Walk in Wisdom, Part One
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, September 22, 1996
Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
The wisdom of God is the chief family value. We have often heard politicians speaking about family values, especially around election times. But we notice these same politicians are not practicing family values. One person may speak about family values but walk out on his wife. Another person may engage in an immoral life while living with the same wife and maintain he is practicing family values. Thus, when politicians speak about family values, we should not pay too much attention to them because they are not speaking true wisdom. Wisdom is the sine qua non of godly living, but we do not find this wisdom in ourselves, in political or university life, or in the world around us. This wisdom comes to us only from God. If you want this wisdom, this essential ingredient for your family and for all aspects of your life, you must first acknowledge that you are just a breath and that your days are nothing. You must always have a vision in your mind of an hourglass in which the sands of time are flowing down continually. You must recognize as you get older that all the changes you feel in your body are part of this process of running out of time. And when you are aware of these things, you must think about wisdom--what it is, how to get it and how to walk in it during your fleeting days.
What Is Wisdom?
What is wisdom? The Hebrew word used most frequently for wisdom in the Bible is hochmah , and the Greek equivalent is sophia . True wisdom is not found in the ideas of Socrates or Plato. It does not consist of the speculative philosophies of man or some abstract thinking. True biblical wisdom is the art of being successful in life in a way that pleases God. True wisdom deals with practical, ethical living. It is the ability to pursue godliness, which is profitable in this age and in the age to come (1 Tim. 4:8). It is the ability to be successful in temptation by saying no to sin and yes to the will of God. By wisdom we choose the best goal in life, which, of course, is to glorify God. And not only do we choose the best goal in life through wisdom, but we also through wisdom choose the best means to achieve our goal. Biblical wisdom is not in any way proportional to intelligence and intellectual knowledge. It is not something that can be measured by SAT scores. In fact, the vast majority of intellectuals in this world lack this wisdom. This wisdom is not taught in our universities. True wisdom in its perfection is an attribute of God. Unlike eternity, infinity and so on, which are incommunicable attributes of God, wisdom is a communicable attribute. God communicates something of his wisdom to us so that we may live our lives on earth in wisdom. Why does he do this? Because we have no wisdom in ourselves. We have our own understanding but that is not wisdom. In fact, the Bible tells us to not lean onto our own understanding. Only God practices true wisdom, and by it he chooses the best goal and accomplishes it by the best means. But he wants us also to receive wisdom from him so that we can also choose the best goal and accomplish it by the best means.
The Goal of Wisdom: The Church
When we study theology we find that one goal of God is to create the kingdom of God for his own glory. He accomplishes this goal by the manifestation of his wisdom in creation. Psalm 19 speaks about the manifestation of the wisdom of God in creation. This wisdom is also seen in providence, which means that God preserves his creation and governs it. We read about that in Psalm 33:10-11. Particularly, though, the wisdom of God is revealed in the redemption of sinners and the creation of his church. God redeems ungodly enemies from all tribes, nations and languages by the foolishness of the gospel and makes them into a people who love God and live in unity for his glory. We read about this in Ephesians 3:10, "His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The founding of the church reveals the wisdom of God, and this wisdom is especially manifested in the redemptive work of Christ, meaning in the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is a stumbling block to the Jews, who wonder how a cursed man can be a savior of people, and foolishness to the Greeks, who don't understand how a crucified criminal can be worshiped and adored. Yet to us who believe, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:24, the cross is the wisdom and power of God unto eternal salvation. Wisdom Comes from the Fear of the Lord
Wisdom from God, then, is the essential element of godly living. What is this wisdom based on? The fear of the Lord. In the book of Job, Job asked the question, "But where can wisdom be found? . . . It cannot be bought with the gold of Ophir" meaning the most precious gold that you could find, "with precious onyx or sapphires." In other words, this wisdom is absolutely priceless. Then Job says in the last verse of chapter 28, "The fear of the Lord--that is wisdom--and to shun evil, that is understanding" (Job 28:12-28). We see this idea in other places in the Bible. In Psalm 111:10 the psalmist says, "The fear of the Lord is beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding." In Proverbs 9:10 we read, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." In Proverbs 11:2, we read that wisdom comes to those who have humility. In Proverbs 8:13 we read, "To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech."
There is a blessing in fearing the Lord. Some people, Christians as well as non-Christians, are gripped by many fears. Have you ever wondered why? In Proverbs 1:29 we read of such people: "Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me"--meaning those who fear the Lord and listen to the Lord in humility--"will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm." If we fear the Lord, we will not fear. John Newton said the same thing in his hymn, "Amazing Grace" when he wrote, "'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved."
