In October, we began to look at Proverbs and have since had a look at several different topics. We looked at the central theme of Proverbs, which is wisdom. We examined some of the wise sayings which are given in Proverbs such as money, sex and power and how we speak to one another. This morning, I would like to conclude this brief look at Proverbs with a look at a few more key thoughts from the book. I would encourage you to read it regularly, particularly those of you who are under 25 because it is written for you.
George Burns apparently said, “If you were to go around asking people what would make them happier, you'd get answers like a new car, a bigger house, a raise in pay, winning a lottery, a face-lift, more kids, less kids, a new restaurant to go to…” There is no doubt that people are looking for joy, happiness and meaning in life. Can it be found? Where is it found? When we read the opening verses of Ecclesiastes, we might think that it cannot be found. In Ecclesiastes 1:2 we read, “meaningless, meaningless… everything is meaningless.” Is it that bad?
Proverbs 10:28 tells us that “the prospect of the righteous is joy.” So in Proverbs, we are encouraged that we can find a good way to live. In fact, in presenting wisdom, Proverbs gives us many ways of finding good living, joy, peace and meaning. How do we find it?
There is something I have observed, but never understood. When you go to a football game, you see people go down for a snack. When they come back, if they prefer soft drinks, they may have a bag of peanuts in one hand and a soft drink in the other. If they are coffee drinkers, they may come back with a chocolate bar in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. If they like beer, they will come back with two beers, one in each hand. Why is that? Who needs that much to drink? I think it has to do with their pursuit of happiness and many people are looking for it in alcohol.
When Carla and I worked in the city a few years ago, we got a bit of a glimpse into the way in which people are looking for joy in life. As the weekend approached, we heard about the anticipated days coming up which often included weekend drinking parties. After the weekend, we heard stories about how drunk they got. Alcohol is a common way in which many people are looking for the good life.
Proverbs warns us about the use of alcohol. Please turn to Proverbs 23:29-35 and let us see what it says.
Now I want to be clear that I do not believe that it is wrong to drink, in the legalistic sense of the word. However, when we read this passage, we quickly discover that there is a significant danger which I think is best overcome by abstaining.
The passage opens with a question. As the question is asked, it is obvious that the writer has a point to make - there is trouble here. If you want trouble in your life, then get involved in drinking too much.
In verse 31, the warning is given. Although one would get the impression from verses 29, 30 that it is the abuse of alcohol that is warned against, this verse teaches that we had better be aware of the danger long before we drink too much. If alcoholic beverages have an appeal for us - the colour the taste, the appearance, the romance of it, we had better beware of the dangers to which this appeal can lead.
These dangers are further explained in verses 32-35 with four points about what can happen if we go down that path. There is the danger that there is a hidden agenda in alcohol - vs. 32. If you drink too much, there is the danger of delusions - vs. 33 and the loss of self control - vs. 34. Added to that there is also the danger of addiction - verse 35.
When we realize the freedom that drinking is not sin in the legalistic sense of the word, we may be tempted to drink socially. It is not wrong to do that, but we need to be careful of the dangers associated with that decision. With freedom comes the danger of licence. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to make decisions about what is wise and helpful and this passage in Proverbs helps us by pointing where we ought not to look for joy and happiness in life.
Although we live in a world that is looking for joy in life in this way, it will not lead where people hope. However, Proverbs does tell us many ways in which we can find joy in life. What is interesting is that the ways to find joy in life does not have so much to do with a lot of exotic and exciting things. It has to do with living with wisdom and righteousness in the ordinary things that are close to us every day.
A few years ago, when we were going through a difficult time, a good friend called and offered a word of encouragement, a Scripture and a prayer for us. What a blessing that was. One week ago, Carla and I had the privilege of babysitting our grandson. It has been great to get to know the son of our son. On November 11, all our children and most of their spouses were home for the day. We enjoyed a great time together. Last week one day, I had lunch together with my brother and mother. These are just a few of the many blessings I have experienced in good relationships. Proverbs talks a lot about relationships and teaches us how we can have relationships which bring peace and joy and are a good thing.
One relationship which all of us have been or are a part of is parent/child relationships. Most of what is said speaks to children, because of the direction of Proverbs which is a teaching tool for young people. So children are taught the wise ways in which they can develop good relationships with their parents - and so discover joy and peace in life.
A number of Proverbs begin from the negative point of view. There are those who curse their parents (20:20); those who rob from their parents (28:24) and those who mock their parents(30:17). Such children will not bring blessing to their own life or to the life of their parents. The warning in a number of these Proverbs is that such a person will bring about destruction and in the end will be destroyed.
