- What Is The Bible Definition Of Wisdom? How Are We Wise In God’s Eyes?
- What is Wisdom?
- The Beginning and End of Wisdom
- The New Testament Book of Wisdom
- Jesus’ Wisdom
- The Benefits of Wisdom
- Article by Jack Wellman
- 4 Ways to Get Wisdom
- 1. Fear God
- 2. Desire Wisdom
- 3. Pray for Wisdom
- 4. Study God’s Word
- KJV Dictionary Definition: wisdom
- What Does Wisdom Look Like?
- The Practice of Wisdom
- 1. Understanding
- 2. Prudence
- 3. Discernment
- 4. Foresight
- 5. Control
- 6. Flexibility
- 7. Persistence
- God Made Us to Be Eternally Happy
- What Is the Importance of Getting Wisdom?
- What Is Wisdom?
- How Can We Get Wisdom?
- What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?
- 8 Characteristics of Godly Wisdom
- Stay Connected
What Is The Bible Definition Of Wisdom? How Are We Wise In God’s Eyes?
What is wisdom? How does the Bible define it? How can we be wise before God’s eyes?
What is Wisdom?
Wisdom isn’t simply intelligence or knowledge or even understanding. It is the ability to use these to think and act in such a way that common sense prevails and choices are beneficial and productive. That is my definition anyway. You don’t get wisdom out of a textbook. You don’t get knowledge enough to make you wise. You don’t receive understanding from simply hearing others. Experience might be one of the most valuable tools in acquiring wisdom. That is to say, what we learn from experience gives us the wisdom whether to try a particular thing or make a certain choice or not. You can hear lectures on swimming, you can read books on swimming, and you can understand the buoyancy of water from observation but until you jump in the water and get some experience, you won’t have true wisdom about the water and that may make all the difference between swimming and drowning. Experience is often the best teacher.
The Beginning and End of Wisdom
Wisdom begins and ends with the fear of the Lord. It isn’t a fear of being struck by lightning or fear of being struck dead but it’s a deep, abiding, holy reverence and respect for the Lord and for His Word, the Bible. The Book of Proverbs has more to say about wisdom than any other book in the Bible. For example in Proverbs 9:10 Solomon, who was the wisest man on earth, at least until Christ came, said that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Where there is fear, there tends to be obedience and God has said He prefers obedience over sacrifice (1 Sam 15:22; Hosea 6:6). Sometimes obedience comes before understanding and when someone obeys what they know to be true, understanding usually follows. Wisdom begins with reverence for God and a fear for Him and His Word. That’s where wisdom begins. Where there is no fear of the Lord, there can never be any true wisdom. It’s just not possible.
The New Testament Book of Wisdom
The Book of James has been called the New Testament book of wisdom by many because it contains wisdom for the church and is considered part of what is called “wisdom literature” and indeed it has much wisdom in it. James saw the value of wisdom and explains this when he wrote “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). When Solomon became King of Israel, he could have asked God for many things but what did he ask for? Solomon asked for wisdom (1 King 3:9) and God answered that prayer and “God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice. I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be” (1 King 3:11-12). His wisdom grew so greatly that almost all that heard of him came to seek his wisdom and “came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon” (Luke 11:31). James understood that it is a good thing to pray for and ask God for wisdom. James asked the rhetorical question “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13) but there is a difference between earthly wisdom (James 3:15) and godly wisdom as he writes “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).
Jesus was said to be “full of wisdom” (Mark 6:2) by those who heard Him and as a young child He grew in wisdom rapidly (Luke 2:40; 52). Jesus told the disciples that when persecution begins to grow “I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (Luke 21:15) indicating that He, as God, is the true source of all wisdom. When Jesus came to teach “to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works” (Matt 13:54)? It is ascribed to Jesus this praise “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Rev 7:12) and “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev 5:12)! Solomon’s wisdom could not compare to the wisdom of Jesus because being God Himself, no other greater wisdom can be found and truly “something greater than Solomon is here” (Luke 11:31c).
The Benefits of Wisdom
When you’re a child, you don’t see the value in being disciplined but “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Prov 29:15) and “He who loves wisdom makes his father glad” (Prov 29:3a). How can we be wise in our own eyes before God? For one thing “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered” (Prov 28:26) and it is “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established” (Prov 24:3). The value of wisdom is seen in Solomon’s statement “Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding” (Prov 23:23).
The biblical definition of wisdom is the fear of the Lord as that’s where it begins and God is the source. The earthly wisdom is really no wisdom at all because “the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor 3:19). True wisdom is found in obedience to God, fearing Him and His Word, in the Word of God the Bible and by praying or asking for it. All other ground is sinking sand.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon.
4 Ways to Get Wisdom
Wisdom is a capacity of the mind that allows us to understand life from God’s perspective. Throughout the book of Proverbs, Solomon encourages us to “get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:5). He says those who get wisdom love life (see 19:8); that it’s better to get wisdom than gold (see 16:16); and that those who get wisdom find life and receive favor from the Lord (see 8:32 – 35).
Yet in Ecclesiastes 7:23–24 Solomon also makes clear that getting wisdom is a challenging process: “‘I am determined to be wise’ — but this was beyond me. Whatever exists is far off and most profound — who can discover it?”
Fortunately, Scripture provides us instruction in this area. Here are four Biblical instructions for how to get wisdom:
1. Fear God
Solomon says the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (see Proverbs 9:10). But how should we fear God? Philipp Melanchthon, a collaborator of Martin Luther, discussed what it means to fear God by contrasting filial fear with servile fear. Filial fear is the type of respect and love a child has for a parent, a fear of offending the one they most adore and trust. In contrast, servile fear is the kind of fear that a prisoner has for his jailer or executioner.
2. Desire Wisdom
The second step to getting wisdom is to desire it with all our heart. As Solomon says, we must “look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure” (Proverbs 2:4).
3. Pray for Wisdom
As James tell us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).
4. Study God’s Word
The fourth step in getting wisdom is studying and meditating on God’s Word (see Psalm 19:7). We shouldn’t rely merely on our own understanding, though, but lean on the wisdom and insight produced by Christians throughout the church’s history.
To get wisdom we must fear God, study his Word and prayerfully desire to understand life from God’s perspective.
Article drawn from the NIV LifeHacks Bible.
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KJV Dictionary Definition: wisdom
WISDOM, n. s as z. G. See Wise.
1. The right use or exercise of knowledge; the choice of laudable ends, and of the best means to accomplish them. This is wisdom in act, effect, or practice. If wisdom is to be considered as a faculty of the mind, it is the faculty of discerning or judging what is most just, proper and useful, and if it is to be considered as an acquirement, it is the knowledge and use of what is best, most just, most proper, most conducive to prosperity or happiness. Wisdom in the first sense, or practical wisdom, is nearly synonymous with discretion. I differs somewhat from prudence, in this respect; prudence is the exercise of sound judgment in avoiding evils; wisdom is the exercise of sound judgment either in avoiding evils or attempting good. Prudence then is a species, of which wisdom is the genus.
Wisdom gained by experience, is of inestimable value.
It is hoped that our rulers will act with dignity and wisdom; that they will yield every thing to reason, and refuse every thing to force.
2. In Scripture, human learning; erudition; knowledge of arts and sciences.
Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. Acts 7.
3. Quickness of intellect; readiness of apprehension; dexterity in execution; as the wisdom of Bezaleel and Aholiab. Exodus 31.
