Explore the Bible: Compassion Demonstrated

The Explore the Bible Lesson for June 21 focuses on Proverbs 3:21-35.

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•. The Explore the Bible Lesson for June 21 focuses on Proverbs 3:21-35.

I’m a pretty cerebral person. I spend much of my time inside my own head, working through ideas and abstract thoughts. Some might accuse me of having my head in the clouds, and that accusation would not be entirely unfair.

Thankfully, the book of Proverbs is a profoundly practical book. While there are plenty of rich truths about God in this book, Proverbs lacks the dense theological argumentation of books like Romans or Hebrews. Proverbs does an excellent job “grounding” its readers in the real world. While nerdy theologians like me might kick against the goads slightly in studying this book, the practical thinkers among us will relish its applicability.

Our text explores two dimensions of how wisdom comes to bear on our lives. While God’s wisdom provides us with security, it also calls us to action on behalf of those who are oppressed and marginalized.

Security in God’s wisdom

The first section of our text, verses 21-26, focuses upon the benefits of treasuring God’s wisdom. Simply put, the wisdom and understanding that proceed from God are a source of life and security (3:22-23).

As discussed in the previous lesson, we must be careful not to read too much into Proverbs’ promises. This passage, considered in light of the rest of Scripture, does not guarantee absolute physical safety and financial security for those who follow God. Quite the opposite often is the case. Job suffered terribly despite being righteous. Many of the Old Testament prophets faced persecution. Jesus was the wisdom of God personified, yet he endured various trials and ultimately was crucified. Jesus tells his followers they will face persecution on account of his name (John 15:21).

But Proverbs promises a better security, the security that comes from a relationship with God. God is all-powerful and all-good. Those who know God can rest assured that we have ultimate security. One day, Jesus will return to set all things right, and those who believe in him are secure in him (John 10:28). We who treasure God’s wisdom and instruction are secure because “the Lord will be at [our] side” (Proverbs 3:26).

God’s favor for the oppressed

The second section of our text, verses 27-35, goes in a somewhat different direction. The author implores readers to show compassion to our neighbors, particularly those who are oppressed and in need. God “shows favor to the humble and oppressed” (3:34).

This idea is not unique to Proverbs. God’s special concern for those who are oppressed, vulnerable and subjugated to injustice is a frequent theme across Scripture (Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 72:4; Luke 4:14-30). Moreover, God’s wrath against powerful oppressors is also a frequent theme throughout the Bible (Ecclesiastes 4:1; Isaiah 10:1-3). When God the Son became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, he entered into solidarity with the poor and the oppressed (Philippians 2:5-8).

Jesus was a Jewish man living under colonial occupation from the Roman Empire, and he was an impoverished “blue-collar” worker. Moreover, Jesus’ crucifixion was a politically motivated act based on false charges.

What, then, are the real-world actions demanded of us by our text and our God who speaks through it? Those of us who have the ability to act have the responsibility to act (Proverbs 3:27-28). We are to seek the good of our neighbors, not their harm, and we should never make false accusations against others (3:29-30). We should repudiate those who enact violence against people made in the image of God (3:31). And why should we do all these things? Because God’s favor rests on the vulnerable and the oppressed, but His wrath rests on oppressors (3:32-35).

What might this look like for us today? The fallout from the recent killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, provides a perfect case study. On its own, Floyd’s death was an egregious injustice that demands a response. But Floyd’s death was not an isolated incident; it is one more link in a seemingly endless chain of violence and oppression toward Black people and other people of color in this country.

While we have made great strides forward since the time of slavery and Jim Crow, racial injustice is still a reality in this nation. Tragically, many who historically have claimed the name of Christ supported slavery and segregation. Let us learn from their mistakes that we may do everything we can not to repeat them.

The crucified and risen Jesus has poured out his Spirit upon us, uniquely empowering us to serve him and seek his kingdom while we await his return. If we are to take Proverbs seriously as the word of God for us today, we would do well to seek racial justice in both our churches and our wider society.

Joshua Sharp is a writer and Bible teacher living in Waco. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Truett Theological Seminary.  

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