We sit down to eat our meal at the Chinese restaurant, the bill comes out, and everyone cracks open their fortune cookies. Then, we read those short sentences aloud to each other and ponder their meanings.
I’ve kept track of a few of the more interesting ones I’ve cracked open:
“No one grows old by living, only by losing interest in living.” Wow! I felt that one!
“Do not dwell on differences with a loved one – try to compromise.” That’s good advice.
“Real courage is moving forward when the outcome is uncertain.” That was probably the most fitting one I’ve ever read after loading up at a sketchy buffet!
Something within us loves to read those little pieces of paper and puzzle over what they might mean. I wonder if that’s why we appreciate the book of Proverbs so much. But, of course, unlike fortune cookies, proverbs don’t come with a bill; they come with a promise! “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance” (Proverbs 1:5).
Proverbs: Short Sentences Long Remembered
I’ve been contemplating a sermon series on Proverbs for a few years now. I thought it best to approach it in the summer when we could have a little fun with the topic (there are some fun proverbs out there). While doing some research, I stumbled across Short Sentences Long Remembered: A Guided Study of Proverbs and Other Wisdom Literature by Leland Ryken. The book wasn’t that helpful for my purposes, but the title was perfect for a sermon series!
Proverbs: Three Foundational Ideas
As we approach the series, I’m asking my hearers to keep three foundational ideas in mind. I’ll come back to these often as we approach the tests.
1. Proverbs Wasn’t Written for You
In How the Bible Actually Works, Pete Enns writes, “Proverbs was likely compiled for the purpose of training young upper-class Israelite men for a life of royal service.” But then, “Centuries later, this book was eventually included in the Bible of Judaism. Long before Christianity came to be, Proverbs was already ‘democratized,’ that is, transformed from a book for some to a book for everyone” (pages 36-37).
When you and I read Proverbs, we read in a different context than the original audience. That’s true of all of the Scriptures, but Proverbs demands to be heard in our world. We have to do the work of getting it there.
2. Proverbs Must Be Meditated On
Billy Graham famously said that he read 1 chapter of Proverbs a day to keep himself right with his fellow man. That takes you through the entire book in a 31-day month. But the proverbs aren’t merely to be read, but meditated on, chewed over, lived with, and allowed to live within.
This sermon series will focus on the Solomonic Proverbs found between chapters 10 and 22 (with a few deviations, I’m sure). These short “pithy sayings,” full of parallelism and comparisons, are made to be memorized, mulled over, and meditated upon. It’s not just about reading them; it’s about getting them until they get you.
3. Proverbs are True . . . Until They Aren’t
Proverbs 22:6 is often quoted but seldom seen to fruition. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” How many parents have wondered what they did wrong when the children they trained up abandon their faith?
Proverbs offer “Truisms,” not truth. Read them for what they are. In a perfect world, if all things are equal, these should work. However, this world is far from perfect. Read Proverbs, meditate on them, but don’t push them too far.
Jesus Christ, the Wisdom from God
Wisdom is famously personified throughout the book of Proverbs. She is presented in the feminine, crying out in the city streets, in the marketplaces, and at the city gates. The proverbs call us to see wisdom not as a quality of thought or a virtue, but as personal, relatable, and aware of our needs.
I believe Paul had something of Proverbs in mind when he wrote to the Corinthians church, a church that seemed to be full of foolishness:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.1 Corinthians 1:26-30
The Corinthians were not of noble birth (unlike the original audience of Proverbs). They were not those of promise and power, and neither are we. Yet, what they had going for them was the same promise that we have—Christ has become to us the wisdom from God. The personification of wisdom is found in the one who knows us, loves us, and gave himself for us.
And so, as we encounter Proverbs, we encounter Jesus. These “Proverbs: Short Sentences Long Remembered” do not simply provide guidance for finances, parenting, relationships, and the rest of life. They draw us closer to Jesus.
When we hear Proverbs we hear his voice.