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Biblical teaching on WISDOM

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BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES FOR WISDOM with specific reference to polemic issues and how they relate practically to today's Christian.

TEXT

Proverbs 3:19 +20

 

The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens-

By His knowledge the depths were broken up and clouds drop down the dew.

 

Introduction

The book of Proverbs reads like a handbook of practical principles geared for effective living. It has been said that its principal author was the wisest man who ever lived; of course we know that its Author - with a capital 'A' is the God of all wisdom.

In many ways the book of Proverbs mirrors the rest of the Bible as a canon, in that the aim is that we may know wisdom and put it into practice. It could be said, therefore, that the book of Proverbs is a microcosmic representation of the whole corpus of scripture.

Just like the Psalmist cried out in Psalm 90:12

 

Teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

 

This is the heart cry of someone who knew the benefits of the wisdom that comes from God, and was passionate to live it out.

In the text from Proverbs we are confronted by a glorious array of terms.

Namely, these are KNOWLEDGE; UNDERSTANDING and WISDOM.

Let us define of these terms:

 

q       Knowledge - This is the acquisition of information.

q       Understanding is the ability to apply that information

q       Wisdom knows when and in what way to apply that understanding.

 

KNOWLEDGE

I can go into the library, pick up a book, and memorise some facts. This act alone gets me knowledge.

 

UNDERSTANDING

If I take that book learning and go to a class; when I am taught techniques- I can put that knowledge into practice; and when I have gained a working knowledge of the subject I have understanding.

 

WISDOM

Wisdom, however is a different matter, because, this is not something that can be taught, but is a gift from God. The Book of James teaches us in the first chapter and fifth verse that if any of us lacks wisdom we are to ask God - in faith, nothing wavering- and He will give to all of us liberally without finding fault.

 

It is a wonderful realisation to note that you don't have to be matriculated in some university to gain wisdom; and you don't have to be hyper-intelligent, just ask God and believe that you will get it. What wisdom there is in believing God! This is often referred to as having both head-knowledge, and heart-knowledge of God.

My aim in this study is to give practical principles from the scriptures as to the nature of wisdom, and how to apply our hearts unto wisdom.

It should be noted, that in this study, a complete exhaustive treatment of the Biblical references to wisdom is not possible, as the mentions of 'wisdom' number more than two hundred and thirty. Therefore, all this study aims to do is to establish some practical principles and paradigms related to wisdom.

 

WISDOM DEFINED

 

It must be stated that there is no real 'hard and fast' rule that we can use to define the word 'wisdom'. Many considerations can be taken into account when formulating a concept of this principle in one's mind. Here we shall begin by trying to define wisdom.

The New Bible Dictionary defines wisdom by explaining: 'Basically wisdom is the art of being successful, of forming the correct plan to gain the desired results'. Of course, this definition of wisdom is quite sweeping, and provides us with only a kernel of a definition of what wisdom is. We must search much deeper in order to get a fuller concept of wisdom. Firstly, in order to refine the above, we must assert that wisdom writings are not a self-seeking, self-help set of manuals for us to gain copious amounts of worldly wealth and success. It must be pointed out that the proverbs and the rest of Biblical literature are geared for us to glorify God, and not ourselves. It is with this view in mind that John says:

 

"He must increase, but I must decrease" John 3:30.

 

Thus, a more God-centred definition is in order.                    

Eric Lane's definition of wisdom, in his commentary, does a little to clear the air on this matter. He states that 'the concept of wisdom is about how best to find our way through the maze of this world'. This sentence at least pre-supposes a define Director of sorts. A further attempt at defining the idea of wisdom is expostulated by the Rev. Glen Morrison on the Internet. He calls wisdom 'Knowledge and insight empowered by love'. This further refines the idea of wisdom by bringing in the motivation, namely, love. Perhaps we can look at wisdom as God's message to us, prompted by His amazing love, that it may effectively guide us through the maze-like journey of life.

 

Of course, as with all of God's infinite precepts, for us to try to define them with mere academic and intellectual prowess would miss out on God's message, and ultimately fall very short of the mark.

 

Therefore, the first seven verses of the book of Proverbs give us a protracted definition of what wisdom actually is.

