5 proverbs to live by

Stained glass window depicting Solomon. Photo: jorisvo/Shutterstock

The Book of Proverbs — a collection of wise sayings — is classified as “wisdom literature.” This means it is primarily focused on how to live a good, faithful, meaningful life. Wisdom literature relies on human experience and an awareness of God’s presence in our world and in our daily lives. In this column, we’ll explore five proverbs that are as relevant now as they were more than 2,000 years ago when they were first written. Here’s to good advice for a meaningful life!

1. “How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is preferable to silver” (Proverbs 16:16).

In a world where we want everything fast and easy, and where we’re always expected to have a clever comment or a quickly formed opinion, wisdom is no longer the valued commodity it used to be. Wisdom grows slowly from experience, patience, and listening. 

Those who have wisdom know its value. They know that its value is greater than anything money could buy or anything that comes quickly and easily. There is a great irony here — those who already have wisdom know its value; those who don’t may never be wise enough to seek it! 

2. “The babble of some people is like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise is healing” (Proverbs 12:18).

As a society, we are all too aware of the pain caused by harsh words. Bullying and cyberbullying weigh heavily upon our collective conscience. And yet we continue to judge and lash out, whether online or in our homes, schools, or workplaces. It is partly comforting and partly disturbing to know that these “sword thrusts” have been a problem for human beings from ancient times. 

Once again, wisdom offers a corrective. The “tongue of the wise” not only makes better choices and refuses to inflict pain — it brings healing. What a gift — to be wise, and to heal others with one’s words. Lord, give us wisdom, that we may heal rather than harm!

King Solomon, Portal of St. Anne, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. Photo: Zvonimir Atletic/Shutterstock


3. “Whoever cares for the poor lends to the Lord, who will pay back the sum in full” (Proverbs 19:17).

Here is a rich proverb, one that echoes throughout the pages of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments. It seems that the way we treat the poor is the way we treat God (see Matthew 25:35). In other words, God identifies closely with the poor because he loves them so dearly. 

The poor are not always able to repay the good done on their behalf. Jesus will later preach that this is good — we should try to do things for people who cannot repay us (see Luke 14:12). This is because we should do things out of love — and not for our own gain. And yet the words of this proverb and the words of Jesus both tell us that God himself will repay us when we love and help those who have less than we do (see Luke 6:35; 14:14).

4. “Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it” (Proverbs 15:17, NRSVCE).

What a wonderful image! I imagine my own family with a delivered pizza, or another night of pasta. But we are happy. There might be another family down the street or across the world that has a mansion, a personal chef, and a gourmet meal. But they may not have love for each other. And when there is no love, the food just doesn’t taste as good. I’ll take vegetables over a “fatted ox” any day. How about you?

5. “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by a life that is just” (Proverbs 16:31).

Well, here’s a proverb we can all rally behind! Gray hair comes to us all, and although we may resist it with a variety of tactics, we can’t stop time. This proverb is about so much more than our hair color. It means that the longer we live, the more potential we have to live righteous lives. The longer we live, the more potential we have for wisdom, which is the crown of a life well lived. Our modern American culture may not equate age with glory, but the Bible certainly does. So hold your head high and wear that crown of glory! You’ve earned it! 

The longer we live, the more potential we have for wisdom.

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