Recommended Reading: James 3:13-18
That title makes me feel a little arrogant–“Sit down, children, and I will teach you all there is to know about wisdom.”
Just kidding. I am also a children.
As someone who wants to be a spiritual teacher in the near future, this is a topic that has weighed heavily on my mind lately. What DOES it mean to be wise?
The world would say, “Well, it means you’re really smart. It means you always have the right answers and you give good advice.” And that’s not wrong, necessarily, but the kind of wisdom I want–and the kind of wisdom you want, I’m guessing, since you clicked on this post–goes a little deeper than that.
I spent some time this morning finding out how to attain this kind of wisdom, and if it’s okay I’d like to share my findings with you.
Let’s start by destroying some of what the enemy has built up in our culture surrounding wisdom.
Lie #1: You can’t be too wise
I stumbled across Ecclesiastes 7:16 the other day that stopped me in my tracks. Here it is:
Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?
Don’t be overly righteous? Don’t make yourself too wise? But that goes against EVERYTHING THE BIBLE TEACHES.
And then, God reminded me of something I’ve been struggling with lately: this little thing called Arrogance. And I think that’s what this verse is getting at. Romans 12:13 say something similar:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment, according to the measure of faith God has given you.
“Why should you destroy yourself?” is a harsh question, but it’s worth asking. Once you start to over-analyze and criticize every tiny little spiritual thing you hear, you start to lose your joy. It’s legalistic, it’s pessimistic, and it’s not worth doing. Trust me, I’m a recovering analysis addict.
That’s not to say you should believe everything you hear–it’s just that some mountains aren’t worth dying on.
Lie #2: Wisdom is the end goal of learning.
I think by now most of us are familiar with the old adage from 1 Corinthians 8:1: “Knowledge puffs up.” That’s not to say that knowledge itself is bad–in fact, there are tons of verses that tell us quite the opposite. The full phrase from 1 Corinthians 8:1 is, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”
We can seek wisdom for the wrong reasons. We can seek it just so we feel better about ourselves, or even so we feel like we’re better than everyone else. Or we could just be trying to get really smart. In context, though, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” means that the end goal of gaining knowledge should be to help others, to love other people better.
And typically, the more we learn about God, the easier this becomes. So don’t think that learning and knowledge are bad things, because they aren’t. Proverbs 1:7 says that fools despise wisdom and correction. Just make sure that you have the right motives for becoming wiser.
Lie #3: All wisdom is from God.
There are 2 different kinds of wisdom: worldly wisdom and Godly wisdom. Look at 1 Corinthians 3:18-19:
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.
The wisdom of this world is folly with God.
Later I’ll get into the differences between worldly wisdom and Godly wisdom, but for now suffice it to say that it does not all come from the same place.
So then, how do we gain real wisdom?
Now that we’ve cleared away some of the trash the world sells us on a daily basis, let’s start to replace it with what the Bible tells us. Here is the secret to becoming wise:
“Is it really that simple, Jenna?”
“I came here for more than 2 words, Jenna.”
“I don’t believe this girl has ever been to seminary.”*
But, in all seriousness, that’s all it takes. If you’ve never read Proverbs 9:10, it’s worth reading:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
That sets the foundation for all knowledge, all wisdom, all insight. It’s amazing how simple God makes things for us. It proves that He really does know us, if you ask me. I usually need things to be pretty simplified.
If we fear and know God, we can then start to become wise. This isn’t the world’s foolish wisdom that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 3–this is wisdom with some power behind it. It’s reliable and enduring, and it is worth attaining. Proverbs 3:13-15 tells us that it is, in fact, more desirable than anything else in this world.
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
*You’d be right, low-key.
Why does fearing God increase our wisdom?
- Because it reveals the answers to some of the deepest questions in life. If we fear God, we already know the most important truth we could ever attain: that the Gospel is the way to salvation. We have an understanding–a fuzzy one, as in a mirror, but an understanding nonetheless–of the Creator of the universe, and we know the way to life. Beyond that, we know the meaning of life. Those are pieces of wisdom that most of the world cannot tell you, yet they have been revealed to you and me. We are wiser than we think we are.
- Because it blows conventional wisdom out of the water. Knowing God, with all of His paradoxes (Does “whoever wants to gain his life must lose it” ring a bell? What about Jesus being fully God and fully man?), absolutely obliterates everything we thought we knew. And that, in turn, humbles us. We do not have the capacity to understand a lot of things about God, and once we realize that, we become teachable again. That makes the next point possible.
