Most of us want to live the good life, but we’re not always sure what this means. In particular, we hear words like “wisdom”, but don’t understand how what we read in the Bible leads us to wise living.
The Book of Proverbs has long been considered one of the greatest collections of wisdom literature. But how are Christians supposed to read it? Does applying it to our lives lead to moralism? Is such an old book irrelevant in our modern day and age?
In this episode of the podcast, Chase Kuhn speaks with Old Testament lecturer and colleague Dan Wu about how the Book of Proverbs helps us grow in wisdom as Christians. This is Part 2—the final part—of their conversation.
Links referred to:
- The Centre for Christian Living Annual 2020: A selection of the year’s best essays, articles and podcast transcripts
- The Centre for Global Mission event, “All Nations, All Ages, All In?” (Wednesday 28 April)
- Our next event: “Dealing with sin” with Chris Conyers (Wednesday 19 May)
Runtime: 35:27 min.
Chase Kuhn: In the second part of our conversation on wisdom, we continue to think about how to read the Book of Proverbs as Christians. In particular, we discuss how this pursuit of wisdom aligns with our belief in salvation by grace, and we consider how wisdom isn’t something discovered alone, but designed to be cultivated in community.
CK: Hello and welcome to the Centre for Christian Living podcast. My name is Chase Kuhn. I’m coming to you from Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. Today on the podcast, my guest once again is Dan Wu, a dear friend of mine and colleague here at Moore College. Dan teaches Old Testament, and in our previous section of this podcast, we talked about the Proverbs and how they help us grow in wisdom as Christians.
Today we’re going to continue that conversation. We’re going to think more about application and how we can pursue wisdom—not just by ourselves, but also in community. Dan, welcome back.
DW: Thanks for having me again, Chase!
CK: Yes! Before we revisit some of the things that we’ve talked about and get set up for our conversation today, I thought I’d ask you a very important question: so Dan, if you could use one proverb as a meme or as something that you could see going viral on the internet, what would it be?
DW: Yeah, so my favourite proverb, I think, out of everything, would be Proverbs 19:24: “A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he won’t even bring it back to his mouth!”
CK: That’s great.
CK: Paste that over Bernie Sanders’ head! [Laughter] Thank you, Dan. That’s great.
Well, getting back to our conversation, I said this last time; I want to say it again. I really like the way you capture what wisdom is: can you give us a succinct definition once more for listeners—about what wisdom is?
DW: Yeah, sure. So I think, in a nutshell, wisdom is understanding how your world works and how to live in it for your joy and success.
CK: Excellent. And the illustration you gave us last time that I found so helpful was a basketball team: if you understand the sport of basketball, you know how players are meant to work together to pass the ball—to shoot—to operate as a team—
CK: —if you just get five people out on the court running around on one side, it’s going to be chaos, it’s not going to actually function well, you might get lucky every once in a while, but it’s probably not going to happen. Wisdom is understanding the game and operating within that understanding. And so, much like that, we live in God’s world as we understand the ways—
CK: —that God has ordered it for us.
DW: Yeah, that’s r—
CK: Am I right on that?
DW: Absolutely! Yes, so once you understand that God has set up the world with certain intents—certain purposes—and to operate in a certain way, as you see that more and more in his word, as you reflect on it and the resonances in your own life, you just, I guess, develop and work at understanding how you inhabit that well. How do you kind of actually move around the court, so to speak? How do you play your part in actually achieving God’s great plan for the world?
CK: That’s excellent. One of the things that I was intrigued by recently—I heard you give a paper at a conference recently on the Proverbs—and you spoke about, in particular, the ways that men and women might read the Proverbs or read them differently, and how today, so many people feel they must be able to identify them[selves] in the passage.
CK: They must be able to relate to the author some way.
CK: And one of the things I found striking was, you know, you’ve said that Proverbs are actually written to instruct a king, and how that puts a certain distance between us and—
CK: —the author, or the intended audience—
DW: Yep, yep.
CK: —in the first instance. How do you help people understand this dynamic and overcome any hurdles present there?
