Read an Excerpt
Earthly Wisdom Versus Godly Wisdom
If someone were to ask you today, "Are you a wise person?" how would you respond?
Many people respond, "Well, I'd like to be."
Some people seem to think that wise people are locked away in ivory towers--they perceive wisdom to be a function of intellect or brain power applied to areas such as philosophy, theology, or psychology. Others believe a wise person must be aged. Still others think it is a good thing to be wise--but a pretentious thing to admit. They secretly believe they are wise but are reluctant to say so because they fear others will think ill of them.
If you consider yourself to be a wise person, what is your basis for reaching that conclusion?
Two Very Different Views of Wisdom
The world and God's Word present two very different views of wisdom. From God's perspective, earthly wisdom--human or natural wisdom--is grounded in man's fallen nature. Godly wisdom--divine or spiritual wisdom--is based upon man's "new nature" given at the time of a person's spiritual rebirth (2 Cor. 5:17).
All godly wisdom begins with reverence--an understanding of who our sovereign, almighty God is, and out of that understanding, surrendering one's will and behavior to Him. There is no alternative foundation on which genuine wisdom can be built.
A person may say, "Do you mean to tell me that with all of my education and experience, I cannot be wise if I don't receive God's forgiveness for my sin and factor God into my life?" That's exactly what I mean to tell you! And I say this notout of my own human understanding--that's what the Word of God says. Apart from God, a human being cannot function in wisdom.
The Foundation for Walking Wisely
Proverbs 9:10 tells us, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." Fear in this verse refers to reverence for God. Those who fear God stand in awe of God. They have at least a glimmer of understanding that God is omniscient (all-wise), omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (present in every moment and throughout all eternity), and all-loving, and that they are not. They stand before God in wonderment and amazement that God who is all, has all, and controls all cares, loves, reaches out, and blesses the individual human being. To fear God is not to fear God's judgment; it is to stand in awe that God has all authority to judge and to forgive, to show mercy, and to grant His grace in overflowing abundance.
Spiritual wisdom is given to those who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, commit themselves to following God in obedience, seek to develop a relationship with Him, reverence Him, and walk out their days submitted to, yielded to, and listening to the Holy Spirit.
Let me ask you . . .
Are you wiser than God your Creator is when it comes to knowing how to live a successful life on this earth?
Are you wiser than God who made your body is when it comes to knowing how to live in health?
Are you wiser than God who caused you to be born in a specific time and place, to a specific set of parents, in a specific set of circumstances is when it comes to developing a plan and purpose for your life?
Are you wiser than God who created all natural resources and everything of real value on this earth is when it comes to knowing how to manage your finances and material resources?
Are you wiser than God who made human nature is when it comes to knowing how to develop and maintain good relationships?
Who would be so foolish as to say he or she is wiser than the Creator and sovereign King of this universe? How ridiculously arrogant to say in the face of God, "I know more than You do. I know better than You know. I have a better idea than Your idea."
Getting God's Unlimited View of Our Lives
Wisdom is the capacity to see things from God's viewpoint. A child once was asked if he knew the meaning of the word omniscient. He said, "Yes. My mom taught me that word. It means that God knows everything about every thing." I can't beat that definition.
God knows what we feel, what we think, who we are, and how we function. He knows our likes, dislikes, dreams, desires, fears, and hurts. He knows what brings us joy, peace, and feelings of fulfillment. As our "Maker" He knows every detail of our "makeup"!
God also knows every detail about every circumstance we encounter. He sees the beginning from the ending, and every step between beginning and ending.
Earthly wisdom is limited. It generally is based upon the best that collective humanity has been able to conclude or to decipher. Earthly wisdom says, "This is the way men and women have acted, responded, and lived through the ages." Earthly wisdom concludes, "This is what works." Earthly wisdom can be very narrow, and it is usually filled with biases, prejudices, and personal desires.
God's wisdom, in contrast, is unlimited. It is based upon what God sees when He looks to ages past and ahead to ages still to come. It is based upon the whole of any given life or situation. Godly wisdom says, "This is the way I made man to act, respond, and succeed." Godly wisdom concludes, "This is what God wants."
If we want to be wise, we must choose to see things from God's perspective. We must get God's "take" on a situation. Not only must we ask, "How does God see this?" but ask, "What does God want me to do? When? How? With whom? For what goal or purpose?" We must seek to see our individual lives as fitting into God's plan, God's purpose, and God's desires. The Bible makes this very clear:
He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,
But whoever walks wisely will be delivered. (Prov. 28:26)
Four Main Errors of Earthly Wisdom
Earthly wisdom is based on these four faulty conclusions:
- Wisdom is limited to the mind of man.
