If you had a really difficult decision to make today that was complicated and would affect the rest of your life, what kind of person would you go to for advice? You’d be smart if you sought out one or more people whom you know to have a lot of wisdom—and you yourself would be wise for doing so.
Most people are longing for wisdom, whether they use the word or not. When they get advice that has a ring of truth to it, and it leads them to goodnesss and wholeness and peace, they are deeply satisfied. Most people wish their leaders were wiser. There are just too many ways in which a lack of wisdom, or outright foolishness, can hurt ourselves and others.
What is wisdom? Both a special gift from God and a personal skill that is developed over time, wisdom is deep insight into the true nature of things, including their moral value, and the integrity to act on that insight. Wisdom is not different from knowledge, but is more than knowledge—like the difference between knowing about your spouse and knowing your spouse.
The Bible is a book full of wisdom, and it teaches that God wants every person to grow in wisdom. This is the highest form of “living the Bible”—to grow deeper and deeper in wisdom, to gain “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17), and “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). Then our life choices small and large are good and right because they have been regulated by the moral quality that is at the heart of God’s wisdom.
The alternative is unthinkable. The book of Proverbs speaks about “the fool,” but there are several different levels of foolishness, marked by the Hebrew words that are used.
The most primitive form of foolishness is simplemindedness. This is simple ignorance. Not knowing any better. Making mistakes. Being naive. Simplemindedness can cause great harm, but more serious still is the kind of foolishness that is carelessness. This is when we choose not to listen to good advice, when we rush a decision, or say or do things without regard for their effects on other people, when we are foolish through negligence. That can cause a lot of harm. The strongest form of foolishness in the book of Proverbs is cynicism and hypocrisy. This is the “scoffer,” someone who mocks what is good. When people just give up on integrity, or act civilly in public but turn into monsters behind closed doors, that is the strongest form of foolishness.
The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians: “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God” (1 Cor. 2:1). He said: “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Jesus is the message. He is better than “the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing” (1 Cor. 2:6).
And so, Paul says, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words” (1 Cor. 2:13).
So how does this work? How can we live out the wisdom of Scripture?
First, we must read all of Scripture with open and teachable minds. Every page has wisdom, and we will catch different points over the years.
Then we can pay special attention to the so-called “wisdom literature” of the Bible. Anybody would do well to read the remarkable book of Proverbs once a year. Its opening words speak of its purpose:
Proverbs… for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young— let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance. (Prov. 1:1-5)
The book of Proverbs gives us general statements of what is generally true. This is different from God’s promises. The book of Proverbs makes us wiser in how we view life. It shapes our expectations so they are not too low or high. It also gives us bold warnings about life decisions that are dangerous.
The book of James in the New Testament focuses a lot on wisdom. It, too, offers practical advice about life. In contrast with “earthly wisdom” which is so misguided that it leads to “envy and selfish ambition,” “disorder,” “and every evil practice,” James says “the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
Each quality in that list describes both attitude and action. Live a life of deeper wisdom, and people will seek you out. You will have the blessing of helping people avoid cliffs, and move on to good places in their lives.
(to be continued)