Proverbial Wisdom

I love a good proverb. At its best, it provides a succinct, memorable nugget of wisdom to guide you through life’s complexities. The twelve-step movement has long recognized the value of the proverb and champions a host of great sayings for those in recovery. “Let go and let God.” “This too shall pass.” “It’s about progress, not perfection.” “Take it one day at a time.” Such pithy maxims may not solve all of life’s problems nor answer all the thorny questions the road to recovery might raise.  But they provide helpful guideposts on the journey.

Even in our technological age, with libraries of information available at our fingertips, people still find value in the short, memorable saying that communicates that precious asset called wisdom. The co-founder and longtime editor of Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly, has just published a book that is nothing more than a collection of proverbs. Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier contains 450 brief sayings Kelly has collected over the years. “The greatest teacher is called ‘doing.” “To be remarkable, read books.” “Making art is not selfish; it’s for the rest of us. If you don’t do your thing, you are cheating us.” Kelly’s book – and its popularity – shows the contemporary power of the proverb.

Given the value of proverbs throughout history, it is no surprise that the Bible is chock full of them. 1 Kings tells us how Solomon composed more than 3000 proverbs. And a book of the Old Testament is named after them. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” “Pride goes before destruction.” “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Those are just a few of the gems the Book of Proverbs contains.

What defines a proverb? A celebrated Hebrew dictionary defines it this way: “A brief, terse sentence of popular sagacity.” In my book, if a short saying passes on wisdom, you can call it a proverb.

As Christians, we believe that divine wisdom came to dwell with us in the person of Jesus Christ. And so it makes perfect sense that our Savior would pass on a host of proverbs during his ministry. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  “Judge not lest you be judged.” “No one can serve two masters: you cannot serve both God and wealth.” “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” “I have come that they may have life and have it in full.”

On a recent Sunday, I asked the Knox congregation to write down proverbs they thought were valuable enough to pass on. The responses included a lot of words straight from scripture. And there were a host of other great proverbs included too. “God cares even more about the issues than we do.” “Gratitude is the fuel of life.” “The hardest part of a hard project is starting it.” “Be quick to listen and slow to speak.” “Every bush is a burning bush; all ground is sacred ground.” “Always go to the funeral.” “Grief, hardship, and joy can be in the same space. Befriend them all and let them teach you and change you.”

One of the things I love about being an intergenerational Christian congregation like Knox is the chance it affords to receive, hold, and share wisdom. And the proverb remains a great instrument for doing just that. May we cherish the great gift we receive from God through scripture, our Savior, and one another: wisdom. And may we pass it on.


~Pastor Matt