Proverbs is a well-known book of the Bible. Proverbs is also a book that causes different reactions among Christians ministers. The reactions range between a “love it” and “ignore it” relationship with Proverbs. Some preachers try to avoid preaching from Proverbs (ignore it). On the other hand, counselors cannot wait to go to Proverbs. The book of Proverbs looks like a collection of practical tips for life that makes preaching from it so hard and counseling from it so easy. However, it seems that both can get it wrong. Expositional preachers often avoid Proverbs because of a superficial understanding of its theology or a lack of homiletic creativity/skill. Counselors can go too fast to Proverbs, looking for something to tell the counselee to fix his problems, but bypassing the real power of change. Is there a way to get it right?
I am not proposing a deep study of the book of Proverbs nor a complex methodology on how to use Proverbs in the Christian ministry. However, I am suggesting an overall approach to the book of Proverbs to encourage you, counselor, on how to use Proverbs in a biblical way. This is a simple three step process of a gospel-driven approach to the book of Proverbs. I hope this approach will encourage you to make the most out of Proverbs as you counsel.
1) Proverbs Exposes the Sin of Foolishness
Proverbs describes two different paths: wisdom and foolishness (Prov. 1-9). At first glance, wisdom seems to be an outstanding ability to walk through different situations in life. In part, this is a good description of wisdom. But this is not all that it encompasses. Wisdom is given in a context. Wisdom is given to Israel in a relationship context, broken because of sin and restored because of God’s grace. It is only through a vertical relationship with God (Prov. 1:7) that someone gains wisdom to live in harmony with God, others, and creation. So the practical description of wisdom in Proverbs is an external manifestation of an internal condition. No one is wise apart from grace. Wisdom and knowledge are God’s doing in our lives (Prov. 2:6, 7), and wisdom is connected to the obedience to the law (Deut. 4:6). So apart from grace, there is only disobedience characterized by foolishness.
As Proverbs unfolds the way of the fool, we connect foolishness to disobedience to the law of God. Each one of the characteristics of a fool shows a different perspective of disobedience. Through the intimate relationship between foolishness and sin, you can call your counselee to repent. There is no neutral foolishness. A foolish pattern in someone’s life marks a pattern of sin as well. Just as the law exposes sin, wisdom exposes the sin of foolishness.
Counselors can use the book of Proverbs to lead counselees in the path of true repentance. Foolishness traps many counselees in patterns of sexual immorality, laziness, unholy speech, gluttony, and various other sinful and foolish responses to life. In a gospel-driven approach to Proverbs, you will expose sin in its various forms of foolishness. If you are familiar with the law of God and its purpose, you will discern the practical meaning of Proverbs (and wisdom literature): an exhortation to a selfless lifestyle characterized by a love for God and others.
2) Proverbs Points to Christ
The book of Proverbs reveals that wisdom is not a “thing,” but a person. Solomon personifies Wisdom, presenting her as someone that his son must listen to (Prov. 1:20-33); someone who is powerful (Prov. 8:1-36); and someone the son should have a relationship with (Prov. 9:1-6). You can almost hear him saying in chapter nine, “Son, marry this girl, Wisdom!”
Scripture points us to Jesus as the Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24; Col. 2:2, 3). Scripture also indicates that Jesus is the Son who grew in wisdom and grace (Luke 2:52). Jesus is the Son who perfectly embraces the mind of God and fulfills its righteous wisdom. Reading Proverbs is getting to know the mind of Christ. Counseling from Proverbs is not to give lists of good advice, even though there is good counsel there, but to show Christ and to invite the counselee to know Him better.
Counselors can use the book of Proverbs to encourage counselees with the wisdom of God. Jesus Christ is our perfect wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30). Counselees need the hope of the perfect Wisdom when confronted with their sinful foolishness. Because Christ is the embodiment of the Law of God, He is the embodiment of wisdom.
3) Proverbs Gives Wisdom
A third step in our approach to Proverbs is to encourage the counselee to receive God’s wisdom richly described in Proverbs. The wisdom book exposes sin, points to Christ, and invites the counselee to receive wisdom. Wisdom is a gift of grace to the simple-minded who hears to become wise (Prov. 1:8-9; 2:1-5; 3:1-2, 21; 4:1-2; etc). You can encourage your counselee to live out his relationship with Christ through the daily details of his life (i.e. walk in the path of wisdom). The Spirit of God will instruct and train your counselee in the mind of Christ through Proverbs. Changing and growing in wisdom is a gift received by those who hear the words of the Wise. And those who hear, believe. And those who believe, obey (John 6:28-29; 14:21).
The Wise King is Jesus. He is the only true giver of wisdom and, therefore, the only one who can change you and your counselee.
Questions for Reflection
What are some ways you can encourage a struggling counselee with the book of Proverbs? What are some challenges you have found in applying the book of Proverbs in counseling?