A frequently repeated theme in Proverbs is that found in 10:1, “A wise son brings joy to his father…” Children who are wise and follow the path of wisdom and righteousness, as described in Proverbs, bring great joy to their parents.
But parents can also have the impact of blessing their children. In Proverbs 20:7 we read, “The righteous man leads a blameless life; blessed are his children after him.”
So from these passages we see that parents and children bless each other and bring joy when they live in wisdom and righteousness.
There are also words which speak about the joy brought by a good relationship between husband and wife. Much more is said about wives bringing joy to their husbands, but we need to remember that this was written to young men who were being trained by the king, so the perspective is natural.
The words often repeated to men is words such as those found in Proverbs 5:18 where we read, “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” This along with many others in Proverbs encourage marital faithfulness. As we read in other places and even adding New Testament thoughts, we know that such faithfulness is not just actual physical faithfulness, but also mind faithfulness. Any husband who is thus faithful to his wife, and the wife to the husband, will have a relationship of peace and joy.
Since, as I suggested, the primary perspective is instruction for young men, we find a lot of words which talk about what kind of a wife a young man should find. I don’t think it would be stretching things too far to suggest that the ideas here make good suggestions for wives to be to their husbands, and in fact husbands to their wife. We find such ideas as noble character (12:4) and prudence (19:14). A theme that is repeated numerous times is that of a quarrelsome wife. It is repeated with different endings five different times (19:13, 21:9, 19, 25:24, 27:15). One wonders why this is so often repeated. I don’t know, but I do know that whatever the reason, it is not a good thing. A quarrelsome wife is compared to a constant dripping. She is described as hard to handle like oil and wind and the warning is that it is better to be in uncomfortable circumstances, like living in the corner of a house or in a desert rather than with such a person. These verses tell us the importance of working on our relationships with one another and developing good habits of communication.
Yet over all, 18:22 indicates that in a good marriage relationship, there is great blessing. There we read, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD.”
Joy is also found in other family relationships. The mutual blessing of having family is explained in Proverbs 17:6, “children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.” “Each group brings honor and inspiration to the other.” The assumption, of course, is that both are virtuous and thus properly rewarded.
The other day I asked my brother, who lives in Winnipeg, what he wanted for Christmas. He told me that all he wanted was to have lunch with his brother. I hadn’t had lunch with him for a while and so the other day, I had the opportunity and it was a good thing. Proverbs 17:17 reminds us of this blessing when it says, “a brother is born for adversity.”
The blessing of friendship relationships are also described in Proverbs. The same verse we just looked at, Proverbs 17:17 indicates that “a friend loves at all times.” In fact, in the next chapter, 18:1, we discover that there are friendships that are closer and more valuable even than family relationships. This verse says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
One of the powerful concepts found in Proverbs is that friends can be very helpful in correcting us and helping us grow. If we have a good friend who knows us and loves us, if we are wise, their words of counsel can be extremely valuable to us. If you turn to Proverbs 27, you will find three verses that reflect on this theme. Verse 6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Verse 9 continues “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.” Verse 17 is familiar along the same theme, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
So the conclusion of the joy and blessing of friendship relationships is that they are worth maintaining as a means of finding good things in life. Proverbs 27:10 says as much when it says, “Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you - better a neighbour nearby than a brother far away.”
Relationships of all kinds that we find in life - parent/child, husband/wife, other family relationships and also friendship relationships that are carried out in faithfulness, wisdom and righteousness bring a lot of joy to life and are so valuable for a good life.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “If you wish to be happy for one hour, get intoxicated. If you wish to be happy for three days, get married. If you wish to be happy for eight days, kill your pig and eat it. If you wish to be happy forever, learn to fish.” This proverb, although I wouldn’t agree with all of it, does suggest a second area which brings joy and that is meaningful work.
We have just looked at Proverbs 27 on the theme of friendship. The same chapter also speaks about work. We read in Proverbs 27:23-27, “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; 24 for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations. 25 When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in, 26 the lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. 27 You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls.”
There is a lot that is said about work, diligence and the value and meaning of work. Proverbs 12:14 indicates that “From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.” Many other Proverbs say that same thing. In 12:11, we are warned about chasing fantasies instead of enjoying the benefits of good labour. There we read, “He who works his land will have abundant food,
but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment.”
On the other hand, laziness is frequently and soundly condemned. A common word in Proverbs, in the NIV is the word “sluggard.” A sluggard is defined in Merriam Webster’s dictionary as “an habitually lazy person.”
Sarcasm is ready at hand to warn the lazy person as we read in Proverbs 6:6 where the text mocks, “”Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!”
