Last week we were introduced to King David’ son and heir to the throne Solomon. You may recall when Saul became King God told him to ask him for anything he wanted, and he responded by asking for wisdom in ruling over the people in Israel. This was a noble thing for a King, or anybody for that matter) who is granted any wish. Solomon knew the importance of having godly wisdom in ruling over God’s people, so wisdom was needed to be an effective ruler. He began as a fair and just ruler, he took the vision of his father to build a Temple for God in Jerusalem and made it a reality, he established trade with other nations, he had a peaceful (for the most part) reign, and he possessed a wisdom that surpassed his contemporaries worldwide. Solomon wrote over 3,000 proverbs and 1,500 songs. Most of the book of Proverbs was written by him as well as the book of Ecclesiastes and The Song of Songs (Solomon).
Today we are going to look briefly at the book of Proverbs and more specifically wisdom. The book of Proverbs is one of three books from the Old Testament called the books of wisdom and literature. These books of wisdom include Ecclesiastes, Job, and Proverbs. A proverb is described as an object lesson that is based on or using comparison or analogy. Sometimes it is a short saying that offers a general truth, an object lesson learned from experience, a common or general example, or a model of future blessing or curse. The purpose of a proverb is to help one make a correct or wise decision among the options that are available. For example, Proverbs 9:9 – 12 says “Instruct the wise, and they will be even wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn even more. Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life. If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.” this speaks that the unwise way is to be avoided and the wise way should be followed.
Proverbs 1:1 – 7
“Wisdom” (ḥoḵmāh) basically means “skill.” It describes the “skill” of the craftsmen who worked in the tabernacle, the common sense of experienced mariners, clerical abilities, and the “wise advice” of a counselor. In the Book of Proverbs wisdom suggests skillful living and having the capacity to make wise choices and successfully live according to the principled standards of the covenant community. The person who lives skillfully generates things of long-lasting significance to God and to the community.
There is a story about automaker Henry Ford inquired of the electrical genius Charlie Steinmetz to build the generators for his factory. One day the generators ground to a halt, and the repairmen couldn't find the problem. So, Ford called Steinmetz, who tinkered with the machines for a few hours and then threw the switch. The generators whirred to life--but Ford got a bill for $10,000 from Steinmetz. Flabbergasted, the rather tightfisted car maker inquired why the bill was so high.
Steinmetz's reply: For tinkering with the generators, $10. For knowing where to tinker, $9,990. Ford paid the bill.
Today we will be looking at the topic of wisdom and more specifically what true wisdom does and does not look like. Just an FYI, we will not be spending our time in Proverbs, instead I have chosen to spend some time in the book of James where James speaks of the importance of having and asking for wisdom.
In this passage James, the author, says to his readers that if they lack wisdom, then they should ask God for wisdom, and He will give it generously. Above I noted that wisdom in the Old Testament was defined as the skill to live according to God’s ways and purposes. Contrary to popular thought and opinion wisdom is not the act of acquiring more knowledge, information, or intellect. It is not collecting data, learning more facts, or getting multiple degrees. Wisdom means much more than filling our heads with information and facts. The New Testament the Greek word for wisdom is Sophia σοφία which means having the ability to understand resulting in the act prudence. This simply means wisdom is having knowledge and putting into practicing the fundamentals for godly and upright living. It is not enough to just have knowledge; it involves the action of putting into practicing what you know. Wisdom is having the ability to take knowledge, understand it, and apply it to make the right decisions.
Wisdom and Understanding
James 3:13 – 18
James spends some in these verses talking about what it means to have wisdom and understanding. In previous verses he talks about the dangers of the tongue or words we speak and concludes with a challenge to use our words wisely by allowing the Spirit to be our guide in our speech. In this passage describe that a person who allows the Spirit to control his/her words is in fact a wise person. Now, James shows us exactly what true wisdom looks like and what false wisdom looks like.