- He teaches us new things every single day if we walk with Him. He gave us His word for a reason. He gave us His Spirit for a reason. If we are willing to listen, He is faithful to speak truths over us that we can’t find anywhere else.
So, how do we differentiate between Godly wisdom and worldly wisdom? James has some things to say about that.
How to Evaluate Wisdom
As we’ve already established, there are two kinds of wisdom: Godly and worldly. If you want to evaluate your own wisdom, or–be careful with this one, or better yet, don’t do it at all–someone else’s, look to James 3.
“But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” -James 3:14-16
Let’s break that down. Worldly wisdom…
- Is full of bitter envy. The Greek word used here, “zēlos,” is translated as “an envious and contentious rivalry, jealousy.” Have you ever felt this way? I have. And I have definitely opened my mouth and “informed” the people around me of something that was true, but it was spoken out of a place of jealousy and rivalry. I wanted to gain an edge over what my fleshly mind saw as spiritual academic opponents. This is the opposite of speaking the truth in love. It is an example of being puffed up by knowledge, rather than using knowledge to build up from a place of love.
- Is full of selfish ambition. This one goes hand-in-hand with the first bullet point. Worldly wisdom is full of itself. It is selfish and it wants to make itself known. Even the shyest among us have something in the dark, fleshly corners of ourselves that wants the limelight. It wants to be elevated above the rest and be known, just for the sake of being known. The danger of this is that our world does value wisdom, and so sometimes that thing within us gets its way.
- Is boastful. A possible explanation for this is that worldly wisdom is insecure, and so it has to praise itself for fear that no one else will.
- Is false to the truth. Worldly wisdom cares little about actual truth–maybe it sounds good, but if you dig deeper and really evaluate it, there is little truth to it. Worldly wisdom only cares about being recognized and exalted.
- Produces disorder and wickedness. This is perhaps the easiest way to separate the two types of wisdom: the fruit. Just look at the after-effects of whatever wisdom you are trying to evaluate. What does it produce? If it produces arguments, anger, pride, divisions, anything other than peace, it is likely that at least a bit of worldly truth has crept in.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. -James 3:13
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. -James 3:17-18
Pretty straightforward, but I’ll break this chunk down too. Godly wisdom…
- Is proven by a good life. Other translations of this are “good behavior” and “good deeds.” Does the wisdom under inspection go hand-in-hand with respectable behavior? Does it come from a person who meets the needs of the people around them, who lives a life reflective of Jesus’?
- Is pure. It has an air of reverence and modesty; it realizes that any wisdom we can attain is from God, and so it treats it as though it is sacred–not a weapon in a fight. It represents the Holy One it was given by.
- Is peaceable and gentle, willing to yield (other translations say “open to reason”). It is not belligerent; it is not going to die on every mountain just to win every argument. It is willing to admit when it is wrong, and even when it is right, it is gentle about it. It isn’t rude or ready to go to war. It is there to build up the body of Christ, not tear it down for the sake of being right.
- Is full of mercy. Godly wisdom is kind and joined with the sincere desire to help those listening. Another way to look at this is, what are the motives of this person (a question that we should pretty much only be asking ourselves. Otherwise we’re looking at a plank-in-the-proverbial-eye situation)?
- Is full of good fruits. I touched on this when I talked about worldly wisdom, but it really is important: what fruit is the wisdom producing? If it produces peace, it is from God; if it produces anything else, it is from the world. Be wary of anything that causes divisions or unrest within the church.
- Is without a trace of partiality. Another translation for “without partiality” is “without dubiousness, ambiguity, or uncertainty.” Wisdom is straightforward, reliable, and undoubting.
- Is without hypocrisy. This can also be translated as “unfeigned,” “undisguised,” “sincere.” This is wisdom that we really believe in, and we ourselves really plan to live out. It practices what it preaches, in a sense. It isn’t something we just made up to look good–it came straight from the Source, and something about it convicted us.
No wisdom we could possibly dream up ourselves could meet a standard like this–it absolutely has to come from God.
Basically, what I’ve learned about wisdom is that no amount of trying to become wise will help me attain real wisdom. God is the One who gives it.
All wisdom comes from the Lord,
and so do common sense
God gives helpful advice
to everyone who obeys him
and protects all of those
who live as they should.
-Proverbs 2:6-7 (CEV)
I’ll leave you with one last snippet of truth from James:
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. -1:5
Don’t be afraid to ask for wisdom. God gives it generously. He wants His people to know what they’re talking about, and He wants to edify His body.
Let’s be teachable today.
Until next time,
P.S. This post is on the W2W linkup. Submit yours!