What is Wisdom?
Wisdom is one of those words that people struggle to define. Many people use knowledge and wisdom interchangeably. This definition does not work for me. Adolf Hitler had knowledge but by no stretch of the imagination was Hitler wise! Others would say that wisdom is the way knowledge is used. This idea has more to commend it, but Biblically it still falls far short of how the word is used in scripture.
When God commanded Israel to build a Tabernacle in the desert where He would meet with the Israelites specific people who were skilled craftsmen constructed this. These were Bezaleel and Aholiab, and, every wise hearted man (Exodus 1:1). The word used for wisdom was skilful. So, these men were skilled in the crafts needed to make the Tabernacle.
Depending on the context the word for wisdom can mean, skill in technical work, administration or any area of living. A more general definition of wisdom, therefore, is skilful living. From a Christian viewpoint, the most skilful way to live is to follow God’s word and to commit ourselves to Him.
Jesus is the perfect man who wholly followed God. It is hardly surprising that he is described as wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30).1 30 Because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption:
Jesus displayed great skill in the way He lived and dealt with people and situations. The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians tried to trap Jesus into saying something they could use against Him (Matthew 22:15-22). They asked Him if it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar. This seemingly innocent question was a minefield because answering, either way, would have created trouble for Jesus. On the one hand, saying it was unlawful to pay tribute to Caesar would have left Jesus open to the charge of sedition. Saying it was OK to pay tribute posed two problems as well. The Jews were not happy about the Romans occupying their land and would not take kindly to someone seen as supporting this. The tribute money itself was offensive to Jewish traditions because it had the image of Caesar on it. The Jews objected to the graven image of Caesar who many were deifying as a god. Jesus’ answer was a word of wisdom (1 Corinthians 12:8). He said, “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” With this answer, he skilfully thwarted the trap set for Him.
There is general agreement that it is good to be wise. The book of Proverbs tells us that wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10).2 10 The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. Fear essentially means to respect and honour God. Our attitude to God is foundational when it comes to wisdom. Those who have a wrong attitude towards Him are described as fools, the exact opposite of wise (Psalm 14:1).3 1 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Wisdom then has a moral sense connected with it. The people who love and follow God find wisdom because skilful living goes hand in hand with God’s morality and law. Those who do not follow God but are skilful in using knowledge are thought of as shrewd and cunning. The artful dodger is not a good person and therefore does not meet the Biblical idea of wisdom. The devil is spoken of as cunning rather than wise (Genesis 3:1).4 1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any animal of the field which Yahweh God had made.
On the foundation of respecting and honouring the Lord, God has offered wisdom to those who ask for it. James, one of Jesus’ brothers, wrote a letter to some people who were facing trouble. In their difficulties, they didn’t know what to do. They needed a skilful solution; they needed wisdom. James encourages the people he is addressing to ask God for wisdom. It was at this point that a tremendous promise was given that we can ask God for wisdom and receive this if we ask not doubting God’s response (James 1:5).5 5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
One of the themes of James’ letter is to do what God says and not just hear His word (James 1:22).6 22 But be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deluding your own selves. Doing what God says must surely be the most skilful thing we can do. There is however sometimes a large chasm between what we hear God saying and what we do. It can be challenging to know how God’s word applies to our specific situation. Often God gives principles for living that need to be specifically applied. We can do a lot of damage by wrongly applying these principles.
For example, God says that if we ask we will receive. Someone was asking for financial provision but was not receiving. This person was complaining that they had asked God for His provision for a long time but was struggling financially still. It turned out that they had quit their job and had no intention of getting other employment. The principle of God providing was wrongly used because part of God’s provision can be in giving people jobs that bring income. Please note that many unemployed people are seeking to provide for themselves and their families who wish to find employment and are struggling to do this through no fault of their own. My example is not referring to these people who can rightly cry out to God for help.
How can the gap between hearing what God says and doing it be bridged? How can we know how to apply the principles of God in our lives correctly? Wisdom is the bridge that connects principle to practice. The book of Proverbs in the Bible together with Ecclesiastes and Job give a lot of teaching about wisdom. Much of this is done by using proverbs. In the next article, we will be looking at what proverbs are and how they can be used to help us live skillfully.
Please share any other definitions you have of wisdom?
Have you ever wrongly applied God’s word, what happened?
Can you share an experience when God gave you wisdom?