We all know that Proverbs is a book in the Bible, but the word “proverb” also refers to a short phrase that states a general piece of advice. Occasionally, when a piece of wise-sounding advice has been around for a long time, people begin to attribute that saying to the Bible, even though it isn’t found there at all! Usually this happens because the advice sounds smart and no one can remember where it came from, so they assume it must be a Bible verse.
Today I want to talk about three such “proverbs” that people have mistakenly believed to be biblical.
- “God helps those who help themselves”
It’s my sincere hope that each of you girls understand that this saying goes directly against what Scripture tells us about God.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6).
Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and who trust is the Lord’ (Jeremiah 17:5, 7).
And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
So where did this expression come from? The earliest known, similar saying dates from a fable by Aesop titled “Hercules and the Wagoner.” Aesop lived from 620-564 B.C. and his fables usually end with a moral or a saying that teaches the lesson of the fable.
In this particular fable, a man’s wagon breaks down and he prays to Hercules for help. Hercules shows up and tells the man, “Never more pray to me for help, until you have done your best to help yourself,” and the moral at the end of the story is “self-help is the best help.” I don’t know about you girls, but personally I prefer God’s help to self-help.
There’s a more contemporary version of this saying from Benjamin Franklin in “Poor Richard’s Almanac.” Franklin was something called a “deist,” which means that he believed in God but didn’t believe that God is actively participating in people’s lives. Franklin believed that if people couldn’t help themselves, then they were hopeless.
- “To thine ownself be true”
People occasionally quote this when faced with making difficult decisions. Most people when saying this mean that they are making decisions based on their personal conscience or morality. That’s fine, but as Christians we’re supposed to make decisions according to God’s will.
Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-10).
So where did this gem of so-called wisdom originate? This is a line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It’s spoken by the character Polonius in act 1, scene 3. This quote sounds profound, but what it actually means is that we are to put ourselves above everything else, and that’s not even close to how we’re supposed to live as children of God.
- “Moderation in all things”
People rely on this bit of “wisdom” when they want to keep others from getting too out of control about something. Interestingly, this is the only saying that has a similar-sounding counterpart in Scripture.
And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:25 NKJV).
The word “temperate” means “showing moderation or self-restraint;” however, in this verse, the Greek word Paul uses means “self-control.”
Many people use this phrase even with regard to worshiping God, usually to excuse their lack of energy and enthusiasm for the things of God. Paul is talking about the things of this world, not the things of God. As followers of Jesus, we aren’t called to be moderate or self-controlled in our worship of the King of Kings or in living our lives for Him.
Girls, I hope this article was fun and interesting for you, but most of all I hope it’s given you some insight into the difference between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of our Lord.
Have you ever heard anyone use any of these “proverbs?”
For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6).
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