We began a new series last week on the subject of WISDOM, and I am extremely excited that the Lord has led us to camp on this subject over the next few months because the wisdom of God is such an important part of our lives. And this is exactly what we learned last week.
And before I begin to review what we talked about last week, I wanted to reiterate to you that the Lord has given us a book that is all about the wisdom of God, and that’s the Book of Proverbs. So, as we are going through this series, I encourage you to spend time studying this Book of Wisdom. You can read one chapter a day and generally cover the entire book in one month. Shannon and I have started a Bible study where we are going through this book together, and we encourage you to do something similar as well.
But the truth is, most believers do not put this subject at the top of their list of priorities. I explained last week how the Lord showed me the reason that most Christians do not get as excited about this particular subject. It is because:
a. They don’t think they need it. In other words, they think they are just fine, they know what they are doing, etc. Most people are deceived into thinking this, but the truth is - when we see what the fruit of wisdom is, we will recognize that we need more wisdom in our lives. And that led me to the second point…
b. They don't see the value of it. You see, if we saw how valuable wisdom is and all of the benefits it yields in us, we would hunger and thirst for more of it. Yes, if we saw that with wisdom comes all of these other things that we seek after, we would desire wisdom far more than most of us currently do.
But the truth is this, we all need much more wisdom than we currently possess. There is not a person that I know, who cannot stand to have more of the wisdom of God operating in their lives. And in last week’s message, I proved this very thing to you:
So, let’s quickly review what we talked about last week by looking again at Proverbs 4:5: It says, “Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you; Love her, and she will keep you. Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore, get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote you; She will bring you honor when you embrace her. She will place on your head an ornament of grace; A crown of glory she will deliver to you.”
So the first things we see here is the command to get wisdom, which lets us know two things - first, that we need it, and second, that it is “gettable.” Because God would not tell us to get it if we could not get it.
Second, we saw how Solomon - a man who had certainly acquired wisdom from the Lord - said that wisdom is the principal thing. No, not love, not faith, not grace. He said wisdom is the principal thing. And we saw that this phrase “principal thing” literally describes in the Hebrew language something that is the head or at the top. It describes something that is first or something that is at the beginning. So, some good translations of this phrase then would be that wisdom is “the first thing” or it’s “the top thing.”
I said that most of us, when we hear the word “principal,” think of the director of a school. This position is generally called “principal” because they are the head teacher or the head-honcho (if you would). This word “principal” is also where we get the term “principalities” from, which are commonly a reference in the New Testament to the highest-ranking demons in the kingdom of darkness. So, they are the top-ranked class of demons in Satan’s kingdom.
In fact, the Hebrew word that is used here in Proverbs 4:7 is the same word that is commonly translated as “first-fruits.” Now the giving of “first-fruits” was when the children of Israel gave the first, and therefore, the best of their harvest to the Lord as an offering. So, when we think of the giving of “first-fruits,” we think of giving our first and our best. Therefore, we can clearly see that Solomon was saying that wisdom is the first and best thing! In other words, it is at the top of all things that we could acquire from the Lord. Now that is a pretty strong statement, isn’t it? Wisdom is the first and best thing! That’s the reason Solomon continually said to get it!
So, what we did last week is we learned why - why wisdom is the first, top, head and best thing. We did this by looking a myriad of Scriptures that teach us of wisdom’s worth and value:
Looking again at Proverbs 4:8-9, we will begin to find out what wisdom brings with her: Solomon said, “Exalt her, and she will promote you. She will bring you honor, when you embrace her…” So, we saw that both promotion and honor come by simply valuing wisdom. Sure, these things don’t come from the east or from the west; promotion and honor come from the Lord (Psalm 75:6-7). However, does that mean that the Lord is just picking and choosing whomever He wants to exalt? No! Again, this verse says that when we exalt wisdom, we will be “exalted.” So, maybe a problem with many is because they have not placed the appropriate value on wisdom - seeing her importance and living like that is true - they have failed to be honored.