- Wisdom is based on what can be perceived by the five human senses.
- Wisdom is doing what man collectively defines as rational or provable.
- Wisdom is doing "whatever works."
God's truth about wisdom is one hundred and eighty degrees opposite each of these humanly constructed conclusions.
God's Wisdom: Man's Knowledge Is Not Enough
We live in the so-called information age. We have more information today than we know how to process and use. Those of us who have home computers have more information than we will ever access just several clicks away. Even when we are trying to relax, we have information foisted on us--pagers beep, phones ring, televisions blare, and computers electronic message is waiting for our response.
For all of our information, have we increased in wisdom? No. We only need to take a look at recent political history to gain an understanding that knowledge and wisdom are different. Many highly knowledgeable people work for our government. Each makes it his life's work to become informed about certain issues, as well as about history, economics, and the law. But do they always live wisely? Do they always pass laws that are in line with God's Word? Do they always live moral lives that are yielded to God's will?
Take a look at our educational system. It has been developed through the years by people who have been considered to be highly knowledgeable when it comes to child psychology, child development, curriculum formation, instructional methods, and information resources. But are our children being trained in wisdom? Is God factored into their learning process? Is godly behavior being emphasized? Is faith being encouraged? Generally speaking, no.
Intellectually gifted people are not necessarily wise. Neither are those who have developed their natural skills and abilities to the maximum of their potential, those who have established the "best contacts" in the world, those who have amassed fabulous wealth, or those who have spent their lives in pursuit of the best health possible. Never assume that in becoming informed or knowledgeable, you will become wise.
Furthermore, at no place in the Scriptures do we see God rewarding a increase in knowledge. Repeatedly, however, we find God calling His people to an increase in wisdom and promising to reward those who walk according to godly principles.
The Proper Place for Knowledge and Understanding. Knowledge is something acquired by mental study and observation. Knowledge is important--I am not at all denigrating the value of knowledge. All knowledge is a gift of God. God allows us to know, to discover, and to grow in knowledge. Certainly knowledge of the Scriptures acquired by study is vital to a person's spiritual growth. So is a knowledge of godly behavior gained by observing the lives of strong Christians.
Knowledge, however, is limited. No person can know all there is to know about any subject, person, or situation. There is always something unknown or as yet undiscovered.
It takes the Holy Spirit of God to pull back the curtains of our understanding. The Holy Spirit reveals to us insights as to why certain things happen and how certain situations might be resolved. The Holy Spirit imparts to us deeper insights into His commandments and precepts and the blessings that come in following them.
The Bible declares, Get wisdom! Get understanding! (Prov. 4:5). The two are not the same. Understanding is based upon the acquisition of knowledge--it is a filtering, sifting, sorting, and defining process. Wisdom, in comparison, is an applying process.
Understanding tells us what is happening--wisdom tells us why it is happening. Understanding gives us the facts--wisdom tells us what to do with those facts. Understanding yields insight into how a problem might be solved--wisdom tells us which solution to pursue, and when and how to pursue it.
Does a wise person know everything? No. However, I believe strongly that only a wise person is capable of using knowledge to maximum advantage. A wise person is capable of determining which facts, concepts, principles, or procedures to use in a given situation. A wise person knows the criteria of God's Word for successful financial investments, successful health management, and successful relationships. A wise person knows how to apply what he learns.
In my life, I have met a number of wise people who had very little formal education. Even so, they had a keen ability to discern, to perceive, and to understand God's principles . . . and their wise choices and decisions have led each to become a powerful, influential, successful, and in some cases, wealthy individual.
I have met a number of godly men and women who never went to seminary, never learned Greek or Hebrew, and never studied theology. Nevertheless, they live according to God's wisdom and are accomplishing much for God on this earth. They are preaching Bible-based sermons, engaging in innovative missionary work, teaching their children to love the Lord, and winning their neighbors to Christ. Their reward will be great, even though they have never earned a degree in religion or gained a reputation for ministry distinction in the eyes of man.
On the other hand, I have also met a number of highly educated, highly accomplished, highly talented, very well-informed people who have made foolish decisions and choices in their lives, and the end result has been catastrophic for them and their families.
God's Wisdom: Discernment Beyond the Five Senses
The world says that wisdom is based upon what a person can perceive with his natural senses. God's wisdom calls for a person to walk in the discerning power of the Holy Spirit, who is not at all limited by human senses.
