3 Things Proverbs Teaches Us About the Nature of Wisdom

What is wisdom?

It’s a word most of us are familiar with, and yet might have trouble defining. It’s also a word we encounter more than a few places in Scripture, but probably most notably in the Book of Proverbs. That’s kind of what the whole book is about:

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:

for gaining wisdom and instruction;
    for understanding words of insight… (Prov. 1:1-2).

But what it is? I’ve always found J.I. Packer to be helpful in this respect, not only in understanding what wisdom is, but what wisdom is not:

According to Packer, wisdom is not “a deepened insight into the providential meaning and purpose of events going on around us, an ability to see why God has done what he has done in a particular case, and what he is going to do next.”

Rather, wisdom is like driving. “What matters in driving is the speed and appropriateness of your reactions to things and the soundness of your judgment as to what scope a situation gives you… you simply try to see and do the right thing in the actual situation that presents itself. The effect of divine wisdom is to enable you and me to do just that in the actual situations of everyday life.”

Wisdom is about reality. It’s about real-life decision-making in real-life situations. And that is, indeed, a powerful thing. In addition to that, though, the first chapter of Proverbs gives us a few other characteristics of wisdom that are important for us to know:

1. Wisdom is for everyone.

Proverbs 1 continues to verse 3:

for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
    doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the young—

Who can be wise? It’s not a matter of previous education or background; it’s not a matter of social standing or position; it’s not even a matter of age. Wisdom is for everyone, and that is very encouraging. It’s also probably affirming of what we have experience in our own lives, namely, that often those who are the wisest are those who are lowly in the eyes of the world. Those people who have chosen to humbly learn from the Lord, and from life, are the ones who are more wise than those with the advanced degrees.

2. Wisdom is learned.

Wisdom is not innate; no one is naturally wise. But it’s wonderful to think that wisdom can, and does, actually rub off on you. By the sheer virtue of being around people of wisdom we will grow in our own wisdom. In this proverb, we see wisdom being acquired and passed on from one to another and from father to son (v. 5, 8).

The implication for us, then is at least two-fold. First of all, we must make sure to involve ourselves with people who possess wisdom. But this is where we will likely be stretched, because people of wisdom might not be the people that are the easiest or most convenient to hang out with. We must choose to build relationships outside of our own demographic and age, with people who have different tastes and preferences than we do, but who are nonetheless wise. Secondly, we must choose a posture of humility toward those people. We must ask questions and listen – really listen – to the answers that are given.

3. Wisdom is a result.

As you read this proverb, you see that wisdom is not the first step; rather, it comes from something else:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
    but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7).

If we want to really know anything, if we want to possess any amount of wisdom about how to live, then the foundation of it all is fear. It’s fear of the Lord. But fearing the Lord is not the same thing as being afraid; to “fear the Lord” is to live with a holy reverence and appreciation for the majesty, holiness, and power of God. It’s to take the Lord seriously in all respects, knowing He always keeps His word.

This is how we grow in wisdom – it starts with revering the Lord. Knowing Him, loving Him, taking Him seriously – and then growing in wisdom from there.

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