I’ve been reading through the book of Proverbs over the last few weeks as I prepare to teach on it at FIT Camp in October (Early Bird Registrations are still open!). One of the things I’ve been struck by is the way Proverbs speaks to us as parents and provides something of a model for us as we instruct our children in ‘the fear of the Lord’. At the same time, it encourages all of us – parents or not – to think carefully about the state of our own spiritual health as we read the teaching put to a son by his father: do we fear the Lord and seek to apply his wisdom to every aspect of our lives?
In the first seven chapters – which serve as the book’s introduction – we meet a father who points to the world around him and encourages his son to take notice of what he sees. As the son looks around, the father begins to teach him. Actually, while it’s mostly the father urging his son to listen to his words and teaching (e.g. Prov 2:1, 3:1, 4:1, 4:10, 4:20, 5:1, 6:1, 6:20, 7:1), in 1:8 we see the father urging his son to listen to both his parents:
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction,
and don’t reject your mother’s teaching.
What is it then that these parents are teaching, that the son should pay such close attention? As the son sees the world and how it works, his parents teach him to understand and critique it through the wisdom that comes from God. Like good Israelites, this father and mother are bringing God’s word to bear on the everyday life of their family, following the command in Deuteronomy 6:6-7:
These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to
your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk
along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Behind everything, both the father’s instruction and the mother’s teaching, stands one thing: the fear of the Lord. In Proverbs, that means something like this:
1) Knowing who God is and how to respond rightly to him, and then putting that into practice by;
2) Responding rightly to God through obeying his word and growing in knowledge of him.
This is the wisdom that Proverbs teaches. Knowing God through his word. Knowing what God thinks is good and pleasing, through his word. Responding to God rightly, through obedience to his word.
As the parents point their son to the world around him, they are effectively teaching him to ask two questions: What does God think about this? Will I trust his understanding and obey him, or trust in my own understanding and follow that?
As we read through proverbs, almost every aspect of life is examined under the sphere of God’s wisdom. Opinions, culture, traditions, money, possessions, sex, marriage, parenthood, childhood, friendship, work, character and values, to name a few, are all addressed by the father in his teaching. While the topic may vary, the underlying question remains the same: What does God have to say about this?
What then have I learned from Proverbs so far? Here are four things I think we need to consider.
First, do you know and fear the Lord? Proverbs teaches us to know God as he has revealed himself through his word, and to respond rightly in obedience to that word. The New Testament teaches us God is fully and most clearly revealed in the person of his Son, Jesus. Responding rightly to God means responding rightly to Jesus. Do you live in humble obedience to Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?
Second, do you know the wisdom of God revealed in his word? We don’t find God’s wisdom through our own understanding. We find it in Jesus. We know Jesus through the Bible. That begs the question: Do you read it? Have you stored its teaching in your heart and mind so that you can know God and know what is pleasing to him (let alone to know it so that you can teach it to others).
Third, knowing God’s wisdom revealed in his word, do you apply it in everything? Do you take the time to ask the questions Proverbs teaches us to ask? Do you look at everything from the opinions of others to the joys of friendships and ask: What does God think about this? Will I obey?
Fourth, for those who are parents, do you teach God’s word to your children? Do you teach them how to apply it to every situation and ask: What does God think about this? Do you take even the most mundane opportunities and everyday situations to ask these questions? (Actually, you could make a good case that any adult in our church community has a responsibility to teach our children in this way.)