DW: Yeah, yeah. So, I guess, a helpful angle to take into account is if you can understand what the book was originally written for—in its original setting—and who it was actually meant for—that can do a couple of things for you. I guess, negatively, it can mean that, therefore, it may not be for me. But I think more positively, it just helps you, again, get perspective on how it might have put things to them, which then helps you understand how God is putting things to you.
And so, there’s two main streams of understanding in scholarship in terms of who Proverbs was written for. One is that it was just general home life wisdom for Israel, and so that’s why you have the instructions about fathers and mothers teaching their children, and children’s impact on fathers and mothers: if they’re wise, they’ll bring joy; if they’re foolish, they’ll bring grief to their mother and father. So very family focussed. But more recent scholarship has actually noted that through the book, you get this growing focus on a particular realm, and that is the king of Israel and his court. And so, particularly in the later chapters, there’s great focus on what you should do in the presence of the king, or how the king should actually govern his land. And so, other scholars have suggested that, actually, the book was originally written for the elite male youth of society, who would form the king’s courtiers, or perhaps even a training manual for the king himself in knowing who to appoint as a courtier, how to govern his land, etcetera.
And so, at a certain level, that seems to create quite a distance between us as—most of us aren’t kings. So us as readers, both men and women, who are, I don’t know, just normal people, and this book that is meant to be for a very elite figure—possibly a king. What do we do with this? And I think—the reflection is actually, that there’s some real positives in this.
The first one is that Proverbs itself—I mean, if you think about the nature of a proverb, it’s, again, not meant to be an identification; it’s an analogy. And so it presents a scenario, a situation or a character or something. But you’re not meant to try and inhabit it as if you were that thing; you’re meant to analogise to your experience. So, for example, there’s a proverb: “Go to the ant, you sluggard. Learn from its ways and be wise.” (Prov 6:6) And—
CK: I know a guy who actually bought an ant farm because of that proverb.
DW: There you go.
CK: Just to learn from the ants. [Laughter] Not kidding.
DW: I hope they learnt a lot! But we’re not ants—none of us are ants. And so, if you have to identify with the character, it’s an impossible proverb to put into practice. And so, it’s clearly an analogy: there’s an ant; it does stuff; it works hard; it prepares; it’s industrious; and therefore it’s actually prepared for circumstances unseen, to a certain regard. And so, you are meant to analogise to your experience: that is, I have certain things that if I prepare well for—if I have a certain character and rhythm and pattern and steadiness to life, it will set me up as stable when something unforeseen happens. And the contrast to that is the sluggard, who basically has an apathy towards life and has no energy to actually to prepare to live well.
So if you can analogise from an ant that you cannot identify with, then that should apply for the whole book. Even if there is a proverb about a king, I should be able to analogise to my experience, for example, of areas that I have authority and sway over, and think about what a king might be responsible for—how he’s meant to conduct himself in his setting—and therefore, in the areas of responsibility and authority God has given me, how should I operate?
And so, I think if you do that across the whole book, that’s actually the best approach: rather than identification, take the approach of analogy. That is, you’re describing a dynamic that is going on in another setting with another person, but it has an analogy—a resonance—an applicability—to your own life.
So there’s a scholar who wrote on the Book of Proverbs, and actually addressed this issue, and I really like what he says in his book:
To recover the original setting of a proverb, its point of origin, as it were, is practically impossible. There are simply too many possibilities: rural, where the oral form would presumably be the favoured mode of expression, or the court, where the literary expression would have more likely been cultivated. These two “settings” are too broad to be of much help.1
And basically he’s making the point of whether you think it was written for the home or whether you think it was written for the court, bottom line is you’ve got both. But then he makes the point, you can’t prohibit country folk from cultivating king proverbs, or upper class individuals from reflecting on rural and farming concerns. And so, even if it is written to a king, it is a king who makes Proverbs about normal existence. And so, there’s a great transferability—and I think that’s actually part of how Proverbs is written.
CK: Really helpful.