Wisdom Is Essential for the Wise
Arrogant, self-sufficient people shall never receive wisdom. Wisdom belongs to the Lord and he imparts it to those who acknowledge him to be Lord. In other words, God's wisdom comes only to those who confess Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead. Daniel 2:21 says God "gives wisdom to the wise." What does it mean to be wise? It means that God has enables us to recognize that he is Lord, to confess that he is Lord, and to confess that we are puny sinners who need to be saved by grace. God grants his wisdom to sinners who repent, forsake their arrogance and trust in Jesus Christ alone, who is wisdom. And this wisdom is essential for us to correctly interpret the events of our lives. In James 1:5, James says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." To interpret what is going on all around us, especially any trials we are experiencing, we have to have wisdom. Without it we always misinterpret what is happening to us. In this passage James says that trials, for example, are necessary to develop perseverance, constancy of one's walk with God, and spiritual maturity. But we must have wisdom from God to to know these things. It takes wisdom from God to understand why we may be laid off, why we do not have money, why we cannot get along with other people, why our marriage may not be working out, and so on. Without wisdom we are in deep darkness.
Not only does James say that wisdom is the key for interpreting what is happening to us and around us, but in Romans 5:3-5 Paul writes, "Not only so, but we also rejoice"--not murmur, not just endure, not just tolerate the situation-- "in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." Here you see that Paul, like James, has God's wisdom to interpret what is happening in his life. Or read Romans 8:28. Here again Paul says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." You see, that is wisdom.
When you read Psalm 73, you see the psalmist Asaph was in a confused and troubled state, calling himself a senseless, ignorant, brute beast. Why was he confused? Asaph was experiencing suffering and troubles, but the wicked around him were having a good time. He could not understand why they prospered while he, a believer, was suffering. And so he wrote in verses 16 and 17, "When I tried to understand all this,"meaning the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the believer, "it was oppressive to me. . . ." Asaph lacked wisdom and thereby was oppressed by his circumstances. But that was not the end of the matter. He continues, "till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny." In other words, without wisdom Asaph was confused and ignorant, like a beast who did not know what was going on. But as he went into the house of God and asked God to help him, God gave him great understanding. As he interpreted his circumstances God's way, he then could rejoice.
Ask for Wisdom (James 1:5)
And so James asks us in the first chapter of James if we lack wisdom, and the truth is, we do. We cannot even get along with our wives or husbands. We cannot live within our means. We cannot get along with our neighbor. When troubles come, we murmur and complain. We become unhappy with God and with one another. All of these indicate a lack of wisdom in our lives.
We need a lot of wisdom. Without wisdom we fail to understand what is happening to us and around us. Without wisdom we cannot choose the right way to glorify God in daily living. So how do we obtain this wisdom? First, James says in James 1:5, we must ask God for wisdom. He uses the present tense of the verb, meaning we must keep on asking. As a child asks his father, we continually ask God for wisdom.
James encourages us to ask God for wisdom, saying that God will give it generously. Then he informs us that God gives wisdom to all who ask him. There is no discrimination: every child of God is encouraged to pray, and James promises that God will give generously to everyone who asks.
James then says that God will not find fault with you when you come to him for wisdom. Now, human parents may do that. Suppose you get into trouble, and then do it again and again. A human father may say, "I am so sick and tired of you doing this type of thing. I know you. You are incorrigible. You will never improve. In fact, you have never amounted to anything. You are just nothing." Does God do this when we ask for wisdom? Oh, no. Here we are promised that our heavenly Father will never upbraid us for the sins we committed in the past. They are all forgotten and forgiven. God delights in our coming to him and asking for wisdom.
Finally, James says, when you come to God, be sure that you come trusting in him. Hebrews 11:6 says, "Those who come to God must believe that he exists and he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him." We must have confidence in our God, that he truly will respond to our need for wisdom. We must tell him, "O God, I believe; help thou my unbelief." The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and those who fear God are the ones who come in true submission to pray to God, confessing, "O God, you are wisdom. I have nothing; give me wisdom." God will respond to that kind of prayer.
Find Wisdom in God's Word
Not only should those who fear the Lord pray, but they should also listen to and receive the word of God, which is wisdom for us. In Deuteronomy 4 we see this connection between the word of God and wisdom. In verse 1 we read, "Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live. . . ." and in verses 5-6, "See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'" The fear of the Lord means that we pray to the Lord of the covenant and then listen to him who reveals wisdom for us in his word.