4. Natural instinct and sagacity. Job 39.
5. In Scripture theology, wisdom is true religion; godliness; piety; the knowledge and fear of God, and sincere and uniform obedience to his commands. This is the wisdom which is from above. Psalm 90. Job 28.
6. Profitable words or doctrine. Psalm 37.
The wisdom of this world, mere human erudition; or the carnal policy of men, their craft and artifices in promoting their temporal interests; called also fleshly wisdom. 1 Corinthians 2. 2 Corinthians 1.
The wisdom of words, artificial or affected eloquence; or learning displayed in teaching. 1 Corinthians 1 and 2.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
In our first post on thinking biblically about faith, work, and economics, we suggested five tools, or mental models, that should shape and support our thinking and decision-making, as well as help us build a holistic biblical worldview. By using these tools, we can take biblical principles and apply them to various situations that we encounter in our daily lives.
We have looked at the first two, “personal vision” and “gifts and talents,” now we want to turn to the third tool, “wisdom and knowledge.”
At first glance, it seems that the authors of the Bible use the words “wisdom,” “knowledge,” and a third term, “understanding,” almost interchangeably. A closer examination shows a difference in the way the three terms are used. This difference is very important for our understanding of this third mental model of “wisdom and knowledge.”
Simply put, these gifts as they are called in the Bible are defined as:
• Knowledge – the facts (Proverbs 9:10, Proverbs 18:15, Colossians 2:8, 1 Timothy 2:4).
• Understanding – ability to translate meaning from the facts (Psalm 119:130, Proverbs 3:5-7, 18:2, Philippians 1:9-10).
• Wisdom – knowing what to do next, given an understanding of the facts and circumstances (Ecclesiastes 8:1, James 3:17).
Those with knowledge are able to collect, remember, and access information. But, it is possible to have knowledge and lack understanding and wisdom. Someone might have the facts, but not know what they mean or what to do next.
Those with understanding are able to extract the meaning out of information. They “see through” the facts to the dynamics of what, how, and why. Understanding is a lens which brings the facts into crisp focus and produces principles.
Those with wisdom know which principle to apply in a given context. Understanding without wisdom can appear contradictory (Proverbs 26:4-5). For example, the statement, “He who hesitates is lost,” is true, but so is the idea that “haste makes waste.” Which principle to use depends on the context. Those with wisdom know what actions to take next. They do the right thing in the given situation. In contrast, there are many who have great knowledge and understanding but who consistently do the wrong thing.
Charles Spurgeon once wrote,
Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.
The following table may help you visualize the difference between these three terms:
What to Do Next
In any given situation, God rarely gives all three gifts to any one person. We need to cooperate and assist each other with our particular gift in order to accomplish what God has called us to do, especially in our vocational work.
This is what economists call the “knowledge problem.” No one person or group can have absolute knowledge or know all the facts, though we are all supposed to work towards developing and acquiring knowledge, wisdom, and understanding in our lives. God is the only one who does not have a knowledge problem.
We will return to the interplay between these three terms— “knowledge,” “understanding,” and “wisdom”—in a later post. But first let’s look closer at this idea of knowledge.
The New Testament word “disciple” literally means “a learner.” Christians are called to a careful study of the Bible. This will help us acquire the knowledge that we need in order to do what God has call us to do. Jesus said,
If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free (John 8:31–32).
R.C. Sproul writes in one daily devotional that,
Our Lord calls for a continued application of the mind to His Word. A disciple does not dabble in learning. He makes the pursuit of an understanding of God’s Word a chief business of his life.
It is clear that Christians are to study God’s word to learn his revealed knowledge (wisdom and understanding can also be learned from Scripture, too). But are there other places to seek knowledge as well? I will answer that question in my next post.
3. Religious Basis
5. Teaching of Christ
6. Remainder of the New Testament
bin (binah, and in the English Revised Version tebunah), sakhal (sekhel, sekhel), lebh (and in the English Revised Version labhabh), tushiyah (and in the English Revised Version Te`em, `ormah, piqqach. None of these, however, is of very frequent occurrence and by far the most common group is the verb chakham, with the adjective chakham, and the nouns chokhmah, chokhmoth, with something over 300 occurrences in the Old Testament (of which rather more than half are in Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes). Cokhmah, accordingly, may be treated as the Hebrew equivalent for the English “wisdom,” but none the less the two words do not quite correspond. For chokhmah may be used of simple technical skill (Exodus 28:3; 35:25, etc.; compare The Wisdom of Solomon 14:2; Sirach 38:31; note that the English Versions of the Bible gives a false impression in such passages), of military ability (Isaiah 10:13), of the intelligence of the lower animals (Proverbs 30:24), of shrewdness applied to vicious (2 Samuel 13:3) or cruel (1 Kings 2:9 Hebrew) ends, etc. Obviously no one English word will cover all these different uses, but the general meaning is clear enough–“the art of reaching one’s end by the use of the right means” (Smend). Predominantly the “wisdom” thought of is that which comes through experience, and the “wise man” is at his best in old age (Job 12:12; 15:10; Proverbs 16:31; Sirach 6:34; 8:9; 25:3-6, etc.; contrast Job 32:9; Ec 4:13; The Wisdom of Solomon 4:9; Sirach 25:2). And in religion the “wise man” is he who gives to the things of God the same acuteness that other men give to worldly affairs (Luke 16:8). He is distinguished from the prophets as not having personal inspiration, from the priestly school as not laying primary stress on the cult, and from the scribes as not devoted simply to the study of the sacred writings. But, in the word by itself, a “wise man” need not in any way be a religious man.
In the Revised Version (British and American) Apocrypha and New Testament the words “wisdom,” “wise,” “act wisely,” etc., are always translations of phronimos, or of their cognates. For “wisdom,” however, sophia is in almost every case the original word, the sole exception in the New Testament being Luke 1:17 (phronesis).
See also PRUDENCE.
(1) In the prophetic period, indeed, “wise” generally has an irreligious connotation. Israel was fully sensible that her culture was beneath that of the surrounding nations, but thought of this as the reverse of defect. Intellectual power without moral control was the very fruit of the forbidden tree (Genesis 3:5), and “wisdom” was essentially a heathen quality (Isaiah 10:13; 19:12; 47:10; Ezekiel 28:3-5; Zechariah 9:2; specifically Edomite in Jer 49:7; Ob 1:8; contrast Baruch 3:22,23) that deserved only denunciation (Isaiah 5:21; 29:14; Jeremiah 4:22; 9:23; 18:18, etc.). Certainly at this time Israel was endeavoring to acquire a culture of her own, and there is no reason to question that Solomon had given it a powerful stimulus (1 Kings 4:29-34). But the times were too distracted and the moral problems too imperative to allow the more spiritually-minded any opportunity to cultivate secular learning, so that “wisdom” in Israel took on the unpleasant connotation of the quality of the shrewd court counselors, with their half-heathen advice (Isaiah 28:14-22, etc.). And the associations of the word with true religion are very few (Deuteronomy 4:6; Jeremiah 8:8), while Deuteronomy 32:6; Jeremiah 4:22; 8:9 have a satirical sound–`what men call “wisdom” is really folly!’ So, no matter how much material may have gathered during this period (see PROVERBS), it is to the post-exilic community that we are to look for the formation of body of Wisdom literature really associated with Israel’s religion.
