Are We Wise Or Only Smart?

Prov 1.7The Book of Proverbs is a collection of pithy sayings that captures the ancient Jewish understanding of wisdom. These sayings, created or collected by King Solomon, have endured for at least 3000 years, and have a prominent place in the Old Testament.

But does a sophisticated age like ours need help from the ancient past? Has not our smartness outpaced antiquity’s biblical wisdom? We can wonder.

By biblical wisdom we mean the ability to see life whole, to see it as God sees it. Now, as then, the tendency of the young is to break life into small units — the “now” moments — and to treat each of such moments as the whole of reality. We remember that in our youth it was easy to act without considering consequences. Solomon offers a wiser view.

Just seven verses into his whole collection, Solomon gives us wisdom’s key: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” (Proverbs 1:7).

To “fear the Lord” does not mean to stand in dread of him. It means to revere him because he is righteous, all-knowing, and worthy of trust. Our God is the Ultimate One we hold in such regard, and our fear is a healthy fear. It is the fear of displeasing him.

Our search for wisdom is to start there because “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” This knowledge is not merely systems like mathematics or physics. It is a right ordering of what we experience so as to give us understanding about life – its choices, manners, priorities, pitfalls and outcomes. Hence such knowledge is wisdom.

This call to fear the Lord is repeated in the Proverbs (2:5; 9:10; 14;26 and 27). Even Job, while in dire distress, holds it as a sign of wisdom. (Job 28:28) and David sings about it (Psalm 34:11). The call to “fear the Lord” undergirds the truth of the Old Testament.

Because the ancients were much more pointed and direct in facing serious issues than we tend to be, Solomon says forthrightly that those who despise this collected offering of wisdom are “fools.” That is, they are morally deficient. The use of such strong language is not meant to insult; it is meant to wake up anyone who is trifling with life, and to unmask folly.

The call to “wisdom” and the exercise of “the fear of the Lord” is carried into the New Testament. For example, Luke gives us little information about Jesus for the 18 years from the time of his appearing in the Temple at 12 until the beginning of his public ministry. That relative silence makes wisdom all the more important when he notes twice that during those years of development, Jesus was “filled with wisdom” (Luke 2:40) and he “grew in wisdom” (Luke 2:52).

And in The Acts of the Apostles, Luke described the young church as increasing in numbers and “living in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31). At the same time, the church was joyful; the living Christ was real; believers knew him! They were faith-filled and they bravely witnessed to that living faith in a treacherous world. But the young church at its peak was humble and reverential toward the Lord, bowing low figuratively, and often literally, to seek his divine blessing.

There is a sophistication to our age which no one can deny. And of course it is important, even necessary, to be smart. But if it is a question of putting “smart” in a worldly sense over against “wise” in a godly way, believers will make wisdom the primary goal every time.

In all our seeking we first bow in reverence to the Lord and seek heaven’s wisdom passionately and with our whole hearts. And with this we are promised great reward.

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