbs 25:18), seek revenge (Proverbs 20:22), scoff at others (Proverbs 21:24; Proverbs 22:10; Proverbs 24:9; Proverbs 29:8), and harden their hearts against God’s laws (Proverbs 29:1). All such foolishness brings regret, troubles, and sorrows now and forevermore.

Proverbs paints a picture of the great contrast between the life of the wicked and the wise. While the wicked wallow in poverty and trouble the wise enjoy life now and forevermore. The choice of pursuing wisdom in life results in preserving the soul (Proverbs 16:17), longevity of life (Proverbs 9:11), happiness (Proverbs 17:22; Proverbs 28:14; Proverbs 29:18), satisfaction (Proverbs 19:23), riches, honor, and life (Proverbs 22:4; Proverbs 22:29), and such a one is less likely to experience troubles (Proverbs 19:23; Proverbs 21:23). The wise will avoid worldliness at all cost. Solomon writes, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23 see also 25:26). The wise man also maintains a proper attitude toward sin. Solomon writes, "The fear of Jehovah is to hate evil: Pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the perverse mouth, do I hate" (Proverbs 8:13 see also 8:7-9; 13:5; 14:9). The wise have a high estimation of their soul. "He that gets wisdom loves his own soul: He that keeps understanding shall find good" (Proverbs 19:8 etc.). The wise are humble (Proverbs 20:9; Proverbs 22:4; Proverbs 29:23; Proverbs 28:13), interested in spiritual matters (Proverbs 23:12; Proverbs 23:26), seek out the things that delight God (Proverbs 11:1; Proverbs 11:20; Proverbs 12:2-3 etc.), and have a never quit attitude. Solomon writes, "If thou faint in the day of adversity, Thy strength is small" (Proverbs 24:10).

The overall message of Proverbs is that when one chooses the way of wisdom they chose a good life. Truly it is a wonderful life being a Christian. Such a life is enjoyable now and will be forevermore!

Authorship

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of writings, mostly written by Solomon, but not entirely written by him.

(1) Proverbs 1:1 to Proverbs 9:18 is the first set written by Solomon.

(2) Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16 is the second set written by Solomon.

(3) But Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:34 are called the words of the wise. It could be Solomon from the collection he mentioned in Ecclesiastes 12:9, or it might possibly be an unnamed prophet.

(4) Proverbs 25:1 to Proverbs 29:27 is a collection of Solomon’s proverbs which were collected in the days of Hezekiah, long after Solomon died.

(5) Proverbs 30 are the writings of the prophet Agur.

(6) Proverbs 31 were written by a non-Israelite king name Lemuel who acted as scribe to his prophetess mother who is unnamed.

Depending on how you read Proverbs 30:1, Agur, the son of Jakeh, is called an oracle, giving an oracle, or it is saying he is a descendant of Massa (Genesis 25:14; 1 Chronicles 1:30) who was a founder of one of the Arab tribes. In Hebrew, the work massa means a burden and is often used in prophecy to indicate sayings of doom. Proverbs 30:1 and Proverbs 31:1 are the only two places where this word is translated as “oracle.” It was done because neither Proverbs 30 or 31 are condemnations. However, this makes the possibility that the country of Massa is being indicated more likely.

If the country is the proper translation, then Proverbs 31:1 is saying that Lemuel is king of Massa. Since Lemuel’s name means “belonging to God” in Hebrew, it is generally believed that Lemuel’s mother was likely an Israelite; thus explaining how he ended up with a Hebrew name.

We know that there were prophets in other countries. Israel did not have an exclusive lock on communications with God. Job was from Uz (Job 1:1) the region where the nation of Edom later arose (Lamentations 4:21). Balaam was from Pethor in upper Mesopotamia (Numbers 22:5). That there were prophets found in Massa would not be unusual.

Of course, ultimately, the true author of Proverbs, like the rest of the Scriptures is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-21).

The Name of the Book

The book gets its name from the first two words in the Hebrew text: mishie shelomoh, which means Proverbs of Solomon. In the Latin translation of the Old Testament, it was shortened to the name “Proverbs,” which means “for words,” and that how it become the English name for the book.

A proverb refers to statements which contain few words but contain a wealth of meaning. The book mostly contains a collection of proverbs, though there are other forms of writings in Proverbs as well.

Its Placement

Proverbs is a part of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament.

  • ·    Job teaches us how to suffer.

  • ·    Psalms teaches us how to pray.

  • ·    Proverbs teaches us how to act.

  • ·    Ecclesiastes teaches us how to enjoy life

  • ·    Song of Solomon teaches us how to love.

Its Style

Proverbs focuses on the practical issues in life. It is primarily directed toward young men, but it isn’t exclusively for them. Everyone can learn wisdom from this book. But since young men are the primary audience, we find the style of the book well suited for its audience. Young men tend to have short attention spans, so we find the book is a series of short topics which can be put down and taken up at any time. Yet, the statements are deeper than they first appear, so it gives the reader something to think about and puzzle over, even when the book isn’t opened in front of them.

No topic is dwelt on for long, rather it rapidly changes topics, so a young man doesn’t get bored and drift off. But even in the change of topics there is a purpose and pattern. You will notice that the same idea or close to the same idea is repeated several times in the book. Yet, if you look closely, you will realize that the repeats are not always exactly the same. Because they are presented in different context, the series of ideas causes you to connect ideas that you would not normal think of as being related. Fascinatingly, each time you read Proverbs different statements capture your notice. I’m constantly finding myself seeing a truth being presented that I didn’t notice before, but that is because my life, the context that I bring to Proverbs when I read it, is different so new connections are being made. This is why Solomon said, “A wise man will hear and increase learning” (Proverbs 1:5).

Even with the rapid change of topics, you can tell that Solomon realizes that his audience will have a tendency to daydream. Frequently there are admonitions to pay attention, such as, “My son, hear the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the law of your mother” (Proverbs 1:8). These statements always precede a particularly important point that Solomon doesn’t want you to miss. Think of it as the teacher rapping on his desk or shaking the drowsing student – “Wake up! Pay attention! You really don’t want to miss what I’m about to say.”

Proverbs is written in poetic style, but Hebrew poetry is not like English poetry. We rhyme ending sounds and strive for rhythms. Hebrew poetry rhymes ideas, if you would allow to say it this way. Knowing the various poetic styles helps you pull out deeper ideas.

Synonymous

An idea is expressed twice in different words. The use of varying words helps define ideas that some might not understand by showing a relationship between two thoughts. It also conveys a more precise thought since words in a language carry a range of implied meanings. Giving two ideas helps the reader to narrow down the meaning.

Wisdom shouts in the street,

She lifts her voice in the square;

At the head of the noisy streets she cries out;

At the entrance of the gates in the city she utters her sayings

Proverbs 1:20-21

The parallels make us realize that Wisdom is trying hard to get people’s attention by the variety of ways Solomon says she is attempting to make herself heard. We also see that she isn’t found hidden away in some school. She is everywhere in town where she cannot be missed.

Antithetic

Instead of the same idea being compared, the opposite ideas are contrasted. This is probably the most often used style in Proverbs. We are invite to examine two things to see how they are different.

The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked,

But He blesses the home of the just.

Proverbs 3:33

Notice that a mixture of poetic styles can be used together. “Lord” and “He,” along with “house” and “home,” are synonymous comparisons while the highlighted words are antithetic contrasts. Thus the same God treats two groups of people in similar situations differently based upon how those people behave. But there is even more subtly. The wicked have a place to live (a house), but the just have a home where they are connected to the other people who dwell there.

Synthetic

In a synthetic relationship one idea leads to another or is derived from the prior. It can be cause and effect, an explanation, or a condition followed by a consequence.

They would not accept my counsel,

They spurned all my reproof.

So they shall eat of the fruit of their own way

And be satiated with their own devices.

Proverbs 1:30-31

The first and second pairs of lines are both synonymous comparisons, but the first pair of lines is the cause that leads to the effect expressed in the second pair of lines.

Progressive

A progressive is simply a list of ideas in no particular order.

These six things the LORD hates,

Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:

A proud look,

A lying tongue,

Hands that shed innocent blood,

A heart that devises wicked plans,

Feet that are swift in running to evil,

A false witness who speaks lies,

And one who sows discord among brethren.

Proverbs 6:16-19

The “six ... seven” set up the progression and tells us how many items are in the list. It isn’t just a list of sins. We also have a list of six body parts: look (face), tongue, hands, heart, feet, mouth and seven actions: look, lying, shed, devises, running, speaking, and sowing.

Climatic

A climatic is a list with a conclusion. Often the order is important as it is building toward the conclusion.

A worthless person,

a wicked man,

Is the one

Who walks with a perverse mouth,

Who winks with his eyes,

Who signals with his feet,

Who points with his fingers;

Who with perversity in his heart continually devises evil,

Who spreads strife.

Therefore his calamity will come suddenly;

Instantly he will be broken

And there will be no healing.

Proverbs 6:12-15

Sometimes there will be a repetition of a word or phrase that act as bullet points in a progression or a climatic. Here we have a synonymous comparison of a evil person, followed by a list of behaviors. This person has a perverse mouth, winks, signals, points, devises evil, and spreads strife. We start with twisted words by one person and build up to hostility between people. Again there is also a list of body parts: mouth, eyes, feet, fingers, heart, and by implication hands.

The list is followed by the consequence of his action – sudden disaster, which further emphasized by pointing out that the consequences cannot be undone.

Emblematic

A comparison between two sets of things where the relationship between the first set helps you understand the relationship in the second set. It is usually in the form of “A is to B as C is to D.”

Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool,

And so is wisdom to a man of understanding.

Proverbs 10:23

We might not realize that many foolish people think that doing evil is a game that is fun to play. But then learning and applying wisdom is fun to a man who is able to reason.

Introverted

An introverted list is a nested series of ideas in the form of A B C C B A, where each letter represents a similar idea. Sometimes the nesting is obvious with the terms being almost a repeat in their complementary section.

Chiastic

A introverted series with the main point being a single idea in the center. It gains its name from the Greek letter chi (Χ).

Turn to my reproof,

Behold, I will pour out my spirit on you;

I will make my words known to you.

Because I called and you refused,

I stretched out my hand and no one paid attention;

And you neglected all my counsel

And did not want my reproof

How To Have The Good Life Now

Proverbs 1:1-8

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

The Bible is often viewed as a collection of books containing spiritual platitudes that have no practical relevance to daily living. In the process of debating the meaning of the Greek words of the New Testament we can forget to communicate to the world that the Bible has practical answers for daily life. The book of Proverbs is an excellent example of the practical wisdom available in the word of God.

The setting of the proverbs is a father teaching his son how to have the good life now. “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction, and don’t reject your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8). I can imagine Solomon’s son acting how each of us acting when our parents tried to impart wise words to us. We wanted to think that we knew all that we needed to know. We believed our parents did not understand what we were going through or that they were so old that the time had changed and our parents, therefore, did not understand.

But this is not a childish problem, but a lifelong problem. We do not want to listen to the wise experiences of other people. The older have knowledge and experience to share but regardless of our age we do not want to listen. How well we can see this in our own lives. The book of Proverbs is God as a Father desiring to sit down with us, His children, to teach us how to have the good life now. But as typical children, we do not want to listen to the wise teachings of God. Our ignorance of the Proverbs is proof of our negative reaction. Further proof is our desire to only hear spiritual applications not life changing applications. We want to hear about forgiveness of sins and the grace of God. We do not want to hear about how God has declared many of our life paths as foolish.

One writer summed up the purpose of the Proverbs well, “The purpose of a proverb is to help one choose the best course of action among those available—the foolish way is to be avoided and the wise way followed.” But you and I are not going to have the good life now if we approach the Proverbs with the same defensiveness that we did as selfish teenagers when our parents sat us down to instruct us.

Who doesn’t want to live a better life now? The Proverbs exist for this purpose. Now, I think it is important to qualify what the Proverbs are able to do and are not able to do. The Proverbs are not going to give the magic pill so that we will always be wealthy and healthy. The Proverbs are not going to wave a magic wand in our lives so that we will never have suffering, troubles, or problems. But many of our problems are self-inflicted because of poor decision-making. The Proverbs exist to help us make wise, godly decisions so that we do not bring more troubles in our lives. Foolish decisions will bring more pain to our lives than wise decisions. So let us put our defensiveness aside, sit on the knee of God the Father, and listen to the wise words He has given for us to have the good life now.

“The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young— let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance— for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.” (Proverbs 1:1-6) Please note that the first seven verses record Solomon’s purpose for declaring these proverbs. But Solomon is not merely stating his reasons for offering these proverbs. Solomon seems to be convincing his son concerning the advantages of biblical wisdom. There are four areas where biblical wisdom excels above the wisdom of the world.

(1) God’s wisdom is practical.It is humorous to me to read worldly author who offer wisdom. While some people came up with some useful nuggets of wisdom, many people simply state nonsense. There are many people who think they have wisdom, but the wisdom is impractical and not useful to daily life. Here is one of the sayings of Confucius: “And remember, no matter where you go, there you are.” Or, “Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance.” One characteristic of biblical wisdom is that it is very practical to daily life. While others tried to speak wisely, not giving a sword to a man who cannot dance has not value to my life. The Proverbs are different and this is what Solomon is teaching. “For acquiring a disciplined and prudent life” means that biblical wisdom is going to help you have the better life now.

The practical nature of the Proverbs extends to all ages and levels of maturity. “For teaching shrewdness to the simple” (NRSV) reveals that these Proverbs will help the inexperienced and those who lack knowledge lead a better life. Notice that the Proverbs are not to make you intellectually smarter, but make you smarter in common, daily life. The Proverbs give “prudence,” as some translation have in Proverbs 1:4. The Proverbs will also help those who are younger in age, “knowledge and discretion to the young.” Again, Solomon is not speaking about book knowledge. Rather, discretion is being taught to the young. The ability to make proper decisions in life. As parents, we spend years trying to teach our children discretion, to make good common sense decisions. But we have frequently left out biblical wisdom, which is a critical component of discretion. Even the experienced and wise will gain more from a study of the Proverbs. Even the wise and knowledgeable can live a better life by applying the biblical wisdom contained in these pages. “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” God is telling us that these teachings are practical to daily living for all ages and we need to listen.

(2) God’s wisdom is enlightening. God’s wisdom is not such that you will read it and think it was a waste of time. The words of God will enlighten our minds. We see Solomon telling his son this very point in Proverbs 1:2. “The purpose of these proverbs is to teach people wisdom and discipline, and to help them understand wise sayings” (NLT). Solomon is not having this talk just to talk. These words will help us find wisdom, insight, and understanding. We should want these things for ourselves! We should desire wisdom, insight, and understanding for our daily and for our spiritual lives. The Proverbs gives us to the keys to wisdom and opens the doors to understanding.

(3) God’s wisdom is moral. Much of the wisdom of the world is to strike others before they strike you. If you watch Donald Trump’s show The Apprentice, every episode has a short segment where Donald Trump gives business advice or life advice. Most of the advice centers around getting others before they are able to get you. Biblical wisdom is different: “To receive instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity.” The Proverbs are not going to teach us to live more selfishly than we already are. Rather, we are learn how to live daily life full of righteousness, justice, and fairness. Worldly wisdom does not contain ways to be righteous and unselfish. Rather, worldly wisdom is about being selfish and doing things that are in your own best interests. So biblical wisdom is going to show us how acting righteously positively benefits our lives also.

(4) God’s wisdom brings answers. Proverbs 1:6 says, “For understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.” This sentence sounds a little odd, but Solomon is saying that we will be able to learn about and deal with the mysteries of life through biblical wisdom. The greatest aspect of God’s wisdom is its ability to help us deal with situations that do not make sense. We want answers to everything, but not every thing that happens has a reason. Biblical wisdom can help us understand the mysteries of life and at least deal with the difficulties of life. Let us begin our pursuit to live the good life now by learning biblical wisdom.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7)

The starting point for us to enjoy a better life now is to fear the Lord. What does it mean to fear God? There are two aspects involved in fearing the Lord in the scriptures.

(1) Awe and reverence.Isaiah described the fear of the Lord well, “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread” (Isaiah 8:13). We are called to be in awe and have deep-seated respect for the holiness of God. Wisdom begins in recognizing where we stand in the sight of God. To begin having a better life now requires us seeing God as he really is with the respect that he deserves. When we see God where he is in purity and holiness, we then will experience the fear of the Lord and the dread that Isaiah speaks about because we are undeserving to be in His presence, receiving grace.

(2) Obedience. The other part required to fear the Lord is obedience. Seeing ourselves for who we are and seeing God for who He is will cause us to submit to the will of God. “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). “Now the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him— those who depend on His faithful love” (Psalms 33:18). Both of these aspects are a call for us to put ourselves in a learning posture and act upon what we learn. We are called upon to sit at the feet of the Master Teacher and learn from His wise words. Then, we must act upon what we have learned. I think this is a pretty simply, obvious, yet important concept. There is no purpose in us continuing to look at the wise words of God that can give you the good life now if you are not ready to listen, learn, and act upon these teachings. Too often we want to live the good life now by doing nothing. This, of course, is the definition of insanity: the belief that conditions will change by continuing to do the same thing. We are not going to have a better life if we are continue to live our lives in the same way. We will not experience the good life now if we are not willing to fear God and keep his commandments.

Two Paths

Proverbs 1:9 to Proverbs 2:10

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

The setting of the Proverbs is with Solomon, the wise king of Israel, sitting with his son and teaching him how to have a good life. In our first lesson we noticed that Solomon gave the reasons why his son should listen to his wise teachings. Godly wisdom is practical, enlightening, moral, and brings answers to difficult situations. But the good life begins with the fear of the Lord. Solomon is going to explain more about the need to fear the Lord as we look at various topics in the Proverbs. But Solomon tries to make an important impression on his son that nothing else can be taught about having the good life until a fear of the Lord is instilled in the person. Solomon describes to his son the two paths in life.

The Path of Sinners (Proverbs 1:9-19)

To summarize, Solomon tells his son that people are going to ask him to run along with them in their activities. The path is described as fun. Your peers will make the case that these acts will cause us to have great wealth. Commit these acts and you can receive a portion of the spoils. The other enticing call from these people is that you can be one of them. “Throw in your lot with us…” (Proverbs 1:14). Essentially, “join with us and let’s go pick on some weakling.”

But we warned about the outcome. Their invitation will be enticing but open your eyes to the end result. You are ambushing your own lives. You are putting your lives in a trap, essentially, you are throwing your life away. I am always amazed at people who cry out about how young a person is when a crime is committed. They say that they it is too harsh to put them in prison for 30 years when they are only 19. They are losing most of their life span. This is exactly what the Proverbs say, however. If you want to run with these kinds of people, you are surrendering your life. You are throwing your life in the trash and you are simply hurting yourself. It may look fun to join with these people, but the end result must be seen. “Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it.”

It is interesting that Solomon begins with violence, murder, and robbery. But we must remember that a useful form of argument is to consider the most extreme and realize that all situations that are not as extreme are also part of the author’s argument.

The Path of Wisdom (Proverbs 1:20-33)

The other life path is the way of wisdom, which is a less traveled path. How often people ignore wisdom! Notice that wisdom cries aloud in the street, desiring to instruct people in the way of better living. Yet people ignore wisdom. People mock wisdom and hate knowledge through their actions. Wisdom is available, according to verse 23, but unfortunately we often do not respond to biblical wisdom. “But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice, and would not accept my rebuke…” (Proverbs 1:24-25).

The problem is that wisdom is like hurricane insurance. Once the hurricane comes, you cannot go buy insurance to replace all that was lost in the storm. You must have the insurance before the storm comes. Wisdom follows in the same way. Wisdom will not be there when disaster strikes. “I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you—when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you” (Proverbs 1:26-27). Notice that disaster is going to come in life. Unplanned circumstances and events will come upon you. We all think that everything will happen in life exactly as we plan. We did not plan to have a child with a disability, a genetic disorder. We are going to get blindsided by life’s circumstances. If we have been traveling down the path of sinners, then disaster is going to happen.

Every person will find themselves in a time of need during disaster. But you cannot go get wisdom then. It is too late. “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me” (Proverbs 1:28). We must have biblical wisdom instilled in our minds before the time of calamity comes. Notice again how Solomon put wisdom and knowledge together with the fear of the Lord: “Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord…” (Proverbs 1:29). To not fear the Lord and let him being the ultimate priority and spirituality as our decision maker, then we are rejecting wisdom and will not have the good life now. “Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.” Those who listen to the wisdom of God “will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

Transition: Since wisdom is glorified and needs to be found if we are going to live the good life now, Solomon will now explain how to attain wisdom.

Applying ourselves to learning (Proverbs 2:1-2). Solomon tells his son to listen and learn. Proverbs 2:1-4 is one sentence giving the conditions needed to “understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” The first two verses require us to listen and learn. As we noted last Sunday, we must put ourselves in the position of learning. We need to see our position before God, stop thinking we know all that there is to know, and be ready to learn from the wisdom of God. Proof that we do not have a learning attitude is our refusal to study the word of God. Our inability to read the Bible daily and to study the Bible regularly reveals our arrogant attitude that we do not need the wisdom of God. We have to let the word of God sinking into our hearts, causing us to change our lives, if we are going to find the good life now.

Work to find wisdom (Proverbs 2:3-4). Solomon also says that we have to put in the work to find wisdom. Wisdom is not simply going to land upon us from the clear blue sky. Wisdom comes from listen to the wisdom and experiences of others. Wisdom comes from putting the work into the word of God. This is why the fool finds trouble. The fool has neither the discipline or the patience to pursue wisdom. The person who thinks they can receive all they need to know from Sunday morning worship is very wrong.

What we learn is that wisdom comes from God and not from the world. “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). “Then you will understand what is right and just and fair—every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul” (Proverbs 2:9-10). Why do we think we will find wisdom from any other place when God keeps crying out to come to him to find knowledge and understanding? “To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness…” (Ecclesiastes 2:26). James said similarly, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). God gives wisdom. This is why Solomon told his son that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).

APPLICATIONS:

1. Greed is a trap. Greed is a tremendous trap that we must prepare to fight. Solomon points out that people engage in violence and bloodshed because of greed. We may not be tempted to lead a life of violent crime. But we need to see that the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil. As parents we need to make sure that we are not teaching our children to be focused and driven for wealth. An obsession about wealth and money, either in the form of desiring much or as a scrooge, teaches our children that money is extremely important. Decisions made simply on financial merits are dangerous to our souls and communicate to our children that these are things that matter most. Solomon is trying to teach us to not fall into the trap of letting wealth be our criteria for decisions.

2. Wisdom is available, if you will work for it. We have to desire the wisdom if we want to receive it. To have the good life now will not just simply happen by accident. James says that we need to pray to God without doubting to receive wisdom. The writer of Ecclesiastes says that we need to live a life pleasing to God and God will grant us wisdom. Solomon has taught his son in the Proverbs that we must place ourselves in a position to learn and work to find the wisdom of God.

3. Which path will you choose? Finally, Solomon says there are two paths in life that can be followed. One is the way of sinners and the other way is the path of wisdom and righteousness. People will try to encourage us to go down the path of sinners so that we can have a feeling of acceptance and belonging. Notice that there is not a third option. We cannot decide that we do not want to put the work in to obtain wisdom, but we do not want to be fools in this world either. There are only two paths. If we are unwilling to submit to God and seek out His wisdom, Solomon calls us fools going down the path of sinners who will have their lives taken away.

Guard Your Heart

Proverbs 3 & 4

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction

Solomon is sitting down with his son and explaining to him how he can have the good life now. This is not to say that Solomon is saying that his son will never have troubles in life by doing what he says. In fact, Solomon said with certainty that calamity, distress, and disaster will come (Proverbs 1:27). In the second chapter, Solomon continued to instruct his son by telling him that he needs to put forth effort to attain wisdom. Wisdom will not land on us magically. We must put ourselves in a learning posture, humbling ourselves to that we are reading to listen. We must also work at finding godly wisdom by praying for wisdom (James 1:5), be pleasing to God (Ecclesiastes 2:26), and read and study God’s word (Proverbs 2:6). As we move into chapter 3 of the Proverbs, we will see that Solomon is still instructing his son on how to obtain wisdom and how to have the good life now.

1. Trust in the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-8; Proverbs 3:26-27)

In the first four verses of chapter 3 Solomon reminds his son that the instructions he is giving him are for his own good. We are studying these teachings because these are practical ways to improve your life now.

“Keep my commands in your heart for they will prolong your life many years and bring you prosperity” (Proverbs 3:1-2). Solomon instructs further that keeping love and faithfulness around our necks will cause us to “win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:4). These commands are good for us in every aspect of our living. We will have favor with God, which is the most important thing to acquire in this world. But the wisdom of God not only helps us spiritually, but also for our daily dealings with people. We will win favor and have a good reputation with others by following these teachings. We will also have a longer, better life by obeying God. So how can we have favor with God and humanity? How can we have a good reputation with God and among people? How can we have the good life now?

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Notice what Solomon means by “trusting in the Lord with all of your heart.” I think if I were to ask each person here, we would all think that we are trusting in the Lord with all of our hearts. But let’s put ourselves to the test. Do you rely upon your own knowledge when making decisions? Do you do what you think is best when any minor or major decision or circumstance arises? If we are relying upon our own understanding, then we are not trusting in the Lord. How many times we make a decision based upon what we think is best rather than what God declares is best! The scriptures teach us not to put our trust in wealth but to seek first the kingdom of God. But how many times we make a decision simply based upon financial needs! We are doing what we think is best rather than what God said is the best course of action.

“In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:6). Every decision is to bring God the glory. Every act should reflect our utter and complete dependence on God. Our actions often reflect our complete dependence upon ourselves. We are not going to be living the good life now and not be having favor with God and humanity when we are trying to control our own lives rather than giving God full control. Turn your life over to God and he will take your life down the right road. We, based on our own wisdom, take our lives down the wrong roads and cause more problems and distresses in life because we are not fully relying on the Lord. Solomon knows why we have trouble handing our lives over to God and he points it out in the next sentence.

“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones” (Proverbs 3:7-8). We are wise in our own eyes. Notice that relying on our own knowledge is the opposite of fearing the Lord. Remember that Solomon counseled at the beginning of this discussion with his son that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

Now let us ask the important question: how does one rely on God’s wisdom and not our own wisdom when it comes to making decisions and dealing with life’s circumstances? Nowhere do the Proverbs nor the rest of the scriptures suggest that giving our lives to God means taking a “hands-off” approach. How many times people will simply declare that they have prayed to God to show them which way to go, doing nothing else, until something happens! This does not make any sense, yet Christians do this all time! What do you think if I woke up this morning and prayed to God in my weakness: should I go to church services or not go to church services? I go out to the car and there is a nail in the tire, or my child is sick, or the power goes out. Am I supposed to think that God gave me the sign to stay home? You would tell me that God wants me to go to services. How do you know that? You know that because the scriptures say so.

When you ask of God about a particular direction in life or a decision to make, how do you know if God is directing the circumstance or Satan is? Disaster struck Job severely. He could have believed that God was telling him to change his life, get a new occupation, and move to a new place to start over. But none of that was true for it was Satan. The only way we know after praying to God to help us make the right decisions is to constantly consult the word of God. Too often we are making signs out of nothing. And if we are receiving a sign, how do we know whether it is from God or from Satan? From reading the book of Job I think we could argue that Satan is telling us something more than God is trying to tell us something. There is only one way God has given us to know what we ought to do and it is the word of God. Now let me be clear, I am not in the extreme camp that says that God is not working in our lives today. I absolutely believe God is involved in the affairs of this world and is working in our lives. If God was not active in our lives, then there would be no purpose for prayer. However, where do the scriptures teach that after offering prayers, we are to stop and do nothing? Pray to God for the things you need and ask God for help, then turn to His words to find guidance. This is what Solomon told his son in Proverbs 2:6, “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”

2. Give It All To God (Proverbs 3:9-10)

“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”

Solomon tells his son that he must give everything to the Lord first. This is another important way that we show that we are trusting in the Lord with all of our heart. Many times we give God our leftovers financially, emotionally, and physically. We give God time only when we have time. We serve God only when we feel like doing something. We give financially only when we have had a good month or have paid all the bills. Honoring the Lord is a call to make sacrifices in this life. We may not able to do all that we want to do. We will not be able to comfortable in every aspect of life if we are going to be honoring God. We are only honoring ourselves when we are concerned about our needs first. The scriptures repeatedly tell us that God will take care of us if we will give to him first. But we do not trust in the Lord with all of our hearts, so we do not act upon it. Notice that Solomon tells his son that if he will give to God the first and the best financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually, God will give back and take care of us in every way. Paul teaches the same thing in 2 Corinthians 9:6-9. We have the tendency to bristle against these passages, yet the reason is because we do not want to put that much trust in the Lord to take care of us. We think that we are the ones who create our own wealth, we are in charge of our wealth, and we must use our wealth to take care of ourselves. But this is “leaning on our own understanding” and being “wise in our own eyes.”

3. Pay the Price For Wisdom (Proverbs 3:13-18; Proverbs 4:5-9; Proverbs 8:10-11; Proverbs 8:18-21)

In our last lesson we saw Solomon counseling his son to acquire wisdom while wisdom is crying out in the streets. When disaster strikes it will be too late to seek wisdom. Solomon now shows his son the value of wisdom.

“Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed” (Proverbs 3:13-18). Wisdom is more profitable for you in this life than silver and gold. Wisdom is more precious than rare gems. Wisdom will bring riches, honor, and peace. The very thing that people are seeking after are found in the wisdom of the Lord. But no one is looking in the right place. To drive home the point, he says this to his son again a little later.

“Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (Proverbs 8:10-11). Then wisdom speaks for herself again, encouraging people to seek after her:

“With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity. My fruit is better than fine gold; what I yield surpasses choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice, bestowing wealth on those who love me and making their treasuries full” (Proverbs 8:18-21).

Wisdom is worth anything you can give to attain it. This language shows how little we value wisdom. We think wealth, success, honor, and peace are more important to acquire. But wisdom is speaking telling us that she is the most important because through her these things are attained. Therefore, Solomon tells his son:

“Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7). Wisdom is not for free. You and I have to work for it. We will have to make sacrifices to attain it. You and I have to spend time praying, spend reading the word of God, spend time studying the word of God, and make effort to be found pleasing to God. You can pay a little now and have the peace that comes with wisdom, or you can pay a lot later when you go through calamity without wisdom.

Conclusion:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). As we try to live righteous lives we must keep watch over our hearts. Our hearts can become infiltrated with the pleasures and desires of the world and we forget to seek wisdom.

1. Trust in the Lord with all of your heart. Turn to God for every decision that we make so that we lead lives that glorify God. We will be pleasing to God when we are consulting the word of God for guidance in our decision-making.

2. Give it all to God. Everything we have has been given to us from God. We must accept this to be true, sacrifice everything, and give to the Lord first. Only then will we find ourselves pleasing to God and acquire wisdom.

3. Pay the price for wisdom. We will have to give up our comforts, time, desires, and wealth to find wisdom. But it is worth it. Get to know God and he will change your life.

Avoiding Sexual Sins

Proverbs 5:3 to Proverbs 7:23

By Brent Kercheville

One of the difficult problems that we must face is the temptation of sexual sins. The Proverbs are filled with instructions about why one should avoid sexual sins and what one can do to avoid falling into the trap. As we read the proverbs concerning sexual sins, many translations speak of the woman as the “adulteress” or the “adulteress woman.” I don’t want that translation to cause you to think that we are only talking about adultery because the Hebrew word simply means “strange.” The KJV and ASV in fact translate this person as “strange woman.” This translation, of course, has its own difficulties because the word “strange” does not indicate how she is strange. When Solomon tells his son to be on guard against the strange woman, what he means is a woman that is not his spouse. In that sense, this woman is a foreign woman, in that she is not his woman as a spouse. Therefore, Solomon is not simply discussing the problem of adultery, though the sin of adultery is included. Rather, Solomon is dealing with all sexual immorality. Solomon is instructing his son concerning any dealing sexual with another woman who is not his spouse. In this lesson I will use the HCSB and the ESV translations because they read “the forbidden woman,” which communicates the idea of the attraction to the woman who is not one’s wife.

The Snare of Sexual Sins

Solomon begins by telling his son that he understands that the lips of the forbidden woman are enticing. “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil” (Proverbs 5:3). She will speak words of flattery that will catch your attention. This is the first aspect of the temptation that all men and women must beware. Someone will pay you a complement and offer some flattering words and it really catches your attention.

Not only will her words catch your attention, but she will be pleasing to the eye. “Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes” (Proverbs 6:25). Be warned: the forbidden woman is going to do things to attempt to draw attention to their physical beauty. These are useful descriptions that we must recognize to be the truth about sexual sin. Sexual sins will appeal to our desires and we ought not suggest to one another for a moment that sexual sin is not attractive. If this immorality was not attractive, people would not be engaging in these sins. So Solomon is teaching his son that the pull of sexual immorality will be strong. In fact, the temptation can be very strong.

“Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.” With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him” (Proverbs 7:18-21). Another enticement is the seduction that a person will not be caught. No one is going to know about this. Fill up on your sexual desires because you can do these things in secret. Every sexual temptation speaks these words leading us to believe that we will be able to get away with what we are doing and no one will know.

Transition: Solomon points out the attractiveness of sexual sins. Now he is going to give some warnings concerning these sins, consequences for committing sexual sins, and then offer ways to avoid sexual sins.

General Warnings Concerning Sexual Sins

1. The end result is bitter (Proverbs 5:4-6). “Though the lips of the forbidden woman drip honey and her words area smoother than oil, in the end she’s as bitter as wormwood and as sharp as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps head straight for Sheol. She doesn’t consider the path of life; she doesn’t know that her ways are unstable” (Proverbs 5:3-6).

