© March 10, 2018 | Schulter Etyang
Been reading through the book of Proverbs and oh boy, haven’t I been condemned by my failure to live up to the prescriptions and demands that king Solomon pertinently describes in his book? Reading through the book of Proverbs is like listening to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – the famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew Chapters 5-7. Solomon and Jesus prescribe and demand behaviours and ideas that require high levels of obedience and compliance – behaviours and ideals that are way too lofty.
Whatever Solomon describes as wrong in the book of Proverbs, I am. A sinner, oh boy, that’s me. A fool, I am. A glutton, that’s me. Envious because of other’s successes, that’s me. Lazy, that’s me. Simple minded, count me in. Have I looked at women other than Jenny and thought, “if I could have her”, guilty as charged. Have I despised my parent’s advice? Have I been a foolish son and caused my mother grief? Have I disregarded God’s law? Have I made promises that I didn’t follow through? Have I lied, been a false witness and construed deceit in my heart? Yes, yes, and yes. Guilty as charged.
So, as I read the book of Proverbs, my heart experiences what the Chinese call lingchi, death by a thousand cuts. Solomon draws a sword and cuts through my heart and exposes me for who I really am – a sinner. And just like Adam, I run and hide.
Death by a thousand cuts.
How do I deal with the guilt and condemnation? How do I experience no condemnation that Paul promises in Romans 8:1?
The guilt and condemnation that my heart experiences can only be healed when I see how Jesus took the penalty for my sins and failings as it relates to those prescriptions and demands in the book of Proverbs. God will not judge me if I don’t live up to the demands prescribed because Jesus bore my judgment on my behalf.
More good news. Jesus fulfilled the ideals that the book of Proverbs prescribes. (Matthew 5:17-10) He did. Consequently, Jesus’ perfect obedience has been imputed to me such that when God looks at me, He sees me as the wisest person that ever lived.
Indeed, even substantially much more good news. When I believe the gospel, I am transformed to be able to meet the demands and live up to the prescriptions in the book of Proverbs. Jesus just doesn’t forgive me but he also transforms me from the inside out. (Galatians 5:22-23)
The book of Proverbs ends up with the famed virtuous lady. A lady of excellence. A lady like no other. I think Christian women have been erroneously taught to think that this lady is an example of how to be an excellent and effective wife. That if they just learn from her, their marriages would be heaven on earth. Nothing could be further from the truth. Who she is and what she does is out of this world. Normal human beings cannot do what she does. Not even my lovely wife Jenny can live up to a third of who she is and what she does.
Again, Solomon seems to be raising the bar up high. Too high for mere mortals. Our attempts to mimic this virtuous lady will end up making us Pharisees – self-righteous or rebellious prodigals.
Our attempts to mimic this virtuous lady will end up making us Pharisees – self-righteous or rebellious prodigals.
This virtuous lady points us to someone else – a perfect human being – his name, Jesus. It is only Jesus who could live up to the standard set by this woman. Only he can do it without becoming self-righteous and proud. If this virtuous lady points us to Jesus and his performance, then my heart sighs with relief. If not, who she is and what she does will bring me to my knees – will shame me for sure.
Even more so, Paul tells us that Jesus is wisdom personified. Solomon’s wisdom found its expression in the person of Jesus. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
So, I’m learning to read the book of Proverbs and at the same time read the gospels and the Pauline epistles to see how Jesus lived out the Proverbs as me and for me. If I fail to read like that, my heart feels the weight of the law and I am crushed. I suffer shame. I am exposed for the fraud that I am. I am sentenced and judged.
The only way I could live up to Solomon’s lofty ideals is to look to Jesus.
That’s what grace looks like