In Search of Wisdom

Philippians 1:9-11 – “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

I was puzzled at first by what it means for love to abound with knowledge and discernment, but after comparing a version or two and adding up two and one to make four, I think that it’s like saying, “May your salad abound more and more with cheese and olives.” It’s not that love produces knowledge and discernment, but that it needs them to be complete. (Yes, cheese and olives do complete salads.)

Sometimes loving someone means giving them temporary pain. (Take the proverbs about spanking your children, for example.) You have to have discernment and wisdom to know whether or not the pain will help them in the long run. Love alone without knowledge and discernment – in other words, wisdom – is not love at all. You see, real love is doing what is best for the other person rather than what’s best for yourself. However, without wisdom, you will do what will *feel best* for the other person – which may in time cause great harm rather than good.

You also have to have wisdom to know which people to love and which are not trustworthy. Proverbs 2:11-13 says,

“…discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness…”

There are plenty of people in this world who are simply just not safe to be around, whether they’re just manipulative or legitimately dangerous. Without wisdom you’ll walk right into their clutches thinking that they just need love; and while that may be true, it’s no excuse for foolishly putting yourself into dark or dangerous situations. Sometimes the best way to love them is to steer clear and not be their next victim.

Alright, so Paul emphasized the need for wisdom along with love – what for? “SO THAT you may approve what is excellent…” So that you can recognize those things that are actually good. That particular phrase reminded me of Romans 12:2.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

You could also word it something like this… “Do not be conformed to this world’s standard of wisdom, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, (receiving the wisdom from above), so that by testing you may discern…”

So, what is the “wisdom from above”? Noah Webster described wisdom like this:

“In scripture theology, wisdom is true religion; godliness; piety; the knowledge and fear of God, and sincere and uniform obedience to His commands. This is the wisdom which is from above.”

Proverbs 9:10 says,

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”

Wisdom starts with knowing who God is, and learning reverence for Him. So the ‘beginning of wisdom’, or the gate to it, if you will, involves studying His word and meditating on it, and spending time at His feet in prayer. Once you start there, the path to wisdom leads past some other concepts, including:

  • Guarding the gates
  • Filtering friends
  • Receiving rebukes

But I’ll go into the specifics a little later.

Paul doesn’t stop with love coupled with wisdom leading to “approving what is excellent”. He follows up with “and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ”. When wisdom leads to discerning what is good and what isn’t, it also leads to turning from the worthless things. Psalm 101:3 says,

“I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me.”

Also Psalm 119:37,

“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in Your ways.”

A pure and blameless man does not involve himself in anything that would displease his God. I’ve really been convicted about looking at worthless things in the area of media – books, movies, music, etc. Is it really wise to fill my mind with junk if I want to serve my God and no other? I have had to seriously reconsider which types of media I “set before my eyes”. Is it really God-honoring? Is it pure? Seeking wisdom leads to purity and blamelessness as you question the wisdom of the activities you observe and engage in.

From there Paul continues with “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ”. So first, what is righteousness? Once again, I looked up Noah Webster’s definition. (Have I mentioned that I absolutely love his 1828 Dictionary of the English Language? It provides some excellent insight into why the Bible translators chose the words they did.)

“Righteousness – conformity of heart and life to the divine law.”

Righteousness is a life changed by God’s word – the slow process of becoming more like Christ, as He conforms your life to His word. James 1:19-21 says,

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

By the power of Jesus Christ, the word of God begins to make us righteous as we fill ourselves with it. (I like that word “implanted”. It sounds like grafting it into our very being, which is what memorization of and meditation on God’s word does.) So then, the fruit of righteousness comes through Jesus as He works wisdom within us.

Here’s an interesting note on Paul’s choice of words. Fruit is the result of excess living; that is, it is the result of a plant or tree having more than enough of what it needs to survive. All the extra nutrients, water, etc. go into the fruit rather than into trying to stay alive. So, the everyday demonstrations of righteousness are a result of not just surviving in God’s presence, but thriving there. Thus, that person produces not just enough righteousness to survive inwardly, but to flow into their outward actions.

So now that we’ve gone through all that, let’s go back to the concept of wisdom. How do you become wise? As I was studying and looking up verses on gaining wisdom, I came up with several practical steps toward gaining wisdom.