Th Spirit enables a person to discern what isn't spoken and what isn't readily manifested. The Holy Spirit gives a "heart sense" to a person so that the person has an ability to recognize truth from lie, fact from fiction, right from wrong--regardless of the words that may be spoken or the alluring images that may be presented.
The person who walks in godly wisdom has a "sense" or intuition provided by the Holy Spirit who lives inside of every believer. I strongly believe that the person who functions in godly wisdom is able to see beyond what average human beings see . . . able to hear beyond what average human beings hear . . . able to understand beyond what average human beings understand. This ability flows directly from the Holy Spirit at work in us.
I can't begin to count the number of times I have heard godly men and women tell me, "I started to take one action and then I had this little feeling deep inside me that I should wait . . . or take a different action . . . or get additional information." That "little feeling" for the believer is the Holy Spirit at work, guarding us, guiding us, and moving us into the center of God's path for us to walk.
Earthly wisdom based upon the five human senses can often produce confusion. What one sees, another doesn't. What one hears, another doesn't.
Earthly wisdom often leads to a skewed perspective, especially if it is based upon collective perception. Large masses of people can become convinced that they see, feel, hear, or otherwise perceive a lie.
The result of faulty human perception frequently leads to the establishment of goals that are off target and unproductive in the things that truly matter for eternity.
In sharp contrast, the wisdom given by the Holy Spirit yields clarity and precision. It leads to an expansion of ability, a righteous perspective, and the establishment of goals that are focused and productive, and that are centered on the most important things of eternal benefit.
The presence of the Holy Spirit expands a person's ability to perceive so that a person "sees" life in the context of eternity. The person who walks in godly wisdom does not make decisions on the basis of how things look on the surface at any given time. What he perceives is placed against the template of heaven's understanding and will.
Discernment Is Especially Important in Crisis Times. Even ungodly people will admit that in times of crisis or natural catastrophe, people don't think clearly. Our perception becomes clouded when we are under intense emotional pressure or time constraints. It is in times of crisis that we especially need the discerning power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
Certainly none of us succeeds at everything all the time. All of us face crises and calamities. But God's wisdom does help us walk through times of difficulty, hardship, suffering, and persecution and emerge stronger.
The story of Job in the Bible is an example of this. Job suffered deeply--he lost his family, fortune, reputation, and health--but in the end, he submitted himself to God's wisdom and the Scriptures tell us, "The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning" (Job 42:12). Job's family, fortune, and health were restored, and he lived after his time of suffering one hundred and forty years and "saw his children and grandchildren for four generations" (Job 42:16)!
If we choose to follow God's wisdom in times of difficulty, we will win every time. We may experience material, financial, or relational loss--and even experience death--but what we gain on the other side of life's trials is far better than anything we may have lost if we are trusting the Holy Spirit to impart His wisdom to us. If we die following God's wisdom, we gain the rewards that go to martyrs. If we remain obedient in the trial and do not die, we are often rewarded in extremely generous ways.
We come out deeper in our faith, stronger in our confidence in the Lord, bolder in our witness, and freer in our spirits. If we choose to pursue wisdom no matter how dire the situation we face, we will benefit from the persecution, suffering, or hardship. God will use that experience in our lives to refine us, strengthen us, and bring us to wholeness. He will use it to conform us more to the likeness of Christ Jesus. You can count on it (Rom. 8:29).
God's Wisdom: God's Way Is Higher than Man's Way
Earthly wisdom is rooted in the belief that all of life can be understood, rationalized, and proven scientifically. While I am not at all opposed to science or rational thinking, I am also convinced that God's Word says to us that God moves in ways that are still a mystery to man. Science can never prove what causes a person to fall in love. It can never prove what happens to a person after death. It can never measure the breadth or depth of God's love and mercy. It can never decipher or rationalize fully the impulses that motivate the heart of man. God says plainly in His Word: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways" (Isa. 55:8-9).
The apostle Paul was a powerful debater. He seemed to delight in engaging in controversial discussions with those who did not believe in Christ Jesus. He prompted them to think, to see things differently, and to confront the challenge of the Gospel. He wrote this to the Corinthians:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent." (1 Cor. 1:18-19)
Paul knew that to the unbelievers in the Greek world the message of salvation appeared foolish. They could not fathom that a Jewish carpenter and teacher could be crucified on a Roman cross, die, be buried, and then rise from the dead for a divine purpose. They could not comprehend that God might sacrifice His own Son so that sinful mankind might have an opportunity to experience forgiveness and reconciliation with Him. It was not within the realm of their understanding that Christ ascended to heaven and would one day return.
