If you grew up in the United States you have spent your entire life hearing that we are on a progressive march towards a society that is more caring, prosperous, intelligent, and healthy than the societies that preceded it. We mock ideas by appealing to what year it is and marveling that people still hold to what we see as outmoded notions in our wise, sophisticated, and tolerant culture.
Any survey of life in our culture in the year 2016 should dispel what C.S. Lewis called our “chronological snobbery” within a few seconds. The leading contenders for President in each of the major parties has an unfavorable rating with the majority of Americans and I cannot recall a time when I heard the phrase, “the lesser of two evils” more often. Our culture sees increasing division as neighbors and fellow-citizens view each other with increasing suspicion and demonstrate no capacity to disagree in a civil manner. Our college campuses have been taken hostage by students who believe they should never encounter an uncomfortable opinion, one particular Presidential candidacy has brought an ugly nativism to the surface for all to see, and the segment of our society who has been begging for tolerance for the last thirty years now seeks to crush every opponent in its path. 2016 is either playing a cruel joke on us or trying desperately to prove that total depravity is real.
Peruse the website of any major news organization, watch a cable news network for fifteen minutes, scroll through your social media feeds, or dive into the cesspool of an internet comment section and you will quickly realize we are not a society marked by anything that could be called wisdom. Ours is not a march towards progress, but a constant regress into foolishness, pride, strife, immorality, debt, and destruction.
We are a people who stand in desperate need for the kind of wisdom to which the book of Proverbs points. Solomon wrote the majority of Proverbs to instruct his son in the need for wisdom and wise living. The first nine chapters constitute his call to reject folly and pursue wisdom. Like any good teacher, he doesn’t tell his son to make wise choices without showing him the beauty of wisdom or to avoid folly without showing the its dangers. He pictures life as two paths leading to distinct destinations and pleads with his son to choose the correct path or face the terrible danger to come.
Chapter 10 begins the short pithy words of wisdom we associate with Proverbs. These memorable sentences, many formed with antithetical parallels, teach give us practical wisdom concerning integrity, justice, righteousness, money, marriage, parenting, work, and speech. Through these a foolish person can learn to walk in wisdom.
When we look at our world and the foolishness marking so many of our lives, we see why American Christians need the centuries-old godly wisdom Proverbs provides.
We Have Foolish Hearts
When we look at the brokenness and foolishness that marks our own lives, we might face the temptation to point our fingers in blame at the world in which we live. However, every Christian needs to admit that the most foolish person we know stares back at us in the mirror every morning. Our lives are often marred by profound foolishness, and admitting this obvious fact clears a trail for us to begin walking toward the path of wisdom.
Solomon tells his son to “keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the issues of life.” The hearts serves as the center of our thinking, feeling, living, and being. The inclination of the heart determines who we are and what we do. Foolish decisions come from a heart marked by foolishness, and so we need to hear the call from Proverbs to seek the wisdom of God.
Every bit of foolishness revealed from our study of Proverbs reminds us of our need for the ultimate embodiment of the wisdom of God, Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians 1:24 Paul refers to Christ as “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” When we repent and trust in Christ, we exchange our unrighteousness for his righteousness and our foolishness for his wisdom. Let this remind you that when you see areas of foolishness in your life regarding money, work, or your speech, it should move you to seek Christ who is our wisdom and righteousness.
We Live in A Foolish World
If the foolishness issuing from our own hearts were not a big enough problem, we live in a world which tempts us with constant foolishness. Our world tells us we have come a long way and we know more than any society that has ever existed, but do not let this trick you into thinking we are a wise people. Knowing how to use a touchscreen phone does not make us people who know how to handle life with godly wisdom. In fact, our culture’s proclamations of its superiority constitute its first act of foolishness. Pride comes before the fall, and we never act more foolishly than when we convince ourselves that we are wise.
Synthesize what Proverbs teaches on any subject and we quickly discover our culture’s “wisdom” runs contrary to God’s wisdom. As one of many possible examples, look at Proverbs’ teaching on money versus the world’s view of money. Proverbs connects money to hard work and counsels us to be on guard against the temptation to build up riches quickly. Our culture increasingly rejects hard work while falling for get rich quick schemes time and time again. Solomon encourages his son to save money for possible future calamities and eschew personal debt, while our culture encourages reckless spending and the accumulation of debt.
The wisdom of God through Solomon proves itself to be better than the pseudo-wisdom of our present world. The heart is warmed by a job well done and slowly accumulating a nest egg over time proves itself to be more safe and sure than hastily gained riches. Reckless spending produces a short burst of satisfaction but creates long term anxiety. The accumulation of debt may give us what we want in the moment, but over time demonstrates the reality of the Proverb, “the borrower is slave to the lender.” The world’s wisdom sounds good in the moment, but it leads to misery and destruction.
We Need Practical, Godly Wisdom
As I approach my 39th birthday this Summer, I look back and often feel like Seinfeld’s George Constanza in the episode “The Opposite.” After sitting on a bench and contemplating his life he said, “It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I’ve ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every of life, be it something to wear, something to eat … It’s all been wrong.”
I look back on my life and see a litany of foolish decisions and words, wondering if I am doomed to repeat them in the second half of my life. Thankfully God is gracious, and the grace he offers in Christ doesn’t only forgive us for the past. God fills believers with his Spirit and has given us his word to show us what it looks like to walk faithfully before him for the rest of our days.
Every Christian would benefit greatly from a consistent exposure to the wisdom of God revealed in the book of Proverbs. One great suggestion many have made is to read the chapter of Proverbs which corresponds to each day of the month. (Read chapter one on the 1st, chapter 15 on the 15th, and so on.) Following this plan, if you double up on the last day of months without thirty-one days, would take you through Proverbs twelve times per year.
This seems like a lot when reading the entire Bible once a year feels so difficult, but isn’t the five minutes a day you spend drinking in the wisdom of God worth it? When you think about how much so-called wisdom the world will throw at you in a day, isn’t five minutes of soaking in real wisdom a relatively small investment? Do this reading instead of scrolling through Facebook during the five minute wait before your next appointment or while waiting in line to pick your child up from school.
Drinking in the wisdom of God makes us humble people who walk trust and depend on him. Guarding our hearts with all diligence prevents us from falling prey to the foolishness of the world. Walking in God’s simple wisdom leads to a life filled with much joy and freed from the scars of repeated self-inflicted wounds.
“Teaching Proverbs to Your Children“
For Further Reading:
A Proverbs Drive Life by Anthony Selvaggio