What makes someone smart? If you were to conduct a poll, chances are you would hear answers like “being born to smart parents,” “applying yourself” or “getting a good education.” The truth is that while the amount of raw intelligence we are endowed with is probably genetically determined, what we do with it determines whether we end up being the best we can possibly be, or something less. It is interesting that the Bible itself makes no note of what we today call “intelligence.” Instead, it refers to three different words: knowledge, prudence, and wisdom.
“Which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence.” (Ephesians 1:8)
Knowledge is the first type of intelligence mentioned in Scripture. I Corinthians 8:1b says, “We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up…” Knowledge is typically what we learn when we go to school, and it does seem to be frequently true that the more education a person has, the more proud of his accomplishment he tends to feel. Knowledge involves facts about the various things people study, and it can be intuitively or experientially based. Thus, a person is correctly said to be more knowledgeable in his field of study than in someone else’s. And while we spend thousands of dollars acquiring it in college and it is typically this kind of knowledge that gets a person hired, this is not the most important kind of intelligence a person can possess.
The second kind of intelligence mentioned in the Bible is prudence. Much of the book of Proverbs deals with prudence, and it was written, “…To give prudence to the simple [those lacking in this quality]” (Proverbs 1:4a) Prudence is the Greek word “phronesis,” meaning “the knowledge of how to regulate one’s relationships and dealings with other people…skillfully…[adapting] its means to the attainment of the ends which it desires…” (Zodhiates) This is the skill that allows us to fluidly interact with other human beings to get things done with discretion and tact. Our ancestors called it prudence; we call it social intelligence, and it is invaluable for us to function in society. Yet, as important as it is, this also is not the most important intelligence a person can possess.
The third kind of intelligence mentioned in the Bible is wisdom, and it is the most important one we can possess. This word comes from the Greek word “sophia,” meaning “the knowledge of how to regulate one’s relationship with God.” Every human being has both horizontal, side-to-side relationships with others, which, if managed well, we term prudence, as well as a vertical, up-and-down relationship with God, hopefully governed by wisdom. And while it is important to acquire the education we need to be productive members of society and provide for our families, as well as possess the social skills which allow us to be successful in our professional and personal lives, because of its eternal impact, knowing how to correctly moderate our relationship with our Creator, Savior, and Sustainer God is of the utmost importance.
Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Having the most accomplished technical expertise, understanding in intricate detail the life cycle of a previously unknown amoeba, or winning the most famous court case of the century will do nothing for you before God at the judgment if you have foolishly ignored Him throughout your life.
Jesus taught, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself [his sinful, fleshly desires] and take up his cross [submit to the authority of God], and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26) In John 6:27 He clearly tells us, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life.” (John 6:27a) And in Matthew 6:25b He rhetorically asks, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” The over-riding preoccupation of our lives is not to be the things of this world, but the things of God.
Life is indeed more than the physical. That is why it is the greatest foolishness to allow the pursuit of the relatively insignificant to dominate our existence. Hebrews 9:27 teaches “…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” We need to work during the daytime of our earthly existence because, indeed, “the night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4b)
Thank You for the ability and opportunity to acquire both knowledge and prudence; help us to use these gifts in a way that honors You. Most of all, however, help us to pursue wisdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.