Saturday, June 16, 2012

How to Be a Person of Worth: What the Book of Proverbs Teaches Us

I'm going through the Book of Proverbs right now with my kids in the morning. So far we've only gone half way through the first chapter. But I wanted to make note of something that I think many people miss when they go through this book.

First, the book is cast as the instruction of Solomon to his son. It is life training for the prince. This is important, because what Solomon teaches his son here, using a vast array of different proverbs from around the world (and those, no doubt, he said himself), is what true royalty really is. In other words, the book is trying to teach the prince what nobility, what being a man of greater worth, really is.

Hence, he starts by saying that everything must be founded upon recognizing God's authority to judge between what is good and evil, just and unjust, true knowledge and false knowledge. The entire book will set up the wise man, who is interchangeable with the righteous man, in comparison to the fool, who is one and the same as the wicked. To be a fool is to not recognize God's authority and the instruction He has given (as well as the teachers God has set in place over him), and thus, is to live a life of folly and wickedness. To be a wise man, a noble man, is to live in recognition of God's authority and instruction.

So he follows up by exhorting his son to listen to the instruction of his parents, parents who themselves fear God (the context is not generic but specific in that it implies that the parents also live according to the wisdom of Proverbs, not in disregard of it). Only then, when God's authority through His instituted authorities to hand down His wisdom has been rightly acknowledged in thought and practice, will the young prince be truly of noble blood, a royal individual who has worth. Hence, we are told that the observance of the instruction of God given by parents is the true crown upon his head and jewels around his neck (1:8-9).

What follows in the book is a host of proverbs that instruct the young prince to both think and act according to wisdom. The book ends by telling him to look for this in his mate as well, to not be enamored with what looks respectable and noble (e.g., external beauty, a charming personality, etc.), but instead a woman who is truly noble from the inside out, who displays her good character in word and deed. Notice, this woman would be a queen, so she does not need to do all this work for the household; but this work displays her love for her family and the wisdom with which she is devoted to God.

So Proverbs is really about what is truly noble, what it really means to be of a royal blood. All of that which is in between is the instruction of what that should look like in various situations in life. The man to whom respect is due is the wise man, not the king with all the bling. It's the truly noble man who fears God, honors the teaching of his primary instructors, who themselves are but delivering the wisdom of God to him, and thinks and acts accordingly in life.

In application to ourselves, we are not Solomon's sons, but we are princes of an even nobler King than he. How much more should we take heed to this wisdom than if we were a mere prince of a less nobler king? We are the sons of God. We are the princes of the cosmos. We are the children of True Nobility Himself. As princes and princesses of the Eternal King, we need to look at what is true and good and exalt God with them, in both thought and deed--no longer looking at the external and temporal as the source of our respect, but at what is internal and eternal (the message of Second Corinthians in the NT also conveys this throughout). We can no longer look to our upbringing, our looks, our success and wealth, nor even our comforting labels with which we identify ourselves as noble princes and princesses, but instead to whether we have feared God in thought and deed by paying attention to what He has taught us. Without Him, we cannot make the claim to be noble, as we are only noble as His sons, nor are we even capable of knowing the truth or right path to take, as Proverbs repeats to us in its instruction twice that "there is a path that seems right to a man, but where it leads are to the pathways of death" (14:12; 16:25).

So we are commanded to come out from the ignoble world, the foolish pattern of thinking and futility of grasping onto what is temporal, and separate ourselves in our thinking and living within the wisdom of God. It is only then that we can truly be called the sons and daughters of God, and it is only then that we begin to understand what it truly means to be of noble birth, a person of true worth who gains his or her worth from living in the truth and wisdom of the only wise and worthy King.

Hear, [O] sons, the instruction of a father,  And give attention that you may gain understanding, For I give you sound teaching;  Do not abandon my instruction.When I was a son to my father,  Tender and the only son in the sight of my mother, Then he taught me and said to me,  "Let your heart hold fast my words;  Keep my commandments and live; Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding!  Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth. "Do not forsake her, and she will guard you;  Love her, and she will watch over you. (Prov 4:1-6)

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