The book of Proverbs is a fascinating and helpful book. God in his grace gave us a whole book in the Bible to teach us how to live wisely. It is full of short, memorable sayings that instruct and challenge us. I recently taught a seminar summarizing the wisdom of Proverbs into ten lessons. There are certainly more areas that Proverbs touches on, but here is a good place to start if you want to understand some of the key themes and lessons.
1. Fear the Lord (Fear)
Prov. 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (see also Prov. 1:7)
Fearing the Lord is where wisdom begins. If you want to understand how life works, you have to start with an understanding of God, its Creator and King. This is his world and it runs under his authority and by his rules. To fear God entails submitting to him as your ultimate authority. It breeds a desire in such a way that pleases him and avoiding that which displeases him.
2. Get Wisdom (Wisdom)
Prov. 4:7 The beginning of wisdom is this: get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.
Another lesson we hear constantly in Proverbs is the importance of seeking wisdom. If you want to be wise, first start by valuing wisdom. Understand its benefits and also the perils of foolishness. So what does wisdom actually do for us? First, wisdom grounds us in reality, so we see things as they really are. Second, wisdom guides us to make the best decisions which lead to the best outcomes. Third, wisdom guards us from the harmful consequences of bad choices.
3. Get Knowledge (Knowledge)
Prov. 23:12 Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge. (see also Prov. 10:14, 18:15)
Wisdom and knowledge aren’t the same thing, but they are related. A wise person collects knowledge and knows how to employ it to benefit self and others. Knowledge includes both book smarts and skills. Proverbs tells us that the wise person ‘lays up’ or stores up knowledge. Value learning new things and acquiring new abilities and skills. It gives you tools for making good decisions.
4. Be Humble (Humility)
Prov. 18:2. A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion (see also Prov. 3:7, 15:32)
Humility is difficult because we are sinfully prone to self-love. It takes many forms, but often manifests in self-righteousness, pride, and a know-it-all attitude. A wise person recognizes that there is much to learn and, therefore, is slow to speak and quick to listen. A humble person seeks to learn from others, even his opponents. A fool, on the other hand, loves to put himself first, express his opinion without listening, and elevate himself over others. This leads to bad ends.
5. Slow down and think it through (Prudence)
Prov. 14:15-16. The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps. One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless.
Prudence is a word we don’t use often today, but it is a key element of wisdom. It essentially means ‘being cautious and thinking things through.’ Prudence doesn’t take steps without considering where they will lead. Instead prudence considers outcomes and consequences. The opposite of prudence is recklessness. Such a person makes decisions without considering the consequences and lives on the passion of the moment. Sadly, what feels right at the time often leads to unwanted outcomes. Sin almost always pays a small benefit in the short term, but massive consequences in the long run. Prudence can guard us against foolishly leaping into unwise decisions.
6. Choose your associations carefully
Prov. 13:20. Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (see also Psalm 1)
Who do you read? Who are your closest friends? Your counselors? Who do you admire? Scripture warns us to choose our heroes, our friends, and our counselors very carefully. If we walk with the wise, we will pick up some of their wisdom. If we walk with fools, we will become fools, or at very least suffer the consequences of their foolishness. Your closest friends and counselors should be people of godly wisdom, if you are to grow in wisdom.
7. Watch your mouth (Guard your Mouth)
Prov. 17:27-28. Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (see also Prov. 10:19)
A wise person is prudent with words. Being quick to listen, you should also be slow to speak. Consider how your words will land. Will they build up or tear down? Will they speak truth or lies? Will you make boasts or demonstrate humility? Will you make promises you can’t keep, vows you won’t fulfill? Choose your words carefully, as James warns us, for the words of our mouth direct the course of our lives for good or ill (Jas. 3).
8. Do what is right (Integrity)
Prov. 10:9. Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out. (see also Prov. 12:22; Ex. 18:21)
Integrity means being an honest person not only in your words, but also in your actions. Fulfill your responsibilities. Don’t cut corners. Keep promises and fulfill obligations. Not only is this a duty, but it is also a wise way to live with many benefits. A good reputation can only be earned through a life of integrity. A good name is more precious than riches (22:1). If you live with integrity, people will know that you are trustworthy and you will generally receive honor for it. Be a person of truth in your speech and in your living.
9. Bridle your passions (Self-Control)
Prov. 25:27-28 It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory. A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
Anybody can live according to their passions. That is the essence of foolishness: being governed by passions, not principles. Sometimes the hardest word for us to utter to ourselves is ‘no.’ But wisdom calls us to live with self control. So learn to set boundaries around your life to guard against excess, addiction, and indulgence, all of which are foolish and destructive. Think through where your desires will lead, especially if left unchecked. Live a life submitted to God and learn to develop self control.
10. Work hard (Diligence)
Colossians 3:23-24 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.(see also Prov. 10:4, 22:29; Ecc. 9:10)
God didn’t make everyone the same. We all have certain skills, abilities, advantages, and benefits that we enter into life with. We also have unique challenges to overcome. However, there is no advantage that laziness can’t render useless, and nearly no challenge that hard work cannot overcome. If you are born into poverty, generally hard work can help you rise out of it. However, even those born into great wealth can squander it with laziness. Hard work can often overcome physical limitations, lower intelligence, and less natural talent. Diligence honors God with the providence he has appointed to you.
There are many themes and lessons that God teaches us in Proverbs. These ten are a good place to start. May you grow in godly wisdom.