If you totally take God out of your life, the message of the gospel does not make sense. On the other hand, once you have received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, the gospel makes perfect sense.
Furthermore, God says that one day all the wisdom of the so-called wise and prudent people on this earth will be destroyed. It will come to naught. None of the facts, concepts, principles, or procedures that we have learned about this natural world or human na necessary in eternity. None of the world's information we have acquired or the tangible skills we have developed in order to acquire, maintain, and advance our lives on this earth will be useful in eternity. The wisdom of this world has no capability to carry a person from this life into the next.
Paul went on to write to the Corinthians:
Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. (1 Cor. 1:20-21)
No person in the history of the world has come to a saving knowledge of God through his or her own intellectual pursuits or good works. The Bible is very clear on that point. God reveals Himself to man, imparts the faith to believe in Christ Jesus, and counts our faith as being all that is necessary for salvation (see Eph. 2:8-9).
For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor. 1:22-25)
For the Jews, religion was about God revealing Himself to His people in miracles, signs, and wonders. For the Greeks, religion was something intellectual and mental--it was philosophy. But neither miracles nor philosophy resulted in a person being saved from the consequences of personal sins or restored to intimate fellowship with God. God had to send His only begotten Son to this earth to die on the cross as the one definitive, atoning, and final sacrifice necessary to take away the sins of mankind.
It makes no sense to an unbeliever that God's Son would have to die a cruel and ignoble death--complete with public shame--so we might one day be resurrected from the dead and live eternally.
It makes no sense to a non-Christian to believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to experience complete pardon from all sin's guilt and shame, to receive eternal life, and to know God fully,
It makes no sense to the person functioning in earthly wisdom that God would require a change of heart in mankind, as opposed to a change in behavior or thinking, and that only the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit might bring about a genuine heart change.
But, the apostle Paul proclaimed, that's the method God chose! Who has the authority and privilege to choose the method? God does. Who has the power to make judgments based upon His prescribed method? God does. Who has the wisdom to do what is right for man and for accomplishing His purposes on this earth? God does!
Apart from Christianity, every other religion on this earth has a system for how man might achieve righteousness or spiritual enlightenment in his own strength, power, and intellect. Every other religion has a set of rituals or rules that must be kept for a person to arrive at a state of being righteous or holy.
Every other religion presents a spiritual goal that is reached by how much a person does, how much a person gives, how hard a person works, how often a person keeps the rituals, and how deeply a person believes that his works and worship will be sufficient. There is no confidence of a relationship with God, inner peace, or assurance of eternal life.
Only in Christianity has God manifested Himself in human flesh--in the incarnate Jesus who was born of a virgin, lived a fully human and natural life, and died a physical death hung between two thieves.
Only in Christianity has God reached all the way down to man and said, in effect, "All that I require of you is that you believe in My Son, Jesus Christ, and you shall have the gift of eternal life" (John 3:16).
Only in Christianity has God said, "I'll do all the work--all the dying, sacrifice, ritual, saving, regenerating, renewing--and all that I ask is that you receive what I have done and what I offer to you as being personally applicable to your own life."
To the natural man, steeped in his pride and arrogance, it seems too easy simply to "believe and be saved." To the natural man, who desires to earn and achieve something that makes him feel more important, it seems too humbling to "bow" before God and "be set free from sin's dominion."
To the natural man, God should have set His Son on a throne, not a cross. To the natural man, God should have given His Son long life, not three short years of ministry and then death. To the natural man, God should have inspired His Son to write a doctrinal statement, a book of rules, or a curriculum to study and memorize, not to preach a simple message: "Believe and receive."
Nevertheless, as foolish as it may seem to the unredeemed man, God has chosen to reveal His power and His wisdom through Christ. Where man's understanding ends, God's wisdom begins. Where man's power ends, God's power takes over. God is the One in control--not only of all things in this natural world, the political world, and the course of history and human events. He is in control of all things in the spiritual realm as well! God is the One who has all authority, power, and wisdom to set the rules, establish the process that results in forgiveness and the granting of eternal life, and give spiritual gifts to mankind.
God's Wisdom: What Works Best Is God's Way
Earthly wisdom proclaims: "Do what works." Generally speaking, what works is regarded as what makes the most money or brings fame and power. Unfortunately, we have thousands of examples all around us of moral failure in the wake of "what works."
