Being Truly Wise
“Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”- Proverbs 3:7-8
Human beings have what seems to be an innate tendency to overestimate themselves and to think that they know better than anyone else. All of us have known people who refuse to be corrected under any circumstance, and all of us at times have refused to be corrected ourselves. These realities manifest our inclination to exalt our own “wisdom” above the wisdom of others, an inclination that goes right back to the beginning. Among other things, the primal sin in Eden was the creature’s false belief that he was wiser than the Creator. Adam and Eve chose to partake of the forbidden fruit because they chose to believe that they knew better than the Creator, that it was wiser to do what they wanted than to obey the Lord’s admonition not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 3:1–7).
If unfallen creatures could give in to that temptation and plunge the human race into ruin, how much more are we sinners not to trust in ourselves above all else? Thus, Scripture warns us to “be not wise in [our own eyes]” (Prov. 3:7). Today’s passage is one of many texts in the Old and New Testaments admonishing us not to rely on our own judgment above all else but to trust first and foremost in the Lord and His Word, and secondarily in the godly wisdom evident in the lives of those who serve Him faithfully (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 13:20; Col. 2:1–3; James 3:13–18). We do well not to exalt our own wisdom—to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought. Truly wise people are always open to correction.
Proverbs 3:7–8 exposits vv. 5–6. To trust in the Lord with all of one’s heart and to lean not on one’s own understanding means not believing that one always knows better than others. Moreover, being not wise in our own eyes entails fearing the Lord and turning from evil (v. 7). This makes good sense, for the lack of the fear of the Lord causes us—as it did Adam and Eve—to think we know better than He does, and the belief that we know better than He does causes us to reject His law and do whatever is right in our own eyes. We turn from obeying God when we think that we can find higher wisdom from another source.
As Scripture often does, today’s passage encourages us to trust in the Lord by revealing the blessings that follow such trust—“healing to [our] flesh and refreshment to [our] bones” (v. 8). Turning from evil leads finally to full restoration, for it is those who turn from their evil unto God in repentance who will inherit the new heaven and earth. Wise people understand that “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation” (2 Cor. 7:10).
Matthew Henry comments, “There is not a greater enemy to the power of religion, and the fear of God in the heart, than conceitedness of our own wisdom.” When we think we know better than the Lord, we have already fallen into sin, and things can only get worse from there. That we might not trust in ourselves above God, we must continually turn to His Word, confess our foolishness, and seek to learn from others who are wiser than we are.
Passages for Further Study