Two Kinds of Wisdom
How would you define wisdom? What makes a person not just knowledgeable but wise? What makes a decision not just the right or correct one, but a wise one?
- The Oxford dictionary defines wisdom as: the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise
- That’s a great definition that makes sense, but that leaves out any picture of God.
- Is God necessary for wisdom? Or can a secular person with no desire for the things of God also be wise? Are worldly wisdom and biblical wisdom the same thing just with a different adjective? Or is biblical wisdom only things that pertain to spirituality, doctrine, theology, while worldly wisdom pertains to things like the choice to call before you dig or fill up with gas before you leave town?
Over the summer, we will be studying the book of Proverbs, which is considered one of the books of wisdom in the Bible. As we come out of the book of Esther, we’ve learned that God is in the small, ordinary moments of life; that he is sovereign over everything – even our regrets, our sins, and our wrong decisions. But if he is in the details of our lives, then every little detail matters to him. How we speak to others. How we work when the employer isn’t around. What kind of spouse we pursue. How we raise our children. How we act with our teammates.
So I thought, let’s spend the summer looking at what God considers to be the “wise” way to go about those things? Now, having said that, here’s what Proverbs isn’t:
- The book of Proverbs isn’t a book of answers to life’s complex questions. It’s not a how-to manual for living. It’s less about what to do and more about who to be.
- The book of Proverbs aren’t rules or commandments. Those are in Exodus.
- The Proverbs aren’t promises. Here’s where most people get sideways. There are a lot of things that appear to be promises, but these are general statements about what is the best way to live. The other books of wisdom in scripture are the book of Job (where we learn that right living isn’t a “get out of suffering free” card) and Ecclesiastes (where we learn that neither wisdom nor foolishness is the ticket to a life of ease).
So the first task at hand is to put a definition of wisdom out there so we’re all working from the same point of view.
We can probably start by saying wisdom has to do with knowledge and choices. Most of our lives can be viewed as the result of choices, right? Almost everything we do is a matter of choice to some degree. When you wake up, what to do first, do you shower in the morning or the evening, where to work, whom to speak to, what to say when you do, what to eat, when to eat, which things to buy, where to stop for gas – all these actions are the results of decisions1 and knowledge is the information we use to make them.
- Gordon Fee and Doug Stuart in their book “How to Read the Bible for all Its Worth” define wisdom as “the ability to make godly choices in life.”2
- But, what makes a decision like waking up at 6:30 vs 7:30 godly and not worldly? What makes eating at home vs eating at a restaurant godly or not? Or are those bad examples? Maybe those decisions are neither godly nor worldly, but a decision like where to go to college or who to marry would be?
While I think their definition is a little too simple, they are on the right track. Scripture points to two kinds of wisdom:
- Isaiah 10:12-13 CSB -  But when the Lord finishes all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, "I will punish the king of Assyria for his arrogant acts and the proud look in his eyes."  For he said: I have done this by my own strength and wisdom, for I am clever. I abolished the borders of nations and plundered their treasures; like a mighty warrior, I subjugated the inhabitants.
- Isaiah 47:10 CSB -  You were secure in your wickedness; you said, 'No one sees me.' Your wisdom and knowledge led you astray. You said to yourself, 'I am, and there is no one else.'
- Ezekiel 28:2-5 CSB –  "Son of man, say to the ruler of Tyre, 'This is what the Lord GOD says: Your heart is proud, and you have said, "I am a god; I sit in the seat of gods in the heart of the sea." Yet you are a man and not a god, though you have regarded your heart as that of a god.  Yes, you are wiser than Daniel; no secret is hidden from you!  By your wisdom and understanding you have acquired wealth for yourself. You have acquired gold and silver for your treasuries.  By your great skill in trading you have increased your wealth, but your heart has become proud because of your wealth.
So there is an earthly wisdom that apparently draws the anger of the Lord. In all three of those situations, God was pronouncing judgment on the people who acted in their own wisdom.
Isaiah 5:21 CSB –  Woe to those who consider themselves wise and judge themselves clever.
A woe is a warning of judgment – like clapping your hands to get someone’s attention. But Moses looked for wisdom in Psalm 90, Solomon asked for it in 1 Chronicles 1, James the brother of Jesus said if any of us don't have it, we should ask for it, and God will be happy to give us some in James 1. So there must be another kind of wisdom that doesn’t come with judgment.
So what is that wisdom? Is it something different than just knowledge and experience?
