Proverbs for Living Skillfully

Automaker Henry Ford hired electrical genius Charlie Steinmetz to build the generators for his factory. One day the generators came grinding to a halt, and the technicians couldn’t find the problem.  Ford called Steinmetz, who tinkered with the machines for a few hours and then threw the switch. The generators whirred to life–but Ford got a bill for $10,000 from Steinmetz.  Flabbergasted, the rather tightfisted car maker inquired why the bill was so high.

Steinmetz’s reply: For tinkering with the generators, $10. For knowing where to tinker, $9,990. Ford paid the bill (Today in the Word, MBI, April 1990, p. 27.).

Today we place more value on our unproductive, frantic efforts than the wisdom involved in “knowing where to tinker.”  After all, “knowing where to tinker” is more than a mere indicator of knowledge, but a sign of wisdom.  Anyone can offer a reasonable guess regarding the nature of a problem we are facing. However, it takes wisdom to know how to apply that speculation and make a wise choice that leads to a resolve.

Nested in the midst of the books of Wisdom (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes) is a goldmine of biblical counsel for learning how to live skillfully. King Solomon’s Book of Proverbs is a much neglected biblical work that contains timeless truths that show us “where to tinker” in the major issues we face everyday.51727466 - skill ability qualification performance talent concept

One of the areas where followers of Jesus are forever tinkering in trying to determine God’s will. Christians spend precious time in this endless and often fruitless pursuit. Good news!  The Book of Proverbs is God’s guidebook for finding His will. This is the major source in the Scriptures that reveals not merely the information about God’s will, but discloses “where to tinker.”

Once we have read and understood this work of wisdom, we will no longer need to speak of “discovering God’s will.”  His plan for our lives becomes more apparent the deeper we dig within Solomon’s volume of wisdom.

Besides being a manual that enables us to understand the ways of God, the Book of Proverbs describes the qualities of spiritual character. As we will discover in Solomon’s sayings, possessing spiritual character goes hand-in-hand with grasping the will of God.

Several principles emerge as we make our way through the maxims of the king of Israel concerning his description of spiritual  character and the objective of knowing God’s will.

The Book of Proverbs is the practical application of the Law of Moses.

Solomon is not providing us new laws and principles. Rather, the wisdom found in the Book of Proverbs reflects the principles contained in the Law of Moses. Although Solomon is not addressing the ceremonial aspects of the Law, he is zeroing in on the practical application of the timeless moral principles of the Law.

This is brought outbid Paul in I Timothy 1:8-9, “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane. . . “

Paul then lists a summary of the issues addressed by the Law. The Law or Torah deals with relationships between parents and children, addresses those who express rage and unbridled anger, admonishes people embroiled in sexual immorality, challenges powerful people with the way they treat their employees, exposes those who lie and bear false witness and whatever else is contrary to God’s word.  Naturally, these matters are addressed in Proverbs since this book repeats the spiritual principles found in the Torah.

The Book of Proverbs supplies us with a useful handbook on how to live skillfully.

We all want to know how to live up to our best potential.  We invest time and money to obtain college degrees and take courses to earn certificates. I am always listening to some tutorial on a new computer program so I can keep up on the latest programs and updates.

We are forever increasing our knowledge base. Yet we are not always as committed to apply the same passion when it comes to living life. We shoot from the hip and wing it when making decisions, hoping we won’t drift too far off the beaten path.

Wisdom comes from experience to a certain degree. We acquire wisdom from our parents, teachers and friends. But there is a wisdom that does not come from merely living life day to day.

Proverbs 2:1-9 places great value on obtaining wisdom from the instruction of the Lord through His word:

My son, if you receive my words,
And treasure my commands within you,
So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding;
Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
 If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
 Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,
And find the knowledge of God.
 For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;
 He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;
 He guards the paths of justice,
And preserves the way of His saints.
 Then you will understand righteousness and justice,
Equity and every good path.

God is more than willing to bestow wisdom on the one who seeks it.  However, wisdom must be sought in the same way one searches for precious metals.

Solomon, as a father, desires his son to apply his heart to understanding.  Only when he seeks wisdom as one who searches for silver, will he comprehend what it means to walk before the Lord.  For it is from the Lord we are given wisdom, knowledge and understanding.

Where is this wisdom located? Are we to wait upon God until He puts thoughts into our head?  Could it be the wisdom Solomon speaks of is the wisdom contained in the Book of Proverbs? Why would Solomon pen these words if wisdom was to be found somewhere else in a subjective attempt to listen for God to speak?  God has spoken. His word of wisdom has come through Solomon and inscribed in the Book of Proverbs.

Rather than consulting the wisdom found in Proverbs, Christians attempt to pick up wisdom by “listening for God’s voice.”  Believers attend seminars and read workbooks that promise to help a person hear God’s voice in the midst of a subjective, personal encounter with God. The message that comes from these so-called exchanges with God is vague, overly personalized and lacks connection to the objective truth of God’s word.

A person who wants to play baseball can pick up a lot of good skills and practices from playing in playgrounds, Little League or the sandlot. However, to understand the game of baseball and to improve your batting stance, fielding capabilities and pitching potential, you must submit yourself to the greats of baseball.

Even professional MLB players have coaches who work with them daily on their swing, their fielding techniques and pitching control.  There is so much you can pick up by playing the game, but there is so much more you can learn from seasoned experts.

