Why Christians Should Use Their Heads
Scriptures: Proverbs 1:1-7; 8:22-36
One Sunday while I was living in Spokane, I had the Sunday off so my wife Nadine and I decided to attend Life Center, the biggest mega-church in Spokane. Life Center had about 5000 people attending each week, and I wanted to see what they had that we don’t. The first thing I noticed was an espresso bar in the lobby. People got their lattes before church and took them into the sanctuary. It reminded me of a story I heard about a visitor to a Presbyterian church. He said that the pews were comfortable, but the cup holders were too small.
Of course the worship service at Life Center was led by a praise band quite a bit bigger than ours, with fancy lighting and visuals. But I also noticed that when they tried to sing a traditional hymn it did not seem as powerful as it did with a pipe organ.
The biggest difference, however, was in the sermon. Instead of a sermon series like I usually do on Isaiah or Matthew or one of the other books of the Bible, the pastor at Life Center was doing a sermon series called “Communication for Dummies.” The front of the sanctuary was decorated like the yellow cover of one of those books “For Dummies.” There was no scripture reading before the sermon. Instead the pastor talked about barriers to communication within families and based much of the sermon on the writings of John Gottman, a Jewish psychologist. The pastor also quoted from the Bible here and there, but the sermon wasn’t really about a Bible passage, it was about how to communicate, and the Bible was used only to illustrate certain points, the way I sometimes use movies or novels.
My first reaction to this was indignation. This is a church? It seems more like a self-help seminar. They claimed to be a Bible-believing church, but they didn’t even preach from the Bible! I was feeling indignant and more than a little self-righteous.
But then I got to thinking. There are 5000 people here at this church, and most of them believe in Jesus. I could tell by the way they sang songs about Jesus at the beginning of the service. These folks believed in Jesus as much as I did. So why were they going to church to hear a sermon about communication based on the writings of a Jewish pyschologist?
Then it hit me. These Christians were attending Life Center, not because they had a problem believing in Jesus, but because they had problems communicating with their spouse and their children. Or they had problems managing finances, which was another sermon series at Life Center. I have always assumed that if I help people understand about God and Jesus, they will figure out other details of their lives on their own from other sources, like books and seminars. But these people were packed into Life Center because they needed help with these things from their pastor and their church.
Then I realized why the book of Proverbs is in the Bible. The book of Proverbs is different than other books of the Bible. In other books of the Bible God’s will for our lives is revealed by special messengers or dramatic displays of God’s power. God spoke to Abraham and Sarah through angels, then gave them a child when they were too old to have one. God spoke to Moses from a burning bush, then parted the Red Sea so he could lead people out of slavery. God showed compassion for people through Jesus, then proved Jesus’ authority by raising him from the dead. Those are the parts of the Bible I like to preach about. What is a sermon on communication theory compared to that? But then there is the book of Proverbs. Proverbs has no dramatic revelations, no miracles, no visions of angels, no thunderous proclamation by prophets. Instead the book of Proverbs is a collection of teachings—you could almost call it advice—on how to live wisely in daily life. The book of Proverbs could be subtitled “Communication for Dummies” or “Money Management for Dummies” or “Human Relationships for Dummies.” And it is included in the Bible because sometimes mixed in with our theology we need a dose of practical instruction.
And that’s what we will get this summer from the studying the book of Proverbs. Which is not to say that we can ignore other parts of the Bible. In our second scripture, Proverbs describes the creation of the world, borrowing heavily from Genesis, chapter 1. But in the process it emphasizes how God’s wisdom is built into the fabric of creation. Listen again to Proverbs 8:27-30 where wisdom speaks as if it were God’s agent in creation:
When God established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker.
Proverbs affirms that the world was created by God, but it reminds us that God built into the creation certain patterns that we can learn about and try to understand. God made the world to operate on certain principles, and if you understand and function according to those principles, you have a better chance of experiencing God’s blessing.
Let me give two examples. Proverbs 6:27-29 has this powerful warning against adultery:
Can fire be carried in the bosom without burning one’s clothes? Or can one walk on hot coals without scorching the feet? So is he who sleeps with his neighbor’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished.
What I find interesting about this scripture is that Proverbs does not condemn adultery simply because it violates God’s law. It does of course violate God’s law in the Ten Commandments, but according to Proverbs, that is not the only reason to avoid it. Proverbs reminds us that adultery is not only immoral, it is stupid. It is dangerous and destructive, and anyone involved in it will get burned.
One other example. Proverbs 23 has this vivid description of drunkenness, verses 31-35:
Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of the mast. “They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I wake up? I will seek another drink.
After a description like that you don’t need a sermon about on how sinful it is to get drunk; it is enough to say that it is stupid.
This does not mean we can dispense with learning about God and spend our time on Sunday morning reading self-help books. In our first scripture lesson, Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” a point that is repeated throughout the book. We cannot dispense with the rest of the Bible and all that it tells us about God and Jesus, sin and forgiveness, suffering and hope, death and resurrection. We cannot substitute theology with psychology. But for the next two months we are going to take a step back from the heavy duty theology found in other books of the Bible and immerse ourselves in the practical wisdom of Proverbs, because sometimes even Christians need a little Communication for Dummies, a little Money Management for Dummies, a little Human Relationships for Dummies, and those are exactly the themes we will find in the book of Proverbs.
I once heard a story about a college professor who was approached by a female student about a failing grade in his class. The seductively clad student came into the professor’s office, leaned over his desk, and said, “I’ll do anything to pass this class. Anything!” The professor raised his eyebrows and said, “Anything?” “Anything,” she nodded. The professor stood up, leaned over his desk, and whispered to her, “Then study!”
Proverbs reminds us to study, not because learning is an alternative to faith, but because learning is a component of faith. Learning about the dynamics of communication and relationships and work and money are tools to help us better serve God. For we serve God best when we use our heads as well as our hearts.