Proverbs: A Christian Manual Part III

given on Sunday, September 27, 2009

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During a casual conversation about this set of sermons on Proverbs, I heard—or should I say witnessed—one individual shot hands up and tremor saying, “Proverbs!  I studied that for 12 weeks…”  Right then and there I knew it was time to wrap up our review of Proverbs.

The decision to make this the final discussion on Proverbs does not mean the value has diminished.  Instead, I have discovered that there really is another entire role for Proverbs:  that as an Old Testament version of Bartlett’s quotations.  The value of the wise sayings is very real, much like the golden ore the prospector searches for in the streams and mountains or the Yukon or the Rocky Mountains (as well as other sites).  The lessons within the 31 chapters are timeless.  The audience remains the same—the young people, all people, and the leaders.

Proverbs is not a narrative, not a historical piece, not a book filled with genealogy, nor a literary collection of poetry.  Proverbs is a collection of edited sayings to provide readers thought provoking, sometimes even humorous guidelines for life.  Reading Proverbs will probably begin by a search of a concordance when needing Biblical advice on a specific topic or situation.

The small lessons gleaned from these chapters during the last two weeks were those each and every one of us need to keep tucked away in our consciousness.  And even as we sum up the wisdom of Proverbs today, we know there is so much more to learn from these wise sayings.  The key is to return to the words to seek God’s words to you.

Maybe one should review Proverbs 6:16-19 each year:

Here are six things God hates,

and one more that he loathes with a passion:

eyes that are arrogant,

a tongue that lies,

hands that murder the innocent,

a heart that hatches evil plots,

feet that race down a wicked track,

a mouth that lies under oath,

a troublemaker in the family.

Each year we should stop and evaluate our lives to make sure we are remaining true Christians.  These words remind us of the behaviors that God does not want any one of us to exhibit.  When I read these, I went back to the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy too, just to see how the ideas match up.  Then remember that Jesus brought us the New Covenant, the Golden Rule, or the One Commandment that covers all:  Love one another.  Treat your neighbor as you want to be treated.  The various ways of saying it does not change how simple life can be just following one rule.

Do not forget, too, the beginning framework given in Proverbs 1:7:

7Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God;

Only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.

God is the foundation, the source of life, and is omniscient.  In the study notes from Life Application Bible, the multiple descriptions of God are outlined, God…

…is aware of all that happens (15:3)

…knows the heart of all people (15:11; 16:2; 21:2)

…controls all things (16:33; 21:30)

…is a place of safety (18:10)

…rescues good people from danger (11:8, 21)

…condemns the wicked (11:31)

…delights in our prayers (15:8, 29)

…loves those who obey him (15:9; 22:12)

…cares for poor and needy (15:25; 22:22, 23)

…purifies hearts (17:3)

…hates evil (17:5; 21:27; 28:9)

The list creates its own sermon series and could be supported with stories of Jesus’ life here on earth.  As I read through these descriptors, I realized how the New Testament stories of Jesus demonstrate all these qualities.

But Proverbs does not stop with just explaining who God is, it also explains how we should respond or honor God as again outlined in the study notes.  Our response (to God) should be …

…to fear and reverence God (10:27; 14:26,27: 15:16; 16:6, 19:23; 28:14)

…to obey God’s Word (12:13, 19:16)

…to please God (21:3)

…to trust in God (22:17-19; 29:25)

Each of these behaviors are exemplified by the various personalities of the Old and the New Testament.

Think about this:  a wide range of Jews and Christians wrote each of the books in the entire Bible.  No one editor or even a team of editors sat down and compiled the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.  The fact that all the books even survived is phenomenal, but when you add the understanding we have today of how the Bible has been compiled, translated, and discussed throughout time, the connectedness and the application of this manual is beyond human understanding.

Back to Proverbs, though:  The book just keeps on going and going.  The couplets keep listing the Christian behaviors each one of us should demonstrate today, as well as in the pre-Christian times.  God does want us to succeed so the verses even tell us what to do.  There are qualities that promote success and a good reputation:

Righteousness:

A good and honest life is a blessed memorial:

a wicked life leaves a rotten stench.  (10:7)

Hating what is false:

A good person hates false talk;

a bad person wallows in gibberish.  (13:5)

Committing all work to the Lord:

Put God I charge of your work,

then what you’ve planned will take place.  (16:3)

Loving wisdom and understanding:

Grow a wise heart—you’ll do yourself a favor;

Keep a clear head—you’ll find a good life.  (19:8)

The list continues and even lists “qualities that prevent success and cause a bad reputation.”  The wisdom continues and the fact remains that as long as we keep our focus on God, our lives Christ-centered we cannot go wrong.

