Wisdom Topical Study

Preaching and Worship Resources about Wisdom

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In Scripture wisdom is, broadly speaking, the knowledge of God's world and the knack of fitting oneself into it.

In Scripture

Examples "The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak justice" (Ps. 37:30). "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Prov. 1:7). "Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding, for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold" (Prov. 3:13-14). "Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you. . . . Get wisdom, and whatever else you get, get insight" (Prov. 4:6-7). "Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. . . . He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:26-27, 30). "I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (Eph. 3:18-19). "I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:2-3).

Warnings "Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil" (Prov. 3:7). "Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God" (1 Cor. 3:18-19). "Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:15-17).

Points to Ponder

The wise person knows creation. She knows its boundaries and limits, understands its laws and rhythms, discerns its times and seasons, respects its great dynamics. Proverbs 8:22-36 pictures wisdom as God's blueprint for creation and personifies wisdom as the mediator of creation. Accordingly, because Jesus Christ is the mediator of creation (1 Cor. 8:6), he is titled "the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24).

The wise person knows his place. He knows that God is his superior, that other human beings are peers, that non-human creation has its own integrity that the wise are bound to accept. Non-human creation has its own laws, and it exhibits awesome inevitability — for example, that you reap what you sow.

Gerhard von Rad In the biblical view, the wise are righteous and the righteous are wise: these are people who love and fear God, affirm God's world, live judiciously within its borders, and make music there according to divine time and key signatures. The wise are always "in order".

Frederick Buechner Wisdom is a reality-based phenomenon. "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."

Lewis B. Smedes "The wise are discerning. A discerning person picks up on things. She notices the difference between pleasure and joy, for example, and between sentimentality and compassion. She understands that facts are stubborn things, and doesn't try to finesse them to suit her wishes. She discerns the differences between things but also the connections between them."

She knows creation -- what God has put together and what God has kept apart — and can therefore spot the fractures and alloys produced by those who violate creation. She knows a number of the ironies of life, including that it is possible to be "a good person in the worst sense of the word," namely, one who offers help in ways that make people wish he hadn't bothered.

Lewis Smedes She knows ironies and oddities of life under the sun — that mercy sometimes coexists with mendacity, for example, and kindness with lust. She is good at estimating causes and effects, including human motives and consequences. She can spot patterns in behavior and take them more seriously than isolated acts. She understands that people full of shadows may also be full of a light that causes them. In such and other respects, Lewis Smedes remarks, "a discerning person has the makings of a connoisseur."

Wise Truths To be wise is to know and affirm reality, to discern it, and then to speak and act accordingly. The wise accommodate themselves to reality. They go with the flow. They tear along the perforated line. They attempt their harvests in season. Ordinary people proceed with such a program no matter whether they have derived their wisdom from Scripture or from more general revelation. From the Proverbs, or from absorbent attention to the life played out before them, or even from their grandmother, the wise eventually learn, and then accommodate themselves to, such truths as these: The more you talk, the less people listen. If your word is no good, people will not trust you and it is then useless to protest this fact. Trying to cure distress with the same thing that caused it only makes matters worse. If you refuse to work hard and take pains, you are unlikely to do much of any consequence. Boasting of your accomplishments does not make people admire them. Boasting is vain in both senses of the word. Envy of fat cats does not make them slimmer, and will anyhow rot your bones. If you scratch certain itches, they just itch more. Many valuable things, including happiness and deep sleep, come to us only if we do not try hard for them.

Scriptural wisdom upsets a lot of the conventional wisdom of the world. To believe in "Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord" is to commit oneself not only to the person of Christ and to his incarnation, but also to his very counterintuitive program of dying and rising. A Christian needs trust to commit to Jesus' program. After all, in his program self-expenditure leads to life, and not just to burnout. A Christian trusts that in his death Jesus absorbed the world's evil into himself without passing it back, and so cut the loop of vengeance that has cycled down the ages. A Christian trusts that in his resurrection Jesus opened a door that had always been locked and that he has left it open. And that in his ascended glory Jesus Christ has given Christians a new address for heaven so that, if you look it up, heaven's address is wherever Jesus is.

Christ is "the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). In one standard theological account of him, he is the mediator not only of redemption, but also of creation. To say of him that he is the wisdom of God is a creation metaphor, I believe, before it is a redemption metaphor, and it suggests that the work of Jesus Christ represents the intelligence and expressiveness of the triune God. According to God's intelligence, the way to thrive is to help others to thrive; the way to flourish is to cause others to flourish; the way to fulfill yourself is to spend yourself.

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Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.