Recently in my early morning Bible reading, I was struck by Proverbs 22:29…
Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.
We sometimes downplay skill or capability in favour of character and convictions. And character is critical, because capability, without character, can be used to gain success without concern for God’s glory or moral conduct. Likewise, skills used in service of the wrong convictions can simply promote falsehood more efficiently.
But the proverb considers skill to be noteworthy, even likely to earn promotion. This lines up with my own prep for preaching Chronicles. Skill in every kind of work is appreciated there: stonecutters, masons and carpenters (1 Chr 22:15), metalsmiths, textile workers, engravers and timber cutters (2 Chr 2:7-8); the trained and skilled in music for the Lord (1 Chr 25:7). These skills were valued for the Temple in Jerusalem. Why would we want to serve King of all Creation with second rate skills or effort in his ‘dwelling place’?
This sent me on a word-search through the Bible. Skill could be used in writing a wedding song (Psa 45:1), as a scribe “skilled in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6), or in leading a nation. So Psalm 78:72 says “David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” Skilled workers were among the ‘cream of the crop’ deported by King Nebuchadnezzar after he defeated Judah (2 Kings 24:14-16). So we find Daniel and his three friends enlisted in Babylon’s public service, “because God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom” (Dan 1:17).
All this proves the point of Prov 22:29! I encourage you to develop your skills and gifts.
Skill in your work can be as important as strength, at least in wielding an axe (Eccl 10:10). But on the other hand, the results of your effort and skill may be left to another who has not toiled for it, who may not be worthy of it, and who may even muck it up (Eccl 2:17-19). Skill “under the sun” – outside fear of the Lord – can be pretty meaningless.
The Scriptures also show that skill can be manifest in wicked ways. Job 32:33 acknowledges that “if I were skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away”. Tragically, skill is misused in making statues for idol worship (Deut 27:15; Isa 40:20). Ezekiel 21:31 warned that God might deliver his people into the hands of brutal men, skilled in destruction. Why would he permit such judgment? Jeremiah 4:22 suggests the answer: “My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good.”
Positively, Paul speaks of gospel ministry this way: “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. (1 Cor 3:10 ESV). Of course, he immediately adds that no one should lay a foundation other than Jesus Christ (v11). So most of all, let us combine right convictions, godly character, and skilful capability in serving Jesus.
Warmly in Christ,