The Gospel in Work Clothes
So you believe the gospel, now what? I’ve observed this disconnect in my own life and many others. On one side, we’re not moralists. We don’t believe that the gospel saves you and then you have to do the right thing to win God’s favor as if you’ve been brought back to neutral and now you have to impress the judge. On the other, the gospel compels us to act in specific ways, do certain things, and conform to the image of Christ. We want to see our behavior change as a result of the gospel. Where do we start?
One of the most helpful books in the Bible for growing in holiness is Proverbs. Ready-made for application, Proverbs is the perfect book to study as a Christian, but it’s not easy. First, there is a tenuous relationship between Proverbs and the New Testament. It might be the easiest book to proof-text in all of Scripture. It’s easy to read as a book of fortune-cookie messages that will make your life better. If you believe we have been saved by grace and charged to walk by faith, this is hard to stomach. At worst, Proverbs can lead us to treat God like a vending machine. Second, Proverbs doesn’t always seem to work. “Commit your plans to the Lord, and you will succeed.” But, what about the times you commit your plans to the Lord and fail miserably? This reading of Proverbs can be very frustrating. A brief introduction to the way Proverbs is constructed and meant to be read should clear up these two issues.
Wisdom is a lifelong pursuit. Instead of looking to Proverbs as a set of rules that will improve your life, view the book as a lifelong interactive course in wisdom. Several portions of the book present themselves this way. The brief narrative notes at the beginning of the sections are easy to miss, but they reveal that large portions of Proverbs are a father’s wisdom for his son. The most famous section, Proverbs 31, might be the words of a mother to her son, Lemuel. Derek Kidner’s commentary on Proverbs in the Tyndale series is the best resource I’ve found for everyday use. In the introduction, he frames the book this way; “Its function in Scripture is to put godliness into working clothes; to name business and society as spheres in which we are to acquit ourselves with credit to our Lord, and in which we are to look for his training.” Godliness in working clothes, now that’s a great phrase. Reading Proverbs is like apprenticing a great craftsman in the art of wisdom.
Wisdom is about relationship. At the heart of Proverbs, we find two themes; wisdom and godliness, and they are inseparably linked. Kidner writes, “you have to be godly to be wise; and this is not because godliness pays, but because the only wisdom by which you can handle everyday things in conformity with their nature is the wisdom by which they were divinely made and ordered.” Wisdom goes back to the creation order. Proverbs reveals what’s true about the world, people, relationships, and actions. The wise person doesn’t woodenly apply a set of rules, he understands the way things work because he is in relationship with the creator. Again we get the picture of a skilled artisan, who knows his material intimately.
The theme of the book appears first in 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Wisdom doesn’t come through right action, but right relationship. Fear of the Lord is just the beginning of what he wants to do in you. Every step beyond that is a step toward godly wisdom.
Wisdom is about Christ. In one of the most beautiful portions of the book, Proverbs 8, wisdom is personified, crying out by the city gates, pleading with the people of the town to come and learn, teaching the fear of God. The chapter goes on to say, “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work… When he established the heavens, I was there… then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight.” We get the picture that wisdom is more than just a set of principles. In the New Testament, Paul makes this connection for us, “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). It is Christ who was there at creation. Christ was his father’s daily delight. Christ was the means through which God created the universe.
Bonhoeffer has famously argued that we can read the Psalms as if they are the very prayers of Christ. How much more should we read Proverbs as the teaching of Christ? These words show us what it means to follow him. As we grow in our relationship with Christ, we begin to take on his wisdom. As we grow in wisdom, we gain a deeper knowledge of Christ. Kidner captures this perfectly, “the knowledge which he aims to instill is the knowledge of himself; and this, too, is the ultimate prize.”
Dive into Proverbs with this mindset. Use the book to grow closer to Christ. Read the chapter that coincides with the day of the month. Start today in chapter 16, you’ll see the gospel in vs. 6. Do this for a few months, and you’ll marvel at how the Word has changed your everyday life.
Cole Feix is the founder of So We Speak and a regular writer. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.
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