“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.” Proverbs 11:30. The emphasis of this speech will be on the positive. We will strive to determine what the Bible means when it speaks of a “soul winner.” We have assumptions, namely those of the Reformed faith which maintains God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s absolute depravity.
First, let us consider the idea of “winneth”.
Sometimes “win” is used in a bad sense, as in games of chance (lottery), or in games of sleight of hand. It is sad, but some try to win in religion with trickery. They use any and every means to get people to attend their church or Sunday school. This makes religion a game in which the participants are busy trying to get people’s attention so they can save their souls. Many times, these think that it is they who actually win or save souls.
The Bible uses the word “win” in a better sense, as in war, in wrestling, or in love (win the heart or affections of the loved). We may rightly assume that the Bible uses the word “win” in this better sense in Proverbs 11:30.
When we apply the word “win” to souls and come up with the expression “winning souls,” then too there is much misuse. However, the expression “soul winner” is legitimate in spite of its wide misuse. It is legitimate, first, because the Bible uses it. Any term used in the Bible we should be free to use. Secondly, the phrase “soul winning” is a legitimate expression just because the Bible supports the concept it expresses. The disciples were commanded to be “fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19), called to catch their fellow-humans in the Gospel net. The believing wife is commanded to live in submission to her unbeliever mate, for such a conduct may be used of God to “win” the unbeliever. (1 Peter 3:1). James informs us that “if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:19,20). Jude 23 commands us to “save with fear, pulling them out of the fire.” A text which uses language very similar to the context of Proverbs 11:30 is Daniel 12:3, “And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” The classic passage is the language of Paul, I Corinthians 9:19-24, where he speaks of “gaining” and “saving” some.
This language of Scripture is reflected in the Heidelberg Catechism, which states that one reason for doing good works is “that others may be gained to Christ” (question 86).
What does the Bible mean by the use of this language?
To win a soul is to free that soul from the captivity of sin and of the devil and to bring it into the service of righteousness. It is much more difficult to win a soul than to win a battle or a city. A Christian soldier must know how to sap a prejudice, how to undermine a hatred and how to kill unbelief in the name of the Lord. The soul-winner comes into close quarters with the devil within men when he fights against their love of sin, their pride, or their despair.
To “win a soul” refers to conversion. It can refer to the initial turning away from sin to faith in Christ and into the service of God. But much more frequently a soul is won or converted in the sense of daily or continual conversion: sorrow, repentance, apology.
How do we “win” souls?
The great prevalence of unbiblical ideas of winning souls makes it necessary for us to say first how winning souls is NOT done. It is NOT accomplished by my thinking that I must have the powers to persuade or turn a soul. It is NOT thinking (really, we should say, fearing) that the ultimate responsibility for whether an individual will be saved is mine. This is often what is thought, but it is very wrong.
The way in which the soul winner operates is not unusual. The soul winner simply conducts himself as all believers are commanded to do. The context to Proverbs 11:30 makes it clear that this is the Bible’s answer. The soul winner wins souls by living out his faith.
Proverbs 11:28 provide the first big clue when it says that the “righteous…flourish as a branch”. The “righteous” is one to whom the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ has been imputed and imparted. This righteousness is manifested in his conduct. Specifically, the context shows that the “righteous” are righteous toward God, not trusting in riches (28a), but in trusting Christ for righteousness and for loving care. Also, they are righteous in their conduct toward neighbors: example, honest, virtuous, words seasoned with grace, etc.
Such righteous persons “flourish as a branch”, bearing fruit, which fruit is “a tree of life”. It is this tree of life which wins souls. This passage makes a parallel between “tree of life” and “winning souls.”
The tree of life in both paradise (Gen. 2:9; 3:24) and in heaven (Rev. 22:2) is the source of spiritual strength to believers. The expression, “tree of life” is used concerning wisdom (Prov. 3:18) and fulfilled hope (Prov. 13:12) and with regard to the believer in Proverbs 15:4; 12:28; and 10:11. The believer, walking in righteousness, is a tree of life because he exerts an influence which is quickening, refreshing and happy. In the wilderness of this life, God uses the believer’s righteous walk as a positive influence on those around him.
