Thursday, January 29, 2009

What is wisdom?

The urgency of being obedient to wisdom

The Bible presents wisdom and understanding and obedience to God's commands as closely connected. This is seen when Moses speaks of the law of God. "Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples" (Deut. 4:6). In chapter eight of Proverbs, we are instructed to pursue wisdom with great urgency. The warnings about the consequences of choosing not to do this are strong. Proverbs 8:36 says "he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; All those who hate me love death". Wisdom doesn't seem to be a take it or leave it kind of thing.

The need to see foolishness as sinful

The New Testament echoes the idea that folly is something that must be repented of. In Mark 7:20 - 23, Jesus puts foolishness in a list of evil things. "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” Foolishness is listed as one of the things we are meant to have left behind as Christians "For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures" (Titus 3:3).

Is wisdom "Christianised common sense". Is it up to us to decide what is wise?

If wisdom is vital, and we can be called to repent of it, there must be definite boundaries to wisdom - "rights" and "wrongs" if you like. For example, the Bible uniformly presents a person who responds well to correction as wise. There are some heart reactions to correction that are right, and some that are wrong. At the same time, there can sometimes be more than one wise course. The Bible defines the boundaries of wisdom, and there are instances where multiple options are presented as wise depending upon the circumstances. Scripture must be compared with Scripture. Sometimes we are called to make up our own minds about what is wise. There will be boundaries, however, and there will always be some options that are foolish.

Freedom from unnecessary advice

Embracing the Bible's view of wisdom frees us from "Christianized common sense". The Christian world abounds with people who are willing to press viewpoints upon us that are independent of Biblical revelation. If someone tells you not to get married until you're 25, to make sure you check that your baby is OK by having an ultrasound, to juice carrots daily, to not to have kids until you're 30, to date for five years, to vote for the one who'll "do most for the poor", to wait a year to have kids after you get married, or not to buy a bike, there are biblical principles you can use to evaluate this advice. Most advice is not based on God's wisdom, and after listening and giving consideration to it we are perfectly free to reject it.

The personal context of this post

I know many Christians who appear to argue that wisdom issues and godliness issues can be neatly separated out. They say that we are not to make judgements about a "Christian" response when it comes to wisdom issues because these are not matters of right or wrong. I believe that this approach to wisdom is not consistent with biblical revelation. It is desperately important for every Christian (myself included) to be held accountable to make wise choices. It is not loving to our brothers and sisters in Christ to ignore obvious departures from wisdom. In the context of close relationships, it is appropriate to remind one another that some choices are unwise. All this must be done in the spirit that James 3:17 describes as wise. God's wisdom is "first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy".

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