Wisdom is found in the word of God, as we read in Proverbs 2: "My son, if you accept my words. . ." First, we must accept God's words. God gives wisdom to the wise, and the wise are those who trust in God, who have entered into a relationship with God. "My son, if you accept my words. . . ." We must fear the Lord and come to him to receive his word, just as the noble heart received the seed that was sown, causing it to sprout, grow and produce fruit. In Luke 10 we read about Mary sitting in humility at the feet of Jesus, listening to him. That is what the fear of the Lord is. In our need, we must sit at the feet of God and receive from him the word of God, which is life, direction, light, and wisdom.
The writer of Proverbs continues, "and store up my commands within you." There will be times when you need specific wisdom. If you store up the word of God in your heart and your mind, then at the time of your need you can access it and live in the light of it. The word of God should dwell richly in our hearts. And then the writer says, "turning your ear to wisdom," meaning to turn away from everything that pretends to be a source of wisdom, because there is no wisdom in the world like God's. We must turn away from all other sources and turn our ears eagerly to wisdom, which, in this context is the word of God. And "applying your heart to understanding." Not only should we hear and receive God's wisdom, but we must apply it. What does that mean? Do what it says.
The writer goes on, "If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding. . ." That is prayer: "O God, I need wisdom. I am confused, O Lord. I need wisdom." You are crying aloud. But did you know that wisdom itself is calling out for you? In chapter 8 of Proverbs we read, "Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gates leading into the city, at the entrances, she cries aloud: 'To you, O men, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, gain understanding." Wisdom is crying out for you, and so let me assure you, when you cry out to wisdom and say, "I need wisdom," you shall be given wisdom.
In Proverbs 2:4 we read, "and if you look for it as for silver," meaning treasure. The writer is not speaking about the worldly treasures of money, position, power, or political influence. All that is meaningless. That is why unbelievers have to speak about the politics of meaning, because people who have achieved all that the world can give to them find themselves absolutely empty. They speak about the politics of meaning, but they will not go to the Bible for wisdom. But here it is: "and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure. . ." This is single-minded devotion to wisdom: searching for it, crying out for it, praying for it, seeking for it, as Jesus said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."
But notice verses 5-7: "Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright. . . ." In verse 1 we read, "My son, if you accept my words and store up my commandments within you. . ." But here God is storing up victory for the upright. "He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless. . ." Wisdom issues in a godly life. The writer continues, "for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones." Verse 9: "Then you will understand what is right and just and fair--every good path." That is the purpose of wisdom--to know what is right and what is evil, so that we can choose right.
Verse 10: "For wisdom will enter your heart. . . " That is what we need. Wisdom does not mean knowledge of microbiology. That is just having an intellectual understanding of things, but it has nothing to do with wisdom. You can never get wisdom by studying microbiology, algebra or philosophy. Wisdom is a gift that comes from God through his word. It enters into your heart and drives away foolishness, ignorance, meaninglessness, and frustration. "For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you and understanding will guard you." When wisdom comes, it protects us from falling into the pits that are all around us. And verse 12: "Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men. . . " and verse 16: "It will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words."
Do you understand this passage? Wisdom comes from fearing the Lord, praying to the Lord, looking into his word, accepting his word, and seeking it like hidden treasure. When you do these things, all of a sudden wisdom enters you, and it protects you, saves you, guides you and preserves you from going from ditch to ditch.
Wisdom Leads to Godliness
When this wisdom is granted, what is it for? Is it given to make money, or to accomplish great things in the world? Oh, no. The purpose of wisdom is to help us live righteous, godly lives. Have you ever listened to the speech of most people on television and radio? When you listen to these people, you notice they have no depth. They are one-dimensional in their speech and meaningless in their very words. They cannot even get along with their own families. We see people in high positions of power living such wretched lives, and yet the culture is not upset with them because the whole society is degenerate. Our culture is crumbling and imploding but no one is upset with it. In fact, polls say that those who practice immorality are growing more popular every day.
But look at James 3:13: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life. . . ." This wisdom that came from God is demonstrated first of all by a good life. Now, please do not misinterpret that phrase. A good life has nothing to do with having a big house and many cars and international vacations and belonging to the rich, famous, jet-set society. That is not what I mean. A good life is the kind of life Jesus Christ lived--a life that is pleasing in the sight of God. And how else is this wisdom demonstrated? "By deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom." Show me a man who is wise, and I will show you a man who is humble, who lives his life to please God at every turn.
Paul speaks about this in Colossians 1:9-10: "For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light." What is Paul saying here? He is praying that we may have wisdom to live lives that are productive and pleasing in the sight of God.
