Three Reasons You Should Preach through Proverbs
According to some studies, about 80% of born-again Christians believe that phrases like “God helps those who help themselves” are actually found in the Bible. If these studies are correct, then it’s possible many Christians believe “wisdom” to be nothing more than pithy statements that are generally true and, if followed, will usually help one get along better in life.
But is this really what wisdom is? Thankfully, no!
According to theologian Douglas Moo, wisdom is a divine grace that “involves biblical insight into God’s purposes and ways.” Used rightly, wisdom provides the basis for a biblical outlook on life that leads to righteous living. But biblical insight into God and his ways is no mere theoretical knowledge; it’s a true knowledge of the Holy One that moves us to appropriate a holy fear of the Lord (9:10). To gain this wisdom, we must pursue it (2:1–9); to live in such wisdom, we must rely on God (3:5–8); and to learn such wisdom, we must preach Proverbs.
But let me provide three more reasons to preach Proverbs.
THREE MORE REASONS
1. Your church needs to be exposed to the whole counsel of God.
Expositional preaching isn’t just another preaching style; it reveals a commitment to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture. Consequently, we shouldn’t just preach expositional sermons here and there, or simply through an entire book of the Bible. Ultimately, we should expound all of Scripture to the whole church. When we stand before our Lord to give an account for our church, we want to be able to declare, with the apostle Paul, that we are innocent of their blood because we did not shrink from declaring to them the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26–27).
And yet, we may be tempted to avoid preaching Proverbs because it challenges our definitions of expositional preaching. Sure, Proverbs 1–9 and 31 are structured for typical expositional sermons, but what do we do with everything in-between? Proverbs makes for challenging preaching, but who else is going to teach our people how to read wisdom literature if we don’t?
A commitment to expositional preaching is a commitment to preaching consecutively through books of the Bible and preaching from different literary genres. Let’s not shrink back, then, from preaching the whole counsel of God, even when it’s hard. That includes Proverbs.
2. Your church needs to learn how to speak to one another in love about pursuing holiness and fighting sin and temptation.
Proverbs is written by the king of Israel, the primary covenant keeper, in order to instruct his sons to continue in covenant faithfulness. Throughout the book, we hear the beautiful father-son language with which Solomon appeals to his children. So, as we preach Proverbs and apply it to the church, we too will teach our people how to speak in love to one another about pursuing holiness and fighting sin and temptation in a variety of ways:
Proverbs reminds us that biblical instruction is the foundation from which we speak to one another about pursuing holiness and fighting sin and temptation. The source of this instruction is God—true knowledge of him, his purposes, and his ways (2:5). But the means of this instruction is usually the people God has put in our lives who love us (2:1–4).
Of course, the manner of this instruction varies, and Proverbs illustrates this. Perhaps the most prominent is parental, which explains why parents so often look to Proverbs for help. But the fact that the book is full of Solomon’s instructions to his sons doesn’t limit its application to parenting—just as it doesn’t limit its application to men. Instead, we ought to view this parenting background as a beautiful picture of the family relationship dynamics in the church.
Pointing Out the Blessings of Walking in Wisdom (8:1–36)
My wife helped me to see early on in our parenting that the primary context of our home should be one of positive instruction. In such an environment, the correction and the “no” stand out in stark contrast to the instruction and the “yes.” Similarly, church members should routinely talk to one another about holiness, and their tone should be full of instruction, encouragement, and affirmation.
Proverbs helps us to see the value of pointing out the joy of obedience because walking in wisdom brings great blessings (8:12–21). But as any parent soon learns, simply pointing out the blessings of wisdom isn’t always enough to fight sin and temptation. When our faith in God and his promises fails, we also need to be reminded of the consequences of sin.
Pointing Out the Consequences of Walking in Foolishness (9:1–18)
Proverbs not only points out the blessings of wisdom, it also points out the consequences of foolishness. This explains why the book regularly distinguishes the way of wisdom (9:1–12) from the way of foolishness (9:13–18). But it doesn’t stop there. A wise spiritual father or mother, a loving brother or sister, will seek to head off sin by warning us of its consequences.
Proverbs is helpful here but it gives us the tools to warn one another about the consequences of pursuing sin and giving in to temptation. We need such language, and we need such examples to be able to urge one another to pursue holiness and flee from sin. Admittedly, though, we’re not always good at communicating these warnings lovingly, so Proverbs also gives us the appropriate tone.