Solomon says that everything sounds great when the sexual temptation arises. But “she doesn’t consider the path of life.” Meaning, no one is thinking about the end results of sexual sin. The movies glorify fornication and adultery. Yet no one depicts the bitterness that is caused from engaging in sexual sins. You will fill your life full of regret and sorrow. With adultery, no one is thinking about dealing with the consequences of going home to spouse and children. With fornication, no one is thinking about pregnancy and disease. No one is thinking about the emotional damage that comes from unlawful sexual relations. And, certainly no one is thinking about the impact of these actions on their relationship with God. “Her steps head straight for Sheol.”

2. You are going to hurt yourself (Proverbs 6:27-29). “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished” (Proverbs 6:27-29).

These are great rhetorical questions that Solomon asks his son. Of course a person would be absolutely insane to think that one can carry fire next to his chest and not be burned or walk on hot coals and not be scorched. Why would we think that we can engage in sexual sins and not pay the consequences? It is the same foolishness as thinking that you can carry fire without being hurt. “He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it will destroy himself” (Proverbs 6:32).

3. The young are more susceptible to sexual temptations (7:6-10). “For at the window of my house I have looked out through my lattice, and I have seen among the simple, I have perceived among the youths, a young man lacking sense, passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house in the twilight, in the evening, at the time of night and darkness. And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.”

Particularly vulnerable to the seductive woman are young men. Satan has targets on their heads to use sexual temptations to draw them away from the Lord. We need to be aware of this and be people who encourage each other to maintain purity and to instruct them in what we found success and failures so they can succeed against these traps. We cannot throw our young into the world unprepared for the onslaught they will endure.

Specific Consequences From Sexual Sins

1. Destruction of reputation (Proverbs 6:33). “Wounds and dishonor will he get, and his disgrace will not be wiped away.” Any reputation and respect that one has built for oneself will be immediately wiped out and not be regained when we commit sexual sins.

2. Loss of wealth (Proverbs 5:10). “Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel, lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich another man’s house” (Proverbs 5:8-10). This is an interesting insight by Solomon. He tells his son that if he engages in sexual sins, all of his labor, toil, and wealth will simply go to another person. This is true in many ways, from the cost of divorce because of our sinful acts, to the dividing of possessions, to alimony and child support.

3. Destruction of self (Proverbs 6:32). In these three chapters Solomon repeatedly tells his son that you are simply destroying yourself when you engage in sexual sins. “He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself” (Proverbs 6:32). “I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation” (Proverbs 5:13-14). Further, the spiritual damage is so great it cannot be calculated. “The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him and he is held fast in the cords of sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray” (Proverbs 5:22-23). Solomon is suggesting that one’s soul is nearly unrecoverable after committing sexual sins. It is also the destruction of the life we had planned to lead. “With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk. All at once he followed her like an ox going to the slaughter, like a deer stepping into a noose till an arrow pierces his liver, like a bird darting into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life” (Proverbs 7:21-23). These acts will forever change your life in ways that you cannot imagine. Sexual sins seem innocent and harmless but your life will change for the worse.

Preventing Sexual Sins

1. Do not put yourself in tempting circumstances (Proverbs 7:6-9). My father always told me that nothing good ever happens after midnight. Well, he got that saying from the Proverbs. In Proverbs 7:6-9 Solomon says that he looks through the window and sees the young men putting themselves in situations where they will be tempted to commit sin. In verse 9 we see that it is during the time of night and darkness. What is this young man doing wandering the streets in the middle of the night? You will find nothing but trouble. Good rules that Solomon expresses to his son:

Rule 1: Never be alone with a person of the opposite gender. Does not matter if the person is a Christian or not, it is simply unwise to be alone with another. I do not go to bible studies with people of the opposite gender without someone going with me. Preachers fall to temptation by not keeping to this very important rule.

Rule 2: If it cannot be helped and you are alone with another, be in broad daylight in public places. In Proverbs 7 we see the folly of this person going into this woman’s house alone in the night. My father told me when I was in school if I ever came home with a date and for some reason they were not there, do not go in the house. Go to a public place, or, at the very least, sit on the curb until they return.

Rule 3: Remain accountable: Why is this young man taking the road next to her house (Proverbs 7:8)? He does not want to be seen and does not want anyone to know what he is doing. We need to be openly accountable to each other, if we are not married, and openly accountable to our spouse if we are married. Young people, there is no reason for your parents to not know where you are. This accountability protects from this danger. Married people, there is no reason why your spouse should not know where you are and be able to get in touch with you at anytime. This is accountability that maintains trust and protects us from danger. We all need this kind of accountability to fight sexual temptations.

2. Run away! (Proverbs 5:8). Joseph is an excellent example of simply running away from a tempting situation. We cannot allow ourselves to try to hold the fire close to our chests. We would like to think that we are strong enough to endure any such temptation. But why put ourselves to the test? Further, as my father said to me, it is not that I do not trust you but I do not trust others. This is true. Just because your intentions are pure and honorable does not mean that other people’s intentions are the same. Thus, Solomon says: “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:8).

3. Sexual desires are to be fulfilled in marriage (Proverbs 5:15-20). “Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” I believe the point here is very straightforward with this graphic language. Sexual desires are to be reserved for marriage and fulfilled by the spouse. When we are not consciously working to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of our spouse, then we will be open to temptation from the forbidden woman. To ignore the needs of our spouse is a recipe for disaster. If you are not married, then you are commanded by God to exercise self-control until marriage. We do not want to talk about these things but the Bible is very explicit in these commands (also read 1 Corinthians 7).

Conclusion:

We cannot allow ourselves to be deceived by sexual temptations. We must think about the overwhelming consequences from sexual immorality. The married destroy themselves, the children’s lives, their spouse’s trust, and cause great amounts of emotional pain. It is so strong that God said that is severs the marriage relationship. The unmarried hurt themselves, lose their reputation, and cause dramatic changes in their lives and greatly destroy their relationship with God.

Wealth and Its Empty Promises

By Brent Kercheville

The Limitations of Wealth

“Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4). Wealth has no value in the time of trouble. Wealth provides no security in life. Therefore, riches demand a proper perspective. Wealth cannot fix important life issues or problems.

The Disappointment of Wealth

“Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.” (Proverbs 11:28)

Riches are uncertain and lead one from God. Righteousness is certain and leads one to God.

“Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” (Proverbs 23:5)

We know the truth of this proverb on a regular basis! How many times we think we are starting to get ahead financially or think we will be able to save a little money when something breaks! That’s the moment the car breaks, the air conditioning goes out, or some other expense occurs. A pursuit for riches leads to disappointment because riches are always just out of reach.

The Folly of Dishonest Wealth

Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it. (Proverbs 13:11)

A person with an evil eye tries to get rich quick, but it only leads to poverty. (Proverbs 28:22)

Get rich quick? Don’t believe it! The person with the evil eye is the one trying to “get rich quick.” A solemn warning is given to us when the lure of quick wealth dangles before us. Even secular proverbs warn us against trying to get rich quick. “He who would be rich in a year gets hanged in half of year” (Spanish proverb). The proverbs of the scriptures continue to be proven as wise and true: “Better is a little with righteousness, than vast revenues without justice.” (Proverbs 16:8)

The Destructiveness of the Love of Wealth

Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man. (Proverbs 27:20)

“The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry. “There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’ (Proverbs 30:15-16)

Feeding one’s desires just stimulates them more. The more we get the more we want. Fulfilling desires is actually unfulfilling. We must learn that riches simply do not satisfy. Name the last purchase you made that gave you lasting satisfaction. There is satisfaction for a moment, but then something newer, better, or faster comes along and we are no longer satisfied with what we have. The love of wealth leads to unhappiness because riches are never attained.

Overcoming the Snare of Wealth

1. Do not envy the rich

“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs 23:17-18)

2. Do not overwork

“Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” (Proverbs 23:4-5)

3. Be content

If you find honey, eat just enough— too much of it, and you will vomit. (Proverbs 25:16)

Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred. (Proverbs 15:16-17)

Better a bite of dry bread eaten in peace than a family feast filled with strife. (Proverbs 17:1)

4. Honor the Lord with your wealth

“Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” (Proverbs 3:9)

The Call For True Heart In Worship

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

Romans 12:1 says, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, your reasonable service.” Paul declares that our lives are to be offered as a living sacrifice which is our reasonable worship to God. The word “reasonable” implies a worship that is generated from the inward or reasoning part of man. The word is also translated as “sincere,” and thus a worship that is truly “in spirit” (John 4:24).

Notice that Paul does not say that our worship is only on Sunday morning for one hour when there is a sermon delivered. Our entire lives are to be constant sacrifices before the Lord. There is never a time that I am allowed to “turn off” sincere worship. Solomon teaches his son in the Proverbs that he needs to have a true heart in worship if he is going to live the good life now.

The Evil of an Insincere Heart

“The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight. The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but he loves him who follows righteousness” (Proverbs 15:8-9; NKJV). “A sacrifice brought by wicked people is disgusting to the Lord…” (Proverbs 15:8; God’s Word).

We need to note the language that God uses toward those who try to bring worship to God with wickedness. The worship of those who are not dedicated to the Lord but practice wickedness is an abomination. The worship is disgusting to God. There is no merit to making sacrifices without the heart involved in the worship.

Solomon describes a great way to make one’s life miserable. Live an external religious life that is devoid of any emotion from the heart. Worship God externally; it’s miserable. Worship is dull and boring when the heart is not engaged in the activity. But this is true about anything in life. If the heart is not involved, then Disney World is dull and miserable. Rather than enjoying oneself, you complain that it is too hot and there are too many lines. This is the same thing with God. There is a way to know if your heart is not involved in worship: you think services are boring, you don’t like singing, praying seems worthless, you don’t want to read your Bible, you don’t come to Bible class, you don’t want to come back tonight, you come late, you leave early, in short, you simply do not care. Yet you think God is pleased because you showed up. You think God is happy because for one hour a week you think about God. But is disgusted with these actions.

“The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord, but the words of the pure are pleasant” (Proverbs 15:26). Do we see that God cares about the heart? Do we see that God cares about our thoughts? Insincerity is simply unacceptable to God. The Lord is measuring our hearts. We must see that we are not fooling God with outward actions alone.

“The one who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9). The point is that there is no benefit to hypocritical living. The person who does not have the heart desiring to hear the word of the Lord will not have his prayers answered. In fact, those prayers are looked upon as an abomination. God has called us for a sincere heart. How can we have a sincere heart in worship to God?

How to Have a Sincere Heart

Live in God’s presence.

“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). We must recognize that God sees it all. God sees how we treat our spouse. God sees how we treat our parents. God sees how we treat our children. God sees what we believe no one else sees. The first way to develop a sincere heart is to accept that God sees our hearts. I am not going to get away with an attitude that shows up on Sunday but has no care for anything else spiritually. God knows my heart and I am wasting my time if I do not have the heart involved. Living in God’s presence does not have to be negative motivation as so often it is. Living in God’s presence also means that the evil are not getting away with what they are doing but will be judged. Living in God’s presence also means that our unnoticed, righteous acts are noticed and rewarded by God.

Make a commitment to God.

“Commit your activities to the Lord and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3). This proverb describes a person trusting his or her life decisions and actions to the hand of God. Now, we may ask the question what this has to do with having a sincere heart. But this proverb has everything to with revealing the sincere heart. Our plans must be built upon God alone. When we plan, decide, and act based upon our wisdom, our emotions, and our comforts, then we have not committed ourselves to the Lord. This lack of commitment reveals an insincere heart for we confess that Jesus is our Master, but in truth we are our own master. A sincere heart makes a commitment to God and to His kingdom that regardless of the difficulties of life’s circumstances we will trust in the Lord to work things out.

Realize God is testing us.

“The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the hearts” (Proverbs 17:3). Do you see what Solomon told his son? The Lord is going to put you and I in circumstances to test our hearts to see if they are truly sincere. God will create life challenges to see what we will do. How often do we fail the test? We claim to have sincere hearts that trust in the Lord, but when we get into a bind, we do not trust in the Lord to provide but immediately jump to things that reflect our own comfort and wisdom. Sadly, we repeatedly fail God’s tests. We need to see these situations as chances to shine, proving our faith in God.

Train our conscience.

“The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the innermost parts of his being” (Proverbs 20:27). We must train our consciences according to the word of God if we are going to have a sincere heart. The conscience is supposed to be a tool of God to help us. But we often sear our consciences and ignore them. It is difficult to have a pure heart before God when we are not training our spirit in the laws of the Lord. We must teach our consciences to be upset at sin. We must train our consciences to long for the ways of God.

Be ready to make corrections.

“Poverty and shame will come to him who disdains correction, but he who regards a rebuke will be honored” (Proverbs 13:10). None of will live perfectly. But how foolish it is to ignore our mistakes to save face around others. We need to accept our mistakes so that we cannot make the mistake again and so we can move forward. We need to declare that we made a foolish decision, but we will own up to the error and do all we can to correct the problem. Too often we compound our problems by making another bad decision rather than simply dealing with the problem so we can move forward in our lives.

Controlling Anger

Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

In his efforts to teach his son how to have the good life now, Solomon sees fit to speak to his son about the need to control anger. We often fail to recognize how anger adversely affects our lives in so many different ways. Solomon sits his son down to explain to him the effects of uncontrolled anger, the reasons he needs to control his anger, and then practical advice as to how to restrain anger. Solomon offers a number of proverbs to show his son that many problems in life are due to our uncontrolled anger.

The Effects of Uncontrolled Anger:

He acts foolishly (Proverbs 14:17; Proverbs 14:29). “A wise man fears the Lord and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless. A quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated” (Proverbs 14:16-17). Uncontrolled anger reveals our foolishness. We know the truth of this proverb by looking at ourselves and looking at the world. It is a foolish thing to chase after people who cut you off or who drive badly. We look like fools when we decide we are justified in yelling at a sales clerk. We look like fools because we show that we cannot control ourselves.

He causes strife (Proverbs 29:22; Proverbs 15:18; Proverbs 19:11). “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man commits many sins” (Proverbs 29:22). Our anger creates relationship problems. Our anger does not resolve problems with other people. When is the last time that our outburst of wrath made the sales clerk do what we wanted? When is the last time our outburst of wrath brought about the apology we were looking for? Never. Our anger simply escalates the situation into a contentious quarrel. We create problems through our anger. “For as churning the milk produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife” (Proverbs 30:33). This is a great illustration. Solomon uses a simple illustration of cause and effect. Churning milk produces butter, twisting the nose produces blood, and stirring up anger causes problems.

He cannot be taught (Proverbs 19:19). “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 29:20). This proverb is very telling. There is no hope for a fool. The proverbs repeatedly tell us what a terrible situation it is to be the fool in life. But the person who is quick to speak has even less hope. Anger fits this qualification because uncontrolled anger is reactionary that does not calmly deal with the situation. If we decide that we are justified with our uncontrolled anger, there is no hope for us. “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again” (Proverbs 19:19). This proverb makes a similar point. There is no hope because we will not learn from our mistakes. There is no point in giving help to the hot-tempered because they are not in control of themselves, and it will happen again.

He is defenseless (Proverbs 25:28; Proverbs 16:32). “Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28). Broken walls are of no value to a city. The city is defenseless and is open for attack. In the same way, by lacking self-control we show that we are defenseless and are open to the charge that we are not true disciples. We are found vulnerable in our walk with God. When something does not go the way we want it to go, we get upset and lose control of our emotions. Satan has found our weakness and we are going to be under his attack.

Anger Is Contagious. “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared” (Proverbs 22:24-25). This proverb is really important to dwell upon for a few minutes. Anger is a learned trait. That is why Solomon says to not spend time with the hot-tempered and easily angered person. You will learn to have the same traits. As parents we need to really think about this because we very easily teach these characteristics to our children. I know that this is the last thing each of us want to do, but we still. We teach our children that outbursts of wrath are the way to deal with negative situations.

The NKJV reads, “…and set a snare for your soul.” We are putting our souls in jeopardy when we associate with people who react with a hot temper. Further, we are setting a snare for our children when we teach them this kind of behavior.

Reasons To Control Anger

1. Shows strength. “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Proverbs 16:32). Strength of character is greater than strength in muscle. We gain great respect and appreciation by others when they see our strength to control our emotions.

2. Shows wisdom.A man has joy in an apt answer, and how delightful is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23). Wisdom is the ability to say the right thing in a difficult situation. Rather than reacting, we need to calmly and rationally speak, which brings joy to our own lives as well as the lives of others. “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29).

3. Brings honor.It is to one’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3). We have just read a number of proverbs that tell us how anger brings about strife. Now connect the above proverbs to that fact. It is honorable to avoid strife, which means we must avoid uncontrolled anger. “A person with good sense is slow to anger, and it is to his credit that he overlooks an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).

How To Restrain Anger

1. Know the outcome of a “hot” answer. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Uncontrolled anger does not achieve the results that we think it will achieve. We think that our anger will cause another person to capitulate and do what we want them to do. Yet that does not happen. Uncontrolled anger does not bring an apology. Uncontrolled anger does not bring resolution to the problem. Anger escalates the situation. Anger simply stirs up strife and our harsh answer brings about more anger. While we have been talking about being nicer to the unhelpful clerk and the bad driver, let’s talk about the effect of the hot answer on the family. Anger does not bring the desired result in the home.

Two results take place when we use harsh words in the home, neither are desirable outcomes. We use anger to get our way. But all of these proverbs are showing that we do not get our way, but find strife. We are not going to cause our spouse or children to do what we want through uncontrolled anger. You will have an argument with your spouse and build resentment in your children. The atmosphere of the home is conflict and strife where outbursts of wrath and uncontrolled anger exist. “The beginning of strife is like releasing water; therefore stop contention before a quarrel starts” (Proverbs 17:14). We are simply making matters worse through anger.

Unfortunately, we have probably gotten our way through using our anger. So we have learned that this is a powerful tool to get what we want. So you may be thinking in your mind, “You’re wrong, Brent. I don’t get an argument; I get my way.” This may be the case. But do you want to get your way through intimidation and fear? Do you want your spouse to do things only because they know they will get their head taken off if they do not? Deep down inside we know that is not what we are looking for from others. We want them to do something because we asked them to do it or because they know that is what we like. But we get upset when what we want does not happen, so we try to make it happen. We simply destroy the love in the relationship when anger is used in the home. This is also true for our children. We have to walk a fine line of being firm and setting rules and boundaries that cannot be crossed. But we cannot use anger as a means of fear toward our children. There is a difference between bringing punishment for violating the rules and blowing up with anger because our children frustrate us. So we need to watch ourselves and realize that anger does not bring about the desired result in the end.

2. Become slow to anger. The previous proverb said that a soft answer turns away wrath. Similarly, Solomon said, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention” (Proverbs 15:18). We need to become people that are slow to anger. How do we do this?

  • ·    Realize the need to be slow to anger. If we do not see the purpose of being slow to anger, then we will not ever change. We will continue to act with uncontrolled anger and will not change. But we need to see the effect anger has on ourselves, because we act like fools. We need to see how anger affects the home because we provoke our children to wrath and stir up strife. God has commanded us to be slow to anger so we must change. “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20).

  • ·    

  • ·    Listen more, react less. Listen to what the other person has to say rather than formulating in our minds the next argument to make. Really try to hear what the other person is saying rather than be angry because you are not winning the argument.

  • ·    

  • ·    Stop talking. Stop trying to win the argument. Discussion becomes completely unproductive when we feel like we need to be right. State what you believe and let it be. We cannot make people do anything. They will do things on their own will not because you verbally beat them to death.

  • ·    Anger does not bring about the righteousness of God that we are supposed to have in our lives. To state this another way, we are losing our souls if we do not learn to be slow to anger.

The Hallmarks of a Fool

Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

Solomon spends a lot of time describing the fool. The reason why his son needs to know what a fool looks like is (1) to not make friends with fools and (2) so his son will not be a fool. There are times in life when we are doing foolish things and acting like a fool but do not even realize it. So what Solomon does is that he describes the actions of the fool. No one wants to think that they are fools. But we are going to describe what the fool looks like and we may find that we are acting like fools. Rather than take offense at God’s word, let us be willing to make life changes if we are doing something that is foolish.

Eyes on Worldliness (Proverbs 17:24; Proverbs 13:19)

“The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth” (Proverbs 17:24). Solomon describes a contrast between the fool and the discerning. But the contrast is interesting. We would expect the proverb to say: “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool toward folly.” But Solomon says that the eyes of a fool “are on the ends of the earth.” But the fool is not looking at things that are obviously folly. He does not think in his mind it is a good idea to stand in the street. Notice that the fool has his eyes on the ends of the earth. The fool is not focused on the wise ways of life. He is always thinking about some other worldly thing. Many examples would fall into this category. Rather than find a steady job, the person is always looking for a way to get rich quick or wants to work minimal hours for full pay. Rather than being content with what he has, the fool keeps his eyes on the world wanting to have the things they have. We need to see that this proverb has broad application. The fool is flighty and not grounded in wisdom. The fool thinks other people’s lives are better than their own. The fool does not live in the now but lives in a utopian future where everything is the way they want it to be.

Lacks Wisdom, But Offers False Wisdom (Proverbs 26:7; Proverbs 26:9; Proverbs 15:2)

“Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools” (26:7). “Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools” (Proverbs 26:9). Solomon describes the wisdom of fools. Wisdom is useless to the fool and the fool offers wisdom that is useless, and if followed, is painful. “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly” (Proverbs 15:2). Notice that foolishness gushes from the mouth of the fool. This means we need to watch whose advice we accept. If we see a person whose life is not orderly and whose eyes are on the ends of the earth, we would be wise to realize the useless of their “wisdom.” It is amazing how often the people who have made a disaster of their own life are quick to give advice to others. The reason why their advice is useless is because of the next point.

Never learns (Proverbs 17:10; Proverbs 27:22)

“A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool” (Proverbs 17:10). The idea is that you could beat the fool over and over again and they still would not learn. The wise simple need a rebuke and will take it to heart. The fool goes through pain and suffering and still will not gain understanding. “You cannot separate fools from their foolishness, even though you grind them like grain with mortar and pestle” (Proverbs 27:22). This proverb has a similar point. Trials and tribulations will not help them see the error of their ways. They refuse to learn.

Repeats error. In fact, the fool will repeat the error. “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11). This proverb draws out the disgusting aspect of the fool. It is disgusting to everyone else that the person continues to make the same mistakes. The fool never learns.

Never changes. The fool never learns, therefore the fool never changes. “A whip is for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools” (Proverbs 26:3). This is another proverb with great imagery showing that the fool is stubborn and unwilling to change to go in the proper direction.

Does not listen. Further, the fool does not listen that he will make the proper decisions. “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions” (Proverbs 18:2). I do not understand why I have seen so many times people go to the elders, preacher, or leaders of a congregation for help and counsel, only to reject their wisdom. Do not ask for help with sin if you are not going to listen. Do not ask for marriage help if you are just going to complain and give opinions. Do not ask about life lessons if you are going to do what you want to do anyway.

Thinks he/she is right. The ultimate reason the fool does not learn is because the fool thinks he is right. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). When we are unwilling to truly listen to another’s point of view and try it for ourselves, we are simply the fool who thinks that he is right and everyone else is wrong. “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26). The fool is self-reliant. He think he does not need rebuke or counsel. He does not consult the word of God for direction. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Why do we think we know it all and are so smart? God says that we are walking down the road to destroy our lives when we reject the wise counsel of others. This fact is so important that Solomon said it twice: “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 16:25). The fool does not learn. He does not listen, he does not change, he repeats his errors, and thinks his way is the only right way.

Blames God for problems (Proverbs 19:3)

“A man’s own foolishness ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the LORD” (Proverbs 19:3). People mess up their own lives and blame God for the outcome. I have seen this to be true more than I care to admit. We make the bad decision and then complain to God because our lives are so difficult. WE DID IT TO OURSELVES! We want to be angry at God for our life condition and yet it was our bad decisions that placed us at this point. We rejected wisdom, wise counsel, and the sayings of God, and yet we want to place the blame on God. Too many people in this world and among our brethren are angry at God when they should be angry at themselves. You made the financial decisions, not God. You decided to get married to your spouse, not God. You decided to ignore the scriptures, not God. You decided to worry about money first, not God.

Lacks self-control (Proverbs 29:11)

“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (Proverbs 29:11). We talked a bit about the need for self-control last week, so I will not go into details here. But we need to see that if we are people who feel like we need to be heard and voice our opinions, we are fools. Realize that our society teaches the opposite of this proverb. Our society says that we need our children to express their feelings and we need to let people know how we feel. No, we need to learn how to control our emotions and our feelings so that we are not reacting based upon them. The fool vents the feelings of the heart. The wise control themselves.

Causes problems (Proverbs 20:30)

“It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3). The fool likes the argument. The wise try to defuse the situation. We also spoke about this last week, but I want to remind you this fools cause problems.

Destroys self (Proverbs 10:21; Proverbs 10:8; Proverbs 18:6-7; Proverbs 10:14)

It is important for us to know the end results of our folly. “The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense” (Proverbs 10:21). “The wise of heart will receive commands, but a babbling fool will be ruined” (Proverbs 10:8). “A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul” (Proverbs 18:6-7). The fool simply causes all sorts of problems for himself. “The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of the fool hastens destruction” (Proverbs 10:14). We need to see how Solomon emphasizes to his son that the end result of foolish behavior is ruin and destruction. Our lives will be full of pain and misery if we continue to adopt the characteristics of the fool.

Conclusion:

1. Keep our eyes on wisdom (God) and not the folly (the world)

2. Be truly willing to learn.

Listen to others and to God

Learn from mistakes/do not repeat the error

Change

Do not assume you are right

3. Do not blame God for your problems; blame yourself

4. Develop self-control

5. Avoid strife and conflict

The Lazy

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

Solomon has been spending his time instructing his son in the ways of godliness and common sense so his son can have the good life now. Solomon teaches on a topic that all of our children need to hear about before being released into the world. Solomon discusses the characteristics of the sluggard. Laziness is a real problem in our children. It seems they begin life with a tremendous amount of energy, but by the teenage years, they do not want to do anything. If we do not teach our children about laziness, they will continue to take the path of the sluggard. As with the previous studies, we will look at the characteristics that Solomon describes concerning the lazy person, and if it sounds like our lives, then we will need to be openhearted to make changes.

The Day of the Sluggard (Proverbs 26:13-15; Proverbs 22:13; Proverbs 19:24)

Proverbs 26:13-15 describes a day in the life of the slacker. “The lazy man says, “There is a lion in the road! A fierce lion is in the streets!” As a door turns on its hinges, so does the lazy man on his bed. The lazy man buries his hand in the bowl; it wearies him to bring it back to his mouth. The lazy manis wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.” (Proverbs 26:13-16; NKJV).

The sluggard’s day follows a well-worn routine. It begins in bed (Proverbs 26:14). He will not get out of bed. Like a door on its hinges, the lazy person just keeps rolling over in bed. He is “hinged” to his bed. He just wants five more minutes in bed. Then, he wants another five minutes in bed. He does not want to get up and he sleeps the day away. When the sluggard finally gets out of bed, he looks out the window and believes he sees a lion in the streets. Solomon is showing that the lazy one will come up with any excuse possible to get out of doing work. He will even come up with some extreme excuse to not do the work needed for the day. “I can’t work today; there’s a lion in the street!” Rather than work, the lazy man goes to enjoy a leisurely meal. He makes a promising start: he gets his hand into the dish, but he is too lazy to bring his hand back to his mouth. He is even too lazy to take care of himself. While the world is working away, the sluggard wastes the day away with naps and excuses why work cannot be done. Yet, in all of his laziness, he thinks he is smarter than seven sensible people.

While Solomon using some hyperbole in these illustrations, the point is very clear. The life of the lazy is ridiculous. Now, no one thinks of himself as lazy. If I were to take a poll and ask you to raise your hand if are lazy, I dare say that no one would raise their hands. However, if I were to ask if you personally knew a lazy person I think all of us would raise our hands. The point is that there are numerous lazy people in the world; we just don’t think that we are one of them. So let us allow Solomon to tell us the characteristics of the lazy. Though we do not think of ourselves as lazy, we may find that we are the lazy person.

The Characteristics of the Lazy Person

The Difference is not in Desire (Proverbs 13:4; Proverbs 21:25).

We may think that one of the key characteristics of the lazy person is that they do not have any desire. We may think that they lack ambition and simply do not want anything in life. But this is not true and would be a false measurement of the lazy. The lazy do have ambition and desire much in life. “The appetite of the lazy craves, and gets nothing, while the appetite of the diligent is richly supplied” (Proverbs 13:4). Notice that both the lazy and the diligent crave and have appetites. To think that having desiring means that you are not lazy is false. In fact, Solomon said in Proverbs 21:25, “The desire of the lazy man kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.” Again, notice that the lazy person has desire, but the desire ends in frustration because the lazy refuse to do the work necessary to make the desire reality.

Remarkable ability to think up excuses (Proverbs 26:13; Proverbs 22:13).

“The lazy man says, ‘Thereis a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!’” (Proverbs 22:13). It is not that people have actually said these words. Rather, Solomon is showing the remarkable ability of the lazy to think of ridiculous excuses to not work and actually believe in their excuses. The lazy searches for any opportunity to get out of doing work, rather than looking for the opportunity to get work accomplished. Even when there is clearly work to be done, the lazy will avoid the work. “The slacker does not plow during planting season; at harvest time he looks, and there is nothing” (Proverbs 20:4; HCSB). Somehow, the lazy makes excuses for not plowing during planting season. Yet, the lazy still goes out to the field at harvest time, expecting a crop, even though he did not do the work. It is hilarious to read this proverb, yet the truth is chilling. How often people today think they should be have possessions and provisions, yet they are unwilling to work to make those provisions. You are not going to be able to pay your bills if you are not working. It is an obvious connection that many people fail to recognize.

Inability to make a decisive start at anything (Proverbs 24:33; Proverbs 6:9-11).

Everything is always “a little longer.” “I won’t do it right now; I will do it a little later.” “I will work a little later.” “How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? ‘A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest’— Your poverty will come in like a vagabond and your need like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:9-11). The response of the lazy is that he needs just a little longer to get up and do the work required. Rather than get up and start a task, the lazy meander at a few different tasks, making it look like they are working.

Inability to bring a task to completion (Proverbs 19:24; Proverbs 26:15; Proverbs 10:26).

Any task that the lazy does attempt is never brought to completion. What little effort is given is never enough to finish the job. “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish, but will not even bring it back to his mouth” (Proverbs 19:24). The lazy person puts his hand to the task, but never finishes what he starts. So bad is his lack of completion that he becomes a pain to the people in his life. “Like vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, so is the lazy one to those who send him” (Proverbs 10:26). Solomon describes how untrustworthy the lazy are. You cannot send him on an errand because he will not get the job done.

I would like to sum up these last two points that Solomon makes into a word that we often use today: procrastination. We often excuse procrastination. In fact, we some times place a little glory in the procrastinator. But did not Solomon just describe the procrastinator in these last two descriptions of the lazy person? The procrastinator does not make a decisive start at anything, always saying that he will do it later. Also, the procrastinator typically does not finish the task, leaving things half done. Friends, we do a great disservice to our children and to our family members to make light of procrastination, because it can so easily turn into deep laziness. We need to teach our children the importance of starting a task, working hard at the task, and completing the task. The task is not important and often we fail because we think it is not a big deal that our children do not take out the trash or clean their room. Yes, in the scheme of things trash removal is not a big deal. But what is important is allowing laziness to breed in our children. Of course, this is a greater problem when our children become teenagers and they get very lazy. We need to be concerned about teaching our children some sort of work ethic so they can be function adults who can provide for themselves and for their family.

Overcoming Laziness (Proverbs 6:6-8)

Solomon tells us how to overcome the tendencies of laziness. Solomon tells us to learn from the animals. “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones. Learn from their ways and be wise! Even though they have no prince, governor, or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter.” (Proverbs 6:6-8; NLT). Solomon instructs his son to go to the ant and learn from its ways. The key point that I believe Solomon wants his son to learn from the ant is that the ant is a self-starter. The ant displays discipline and foresight. The ant works without oversight, realizing the need to finish the task.

Work, Not Excuses.

It is time for us to stop thinking of every reason not to work in life. But this is really true in regards to God. We make so many excuses as to why we cannot be a worker for God. We are too tired, too busy, too inexperienced, and any number of other excuses we may come up with as to why we are not volunteering to be students of God’s word, teachers of Bible classes, and evangelistic to our friends.

Start, and Finish.

We should be people who are starters and finishers. We may wonder why any of these things matters. But our work ethic is a reflection upon God. Consider the word of God: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (Colossians 3:23-24). We need to teach this to our children that this is the reason we are not lazy and why we work hard: because we are serving God in everything we do.

Your Friends and Neighbors

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

Solomon also spends a large amount of time talking to his son about who he spends his time with on a regular basis. The reason Solomon wants to teach his son about this topic is because the people we spend our time with will make us or break us. We do not realize how much other people rub off on us. We can begin to speak the way another speaks, think the way another thinks, and act the way another acts. Many times this assimilation happens involuntarily. By being exposed to this person, we start changing. Perhaps the most dramatic way we see this truth is in marriage. I dare say that every person who is married for any significant amount of time will recognize that they are a different person now than they were before marriage, and the reason is because of the relationship with the spouse. Therefore Solomon wants to warn his son about his companions.

The Problem With Evil Friends

We become like them.

We have a saying “You are what you eat.” Solomon says that you are who you spend your time with. “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Pro 13:20). Solomon’s proverbs are so useful because there is the stated meaning and the implied meaning. The implied meaning is what we would expect the proverb to say: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but whoever walks with fools will become a fool.” There is an implied contrast that Solomon is giving. But not only will spending time with fools make us a fool, but we will also suffer harm.

We receive bad advice from them.

“The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Pro 12:26). We need to be careful who are friends are because we will receive bad advice from them and be led astray. This is certainly among Christians as well. Christians can sometimes give terrible advice. The advice is not God-seeking and does not have an emphasis on spiritual things. We cannot assume that because a person is the same age, same gender, or has the same interests that he or she is a good person to be a friend. Carefully choose your friends. Choose friends that will help you go down the right path and not lead you astray.