So, we need to honestly ask ourselves these questions: Do I love and embrace wisdom? Do I exalt and honor her? To most believers, this is not on their radar to do this. But should it be? If you desire things like honor and promotion, it should!
Therefore, we learned that this is the first thing we need to do - begin to exalt and embrace her. This describes simply just holding her in higher esteem than we currently do. And the awesome thing is by us simply valuing wisdom in our hearts, we begin to attract her. And then when we obtain her, she brings with her all manner of good things in our life.
We then began to look at several other Scriptures like Proverbs 3:14-15; 8:10-11, 19, 16:16 & Job 28:12-19 that expressly state that wisdom is worth more than gold, silver, precious stones and anything else we could desire. And we learned that the reason why wisdom is more valuable than these precious things is because with wisdom comes these precious, natural things.
We looked at both Proverbs chapter 3 and 8 in depth and saw many of the benefits of finding and acquiring wisdom in our lives. Quickly, we saw that with wisdom comes:
So, do you have more than enough riches and wealth in your bank accounts? Have you obtained all the favor you want from the Lord? Have you received all of the honor and promotions you desire? Are you a happy person? Are you on your way to living a long, peaceful and pleasant life? If you cannot answer a definite YES to all of these questions, then you can apparently stand to have more wisdom in your life - because we’ve learned that all of these things come with acquiring wisdom from above! Amen!
Now it stands to mention here that the telltale sign that you and I truly know and understand these things is by how excited and enthusiastic we get about hearing it. So, if the value of wisdom does not stir something up on the inside of us, then it is not real to us. It is that simple! Therefore, church, let’s receive this revelation and receive all the benefits of wisdom in our lives. Amen?
WHAT WISDOM IS NOT
So, an obvious next step in our series on wisdom is to define it. Let’s do this by not only asking the question, “What is wisdom?” but also by asking, “What is wisdom not?”
You see, wisdom is a very difficult thing to define. Like agape love, it has a variety of meanings and is hard to adequately describe. However, one of the best ways to begin describing wisdom is by talking about what wisdom isn’t.
First of all, wisdom is not knowledge. Wisdom is not simply accumulating more information than others. You can accumulate a vast amount of knowledge and still be void of wisdom. I received the following statement when studying this: you can have a cap and a gown or a robe and a crown and still be a fool.
You see, the term “fool” is the title that the Bible gives to the one void of wisdom. In other words, the opposite of a wise person in the Bible is a fool. And you know what the Bible says that a fool does, right? Psalm 53:1 says that the fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” But isn’t it interesting that these self-proclaimed atheists who say that there is no God are the ones who are lauded for their “wisdom”? Yes, these are usually those who are highly intelligent and scholarly, yet the Bible calls this belief that there is no God the epitome of foolishness.
And do you know why this is? It is because Proverbs 9:1 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” In other words, the very foundation of wisdom is recognizing that there is indeed a God, and living a life of respect and reverence for Him. If one does not have this basic understanding, they are not wise. I don’t care how many degrees they have, how many letters they have at the end of their name, or what position and title they hold; if they do not recognize and respect the One True and Living God, they are “unwise” (to put it nicely). 1 Corinthians 8:1 tells us that only having knowledge puffs you up (setting you up for a fall.) On the other hand, there are some who are wise that don’t have a very high IQ. This is because they have recognized that true wisdom comes from God and have received it from Him.
Secondly, wisdom is not understanding. Thus, the reason that we see Solomon saying, “Get wisdom! Get understanding!” (Proverbs 4:5, 7). If they were one and the same, then why tell us to get them both? Amen?
No, understanding literally describes insight, discernment and to realize something. My favorite way to describe biblical understanding is that it is “the ability to put two and two together”- thus “understanding” is to not just knowing what something is, but why something is the way that it is.
So, no, possessing knowledge or understanding is not the same as having wisdom. However, they both work together with wisdom. For example, it is for this reason that I have always liked the following definition given to wisdom: Wisdom is the correct application of knowledge. In other words, wisdom is different than simple knowledge in that wisdom knows how to take the knowledge it has accumulated and then apply it. Therefore, knowledge can exist without wisdom; but wisdom cannot exist without knowledge.