A few more verses:
- Jeremiah 8:9 CSB –  The wise will be put to shame; they will be dismayed and snared. They have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom do they really have?
- Colossians 1:9 CSB –  For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven't stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,  so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God,
- James 3:13-17 CSB –  Who among you is wise and understanding? By his good conduct he should show that his works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom.  But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don't boast and deny the truth.  Such wisdom does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense.
I mean James lays it out about as clear as it can be.
One kind of wisdom (YOUR wisdom) has a bitter fruit. It looks like envy, jealousy, and selfish ambition, which is basically “Look out for #1.” It looks like having energy, passion, and drive to make much of myself.
- That kind of wisdom looks like knowing the right things to say or do so that you get noticed.
- That kind of wisdom looks knowing how to use people to improve your own position
- That kind of wisdom looks like knowing you’re right and letting everyone else know about it.
- That kind of wisdom denies the truth.
James says, that kind of wisdom is earthly and demonic, and the bitter fruit that you harvest from that tree is disorder and all kinds of evil.
There is a second kind of wisdom, though, according to James. And instead of disorder and evil, this wisdom produces the delicious pure fruit of peace, gentleness, mercy, and this kind of tree is rooted deep. It’s not going anywhere.
- This kind of wisdom looks like knowing when you’ve wronged someone, and stepping up to repent and ask forgiveness in order to keep peace.
- This kind of wisdom looks like not matching the volume of the angry person shouting at you, but responding gently.
- This kind of wisdom looks like knowing when to discipline a child or employee for something, and when to ease up and show mercy.
That kind of wisdom is not earthly, it’s from above. It’s not demonic – it’s Spiritual.
So, the first thing we have set out to do is put some sort of definition on wisdom that works for this entire series. So putting together these scriptures, building on Oxford’s definition:
Worldly wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment as it pertains to advancing one’s own position.
Godly wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment that
- Acknowledges God (worship),
- Submits to God, (obedience)
- And where the highest outcome is to accomplish his will (to walk worthy of the Lord, bearing fruit and growing in knowing him).
NOT AN UPGRADE
A couple years ago I was flying to Denver to do some corporate video work, which I do once in a while, and I booked the tickets like 6-8 months in advance because I wanted to see if I could upgrade my ticket for a reasonable price if I booked it that far in advance. And, to my delight, I could upgrade to first class for the same price as the tickets I booked for the previous conference I worked at for this company.
And I decided right then and there, that first class is legit. Legroom, the drinks are actually not just a thimble full of ice with a tiny bit of pop, no fighting for overhead bin space – you get to look down your nose at all the other people getting on in group 6, 7, 8, 9 like 30 minutes after you sat down – it was great!
Sometimes when we think of wisdom and the book of Proverbs, we might come to it as a way to upgrade our lives. Like if you want to have more legroom with your money, just Google search “Proverbs that talk about money.” Or if you want more legroom in parenting, wanting to get your kids to listen to you, just look up all the verses from Proverbs that talk about laziness, and hard work, and obedience. When it comes to political viewpoints, of course, once we’ve achieved wisdom, why, we have upgraded to where we can look down our noses at the people who live “over there in la-la land”.
But isn’t the idea of “upgrading my life” pretty much right on that definition of worldly wisdom? Isn’t that just selfish ambition?
The book of Proverbs is not a self-help book or a fortune cookie. It’s not a horoscope. It is not a ticket to the upper class of the religious – It is a life coach with eternal wisdom. A mentor speaking to someone who has failed again and again. A counselor pleading for change deep in the hearts of their counselee. It is a King preparing his child for royal living.
If all of scripture is breathed out by God, then Proverbs is the very wisdom of Jesus, the King of kings. And it’s not a matter of upgrades: It’s a matter of life and death.1
So, with that in mind, let's listen in as the king begins: Proverbs 1:1-7
The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
The author goes on to say why these proverbs are important:
2 For learning wisdom and discipline; for understanding insightful sayings; – Wisdom isn’t automatic. It is learned. It’s a process. It takes time. Discipline isn’t a word many people are fond of. It’s not something we particularly enjoy at first glance. That word here looks like warnings, rebukes, even scolding and correction.Sometimes it involves physical punishment. But the goal of this kind of discipline is education thru love. Its not just punishment for punishment’s sake.