DW: But secondly, for us Christians, and particularly for evangelicals who are in tune with biblical theology—that is, that the Old Testament is primarily pointing us and pushing us towards the coming of Christ—I think that actually gives us an extra dimension to reading the Book of Proverbs—particularly if it is was originally set for the elite—the king of Israel. That is, if Proverbs fundamentally is trying to prepare and frame how the king of Israel should rule his land under the God of love and faithfulness, then it is actually a precursor to us understanding the character of Christ. That is, if this is meant to actually build the godly king over Israel, well, who is the true godly king over Israel who rules his people perfectly? It is the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, for us, Proverbs has stitched into it—if it was written for the king—has stitched into it almost a biblical theological impulse that it’s actually primarily not about me; it’s about him. So I find that really helpful. I find that really fascinating. But that doesn’t eliminate, then, that it’s useful for me also.
CK: Yeah, that’s right. ’Cause we can easily say, “Oh, it’s just about Jesus, then: he’s done it all. He’s the wisest. He’s the best.”
CK: “Enough said.” [Laughter] But actually, there’s real application. I really like the way that you use analogy to think about our circumstances. I mean, I personally really enjoy reading novels that are very different from my own setting. So if it’s too familiar, I mean, I can try to really locate myself there. But in one sense, Wendell Berry, for example, he writes about farming, and farm rural country, and I have no idea what it’s like to live in a rural farming community. And yet somehow, the kinds of life movements there are really provocative for me on my own reflection about my life—not because I can find myself in that story, but because, actually, I can’t find myself there, and I have to think longer about what’s there. But I can then move, of course, analog—by analogy to my own life. So in the Proverbs, I really like that the sluggard says, “There’s a lion in the streets”. So the idea is, I’m going to make any excuse to not go outside today and just stay in bed.
CK: Because there might be some danger out there that I shouldn’t encounter. And who wants to go out and face a lion? So if I think about that in my life, I have no lions around me here in Sydney. I’ve lived one place where there were mountain lions; that was it. But—
DW: We do get some buffalo coming down the street once.
CK: That was right. I remember that! That was exciting. [Laughter] But if I make excuses for my life, what kinds of excuses would I make to stay in inside all day, you know? “Somebody might mug me.”
CK: You know? Or “Lightning could hit me today, ’cause there’s clouds in the sky”. I could make up all kinds of excuses, but the point is, “You’re a sluggard”.
DW: Yeah, that’s right.
CK: Don’t be a sluggard! [Laughter] Don’t be lazy!
DW: That’s right! [Laughter]
CK: Get up and get going. So, yeah, very helpful. How do you keep people, then, from making bad moves in the Proverbs to themselves? Where do we go off the rails?
DW: Yeah, yeah. Well, I think, in terms of bad moves, I mean, again, I think they’ve been highlighted quite clearly in previous studies. So there’s the shallow application that we talked about in terms of just trying to read them as flat statements of eternal fact—that if I do this, this is the necessary consequence and this will always happen automatically.
I think also if you read the Proverbs in isolation as single proverbs, there’s a usefulness to that, but the bottom line is, it’s been collected and compiled as a book. And so, also, we actually do need to read the Proverbs together, and I think we do this sometimes as we track themes or repeated words, like “the sluggard” or “the fool”, and try and create an impression of that theme. But I think we also need to try and see the book as a unified message. And so, again, I think if you see that overarching project of Proverbs is trying to stitch into you that understanding of God’s character and how he’s invested that in his world and in his people and in us, that then forms and constrains how you think you should respond as he gives you his word in these Proverbs.
And I think the other thing is to just remember theologically that we live in a world that is still God’s good world—that he still speaks and reveals himself clearly to. But we don’t have perfect comprehension or apprehension of God and his world because of the fallenness of the world and sin. And that’s actually part of Proverbs too: so a major note in the book is the presence of the wicked—the presence of those who are set against God, the presence of those who muddy the waters, I guess, of his love and faithfulness to us—and the temptation is that when we encounter them, we actually take on their character, because there is a certain attraction to the immediate benefit of not living for God. So, again, wisdom is trying to call us to say, “When you see this immediate attraction, don’t just go for it; think about it. Think about the long-term end of it. And think about the God who stands over and above it all. Do you really want to go down that path?