Proverbs 20:4 reminds me about the story of the little red hen who invited all her barnyard friends to help her cultivate the field, plant the corn, hoe the corn and then pick the corn. In each of those instances, her friends were not willing to help her. Of course, when it came to eating the corn then they were all too willing, but then she refused. This Proverb says, “A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.”
The terrible laziness of the sluggard is described with some colour in Proverbs 19:24 which says, “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth!” In other words, even hunger will not motivate a person who is deeply lazy. The warning is often repeated that to such a person only poverty will result. Proverbs 6:10, 11 is one such verse which says, “A little sleep, a little slumber, 11 and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.”
So we see that the joy of having, the peace of security comes from diligent work.
However, in our work, there are two things we need to take note of.
One is to be very careful about our attitude to those who are poor. The text warns that a lazy person will come to poverty. If we are diligent, we may be tempted to think that every poor person is lazy. That is a false assumption. Poverty does not indicate laziness. In fact, while we are called to be diligent, and while the sluggard is mocked, we are also called to be generous to the poor and kind to the needy without making judgements. Sometimes when I pass those who are begging on the roadside in Winnipeg, I have to watch my judgemental attitude. It could very well be that they are sluggards, but they may not be. They may be desperate people doing what they can to survive. Proverbs 14:21 indicates, “He who despises his neighbour sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy.” In our high work ethic, let us not become judgemental of the poor, but rather kind to those who have needs.
The other warning for those who are diligent is to be careful not to get carried away in hard work beyond all measure. Proverbs 23:4 warns, “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint.” Riches do not last and if our motive for hard work is so that we will get rich, we will not find the joy we are looking for. If we enjoy work as the blessing it can be, then we will rejoice in our work and will also adequately provide for all our needs.
W. Beran Wolfe wrote, “If you observe a really happy man you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his son, growing double dahlias in his garden, or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that has rolled under the radiator. He will not be striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four hours of the day.”
Finally and above all, joy will be found in life when we live it in God’s way. This is already implicit in much of what we have said. In faithfulness in relationship, in wisdom and righteousness we are already doing things God’s way. But it is this idea of doing it God’s way which, above all, which is the way in which we can find joy.
This is already an important theme early in the book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 1:7 the writer sets the tone when he says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”
Living in God’s way begins with recognizing God in the midst of all our life and all our planning. Please turn to Proverbs 16:1-3 where we read, “To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue. 2All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD. 3 Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”
We all make plans. I don’t know how many times I have come up with an idea or a scheme. Often in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep it is because ideas are running around in my head. The plans are being formed. But as we read on in this passage, we need to recognize that God is still involved in all our plans. God is sovereign as “from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue” suggests. Furthermore, God is also examining our hearts and seeing what our motives are. He weighs all our motives and the suggestion is that we will have to answer not only for our actions, but for our motives as well. Therefore, we are encouraged to submit and commit all our plans to the Lord. In this way, we will find the success and joy that we are looking for.
One writer said, “one has to reckon with the Lord between conceiving and carrying out an action.” Sooner or later, God is in the picture. If we don’t consider him at the beginning, He will surely judge us in the end.
Sometimes it is difficult to know if we have examined things accurately. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” We may think that a course of action is good, but in the end we will find that it is not good. I appreciated the phone call I got the other day. Someone was doing some study and was questioning the source of their study. They asked what I thought because they were not sure and called someone else to check it out. We can check it out in the Bible and also with friends. If it is true that we cannot always discern God’s way, then it is wise to talk to others to help us discover what is good and what is God’s way so that we will not be self deceived. We have already noted the verses that talk about the value of friends to bounce ideas off of. What a great value so that we will not be self deceived, but will have confidence to know that a way of life is God’s way.
The promise in Proverbs is that if we do things God’s way, there will be blessing. Proverbs 16:7 assures us, “When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, he makes even his enemies live at peace with him.”
If that is true, then trust in God is the way to experience blessing. This is what it says in Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.”
An English newspaper asked this question: "Who are the happiest people on earth?" These were the four prize-winning answers:
A craftsman or artist whistling over a job well done.
A little child building sand castles.
A mother, after a busy day, bathing her baby.
A doctor who has finished a difficult and dangerous operation, and saved a human life.
No millionaires among these, one notices. No kings or emperors. Riches and rank, no matter how the world strives for them, do not make happy lives.
The wisdom of Proverbs teaches us that the good life is found as we live God’s way in the midst of the daily ordinary matters of life - relationships, work and our relationship with God. May we never cease to pursue discovering God’s way in life.