For example, let me give you a good natural example that describes the roles that both knowledge and understanding play - the example of automobile mechanics:
You see, we can study everything that is underneath the hood of our car and be able to tell which parts are the engine, the transmission, the radiator, the battery, the alternator, etc. But this is simply “knowledge.” We might even have the “understanding” of what each of these parts do and what their function is in regards to the vehicle running correctly. But how many of you know that just because you can lift the hood on your car and have the “knowledge” of which part is the alternator, and just because you have the “understanding” of what the alternator does, does not mean that if your alternator goes out that you yourself will know how to fix it. That is where wisdom ties in.
So, what role does wisdom play in this? Before I answer that question, let’s now answer the question: What is wisdom?
The best one-word definitions that I have been able to find for “wisdom” are “skillful” and “expert.” In other words, having wisdom in an area is being skilled and an expert in that area.
Now looking back at our example of auto mechanics - a good, skilled auto mechanic is the one who has the “wisdom” regarding what is underneath the hood. In other words, he or she not only “knows” what every part of the car is, not only do they “understand” what they do and why they do it, but they know how each of these parts work together and can fix the car if it needs it. Yes, one who is “skilled” or an “expert” in auto mechanics could take the vehicle apart and put it back together again. In other words, the one who is “skilled” and an “expert” in auto mechanics knows the correct application of all of that knowledge they have.
Therefore, as wisdom is commonly defined - It is the ability to judge correctly and to follow the best course of action, based on knowledge and understanding. In other words, wisdom is the ability to use knowledge and understanding in order to think and act in such a way that common sense prevails and choices are beneficial and productive. So, that is why I like to define wisdom like so: wisdom is being skilled and an expert in the arena of life - because as important as being skilled in the arena of auto mechanics is, what we really want to become an expert at is life. Amen?
For example, sticking with this analogy of automobiles: you could say that “knowledge” knows what a traffic signal is and understanding is knowing why it is there. So, these other two virtues know where the traffic signals are located and what the three colors mean. But wisdom, on the other hand, applies that knowledge in a prudent and skilled fashion. In other words, wisdom applies the brakes and stops at the traffic signal. Wisdom respects the yellow light and begins to brake, knowing whether it has the time to make it through the intersection before it turns red. Wisdom even pauses after the light has turned green to make sure no “fools” are running the red light from the intersecting road.
Another good example along the same lines is that knowledge knows what brake lights are and knows that it means when the car’s brake lights come on in front of it; wisdom knows when and how to apply the brakes. In fact, wisdom looks ahead of the car in front of it and looks for other cars in its lane that have begun applying their brakes. Then it correctly assumes that the car before it will put on their brakes before they actually do.
So, do you see how wisdom functions in this example? It looks ahead! It considers what is going to happen before it does! This is a significant characteristic of wisdom which we will get more into in the future.
So, these natural examples I have just described to you are good definitions and descriptions of wisdom, but the wisdom we should be primarily looking for is not the wisdom of auto mechanics, traffic signals and brake lights; the wisdom we need is the wisdom that descends from above! Amen?
How many of you know that there is a BIG difference between natural, earthly wisdom and the wisdom that descends from above (i.e. God’s wisdom)? This is one reason that I like Dr. Charles Stanley’s definition of wisdom. He says, “Wisdom is the capacity to see things from God's perspective and respond according to Scriptural principles.” Amen!
You see, this is the wisdom that you and I truly are looking for! Not just the earthly wisdom that will only help in things that pertain to this temporal life. Sure, there are benefits to having wisdom in regard to the things of life, but the wisdom that comes from above (i.e. God) contains the skill and expertise that will not only help us in this life but also has the promise of the life that is to come (1 Timothy 4:8).
One way you could answer the question - What is wisdom? - is with one word - GOD! That’s right: God is wisdom!
