Proverbs is an essentially practical book, dealing not only with what we should do, but how to do it. Have you ever been told to do something and failed to do it, not because you didn’t want to, but because you had no idea how to? DIY instructions hold that kind of terror for me: I can see the finished product; I look at the component parts and have no idea how to put the things together (why does the wood not have A and B marked on it so I can relate it to the pictures?!) So often we focus on the ‘what’, but if we fail to talk about the ‘how’, we leave people frustrated and often in despair.

Proverbs warns repeatedly of specific pitfalls we have to avoid if we are to live wisely. The earlier chapters focussed on the dangers of sexual sins and being led astray by short term pleasure. Proverbs 23:4-5 reminds us that we can easily be deceived by the things of the world, things which are not necessarily sinful in themselves, but which, if taken to excess or allowed to become an obsession, will lead us astray: “riches disappear in the blink of an eye; wealth sprouts winds and flies off into the wild blue yonder.” (Prov 23:4-5) . Good food and an unhealthy obsession with wealth can soon deceive us (see the ‘Parable of the Rich Fool’ in Luke 12:13-21). Alcohol, too, can prove a real snare to us: “don’t judge wine by its label, or by its bouquet or its full-bodied flavour. Judge it rather by the hangover it leaves you with – the splitting headache, the queasy stomach.” (Prov 23:29-35) It’s not that these things in themselves are sinful, but the human heart often just doesn’t know when to stop. The ‘how’ of Proverbs warns us to avoid the excesses (Proverbs 23:19-21 reminds us that gluttony and drunkenness are to be avoided), chiefly by meditating on God’s word: “give yourself to careful instruction; open your ears to tested knowledge.” (Prov 23:12)

This kind of learning begins very early on in life. Disciplining children is necessary so that they might learn wisdom, not envying sinners and that way of life which seems prosperous in the short term but which leads to death in the long term, but learning to live in the fear of the Lord (Prov: 23:13-18). The world judges parental success by all kinds of criteria: a good job, a successful relationship, money, homes, fitting in with society. The Christian parent has a whole different set of criteria to work to: honesty, love, kindness, forgiveness, generosity, integrity. “Parents rejoice when their children turn out well; wise children become proud parents.” (Prov 23:22-25) .