So I think those are a few things that I think will help in our reading of this book and in our understanding of it. I think at the end of the day, even though it is poetic, it is evocative, you also take the words themselves as forming some sort of restraint on your reading. Like, trying and figure out what are the dynamics going on that the words themselves evoke, and then bring them across to your experience. But you’ve got to do it in a disciplined way—disciplined theologically. That is, you’ve got to remember this is the God who gave us this book has revealed himself in the rest of Scriptures and so the rest of that revelation actually informs what you think the God who speaks in Proverbs in particular is like and is saying to us. And so, it’s really important to have those theological constraints.
Also, the thing that I found most stimulating and most of value in my reflection is actually to think about the doctrine of humanity—who are we as created beings, because Proverbs speak so much to our created experience. And so when you think about what the Bible says about us as human creatures, we are made in God’s image, which brings a great dignity—a great honour—a great responsibility. But we are not God: we are finite creatures, and so we need rest. We have limitations. We have grief and sadness that are overwhelming. And so, again, as you read Proverbs, you’ll read these proverbs of experience, and some of them will actually resonate with the limits that you have, and that’s actually part of wisdom—is knowing that I am not a perfect being; I am not perfect in my response to God—and even that has been anticipated in this book.
So the proverb that we talked about, I think, in our last session—that “Each heart knows its own bitterness and no one else can share it joy” (Prov 14:10)—is a statement of the doctrine of humanity—that we are limited, that we are not in complete control of our situation or our emotions, and that’s actually part of growing wise in our response to God. There are times [when] we cannot automatically generate the right response to God, and we have to actually cry out, “This is too much for me” or “I don’t know how to respond”. That’s actually part of Proverbs too. And so I think there’s a real beauty in the way that Proverbs stimulates our thinking about our humanity before God.
CK: As we take a break from our program, I want to tell you about a few resources for your ongoing growth in the Christian life. First, our annual from 2020 is now available through our website and ebook distributors. This is a collection of highlights from last year’s essays, podcasts and events. I encourage you to download the annual and read these short and edifying articles.
Next, I want to tell you about two upcoming events. Our partner at Moore College, the Centre for Global Mission, is hosting an event on April 28 on the topic, “All Nations, All Ages, All In?” This evening seminar will address whether the Homogenous Unit Principle is best for our ministries.
Then on May 19, we’ll have our second CCL live event on the theme of community. My colleague, Chris Conyers, will address the topic of “Dealing with sin” .
Information about these events and many other events and resources, can be found on the Moore College website at moore.edu.au.
Now let’s get back to our program.
CK: I really like the way that you’ve shown us how Proverbs are part—they really relate to our lived experience. So there’s something that really communicates about what we know to be true. So we know the real triumphs and joys of certain kinds of things. We also know the real loss and grief and pain. Or we know the propensity to go off track and follow after, you know, particular temptations. The Proverbs is very real about that, you know.
DW: Yeah, absolutely.
CK: Here—here’s a lure that’s dangling in front of you from the world. Make sure that you don’t go after that, because it’s a trap. And it might look really shiny and good to you, but don’t go for it.
CK: One of the things that you’ve said is that the Proverbs are meant to be taken as a whole, and I think because they’re so bitsy for us—particularly the middle section: you told us last time that the middle section is sentences, which are quite seemingly random—
CK: —we can see repeated themes about foolishness or wisdom—about certain kinds of characters that are personified.
CK: How do we live in the Proverbs? So quite a few people take them, as I said before, month to month: they go, “31 days in the month. 31 chapters of Proverbs. Chapter of Proverbs a day. Repeat. Every month.”
CK: I guess there could be some, shall we say, wisdom in that approach—
DW: Yep. Yeah.
CK: —because you’re living in Proverbs and you’re, in some ways, then, cultivating things so that you don’t just have necessarily on hand, well, here’s a direct parallel to my life from this proverb. You might. But actually you have more of a sense of what is wise, because—
CK: —you’ve been sort of swimming in that water for a while.
CK: How do you advise a Christian about digesting—
CK: —the Proverbs. What do you do?
DW: Well, again, I think one of the beautiful things about Proverbs that I appreciate so much is that you can take so many angles on this book and approach it so many different ways: God speaks to us in such a range of aspects, which is very very rich. And so, you can take the scattergun approach. That is, you can just take a proverb or a subject in the Proverbs and just meditate on that in concentration. And I think there’s great benefit in that.