The righteous win souls by means of their righteous conduct. The righteous preach with their conduct and conversation. Our life illustrates what we say we believe. We are practical preachers (living out the preaching we hear). Just as we all first look at the picture and then at the print in the newspaper, so outsiders consider first our lives and then our doctrinal positions. And then, after learning what we believe, they look to see if we practice what we preach.
The godly wife wins the soul of her unbelieving husband with the wisdom of a conduct characterized by meekness and sobriety (I Peter 3:1). One saves his fellow-sinner from death with the wisdom of the patient energy of faith and love (James 5: 20). No Christian is to live unto himself, but for his or her fellow-saints (Rom. 14:17-19).
The righteous talk with others of the truth, because God is so worthy to be known and because they love their neighbor (love for the neighbor is chiefly concern for his eternal state and for his spiritual wellbeing). When timidity would prevent us from talking to others, then we must think of God’s worthiness and of our neighbor’s worth, rather than of ourselves.
A very important aspect of the walk of the righteous is that they strive to bring others to hear the Word preached. Do so with the prayer that your minister’s sermon may be blessed. Before and/or after the service talk with visitors. The preacher may have missed the mark, so you should try not to miss it; or if the sermon struck, you make it go deeper. Seek to impress upon them the truth which the sermon put into their ear.
Soul-winners must be masters of the art of prayer. You cannot bring souls to God, if you do not go to Him yourself. When you are much alone with Jesus, you catch His Spirit, and are fired with the flame that burned in Him. Prayer reveals the wisdom that only God can reach the heart. So we pray every time we witness, asking God to bless our witness.
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Is he who wins a love wise? Is he who wins a ball game wise? Maybe. But it is certain that “he that winneth souls is wise.”
God’s grace must make one wise to capture a soul. This is the wisdom of using the best means to gain the highest end. Jesus said that “wisdom is justified in all her children” (Matt. 11:19), so wisdom is proven with souls won. Wisdom is the best use of the knowledge that only God can change the heart and that He almost always uses means. For example, wisdom uses the knowledge of God’s Word that most children of believers are won through covenant training.
God Himself does not win souls without wisdom (He exhibits His infinite wisdom). In God’s wisdom, the ability to glorify God in the eternal and perfect bliss of heaven is the highest end for man. To that end, the means God has determined to be best is Jesus Christ and Him crucified (I Cor. 1:23,24). In salvation, there is as much wisdom of God as in His creating the universe. There is the wisdom of a perfect harmony between His Spirit and the activity of the sinner’s heart and conscience. His wisdom is seen in that the Spirit makes salvation and its benefits desirable to the sinner. Further, the wisdom of God is seen in that the way to Jesus is faith, and the best means to attain that is the preaching.
Those who win souls will evidence and reflect God’s wisdom. They will show the wisdom of seeking the highest good of their neighbor. Their wisdom will be seen in using, not the means the world would recommend (drama, music), but God’s selected means: the preaching and our witnessing of the truths learned in the preaching.
Wisdom will be that of listening to the ones to whom we desire to witness. We will not bring the same pat answers in the same manner to everyone. Rather we will listen in order to learn the background and perspective of the person to whom we are witnessing or preaching. It was wisdom for Paul to become as a Jew to the Jews, as weak to the weak, and all things to all men that he might by ALL means save some. Note well Paul’s declared reason for this wisdom: “this I do for the gospels sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (I Cor. 9:23).
Wisdom is the desire to bring God’s Word to the person in the most effective manner. Wisdom is recognizing that the one witnessing must not stand in the way of one coming to faith, to repentance, or to a richer knowledge of the truth. Wisdom is recognizing that though nothing is impossible with God, the Holy Spirit usually uses the best means.
Be wise! Win souls!
Turn souls to see Christ (for the first time or anew) through the power of Holy Spirit.