Please open your Bible at the book of Proverbs. We are continuing our series ‘Wisdom for Life’. We are looking at this book of Proverbs –a collection of wise sayings that reflect the normal pattern that prevails in this world.
We come to this book knowing that Christ is our wisdom. So, the way of wisdom is the way of Jesus. And the way of Jesus is the way of wisdom.
To follow Jesus is to follow wisdom. So, Proverbs maps out the life of a disciple. To walk in the way of wisdom is to walk in the way of Jesus.
Proverbs gives us wisdom for the whole of life. We are looking at five themes in the book of Proverbs. Last week, we looked at friends, and today, we look at family.
Proverbs gives us wisdom for husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, so there is something here for all of us today.
1. Wisdom for Brothers and Sisters
Close relationships are vulnerable to deep wounds.
A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle – Proverbs 18:19
If I were to ask how many of us have a strained relationship with a brother or sister, I think it would be many. If you have siblings, how do you get on with your brother? How do you get on with your sister?
If you have a good relationship with your brother or sister, cherish it and guard it, because Proverbs reminds us that close relationships are vulnerable to deep wounds that don’t heal easily. “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city,” (Proverbs 18:19).
You see this in the Bible. The first children born into the world were two boys, Cain and Abel. One was jealous of the other and in the end killed him. Then you have Jacob and Esau and Joseph and his brothers.
In the gospels, two brothers came to Jesus because they were quarrelling over an inheritance (Luke 12:13). And we are told that the family of Jesus, that is his brothers and sisters, said that he was out of his mind (Mark 3:21 See Mk 6:3 for names of four brothers and unnamed sisters). So, if the jealousy of a brother or sister is a trial in your life, Jesus has been there. He knows what this is like.
A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle – Proverbs 18:19
In other words, when quarreling breaks out, it locks you and another person in. It is as if both of you are locked behind the bars of a castle. It’s a very vivid picture. You just can’t get out!
The closer the relationship, the stronger the bars can be when quarreling breaks out. Here’s why: When a close relationship breaks down, the offended brother will say, ‘well if something that seemed so good proved hollow, what is the point of trying to restore it?
Close relationships are vulnerable to deep wounds that don’t heal easily, so handle them with special care. Another proverb says, “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out,” (Proverbs 17:14).
2. Wisdom for Husbands and Wives
Your spouse is a gift from the Lord
He who find a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord – Proverbs 18:22
These are the words of Solomon to his son Rehoboam, and this wise father commends marriage to his son as a good thing. Marriage is a good gift from the Lord.
We live in a culture that flaunts ‘freedom’. So, we hear things like, “Who wants to be tied down?” The Bible has a very different view of marriage—a much higher view of marriage.
Solomon says to his son, “An excellent wife is the crown of her husband,” (Proverbs 12:4).
The book of Proverbs ends with a poem in praise of a good wife: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all” (Proverbs 31:29). Notice that the wise husband appreciates his wife. He tells her where she excels.
Ray Ortlund, who has an excellent book on proverbs, points out that when the word ‘husband’ is used as a verb, it means ‘to cultivate.’ When we talk about ‘husbandry’ we are talking about care and cultivation.
If God has trusted you with the gift of a wife, your job as a husband is to create the conditions in which she can flourish. That’s what it means to be a husband. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” (Ephesians 5:25).
Let love and faithfulness never leave you; Bind them around your neck; Write them on the tablet of your heart so you will win favor and good success in the sight of God and man – Proverbs 3:3-4
So, there is wisdom for brothers and sisters, and wisdom for husbands and wives, but the largest number of proverbs relating to family life are addressed to parents and to children.
3. Wisdom for Children
a. Always seek to bring joy to your parents
A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother – Proverbs 10:1
Let your father and mother be glad; let her who bore you rejoice – Proverbs 23:25
This is an application of the fifth commandment to honor your father and mother. The word honor means ‘give weight to’ or ‘regard as heavy.’ So, to honor your father and mother means to give weight to what they say. Or, if they are in particular need, it is to give weight to their need.
