From Don’t to Won’t

17 Let not your heart envy sinners,
    but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
18 Surely there is a future,
    and your hope will not be cut off.

19 Hear, my son, and be wise,
    and direct your heart in the way.
20 Be not among drunkards
    or among gluttonous eaters of meat,
21 for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
    and slumber will clothe them with rags.

22 Listen to your father who gave you life,
    and do not despise your mother when she is old.
23 Buy truth, and do not sell it;
    buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.
24 The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice;
    he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him.
25 Let your father and mother be glad;
    let her who bore you rejoice.

26 My son, give me your heart,
    and let your eyes observe my ways.
27 For a prostitute is a deep pit;
    an adulteress is a narrow well.
28 She lies in wait like a robber
    and increases the traitors among mankind.

29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
    Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
    Who has redness of eyes?
30 Those who tarry long over wine;
    those who go to try mixed wine.
31 Do not look at wine when it is red,
    when it sparkles in the cup
    and goes down smoothly.
32 In the end it bites like a serpent
    and stings like an adder.
33 Your eyes will see strange things,
    and your heart utter perverse things.
34 You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
    like one who lies on the top of a mast.
35 “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt;
    they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
    I must have another drink.” – Proverbs 23:17-35 ESV

Proverbs 23 contains a portion of the 30 wise sayings begun by Solomon in Proverbs 22. He prefaced his list with this explanation: “I am teaching you today – yes, you – so you will trust in the Lord. I have written thirty sayings for you, filled with advice and knowledge. In this way, you may know the truth…” (Proverbs 22:19-21 NLT).

The majority of what follows are warnings from Solomon to his sons concerning all those things they are to avoid. He provides them a list of prohibitions. Don’t rob the poor, don’t befriend angry people, don’t agree to guarantee another person’s debt, etc. Solomon calls these sayings “the words of the wise.” He encourages his sons to “keep them in your heart and always ready on your lips.”

At first glance, they simply seem to be common-sense sayings that are based on good moral judgment and proper ethics. But in reality, they express the heart of God and the life of the man who knows and fears God. There are warnings against taking advantage of the poor who God cares for and will defend the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. There are warnings about allowing anything other than God to become your source of provision or pleasure. That is why he brings up dining with the wealthy, powerful, and influential. Solomon warns against doing it to gain favor, to be part of the in-crowd, or as a pathway to success? He warns his sons against becoming so obsessed with wealth that they wear themselves out in the pursuit of it.

They run the risk of making money a god, expecting it to do for them what only God Himself can do. Throughout Proverbs 23, Solomon warns his boys about the importance and danger of relationships. He talks about dining with rulers, eating with the stingy, cheating your neighbor, counseling fools, disciplining children, envying sinners, partying with drunks, and soliciting prostitutes. Our earthly relationships are a very clear indicator of the kind of relationship we have with God. The godly discipline their children; are content rather than envious of others; turn to God for assistance rather than the wealthy, powerful, and influential of this earth; practice self-control, and use discernment in living their lives.

Solomon began his list with the statement, “I am teaching you today – yes, you – so you will trust in the Lord.” Many, if not all, of his warnings, have to do with taking advantage of others in order to get ahead. They paint the picture of an individual who is obsessed with the people and things of this earth only to satisfy his needs and desires. Solomon tells his sons to choose their relationships carefully – in the fear of the Lord. He advises them to control their physical appetites for food, wine, and sex – in the fear of the Lord. He encourages them to discipline their own children and to commit themselves to godly wisdom – all in the fear of the Lord.

At the heart of all behavior should be a healthy fear of and respect for God. NOT doing certain things will NOT result in godliness. We don’t do these things because we are godly. We belong to God and we are His children. We represent Him on this earth. We refuse to live like the world. In the book of Titus, Paul writes, “For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed” (Titus 2:11-13 NLT).

We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God. That is exactly what Solomon is talking about. Our fear of, love for, and devotion to God should determine our behavior on this planet, and reflect that we are His children.

In the three dozen prohibitions found in chapters 22 and 23 of Proverbs, Solomon addresses everything from drinking to the dangers of gluttony. But why does Solomon find the need to list all these warnings and commands? Because he feared that his sons still lacked the ability to make wise decisions on their own.

The book of Proverbs is very practical, providing divinely inspired input for daily living. This is Monday-morning relevant stuff. No religious mumbo-jumbo or spiritual speak here. This is relevant counsel for real life. But if we try and apply these principles to our lives like self-help tips, we’re going to be highly disappointed. Oh, they might work for a while, because they are divine truths from the very throne of God. But we will be incapable of keeping them long-term because we really don’t understand their value and we lack the convictions necessary to stick with them. We will be like a child who knows all the rules but fails to keep them because he doesn’t understand the reasons behind them.

The key to applying the words of the wise is to understand the truth contained in them. If we simply view them as restrictions that keep us from doing the things we want to do, we will ultimately see them as roadblocks to our self-satisfaction. We may keep them for a time, out of fear of punishment, but as soon as we have the chance, we will rebel and reject them. That’s why we are told to “get the truth and never sell it; also get wisdom, discipline, and good judgment” (Proverbs 23:23 NLT).

These wise sayings are not wisdom in and of themselves. They are the byproduct of wisdom. They are wise because they have come from a wise God and have been revealed through the life experiences of wise men and women. We are told to get discipline because without it we will never be able to follow the counsel in this book. We need good judgment because without it we will never understand or appreciate the value of following the advice found on the pages of the book of Proverbs, or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter.

When children are young, one of the most common words they hear their parents say is “don’t!” Everyone is constantly telling them what NOT to do. Why? Because they are young and lack the ability to know right from wrong. They are self-centered and live in a world in which they are the only occupant. Their desires come first. If they see something they want, they simply take it. If they crave something and someone denies them access to it, they find a way to get it anyway, even if it means disobeying the authorities in their life. Kids have to hear the word, “don’t” because they don’t know any better.

But there comes a time when we no longer have to say, “don’t!” to our children as much as we used to. Why? Because they eventually grow in wisdom, discipline, and understanding. They reach a point where they understand the reason behind the restrictions. They grow wise in the ways of the world.

For some of us, reading this list of wise sayings leaves us nodding our heads in agreement because we already know the truth found in them. Others of us may read them and think, “This is hard stuff, I don’t know if I can pull it off, or if I even agree with it.”

They sound restrictive and unattractive to many of us. Because we lack wisdom. We need understanding. We are short on discernment. And all these things come from God. We need to get to know Him better. We need to know His heart so that we can see the truth contained in His Word. When our children are young and they hear us tell them “don’t,” they think we’re mean. But as they grow older and get to know us better, they realize just how much we love them and have their best interest in mind. The same is true with God.

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