What is wisdom? It is the skill of knowing what to say and how to act when faced with all the challenging situations life brings – perhaps you face a hard financial decision, a challenging work-place situation, or a conflict between two people whom you care for deeply. Wisdom is all about navigating these challenges with skill – it is about skill in living well.
Many would affirm this definition of wisdom. But when we look at what God’s word says about wisdom, this basic definition of “skill in living” takes on a few important new qualities. According to the Bible, wisdom has three central components:
First, wisdom is tied to a person.
According to God’s word, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). The fear of God is what fuels wisdom. When you fear God, you live in a way that your daily life is captivated by His presence, His glory, and His holy hatred of sin. What this means is that wisdom is not simply making good decisions – wisdom is seeking to live before the face of the Holy God of the universe. Wisdom is first and foremost concerned with God’s assessment of any situation.
What does this mean in practical terms? Fearing God means that He is big in your life – you tremble before Him. Interestingly, fearing God, when it is worked out in your experience, feels a lot like love for God. A man who loves his wife is attentive and aware of her preferences and desires – some astute husbands can even anticipate how their wife may respond in any given situation! Likewise, when we love God, we are focused, even fixated, on who He is and what He desires. Fear and love are two sides of the same coin.
Second, wisdom is tied to God’s creation.
Proverbs 3:19-20 says that God set up the universe through wisdom: “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.” God programmed the world with wisdom. To use a computer analogy, wisdom is the operating system of the universe. Wisdom is installed into God’s world. For this reason, one of the central ways Scripture encourages us to learn wisdom is to consider how God has worked natural patterns and consequences into His creation.
For example, Proverbs 8:6-8 says that ants gather food in the spring when the food is abundant – and even without anyone telling them too! We need to learn from them and, likewise, be diligent and take initiative. Ants are often more in touch with how God has made the world than humans are – and so part of learning wisdom then is to work with, and not against, the natural patterns that God has sown into His handiwork.
Third, wisdom is tied to God’s righteousness.
James teaches that there is a wisdom “from above” that leads to “peace” and “a harvest of righteousness” and then there is also an unspiritual wisdom “from below” that leads to “disorder and every vile practice” (3:15-18).
The similarity between these two types of wisdom is that they both involve making skillful choices and taking shrewd action; the difference between the two is that the wisdom from above originates in God and is governed by His righteous commands. Worldy wisdom is like eating fast food every day – it works, but eventually it will catch up with you; wisdom from above is like feasting at the table of a king – it is nutritious fuel that leads to joy and a thriving life in the king’s service.
Grow in the fear of the Lord. Study God’s creation. Pursue righteousness. And marinate in God’s word – especially the books of Proverbs and James. Seek wisdom!