A short list of the main categories follows: -

-Character training

-Understanding in discernment

-Prudence 

Now, having somewhat satisfactorily defined the concept, we shall proceed to looking at some of the chief regions in which wisdom must be exercised, what it is in practice, how to exercise it and other relevant considerations. It would be pertinent to note that most of the principles expanded on in the following are themes for study in their own right. Thus, I have related each as they pertain to wisdom, but the vast majority of them impinge on a much vaster array of biblical subject matter.

 

WISDOM IN LEARNING

In Proverbs 1:5, it says:

"A wise man will hear, and will increase in learning"

 

Here, I want to emphasise two words mentioned. The first is 'hear'. To hear is not the same as to 'listen'. The word 'listen' is defined as 'to heed or pay attention', whereas, 'hear' means 'perceive,   learn or be informed'. Thus, we can see that in hearing, there is more of an obedient quality. There is more of a retentive quality to the information. Not only does the hearer heed, but they also, 'learn' and are 'informed'. This, therefore, in many ways separates pure knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge listens, but wisdom 'hears'. This is in line with New Testament teaching on this issue:

 

"He that has ears, let him hear what the Spirit is saying unto the churches"

Quoted in New Testament many times.

 

 

"Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue, knowledge; and to knowledge, temperance' 2Peter 1v6-7.

 

This last passage teaches that if we are to be wise, then knowledge must be tempered by self-control, otherwise it would just be like that knowledge, which as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:1 "puffeth up".

 

Thus wisdom in learning is gained from 'hearing' the word of God in a teachable attitude, willing to learn.

 

 

WISDOM - THE FEAR OF THE LORD

 

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction" Proverbs 1:7

 

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" Proverbs 9:10

 

The Fear of the Lord has been dubbed, 'the key to intimately knowing God'.

The Bible teaches that the goodness of God is incurred by fearing God. It promises that angelic protection would be ever present for those who fear Him. There are promises that God's 'eye' looks upon the God-fearing individual. Also promised is divine provision for God-fearers. Fearing Him prompts God's mercy. Also promised are physical sustenance; help and protection; fulfilled desires.

The book of Proverbs promises: a place of refuge; departure from death; satisfaction; power over evil; riches, honour and life.

These are just some of the promises aimed at the one who fears the Lord. The fear of the Lord is truly indispensable to the person who seeks wisdom.

 

Some objections have been levelled at the term, 'the fear of the Lord'. The best of which being from 1John 4:18, which says

 

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear"

 

The objection, therefore postulates that because we are, as Christians, to love, (and are the subjects of 'perfect love), it is not right to fear the Lord according to this passage.

This objection is incorrect on a number of scores. Namely, it is based on a simple semantic error. When referring to the fear in 1John 4:18, the Bible means slavish fear. The state of being afraid of something or someone. Whereas, the 'fear of the Lord', refers to the quality of having a deep reverence for God. To, agree, in some degree with Isiaiah's observation in chapter six, verse five of his book. It is a realisation of our own abominable mess before God, and a deep-seated awe at who He is.

The other main problem with this objection to the fear of the Lord is that it forms a doctrine, based on one verse. This absolutely cannot be done, as scripture study is only valid when studied in context; and interpreted in the light of other scripture references.

So the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, let us progress.

 

 

WISDOM IN SEPARATION:

 

"My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not" Proverbs 1:10.

 

The Bible, over and over, explicitly teaches that if someone wants to follow God, that they must be separate from the world. It is very clear that the paradigms and principles of the Bible absolutely fly in the face of modern society. God's way is different and in many ways seem strange, but in a very real sense, if God were not different, would He really be God? Or would He simply be a figment of fertile imaginations, longing for some sort of supernatural satisfaction? Or, perhaps the Bible is, indeed correct when it tells us that God's ways are far above ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). Just as God is holy, He calls us to be holy.

 

In Romans 12:2 from the New International version of the Bible, the practice of separation from worldly principles to God's principles is related as our spiritual act of worship. Now that we have seen this, let us progress.

 

WISDOM WORKS BY EXAMPLE.

