Preaching Proverbs 1: Epilogues and Exhaustion?

Jon sent me an email about Proverbs.  He asked whether I thought the preacher heading into Proverbs is bound to either preach for a five minute mini message or an exhaustingly exhaustive topical study of an entire subject?  Isn’t the preacher guaranteed to impose a homiletical structure on a simple saying, or preach a plethora of cross-references in order to fill the time?  And, why haven’t I written more about preaching Proverbs on this site?

First, the question about this site is easy to answer.  I have neither preached from Proverbs, nor heard a sermon from Proverbs in the last few years and so my thinking hasn’t been provoked on this important issue.  I was involved in a preacher’s retreat on the subject of preaching Proverbs a while back, but thanks to Jon for provoking my thoughts!  (Actually, Jon’s written a lot on this specific issue, for example this post on preaching Proverbs.)

So, three thoughts on preaching Proverbs, before I explain two ways I believe a full-length sermon can be worthwhile on a single proverb!

Thought 1 – We need to be wary of preaching moralistic legalism.  This is a danger everywhere in the Bible – “so the moral of the story is . . . be a good boy/girl and obey your parents!”  This is too common in preaching, and massively misses the mark of preaching the extravagant relational grace that infuses the Bible with the life of God’s love.  This is especially easy in Proverbs.  Be good.  Try hard.  Be disciplined.  Be like this man.  Don’t be like that one.  Let’s be careful to prayerfully ponder the proverb we plan to preach in light of the bigger context of Scripture and in light of what our listeners really need.

Tomorrow I’ll offer two further thoughts before getting to two full-length sermon approaches that I have seen work very effectively.

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4 thoughts on “Preaching Proverbs 1: Epilogues and Exhaustion?

  1. Peter, thank you for tackling my question. 🙂

    As to your Thought #1, I see Proverbs as a teacher, similar to the Law, to help us see our need of Christ. Try or not, we are going to end up answering a matter before we hear it, which is folly and shame to us. And so on….

    So I would see Proverbs as just as “legalistic” as the Law. Just like the Law, it has to be used rightly. It tells us of our original (and continuing) need for grace. It is both guidance for the Christian life and a continuing reminder of our neediness, and God’s sufficient grace.

    I think I’m saying the same thing you are in another way. And I’m not sure I’ve got all that nailed spot on, but I think I’m mostly going in the right direction.

  2. Thanks Jon. I would agree with what you say here, with one slight reservation. I wouldn’t say that Proverbs is primarily “guidance for the Christian life,” although it can function that way by extension. I think we risk misunderstanding it if we don’t see it as wisdom guidance under the old covenant. Once we have understood it in its original context, then we can apply the enduring theological truths to our situation (i.e.Christian life). That would be the minor modification I would offer, but we are very much on the same page. Thanks for your part in stimulating the posts for this week (and please do keep adding as the week progresses, for my sake as well as other readers).

  3. I can’t see that preaching moralistic legalism can ever be effective. Who has ever been badgered or nagged into significant life change? The preacher can never impose it on the hearer from without, but can only draw out what is already present inside the listener.

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