The book of Proverbs is a collection of wisdom material that has guided God’s people for centuries. In the ancient world, kings and rulers often hired sages to provide wise counsel. Often, the teachings of these wise leaders were gathered and collected into libraries for the nation’s interests.
The Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament is a collection of wisdom material addressing a wide array of topics. It contains more than just pithy sayings that are easy to commit to memory. This book is the Word of God and offers us sage counsel as we encounter real life.
For example, we all have benefited from the wisdom of “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
There are some sections in this book that address a particular topic directly and at some length. For example, Proverbs 31 is famous for its description of a godly woman. Here in our text today, Proverbs 6:1-19 is an example of a text that contains specific instructions on specific topics. In this regard, Duane A. Garrett offers this brief summary of the passage in Proverbs 6: “No one is prepared for life who has not learned some basic lessons on financial prudence, a meaningful work ethic, and moral precepts for dealing with society” (Duane A. Garrett, The New American Commentary: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Broadman Press, 1993, p. 95).
Be careful with your personal assets (Proverbs 6:1-5) – In this opening material in Proverbs 6, the Bible sounds a warning about unnecessarily encumbering our financial assets in risky business alliances. A strong warning is given about the particular practice of co-signing a debt for a neighbor or a stranger. On the surface, it seems like a prohibition of such action. However, there are other passages in the Bible where “surety” or co-signing is allowable (Philemon 18) – however, here the caution seems to be focused on the nature of risk. We must demonstrate sound financial practices if we are going to be successful both personally and vocationally.
The point of this passage seems to be that we are not to enter into financial dealings that put our assets at unnecessary risk. We need to be more discerning in the protection of what we own. We can too easily fall into traps and snares that become threatening to our well-being.
Develop a strong work ethic (Proverbs 6:6-11) – This is the meat of the passage for our topic today. We are learning about relationships. This lesson is focused on the relationships we develop through our vocation.
The reader is admonished to observe the ant. Ants are used in ancient literature to teach lessons about work. Ants are hard workers. And – ants work in community. Ants work together to build beds and care for the needs of the entire community. They carry loads that outweigh them. They store food away. They share resources.
All of these qualities are applicable to the human sphere. We are to develop a good, strong work ethic. God has created us to work. He has gifted us to work. We have the capacity to engage in meaningful labor. That is how we are designed. We long for it. We are to be diligent in our labor. Any company that employs us should benefit from our presence.
Working hard. Working together. Working smart. All of these should apply to us. As God’s people, we should lead the way in this regard. Laziness is not a Kingdom quality. We are to be good stewards of our work potential. The opposite person is described in Proverbs 6:12-15. This is a person who conspires and makes trouble. This is a person who takes advantage of others at every turn.
Think about it – most offices or businesses across America have trouble-makers and cynical employees. There are many people who stir up conflict and create tensions in the workplaces across our nation.
Our notion of work and vocation leads us in another direction. We are not to be the scoundrels or villains who upset the workplace with our selfish rants and malicious behavior. We are to be contributing positively to the work environment.
In Proverbs 6:16-19, the writer points to the kinds of behavior that God abhors. These qualities lead to the disunity and disorder of a community. As believers, we are never to contribute to the dis-ease of our community or workplace. We are like an infection that needs to be quarantined. Our behavioral characteristics should be like a healing and life-giving presence.
We are told to look at the ant. Observe his behavior. I have often watched a line of ants marching across a sidewalk on a spring day. I have marveled at their tenacity as they haul bits of bread back to the bed. They seem to know what to do. They seem to be in concert with each other in the task at hand. They don’t seem to stop and complain about the working conditions. They don’t seem to think that someone else will provide for them. They just work. They work hard.
We can learn from them! We are instructed to do so in this text.