More recent work on Proverbs, however, has seen a lot more continuity and development through the book and even across the chapters of seemingly scattergun proverbs. And so, one scholar in particular—Bruce Waltke—has poured a lot of work into Proverbs and he has, I think, demonstrated that even through chapters of seemingly random individual proverbs, you can often—almost always, actually—trace themes. And sometimes they are actually linked explicitly by language. And so, he actually tracks how different Hebrew words and sound plays and alliteration—those sorts of patterns that we would just think would be natural if we heard it in English, but they’re actually there in the Hebrew as well. So if you’re able to have some sort of access to it via commentaries or if you yourself are familiar with a bit of Hebrew, you can actually start to see there is a development across the Proverbs.
So one small example of that thematically would be if I take you back to my favourite proverb, Proverbs 19:24, where it says, “A sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he will not even bring it back to his mouth!” (NIV). And as you think about that, you think about the nature of a sluggard—the nature of sloth—the apathy that even prevents you from doing something as simple as lifting your hand from the bowl to eat the corn chip that’s in there. Or something like that. And you think about here is a person who is so lazy—so stuffed full—so energy-less that he cannot even feed himself—and the nature of sloth as just lazing around, but with no purpose—seeking rest, but being constantly restless. That’s really the symptom of sloth.
And so, as you think about that, if you scan back one proverb to chapter 19 verse 23, you have “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble”. So the proverb immediately before talks about rest and then 19:24 talks about restlessness. There’s a beautiful link that may not be immediately apparent, but if you’re able to just have a bit of a guide and someone who can help you just trace those, it can just open up the book remarkably.
So I like to liken Proverbs to a web. And sometimes when you’re walking in the garden, you seen a spider web glistening in the sun. Initially, it looks rather jumbled and scattered. But as you stop and you look at it, you start to see, actually, there is a definite order and a pattern to it. It’s not quite the same as a linear development, like a narrative or a letter. But a web has a logic and a structure and a method to the madness, so to speak. And if you think about appreciating a web, you can have a look at a strand as it spirals out and follow that along. You can look at the cross-strands and see how that shapes the entire structure of the web. Or you can stand back and look at the whole thing and just see how it forms, actually, a beautiful thing in and of itself.
And likewise with the Proverbs: you can focus on an individual proverb; you can focus on a theme; you can try and track through a chapter; or you can take the message of the book as a whole, and all of them bring great spiritual benefit. And so, I think that’s a helpful way to frame your approach to Proverbs.
CK: That’s great.
CK: Two things on that: one, nice job working in another Jonathan Edwards reference—
DW: Well, yeah.
CK: —without his name! [Laughter] Thank you for the spider analogy. But two, I can see Christians getting discouraged. I mean, I don’t have Hebrew, or I don’t have access to these, you know, massive commentaries.
CK: It seems like a bit too much work. One of the things that I’m actually really helped by what you just said is if we sit in the Proverbs—if we take out a pencil or a pen, or we start, you know, doodling notes down about what I’m seeing—
CK: —it’s really helpful. I think sometimes we get into a routine of “I’ve got to tick a box”. Here’s Proverbs 19. It’s the 19th of the month, so I’m going to read Proverbs 19. [Laughter] Let’s get through this. Couple of interesting ideas.
CK: Keep moving. You know, eat my bowl of cereal and I’m out the door.
CK: Actually, it takes time to sit with it and just say, “Okay, Lord, what are you saying to me here? What am I seeing as I’m reflecting on these things? How am I not going to just, you know, run through this—”
CK: “—and miss everything, you know—skim right over the top of it?” You know, sitting in it. And I guess the more we can do that, the more we can be reflective on what we’re—
CK: —seeing in the text, the more we begin to see that web emerge—
CK: —I guess. You know, those intersections, if you will.
