Written by Art Mallette
One of the things I noticed when I began studying the Book of Proverbs was how easy it was for me to think that a lot of the verses don’t apply to me. For example, I would read a verse about gluttony and think to myself, “Well, gluttony isn’t a problem for me… I mean, I enjoy a good meal like anyone else, but I know when to stop eating and push away from the table. Okay, maybe once in a while, like at a party or a wedding, I may overindulge a bit… but I am definitely not a glutton.”
However, if there is one thing I’ve learned through many years of daily study, it’s that whenever I think to myself that a proverb may not apply to anything I am doing in my life, then it probably actually does. Maybe not on the surface, but at some deeper level, I am probably doing exactly the behavior that I don’t think I’m doing… if not literally, then symbolically.
For example, it might be true that I am not a glutton, at least not in the literal sense of being a person who eats too much food. But the core essence of gluttony is the behavior of overindulgence, and food just happens to be a common object of that behavior. For example, we’ve all heard the expression, “a glutton for punishment” used to describe people who keep returning to a situation that is not good for them. So although I might not overindulge with respect to eating food, could I still in fact be a glutton? Could the object of my gluttony be something other than food? Could I be a glutton for success? Achievement? Recognition? My favorite hobby? My career? Pleasure? Perfection? Admiration? Compliments? With that in mind, I now read the admonitions about gluttony with renewed, personal interest.
Throughout the Book of Proverbs, few if any topics command as much attention as adultery. Once again, it initially seemed easy for me to pat myself on the back and think, “Well, this certainly doesn’t apply to me… I am not having an inappropriate relationship with someone who is married to someone else, nor am I a married person cheating on my spouse. So clearly, I don’t need to spend much time focusing on these verses about adultery… They don’t concern me, because I am not an adulterer.”
Once again, I’ve learned that the proverbs that I think don’t apply to my life are probably the ones that I need to examine most closely. Yes, maybe on the surface I am not an adulterer, at least not in the literal sense of the word. But the core essence of adultery is the behavior of betraying the commitment to honor the sanctity of marriage. People committing adultery place their personal needs above that commitment. As Christians, we are committed to placing our relationship with the Lord above all else. The Bible teaches that the church is the bride of Christ, and that we are the church. So if I place something (anything) in my life above my relationship with the Lord, am I in essence betraying my commitment?
Thinking from that perspective, suddenly the many proverbs admonishing against adultery begin to jump off the pages, grabbing my full attention. For example, Proverbs 7 describes the scenario of a youth being seduced by a wayward wife. I begin to realize that the wayward wife could be anyone enticing me to pursue something that I might find so desirable that I might drift away from the path the Lord would have me follow.
Proverbs 7:21 states “With persuasive words she led him astray; she seduced him with her smooth talk”. Temptations are often presented in such a charming way, pushing all the right buttons so smoothly that we don’t seem to realize that we are in danger. Mesmerized, the youth follows her “like an ox going to the slaughter… like a bird darting into a snare, little knowing it may cost him his life.”
I think about the many temptations of this world… physical, sensual, material, egoistical… how smoothly and enticingly they are presented… and how whatever the temptation, I think about how easy it is to slide down the slippery slope to the point where that temptation can become the true god of one’s life… how it can become that which must be served before all else… How it is never satisfied and is always demanding more as it holds the highest priority in every circumstance. Could I be an adulterer in a symbolic sense? I am challenged to ask myself every day, “Is there someone or something in my life that is actually more important to me than God?”
Proverbs 7 warns us that “Her slain are a mighty throng,” meaning that no matter how strong a person may be, anyone can be susceptible to temptation… and if we fall to the charms of the seduction, we are warned that it will not end well. “Her house is highway to the grave” is the statement that concludes Chapter 7 and a concept that is mentioned elsewhere throughout the Book of Proverbs. Whatever I may be tempted to pursue; be it power, fame, fortune or all the delights that the world can provide; in the end, I will be filled only with regret. “A man who strays from the path of understanding comes to rest in the company of the dead.” (Proverbs 21:16).
I have no doubt that each of the verses in the Book of Proverbs are meant to be taken at face value; but I have learned that it is important to also look for the potential meaning beneath the surface. Especially if it seems like a specific proverb doesn’t apply to anything I think I’m doing.
This blog post was written by Art Mallette
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