Wisdom and Foolishness
by Harry Reeder
Seldom in an assigned writing project is the author given an opportunity to address a theme that permeates Scripture, that is pervasive in both the Old and New Testament. But in this instance, my assignment provides for that and more, since wisdom and the gospel life is a theme crucial to the gospel ministries of evangelism, discipleship, and Christian parenting. In addition, wisdom is a blessing of common grace granted by God to a world of impenitent sinners in His unfathomable kindness.
Through gospel evangelism, the grace of God grants sinners the wisdom to confess their sins and flee to the Son of God, who alone can and will save them from sin’s guilt and power.
Furthermore, gospel-saturated discipleship allows saved sinners to employ the twofold, interdependent God-given means of acquiring wisdom—prayer in faith and “the hearing and doing” of God’s Word—as identified in James, which is often considered the New Testament book of wisdom. Additionally, wisdom is a desired objective in Christian parenting, as clearly extolled in Proverbs. Its value is illustrated in the repetitive summation of the effects of Mary and Joseph’s parenting in the life of Jesus. As Jesus embarks upon adolescence, the gospel of Luke sums up His childhood: “And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40). Another summary statement of parental focus highlights the importance of developing wisdom as Christ enters manhood: “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Admittedly, these verses beg for further treatment, but we can at least observe that in the limited amount of Scripture describing the parental activity of Joseph and Mary, we are repeatedly informed that He was “increasing in wisdom.”
Types of Wisdom in Scripture
God’s Word reveals two types of wisdom. The first is worldly wisdom, which is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (James 3:15). This hell-derived wisdom leaves in its wake chaos, brokenness, factions, death, and destruction. The second is wisdom from above, granted by God to those who ask for it. It is found in His Word, and it is accessed by hearing that Word faithfully preached and then by embedding it into our lives through obedience. Worldly wisdom is actually “the foolishness of man” masquerading as wisdom and propagated by man-made religions and a myriad of “isms”—humanism, progressivism, materialism, consumerism, secularism, etc. But in contrast, wisdom from above or wisdom from heaven is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (vv. 17-18).
The Biblical Map to Wisdom
The biblical map to wisdom from above is initiated in the Old Testament Wisdom Literature and further defined in James. This map for receiving grace-enabled wisdom from above is accurate knowledge employed with pervasive understanding, ultimately expressed in lifestyle wisdom. In other words, as Proverbs puts it, the map is “to know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight” (Prov. 1:2). In other words, the God-designed three-step journey to wisdom from above for those we are discipling or the children we are parenting is definitively delineated in God’s Word.
Step One: Knowledge
For the Christian, knowledge begins with divine revelation, not human imagination or intuition. The inerrant Word of God is not only reliable but sufficient to give us all we need to frame a consistent Christian world-and-lifeview. Everything in God’s Word is truth. Yet, not all truth is in the Bible—God’s creation tells us much. So while everything in the Bible is true, not all truth is in the Bible; but all the truth we need to know for a life saturated with godly wisdom is found in the Bible. As Paul says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
In the journey to wisdom, we must personally pursue knowledge from God’s Word and persuasively guide those we are discipling and parenting to hear God’s Word faithfully preached while leading them to intentional obedience with humble reliance upon God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. In addition, pastors must preach the Word no matter how intense the opposition may be, explicitly or implicitly. In so doing, we create an environment for the development of Holy Spirit-given wisdom from above in the lives of our people.
Step Two: Understanding
A Bible-derived, accurate knowledge is foundational for step one in the pursuit of wisdom from above to develop a Christian world-and-life-view. But, it is equally crucial to take step two by seeking the Holy Spirit’s blessing of understanding. This is the experience of maturation as we learn how to use our knowledge to interpret the trials of life and learn from them. A trial of life, like any other test, reveals what we actually know and what we yet need to know. This results in a lifestyle that is capable of applying what we know and understand in order to interpret the trials of life with a God-glorifying and joy-revealing response.
There are two avenues to gain this God-delivered and grace-empowered understanding. The first is a focused petition for understanding through believing prayer. The second is to recruit and employ godly and mature counselors. (There is wisdom in many counselors, but make sure they are wise counselors, not just any counselors.) This cadre of mentors should be enhanced by a prayerful selection of spiritually mature peers who will pray for you, challenge you, encourage you, and finish the race with you.
Step Three: Wisdom
Wisdom is the goal and destination. Wisdom made real in our lives is a God-glorifying, Christ-centered, Holy Spirit-empowered, and Bible-shaped lifestyle. Our Lord affirms this by informing us, “Wisdom is justified by her deeds” (Matt. 11: 19). In other words, the wise man or woman leaves a trail that glorifies God and displays the joy of the Lord even in a broken world. The entire life of a believer—mentally, socially, emotionally, and volitionally—is to be formed with a Christ-centered life-view, propelled by a Christ-passionate life-love, displayed in a Christ-shaped life-style.
Wisdom from above will never be sought until it is prized. It will not be prized until the preeminence of Christ is treasured above all. This leads us to our confessed need of God’s grace. Without it, we will not prize Christ or His preeminence, for we will remain susceptible to all of the idols that this world offers and that our hearts can manufacture. The heart of the problem is always the problem of the heart.
But, we have good news. The gospel, which is the wisdom of God, though despised by the world and called foolish, saves sinners like you and me. This gospel wisdom proclaimed to the world is summed up in the cross of Christ. There, the love of God met the holiness of God to save sinners for the glory of God. It delivers us from the sophisticated pursuit of the imbecility of worldly wisdom—true foolishness—while calling us to give our new hearts to Him who designed it to be His throne over all of our life. Christ, who is our Wisdom, will then be preeminent in all things (1 Cor. 1:24; Col. 1:18).