The one section that I have yet to focus on is that final one—wisdom for leaders.  The initial thought might be that we do not necessarily need this because we are not leaders.  Yet each and every one of us is a leader in our community.  We are Christians who strive to lead others to Christ.  We believe that following God and his one commandment will transform the world.

Consider these leadership qualities outlined in the study notes:

diligence, trustworthy messengers, don’t penalize people for integrity, listen before answering, able to discern, listen to both sides of the story, able to stand up under adversity, able to stand up under praise.

Even reviewing the story of Solomon as he had to make a decision on the mother of the child brings almost each one of these qualities into light.  These qualities may be key for leaders in our communities, but the qualities are valuable for each one of us regardless of how we perceive our role in the community.  Do we demonstrate or model these qualities in our own homes and in our jobs?  If we use Jesus’ one commandment, we do.

Editors have identified four “tongues” or as we would better understand, “speech patterns”:  Two are positive.  Two are negative.  Each pattern has at least seven to fourteen supporting verses in Proverbs.  The four are the controlled tongue, the caring tongue, the conniving tongue, and the careless tongue.  I can see the wisdom of the first two kinds in teaching:

The Controlled Tongue:  Those with this speech pattern think before speaking, now when silence is best, and give wise advice.

The Caring Tongue:  Those with this speech pattern speak truthfully while seeking to encourage.

No doubt we should work to use those two speech patterns, but all too often we slip into the negative ones:

The Conniving Tongue:  Those with this speech pattern are filled with wrong motives, gossip, slander, and a desire to twist the truth.

The Careless Tongue:  Those with this speech pattern are filled with lies, curses, quick-tempered words—which can lead to rebellion and destruction.

In our classroom, I hear these two tongues over and over.  The Drama Queens are the worst, but then I find it so easy to fall into those two patterns, too.  When I tire, I can be careless.  When I become drained from all the negativity in my classroom, I become cynical and sarcastic which leads to even becoming a conniving tongue.

We each know our weaknesses.  We each know our strengths.  On those days when we are weary, drained, frustrated by the demands of our earthly life, we need words of encouragement.  Proverbs little couplets of wisdom may be the key.  One final sidebar to share is that listing the results of living an honest–and I add—Christian life:

Short-term results:

  • Ill-gotten treasure is of no value.
  • The righteous are rescued from trouble.
  • The evil are trapped by sinful talk.
  • Fraudulent gain is sweet for a while.

Long-term results:

  • The upright are guided by integrity.
  • Truthful lips endure.
  • Riches gained quickly don’t last.
  • Riches gained dishonestly don’t last.
  • The blameless are kept safe.

The wisdom continues to grow.  We have a tool that we may be overlooking that really has so many answers to managing our lives in a world filled with un-Christian behaviors, with cynics, with evil, with challenges that eat away at our inner core.  We have the wisdom of generations in Proverbs and in all the books of the Bible.

Read Proverbs expecting to hear God talking to you.  Read Proverbs when you need advice.  Read Proverbs as you would poetry and good literature.  Read Proverbs when it seems no one hears you.

In the last chapter, there are a few more verses to explore.  The structure is different, more like the opening seven chapters.  The setting for the chapter is more like a family sitting down around the patriarchal leader who is sharing what he has learned.  Not only does King Lemuel, give advice, he also praises his wife.  I can just picture all the young people sitting on the floor in front of him while their parents sit in chairs listening.  To close, hear some of these final words in Proverbs:

“Leaders can’t afford to make fools of themselves,

gulping wine and swilling beer,

Lest, hung over, they don’t know right from wrong,

and the people who depend on them are hurt.

Use wine and beer only as sedatives,

to kill the pain and dull the ache

Of the terminally ill,

for whom life is a living death.”

“Speak up for the people who have no voice,

for the rights of all the down-and-outers.

Speak out for justice!

Stand up for the poor and destitute.”

A good woman is hard to find,

and worth far more than diamonds. …

She keeps an eye on everyone in her household,

And keeps them all busy and productive. …

“Many women have done wonderful tings,

But you’ve outclassed them all! …”

The words may seem a bit humorous to us sitting here in the 21st century.  But the truth is that the same words do apply just as much now as it did in the 8th century before Christ.  So today, as we leave the words of Proverbs, let us also leave with the wisdom to return to those words.

Dear Wise Father,

We are living in a world just as full of non-Christian behaviors as the wise kings in the Old Testament.  We meet the same challenges the Israelites met in their lives.  The TV may be blaring, the iPods plugged into our ears, and the world is at our fingertips on the screens of our computers; but the words of Proverbs continue to provide guidance today.  Help us to open the Bible and expect to hear your talk to us.  Help us to know that even today the wors Of King Solomon still provide sound advice for today. –Amen

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