Carl A. Ahlfeldt
This is a time of the year when young people and their parents again are very much conscious of the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom. It is time to resume diligent study and perhaps to "burn some midnight oil." Some are stepping into new experiences in life; entering school for the first time, or it may be high school or college.
It seems fitting then to turn to the Word of God and see what it has to say about the matter of wisdom. There need be no dearth of texts at this point. A glance at an exhaustive concordance will quickly show this. There are well over 400 references in which the terms wisdom or wise are used. We take Proverbs 3: 13 as our text: "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding."
Wisdom is something which we are urged to get. Wisdom is something which most of us lack. Wisdom is something which God is willing to give. Wisdom brings great blessing into our lives.
What is the wisdom spoken of in our text and repeatedly in Scripture? "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding." (Understanding here belongs much in the same category as wisdom.) It is something more than mere knowledge. The world is filled with knowledge, but not true wisdom. Many men of great knowledge lack wisdom, especially that set forth in Scripture.
The essence of this wisdom is godliness. Webster speaks of wisdom as "knowledge with the capacity to use it." The Bible goes further and means by wisdom knowledge as related to God. And so we read, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding" (Prov. 9:10). Wisdom is repeatedly coupled with godliness and folly with sin. When the Bible speaks of the fool and of folly it refers to no innocent thing.
Wisdom then is not merely of the mind, but also of the heart and will. "He, and only he, has wisdom who knows God with a living heart-knowledge which gives a just insight into the acts of life and the bounds of right and wrong, and which regulates conduct and shapes the whole man with power far beyond that of knowledge however wide and deep, illuminating intellect however powerful" (A. Mac Laren). It is patent at once to the regenerate mind how tremendously important such wisdom must be.
God is the fountainhead of wisdom. "For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding" (Prov. 2 :6). God has expressed His wisdom in the works of creation and providence. "The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew" (Prov. 3:19-20). What marvelous displays of divine wisdom we see! Recent scientific research has revealed increasingly how great our God is. This is true whether we go into the field of the most minute atomic research, or the realm of astronomy with its immense vastness. The greatest expression of God's wisdom, however, is in Christ Jesus and the salvation wrought in Him. "We preach Christ crucified . . . unto them which are called, both Jew and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (I Cor. 1:23-24). "But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who was made unto us wisdom from God, both righteousness and sanctification and redemption" (I Cor. 1:30 ASV margin).
We all need God's wisdom desperately. See the lack of true wisdom and understanding today. We live in a generation prone to folly. Tremendous strides have been made, to be sure, in the accumulation of knowledge, especially in the scientific field. Yet along with these strides there is evidence of folly on every hand.
There is the wide-spread godlessness of our day. And this along with increase in church attendance! Most people claim to believe in God, but we have much practical atheism. We think of Communistic countries as being godless and atheistic. Let us not think that the Western nations are free from this blight. Note what it is against which God threatens His judgments. "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:18).
There is further the crass materialism of our day. Here is a common expression of godlessness. We see it in the field of military preparedness. Undoubtedly, in the age in which we live, aircraft, guided missiles, atomic research, and other preparation are necessary. These should not be neglected. But may God deliver us from the folly of putting our trust in these things. And that folly is just what we see prevailing. Well may we say with Rudyard Kipling:
"The tumult and the shouting dies; The captains and the kings depart; Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice, An humble and a contrite heart: Lord God of hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget-lest we forget. "Far called our navies melt away; On dune and headland sinks the fire; Lo, all our pomp of yesterday Is one with Nineveh and Tyre! Judge of the nations, spare us yet, Lest we forget-lest we forget. "For heathen heart that puts her trust In reeking tube and iron shard; All valiant dust that builds on dust, And, guarding, calls not Thee to guard; For frantic boast and foolish word, Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord."
This folly of godless materialism we see in another field too. Not only in the realm of military preparedness, but in the sphere of luxurious living it prevails. We have our cars, our homes, our pleasures, our appliances—our so-called high standard of living. Never have we had it so good! Many of these things have their proper place. A high standard of living is not bad in itself. But when material things take first place in our lives, when we live for them, then we are fools. The rich man said, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry!" God called him a fool. There are homes where the very latest in appliances and furnishings are abundant, but mother can't be with her children because she has to earn money to pay for the gadgets! The family can't worship in God's house on the Lord's Day because earning of money interferes!
