Written by John F. Evans |
Monday, October 16, 2023
Though true wisdom should never be confused with native intelligence and education, there is need for study and reflection if we are to gain wisdom. Scripture commends to us a study of the “book of nature” down to its tiniest details: “Go to the ant . . . ; consider her ways, and be wise” (Prov. 6:6). Biblical wisdom involves a perception of God-given order, purpose, and meaning in creation. We could even say that wisdom is embedded in the created order, as the handiwork of “the only wise God” (Rom. 16:27). To “be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col. 1:9), we study the creation order, since it reveals the glory of Christ (vv. 15–20), by whom “all things were created . . . [and]all things hold together,” and through whom God has “reconcile[d] to himself all things” by the cross.
What does the Bible mean by true wisdom? We may speak of it as godly understanding and a faithful orientation to live (1) before the God we fear, (2) for the God we love, and (3) for the lasting benefit of God’s other creatures, whom He from the beginning purposed to bless. Wisdom is a pattern of life characterized by behaving with “godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God” (2 Cor. 1:12). We all need this.
Scripture does more than encourage us in this area; it issues an imperative: “Get wisdom” (Prov. 4:5, 7). This wisdom is a “must,” and God’s people are told to make its pursuit a main responsibility in life. For the purposes of this article, we will understand “gaining wisdom” in two senses: acquiring it in the first place and then growing in wisdom.
As a first principle, every Christian must grasp that wisdom comes from God. It does not belong to us but is “from above” (James 3:17). God causes us to know wisdom (Ps. 51:6). Let us say that true wisdom is taught by God, teaches of God, and leads to God (with apologies to Thomas Aquinas for adapting his aphorism about theology). Worldly wisdom, on the other hand, will never lead us to God (1 Cor. 1:21) and tends toward foolishness in suppressing the truth about God (Rom. 1:18–23).
As the Old Testament uses the term, wisdom has many shades of meaning and practical aspects. More generally, it can denote “learning,” “cleverness,” or “common sense.” It may mean “skill” or technical know-how (Ex. 28:3; 31:6; 1 Chron. 28:21; Ps. 107:27; Isa. 10:13;), such as an artisan would possess from long work experience. The Bible associates wisdom with good character and personal discipline. Think of diligence, truth-telling, peacemaking, being a good listener, self-control, and compassion. Wisdom has been defined as “the art of steering” through life, with its obstacles, uncertainties, temptations, and injustices. It includes avoiding the wrong paths (life’s dead ends) and turning back when we make mistakes. This article, however, concerns specifically the wisdom of God that we gain in communion with Him through the gospel. In other words, our question is, How does God mean for us to gain “a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12) in Jesus Christ?
Tremble before God
Fear of the Lord is most basic to acquiring and growing in wisdom. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; see also Job 28:28). Without a deep reverence for our Creator and a dread of offending Him, we lack wisdom. Without the fear of God, we have not made a start. If we lose a proper fear of the Lord, we must go back to the beginning and start over.
If “the fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom” (Prov. 15:33), we must be inducing and exercising a proper fear. Keeping our minds focused on God and the truths about God—He created us for Himself and to accomplish His will; His eyes are always on us; He orders our steps; He is our Judge; and under His sovereignty we return to dust (Ps. 90:3)—will promote a proper fear that, in turn, instructs us. Meditating on the truth of a final judgment (Eccl. 12:13–14; Rom. 14:10, 12; 2 Cor. 5:10) goes a long way toward instilling and strengthening that fear of the Lord that instructs in wisdom.
Sense Your Need for What Is outside Yourself
Wisdom can in many respects be equated with spiritual maturity, a growing up into Christ, who is the wisdom of God. The New Testament certainly calls us to strenuous effort in the Christian life (1 Cor. 9:27; Col. 3:23; 2 Peter 1:5–10). And we must indeed apply ourselves with all seriousness to the goal of growing in knowledge and wisdom. As with the entire sanctification process, however, we must never lose sight of the truth that ultimately it is God who works in us to will and to do His good purpose (Phil. 2:13). We do not gain the wisdom of God—what this article is about—by dint of effort and study or by an unceasing determination to become like the Savior. Ultimately, we pray for God the Father to grant us wisdom. We are taught wisdom by Him. We receive His wisdom as God the Son, Jesus Christ, dwells in our hearts by faith. Just as the incarnate Son had the Spirit of God rest on Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding (Isa. 11:2), so the Spirit must rest on us if we are to become wise. The gospel is not only about coming to know in Christ an “alien righteousness” (a righteousness outside ourselves, not our own), as Paul so wonderfully explains in Romans, Philippians, and elsewhere, but it is also about receiving what we might call an “alien wisdom.” There is a righteousness and there is a wisdom that we can never achieve on our own. We will never gain this wisdom without acknowledging our need and seeking the Giver of this good gift. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” to give you His wisdom (James 4:8).
I relate this point to the Bible’s teaching on union with Christ. How gloriously Jesus Himself is our salvation! We believers do not have life in ourselves, but we draw it continually from the Lord Jesus, in our faith-union with Him. We have no righteousness of our own, but we are counted righteous and begin to make progress in holiness as we are joined to Christ. He is our life, our righteousness, our sanctification. Likewise, Jesus Christ Himself is our wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24, 30; see also Col. 2:3).