When Scripture is misunderstood, it can impact our understanding about evangelism. For example, Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.” Some have misunderstood that to say that God expects us to win people to Christ. I stress repeatedly that the teaching of the Bible is not that we must bring people to Christ, but instead that we must bring Christ to people. Only He can bring people to Himself. So, what is Proverbs 11:30 saying?
This verse is not about evangelism. The phrase “fruit of the righteous” refers to the good a righteous man does for others. His words, actions, instruction, and example uplift those around him. Thus, the good he does is a “tree of life”. The phrase, “he who wins souls is wise” means a wise man wins people to himself. This can be done for sinister reasons, such as using others for selfish gain, but here it is meant in a good sense. The wise man captivates people, having a good influence upon them.
Proverbs 11:30 teaches that just as the freshest righteousness produces fruit, wisdom produces influence. A righteous man produces fruit that has a positive effect upon others. He then uses his influence to win people to himself. Although the verse does not talk about evangelism specifically, there could be an application. People often are drawn to Christ because a believer’s life attracts them. Consequently, we ought to be “living epistles” to non-Christians. The verse, though, is not speaking of God’s expectation for us to win the lost.
A misunderstanding of Scripture can hurt our understanding of evangelism. Properly understood Proverbs 11:30 is not actually talking about evangelism and is certainly not saying that we have to win people to Christ. But taking into account the Psalmist’s words, Christians can impact non-believers through pure living and, in so doing, win their trust and open doors for opportunities to share the gospel with them.