by Dr. John Yates
Many Christians today are trapped in situations of needless pain and confusion because they lack an essential attribute that God promises to freely provide, wisdom. James boldly states, “v5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”, but then he adds what seems to be a condition, “v6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. v7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; v8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5-8).
Unbelief about God’s willingness to supply his wisdom paralyses much of the church into a state of passivity so that the body of Christ has long since ceased to be the first place people go to seek counsel from heaven when their marriages are failing, their families fragmenting and their finances are in disarray. The church, called by Jesus to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt 5:13-16) has failed to preserve and enlighten our land.
Intoxicated by explosions in information technology and affluence we have proudly pushed aside the practice of wisdom which God embedded in the world for the good of all humanity. All once turned to “the elders at the gate”1)Deut 21:19; 22:15; 25:7; Josh 20:4; Ruth 4:11; Prov 31:23. or the grandparent to unveil the hidden patterns of life known only through experience.2)For the “wise man” see the so-called “wisdom literature” of the Bible, Job, Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes whose explicit purpose it is to teach wisdom. For the “wise woman”, see 2 Sam 14:2; 20:16.
These traditions have almost been completely lost- one has only to look at the demise of the eldership system in Indigenous culture to witness the havoc wrought on a society by the loss of wisdom. Australia is in the midst of a social and moral crisis. Many young Australians seem unable to commit deeply to the discipline needed for relationships, savings or a steady career until well into their 30’s if at all. These struggles to delay gratification are clear signs of emotional immaturity.
There has been a massive failure in the churches to image the values of eternity in such a way that the average Christian stands out in society as a person whose life values are radically different. Too many churches want to keep their members “happy” and too few leaders know how to impart deep wisdom for living. Thankfully, the scriptures have a great deal to teach us on this subject, all of which climaxes in the shape of the life of Christ.
We intuitively sense wisdom when we encounter it, but it is a difficult reality to define. Here are a few secular definitions, “the ability to use one’s knowledge of things in order to obtain the best results”, “Coping with the challenges and responsibilities of life in ways that lead to healthy and successful living.” A Christian source sums up wisdom a “living life in God’s world by God’s rules.” What is your immediate response to these descriptions?
These definitions are radically inadequate because they have no place for Jesus who scripture calls the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24, 30). Going back to the beginning of the most comprehensive wisdom book of the Bible, Proverbs, we find an exhortation repeated dozens of times in its pages, “v7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.v8 Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching,” (Prov 1:7-8) A scriptural worldview understands wisdom as the ways of God with his children, and from a New Testament perspective, the way of the will of God the Father with his Son, Jesus Christ.
Wisdom is at the Beginning of All Things
In an absolute sense only God alone is essentially wise (Rom 16:27), so all he does reflects his wisdom. The eighth chapter of Proverbs extols the beauty of divine wisdom. “v27 When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, v28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, v29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, v30 then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, v31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” (Prov 8:27-31)3)Cf. “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens” [Prov 3:19]
Echoing this theme of the superlative artistry of God’s wisdom the psalmist says, “v13 you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. v14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Ps 139:13-14). In the light of being fashioned by such majestic creativity only a very foolish person would “put themselves down”. A revelation of the goodness and rightness of the wisdom of God opens the human heart to receive the glory of God4)Cf. “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” [1 Cor 2:7] and inspires us to spread the good news of God’s wisdom everywhere.
The greatest presence of God’s wisdom is not however found in the magnificence of creation nor in his genius in making people but in the impartation of his Word. The totality of divine wisdom at the beginning of his dealings with humanity was concentrated in the command, ““v16 You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, v17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” (Gen 2:16-17). This was a Word of wisdom by which Adam and Eve were to rule over all things with power and glory.
The Fall of Wisdom
The New Testament says this about adult spirituality, “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:14). For Adam and Eve to grow to maturity in God-likeness they needed to be able to discern the difference between good and evil. This is why it was essential for the first humans to be tempted. The warning that eating of the tree of knowledge would lead to death was designed to impart the one foundational element of wisdom which is absolutely essential to spiritual discernment, holy fear. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Prov 9:10).5)Cf. Ps 111:10; Prov 1:7; Prov 3:7; Prov 14:16; Prov 15:33; Prov 24:31; Isa 11:2; Isa 33:6; Mic 6:9. Jesus himself said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Matt 10:28].
If Adam had abided in the reverential fear of the LORD and taught his wife to do the same they would have submitted together to the wisdom of God’s Word of God and cast Satan out of the earth. Their union with the eternal wisdom of God would have prevented the triumph of sin and death throughout human history. The deep truths in this story are seldom understood, especially by husbands.