 

"Wisdom crieth without, she uttereth her voice in the streets . . ." Prov1: 20

 

This verse and indeed, this theme do not so much postulate the benefits of a street preaching ministry, (or that of a pulpeteer), but rather, living a holy life. As stated before, God insists and He requires His servants to be holy just as He is holy. This is firstly, and principally, obedience to God. However, there also exists the example part of service whereby we do what is right to placate the great cloud of witnesses, with which we are surrounded.

 

Hebrews 12v1 says:

"Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us"

 

Wisdom and discretion are to be shown, presented for all men to see. This is much exemplified by the God-Man Jesus, when religious leaders tried their utmost to incriminate Him; they could not find a single fault in Him. When, finally they decided to crucify Him, Pilate said that he could find no fault in Him (Luke 23:14). Jesus was the ultimate example, and we are to be 'imitators of Christ'.

The Bible tells believers to be constantly made more like Christ. The true believer delights him/herself in being conformed to the image of Jesus. If Jesus Christ is the most important thing in a person's life, it will affect every area of their life and permeate every fibre of their being. This is the example that a Christian can and must show forth before the world. The renewed Christian will see this not as a burdensome drudge, but as a privilege, indeed, a divine honour. The gift of serving the One who declared Himself to be the great pre-existent, immutable, sinless, spotless, glorious, unspeakably pre-eminent Creator of the world. Those who suffer for the case and the cause of Christ will consider it an honour, just as the apostles in the book of Acts.

Here we have it then, that wisdom is not only a set of actions, but it is a state of mind. Out of this state of mind will come the willingness and the empowerment to do the actions required.

So, wisdom will manifest itself in a good witness, with honesty, dignity, and living by godly principles.

 

WISDOM IN RETENTION AND OBEDIENCE.

 

'My son, forget not my law, but let thine heart keep My commandments'  (Proverbs 3:1).

 

As it has been seen before, there is an indissoluble link between wisdom and obedience. The mentioned verse instructs us to keep God's commands in remembrance and not to forget. There is much wisdom in remembering what God says for us to do. Excess baggage of sin and neglect has a way of creeping into a person's life. This verse instructs us against this vice. Here the wisdom is principally in remembrance to do things God's way in our lives. There is thus a strong sense of continuance in this verse. This line of teaching is consistent with New Testament doctrine, where Paul reprimands the Galatian believers:

 

"Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?" Galatians 5v7

 

The letter to this church at Galatia was written against a backdrop of legalism, and regression back into the old legalistic way of life. However, the principle that God through Paul is trying to ingrain into the hearts and minds of these people is the same as that in Proverbs 3:1. This is to continue in what God had taught them up to that point and not to regress back. All through the New Testament, there are many exhortations to grow; to continue; to be steadfast, unmoveable; to contend earnestly for the faith. In short, God is not seeking us to be people who have a sudden spurt of spiritual energy, who serve God fervently for a season then drop away or become lethargic, but God is looking for a people who possess spiritual stamina. God gives the grace which empowers us to serve Him acceptably (Heb12: 28) and efficiently, it is up to us to use that empowerment to follow Him and to continue to follow hard after Him (Psalm 63:8).

 

WISDOM IN GIVING (SOWING)

 

"Honour the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase

So your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine"

(Proverbs 3:9-10 NKJV)

 

This passage of scripture postulates the idea that it is actually glorifying and honouring to the Almighty to give Him a tithe. The Old Testament teaches that a tenth of the income- or increase- of the individual belongs to God. Jesus Christ himself advocated the tithe. In Psalm twenty-seven we are assured that the earth is the Lord's and also everything in it. Thus, in relation to the above section of Proverbs, this concept reveals to us a part of God's nature. When God asks for only a tenth of someone's increase, when He deserves and owns It all anyway, we see His great generosity. If this principle is viewed in this manner, then the giver will not see this divine duty as a drudge, but rather a cause for great joy and privilege. It is probably under the influence of the fullness of this attitude that the New Testament teaches that

 

"God loves a cheerful giver"

(2Cor 9:7- NKJV) 

 

This passage of holy writ also pronounces a benediction upon those who obey the precept. There are many ways to interpret the blessing pronounced upon the obedient person. Some people adopt an extreme interpretation of this promise. Some of those people assume that we are discussing the area of finances, and therefore, the promises must be primarily monetary and material. Other extremists will look at the passage and state that the concept must be spiritualised and thus no financial gain is promised or to be expected. It must be stated that both of these interpretations normally appear as the brainchildren of people with a vested interest. Those who accept the first extreme are usually those who are involved in the 'prosperity gospel', which postulates that if someone musters up enough faith, they can have whatever they visualise. The chief proponent of this movement, Kenneth Copeland, once bluntly stated that to be poor is a sin.

