1. The Fear of the LORD is the foundation for wise and healthy relationships. Proverbs 29:25 says this: "The fear of others lays a snare, but one who trusts in the LORD is secure." It is very normal for us to fear one another rather than the LORD. But you will never be able to be who God has made you to be, nor will you be able to love the people in your life well, if you fear them - or if you fear losing them. It is no mistake that the first practical advice given after the summary statement in 1:7 ("The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge") is about who we choose as companions. Which leads me to principle #2:
2. Be intentional about when and by whom you are impressed. By "impressed" I mean formed, changed, and developed as a person. Proverbs is written to young, impressionable men (but, contains essential principles for the rest of you too), and urges them to choose their friends wisely. 13:20 summarizes this oft-repeated principle of the book well: "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm." In other words, generally speaking, the people you spend time with will shape you. Most of us become a reflection of our community. Which is why Hebrews 10 is right on when it urges Christians not to "give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing."
On that second point, it's important to note that Biblical maturity is accurately defined by contrast in Ephesians 4:14: "We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming." In other words, we are all expected to come to the point where we can be around people who are "simple," "immature," or "foolish," for eventually we will be like the speakers of the Proverbs, calling out to the simple to come spend time with us. That is called discipleship, and is the marching-order for every believer: mature to the point where you can be around different ideas and lifestyles without being swayed. BUT, be realistic: if you can't be around certain destructive behavior without participating, you need to avoid it.
That principle brings me to my last point of clarification. Proverbs is more overt about the treatment and abuse of alcohol than any book in the Bible. If you listen to the sermon (or if you were there), you'll note that there was a long silence while I shuffled my VERY disorganized notes, looking for the passage that is so direct about alcohol (it was a bad preparation week: I apologize!). Alcohol becomes, for Proverbs, an illustration (along with theft, adultery, and a few others) of what happens when we fellowship with fools.
Take a look at Proverbs 23:29-24:2. This is not saying drinking alcohol is a sin - but it is certainly saying that maturity must be established before we can rightly engage with alcohol. This is, however, the most overt discussion of the abuse of alcohol I've seen in the Bible, so it's worth it for beer and wine loving evangelicals like many of us to read this very honestly. One of alcohol's most common effects is bumping us a few rungs backwards on the maturity ladder, so we become more and more "swayed by winds of doctrine" the more we drink. The reality is, many of us (myself included) should be much more careful about when and how much, if ever, we consume alcohol. Lord, have mercy!
There's so much more in the Proverbs about relationship, and in the weeks to come, we'll investigate it more and more.... hopefully with a little bit of structure and clarity, from here on out! I welcome your prayers. And your comments.