Many people seek wisdom, but what, really, is wisdom, and how can we recognize it? Can we tell by the number of degrees a person has earned or the letters after his name, or is there something more involved than what most assume when they think of the topic of wisdom?
“Get wisdom! Get understanding!…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.” (Proverbs 4:5-7)
According to God’s Word, the most important quality we should seek after in life is wisdom, yet when pressed it is, perhaps, the most illusive quality for many to describe. We all want it, but what, after all, is wisdom? According to The Complete Word Study New Testament (Zodhiates), wisdom comes from the Greek word sophia, and is defined as “the knowledge of how to regulate one’s relationship with God.” So, what are the qualities of a wise person?
First of all, a wise person acknowledges God, because His Word tells us that a fool denies Him: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’…” (Psalms 14:1) Many people would probably default to enumerating educational qualifications when attempting to describe someone who is wise, yet that pertains to knowledge, not wisdom. A person can have multiple advanced degrees, yet show him or herself to be very foolish, indeed. Ultimately, the reason the ungodly, as a whole, are hard pressed to define this quality is because wisdom can only be defined with reference to God, and cannot exist apart from Him. But what else defines a truly wise human being?
A wise person is also teachable: “A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel.” (Proverbs 1:5) He will humbly accept the Word, “…laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, [desiring]…the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (I Peter 2:1-3)
Yet, the single most important characteristic of a wise person is that he fears God, because without the fear of God we will not recognize His value or seek after Him. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments.” (Psalms 111:10) But isn’t the concept of fearing God archaic–shouldn’t we just respect and love Him?
Various teachers have tried to downplay the wrath of God in an attempt to make Him seem more accessible, but it is the death of Christ on the cross that makes God accessible to us, not a misrepresentation of His divine character. God is love, but He is also wrathful toward sin and those who persist in it, and to tell people anything otherwise is not only misguided, but also frighteningly dishonest. It is the fear of the wrath of a righteous God that keeps us honest–that helps us, when push comes to shove and there just doesn’t seem to be any other reason to do so, abstain from sinning, and we as a culture seem to have forgotten that fact. Yet Jonathan Edwards did recognized this and his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” preached at Enfield, Connecticut on July 8, 1741, was part of the Great Awakening. So, what are some of the characteristics of wisdom?
First of all, true wisdom comes from God: “For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6) God gives wisdom, and apart from Him it is impossible to be genuinely wise. But how can I get wisdom?
The way to acquire wisdom is to eagerly and persistently look for it: “…if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:2-5) If you truly desire to be wise, the Bible is the text you must study. But why should we crave wisdom?
The reason we should we desperately seek wisdom is because our time here on this earth is limited: “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. Who knows the power of Your anger? For as the fear of You, so is Your wrath. So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalms 90:10-12) We have a finite lifespan, and once it is over we must face our God. Without wisdom, we might be tempted to fritter away our moments and days on insignificant things that will not matter one bit when we stand before Him, yet leave the most important issue of our eternal destiny unresolved. St. Paul urges us, “We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain…behold, now is the day of salvation.” (II Corinthians 6:1, 2)
If we have accomplished everything and don’t have Christ, we have accomplished nothing: “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, 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? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.'” (Matthew 16:24-27) So ultimately, can a man or woman have wisdom apart from, or in opposition to, God?
The answer to this is definitively a resounding, “No!” Mankind cannot possess genuine wisdom if he will not turn away from his sins and follow Christ. “A wicked man hardens his face, but as for the upright, he establishes his way. There is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the Lord. The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but deliverance is of the Lord.” (Proverbs 21:29-31)
Ultimately, Jesus revealed the answer to the question of what true wisdom is–of what we are to do everything in our power to get: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:44-46) Possessing Christ–being forgiven and part of His kingdom–is genuine wisdom!
Open our eyes that we may see that You are the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price. You said, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14 NKJV) Allow us to be of the chosen–truly yours–and to recognize this as the greatest wisdom! Amen!