We will find trouble being with them.

“Do not envy wicked men, do not desire their company; for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble” (Pro 24:1-2). Too many times we find trouble because we go along with the crowd. Too often we do not refuse to get away from the foolishness of our friends, even though we know we should, because we do not want to seem strange. We should not want to be in these people’s company. When people are interested in engaging in hurtful, harmful, and evil actions, why in the world would we want to be in their company? Think enough of yourself and enough about God to get away from those people and be friends who do not plot violence and speak about making trouble.

The Benefits of Righteous Friends

A friend in your darkest hour.

One of the great benefits of having true friends is that they will not leave you when you do have times of trouble. They will stand beside you through the difficulties. “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). We can have a large number of friends and think that they are reliable. But a true friend is few and far between and it is that person that we ought to be seeking. But the true friend is worth it because that friend will be more useful to you than even your own family members. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). You will be eternally grateful to the friends who helped and stood by you when you went through your traumatic times. You and I should not be concerned about what people think about us such that is causes us to compromise our values, beliefs, and faith. True friends will help us and stay with us and would never want us to compromise our faith. If you have friends trying to make you do something you do not want to do, quite simply, those people are not your friends.

Your life will be better.

We already notice the negative part of this proverb, but let us review to see the positive side of it. “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). You will have a better life by choosing good friends. You will become wise by being around wise people. Now, kids, I know you will not like this but your parents are wise. You can learn many things from them that will help you have a good life. I know that you think that they are old and outdated, not knowing anything about the world today. But we need to see that Solomon’s wisdom, which is 3000 years old, still has great value today. Your parents’ wisdom and experience still has great value today even though it may have been 20-30 years since they were your age.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). A good, righteous friend will make you a better person. You will learn and grow by surrounding yourself with the right people. Might I suggest that this is another good reason among many as to why we should spend as much time together as possible and not avoid the assembly? The more time we can spend with each other, the more we can sharpen each other so that we can have a life pleasing to God. We need to choose friends who will sharpen our lives, not dull our minds. We need to choose Christians who will sharpen us spiritually, not dull our zeal and knowledge.

Maintaining Godly Companions

We have to realize that good friendships do not grow on their own accord. Good friendships require time, effort, and consideration. Friendships are easily destroyed and only hard work will keep our relationships maintained.

Watch your words.

“Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death, so is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, ‘Was I not joking?’” (Proverbs 26:18-19). What an outrageous picture! The best way to destroy a friendship is to be reckless with your words. Here is a “friend” whose words are painful barbs, but justifies himself by saying that he was just joking. Have you ever noticed that when someone says that they were just joking that it does not fix the barbs and arrows from what they said? It still hurts. The point: even if you think you are just joking, don’t joke if the comedy involves saying something hurtful. It is not funny and such words will destroy relationships.

Be considerate.

“Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house; otherwise, he’ll get sick of you and hate you” (Proverbs 25:17). If we want to have good friends, do not wear out your welcome. Of course, they did not have the technology we have today. We often are not setting foot in our neighbor’s house. But we frequent call someone, email someone, instant message someone, or use some other form of technology. Be considerate. Good friends respect each other’s time. Yes, I would like to talk to you. But I cannot talk every day, three times a day. I have responsibilities to work, school, family, and home. We want people to be considerate of our time; we also need to be considerate of other’s time.

“He who blesses his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it will be counted a curse to him” (Proverbs 27:14). Solomon makes a similar point in this proverb: be considerate. Too often we think about ourselves in a friendship and not about the other person first. In this proverb, he thinks about himself by rising early and blessing in a loud voice, not thinking about how annoying this would be to the one he is blessing. We think we are being so helpful and kind to this person and that person wants to ring our necks.

Forgive, not gossip.

“He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends” (Proverbs 17:9). There are two keys aspects that Solomon touches upon that maintains godly friendships. First, when someone harms us, we do well to let it go. Essentially, we must assume the best out of the person rather than the worst out of the person. To seek the best out of the person, we must accept the likely possibility that the offense was accidental and harm was not intended. However, too often we assume the worst. Therefore, we put our head down, give the silent treatment, try to ignore them, give short answers, trying to manipulate the person. This action does not promote the friendship and does not show love. Trying to manipulate apologies through pouting is childish and certainly not like Christ. Let the offense go and assume the best intentions in the person.

The second point from the proverb is that not only do we refuse to cover over the offense, but we tell other people about what the person did. There is no better way to lose a friendship but to tell other people about what this person has done to you. I think we really need to watch this problem in marriages. No better way to destroy the trust of the marriage and ruin a marriage but to tell other people about the problems you are having with your spouse. We may think we are doing it in an innocent way, wanting advice on what to do, but it is completely improper because the act destroys the relationship. If you want to know what to do, talk to your spouse, not to someone else. He or she can tell you what would be helpful, not everyone else. If you repeat the matters that take place in the relationship to other people, you can consider the relationship over.

Know the consequence of inconsiderate actions.

“A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a fortress” (Proverbs 18:19). We need to let this proverb sink in. We must realize how hard it is to win back an offended friend. When we violate that trust through gossip, inconsiderate acts, or hurtful words, we will lose a friend and may not get him back. We take friendships for granted, and it is foolish to do so. When we violate the friendship, we may not get the friendship restored.

Do not turn against helpful friends.

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Proverbs 27:6). Don’t turn on your true friends when they are trying to help. Too often we burn bridges and destroy friendships because a faithful friend has enough courage to tell you something you need to hear. But we do not want to be told that we are wrong, so we run into the arms of the enemy rather than listen to the wounds of a friend. We need to not be so defensive and truly listen to the help our godly friends offer us. Many are the kisses of the enemy, and those kisses are deceitful. They are not looking out for your best interests, but your friend is.

Conclusion:

1. Choose your friends carefully; evil friends will bring you troubles

2. Spend time with people who make you a better person; iron sharpens iron.

3. Seek to build strong relationships with godly people; do this by being forgiving and considerate in word and deed.

Good, Godly Parenting

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

In all of the wisdom that Solomon imparts to his son, he does offer practical advice about circumstances that will happen later in life. One topic that will affect his son in the future is how to be a good, godly parent. Not everyone in our audience today is a parent. But I do not believe Solomon’s son was a parent yet when this instruction was given. If you think you will be a parent one day, this wisdom is just as useful. We also need to consider that we are to be examples and teachers to unbelievers and toward one another. Therefore, we need to know what good, godly parenting looks like so that we can help others as they try to raise their children.

A Call To Training

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). Most of us are aware of this proverb or have heard it at some point before. I believe this proverb has been greatly misused and misapplied in a variety of ways. So many times we place so much emphasis on the second clause of the proverb and ignore the point Solomon is making. Here is what I mean: usually we apply this proverb when we see children go “off the deep end.” So we retroactively say that the parent must not have trained the child in the way he should go. Now, it can absolutely be true that the parent did not give proper training. But that is not the point of the proverb. Remember, Solomon is imparting wisdom to his son. The key to the proverb is the first half of the proverb: to train the child. Reread this proverb without the second clause: “Train up a child in the way he should go.” What we see is that Solomon is giving instruction on the need for parents to train their children and by doing so, there will be rewards for their work.

The parent is given the duty to train a child in the proper direction. In fact, one version renders this verse like thus: “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6; TNIV). The Hebrew word translated “train” in many translations and “start” in the TNIV literally means “to narrow” according to Strong’s and figuratively means “to initiate” according to Strong’s. The idea is to narrow the other options and start the child down the right road.

I have begun coaching Paige’s soccer team. We had our first game a week ago. A bunch of four and five year olds standing on an open grass field is an interesting proposition because they have so many choices. They can stand still and stare at the sky. They can sit down and pick the grass. They can turn their back on the game completely. They can run off the field. The choices are limitless. As a coach, I stand on the field with the team. There were many times that my players had their backs to the ball. My job is turn them around and point the direction that they are to go. I have to tell them to stop looking at the sidelines and find the ball. Once they see the ball, they run to it. But I had to show them which way to go. I believe this is the idea that Solomon is teaching about parenting. We cannot make them run the right way. There is nothing I can do to make the child run to the ball. But I can pick him up and point him in the right direction and tell him to go. In such, I am training them to play soccer.

We have a God-given responsibility to be parents who train their children. We are not called to be our children’s friend, spoiler, babysitter, or food provider. A parent does these things also. But a parent trains the child and starts the child off on the way he should go. The parent is the trainer, not just a babysitter or food provider.

We live in a society that does not know what to do with their children. How many times I hear parents complain that their children do not do what they are told to do. I have an idea for these parents: train them to obey. Parents do not have their hands tied behind their backs, though they often act like it. Parent, you can do something. Train your child to listen. Train your child to obey. You are responsible for their actions and it is up to you to point them in the right direction.

Godly Parenting

Solomon tells his son that you train your child to set them on the right path in life. The rest of the proverbs we will look at this morning will explain (1) how one trains the child, and (2) why one should train the child. Therefore, let us take a look at the wisdom of Solomon concerning good, godly parenting.

“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother” (Proverbs 29:15; NASU). This proverb teaches us some important concepts about training. Let’s start with the second clause first. To leave a child alone, without direction, training, or discipline will bring the parent shame. Parents have a false idea that the child will “grow out” of certain characteristics. We say, “They will grow out of being a bully,” “they will grow out of being selfish,” and “they will grow out of being obnoxious.” This belief that they will grow out of these character traits is false. The parent is to train those characteristics out of the child.

Notice that Solomon gives two tools in this proverb to train children. The first tool is the rod. Solomon many times directs us to use corporeal punishment to train our children. In the beginning, this is the only way to train a child. I cannot reason with little Grace, my 10 month old daughter, about why she is not allowed to put small toys in her mouth. I cannot tell her that I am doing this for her protection so that she does not choke. The only thing I can do is swat her hand so that she will learn not to grab things that are dangerous. This is important because the action establishes the parent as the authority. By establishing this early, you will not have to swat your child later. The child will listen to your words, knowing that disobedience brings punishment.

One of the largest problems that I see today in parents and children is that children know that disobedience will not bring punishment. The parent carries no authority in the child’s mind and has no reason to do what the parent says. If you do not know if this is a problem in your parent/child relationship, there is an easy way to find out. Tell your child to do something, either to get something or to do some sort of chore. Then measure the reaction. Do you receive immediate obedience? Or do you get complaining and questioning? Or do you receive no response at all? If your child does not listen to you, then you are not in charge and you are not training your child.

The second tool Solomon offers is reproof. Reasoning needs to be part of training. I must tell Jenna why she received punishment. Punishment alone only angers the child. Parents must explain the reason for the discipline. Parents also need to explain the reasoning behind their decisions. While in the beginning, all the parent has is “because I said so” because the child is too young to understand, there is a time when reproof is necessary. We must be able to explain our rules because we are trying to start the child down the right path. Now look at the proverb as a whole: if do not train our child through corporeal punishment and through reasoning, you will be sorry and have shame brought upon you.

“Physical punishment cleanses away evil; such discipline purifies the heart” (Proverbs 20:30; NLT). Will we argue against the wisdom of God? Will we declare that we are smarter in the way to train our children than God is? God says he uses physical punishment to train us! “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:5-6; NASU). James 1 tells us the same thing that trials are to produce godly character. Yet we want to spare our children from physical punishment. But God says that this is the only way to purify the heart.

“Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of correction will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15; NKJV). I want us to see that Solomon is pressing this point into our minds. Our children need correction. They need us to set the rules, determine the boundaries, and enforce the laws. Part of our problem as parents is that we are lazy. We do not want to get up and have to deal with our children. We do not want to put in the hard work to train our children. But children will not behave without training. If you do not want to have to train your child, then do not have children. Parents must drive foolishness out of the child.

“Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction” (Proverbs 19:18). I like the NLT for this verse: “Discipline your children while there is hope. If you don’t, you will ruin their lives.” Parents have a short amount of time to set their children on the right path. It does not take long to create a brat. While it is hard work to train our children, while they are young is when they can still be molded. There will come a time when they will not listen and you cannot train them. If we refuse our responsibility to train our children through the rod and through reproof, we are ruining their lives.

“Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart” (Proverbs 29:17; ESV). Solomon gives us some good reasons why we need to discipline and train our children. The last proverb said that we bring destruction to their lives if we do not train them. In this proverb, Solomon tells us that we will have the good life by training our children because they will bring delight to your heart. There is much joy found in having children who respect you as parents and who make wise decisions in life. Children who make bad decisions bring a tremendous amount of pain to their parents. Discipline is good for the child and good for the parent.

“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24). If you do not train your child through physical punishment and verbal reasoning, you hate your child. God shows that he loves us by using these two tools to correct our lives so that we do not spend an eternity in hell. We need to also use these two tools to set our children on the right path of eternal life and the good life now. If you love your child, you will punish your child. You hate your child when you are unwilling to stop them from doing things that are wrong. You must train the child to not talk back, to respect authority, to obey, to listen, and to be respectful. Do not withhold the tools God has given you to train your child.

“Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from death” (Proverbs 23:13-14). Again, Solomon wants us to see the need for discipline. Parents can rescue their children from death by using God’s tools to set them in the right direction. The NLT says, “Don’t fail to correct your children. They won’t die if you spank them. Physical discipline may well save them from death.”

Conclusion:

1. Parents have the God-given duty to start our children down the right path. You are in charge. Be a parent, not a pushover.

2. Parents violate God’s law when we refuse to use God’s tools. We are instructed to use physical discipline to correct our children. We are instructed to use verbal reasoning to train our children. Neither can be neglected without judgment.

3. Parents who train their children will find joy in their own lives and bring joy to their children’s life. You can have a good life now and give a good life to your children by being a godly parent.

The Role of Children

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

In our last lesson we noticed Solomon teaching his son about good, godly parenting. Solomon is teaching his son early in life how to be a good parent so that when the day comes, he will have the wisdom to know what to do. In the meanwhile, the son will be able to have insight as he watches the parenting of others. Solomon also spends time discussing the role of children. Solomon does not teach these things to cause pain to parents retroactively, as we noticed with Proverbs 22:6. The point of these proverbs is to teach children how they ought to act. Most everyone has heard the command, “Honor your father and mother” (Ephesians 6:2; Exodus 20:12). The question is: how do we honor our father and our mother?

But there is another point that we will see Solomon bring out in these proverbs. Every child at an early age is seeking the approval of his or her parents. This may change over time for a variety of reasons. But initially, especially deep down within us, we want the approval of our parents. We want them to be proud of us. Solomon is going to tell us how to do that.

Your Actions and Decisions Affect Your Parents

There are a number of proverbs that describe how the actions of our children directly affect the wellbeing of the parents. Though numerous, read these proverbs with me:

“The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother” (Proverbs 10:1).

“A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish man despises his mother” (Proverbs 15:20).

“To have a fool for a son brings grief; there is no joy for the father of a fool” (Proverbs 17:21).

“The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son delights in him. May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice!” (Proverbs 23:24-25).

“My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad; my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right” (Proverbs 23:15-16).

There are more proverbs that speak about the joy of a wise child, but these are enough to make the point. These proverbs are to impress upon the young that what they do can bring joy or sorrow to their parents. These are appeals to the children to give your father and your mother reason for delight. We often do not think about this, but we honor our parents by the actions and decisions we make. Most of the time we only think of honor our father and mother as respect and glory. But we need to see that we also honor our parents by our own lives. Perhaps it is one of the best ways that we honor our parents. We want our children to grow up and do well, becoming useful adults in society. We don’t want them to grow up to be leeches who are worthless in the world. Honor your parents by making good decisions in life and following the paths of righteousness.

These proverbs are not profound, but the message seems to be lost in our communication to our children. They want to know what they can do to find our approval. As people we want to know what we can do to find approval with the Lord. The Lord has revealed how we can be found approved by God. We need to reveal to our children that they will find our approval by making wise decisions and taking godly actions.

Listen To Your Parents

I know you all are not going to like this one, kids. But honor your father and your mother means that you will listen to the training they give you.

“A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke” (Proverbs 13:1).

“A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence” (Proverbs 15:5).

“Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (Proverbs 23:22).

If you want to be wise in life, we will listen to the instructions of our parents. They have life experience and wisdom that we do not have. As much as we want to think that our parents have no idea what life is like right now, it does not take long for us to mature and realize that our parents knew exactly what we were going through. The fool does not listen to his parents but the wise will listen to correction.

Do Not Speak Against Your Parents

The third way that we honor our parents is to not speak against them. Solomon offers a couple of proverbs to teach his son the need for verbal respect.

“If you insult your father or mother, your light will be snuffed out in total darkness” (Proverbs 20:20; NLT).

Understanding the second clause of this proverb requires knowledge of Solomon’s other proverbs. Notice who God says has their light snuffed out:

“The light of the righteous shines brightly, but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out” (Proverbs 13:9).

“For the evil man has no future hope, and the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out” (Proverbs 24:20).

I think the point becomes clear. Only the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out. If you curse and insult your parents, then you are wicked and your lamp will be snuffed out. I do not believe that this is referring to the Old Testament death penalty. Rather, Solomon is saying that God counts you as wicked if you choose to despise your parents. While cursing our parents may seem to be a small thing, or even a justifiable thing, God counts such insults as sin. Engaging in speaking against our parents will have us cast into outer darkness.

Do Not Mistreat Your Parents

One would think that this would be an obvious point that would not need to be said. However, even in the days of Solomon, children acted out against their parents.

“Whoever robs his father or his mother, and says, “It is no transgression,” the same is companion to a destroyer” (Proverbs 28:24).

“He who does violence to his father and chases away his mother is a son who brings shame and reproach” (Proverbs 19:26).

I think Solomon is saying, “You are killing your parents by acting this way.” You could not dishonor them any more than stealing from them or acting physically against them.

Pull Your Weight!

“He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son” (Proverbs 10:5).

Another important way that we honor our parents is by pulling our weight. Our parents are not asking too much of us to take out the trash, clean our room, clean the house, clean the cars, do the dishes, set the table, and any number of other chores. Parents are providing food, clothing, shelter, and many luxuries. The least you can do is not be lazy while enjoying the privileges of being a child. Solomon says that the wise son wakes up and gets outside to help out.

By the way, do not wait for your parents to ask you to do something. Don’t make them tell you to make your bed ten times. You know what you are supposed to do and you need to do it. If you see something that needs to be done, don’t hope that someone else will do it so you do not have to. Pull your weight!

Watch Your Friends

We also honor our parents by making good decisions about who we have as friends.

“Young people who obey the law are wise; those with wild friends bring shame to their parents” (Proverbs 28:7; NLT).

I don’t think we do a good job explaining to our children that who they choose as friends matters to us. Picking bad friends suggests you are like them and this brings shame on the parents. Further, as we noticed in a previous lesson, we become molded by the people with whom we spend our time. If we are around wild friends, then we are going to become like them. Parents do not want to see their hard work of training whittled away by bad companions. Honor your parents and pick good friends.

Conclusion:

1. Repent to our parents. We spoke in the last lesson to parents about apologizing to our children and promising to do better to training our children in the way they should go. We also need to apologize and repent, if possible, to our parents for not honoring them in the ways God has prescribed. We should apologize for not listening to them and tell them that we do appreciate them. We need to repent if we mistreated our parents or spoke against them.

2. God’s command to children: obey. “Children, obey your parents in everything for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20). We must follow these commands if we are going to be pleasing to God. Even if we do not have a great relationship with our parents, we must see that we continue to honor our parents because in doing so we are honoring the Lord.

Being A Good Woman/Wife

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

The last two lessons have been looking at the relationship between parents and children. Parents are commanded to start their children down the right path. Children are commanded to honor and obey their parents. Today I want to look at the characteristics of a good woman and wife. Next week, Lord willing, I want to look at the characteristics of a good man and husband. But we will start with the women because Solomon spends more time talking to his son in the Proverbs about what he is to look for in a woman. Most of us are aware of the section in Proverbs commonly called “the worthy woman.” However, those are not the words of Solomon, but another wise writer. Therefore, we will not look at those teachings today. But Solomon spends time talking about other characteristics for his son to consider when meeting women. Let’s begin with looking at the positive.

The Excellent Wife/Woman

“An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones.” (Proverbs 12:4).

The word “excellent” is the same word translated “worthy” in the description of the worthy woman in Proverbs 31. This proverb states what most women realize but may forget: a woman makes or breaks a man. We have the saying that behind every good man is a good woman. Notice that this is the idea that Solomon is teaching his son. The worthy, excellent woman will be the crown of her husband. By contrast, the woman who causes shame will be destructive to the man.

One important that must be made from this proverb is that an excellent woman will take joy in seeing her husband succeed. The excellent woman wants to see her husband do well and will help him do well. She will not sabotage her husband but will be a helper suitable for him (Genesis 2:18).

Another important concept Solomon teaches is that the actions of the wife reflect upon the husband. We made note of this in regards to children toward their parents. So also in a marriage. If the woman has moral excellence and virtue in her decision-making, she will be something that her husband can honor and appreciate. However, if she causes shame because of her decisions and actions, she will be a thorn in his side and dishonorable.

“The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands” (Proverbs 14:1).

Solomon gives a similar teaching in Proverbs 14:1. Rather than describing the woman’s effect on her husband, Solomon points out that she has a dramatic impact on the state of her household. The house is not speaking about the physical bricks and wood. Rather, the house describes the tone and atmosphere of the home. She is the cog in the wheel that will cause a household to be happy and joyful. She will be the cause if the house is sullen and sorrowful. Her own actions determine whether the house is built up or torn down. We need to see that the household not only includes the husband but also the children. The woman sets the tone of what that house will be like. The woman is also part of that household. Her decisions will either build herself up or tear herself down. The woman controls the atmosphere of the home. She determines the degree of hospitality in the home.

Woman must think about their role in the home. What are you doing to build up the house? Are you taking an active role making things for the inhabitants of the house better or worse?

“Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion” (Proverbs 11:22). This proverb brings out a humorous image. There are some initial reactions that come to mind when we read about a gold ring in the snout of a pig. The first thought is “what a waste!” You have a beautiful, expensive gold ring and it was placed on the snout of a dirty pig. As beautiful as the ring might be, you cannot get past the disgusting image of the snout of the pig. No one wants the ring that has been in the pig’s snout! The gold ring is wasted. It does not beautify the pig, but makes the ring ugly.

Now apply all of those thoughts to a beautiful woman who lacks discretion. Like the gold ring, here is a woman who has physical beauty. But the beauty is overlooked because there is something disgusting in her life: a lack of discretion. The beauty is wasted like the gold ring because of her lack of discretion. Allow me to state it another way, especially to our younger women: no one will find you beautiful if you spend your life making bad, foolish decisions. Your beauty is wasted because you inner character is lacking. This is why Peter taught:

“Your beauty should not consist of outward things like elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothes; instead, it should consist of the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes” (1 Peter 3:3-4).

Ladies, the beauty of the inside makes you beautiful on the outside. If there is no inner beauty, then it does not matter how beautiful you are physically, it will be nothing more than a gold ring in the snout of a pig. Work on make yourself beautiful on the inside and you will be more beautiful inside and out.

The Annoying Wife/Woman

The contrast to the excellent woman may be rather surprising. I suppose we would expect Solomon to spend a significant amount of time speaking to women about not making bad decisions. Solomon certainly teaches women to have discretion and wisdom. But there are some other areas that Solomon focuses upon that may make us uncomfortable.

“A foolish son is his father’s ruin, and a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping. Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the Lord” (Proverbs 19:13-14). Last week we looked at the role of children and noted how a child’s decisions can bring great joy or great pain to their parents. Solomon begins this proverb with that principle. But the rest of the proverb may be surprising. “A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping.” The sound of dripping water is one of the more annoying things to listen to. You may have had times where the faucet was dripping or had a leak under the sink. When you find a constant dripping of water, you do everything you can to make it stop because it is so annoying. Notice that Solomon says that a woman who stirs up strife and fights is the same as that constant dripping of water.

It is also important to see that the woman who starts fights is contrasted with the prudent wife that is from the Lord. Prudence is to act wisely and to make good decisions. A quarrelsome wife is not acting wise because she will drive people away. Three separate proverbs make this very point.

“Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (Proverbs 21:9). Remember that Solomon is giving instructions to his son. You are better off living on a small corner on the top of the roof than you are to be in the house with a quarrelsome woman. In fact, Solomon is so emphatic about this proverb that he says it again to his son later. “Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife” (Proverbs 25:24). I have seen this truth in action at many times in many places. In Arkansas, traveling the road between our house and my father’s house would take us through a subdivision of houses. There was a man who would be sitting at the edge of his garage every time that we drove by. He must have been retired because we would drive by that house in the morning and he would be sitting in chair in the driveway. Drive back by in the afternoon and he would still be in the garage. Drive by in the evening, and that poor fellow was still sitting there. He will sit outside in the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Every time I passed by I could not help but wonder how bad it must have been inside to stay outside regardless of the weather. But Solomon said this as well:

“Better to live alone in the desert than with a quarrelsome and angry woman” (Proverbs 21:19). That retired man would rather endure the heat of summer outside than be inside with his wife. Solomon said the exact same thing. Now, Solomon IS NOT telling his son to never make a woman mad because she will make your life miserable. Solomon’s point to his son is to not spend time with such women. Do not marry such a woman. Do not make friends with such a woman. Also, women if your man seems disconnected and distant, this may be the reason why. Solomon says that eventually a man will find it better to be away from you than with you. Let’s look at one more proverb:

“A quarrelsome wife is like the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand” (Proverbs 27:15-16). Can you restrain the wind? Hardly. It is a futile effort to go outside and try to make the wind stop blowing. Similarly, try picking up oil. Go home and pour out your vegetable oil in a large bowl. Then reach into the bowl and try to hold oil. The oil will slide out of your hand. In the same way, you cannot stop the drippings of a quarrelsome wife. The point of the dripping of a leaky roof in a rainstorm is that the dripping will not stop. The dripping will not stop on its own as long as it is raining. The only way for the dripping to stop is for the rain to stop. There is only one person who can stop the quarrelsome wife: herself. We often blame one another. We would not nag or have a fight if the other person had done something. But Solomon says that we are lying to ourselves. There is nothing that can be done to stop the quarrelsome wife because that is who she is. She is the only one who can stop the quarrelling.

Conclusion – The Characteristics of a Worthy, Excellent Woman:

1. Build up the household, do not tear it down. The woman controls the tone and atmosphere of the house. Make the people in your home flourish.

2. Your inner beauty is what matters most. Your outward beauty is wasted if you lack discretion.

3. Do not be quarrelsome because you will drive people away, including husband and children. A prudent woman does not cause strife and keeps herself from quarrels.

A Good Man/Husband

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

Solomon spends a significant amount of time discussing that we can have the good life now by being wise in our relationships. The proverbs have instructed us about being good parents, godly children, and worthy women. Today, we will look at how to be a wise man in the sight of God. To a certain degree, all of the proverbs are instructing men how to be wise. Remember that this is Solomon training his son. When Solomon spoke about the worthy woman and the excellent wife, he did not stop talking to his son. He is telling his son to look for the inner beauty of the woman because that is what makes her truly beautiful. Solomon is telling his son to avoid the contentious, quarrelsome woman because it is better to dwell on the corner of the roof than live in the same house. The instructions that we have looked in this series about controlling anger, not being a fool, not being lazy, and not falling into the snare of wealth have been important instructions to men. But there are more proverbs that deal with what a good man looks like and Solomon describes that man so we can become that person.

General Admonitions

“A man will be commended according to his wisdom, but he who is of a perverse heart will be despised” (Proverbs 12:8). Solomon wants his son to realize that he will be measured and praised by his wisdom. I don’t know that we always think about the fact that our reputation will be measured by our life choices for ourselves and for our family. Make good decisions early in life, young man, because you will build a good reputation for yourself and you will begin to go down the path of living the good life now.

“Like a bird that wanders from her nest, so is a man who wanders from his home” (Proverbs 27:8). The picture is of a bird who is not content at home where things are safe but must venture out into danger. This proverb has applications to many areas concerning responsibility. First, this proverb has a sexual meaning. A good man and a wise husband will not seek out sexual pleasures outside of the home. A couple months back we looked at the numerous proverbs instructing the man to find satisfaction in their wife and not to wander into the arms of another.

Second, this proverb has application to divorce and abandonment. A real man does not forsake his responsibility to provide and protect the inhabitants of the home. We see a growing problem in our society where people think that when things get tough, they simply need to get going. There will be conflicts in the home from time to time. Spouses will not see eye to eye. There will be strains in our relationship with our children. But we never have a right to walk out the door, dropping our responsibility. Some of these actions have almost been deemed acceptable as a “mid-life crisis.” We joke about the middle-aged man who drives the cherry red Corvette with a 21 year old blond sitting next to him. We have this feeling that the “grass is greener on the other side.” The problem with believing this to be so is that once you are on the other side of the fence, you see more grass that looks greener. A real man is content with his life at home and does not wander off to sow wild oats, find freedom, live it up, or anything of the like. You have made a commitment to the home.

“He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart” (Proverbs 11:29).

We noted last week Solomon teach his son that the woman sets the tone and the atmosphere of the house. A prudent woman will make the home a place that people want to be where a contentious woman makes the home a place of suffering. But the man is also called to not trouble the home. While it is the work of the woman to create an uplifting, happy atmosphere, a foolish man can destroy that work. Instead of love and care, a man can strike fear into the inhabitants of the house. A troubler of the house will end up with nothing (the wind). But inheriting the wind has a symbolic meaning of reaping trouble and suffering. The troubler will bring trouble back upon his own head. Men, we need to think about if we are troubling our house. Is our attitude harsh and rough or do we show love and care? Do we take out our work frustrations on the family? Do we show that we do not care for our spouse or children? Such actions will leave one with nothing but trouble.

“The righteous man walks in his integrity; his children are blessed after him” (Proverbs 20:7). This proverb is the contrast to the last proverb. The righteous man will act properly, make good decisions, and live righteously. By doing so, the blessings of those decisions will trickle down to the children. When we have children, all of us want so badly for our children to have a better life than ourselves. The way to do that is not by buying gifts or accumulating wealth. We bless our children after us by making good, godly decisions on a regular basis, putting the interests of others in our house above ourselves.

“Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble” (Proverbs 28:14). Again Solomon makes the call to his son to fear the Lord. Fearing the Lord is about making righteous decisions and keeping the heart attuned to following God’s will. Young man, you can live the good life now by submitting your life to God. You can get yourself in a lot of trouble personally, emotional, financially, and spiritually by not letting God guide your paths early in life.

Specific Characteristics of the Good Man/Husband

“The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). A man is supposed to realize the value of a woman. Do we treat our wives as a treasure? Do we place upon them the high value that God has placed upon them? What do you do with something that is very high in value, men? What do you do with those precious possessions? We care for it. We are outside every day waxing the brand new car. We protect it. My children are not allowed to treat my electronics like toys. We spend time with things that are high in value. We honor it. This is exactly what Peter was teaching men in the New Testament.

“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7).

Peter does not say, “Husbands, tell your wives what to do. Treat them as if they cannot make decisions themselves. You are in charge.” But husbands too often think that they control the woman. Solomon said that she is a treasure. Peter said that we are to understanding. Peter said we show her honor. We do not treat her as a slave. It is interesting that the scriptures tell the elders of a local church that they are in charge. But Peter goes to great lengths to teach the elders that it does not mean that you make people do what you say. Peter says that the elders exercise oversight, not compelling people to follow, nor being domineering (1 Peter 5:2-3). We see to understand this. The scriptures say the husband is the head of the wife (1 Corinthians 11:3), but goes to great lengths to show that it is not about making her do what you say or being domineering. Solomon says she is a treasure, so quit treating her like a slave. Peter says you must live with her in an understanding way, so stop acting like it is your way or the highway. Peter says that she is to be honored, so stop acting like you are the king who must be honored. Carefully read the last phrase of Peter’s command in 1 Peter 3:7. If we do not treat our wives as treasures, with compassion and understanding, and giving them honor, our prayers are hindered. We are out of God’s favor. God is not listening to us. How long has God not been listening to you because you are not acting like a godly man and a wise husband? Treat her as a precious, fragile vessel of great value.

Humility, Not Arrogance

“Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among great men; it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,” than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman” (Proverbs 25:6-7).

“It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek one’s own honor” (Proverbs 25:27).

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).

“A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor” (Proverbs 29:25).

These are useful proverbs to keep in mind. As men, sometimes we really are seeking after honor. We speak so that people will think highly of us for our great knowledge or experience. We want people to be “wowed” by us. But to bring praise upon yourself is humiliating. There is no honor when you are trying to achieve honor. Everyone knows that is what you are doing and people lose respect for you. We probably know people who are always trying to heap glory upon themselves. We don’t want to be around those people. Eventually, they get their foot caught in their mouth and look foolish. Honor will come be simply living our lives properly. “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” (16:31). We do not need to advertise ourselves. Live a righteous life for God and God will give the glory.

This humility that is required of us is also point out in the willingness to seek counsel:

“Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established” (Proverbs 15:22).

“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).

We have to have the humility to take advice from other people. In both of the proverbs we see that life plans become a mess when we are not willing to listen to others. Children, you need to seek your parents’ counsel when make life decisions. Adults need to listen to other Christians who have life experiences and knowledge of the scriptures to give counsel. Men, we need to listen to the input of our wives. We were told to dwell with them in knowledge and understanding. We cannot understand their needs if we do not ask for their input and wisdom. We married our wives because of the inner beauty they have of wisdom, integrity, and godliness. Why should we not listen to their counsel? Have the humility to listen and to realize that our thoughts may not be the best choice.

Honesty

Finally, men must maintain integrity and honesty at all times.

“The Lord abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight” (Proverbs 11:1).

“It’s no good, it’s no good!” says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase” (Proverbs 20:14).

“Better a poor man whose walk is blameless than a rich man whose ways are perverse” (Proverbs 28:6).

