Thursday, June 30, 2016

Growing in Wisdom

Christians know how much importance the Bible gives to wisdom (Psa. 90:12; Pro. 4:7; Luk. 21:15; 1Co. 2:7). But how does one grow in wisdom?

What Wisdom Is

What is wisdom, anyway? Merriam-Webster defines it in terms of "knowledge that is gained by having many experiences in life," or "the natural ability to understand things that most other people cannot understand," or "accumulated philosophic or scientific learning," or a "generally accepted belief," or simply "good sense".

Those are modern definitions, but the definition that Christians should be most interested in is the Bible's. The Hebrew word that is most often rendered "wisdom" in our English translations is חָכְמָה (hakemah), which refers to thinking informed by technical skill, aptitude, experience, and good sense. To the Hebrew, wisdom meant "skill for living".

This might appear the same as common sense and experience. But we have to remember that for the faithful Hebrew, the goal of life was to know and serve the Lord. So "skill for living" includes more than the how-tos of everyday life such as cooking, cleaning, livelihood, relationships, and all those other things that common sense and experience help us with. Skill for living is also concerned with the more profound questions of who God is, what He's doing in the world, and how we should therefore live.

Bible Knowledge = Wisdom?

Hopefully, that gets us on the same page on the biblical meaning of wisdom. Now we can return to our original question: how does one grow in wisdom?

It's not enough to accumulate a lot of knowledge about the Bible. A lot of us tend to think that listening to sermons, memorizing Scripture, studying the Bible diligently, and reading commentaries and Christian books will automatically make us wise. (And for those who are wondering, 2 Timothy 3:16 and Romans 12:2 are not proof texts for this.)

Sadly, it just isn't so. You probably know this intuitively. You've met people whose doctrine is as straight as a doctor's needle and just as sterile. They can write commentaries but are sorely lacking in the application department.

Living off Godly Counsel = Wisdom?

Another mistake is to think that one can grow wise by relying almost entirely on the wisdom of one's pastor, discipler, parents, and other people who are more mature in the faith. The rationale behind this approach is, "Well, this person knows the Bible better and has more experience than I do, so instead of investing so much time and effort in thinking through the Bible myself, I'll just take his/her word for it."

But that is not what the Bible teaches. Yes, it puts a high premium on godly counsel (Proverbs 11:14). More pointedly, Hebrews 13:17 tells us to "obey your leaders and submit to them." As the youngest and most junior associate pastor of my church, I've had to submit to my leaders even when I didn't understand or disagreed with them. But submission to authority doesn't mean we turn our brains off. It doesn't relieve us of our duty to wrestle with Scripture ourselves.

Perhaps the best examples of what can happen when a person makes godly counsel a substitute for a personal knowledge of Scripture are the Roman Catholic Church and cults like the the Iglesia ni Cristo. Case in point.

Skill for Living

We need both Bible knowledge and godly counsel, but these aren't enough. We also need a personal grip on Scripture. Or better yet, Scripture has to grip us in a personal way. The Puritans spoke of an "experimental" faith, that is, a faith that is always testing, always experimenting, with the objective of experiencing or witnessing biblical truth for oneself. This is something similar to what Job meant when he declared, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you" (Job 42:5).

In short, one becomes wise by continually deepening his knowledge of Scripture, and then living according to that knowledge. Wisdom comes through walking by faith.

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