The “wisdom literature” designates a section of the Old Testament that focuses on everyday living unto the Lord. Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and many of the Psalms immerse us in the day-to-day situations of life and teach us how to engage them with a view to serving God and loving our neighbor. The wisdom literature can be very practical, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy – as anyone who has scratched his head over Solomon’s strange musings in Ecclesiastes can tell you.
From the focus of the wisdom literature we can understand that wisdom is nothing more than skillfully living according to purposes of God. When, at the beginning of his reign, Solomon prayed for wisdom, he wasn’t interested in being perceived as some kind of sage or philosophical savant. He simply wanted to rule the people well. And in order to do that, he knew that he would need wisdom.
Wisdom is not much in fashion these days. Children don’t study wisdom in school; they study efficiency. Churches don’t spend much time teaching about wisdom, either. They’re too focused on our felt needs for significance, community, and so forth. Pop culture scorns wisdom, preferring sentimentality and sensuality instead.
But wisdom is a primary focus of Scripture. It answers the question Chuck Colson raised in his book, How Now Shall We Live? The way we should live is according to the plan and purposes of God, in every area of life, for the glory of God and the benefit of our neighbors. In a very real sense wisdom is simply the Christian worldview. We are wise when we are living according to the Christian worldview as revealed in Scripture and testified to throughout the generations of Church history. If we would be wise, therefore, we need to take up the study of Christian worldview.
In general, they who exhibit the most skill in any profession or craft are the ones who are most likely to succeed. The most skillful pitcher is the one who wins the Cy Young. The most skillful lawyer gets the best cases. The most skillful debater wins the election.
If Christians could improve in this virtue, the virtue of wisdom, how might that help them to stand out as a people to be admired and emulated? Moses told the children of Israel that if they lived for God in every area of life, their wisdom would shine before the neighboring nations: “See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of all peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deut. 4:5, 6).
If we have the courage to live for Christ, wisdom will be the hallmark of all our daily life. The world needs to see the wisdom of God, for the “wisdom” of men is wearing thin.
Resources for this topic
Derek Kidner has written a very helpful guide to the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. Order your copy of The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes: An Introduction to Wisdom Literature from our online store.
Here are some resources to help you grow in wisdom:
Order your copy of Gary A. Haugen’s Good News about Injustice: A Witness of Courage in a Hurting World, from our online store. You may also download the free PDF of T. M. Moore’s ViewPoint series, “Kingdom Courage.”
Here are some resources to help you grown in wisdom:
Charles Colson, “Bibles on Board: Faith in the Workplace”
Charles Colson, “Sorely Needed Wisdom”
Robert K. Johnston, “The Wisdom of the Coen Brothers”
T. M. Moore, “Many Books”
T. M. Moore, “Wisdom, Knowledge, and Service”
T. M. Moore, “Wise Government”
Diane Vincent, “From Information to Wisdom”
Here are some actions you can take this week to increase in wisdom:
- How do your friends define wisdom? Ask a few of them – Christians and non-Christians. Do they have the same view of wisdom that Scripture does? Share the idea that wisdom is simply “skill in living.” Cana they agree? Ask: How can we grow in such wisdom? Follow the conversation as the Lord leads.
- Talk to some church leaders about the importance of wisdom. Ask them how the church is working to help the members of your congregation become wise. How do they assess the members for progress in wisdom?
- Email today’s Talking Points column to several Christian friends. Challenge them to read some of the resources, watch the Two-Minute Warning, and take on one of the activities.
A conversation starter
Here’s a conversation starter you can try out with some Christian friends: “Moses said that the nations around Israel would admire their wisdom. Do you think the unbelievers around us today admire the wisdom we Christians are displaying?”