There is a challenge for men in the work place to be able to get ahead through dishonest means. We may be told that if we look the other way concerning some activity or cheat another person that you will move up in the company. It can be very tempting to go for the better pay by taking a questionable job or performing activities that are immoral. Such a decision is an abomination to the Lord.

Applications:

1. You have a responsibility to the home. You do not have the option to wander away or see if the grass is greener on the other side.

2. Do not be a troubler of the house. All the work the woman puts into the atmosphere of the home can be destroyed by a man who is not putting his family first.

3. Your wife is a treasure; treat her like it. She is to be treated in an understanding way, with honor, like a valuable, prized possession. She is not a slave. She was not put on the earth to be told what to do. She is to be honored above all else.

4. Be humble. Pride will destroy our lives because we will make foolish decisions. Seek counsel. Listen to your family and listen to your spouse.

5. Be honest. There will be great temptations to lie and commit other immoral acts to keep a paycheck or to get a promotion. Maintain your integrity.

The Powerful Tongue

By Brent Kercheville

Two Typical Misuses of the Tongue:

Lying:

“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight” (Proverbs 12:22). The first clause of this proverb describes the amount of hatred the Lord has for lying lips. I think we understand that overt deception is not tolerated by God. There is no justification. There are not white lies or lies of convenience. But speaking false words is not the only way that we can lie, according to Solomon.

Look at the rest of Proverbs 12:22. Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord. But lying lips are placed in contrast to people who act faithfully. It is interesting that Solomon does not say that truthful lips are God’s delight. Rather, Solomon teaches his son the need to follow through with what he says he will or will not do. The lying lips are not simply about saying something that is false, but saying that we will do something, but then do not perform the act. Solomon touches upon a common form of lying that we engage in: saying we will do something, but then deciding or neglecting to not perform what we said we would do. I think this is an important proverb that we need to be aware of concerning our faithfulness to God. We may be of the righteous character that would not speak an outright lie. But lying is also not following through on our words. Our “yes” needs to be “yes” and our “no” needs to be “no” (Matthew 5:37).

“He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18). I do not think that I have thought that concealing hatred is having lying lips. But such an act reflects dishonesty. Since this the first clause is connected to spreading slander, the proverb seems to point out the two-faced person. Solomon describes the person who conceals his or her hatred of you to your face. They speak nice, kind, or flattering words. But then they express their hatred of you to other people. Saying nice words that we do not mean is lying. Acting dishonestly toward a person is lying. You think the person is your friend based upon the conversations that you have. But little do you realize that this person who think is your friend despises you and speaks badly about you to other people. These are lying lips.

Whisperings/Gossiping:

“A perverse man sows strife, and a whisperer (gossip) separates the best of friends” (Proverbs 16:28). This proverb really shows the amount of damage that can be done by being a whisperer or a gossip. Even the best of friends will become divided if one of the parties is engaging in gossip. This is a comparative proverb. The perverse person is compared to the whisperer. Sowing strife is compared to separating the best of friends. The gossip never thinks of himself or herself as a perverse, evil person. Every gossip thinks the things that he or she is saying is innocent. We are just talking about someone. We must remember that if what we are speaking is not useful, is not beneficial, and is not something you would want the other person to hear, then you are gossiping.

“Fire goes out without wood, and quarrels disappear when gossip stops” (Proverbs 26:20). Just as wood is fuel for the fire, so also is gossip fuel for fights. Strife, quarrellings, and relationship problems are guaranteed to come when there are whisperings and gossip. Friends will split and marriages will fracture when we speak to others about things were entrusted to us in confidence. “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much” (Proverbs 20:19). Acting like a friend or a spouse, but speaking against them to others, is dishonest and has already been identified by Solomon as lying lips.

“The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Proverbs 18:8; Proverbs 26:22). This proverb is stated twice by Solomon and describes two problems with gossiping. First, the pain of saying hurtful words reaches all the way down into the inner parts of the body. But the other point, which is the key point Solomon is making, is that we want to listen to the words of the gossip. A gossip’s words are like delicious morsels. We want to listen to the words of a whisperer. We desire to hear the dirt on another person. It is well been said many times that if the gossip had no one to listen to him, there would not be any whisperings. We are condemned for listening to someone speak about another person.

“An evildoer gives heed to wicked lips; a liar listens eagerly to a spiteful tongue” (Proverbs 17:4). Notice that we are evildoers for listening to these words. We are the evil one for listening! Let that sink down into our ears. We want to blame the one speaking the gossip. Certainly the gossip is condemned. But Solomon spends more time condemning the person who is listening. We are the ones who must change the subject. We are the ones who must walk away from the person speaking with wicked lips. We are the ones who must tell the other person that it is not that person’s business and should not be speaking gossip. Otherwise, we are evildoers because we are joining the gossip.

The Wise Tongue

Controlling the tongue:

1. Speak less.

“He who guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21:23). Solomon has described how the tongue causes strife and brings trouble. Now Solomon reminds us to guard our mouth and we will keep ourselves out of trouble. So many of the troubles that we encounter come from not controlling our tongues. We say things that we know we should not say, but we say it anyway, and our words come back to haunt us.

“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). The call is to control the tongue. The more we talk, the more likely we are going to get ourselves in trouble. The more we talk, the more likely we are going to commit sin.

2. Think before speaking.

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20). We need to think before opening our mouths. We know this, but rarely do we follow through with thinking before speaking. The condemnation for the person who speaks before thinking is very strong: there is more hope for a fool. This is sad considering that Solomon has repeatedly taught that there is no hope for a fool in his folly.

3. Listen before speaking.

“The one who gives an answer before he listens— this is foolishness and disgrace for him” (Proverbs 18:13). Not only do we often not think before speaking, but we also do not listen to the whole matter before speaking. Sometimes we do not get all of the information about a particular decision or matter and we make a hasty response. How many times have we made a decision without all the facts and we look like a fool for our actions.

What to speak:

1. Fitting words.

“A word spoken at the right time is like golden apples on a silver tray” (Proverbs 25:11).

“A man finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23). Solomon reminds us of the usefulness and value of being able to speak the right words at the right time. We should want to work to be people who have the wisdom to be able to say the right thing at the right time. Too often we are like the fools we read about earlier who cause problems because they cannot give a timely word.

2. Pleasant words.

“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). Solomon is showing us the amazing power of words to bring healing to people in pain and suffering. The book of Job reminds us of the power of words. The three friends showed a total inability to speak the right words and the right time. They could have brought healing and comfort to Job. Instead, they are described as miserable comforters (Job 16:2).

“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4). This proverb makes the same comparison about the ability of the tongue to be able to heal or hurt. We can crush other people with thoughtless, careless words. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21). If we will control our tongue, think before we speak, and listen before speaking we could have tongues that bring healing. So how can we have tongues of healing? Consider the next proverb:

“A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction” (Proverbs 16:23). A healing tongue only comes from a wise heart. If we are swift to speak and are typically not givers of helpful words, then Solomon says that a change of heart is required. The tongue speaks the matters of the heart. Our tongues reflect our character. We find out who we are by the way we talk.

3. Reproving words.

“Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear” (Proverbs 25:12). Notice that there are two necessary components for the rebuke/reproof to be like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold: (1) a wise man must be giving the reproof. Solomon is thinking about the person who is able to give the timely word, fitting for the occasion. The reproof must come from the wise. (2) A listening ear that is accepting the rebuke is also needed. What good is the timely word if the person receiving the timely word is not listening? When the wise speak, we need to listen. When those who have respect and knowledge in righteousness speak, we need to always listen and consider the points they are making.

“He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue” (Proverbs 28:23). This proverb has always been humorous to me because the favor comes afterward, not before or during the rebuke. We can find endless favor by only being a flatterer. But the flattery is not useful like the right words in the right circumstances. You will be appreciated and respected later for your wise words.

Conclusion:

1. Mean what you say. Follow through on your words because God hates lying lips.

2. Gossip causes strife and destroys relationships. If the words are not useful, helpful, and something you would say to person, do not speak them.

3. Stop listening to gossip. It may be “juicy” but we are ungodly if we listen.

4. Be thoughtful and slow to speak. We have a responsibility to control the tongue.

5. Be able to speak the right words at the right time. Bring words of healing not pain.

Life Weighed In The Balance

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

In our last lesson about how to have the good life now, we looked at the impact of the tongue. What we say has the power to bring life and healing or discouragement and hurt to a person’s soul. We made the important point that if we have a problem controlling our tongue, speaking slander and malice against others, then we have a heart problem. Solomon spends a significant amount of time teaching his son about the heart. When we speak about the heart, we are talking about our inner self, our conscience, our motives, our thought processes, and our desires.

The Importance of a Pure Heart

1. God knows our actions. Solomon tells his son that there is not one activity that is hidden from the sight of God. “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). There is no place that we can go and suppose that God does not know. We cannot be hidden in our house and think that God does not see. We cannot drive or fly away from God’s awareness of our actions. God sees every sin committed, even though others do not. God sees every act of righteousness, even though others do not. “For a man’s ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all his paths” (Proverbs 5:21). The first clause shows that God sees everything. Our ways are in “full view.” Nothing is obscured from God’s sight. Knowledge of this should encourage us to do good when no one is looking and avoid sin.

2. God knows our hearts. Not only does God know our actions, but he also knows what is in our hearts. “If Sheol and Abaddon lie open in front of the Lord how much more the human heart!” (Proverbs 15:11). If God can see even into the depths of the earth, then God can surely see into the hearts of humanity. Since God knows the hearts, why would we think that God will find us acceptable by only performing external, religious acts? If we refuse to be righteous and holy in character and in heart, why would we think that God would care that we “go to church?” Is God impressed by us because we sit in pews while we allow our hearts to continue to be full of wickedness? We are not deceiving God. We are not going to avoid hell because we spent one hour in a church building every week. God knows what is in our hearts and we will be judged by what is in our hearts.

3. God examines our hearts. “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart” (Proverbs 17:3). The word translated “tests” literally means “investigates, examines.” Just as fire purifies silver and gold, the fires of life will purify our hearts. Trials and difficulties are an investigation of our faith. The heart becomes revealed in times of difficulty. Our faith can appear to be strong, but trials will test that strength. If we throw away the grace of God and give up on righteousness, then we have shown to have weak faith. Jesus taught this to Peter when Peter went to walk on the water. Peter’s faith looked strong to ask to walk on the Sea of Galilee to Jesus. But when trouble appeared as the wind kicked up, Peter began to drown. Jesus told Peter that he had little faith (Matthew 14:31). A pure heart is important because without a pure heart we will fall when adverse times arise.

4. God weighs our hearts. “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts” (21:2). Also, Solomon said, “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the motives” (Proverbs 16:2). These proverbs picture our hearts being put on the scales and evaluated for purity. During the days when these proverbs were written, the value of a metal like gold and silver was determined by placing it on the scale. The weight of pure gold is known and if the piece of gold place on the scale did not measure up, then it was known that there was a flaw and was not 100 percent pure. I believe this is the idea behind these proverbs. God places our hearts on the scales to be weighed to see if our hearts are pure or impure. What a picture of the day of judgment! Each person before the throne of God and our hearts, our motives, our thoughts, and our intents will be placed upon the scales and investigated for purity. What will be God’s answer concerning the purity in your heart?

God’s Standard Versus Man’s Standard

When we consider the question about how our hearts would weigh on the scale, we cannot use our own human standards to answer the question. God is the one who sets the standard, not us. “There are those who are pure in their own eyes yet are not cleansed of their filthiness” (Proverbs 30:12). It does not matter if we think we are doing a good job being righteous and moral. All that matters is if we are righteous and moral according to God’s standards. Just because we feel good about ourselves does not mean that we are cleansed of our filthiness. I think there are three reasons as to why we cannot rely upon our own feelings about our righteousness.

1. We use poor standards. Humans define righteousness differently than God. We think we are doing good because we did not lie or curse. But God demands that we do not speak against another person. We think we do good because we are not doing mean, hateful things to our neighbor. God demands that we love our neighbor as ourselves. We think that it is good that we go to church. God demands that we love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

2. We deceive ourselves about our progress.Even if we are using God’s standards we often overestimate how good we are doing. I think everyone in this room would declare that they will not give up on God. But when suffering comes we do give up on God. The disciples are a great example of this. All of them on the night before Jesus’ death publicly confessed that they would never deny or forsake the Lord. That very night each of them forsook Jesus and fled. We often we declare that our faith is strong, but the time of trial reveals our weakness. So we cannot think we truly know where our faith is at because we typically deceive ourselves about our progress. We must rely upon the perfect law of liberty.

3. We lead ourselves astray from God’s path. “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26). When we rely upon our own feelings and our own understanding, we go in the wrong direction. The answers of life are not found within ourselves. Justification from God is not found by doing what we think is best. We make the wrong decisions and that is why we need a Savior to remove our sins. We need to follow the standard of God.

So what can we do to purify our hearts so that we can be found righteous when God weighs our hearts?

How To Have Proper Hearts

1. Examine our own hearts. “As the water reflects the face, so the heart reflects the person” (Proverbs 27:19). God is going to examine our hearts. It would be a good idea to examine our own hearts first. When I worked as an accountant, there was a time when the IRS was going to do an audit to make sure that the company was keeping to all the accounting rules and laws. Do you think we just waited until the IRS arrived to see how we were doing? I was immediately assigned the task to perform an internal audit on the company to see if I could find any problems that needed to be corrected before the IRS came. If you receive a letter in the mail that your tax return is being audited by the IRS, will you not look back over your tax forms and records to make sure you did everything right to the best of your ability? Of course all of us would do this. We need to do the same with our hearts, knowing that our hearts will be evaluated, investigated, and examined for any flaws. We need to catch the flaws while we have opportunity to fix the problem.

2. Guard our hearts. “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Since we will have our judged, we need to guard our hearts above all else. How can we allow filth to enter into our hearts knowing that we will pay the consequences from such a decision? We have to guard our eyes to protect our hearts. We have to guard our thoughts from inappropriate desires and lusts. Solomon is very serious to his son in this proverb. Guarding the heart is so important. If there is nothing else that you do in this life, you must guard your heart. Do not watch TV programs that have inappropriate material in them. Do not see movies that have immoral behavior. Do not place yourself in situations where you will be likely to sin.

3. Teach our hearts. “Listen, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way” (Proverbs 23:19). We have to tell our heart which way to go. Notice that Solomon does not say that to be wise you should listen to your heart. No, the heart needs to be taught and trained. You and I are to lead our hearts. We are not to be led by our hearts. Train the heart to desire righteousness. This means we must have a greater dedication to reading our Bibles regularly. Pick up a reading sheet in the back so you can read your Bible daily. We must have a greater dedication to studying the scriptures. Why do we have so few people wanting to study the Bible? Knowing that our hearts will be examined, we need to know what the test will be on so our hearts are prepared. We cannot do enough to know the word of God. We need to know the Bible inside and out because we will be judged by its standards.

Applications:

God knows our actions, knows our hearts, and will weigh our hearts. We cannot be deceived into thinking just our actions are enough or just pure hearts are enough. God examines both our actions and our hearts.

We will be judged by God’s standards, not our own standards. Just because we think we are doing well does not mean we will be found righteous. The word of God is the standard that we must evaluate ourselves by.

Therefore, let us take an active role in the work of our heart. We need to examine our hearts, guard our hearts, and teach our hearts in the way of righteousness. Judgment day will one day come and we will be accountable for our hearts. We need to be prepared and ready for that day.

Joy In Living

By Brent Kercheville

Introduction:

The book of Proverbs is placed in the setting of Solomon, the wise king of Israel, teaching life lessons and imparting wisdom to his son. Solomon is setting his son down and trying to teach him about how he can have the good life now. Today we are going to look at how to have joy in living. Solomon spends a lot of time trying show his son how the decisions he will make in his life will either bring him great joy or great sorrow. I hope that we will think about implementing the example of Solomon in these proverbs. Not only should we consider these proverbs and make applications to ourselves, but we should also think about taking the opportunity to sit our children down and teaching them these important life lessons. But before we look at Solomon’s teachings about joyful living, he reminds his son about the pain of making bad life decisions.

“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13). “All the days of the afflicted are bad, but a cheerful hearthas a continual feast” (Proverbs 15:15).

Sorrow In Life

“A man’s spirit can endure sickness, but who can lift up a broken spirit?” (Proverbs 18:14). Solomon points out that you and I can endure a lot in life. We will go through illnesses. We will go through difficult times of suffering. We will have to face trials in life. But the crushing of one’s spirit cannot be overcome. I am sure that there are many here who have experienced a crushed spirit. Bad things crush the spirit. As downtrodden as we can be from physical sickness, the impact of emotional and spiritual disaster is far-reaching. The effects of divorce and sexual infidelity cut deep into our souls. The emotional damage of malicious words and evil intentions hurt more than physical illnesses. Solomon is pointing out that the internal pain from not living a good life is severe and must not underestimated.

Other people cannot understand our suffering. We can have people be sympathetic to our situation, but no one knows the hurt like we know our hurt. “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy” (Proverbs 14:10). “Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound” (Proverbs 25:20). It is hard for people to understand how difficult our situation is. People who are trying to be helpful with cheerful words are often simply adding to the pain. Saying things like “it could be worse” is not comfort to those with a heavy heart. The point of looking at these proverbs is to remind ourselves that we do not want to go through those difficult times. We do not want to be in those times of anguish, nor do we want our children to have to endure those difficult times.

But if there is any overriding point that the Proverbs teach is that we can cause suffering in our own lives and in the lives of others. Our decisions, that we often do not give much weight or thought to, actually can have a tremendous impact on our lives and the lives of others. The ripple of our choices can be greater than we would ever believe. Decisions that may seem rather small at the time hold the key to a tremendous life impact. Choices like where we go to college, who we marry, where we live, and what our occupation is can irreversibly alter the course of our lives. Bad decisions in these areas can bring a broken spirit that cannot be lifted up. So let us look at the proverbs that teach us how to have joy in living.

Sinful Decisions Brings Sorrow; Righteous Decisions Brings Joy

“The hope of the righteous is gladness, but the expectation of the wicked perishes” (Proverbs 10:28). There is an expectation that comes from righteous living and that is a joyful life. The expectation of a good life is lost for those who choose the road of violating God’s laws. I have been asked the question wanting to know what I would change in my life if I decided to give up on God and stop obeying his commands. But there is nothing I would change because God’s laws, even if I did not believe in God, lead to having a good life now. Do we suppose that going and committing adultery will make us happy? Millions think so, but they are still unhappy. Do we think that stealing will make us happy? Millions do so, but they are still unhappy. Do we think that getting drunk every weekend will make us happy? Do we think that going to clubs and bars will make us happy? Do we think any activity in the world that is prohibited by God will bring us long lasting, true joy? Millions think so and engage in those activities, yet do not find any lasting joy. This is what Solomon is trying to tell his son. Don’t engage in the activities of wickedness because you will not find any joy there. I have talked to so many people who have lived those lifestyles and are not happy. People who have lived promiscuous lives are not happy. People who have lived practicing homosexuality are in great pain. People who have used drugs and abused alcohol suffered under the scourge of those chemicals.

“An evil man is snared by his own sin, but a righteous one can sing and be glad” (Proverbs 29:6). There is no way to convince you but to ask you to try living the righteous life. You have tried living the life of selfishness and yet you are still seeking for more. You have tried working outrageous hours, yet have not found satisfaction in your life through work. You have tried accumulating wealth only to find you do not have any more now than when you started. You have tried seeking happiness in numerous outlets, yet still we have an emotional, spiritual void that physical things does not fill. Solomon says that we are only hurting ourselves by committing ourselves to sin. We become trapped by various vices. We become addicted to sex, addicted to alcohol and drugs, addicted to possessions and other vices. Why do we think this is happiness by become a slave to physical things?

Make Wise Plans To Have Joyful Living

The proverbs have been full of admonitions to make wise decisions and plans. The following proverb is a unique picture for our consideration. “Prepare your work outside, get everything ready for you in the field; and after that build your house” (Proverbs 24:27). This is a Hebrew idiom which is not talking about how to build a house. Rather, Solomon is teaching his son about life planning. We saw the usage of this idiom when we studied the excellent woman: “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands” (Proverbs 14:1). We saw that this proverb mean that the wise woman realize that she sets the tone of the house. She has a dramatic impact on her marriage and on her children.

In Proverbs 24:27 Solomon is teaching about the building a home. We need to know this and teach our children this: do things in their proper order. This is what Solomon just taught his son: do things in their proper order. When we do things out of order, then we are more likely to have problems. This proverb is an idiom for marriage. Marriage is to be last; get everything else prepared first. We have a society that now condones doing things backward and it only makes for a difficult life. We have people having children first, then getting married, then finding a job, and finally trying to get an education. This, of course, is not wisdom. Solomon says that a person should make preparations for work first. Go get your training or go get your education first. Next, Solomon says to get the field ready. In our language, we would say to go get a job that can support the building of the house. Once all of these pieces are in place, then build the house. After these preparations are made, then get married and have children.

I know a number of people who did not listen to these words of advice and have found themselves in life difficulties. I have a friend who got married first after only about a year or two of college. He was unable to finish college because he could not support his wife while going to school full time. Now they cannot afford to have children because he cannot get a good job because he never finished his education. This was not wise planning according to Solomon. I have another friend who had a child first and then got married next. They got divorced and he never was able to get an education. So he works at an auto parts store. There is nothing wrong with working at an auto parts store, but because he has custody of his son, he is not able to go do what he wanted to do with his life. His life is not as great as it could have been if he had done things in its proper order.

We are doing anyone any favors by cheerleading people to make bad decisions. After reading these proverbs over the past few months, do you think that Solomon would have applauded his son for making bad decisions? Do we think that Solomon would have overlooked his son’s bad choices? I do not believe so. These proverbs indicate that he would have trained his son in the way he should go by telling him that these are bad decisions and he needs to change course before it is too late.

I have seen too many lives go through turmoil simply because the person ignored following this proper order. Notice how Solomon is putting a responsibility on his son to think his life through. How are you going to build your house (have a wife and children) when you have not first made everything ready. When life decisions are not made in their proper order, we are asking for problems to come. My father drilled this proverb into my head while I was in high school and begin to have to make the big life decisions. We need to do more to teach ourselves to do things in their proper order and also teach our children so that they can have the good life now.

“By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with precious and pleasant treasures” (Proverbs 24:3-4). Notice that Solomon uses the same picture of building a house. Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding are required to build a good home for yourself, your spouse and your children. If we want our home to be full of precious, pleasant treasures (this is not talking about physical decorations, but having a pleasant home life), then proper planning and wisdom is needed. Do not put things out of order. Be thoughtful about your life decisions. Decide carefully about your work, your home, your marriage, your family, and your location. These decisions make a dramatic impact on our lives that we often do not consider.

“Desire without knowledge is not good, and one who moves too hurriedly misses the way” (Proverbs 19:2). Just because we want to do something does not make it a good idea. Think your life through first. Think about the impact of your decisions. Make wise plans before following through with your desires. A hasty decision can lead to severe consequences and a complete change in the course of one’s life.

Application and Conclusion:

All of us want to have the good life now. All of us want our children to have a better life than what we have led for ourselves. God wants those things for us and our children as well. That is why God has given us His Word to teach us how to have the good life now. Society has led us astray into believing that we will have joy in these other life pursuits. Society tries to tell us that we will find our identity in our work or in being a success. But these pursuits are not fulfilling. These things are not who you are. We have to put things in their proper perspective and do things in their proper order. Your family is more valuable than your work. Your children are more valuable than wealth. We need to make decisions that will bring joy to our homes, not sorrow. Following God’s laws will bring joy in your life. You will not be wasting your time in empty, vain activities. I was with a young woman on a day when she seemed to be near rock bottom in her life trying to give her some counseling. She said that she had tried all that this world had to offer. She had wealth. She had been married. She owned business. She went to parties. She had been so drunk she could not remember what had happened. She had experienced life and had been ruined by trying it all. Her life was devastated. She had come to realize that God’s laws made sense.

God did not give these laws out of wrath, but out of love. His love for you is so great that he does not want to see you put yourself through such pain and suffering. No parent wants to see their child hurt themselves with bad decisions. God does not want to see us hurt ourselves. So God wrote a book to tell you and I how to live. God knew we would need help and guidance in this life. But God also knew that we would not do everything he said to do. He knew that we would follow our own desires and that we would have to try some things out for ourselves. He saw us wounded and sick because of our own bad choices. And God knew there was a way to make us well. No parent would think twice about doing something that would heal their child. God did not think twice and that is why he sent Jesus to die for every person. Jesus’ death could heal us from our wounded lives. Every violation of God’s law has brought pain to ourselves and to others. Jesus came offering rest from the pain.

Therefore Jesus declared, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Seeking Spiritual Wisdom (Proverbs 1-2)

Proverbs opens with an extended exhortation on the importance and nature of God’s wisdom. God offers us the chance to benefit from his transcendent perspective and his deep understanding, yet he also allows us to choose whether to accept or reject his offer of spiritual wisdom. He hopes we will listen to him, yet he graciously lets us make the choice for ourselves.

Prologue To Proverbs (Proverbs 1:1-9)

God’s offer of spiritual wisdom is extended equally to the young and to the old, to the learned and to the uneducated. There is no one who cannot find considerable benefit from listening to God’s perspective and values; and there is no one to whom God will not willingly give this opportunity. Our own attitude determines how much we might benefit from his wisdom.

The book of Proverbs offers to help believers attain wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:1-3). Its wisdom is both spiritual and practical, offering us the chance to develop a more spiritual perspective while at the same time learning how to live a "disciplined and prudent life", to "walk in the light, as he is in the light" (1 John 1:7). Neither Proverbs nor any other portion of Scripture pretends to offer excitement, earthly glory, or earthly gain; so we are implicitly faced with the question of whether more spiritual goals are of interest to us. God’s wisdom is certainly different from the world’s.

Spiritual wisdom is of value to all who listen; and it is offered to all, both to the wise and to the "simple" (Proverbs 1:4-6). The wisest humans are still far remote from God’s perspective, and will always have much to learn - in fact, it is a sign of genuine wisdom to admit how much one does not know. The simple - those who have not yet developed either good judgment or bad judgment* - can significantly alter the course of their lives by choosing God’s wisdom over worldly wisdom.

  • ·    Most versions, including the KJV, RSV, and NIV, use "simple" in Proverbs 1:4 to describe such a person. The NASB uses "naïve". See the note below for a comparison between Proverbs’ use of "simple" and "fool".

The book of Proverbs thus has something for everyone. Its practical teachings cover a wide range of situations, so that any reader will find large numbers of "proverbs"* that will apply to his or her life. Beyond that, the book of Proverbs teaches us the nature of godly wisdom, and often it implicitly calls us to reconsider our views on the nature of wisdom itself.

  • ·    In everyday usage, a "proverb" usually means a short, often pithy statement that uses a simple but memorable figure of speech to make a point, either practical or philosophical. The Hebrew word translated "proverb" literally means a comparison, but over time it had come to mean any wise or witty saying.

The awareness (or fear, see below) of God is merely the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7-9*, see also Proverbs 9:10). All our lives, we need humility and grace to grasp what God tells us. None of us can survive spiritually without remaining close to God’s presence and voice, and no human or human organization is ever a genuine authority on spiritual matters. Thus "fools** despise (spiritual) wisdom and discipline", for the flesh not only hates to acknowledge God’s superiority, but also hates having no ’standard’ by which one’s flesh can prove itself superior to others’.

  • ·    Most commentators and Bible versions with section headings start a new ’section’ of the book after Proverbs 1:7.

  • ·    The Hebrew word translated as "fool" in Proverbs means someone who deliberately or willfully rejects spiritual wisdom, and it thus is a stronger term of criticism than the mere "simple" (see above).

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What qualities of God’s wisdom make it worthwhile for everyone?

What does this tell us about what God means by ’wisdom’?

Why is the fear of the Lord only the ’beginning’ of wisdom?

What are the implications of this?

Besides humility, what else might we need in order to benefit from God’s wisdom?

The Temptation Of Worldly Wisdom (Proverbs 1:10-19)

God never denies - neither in Proverbs nor in the rest of Scripture - that there can be short-term fleshly benefits to rejecting his teachings and following worldly advice. Even the literal situation in this passage is only an image of the many ways that worldly wisdom can tempt us. But as the image makes clear, following worldly wisdom comes at a cost, to others as well as to ourselves.

Worldly wisdom competes with God’s by making its own promises (Proverbs 1:10-14). The imagery of a gang assault on a helpless victim emphasizes the way that worldly wisdom promises quick, easy results. Worldly wisdom is not as concerned with truth, with integrity, with long-term consequences, or with anything that does not produce some kind of distinct, worldly gain.

Worldly wisdom seeks worldly prizes and uses worldly methods. By no means are the religious innocent of such things. Churches and believers simply gloss over their worldly desires and methods with a veneer of spiritual language and slogans. When we emphasize numerical results above the fruit of the spirit, or when we use guilt, fear and pressure to motivate others, we might as well be unbelievers who don’t care about what it costs to get the things that their flesh desires.

The cost of worldly wisdom is not measured in terms that "fools" readily listen to (Proverbs 1:15-19). The realm of the worldly features mutual exploitation and oppression: "evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:13). Even in its more subtle forms - deceit, emotional manipulation, inability to reconsider one’s values - worldly wisdom creates unhealthy relationships and deadens the soul even when it accomplishes worldly goals*.

  • ·    The image of a net spread in full view of birds has been interpreted and applied in various ways. The obvious meaning is that sensible birds are not fooled by a trap that is set while they are watching - thus we should realize the obvious trap set for us in the crass temptations of worldly wisdom. A different interpretation sees a warning to the would-be trapper, as it is nonsensical to think that our worldly methods are so clever or sophisticated, when in reality their true nature is obvious to the discerning.

Those who live by worldly wisdom, even when pursuing ostensibly religious objectives, merely waylay themselves with their ill-advised schemes and plots. Indulging in hatred and slander against public figures or ’heretics’ erodes one’s own soul and bring about spiritual death. Using guilt or anxiety to get others to conform to outward standards blinds all involved to the real spiritual blessings of the gospel. These and other forms of worldly wisdom can bring considerable harm to others, but they bring the greatest harm to those who practice them.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Why is worldly wisdom so appealing?

Why does God allow it to be so tempting?

What forms of worldly wisdom can seem ’religious’ or otherwise justifiable on the surface?

In what sense do those who follow worldly wisdom ’waylay’ themselves?

Seek Wisdom While We Can (Proverbs 1:20-33)

The book of Proverbs often personifies wisdom as a woman calling out to those who could learn from her words. In this passage, Wisdom looks pityingly but unyieldingly at those who have not listened to her, and who thus have paid a high spiritual cost for their decision. God will not force his presence on us, nor will he force his wisdom on us - in all cases, he will wait patiently.

Wisdom herself* now speaks, asking how long it will take for us to listen to her call (Proverbs 1:20-27). Lady Wisdom’s open invitation emphasizes some key aspects of God’s spiritual wisdom. As with everything else of importance to God, it is personal, designed to help us to know God himself as opposed to accumulating impersonal facts. And God’s wisdom is always available, any time that we are ready to set aside our reliance on human authorities and worldly methods.

  • ·    There are basic similarities between the woman "Wisdom" in Proverbs and other ancient personifications of wisdom (e.g. from Egypt). But Wisdom’s character in Proverbs differs considerably from any of these, reflecting the difference between the nature of the living God and the nature of other ancient ’gods’.

Wisdom* pityingly reminds us of the many blessings that humans have rejected, because of their lack of interest in her gracious invitation and their insistence on pursuing the world’s forms of wisdom. Lady Wisdom knows her own value, and she will not change her offer - she will not offer us what our flesh desires, but instead longs to give us what our souls and spirits need.

  • ·    Some commentators see in ’lady Wisdom’ a representation of the Holy Spirit. There are indeed some similarities worth noting, but it would be a mistake to take the parallel too far.

Rejecting Lady Wisdom also brings unnecessary struggles. Those who use worldly wisdom often do obtain what they desire, yet are not as fulfilled or as satisfied as they hoped to be. Even Christians can frantically pursue numerical results or an idealized lifestyle, never understanding why these cannot bring lasting contentment. Wisdom pities these silly humans, yet laughs at them too. "Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? ... The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them." (Psalms 2:1; Psalms 2:4) God is secure in his own nature and wisdom - human plots and theories pose no threat to him. He laughs at our pride even as he longs for the worldly person to "become a ’fool’ so that he may become wise" (1 Corinthians 3:18).

Wisdom also cautions us not to put her off for too long, or else someday "they will call me but I will not answer" (Proverbs 1:28-33). There are times when it is too late to seek spiritual wisdom, not because God permanently withdraws himself, but because our hearts can become too hard to listen. Calling to God for help must be accompanied by at least a modicum of humility, or else all his wisdom cannot help us because we will not accept it or understand it.

Varying pitfalls await those who reject wisdom. The simple (with no sense of right and wrong) drift into waywardness, not realizing that this can quickly become spiritually fatal. The fool (who willfully chooses worldly wisdom over spiritual wisdom) becomes complacent. Because God is so gracious, he loves fools and gives them many chances to come to their senses. Some do, but many others mistakenly take God’s patience as a sign that they don’t need to change.

Worldly wisdom often leads to short-term gain, and at times the world even knows how to protect us from certain kinds of short-term, earthly dangers. But safety from spiritual harm comes only when we follow God’s wisdom. To keep our souls healthy and secure, we often have to risk or even give up worldly ambitions and pleasures. Worldly teachers (even many ’religious’ ones) deny this, but lady Wisdom - like God himself - will never hide the truth from us.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Why is "wisdom" presented as a person, and as a woman?

What characterizes her invitation?

Why is her invitation so often rejected?

Why does she react as she does to being rejected?

Is this the same as God’s reaction to being rejected?

What blessings does she offer?

Why aren’t they better appreciated?

The Source Of True Wisdom (Proverbs 2:1-22)

Only God himself can always provide true, genuine wisdom. Only God has a perfect, complete perspective and perfect, sincere compassion for us - and so only he is always both able and willing to tell us the full truth. This realization always seems to come slowly for us mortal humans, yet it is worth our time to consider it and to understand its many implications.