DW: Yeah, yeah. I think the other thing to say about that is I think Proverbs is meant to stimulate our passionate imagination for God. And again, one of the weaknesses we have as evangelicals is we sometimes, in response to maybe excesses from other people, we really bite down on imagination and emotion and wide-ranging tangential thinking and feeling. But Proverbs actually gives you permission in a very theologically disciplined way—but permission to explore—to reflect—to think widely, to think almost like—I get this image in my mind of, you know when you chuck a tennis ball in a stocking and swing it around, and as you swing it faster, it just stretches and stretches further and further. That’s what Proverbs reminds me of: you’re just kind of ranging out and try to imagine the analogies—the possibilities—where are the connections that I can find? Oh, I’ve seen that in another situation here, and that has relevance for me this way. It makes me feel this. When do I feel that in other situations? You know, those sorts of things. And you’re right: it’s more than just read, think about something to do, on with your day. It sort of just sits with you and it takes time and it takes effort. But the reward is amazing.
CK: Yeah, that’s great. And one of the things I think as evangelicals we’ve not been attentive to as well is learning in community from the wisdom. And just as a way of transition here, I mean, we’ve thought about the Proverbs in, say, my own quiet time or something like that. But actually I find the Proverbs have more or less an absence in our churches—
CK: —partly because they feel so random.
CK: There isn’t necessarily a theme that we trace through, so we don’t find big sermon series on the Proverbs. We don’t even necessarily have the Proverbs read in our churches very often. We don’t talk about them. We don’t study them in a small group. I guess it seems to me that the ways that we could be more imaginative in our application—and maybe even appropriately restrained in some of that application—is by talking about it together.
CK: The Proverbs seem to be, actually, community-minded, as a book. How would you encourage us as churches to get on board with reading the Proverbs together?
DW: Yeah. Well, I think you’re exactly right, Chase: I think the book is actually very community-minded. And so, often, again, we take the Proverbs as an individual moral guide: what should I do? What should my character be? But actually if you sit with the Proverbs, a lot of them have to do with the impact of either a wise or a foolish orientation have on someone else. And, again, I find that so profound—that it is actually an other-person-centred and a community-oriented book. And even if you do take the thesis that it is written for the king, as what the book is about, or if you take the family one, it’s a bit more immediate, it’s meant to be not just shaping your person, but shaping an entire culture. And so, if it is for the king, the reason that there are farm proverbs in there is because the king is meant to be deeply concerned with people on the ground. And so, the instructions to the king of Israel consistently through the Old Testament are that the king is not there for his own benefit; the king is there as a fellow Israelite—as a brother—as a servant—that those with power should use that power for the benefit of those who are under their authority.
And so, Proverbs, like the rest of the Old Testament, commands the king—that his responsibility is to take the governing power that God has given him and use that power to ensure that righteousness—that is, relationships of love and faithfulness—flow throughout all of society right down to the bottom, so that no one is left out of the sphere of love and faithfulness in his community.
And so, therefore, you then have to think about “Oh, if I do this, what will the impact be on them?” And I think, again, that’s something that, at least to my mind, is underdeveloped in a lot of our thinking—in a lot of our application—is not so much “What am I doing?”—is “What I am doing right?” Well, that’s very important. But is what I am doing effective in bringing good to others? And that is, I think, what Proverbs is all about. And so, I think you’re exactly right: if we share this in community, we talk about it at church—in our Bible studies—if we read the Proverbs together and just try and hammer out “What do you think this is saying to us? Could it mean this? I went through this situation here. Does this apply here?” And we might have someone else saying, “Oh, that’s really interesting, because I actually went through something very similar here”. Or “Yeah, I’m not sure that it’s really reaching quite that far”. That’s going to be a great way for us to build our understanding together—form some good constraints as we help each other out.
But also, it’s going to get us thinking about the impact that we have on each other as we try and apply God’s word together. And I think that is exactly what Proverbs is trying to cultivate.
CK: And it’s something we need. I mean, if we think about what Jesus says is the greatest commands: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and “love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). I mean, the Proverbs help us that way: they help us to see this is what God’s world is like; this is how I can live as one of God’s children in his world; but also as I think about other people around me, which I’m commanded to do—
CK: —this is a way for me to consider my own living in community—my own living amongst others—
CK: —and the implications of my life upon others. And that’s something I think we desperately need in our churches today.