(2) The factors that produced it were partly the same as those that produced scribism (see SCRIBES). Life in Palestine was lived only on the sufferance of foreigners and must have been dreary in the extreme. Under the firm hand of Persia there were no political questions, and in later times the nation was too weak to play any part in the conflicts between Antioch and Alexandria. Prophecy had about disappeared, fulfillment of the Messianic hope seemed too far off to affect thought deeply, and the conditions were not yet ripe that produced the later flame of apocalyptic enthusiasm. Nor were there vital religious problems within the nation, now that the fight against idolatry had been won and the ritual reforms established. Artistic pursuits were forbidden (compare especially The Wisdom of Solomon 15:4-6), and the Jewish temperament was not of a kind that could produce a speculative philosophy (note the sharp polemic against metaphysics, etc., in Sirach 3:21-24). It was in this period, to be sure, that Jewish commercial genius began to assert itself, but there was no satisfaction in this for the more spiritually-minded (Sirach 26:29). So, on the one hand, men were thrown back on the records of the past (scribism), while on the other the problems of religion and life were studied through sharp observation of Nature and of mankind. And the recorded results of the latter method form the Wisdom literature.
(3) In this are included Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, with certain psalms (notably Ps 19; 37; 104; 107; 147; 148); in the Apocrypha must be added Sirach and Wisdom, with part of Baruch; while of the other writings of the period parts of Philo, 4 Maccabees, and the Abikar legend belong here also. How far foreign influence was at work it is hard to say. Egypt had a Wisdom literature of her own (see EGYPT) that must have been known to some degree in Palestine, while Babylonia and Persia could” not have been entirely without effect–but no specific dependence can be shown in any of these cases. For Greece the case is clearer, and Greek influence is obvious in Wisdom, despite the particularistic smugness of the author. But there was vitality enough in Judaism to explain the whole movement without recourse to outside influences, and, in any case, it is most arbitrary and untrue to attribute all the Wisdom speculation to Greek forces (as, e.g., does Siegfried, HDB).
3. Religious Basis:
The following characteristics are typical of the group:
(1) The premises are universal. The writers draw from life wherever found, admitting that in some things Israel may learn from other nations. The Proverbs of Lemuel are referred explicitly to a non-Jewish author (Proverbs 31:1 the Revised Version margin), and Sirach recommends foreign travel to his students (34:10,11; 39:4). Indeed, all the princes of the earth rule through wisdom (Proverbs 8:16; compare Ecclesiastes 9:15). And even some real knowledge of God can be obtained by all men through the study of natural phenomena (Psalms 19:1; Sirach 16:29-17:14; 42:15-43:33; The Wisdom of Solomon 13:2,9; compare Romans 1:20).
(3) The attitude toward the written Law varies. In Ecclesiastes, Job and Proverbs it is hardly mentioned (Proverbs 28:7-9; 29:18 (?)). Wisdom, as a special pamphlet against idolatry, has little occasion for specific reference, but its high estimate of the Law is clear enough (The Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-15; 18:9). Sirach, especially, can find no terms high enough for the praise of the Law (especially Sirach 24; 36; compare 9:15; 21:11, etc.), and he identifies the Law with Wisdom (24:23-25) and claims the prophets as Wisdom teachers (44:3,4). Yet this perverse identification betrays the fact that Sirach’s interest is not derived from a real study of the Law; the Wisdom that was so precious to him must be in the sacred books! Compare Baruch 4:1 (rather more sincere).
(6) That in all the literature the individual is the center of interest need not be said. But this individualism, when combined with the weak eschatology, brought dire confusion into the doctrine of retribution (see SIN). Sirach stands squarely by the old doctrine of retribution in this life:
if at no other time, a man’s sins will be punished on his deathbed (1:13; 11:26). Neither Job nor Ecclesiastes, however, are content with this solution. The latter leaves the problem entirely unsolved (8:14, etc.), while the former commends it to God’s unsearchable ways.
The basis of the Wisdom method may be described then as that of a “natural” religion respecting revelation, but not making much use of it. So the ideal is a man who believes in God and who endeavors to live according to a prudence taught by observation of this world’s laws, with due respect, however, to Israel’s traditional observances.
(1) From many standpoints the resulting character is worthy of admiration. The man was intelligent, earnest, and hard-working (Proverbs has a particular contempt for the “sluggard”; and compare Ecclesiastes 9:10). Lying and injustice are denounced on almost every page of the literature, and unceasing emphasis is laid on the necessity for benevolence (Psalms 37:21; 112:5,9; Job 22:7; 31:16-20; Proverbs 3:27,28; 14:31; 21:13; 22:9; Ecclesiastes 11:1; Sirach 4:16; 7:34,35; 29:11-13; 40:24, etc.). All of the writers feel that life is worth the living–at their most pessimistic moments the writers of Job and Ecclesiastes find attraction in the contemplation of the world. In Proverbs and Sirach the outlook is even buoyant, Sirach in especial being far from indifferent to the good things of life (30:23-25; 31:27; compare Ecclesiastes 2:24 and contrast The Wisdom of Solomon 2:6-9).
(3) So hope of earthly recompense becomes a very explicit motive (Proverbs 3:10; 11:25, etc.; The Wisdom of Solomon 7:8-12 is the best statement on the other side). Even though riches are nothing in themselves (Proverbs 10:2; 11:28; 23:4,5; 28:11; Ecclesiastes 5:13; Sirach 11:19; 31:5-7; all the literature denounces the unrighteous rich), yet Wisdom is to be desired as bringing not only righteousness but riches also (Proverbs 8:21; 11:25; 13:18; Sirach 4:15; 20:27,28; The Wisdom of Solomon 6:21). This same desire for advantage gives an unpleasant turn to many of the precepts which otherwise would touch the highest point; perhaps Proverbs 24:17,18 is the most extreme case:
“Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, …. lest Yahweh …. turn away his wrath from him” (!)
(4) But probably the most serious fault was that the Wisdom method tended to produce a religious aristocracy (Sirach 6:22, etc.). It was not enough that the heart and will should be right, for a long course of almost technical training was needed (the “house of instruction” in Sirach 51:23 is probably the school; compare Proverbs 9:4). The uninstructed or “simple” (Proverbs 1:22, etc.) were grouped quite simply with the “sinners”; knowledge was virtue and ignorance was vice. Doubtless Wisdom cried in the streets (Proverbs 1:20,21; 8:1-13; 9:1-6, almost certainly a reference to the canvassing efforts of the teachers for pupils), but only men of ability and leisure could obey the call to learn. And despite all that is said in praise of manual labor (Proverbs 12:11; 24:27; 28:19; Sirach 7:15; 38:31,32,34), Sirach is merely frank when he says explicitly (38:25-34) that Wisdom cannot be for artisans (a carpenter as Messiah evidently would have been unthinkable to Sirach; Mark 6:3). Scribism was at work along the same lines of development, and the final union of the Wisdom method with the scribal produced a class who called the common people accursed (John 7:49).