The other extreme, some people will be jaded by the superficiality and greed of the prosperity seekers and will opt to totally spiritualise the whole promise, leaving absolutely no room for monetary blessings of any sort. However, the preteristical practice of spiritualising everything usually stems from the obsession with eschatological literature. However, when one approaches the book of Proverbs and other related works, we find that a spiritualising approach is not consistent or accurate. This is because of the terse, poetic nature of the literature. The great commentator Charles Bridges holds that we are to seek as literal an interpretation as we can. Of course, this must be done within the boundaries of consistency relative to the rest of scripture.

The question, then, still remains unanswered. How are we to interpret this pronounced blessing?

 

Firstly, we must acknowledge that God is interested in every area of our lives. In Exodus 20, we have the radical, ground-shattering event of Gods commandments. God literally spoke that day (v1). There were thunder and lightening, smoking mountains, and a whole nation of three million people trembling (v18). Yet, in the very next chapter, we have the scenario that this awesome God cares about a servants tooth (21v 27). Surely, God cares for every aspect of a mans life. It shows how privileged a person the Christian is. The book of Hebrews tells us that God is touched by the feelings of our infirmities.

 

Secondly, we must acknowledge that God is more concerned with our spiritual condition before Him, than our comfort. This is the truth that the prosperity teachers have difficulty accepting. If we look at the book of Job, we see a man, who is totally righteous in every point before God, yet God allows everything he has to be taken from him. This is with the exception of his severely heretical friends. Yet this man perseveres through life. At the end of the book, God gives an eloquent speech that extends to a few chapters. In them God pronounces blessings, etc. Yet, the most conspicuous thing is the absence of any mention of Jobs plight! This is the very thing that most of the book is devoted to, yet God seems simply to ignore it!

Incidentally, these friends of Jobs were promoting the doctrine, prevalent at the time, that prosperity in a persons life was indicative of Gods favour on a persons life. This is interesting because it is this very thought spiral that is used by the prosperity teachers today!

 

God is concerned about our financial situations. However, His will is for us to be content in every situation (Phil 4:10-13)!

 

The Bible does teach a concept of prosperity

 

The problem is first encountered when people, in their zeal to preserve this biblical doctrine, take the concept to dangerous extremes. The main proponent of the extreme wing of 'prosperity doctrine' once claimed that it is a sin to be poor. The question that must be asked is not so much, 'does the Bible teach prosperity?' but rather 'what does the Bible teach about prosperity?'

 

I shall do a short biblical investigation here.

 

PROSPERITY PRINCIPLE No 1)

 

Prosperity is contingent upon keeping the covenant.

 

"Therefore keep the words of this covenant and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do" Deut 29v9.

 

Also, Deuteronomy 30v9-10; Deuteronomy 30v15-16 and 1Kings 2v3. These four biblical passages are only a sampling of the material that can be given to support the claim that prosperity is conditional upon keeping the covenant. Although, it may be discussed as to what extent the covenant must be kept, especially with New Testament believers. It may be argued that Jesus' death, burial and resurrection secured the blessings of the covenant for His people once and for all, making them positionally righteous and partakers of every promise available to believers.

 

PROSPERITY PRINCIPLE No 2)

 

Prosperity must not be sought, but rather God must be sought.

 

"This book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Joshua 1v9.

 

In 2 Chronicles 26v5, God makes King Uzziah to prosper as long as he sought Him. Another example of prosperity is found a few chapters on in Chapter 21,verse 31.

 

PROSPERIY PRINCIPLE No 3)

 

Be fair and honest, and live at peace with your fellow man.

Deuteronomy 23v20; Proverbs  28v13; 1 Samuel 25v6.

