The Purpose of Proverbs

Bible Boot Camp  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  36:53
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Today we are going to look at the book of Proverbs. Proverbs are a powerful literary device because they are often so short and memorable, yet contain profound truths.
Proverbs seek to dispense wisdom. Knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing. One may have knowledge and no wisdom, but one cannot have wisdom without knowledge. Knowledge is the accumulation of facts. Knowledge is knowing 2+2=4 or knowing that gravity keeps us from floating away from the earth’s surface. Wisdom is the skill in which one applies the knowledge he has obtained. Knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put tomato in fruit salad. Knowledge properly applied leads to sound living.
Famous proverbs:
An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
Better late than never.
Actions speak louder than words.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
The early bird catches the worm.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

A proverb is a short saying that conveys a truth or piece of advice.

A proverb is usually a short saying , but that is not always the case. We see in the first nine chapters of the book that the proverbs are much longer. The first nine chapters are like reading letters from a father to his son. The bulk of the book contains those short sayings that generally compare two types of behavior with the goal of teaching the hearer which one is the right behavior. The shortness of a proverb makes it more easy to memorize.
The book of Proverbs is primarily attributed to Solomon as indicated in Prov. 1:1, 10:1, and 25:1. Chapter 30 is attributed to a man named Agur and chapter 31 to a king named Lemuel. 1 Kings 4:32 records that Solomon had spoken 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs. The book of Proverbs does not contain every wise saying of Solomon. This morning, we will look at the first seven verses of the book of Proverbs to understand their purpose.
Proverbs 1:1–7 NASB95
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, To discern the sayings of understanding, To receive instruction in wise behavior, Righteousness, justice and equity; To give prudence to the naive, To the youth knowledge and discretion, A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel, To understand a proverb and a figure, The words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
In these opening verses we see many purposes of proverbs. Let’s take a look at them together.

1. To understand the sayings of the wise (v. 2, 6)

The various purposes of the proverbs begin with the word “to” in each verse. In verses two and six, the goal is for one to understand the sayings of the wise. Sometimes a proverb does not make a lot of sense when it is first read. It certainly doesn’t help that the proverbs are not already grouped by topic so that everything in a given chapter already correlate to each other. Sometimes a proverb is difficult to understand because you haven’t reached the right stage of life yet. The more we interact with the proverbs and the more we consider what others have to say about them, the more we begin to understand them.
The proverbs function a little like parables in the new testament. That is, parables are understood by those who have ears to hear and are perplexing to those who do not. They reveal and conceal truth at the same time. What they do for you is dependent on your openness to them. The people who had no interest in Jesus’ teaching did not understand his parables because his parables required a level of curiosity on the part of the hearer. The same applies to the proverbs. They will be understood by the one who seeks to understand them and acknowledge their source.

2. To learn wise behaviors (v. 3)

Verse three says that proverbs provide instruction in four categories. The first is wise behaviors. When you walk into a situation, knowing proverbs informs you of how you should respond to the situation. The goal of understanding wise sayings is that knowing the truth of a given statement will lead you to act according to that statement. For example, Prov. 14:31 says, “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.” The lesson you should learn from that proverb is that you should treat the poor among you with dignity, not looking down on them or thinking you are better than them. To treat the poor with contempt dishonors God. To treat the poor with dignity and grace honors Him. If we want to do right by God, we must have the proper outlook on the poor among us. If reading this proverb does not change your perspective toward poor people, you have not listened to wise counsel. The purpose of proverbs is to learn wise behaviors.
Proverbs also teach righteousness. They teach us what is morally right. Proverbs provide the tools necessary to live skillfully moral lives. Remember the proverbs do not make one wise or righteous. It is only through the application of wisdom that we gain wisdom ourselves. Righteousness comes from God and living out that righteousness comes from submission to the Holy Spirit’s control in our lives on a daily basis. We desire that people do right and earthly wisdom is folly. When we receive instruction from proverbs we gain proficiency in living out godly principles.
These godly principles enable us to seek justice and equity. I want you to take a step back and consider the state of our country and our state for a second. It is probably true that not every law on the books is fair and just. Often times the penalties for breaking the law are not fair and just. But I would venture to say that the majority of our laws work when they are enforced. Many of the problems we have today are not problems with the laws themselves. The problem is the enforcement of those laws. Proverbs help us not only to see what is just, but to act when we experience injustice.

3. To teach young people how to discipline themselves (v. 4)

The word prudence means the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason. The idea is that one who is naive (which really means simple or unlearned) will acquire the knowledge necessary to think through decision making in a logical manner. The young person will begin to exercise wisdom as he or she makes sensible choices. Sometimes these choices are based on experience and other times they are based on heeding the advice of others. As the young person learns from the proverbs, he or she will be equipped with sound decision making.
I was a new believer and we had Bible studies in the home of an older gentleman every Sunday night. Sometimes the leader of the college and young adult ministry would lead or someone within the group would lead. But every once in a while the man of the house would lead. I would listen to the words coming out of his mouth and it was obvious he was a very wise man. This was a man who had studied the scriptures. I wanted to be like him. I still do. Dave Miller is one of the wisest men I had ever met and I said to myself, “I hope I’m half as wise as him when I am his age.”
Wisdom takes practice. There is no shortcut. It is the development of skills that lead to healthy living. Learning and applying proverbs is like mastering an art. I’m not a guitar player. I never learned and never applied myself. If I were to play guitar for you on stage right now it would be a horrible mess. But then you have guys like Al Pitrelli, Eric Johnson, Jimi Hendrix, or Eddie Van Halen. Those men can tear up a guitar like no other. The young person is more adept to learning new things than an older person. Proverbs give prudence to the young and old alike.

Wisdom begets wisdom (v. 5)

Verse five tells us that a wise man will hear and increase in learning. He will gain wise counsel. A wise person will seek wisdom. The unstated implication of this verse is that the unwise will will not seek wisdom. Even if you don’t feel very wise, you can count yourself as wise if you are seeking the wisdom of others. There are times when we just don’t know how to overcome the obstacle that is set before us. We are wise when we seek out the person who has overcome a similar obstacle and put into practice what they have to teach us. The fool looks at that same obstacle and says, “I can get over that myself. I don’t need anyone else’s help. I have all the answers.” No you don’t. The reality is nobody has all the answers. Even the older people among us need answers for their struggles. It is unwise to assume that you can figure out everything on your own. The wise person seeks the wisdom of others.

So how do we gain wisdom?

Verse seven says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” This is probably the first simple proverb in the book of Proverbs. It compares the wise with the foolish. A wise person will have a healthy fear of the Lord. The word fear in this verse does not suggest that one must be afraid of God, though it is certainly a component. The better word for this is reverence. To revere someone is to hold a high respect for someone, usually out of their high position. Revering someone carries with it the idea that you recognize the power they have over you. In this instance, the one who has power over me is God. Though he is powerful, he is gracious and kind toward me. I know of his love for me. Because of this understanding, I have a profound respect for him.
The fool has no such attitude toward God. The fool ignores him and rejects his wisdom and instruction. This verse says that the one who rejects the wisdom and instruction of the Lord is foolish. Humanity going its own way is what got us all into trouble in the first place. James 1:5-8 calls for us to ask the Lord for wisdom if we are lacking.
James 1:5 NASB95
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
Nobody ever has all wisdom. Even the wisest man or woman on earth has more to learn from God. Let us be humble enough to come to the Lord and ask for wisdom and then find it in the scriptures he has already provided.
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