Seeking God’s wisdom takes time and self-discipline, but it is a worthwhile endeavor (Proverbs 2:1-8). The search for godly wisdom takes patience on God’s part as well as on ours. God sees our errors and misconceptions with excruciating clarity, and he sees all the negative consequences of human folly; yet he is ever patient in his grace and his compassion for us. Thus we ought we to be willing to remain patient as we go through the lifelong process of slowly adjusting our fleshly minds to a more spiritual point of view. The call to "search for it as for hidden treasure" reminds us that what we are seeking is worth the trouble, if we understand what we are being promised.

We notice also a familiar phrase, in the assurance that we can "understand the fear of the Lord". There is perhaps no precise way to define this in our language, yet the concept is neither complicated nor terrifying. The most basic characteristic of God is his absolute transcendence in comparison with our universe and our dimension, his ability to act entirely as he pleases (except insofar as he is constrained by his own character) in the affairs of the physical universe. The fear of the Lord is, essentially, the simple but genuine realization that this really is true.

Even many Christians never truly accept this: they treat God as a good luck charm or a slogan that they can use as they please, they think that their behavior or rituals obligate God to act in some predetermined way, churches think that humans must go through them to get to God - all such things as these show that they have not at all grasped "the fear of the Lord".

The book of Proverbs* helps us walk on the "good path" (Proverbs 2:9-15). It is not an easy path, and it is not filled with exciting worldly rewards. But it is pleasant for the soul, bringing security, contentment and comfort. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you … and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29)

  • ·    After the general discussion of wisdom (chapters 1-9) come the actual "proverbs of Solomon" (Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16) plus some "sayings of the wise" (; Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:34) collected with them to make up the original book of Proverbs. A couple of centuries later (see Proverbs 25:1), several more chapters of sayings by Solomon and others were then added, completing the book of Proverbs as we have it now.

God’s wisdom also saves us from the consequences of adultery (Proverbs 2:16-22). This image, which we shall see again, includes literal adultery but also applies to spiritual adultery in general. The Old Testament often uses adultery as an image for seeking other ’gods’ and worldly pleasures, and it warns us that the latter is a path that leads to death. As with the rest of Scripture, Proverbs tells us honestly what is involved with the choices we make, and then leaves the decision to us.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Why is it worth the patience needed to gain spiritual understanding?

Why is God willing to be patient with us?

Explain "the fear of the Lord" in your own words.

How does it connect with wisdom?

What does ’adultery’ symbolize?

Why does God allow us to choose whether or not to listen to him?

- Mark Garner, June 2013

Wisdom & Discipline (Proverbs 3-5)

God never pretends that we can obtain spiritual wisdom easily or quickly. To understand things from a spiritual perspective calls for discipline and patience. Yet this is not an arbitrary cost imposed by God; it is, rather, a consequence of our mortal, fleshly nature. God himself is full of grace, and he stands ready to pour out his understanding any time that we are ready for it.

The Lord Disciplines Those He Loves (Proverbs 3)

God provides us with spiritual wisdom in order to draw us close to him personally, not simply to fill us with knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Since his hope for us is personal, his means of teaching us are also personal. In particular, he will use discipline of various kinds to teach us. In Jesus, we have New Testament teachings that help us to understand this idea even more fully.

Whenever we are close to God, we are close to wisdom (Proverbs 3:1-10) . The familiar exhortations to "trust in the Lord with all your heart", "let love and faithfulness never leave you", and "not be wise in your own eyes" are not merely commands about outward behavior or accumulating factual knowledge. It is by staying close to God’s presence that we allow him to teach and guide us as part of knowing him, as part of our relationship with him. It is God’s presence, not rules or facts, that "will bring health to your body* and nourishment to your bones".

* Literally, "bring health to your navel", an uncommon Hebrew figure of speech for the body as a whole.

So, striving to follow God’s understanding rather than our own is an inherently personal process. Studying Scripture is an important part of it, yet there are those who intensely study the Bible only to convince themselves that their own human ideologies and methodologies are better than everyone else’s. Prayer is indispensable to a healthy relationship with God, yet there are believers who pray regularly only as a time-consuming ritual with little personal involvement.

God’s love, God’s wisdom, and God’s discipline all fit together (Proverbs 3:11-18). When we see these as God intends, we realize that they are neither opposites nor competitors, but that they are one. A healthy relationship with God is not 35% love, 35% knowledge, and 30% discipline, or any other mix - it is 100% of all these things. Instead of trying to ’balance’ them in our relationship with God, we should try to understand these qualities better - though this is difficult for mortal minds.

Discipline in the New Covenant is also interwoven with love and wisdom, and it is relational. In Hebrews 12:4-11 (which quotes Proverbs 3:11-12), we have the image of a human father doing his best, given his limited knowledge, to discipline his children lovingly. Discipline has nothing to do with upholding some abstract standard, but with what is truly best for the child. The father’s wisdom is not academic, but instead comes from his understanding of his child’s needs.

Understanding God’s promises is also an element of our relationship with him. Believers and skeptics alike, for their own reasons, too often see the promises in Proverbs (and elsewhere in the Old Testament) as assurances of the earthly blessings we desire in return for our outward obedience. God does promise to bless us in this world, but in ways he knows are true blessings, not by dispensing the crass baubles that the flesh and the fleshly mind crave. He does promise to provide us with all that we need - and usually then some, to free us from anxiety - because his presence brings life and protection. But his greatest blessings are spiritual and relational.

God’s spiritual wisdom is imbued with grace, and this helps to clarify what he means by wisdom (Proverbs 3:19-35). God has worked through his wisdom from the creation of our universe* (and of course long before that). His understanding goes beyond the ’scientific’ knowledge involved, because even at the beginning he intended to create humans - and to provide the means to redeem them from their inevitable sins. This is also why God has always been so concerned with the way we treat one another, more than with our adherence to abstract moral standards.

  • ·    Here there is perhaps a parallel to Hebrews 1:2’s reference to Jesus’ role in Creation. Commentators often point out parallels between the personification of Wisdom in Hebrews and the role of Jesus or the Spirit in the Godhead. These can be worth thinking about as long as we do not stretch the parallels too far.

God intends for wisdom and grace to work together, both in thought and in action. This is demonstrated in the exhortations (in verses 27-35) for us to be gentle, generous, and merciful. This - not judging or evaluating each other - is God’s wisdom in practice. "The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." (James 3:17)

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

In what ways does God’s presence itself bring wisdom?

Does this help us understand what his wisdom is?

How does discipline show love?

Does this help us to understand what spiritual discipline means?

What is God really promising in this chapter?

How can grace and wisdom fit together in our lives?

Wisdom & Life (Proverbs 4)

Spiritual wisdom brings abundant life, what Jesus called life to the full. The life of the righteous is not always without trouble, but it is free from the kinds of pointless problems that the fleshly bring upon themselves. When faithful persons suffer in this world, it can never take away their greatest blessings. Moreover, it is much easier for God to use their struggles constructively.

In exhorting us to pursue God’s wisdom, Proverbs tells us to do so "though it cost all you have" (Proverbs 4:1-13). Spiritual understanding and godly wisdom are of far greater value than the world’s prizes, yet they cannot be purchased with worldly wealth. The cost is measured in terms of our pride, our preconceptions and biases, our self-centeredness and worldly ambitions. These things bring us certain worldly rewards, and so giving them up is a true cost of gaining God’s wisdom.

So, setting priorities is one of the ways in which spiritual discipline and spiritual knowledge will go together. Our earthly minds are highly resistant to changing our beliefs and priorities. Yet when we are willing to set aside the preconceptions that the world has instilled in us, it not only frees us from a burden that impedes genuine understanding, it also enables us to make genuine changes in our lives that come from the heart, rather than from guilt, ambition, or competition.

The call to guard your heart, the "wellspring* of life", continues to develop these ideas (Proverbs 4:14-27). To be able to learn and appreciate spiritual wisdom, the brain alone is far from enough. There are many persons who develop their brains and fill their minds with knowledge, but it is at best knowledge for knowledge’s sake, and all too often it is knowledge obtained in the pursuit of selfish ambition. "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (1 Corinthians 8:1).

* This is the NIV’s vivid expression - the Hebrew literally says, from it come the issues (sources) of life.

The mortal flesh is by its nature selfish, longing to have its desires fulfilled. There is nothing wrong with having desires, and there is nothing wrong with wanting the best for ourselves. It is when we give in to self-deceit, convincing ourselves that our fleshly desires are somehow more important or more noble than others’, that we get into spiritual trouble. Those who cannot see their desires for what they are soon feel entitled to what they have, rather than being thankful - and they constantly plan to get more, with an increasingly selfish and destructive perspective.

Thus "they cannot sleep until they do evil", that is, they lose all perspective. Persons with more money or fame or authority than they need or deserve feel that they are entitled to more, and resent those who will not accommodate their desires. This is behind many crimes - and it is also behind a lot of behavior that is legal, praised and exalted by the world, yet destructive to the soul.

Believers cannot avoid living in a world full of sinful influences. But Jesus said, "Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him unclean? … What comes out of a man is what makes him unclean" (Mark 7:18-20, compare Matthew 15:16-18). Many Christians try determinedly to shun obvious sinful influences (or to shield their families from them), only to fall under the influence of less obvious but equally destructive worldly perspectives.

Materialism, pride, hatred, and prejudice are just as spiritually destructive as immorality, drunkenness, and violence. Spiritual discipline and spiritual wisdom help us see all of these for what they are, to keep them out of our hearts even when we must have them in our ears and eyes.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Why is spiritual wisdom worthwhile even if it ’costs all we have’?

What kinds of costs could it involve to find spiritual wisdom?

How do we ’guard the heart’?

How do Jesus’ teachings help us to understand this?

Wisdom Protects Relationships (Proverbs 5)

This passage uses the image of adultery to illustrate the hazards awaiting foolish persons who reject spiritual wisdom. Physical adultery damages and destroys relationships in a number of ways - and spiritual adultery does likewise. The temptations of both kinds of adultery can look attractive, but the short-term rewards are small compared with the permanent damage they cause.

Proverbs uses the attractions of the adulteress not only to deter us from the literal sin of adultery, but also to warn us about more subtle forms of spiritual adultery* (Proverbs 5:1-6). The licentious woman (or man) with physical charms and smooth speech has persuaded countless persons to go astray, yet such a person is desirable only on the surface. Believers and unbelievers alike have found out the hard way that the attractions of the opposite sex can become a nightmarish trap when they are not combined with genuine commitment and faithfulness.

  • ·    Besides the imagery in Proverbs, see also passages such as Isaiah 57:3; Jeremiah 3:6-9; Jeremiah 5:7; Jeremiah 9:2, and Jeremiah 13:27; Ezekiel 6:9; Ezekiel 16:1-39, and Ezekiel 23:1-46; and of course the book of Hosea.

But for believers, the attractions of spiritual adultery can be even more dangerous, for they are far less obvious. It can even be difficult to see the contrast between appearances and reality when it comes to worship, ministry, or teaching. We too can judge by appearances, emphasizing numerical results and exalting human leaders who take credit for the hard work of others.

In our earthly involvements, it is even more difficult for believers to make the distinction between image and substance, for the world specializes in presenting the superficial, the trivial, the sensationalized, and the banal as if they were important and interesting. Advertisers, news media, politicians, educators, and entertainers all constantly reinforce our society’s shallow viewpoints and air their irrelevant debates. It is embarrassing when Christians allow themselves to become entangled in earthly controversies, celebrity worship, and fleshly competitions.

The adulterer regrets his lack of discipline only after he has fully tasted the worst of the consequences (Proverbs 5:7-14). There was a way out, as there always will be: "God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." (1 Corinthians 10:13) The way out is often different, but it is always there. Walk on past the adulteress’s door, count to ten before uttering harsh words, pray for someone instead of hating them, give the benefit of the doubt to the erring.

For the sake of a brief period of pleasure, the adulterer will face the loss of blessings far more worthwhile. This is not an angry punishment from God - the loss of blessings is a natural consequence, and God’s warning is given out of compassion. Ruining human relationships also takes a toll on our relationship with God, because our self-centered excuses and rationalizations push God from our hearts. Likewise, straying from God will eventually harm our human relationships, as his Spirit will not be close by to help us forgive, forbear, and sacrifice.

The wise father* of Proverbs counsels his children to avoid adultery and to "drink water from your own cistern" (Proverbs 5:15-23). Literally, this vivid expression exhorts us to take or use only what is ours, whether in marital relations or otherwise. Developing the theme of literal adultery, Proverbs parallels a refreshing drink from a cistern with the abundant blessings that come from a faithful marriage in which both spouses can enjoy one another** without guilt or complication.

  • ·    Most commentators draw a distinction between Solomon, who authored the many brief ’proverbs’ that begin in chapter 10, and the anonymous ’wise father’ of the first nine chapters. Indeed, for all his wisdom, Solomon never seems to have imparted much of it to his own sons.

  • ·    A number of passages in Song Of Songs develop this idea in more detail.

There are also numerous spiritual parallels to this principle. Our spiritual ’cistern’ is God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; so the call is for us to look to the Godhead for our spiritual sustenance, rather than looking to this world for identity, purpose, or validation. This can take considerable discipline, though not usually in the way we usually think of it. "A man’s ways are in full view of the Lord" (Proverbs 5:21), so we can never fool God with our rationalizations for worldly thinking - yet God is not like the world, trying to manipulate or coerce us into doing his will.

Spiritual wisdom is not a matter of collecting facts or learning methods, nor is it a competition. Spiritual wisdom is equally obtainable to all - yet it is equally difficult for us all to value it instead of the world’s superficial wisdom. God uses spiritual discipline - and hopes that we shall learn self-discipline - not in order to force facts into our heads, but rather to guide us into a more spiritual perspective. God’s perspective stands starkly at odds with worldly perspectives, even (perhaps especially) with worldly sources of authority that are universally accepted by humanity.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Why is adultery a suitable symbol for some common spiritual problems?

How much of this passage is about literal adultery, and how much is about spiritual adultery?

What ways out of spiritual adultery does God offer?

What kind of discipline is involved?

How, spiritually, do we "drink water from your own cistern"?

- Mark Garner, June 2013

Wisdom & Perspective (Proverbs 6-7)

Seeking spiritual wisdom is quite different from obtaining earthly knowledge, for it is not merely a matter of accumulating factual information. It calls for a different kind of discipline, based on knowing God rather than fleshly regimentation. And spiritual wisdom does not make us more intelligent or successful by worldly standards - rather, it gives us an entirely new perspective.

Daily Life & Spiritual Parallels (Proverbs 6:1-19)

One of the hallmarks of the book of Proverbs is that it demonstrates the ways that seemingly routine daily events can carry a spiritual dimension. We can apply spiritual principles to daily living, and often we can also learn spiritual principles from the commonplace aspects of earthly life. This passage contains three such examples that will illustrate both sides of this.

The first example describes a man seeking release from a self -inflicted entanglement (Proverbs 6:1-5). Literally, the situation involves an ill-advised pledge* made to a neighbor - the first man has impulsively agreed to something that now gives him a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. Although there is perhaps some practical financial guidance** here, the example (even on a literal level) is more about the ways that our words and actions so often get us into complicated situations.

*In the literal situation, the "pledge" is something very specific, not just a general ’pledge’ to do something. The Hebrew phraseology describes a man who has, without reflection, put up something of his own as security for another man’s debt - comparable to a co-signer for a risky loan in our economic practice.

**The Old Testament is somewhat ambivalent on the practice of putting up pledges (in the sense of the previous note). So if any economic guidance is intended, it is for us to be thoughtful, not impulsive, in our decisions. Making a pledge is not necessarily a mistake in itself - the problem here is the lack of thought.

Whether as the result of an insecure desire to please, an emotional response to a challenge, or an overly-enthusiastic sentiment, all of us sometimes commit ourselves to something that, on reflection, seems ill -considered. It is human nature to handle such predicaments either by agonizing fruitlessly over what we have done, or by concocting an elaborate scheme to extricate ourselves without acknowledging our original mistake - often making our problems even worse.

The remedy is, instead, to "go and humble yourself". Instead of making excuses or devising a pretext, the entangled man should just explain the whole thing honestly, and ask for grace. Even if his neighbor still is not gracious, God certainly will be. There are many spiritual parallels - many dilemmas in life come because we do not even consider the option of simply humbling ourselves, admitting we are in a bit over our heads, and asking for some grace.

The next passage contrasts the ant, known for its industrious nature, and the human sluggard (Proverbs 6:6-11) . The simple ant* is an example of many things, including its capacity for acts of strength (proportional to its size) and self- sacrifice. But it is the ant’s initiative and self-discipline that are highlighted in the example.

* The ant described here is a species of harvester ant, a family of ants also common in the Americas.

Ants do not wait for instructions or commands before performing useful actions*, and most ants spend their entire lives in useful labor. Like many animals, ants remind us that it is natural and healthy for each of us to find ways in which we are comfortable working, serving, and giving. We can wait for someone to ’tell us what to do’, but it is usually better to take the initiative.

  • ·    Ants have a well-defined social order, but individual ants act on their own initiative, out of an understanding of their role (or responsibility) rather than being coerced

Literally, a sluggard is someone physically inert, without interest in personal benefit or in responsibility. This kind of sluggard is the subject of several amusing proverbs later on in the book. But there is also a spiritual sluggard, who may be quite active physically while remaining spiritually inert. The spiritual sluggard waits to be told what to think and what to believe, never developing his own understanding of God or of God’s presence. The spiritual sluggard is thus impoverished spiritually, never having more than a second-hand relationship with God.

Next, Proverbs describes the troublemaker* who enjoys using the misfortunes, anxieties, and unhappiness of others for his own advantage (Proverbs 6:12-19). This kind of person can be equally at home in a secular setting or a religious setting, because human nature always offers opportunities to provoke dissension and discontent. Even believers who themselves are not troublemakers are often vulnerable to them, because they can easily turn our desire to please God into hostility towards those who do not seem to be living as we think they should be.

  • ·    The Hebrew word has no direct English equivalent, with the closest translation probably being "troublemaker", or perhaps "agitator". One commentator suggests "insurrectionist". It refers to someone who deliberately makes others angry or unruly, not just someone who himself commits wrongdoing.

The ’seven detestable things’* call us to avoid deliberately inciting factionalism, anger, hatred, and the like. Insinuation, gossip, deceit, and manipulation can quickly poison any relationship. In Jesus we ought to develop a godly perspective, so that even when we have differences among each other we still trust one another, extend grace to one another, and pray for each other to be blessed rather than attempting to "fix" other persons all the time. Worldly wisdom creates acts of the sinful nature while godly wisdom produces fruits of the Spirit.

  • ·    The ’six things’ … ’seven things’ is a common literary device with no other special meaning. Similar examples appear in Proverbs 30:15-31 and Amos 1:3 to Amos 2:8

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What situations spiritually parallel the man who made the ill- advised pledge?

How does humility help in such situations?

Does it guarantee the result we want?

Can someone physically active be a ’sluggard’? Is there a remedy?

Can this passage help us deal with ’troublemakers’ who thrive on discontent?

Wisdom & Faithfulness (Proverbs 6:20 to Proverbs 7:5)

Proverbs once more returns to the use of adultery as an analogy for spiritual waywardness. Combining imagery and practical advice, this passage calls us not to count on laws or memorized rules to keep us out of trouble, but rather to develop a trust and confidence in the values and principles that God’s spiritual wisdom teaches us.

Proverbs often reminds us that God’s wisdom is a guide to life both spiritually and in practical ways (Proverbs 6:20-29). Thus we are exhorted to write God’s wisdom upon the heart, not merely in the brain. This does not mean merely to expend extra energy to learn things, but rather to develop a new perspective on what it means to learn genuine wisdom.

"This is the (new) covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord, "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor or a man his brother, saying, ’know the Lord’, because they will all know me … for I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:33-34; see also Hebrews 8:10-12.)

Godly wisdom is inherently personal rather than didactic, and it is inherently grace-filled rather than law -based. This is what makes it "living and active" (Hebrews 4:12), and it is why Proverbs calls it a lamp and a light. Unlike worldly wisdom, godly wisdom is practical without appealing to our selfishness, and it is spiritual without being irrelevant.

God calls us to live by the truth or to face the consequences - an idea easy to misunderstand (Proverbs 6:30 to Proverbs 7:5). The negative consequences of sin or folly do not come from an angry God seeking punishment, but from an unforgiving world that happily seizes on any offense (real or imagined) to unleash its anger and hatred (the point of verses 30-35). God always loves us and desires to forgive us, but the world waits eagerly for our mistakes so that it will have an excuse to inflict harm on us. Needlessly risking the world’s wrath is like scooping fire into our laps (verse 27).

True wisdom (that is, God) knows us and cares about us. Wisdom is our ’sister’ and understanding our ’kinsman’ because godly wisdom comes from God’s own presence. Of course, we know that God’s knowledge is perfect. But God is after something deeper and more personal than merely being acknowledged as God - he hopes to have our hearts joined with his. His love for us is an even stronger reason for us to trust him. This is the spiritual perspective he offers us.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What does it mean to bind God’s words on our hearts, and to fasten them around our necks?

Why does God want us to do this?

What should we learn from the examples of negative consequences that come from sin?

Why does Proverbs speak of wisdom and understanding as if they were human?

The Youth Who Lacks Judgment (Proverbs 7:6-27)

In this parable, we see an inoffensive but mindless young man who cannot resist the snares of an attractive but manipulative woman. The process by which she breaks down his resistance and judgment are parallel to the ways in which worldly wisdom can easily draw in believers by its appeals to our fleshly instincts. The defense to this is not rules or methods, but perspective.

First we see a waiting victim (Proverbs 7:6-9). On a literal level, a simple* youth unwisely wanders close to the house where the adulteress lives. He probably does not sense the true danger, but he also may willfully be ’trying his luck’, hoping to gain something without paying too high a price.

  • ·    In Proverbs, someone "simple" (or "naïve" in the NASB) cannot tell right from wrong, as opposed to a "fool", who knows right from wrong but does the wrong thing anyway.

While even believers sometimes need to be reminded about the temptations of physical adultery, the spiritual parallels are even more significant. Just as this unwise young man deliberately wanders close to a source of danger, many believers hover close to the edge of worldly behavior or attitudes that seem harmless because they do not involve obvious outward temptations.

If we allow anger to fester, nurse jealousies or resentments, look for scapegoats for our problems, or harbor disdain for those different for us, this puts us in exactly the same position as the silly young man just waiting for the adulteress to ensnare him. "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ’do not murder’ … but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment" (Matthew 5:21-22). Jesus taught this and similar lessons to help us see that hidden, ’inner’ sins can be just as spiritually destructive as the more obvious outward sins.

The simple young man is soon confronted with a crass temptation (Proverbs 7:10-20). The literal situation is sordid and familiar - the clumsy efforts of the woman to appeal to the man’s base instincts, the obvious signs of danger, the thrill of something illicit. There is no appeal either to the mind (aside from the flimsiest of rationalizations*) or to the heart (though the world sometimes rationalizes lust as coming from ’the heart’), just the fleshly senses. And she makes clear that any commitment is all on the young man’s end - she wants only fun, not a meaningful relationship.

  • ·    The mention of "fellowship (or peace) offerings" in verse 14 could either mean that the adulteress is presenting herself as having made things right with God, or (probably more likely) that she has made an offering to a pagan idol that, on the authority of that idol, makes it acceptable for her to commit adultery.

Again, though, note the spiritual parallels. The world encourages us to think of everyone in terms of outward appearance and false earthly loyalties instead of as unique souls; it inflames our fleshly passions for its own interests; it exalts competition, aggressiveness, judgment, and self-interest instead of genuine grace and understanding; it demands that we worship its celebrities and join in its controversies, while giving nothing of lasting value in return.

The simple young man is soon drawn irrevocably into the snare (Proverbs 7:21-27). His intelligence compares unfavorably to that of animals, who usually know better than to engage in deliberately self-destructive behavior. Of course, this man will have ’fun’ for a short time, but he is deceived both by the likelihood of long-term consequences and by the woman’s lack of genuine concern for him. The spiritual parallels are equally sad.

When Christians do not resist the world’s temptations to be judgmental or hateful, they become Pharisees who do not realize the spiritual harm that self-righteousness can do. When Christians allow the world to induce them to focus on outward accomplishments, power, or popularity, they either become bossy busybodies who inflict insecurity or guilt in others, or else will they are forever "blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (Ephesians 4:14). Spiritual wisdom saves us from such snares - not by better rules or methods, but through a new perspective emphasizing the fruit of the Spirit.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Can Christians learn any basic lessons from this literal situation?

What practices are the spiritual equivalent of the young man wandering close to the adulteress’s house?

What inducements does the world use to tempt us into idolatry, hatred, and similar sins?

How can this help us to avoid falling into a snare?

- Mark Garner, June 2013

Wisdom Has Set Her Table (Proverbs 8-9)

God makes his spiritual wisdom equally available to all, without charge or hindrance. He does not coerce or intimidate anyone into accepting it, nor does he manipulate anyone into following his ways. Long before any of us were born, he made sure that he could offer his wisdom and his presence to each of us. Meanwhile, the world offers us its own brand of wisdom.

Waiting At The Entrance (Proverbs 8:1-21)

Returning to the image of wisdom as a woman, Proverbs portrays her standing in public places where she can offer understanding to all who pass by. This imagery reminds us that God has always made genuine wisdom readily available. It also reminds us of the true benefits of spiritual wisdom, which has its value in ways that the world cannot understand or measure.

Lady Wisdom* returns, calling aloud to all who wish to learn from her (Proverbs 8:1-4). The imagery deliberately uses mixed metaphors - wisdom calls from the heights, speaks at the crossroads, and waits at the gates of the city entrance - to emphasize the universal offer of God’s wisdom. We do not need wealth, special training or qualifications, or important connections to know God, to live in his presence, or to learn his Word. His offer is free to all of humanity.

* For more on this image, see the Week One notes, as well as further notes and discussion questions below.

The ideas and principles that matter most to God are equally possible for us all to understand - and are equally difficult for all of us to accept in our hearts. There is no shame in admitting that God’s values are difficult to live by - but there is also nothing noble in trying to obscure this by using frantic activity or pretentious theology to obscure how hard it is to accept God’s wisdom.

Lady Wisdom is generous and sincere, two attributes of God that are always reflected in true spiritual wisdom (Proverbs 8:5-11). God’s wisdom is truthful and straightforward; he says, "come, let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18). God does not use manipulation or guilt to persuade us, but tells us the truth openly and clearly, then allows us to make up our own minds. This attribute of God is under-appreciated since it is so different from the practice of humans, even amongst believers.

God’s wisdom is of much more lasting value than any knowledge or possession of the world. Its value is on a different scale altogether, so it takes patience and humility just to see the benefits of spiritual wisdom, and more so to appreciate them. And because God’s wisdom costs nothing, defying our desire to put a price tag on everything, we tend either to discount its value or else to set up a more worldly form of wisdom, based on results or theology, as if it came from God.

Despite earthly appearances, God’s wisdom is the true treasure, worth more than silver, gold, rubies* or any other earthly riches. It is more worthwhile to develop God’s perspective and to live by God’s truth than to accumulate material possessions or human authority - but we must truly believe this, or else we shall never even make a sincere attempt to live by God’s wisdom.

  • ·    Gold and silver were valuable in the ancient world both for their practical value and for their (arbitrary) monetary function. True rubies are not known in secular history prior to the Roman era, and thus most commentators believe that the word translated "rubies" refers to other valuable red gemstones.

Lady Wisdom does not promise what our fleshly minds desire, but instead points out the spiritual blessings of spiritual wisdom (Proverbs 8:12-21). We see again the phrase ’to fear the Lord’ (said earlier to be "the beginning of wisdom"), and Wisdom gives us more detail on what is involved. To fear God (truly to acknowledge God’s transcendence and majesty) implies that we will accept his values. To hate evil does not mean to hate evildoers, but to shun evil practices in our own lives - not merely the obvious outward sins but also deeper sins like greed, envy, prejudice, and hatred.

Spiritual wisdom leads to good counsel and sound judgment. This is completely different from our human practice of airing and pushing our petty opinions ("a fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions" - Proverbs 18:2). Spiritual counsel and sound judgment may appear the same at first ("the spiritual man makes judgments about all things" - 1 Corinthians 2:15), but the purpose is much different. God allows us to make our choices without pressure or guilt - he merely tells us the truth and lets us decide what to do.

Using spiritual wisdom is different from using worldly wisdom. Spiritual wisdom can be used by anyone, from rulers to slaves, the educated and the uneducated. Spiritual wisdom blesses not only the one who practices it, but also those around him or her. While God provides us with all that we need in this world (and usually much more than we need), the greatest wealth he brings is spiritual - the "riches and honor" that are fruit of spiritual wisdom are "better than fine gold".

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Why does wisdom make her offer so publicly and in so many ways?

What does this say about God himself?

What characteristics of wisdom are emphasized in this passage?

How do these reflect God’s nature?

What types of "riches" and "wealth" does spiritual wisdom offer?

How can we tell what these mean?

God’s Eternal Wisdom (Proverbs 8:22-36)

God’s wisdom differs from ours not merely on a factual level. His perspective is transcendent and eternal; for he has seen everything that happened in our universe, and much more besides. And when he created this world, he instilled his wisdom - and his entire nature - into his creation. Therefore, following in his wisdom means to seek a more eternal and unworldly point of view.

Wisdom, like God himself, was alive before this world began (Proverbs 8:22-26). Wisdom’s description of her ’birth’* is figurative, implying only that she was alive with God before our universe existed, and not intending to inspire speculative theology. Her ’birth’ does, though, provide several reflections of God’s own nature. We tend to think of God exclusively insofar as he interacts with our universe; but he lived long, long before our universe existed.

  • ·    Proverbs 8:22-23 contains several terms difficult to translate, and that are in any case probably not meant literally. "The Lord brought me forth" (NIV) could also be possessed me or perhaps obtained me’; "his work(s)" (NIV) could be ’ways’ or ’realm’; "appointed from eternity" (NIV), could be ’set up’ or ’designed’. It is thus more helpful to think in terms of broad ideas rather than in terms of forensic descriptions.

Mortals cannot fully grasp God’s eternality. Instead of using inadequate analogies or clever theology, Wisdom simply asks us to be humble. Even the worldly could benefit from this if they saw the size and complexity of the physical world. Simple humility, even if unaccompanied by love or faith, could solve many of the world’s problems. And when humility is combined with love and faith, then we know what spiritual wisdom is. Human knowledge is simply inadequate to solve the most important questions of life, whether in the world or in the search for God.

Wisdom was a "craftsman" at God’s side while he created our universe (Proverbs 8:27-31). This imagery reminds us of all the ways that God’s wisdom is woven into his Creation, both in ways that humans consider ’good’ and in ways that humans consider ’bad’. God is a spiritual, transcendent being; and we each have souls and spirits that are also inherently eternal and transcendent. This world is by its nature perishable - and accepting this is an important part of our spiritual health. Creation combines beauty and majesty, blessings and pleasures, with reminders of our mortality and vulnerability. The truly wise neither deny this nor fight it, but accept it and learn from it.

There are numerous New Testament parallels to this imagery of wisdom, such as the allusions to Jesus’ role in creation: "through him all things were made" (John 1:3); "through whom he made the universe" (Hebrews 1:2)*. Like the imagery in Proverbs, these passages deliberately leave many questions unanswered, for their purpose is not to provide the factual details that our fleshly minds crave - instead, all of these are more ways of reminding us that God’s nature is expressed in what he made and how he made it.

* Consider also passages such as Ephesians 2:10, Colossians 1:15-16, and 1 Peter 1:20.

Wisdom is further portrayed as "delighting in mankind", for this was God’s favorite part of his Creation, the part that was "very good". We can only understand God’s creative wisdom if we consider what he has done in making humanity. Both the weaknesses of humanity and its capacity for compassion and mutual aid are a part of God’s design.

"Now then", says Lady Wisdom, it is well worth seeking out God’s type of wisdom, even if it necessitates some extra humility or extra effort to do so (Proverbs 8:32-36). There is great promise in Wisdom’s call, but it is not a cheap promise of quick, easy results or meaningless fleshly distinctions. It takes patience, combined with humility, both to understand what wisdom offers and to allow godly wisdom to take root in our hearts and slowly displace the colossal stockpile of lifeless fleshly wisdom that we have accumulated without even realizing it.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

In what sense was wisdom "born"?

What is the purpose of this and the other images of its origins?

How is God’s wisdom woven into the things he has created?

Are there any practical implications of this?

Why does true wisdom delight in humanity?

Why is patience necessary in seeking spiritual wisdom?

Two Invitations (Proverbs 9)

The extended introduction to the book of Proverbs concludes with two invitations, one from wisdom and one from folly. Wisdom’s invitation is generous, unconditional, and sincere. She makes clear both the cost and the benefits of following her ways. Meanwhile, folly makes her own appeal, calling to those who want quick, easy results regardless of their value.

For those who truly desire godly wisdom, everything has been prepared, and is ready and waiting for us (Proverbs 9:1-6). The imagery of a generous hostess points out the nature of God’s offer to us, and there are some worthwhile parallels* to the parables in Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 14:16-24. God has great riches and true riches to offer us, and he is not merely willing, but is indeed quite eager to share them with everyone who wants them. At the same time, he will not coerce or manipulate anyone into accepting his gifts.

  • ·    One of the major differences is that in Proverbs wisdom is always personified as a female. In this passage, even her servants (Proverbs 9:3) are clearly identified as female, both in the Hebrew and in most English versions. In Proverbs, wisdom is deliberately presented as a kind of female shadow or reflection of God the Father, as a way of clarifying that God’s ’maleness’ should not be interpreted in a worldly way.