In fact, the Bible actually teaches us in three places (Romans 16:27, 1 Timothy 1:17 & Jude 25) that God alone is wise? That means that just as there is none good but God (not meaning that there is no one else who ever does any good things, but simply that God is the only One who is purely good and has this as an unchanging part of His nature), likewise there is none wise but God, which means the same thing: that while we might only scratch the surface of wisdom that descends from above, no one else can ever compare to God’s wisdom.
A good example of this is found in that oft quoted verse, Romans 8:28: So, many have tried to make this verse out to say that God is the author of everything that comes into our lives and that He is using those things to perfect us, to teach us things, etc. Church, that is just not true! A good parable that describes Romans 8:28 is this: God is simply the greatest chess player that ever lived!
You know, chess is a game that is won through simple principles of wisdom. Like what? In chess, it is not just about your current move. It is a game where you must anticipate your opponent’s strategy and have your own strategy at the same time. But what makes a good chess player? A good chess player can take the move of their opponent and beat them with their own move! And that is what God has been doing to the devil for 6,000-plus years! Hallelujah!
WISDOM FROM ABOVE
So, this is where we need to get our wisdom from - from above, from God Himself, since He alone is wisdom. Amen? So, let’s go over to the Book of James because it gives us the primary difference between God’s wisdom and this world’s wisdom.
You know, James is commonly considered the New Testament Book of Wisdom. One of the reasons for this is because James differentiates worldly wisdom & godly wisdom. Let’s look at this passage of Scripture:
He says in James 3:13-17- “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”
In verse 13, James asks a rhetorical question: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” – indicating that there was evidently a group of individuals in this church he was writing to who claimed to have all of this wisdom and understanding (Probably that same group who wanted to become teachers that James warned in 3:1). So, James answers this question by saying that if you really have true wisdom, it will be displayed in your life by how you conduct yourself. In other words, wisdom is not just knowing something and having all the answers. Wisdom is simply living rightly. In other words, wisdom is not us being able to win a debate; wisdom is us have the common sense to make good decisions in life and actually doing so.
Do you remember the example that I used of wisdom being like a skilled, expert in automobile mechanics and how that is different than just simply knowing what all of the various parts of a car are and why they do what they do? Well, this is how that applies to godly wisdom: it is more than just being able to quote a bunch of Bible verses about something, such as love; it is knowing how to apply these truths about love to your life and actually being a doer of these verses that you know.
For example, knowledge would be us learning the truth. Understanding would be us learning how to apply the truth. But wisdom would be us actually living the truth. Again, this is why my own personal definition of godly wisdom is being skilled and an expert in the arena of life. In other words, wisdom is having obtained God’s knowledge and understanding it, and then becoming proficient in applying the truth to our lives.
You see, as James begins to describe in verse 14-16: “But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”
What he is saying is that for one to say that they have God’s kind of wisdom yet have bitter envy and selfish ambition operating in their hearts is not possible. Why? Because if the wisdom that descends from above is planted in our hearts, then our lives will be full of good fruit – the fruit of God’s kingdom. Amen?
This is why when we look at verse 17 - where James defines the God kind of wisdom - that all of these traits and characteristics of wisdom are good and loving behaviors. No, not just theories or philosophies; true wisdom is the applied knowledge from God. And you can bet that everything you learn from Him will revolve around love, goodness and righteousness. Amen?
In James 3:17, he says, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”
Notice that James begins by saying that this wisdom is “first pure, then…” In essence, he is differentiating this earthly, sensual and demonic facade of wisdom that contains things like envy and selfish motives in the heart from God’s wisdom that is, first of all, pure on the inside (i.e. purity of heart). In other words, God’s wisdom is void of these selfish motives. It is pure, thinking more about others than it is its own self.
Then he goes on to describe this godly wisdom by saying it is “peaceable.” In other words, it is not contentious and creating divisions. But that is exactly what you see the earthly, devilish wisdom. It creates factions. It generates strife. 2 Timothy 2:23 teaches us to “avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.” You see, this disputing back and forth and arguing over doctrine - when done from this sensual wisdom - does nothing but stir up strife. It is not peaceable.
