The expository preacher aims to preach both single books of Scripture and the canon as a whole. He may turn to Proverbs for the summer because it’s practical, fills a unique slot in the canon, and suits months when people come and go, making self-contained messages beneficial.
But Proverbs presents unique challenges for three primary reasons. First, since consecutive proverbs seem to have slight connection to one another, how does one preach an expository message on one verse?
Second, some proverbs seem like promises that aren’t always true. Constraints of space require me to refer readers to commentaries like The Book of Proverbs by Bruce Waltke, which answer that question well.
Third, we wonder how proverbs lead organically to Christ. Pastors know it would be easy to preach moralistically, with the gospel tacked on at the end: “No one is wise like this, no one can do this, so turn to Jesus.”
I want to concentrate on the first and third challenges.
Some Structural Unity
The first problem is not so acute as it seems, since Proverbs has more structural unity than initially appears. Early chapters develop several themes at length: the fear of the Lord (1:1–19), the call to wisdom (1–2; 8–9), trust in the Lord (3:1–12), teaching fathers and listening sons (4), sexual abstinence and pleasure (5; 6:20–7:27). We can link many proverbs from chapters 10 to 30 to these leading themes:
– Descriptions of the wise and the fool (12:15–16; 17:10, 12, 16) fit Proverbs 8–9.
– Instructions for parents and children (10:1; 22:6; 22:15; 29:15; 13:1; 23:22) belong with Proverbs 4.
– If Proverbs 5 blesses the romantic aspect of marriage, Proverbs 31 names the practical element. Single proverbs about the blessings of marriage (12:4; 18:22; 19:14; contra 21:9) fill out the picture.
There are also clusters of Proverbs that develop a theme. We have messages for fools (26:1–12), especially sluggards (6:6–11; 26:13–16); advice for dining with rulers (23:1–3); and warnings about drunkenness (23:29–35). A burst on God’s plans and ours in 16:1–4 unifies scattered sayings (16:9; 12:15; 11:14; 15:22; 24:10).
Similarly, individual proverbs on getting and keeping wealth (10:22–25; 11:24–25; 15:27) develop the first and last cluster on wise use of wealth (10:1–5; 22:22–23:11).