For the past few months, my church’s building has been under renovation. Every morning, workmen arrive; take out their tools; and demolish, fix, paint, or install whatever they’ve been contracted to do. And with the possible exception of demolition, each of these activities takes skill.
The thing about skill is that you can’t learn it in a classroom. A lecture on how to fix a broken audio channel, or paint a stucco surface, or install a brand new furnace would have little effect. The only way to acquire the skill to fix, paint, and install is just to do it. That’s why craftsmen typically work in master-apprentice relationships on the job. The one who knows shows the one who doesn’t know how to get the job done.
The Book of Proverbs can be interpreted as a master craftsman teaching an apprentice the skill of living. According to Proverbs 1:2-3, Solomon spoke proverbs
for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;
for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair.
Like fixing, painting, and installing, living well can only be learned by, well, living. Learning to live wisely is on-the-job, just-in-time instruction. That’s why, throughout the Book of Proverbs, Solomon and the other wise men tell us to listen carefully and look closely.
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. (Prov. 1:8)
Go to the ant, you sluggard;
consider its ways and be wise! (Prov. 6:6)
We listen carefully to our parents and elders because they know how life works. We look closely at the actions of others because they teach us what works and what doesn’t. Whether through tradition, which is really just accumulated wisdom, or personal experience, we acquire skill for living.
Proverbs 1:4-6 speaks of two groups who can benefit from wisdom: “the simple” and “the wise.”
for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young —
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance —
for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
Verse 4 speaks about the simple and the young. The simple are not stupid people. Like the young, they are naïve because they lack experience. They are apprentices in need of the guidance of a skillful master. When they listen carefully and look closely, they begin to acquire wisdom.
But verses 5-6 speak about “the wise” and “the discerning.” No one, it turns out, is ever above learning more. Just as wiring a house is much simpler than wiring a nuclear power plant, so there are levels of skill for living. Wise and discerning people know much, but they can always “add” to their skill level by learning more proverbs, parables, sayings, and riddles.
Living well is a skill. It’s never too early to begin learning it…and never too late!