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.