We Need Wisdom
We need wisdom to discern God's purposes and will. In Ephesians 1:17-18 Paul wrote, "I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you. . ." Without wisdom we cannot understand the purposes and plans of God. We need wisdom to live lives that are worthy of God. Why do you think you have trouble at work? It is because you need wisdom to behave properly before unbelievers. In Colossians 4:5 we read, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders." We need wisdom to live in a world which does not care for Jesus Christ or Christianity or the word of God, and God will give us the wisdom necessary to live our lives for him.
We need wisdom to teach others. Are you a preacher, a parent, a father, a leader? If so, you need wisdom to teach. In fact, James speaks about teachers in James 3, and it is in that context that he instructs us about wisdom so that we may have it in our teaching. Paul talks about this also in Colossians 1:28, "We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom."
Let me ask you, parents: You are instructors for your children, and the school is your home. Are you filled with wisdom? Have you come to God in great humility, crying out, "O God, may your wisdom enter my heart, that I may instruct my children in the wisdom that will bring about godly living in them"?
A Wise Young Man
In Acts 7 we are told about Joseph, who was a wise teenager. Acts 7:9-10 tells us something about his wisdom: "But God was with him and rescued him from all his troubles. He gave Joseph wisdom. . . ." This verse teaches us how to interpret the account of Joseph given in Genesis 39. Here we see a man who was loving God and obeying his parents. Here is a man who was sent on a mission to look after the welfare of his brothers. Here is a man the brothers treated cruelly and put into a pit. Here is a man who was taken out of the pit , sold as a slave to some people who took him to Egypt and then sold again as a slave. Here is a man for whom everything went wrong. Here is a man who found himself as a junior slave in the house of Potiphar.
But in Acts 7 we are told by divine revelation that God gave him wisdom. So let us examine Genesis 39 to see how this teenager lived in wisdom. In verse 1 we read, "Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there." And then we read, "The Lord was with Joseph." God had given Joseph great wisdom and he was always living in the fear and the presence of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and you cannot have wisdom and not see God. "The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered." This was a successful life! "And he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him," because whatever Joseph touched became successful, "and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did. . . ." How did Potiphar know God was the one blessing Joseph's efforts? I am sure Joseph told Potiphar, "You know, Potiphar, you are probably wondering why things are working out so well. Let me tell you: it is not me--not my prudence, not my insight, not my genius. It is the Lord whose I am and before whom I live."
Verse 4: "Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant." He was no longer a junior slave. He was promoted several times. "Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household." The blessing of the Lord was on everything.
Then Joseph's wisdom was tested and proven. Wisdom is the ability to say no to sin and yes to God. Look at verses 6-12: "Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after awhile his master's wife took notice of Joseph and said, 'Come to bed with me!' But he refused. 'With me in charge,' he told her, 'my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in the house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?'" That's wisdom.
To have wisdom means to hate evil and to do what is right. Verse 10: "And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her." And one day she said, "'Come to bed with me!' But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house." That demonstrates wisdom. That demonstrates the fear of the Lord. Joseph was in Egypt, without father, without mother, without church, but he walked in the fear of the Lord.
We must think seriously about these things. Now, we know that those who refuse to believe in Christ can be intellectually sophisticated. They can be those who sip the white wine and talk in a certain way that exudes a certain wisdom. But according to the Bible, if individuals are intellectually sophisticated, politically powerful, scientifically accomplished, and economically filthy rich, if they refuse to believe in Christ they are spiritually foolish, devoid of meaning and finally perishing.
Let me encourage you to seek after wisdom. In Psalm 39 we read that man is just a breath. His days are numbered and the hourglass is ever flowing down. And yet what are we seeking after? What are we storing up? I offer you the wisdom of God, which is not found in us or around us. Only God can impart this wisdom to us. But if he does, then we will know how to live clean lives when we are alone. Then we will know how to live within our families. James 3:17 tells us the wisdom from God is first pure and then peace-loving. There is relationship, you see. A man who walks out on his wife, and or a woman who walks out on the husband is not wise. No, such a person is a fool, because wisdom is necessary and essential in human relationships.
Wisdom is characterized by humility and receptivity. Wisdom is characterized by one's choosing every time the will of God. Wisdom is characterized by a good life demonstrated by good deeds. And this wisdom does not cost a lot in the world's sense. In one sense, it is priceless, but in another sense, it is free. It is not like the riches of the world, which we run after with great passion.
I urge you to ask God to give you wisdom, because life consists of decisions. You can decide rightly or wrongly, and every decision has consequences. May God give you his wisdom even this day, that you may walk in a way pleasing to him.
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Copyright © 1996, P. G. Mathew
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