This morning we’re taking a short break from our Fruit of the Spirit Sermon Series and instead we’re going to be talking about wisdom. Over the next couple weeks, Aaron Cashmore and Laura Malesich will be teaching on the last two Fruits of the Spirit as they preach on self-control and faithfulness, and since I chose to double up on kindness and goodness a couple weeks ago, well, that in effect left me with an open week. And thinking it might be nice to stay on theme, I asked a few people what might be another important virtue, or another characteristic that God wants to grow and develop within us throughout our lives, and one of the ideas that came back was wisdom. And the more I thought about it, the more obvious it was to me just how timely a conversation around wisdommight be.
Truth is, you and I are always in need of more and more wisdom. Wisdom in our relationships, wisdom on when to speak and when to listen, wisdom in stewarding our finances and all that God has given us, wisdom in which opportunities to say yes to and which to say no to, and wisdom for so much more.
And yet, I’m convinced we need an extra dose of wisdom in this season in particular. Wisdom when it comes to what to say yes to and no to as individual or family when it comes to our health and safety and personal responsibility. Wisdom for teachers and administrators and school boards as they try and figure out how to best resume school this fall and wisdom for parents and families as to whether or not they send their kids there at all. Wisdom for our church as our leaders try and figure out what to do in terms of worship when the weather turns. And last but not least, in a few short months you all will need wisdom for who to vote for this fall, and that’s right, just in case 2020 wasn’t crazy enough, it just so happens to be an election year, so that’s fun.
And sadly, or maybe thankfully, I’m not going to give any specific advice on any of those challenges I just mentioned, rather I hope our conversation around wisdom will give us all some principles and direction for how we ought to think about those kinds of things - principles and direction that will inform our decisions.
So let’s dive in. For this morning, we’re going to zoom in on two questions. And those are, 1) What is wisdom? and 2) How do we get more of it? And we’ll by far spend the bulk of our time answering that second question. But let’s quickly address the first.
What is wisdom anyway? Here it might be helpful to compare and contrast knowledge as it relates to wisdom. Knowledge is about right and wrong, truth and fact, data and statistics, whereas wisdom is applying that knowledge in the everyday stuff of life, when right and wrong is not so easy to discern and where you’re faced with decisions colored in many shades of grey. Wisdom is the acquired skill of applying knowledge, the knowledge of who God is, what God has done, who we are and how we’re called to live in the everyday stuff of life.
So for example, you may have heard that Regis Philbin, longtime T.V. personality, passed away recently. Years ago, he was host of one of my favorite T.V. shows growing up, “Who wants to be a millionaire?” which was essentially if Trivial Pursuit became a game show. For contestants on that show, the game was a test of their knowledge. It was simply a matter of whether or not they knew the right answer and for those watching and playing along at home, it was test of their knowledge as well.
But say you’re a viewer like me, and you’re trying to decide just how much of that T.V show, or any T.V. show for that matter you should watch. At that point, you’re then wrestling with questions like, “How much down time do I really need? Do my spouse and kids need me to be more available and present tonight? Or when do I need to turn it off and go to bed so that I’m not an absolute wreck the next day? To answer those kinds of questions, you need more than just knowledge and the ability to rightly choose between a,b,c or d, is that your final answer, rather you need wisdom as you factor your relationships, your health, your time and other things that help you make the wise decision.
And of course, that’s just one example where wisdom is needed and Lord knows there are far more complex and difficult decisions in our lives where wisdom is needed. Yet the point is this, wisdom is the skill of applying knowledge rightly in the everyday stuff of life.
Which of course, begs the question,
How do we get more of it? How in the world do we grow in this oh so important virtue called wisdom?
Well, it’s about time we get to some scripture. Turns out, there’s a whole book of the bible devoted to helping you and me grow in wisdom, and it’s the book of Proverbs, and for what it’s worth, friends, if you want to grow in knowledge and wisdom, Proverbs is a great place to start.
And there’s a key verse or thesis statement that runs through the book of Proverbs and it’s one of our verses for today, where it says,
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Now, what exactly does this mean? After all, fear and wisdom probably aren’t words we would naturally pair together. Well, here the word fear here isn’t meant to be understood as terror or fright. The idea here isn’t that being terrified of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. No, that’s not quite right.
Rather, fear here is meant to be seen as living in reverential awe of God’s power, goodness, and mercy. Fear here is a joyful submission and obedience to God himself. It’s a humble acknowledgement that God knows more and better than we do.
And so in many ways, what this proverb is essentially asking us is, “Friends, are you looking for wisdom? You’ll find it in trusting, listening and obeying God himself, who is the source of all wisdom itself.”
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Now, I know that may sound overly simplistic, but yet, if we get that, if we know that deep down, then we’re truly on the road to wisdom.
Earlier this week I read an article about what leadership in the business world looks like as a Christian and here’s what one company vice president said about making decisions and the power of prayer. He says,“I don’t ever assume that I am sanctified enough to always make the right call. My default mode is selfish and sinful, so I’m going to make decisions that benefit me. I want to be so immersed in God’s Word and in good teaching and counsel that I protect the people in my care from myself.”
I love that. Such an honest, yet helpful self assessment this leader has made. You see there’s a humility that’s required in finding wisdom. A humility that says, to find wisdom, I must look outside of myself and look towards God.
