There are a dozen great proverbs here in chapter 11. I plan, the Lord willing, to make a quick review of those which we have not yet considered. Many of them are so succinct and obvious, all we need to do is stop for a moment and let them sink in. One of the problems with our daily Bible reading, is we have three or four chapters scheduled for the day so that we sail right over the well-known or obvious verses and don’t let them soak into our souls. We will try to rectify that to a small degree, but that is on my calendar for next Wednesday.
While first thinking we might finish the chapter tonight, my heart got hooked on verse 30. In my youth – in my Bible school days – this scripture would have been used to beat the lazy Christian into door-knocking and the necessity of Arminian evangelism. But since those early days in my life, I have matured just a little in my theology and in my desire to know what the Holy Spirit is saying here. Let’s try to understand and properly apply some of this verse.
Beginning at the end – who is this wise person?
Remember that as the Book of Proverbs began, Wisdom was personified in Christ, the Son of God. “Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: How long, ye simple ones will ye love simplicity. Turn you at my reproof, behold I will pour out MY spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.” Then, with the entry of the Spirit of Christ into that simple person, he became more and more wise. And with that gracious gift of God’s wisdom, the newly-created wise man became the voice of God. Reversing our text, I don’t think it would be theologically incorrect to say, “the wise man winneth souls.” He that winneth souls, proves himself to be wise in the ways and sight of God.
Don’t the references to “fruit” and “righteousness” remind you of our Lord’s words in John 15? “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” If a man abide not in Christ and doesn’t bring forth fruit, “he is cast forth… and is withereth, and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” “Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit.”
God’s wise man is not just a soul-winner; he will bear a great many other godly characteristics. And humility and self-depravation will be among them. In fact, the wise man will rarely think of himself as “wise,” and he certainly will not promote himself as such. He knows that whatever fruit his life might produce, it is directly tied to his abidance in the Vine.
Something often forgotten by the professional “soul-winner” is that he, personally, is incapable of actually winning souls. All the exhortations to young converts and young ministers to get out there and win souls, is misplaced. The attitude of so many soul-winning classes is humanistic rather than Biblical and godly. The exhortations, to young and old alike, ought to be – “Seek the Lord and His strength.” As the saint, without seeking directly to become “wise” seeks the Lord, the Holy Spirit will make those ordinary people wise. In God’s good way and time, He may increase your wisdom. Then living in Christ and personalizing His wisdom, you will become a soul-winner. I am not trying to put down “soul-winning” – I am trying to put it in its proper context.
And what about this subject of soul-winning?
Despite the heavy dose of “soul-winning” which, like castor oil, was forced down my throat during my years at Bible school, there are only two scriptures which carry this theme. The Bible speaks of “win,” “winneth” and “won” only four times – twice in each Testament. The other Old Testament use speaks about winning a battle, so it doesn’t relate to this subject, and it is a different Hebrew word. Then in Philippians 3:8 Paul says, “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,” so this is not speaking about soul-winning either. But Peter does seem to touch on our theme in I Peter 3:1 – “Ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear.” In this case, again, if this is “soul-winning” it is not the aggressive Arminian style of evangelism. Rather this is the day-to-day life (“conversation” – “deportment”) of the Spirit-filled wife.
All right then, what is it to “win”? We live in a victory-geared society, where “winning” usually implies the defeat of an opponent. The New England Patriots did NOT win the Superbowl this year, rather they were defeated by some other team which I can’t be bothered to remember or to look up. The big, national company “won” the contract to build the new bridge, by having a relatively low bid and promising certain other perks. And the welfare mother with six kids “won the huge lottery” much to the disappointment of a million others. Is that the sort of definition we should apply here? Does the soul-winner defeat that soul, or the devil, or something else? Webster offers us four different definitions, with this as the first – “To gain by success in competition.” His second is – “to gain by solicitation or courtship” – the man won the hand of the woman he loved. And then – “to obtain; to allure with kindness or compliance” – he adds, “win your enemy with kindness.” And finally, “to gain by persuasion or influence,” as the orator won the hearts of his audience.
That is the English word – that which Tyndale thought best expressed the Hebrew word “laqach” (law-kakh’). So what was that word which Solomon was led by the Spirit to use? It is very common – used nearly a thousand times and translated in a variety of ways. Nearly 800 times it is some variety of “to take,” followed by the much more mild “to receive.” “He that (taketh) souls is wise;” or “He that (receiveth) souls is wise.” And what about “He that (marrieth) souls is wise” – to “marry” is a translation of “laqach” (law-kakh’) used four times. What I’m trying to point out is that this is a complex word.
Perhaps a consideration of the “soul” sheds light on the definition, suggesting how it should be “won.” Obviously, the soul is never the prize which the winner has won. I might have won the hand of Judy Lynn Price fifty years ago, but I did not win her soul. I might have won her heart in one sense, but her soul can never belong to me except perhaps poetically. Because God has said, “Behold, all souls are mine (saith the Lord); as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine.” With Ezekiel 18:4 still in our minds, when that high-powered evangelist wins another soul, has his victim become any more the property of God than he was before? Not really.
But we can’t deny what this scripture teaches – “he is wise who winneth souls.” So what does Solomon suggest? He means that the soul has been won to something – it has been won over. But what is it? Has it been broken down sufficiently to utter the “sinner’s prayer”? Is bringing someone to pray, “Jesus save me” an example of “soul-winning?” Has the man been so verbally pulverized that he can’t do anything else but repent before God? Again, I don’t think so.
Let’s try to keep our thoughts within the context of Proverbs. Wisdom has been working upon the simple, to keep him from the strange woman and other temptations. The heart of the average man is bent toward worldliness and sin. Wisdom is attempting to win that errant child back to the truth – to the straight and narrow way.
To win the lost – which by the way is not to be found in this verse. Nevertheless, to win the lost is to teach them the truths of the gospel – beginning with their sinfulness and condemnation. To “laqach” (law-kakh’) is to break down the proud, sinful defenses – the sinner’s wall of rebellion. It is to explain the details and purpose of the “death, burial and resurrection of Christ.” It is to lay the scriptures before that man, then to step back sufficiently to permit the Holy Spirit to do His perfect work. From that point the soul winner is there to answer questions and to offer encouragement. And he is enabled to do these things because he lives his own life as a branch of the true vine. His life is filled with righteous fruit. And inside that fruit are seeds which the Lord can use at His discretion to produce more fruit to His own glory.
In other words, I don’t believe Proverbs 11:30 should be used to exhort us to be soul-winners. I think this should be used to exhort us to be wise – to live as branches of the True Vine. If we are what we ought to be, the fruit will come out of the will of the Lord Himself.