DW: Absolutely. And again, when you think about it, it all starts with God himself and his character is deeply theological in the pure sense of the word—that is, it’s about God, because, yeah, one of our mantras, and it’s a great mantra, is that God in and of himself is relationship. You know? The Trinity—Father, Son, Holy Spirit. And what do they do? They don’t just sit there coexisting individually; they constantly pour themselves out in love, one for the other. And if that’s God’s character and he’s stitched that character into his creation in—particularly into the people who bear his image, then, again, there’s an analogy that true life and joy will come when we live not for ourselves in isolation from others, but when we live in love for each other in other-person-centred love.
And if I love others and I give what one person can give in love for others, but I find that the others in my life, and that’s many more than just one, are giving themselves in love for me, you know, the irony of not seeking my own love first, but actually seeking to love others, is that I’m more deeply and profoundly loved by others than I could ever be myself.
So it’s that beautiful irony of the wisdom of God versus the foolishness of the world, where the world says, “No, love yourself. I’ve got to love myself first”, whereas God says, “No! You love others first and as you’re loved in return, that is true life. That is true joy.”
CK: And one is driven by fear and the other’s driven by faith.
DW: Yes, absolutely.
CK: Because if I’m afraid, I’m going to protect everything that I have for myself. I’m going to shore up everything I can and make sure that I look after my own. Whereas if I believe God and I really take his word in faith, I can give things away in service to others, knowing that that’s actually for my good. But we have to believe it.
DW: Yep. Absolutely.
CK: Yeah. So Dan, just as we wrap up, how would you encourage people wanting to get more involved in the Proverbs as a community? Just a one-minute answer of what would you do if—if your church, for example, said, “Hey, we realise we haven’t had the Proverbs here. We haven’t been reading them.” And I’m not speaking about church specifically, but let’s just say your church did say that. What would you say to them? Here’s a great way that we can get involved in reading the Proverbs together.
DW: Yeah, sure. Well, I think just read them. I mean, [Laughter] I think the best way is to just think, “What can we do?” If you can’t just access the full sweep of stuff—if you don’t have access to Hebrew or stuff like that—that’s okay, because you can still gain so much with just a few basic framing things in your approach to the book—you can still gain so much, even if you can’t access some of the original dynamics going on.
I think as you said, Chase, there’s a mix of personal reflection. So I think there’s a place for having individual reading and reflection. But there’s also a real place for discussion and group application. So I think small groups are a great place, if you can read through Proverbs in your small groups, or even have just a proverb to think about every now and again. That can greatly enrich your fellowship. I think if it’s led from the front by the ministry staff and just as the ministry staff model how to engage this book more, that will have a flow-on effect for the congregation. So I think at every level, because it’s meant to be such an all-encompassing experiential book, it’s best if it’s done in an all-encompassing experiential way. And so, yep, I think that’s probably the best.
And also, just enjoy being able to slow down and think and reflect. You’ve got to do that with Proverbs, otherwise you’ll come away resenting the book. But if you have time and space to go, “Hang on, is it really saying this? What happens when that doesn’t seem to come true? Oh, okay: maybe it’s not quite saying the bald thing; you’ve got to actually think deeper about how this works.” And that’s, I think, the best way to approach the book.
CK: And this is one of those fear and faith things: I’m afraid I don’t have enough time for other things I’ve got to get done to make my life good. So I can’t give my time to this. But actually, if I really trust that this is what’s going to give me the good life, then I believe that and I give myself time for sitting in it, even when other things feel more urgent. But this is actually certainly much more important. So—
CK: Dan, I’m grateful. I’m going to finish with this proverb once again: “The fear of the Lord is beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (ESV). May the Lord give us a heart for the Proverbs—to listen to him so that we might fear him and know and understand and certainly not be foolish in this world. Thanks for the time, Dan!
DW: Thanks for having me, Chase!
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As always, I’d like to thank Moore College for making the ministry of the Centre for Christian Living possible, and to extend thanks to my assistant, Karen Beilharz, for audio editing and transcribing. Music provided by James West.
Unless otherwise noted, Bible quotations are from THE HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by International Bible Society, www.ibs.org. All rights reserved worldwide.
1 Roland Murphy. Word Biblical Commentary: Proverbs. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998).