Solomon is taking us into the major league of acquiring wisdom. But we must make sure we spend time in the batting cage reading the words of Solomon and applying them daily.

Running aimlessly around in the outfield trying to learn the rules of the game makes no sense. Yet this is exactly how Christians approach “discovering the will of God.”  If you want to cut down the amount of errors you’re making in life, the Book of Proverbs will improve your skills at playing the game.

The Book of Proverbs provides the most balanced perspective on controversial moral issues

 Most Christians are not prepared to deal with touchy moral issues.  They have bought into the thinking that God makes decisions for them and they need to sit back and wait for Him to speak.

Somewhere along the road of our spiritual lives, we’re learned the Christian myth, “Let Go and Let God.” In other words, we are told  by pastors and teachers to commit your ways to the Lord, and God will do the rest.  Usually, Proverbs 3:5-8 is quoted to substantiate this belief:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
 In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
 It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones.

We bend these verses to make them say we only need to place our faith and confidence in the power of God, not trust in our own flawed understanding and the Lord will “make straight our paths.”  This is a simplistic perspective in grasping the theology of Solomon.

In Proverbs, the wise King of Israel warns against the consequences of not thinking ahead and defaulting to laziness with no plans or activity.  Are we really told to “let go”?  Could it be we are to be responsible before the Lord?  Letting go in the sense of non-activity as a sign of trust in the Lord is nowhere to be found in Proverbs.

We apply the same “let go” philosophy when it comes to God’s moral will. When it comes to dabbling with someone of the opposite sex outside of marriage, Solomon is very clear on the avoidance of the adulterous relationship.  He is also lucid on how we are to conduct ourselves in business with integrity and honesty.

There is much in Proverbs that provides answers to moral questions that leave us without excuse as to how we should conduct ourselves. There is no need to seek for signs and subjective interpretations of circumstances to discern God’s voice. The idea of “letting go” when it comes to the Lord’s moral will is not found in Solomon’s work.  Instead, Solomon explicitly sets forth the moral will of God and admonishes us to “hold on” and obey.

The Book of Proverbs unabashedly confronts areas of our lives we’d rather ignore.

I’m one of those people who is challenged when it comes to verbal communication. I can stand before a crowd of people and deliver a 45 minute sermon without a flicker of nervousness. Yet I don’t like the emotions I feel when I am confronted by someone face-to-face. A barrage of feelings overwhelm me:  Anger.  Defensiveness.  Loss of self-esteem.  Self doubt.  Often I will rear back, dig deep into my bag of New Jersey comebacks and take a stand against anyone criticizing my opinions and decisions.

Consequently, I miss out on some observations I need to hear. The ability to listen and keep our minds still is a major issue addressed in the Book of Proverbs.  For me, this is an area of my life I’d prefer to sidestep.  Who wants to be told that you don’t listen when others speak?  Yet this is an matter I must face if my relationships with other people are to improve lest I remain locked in a prison of immaturity in my communication skills.

Solomon is fearless when it comes to bringing up subjects we wish we could sweep under the rug.  He challenges our views of the poor, friendships, the misuse of our tongues regarding others, seeking retaliation on those who hurt us, our immaturity in our handling of money and so much more.

Each proverb has something unique to say about these issues yet most books on Proverbs prefer not to spend the time examining individual proverbs.  Instead, the maxims of Solomon are lumped under topical categories The author merely gathers appropriate proverbs to support his presupposed categories and fails to allow the individual proverbs to speak for themselves.

Was Solomon being repetitive when he says the same thing over and over? Are there nuances we miss in each proverb because we lack the discipline to examine Solomon’s sayings in greater detail?  I have to ask, “Why didn’t the Lord make the Book of Proverbs half its length?  Could there be deeper truths in each individual proverb, even the ones the king of Israel repeats?”

God always has a reason for everything written in the Scriptures.  If He includes twenty five similar sounding maxims on finances, He has His reasons for including them in the book. My approach to interpreting the Book of Proverbs is to take up God’s challenge to carefully investigate each proverb and to not superficially stuff them into man-made categories and miss the deeper truths.

The Book of Proverbs challenges us to examine our lives in a very detailed manner.

We’d rather live our spiritual lives attending worship services, going to a myriad of Bible studies and logging in with God at a number of “religious activities.”  We work to get the spiritual lingo nailed down and convince ourselves spiritual busyness is what God wants.

When a book like Proverbs is probed, we start to sense the watchful eye of the Lord peering into the darker recesses of our everyday lives.  We come to the conclusion superficial attendance at religious events is not all God is seeking.

Solomon calls us to look deeper into our souls and examine the kind of people we truly are.  He holds up a mirror of piercing truths to our hearts and invites us to take a long, hard look.

Like Henry Ford, we know something is wrong with our generators.  We can hear the clanking sound and sense the eventual shut down as our lives begin to grind to a halt.  “What’s wrong?” we ask.  “Is there some area of my life that needs repair?

Like Steinmetz, in comes King Solomon with the wonderful words of the Book of Proverbs – his tools– and shows us where to tinker.

Like I said above, this is a study in the Word of God that will enable you to make changes in the right places. The time for guess work is over.  Solomon’s book of wisdom provides clear answers and directives to make long lasting changes in our lives. 

I invite you to enter into this study with me as we unfurl the spiritual wisdom the Lord has implanted into the mind of King Solomon as promised in I Kings 3:5-10

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.”   And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day.   And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in.   And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude.   Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.

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