5. Teaching of Christ:
The statement of the methods and ideals of the Wisdom school is also virtually a statement of our Lord’s attitude toward it and an explanation of why much of His teaching took the form it did. As to the universality of the premises He was at one with the Wisdom writers, one great reason for the universality of the appeal of His teaching. Almost everything in the life of the time, from the lily of the field to the king on his throne, contributed its quota to His illustrations. And from the Wisdom method also the form of His teaching–the concise, antithetical saying that sticks in the memory–was derived to some degree. (Of all the sayings of Christ, perhaps Luke 14:8-10–a quotation of Proverbs 25:6,7–comes nearest to the pure Wisdom type.) In common with the Wisdom writers, also, is the cheerful outlook, despite the continual prospect of the Passion, and we must never forget that all morbid asceticism was entirely foreign to Him (Luke 7:34 parallel Matthew 11:19). With the self-conscious, calculating product of the Wisdom method, however, He had no patience. Give freely, give as the Father giveth, without regard to self, in no way seeking a reward, is the burden of His teaching, and such a passage as Luke 6:27-38 seems to have been aimed at the head of such writers as Sirach. The attack on the religious aristocracy is too familiar to need recapitulation. Men by continual exercise of worldly prudence could make themselves as impervious to His teaching as by obstinate adherence to a scribal tradition, while His message was for all men on the sole basis of a desire for righteousness on their part. This was the true Wisdom, fully justified of her children (Luke 7:35; compare Matthew 11:19), while, as touching the other “Wisdom,” Christ could give thanks that God had seen fit to hide His mysteries from the wise and prudent and reveal them unto “babes” (Luke 10:21 parallel Matthew 11:25).
6. Remainder of the New Testament:
Paul, on the other hand, belongs to an entirely different class, that of intense religious experience, seeking its premises in revelation. So the Wisdom method is foreign to him and the absence of Nature illustrations from his pages is notorious (even Romans 11:17 is an artificially constructed figure). Only one passage calls for special comment. The “wisdom” against which he inveighs in 1 Corinthians 1-3 is not Jewish but Greek-speculation in philosophy, with studied elegance in rhetoric. Still, Jewish or Greek, the moral difficulty was the same. God’s message was obscured through an overvaluation of human attainments, and so Paul’s use of such Old Testament passages as Isaiah 29:14; Job 5:13; Psalms 94:11 (in 1 Corinthians 1:19; 3:19,20) is entirely lust. Against this “wisdom” Paul sets the doctrine of the Cross, something that outraged every human system but which, all the more, taught man his entire dependence on God.
Yet Paul had a “wisdom” of his own (1 Corinthians 2:6), that he taught to Christians of mature moral (not intellectual:
1 Corinthians 3:1-3) progress. Some commentators would treat this wisdom as doctrinal and find it in (say) Romans; more probably it is to be connected with the mystical experiences of the Christian whose life has become fully controlled by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10-13). For religious progress is always accompanied by a higher insight that can never be described satisfactorily to persons without the same experience (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Wisdom builds her house, marries her disciple, mingles wine, etc. The most famous passage is Proverbs 8:22-31, however. The Wisdom that is so useful to man was created before man, before, indeed, the creation of the world. When the world was formed she was in her childhood, and while God formed the world she engaged in childish play, under His shelter and to His delight. So Proverbs 8:30 should be rendered, as the context makes clear that ‘mwn should be pointed ‘amun, “sheltered,” and not ‘amon, “as a master-workman.” And “Wisdom” is a quality of man (Proverbs 8:31-36), not a quality of God.
(2) Indeed, “Wisdom” is an attribute rarely predicated of God in the Old Testament (1 Kings 3:28; 31:2; Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15; compare Daniel 5:11), even in the Wisdom writers (Job 5:12; 9:4; Psalms 104:24; Proverbs 3:19). Partly this reticence seems to be due to a feeling that God’s knowledge is hardly to be compared in kind to man’s, partly to the fact that to the earlier writers “Wisdom” had a profane sound. Later works, however, have less hesitation in this regard (e.g., Sirach 42:21; Baruch 3:32, the Massoretic Text pointing and the Septuagint of Proverbs 8:30), so that the personifications became personifications of a quality of God. The result was one of the factors that operated to produce the doctrine of the “Word” as it appeared in the Palestinian form.
(3) In the Apocrypha, however, the most advanced step is taken in Wisdom. Wisdom is the only-begotten of God (The Wisdom of Solomon 7:22), the effulgence of eternal light (The Wisdom of Solomon 7:26; compare Hebrews 1:3), living with God (The Wisdom of Solomon 8:3) and sharing (?) His throne (The Wisdom of Solomon 9:4). She is the origin (or “mother”) of all creatures (The Wisdom of Solomon 7:12; compare 8:6), continualiar active in penetrating (The Wisdom of Solomon 7:24), ordering (The Wisdom of Solomon 8:1), and renewing (The Wisdom of Solomon 7:27) all things, while carrying inspiration to all holy souls (The Wisdom of Solomon 7:23), especially to Israel (The Wisdom of Solomon 10:17,18). Here there is no doubt that the personification has ceased to be rhetorical and has become real. Wisdom is thought of as a heavenly being, not so distinctively personal, perhaps, as an angel, but none the less far more than a mere rhetorical term; i.e. she is a “hypostasis.”
(4) Most of Wisdom’s description is simply an expansion of earlier Palestinian concepts, but it is evident that other influence has been at work also and that that influence was Greek. The writer of Wisdom was touched genuinely by the Greek philosophy, and in The Wisdom of Solomon 7:24, at any rate, his “Wisdom” is the logos spermatikos of the Stoics, with more than suspicions of Greek influence elsewhere in the descriptions. This combination of Jewish and Greek thought was still further elaborated by Philo–and still further confused. For Philo endeavored to operate with the Wisdom doctrine in its Palestinian form, the Wisdom doctrine into which Wisdom had already infused some Loges doctrine, and the Logos doctrine by itself, without thoroughly understanding the discordant character of his terms. The result is one of the most obscure passages in Philo’s system. Sometimes, as in DeFug. section 109, chapter xx, Wisdom is the mother of the Logos, as God is its Father (compare Cherubim, sections 49, 50, chapter xiv), while, again, the relation can be inverted almost in the same context and the Logos appears as the source of Wisdom (De Fug. section 97, chapter xviii).
(5) Philo’s influence was incalculable, and Wisdom, as a heavenly power, plays an almost incredible role in the Gnostic speculations of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the Gnostic work, Pistis Sophia, probably attaining the climax of unreality. The orthodox Fathers, however, naturally sought Wisdom within the Trinity, and Irenaeus made an identification with the Holy Spirit (iv. 20, 3). Tertullian, on the other hand, identified Wisdom with the Son (probably following earlier precedent) in Adv. Prax., 7, and this identification attained general acceptation. So Proverbs 8:22-30 became a locus classicus in the Christological controversies (an elaborate exposition in Athanaslus, Orat. ii. 16-22), and persisted as a dogmatic proof-text until a very modern period.
See also the articles on the various books and compare LOGOS; PHILO, JUDAEUS.
Burton Scott Easton
This next gift at times will work in conjunction with the word of knowledge. Sometimes all you need is a direct word of knowledge from the Holy Spirit and it will completely solve the problem or dilemma you are dealing with.
However, there will be other times that a word of knowledge will not be quite enough to solve the problem. This is where you will now need a word of wisdom. A word of wisdom will give you the ability to be able to properly apply the knowledge that you may already have on a particular situation.
In our article, “Seeking After the Knowledge of God,” we explain to you the difference between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. For instance, if someone gives you a car manual that will show you how to rebuild a car engine, that manual will give you all of the actual knowledge you will need to learn how to do it. But all of that knowledge will not do you any good unless you first understand what you are reading.
If you can understand what you are reading, then the next and final step will be to have the actual wisdom to be able to actually rebuild a car engine out in your garage once you try and do it. All of that knowledge from the car manual, and all of that understanding of that knowledge will do you no good in real life if you do not have the wisdom to be able to apply that knowledge to a real life working situation.