In love, Solomon appeals to his sons to heed the instruction they’ve received (1:8–9). He urges them to pursue wisdom above all other treasures (2:1–5) on the basis of its blessings (3:21–26; 4:1–13, 20–27), and to avoid wickedness on the basis of its consequences (4:14-19; 5:1–23). In its appeals, Proverbs reminds us that we ought to say everything in love. Our church needs to be reminded often that when we speak to one another about pursuing holiness and fighting sin, we are to do so in love. Proverbs gives us pictures of how to do just that.
3. Your church needs to be reminded that our only hope for waking in wisdom is found in Christ.
Most importantly, Proverbs reminds us that the pursuit of wisdom and the avoidance of foolishness is impossible in our own strength. If we don’t understand Proverbs, we will apply it to our people as “truisms” that will help us get along better in this life. But when we do this, we forget that Proverbs is a covenantal book. Under the old covenant, those who obeyed were promised tremendous blessings, but those who disobeyed were threatened with terrible curses (Deuteronomy 28). We take the “teeth” out of Proverbs when we turn it into a mere “word for the wise.”
In other words, Solomon isn’t teaching his sons how to have their best life now. He’s preparing them for kingship. The king of Israel was to be the primary covenant keeper. By his example, he was to lead Israel in keeping covenant. Unfortunately, Solomon’s sons chose to walk in foolishness, and the kingdom split in two after his death.
What happened next? Israel eventually experienced all the covenant curses for their foolishness. And so Proverbs reminds us that we need a faithful, covenant-keeping king. The New Testament reveals that Jesus is that king; he is David’s promised Son (2 Samuel 7). Jesus kept covenant by wise living and thus gained the promised covenant blessings. Jesus kept covenant by receiving the curses in his death, thus freeing us covenant-breakers from our deserved covenant curses (Galatians 3:10–14).
Proverbs reminds us that, left to ourselves, we would never choose the path of wisdom. But God has set his king on his throne (Psalm 2), and this king walked the path of wisdom in our place. And so all the promises of Proverbs are ours—just not yet. Because we now live in the tension between the already and the not yet, we still face trouble in this world.
But through faith in King Jesus, all the covenant promises will be ours for all eternity. Through King Jesus, we’ve obtained the promises of a new covenant: a new heart, God’s Spirit, and personal knowledge of God. Through King Jesus, we’re equipped to walk the way of wisdom.
Oh, how we need the book of Proverbs, for it reminds us that our only hope for walking in wisdom is found in Christ, our wisdom.
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A Few Words about Preaching through Proverbs and Resources
Because Proverbs does not flow like a typical book, we need a little help thinking through how to preach it. I found the following resources helpful to that end:
The Beginning and End of Wisdom: Preaching Christ from the First and Last Chapters of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job by Douglas Sean O’Donnell.
Preaching Christ from Proverbs by Jonathan Akin.
Personally, I preached a typical expositional series from Proverbs 1–8, and then took a break. When I returned to it, I reintroduced Proverbs by preaching chapter 9 in typical exposition. After chapter 9, I chose a number of themes from Proverbs to preach through. Each week, I worked through all 31 chapters, looking at how that particular theme was addressed. I then sought to anchor each theme in a specific text, while shedding light on that theme with other passages from all of Proverbs.
Some commentaries I found helpful:
Derek Kidner, Proverbs, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, volume 17. It’s now available in a different format, but Kidner is always a good “go to” no matter the Old Testament book. He is concise, and has wonderful insights into the text.
Tremper Longman, Proverbs, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament. While I found myself disagreeing with some of his conclusions, Longman provides help in understanding the structure of the book of Proverbs, along with insight into the biblical text. Of special help is his appendix in Topical Studies.
Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1–15, New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Waltke is helpful in understanding the structure of poetry in general, and Proverbs in particular. I also liked having another perspective on the biblical text as I worked through Proverbs.
Raymond Ortlund, Proverbs: Wisdom that Works, Preaching the Word. The Preaching the Word series is collections of sermons on particular books of the Bible. I like to use this series as devotional reading as I am working through a Bible book. Ortlund is a wise and insightful Old Testament scholar and pastor. This book helped me see how he worked out Proverbs in his own preaching.
Editor’s note: You can read the rest of the articles in this series here.