One of the things that I enjoy doing is discovering the origin of words, finding out where our English words came from. One of the words that I think has a most interesting origin is the word “sophomore”. Becoming a sophomore in high school or college is a big step because it means you’re not a freshman anymore, you’re not on the lowest rung of the ladder.
But the word “sophomore” actually comes from two Greek words: sophos, which means “wise”, and moros which means “fool”. So, the word sophomore literally means, “a wise fool”. The idea is that by the time you get to the sophomore level, you know a little bit; but the problem is you think you know everything. A sophomore doesn’t yet have enough education to realize how much they don’t know. And so, they are a “wise fool”.
But let me talk for a moment about some other “wise fools”. We’re living at a time when human knowledge is expanding at a phenomenal pace. Our grandparents can remember a time when no one in their neighborhood had indoor plumbing. Our parents can remember a time when no one they knew owned a television set. And, though our children may have a hard time believing this, we adults can remember a time when no one owned a computer or a microwave oven or a cell phone.
Things are changing so rapidly, it’s frightening when you stop and think about it. What’s the world going to be like in 20 or 30 years? Will our grandchildren someday look back at our present lifestyle and wonder how in the world we managed in live in such a primitive fashion?
I once heard that the world’s body of knowledge doubles every 10 years. I looked that up to see if it’s accurate. It’s not. Today, the world’s body of knowledge doubles every 13 months. And IBM predicts that, because of the Internet, it won’t be long before our body of knowledge doubles every 24 hours.
The accumulation of so much information has caused people to believe they are extremely wise. And just as in the days of the tower of Babel, that in turn has led men to arrogance and pride and a feeling that they no longer need God. As Paul expressed the problem in his day, “professing to be wise, they became fools…” (Romans 1:22).
And part of the problem is that people don’t seem to understand that knowledge and wisdom are not the same thing. Knowledge comes by gathering facts. You go to school to get more knowledge. But you don’t go to school to get wisdom.
If you want to measure a person’s knowledge, it’s easy — you give them a test. But determining the measure of a person’s wisdom is much more difficult. You have to look at how they live and the decisions they make.
Perhaps the simplest way to put it is that knowledge is the accumulation of facts, whereas wisdom is the ability to use those facts in a responsible manner. And a major problem in today’s society is that man’s knowledge has surpassed his wisdom.
Paul had this to say about wisdom: “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God…” (I Corinthians 2:6-7).
Now, I want you to understand that distinction before I get into the lesson this morning. Because I’m going to be talking about wisdom, but not in the sense that the world understands wisdom. I’m talking this morning about the wisdom of God, which is the wisdom that really matters.
But before we get into any of this, let’s get an overview of the book of Proverbs, one of the wisdom books of the Old Testament. Let’s watch this video from The Bible Project, and then I’ll be back to talk some more about wisdom.
As the video stated, the wisdom of God is a central theme in the book of Proverbs. The Living Bible has paraphrased the first verse of Proverbs, “These are the proverbs of King Solomon, David’s son: He wrote them to teach his people how to live — how to act in every circumstance.” (Proverbs 1:1, LB). And that’s exactly what wisdom is!
James Draper has said, “Wisdom is the skill to live in a way that is pleasing to God. It is not simply information in our heads. It is information that we put to use — where we live, where we work, and where we play.”
And what that means is that the book of Proverbs doesn’t have a whole lot to say about how we ought to act while we’re in the church building. Rather, it takes us into our homes, our workplaces, our schools, our personal relationships with others. Because that’s where we live out our faith. Christianity is something that we live out every day, not just on Sundays.
That’s why wisdom is so very important. And it’s why, over and over in so many different ways, Solomon encourages us to get wisdom.
“Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.” (Proverbs 4:7, NLT).
“Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.”
In Proverbs 9, Solomon describes wisdom as a woman who has prepared a feast and has invited all of us to attend.
“Wisdom has prepared a great banquet,
mixed the wines, and set the table.
She has sent her servants to invite everyone to come.
She calls out from the heights overlooking the city.
“Come in with me,” she urges the simple.
