This series is summarised from Fee G, Stuart D. How to Read the Bible for all its Worth (3rd ed). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.
We often hear it lauded in sermons, know it's a good thing to have, and even sometimes remember to pray for it, but what is wisdom? Fee and Stuart tell us that, 'Wisdom is the ability to make godly choices in life.'
The books dealing with wisdom thematically are Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, as well as parts of Psalms and the Song of Songs.
Wisdom is important because it is practical; it is the method by which we bring God's word in our hearts to bear on our daily lives here on earth. So you may ask the question as I did – is every Christian wise; am I wise?
As with most things in life wisdom seems to come in different measures – some people are wiser than others. There are Old Testament (OT) characters such as Solomon and David, whose names are synonymous with godly wisdom, due in part to the OT record of their lives and their contributions to the books of Psalms and Proverbs. Others include the 'sons of Korah', Job, the Judges of Israel, Joseph and wise teachers of OT times who were taken up with the nature of wisdom and its impartation.
The wisdom writings are diverse. In broad terms they deal with right and wrong in various contexts; between man and woman on an intimate level (Song of Songs), between parents and children (Proverbs), between friends and amongst colleagues (Job, Proverbs) as well as between God and man (Job, Psalms and Proverbs). There are also examples where God gives wisdom in specific situations, a sort of practical aptitude if you like. From Joshua, David and Solomon in governance, to wisdom in construction (Bezalel the architect in Ex 31:1-3). However, the wise person is not wise because they are smarter than everyone else but because they obey God – their character and behaviour is according to his will. They may be smarter in some situations but for them wisdom in itself is not the end goal; rather it is a tool in one's walk as someone who knows God and is living for him.
A minimum level of abstract thinking is required to understand the meanings of some of the sayings. For example In Psalm 42:3, 'My tears have been my food day and night' is unlikely to mean that he (one of the sons of Korah) has been eating his own tears. In the context of the passage and the poetic style one can understand that the writer is utterly consumed with grief!
Likewise, the book of Proverbs can be read as a collection of short pithy sayings inspired by the Holy Spirit to instruct and encourage on godly living. Even in their contexts the proverbs were not given as absolute, infallible promises to individuals but as guidelines and directives for wise living. The point when reading 'Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed' (Pr 16:3) is not to seek a rubber stamp for my own selfish plans, but to develop the discipline of seeking God's will in all we do. Even then the 'success' we are promised is of a general nature – not everything we do will go the way we planned it!
Wisdom now is really as simple as it has always been, to strive with the Holy Spirit's help for successful living through the application of God's Word. This goes back to understanding what Scripture has to say (proper exegesis and hermeneutics) and then having the courage to do it. Where the situation is a bit trickier wisdom can be gained by discussion with wise Christians. There are all sorts of wisdom and it is important to understand that wisdom is not wise unless it is given over to God. Like Job, it is important to be sure of the God you serve; his character and his values are made abundantly clear in the Bible so unless we know Scripture well we cannot expect to have God's wisdom. Prayer is obviously very important in every situation but we particularly value it when we face the chestnuts – those situations that are difficult to crack. 'If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.' James 1:5 is a clear instruction for Christians who feel lacking in godly wisdom in the context of faith and its day to day outworking.
There are some passages in Proverbs that seem to apply more to students and those in learning than others. As medical students, I think we would benefit from applying a passage like Proverbs 15:31-33:
He who listens to a life-giving rebuke will be at home among the wise. He who ignores discipline despises himself, but whoever heeds correction gains understanding. The fear of the Lord teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor.
The passage deals with principles that can guide us in study and every area of life. We need to be open to rebuke or correction in our work so that we can learn. The passage implies that this openness to correction is part of a disciplined life and perhaps the place where this begins is submission to God.
I hope we have not lost sight of godly wisdom as something intended for the ordinary Christian. It is a tool to enable righteous, godly living by the power of the Holy Spirit.