It seems like so much today encourages self-absorption. The typical social media profile contains more self-portraits than previous generations would have amassed in a lifetime. We have opinions on everything and believe that it is everyone’s obligation to hear them. Advertisers insist that we deserve just about every material thing they can offer us. Selfishness bounds. But it is nothing new. It has existed since Adam and Eve made that fateful decision in the garden of Eve. It was on display when Cain’s selfishness cost Abel his life. It culminated its power when Judas’ selfishness put Jesus on the cross. So the selfishness on display today has only changed in manifestation—not in essence. But that means that the Bible’s lessons combatting selfishness are always relevant. And so it proves true with the wisdom offered in Proverbs 16. The proverbs listed here, while worthy of attention individually, also coalesce to remind people everywhere to reevaluate how they view life. If you place yourself at the center of life, you have no perspective on the meaning of life. That is the short answer, but the text offers so much more.
Life is not about you; it is about pleasing God (Prov. 16:1-9). A good self-perspective depends, first of all, on recognizing your own limitations (Prov. 16:1). Until you appreciate that you need God in your life, you will struggle in life and with life. Therefore, submit to God’s evaluation instead of relying on your personal evaluation (Prov. 16:2). He sees you how you truly are and how you could be. But to get there you must see arrogance for the folly that it is (Prov. 16:5) and make doing God’s will your focus moving forward (Prov. 16:3). Only when you have confidence in God’s wisdom will you begin to prepare yourself properly for the challenges the world places before you (Prov. 16:4). However, the first challenge does not lie on some test or battlefield but within yourself. Following God’s plan provides the only way to address sin and evil, but that must begin by addressing it in your own life and in overcoming your personal struggles (Prov. 16:6). Regardless of where you start, living by God’s guidance provides immediate correction for many wrong turns you have taken in life or would otherwise take (Prov. 16:7). However, appreciating that perspective depends upon valuing righteousness and justice more than material wealth or gain (Prov. 16:8). We do not know as much as we think we know (Prov. 16:9). The sooner we accept this and turn to God, who does know all, the better our lives will be.
Second, life is not about gaining power; it is about relationships designed to benefit others (Prov. 16:10-15). This may shock some politicians as well as many voters, but it should inform both. Leadership is not all about telling others what to do; it is the reponsibility to learn the right thing to tell people (Prov. 16:10), and this takes a great deal of thought and care. In economics, creating a fair and honest environment is a responsibility leaders have before God—as well as good domestic policy (Prov. 16:11). Moreover, corruption in government is an affront to God who created it (Prov. 16:12), and those in power should take note. In similar fashion, regardless of office—from president to mayor, from business owner to elder—honest communication provides a powerful bond between those who govern and those who are governed (Prov. 16:13), and leaders would be wise to develop it. Most of all, leaders should remember that decisions made can destroy lives or bless them. Wise leaders therefore should act prudently rather than hastily (Prov. 16:14-15), keeping in mind not only the potential consequences for them personally but for all those whom they lead.
Third, life is not about building wealth but about growing in wisdom (Prov. 16:16-24). Wisdom holds its value regardless of what happens in life, material wealth, not so much (Prov. 16:16). By wisdom, you preserve your soul (Prov. 16:17). By wisdom, you avoid the fate of the proud and haughty (Prov. 16:18-19). By wisdom, your life can be filled with goodness and happiness (Prov. 16:20). By wisdom, you can continue learning throughout all of life (Prov. 16:21). By wisdom, you learn to value learning truth over already being right (Prov. 16:22). By wisdom, you learn what should and should not be expressed (Prov. 16:23). By wisdom, you learn to treasure the right words both spoken and heard; they enrich the heart and bring joy to the soul (Prov. 16:24). So many people turn their lives into building their stock portfolio and their bank account but fail to grow themselves. While the former may make life easier in old age, the latter will make life far better for you and everyone around you.
Finally, life is not about getting your own way; it is about learning to live God’s way. Many people seem to go through life like a driver who thinks he owns the road. They speed. They ignore traffic signals. They think everyone should adjust to them. And then they crash. And die. “There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death” (Prov. 16:25). If we go through life just trying to satisfy ourselves, we will have lived without purpose and given our lives no meaning (Prov. 16:26). If we spend our lives bringing other people down, dividing people, and talking about others, we have contributed nothing to the world of value regardless of the power we think we have held over others (Prov. 16:27-28). If we bully people around or manipulate them to their own hurt, our failure to value others is a testimony to how little we value life, including ourselves (Prov. 16:29-30).
Friends, the beauty of life and the purpose of life is found in someone who has lived long and lived righteously (Prov. 16:31). Rather than learning how to control others, he has learned how to control himself (Prov. 16:32). Instead of considering himself the master of his fate, he has turned his life over to the LORD because he has more confidence in the Lord’s will and the Lord’s wisdom than he does in his own (Prov. 16:33). It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about a Man who hung on a cross for six hours for you. And the sooner we realize that, the better our lives will be.