What motivates you? Our society is very good at using the infamous “carrot and stick” approach. There is always an offer too good to be true, free is a big one, followed usually by the stick approach, some adverse circumstance that must be avoided at all costs. We were raised that way, the billions spent on advertising depend on the human response to carrots and sticks. And then there are the tens of thousands of rules, regulations, and penalties affecting our lives. Control of behavior usually is accompanied by a sense of urgency. In reality, however, basic human behavior is driven from a much deeper source, the very roots of our beliefs.
The work of psychiatrist Albert Ellis1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Ellis in the mid-1950s developed the original form of cognitive-behavioral therapy called Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Ellis believed that most people were not aware that many of their thoughts about themselves are irrational and negatively affect the way they behave in important relationships and situations. According to Ellis, it is these thoughts that lead people to suffer negative emotions and engage in self-destructive behavior. To simplify this further, it meant that bad behavior, even sins in the eyes of our God, come from deep within our own beliefs which were formed by the many experiences, good and bad, within our lives. To behave in terms satisfactory to our God, to change our behavior, therefore, first requires an understanding of our beliefs, and how they were formed.
- We can look to a much earlier time, to our Bible, to see that the idea of proper instruction, the formation of Godly behaviors, was always understood to be rooted in what you believe. Proverbs taught wisdom through short points and principles but were not regarded as “laws” or even universal promises.
- Proverbs by design pointed to observations, meant to be memorized and pondered, not always intended to be applied ‘across the board’ to every situation without qualification. It is said that Solomon could quote over 3,000 proverbs.
- Proverbs generalize, as a proverb must, and may seem to make life too tidy to be true. Example: While “Many hands make light work,” Too many cooks spoil the broth.” A proverb is not a magical formula, bringing wisdom and blessing by incantation. It has no value unless it is applied to the proper set of circumstances with common sense.
- Proverbs rarely quote other parts of Scriptures and are analogous to folk wisdom. We find, however, its own description in Proverb 12NIV New International Version Translations.
1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: 2 for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; 3 for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; 4 for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young—5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance—6 for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. 7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs, also called The Book Of Proverbs, is an Old Testament book of “wisdom” found in the third section of the Jewish canon, known as the Ketuvim, or Writings. The book is called, “The proverbs of Solomon,” We should not give full credit to King Solomon, the writings are from a collection of wisdom materials (mostly short sayings) from a wide variety of periods and cultures. The book of Proverbs provides us with a poetic roadmap of how God has designed the world to work. Following the practical day-to-day guidance of Proverbs was intended to make our lives more pleasant. Proverbs are simply God’s advice and wisdom for His people. There is a subtle use of language here, a difference between advice and wisdom. Seeking wisdom and not just advice requires more work in the human heart. It means that we need to root out the sources of our beliefs that inhibit change and make sure that what we choose to believe is founded on observations that are real, like those found in Proverbs. Good wisdom is the only thing that can change erroneous beliefs and lead to changed behavior.
Here is a link from a website, KnowingJesus.com3https://www.knowing-jesus.com/. They offer a list of over 900 of the points of wisdom found in the Book Of Proverbs, sorted by popularity. For this lesson, lets look at just the top three from their list and see how each might impart wisdom and deal with the beliefs in our world today.
Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
The fear of the LORD, the fear of the God who not only created the universe but who deigned us to be in relationship with Him, is said to be the prerequisite for true wisdom. This is being described as a good fear to have because it teaches us our place in the world and how to live well in it. Fear of God keeps us from that huge mistake made by Adam and Eve, to be deceived by Satan, into thinking that we too can be like God. Historically people did “fear God” in the sense that they were genuinely afraid of Him. Although God bestowed blessings, He also was a God of judgment. If you did not respect God, you had good reason to fear Him. “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb. 10:31).
The Bible offers a sample of such evidence of why people were afraid of God:
- In Genesis there was Noah’s Flood that wiped out all the evil people on earth;
- God’s fire destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of their sins (Gen. 18:20-19:25);
- In Exodus we see the plagues that came upon Egypt, some of which also affected the Israelites;
- In Leviticus we see that when Aaron’s sons offered unlawful fire before Yahweh, fire came out of their containers and burned them to death (Lev. 10:1-3); and
- God also had His tent (the “Tabernacle”) put behind curtains. Any unauthorized person who came to God’s sanctuary was to be put to death (Num. 3:5-10, 38).
There are always consequences when dealing with God, and some of those consequences can be serious. God does not threaten us, He lovingly and honestly warns us the way any concerned parent warns a child. Examples of human disobedience bringing consequences exist throughout the Bible. Our God is never to be taken lightly and any direct disobedience is always dangerous to both our earthly and eternal safety.
Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Our proverb on children has been proven time and time again. Beliefs are typically formed early in life. Many of them come from either experiences, observation or formal education. There are a few of the important points of wisdom in this Proverb. First, is the required “action” on the part of those around the child. We are called to initiate, train, and educate our children. The most important part, however, is that the educational purpose is to give them direction, a path to follow for their life. The path is to be especially fitted for the individual child’s character. Their teaching is to enjoin the closest possible study of each child’s temperament and the adaptation of “their way of life” to that path. Yes, it means according to their capacity and potential. With every child whose path crosses ours, their beliefs, their future behavior choices will be influenced by how we influence them.
Here is just one example:
In 1874 Richard L. Dugdale was employed by the New York Prison Commission to visit the state prisons. As he visited, he was surprised to find criminals in six different prisons whose relatives were mostly criminals or paupers, and the more surprised to discover that these six criminals were all descended from the same family.
This led Mr. Dugdale to study their relatives, living and dead. He studied the court and prison records, reports of town poorhouses, and the testimony of old neighbors and employers. He learned the details of 540 descendants of “Max” (the name given to the patriarch born about 1720) in five generations. He learned the exact facts about 169 who married into the family. He traced others linked to the family bringing the number up to 1,200 persons of the family of the Jukes (Juke was not the real name of the family). A. E. Winship described the family as having almost universal traits of idleness, ignorance, and vulgarity. They would not work, they could not be made to study, and they loved vulgarity. It was difficult to find anyone who was honest and industrious, pure and prosperous in the Juke family.
In 1897 A. E. Winship was asked by a scholarly organization to prepare a paper on Jonathan Edwards. During his studies Winship discovered the descendants of Edwards presided over the New York Prison Commission during the time when it employed Mr. Dugdale to make a study of the Jukes. This led Winship to a study in contrast between Jukes and Edwards. Jonathan Edwards’ great-great-grandfather, Richard Edwards, who went from Wales to London about 1580, was a clergyman. Among the first men of the Edwards family to come to the colonies in New England was William, a son of this clergyman, born about 1620, who came to Hartford, where his son Richard, was born in 1647.
Jukes family summary
- 310 of the 1,200 were professional paupers—more than one in four.
- 300 of the 1,200—one in four—died in infancy from lack of good care and good conditions.
- 50 women who lived lives of notorious debauchery.
- 400 men and women were physically wrecked early by their own wickedness.
- 7 were murderers.
- 60 were habitual thieves who spent on the average twelve years each in lawlessness.
- 130 criminals who were convicted often of crime.
Edwards family summary
- 1 U.S. Vice-President (Aaron Burr)
- 3 U.S. Senators
- 3 governors
- 3 mayors
- 13 college presidents
- 30 judges
- 65 professors
- 80 public office holders
- 100 lawyers
- 100 missionaries, pastors, and theologians.
The witness we are to our children now, the teachings, the wisdom they are offered will create the beliefs that are established in their minds. It will be these beliefs that emanate as the behavior society will see. If we use God as our principle source of wisdom, we can make a positive difference in this world.
Proverbs 3:5 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.
This proverb is simply comparing the intellectual power of humans to a power, a Creator of all things, to something greater than that which can be found in humanity. It is a recognition that mankind may not the highest form of intellect in the universe. This is an observational piece of wisdom, discerned through the recognition that human life is finite, its knowledge bounded by time itself, and always found to be inconsistent. Just look at history. Trust, therefore, should be placed in the highest authority that can be found to exist. Of all the Proverbs, this one is the most dependent upon observation and forces a binary decision for us. Each person needs to decide if God is real or not. That may be the most important observation and decision that anyone can make in their lifetime. We are not asked to blindly trust and suspend our critical judgment. Rather, we are asked to have confidence that living for God is a reasonable thing to do and that our life will be better because we live for God.
The wisdom found in Proverbs lets us compare those deep-seated beliefs that drive our behavior against another standard, the expectations of our covenant Lord. Proverbs teach us that wisdom is not necessarily all about what we know and do but also about who God is, what He’s done for us, and how we can lead a life more pleasing to Him. That is the heart of the book called Proverbs and the primary reason why all should study it.
- Where would you say your primary beliefs about God originally came from?
- Ideas to Explore: Family members; early church experiences; later in life, experiences drawing you to think about your faith walk?
- Have you ever had to change a fundamental belief you had? Why? Was it difficult and what did you do to help the process? Who were the influential people in your life? What made you change?
- Ideas to Explore: Many times we just learn things incorrectly; Opinions are often formed from observing parents – are there any early observations that turned out to be both influential on you but also wrong; How do we pass on erroneous beliefs onto our children?
- Where do you find your sources of worldly wisdom today?
- Ideas to Explore: Do you or have you read Proverbs? Are you a quote-a-holic, a person who loves quotes from famous people? What standards do you apply to a “bit of wisdom” to assure yourself that it is worthy and true? What do you read?
- Do you think that Proverbs are still relevant today as a source of wisdom?
- Ideas to Explore: Why? Are they timeless? If so, why? Why do you think they appeal to children?
- How should The Book Of Proverbs be worked into life today?
- Ideas to Explore: Do you plan on reading it? Should favorite proverbs be shared with others? Have you ever put a proverb out on social media?
- 2NIV New International Version Translations