I was speaking with a Christian man the other day about the troubled state of his marriage and felt led to say to him, “You need to give your wife something to submit to.” (Eph 5:22) He needs to be intimately in touch with the wise instruction of the Word of God so that he can lead his wife in the ways of the Lord.6)The “Lord” in Ephesians 5:22 is Jesus, who after all is both the Word and Wisdom of God. This is the most Christ-like thing a man can bring to a marriage and something sadly which Adam failed to do.
Adam stood passively by Eve (Gen 3:6) when the serpent spoke, ““v4 You will not surely die. v5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” (Gen 3:4-5). The promise is that we can live forever by the power of our own discernment of good and evil. In biblical terms the devilish decree “you shall not die” is the highest expression of Satanic wisdom and universally appealing to the godless.
We know this not only from Genesis but from the climactic story of the final ascent of evil described in Revelation. This prophesies a time when “the whole earth” will worship and follow the beast because of an astounding miracle, “its mortal wound was healed” (Rev 13:3). The antichrist spirit seems to promise power over death itself. “Demonic” wisdom (Js 3:15) always promises power to live beyond the fear of the judgement of God.
Human rebellion however is deeply tragic, “v22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, v23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Rom 1:22-23). Whenever the wisdom of God’s Word revealed through creation, scripture or Christ is rejected the result is idolatry. Unlike devotion to the eternal Word of God (Matt 24:35), the adoration of idols brings attachment to perishable things (2 Pet 1:4) that can never restore the sense of eternal glory for which we were created (Ecc 3:11; Rom 3:23). The fruit of the loss of sharing in wisdom and glory of God is shame.
As Adam and Eve vainly tried to cloak their shame with whatever they could lay their hands on (Gen 3:7), humanity tries endlessly to cover its inner inadequacy with material possessions, family honour, pleasurable experiences and religion. All shame and embarrassment testifies that we have abandoned God’s wisdom for our own follies. The promise of scripture must be heeded, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” (Prov 3:7).
The Restoration of Wisdom
A first vital step in God’s plan for the restoration of wisdom to lost humanity involves the giving of his Law. Moses says to Israel, “v5 See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me… v6 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ v7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?” (Deut 4:5-7). The Law of God had a purpose much more profound than restraining sin, through obeying it God’s chosen people would radiate divine wisdom and turn the nations to the LORD.7)There is a deep connection between the wisdom in the created order [reflected in the movement of the heavenly bodies and seasons] and the testimony of God’s wisdom in his revealed Law. This is why Psalm 19 flows from, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” to “The law of the Lord is perfect , reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;” [1, 7].
This is illustrated in the climax of wisdom in Israel’s history, the kingship of Solomon. In response to a divine appearance Solomon prayed, “”v7 I am but a little child…. v9 Give your servant therefore an understanding mind… that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?””, v11 to which God replied, “, v12 “Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you.” (1 Ki 3:5, 7, 9, 11-12).
The pattern of a father teaching a son which is of the essence of wisdom is played out in such a way that Solomon’s “fame was in all the surrounding nations” (1 Ki 4:30-31). Astounded by his insight the queen of Sheba acclaims, “v8 Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! v9 Blessed be the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the Lord loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness.”” (1 Ki 10:8-9). This pagan queen intuitively recognises that those who worship the God of Israel are the true possessors of heavenly wisdom.
With such a treasure of understanding Israel should have illuminated the nations with the wisdom of God, but as time progressed, “v1 King Solomon loved many foreign women 8)Inter-faith marriage was prohibited by the Law [Ex 34:12-16; Deut 7:1-4] and provoked the judgement of God [1 Ki 11:9-11; 9:6-11].…. (who) v4 turned away his heart after other gods” (1 Ki 11:1, 4). There have been many explanations for Solomon’s fall – he was blinded by wealth, popularity and international status.9)I favour a more relational explanation, as his father David seemed unable to resist the allures of his mother Bathsheba he likewise found beautiful and powerful women irresistible.
A rather obscure text in Ecclesiastes opens up a deeper explanation, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” (Eccl 7:4) In a fallen world, suffering and sorrow is the God appointed means of deepening an appreciation of his wisdom.10)As the prodigal son only came to the conclusion through the pig pen that his wisdom was foolishness, this is true for us all. Solomon lacked the life experience of suffering which purifies and intensifies the heart of the wise.11)God specifically promises that there will be no conflict in Solomon’s time [1 Chron 22:19].