God generously offers spiritual blessings that cannot be valued in earthly terms, and that cannot be obtained by money. Only those who do not value them do not receive them, yet sadly this constitutes the majority of those whom he created. Yet this simply re -emphasizes God’s grace, patience, and generosity. Moreover, he has poured forth a vast supply of worldly blessings that, if used with anything remotely approaching moderation and humility, are more than sufficient for everyone. It is humanity’s fault, not God’s, that we fight over the worldly blessings instead of sharing them, while ignoring the even more valuable spiritual blessings.

This is also reflected in Lady Wisdom’s description of a life of spiritual learning (Proverbs 9:7-12). The overall theme is the centrality of humility, both in our relationship with God and in our relationships with one another - which in turn emphasizes that God’s wisdom prioritizes relationships above self-improvement. And the humility goes both ways - those who reject God’s wisdom are simply to be left alone to come to their senses later, while we share God’s wisdom with those who are eager for it. "Do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces" (Matthew 7:6).

As Wisdom offers her house and her table to us, folly calls out to us, too (Proverbs 9:13-18). Folly is also personified as a woman, but of a very different nature. "The woman Folly is loud", and she is undisciplined - likewise, her offer is loud, obvious, flashy, and shallow. Yet she claims a kind of sophistication, too, to cover up the actual crassness and cheapness of her goods.

Thus her appeal emphasizes that "stolen water is sweet"* and "food eaten in secret is delicious", trying to redefine selfishness and bestial cravings as if they were subtle and sophisticated - a technique still widely used by disciples of Folly today. Yet we are not called to condemn her or those who fall into her net. They will only harm themselves spiritually, and it is more than enough for us to remain humbly self-aware of our own inconsistencies and preconceptions.

  • ·    Literally, this refers to the value placed on water sources in many areas of the ancient world, and the fights that often occurred over them (a biblical example occurs in Genesis 26:19-22). But flowing water can also be used as a metaphor (or sometimes a euphemism) for sexual relations, as in Proverbs 4:15-18.

Responding to wisdom thus takes first of all humility, and also patience with ourselves and with others. Spiritual wisdom fulfills the needs of the soul and the spirit, not the desires of the flesh or the ambitions of the worldly mind. Every one of us must allow our earthly selves to be slowly cured of our worldly misconceptions and false loyalties, graciously healed from our many acts of folly both intentional and unintentional, then patiently filled with new, spiritual perspectives and priorities. The process is neither fast nor fun, but once we learn a little humility we find that the path to spiritual wisdom is full of pleasant, if often subtle, spiritual blessings.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Why are both wisdom and folly personified as female?

Does this say anything about God’s nature?

What does it say about human nature?

How can we become more aware of God’s generosity in our lives?

Are there any ways that we can help others to put a higher value on spiritual wisdom?

How can we learn to see the world’s false forms of ’wisdom’ for what they really are?

- Mark Garner, 2013

Foundations Of A Righteous Life (Proverbs 10-12)

As we reach the book’s main collection of "proverbs", there is a shift from the general discussion of spiritual wisdom to an assortment of examples. Some of these examples have immediate practical uses, but most also have spiritual parallels that can be even more significant. Occasionally a proverb is deliberately paradoxical, to make us re-think our assumptions.

A Proverbs Sampler (Proverbs 10)

As we begin reading the actual "Proverbs of Solomon*", we see several re-occurring themes. Proverbs does not aim to make our daily lives perfect or problem-free - instead, it draws on seemingly routine experiences to show how almost any area of life can teach spiritual principles. Likewise, we see that spiritual principles can be applied in many different situations.

  • ·    The sayings in Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16 and Proverbs 25:1 to Proverbs 29:27 are attributed to Solomon, while the other portions of the book are either anonymous or are attributed to other sources.

The frequent uses of the terms "righteous" and "righteousness" help us to understand God’s idea of righteousness (Proverbs 10:1-11). The basic picture of a righteous person is someone who provides blessings to others while allowing God to meet his or her own needs. The actions and speech of the righteous person bring joy to his or her family*, help to those who have needs, and a positive example to others (Proverbs 10:7). The righteous trust God to look after them in whatever ways God considers important, instead of fighting and competing for what their flesh desires.

  • ·    Note that in Proverbs 10:1 there is no significance to the wise son ’only’ bringing joy to his father, and the foolish son ’only’ bringing grief to his mother. This is just a literary device to make the saying concise and easily remembered. This is characteristic of many proverbs - they are not meant to be analyzed forensically, but to be understood in terms of general spiritual principles.

By contrast, the foolish* harbor illusions about the value and importance of their earthly desires. Their short -sighted obsessions often result in their own harm; and even when they get what they desire, it is rarely as fulfilling as they expected. Note too the emphasis on the righteous person’s effect on others. Righteousness to God has little to do with religious ritual or personal accomplishment, but with being a blessing to others instead of being a seeker of ill-gotten treasures or a "chattering fool" who constantly tries to prove his superiority to others.

  • ·    As always in Proverbs, a "fool" knows better but chooses to do wrong. Someone who truly does not know better is usually referred to as "simple" (most versions) or "naïve" (NASB).

Proverbs sharply contrasts two different ways to live - though in practice we all shall frequently be inconsistent with our choices (Proverbs 10:12-18). The examples remind us that we face big choices, such as choosing whether to spend our time pursuing understanding or to spend it pursuing wealth, and little choices, such as choosing whether to nurture hatred or to forgive an offense.

Another aspect of this is the contrast between short-term and long-term consequences. A fool cannot resist the momentary thrill of expressing anger or hatred, while a righteous person knows that it is better in the long run, even for himself or herself, to learn to forgive even if it is hard at the time. With bigger decisions, the stakes are increased even more.

Proverbs often discusses the use (or misuse) of the tongue (Proverbs 10:19-21; Proverbs 10:31-32). Humans often rely on using many words to get their way, to demonstrate their knowledge, or to divert attention from mistakes, but this invariably just adds new offenses to the original problems (Proverbs 10:19*; consider the application to prayer in Matthew 6:7). The blessing of human speech should be used to meet genuine needs of others, not to exalt ourselves or to push self-centered agendas.

  • ·    Some commentators point out an alternate interpretation of verse 19, seeing it as a warning that a sin cannot be covered up no matter how many explanations (or words) we try to use.

The righteous can find refuge in God regardless of what the world does to them (Proverbs 10:22-30). Unlike the things we obtain by worldly competition or selfish desires, God’s blessings come with no trouble (Proverbs 10:22). The prizes offered by the world are at best mixed blessings, but the things God gives us are always for our good or our enjoyment, and come by grace. "I do not give to you as the world gives" (John 14:27). God’s blessings and the fruit of righteousness bring spiritual stability. A focus on God provides direction and meaning that will survive the troubles of this life: "the righteous will never be uprooted", even when the storms sweep away the wicked (Proverbs 10:25). The righteous must still go through the storms, but they can stand firm spiritually.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

In what ways does righteousness bless others?

How can this help us see what God considers righteousness?

What promises does he give to the righteous?

How do the desires and actions of the foolish harm them? Does this always happen?

How do the teachings on the tongue connect with these other ideas?

Spiritual Wisdom & Spiritual Security (Proverbs 11)

This earth has always been hazardous and confusing for those who seek to follow God’s wisdom rather than worldly teachings. There is no way for us ever to obtain guaranteed peace and safety in worldly terms. But by adopting God’s perspectives and priorities, we can make our souls and spirits safe from harm - and this in turn helps us deal much better with our earthly troubles.

Many proverbs look at the interplay between righteousness, wealth, and security (Proverbs 11:1-9). Proverbs often teaches us the inevitable disappointment of worldly goals. Wealth buys a lot of worldly privileges, but it is useless in establishing a relationship with God or in obtaining genuine peace or security (Proverbs 11:4) . The desire for worldly power and wealth simply complicates our lives needlessly (verse 6*). And when we use worldly force in the name of God, we do not sanctify our methods or agenda - we merely defame the name of God.

  • ·    In Proverbs 11:6, the unfaithful are literally ’captured’ or ’ensnared’. There is a different Hebrew expression that is also translated as ’trapped’ in Proverbs 12:13 (see notes below).

The righteous are not rewarded in worldly coin, but they can always experience the blessings of blamelessness. The faithful suffer, but they do not have to reproach themselves for having caused their own misfortunes. Believers will be mistreated, but "blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you … " (Matthew 5:11). Of course, even the faithful often commit sins, but we do not have to carry around the full burden of guilt for them: "Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him" (Romans 4:8, quoting from Psalms 32:2).

The choices we make each day can bring either good fruit or bad fruit (Proverbs 11:10-23). This is not the same as numerical results or fulfilled desires, which can arise equally often from faithful living or from sinful living. But spiritual wisdom can only produce fruit of the Spirit, and fleshly false wisdom can only produce fruits of the ’sinful nature’. "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit." (Matthew 7:18)

The faithful do not receive more earthly blessings than unbelievers do - but they can make the best of everything. Their most casual conversation can encourage others, they can serve others with no thought of reward*, and they themselves can appreciate the smallest of God’s blessings, which go unnoticed by those without spiritual discernment. By contrast, the sinful sadly waste even the blessings they are given, squandering them, failing to appreciate them, or taking them for granted. Note especially the graphic image in verse 22, which also emphatically rejects the worldly tendency to praise and cater to physically attractive fools.

  • ·    Note the sad irony in Proverbs 11:10 and Proverbs 11:11 - although most persons refuse to live selflessly and honestly, they are still very happy when they know that honest, conscientious persons are in positions of responsibility.

Building a spiritual perspective involves the heart and the mind working together (Proverbs 11:24-31). These proverbs emphasize generosity and concern for others, which in turn call for us to understand and care about the problems and concerns of others, rather than focusing on self and on our own agendas. A key to this is the ability to understand and value life for its own sake. The fool values material things and competitive distinctions, while the truly righteous person respects and nurtures both physical life and spiritual life (e.g. Proverbs 11:30*).

  • ·    The phrase "he who wins souls" is literally ’captures (or takes) lives’, that is, someone who draws others in to a new way of thinking that will give them life.

Jesus said, "ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find" (Matthew 7:7); and the theme of seeking and finding is also echoed in Proverbs. In both cases, the promise is not a guarantee of desired worldly gifts but rather the converse of "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:21). The foolish look for sinful or selfish rewards, and they both find them and incite others to do the same. The righteous bring subtler blessings to themselves and others.

Even believers face trials, discipline, and hardship on earth (Proverbs 11:31, see 1 Peter 4:18). But if we continue to seek life, we shall always have it in God. The unrighteous will face negative consequences that, even if they are long deferred, will ultimately be certain and final.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What kind of security does righteous living bring?

Does it have any correlation with earthly security?

Can the unrighteous obtain any kind of security?

How do we learn to value life for its own sake?

Does this bring us security?

Words & Deeds (Proverbs 12)

One of the hallmarks of Proverbs is its emphasis on the use and misuse of the tongue. Using humor, instruction and warnings, Proverbs calls us to consider carefully how we use the blessing of our capacity for speech. Yet it also reminds us that words and deeds should never be seen as opposites, for our actions and our speech are both part of an inseparable whole.

Like much of the Old Testament, Proverbs promotes a consistent life in which godly words, actions and thoughts fit together (Proverbs 12:1-12). In pursuing this kind of integrity, discipline is a necessary element - that is, self-discipline (Proverbs 12:1), not enforcing discipline on others. As these proverbs point out, we are all actually quite consistent in our own way, however much we may try to hide our true natures. The foolish and sinful may well attempt to offer advice (Proverbs 12:5) or to perform acts of service (verse 10), but they will often be insincere, affected, or manipulative.

To learn spiritual wisdom necessitates looking past appearances and seeking reality, especially spiritual reality. The faithless pursue illusions or "fantasies" (Proverbs 12:11) and chase things that, while hyped and worshiped by the worldly, have little real value. Those with spiritual wisdom accept and appreciate what they have, regardless of whether it is valued or appreciated by others.

"Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34, Luke 6:45) - the tongue and the heart are inextricably intertwined (Proverbs 12:13-23). In any given situation, we can either be quick to speak or quick to listen. We can jump into a debate with our own irrelevant point of view, or we can try to understand the problems and be conciliatory. We can boast and spout off to draw attention to ourselves, or we can praise someone else. We can nag and pester others to do things the way we want them to, or we can patiently learn from others.

All such cases reveal what is in our hearts as much as what is in our minds. And the proper use of the tongue can help us to avoid unnecessary trouble. Speaking the truth does often bring its own problems, but as believers we can at least avoid the pointless entanglements that inevitably come from boasting, petty criticism, and deceit. "An evil man is trapped* by his sinful talk, but a righteous man escapes trouble" (Proverbs 12:13). And though "no man can tame the tongue" (James 3:8), it is not hard for all of us to find ways we can use it more constructively.

  • ·    This is an interesting contrast with Proverbs 11:6 (see above). Whereas in 11:6 the unfaithful are ’trapped’ in the sense of ’entangled’, the word in Proverbs 12:13 is different even though it is also translated ’trapped’. Here, it refers to being struck with the heavy part of a primitive trap (think of a large mousetrap) that was meant to strike and kill an unfortunate trapped animal. So the implication is that sinful talk will strike back even harder.

True spiritual wisdom, spiritual discipline*, and spiritual understanding guide us along a path that leads to life (Proverbs 12:24-28). It is not always an easy path to follow, and the rewards are not the same rewards that the world offers. Though God will meet our genuine needs here, we may or may not find our earthly desires fulfilled. Instead, his promise is that we can share in life and light when we stay on the path of spiritual wisdom.

  • ·    This is the implication of Proverbs 12:24 and Proverbs 12:27. The image in verse 27 suggests a lazy man who stumbles across valuable game but will not take the trouble to cook it - an image for those who have full access to spiritual wisdom but lazily accept the world’s teachings and perspectives instead of learning God’s.

"Along that path is immortality" (literally, ’no-death’, as in KJV/NASB). The true goal of God’s Word is, always was, and always shall be his desire that all of his can live in his presence and can be with him both in this world and beyond. When we grasp this, it helps us better to see the foundations of a righteous life - they are not things that exalt or benefit self, but rather are things that lead to outpourings of grace, truth, compassion, and other spiritual fruit.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What does ’integrity’ mean in general?

What would it mean in a spiritual context?

Do words and deeds always fit together?

Why is it so hard to use the tongue properly?

How does James 3:1-12 illustrate points made in Proverbs?

How can we appreciate life and God’s presence in the midst of worldly distractions?

- Mark Garner, June 2013

Self-Control In Its Various Forms (Proverbs 13-15)

As Proverbs describes the aspects of a righteous life, it also teaches us that self-control is a crucial part of developing many of these qualities in our lives. Characteristics like self-control, self-discipline, and patience are difficult for all of us to obtain, yet we all have the potential to learn them and to benefit from them. Many of the proverbs in these chapters help us see how.

Self-Control: The Need (Proverbs 13)

A great many proverbs in the book follow a similar pattern, contrasting the spiritual fruit of a quality that pleases God with the negative effects of the opposing worldly characteristic. One of the reasons for this is to help us to see the benefits, even in routine daily situations, of cultivating spiritual self-control - if nothing else because it helps us avoid so much unnecessary trouble.

One aspect of developing self-control is the ability to distinguish between our needs, our hopes, and our desires (Proverbs 13:1-12*). Here and elsewhere, Proverbs discusses all three of these. Each one of us watches the world’s unending parade of diversions, merchandise, opportunities, and other such things that we need, desire, or hope for. It is simply human nature to yearn for a wide variety of things, some of which we can have and some of which we shall never have.

  • ·    There are connections between some of these verses that are not evident in English translations. The Hebrew word "nephesh" is usually translated as ’life’ or sometimes as ’soul’; but in certain circumstances it can also mean something similar to our word ’appetite’, and Proverbs sometimes uses that to ironic effect.

It helps a lot when we learn to start telling the difference between the things we truly need, the things that provide genuine hope, and the things that are mere desires of the flesh or the fleshly mind. Having desires is, in itself, just part of being human. It is when we fail to examine our desires, to see that many of them are not genuine needs, that our desires become dangerous - leading to violence (Proverbs 13:2), frustration (verse 4), false pretenses (verse 7), and many more obvious problems such as envy and the like. Self-control can help us avoid such disorders.

We can always trust God to meet our genuine needs, whether physical or spiritual. But this means that we must allow him to determine both what we need and when we need to have it. "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:34) This is where hope, such an important aspect of our relationship with God, comes in. Hope fulfilled is a refreshing and faith-enhancing "tree of life" (Proverbs 13:12). But when we rush to get what we think we need, without waiting for God, we often find that any resulting satisfaction and security are short-lived indeed (Proverbs 13:11*).

  • ·    In the Hebrew text, the reference to things obtained by ’dishonest’ or ’unsound’ methods is literally, ’by a puff of air’. This verse is quite similar in intent to our saying, "easy come, easy go".

The problems of life affect us all, faithless and faithful, wise and foolish - but the wise and faithful handle their problems and others’ in a better way (Proverbs 13:13-25). As Proverbs often teaches us (for example, in Proverbs 13:13; Proverbs 13:17-18), many of life’s problems are avoidable, caused by our own folly or our own mistakes. But many problems are unavoidable, caused by anything from the actions of our ancestors (Proverbs 13:22) to the rampant injustices that infest every society (Proverbs 13:23*). Seeing the difference helps us remain calm and self-controlled when others are not. Instead of trying to control everything else and everyone else, let us learn to control ourselves.

  • ·    Some commentators propose an alternate interpretation of this verse, as it is also rendered in the KJV, suggesting that the poor lose their crops through poor judgment rather than injustice - an interpretation that fits in rather too neatly with the ways that too many believers look at the poor.

Many proverbs also remind us that our self-control - or lack thereof - can have a major effect on others. Panic induces panic, selfishness inspires selfishness, hate produces hate, anger provokes anger, greed causes greed, pride inflames pride. Many times in history, a small problem has become an enormous tragedy or disaster because of the way that a crowd can be stampeded by a small number of persons without self-control. And in private lives this can happen just as easily.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What kinds of problems are caused by a lack of self-control?

What other problems are made worse by lack of self-control?

Does self-control help to deal with unavoidable problems?

Do such problems help us develop self-control?

Self-Control: The Potential (Proverbs 14)

In emphasizing the need for self-control in so many different aspect of life, Proverbs does confront all of us with our weaknesses. Yet it also aims to encourage us, by showing that every one of us has the capacity to learn self-control and to experience the good spiritual fruit it brings. God is fair; the things he calls for are equally demanding yet equally accessible for us all.

We can all find spiritual wisdom, once we recognize what it is and where we can find the real thing (Proverbs 14:1-9). Self-control and the other values that Proverbs teaches do not require any money or special education to develop, nor are they only found in a certain place. The self-controlled, godly person learns to fear the Lord - that is, simply to accept that God is far greater than we are (Proverbs 14:2), to tell the truth always (verse 5), and to show good will to all (Proverbs 14:9).

To develop these qualities is hard for any of us, and all the more so when a lack of self-control can be more satisfying in the short-term. Sorting through our desires and distinguishing them from our genuine needs, though an essential part of developing self-control, can lead to uncomfortable realizations*. Yet God’s fairness is seen in that this is equally hard for us all. There is no one who has all the right beliefs, a complete absence of ungodly thoughts, or a perfect understanding of God’s will and priorities. It is difficult, but equally so for us all.

  • ·    This is the meaning of Proverbs 14:4 : if a farmer does not keep oxen to help with the harvest, then he saves himself a lot of mess and expense in taking care of the animals - but then there is no harvest.

Moreover, we can all know ourselves, we can all see ourselves for what we really are, and we can all recognize our true spiritual needs, as opposed to our earthly desires (Proverbs 14:10-20). Our deepest joys and sorrows are ours alone (Proverbs 14:10), and we all know from hard experience how quickly the bad times can turn into good times - and vice versa (Proverbs 14:13). We all have secrets of the heart - from evil thoughts to noble aspirations, from desperate fantasies to heartfelt longings.

Our true desires, though, are those of the soul. And these are all healthy desires - the desire to be loved, to be at peace, to be secure. The "simple" cannot discern their true desires, so they pursue things on the surface, without ill-intent but with extreme gullibility (Proverbs 14:15), bringing disorder and confusion. The "fool" actively denies his soul’s gentle desires to seek things the flesh craves, leading to violence (Proverbs 14:16-17), hypocrisy (Proverbs 14:20), and the like. Proverbs advises wise, self-controlled believers to "fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen" (2 Corinthians 4:18). For "there is a way* that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 14:12).

* The word translated ’way’ combines the idea of a path with the idea of one’s own conduct and attitudes.

Above all else, our souls all desire grace (Proverbs 14:21-35). Our souls desire both to receive grace and to share it - the most spiritually powerful act we can perform. Moreover, we can all be gracious. Generosity (Proverbs 14:21; Proverbs 14:31) is one of many practical steps we can take. To be generous does not require wealth, only the self-control to realize what we actually need and what we could constructively share with others. Jesus’ striking example of the widow with her two coins (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4) illustrates the contrast between his thinking and ours.

Self-control also leads to patience (Proverbs 14:29), honesty (Proverbs 14:25), diligence (Proverbs 14:23), peace (Proverbs 14:30), and other spiritual fruit. None of these qualities needs to be (or can be) purchased; and they all require no special education or training - only the choice to value them and nurture them, which any of us can do. Proverbs 14:3 reminds us that even fools are aware of what constitutes genuine wisdom; they merely choose not to live by it*. The greatest truths and the greatest virtues are equally and freely made available to all by a just and fair God.

  • ·    The metaphor in the Hebrew of this verse is not fully expressed in most translations - when wisdom ’reposes’ or ’rests’ in the heart of the discerning, the Hebrew verb implies a resting place found after a period of searching, as if wisdom had visited person after person until she finally found one willing to let her in.

Although self-control can leave the flesh (and the fleshly mind) feeling constrained, it brings the soul’s release from all of our restless attempts to outwit, out-compete, out-envy, out-argue, out-fight, and out-pretend our fellow beings. Like all forms of spiritual fruit, self-control nurtures other forms of spiritual fruit, and harmonizes with other spiritual fruit, rather than competing with them for our attention (recall Galatians 5:22-23 and 2 Peter 1:5-7*).

  • ·    The kinds of spiritual fruit mentioned in 2 Peter 1:5-7 are often misinterpreted as a progression instead of the harmonious whole that they really are. That passage does not teach us to develop first one quality and then another, nor is there any ’order’ to the topics - in repeatedly calling us to ’add to’, the passage is simply emphasizing the need always to grow spiritually and to produce more spiritual fruit of all kinds.

"A heart at peace gives life to the body", allowing us to get the best out of the good things and to deal with the bad things in stride. Understanding godly wisdom can lift us out of the worldly habit of evaluating one another based on outward appearance or worldly ’talent’, to help us to see one another as God does - as spiritual beings created most of all to love and help one another.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What things does God ask us to do that are equally possible (or equally difficult) for everyone?

What things does he ask that might be easier for some than for others?

Where do the things of most importance to God fit in?

Contentment & Self-Control (Proverbs 15)

The simple virtue of contentment is an indispensible part of developing self-control. Many of these proverbs show us how a grateful acceptance of what we have can help so much in curbing our excess desires, instilling grace and kindness in our treatment of others, and in moderating our responses to the unexpected. Once more, this is something that anyone can learn to practice.

Being content to live in God’s sight is a good start (Proverbs 15:1-11). We often remind unbelievers that, "everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account" (Hebrews 4:13); yet this is very much a reminder to believers that our hearts also are completely open to him. If the mysteries of death and eternity* are open to God, how much more can he see into our little human hearts (Proverbs 15:11). Yet instead of fearing this or evading it, "let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence" (Hebrews 4:16); we should simply learn to go before God without pretense, to ask him for the self-control and other spiritual fruit that we need.

  • ·    In the Hebrew text, Proverbs 15:11 begins "Sheol and Abaddon …", literally translated as, "death and destruction", but in its meaning much closer to what we mean when we say "heaven and hell". Sheol was the abode of the ’good’ dead, while Abaddon or Destruction was the fate of the ’evil’ dead.

We can also become content to be on his path, the path of grace and peace, even when we are sorely tempted to be drawn into the world’s ugliness. It helps to realize that we have a house full of treasure (Proverbs 15:6) that, as emphasized in Proverbs, is of infinitely more value than worldly goods. Christians eagerly profess this - yet too often turn right around and show that their real yearning is for worldly things. Contentment with the things we already have can bring us the self-control to resist the temptation of materialism and the other prominent idols of our society.

Enjoying what we have is much easier when we realize that God wants us to do so, and that he has given us every reason to do so (Proverbs 15:12-18). God is quite pleased when his children find joy and even pleasure in the things he has given them. He only becomes displeased when we fight to get more or envy what he has given others: "are you envious because I am generous?" (Matthew 20:15). God will deliberately withhold from all of us some things that we desire but do not actually need, in order to teach us humility and gratitude - in themselves blessings of great value.

Having a little while surrounded with love is better than material prosperity without love or peace - and this wise teaching (Proverbs 15:16-17) echoes many of Jesus’ own teachings, which we all too often neglect in our obstinate desire to prove that we know more than God knows.

So when we are content with what we have and with who we are, we can then become more self-controlled in many respects (Proverbs 15:19-33). We become more willing to change course if our way is "blocked with thorns" (Proverbs 15:19), yet we can also stay on course when we know it is right, even if it does not bring the results our flesh desired (Proverbs 15:21). We are able to look at all situations more honestly, and can also listen to what others say, without becoming frustrated or discouraged when we hear a wide variety of different viewpoints (Proverbs 15:22).

God wants the hearts of his children to be filled with joy - not fun, which does not last, but joy, which does. And he knows what truly brings joy - which is why the "fear of the Lord", when correctly understood, is so beneficial. We are all constantly pulled by the lure of the world’s false wisdom, and our own flesh’s belief that it knows better than God does. We should not be dismayed by such feelings, for they are universal. God asks only that we develop the self-control to resist them and to trust his ways even when they lead us into the unknown.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What does it mean to be content?

How can we tell if we are content with something?

What New Testament passages help us learn contentment?

How does it lead to self-control?

Are there any practical steps we can take to become more content?

In what areas of life is contentment spiritually important?

- Mark Garner, July 2013

Perils Of The Proud (Proverbs 16-18)

Just as the various fruits of the Spirit are inter-related, each one helping us to develop others, so also many sins are inter-connected, and one sin can lead to other sins. Pride is particularly hazardous to our spiritual well-being, because it can blind us to so many other sins and dangers. Proverbs thus contrasts the proud and the humble in many different ways.

Pride & Humility In God’s Presence (Proverbs 16)

Humility is of considerable value to God, but pride is respected and rewarded by the world. God does recompense both humility and pride, but he does so spiritually, not necessarily with the crass rewards and punishments of the world. Our hearts are always open to God, and he can always see whether we are proud or humble, in spite of the pretenses we put up for the world.

So many things in life come down to understanding the human heart and sensing the presence of the Lord (Proverbs 16:1-9). The fundamental error of the proud of heart is that God’s presence is not real to them, even when they loudly proclaim a belief in God. No one who senses the nearness of the living God can fail to be humbled by his presence. Instead of being proud and self-willed, the truly wise man lives in love and faithfulness* (Proverbs 16:6).

  • ·    The Hebrew phrase translated "love and faithfulness" implies that these qualities will be demonstrated to others. (This parallels Proverbs’ depiction of "righteousness" in terms of one’s effects on others.)

The awareness that "the Lord determines our steps" (Proverbs 16:9, see also Proverbs 16:1) is fundamental to the life of a believer. We do not need to know where our steps take us, nor do we need to know when we shall arrive. We need only entrust our way to God, by living so as to produce grace, truth, and love in the lives of others. God can guide a gentle heart anywhere, whereas he can do nothing with someone who has a brilliant mind but a stubborn, self-willed heart. Yet God can use anything and everything - so even the proud may find themselves being used by God, though this will usually be against their will and in ways they would not have wished for.

The path of the proud can lead to many different fates in this life, some profitable and some not; but spiritually it can only lead away from God (Proverbs 16:10-20). The mini-collection of proverbs about serving the king (in Proverbs 16:10-15) asks us to pause and consider both the parallels and the differences between earthly affairs and seeking God. The best qualities in an earthly ruler are those such as honesty and integrity, because while talent, intelligence or energy can be used either to help or to harm, spiritual virtues can only be beneficial. Conversely, the subjects of an effective king understand that they need to give the king their full attention and loyal service.

Serving our heavenly king is, of course, important on a deeper and more spiritual level. God is better than even the most virtuous of earthly kings*, and he provides a suitable example for those who exercise earthly leadership or authority in any manner. And our acceptance of God’s power should, of course, be on a deeper and humbler level than our allegiance to any earthly authority.

  • ·    At the time that Solomon wrote these proverbs, he was a king worthy of emulation in many respects. Yet there is a sad irony in these words, in light of the oppressive and idolatrous despot that he later became.

The fall of the proud is sometimes obvious to all, but at other times the rot and decay take place only in their souls while outwardly they prosper. It can be quite satisfying to observers when the proud of the world are undone by their own presumption and overreaching (verse 18), but this happens only in relatively rare circumstances. More often, the proud plunder the humble (verse 19) ; and they pay for it only in their character and their souls. For the sake of our own souls it is far better to be lowly in spirit*, but to do this tests our faith. Too often, resentment of the proud and rich is merely envy - for if we saw their spiritual condition we would pity them instead.

  • ·    The meaning of this phrase is similar to that of "poor in spirit" in Matthew 5:3. In both cases it describes someone willing to help carry the spiritual burdens caused by the world’s sorrows or injustices, someone who would prefer to be wrongly treated rather than be a prosperous oppressor of others.

So much of the time, there is a way that seems right and a way that actually is right (Proverbs 16:21-33). But to find the right way, we have to seek it by spiritual wisdom, not worldly analysis. The proud man can always rationalize his selfishness and preserve appearances, sometimes for an entire lifetime. The humble do not pursue their interests at the expense of others, but strive to build up others (Proverbs 16:21; Proverbs 16:24) and to teach others in a constructive manner (Proverbs 16:23). The humble, discerning believer brings life and light to others, knowing that genuine love cannot co-exist with pride: "Love … does not boast, it is not proud" (1 Corinthians 13:4).

The proud man uses his experience and his knowledge of life to gain advantage for himself, but the humble person uses the experiences of life to gain spiritual wisdom that will bring fruits of the spirit into the lives of others. The humble are straightforward, not deceitful or pretentious (Proverbs 16:28-29) and not aggressive or impulsive (Proverbs 16:32). The world does not respect those who give a lifetime of faithful, humble service to God, but the Lord himself is well aware of how much faith that takes (Proverbs 16:31).

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

How does God’s view of pride differ from the world’s?

How does God’s view of humility differ from the world’s?

How should believers view the proud?

How can we keep ourselves from becoming proud?

What costs are involved in being humble?

Are there any rewards for humility?

Testing The Heart (Proverbs 17)

Life has many ways of bringing out what is in our hearts. We may be successful in concealing pride or other sins from the world, even for considerable periods of time; but God always knows what is in the heart. When we develop spiritual discernment and understanding, then events and circumstances around us can help us to see the spiritual needs in our own hearts.

Just as metals can be tested and refined by fire, so also the furnace of life will test our hearts (Proverbs 17:1-8), "so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine … " (1 Peter 1:7). The Lord tests the heart (Proverbs 17:3) in many ways. We are tested by our personal circumstances and possessions, which constantly call us to adjust our values and our expectations in accordance with spiritual truths (Proverbs 17:1-2*). A large part of the test is the fact that the proud and dishonest do often prosper on this earth (Proverbs 17:8).

* Proverbs 17:1 contains a sharply satirical figure of speech - the ’feasting’ is literally "strife offerings".

We are also tested by relationships, especially those of our families and close friends (Proverbs 17:2; Proverbs 17:6). The humble believer looks out for the interests of his family and friends, rather than trying to manipulate or exploit them. The humble are willing to take time for others even when they themselves are pre-occupied or busy. And we are tested by our surroundings, the conditions in the world that may not even directly affect us, and by our attitudes towards the suffering and injustice on this earth. All too often, even believers are callous towards those who suffer unfairly (Proverbs 17:5); and this is a direct effect of taking the wrong kind of pride in who we are.

Often the proud simply harm others, but in many ways the proud person is looking for trouble for himself or herself as well (Proverbs 17:9-20). It is human nature to revel in strife, whether for the thrill of causing an argument or for the perverse satisfaction we can take in seeing others angry with one another (Proverbs 17:11; Proverbs 17:14; Proverbs 17:19). Although it can indeed be entertaining to see fools in conflict over something trivial (Proverbs 17:12), the godly response is one of pity, not relish. And when Christians feel obliged to jump into the latest political, religious, or sporting controversy, they squander time, energy, and credibility that could be better used to help others to see God’s grace and light.

Being callous to injustice is often accompanied by spiritual-sounding rationalizations, along the lines of the ways that Job’s friends disheartened him - to God’s displeasure, though they thought they were righteous and moral. The true friend does not hesitate to show love, grace, and compassion even when things are at their worst (Proverbs 17:17), and is always willing to listen and to understand things more fully (Proverbs 17:10).

So often in life we face a choice between pursuing the expediency of the moment versus developing a more deeply spiritual perspective (Proverbs 17:21-28). The fool and the proud have wandering eyes (Proverbs 17:24), searching endlessly for easy rewards and showing no concern for dishonest methods (Proverbs 17:23) or unjust consequences (Proverbs 17:26). The humble and godly keep spiritual wisdom, not desired results, in view (Proverbs 17:24). This takes faith, for we must believe that the rewards of spiritual wisdom, though intangible to the world, are of greater value than silver or gold. The peril of the proud is not so much possible earthly punishment as the inevitable and frightening decay of their souls.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What kinds of results are there to the ’tests’ of our hearts?

How does God respond to the results of these ’tests’?

Are there other things that test the heart that are not mentioned here?

Did Jesus say anything about the ways our hearts are tested?

How might we try to hide the pride in our hearts?