Folly is seen further in the indulgence of our day. We see it in the widespread intemperance in the use of intoxicating liquor. Liquor establishments outnumber churches four to three. Approximately seven times as much is spent annually for liquor as for the total budget of forty-six major Protestant and Orthodox Communions in the United States. Twice as much is spent for liquor as for education. In a recent year the FBI reported that sixty per cent of close to three million arrests over a period of six months were related to the use of alcohol. With such statistics, is it not clear that as a nation we are behaving as fools? "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither . . . thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God" (I Cor. 6:9-10).
We see this indulgence too in the realm of sex. The drift of our nation is toward indulgence. The moral standards of our fathers have been relaxed. This is encouraged by the motion pictures, television and radio programs, modern literature, and newspapers. One of the most dangerous influences is the magazines on our newsstands. Somewhat over a year ago an article by Ralph A. Cannon and Glenn D. Everett appeared in Christianity Today entitled "Sex and Smut on the Newsstands." The facts related are sickening. The most sordid and degrading literature is sold on newsstands throughout our nation. These magazine not only display indecent pictures, but make mockery of what the Bible teaches about sex. The article states: "Nothing is too degraded for these magazines to touch, for under the libertine standard which they espouse, any restraint on sex relationships is puritanical repression from which 'modern man' should be liberated." Is not all this folly? "Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God" (I Cor. 6:9-10).
Our lack of wisdom and understanding is apparent also in the shallowness of our culture. There is widespread ignorance of history, even American history. Few are in a position to know the value of our heritage, or to learn from the experiences of the past. There is a lamentable failure to read good books and worthy current literature.
Then also each one of us has his own personal folly into which he has fallen. Which one of us has not at times cried out, "What a fool I've been!" All of us have had our folly, some of us more than others. Yes, we live in a generation prone to folly, and we are all prone to drift into it. Remember then: "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding."
God's wisdom is absolutely essential. We need it if we are to have life eternal. If we are not wise unto salvation we are lost. "But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (II Cor. 4: 3·4). We need divine wisdom that we may live according to God's will. We need it that we may know that will. "Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17). We need it that we may make right choices. "And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; that ye may approve things that are excellent" (Phil. 1:9-10). We need divine wisdom that we may fulfill our tasks in life. As parents, how we need it! We need it as workers in industry or the professions. As Sunday School teachers, as officers in the church we need wisdom. We need it to know our place in Christian service, and then to fulfill that place. We need wisdom that we may be effective soulwinners for Christ wherever we are. We need divine wisdom that we may see God's hand in the trials of life. "Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God" (James 1:3-5).
We may have God's wisdom. This is the Bible's promise. We must recognize the true source of wisdom. "Blessed be the name of God for ever and ever: for wisdom and might are his . . . he giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding" (Dan. 2:20- 21). We must set aside our own wisdom. "Lean not unto thine own understanding" (Prov. 3:5). This is not anti-intellectualism. It is simply recognizing the effect of sin upon the mind of fallen man. This is a hard thing to do. Ask God for wisdom. If you are in darkness as to the way of salvation, ask Him to make it plain! If you lack wisdom anywhere along the line, ask Him! He will illumine your heart that you may understand His Word. But note how you must ask: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering" (James 1 :-6). Do not forget that we must pursue wisdom. "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding." We need to search God's Word. We cannot ask for wisdom and obtain it if we neglect the means God has appointed to impart wisdom. "The entrance of thy words giveth light" (Ps. 119:130) . We must look at all of God's general revelation in the light of God's Word. We must bring all of our experiences to the light of the Word, and seek to find what God has to teach us in them, according to that Word.
Wisdom will bring great blessing into our lives. "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding." He will possess salvation. In wisdom we shall have lasting benefits. "Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour" (Prov. 3:16). Life will be pleasant. "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace" (Prov. 3:17). There will be true safety. "When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet" (Prov. 3:24). We shall have honour. "Exalt her and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her" (Prov. 4:8). With true wisdom comes Christian character. "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17).
How many evidences of folly there are in our lives! How we suffer for it! Oh, to have our lives guided, molded as God intended them to be! Let us seek wisdom, wisdom from God to be what He would have us to be. "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding."
The author of this article is pastor of the First Orthodox Presbyterian Church of Portland, Oregon.