To those who lack good judgment, she says,
“Come, eat my food,
and drink the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways behind, and begin to live;
learn to use good judgment.” (Proverbs 9:2-6, NLT)
Wisdom is portrayed here as a woman who has prepared a feast. She has made all of the necessary preparations. Then she issues her invitations to attend. I want you see here that those invitations go out to everyone. “She has sent her servants to invite everyone to come.” Which means that God’s wisdom is available to everyone.
That was unheard of in those days. Ancient wisdom was usually reserved for the magi, the wise man — men like Solomon, Daniel and Job. But here, the invitation of wisdom is offered to everyone. Even the foolish man is offered a place at the table of wisdom. Anyone who is willing to follow God can have wisdom. As James said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5).
Having seen this call to wisdom, let’s turn now to look at exactly what is involved in wisdom. And perhaps the best place to begin is Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
And this is what really separates the wisdom of the world from the wisdom we read about in the Bible. When Solomon tells us to get wisdom, he’s really telling us to devote our lives to God, to commit our lives to God. The “fear of the Lord” is the beginning of wisdom.
Now it’s important that we understand that fearing God doesn’t mean to be scared of him, but to hold him in highest esteem, to seek to please him, to obey him because we have the utmost respect for him. We are to bow our knees before God and commit our lives to him. And, if we do that, then God will give us wisdom. He will show us how to live.
So, what does this wisdom look like? Let me suggest four things that characterize a wise person.
1. A Wise Person Listens to God
If we want to be wise, we have to listen to God. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6). True wisdom comes from God, and you can’t find it anywhere else. We can’t find wisdom in what other people have to say. We can’t find wisdom in our own thoughts. We have to look to God for it. Which means we need to study his Word diligently.
But there just aren’t a lot of people doing that. And I think there’s a reason. Let me give you what I see as a similar situation in our everyday lives. Medical science has progressed to the point where there are tests available for most life-threatening diseases. Things like cancer can be found at very early stages of their development. And when found early enough, those diseases can often be cured. And so, there are basic tests that all of us should have performed on a regular basis.
So why don’t we? Why are we often so reluctant to go to the doctor and find out if there’s anything wrong with us? Many times, we choose ignorance; we choose not to know rather than to know. As the saying goes, “Ignorance is bliss.” So, as long as we don’t know that anything is wrong, we feel safe. If we don’t know what’s wrong with us, we don’t have to consider surgery. If we don’t know what’s wrong with us, we don’t have to change our eating habits. And while we may often take this approach, intellectually we can see how foolish and dangerous such reasoning is.
But I think the same thing happens in the spiritual lives of people. A lot of people are reluctant to study the Bible and find out what it really says. They might find some things in their lives that need to be changed. And they don’t want to change because they feel comfortable, so it’s easiest just not to learn too much. Ignorance is bliss. But hopefully, we can see just how foolish and dangerous such reasoning is.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
If we’re ever going to get wisdom, we’re going to have to look to God’s Word as the authority in our lives. Not church tradition. Not our parents. Not our friends. But the word of God.
Too many people are content to say, “This is what my parents believed, so that’s what I’m going to believe.” And if that’s the attitude that I have, then I don’t have to “search the scriptures.” I don’t have to think for myself. And like the person who never goes to the doctor, I may feel safe, but choosing not to listen to what God has to say will be disastrous
Consider the man in Acts chapter 10 named Cornelius. Notice some things about Cornelius. According to Acts 10:2, he was “a devout man and one who feared God…who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always.” (Acts 10:2). Those are four very important traits for a person to have.
But Cornelius was encouraged by God to continue his search for truth. He was told to send for Peter. Peter came and preached to him about Jesus, teaching him the things that would lead him to salvation.
Cornelius could have chosen ignorance. He could have reasoned that he already feared God. He could have pointed to his good deeds and his prayers. But Cornelius was a truth-seeker, and he didn’t rest until he found that truth.
If we are ever going to have any hope of obtaining wisdom, we’re going to have to listen to God. If we want to be wise, we have to listen, to increase our knowledge and understanding of God’s word as we study it day by day.
2. A Wise Person Obeys God
A wise man listens with his heart as well as his ears. Jesus spoke often about people who had ears to hear but didn’t hear. What he meant by that was that they were listening to what Jesus was saying, but they weren’t applying it to their lives.