This is why we all need words of wisdom from the Holy Spirit in our daily life, so we will know how to handle more complex types of problems or issues that can occur at a moment’s notice in our daily lives.
Here are some specific examples where we could receive words of wisdom direct from the Holy Spirit:
- You have just found out that your spouse has been cheating on you. You will now need God’s wisdom on exactly how to handle this crisis.
- Your boss has just given you a new tough assignment and you are not sure on how to get the job properly done. You will now need God’s knowledge and wisdom on how to get this new assignment successfully completed.
- Your finances have spiraled out of control and you will now need God’s guidance and wisdom on how to keep yourself out of bankruptcy.
- You have just been named in an unjust lawsuit and you will now need God’s wisdom on how to properly handle it.
As you can see, there are literally an infinite number of possibilities where you will need God’s wisdom to get you safely though the problem or dilemma you are now having to face.
Again, since our own human intelligence is so imperfect and so limited in its ability to apply real wisdom to handle and solve some of life’s real tough problems, we all need the wisdom of God flowing through our lives on a regular basis so we can handle and overcome many of life’s adversities that can get thrown our way at any time.
Table of Contents:
An Introduction to the “9 Gifts of the Holy Spirit”
1. The Word of Knowledge
2. The Word of Wisdom
3. The Gift of Prophecy
4. The Gift of Faith
5. The Gifts of Healings
6. The Working of Miracles
7. The Discerning of Spirits
8. Different Kinds of Tongues
9. The Interpretation of Tongues
When my kids were toddlers, I began praying that God would grant them wisdom beyond their years. My desire was for them to succeed in every aspect of their lives, and I believed possessing wisdom would be vital to that success becoming reality.
More than two decades have passed, and I still believe the same is true. I also understand more about wisdom and what it looks like. Here are some character qualities that wise men and women exhibit, based on James 3:13-17:
- An understanding of God’s ways
- An honorable lifestyle
- A desire to do good works
- Peace loving
- Gentleness at all times
- Willingness to yield to others
- Full of mercy
Who wouldn’t want those characteristics to be true of one’s family members? Imagine the heartache that could be diverted and the harmony that could be enjoyed if everyone possessed these qualities. And then there’s the flip side….
What character qualities do wise men and women not possess?
- Selfish ambition
Interestingly, Scripture says outright that “jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom” (v. 15). It even says “such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.” Dem’s strong words! And they increase my motivation to pray for my family—that they’ll run from any hint of those behaviors and attitudes and pursue godly wisdom instead.
How about you? What insights do you have about wisdom? How can you turn these thoughts about wisdom into prayers for your kids and grandkids?
What Does Wisdom Look Like?
It is a great thing to advance to intelligible things; it is a great thing to advance to spiritual things; it is a great thing for your heart to reach the knowledge that there is something that is not extended in space and does not vary in time. What does wisdom look like? Who is able to ponder it? Is it long? Is it square? Is it round? Is it here in one way and there in another? Someone ponders it in the East, someone else in the West: if they both think well about it, it is completely present to both of them despite how far apart they are. What is this? Who can grasp it? Who grasps that substance, that divine and immutable nature? Don’t be in such a hurry! You will one day become able to grasp it.! (EnPs 146, 14; PL 37, 1908)
Perhaps those last sentences reflect Augustine’s own journey. In several writings he described how long and how winding was the road he took before he was able to conceive of something being without being a body. Bernard Lonergan wrote his great book Insight, as a guide to bring readers to the same insight:
St. Augustine of Hippo narrates that it took him years to make the discovery that the name, real, might have a different connotation from the name, body. Or, to bring the point nearer home, one might say that it has taken modern science four centuries to make the discovery that the objects of its inquiry need not be imaginable entities moving through imaginable processes in an imaginable space-time. The fact that a Plato attempted to communicate through his dialogues, the fact that an Augustine eventually learnt from the writers whom, rather generally, he refers to as Platonists, has lost its antique flavour and its apparent irrelevance to the modern mind. Even before Einstein and Heisenberg it was clear enough that the world described by scientists was strangely different from the world depicted by artists and inhabited by men of common sense. But it was left to twentieth-century physicists to envisage the possibility that the objects of their science were to be reached only by severing the umbilical cord that tied them to the maternal imagination of man (Insight, p. xx-xxi).
For Augustine, see Confessions, IV, xvi, 29; VI, iii, 4; VII, i, 1-2. For a very good treatment of the influence on Lonergan of Augustine’s early philosophical works, see the chapter by Richard M. Liddy available here.
The Practice of Wisdom
“Sometimes life is like this dark tunnel. You can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you just keep moving, you will come to a better place.”
Iroh, retired General of the Fire Nation, The “Dragon of the West,” and proprietor of The Jasmine Dragon tea house in the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated television series
Most people grow up wanting to be famous, to be wealthy, to be loved, to be powerful.
I’ve always wanted to be wise.
Of all of the qualities people can develop, wisdom is potentially the most beneficial. If developed and used in a skillful way, wisdom can help you (and the people around you) get most of the benefits of common worldly values like attention, status, money, esteem, and influence while mitigating most of the severe drawbacks and tradeoffs.
It’s also one of the most difficult human qualities to define, let alone cultivate.
What is wisdom, really? How do you know if you, or someone you know, is actually wise, not just pretending, bluffing, or trying to signal special insight? Appearing to be wise and actually being wise are very different things, and self-deception and puffery are common, since wisdom is usually considered a valuable status signal.
Philosophers have attempted to define wisdom in many ways over the years, without much luck. Most of the philosophical definitions of wisdom I’ve found boil down to “acting in a wise way” or an abstract sentiment like “the right application of knowledge,” which suffers from hindsight bias. Psychologists and neuroscientists have been studying (and trying to measure) wisdom as well, so they usually define it along the lines of “a demonstrated superior ability to understand the nature and behavior of things, people, or events.” 2
Those definitions aren’t so useful if you’re trying to cultivate wisdom yourself. I’m all about developing “a demonstrated superior ability to understand the nature and behavior of things, people, or events.” The question remains: how exactly do you go about doing that?
Media depictions of “wise” characters don’t do us any favors, either. In practice, being wise doesn’t have anything to do with acting like a Zen master, Yogic guru, or Stoic sage. It’s not about spouting aphorisms, acting detached and aloof from the rest of the world, or having supernatural insight above and beyond the reach of mere mortals.
Part of what makes wisdom hard to define is that it isn’t just one thing: it’s a cluster of several specific qualities that are used together. Here’s my current working definition of wisdom, based on many years of research:
- A set of specific, learnable ways of thinking and acting that…
- Are used in combination…
- To make decisions and recommendations that are…
- Likely to produce positive outcomes…
- In uncertain, ambiguous, and changing circumstances.
People who decide to learn how to make decisions (or advise others) in ways that are likely to result in positive future outcomes in uncertain conditions are learning to be wise: it’s a skill that can be developed, albeit a very complex one.
Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together about the primary qualities of wisdom over the years:
Accurate knowledge of how the world works in fundamental ways. Why things are the way they are, how they got that way, and how to potentially go about changing them without producing unintended consequences. Acting to change something without understanding it first is the definition of foolishness.
Understanding requires learning as much as you can about the world, cultivating curiosity about how things work, considering novel information, expanding your worldview, updating your mental models whenever you have new information, and noticing when you’re wrong, surprised, or confused so you can change your mind and use the information in the future.
