Wisdom in Times Like These

“Put first things first and second things are thrown in. Put second things first and you lose both first and second things.”  C. S. Lewis

This week’s article is by Andrew Hoffecker.  Andy earned his PhD at Brown University in Religious Studies. He taught at Grove City College in Pennsylvania for 25 years before coming to Reformed Theological Seminary in 1997. He retired from RTS in 2010 and began teaching the Crossroads Class at Highlands shortly thereafter.

In every age, God’s people aspire to wisdom.  Because we live in a fallen world everyone is susceptible distorted thinking, erroneous choices and evil actions.

In the Bible our God reveals the source of wisdom and describes its many attributes. A primary source of wisdom is Proverbs, written by King Solomon. When God asked Solomon what he most wanted and needed to rule Israel, Solomon asked not for wealth, military power, prestige or great possessions. Rather he requested wisdom – the centerpiece of Proverbs.

The most important point about wisdom is that God is the source of wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 states: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Wisdom begins with a state of the heart as well as a state of mind. Reverence and humility are indispensable qualities to be cultivated in daily life. Our hearts and minds must first be right with God if we are to be wise.

Throughout Proverbs Solomon also draws the sharpest contrast between the righteous way of life – following God’s commandments and delighting in doing good – with its opposite – a life of folly or foolishness, evil, disobeying God’s ways and scoffing.

Biblical wisdom does not consist primarily in mastering a body of facts. Also, don’t confuse wisdom with intelligence since many people are smart but totally lacking in wisdom. Thus wisdom is predominantly practical and moral. Wisdom relates to practices in daily life: industrious by learning from the ant who work diligently while the sluggard ends in poverty (6:6-11); speech by holding one’s tongue (10:19); sex by avoiding adultery (6:20-35); good manners by controlling one’s temper (15:18); rearing children by training them while young (22:6); financial integrity by being honest in business (11:1); and sobriety by avoiding strong drink (20:1; 23:30-32).

To the wise God’s commandments are not a burden to be borne but a delight to perform. By nurturing the desire to live by obeying God’s commandments you discover the true way to happiness (3:21-26). The wise therefore become teachable people whose lives are worth imitating. The fool on the other hand says in his heart there is no God (Psa 14:1); he resists learning, refuses to accept discipline, reproof and even forgiveness (14:9). Fools are dangerous to others (13:20) and a source of grief to parents (10:1).

Although Proverbs may seem to be mere observations about life, Proverbs is “the hard candy” of the Bible. Why? Just as sucking on hard candy gradually releases its sweet flavor, reflecting on proverbs results in absorbing their deeper meanings. By so doing, you are actually able to make wiser decisions.

In God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, Timothy Keller enlarges on the necessity of experience following reflection. “[Wisdom] is inaccessible to people too busy for its method. It comes through first with experience and then with deep, honest reflection on that experience. It emerges only as we ask searching questions: When did I last see this illustrated in my life or someone else’s? Where do I need to practice this? How would my life be different if I did? What wrong thinking and attitudes result when I forget this?”

The truly wise person cherishes Proverbs. He/she acknowledges a need for its instructions and the joy that implementing its truths brings to daily life.