Look at what has happened in the entertainment industry in just the last fifty years. Television programs, music recordings, movies, video games, theatrical shows, and live concerts--all have become increasingly sensual, increasingly explicit in presenting sexual behavior, increasingly violent, and increasingly reliant upon special effects that present a fantasy world. The entertainment world has also become increasingly occult, with more and more themes involving horror, paranormal phenomena, supernatural creatures, demonic powers, and forces for evil. Today's entertainment messages are a reflection of man's rabid appetite for things that are more and more sensual, more and more powerful, and more and more "otherworldly." They are perhaps the ultimate example in our world today of earthly wisdom.
These messages seem to work because they make money and catapult people to fame. But what is working the moral or spiritual level? Nothing is working to bring people the things that money cannot buy and that every person ultimately wants: love, worthiness, fulfillment, joy, peace, and an assurance of eternal life. God's wisdom proclaims: Only God's way really works.
Earthly Wisdom and Godly Wisdom Produce Different Outcomes
Take a look at the end results of earthly wisdom and godly wisdom. They are very different. Earthly wisdom produces in the human heart, and in human relationships, very different fruit from that produced by godly wisdom. Read what James wrote about this:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, and demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)
What a sharp contrast between earthly wisdom and godly wisdom! The contrast is drawn on the basis of results:
- Earthly wisdom results in power struggles, personal kingdom building, greed, envy, avarice, and an argumentative spirit. As James wrote, earthly wisdom is "self-seeking."
- Earthly wisdom results in a deep drive to satisfy human cravings and lust. It results in addictions, obsessions, and, ultima confusion about what is morally right and wrong.
- Earthly wisdom is under the influence of the evil one. It results in blasphemy, heresy, self-justification for sin, and spiritual error.
John wrote in his first epistle: "For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:16-17).
The concepts are the same. The "lust of the flesh" refers to those things that are sensual. The "lust of the eyes" refers to those things that are rooted in pride, greed, and a hunger for personal power and recognition. The "pride of life" refers to man's desire to be number one and to exert his will and authority rather than yield to God's authority.
If you question whether something is rooted in earthly wisdom or divine wisdom, take a look at the outcome! Take a look at the fruit. Those things that are rooted in earthly wisdom result in people being at odds with one another, confusion about what is right and wrong, and all forms of evil behavior.
And what about divine wisdom? Godly wisdom is marked by . . .
- purity. God's wisdom produces behavior that is morally pure, chaste, and modest.
- peace. God's wisdom produces relationship, not estrangement.
- gentleness. God's wisdom does not demand its own way, but rather functions by influence. It comforts even as it counsels, offers hope even as it convicts, and leads rather than forces a person to God.
- a willingness to yield self. God's wisdom is pride, but rather in service. The person functioning according to godly wisdom will do all he can to help others, to minister to others, to consider others, to bless others, and to care for others.
- mercy and good fruits. God's wisdom is marked by kindness, generosity, and helpfulness. Those who walk wisely are givers, not grasping takers.
Furthermore, these outcomes of divine wisdom function . . .
- without partiality. God's wisdom operates without prejudice against another person's race, color, background, social standing, economic level, culture, age, or gender.
- without hypocrisy. When divine wisdom is at work, there is consistency in what a person believes, says, and does--there are integrity, honesty, and transparency.
Earthly wisdom is limited by man's ability to perceive, to sense, to learn, to understand, to create, and to control. Earthly wisdom is "doing what comes naturally"--and what comes naturally to unredeemed mankind is what satisfies the senses, feeds human pride, and fosters greed. Earthly wisdom can never rise above man's fallen nature.
Godly wisdom is marked by God's ability to work through mankind. As Paul proclaimed, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). When we allow God to work in us and through us, our abilities to perceive, to sense, to learn, to understand, to create, and to manage life's resources are powerfully expanded.
Godly wisdom is doing what the Holy Spirit compels us to do. It results in what is pleasing to God and ultimately, what is beneficial to man.
Godly wisdom calls a man to rise above his own nature and functi according to the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit--not that man might be equal to God, but that man might be a vessel used by God to bring blessing to this earth.
We Must Choose God's Wisdom
God's wisdom is not foisted on us. We must choose wisdom. We must invite God to lead us to His way and His plan. We must ask ourselves continually:
- Is this a wise decision?
- Is this the wise choice to make?
- Is this the wise path to pursue?
- Is this a wise use of my talents, gifts, skills, or resources?
- Is this a wise action to take in a relationship?
- Is this a wise way to live out the purpose God has for my life?
As we ask these questions, we must look and listen for God's response. We must ask for God's wisdom with a prayer, "Lord, give me Your answer."