To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth— Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. - Proverbs 1:2–6 (ESV)

I imagine that few would argue against the claim that the book of Proverbs is the most easily applicable book to everyday life. The book of Proverbs is full of just what its title suggests -proverbs, which are short sayings expressing a piece of wisdom for everyday life. As can be seen above, the beginning of Proverbs provides a clear thesis statement for the whole book. The goal is to know wisdom in all its forms, not only for theory's sake but for living life. The young are especially in view, but also the wise. The fool is not addressed because the fool has no interest in the wisdom that Proverbs offers. One has to have a certain base or disposition toward wisdom to be able to grow in it.

The Big Idea of Proverbs

I teach that the big idea of Proverbs is the following: "Live Wisely, Live Well". This is to say that the way to live well is to live wisely. It is a recipe. There is a moral judgment in the phrase, "live well". We should want to live well not based on our standards but on God's. Wisdom, of course, must be defined by God as well, or at least grounded in God, and that is what Proverbs does for us. Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 9:10 are key verses for this purpose. They define the beginning of wisdom and knowledge as the fear of Yahweh.

An Outline of Proverbs

Proverbs may be outlined according to divisions that occur naturally in the text. There is in the Proverbs a kind of flow from introductory discourses regarding wisdom, to the content and description of wisdom, to human limitations regarding wisdom, and ending with a description of the kind of woman a wise man might hope to marry.

Chapters 1-9: A Call to Wisdom

Chapters 1-9 present a call to wisdom. These chapters define the beginning of wisdom and knowledge as the fear of Yahweh. They also present contrasting views of wisdom and foolishness, with wisdom personified as a noble and gracious woman and folly personified as a lazy and deceitful woman. These chapters also emphasize the importance of moral purity and present strong warnings against adultery and sexual temptation.

Chapters 10-29: Wisdom Sayings

Short, pithy sayings constitute the bulk of the book of Proverbs. Most seem to be in no particular order, although several prominent commentators have attempted to descry structured discourses in these chapters. A large number of these proverbs present one or more alternatives that represent the way of wisdom and the way of foolishness.

Chapter 30: Wisdom Riddles

Chapter 30 contains an oracle from Agur. The bulk of the oracle focuses on observations of life and the world that highlight the limits of human comprehension and knowledge. After all the wisdom presented thus far in the book, Agur's oracle humbles the reader whose ego might be otherwise inflated.

Chapter 31: A Wisdom Oracle

Proverbs concludes with an oracle handed down from King Lemuel's mother to him. The oracle focuses first on the proper behavior of kings before sharing an acrostic poem on the excellent wife. Whereas Proverbs begins by personifying wisdom as a woman to be pursued instead of folly and before any other woman, it ends by showing what wisdom looks like in action in a wise wife's life. In this way, Proverbs leaves the reader with a sense not only of what to look for in a wife, but how to flourish together with her as they both pursue wisdom grounded in the fear of Yahweh.

Some Benefits of Proverbs

Proverbs is easily near the top of the list of Bible books that have made the largest number of changes to the way I live. It is near the top of the list of every book I have read. I estimate that I have listened to or read the Proverbs hundreds or thousands of times due to the habit of reading or listening to the chapter of Proverbs that corresponds to the day of the month.

I have personal stories associated with many of the Proverbs. I credit the Proverbs for helping me to navigate Junior High and High School in a way that avoided certain kinds of trouble, especially relational trouble, that I can see myself falling into except for the Proverbs. As I preach verse-by-verse through the Proverbs to the students at our church, I find myself challenged, humbled, and motivated by each successive passage to improve how well I live by growing in wisdom.

Such is the power of Proverbs. It grounds thinking in God and then provides practical steps for what that should look like in daily life. Proverbs helps to answer the question of the connection between the belief in God and its effect on how we live. It shows us how our understanding of and relationship to God is and should be the ground and motive for our entire lives.

Proverbs also addresses life in just about every sphere imaginable. It treats our interior life and our exterior life. It addresses social situations with superiors, peers, and inferiors. It addresses our treatment of our family and friends.

There are relatively few issues of daily life that Proverbs does not address. And this is why it is helpful for us. It is an instruction manual that we never outgrow because it provides more of a grid in which to grow than exact specifications for what to say and do.

But we cannot fail to consider the connection between the Proverbs and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Seeing as Colossians 2:3 says that Christ is the one in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge, we do well to read Proverbs to be reminded not of the way to Heaven by our own wise choices, but of the way of wisdom on which we are bound to fail except for the grace of God.

Proverbs does not show us the way to be saved. It shows the way to live wisely and thus to live well. But Proverbs begs the question of how the fear of Yahweh conducts to salvation when we find ourselves failing to follow him and live wisely as we should. The answer is found in the gospel, which tells us that God became one of us to redeem us from our sin, our rebellion, and yes, our foolishness, so that we could live for God through Christ. And this indeed is wise living, because there is nothing wiser than living for God through Christ nor more foolish than living for something or someone else.

On Proverbs and Living for God Through Christ