The Bible devotes hundreds of verses to the subject of wisdom. To be truly successful and happy—now and forever—we must cultivate wisdom.
The Bible emphasizes that one of the greatest qualities we can possess is wisdom. The books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are replete with timeless advice, especially about the importance of wisdom: “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7, New International Version).
King Solomon, with all his magnificent wealth and possessions, understood the value of wisdom: “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her” (Proverbs 8:11). He also stated, “How much better to get wisdom than gold!” (Proverbs 16:16). It would be difficult to convince the many who embrace the materialistic ways of our society that they should believe King Solomon!
Because wisdom helps us to understand the difference between what is right and wrong in God’s sight, acquiring and exercising wisdom will lead to happiness and longevity of life (Proverbs 3:13-16). It is an important spiritual quality God wants to see in us.
Knowledge alone not enough
Author Haddon W. Robinson in his foreword to Robert L. Alden’s book Proverbs: A Commentary on an Ancient Book of Timeless Advice states: “Men and women educated to earn a living often don’t know anything about handling life itself. Alumni from noted universities have mastered information about a narrow slice of life but couldn’t make it out of the first grade when it comes to living successfully with family and friends. Let’s face it. Knowledge is not enough to meet life’s problems. We need wisdom, the ability to handle life with skill” (p. 7).
Consider also these words of wisdom:
- “Wisdom never comes to those who believe they have nothing left to learn” (Charles de Lint).
- “The disadvantage of becoming wise is that you realize how foolish you have been” (Evan Esar).
- “One’s philosophy is not expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices we make … and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility” (Eleanor Roosevelt).
Wisdom helps us make wise choices (Proverbs 4:11-12). The effective outcome of responsible and sound choices and decisions are largely determined by wisdom.
What is wisdom?
Briefly, wisdom has three basic components—knowledge, understanding and application:
1. Seeking and gaining biblically based knowledge. Proverbs 1:7 states, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” while Psalm 111:10 declares that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (emphasis added throughout). The proper fear and genuine respect for God is a vitally necessary element of wisdom.
2. Acquiring as much understanding of biblically based knowledge as we can. We should be willing to acknowledge our weaknesses and faults by accepting correction through the Word of God. It is through the study of the Scriptures that we are able to gain greater understanding and wisdom (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
3. Applying that understanding in our daily lives: seeking above all to please God in the way that we think and act. As we strive to seek and please God, there should be a willingness to “turn at my [wisdom’s] rebuke.” If we respond to correction and admonition, this promise follows: “Surely I will pour out my spirit upon you; I will make my words known to you” (Proverbs 1:23).
Verses explaining wisdom
These passages describe the importance of wisdom:
- Ecclesiastes 7:12: “The excellence [margin, ‘advantage or profit’] of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to those who have it.”
- Ecclesiastes 7:19: “Wisdom strengthens the wise more than ten rulers of the city.”
- Ecclesiastes 9:18: “Wisdom is better than weapons of war; but one sinner destroys much good.”
- Ecclesiastes 8:1: “Wisdom brightens a man’s face and changes its hard appearance” (NIV).
- Proverbs 3:13, 17-18: “Happy is the man who finds wisdom. … Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her.”
- Proverbs 4:7: “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom.”
On the other hand, Isaiah prophesies to unwise leaders throughout time. How are they described? Isaiah 30:1 says they are “rebellious children … who take counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My Spirit.”
The results of their rebellion will produce dire consequences for the people they lead: “For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden” (Isaiah 29:14).
Words of wisdom and warning
Author David Kupelian speaks out in his book The Marketing of Evil: “Since the 1960s, America—from her government to her schools and even to her churches—has steadily fallen away from the Judeo-Christian values that previously illuminated and gave life and strength to the nation’s institutions. This is equivalent to turning out the country’s lights. And when you turn out the lights, everything looks the same in the dark—that’s multiculturalism.
“Moreover, no longer guided by universal standards of right and wrong, Americans have had nothing more reliable than their own feelings to guide them in the moral realm. And as modern marketing well knows, when people are operating primarily on the basis of feelings and emotions, they’re wide open to every sort of imaginable manipulation” (p. 99).
“The farther we stray from the rock of unchanging spiritual principles, the easier it is to get swept away by clever appeals to our feelings—including the need to prove to others that we are tolerant. Increasingly, that means tolerant of corruption or, in some cases, outright evil” (p. 102).
Have the United States and other Western societies replaced the laws of God—His wisdom—with our own humanly devised ideas and beliefs?
Have the United States and other Western societies replaced the laws of God—His wisdom—with our own humanly devised ideas and beliefs?Isaiah warned: “Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward” (Isaiah 1:4).
These quotations echo the teachings of King Solomon: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7).
We cannot escape the consequences of our actions, and unless we have a change of heart, we will find ourselves on the opposite side of God’s mercy and compassion.
Growing in wisdom
Most of us feel deficient in wisdom. We want to develop more of the biblically based understanding that helps us avoid the ways of wickedness and encourages us to live a life of righteousness and uprightness.
How can we grow in wisdom? The Bible provides sensible and sound guidance:
- The apostle James gives this advice: “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). The word ask is translated from aiteo in Greek, and means to speak with an inner desire, to crave for. Our Heavenly Father loves and enjoys giving generously—and wisdom is one of those essential characteristics He gives.
- But we also have to do our part. As we continue to study the Scriptures, we need to look for areas in our lives where we are falling short of the standard God sets.
- Why not read through the book of Proverbs, especially chapters 1-4? Robert L. Alden in his commentary on Proverbs states: “We might say the Book of Proverbs is for anyone who is wise enough to listen. Quite obviously wise people will listen to instruction while fools will not” (p. 11). He continues: “Most of the proverbs are domestic, dealing with choices people make every day … they speak of family relationships, business ethics, moral choices, and inner motivation” (p.15).
- As we discover our shortcomings, we must follow the example of King David in Psalm 51. David did not justify himself, but rather judged himself as being guilty of sin (verse 4). He understood the principle mentioned in verse 6: “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.” Genuine, inward truth is a hallmark of wisdom!
The eternal rewards of wisdom
In the 12th chapter of the book of Daniel we are given a glimpse into the future of those who will be “found written in the book” of remembrance at a time when “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life.” This refers to the resurrection of the saints.
Notice that “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and … like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:1-3).
This is describing a time when the saints who have acted wisely in their lives will appear in the presence of Jesus Christ at His return. May we strive each day to develop that godly wisdom, so that we can shine in the way God wants us to—forever and ever.
“A wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel” (Proverbs 1:5).
Study more in our article on the book of “Proverbs.”