So, I’m glad to have the opportunity to say to younger folks in the congregation that if your mother tells you to do something, and you don’t want to do it, say to yourself, ‘the person who told me to do this is my mother!” You have to give weight to the word of you father and mother.
If there is a time to look on your father as if you despise him, or to defy your mother, here is a proverb for you:
The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures – Proverbs 30:17
I think that means don’t ever mock your father. Don’t ever refuse to obey your mother! Always seek to bring joy to you mother and your father.
b. Always be willing to learn
Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence – Proverbs 15:32
A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke – Proverbs 13:1
When you are young, you can easily feel that you know it all. But hopefully as you grow older you realize that you don’t know as much as you thought you did.
Mark Twain said something to the effect of, “When I was 14, I thought my father knew nothing. But by the time I was 21, I was amazed how much he had learned in 7 years!”
We read earlier, “Do not be wise in your own eyes,” (Proverbs 3:7). That theme is repeated throughout Proverbs.
Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him – Proverbs 26:12
Solomon was a teacher of wisdom, and as a teacher, he knew that there are some students who learn and others who don’t. Solomon’s observation from his teaching experience is that the people who don’t learn are the ones who think they are wise already. They are ‘wise in their own eyes.’ They think they have all that they need.
Solomon says, there is more hope for a fool than for the person who is wise in his own eyes. Why is there more hope for a fool? Because the fool knows that he needs to learn. And the first lesson in the school of wisdom is that we all need to learn
This is why the Bible says, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom begins when I see that I don’t have it, and I need to receive it from the Lord through his Word.
The greatest barrier to gaining wisdom is the conviction that you have it already. We see this consistently. “Thinking themselves wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:22). “If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise,” (1 Corinthians 3:18). Recognize that you need to learn, and listen to those God has placed around you, starting with your parents.
4. Wisdom for Parents
a. You have more influence than you may think
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it – Proverbs 22:6
Now remember that the Proverbs are proverbs. They are not promises. They are wise sayings that describe the normal pattern that prevails in this world. This proverb describes a normal pattern; it does not promise a particular outcome.
But when all of that has been said, Proverbs is making a stunning statement: Your influence in the lives of your children goes deeper than you may think! It will still be with them, even when they are old!
I think this is particularly important for parents who may feel discouraged. There may be times when it seems that your children are not listening. There may be times when you wonder, ‘Does anything I say ever go in?’ More goes in that you see, and more will remain than you think!
Let me give you an illustration of this. The thief on the cross lived his life in open rebellion against God. He was a thief, and from the penalty he suffered, he was most likely a violent one at that.
This man was a robber. He is the kind of man who would assault a traveler on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and leave him bleeding and wounded in the road.
Here is a man who has no place for God in his life, and yet in his last hours, he says to his companion, who was also a thief, “Do you not fear God?” (Luke 23:40). Where did that come from?
Some awareness that there is a God to whom we must give an account had been planted in his soul, but the truth was suppressed. Yet even after years of rebellion, the conviction remained!
So, if you have a rebel son or daughter, do not despair. The living seed of the Word of God has been planted. Who knows what God may yet do with it? You have more influence than you may think. So be encouraged by this proverb.
b. Your children need restraint as well as affirmation
Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him – Proverbs 22:15
Our secular world has largely bought into the idea that if you follow the impulses of your own heart, they will lead you to life. But Proverbs says not so fast! There’s a problem with that. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child so if you follow every impulse of your heart, your heart will lead you to destruction.
Parents who believe that everything in their child’s heart is good will focus their entire effort on affirming and encouraging their child – bringing out what’s there, because all that’s there is good.
But parents who believe that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child—that sin is deeply rooted in the human heart—will focus, not only on affirmation and encouragement, but also on restraint.
Proverbs speaks repeatedly about the rod:
The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother – Proverbs 29:15
Is the Bible telling us to beat our children with sticks? Answer: No! That may be the way that these verses have been interpreted in past centuries, but I think there is a better way to understand this.
When we were studying Lamentations a couple of years ago, I was helped by what Bible scholar Christopher Wright says about the rod. He points out that the best-known reference to the rod in the Bible is in Psalm 23, “your rod and staff comfort me”. Why would David say that the rod was a comfort to him?
