A sign of a healthy church from the book of Proverbs is the people (especially the most influential in the group) always stay suspicious of themselves.
Formulas for success?
While the book is best known for and named after the short, clever sayings that offer wisdom, there’s more to it than just plucking out those sayings as formulas for success in life. You have to digest the book as a whole to really understand what’s going on in it.
Yes, like it says in the introduction, it’s purpose is for you to “gain wisdom.” (Proverbs 1:2) But the way that comes about is not by plucking out the little sayings and using them as formulas. That’s because there’s other pieces of the wisdom puzzle that must be put together to truly gain wisdom, and you must have those pieces.
Two concepts for gaining wisdom
First, it helps to understand what the book means by “wisdom.” The Hebrew word for wisdom (chokmah) is not simply frontal lobe mental knowledge. It also involves the practical application of that knowledge in real world situations with skill. That doesn’t happen by copy and pasting formulas. Life is more complex than that.
Second, the book presents this concept called “the fear of the Lord.” (Proverbs 1:7) This isn’t about being scared of God, but about a healthy respect and perspective about who God is and who you are.
The Fall was all about being your own god and making independent decisions about what was good and evil. The fear of the Lord is the attitude that it’s God’s place to decide good and evil and that He’s used His own definitions (really the nature of His own being) to design how the universe works.
As humans, we can have an attitude of submission to the reality of who God is and who we are or we can have an attitude of taking the place of God and do our own thing.
Where to start
The beginning of gaining wisdom is respecting that this is God’s world and we’re constantly on a journey to better understand how it was designed to work well.
This is why the first section of the book focuses on this. There’s ten speeches from a father to a son and four poems from “Lady Wisdom.” (chapters 1-9) Each of them set the stage for the proverbs in the middle of the book (chapters 10-29) by first addressing the attitude or posture to take to gain true wisdom.
We pursue God’s wisdom because we first recognize that it’s what we were made for. We were made to rule the world by cultivating God’s design for it (Genesis 1:28). As we do this, we gain true skill for making practical decisions that tend to lead to success (according to God’s definition of success) and the flourishing of true life.
Agur shows us what it means to have the fear of the Lord as he acknowledges his own ignorance and need for God’s wisdom. The woman of noble character acts as a model of taking God’s wisdom and making good, skillful decisions in the major areas of her life.
They give a glimpse into what it is to live wisely.
Seeking wisdom in a church
A church is a community where God dwells by His Spirit in each part (1 Cor. 3:16). Therefore, in church life, the seeking out of wisdom and the fear of the Lord is exercised by its members through the attitude and posture they have toward one another.
A healthy church is comprised of people (especially the most influential in the group) who are suspicious of their own individual wisdom.
But it’s not that they don’t believe they have wisdom. Everyone who has the Lord has been graced with wisdom in some form or another to different degrees, because He is Wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30).
What I mean is…they hesitate (actually refuse) to believe they always have the most wisdom in any and every area of life. This plays out in how they approach relationships and making decisions.
They have an understanding that no one is immune to self-deception and no one has the most skill for making practical decisions in every area of life. It’s really easy and common to define good as evil and evil as good, and they understand they do it more than they are aware of. This gives them a healthy suspicion of themselves.
This translates into a humble attitude and posture in every relationship because the fear of the Lord applies to His presence and life in and through the community.
Paying attention to the community
The book of Proverbs’ purpose is for you to gain wisdom, and it offers it through the accumulated wisdom of God’s people as a community over time.
This is also the healthy approach in church life – to gain wisdom through the accumulated wisdom of God’s people.
This requires each individual to pay attention and listen to the community more than anything, not act with superiority about what they know and who they are.
Those that are always thrusting themselves into being key decision-makers in every situation, looking for the final word in every conversation and needing to feel like they’re the most respected among a group have not so learned the fear of the Lord.
A healthy church requires people (especially the most influential in the group) that always stay suspicious of themselves, which leads to humble and inclusive behavior.