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)
These 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 verse 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 verse 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.Verse 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.” (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” (Psalm 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.