Scripture: Proverbs 11:22; 13:12; 26:11; 6:16-19
So, who here is a fan of fortune cookies? They’re fun, right? I would even bet some of us have a fortune paper saved from previous fortune cookies in our desk or dresser somewhere. Sometimes they really speak to us and where we are in life at the moment. Sometimes they’re just fun and ridiculous.
I have noticed, though, that many of them now are not so much “fortune-telling” fortunes, as they are wisdom sayings.
Much like Proverbs in the Bible. The book of Proverbs is a collection of wisdom sayings. It’s wisdom from King Solomon and wisdom sayings from other rulers who lived at the time.
The first few verses and chapters establish the importance of wisdom and how wisdom is for everyone, not just the old or young or rich or poor or men or women. After that is established, it goes into a collection of sayings for literally 19 chapters….just sentence upon sentence of biblical fortune cookie sayings.
Some of my favorites are included in the first selection of Scripture today. And one thing I noticed about all three is how they point us back toward the natural world around us - a pig, a tree, a dog. There are other Proverbs that encourage people to “look to the ant” for inspiration on not being lazy. (Prov 6:6)
Regarding how often nature is cited in the Proverbs, Anne Stewart says, “Proverbs is an invitation to view the world around us with wise eyes and discerning minds.” (workingpreacher.org) I couldn’t agree more and I believe it shows wisdom to learn wisdom from the world - after all, it is God’s Creation. Of course, God’s Creation in its purest sense would show wisdom.
These aren’t just surface level lessons….I mean, I’m certainly not returning to my vomit ever, that IS a good literal lesson….and I (all of us) can use a reminder to not return to the mistakes we have made in the past. That would be foolish. Many of these Proverbs have both a literal surface lesson & a deeper wisdom lesson.
These sayings give wisdom to a lot of situations. There’s no way we could cover every category of wisdom on a Sunday - or even in a month! Proverbs covers wisdom on truthful speech, discipline, parenting, hard work, finances, beauty, controlling anger, the importance of friendship, and so much more!
If you are looking for a book of the Bible to read & you need a place to start, I would suggest Proverbs. There are 31 chapters - and some months even have 31 days. You could do one chapter a day. It might be a lot to take in when you get to all the random sayings, but I’m sure you will find the biblical fortune cookie saying that you’ll want to keep in front of you.
So, if the book of Proverbs covers so much wide-spread ground, what can we take away from it today? (Other than gold rings don’t make pigs pretty.) I believe there are two really important, over-arching treasures of thought here:
1. The picture of true wisdom is humility.
2. This will be an echo from last week (funny how the Bible does that): it’s all about God.
Back to #1: As you read through the Proverbs, you will hear over and over again words of wisdom warning us against being prideful - being haughty. Haughty is defined as “arrogantly superior and disdainful.” In our second selection today we hear that the Lord doesn’t like “haughty eyes.” I’ve actually struggled with that imagery a bit….I’m not sure what haughty eyes are like. I mainly think of haughty words. Still, I get the message that haughtiness is not desired.
I don’t believe the Scriptures don’t want us to take pride in our lives, our family, our work - to feel accomplished and satisfied with what we have. Because that could feel diminishing of what we work hard for. We don’t want to beat ourselves down.
We do need to be careful, though, of crossing the line into pridefulness, haughtiness, thinking of ourselves, our family, our church, our country as better than another. Once we begin thinking that we are more worthy than another human being or that our group (family/church/etc.) is more worthy of accolades than another, we have crossed the line. That is when those who exalt themselves are humbled.
We may all agree that “our way of doing things” is more respectful of each other, but we are not intrinsically better than “those who think differently than us.” For instance, I believe that people can love who they want to love and that citizens should be able to vote in a democracy...for people in other countries (or this country) who feel differently, I believe in my way of thinking more than theirs, but I am not intrinsically/innately/naturally better than them. (Tough piece of wisdom to keep in mind, particularly in social and political situations.)
Humility teaches us that.
In Proverbs 25, the author writes specific instructions on how to act when invited into the king’s presence - to not sit in a seat of honor at dinner unless invited to do so. It is again a lesson on not being prideful and also praising God.
Anne Stewart says this so well on the workingpreacher.org blog: “the advice about table etiquette presented in Proverbs 25:6-7 is not simply about navigating the royal court, but, more broadly, it is about an orientation to the world that is grounded in a theological conviction. How one treats others at the table reveals something about one’s character and one’s view of their relation to others and to God: “Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, ‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.”
In other sections of Proverbs, the instructions are very specific on putting others before ourselves. It’s all a lesson in humility.
Yes, these wise instructions on how to live will surely get us out of potentially awkward situations, like getting caught in a lie or sitting in the seat of honor (when we don’t belong there).
AND these wisdom sayings are yet another way of leading us to point #2: it is all about God.
The book of Proverbs doesn’t seem like a theologically- focused book at first glance. It barely mentions salvation or heaven. Yet, it is essentially a book of instructions on how to live daily life...and when followed, that wise, daily life will point to God.
Even though we would probably like to turn off the “think of other people” switch in our heads, in reality how we treat people in traffic or at the grocery story or in line for coffee “reveals something about how you view others and how you view God...there is a sacredness to ordinary encounters...This is what Proverbs is about. Every moment is an occasion for a wisdom lesson, even seating arrangements.”
This all reminds me a bit of the song “They will know we are Christians by our love.” The second verse says, “We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we'll guard each man's dignity and save each man's pride”
Those lyrics focus on building one another up, not just ourselves. Yes, I know it says “save each one’s pride” and I believe they’re saying that as a synonym to dignity, not haughtiness. When I think of people who have been an example of Christian living to me, I only come up with humble people. Not people who thought of themselves as “less than” or “horrible sinners,” but people who knew the wisdom of considering others, respecting others.
People will know we are Christians by how we interact with this world, how we humble ourselves before God and one another, how we serve one another, how we respect one another. It is a life-long lesson that each of us can improve upon.
David Brooks in The Road to Character (Random House, 2015) states, “Humility reminds you that you are not the center of the universe, but you serve a larger order.” (pp 262-3) This week, and after that, may you be humble, may you grow in wisdom, may you see the larger order that we serve, may you not return to your vomit or try to put a gold ring in a pig’s snout.