In February of 2018 my family sat down to dinner with a pastor, his family, and a new couple who had recently been visiting the church. Conversation at dinner included military aircraft and helicopter training. The pastor was fascinated by the A-10 Warthog and the man who sat across the table from me was a retired Navy rotary wing instructor.
Soon we turned the conversation to the Bible. I don’t remember how we got on the topic of Proverbs, but the flight instructor said, “Proverbs has never made sense to me. It does not read like any of the other books. I can’t figure out what the theme and story of each chapter is.”
The Curse of Knowledge
This conversation was interesting to me and was at the front of my mind for several weeks after that night. I was so struck by the fact that this man did not understand the book of Proverbs that I remember little else about the evening (except that it was also the 16th birthday of the pastor’s daughter).
The book of Proverbs is not confusing to me. I have been taught often from Proverbs and can see clear themes in the book. Sometimes, however, the more familiar we are with a topic the harder it is for us to see that others don’t have the same understanding we do. In one of my favorite books the authors call this “the curse of knowledge.”
My Introduction to Proverbs
I can remember the circumstances in which I was introduced to Proverbs and how the book has become such a part of my life. I’m sure I had heard about Proverbs previously, but when I was 10 years old, several months after I was saved, our Christian school got a new school administrator. I don’t remember what he taught us in daily devotions those first few weeks or months he was at the school, but I very clearly remember the main subject Bro. Hartsfield would speak on during the eight years I sat under him: the book of Proverbs.
Bro. Hartsfield taught from Proverbs in the way I think the book should be taught: small chunks with a single point. He would share with us the principle found in one verse or small group of them. Certainly he taught from other books of the Bible, but it was like he was drawn to Proverbs and couldn’t stay away for too long.
We learned so many truths about how to live in society and how to honor God with our life. Proverbs emphasizes obedience and honor to parents. We also learned about wisdom and how to apply it to our daily lives.
Looking back over the 40 years I have known the book of Proverbs and the man who taught it to me, I am thankful for those simple principles taught in the book. But, I later realized something about the way he taught…
He Was Cheating!
In school Bro. Hartsfield would often tell us, “I was reading in Proverbs chapter (whatever) and I came across this verse…” As a 10 or 12 year old kid, I was amazed that he could read the Bible in the morning and come up with something so profound to say about a single verse. I learned that he would read a chapter in Proverbs every day corresponding to the day of the month. That meant he read through the book at least 12 times a year.
A few years after I started traveling and preaching regularly, I sometimes thought Bro. Hartsfield was cheating by going back to Proverbs so often. It was a book he read daily. How hard can it be to teach from a book that you know so well? He had intimate knowledge of the book. Each one of the principles in the book was a part of his life. He didn’t even have to study to be able to teach us what the book said. Isn’t that cheating?
Teach What You Know
As I’ve continued in my ministry of preaching and teaching the Bible, I try to be aware that not everyone knows what I know about God’s Word. I should teach those things that I have learned.
It is easy for Bible teachers to assume that others already know what we know. We avoid teaching basic truths from the Bible because we think that everyone we teach already knows these things. This is the curse of knowledge at work.
I now know Bro. H. wasn’t cheating, he was teaching what he knew. As 7th and 12th graders, didn’t know the things that he knew. He was able to teach us things that were basic to him, but new and profound to us. If you are in the position of teaching others, it is very helpful to review the basics instead of assuming everyone else knows what you know.
Gentle Aside: If you are a preacher or teacher of the Bible, try to avoid saying things like, “you know in the story of so-and-so how this means such-and-such…” Consider that not everyone knows that story or how it is applied. And you’ve just made that person feel like an ignorant outsider because they now think they should know the Bible better to be part of your church service. No student of the Bible is offended to hear a quick summary of the story being taught in an effort to make sure everyone clearly understands the point of what you are teaching.
A Book for Life
As perplexing as that dinner conversation was to me at the time, I have since thought much about my relationship with the book of Proverbs. I am thankful for Bro. Hartsfield and many others who have taught me from this book of wisdom.
While there isn’t a clear story line in each chapter, Proverbs is a book that you can learn from each time you read it. Meditate on its verses as you read from it regularly. You shouldn’t neglect reading other parts of the Bible, but reading a few verses (if not a whole chapter) each day will benefit you and those around you as you apply what you learn.
I trust that the posts in this series on Proverbs has been a help to you as you continue to study the Bible and, particularly, the book of Proverbs.