What is Wisdom?

Over the 20-ish years I've spent serving in various ministry contexts, I can't count how many times I've heard someone complain about ministers not being practical enough...

"He spends too much time on theology."

"I really wish the preacher would speak to my heart, rather than my head."

"Theology is a waste of time; my boss doesn't care how well I understand the gospel."

While there's certainly no such thing as a perfect preacher who nails every sermon, and sometimes the sermons really are all head and no heart, I can't help but think that much of this revolves around a disconnect about what exactly the Bible is going after when it comes to application.

The #1 goal of the Bible is to...

...teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.

These words from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 were written by Paul, to Timothy, reinforcing Timothy the value and importance of teaching the Bible to people. Pauls' words hit on two big things: 1) teaching was is true and correcting what is wrong; and 2) preparing and equipping for good works.

Head and heart; brain and hands; theology and practice.

In the Old Testament, this combination of theology and practice is called wisdom, and we entire books dedicated to bringing the two together: Proverbs is the obvious pick, but in Jewish tradition Song of Songs and Psalms are both considered wisdom literature. The New Testament book of James is typically lumped together with these three as an example of NT wisdom literature.

Although often used interchangeably, wisdom and intelligence (smarts) are two very distinct things. Intelligence, or being smart, refers to how much one knows. It's a bit like being really good at Jeopardy! because you get all the right answers to all the question. But wisdom is the more practical cousin of intelligence; wisdom is the ability to take what you know and apply it in the right way in order to be productive and fruitful.

Here's the thing: a preacher, minister, mentor, whatever who makes a habit of constantly spewing application and "how to's" is NOT communicating and developing wisdom and IS venturing outside of the instructions given in 2 Timothy. Someone who constantly says (or thinks), "Just give me application; I just want to know what I should be doing" is dismissing 2 Timothy, also. Someone could stand before a group of people and list off several things that a text says people ought to do, and the only thing being accomplished is reinforcing legalism and moralism, and encouraging listeners to be really good at following instructions. Following instructions, even the Bible's instructions, is not wisdom...it's just following instructions.

The book of Proverbs begins...

These are the proverbs of Solomon, David's son, king of Israel. Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. (Pr 1:1-3)

This is great! We love this! We all want to have successful lives!

But there's more...

Fear of the LORD is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Pr 1:7)

The pursuit and desire for wisdom is a good thing, and the Bible is there to help you out. But you'll never gain wisdom unless you first possess a "fear of the LORD" - unless you are first solid in your belief, faith, and trust in God. The only way to know if God is something to believe in, have faith in, and trust is by spending time learning about God (theology) from the only place you can: the Bible. From a Biblical perspective, wisdom is the ability to take what you know about God and the way he interacts with the world (theology) and apply that knowledge to everyday situations you may find yourself in.

And over and over again we see the Bible declaring that wisdom is what it's ultimately going after!

But you need to know things about God first. And depending on whether your knowledge of God is right or wrong, this affects the way you apply what you know. And if your knowledge of God isn't right, then you won't apply it correctly, and according to Proverbs you're then being foolish.

Without a doubt, our faith absolutely must move beyond just knowing things about God. but it also can't be relegated to doing good works, either. Both are incomplete. James 1:22-24...

But don't just listen to to God's word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don't obey, it is like glancing at you face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.

Like so much in our theological tradition, the full picture is both-and; it's never acceptable to do one but neglect the other. We need both theology and application. But ultimately, Scripture invites us to grow in wisdom - to grow in our own ability to understand and learn theology and to apply our theology to whatever situation we ultimately find ourself in.


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