Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad.
We all have a basic idea of what wisdom is, even if the first example to come to mind is a humorous one. It has to do with applying knowledge and experience in a sound manner. The Bible has a lot to say about wisdom and its importance. Part of what it says involves clarifying that God’s wisdom is not the same as worldly wisdom. James writes,
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good conduct that his deeds are done in gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and don’t lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, sensual, and demonic. (James 3:13-15, WEB)
There is a wisdom that comes “from above” — from God — and there’s a wisdom that does not. James defines the wisdom from above in another verse, which we’ll come back to later. We need to be careful which wisdom we practice and what type of wisdom we praise.
Wisdom of Men vs. Gift of God
Paul also speaks of the difference between “wisdom of men” and the wisdom from above. One is about clever, persuasive arguments. The other is about truth.
My speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith wouldn’t stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. We speak wisdom, however, among those who are full grown, yet a wisdom not of this world nor of the rulers of this world who are coming to nothing. But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the wisdom that has been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds for our glory (1 Cor. 2:4-7, WEB)
God’s wisdom is something precious, something hidden from people who don’t know Him. Once we do know Him, though, this wisdom is available for the asking.
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, without any doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. (James 1:5-6, WEB)
Wisdom is part of the “all things” God promises to give us when we go seeking Him and the blessings available in a relationship with Him. Wisdom isn’t the only thing we receive when we seek to know godly wisdom. We’ll also find related blessings — understanding, discernment, the fear of the Lord, knowledge of God, guardianship, and deliverance (Prov. 2:1-12).
The Starting Point for Wisdom
If you want to learn about wisdom, probably the best starting points is in Proverbs. This is one of the “wisdom books” of the Bible (the others are Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs). Proverbs is by far the one with the most to say on wisdom directly.
Get wisdom. Get understanding. Don’t forget, and don’t deviate from the words of my mouth. Don’t forsake her, and she will preserve you. Love her, and she will keep you. Wisdom is supreme. Get wisdom. Yes, though it costs all your possessions, get understanding. (Prov. 4:5-7, WEB)
Wisdom is something to treasure and to desire above anything like gold or jewels (Prov. 8:11; 16:16). It’s something to keep as close as a beloved, trusted sibling (Prov. 7:1-4). It “excels folly as far as light excels darkness” (Ecc. 2:13).
True wisdom starts as we develop a proper respect for God. Over and over we’re told that “the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 15:33). Respect, reverence, and piety toward our awesome and sometimes even terrifying God is the place to start if we want to become truly wise.
The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. All those who do his work have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! (Ps. 111:10, WEB)
Defining Godly Wisdom
Recognizing God for who and what He is, including His authority in our lives, puts everything else in perspective. It requires humility (which is also connected to wisdom in Prov. 11:2; 13:10) and a change in our thought process.
Yahweh says, “Don’t let the wise man glory in his wisdom. Don’t let the mighty man glory in his might. Don’t let the rich man glory in his riches. But let him who glories glory in this, that he has understanding, and knows me, that I am Yahweh who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for I delight in these things,” says Yahweh. (Jer. 9:23-24, WEB)
We are told to get wisdom, but being wise isn’t the main goal. It’s just part of learning to think like God. And for a guide as to how to tell whether or not we’re growing in godly wisdom, we return to James.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18, WEB)
I’m planing to do a series of posts on each characteristic of wisdom that James describes here. I hope you’ll join me as we continue to study what the sort of wisdom that comes from God looks like 🙂
Featured image credit: Claudine Chaussé via Lightstock