Acting in ways that are likely to produce the best possible outcomes for everyone involved. You don’t quite know what the future holds, you don’t know what others will do (or not do), and unexpected things always happen, so those uncertainties must be taken into account. It’s usually prudent to look out for the best interests of everyone, not just yourself: harming others is myopic, detrimental, and a good way to make enemies.
Prudence requires collecting information, considering the available options, and making considered decisions that use that information to produce the desired result.
It’d be easy for an omniscient being make the best possible decision, but you’re not all-knowing: the future is always uncertain and changing. Making important decisions often feels like trying to walk along a trail in the fog – you can see a step or two in front of you, but beyond that, the path is fuzzy and indistinct. Your desires and goals are often just as fuzzy, other people have their own ideas of what you should do, and people often lie and dissemble to get what they want. If it “sounds too good to be true,” it often is, but not always – that’s a determination you have to make for yourself.
Discernment requires deciding what you want to do and why, looking for subtle clues to determine what’s best and avoid false trails, paying close attention to avoid being mislead or deceived, and being cautious and self-aware when you want very much for something to be true or false.
What do you want things to look like in the days, weeks, months, decades, and centuries ahead? What do you need to do to make that potential future a reality? Are there challenges, barriers, or potential opponents to that future? How could you work around, avoid, or work with them? Could you develop new skills, find helpful people, prevent unnecessary setbacks, or mitigate the risks?
Foresight requires taking the time to think through likely future events, acting in ways that prevent problems from happening in the first place, and making investments and decisions in the present to make the future better in some specific way.
Acting in ways that will lead to more of what you want, less of what you don’t want, and avoid major unrecoverable errors. Many a person – even the most “successful” people for various definitions of the term – has been brought low by failing to control their emotions and actions, or failing to act when action was necessary. Inhibiting and tempering hubris, arrogance, anger, and despair is necessary if you want to make good decisions. Even then, you don’t want to be too controlled, and overlook the value of flexibility, intuition, and fun.
Control requires fighting akrasia, resisting temptation, and inhibiting unproductive impulse in favor of considered and deliberate action.
Avoiding being tied to a single, permanent, static way of thinking and acting. Many things are possible if you’re willing to consider all of the possible paths and change your strategy. Rigidity is fragile, and it’s easy to over-constrain your options in a way that forces poor decisions. On the other hand, you don’t want to be too flexible – compromising on something critical doesn’t help anyone.
Flexibility requires active exploration of what’s possible, keeping an open mind, and being willing to admit your first impulses or gut instincts might be sub-optimal.
Moving toward the future you want and overcoming errors and setbacks. Everyone wants to have great results, but few are willing to put in the effort necessary to get them. The most important and valuable things in life require effort, and it’s easy to give up too early. Almost everyone who achieves or builds something important or valuable puts in years, often decades, of focused energy and attention.
Persistence requires working through the rough spots, keeping the faith in the hard yards, and being patient enough to keep doing what’s important long after most people would give up. As long as Discernment says the goal is still worth pursuing, the wise person keeps going.
The more you cultivate wisdom, the better your life becomes. You’ll produce better results with fewer major issues or unintended consequences. You’ll handle challenges in a more skillful way. You’ll troubleshoot your own issues, prevent unnecessary mistakes, and give useful advice to people who are struggling with their own unique problems.
The qualities of wisdom aren’t innate: they’re cultivated, mostly by paying attention in the moment and remembering to use them as the situation requires. Wisdom – real wisdom – changes the way you approach every part of your day-to-day life.
It’s also a continuum – wisdom is not a binary thing. Like intelligence, you can go to bed with a little more wisdom than you had when you woke up. All it takes is patient, long-term practice of the right qualities.
“Uncle Iroh” is one of the best depictions of a wise character I’ve seen in fiction: he thinks ahead, plans ahead, collects information to better understand the world, accounts for uncertainty, controls his desires and emotions, exercises restraint while retaining flexibility and fun, advises others in their actual best interest, acts decisively when prudent and necessary, and makes a long-term persistent effort to bring about a future that solves major problems and benefits everyone. If you haven’t watched the series, I highly recommend it – it’s available on many streaming video services. ↩
Legesse B, Price BH., Murray ED Brain-Behavior Relations. In: Encyclopedia of Human Behavior, 2nd Edition. Vilanayur S Ramachandran MD PhD(ed) Academic Press. 16 March 2012. ISBN 978-0123750006. Citation via Wikipedia. ↩
Read more essays by Josh Kaufman “
I believe all men have this in common: that they want to be happy. They do not all agree on what brings the greatest happiness, but they do all long to have it. And this longing is not bad. It is good. Evil consists in trying to find happiness in ways that displease and dishonor God. Goodness consists in finding happiness in ways that please and honor God. We can conceive of a world in which we might be called upon to do right at the expense of our ultimate happiness. But that is not the world in which we live. God has established this world in such a way that doing good through faith in Christ always leads to greater happiness eventually. We do not live in a world where we must choose between our eternal happiness and God’s glory! God has created this world and its moral laws in such a way that the more we choose to glorify God, the happier we will be.
God Made Us to Be Eternally Happy
Of course this does not mean that there is no discipline, no self-denial. “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34, 35). But it is clear from Jesus’ words that self-denial is a means to saving our lives. This means simply that we must stop seeking our happiness in one way and start seeking it in another. Therefore what sets Christians off from the world is not that we have given up on the universal quest for happiness, but that we now seek our happiness from a different source and in different ways. We have learned from Jesus, who “for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2), that the joy we seek may require that we choose to suffer for Christ’s sake. Yet we must never become self-pitying because “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Nor can we ever become proud since we know that “suffering produces patience, and patience produces approvedness, and approvedness produces hope” (Romans 5:3, 4)—hope that God will restore our happiness one hundredfold (Mark 10:30). So you can’t boast in your sufferings since they are all bringing about our greater happiness in God.
So I take it to be a great and wonderful and liberating truth that God made us to be eternally happy. And I find great help in viewing the Bible as God’s guidebook to joy. We ought to view the Bible as a divine prescription for how to be cured of all unhappiness. The medicine it prescribes is not always sweet, but the cure it brings is infinite and eternal joy at God’s right hand (Psalm 16:11).
The point of my message this morning is that we should “get wisdom.” We should bend all our efforts to become wiser tomorrow than we are today. And I speak not just to students and graduates, but to us all. Graduation today at Bethel gives me an occasion to say something that applies to us all, namely, that formal education is only one stage in the process of becoming a wise person. So much of life has been professionalized and institutionalized that we easily slip into the notion that it is the responsibility of some profession or some institution to impart to us wisdom. You can see this tendency in the fact that continuing education in many spheres is thought of entirely in terms of taking courses from professionals in institutions.
The implication seems to be that wisdom and understanding are something you purchase with tuition and class fees, rather than being a daily, lifelong process of growth. But what I want to stress this morning is that we should never be content with the wisdom we attained through formal education, and we should not think that the only way to grow in our understanding is by taking more courses. When the wise man says in Proverbs 4:5, “Get wisdom, get insight,” he does not mean, “Go to school, take more courses.” That might be part of God’s plan for you. But for most of us it is not. Yet the command comes to us all: “Get wisdom!” What does this mean? How shall we do it? And why is it so important?
What Is the Importance of Getting Wisdom?
Let’s begin by asking why is it so important? We have already seen that all men seek happiness, and that this is not bad but good. Now the reason that getting wisdom is important is that it is the practical knowledge by which we gain this true and lasting happiness. Proverbs 3:13 says, “Happy is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gets understanding.” Proverbs 24:13–14 says, “My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off.”