3 for receiving prudent instruction in righteousness, justice, and integrity; – this kind of wisdom is based on God’s standard for right living. This isn’t based on cultural preferences or what is determined to be publicly acceptable. Wisdom from above is centered on God’s standards of what is right and wrong, his standard of how others should be treated, and on how a person in covenant relationship with him ought to govern their own lives, restoring things that are out of line with God’s will.
Who are these proverbs for?
4 for teaching shrewdness to the inexperienced, knowledge and discretion to a young man — Again, listen to the goal of wisdom. It’s not to make someone feel dumb. It’s not condescending. It’s not a finger pointed in your face saying, “how dare you!” The proverbs are not an angry dad, red-faced yelling saying “Go to your room!” Or a parent saying a modern proverb of our own “I brought you into this world and I can take you out.” – The proverbs are not a finger pointing angry God yelling at his kids to get their act together. They are simple, memorable statements of wisdom, designed to help those who don’t know things!
So Kids, teenagers, young men, young women – this is what I was talking about earlier – the book of Proverbs was written for YOU! You have a whole book of the Bible written for you, so that you can know how to make good and wise decisions with your life! It’s God’s grace to you! A gift from him so you can know how to live well a life that brings glory to him.
I want to become wise – how do I do it?
5 let a wise person listen and increase learning, and let a discerning person obtain guidance — 6 for understanding a proverb or a parable, the words of the wise, and their riddles.
So how do you know you’re becoming wise?
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.
Proverbs opens here in chapter 1 with a mention of the fear of the Lord. As we’ll see at the end of Proverbs in September, it closes in chapter 31 with a mention of fearing the Lord. Which is the Hebrew writer’s way of saying everything in between is anchored there. The fear of the Lord is the start, the middle, and the end of wisdom.
But if at the core of wise living is a fear of the Lord, it should come as no surprise that at the core of foolish living is despising the correction and wisdom of the Lord. Some fools are teachable. Some are hard-headed and think they already have all the answers. And some fools are actively pursuing as many ways as they can think of to put an end to the fear of the Lord in everyone else’s life too.
So how do you know you’re becoming wise? What is your view of correction? Do you despise being corrected? You’re a fool. Do you willingly submit to correction, because the Lord is teaching you through it? You’re beginning to be wise.
We’ll close with this – the book of James says that godly wisdom comes from above. And at just the right time, the wisdom from above literally came to visit. Jesus was the wisest, shrewdest person who ever lived. No one ever out-thought him. No one ever surprised him or cornered him. Even as a teenager in the Temple, the people who were considered the wisest of the wise, in religious circles, were amazed at his insight. Look what scripture says about him:
- Eph 1:7,8
- Col 2:2,3
- 1 Cor 1:23,24
Jesus Christ is wisdom personified.
If that’s true, if we skip over Proverbs and don’t pay attention to this wisdom, we can miss Jesus who said all of Proverbs points to him anyway.
Proverbs 15:25 NLT says “The path of life leads upward for the wise; they leave the grave behind.” True wisdom is walking further with Jesus than we’ve ever gone before, further than we’ve ever dreamed of going. It is not risky. All we leave behind is the grave.3
So here’s how we’re going to close today – If you’re new to River City, most Sundays we pray together. Sometimes we circle up in groups with people sitting next to you, and sometimes like today, I’m just going to let you spend a few minutes with God just on your own.
So as the band comes up to lead us in a closing song, would you just bow your heads with me. The first thing I invite you to do is just to pause and be silent for a moment. Invite the Holy Spirit to speak to you.
Second – wisdom begins with acknowledging God, so take a minute to praise him for being the source of wisdom, that he is the designer and architect of right and wrong, that he made us and we are his.
Third – Some of you might experience this on different levels, so on whatever level this is true for you, confess to the Lord that you don’t like correction. We don’t like being told we’re wrong. We don’t like being told to change. Confess that to him. Scripture says “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Last – For those who have believed in Jesus for salvation; those who have been brought from spiritual death to life, Jesus went to the cross to take your sins on himself. He died for you because you wanted to live by your own wisdom instead of God’s. He didn’t wait for you to get wise – he sent wisdom to us in the person of Jesus. Thank him for this gift.
- Gordon D Fee & Douglas Stuart, How To Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Grand Rapids MI, Zondervan, 1981, 1993, 2003, 2014), 235-236
- Ibid, 233
- Raymond C Ortland Jr, Proverbs (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 17
- Ibid, 16-17
- Ibid, 23