“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls.”
There are several questions that can be asked of this text by way of observation. Who are the righteous? What is the fruit of the righteous? Why is it a tree of life and what is meant by this term? How does this fruit relate to winning souls? In what way is one wise to win souls? Before we answer these questions, let’s make some important observations:
- First, notice that the writer does not say, “He that wins souls is wise.”This would suggest that credit is to be given to a man’s account for winning souls. However, the Bible is clear that salvation is of the Lord and from the Lord, therefore, all glory for salvation belongs to the Lord (Jon.2:9; Acts 4:12; Ps.3:8). The way the writer expresses this truth in our text implies that the man who is walking in wisdom shall win souls (…“he who is wise wins souls”), not necessarily by direct effort to that end with the thought of reward in mind, but as a consequence or the natural result of the influence of his character and life. It is not that soul winning leads to wisdom, but wisdom produces a life that leads to winning souls.
- Second, in this verse, righteousness and wisdom are combined to tell us that those who obey the wisdom taught in God’s Word will become more skillful in handling the affairs of life.However, we must not think of wisdom as a set of rules or a “collection of success formulas” that anyone can occasionally apply as they please (Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, etc). God’s Word must first work within our hearts and transform our character before we can become the kind of people God can guide and bless. You don’t need godly character to be rich or popular, but if you’re concerned with making a life, you must major on building godly character.
- Third, the fruit of the righteousness that Solomon speaks of is practically explained by James (3:13-18). Wisdom leads to righteousness (Prov.8:20), and in the way of righteousness there is life (12:28).This life shows itself in what one says and does (James 3:13).He seeks to keep himself pure (undefiled), peaceable (with others), gentle (not harsh or critical, pressing ones own rights), reasonable (not unwilling to submit to the suggestions of others), full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy (dependable, consistent, honest, sincere). But the wicked have hopes that lead to nothing (Prov.10:28). Therefore, it behooves us to examine our own hearts to make sure we are among the righteous who truly have hope, and that we’re the kind of people the Lord can trust with His blessings.
- Fourth, winning souls to the writer means nothing less than the entire individual.To win a human being is winning him over to some point of view, to a certain resolution and to make him take his stand on a certain side.
The soul of people has to be won. Not hustled, not coerced, not threatened, or even manipulated. How is this to be done?
The word “win” is used in Scripture of warfare. Warriors and soldiers win cities, but to win a soul is more difficult than winning a city. However, the idea is that the soul winner has to sit down before a soul as a soldier to survey its walls, to map out his plans, and to sure up his resources. A soldier must not advance too quickly or too slowly. He must identify areas where the soul has been breached and where a ladder must be ready to scale the walls. He must know how to slay unbelief in the name of God and with the Word of God, to capture the soul and fling open the heart gate that the King of glory may come in. This is soul winning. And it is difficult work for which much wisdom is needed. (Cf. 2 Cor.10:3-5)
The word “win” is also used in Scripture of love.When we speak of the bridegroom who wins his bride, this idea appears. The weapon of our warfare is not always the same. Here the weapon is love, which sometimes appears in a look, a soft word whispered, a tear, or even an eager ear to listen. All of these ingredients combine to speak of compassion. Spurgeon said, “Carve a preacher out of granite and even if you give him an angel’s tongue, he will convert nobody.” When we speak of storming the walls and wrestling for souls, these are all metaphors that speak to the process we go through in our love for souls.
What is this wisdom that wins souls? It is not the wisdom of schools, but wisdom of the heart. It comes from experience and sympathetic insight. The Hebrew word for “winneth” may also be rendered “taketh” and with this we may compare Christ’s promise to His disciples that by following Him they would“now…be catching men” (Luke 5:10). This art of “manfishing” as Thomas Boston called it, is only learned by Divine teaching.
- The successful winner of souls must himself have found the truth.“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.” The fruit of the righteous—that is to say, his life—is not something that is fastened to him, but it grows out of him. It’s the natural outgrowth of his nature, not forced growth from religious excitements. That which is fruit in your life has the potential for becoming a tree to others.
- The successful winner of souls must be wise in the affairs of the heart.This knowledge is not gained in books or by attending conferences on how to win friends and influence people. Rather, it is found in the careful, patient, prayerful, biblical examination of one’s own heart.
- The successful winner of souls must have a passion for souls.He is willing to take them one by one. The Gospel plan is that people are to be saved—not in masses, but individually. Speaking to crowds may be thrilling for some, but it is the face-to-face, hand-to-hand work that reaches the heart. Christianity has always grown along the line of personal soul winning. A wins B, B wins C, C wins D, and “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
- The successful winner of souls must be an enthusiast.In other words, the task of soul winning cannot be done lethargically. It cannot be done with cold duty. A military recruiter will gain no recruits with scientific facts. The thing that is to fuel our enthusiasm is the depths to which a soul may fall and the heights to which he can rise, and the conviction of the responsibility placed upon us to benefit souls by the One who deserves a thousand times more than I can repay. If my sin, my death, my unworthiness, His grace, His forgiveness, His redemption, His glory does not move me to open my mouth and heart, then I must examine myself to discover who and what dwells in my heart.
- The successful winner of souls must rely less on his own wisdom and more on the wisdom of God.I have been surprised recently to learn of the number of baseball players who have their favorite glove or bat. Some carry their glove with them on trips to avoid the possibility of losing it with their luggage. Why would a skilled big league player demand to use only one kind of glove or bat? It is because when he puts his hand in it or on it, there is a feeling as if he knows it and it knows him. It seems to respond to his hand and movements. Such is the case with our souls. When God places His hand upon us, and we yield to every impression the Holy Spirit desires to convey, then we will be used more because we are sensitive to what He wants and when He wants it.