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No one wants to be considered a fool. A fool will act in ways that bring shame, ridicule, and condemnation to his life. But what if a large group of people define what has been deemed foolish as wisdom and what has been deemed wisdom as foolish? We see this happening in many different areas of our culture today, including how people want to express their sexuality. How are we to decide such questions? Where is wisdom really to be found?

God is the God of wisdom, which means that He is the source of wisdom. He has revealed in His Word what wisdom and foolishness look like. He defines the characteristics of a wise person and a foolish person. We become wise people as we live our lives according to the way that God defines wisdom. In so doing, we will also avoid the heartache and trouble that come with living a foolish life.

The Old Testament has a lot to say about wisdom. The main term for “wisdom” is the noun hokmah (there is also a verb and an adjective from the root hakam). “Wisdom” can refer to human wisdom, which always falls short of God’s wisdom because it comes from human strength rooted in arrogance (Isa. 10:13) and it leads people astray (47:10). True wisdom begins with God’s definition of wisdom. Wisdom can be defined in two broad ways. It refers to a skill that is learned or developed and a basic perspective on life. The first definition of a skill that is learned is also seen as a gift given by God. The skill needed to build and furnish the tabernacle is called “wisdom.” This includes the craftsmanship to devise artistic designs; to make Aaron’s garments; to work with gold, silver, and bronze; and to cut stones and carve wood (Ex. 28:3; 31:3–5; see also 35:25–26, 31, 35; 36:1–2). These skills are said to come from the Spirit of God. They are also skills that would need to be developed through training and experience. Solomon specifically asked God for wisdom to be able to govern the nation of Israel and to administer justice (1 Kings 3:7–14; 4:29). In the book of Proverbs, “wisdom” refers to the “skill” to navigate the difficulties of life. It helps us avoid the pitfalls of life to achieve the right goals in life.

The second way that wisdom is defined is as a description of a perspective on life. Two key passages are Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding,” and Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The perspective on life that comes with wisdom is the fear of the Lord. The word “fear” can have the connotation of being terrified of something or someone. When God appeared to the Israelites on Mount Sinai with thunder and lightning that caused the mountain to smoke, the people trembled (Ex. 19:16; 20:18). They were afraid that they were going to die (20:19). Moses tried to calm them with the words, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin” (v. 20). The word “fear” is used twice in this verse. Moses first commands the Israelites not to fear God. He is commanding them not to be terrified of God even though they have seen a manifestation of His majestic power. Instead, they should fear God so that they do not sin. Moses exhorts the people to have a reverence and respect for God that will affect the way that they live their lives. Such a reverence for God will lead them to want to honor God with how they think and what they do. They should be willing to submit the way they think and the way they live to the law that God has given them and to judge everything in life by the standards of righteousness that He has set forth. God becomes the center of a person’s life when he is willing to submit his life to the truth of God’s Word as the true path to wisdom. Deuteronomy 4:6 states that the keeping of the law of God is the people’s wisdom and understanding in the sight of the nations.

What Jesus came to accomplish will be greater than what Solomon accomplished at the height of his reign.

The book of Proverbs uses these same ideas to develop further the true path to wisdom and the implications for living life. The fear of the Lord is central to obtaining the knowledge that is key to living a life of wisdom. It is called the “beginning” of knowledge, which means that it is the first or controlling principle of a person’s life. You must start with the fear of the Lord to live a life of wisdom, but the fear of the Lord must also continue to be the basic perspective by which you live. It is foundational to everything else in life. First, it leads to knowledge (Hebrew daat). Knowledge includes information but it emphasizes more how to use that information. The craftsman who built the tabernacle had to know how “to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft” (Ex. 31:4–5). But to properly use that knowledge in ways that would be pleasing to the Lord included not just the work done on the tabernacle but also the right perspective that such work was done for the honor and glory of God. The Spirit of God was needed to help the craftsman approach the work with the right reverence for God (v. 3).

Wisdom in the book of Proverbs includes the right use of knowledge. Wisdom will help you understand how life works so that you can respond appropriately to various life situations. A wise person can navigate the problems and difficulties of life to achieve success as defined by God. Understanding the character of different kinds of people is necessary for knowing how to respond to them. The first instruction in the book (Prov. 1:8–19) exposes the false security of peer pressure to join a group that promises easy money by stealing from others. Wisdom exposes the evil in such a plan and shows the results that come if a person decides to live that way (vv. 18–19). Proverbs exposes the problems that come when life circumstances require a right response to avoid irreparable damage. Wisdom will help you respond appropriately to crooked men, the adulterous woman, fools, those who lack self-control, and those who speak lies so that you may avoid heartache, financial disaster, and unnecessary conflict. Wisdom can help you see beyond the allure of the promise of the supposed benefits that wickedness brings to see the horrible result of such living. Proverbs 1–9 is particularly geared to the young person who has not yet developed the ability to discern different situations to make the right decisions (1:4). Such a young person is described as “simple” or “naive” because he is open to all kinds of enticements. The parental instruction of Proverbs is meant to help a young person develop into a wise person; otherwise, a life of foolishness will ensue.

