Wisdom. The word appears in approximately 200 verses in our English Bibles. Many of these occurrences of “wisdom” or the word “wise” appear in the book of Proverbs. When we add synonyms to that list, the number of verses addressing this topic increases. Indeed, the verses found in Proverbs are those with which many of us are most familiar. We love to wield these verses as weapons when someone says something with which we disagree.
A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.Proverbs 29:11 (ESV)
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,Proverbs 10:19 (NASB)
But he who restrains his lips is wise.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,Proverbs 31:26 (ESV)
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
It’s a bit presumptuous if we think about it. After all, we are implying that the person who spoke first is the foolish one, but we are the wise one for employing Scripture in our retort. Never mind the fact that sometimes we need to simply keep our mouth closed (or stop our fingers from typing), even if our response will be based in Scripture.
You see, there’s more to the exercise of wisdom than just knowing the wisdom passages and being able to use them stealthily and rapidly in a discussion. Comprehending wisdom is about understanding what it is, from whence it comes, and what it looks like to employ it.
What Is Wisdom?
The New Oxford American Dictionary defines wisdom as, “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise.” Still, possessing wisdom is much more than simply owning knowledge.
Wisdom goes beyond intelligence and “head knowledge” to practical knowledge. It knows more than what books, learning slides, and lectures communicate. Wisdom knows how to apply the knowledge it possesses. In short, and with no disrespect meant to the great virtue of wisdom, it knows “when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em, when to walk away, and when to run.”
Wisdom comes with experience and it (hopefully) grows with us as we mature in all areas of our life. For Christians, though, wisdom is so much more than making wise financial, family, educational, or employment decisions. In fact, it seems we could make a case for stating that true, lasting, meaningful wisdom is completely unobtainable apart from God and Christ.
The Origin of Wisdom
True wisdom is, quite simply, a gift from God.
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 (ESV)
Wisdom comes from above (cf. James 3:15) and that indeed is why we find so many mentions of it in God’s Word. It is why a distinct genre of literature in the Bible called “wisdom literature” exists, and why we so often turn to these books, like Proverbs, when we seek quick, biblical direction.
Most importantly, and crucial to our understanding of the true nature of wisdom, is that Jesus Christ is wisdom itself (1 Corinthians 1:30). GotQuestions succinctly sums up the distinction between knowledge and wisdom as it applies to believers:
Knowledge is what is gathered over time through study of the Scriptures. It can be said that wisdom, in turn, acts properly upon that knowledge. Wisdom is the fitting application of knowledge. Knowledge understands the light has turned red; wisdom applies the brakes. Knowledge sees the quicksand; wisdom walks around it. Knowledge memorizes the Ten Commandments; wisdom obeys them. Knowledge learns of God; wisdom loves Him.
This allows us to better understand the difference between knowledge and wisdom, particularly as it applies to our Christian lives. But understanding this distinction and living as though we understand it are two different things.
Wisdom In Practice
As was noted earlier, many of us appeal to the passages that speak of the wisdom of restraint when we disagree with others. While not a wholly inaccurate use of those verses, it also is not a wholly honest interpretation due to the implied assumption that our speech is useful while the other person’s is not. As we use these verses to point our finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at us. This is where it behooves us to truly test our knowledge of how to exercise wisdom.
The book of James is referred to by some as wisdom literature of the New Testament. There is little doubt why—it contains many important truths about the nature and reality of this God-given gift!
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.James 3:5b-12 (ESV)
How true are these words! Think of the arguments you have engaged in over the years—are they not only started, but also perpetuated by, the use of fiery words?
Wisdom knows when to speak from a sincere heart, and when to remain silent due to a fiery heart. Words sting. They wound and maim. They can incapacitate. Words can be extremely violent, even when expressed in spiritual language.
Wisely Using Wisdom
As we traverse this life living in a technologically advanced world, we must be mindful to exercise true wisdom in all of our relationships—both those “in real life” and those online. Our words betray our heart, and while we are often more bold behind the keyboard than we are in person, we must remember that we are nevertheless directing our words to real people. Without the nuance of tone and inflection, we further risk being misunderstood or having our words misapplied.
We must choose our words carefully. We must be wise. Many will argue that firmness must be used when speaking to or about false teachers. Firmness, yes. Anger, maliciousness, and cruelty? No. Never. Why? Because it is possible to couch a curse as a blessing. This happens when we speak the truth, but do so in such a manner that our method actually backfires and ends up harming others. This happens when we lambaste someone with whom we disagree, but faintly add at the end of our diatribe, “but I am praying for him/her.” This exemplifies how it is that we as Christians may violate the principles of James 3 even when striving to remain faithful to our Lord.
Importantly, we do not reflect Christ when we fail to use wisdom in all our encounters with others, yet is it not a primary goal of our sanctification to look more like our Savior in every way? Jesus always spoke with wisdom. We will not. But we can strive to practice wisdom and we can pray for greater wisdom and kindness as we grow to reflect Him by means of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Certainly we can be assured that this is a prayer He will readily answer.
What’s the Point?
Perhaps you’re wondering about the ultimate purpose of this post. To be honest, it was originally written with a more provocative title that included a name that would have guaranteed clicks and readers. The intent was to allow the reader to demonstrate my point by selecting an article in the hopes that it would be, like so many published on various platforms, an unwise application of James 3.
For some fallen reason, when certain names of false or erroneous teachers appear in blog post titles, the post is guaranteed to be popular. I fear this is not due to care for the soul of the subject, but because of mankind’s insatiable desire for controversy and gossip. How can we pounce on this person today? What has she/he said that we can rip apart now? What’s the latest tweet that we can “tsk, tsk” while we polish our own false piety?
The point is, we all poorly employ the wisdom given us by God. Some might engage in unhelpful, ungracious, and downright mean conversations in various forms of social media. Others chime in, heartily joining the bandwagon. Their objective is often not unfounded: to point others away from error and toward the truth found in Jesus Christ. But the ends do not justify the means. If we disguise our curses as blessings, is God glorified? Or have we merely discovered a cunning way to “bless our Lord and Father” but “curse people who are made in the likeness of God”? I will leave you to consider that for yourself.
Strive to Be Like Christ
As for this blog, while it’s been stated in the past, I’d like to take another opportunity to apologize for any time that valid biblical critique was inappropriately executed. None of us ever stops maturing spiritually. Sanctification is progressive, but that does not excuse any unbefitting behavior exercised in the past. By God’s grace this blog has evolved much in its lifetime, and by His grace it will continue to do so as the purpose continues to be to ponder Scripture and serve Christ.
At the end of it all, the prayer of this blogger—and I hope your prayer as well—is that we would all strive for Christlikeness in speech and deed, exercising the wisdom that God has so graciously granted to us.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;Psalm 111:10 (ESV)
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!