“Where is the wisdom in that?”
When we look at what’s happening in politics, economics, education, relationships, and the Church, we find ourselves asking, “Where is the wisdom?”
The absence of wisdom is slowly destroying us. We have more knowledge than any previous generation but we lack wisdom on almost every level. Where is the wisdom we’ve lost with the knowledge we’ve gained?
Wisdom and the Church
Since my work has been largely in the Church, I speak mostly to that context. After 30 years of pastoral work, I am often asked to counsel other Church leaders. These are gifted and committed leaders who are trying to do their best to honor God. They are also an encouragement to me even though many of them face difficult and discouraging circumstances. Sadly, their pursuit of wisdom is an example that has become increasingly rare.
“Is nobody among you wise enough to judge?”
When I look over the landscape (especially among evangelicals), I see a significant leadership crisis in the Church. The crisis is inseparably connected with an disturbing uncertainty about identity. “How should we ‘do’ Church?” “What should a Church emphasize?” “How do we ‘compete with’ the mega Churches?” What’s the role of a pastor? When I hear these questions, I think of two questions raised by the apostle Paul:
- Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” (I Corinthians 3:16).
- “Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?” (I Corinthians 5:5).
On the journey from modernity to postmodernity, wisdom has suffered and foolishness has flourished. The piper played and we danced. Key leaders have made urgent calls for reformations in the Church and many have heard these wise voices and are pursuing the Lord’s will against strong waves of misguided cultural expectation.
Yet the identity and leadership crises confronted in the Church in Corinth continue with great force in the Evangelical Church today. This is part of my motivation for changing the name of this blog to Wisdom for Life. A few years ago, when I started the blog, I titled it A Time to Think and used Wisdom for Life as a by-line. After some reflection on the importance of wisdom and the urgent need for it, I chose to make the by-line the title.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that I have some great gift of wisdom — nor that I never do foolish things. I am not suggesting that this blog is the main place for those who desire wisdom. Instead, I believe that wisdom comes in response to the Lord Himself. To the degree that I remain faithful to Him, I reap the benefits of wisdom.
- “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
- “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).
To the extent that I write and quote what is faithful to Scripture, I offer wisdom. But wisdom also merges with seasoned experience. The Church must hear from seasoned leaders who have been working out the applications of Scripture for many years. I try to quote these leaders as often as possible.
The world of blogging among evangelicals is dominated by mostly younger leaders. Many of these men and women are sharp and offer good insights. Yet they write with a degree of limitation due to their inexperience in life. There is always a need for seasoned insight that combines application of the Word of God to the years and phases of life.
If someone asked me what was needed for entering into pastoral ministry, wisdom would top the list.
In light of the name change to my blog and the urgent need for wisdom, perhaps it would be of value to trace the emphasis Scripture places on wisdom.
- “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her” (pr. 3:13-15).
- “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (pr. 4:7; cf. Eph. 5:15-17).
A voice worth heeding
“Wisdom shouts in the street, she lifts her voice in the square, at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, at the entrance of the gates of the city, she utters her sayings.” (pr. 1:20-21)
“At the head of the noisy streets”, “at the entrance of the gates in the city”— in the city, wisdom is pictured “shouting”, “raising her voice”, “crying out”, and “uttering her sayings”, or “making her speech.” Wisdom is not presenting herself in the quiet place of meditation. She does not call out in the halls of academia. “. . . the offer of wisdom is to the man in the street, and for the business of living, not to an elite for the pursuit of scholarship” (Derek Kidner, TOTC).
Wisdom “. . . strides from the ‘open squares’ (plazas used as markets) to the boulevards rumbling with the noise of traffic . . . to the several ‘gates’ where open spaces allowed people to assemble for trade or official business. No behind-the-hand seductive whispering here; wisdom is a public figure, making her claims in the open and calling her disciples boldly to follow her” (David Hubbard, p. 55, Communicators Commentary).
Wisdom’s call and warning is forcefully presented in the language of choice. Wisdom, in essence says, “Decide now concerning your response to me! Make your choice and realize that your choice will deeply affect your life.”In Proverbs 1:20-33
Wisdom, discipline and correction:
- Proverbs 3:11-12- “My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Relate this to Hebrews 12)
- Proverbs 10:8 – “The wise in heart accepts commands”
- Proverbs 12:15 – “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.”