The answer is that the shepherd did not use the rod to beat the sheep. He used the rod to fend off the wild animals that might attack the sheep. The shepherd carried the rod to fend off the wolf and the sheep had the comfort of knowing that they would not be left at the mercy of enemies that would destroy them.
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of your children. You will bring your children great comfort if they know that you will not allow them to follow the destructive impulses that assail their hearts.
A ‘child left to himself’ is in a very scary place. Your little girl or your little boy will find impulses of pride, selfishness, anger, laziness and much else bound up in their own hearts. They need to be restrained by rebuke, by incurring some loss, or by bringing some penalty to bear. And with that restraint you will bring comfort.
Don’t expect your children to say, “Your restraint comforts me”, but without it, they would be in a scary place.
c. Never underestimate the power of example
My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments – Proverbs 3:1-2
My son, keep my words and treasure up my commandments with you; keep my commandments and live – Proverbs 7:1-2
Now the only commands that are life-giving are the words and commands of God. But here is a father who has made God’s words his own. Notice how he says, “My teaching. My words. My commandments”
He has made God’s words, God’s teaching, and God’s commandments his own. What he commends to his son is what he pursues himself. That is the power of example.
You know that I don’t often speak in regard to my own experience in the pulpit. But in regard to the power of example, I want to share this with you.
My father worked two jobs when I was young, and on top of that he was a deacon in our church. Meetings were not well ordered like the meetings of our board at The Orchard are. Sometimes they would run past midnight and my dad worked shifts which meant he was often up at four in the morning for work the next day. I remember thinking as a boy, “My dad thinks that serving the church is that important.”
Then I remember that when I was a teenager, he told me about a time when he was put under pressure to bend the truth. He wouldn’t do it, and it cost him dearly. I remember thinking, ‘The truth is that important to him.’
Now after all these years, I look back, and I see that the things I have tried to pursue—to serve the church and to hold to the truth—were planted in me early by the example of a godly father.
If you are a parent, a great motivation for living a godly life is to give your children a credible example to follow. You will be able to say, “God’s words are the words I believe. God’s way is the way that I follow.”
How are you going to do that? The way to walk in obedience is to walk by faith. A life-giving relationship with God is based on trust.
Solomon says, to his son,
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding – Proverbs 3:5
The only way to walk in obedience is to walk by faith. You can’t say that to your children unless you are doing it yourself. So, I want to say to parents today. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, especially when it comes to your children!
The wisest counsel, I ever heard in regard to raising children was came from a man who never had the joy of being a father. William Still was a Scottish pastor who remained single throughout his life. This was his counsel to parents: Bring your children up in faith, not fear.
Trust God in regard to your children. You fear what sin can do to them. Trust what God can do in them. You fear the pressures of the world, the schools, the media and the culture. Trust what God can do through His Spirit and His Word.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Give your children reason to think, “My father and mother trust God, even when it comes to me!”
Let’s turn to God in prayer.
I want you to think about the important relationships in your life.
Think about your brothers and sisters if you have them. Ask God to help you in these relationships. To show the love of Christ to your brother or your sister. If there are “bars of a castle” in your heart, ask God to take them down. If there are bars in your sister or your brother’s heart, ask God to help you do what you can to make things better.
I want you to think about your father and mother. Thank God for them. If they are still living, ask God to help you honor them by giving weight to their words and to their needs.
If you are married, I want you to think about your husband or wife. Thank God for giving that person to you and resolve with the help of God to do all in your power to help them flourish.
If you have children, trust them into the hand of God. Ask the Lord to help you bring them up in faith not fear. If they are far from God, ask Him to bring them back.
Father hear our prayers and strengthen our resolve. Cover our many sins and failures with Your grace and pour out your blessing on our families for Christ’s sake, amen.
 Ortlund, Raymond C. Jr. Proverbs: Wisdom that Works. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. p. 150.
 Wright, Christopher J. H. The Message of Lamentations. Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove. pp. 106-107.
 Still, William. Sermon at Gilcomston South Church, Aberdeen, May 26, 1968.