You know, it has been well-said that peace is the manifest presence of God and strife is the manifest presence of the devil. So, when we sense that peace in our conversations, then we can know that God is pleased in the conversation. But when strife is being generated, you can bet the bank that the “wisdom” that is being shared is demonic. Amen? Simply ask yourself the question after you have engaged in these conversations: Do I feel closer to the Lord now or further away? This “afterwards test” will oftentimes indicate whether the activity we just participated in was wisdom from above.
Then James goes on to describe true wisdom as “gentle.” This word describes character that is reasonable, fair and considerate. It is the exact opposite of someone who is abrasive and contentious. Now we know people like this don’t we? And the people who are not “gentle” are generally the ones who think they know a lot. But again, if someone is dogmatic, abrasive and contentious in sharing the things they know, that is not godly wisdom. Wisdom actually is considerate of others. It is reasonable in its discussions.
As James goes on to say wisdom is “willing to yield.” The King James Version says, “easy to be intreated.” This word, which is only used this one time in the New Testament, describes being “compliant, submissive or open to reason.” How many times do you see people who think they know everything being completely unwilling to yield to other people’s views? No, wisdom is teachable, listening to learn what others know. It is not a “know-it-all.” If you aren’t open to instruction, you are limited in acquiring any more wisdom than you have - which is, in essence, foolishness.
This wisdom is “full of mercy and good fruits.” So, again, back to the deeds of wisdom. It is disposed to mercy. It produces good fruit. Godly wisdom is “goodly.”
James goes on to say that wisdom is “without partiality”- meaning that it does not show favoritism or give preferential treatment. James had just told this church that showing partiality is wrong (James 2:1-9). Some will say that this is “wise” to put the people with the deeper pockets in the best places; but again, what is our motivation there? That it is in our own best interest to do that. Therefore, that is the earthly wisdom that contains selfish motives.
Finally, James describes this wisdom from above as being “without hypocrisy.” This goes back to those who claimed to be wise yet were insincere and had all of these improper motives in their hearts.
WISE AS SERPENTS; HARMLESS AS DOVES
So, in essence, God’s wisdom is pure and without hypocrisy. It is a peacemaker (compare with James 3:18). It is considerate and non-contentious. It is open to reason. It is merciful and produces all manner of good fruits.
Yes, godly wisdom uses good, common sense and makes strategic, thoughtful decisions, but not for selfish, harmful motives. All that it does is righteous and good.
A great balance in describing God’s wisdom is found in a very simple exhortation given to us by our Lord and Savior. It is found in Matthew 10:16. In it, Jesus said to His disciples, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
Yes, we certainly want to be “harmless” in our dealings - meaning, we are not to violate the love command. This is at the top of our list of priorities - doing good, being kind, showing mercy, etc. Therefore, we are gentle in our dealings, not harmful and not self-seeking.
However, we are also to be wise as serpents - meaning, we do not naively put ourselves in the position of being hurt ourselves and doing foolish things that lead to loss in our lives. Like a serpent, we make small, calculated movements in our dealings with people and things in this world. Yes, our aim is to imitate Love Himself and be good and gracious in our interactions with people, but we do things wisely - that is, in a slow, systematic fashion, being led by the Spirit of wisdom. And what are we doing when we take time instead of hurrying into things? We are seeking and waiting on God’s wisdom. The answer to 101 questions in this life is “be led.” Similarly, we are told in Philippians 1:9-10 that when we are operating in God’s love, we walk in wisdom and avoid offense. Amen!
So, don’t be quick to move and just blaze on without giving a lot of thought to where you are going and how you are getting there. For example, many people do not consider the outcome of their fleshly impulses. They just do what feels right at the moment, giving no consideration to what it will cost them tomorrow. Wisdom does not do this.
Wisdom is being skilled in the arena of life. It is living right with good, common sense. God has more than enough wisdom for us. Ask Him for it and find it by reading in His Word. If we live in this manner, we are living in the wisdom that is from above, and we will live like the dove, who flies above the snakes below. Amen, and so be it in our lives!