James 1:5 says,
5 If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.
Friends, God wants to give us wisdom. We simply need to ask.
But then James quickly follows it up by saying, 6 ask in faith, never doubting,
James’s point here is that we must believe that God is the source of all wisdom and to be confident that God will give what is requested. We simply need to ask in faith.
So so far we’ve seen that wisdom is the skill of applying knowledge rightly in the everyday stuff of life and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
And now, let’s go a little deeper and hopefully get a little more practical. Somewhere in your bulletin if you have one is something called the Wisdom Pyramid created by a pastor by the name of Brett McCracken. And it’s a clever play on the old food pyramid, and I share it with you because I think it’s a really helpful image when it comes to how we grow in wisdom.
So think of the food pyramid, towards the bottom are all the staples, first grains, then fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy and as you work up the food pyramid, as the pyramid gets smaller, you move towards food groups that we should eat less and less of, things like candy.
The same principle is true with the wisdom pyramid. At the bottom the core staple is as you might imagine, the bible itself, God’s living and active Word, the first and primary source where we find God’s wisdom. It’s where we should be going first to grow in wisdom. And then going up, in descending order of importance, above it is the church which captures, both what a church believes, as well as the wisdom and discernment that come from the people within it, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Above that is nature and beauty, the idea here is that we would spend time and enjoy and learn from God’s created order. Above that is books, followed by the internet. Together it makes up the wisdom pyramid.
Pretty cool, right? Though, truth is, I find it not only to be a helpful graphic, but a sobering one as well. Because I’ll be honest, there are days when my wisdom food groups are out of order, where it feels like my wisdom pyramid is upside down.
So you all, I would encourage you to honestly ask yourself, what does your wisdom pyramid on a day to day basis look like? What does your information diet and knowledge consumption look like on average? And what might it look like, what might it take for your pyramid to look more like this?
And here’s what’s really cool about this pyramid is that not only does it help us to rightly value various sources of wisdom and knowledge, but even more gives us the right filter and approach to making wise decisions themselves.
Here’s what I mean: Say you’ve got a tough decision to make, where there’s no clear right or wrong. Or an opportunity comes your way that you’re not sure if you should say yes to. How do you even begin to figure out how to make the wise decision?
Well, work from the bottom of the pyramid up. First, start with scripture. What does God’s Word have to say about it? Now, of course, there are many things that the bible doesn’t address. For example, it has very little to say about deadly viruses or pandemics. But yet, consider the Fruit of the Spirit series we’ve been doing. The bible has so much to say about what godly character looks like. And though the bible may not necessarily tell us what to do in every situation, you can be sure to find what kind of people God calls us to be in just about every situation. The bible doesn’t say everything about everything, but it says more than enough about the most important things. Start with scripture.
And then working upwards, if you’re still unsure, talk it through with other trusted church members, our brothers and sisters in Christ, who likely through their age or experience or perspective, can speak truth and wisdom into your situation.
Months ago I was in a meeting with other Dillon area pastors and we were going around sharing updates about our respective churches and asking how we could pray for another and one of the pastors at the table was sharing about his church and at some point said, “We need more old people!” And I think in part what he was saying was, “We need more wisdom.” And as he said that, I began to smile, because in that moment I was reminded of what an incredible gift and joy it is to have older, I mean, more veteran, seasoned Christians at our church. You all are a wealth of wisdom. And so an encouragement to our younger members, let’s lean on them and go to them for wisdom, wisdom in our marriages and parenting and work life, in our relationship with Christ. By doing so, not only do we honor the generations above us, we also grow and are blessed by them in the process.
Finally, regarding the wisdom pyramid, a few of you might be wondering, what’s that little birdie doing on top? Well, that’s the symbol for Twitter, which is a place on the internet where respectful, thoughtful and nuanced conversations often go to die. And if you’ve never heard of it before, don’t worry you’re not missing out on much. After all, at its best it’s the candy and sweets of our wisdom diet.
And I’ll finish with this. There’s one more thing from one other scripture I want you to see. And it’s Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians where he shares the fact that the wisdom of God will often look very different, even foolish in light of the wisdom of the world.
Paul says that “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom,” that is, God’s wisdom, which appears foolish in the world’s eyes, is far wiser than human wisdom.
After all, think about all the upside down teachings of Jesus and scripture at large. God’s wisdom that says if you want to be great, you must become a servant, if you want to be exalted, you must become humble, that if you want save your life, you must lose it. God’s wisdom that teaches us to associate with those of low position, teaches us to give generously rather than hoard for ourselves, teaches that prayer is powerful and worth doing. To the world it all seems foolish, but yet it’s wisdom through and through.
And of course, there’s the seemingly most foolish part of all. That we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. Both Jews and Greeks thought worshipping a crucified Messiah was utterly foolish. The Jews saw his death as a sign of weakness, unbecoming for the God of the universe, and the Greeks saw it as a logical impossibility – after all, how in the world could a man dying on a cross defeat death himself? But yet, as Paul says, to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Friends, I share this with you in part to say, there will be times when our wisdom looks like foolishness to those around us. And that’s okay. There will be times when people will think we’re strange because of the lives we live and choices that we make. That’s to be expected. There will be times when we feel like we’re swimming upstream and everyone’s going the other way. Well, that’s just part of a life of following Jesus. Yet never forget, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”