Based on Proverbs 1:1-8, 3:1-8
The book of Proverbs is for gaining wisdom and instruction, for doing what is right and fair, and for giving knowledge and discretion to the young, and the understanding of sayings and riddles.
Don’t forget these teachings, my children. Keep them in your heart, and the Lord will surely bless you.
This is a book of life lessons. I love life lessons. Wisdom to keep us on the right track, the straight and narrow.
This is how we treat the book of Proverbs, right?
This is also we treat our Bibles. We treat it like an answer book, a book of rules that God wants us to follow, like an instruction manual. This is why people sometimes think that the word Bible is an acronym for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth (They’re wrong).
If people would only just follow the Bible, then we’d all be in good shape, right?
Let’s talk about the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Because, you know, if you log into Facebook, you saw a lot of rainbows this last week.
Some of us were excited about the court’s ruling. Others of us not were not excited about the court’s ruling. And still others of us didn’t quite know what to think about.
My intention this morning isn’t to declare one side right and one side wrong, but rather, to make note of how some of us use our Bibles in forming an opinion.
Someone would say, “Leviticus says this!”
And someone else would say, “But it also says this!”
But what about this verse?
But what about that verse?
But what did Jesus say?
But what did Jesus NOT say?
But the Bible clearly says!
No it doesn’t!
And so forth and so forth. We chuck Bible verses around to prove something, usually that what we believe is right, with the hope that we can deliver that knock-out punch to end the conversation and declare ourselves the winner.
A great example of this is what one of my pastor friends posted last weekend.
I have been amazed over the last couple of days how many times my Facebook feed has been filled with people talking about the ‘sins of Sodom and Gomorrah’. My guess is they are probably referencing Ezekiel 16:49 ‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor or the needy.’ – A big shout out to Richard Bage for this one.
I love it. He can just drop the mic and walk away, because it’s my hunch that most people quoting the Bible about the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah haven’t read Ezekiel in a while. Heck, I haven’t read Ezekiel in a while. Ezekiel’s long and boring.
But what in the world are we supposed to do? Proverbs says that this is all about wisdom and making our straight path, and there are Christians who are convinced that the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage is a national tragedy, and there are others quote Martin Luther King Jr. saying that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it is bent towards justice.
Let’s talk about elections, because, you know, there’s one coming up.
A couple of years ago, Ashley’s aunt, who works in a high school in Winnipeg, took some of her students to an election debate.
It was a debate between local candidates, all vying to become the Member of Parliament for their riding.
She was hoping that her kids would see people debating different ideas and policies on how to make our country run better.
I talked to her a few days later, asking how it went, and she said,
“What a waste of time. But especially one of them. He had a binder, and when a question was asked, he would open their binder to the right section and read what was written there. Question about climate change? Hmmm… climate change… Our party believes this. Question about taxes? Hmm… taxes. That’s under the T… Our party believes this. My aunt said that sometimes it was painfully obvious that the guy didn’t even know what he was reading.” By the end, all the students knew who they didn’t want to vote for.
When everything is cut and dry, black and white, it can often leave us a bit unfulfilled. “When they ask A, you answer B.” “When that happens, this is how you respond.” Can all of life be reduced to simple equations?
Let’s go back to Proverbs, our little book of wisdom that’s trying to help us live right. Let’s take a look at what it says about money, because we loooove talking about money. (Thanks Pete Enns for helping me out with this).
Proverbs is full of advice on how to treat money.
The wealth of the rich is their fortress; the poverty of the poor is their ruin. This seem simple enough. Wealth can protect us, while poverty can make our lives a lot harder.
The wealth of the rich is their strong city; in their imagination it is a high wall. So, is that fortress we just read about real or fake?
The wage of the righteous leads to life; the gain of the wicked to sin. So, here is says that wealth neutral, but what matters is what kind of person you are.
And then finally, Those who trust in their riches will wither, but the righteous will flourish like green leaves. So we’re supposed to depend on being righteous, not our riches.
So… our wealth is either a fortress, an imaginary high wall, or it will cause us to wither.
Which is it? What’s the right answer? What does the Bible say? (Wait a minute. This is the Bible!)? What does God want me to do?
I think those are the wrong questions. Because, if we treat Proverbs, or our Bibles, like a little rule book, like an instruction manual, it doesn’t work all that well. We can’t. Does our wealth protect us, or cause us to wither, because those seem to be pretty opposite.
The answers aren’t all that clear, are they?
It’s not about using Bible verses as a little rule book. Not only does it not work, but it’s not wisdom.
“Wisdom isn’t about finding a quick answer to life – like turning to the index, finding your problem, and turning to the right page so it all works out. Wisdom is about character formation. Wisdom is about learning how to work through the unpredictable, uncontrolled messiness of life so you can figure things out on your own in real time. Wisdom doesn’t tell you what to do. It shapes you over time so when the time comes to have to think on your feet, you can make a wise decision. Wisdom makes you fit to think for yourself when you need it.” (Thanks Pete Enns again, as found in The Bible Tells Me So. P. 138).
The answers aren’t clear because the answers are always contextual.
Let’s use a simple example.
If someone were to ask you the question, “Should I drink wine with my child?”, how would you answer?
Well, if the kid is 4 years old, the answer is “No.”
If the kid is 17, the answer is, “Ummm… Depends.”
If your child is 40, you say, “Sure.”
If either of you are recovering alcoholics, you say, “No thanks.”
And, if both you and your child are good Mennonites, you ask, “Well, how much does the bottle of wine cost?”
This is wisdom. It’s not a little answer book. It’s about character formation, so that we can make the right decision when we need to.
This is what Proverbs is all about. Not simple answers. Character formation. Wisdom is about character formation.
I’m going to make one more point about wisdom and treating the Bible like a simple little rule book. It can get a little bit confusing, at times. It can be hard to know what it says and what it doesn’t say. Plus, there are much smarter people out there than us who spend their entire lives studying the Bible, and they STILL come to opposite conclusions.
Well, instead of asking “What does God want us to do?”, let’s ask, “How does God want to form us as Christians?” And when we ask that question, we find a really great piece of wisdom in Proverbs 3:
Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will win favor and a good name
in the sight of God and humankind.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight
Let love and faithfulness never leave you, and you will be okay. Trust in the Lord that love and faithfulness are the way forward, and our paths will be straight.
Love and faithfulness.
And, if any of you are like me, you will know that there is no simple instruction manual for love and faithfulness. It’s like parenting. We’re all just winging it and hoping for the best. There is no Staples Easy Button. Love and faithfulness is a long, complex journey, full of highs and lows, steps forward and steps backward… But as long as we are doing our trying to be faithful to God and loving to everyone, I think that’s a good start.