The Proud, The Humble, & The Tongue (Proverbs 18)

Amongst the many ways that pride and humility can come out, the tongue is especially revealing. The proud tongue will exalt self and will use its abilities to pursue fleshly ends, while the humble tongue will bring spiritual fruit into the lives of those around it. As we learn to be humble, our speech changes accordingly. Conversely, our speech can help us see our need for humility.

Human speech is one of God’s many gracious gifts to us, yet it is easily misused (Proverbs 18:1-14). And the difference between use and misuse is often a matter of pride or humility. "From the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34, Luke 6:45); and although the proud can disguise their speech with flattery and worldly polish, their speech still reveals the contents of their hearts.

The value of what someone says never comes from its rhetorical skill or elegance, but from its substance (Proverbs 18:4). Does our speech reveal the deep waters beneath the surface of things, or do we simply use flowery language or pretentious technique to cover the shallowness of our ideas? Are we determined that others shouPro 18: 2), or are we trying to understand things of more lasting importance? Do we revel in knowing and blurting out bits of gossip and trivial factoids (Proverbs 18:8; Proverbs 18:13), or do we seek to point others to God himself? "The fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook" (Proverbs 18:4), because it brings forth what was hidden, and makes life and nourishment available to all.

The proud take false comfort in earthly appearances and fleeting treasure (Proverbs 18:11) - their wealth, their power and authority, their fame and popularity. But "what is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight" (Luke 16:15), and so the humble and faithful put their hope and security in God himself (Proverbs 18:10) - not in the earthly treasures he may or may not give us, but in his name and his presence. They are "longing for a better country - a heavenly one" (Hebrews 11:16). And so "humility comes before honor*" (Proverbs 18:12, see also Proverbs 15:33). The humble may never be honored in this world, but they are honored and blessed in God’s sight.

  • ·    English translations of this verse may be ambiguous. The Hebrew phrasing expresses a sequential process - when someone is proud, it will be followed by their downfall (either earthly or spiritual); but when we humble ourselves, it will be followed by being honored in God’s sight.

Our use of the tongue is tied in with the nurture of humility and discernment (Proverbs 18:15-24). Spiritual discernment involves not only an understanding of practicality, but also an awareness of God’s values. The worldly consider themselves wise and clever when they can gain an advantage by some tactic they have learned (Proverbs 18:16*), but the humble believer uses his knowledge only to produce spiritual fruit.

  • ·    Proverbs 18:16 is not an endorsement of using gifts or favors to win influence, but rather a statement about human nature. See also 15:33. In Scripture, the powerful and wealthy are called to act fairly and impartially rather than to do favors for those who can repay them (for example, Luke 6:32-34).

Accepting the limits to our knowledge is a key part of learning discernment and humility. Many questions can never be resolved beyond all doubts by recourse to human knowledge, logic, or authority (Proverbs 18:17). The proud approach this by yelling a little louder, gathering a few more factoids to support their case, or paying a little more money to push their point of view. The humble do not resent the uncertainty of the world, nor do they fight against it, nor do they get upset that many others may think differently than they do.

Though the tongue reveals what is in the heart, it also tends to pull the rest of our lives along with it (Proverbs 18:21). With the proud, "the tongue … corrupts the whole person, sets the entire course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell" (James 3:6). Therefore, the humble and spiritually wise concentrate on finding love and mercy where they can, even in unlikely places. The humble value spiritual blessings (Proverbs 18:22) over material things, are not hardened to the troubles of others (Proverbs 18:23), and stick close to their friends, even in times of need - knowing that God is the one who is always close to us, ready to give us grace and peace (Proverbs 18:24).

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Why did God give us the capacity to speak?

How can we tell whether we are using the tongue properly?

Is it true that, "no man can tame the tongue" (James 3:8)?

How does speech reveal pride and reveal humility?

What other things in our hearts does it reveal?

- Mark Garner, July 2013

Sluggards & Their Kin (Proverbs 19:1 to Proverbs 22:16)

Proverbs has much to say about "sluggards", persons who just can’t seem to stir themselves to effective action when called for. Yet this problem goes well beyond the more obvious forms of human laziness. Proverbs calls the believer to a life of steady spiritual consistency, not one of inconsistent extremes. Perhaps more importantly, the book helps us to see how we can do this.

Disorders Of Indiscipline (Proverbs 19)

"One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys*" (Proverbs 18:9) - that is, idleness and violence, laziness and aggression are actually closely related. Believers are called to pursue lives of quiet, consistent self-discipline. The sluggard and the rash man both suffer from the same inability to work patiently and steadily, instead seeking quick, easy results.

  • ·    In the KJV, this verse ends "him that is a great waster". This uses the word "waste" in its old sense of ’destroy’ (as in ’lay waste’), which is what it meant at the time. The NKJV updated it to "a great destroyer".

There is a kind of family resemblance between the sluggard and some other problems that may at first seem unrelated (Proverbs 19:1-15). One hallmark of the ’sluggard*’ is self-defeating behavior, for a lack of effort or discipline often leads to a lack of things we desire or need (verse 15). Verse 24’s memorable description of a sluggard with his hand stuck in the dish reminds us of the many times that just a little more effort or a little more patience would have made a big difference.

  • ·    The NIV, NASB, and RSV usually use "sluggard" to translate this word. The KJV most often uses ’slothful’. Other versions may simply use ’lazy person’ or ’lazy man’.

Yet other proverbs about the rash and impatient (Proverbs 19:2; Proverbs 19:11-13) reveal a close similarity with the sluggard. In both cases, the root problem is an unwillingness to use steady, honest, consistent effort to pursue life’s goals. The sluggard despairs of anything that requires effort, while the rash person demands immediate satisfaction and tries to force the issue. It is the nature of this fallen world that, "by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food" (Genesis 3:19). In feeling that they should be exempt from this, the sluggard harms himself and his own family, while the reckless person will frequently indulge in rage or violence. But in both cases a little patience*, a little grace, or a little more self-awareness could make a big difference.

* In Proverbs 19:11, the Hebrew text literally describes how wisdom and patience can "soften the face".

Greed and materialism, narrow perspectives that focus on competing for money and other fleshly prizes (Proverbs 19:4; Proverbs 19:6-7), stem from the same root flaw. The greedy person sees life as a fight for a limited supply of treasures, and thus rationalizes sins such as selfishness, envy, and deceit. The greedy think they deserve special rewards, refusing to trust God to provide for their true needs.

A godly perspective on earthly living helps us to avoid these disorders of indiscipline (Proverbs 19:16-29). Proverbs particularly emphasizes the need for a lifetime habit of learning. But the sluggard, the rash, the greedy, and other such characters hate the idea that we shall always have more to learn about God, about ourselves, about human nature, and about this world (Proverbs 19:16; Proverbs 19:20; Proverbs 19:25; Proverbs 19:27). Accepting this need, though, helps us to avoid hasty judgments or evaluations, since we know that appearances or impressions can always be misleading. And this in turn helps us to become more gracious and patient with others (Proverbs 19:17, and Proverbs 19:11 above).

True faith brings contentment, a willingness to allow God to determine what we actually need. "It is the Lord’s purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 19:21); and if we truly believe this, we shall let God give us what we need when we need it (Proverbs 19:22-23), and shall neither resent what others have nor act aggressively to satisfy our desires. But the lazy, the hateful, and the greedy are often described in Proverbs 19:3 : "a man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord."

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What are some common forms of indiscipline?

What do they have in common?

What are some sins that they lead to?

What general remedies does Proverbs offer?

How can we develop a steady, patient approach to life?

Knowing Our Weaknesses (Proverbs 20)

So many of humanity’s problems stem from the simple inability to accept who we are, just as God created us. No human is powerful enough or wise enough to produce anything of genuine value without learning patience and discipline, and without cooperating with others. We should not expect to overcome obstacles all by ourselves, nor should we stand by idly while others try.

Realizing that there are no secrets from God will help is many ways (Proverbs 20:1-15). In emphasizing that we cannot keep our actions and thoughts secret from him (Proverbs 20:5; Proverbs 20:9; Proverbs 20:14*), God does not wish to instill guilt or fear, merely humility - the humility to realize that we depend completely on his grace, and the humility to accept his call to live in love and peace. We are all special to him, but none of us is a special case to him. God gives blessings to all, but privileges to none.

  • ·    This comical verse is a satire on our hypocrisy in all its forms, not merely in the literal example of the marketplace. It points out that hypocrisy is so often motivated by the desire to gain something (including intangible things such as authority or popularity) with a minimal amount of honest effort.

The consequences of our actions and decisions are also no surprise to God. The sluggard’s failure to plow and sow inevitably leads to a poor harvest (Proverbs 20:4; Proverbs 20:13*). This is true spiritually as well - a lack of discipline and effort in daily life can have spiritual consequences even more worrisome than the material consequences. While our economic situation is often affected by situations beyond our control, our spiritual condition is largely determined by our own attitudes.

  • ·    The second part of Proverbs 20:13 literally says to ’keep your eyes open’ in order to have ’food to spare’. This advice is good both economically and spiritually.

God, as the great king (Proverbs 20:2; Proverbs 20:8, also Proverbs 19:12) is never deceived by our pretensions to perfection, our rationalizations for our laziness or violence, or our claims to know everything we need to know. As always, he just asks for some humility, not guilt or terror.

We can develop a more spiritual perspective simply by learning from daily life (Proverbs 20:16-30). This is not painful or costly, taking only the humility to question or re-evaluate the things that ’everyone knows’ or ’everyone does’. For example, if we get pre-occupied with sinners ’getting away with it’ (Proverbs 20:22) or make boastful ’spiritual’ promises (Proverbs 20:25), we are really impressing others with a false form of human religion rather than living out the gospel of grace. Likewise, even believers may fear growing old instead of valuing the experience it brings (Proverbs 20:29).

"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful" (Hebrews 12:11), and yet God’s discipline is rarely as painful as we expect it to be. God’s discipline is based on the desire to forgive sins, not the desire to punish them. Yet even when the trials of life are painful, in Jesus we can know that God will use them to produce good spiritual fruit (Proverbs 20:30).

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What does God know about us that the rest of the world does not?

What might we change if we really understood that God knew about it?

Why do we think we can ignore God’s ways and still produce good fruit?

How can a new perspective on daily living help us to change these habits?

Trusting In God’s Ways (Proverbs 21)

Since we focus undue attention on obedience for obedience’s sake, we often do not appreciate the extent to which God tells us things simply for our own well-being. Both the things we desire and the means we use to obtain them are often destructive to our souls. Further, the rewards craved by the worldly rarely bring security or contentment. All this calls us to greater trust in God.

The godly way of innocence is often inconvenient, but it is always the right path (Proverbs 21:1-15). Once we get past the preoccupation with short-term results, we can appreciate the blessing of living by grace and mutual aid instead of competition and rivalry (Proverbs 21:2-3). But the craving for results and rewards - and the feeling that we deserve them - leads us to succumb to the false appeal of worldly methods, enticing sluggards and hotheads alike to give in to folly (Proverbs 21:4-8).

Only through God’s grace and hope can we pursue true justice (Proverbs 21:12)*. Even ’religious’ persons often give in to worldly methods and rationalize such practices as violence (Proverbs 21:7) in the name of ’justice’, favoritism and dishonesty (Proverbs 21:14) in the name of ’opportunity’, and callousness (Proverbs 21:13) in the name of ’righteousness’. Giving in to such things is really just another form of laziness - the unwillingness to understand others, to accept constraints that are common to everyone, to submit to living by grace instead of personal virtue or superiority.

* The Hebrew phrasing is slightly ambiguous, but it is best understood as "The Righteous One" being God.

True victory, like true justice, rests with the Lord (Proverbs 21:16-31). The worldly trust in a wide variety of things, but only God is always reliable (Proverbs 21:30-31, compare Psalms 20:7-8). Living in this world constantly presents us with choices that, though very different on the surface, so often come down to a choice between God’s priorities and our earthly agendas or desires. And this in turn comes back to the nature of this earth, that it is an inherent aspect of our mortal nature that none of us is exempt from the common temptations, constraints, and weaknesses of humanity.

Proverbs emphasizes the futility of fighting God, mainly because it is foolish and irrational. The sluggard who thinks he can succeed without any real effort is almost certainly going to be disappointed, while the humble person who accepts responsibility will receive what he or she needs (verses 25-26). The violent and selfish may well accumulate earthly treasures, but can neither fully enjoy them nor find the deeper fulfillment and security that come from living as God calls us (see Proverbs 20:17). "You have expected much, but see, it turned out to be little" (Haggai 1:9). And outward religious actions cannot make up for hatred or anger in the heart (Proverbs 21:27).

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

How can we tell whether we are on "God’s path" or our own?

In what ways are we most likely to stray?

Is there a common factor that can help us recognize when this happens?

What kinds of victory does God offer us?

Expectations & Success (Proverbs 22:1-16)

God gives lavish promises to those who are willing to follow in his ways. When we first understand what God truly means by these promises, it may be disappointing to the flesh. But in God’s promises, our souls find exactly what they most long for. Ironically, our flesh does not come off badly at all if it follows in God’s paths - it just has to adjust its expectations.

"The Lord is the Maker of them all", whether by human standards they may be rich or poor, attractive or ugly, righteous or unrighteous (Proverbs 22:1-9). It is human nature to look at the outside of a person and develop corresponding expectations of that person in terms of their worldly abilities and identity. But it is God’s desire to give life and true blessings to everyone who will accept them (Proverbs 22:4), and in turn he calls us to become generous with what we have (Proverbs 22:9).

This world’s blessings are divided unequally and unfairly. But God offers his greatest blessings in equal measure to everyone who values them. His grace and truth contradict the false wisdom of the world’s authorities, news media, and academic experts; and his ways expose the folly of the world’s endless fights between the self-interested and the self-righteous. Yet the world’s fleshly expectations even induce many believers to trust the foolish opinions of the world’s loud and self-important voices instead of Jesus’ quiet testimony about grace, peace, hope, and love.

We cannot fix all the injustices endemic to this fallen world, but we can generously share the blessings we have been given (Proverbs 22:9). To be blessed by God is not a sign of privilege, but one of responsibility. "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded" (Luke 12:48). With just a little more generosity and sensitivity, we can become a source of blessing to those around us, sharing with a suffering world the blessedness of living by grace and love.

Seeing clearly, from God’s viewpoint, keeps us from being sluggards, hotheads, or materialists (Proverbs 22:10-16). It helps us set aside excuses (such as the sluggard’s desperate efforts to evade work in verse 13) and to accept daily discipline in every stage of life (Proverbs 22:15*). God disciplines us only in its most beneficial form (Hebrews 12:4-13). The bulk of God’s discipline - the simple necessity of putting time, effort, and responsibility into our daily living - is nearly painless.

  • ·    Proverbs’ references to the use of "rods" for discipline do not advocate this literally. Like much else in Proverbs, it is a down-to-earth metaphor, here emphasizing our spiritual need to drive out folly from our hearts. Our deepest forms of folly usually require emotional sacrifice, not physical suffering, to dispel.

Our outward choices will ultimately show whether we seek earthly rewards or spiritual fruit (Proverbs 22:11-12). "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21) Believers are called to pursue the deeper needs of the soul, to live by grace, and in turn to help others to do so. We may need to risk or sacrifice worldly opportunities for the sake of God’s priorities (Proverbs 22:9; Proverbs 22:16), since they often sharply contrast with ours, as shown by the nearly universal human practice of showing favoritism towards those who least need it or deserve it.

Jesus does call us to set aside laziness, rashness, and greed, in order to obey him and follow him. But, "my yoke is easy" (Matthew 11:30); for he does not call us simply to adopt a set of rules, new or otherwise. Instead, he consistently calls us to develop new perspectives and priorities, which will gently but inevitably lead us into making outward changes that, when they come, will feel natural and unforced. This is what it means to walk in the light.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

If God truly made everyone and loves us all equally, what implications does this have?

To what extent can Christians make the world less frightening or unfair without resorting to force or other worldly methods?

What are some things that ’everyone’ in our society believes, but that could be wrong in God’s eyes?

- Mark Garner, July 2013

Sayings Of The Wise (Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:34)

This collection of teachings from anonymous ancient wise men reinforces some of the points made by Solomon in his own proverbs. This passage generally develops its thoughts more fully, adding an additional dimension to ideas we have studied earlier in the book. It particularly emphasizes the development of a more spiritual perspective on the everyday world around us.

Reliable Words, Sound Answers (Proverbs 22:17-29)

These "sayings of the wise" are designed to help the discerning believer to survive spiritually and to helps others do so, in a world that itself is full of unbelief and folly. At times, this is as simple as avoiding obvious mistakes and self-destructive behavior. At other times, it means that we must reconsider or even resist beliefs and practices that are nearly universal in earthly society.

These "thirty sayings*" were added to the collection of Solomon’s own proverbs**, and cover some similar ideas (Proverbs 22:17-21). Their overall theme is the importance of learning and sharing spiritual wisdom. When our beliefs and attitudes are founded on ’true and reliable words’, then we can provide ’sound answers’ and edifying advice to others. The point of spiritual learning is not to show who is the wisest, but rather to enable us all to help each other draw closer to God.

  • ·    The description of this section (Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:22) as "thirty sayings" probably references an older Egyptian book called Wisdom Of Amenemope, which was noted in the ancient world for its thirty-chapter structure. Proverbs is deeper yet more concise, thus needing only thirty "sayings". See the suggested commentaries for proposed outlines for the "thirty sayings" and basic parallels to Amenemope’s work.

  • ·    The original book of Proverbs ended after our chapter 24. A couple of centuries later, the final seven chapters were added under the direction of King Hezekiah.

Genuinely caring for society’s outsiders is difficult, for the world accustoms us to see things from the perspective of the powerful, the loud, and the dominant (Proverbs 22:22-23, see also Proverbs 22:16). This distorted perspective is reinforced by politicians, the news media, advertisers, and others through emotional controversies, manufactured crises, and endless hyping of products and events, which reduce us to mere members of some demographic group rather than treating us as individuals.

It is a consistent theme in Proverbs to keep in mind the needs of those who have no power or influence of their own. We do not and cannot solve all of their problems, but simple compassion can go farther than we realize. Many persons do suffer unjustly, and most of the world’s celebrities and authorities are no more worthwhile than others who will always be obscure. Accepting this is a powerful realization that can gradually guide us into natural change.

There is a natural link between common sense and self-control (Proverbs 22:24-29). Common sense warns us not to be hot-tempered or to make speculative financial decisions (Proverbs 22:26-27*), and just a little self-control helps us avoid using self-centered cleverness rather than honesty (Proverbs 22:28**). And when we have something truly worthwhile to offer, God will make sure that is used constructively (Proverbs 22:29), though not necessarily in a way that will bring earthly fame or wealth.

  • ·    This is the point of the example of making an ill-advised pledge. See also the notes on Proverbs 6:1.

  • ·    Moving a boundary stone to enlarge one’s property at another’s expense was a common trick that someone with sufficient influence could get away with. It is closely parallel to the ways that wealthy and powerful persons in our own ’democratic’ society are able manipulate and exploit the legal system and the political system, in ways not available to the average person. See also Proverbs 23:10-11.

Spiritual wisdom helps us make wise decisions by not indulging short-sighted desires. Once we stop listening to the world’s self-interested screamers and self-appointed experts, it is not hard to see that the world’s puny prizes are not worth risking the spiritual security that comes from living by God’s values. This is why so many worldly persons resort to loudness, manipulation, and pressure to try to get us to conform - the things they want us to do are illogical and self-destructive. God can speak softly and lovingly, because he knows that he is telling us the truth.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Does this passage emphasize attitudes, outward actions, or both?

How do these teachings connect with earlier proverbs?

Is there a common theme in the teachings of this passage?

How should we apply them?

Appearances & Reality (Proverbs 23)

Many things in this world have appearances that do not reflect their true nature. Often this is even deliberate, especially in human society; for many persons have reasons to present themselves or events in a distorted light. At other times, this is just the nature of things in a perishable world, in which nothing lasts and nothing can ever provide permanent security.

The image of the lavish but deceptive banquet parallels the shallow rewards and opportunities that the world offers us every day (Proverbs 23:1-8). The world jealously guards its treasures; so they always come at a cost, even if they look ’free’. Worldly wealth, power, fame, and popularity are not given to those who have genuinely valuable abilities or who offer truly worthwhile services - they are, rather, offered to those who are willing to worship society’s idols and conform to society’s conventions. Even when there is no cost to the wallet, there is a cost to the soul.

The short -lived nature of worldly rewards makes this trade-off spiritually inadvisable. "What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?" (Matthew 16:26). The point is not that we must do without worldly things, but that the spiritually wise will refrain from seeking them out, knowing that God will provide what we actually need. When the worldly dangle their treasures in front of us, "his heart is not with you" (verse 7), for the worldly demand a return, and are always calculating what is ’owed’* to them, whether it is tangible or intangible.

  • ·    This is the point of the first part of Proverbs 23:7. An alternate translation is sometimes seen: "as he thinks within himself, so he is", based on different assumptions about the Hebrew text. But the straightforward translation fits the context better.

While we are in this world, God calls us to watch, listen, and learn, so that we are not deceived by appearances (Proverbs 23:9-28). We are not to force unbelievers to change outwardly to be obedient to a God they do not yet know. Instead, we can show them that we find an inward joy in God’s grace ("my inmost being* will rejoice") that transcends the short-term pleasure of worldly prizes.

  • ·    In the Hebrew text, "inmost being" is literally "kidneys", which in Hebrew is a figure of speech for the deepest part of the body. The KJV translates it "reins" for this reason.

The call not to envy sinners (Proverbs 23:17) takes many forms. We constantly see sinners profit in this world, while humble persons suffer for their gentleness - which can make it excruciatingly difficult not to give in to aggression and selfishness. This is why Proverbs 23:23 cautions us to "buy the truth and do not sell it", because many spiritual principles seem good only until we are called to put them into practice, like the little book given to John in Revelation 10:9-10.

These reminders are wide-ranging, but by no means complete: we are called to avoid exploiting the weak or poor (Proverbs 23:10-11, see also Proverbs 22:28), to accept discipline when it is called for (Proverbs 23:13-14*), to avoid indulging in eating and drinking beyond meeting our actual needs (Proverbs 23:20-21), to respect the life experience of faithful elders (Proverbs 23:22), and to turn away from adulterous temptations (Proverbs 23:27-28**). Notice that all of these merely call us to put into practice the things we believe to be true - they do not ask us to harm ourselves or to force our ways on others.

  • ·    This is not a literal call to practice corporal punishment - the exaggeration, ’punish him with the rod’ is simply to remind us that even such physical punishment would not kill anyone, and thus that gentler means of discipline, while still hated by the flesh, can bring benefit without causing any actual harm at all.

  • ·    The water imagery in Proverbs 23:27 emphasizes the prostitute’s false promise and the ultimately unfulfilling nature of having intercourse with her.

This is reinforced by the image of the drunkard’s dilemma (Proverbs 23:29-35). The drunkard went on a spree, probably embarrassing himself and offending or disgusting those who watched him. And now he feels miserable (i.e. with a ’hangover’). But the ’twist ending’ is that all he can think of is that the quickest way to feel good again would be to get drunk all over again.

This downward spiral parallels many of the ways that the world drags believers down to their level. Once we get into the pattern of using money to solve our problems, we get caught in an endless cycle of materialistic decisions and rationalizations for them. Once we get into the habit of spewing out angry opinions about worldly events, we fall into an endless cycle of hatred and anger, while rationalizing or even practicing violence. And these hardly exhaust the parallels.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

When the world offers us something, is there a good way to decide what God wants us to do?

What kinds of repayment other than money might the world ask for?

How does the advice in this chapter fit in with these ideas?

What temptations parallel the drunkard’s dilemma?

How does this help us to avoid them?

Perspectives On The Sinful (Proverbs 24)

Few things tend to trouble believers as much as the awareness that the world around us is so full of sins of every kind. Yet this is also another case of things not being as they appear on the surface. Believers are called to develop a perspective on sin and sinners that goes much deeper than a mere awareness of right and wrong. God is concerned with more than mere appearances.

We desire to see wisdom, faith, and grace overcome evil; but it can be a challenge to understand how this actually happens (Proverbs 24:1-10). In earthly contests and confrontations, evil and force and money quite often overcome wisdom and even truth; so we only deceive and confuse ourselves if we expect godly qualities always to ’win’ in that respect. But wisdom can always protect our hearts, and that is a victory that matters much more to God than most of our earthly battles do.

Spiritual wisdom’s rare and beautiful treasures (Proverbs 24:2) cannot be purchased with the world’s currencies nor be evaluated in worldly terms. As Proverbs often reminds us, spiritual blessings are worth more than money or jewels. This basic perspective - equally difficult to accept for the educated and the uneducated, the rich and the poor alike - allows us to make God’s priorities our own without feeling pressured or forced into it. It also helps us to avoid the deadly envy of the worldly (Proverbs 24:1) that leads Christians into anger, hatred, intimidation, and other such sins.

The firmest tests of our wisdom and perspective will come in times of trouble (Proverbs 24:10) . Faith worthy of the name will hold up when we are all alone, when we are faced with problems having no obvious solution, when we are misunderstood or mistreated. This is when the true nature of our hearts will come out. The world’s trials and injustices will never go away, so we need to develop the kind of faith and understanding that can help us live in a dark, fallen world.

Relationships with the worldly provide us with opportunities not only to apply spiritual wisdom, but also to develop it (Proverbs 24:11-22). The call to try to help the doomed (Proverbs 24:11) while avoiding the violent without hating them (Proverbs 24:15-16) reinforce common teachings in Proverbs, while looking ahead to the gracious perspective of the gospel. "Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear" (Judges 1:22-23).

Sometimes sinful persons do receive ’punishment’ on earth for their sins. But our perspective towards a fallen ’enemy’ must be different from that of the world (Proverbs 24:17), and undue rejoicing about others’ problems may even induce God to show them some extra grace (Proverbs 24:18). God loves every one of his creations, even those who do evil. Even highly successful sinners will arouse our pity, rather than envy or hatred, once we come to see the way God truly views them.

Truth and perseverance often fit together (Proverbs 24:23-34) . Impartiality and honesty are even more important to God than most Christians realize (Proverbs 24:26) - and are even harder to practice than we often realize. There are many things that we accept or believe only because ’everyone else’ does. We are not called to try to change these things by force, but we are called to understand things more deeply and to find ways to help others see things in their true light.

We should also be able to see the injustices and cruelty of worldly society for what they are (Proverbs 24:23-24). While it is not our place to impose punishment or to change things by force, it is spiritually healthy to see sin for what it is (Proverbs 24:25*), even as we still love and care about those who commit sins. Moreover, our own self-interest should have nothing to do with our concept of right and wrong (Proverbs 24:28-29). The worldly habit of deciding right and wrong based on what might affect us can lead only to self-righteousness, division, and numerous other disorders.

  • ·    The NIV’s use of the word "convict" in Proverbs 24:25 is an unfortunate word choice. The word in the Hebrew text means "reprove", "rebuke", or "correct", as it is translated in most other major English versions.

The image of the sluggard’s vineyard teaches practical lessons about diligence and responsibility, yet the spiritual parallels are also important (compare Proverbs 24:30-34 with Isaiah 5:1-7). Bad spiritual habits - letting others think for us, justifying deceit or manipulation, focusing on our agendas at the expense of others’ needs - aggravate other existing problems and cause new ones.

Jesus’ vineyard parables in Matthew 20:1-16 (the workers who came at different hours), Matthew 21:28-32 (the two sons who didn’t want to work), and Matthew 21:33-46 (the scheming tenants) teach us to live with a sense of personal responsibility, a gracious attitude, and a willingness to make ourselves part of something much greater than ourselves. This is not meant to come from guilt or insecurity, but from a sound understanding of the things that truly have value in our lives.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Why does God expose believers to sin and danger?

Can we use this constructively?

What kinds of victories should we seek?

What kinds of ’treasures’ do we already have?

How do Proverbs’ teachings on our views of unbelievers show spiritual wisdom?

What should we learn from seeing the sluggard’s vineyard?

- Mark Garner, July 2013

Spiritual Wisdom In Relationships (Proverbs 25-27)

In this life, we all develop many kinds of relationships. We shall interact with those in high earthly positions and those who are outcasts, with those who are similar to us and those who are very different. In all of our human interactions, there is a fundamental difference between the ways that the worldly view their relationships and the perspectives that Scripture teaches.

Neighbors & Rulers (Proverbs 25)

God’s call for us to love our neighbors has many practical implications and applications. Then too, at times we all have to deal with those in positions of worldly authority. All of these interactions provide chances both to apply spiritual wisdom and also to learn spiritual wisdom. Our relationships with other humans also illuminate some aspects of our relationship with God.

This new section of Proverbs, written by Solomon but added to the book much later at the initiative of King Hezekiah*, opens with some thoughts on our dealings with the rich and mighty of this world (Proverbs 25:1-7). The proverbs about kings combine earthly advice (presenting a godly ideal for earthly leaders and/or advising the rest of us how to deal with them) with spiritual parallels, in which a human king can teach us lessons about our relationship with God.

  • ·    In his own lifetime, King Solomon wrote as many as 3,000 proverbs or sayings (1 Kings 4:32), of which only a fraction are included in the actual book of Proverbs. In Hezekiah’s reign, about 200 years later, the king was guided by the Spirit to add more of these to the original inspired collection.

In this section, we are especially reminded of a ruler’s responsibility for sorting out what is true and right from the lies and distractions of the world and the worldly (Proverbs 25:1-5). A good human leader does not make decisions based on his own interests, agenda, or ideology, but rather seeks out the needs of his or her people in order to meet them. This also, of course, tells us about God’s own character, for he cares about the spiritual needs of every soul he has created.

For our part, Proverbs anticipates one of Jesus’ teachings (Luke 14:7-11) by cautioning us not to push ourselves forward, but rather to wait for our good character and useful services to be noticed (Proverbs 25:6-7). "Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." This is true both in our earthly lives and in our relationship with God.

A patient and trustworthy friend pleases God and blesses others (25:8-15). To be such a friend, we must see the treasure to be found in simple spiritual fruit, so that we do not use other persons for our own earthly purposes. The ability to keep a confidence (Proverbs 25:8-10), for example, is underappreciated by the worldly, who revel in showing off when they have ’inside information’.

God appreciates simple reliability in daily affairs, even when the world ignores it (Proverbs 25:13). Speaking soundly (Proverbs 25:11-12; Proverbs 25:15) and honestly (Proverbs 25:14*) are more important to our spiritual well-being than we realize. In these areas, do we listen to the world’s perspectives and shrug off God’s advice, or patiently do what God values even when we don’t receive praise or rewards?

  • ·    The same imagery is used in Judges 1:12 to describe false teachers. The common thread between the boaster and the false teacher is that both try to project an image of something that they are not.

Amongst the benefits of self-control is that it strengthens relationships (Proverbs 25:16-28). The graphic metaphor in Proverbs 25:16-17 reminds us that over-indulgence can be a hazard in relationships just as it is in eating or drinking. A good friend knows to limit the demands he or she makes on others. And a good friend adjusts to the mood of others, as the sharp similes in Proverbs 25:20* remind us. "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15).

  • ·    The middle of Proverbs 25:20 can be translated either as "vinegar poured on soda" or "vinegar poured on a wound". In the first case, it would then refer to the act of mixing an acid with an alkali, which would render both useless; in the second case, it would emphasize the unnecessary pain caused by the action.

These and the remaining admonitions in this Proverbs 25:21-22 (quoted in Romans 12:20) - keep coming back to God’s desire for us to love others as ourselves. Self-control, like so many other aspects of healthy relationships, comes much more easily when we love others. "Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10).

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What general principles does Proverbs give us for dealing with powerful persons in this world?

Does it matter whether such persons are honest or dishonest?

How do patience, trustworthiness, and self-control affect those around us?

Are these qualities important in all of our relationships?

Some Familiar Acquaintances (Proverbs 26)

We have often met the fool and the sluggard in our study of Proverbs. Whether we like it or not, one or the other of them will typify many of the persons whom we meet in this life. To gain an understanding of fools and sluggards helps us to deal with them more constructively, while also helping us to avoid becoming too much like them.

Dealing with those who are "wise in their own eyes" is a common, and often frustrating, aspect of life on our planet (Proverbs 26:1-12). There is no perfect method for this - in fact, Proverbs openly tells us that such persons sometimes pose an unavoidable dilemma (Proverbs 26:4-5). If we ’answer a fool according to his folly’ - that is, answer his opinions point- by-point, or perhaps allow him to churn up our emotions just as his are - then we become just as foolish, discrediting our own more reasoned beliefs or actions. Yet if we ignore his folly, resisting the temptation to correct his errors point-by-point, then the fool will retire with the belief that he has ’won’ the encounter.

Enduring folly is thus rarely easy. But we are also given a sense of hope. For although the world does indeed honor and reward all kinds of fools, especially those who are ’wise in their own eyes’ (Proverbs 26:1); their disdain or opposition towards us is not always as harmful as we fear (Proverbs 26:2). And the brusque, sometimes deliberately crude (as in Proverbs 26:11) imagery in the rest of these verses reminds us of how much trouble a fool brings upon himself.

When we see the fool’s spiritual bankruptcy for what it is, it is much easier to pity the fool instead of hating him. God persistently disciplines fools, in the hopes of instilling some common sense and an awareness of their responsibilities into them. Yet he will still love these fools whether or not they heed his wise advice - and he will love them just as much as he loves us.

Sluggards and other similar hazards of human society also present us with some dilemmas (Proverbs 26:13-19). The sluggard’s excuses, inertia, and self-centeredness often tax our patience; yet he can also serve as a reminder for us to remain spiritually awake and diligent. Likewise, meddlers (Proverbs 26:17) and reckless deceivers* (Proverbs 26:18-19) share some characteristics with the sluggard. The common theme is that of an unwillingness to accept basic personal responsibility - an essential spiritual quality that is, as we see so often in Proverbs, attainable for any believer.

