Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wisdom and Knowledge

The spiritual gifts of wisdom and knowledge are closely related, so I'm covering them both here.

Firstly, what is wisdom? Proverbs, a book of the Bible all about wisdom written by one of the wisest people ever, has much to say on the subject. In Proverbs, as well as Job (12:13 and 28:12), it is associated with understanding; of the 370 verses mentioning wisdom in the NIV, 39 also mention understanding.  Proverbs 14:8 says "the wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways". Matthew 11:19 is telling: "'But wisdom is proved right by her actions'". James 3:13 says anyone who professes to be wise and understanding should "show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom."

What I gather from all of this is that wisdom isn't just knowing a lot of facts. By its very nature, wisdom is applied; it is understanding deeper than the facts. It is reading between the lines and being able to discern how to apply the knowledge of the Lord to live a life pleasing to Him in any situation.

One might be tempted to think that knowledge-the simple knowing and discernment of facts--is then somehow "lower" than wisdom, that it's simply the raw material that wisdom takes to discern how to live righteously. But I disagree. Again, the two are often mentioned together on equal footing in the Bible (31 of the 130 verses knowledge comes up in). Certainly applying knowledge of God in wisdom requires having that knowledge to begin with--how will we begin to truly love our neighbors if we don't know that God is love, for instance? I think knowledge also refers to a deeper kind of knowing--knowing God on an intimate level, like a close friend. In this sense, knowledge--getting to know God better--is certainly as important as wisdom.

So wisdom and knowledge are both good. How do we get them? Despite their differences, they are given in the same way. Proverbs 15:33 says that we gain wisdom by "the fear of the Lord", while verse 1:7 says "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." A quick aside: I've never really liked the phrase "fear of the Lord." If God is really for us and not against us, if He loves us and sent His Son to die for us to save us, if we are freed from His wrath by trusting in His forgiveness, what do we have to fear from God? Only our turning away from Him. I think 'fear' is a somewhat misleading word, and I think 'awe' might do better: an overpowering sense of God's hugeness and, at the same time, our smallness before Him and utter dependence on Him. John Piper has this to say about fearing God: it means that "God is, in your mind and heart, so powerful and so holy and so awesome that you would not dare to run away from Him, but only run to Him."

So we gain wisdom and knowledge by having this inexpressibly huge picture of God and being in right relationship to Him: creature to Creator, needy child to generous Father, damned sinner to all-forgiving Savior. Use your wisdom to figure out what this means. No need to seek wisdom and knowledge for their own sake; if we are right with God He will give them to us as He pleases. Now, all Christians are obviously called to 'fear' God so we have all been given some measure of His wisdom and knowledge. Presumably, then, the spiritual gifts of knowledge and wisdom simply mean being given an extra measure of them for a purpose: 1 Corinthians 8 calls them a "message" of knowledge/wisdom.

As I mentioned last time, the purpose of all the spiritual gifts is "the common good" and the strengthening of the church. The way to put wisdom and knowledge to this purpose is easy: share them with the church! The way Pastor Steve describes it in the sermon previously linked to is that you're speaking a message of wisdom or knowledge that people respond to, that really ministers to them where they're at and that they can tell is from the Spirit. These gifts are made to be shared, with faith that God will use your message to bless someone. I've found that if nothing else, Facebook is a handy way to ensure that many people will at least read these messages. (Maybe I should get a Twitter...nah, who uses that?)

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