Skilful Living Part II: Keeping the Main Things the Main Things

One of the things we want to be known for at Calvary Grace is keeping the main things the main things. We want to be unified on the most important doctrines and practices. This is not to say that secondary issues are not important, but knowing how tightly to hold on to important yet not central doctrines and practices without causing division can be difficult. A basic rule for sorting this out is to strive to give the same weight to these things that Scripture does. For example, details about the return of Christ as expressed in various doctrinal systems are secondary matters. The fact of the return of Christ, the judgment and the resurrection are primary matters.

Proverbs is a book about nitty-gritty details. Many proverbs are just listed, one after another with little connection between them. Can we find help from Proverbs as we zero in on the main things that are the source of our Christian unity from such a varied book? If you stand back and look at Proverbs as a whole, you will see that there is a structure, and there is a Big Idea – the main thing that holds it together. Skilful living that surfaces in the small stuff of everyday life is evidence that we do understand the importance of having wisdom. The details of the individual proverbs are important because they are the fruit of living before the face of God in the fear of God. This is the heart of wisdom.

At the beginning of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin writes, “Nearly all of the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Calvin is not talking about self esteem here, he is talking about self-awareness before God. Proverbs helps us with this very much. It is tempting to read Proverbs and have other people in mind but Proverbs is not written so that we may judge others, it is written so that we might see ourselves and the temptations we face from folly. We should read this book thoughtfully and prayerfully and consider it as a soul x-ray.

Why should we care about self-examination as we study Proverbs? Consider Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” We won’t know the main things that lead to spiritual health and unity if we do not know the way our own hearts are deceived by sin and self-focus. Conversely, we will likely make idols of things that are secondary – or worse, sinful – issues if we do not grow in self-awareness. Reading thoughtfully, prayerfully through Proverbs will cause some, “Oh! Ouch!” moments. But as they say at the gym, “No pain, no gain.”

Wisdom cries out to us, in God’s mercy (Proverbs1:20; 8:1, compare 2:6). Will we listen to this voice outside of us, or will we listen to the world’s wisdom and follow the voice inside? It is the default setting of our human condition to follow our heart, but wisdom breaks in and says, “Fear God and listen to me.” It kills our pride to submit to God’s Word and yield to the instruction that we will find at a healthy local church, but there is no resurrection without death.

A careful, regular reading of Proverbs will help us to sort out the competing voices – inside and outside of us. We must learn to recognize the voice of wisdom that will reorient us to see ourselves as we really are and make right decisions regarding the main things that lead to life and unity with other believers.