As so often in scripture it is the prophets who recognise the unassailable depravity of the heart (Jer 17:9) and proclaim the coming of one who combines in himself all the attributes needed to heal the corruption of human wisdom. “v2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. v3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord” (Isa 11:2-3). Perfect wisdom flows through a supreme fear of God. We are given more insight into who this wise person might be later in Isaiah, there the Servant of the Lord “shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.”, but this same individual is “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief ….wounded for our transgressions… crushed for our iniquities” (Isa 52:3, 5, 13). The final revelation of God’s wisdom awaited the coming of his Son who would be crucified and raised from the dead for us.
Wisdom Finally Revealed
Those who first heard Jesus teach in their synagogues exclaimed, ““Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands?”” Their adulation of the Word of God soon however turned to offense (Mark 6:2-3 cf. Luke 4:22-30). When the revealed wisdom of God confronts the established religious wisdom of the day the result is always rejection. The uneducated, the lepers, the poor and sinners of Jesus day did however hear him gladly (Mark 12:37; John 7:45-49). Surrounded by tax collectors Jesus proclaimed, ““wisdom is justified by all her children.”” (Luke 7:35), by which he meant that the power of his words to turn sinners back to God proved he was moving in the way of wisdom.
If, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning” (Eccl 7:4) then even Jesus’ wisdom can only be perfected (Heb 2:10; 5:9) through the suffering of the cross. Jesus “v21 began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things …and be killed, and on the third day be raised. v22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Peter’s words are simply an echo of Satan’s to Eve, “you shall not die”. Christ however would not repeat the sin of Adam, “v23 he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”” (Matt 16:21-23) Faithful obedience to God’s Word was more important to Jesus than personal survival.
If the foundation of all wisdom is the fear of the Lord then perfect wisdom requires absolute fear. This is why the Passion of Jesus is the ultimate house of mourning and as Luther said, ‘No one ever feared death so much as this man.’ In Gethsemane Jesus sweated great drops of blood and prayed (Luke 22:44), ““v34 My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.”…. “v36 Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:34, 36).
With great understanding the writer of Hebrews tells us, “v7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him (the Father) who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. v8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. v9 And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (5:7-9). To understand how Jesus is made perfect in wisdom12)Cf. Paul’s injunction, “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” [2 Cor 7:1]. through the suffering of death requires considerable insight.
The terrible cry from the cross, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) unveils the true character and consequences of human evil. In becoming sin for us (2 Cor 5:21) Jesus whole being is traumatised with a holy fear of the eternal punishment which the Father must bring on a world of rebels. In identifying with our evil on the cross and taking it into himself Jesus own consciousness descends into the outer darkness of hell where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:12).
In his heart Jesus becomes fully aware of the terrible death the Word of God warned humanity about at its beginning, he knows that the fate of those who die in their sins (John 8:21, 24) is an eternity without a destiny, infinity without meaning. Such an unbearable and fearful experience imprinted upon Jesus’ humanity a limitless hatred of evil and an unlimited love for good (Heb 1:9) which is the essence of wisdom. The dread which Jesus showed his Father in his suffering is the reverential God-honouring fear which Adam and all his descendants (Luke 3:38) always owed to their holy Creator (Rom 1:21). In Jesus’ awesome submission is found the wisdom that has saved the world.
God does not cast his pearls before swine (Matt 7:6), “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18), this is “a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Cor 2:7 cf. Col 2:2-3). Surrounded by a lost society, the church more than ever before needs to excel in wisdom. Unfortunately, I think few of us understand what this means.
Wisdom in the Church
We are comfortable when Paul prays “that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding” (Col 1:9 cf. Eph 1:16-17), we are alert when he states, “Him (Christ) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Col 1:28), but we are nonplussed with what to with these words, “v10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. v11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.” (2 Cor 5:10-11). The fear of the Lord is just as vital an element in the spirituality of the New Testament as of the Old (Acts 9:31; Eph 5:21; Col 3:22; Rev 15:4) and an indispensible element in any ministry that would bring men and women to salvation and spiritual maturity.
Christ commands us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16). True wisdom is to be exercised in homes, in workplaces, in clubs and in pubs. Consider the lives of men like Joseph and Daniel, men of wisdom excelling in the marketplace when only heaven could supply a solution to the problems of the times. Think of the ministry of the world’s most famous potato farmer, hundreds of thousands of men turn out to hear Angus Buchan, not because he preaches like Billy Graham or heals the sick like Smith Wigglesworth, but because he is full of down to earth practical everyday wisdom. Heavenly wisdom is full of earthly good because it is conformed to the shape of the life of Jesus, a life that knows deep suffering and glorious deliverance.
