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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Living in Wisdom, part 1

The Old Testament book of Proverbs is a collection of little snippets, sayings, trite words of instruction from an array of sources. Solomon, the son of King David, was the principle collector of proverbial sayings and may have even authored a few. 1 Kings 4:32 says, “He also spoke 3,000 proverbs and his songs were 1,005.” His name is directly attached to those found in the first twenty-two chapters of the book though interestingly, the Psalms only contain just one of his songs. There are “sayings of the wise” (chapters 22-24); proverbs of Solomon as they were copied by Hezekiah’s men (25:1-29:17); the words of Agur (chapter 30); and finally, the words of King Lemuel, as he recalled the teachings of his mother (chapter 31).

What are the Proverbs? What is the purpose of a collection of sayings and quotes, anyway?

To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth--Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.” (1:2-6, ESV)

One cannot read Proverbs and be passive. This would be like keeping a jar of fortune cookies in a jar simply because the words on slips of paper are clever. Proverbs demand action.

Proverbs are for wisdom and instruction. These sayings are schemes, or plans for truth. The one who puts these plans into action are brought into line with truth. The student of Proverbs who “gets” truth is moved to think rightly, able to discern or distinguish between things rightly, to “read between the lines” with a certain measure of insight. When one follows the instruction of these words then his behavior will change, there will be goodness and fairness in everything. Interestingly, man thinks he can generate goodness and fairness, righteousness and justice from within himself. The truth is, these are attributes that God shares with His creation. When we are in tune with God’s heart and walk in obedience to His Word, we live out the reality of what it means to be made in His image. If we could generate these qualities without God, then what is the purpose of this instruction? Proverbs and wise sayings would be pointless.

Not too far into the first chapter, Solomon asks a question that demands an answer: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” (1:22) There are folks out there who are absolutely fed up with being used by others, yet they feel all they do is flit from one disaster to another, easily distracted, persuaded, enticed, exploited. These need direction, confidence. Perhaps one is so open-minded that he or she can’t seem to commit or decide on anything. The book of Proverbs contains the promise that even the simplest person who lives by these words will be the recipient of good judgment and common sense and enough caution to avoid making regrettable decisions. This is good news to the one who is convinced that he or she can do nothing right. This brings to mind the promise of Psalm 1: the one who meditates on God’s Word day and night will be like a tree planted by streams of water, giving fruit in season!

Students and young adults alike have somehow become persuaded they know everything, or at least just enough to go out there and make it on their own. This is God’s way of saying, “No, you don’t. But then, most adults don’t know everything either.” There is no accident that that youth will receive knowledge and discretion from these proverbs because acting on them is acting on God’s unchanging Word! All scripture teaches, rebukes, corrects and trains in righteousness for the purpose of making competent and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

God calls the person who will increase in their learning from these Proverbs “wise.” That’s marvelous, to think that God notices the obedience of one who desires to be pleasing to Him that He can say, “there is a wise person.” The one who consents and agrees to the lessons of Proverbs moves upward in learning! One will then truly “know” as he compares what is before him as he is able to interpret the opportunity before him and decide the right course. His decisions will be grounded on God’s Word and His authority and not made with spontaneity, lacking foundation. What a contrast from the wisdom of the world, where one makes decisions simply because his gut feeling is right and we figure it out along the way.

Sit down and read Proverbs. Learn and understand the words of the wise. Most have observed through simple “horse sense” that there are 31 chapters in the book, one for each day of the month. Read them, read them and read them. When you are finished, read them again.

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