Vs.13: James asks, “those who claim to be wise and understand spiritual matters” to come forward so they may be tested or put under a microscope to determine if their claims are authentic or not. He is not asking to check someone’s theological beliefs, backing or intellect, instead he says that a person’s wisdom is made evident by the life he or she leads, and the good works he or she does. He tells them wisdom is not necessarily based or rooted in theological understanding and intellect.
The basis to which one demonstrates wisdom is by the life one leads. The wise person does not live contrary to the ways of God, but instead by his/her good deeds that bring glory to God. True wisdom ultimately produces good deeds and humility. As I have noted in the past that these traits or deeds are not ones that save us but they are evidence of the true faith in Jesus we have.
The humility a person displays in godly wisdom is found in the understanding of our place before God. Wisdom is birthed in us as we understand and acknowledge that apart from God, we are unable to achieve the level of spirituality God requires of us. If we truly understand, in humility, the part we play in our salvation, the grace we have received, and the mercy shown to us then we will display true wisdom in the way we conduct our lives and treat others. With godly wisdom there is no room for boasting and there is no room for pride because everything we have is given to us by God.
On the contrary the pagans believed that intellect and understanding of divine things (with no regard moral conduct in most cases) constituted wisdom and James puts this idea to rest.
It reminds me of this story… In January of 1970 Max Born, a German physicist and mathematician who was instrumental in the development of quantum mechanics died. He was a close friend of Albert Einstein and a colleague of Max Planck and Otto Hahn, the nuclear physicists, he was one of the great minds of the twentieth century. In an interview on German television before his death, Born commented: “I’d be happier if we had scientists with less brains and more wisdom.”
Vs. 14: The leaders or believers who claimed to be wise were displaying bitter jealousy and selfish ambition and because of this they were not fooling other, they were fooling only themselves. Jealousy and selfish ambition are the antithetical to humility that is weaved into the wisdom of God and from God.
Vs. 15: This false wisdom the believers claim and brag about is not from God. An empty intellectual wisdom that reaps bitter jealousy and selfish ambition is earthly (no regard for the will of God or His realm), unspiritual (or man derived), and most emphatically demonic (pertaining to demons. It is derived and inspired by demons). False wisdom is always characterized by the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Vs 16: The attributes that makes false wisdom distinctly demonic are envy, jealousy, and selfish ambition thus displaying disorder and evil works. God is not a God of disorder but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33). Thus, when jealousy and selfish ambition are present God is not in the situation and the result always damages individuals and the whole church.
Vs. 17: James now describes what godly wisdom is. Like true faith is evidenced by the good deeds true wisdom is evidenced by the fruit or the life a person leads.
True wisdom is…
Vs 18: A person with godly wisdom sows peace that will ultimately produce the righteousness of God. According to James 1:20 the anger of men (which is earthly, of the flesh and demonic) does not produce the righteousness of God. According to 3:18 peace does. In Matthew 5:9 Jesus says, “God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called children of God.”
Wisdom… We all wish we had more wisdom in our daily decision making. How often have you found yourself in a situation where you could use some wise counsel or a little godly wisdom in making the right decision? How wonderful would it be if we could just look up into the sky and find the answers written in the sky to life’s most difficult decisions? As parents, employees, employers, students, disciples and ultimately believers in general we need to ask for wisdom, and we should have wisdom in our daily decisions. Our wisdom should first and foremost be grounded in humility and have the eight traits of wisdom that James describes. In Matthew 10:16 Jesus warns his disciples about the persecution they will face, he tells them (and us) to be shrewd or wise as serpents (seek and use godly wisdom) and be gentle or harmless (an attribute to godly wisdom) as doves because we are being sent out to the wolves of the world who will seek to devour God’s people.
James was writing to a church that was facing division and dissension and now we see his solution to the problem of dissension that may have arisen in these churches. These individuals who claimed to be wise and influential were using their words to cause divisions and disorder in the body. However, James shows that a wise person will be one who has submitted himself to God in humility and allows himself to be spirit-filled and driven in all aspects of his life including and especially in areas of the words he speaks and the wisdom he exudes.
Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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