“But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.”
– Edmund Burke
Wisdom is an overlooked but very necessary gift from God.
Wisdom is often the missing element when trying to communicate liberty and love. Wisdom includes knowledge, but knowledge does not necessarily include wisdom. How often do we hear the phrase, “I’m sure he meant well?” whilst cleaning up a human relations fiasco.
There is a difference between wisdom that comes from above and wisdom gained from years of study and experience. Like words of knowledge mentioned in Romans 12, words of wisdom go beyond the natural ability of a person to perceive without the aid of the Holy Spirit. The wisdom that comes from God “is first utterly pure, then peace-loving, gentle, approachable, full of tolerant thoughts and kindly actions, with no breath of favouritism or hint of hypocrisy.” (James 3:17 Phillips)
The gift of wisdom is a spiritual gift, and is closely connected with hearing and understanding God’s perspective. Sometimes Godly wisdom is counter-intuitive because it has a different goal in mind than what we think is in our best interest. While reading about Godly wisdom I was surprised to learn that the greatest hindrance to using this gift is rivalry, jealousy and envy.
“Are there some wise and understanding men among you? Then your lives will be an example of the humility that is born of true wisdom.” (James 3:13)
It reminds me of the time a man with a sword stood before Joshua as he was about to lead his men into battle. Joshua asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
The real question is not whether or not God is on our side. The question is about whether or not we are on His.
Someone told me once that presumptive sin is the unquestioned idea that God is a kind of Santa Claus who exists to serve our desires. Our desires can look quite noble. We want a family we can be proud of. We want our country to be free, peaceful, and prosperous. We want our own church gathering -the one that meets under a particular steeple or gymnasium roof – to be a beacon of light in the community. We want our mission to bear fruit.
Secretly, however, we want our congregation to shine more brightly than others. We want to be able to say we have the greatest growth, the widest influence, the finest music, the biggest outreach, the most political influence, the finest sermons, the most popular programs, the most prosperous, healthy, well-taught, well-behaved attendees and the best thought-out forms of governance with leaders well-schooled in the art of business administration. We want our mission to be blessed in stead of blessing God’s mission. We want our team to win.
Wisdom is understanding how to apply all the other gifts in a way that will be to the benefit of others and will honour God.
The Bible says wisdom is connected to humility, not ambition – and definitely not pride. The fastest way to shut down the operation of wisdom in our midst is to fail to recognize the gifts and callings in others or to encourage them or promote them as being more important than ourselves.
Spiritual growth that screens knowledge through wisdom and love is often counter-intuitive in an upside down Kingdom where the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
James goes on to write in chapter four of the book named after him that the greatest cause – no, the cause – of division and disgruntlements in the church is competitiveness and jealousy.
“But about the feuds and struggles that exist among you—where do you suppose they come from? Can’t you see that they arise from conflicting passions within yourselves? You crave for something and don’t get it, you are jealous and envious of what others have got and you don’t possess it yourselves. Consequently in your exasperated frustration you struggle and fight with one another. You don’t get what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And when you do ask he doesn’t give it to you, for you ask in quite the wrong spirit—you only want to satisfy your own desires.”
Since we were just told in chapter three that rivalry and jealousy shut down the ability to receive wisdom, perhaps what we ought to be praying for is not the things we can spend on our own pleasure, or for things that improve our own reputation or attract admiration. Perhaps the gift we need to be asking for is wisdom and grace we can lavish on others to God’s glory.
God promised He will give wisdom liberally -all we have to do is remain humble and ask with the right motives.