- Proverbs 13:10- “Wisdom is found in those who take advice”
- Proverbs 15:5- “A fool spurns his father’s discipline, but whoever heeds correction shows prudence.”
- Proverbs 15:31-33- “He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding. The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor.”
- Proverbs 18:1- “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom.”
Wisdom and the fear of God
In Proverbs, a choice for wisdom is a response to the Lord, (i.e. a choice to fear the Lord). Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
A person who fears the Lord accepts wisdom and instruction; takes advice; trusts in the Lord with all his heart; and acknowledges the Lord in all his dealings. This person does not see himself and his own opinion as the primary basis for what he believes and does. He recognizes his own inadequacies and God’s superiority. Therefore he is teachable and accepts counsel.
In contrast, the fool despises wisdom and instruction; scoffs at rebuke; his way seems right to him; he is wise in his own eyes; he does not fear the Lord; and he does not accept advice and counsel unless it agrees with what he already concludes— he thinks he knows better.
By the fear of the Lord being “the beginning,” it is not meant to imply that this is the first step and after taken you move on to other matters. It is “the beginning” in that it is the primary and controlling factor in the pursuit of wisdom. To profit from proverbs and gain wisdom you must start with an attitude that recognizes God’s superiority, especially over your own opinions.
The fear of the Lord is the pre-requisite to every right attitude. “This truth keeps the shrewdness of proverbs from slipping into mere self-interest, the perplexity of Job from mutiny, and the disillusion of Ecclesiastes from final despair.” (The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes, Derek Kidner).
Wisdom Comes from God
“For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity” (Proverbs 2:1-7).
Wisdom is not merely street smarts or shrewdness based on self interest. We know this because, “…the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6). Since “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10), wisdom cannot be attained where God is not honored. This emphasis is what distinguishes biblical proverbs from other ancient proverbial literature.
As our children grow older, they begin to formulate goals and ambitions. When their goals are good, parents are wise to support them. But goals that are separated from our devotion to God are empty paths. They take us away from the rich wisdom God offers to protect us from the pleasures of sin for a season.
Ministry, wisdom and prayer
When I began ministry many years ago, a scene out of the life of Solomon greatly impacted me and set a course for intense prayer.
“At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.” “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (I Kings 3:5-9).
Ministry has also involved many trials and James 1:5 has cut a course for me in and through those hardships.
Finally, the pursuit of wisdom is a pursuit of Jesus Christ because in Him “…are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).
Additional insight on wisdom
“In the biblical view, the wise are righteous and the righteous are wise: these are people who love and fear God, affirm Gods world, live gladly within its borders, and make music there according to divine time and key signatures. The wise are always in order. Insofar as they live right, they also live well. The Book of Proverbs doesnt for the most part even bother to distinguish righteousness and wisdom: it pairs righteousness with wisdom and wickedness with folly in such a way that the distinction between a moral judgment and a prudential one fades. In Scripture more generally, the standard for judging the course of a human life includes a blend of morality, prudence, metaphysics, and religion. Thus the Scripture writers exhort, but they also instruct.”
As Frederick Buechner once pointed out: “The Bible is not first of all a book of moral truth. I would call it instead a book of truth about the way life is. Those strange old scriptures present life as having been ordered in a certain way, with certain laws as inextricably built into it as the law of gravity is built into the physical universe. When Jesus says that whoever would save his life will lose it and whoever loses his life will save it, surely he is not making a statement about how, morally speaking, life ought to be. Rather, he is making a statement about how life is.”
“Wisdom is a reality-based phenomenon. To be wise is to know reality, to discern it. A discerning person notices things, attends to things, picks up on things. He notices the difference between tolerance and forgiveness, pleasure and joy, sentimentality and compassion. Where high-profile athletes are concerned, he can tell the difference between celebrities and heroes. He can spot real humility and keep it distinct in his mind from its thinner cousin, unpretentiousness. (Consider the ambiguity of the claim, He’s a humble man, which might mean that the man virtuously sees others as his equal, or else might mean that he leads a lowly life and never pretends otherwise.)” (From, Cornelius Plantinga Jr.)