Wisdom in the New Testament builds on the idea of wisdom in the Old Testament. The wisdom (Greek sophia) of Solomon is mentioned twice (Matt. 12:42; Luke 11:31), which reminds the reader of the great wisdom Solomon had (1 Kings 3:16–28) and his role in the promotion of wisdom (4:29–34), including the collection of wisdom materials for the book of Proverbs (Prov. 1:1; 10:1; 25:1). Jesus is recognized as a wise person in the early development of His human life. Luke 2:40 states: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.” This verse reflects the exhortation in Proverbs 3:4 that if the son lives according to God’s wisdom expressed in the parent’s teaching, “[he] will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.” Jesus’ teaching is also associated with wisdom by the people of His hometown who wondered where He got all this wisdom (Matt. 13:54; Mark 6:2). Some also recognized that He did not teach like the scribes and Pharisees but that He taught with authority (Matt. 7:28–29). Other teachers based their authority on quoting Jewish rabbis, but Jesus spoke from His own authority.

It is not a surprise that people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching because not only is Jesus associated with wisdom, but He is identified with wisdom. The wisdom of Solomon would have encompassed all that the Old Testament says about wisdom, but Jesus is greater than Solomon (Matt. 12:42; Luke 11:31). What Jesus came to accomplish will be greater than what Solomon accomplished at the height of his reign. Jesus has more wisdom than Solomon because He is wisdom. The Apostle Paul can write that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3) because Christ is God (v. 9) and has an exalted position within God’s purposes of redemption (1:15–20). In Revelation 7:12, God is worshiped with these words: “Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might.” In Revelation 5:12, Christ is worshiped with similar words: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Christ not only has the wisdom of God, but He is the wisdom of God.

The proper response to Christ is to believe His message and to turn away from living your life apart from Him (Rom. 10:9). Although in the New Testament the typical terms for following Christ are “repentance” and “faith,” the word “fear” used with “the Lord” or “God” describes the way that early Christians lived (Acts 9:31; 2 Cor. 7:1; Col. 3:22; Rev. 19:5). Just as faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8), so wisdom is a gift of God (1:17; James 1:5). It also has practical benefits for the believer that parallel benefits emphasized in Proverbs. Part of the benefit of wisdom is to be able to navigate difficult situations to respond the right way. To say the right thing at the right time can be a great blessing (Prov. 15:23). To know when to “answer a fool” and when to “answer not a fool” (26:4–5) requires wisdom. Jesus Himself displayed this wisdom when He did not answer the false witnesses who testified against Him (Matt. 26:59–63) but did answer the high priest who asked Him if He was the Christ (vv. 63–65). He promised to give to those who follow Him wisdom to answer kings and governors who persecute them (Luke 21:15). We see examples of this in the Apostles (Acts 4:13) and Stephen (6:10). We should ask God for the wisdom to respond appropriately in difficult situations. We should also pray that God would give us opportunities to speak God’s wisdom to others (Col. 1:28) and be open to hearing God’s wisdom from other brothers and sisters (1 Thess. 5:11; Heb. 3:13). We can be thankful that God has built into our worship not only the opportunity to be instructed in God’s wisdom by His Word but also the ability to admonish “one another in all wisdom” in our singing together (Col. 3:15–16).

A wise person submits every aspect of life (thinking, willing, and feeling) to God’s Word. Proverbs 1–9 culminates by exhorting the son to choose the way of wisdom over foolishness. Such a decision is a religious choice that has moral implications. A foolish person rejects God’s Word, which is a rejection of God’s way of wisdom, and pays the moral consequences for not fearing God. Many kinds of difficult and foolish people are described in Proverbs. Characteristics of such people include not listening to other people because they love to hear themselves talk (Prov. 18:2, 6–7), not being able to deal with the present (17:24), a lack of self-control displayed in words or temper (12:16, 18; 14:17), an attitude that they have all the answers (12:15; 26:12), a delight in doing evil (2:14), and many other character traits. A wise person understands the benefit of listening to others (15:22), can exercise self-control (16:32; 25:28), uses words for the benefit of others (12:25), and diligently seeks to do good (11:27). These character traits are a product of fearing the Lord.

In the New Testament, wisdom centers on a person’s response to Jesus Christ and the message of what He has accomplished for unworthy sinners. Paul discusses wisdom and folly in relationship to the message of Christ. This message is that Christ died on the cross for sinners. The problem with this message is that it goes against the wisdom of the world. A crucified Messiah is a stumbling block to the Jews because they were looking for a conquering king. The problem for the gentiles is that this message was pure foolishness. Rome crucified criminals. Paul argues that the preaching of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Through the death of Christ on the cross, God was providing salvation for sinners who have no power to save themselves. What looks like pure folly is God’s way of delivering people from the power of sin and death. What looks to be foolishness is wiser than people’s wisdom. What looks to be the way of weakness is the way of strength, the way that God conquers all His enemies.

No one wants to be considered a fool. The reality is that there are a lot of brilliant people who are very educated but who lack wisdom because they do not understand or submit to the truth of God. Receive today the true wisdom of God revealed to you by the power of the Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ. Even if the world thinks that you are a fool, you are united to Christ, “who became to us wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30). You will come to see what others cannot see—the message of the cross of Christ is the path to unlocking God’s wisdom that He has revealed in the Scriptures. You will experience the power of God, who will transform your life after the image of Christ. In Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). The message of Christ is God’s wisdom, which He has decreed before all ages for our glory and the future results of which are beyond anything we can imagine (1 Cor. 2:7, 9).

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From the October 2023 Issue
Oct 2023 Issue