All of the information in the world won’t do us any good unless we’re willing to do something with it. It doesn’t matter how good advice is unless we follow it.
James put it this way, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only…What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (James 1:22; 2:14)
In the scriptures, we always find a very close connection between wisdom and obedience. And perhaps the verse which best shows this relationship is found in Psalm 111:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” (Psalm 111:10)
As I’ve already suggested, wisdom has to do with how to live. Just because you know what is right doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing what is right. But when a man knows what’s right and he does what is right, then he truly is a wise man. It’s that combination of knowing and doing that makes for true wisdom.
3. A Wise Person is Willing to Learn
“Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” (Proverbs 9:8-9)
Solomon shows us the difference here between a wise man and a foolish man. In a nutshell, the difference is this: the foolish man won’t listen to anyone. The fool thinks he already knows everything he needs to know. He’s got all the answers.
But a wise man is humble enough to listen and so he’s able to increase his knowledge. He’s constantly seeking truth everywhere. He realizes that we never get to point that we know it all, we never exhaust our potential to learn. If you try to teach a wise man, he’ll become even wiser because he has a desire to learn. He’s also open to the corrections of others. He takes criticism well.
On the other hand, the foolish man has a closed mind. He gets upset if anyone tries to correct him, or tell him that’s he’s wrong about something. You’ve probably known some people like this – people who get upset any time they are criticized at all.
It’s important that we always keep an open mind. As Christians, we are disciples, which means “learners”. One of our primary goals is to discover truth. But we can’t discover truth without an open mind. Once we ever get to the point where we believe that we have all truth, then we stop looking for it. And when we stop looking for truth, then we cease to be disciples.
A good example of this is the Pharisees. They thought they had every religious question answered. There wasn’t anything about God or his word that they couldn’t tell you. And as a result, they rejected the truth that Jesus taught. They were a group of men whose minds were closed.
By saying that we should have an open mind, I’m not suggesting a mind that is “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.” (Ephesians 4:14). Rather, the open mind sifts what it hears to discover what comes from God and what doesn’t. John says to “test the spirits, whether they are of God” (I John 4:1). The open mind will always examine the evidence to be sure that his conclusions are justified.
The open mind is driven by the desire to learn, the desire to know. If we ever get to the point where our mind is closed, then we give up our quest for truth. And we give up any hope for wisdom.
4. A Wise Person is Diligent
Wisdom is not something that you stumble into by accident. It’s something that requires a lot of effort, a lot of discipline. It requires an attitude that says, “I want to learn from God how to live, and I want to apply those principles to my life.” It’s a pursuit. It’s a search.
Wisdom is never going to come to a lazy, careless or casual person. It is a pursuit that calls for diligence. It calls for persistence. If we are going to be wise, something will be required of us. We must make a genuine commitment to God if we want to have wisdom.
“My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:1-5)
Wisdom is only for those who are willing to make the effort, to be diligent about finding it.
Let me close by going back to a comparison of the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of God. Paul raised the questions, “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?” (I Corinthians 1:20). That’s really three different ways of asking the same question, “Where are all the smart people who have all the answers?” And it’s a good question. Look around the world. Where are the people who have it all figured out?
How much closer are we to peace in this world than we were a hundred years ago, a thousand years ago? How much closer are we to eliminating poverty, hunger, ignorance, crime, racism and immorality than men were in Paul’s day? When you get right down to it, all of our advances in knowledge and technology haven’t really advanced us very much at all.
John MacArthur put it this way. He said, “We are more educated than our forefathers but we are not more moral. We have more means of helping each other but we are not less selfish. We have more means of communication but we do not understand each other any better. We have more psychology and education, and more crime and more war….Throughout history human wisdom has never basically changed and has never solved the basic problems of man.”
There again is the difference between human wisdom and God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom has the ability to change our lives as we submit ourselves to him if we are willing to diligently listen to him and obey him.
Jeremiah said, “The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the Lord, so what wisdom is in them?” (Jeremiah 8:9). When you reject the word of the Lord, what wisdom do you have? And the answer is, none at all.
Wisdom has prepared a feast and the invitation is open to anyone who is willing to come. Anyone who wants to be truly wise can find it. “All things are ready; come to the feast.”