In other words, by means of wisdom you can make your way into a hope-filled future. It is the key to lasting happiness. Proverbs 19:8 says, “He who gets wisdom loves himself.” In other words, do yourself a favor: Get wisdom! Get wisdom! Proverbs 8:32–36 sums it all up beautifully. Here wisdom herself is speaking and she says, “And now, my sons, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways . . . Happy is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For he who finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord; but he who misses me injures himself; all who hate me love death.” If we do not make it our aim to “get wisdom,” we will suffer injury and finally death. Therefore, the command, “Get wisdom; get insight,” is very important. As Proverbs 16:16 puts it, “To get wisdom is better than gold; to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.” It is a matter of life and death. The ultimate, eternal happiness that all people long for will only be found by those who first “get wisdom.”
I say that ultimate and eternal happiness is what wisdom will bring, because I want to emphasize that not all happiness comes from true wisdom. Proverbs 15:21 says, “Folly is a joy to him who has no sense.” Our thirst for happiness is insatiable in this world, and if we do not have the wisdom to seek it in God, then we will find whatever substitutes we can in the world. Terrorists may find it in shooting presidents and popes. Executives may find it in climbing the corporate ladder. Athletes in breaking world records. Scholars in publishing books. Gamblers may find it in Reno. Musicians in selling a million records. The sources where people seek happiness apart from God are countless: drink, drugs, sex, suntans, television, tubing, eating, talking, walking, etc., etc. But the happiness that these things bring is not true and lasting. It is not ultimate and eternal. It is not the joy for which we were made. And, therefore, it leaves us unsatisfied, frustrated, incomplete, knowing that there must be something more. But that ultimate and eternal happiness that we crave is only found by wisdom. Therefore it is supremely important that we “get wisdom.”
What Is Wisdom?
Now what is it? What are the characteristics of the person who has it? The first characteristic you all know: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10). The wisdom that leads to life and ultimate joy begins with knowing and fearing God. You may recall from two weeks ago in the message, “A Woman Who Fears the Lord Is to Be Praised,” that fearing the Lord means fearing to run away from him. It means fearing to seek refuge, and joy, and hope anywhere other than in God. It means keeping before our eyes what a fearful prospect it is to stop trusting and depending on God to meet our needs. The fear of the Lord is, therefore, the beginning of wisdom not only in the sense that it is the first step in a wise way to live, but also in the sense that all the later characteristics of wisdom flow from the fear of the Lord like a river flows from a spring.
Let’s look at some examples. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but with the humble is wisdom.” The wise person is characterized by humility. The person who is proud does not fear the Lord, who hates a haughty spirit, and therefore can’t get to first base in wisdom. But the person who fears the Lord is humble, because he depends on God for everything and fears to take credit himself for what God does. Humility, in turn, is foundational for the other aspects of godly wisdom because humility is teachable and open to change and growth. The proud person does not like to admit his errors and his need for growth. But the humble person is open to counsel and reason, and ready to be corrected and follow truth.
Humility, unlike pride, does not recoil when commanded to do something. And this is essential for the advancement of wisdom, because Moses taught us that wisdom consists in knowing and doing the commandments of God. Deuteronomy 4:5–6, “Behold I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the Lord my God commanded me that you should do them . . . Keep them and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples.” And Jesus said the same thing about his own words, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon a rock” (Matthew 7:24). A good definition of godly wisdom, therefore, would be: hearing and doing God’s Word. God’s Word is a divine prescription for how to be finally cured of all unhappiness. Wisdom is the practical knowledge of how to attain that happiness. Therefore, wisdom is hearing and doing the Word of God. But the only people who will do this are the people who are humbly relying on God for help and who fear to seek happiness anywhere but in him. Therefore, the fear of the Lord is the beginning and spring of all true wisdom.
But something more has to be said about the nature of this wisdom. It is not enough to say it is a humble hearing and doing of God’s Word, because God’s Word does not address itself specifically to every human dilemma. A famous example from Solomon’s life will illustrate (1 Kings 3:16–28). One day two prostitutes came to King Solomon. One of them said, “My lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and we each gave birth to a son last week. And one night while she was asleep, she rolled over on her son and smothered it. So she got up at midnight and took my living son from me while I slept and left me with her dead son. When I woke in the morning and looked closely, I could tell it was not my son.” But the other woman said, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.” And so they argued before the king.
Then the king said, “You both say the living child is yours. I will settle the matter; bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought and the king said, “Divide the living child in two and give half to the one woman and half to the other.” But the woman whose son was alive yearned for her son and said, “No, my lord, give her the child and by no means slay it.” And the other said: “It shall be neither mine nor yours, divide it.” Then the king said, “Give the living child to the first woman. She is its mother.” The story concludes with this observation: “And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to render justice” (1 Kings 3:28).
There was no biblical command to tell Solomon what to do when two harlots claim the same baby. Therefore, wisdom must go beyond knowing and doing the Word of God. Wisdom must include a sensitive, mature judgment or discernment of how the fear of the Lord should work itself out in all the circumstances not specifically dealt with in the Bible. There has to be what Paul calls in Romans 12:2 a “renewing of the mind” which is then able to examine and approve the will of God. He calls this a “spiritual wisdom” in Colossians 1:9, “We have not ceased to pray for you, that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Of course the wisdom which follows God’s Word and the wisdom which discerns the way to act when there is no clear word from God are not separate. It is precisely by saturating our minds and hearts with God’s Word that we gain the spiritual wisdom to guide us in all situations.
So in summary, when the Bible says, “Get wisdom,” it is referring to that practical knowledge of how to attain true and lasting happiness. It begins with the fear of the Lord and consists in humbly hearing and doing God’s will perceived both in Scripture and in the unique circumstances of the moment. Such wisdom is essential because the person who has it finds life and joy, but the person who doesn’t finds death and misery. Therefore, “Get wisdom! Get wisdom!”
How Can We Get Wisdom?
Now finally I want to mention five biblical instructions for how to get this wisdom. First, desire wisdom with all your might. Proverbs 4:8 says, “Prize her highly and she will exalt you; she will honor you for your embrace.” These are not cheap words. To prize something and to embrace someone are signs of intense desire and love. Wisdom must be valuable for us. We must be willing to sell all in order to buy it: “Seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasure” (Proverbs 2:4). Blessed is the graduate who walks through the commencement line more hungry for wisdom than when he entered school, for he shall be satisfied.
Second, since wisdom is found in the Word of God, we must apply ourselves in study and meditation to know the Word and do it. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7). Therefore, we must devote ourselves to know and understand the testimonies of the Lord. And here I commend not only faithful Bible study, but also regular reading of great books on theology and biblical interpretation, books that distill the wisdom of the greatest students of the word over the past 1900 years.
Now, I know what you are thinking: I don’t have the time or the ability to get anywhere in books like that. So I want to show you something really encouraging. When this was shown to me about four years ago by my pastor, it changed my life. Most of us don’t aspire very high in our reading because we don’t feel like there is any hope. But listen to this. Suppose you read about 250 words a minute and that you resolve to devote just 15 minutes a day to serious theological reading to deepen your grasp of biblical truth. In one year (365 days) you would read for 5,475 minutes. Multiply that times 250 words per minute and you get 1,368,750 words per year. Now most books have between 300 and 400 words per page. So if we take 350 words per page and divide that into 1,368,750 words per year, we get 3,910 pages per year. This means that at 250 words a minute, 15 minutes a day, you could read about 20 average sized books a year!