Suffering for Christ as the Climax of Wisdom
We are in the midst of a drought whose length and severity is much more serious than any physical barrenness that has ever confronted this land, we have a drought of wise men and women of God. To grow in the authority of wisdom you must learn to see God’s good purposes in the evil circumstances of your life. Joseph was sold into slavery by family ,imprisoned and treated unjustly, but by trusting the purposes of God in his hardship could proclaim to his brothers with the unparalleled wisdom he learned through endurance, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Gen 50:20).
Jesus prophesied that persecution would be our lot as his disciples (Matt 23:34 Cf. Luke 11:49; 2 Tim 3:12). He backed up his prediction with a promise,“ v14 Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer, v15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict.” (Luke 21:12-15).13)The example of Stephen fulfils this promise, “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” [Acts 6:10] The greater the suffering endured for/submitted to Christ the greater the distillation of wisdom.
Christ “the power of God and the wisdom of God” is a presence the evil spiritual rulers of this present darkness cannot resist (Eph 3:10; 6:12). This is the wisdom of the Creator, Redeemer and Consummator of all creation that men and women whose lives are ravaged by relational, physical, financial and spiritual disasters so desperately need. The Christ who lives within you longs to bring his limitless insight into the workplace, into the bedroom, into parenting, into schools, politics, recreation and every sphere of existence that God established in the beginning.
Wisdom can flow through your life, people will seek out you more than they sought out the wisest of ancient kings, “for something greater than Solomon is here” (Luke 11:31). From the perspective of eternity, outside of Jesus, the Word and Son of God, there is nothing but foolishness. Each of us can be involved in God’s great plan to turn all peoples and nations back to himself, IF we embrace the way that Jesus walked, the way of the cross. Not a one of us naturally wants to walk this way, the way of painfully and humbling admitting before God and others again and again that where we have thought we were most right we were most wrong.
Every one of us, from the least to the greatest, from the Prime Minister to the homeless drunk, needs to die to that one fatal disposition that God hates more than any other (Isa 5:21ff.), being wise in our own eyes (Prov 3:5-7). James promises, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5). In a very real sense, like in Eden, we are at the crossroads once again, warned by the Word of God to live in holy fear, encouraged by the flesh and the devil to take our own path. As the crucified Christ clung on to his Father’s promises in the Gethsemane and on the cross, such wisdom is the urgent need of our nation in this hour.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Deut 21:19; 22:15; 25:7; Josh 20:4; Ruth 4:11; Prov 31:23.|
|2.||↑||For the “wise man” see the so-called “wisdom literature” of the Bible, Job, Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes whose explicit purpose it is to teach wisdom. For the “wise woman”, see 2 Sam 14:2; 20:16.|
|3.||↑||Cf. “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens” [Prov 3:19]|
|4.||↑||Cf. “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” [1 Cor 2:7]|
|5.||↑||Cf. Ps 111:10; Prov 1:7; Prov 3:7; Prov 14:16; Prov 15:33; Prov 24:31; Isa 11:2; Isa 33:6; Mic 6:9. Jesus himself said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Matt 10:28].|
|6.||↑||The “Lord” in Ephesians 5:22 is Jesus, who after all is both the Word and Wisdom of God.|
|7.||↑||There is a deep connection between the wisdom in the created order [reflected in the movement of the heavenly bodies and seasons] and the testimony of God’s wisdom in his revealed Law. This is why Psalm 19 flows from, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” to “The law of the Lord is perfect , reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;” [1, 7].|
|8.||↑||Inter-faith marriage was prohibited by the Law [Ex 34:12-16; Deut 7:1-4] and provoked the judgement of God [1 Ki 11:9-11; 9:6-11].|
|9.||↑||I favour a more relational explanation, as his father David seemed unable to resist the allures of his mother Bathsheba he likewise found beautiful and powerful women irresistible.|
|10.||↑||As the prodigal son only came to the conclusion through the pig pen that his wisdom was foolishness, this is true for us all.|
|11.||↑||God specifically promises that there will be no conflict in Solomon’s time [1 Chron 22:19].|
|12.||↑||Cf. Paul’s injunction, “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” [2 Cor 7:1].|
|13.||↑||The example of Stephen fulfils this promise, “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” [Acts 6:10]|