A series at church always leaves a few questions behind it. Here are a couple of reflections on the ‘Take Five’ sermons on Proverbs.
Why the ‘Take Five’ approach?
The puzzle in approaching Proverbs at Trinity was this: we’d covered chapters 1-9 (the prologue) and chapter 31 (the conclusion). But how were we going to deal with the middle section, with its 600-odd individual proverbs arranged in collections, but without clear themes in different sections? In other words, how do you preach on proverbs that seem so jumbled up?
Reading through (or listening to David Suchet reading!) the whole book quite a number of times, it seemed to me that the book of Proverbs works on you in a particular fashion. Each chapter comes at you from a whole variety of different directions (much like in our experience of the day-to-day, as it happens), but some themes keep emerging every now and again in similar ways. A book by Richard Mayhue (‘Practicing Proverbs’) collects proverbs into six different viewpoints on life: spiritual wisdom, personal wisdom, family wisdom, intellectual wisdom, marketplace wisdom, and societal wisdom – and the more I listened, the more that made sense. Take proverbs like 22:2 and 29:13, or 21:19 and 27:15 – they seem to be calling out to be connected, but how?
In the end, we went with Mayhue’s viewpoints (cut down from six to five), and colour-coded a printed-out copy of the whole of the book of Proverbs according to its different themes. The final five proverbs that each of us chose to illustrate a viewpoint were the ones that we felt best told the story of that viewpoint from the whole book. Choosing them, you can imagine, was a labour of love.
How did the readings each week relate to the talk?
The readings each week were taken from the prologue (chapters 1-9). The idea was to be a reminder of wisdom’s call, as essential context to the proverbs in the central section of the book.
How can we make sure that we are understanding proverbs as New Testament Christians?
There are three ways, I think, that the book of Proverbs points us to the gospel.
First, it encourages us to look for someone wiser than Solomon. Solomon asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3), recorded it in the book of Proverbs, but ultimately left the path of wisdom later on in life (1 Kings 11). The book of Proverbs leaves us asking ‘If even Solomon couldn’t live a consistently wise life, where will we find a king who can?’ When Jesus comes fulfilling that role, it is a hugely significant moment (Matt 12:42)
Secondly, it enables us to be astonished at the wisdom of the cross. Jesus is the one in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3), and yet that wisdom is shown in a shocking way – in the wise king being wisely executed. That wasn’t what Jews were demanding, or what gentiles were looking for, but it represented the power and wisdom of God. Divine wisdom outsmarts us all (1 Cor 1:18-2:5).
Thirdly, it teaches us how to live Christlike lives. The way that Proverbs is quoted in the NT makes for an interesting study (3:11-12 in Heb 12:5-6; 3:34 in James 4:6 and 1 Pet 5:5; 11:31 in 1 Pet 4:18; 25:21-22 in Rom 12:20, and 26:11 in 2 Pet 2:22). But just taking the Romans 12:20 quote, there’s a clear way to understand Proverbs as a Christian. Living out God wisdom is a response to mercy (Rom 12:1), a way that we offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1), an act of humble service (Rom 12:3), and an example of gospel love (Rom 12:9).
I’ve enjoyed the series. How can I keep thinking about what I learned?
I’ve loved listening to David Suchet reading the book of Proverbs. I bought it on Audible, but you can also get it on Youtube and Youversion. Put it on when you’re on the tube or going shopping – you won’t be able to think about every proverb every time, but some will strike you as the Spirit drives them home, and that (I think) is the way the book is meant to work.
I’ve listed below the proverbs we’ve covered in the series. It would be great to learn them over Easter, maybe. You can relisten to the talks, too. And some books are helpfully practical – I wouldn’t recommend everything he’s done, but Bill Hybels’ ‘Making Life Work’ is a great intro. Another great summary is the 8-minute video done by the Bible Project – you can find it on Youtube if you search for Read Scripture: Proverbs.
Proverbs: Spiritual wisdom
1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
3:11-12 My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
20:9 Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”?
28:13 He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.
12: 28 In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality.
Proverbs: Personal wisdom
12:15 The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.
8:10-11 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.
20:1 Wine is a mocker, and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.
11:25 A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes another will himself be refreshed.
27:2 Let another praise you and not you own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.
Proverbs: Family wisdom
14:1 The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down
6:20 My son, keep your father’s commands and do not forsake your mother’s teaching…For these commands are a lamp, this teaching is a light, and the corrections of discipline are the way to life.
13:24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.
12:4 A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.
5:18-19 May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.
Proverbs: Workplace wisdom
5:21 For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths.
11:12 A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbour, but a man of understanding holds his tongue. A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.
12:16 A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.
12:22 The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.
12:14 From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.
Proverbs: Community wisdom
27:9 Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel
25:21-22 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.
3:27-28 Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbour, “Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow”–when you now have it with you.
16:31 Grey hair is a crown of splendour; it is attained by a righteous life.
11:30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.
Hope you’ve enjoyed looking at Proverbs as much as I have…
To God be the glory.