When I heard that, I went home, analyzed my day, and set aside the 15 minutes just before supper to read Jonathan Edwards’ big book, Original Sin. And I did it in a couple of months. Then I turned to something else. I was absolutely elated: reading that I thought never could get done was now getting done in a 15 minute slot that would have been wasted anyway. Therefore, I encourage you, there is hope. Choose some classics that you’ve always wanted to read (St. Augustine’s Confessions, or City of God; John Calvin’s Institutes; Martin Luther’s Commentary on Galatians, or Bondage of the Will; John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress; Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections; etc.), and set aside 15 minutes, maybe just before you go to sleep, to read. You will not be the same person next year at this time. Your mind will be stretched, your heart enlarged, your zeal more fervent. Above all, you will have grown in wisdom. And it may not be long until someone says of you: “The words of his mouth are as deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a gushing spring” (Proverbs 18:4).
The third thing we should do to get wisdom is pray. Solomon was not born a wise man. He prayed for wisdom and God said, “Because you have asked this and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold now I do according to your word” (1 Kings 3:11). And Daniel admitted that in himself he had no wisdom (Daniel 2:30), but he said, “To thee, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, for thou hast given me wisdom and strength, and hast made known to me what we asked of thee” (2:23). And we have seen how Paul prayed that the churches might be given “spiritual wisdom” (Colossians 1:9) and that they might have “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God” (Ephesians 1:17). And finally, James puts it as clearly as we could wish: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God” (James 1:5). The wisdom that leads to true and lasting happiness is not natural or inborn. It is supernatural. It is a gift of God. Therefore, if we would “get wisdom,” we must pray.
The fourth biblical instruction for how to get wisdom is to think frequently of your death. Or to put it another way, think of the shortness of this life and the infinite length of the next. Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” There is scarcely any thought that will purge our priorities of vain and worldly perceptions like the thought of our imminent death. O how cleansing it is to ponder the kind of life we would like to look back on when we come to die. There is great wisdom in such meditation. Therefore, think often of your dying.
Finally, there is one last, absolutely essential thing to do if you would “get wisdom”: you must come to Jesus. He said to the people of his day, “The queen of the south will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold something greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). What an understatement. Greater than Solomon indeed! Solomon spoke God’s wisdom. Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). Others had spoken truth; he is the truth. Others had pointed the way to life; he is the way and the life (John 14:6). Others had given promises, but “all the promises of God find their yes in him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). Others had offered God’s forgiveness; Jesus bought it by his death. Therefore, in him are “hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). To know and love and follow this Jesus is to own the treasure of ultimate and eternal happiness. Therefore, the command, “Get wisdom,” means first and foremost “Come to Jesus! Come to Jesus!” in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom.
What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?
Question: “What is wisdom? What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?”
Answer: Wisdom and knowledge, both recurring themes in the Bible, are related but not synonymous. The dictionary defines wisdom as “the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting.” Knowledge, on the other hand, is “information gained through experience, reasoning, or acquaintance.” Knowledge can exist without wisdom, but not the other way around. One can be knowledgeable without being wise. Knowledge is knowing how to use a gun; wisdom is knowing when to use it and when to keep it holstered.
God wants us to have knowledge of Him and what He expects of us. In order to obey Him, we have to have knowledge of the commands. But as equally important as having knowledge is having wisdom. Knowing facts about God and the Bible is not all there is to wisdom. Wisdom is a gift from God. James 1:5 states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” God blesses us with wisdom in order for us to glorify Him and use the knowledge we have of Him.
The book of Proverbs is perhaps the best place in the Bible to learn of biblical wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 speaks of both biblical knowledge and wisdom: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, / but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” To fear the Lord is to start on the path to knowledge, and God can then begin to provide us with wisdom through Christ, who the Bible says is wisdom itself: “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).
Knowledge is what is gathered over time through study of the Scriptures. It can be said that wisdom, in turn, acts properly upon that knowledge. Wisdom is the fitting application of knowledge. Knowledge understands the light has turned red; wisdom applies the brakes. Knowledge sees the quicksand; wisdom walks around it. Knowledge memorizes the Ten Commandments; wisdom obeys them. Knowledge learns of God; wisdom loves Him.
Recommended Resource: Proverbs NIV Application Commentary by Paul Koptak
More insights from your Bible study – Get Started with Logos Bible Software for Free!
What is godly wisdom?
What should we learn from the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31?
Do Proverbs 26:4 and 26:5 contradict? How can both verses be true?
What does it mean to lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6)?
Why is a multitude of counselors valuable (Proverbs 15:22)? Return to:
Questions about Proverbs Return to:
What is wisdom? What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?
8 Characteristics of Godly Wisdom
I’ve been watching all the shenanigans in Washington, D.C. with interest and, quite frankly, concern. Will our elected officials be able to get past all the political junk and come together to do what’s best for America? I’ve been praying they’ll trade in some ego and self-interest for a good dose of humility and wisdom.
Last week, I prepared a Bible study lesson on the wisdom of God for our small group. I thought about these politicians. Do any of them possess the wisdom that comes from God?
Whether watching our country’s leaders or seeking to live our own lives with God’s wisdom, it’s important to know what His wisdom looks like so we can recognize it, live by it.
What is Godly Wisdom?
Wisdom is not the same as knowledge. We can know a lot of stuff and still be foolish. You don’t have to look far to see examples. I love this description of godly wisdom from Wayne Grudem in his book “Systematic Theology.” (By the way, this is a staple for your library if you want to study God’s Word!)
“God’s wisdom means that God always chooses the best goals and the best means to those goals. This definition goes beyond the idea of God knowing all things and specifies that God’s decisions about what He will do are always wise decisions: that is, they always will bring about the best results (from God’s ultimate perspective), and they will bring about those results through the best possible means.”
Applied to us, if we want to be truly wise, we will make decisions and act in ways to move toward God’s ultimate best.
How Do We Get Godly Wisdom?
Wisdom is found in and begins with God. We find true wisdom on the basis of our relationship with Him. We find true wisdom by humbly submitting to God and obeying His commands.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have good understanding.” Psalm 111:10
Here’s the kicker – the flip side of that is also true. If we don’t yield to God and His good leadership, but instead follow our own will, way, and “wisdom,” then we are really foolish.
What does Wisdom Look Like? 8 Characteristics of Wisdom
We could scour the book of Proverbs and come up with a long, long list of characteristics. But there’s this great passage in James that packs a lot into just a few verses. The following characteristics are based on James 3:13-18:
- Humble – Wise people don’t constantly brag, boast, or display a prideful attitude.
- Good deeds – Wise people live an upright and moral life.
- Gentle – Wise people treat others with care and respect.
- Considerate – Wise people put the needs of others ahead of themselves whenever possible.
- Peace-loving – Wise people don’t foster division. Instead they work to end strife and turmoil.
- Merciful – Wise people demonstrate compassion, forgiveness, and kindness to others.
- Sincere – Wise people are genuine, real, and honest; not deceitful, hypocritical, or false.
- Impartial – Wise people are fair and just. They do not show partiality to others for their own benefit.
This is a serious and specific list. Do you know anyone who is wise? Based on this list, do you consider yourself to be wise? I must admit, this list challenges me. I want my life to demonstrate godly wisdom. What about you?
Do you know anyone that is truly, biblically wise? I’d love to hear about them.
You may also be interested in this post: “Wisdom: Why, Where, and How”
Check out Wayne Grudem’s book “Systematic Theology”
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