 

PROSPERITY PRINCIPLE No 4)

 

Be faithful to God and man.

 

 

The 3 remaining prosperity principles are to be added in due course.

 

 

 

 

 

WISDOM IN SACRIFICIAL LOVE

 

Proverbs 3v27-28 set this principle in motion.

 

"Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbour, "come back later; I'll give it tomorrow'--when you have it with you" NIV.

 

One would assume that this short passage is intended to teach a lesson in self-denial. It could not have been made any clearer. Our loyalties must be toward others before ourselves. It has been very simply, and very correctly stated that the acronym J.O.Y. could be used to state the principle "Jesus first; others second; yourself last". Unfortunately, fallen human nature does not allow this to be easy. This is difficult- the old man; the flesh; the 'sinful nature' must be put to death that the new man; the spiritual man; the godly-wise man may live. This is painful because, as Dr Douglas Kelly states 'death hurts'. The great Bible teacher, Tozer, spoke of 'tearing' away all the things in our lives that are displeasing to God.

 

Romans 12v10

 

"Honour one another above yourselves" NIV

 

This is very strong language. It is so easy in a world where 'look-after-number-one' philosophy permeates every area, for it to creep into the church. However, as noted before in this study, Christianity is a culture wherein, the practices and ethics both run counter to, and supersede the trends, fads and eroded standards of the day. Jesus taught that following Him would be a routine of denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him. What's more is that He said it would be daily. We are taught that we should esteem others as better than ourselves.

It has been well said many times that the book of James is to the New Testament what Proverbs is to the Old Testament. Thus, unsurprisingly, there is a cognate parallel to this concept in James. In chapter two verses two through four, we are given a scenario based in a church meeting setting. There enters a wealthy man in lofty apparel followed by a poor street person. When the congregation's reaction is gauged, we find that the wealthy man receives the better treatment and that the poor man is either ignored or cast aside. James then uses this hypothetical situation to drive home the vital point that he is making:

 

"My dear friends, don't let public opinion influence how you live out your glorious, Christ-originated faith. Isn't it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world's down-and-out as the kingdom's first citizens, with full rights and privileges" (The Message).

 

We now realise just how pertinent the Bible is to our daily lives! Not much has changed in this area since this was written. God's ways are so much different than ours. God's system is different than ours. There are many people today who have 'dress codes' in their churches, and, whether they will admit it or not, they look down on those not abiding by their rules. This is the very sin we are warned about in James 2! Still, these people cry out to God to bring people in to their meetings, and they pray for 'revival', but oftentimes, all they are really after are big earners and thus big-tithers. This flies in the face of what Jesus' ministry was all about. After Jesus gave up His job as a carpenter, He began to travel, sometimes homeless. Much of the time Jesus probably lived like a vagabond for us. Thus, our way of dealing with people runs entirely anti-parallel with the Master's.

 

Of course we know that it is gloriously possible that we can put off the old man and put on the new man. This can not simply be executed as a once-in-a-lifetime event, but as a daily practice. For the serious Christian, that is where a passion for Jesus comes in. If a person is absolutely in love with the person of Jesus Christ and is being continually transformed to His image, then to please Him will be a high privilege. After all, Jesus, the Lord of glory, the One who said "Heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool"; the One who spoke and brought the universe into existence; the One who measures the Universe with the span of His hand; the One who put the stars in the sky with His fingers, this One, came down to our sin-sick earth to die for a race of sin-perverted-rebellious creatures. Upon considering this, is it too hard for us to buy a cup of tea for a street person and tell them that Jesus loves them? The Bible says in the most popular verse in the Bible that God loved "the world" so much that He sent His one and only son to die for it. Who is this 'world'? Everyone, of course! Including the poor - and the rich. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34).   

 

 

 

COMING SOON - - - -  The following titles.

 

 

WISDOM IN SEXUAL CONTEXTS

 

WISDOM IN WORK

 

WISDOM IN FRIENDSHIPS

 

WISDOM IN CONTINUANCE

 

WISDOM IN LEADERSHIP

 

Napoleon said that 'A leader is a dealer in hope'.

 

 

Mailto: lorimer_thomas@hotmail.com