Thought for the Week
Thought for the Week – 2.07.20
A Lord to Honour
We’re going to spend a few weeks in the book of Proverbs, a book which provides wisdom for the whole of life. The fact that there are so many ‘how to’ and ‘self-help’ books, magazines, columns, and blogs on everything from work to relationships to money to children, would suggest that many of us feel we lack wisdom for normal everyday life. Life can be very confusing and we want to be able to navigate it well.
Once again I’m basing these studies on material from Licc. The material for this study is written by Antony Billington. The sections written in boxes are from his study – something for us to learn, or a deeper bit of insight.
As we come to our study this week, remember to treat it as if you were coming to worship God in church. Find a comfortable place to sit and still yourself in God’s presence.
Living God, as I prepare to meet with you now, may your Holy Spirit fill this room and my heart. Speak Lord, for I am listening.
In his introduction to Proverbs Antony Billington writes:
… the book of Proverbs reminds us that God has not left us alone to steer through life
as best we can. Here, if we will respond to the invitation given, is wisdom to guide us through the delights and demands of everyday living. Proverbs makes it clear that wisdom doesn’t begin in human autonomy, but in relationship with God, where wisdom is then worked out in different speres of life – in our homes and our workplaces, our neighbourhoods and communities – wherever God has called us.
There are a wide range of topics in Proverbs: diligence and laziness; friendship; speech; marriage; child rearing; domestic peace; work; getting along and good manners and many others.
In the Bible, Proverbs is the best example of ‘Wisdom Literature’. Other examples are Job, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon in the OT and the book of James in the NT.
Proverbs is very different from the books of the Law (the first five books of the Bible) and the Prophets. The books of the Law are basically the rules to live by and the words of the Prophets are God’s call to His people to turn back to him when they have become so disobedient. Proverbs fills in the details of how to live a life of ‘honesty, integrity, diligence, kindness, kindness, generosity, readiness to forgive, truthfulness, patience, humility, cheerfulness, loyalty, temperance, and self-control’ (NIV Study Bible).
Another thing that’s worth knowing before we start is that although the book is written for the young and inexperienced to build character and for gaining wisdom (v1-4), it is also for the wise (v5). There is something for everyone. Just as you can read a passage from the Bible for the umpteenth time and gain something new from it, there is wisdom here for everyone, however mature a Christian you are.
Most of us are aware that we’re not the finished article yet and that we need wisdom. Because we’re aware of that need it’s easy to come to the book of Proverbs and read it as if it’s a moralistic list of do’s and don’ts. I know that I’ve done that.
In fact, this is absolutely a book for Christians, just as it was a book for Israel.
If you’re someone who sometimes sees yourself as the centre of your own personal universe, with God somewhere at the periphery, dropping in every now and then when you need him to do so, ‘Proverbs tells us that he is at the centre of all things, that we find true wisdom only in relationship with him and reverence of him.’
So, actually, Proverbs is a very gospel-shaped book in which God does for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. God takes the initiative to help us learn how to live well in this world and that’s what Proverbs does, it puts God at the heart of our lives, not us.
Now is a good time to read Proverbs 1:1-7
Notice how v1 puts us in touch with the larger biblical story by setting it in context.
Notice in vv2-4 the purposes of the book.
The bulk of chapters 1-9 appears to be addressed to a young man starting out in adult life, but in what ways does this opening of the book (especially 1:4-5) broaden the audience to include others?
V7 - ‘Fear of the Lord’
This is the fundamental maxim of the book: the quest for wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord. ‘Knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’ are closely tied together in Proverbs. While ‘knowledge’ tends to focus on correct understanding of the world and ourselves as creatures of the magnificent and loving God, ‘wisdom’ is the acquired skill of applying that knowledge rightly.
Other references to this phrase in the book are: 1:29; 2:5; 3:7; 8:13; 10:27; 14:2, 16, 26-27; 15:16, 33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17; 24;21; 31:30.
If you’ve got time (!) to look at these references, see if you can find out what fear of the Lord involves.
The fear of the Lord – relationship and reverence.
The ‘fear of the LORD’ is a motif which runs through the Bible’s wisdom literature, not just in Proverbs, but in Job and Ecclesiastes too (Job 28:28; Ecclesiastes 5:7; 12:13-14). To our ears, the word ‘fear’ can suggest a sense of cringing terror or dread, but that’s probably not intended here – though there is a level of ‘fear and trembling’ that is appropriate when faced with the presence of God. The English words ‘awe’ or ‘reverence’ perhaps come closest to what is implied in most uses of the word. If wisdom literature is concerned with living wisely in God’s world, then the fear of the Lord is the first principle of such a life, where being wise finds its foundation in a relationship with, and a deep reverence of the covenant Lord God, rather than being wise in one’s own eyes (cf. Proverbs 3:7). This then shapes the decisions we make in everyday life and directs our prayers as we seek to grow in wisdom.
Something to think about
V1. The connection between the king and wisdom is also found in the description in Isaiah 11:1-3 of a future king. What characteristics does he share with those listed in Proverbs 1:2-7?
The association between the king and wisdom comes to its climax in Jesus, the wisdom of God. But if Jesus is ‘greater than Solomon’ (Matthew 12:42), does that make the book of Proverbs redundant for Christians today?
Living it out
What is it that you need wisdom for?
Is it something tricky at work? a complex family scenario? a relationship that needs attention? a non-Christian friend you’re concerned for? or an opportunity you’re unsure whether to take?
How might the qualities of ‘prudence… knowledge and discretion’ (1:4) be applicable in this situation?
According to this passage, wisdom combines intellectual, moral, and practical skills. Which of these would you like to grow in on your frontline (the place where you integrate with non-Christians) and why?
What things in everyday life might we be tempted to ‘fear’ instead of the Lord? How does our complete adoration and awe of God help deal with those other fears?
Jesus and The Book of Proverbs
Just as Jesus being the ‘good shepherd’ (John 10:11, 14) enriches the reading of Psalm 23 for the Christian, so Jesus being one ‘greater than Solomon’ (Matthew 12:42) enriches our reading of the book of Proverbs. The call to live wisely in God’s world is as significant today as it was in OT times, but for Christians is focused on the person and work of Jesus, who embodies wisdom in himself. The way of life that flows from the fear of the Lord is found in our following of Jesus, the one who makes it possible to walk the path of wisdom in our everyday life.
Lord, please help me to grow in wisdom in all the places you have given to me to live and move in. In this time of Coronavirus help me to see you in every day and in the people around me.
Help me to discover what I can do to help, rather than feeling despair.
May I find you in all the light and shade of this day. Amen.
This week I have chosen a lament based on Psalm 13, as we wait for God to answer our cry for mercy.
‘How long O Lord, will you forget an answer to my prayer?’
Here are the words:
How long, O Lord, will you forget
an answer to my prayer?
No tokens of your love I see,
your face is turned away from me;
I wrestle with despair.
How long, O Lord, will you forsake
and leave me in this way?
When will you come to my relief?
My heart is overwhelmed with grief,
by evil night and day.
How long, O Lord - but you forgive,
with mercy from above.
I find that all your ways are just,
I learn to praise you and to trust
in your unfailing love.