Monday, October 21, 2019

Mental and Moral Purposes

"Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance" (Proverbs 1:5).

Do you actually read prologues or prefaces? They are usually where authors thank family or friends for their patience or secretaries or editors for their help. Because of this, readers frequently jump right to the “real content” of a book. But an author often also uses the prologue to explain a book’s purpose or origin, or to tell readers what to expect from it—often giving exactly what we need to know in order to understand or properly use what we read.

A few of the biblical authors explain why they wrote, not necessarily doing so at the beginning of the book (for example, Deuteronomy 30:15–20; Luke 1:1–4; John 20:30–31; 1 Peter 5:12; 1 John 5:13; Jude 3; Revelation 1:1).

Solomon also helps us understand why he wrote his book by giving us the book’s two main purposes in Proverbs 1:2–6. The first is an intellectual or mental purpose that we continually grow in our understanding of the Lord, life, and even of the proverbs themselves. This growth will be demonstrated by our knowledge and insight. The second is a moral purpose, that we become increasingly wise and able to apply the proverbs to our lives. This wisdom and ability to apply proverbs will be exhibited in our growing prudence, discretion, and righteousness.

Neither purpose is short-term. We need to guard against becoming discouraged when we can’t make sense of a particular proverb, or figure out how it applies to our situation. They are, after all, called “riddles” (1:6). Nor is either purpose ever finally achieved, since even the wise will increase their learning as they continue to study this book (1:5).

Because there is so much material, and because it is not organized logically or topically, it is often tempting to read the proverbs mechanically and without much thought (“a chapter a day keeps folly away”). But rather than skim them looking for a particular verse, or hoping for one to strike our fancy, we must study them systematically, seeking wisdom and understanding.

The proverbs demand study if we are to benefit from them as Solomon intended. We need to think about what a proverb says about the world and our lives, how God would have us respond to the situation that it describes, and then evaluate our response when we actually face that circumstance. Apply this “think, respond, and evaluate” model as you study the Proverbs.