  • ·    This verse is usually interpreted to refer to someone who deliberately misrepresents a dangerous or worrisome situation solely for the pleasure of instilling fear or confusion in others.

Another member of this same large but troublesome family is the gossip (Proverbs 26:20-28). Gossips are found in a much wider variety of habitats and demographic groups than we usually realize. For example, a great deal of what our society calls ’news’ is in reality nothing but gossip, rumor, or opinion, very tantalizing in its appeal to the small-minded (Proverbs 26:22) but largely irrelevant to our daily lives, and often spiritually toxic to those who absorb it.

Gossip by its nature produces mental idleness and intellectual decay, and in its worst forms it can produce active malice (Proverbs 26:24-28). Delighting in the troubles of others - no matter who they are, no matter how strongly we think they ’deserve’ their suffering - is an emphatic warning sign to any believer. "If a man digs a pit, he will fall into it" - malicious talk not only harms others, but is also an indulgence that is deadly to any meaningful relationship with God. If we ever find ourselves actively wishing for someone to suffer, it is a good idea to soften our hearts in any way we can - for example, we can pray to God to forgive both the ’sinner’ and us.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What does it mean to be ’wise in one’s own eyes’?

Can we tell if this characterizes us?

Is there a best way to deal with such a person?

Does Proverbs teach us how to help sluggards, or just how not to be one?

How are meddlers and deceivers similar to sluggards?

How can we avoid spreading gossip and rumors?

Friends & Possessions (Proverbs 27)

God’s blessings to us during our time on this earth will take a wide variety of forms - some are tangible and some intangible, some are permanent and some fleeting. In our interactions with others, we can either help one another to value all of these things more accurately, or else we can merely reinforce worldly perspectives on our possessions and blessings.

Proverbs often cautions us on how easy it is to squander our blessings (Proverbs 27:1-8). This can be as easy as speaking when we should be silent (especially boasting, Proverbs 27:1-2) or being silent when we should speak (Proverbs 27:5). This can also arise from impatience, either by stirring something up when we should be at peace (Proverbs 27:3) or by restlessly seeking something new when we already have all that we need (Proverbs 27:8). Blessings are also spoiled by deceiving ourselves or by deceiving others for the sake of appearances (Proverbs 27:6*).

  • ·    The contrast in Proverbs 27:6 is between a false friend who is skilled with flattery and a true friend who may not always speak sensitively, but who genuinely has our best interests at heart.

The antidote to many such disorders lies in knowing and appreciating what we have. Even a baby bird knows better than to leave a nest where it is loved and has what it needs (Proverbs 27:8). Worldly society is not going to stop trying deliberately to make us dissatisfied with our lives, because too many influential persons have a strong self- interest in arousing our fleshly passions and desires. So it is up to us to recognize and appreciate the things of real value that we have.

Fortunately, we can do a number of things to help one another preserve our blessings (Proverbs 27:9-18). The Scriptures teach us the importance of mutual aid, both practically and spiritually (Proverbs 27:9; Proverbs 27:17-18). Jesus set an example by both meeting the needs of others and also calling them to a more spiritual perspective. The worldly (even amongst believers) view growth in terms of perfecting their earthly abilities and obtaining outward results, whereas Jesus focuses on sharing his grace, peace, and truth so that we all can draw closer to God’s presence.

Jesus taught us not to wait to be told what to do, but actively to understand the needs of others, so that we can give them what they need (Proverbs 27:9; Proverbs 27:14). It is also wise to look ahead and think of the future (Proverbs 27:12) instead of merely reacting to events as they take place. None of this takes special learning or talent, just the willingness to adjust our perspective from time to time. "Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment" (John 7:24). "He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth" (Isaiah 11:3-4).

Recognizing our blessings is, of course, necessary before we can appreciate them more fully (Proverbs 27:19-27). "A man’s heart reflects the man" (verse 19), and our desires will eventually reflect what is in our hearts. One aspect of recognizing our true blessings is to learn to be satisfied with what we need, so that we can see everything else that God gives us as undeserved gifts for which we can be grateful, instead of resenting it when others have things that we do not.

Sadly, "Death and Destruction* are never satisfied, and neither are the eyes of man" (Proverbs 27:20) - even believers often take the same attitude as the worldly, thinking that our good behavior somehow earns us extra worldly toys. And Proverbs 27:22 reminds us that folly can only come out of the heart voluntarily - punishment or discipline cannot make someone wise. Though the wise benefit from discipline, a fool simply resents it.

* In Hebrews, "Sheol and Abaddon". See the notes on Proverbs 15:11.

The greatest blessings we have are not the earthly things that our flesh demands, but rather the things of lasting value that satisfy the soul. The agricultural imagery in Proverbs 27:23-27 reminds us that the things that matter most are those that sustain life, with spiritual sustenance the most important of all. Even in earthly terms, wealth and power are worthless if we have no food and water. And spiritually, all of the world’s prizes cannot compare with knowing God, having our sins forgiven through Jesus’ grace, and having eternal security.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Why do we often ignore our greatest blessings?

Why do we sometimes damage them or lose them?

What are the things that have the most value?

Do we really believe that this is true?

How can Proverbs help us to re-adjust our perspective?

How can we help each other to do so?

- Mark Garner, August 2013

Spiritual Survival In A Fleshly World (Proverbs 28-29)

God made humanity in his own spiritual image, yet for a time he has placed each of us here on a perishable earth full of fallen souls. The inherent tension between our true nature and our present location sometimes leaves us with difficult choices, and living as God calls us to live sometimes necessitates earthly sacrifices. So it wise to develop a true faith in God’s priorities.

A Sure Foundation (Proverbs 28:1-15)

It is easy to say that we trust in God, and all believers know that this is what we should do. But there is a big difference between a shallow trust in God that merely expects God to give us the things we desire, compared with a genuine faith that accepts and adopts God’s spiritual priorities, even when they call for us to do things that the flesh would prefer not to do.

A true faith in God’s Word brings a kind of peace that is not available to the faithless (Proverbs 28:1-9). The worldly often endure a vicious circle - lack of faith brings a lack of peace and contentment, which leads to sinful thoughts and actions, which can further erode someone’s faithfulness and truthfulness. But a growing faith leads us to become more gracious, more honest, and more compassionate, which produce an inner peace that in turn can help faith continue to grow.

The kind of faith God seeks will also build confidence (Proverbs 28:1*) - not the false confidence of the worldly but the true confidence of those who know that their real home is with God. Those who truly trust in God’s values and perspectives are neither angered nor terrified by the world’s distorted priorities. The faithful can live as they know God wills them to, yet remain gracious to those who don’t. "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe." (Philippians 2:14-15)

  • ·    Although ’bold’ is used by most of the standard translations, the literal meaning of the word is closer to ’confident’ - that is, the Hebrew text emphasizes an inner quality, not an outward one.

A genuine faith in God helps us not only to value justice, but also to understand what it really means (Proverbs 28:5). The world’s concept of ’justice’ revolves around reward and punishment, while God’s cares more about making everyone truly equal, giving everyone a fair chance. The world replaces God’s laws with its own laws and rule (Proverbs 28:4; Proverbs 28:7; Proverbs 28:9*), invariably written to protect the interests of those lucky enough to be able to write them (Proverbs 28:2; Proverbs 28:6; Proverbs 28:8). Believers cannot change this; but we can be more compassionate to those whose needs would otherwise be ignored.

* The word translated ’law’ in these verses is "torah", and it refers to God’s law, not human-made laws.

A soft heart and an open mind will help us both to learn God’s perspectives and also to continue learning even when we think we have a full knowledge of God (Proverbs 28:10-15). Our perspectives on wealth and poverty are one such example, because God’s perspectives are often much different from those we are taught by the world. Our tendency to see wealth, fame, and power as signs of intelligence or even of God’s approval is ridiculous (Proverbs 28:11; Proverbs 28:15) but widespread. Preconceptions like this lead to the weak and poor being ignored, patronized, and stigmatized.

Yet hard hearts and closed minds create deadly traps for the souls of the proud and stubborn, no matter how rich or powerful they are here. When the ungodly attempt to corrupt believers, we are naturally distressed; yet they face the greater danger (Proverbs 28:10). If we view everything only in terms of worldly advantage, then we shall be constantly upset (Proverbs 28:12), because God never promises that the good things of this life will be fairly or consistently distributed.

But those who put their faith in God, and who humble themselves before God, have a security that cannot be purchased with this world’s treasures (Proverbs 28:14*). In this life, those who pretend to be flawless, and who blame their problems and mistakes on someone else, may often come out ahead in worldly terms - but if we truly believe that a relationship with the living God is more important, then we shall not envy them, for we know that we have greater treasure (Proverbs 28:13).

  • ·    In the Hebrew text, the first part of verse 14 literally reads, "blessed is the person who always trembles". Some versions add ’before God’ or change ’trembles’ to ’fears God’, since this seems to be the clear intent.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

How does faith in God instill confidence?

What kind of confidence does it give us?

How does God’s idea of justice differ from the world’s?

Why does it take faith to understand this?

Why do we need a soft heart to understand God’s teachings?

Why do we need to have an open mind to learn them?

Truth, Grace, & Freedom (Proverbs 28:16-28)

If we measure our decisions in terms of worldly results or profit, then sooner or later we shall inevitably question God’s wisdom. The deeper blessings like grace, spiritual security, and blamelessness can come only by believing and putting into practice the things that God has taught us in his Word - his perspectives, his priorities, and his compassion.

There has always been a link between truth and freedom (Proverbs 28:16-20): "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). God offers us freedom on a grander scale than the world does - freedom from being obligated by the world’s fads and crises, freedom from being slaves to the cravings of our own flesh, freedom from worrying about what others think and do.

The tyrant (Proverbs 28:16) and the murderer (Proverbs 28:17), for example, may seem to be ’free’ in a trivial worldly sense, in that they do as their flesh pleases without regard to the consequences. But such brutish behavior is actually a sign of insecurity and fear, not of confidence and strength. Such persons are enslaved to every whim of their own shallow minds and every impulsive urge of their undisciplined flesh, making them far from free in any meaningful sense.

A far more genuine form of freedom comes through contentment. The faithful (Proverbs 28:20), the innocent (Proverbs 28:18), and the responsible (Proverbs 28:19) do not literally receive great wealth or extra sensual pleasures, yet their attitudes allow them fully to enjoy and appreciate the many blessings God does gives them - blessings that others take for granted. This is part of what Jesus meant by "life to the full" (John 10:10). Freedom comes from being merciful, generous, and gracious.

In the long run, the rewards of fleshly folly are meager and pathetic (Proverbs 28:21-28). Proverbs 28:21 describes the tragedy of eroding our souls by using unethical or deceitful methods for the tiniest of gains. The false allure of greed (Proverbs 28:22*, Proverbs 28:27) arises from an inability to put material things in proper perspective, society’s practice of putting a price tag on everything, and our own insecure impulse to compete in pointless ways (Proverbs 28:25**) - all of which believers can resist.

  • ·    The text of Proverbs 28:22 literally begins, "the person with an evil eye". Consider Matthew 6:23, Luke 11:34.

  • ·    The start of Proverbs 28:25 has also been translated as "an arrogant (or proud) man" (e.g. NASB). The Hebrew literally says, "a wide soul", that is, someone with an exaggerated sense of his own importance.

Yet even materialism is only one of many ways in which we can outsmart ourselves. Whether in ministry, family, the workplace, or relationships, "he who trusts in himself is a fool" (Proverbs 28:26); for none of us is capable, on our own, of knowing our true needs or of seeing through all of the world’s hype and deception. And there is no need to resort to worldly wisdom or flattery (Proverbs 28:23), because God has generously offered us all of the spiritual wisdom we could ever ask for. We just have to adjust our expectations and our values, replacing the fleshly with the spiritual.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What kind of freedom does God promise?

How do faith, truth, and grace help us to find freedom?

How does the world define freedom?

Does it have anything in common with the freedom God offers?

In what sense can believers be blameless?

How do we outsmart ourselves?

Can we avoid this?

Staying On The Path (Proverbs 29)

In this world, we are constantly tempted to give in to worldly perspectives and fleshly desires. And if we attempt to memorize a solution for every kind of problem or challenge that may arise, we shall soon become lost in rules and legalism. But by continually trusting in God’s heart of grace and patience, we can we stay on the path of God’s truth even when we face new problems.

Many of the temptations we face are obvious, but others are not so obvious at all (Proverbs 29:1-12). Most Christians accept the need to resist sensual temptations (Proverbs 29:3), yet this can in turn become a source of the wrong kind of pride, one of many tests of humility that we shall face. We may well be able to move beyond this ’square zero’ of spiritual wisdom and discipline, yet there will never be a time when we are free from sin.

So we shall always need to heed God’s corrections (Proverbs 29:1). This tests our honesty as well as our humility. Unethical behavior (Proverbs 29:4*), flattery, and deceit (Proverbs 29:5) may even help us compete with the worldly for their treasures, and these things often seem wise at the time, since the worldly will eagerly trade their secrets for a price. But even if we avoid the more crass forms of such behavior, we can still be tempted to use manipulation or similar techniques to obtain desired results in our ’ministries’.

  • ·    Literally, the Hebrew text of Proverbs 29:4 refers to someone who asks for "contributions" - a euphemism that is all too appropriate today as well, both in secular affairs such as politics and in religious organizations.

Tests of our compassion occur just about every day. God understands that we cannot cure all the ills and injustices of our society, but he does ask us to care about those who suffer or who have little (Proverbs 29:7). Once we develop a bit of genuine compassion, we can stop being resentful about giving up a little of what we have for the sake of others, and caring will become more natural.

Tests of our patience come in many forms, and many of them defy an easy solution. We shall constantly face fools who want to argue with us, and much of the time it is spiritually wiser to refrain from responding (verse 9), even if it lets the fool feel "wise in his own eyes" (Proverbs 26:5). The fool’s divisiveness (Proverbs 29:8) and anger (Proverbs 29:11*) will also tempt us to respond ’according to his folly’. But the meager earthly rewards we may thus gain are usually not worth the damage to our souls. It can be very hard to show grace to fools, but just remember how badly they need it.

  • ·    The original text of Proverbs 29:11 is slightly ambiguous, and some commentators see it as an assurance that the wise and righteous can control the fool’s anger. But it fits the context better to emphasize that the wise can only control their own anger, and this is reflected in most of the standard translations.

A little humility improves our perspective on everyday issues, and a more spiritual perspective in turn leads to more humility (Proverbs 29:13-19). Despite differing appearances, earthly identities, and worldly positions, we all share a universal dependence on God’s grace. "The Lord gives sight to the eyes of both (i.e. to poor and oppressor alike)" (Proverbs 29:13) - that is, even the powerful of this world are completely dependent on God for their basic needs, even if they refuse to admit it.

Listening to God - as he speaks through his Word, through prayer, through others, through lessons in daily life - is how we develop such a perspective. It is made complicated not by God but by the worldly, who distort and exaggerate so many things, sometimes for selfish gain yet often simply out of confusion and fear. Before we can give them genuine help, we ourselves must learn spiritual discipline (Proverbs 29:15; Proverbs 29:17; Proverbs 29:19) and seek God’s perspectives (Proverbs 29:18*). When God’s teachings of grace, peace, and love conflict with the world’s teachings or with the expediency of the moment, we must have the self-control to stay on the path.

  • ·    There are different viewpoints on the word the NIV translates as "revelation" and the NASB as "vision". But in all cases the verse simply emphasizes the wisdom that comes from God, rather than from the world.

God’s gentle guidance will keep us on the path (Proverbs 29:20-27); "take my yoke upon you and learn from me … for my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:29-30). Jesus’ yoke is easy to bear when we trust him, not because we ’know’ that he will always give us what we desire, but because we know he truly cares about us and about others as well. But "there is more hope for a fool" than for the impatient (Proverbs 29:20), the proud (Proverbs 29:23), or the wrathful (Proverbs 29:22).

The snare of worshiping other humans (Proverbs 29:25-26) lies behind many seemingly innocuous aspects of secular society, and the basic sin of idolatry leads to all kinds of other disorders such as division, envy, and hatred. Sadly, even believers will yearn for the favor* of the powerful or famous (Proverbs 29:26) instead of loving everyone equally and trusting in the justice, truth, and peace that come from God. Note that two seemingly different sins - fawning over celebrities or authorities, and hating them - are just two different forms of worshiping individual humans.

  • ·    Proverbs 29:26 literally refers to seeking the ’face’ of a ruler, implying the craving for favor, attention, and other such things. Compare this with verses such as Psalms 27:8 that talk about seeking the face of God.

The wise believer accepts once and for all that only God is the source of genuine justice, truth, understanding, and purpose in our lives. There is a fundamental contradiction between the world’s wisdom and God’s, and we should completely resist the viewpoints of the worldly (the figurative meaning of Proverbs 29:27*) even as we give them as much love and grace as we can.

  • ·    There is a sad irony in this verse, in view of the ways that Solomon later allowed his physical attraction for idolatrous women to overcome his devotion to the truths of God (1 Kings 11). "What fellowship can light have with darkness?" (2 Corinthians 6:14). Solomon allowing his idolatrous wives to influence him is an example of what to avoid, while Jesus’ willingness to eat with and talk to outcasts is a positive example.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Does God have a different ’path’ for each of us?

Do the worldly have a different ’path’?

How are honesty, patience, humility, and compassion tested by daily events?

How does humility build spiritual perspective, and vice versa?

Why do even believers idolize humans?

How can we learn to worship God alone?

- Mark Garner, August 2013

Spiritual Mysteries & Spiritual Treasure (Proverbs 30-31)

Although our present world is by nature physical and perishable, when it is observed through the proper perspective it can provide a great many spiritual insights. Even the most seemingly familiar aspects of life can reveal spiritual mysteries that broaden our awareness of God. This world also holds unexpected spiritual treasure that can deepen our appreciation of God.

Help For The Perplexed (Proverbs 30:1-14)

The last two chapters of Proverbs introduce some new authors with some new perspectives on topics that we’ve seen earlier in the book. This first passage addresses the common perplexity of someone looking for God in a world that often seems devoid of spirituality. These images and rhetorical devices are intended to illustrate the power and usefulness of simple spiritual truths.

By asking rhetorical questions like "what is his (God’s) name?", the writer Agur* calls attention to the inherent difficulty that mortal beings have in seeking an eternal God (Proverbs 30:1-4). He emphasizes his own lack of understanding (Proverbs 30:1-3)**, then steps back as if God were questioning a confused human (Proverbs 30:4 parallels part of God’s discourse in the climax of Job).

  • ·    Agur son of Jakeh, the author of chapter 30, is otherwise unknown in Scripture or in ancient history.

  • ·    The Hebrew text of the last part of Proverbs 30:1 is subject to different interpretations, but it most likely expresses the writer’s weariness, as in the NRSV and some editions of the NIV.

This gives us some important basic reminders. No matter how learned or ’religious’ we are, many things about God will remain a mystery. We cannot control even our own lives, much less the lives and actions of others. So Agur describes both God’s majesty over the physical universe and also his lordship over humanity ("what is … the name of his son*?"), providing a counterweight to our fleshly tendency to rely on human will and human righteousness.

  • ·    Some early Christian commentators saw this as a reference to the Messiah Jesus, while most ancient Jewish commentators saw it as a reference to Moses and/or to faithful believers in general.

Then the writer poses a deceptively simple -looking request for the "two things I ask" (Proverbs 30:5-9). Knowing his human weakness, he does not promise anything to God, asking instead if he might be allowed to live without lies or falsehood, and to live with neither poverty nor riches. Both of these requests actually show a profound understanding of human nature.

Truth is a spiritual treasure, and avoiding falsehood - not only outright deceit but also hype, manipulation, flattery, misuse of God’s Word, and the like - keeps us close to God. Instead of trying to determine how best to obtain desired results or gains, and consulting human experts on the subject, we do far better simply to accept God’s priorities and to seek the truth from God. The spiritual benefits far outweigh the fleshly profits and excitement that we thereby give up.

Likewise, Agur’s request to "give me neither poverty nor riches" shows that, in this respect, he is even wiser than Solomon. Those who have more than they need often begin to feel as if they have earned it or deserved it, and they often resent what they do not have rather than appreciating what they do have. Having too little can bring its own temptations - which is why Scripture so often tells us to look after the needs of the poor, and which is why Jesus so often used his miraculous powers to remove suffering: "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me" (Matthew 11:5-6).

Throughout Scripture, we are urged to clean the inside first, rather than worrying so much about appearances and outward results (Proverbs 30:10-14). "The Word of God is living and active … it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12-13); God is very well aware of how we truly feel towards others and of what we really desire. Many outwardly clean, ’religious’ persons viciously judge others and care little about others’ needs. God does not ask us to fix everyone’s problems - just to accept others as our equals and to see their needs as equally important to ours.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Why does the writer speak at first as if he were confused about God?

Are there things we should be uncertain about?

What is the significance of the ’two things’ he asks for?

Should we ask for the same things?

Three Things & Four (Proverbs 30:15-33)

This new series of images further develops the theme of simple spiritual truths and their power. In each set of images, we see how a simple principle can show up in widely varied settings. The recurring ’three things … four things*’ pattern also invites us to find additional examples on our own, so that we can further develop our awareness of spiritual mystery and spiritual treasure.

  • ·    The point of this literary device is simply to call attention to the fact that there are many ways to illustrate a point of spiritual importance. There is no significance to the numerals three or four, and in all cases the implication is that many more examples could be added. Compare Proverbs 6:16-19 and Job 5:19.

The "things that are never satisfied" are a caution to all of us (Proverbs 30:15-17). When we give in to our self-centered cravings, it is both comical (as in the preliminary example of the blood-sucking leech) and sobering (in that they are like death or fire). It is human nature to rationalize our desires or even to persuade ourselves that they are from God. But the wise believer will take caution anytime he or she starts a thought with, "I want …"

A much more positive point is made with the things that are "too amazing* for me" (Proverbs 30:18-19). The flight of birds has been a mystery to humans for millennia, and the way that snakes move without limbs has also intrigued generations of thoughtful persons. The point of these images is to help us see that God’s hand is everywhere - his wisdom and life-giving power are behind every living thing; his love is in the blessings that our relationships can bring to one another; and his creativity, not ours, is behind the things that humans themselves have made.

  • ·    The NIV uses "amazing", while most other standard translations use "wonderful". In this context "wonderful" is used literally, to mean ’full of wonder’.

Then there is a new contrast, with the ’unbearable’ things (Proverbs 30:20-23*). The transition verse (before the usual ’three things … four things’ formula) contrasts between healthy relationships between the sections (at the end of Proverbs 30:19) with the selfish corruption of them by the adulteress (verse 20). For every wonder that God gives us, humans have ways of distorting it and cheapening it - sadly, this applies to our material blessings, our relationships, even our ministries.

  • ·    Some translations, especially the NIV, soften the meaning of the Hebrew text and unintentionally make it less clear why these things are ’unbearable’. The situations themselves are not the problem - it is the attitudes that are ’unbearable’: a servant who thinks he deserves to be king, a wrongdoer reveling in his appetites, a quarrelsome and demanding wife (’unloved’ is not strong enough), and a scheming maidservant.

Then it is back to the sublime, with examples of creatures that are small but wise (Proverbs 30:24-28). These four examples from nature - as well as countless others that could be added - both teach us and humble us, by reminding us not to focus so much on outward appearances.

Tiny ants are extraordinarily strong for their size. The vulnerable rock badger (or coney) has no natural defenses against predators, but it is an expert at concealment and escape. Locusts are fearfully efficient eaters, yet they have no officers and no leaders - they simply work together by nature. And a small lizard (probably a gecko*) can easily be caught with bare hands, yet it can slip into places (like a king’s palace) in which most of us will never be allowed.

  • ·    Some older translations and commentaries interpret the Hebrew word to mean ’spider’, but it is much more likely to mean a gecko or else a similar variety of lizard.

The section closes with images of stately strides, encouraging us to walk with God assured of his care for us, yet not reliant on our own powers (Proverbs 30:29-33). As the lion and the others here are confident for good reasons, we too can be genuinely confident when our confidence is in God’s qualities, not our own. This is contrasted with those who ’play the fool’ by exalting themselves, considering that their own righteousness or superiority entitles them to look down on others.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What effect is intended by the recurring ’three things..four things’ pattern?

What specific lessons are taught in each set of images?

Why are some of the images ’positive’ and others ’negative’?

What overall lessons can we learn?

A Mother’s Advice (Proverbs 31:1-9)

In this short passage, a king recalls the godly advice his mother once gave him, advice that has stayed with him ever since. When he was young, the future king learned that he should always keep his responsibilities in mind, instead of his privileges. And, although his mother’s advice on the subject was ambiguous, he also learned to be conscious of the needs of society’s outcasts.

Although King Lemuel* discusses the responsibilities of kings, his thoughts give all of us something to think about (Proverbs 30:1-5). We all have responsibilities that affect others, and we all in some small way have areas of authority, or at least influence, that we can either use or misuse. Lemuel’s mother taught him the importance of self-control - a king can either exploit his position for his own pleasure or profit, or else he can use it soberly and honestly to benefit others.

  • ·    King Lemuel (like Agur, above) is not otherwise mentioned in the Bible, and he was apparently a foreign ruler. Some commentators are uncomfortable with this, and try to identify him somehow with Solomon or someone else in Scripture. But there is neither a necessity nor a reason to do this.

All of us, not only kings, must frequently choose between self-control and self-indulgence. Even church leaders must constantly discipline themselves to meet others’ needs instead of pushing their own agendas and programs. Family members can use their awareness of each other’s needs and weaknesses either to exploit and manipulate one another, or to serve and love each other.

The king’s mother also exhorted him to care for the less fortunate (Proverbs 31:6-9). Few leaders do this even in our ’democratic’ society, since they face too many temptations and rationalizations to use their power to serve the powerful. The suggestion in Proverbs 31:6-7 is ambiguous: is she telling her son that, if he cannot help the needy in some better way, at least to give them alcohol (or some other anodyne) to ease their pain, or is she satirizing the way that so-called leaders patronize the less fortunate by pretending to help them but in reality keeping them in a state of dependency?

Yet even if her ’suggestion’ is ambiguous, her statement about the responsibility of leaders is very clear - speak for those who cannot speak, look out for the destitute*, and show absolutely no favoritism. And here again her guidance is wise for us to follow as well. Following these basic ideas would resolve a large number of the world’s (and the church’s) acrimonious debates.

* Literally, "sons of change" - those who are vulnerable, desperate, insecure, or fearful.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

Does it matter that we do not know who King Lemuel is?

How can his advice guide all of us, not just ’leaders’?

Is there anything of particular importance to ’leaders’?

Is there an overall theme to his mother’s wisdom?

Laughing At The Days To Come (Proverbs 31:10-31)

This famous depiction of the "wife of noble character" has two significant dimensions. On a literal level, it reminds us to appreciate the many things that others, especially mothers and other family members, do for us without receiving any recognition or credit. And as we appreciate her (and perhaps re-evaluate some preconceptions), she also provides a broader spiritual example.

The anonymously written passage* celebrates the ways that this woman’s life brings good, not harm, into the lives of others (Proverbs 31:10-16). She focuses on meeting needs around her, and she is ready and willing to take the responsibility that comes with making decisions. The passage describes a wide range of activities, from securing food** to making investments. When she sees a need, she determines how to meet it and then does what is necessary to fill it.

  • ·    The last two passages were placed in a different order in the Septuagint (the Greek-language OT). The last 22 verses are an "acrostic", each verse starting with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet, in order.

  • ·    The imagery in Proverbs 31:15 is more vivid in Hebrew than it is in most English translations. It literally refers to her getting ’prey’ for her family, suggesting the image of a lioness on the hunt.

This woman is devoted to service, not limiting herself to the needs in her own home (Proverbs 31:17-24). She indeed provides "vigorously" for her family, both in domestic ways and by making wise financial decisions. She also makes it a point to care for the poor and needy whenever possible, providing an example that it is possible to do this while still having, "no fear for her household".

And so the ’wife of noble character’ is also an example of things with lasting value (Proverbs 31:25-31). Her wisdom and confidence teach us to appreciate the role conventionally played by mothers, grandmothers, and other women - while also calling us not to place boundaries on what they can do. On a spiritual level, her example is a general reminder to appreciate the things that last, rather than identifying women or anyone else by outward appearance or other shallow criteria.

Proverbs began by introducing us to ’Lady Wisdom’, and it concludes with a description of her children and the way that they live their lives. As the opening imagery reminded us that God freely offers his wisdom and perspective to all who are willing to humble themselves, so now the closing passage reminds us of the wisdom and importance of living lives of simple self-control and genuine concern for our fellow humans.

Questions For Discussion Or Study:

What is the general significance of the ’wife of noble character’?

What practical lessons does she give us?

Is it significant that she is female?

How can she serve as a more general spiritual example to everyone?

- Mark Garner, August 2013

Proverbs 1-4

1. What does a wise man do? (Proverbs 1:5)

2. What is the beginning of knowledge? (Proverbs 1:7)

3. What will destroy fools? (Proverbs 1:32)

4. Who shall be rooted out of the earth? (Proverbs 2:22)

5. What comes to those who keep God’s commandments? (Proverbs 3:1-2)

6. What are we not to despise? (Proverbs 3:11)

7. Who are we not to envy? (Proverbs 3:31)

8. What is the promotion of fools? (Proverbs 3:35)

9. Whose path are we not to enter. (Proverbs 4:14)

10. What are we to ponder? (Proverbs 4:26)

Proverbs 5-8

1. Who pondereth all the ways of man? (Proverbs 5:21)

2. Who is holden [bound] with the cords of sins? (Proverbs 5:22)

3. Who is the sluggard to go to to consider their ways? (Proverbs 6:6)

4. Who walketh with a froward [perverse] mouth? (Proverbs 6:12)

5. Whose law are we not to forsake? (Proverbs 6:20)

6. What are we to call our kinswoman? (Proverbs 7:4)

7. Who is loud and stubborn? (Proverbs 7:10-11)

8. What is better than rubies? (Proverbs 8:11)

9. What does the fear of the Lord hate. (Proverbs 4:26)

10. What do those love that hate wisdom? (Proverbs 4:26)

Proverbs 9-13

1. Who should we forsake if we want to live? (Proverbs 9:6)

2. Who will hate you if you rebuke them? (Proverbs 9:8)

3. Whose name shall rot? (Proverbs 10:7)

4. What stirs up strife? (Proverbs 10:12)

5. What will prolong days? (Proverbs 10:27)

6. What comes with pride? (Proverbs 11:2)

7. What does a gracious woman retain? (Proverbs 11:16)

8. What kind of lips are an abomination to the Lord? (Proverbs 12:22)

9. What happens to those who despise the Word. (Proverbs 13:13)

10. Who hates his son? (Proverbs 13:24)

Proverbs 14-17

1. Who has great understanding? (Proverbs 14:29)

2. What exalts a nation? (Proverbs 14:34)

3. What kind of an answer turns away wrath? (Proverbs 15:1)

4. Who does not love one who reproves him? (Proverbs 15:12)

5. What comes before honor? (Proverbs 15:33)

6. What is much better to have than gold? (Proverbs 16:16)

7. Who is better than the mighty? (Proverbs 16:32)

8. What are the crown of old men? (Proverbs 17:6)

9. Who loves at all times? (Proverbs 17:17)

10. What causes one to spare his words? (Proverbs 17:27)

Proverbs 18-21

1. Who is a brother to a great waster? (Proverbs 18:9)

2. What is folly and shame to a man? (Proverbs 18:13)

3. What two things are in the power of the tongue? (Proverbs 18:21)

4. What kind of soul shall suffer hunger? (Proverbs 19:15)

5. What drink is a mocker? (Proverbs 20:1)

6. What will most men proclaim? (Proverbs 20:6)

7. What should one not love if he wants to avoid poverty? (Proverbs 20:13)

8. What is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice? (Proverbs 21:3)

9. What will loving pleasure make a man. (Proverbs 21:17)

10. Whose hands refuse to labor? (Proverbs 21:25)

Proverbs 22-24

1. What is better to choose than great riches? (Proverbs 22:1)

2. What is bound in the heart of a child? (Proverbs 22:15)

3. With what kind of man should we not make friends? (Proverbs 22:24)

4. What should we not remove? (Proverbs 22:28; Proverbs 23:10)

5. What will clothe a man with rags? (Proverbs 23:21)

6. What are we to buy but not to sell? (Proverbs 23:23)

7. What bites like a serpent and stings like an adder? (Proverbs 23:31-32)

8. What is too high for a fool? (Proverbs 24:7)

9. What is the thought of foolishness? (Proverbs 24:9)

10. Whose field was grown over with thorns and nettles? (Proverbs 24:30-31)

Proverbs 25-28

1. What is like winds and clouds without rain? (Proverbs 25:14)

2. What is like a broken tooth and foot out of joint? (Proverbs 25:19)

3. What is a man like who has no rule over his spirit? (Proverbs 25:28)

4. How does a slothful man turn upon his bed? (Proverbs 26:14)

5. What kind of mouth worketh ruin? (Proverbs 26:28)

6. Why should we not boast about tomorrow? (Proverbs 27:1)

7. Whose kisses are deceitful? (Proverbs 27:6)

8. Who praises the wicked? (Proverbs 28:4)

9. Whose prayer is an abomination. (Proverbs 28:9)

10. Who shall have mercy? (Proverbs 28:13)

Proverbs 29-31

1. What do the people do when the wicked rule? (Proverbs 29:2)

2. Who hate the upright? (Proverbs 29:10)

3. What man abounds in transgressions? (Proverbs 29:22)

4. What shall bring a man low? (Proverbs 29:23)

5. Who is an abomination to the wicked? (Proverbs 29:27)

6. Whose every word is pure? (Proverbs 30:5)

7. When do the ants prepare their food? (Proverbs 30:25)

8. Who should not drink wine? (Proverbs 31:4)

9. Whose worth is far above rubies. (Proverbs 31:10)

10. What kind of woman will be praised? (Proverbs 31:30-31)

 
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