Over the next couple weeks, I hope to record here seven or eight big lessons that God has taught me during two years of preaching through Proverbs. (For those of you in our church, some of this will be repetition; it's okay - it's good for you.) Clearly, I would hope these would edifying to you; additionally, I would appreciate any sharpening or refutation of these ideas where you see they need it.
#1 - Proverbs shows me that we need the whole Bible
Perhaps Proverbs itself, as a book, can serve as a metaphor. There it sits, right in the middle of our Bible. It's not the first thing you notice about Scripture. It's not the beginning or the end of our religion. Its place seems rather humble at first. But just because something's in the middle doesn't make it unimportant; to the contrary, it might make it especially important. Like my large intestine - it's right in the middle of me, but it would be hard to function without it. So the life of wisdom may not be the beginning or end of Christianity, but it makes up a whole big bunch of the meat of it.
Proverbs has good neighbors, too. It follows so many great stories of God's power for and against His people in the Old Testament, giving us good paradigms and examples for understanding wisdom. It follows the Psalms, giving us that vital balance of heart and life religion. It's followed by those perturbing prophets, keeping us grounded on this practical earth while the prophets wax divine about promises and judgments and so forth. What a better dad I would be if I could learn this from Proverbs - it's not enough just to give my kids a little snippet of wisdom or instruction here and there. They need stories to back it up - the stories of the saints, the stories of the gospels. They need the theology of Paul and the revelation of John. Without the whole Bible, Proverbs rings hollow and kids can see through it.
We might also find the value of Proverbs by asking, "What would Scripture be missing without it?" If Proverbs wasn't in this book, what would be lacking in our faith? More than anything, I believe now we would be a complete loss to see how the law of God ought to be applied to every area of life. Sure, we would have the ten commandments memorized, but would we really know how to live for God's glory when we eat and sleep and work and talk and listen? Proverbs is the meat of the Christian life. You and I don't spend most of our day contemplating theology or praying for the return of Christ. We spend it reading and thinking and laboring and talking - where to turn in Scripture for help with all that?
We could also guage the value of Proverbs by asking, "What would our religion be like if we only had Proverbs?" If we only had this book of Proverbs, we could so very easily veer into the realm of legalism and salvation by works - especially because so many proverbs connect our actions with God's blessing or curse. If we only had this book of Proverbs, we would never know the name Jesus; of course, Proverbs 8 talks about wisdom in a personal sense and we know now that it's Jesus who was with the Father at creation. But if we didn't have the apostle John telling us that Jesus was God with God in the beginning and if we didn't have Paul telling us that God made Jesus our wisdom and righteousness, would we recognize wisdom in Proverbs 8 as the Son of God? In other words, Proverbs is great, but it's not enough.
What is enough is what God's given us. The Bible is enough - or, in theological language, the Bible is sufficient. Put it all together, inject the power of the Holy Spirit, and you have everything you need for life and godliness. This means, though, that we have to treat it like a whole. I must consciously read every passage of Scripture in light of the whole, interpreting less clear passages by those that are more clear, judging doctrines and applications against all of Scripture and not just the passage in front of me.
I need the whole Bible. Each book of the Bible needs the whole Bible (ask those same questions above about any book and see what you get). And God, because He is good and great and gracious, has given us the fullness of His revelation in the Word and in the Person of Jesus Christ.