1. Ask ardently. James 1:5 spells it out pretty clearly,

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

Asking God for wisdom should be the very first step we take in the search for wisdom. Jesus promises that whoever asks receives, whoever seeks finds, and to whoever knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7) In Matthew 21:22 He adds,

“And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

So then, ask God for wisdom! He is not stingy about granting it to those who seek Him first. In Luke 18, Jesus told the story about the persistent widow who kept pestering the judge until he gave her the justice she sought as an illustration that we too should be persistent in our prayers. If we truly want the wisdom of God, we need to ask fervently and persistently.

2. Memorize and meditate. If the fear of the Lord is the gateway to wisdom, then the gateway to the fear of the Lord is getting to know Him. In order to get to know Him intimately, you must study God’s word regularly, memorize it, and meditate on it throughout the day, pondering the depths of His character. Psalm 119:97-98 says,

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.”

As you memorize verses, I encourage you not just to memorize the words, but to really think about what they mean. Study them. Why did God move the authors to write those verses? How do they apply to your own life?

3. Pray prolifically. About two years ago God convicted me that, while I was spending a fair amount of time reading His word, I spent almost no time at all in prayer. My mom has often challenged me to balance the time that I spend reading God’s word with the time that I spend talking to God, so I realized that I needed to do something about it. The problem is that I struggle with what I call “prayer ADD”. I find it difficult to concentrate for more than a minute or so, and often I trail off in the middle of a sentence and then five minutes later realize I wasn’t praying at all. What I’ve found to help the most with focusing is to use a prayer journal. (As long as my tendonitis-y wrist doesn’t kill me for it.) I’ve discovered that spending larger amounts of time in prayer inspires a love and reverence for the Lord that you just don’t get otherwise. It is truly awesome, in the real meaning of the word. So spend time in prayer. If you can’t focus, try writing your prayer in a notebook or talking out loud to Him.

4. Filter your friends. Psalm 1:1 says,

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…”

And Proverbs 13:20 advises,

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.”

God knows that friendships have a profound power to change us, either for the better or for the worse. In order to become wise, you have to associate with wise people. If you hang out with people who do dumb things for amusement, chances are you’ll do dumb things too, and that will drag you away from wisdom rather than closer to it.

Now, I understand that you can’t necessarily choose the people who are around you in your day to day life. However, you can choose what people you are close to. Over the years, God has had to rescue me out of several unhealthy friendships. Not that the people themselves were bad, but they did not help me to grow in the direction that I needed to grow, and so I had to let them go. Who are the people you are the closest to, and in what ways have they impacted you? Have they been for good or for not-so-great? Do they encourage you to seek God and learn wisdom, or do they lead you towards a shallower life?

5. Guard your gates. What are your gates? They are primarily your eyes, ears, and mind. This goes back to Psalm 101:3. What are you setting before your eyes? What are you listening to? And with what are you filling your thoughts? If you want to seek wisdom and become pure and blameless you must guard from filling your mind with foolishness instead. Meditate on Psalm 119:9-11:

“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Guard the gates to your heart as you fill it with things that honor God.

6. Receive rebukes. Here’s another hard one, especially for me. I grew up extremely insecure and sensitive to criticism. Anything that sounded like the other person was remotely displeased with me crushed me and caused me to fear criticism like nothing else. I was so afraid of it that I couldn’t stop and consider whether there was validity in it, and if so, what I needed to do about it. Proverbs 10:17 says,

“Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.”

In other parts of Proverbs, refusing to listen to correction is equated with folly, which is kind of the opposite of seeking wisdom. Meanwhile in Proverbs 19:20 we find this:

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.”

Criticism, while often unpleasant, is a valuable tool for evaluating yourself to see where you have gone wrong and what you need to improve. Like I said, this is an area in which God has had to work on my heart in order to calmly consider people’s rebukes and see what I need to change. A wise person will not just let criticism roll off his back, but will take it to heart and act on it in a positive way.

The concept of listening to rebukes applies not just to humans correcting you, but more importantly, God. Take Proverbs 3:11-12:

“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”

At the end of the day, wisdom starts and ends with listening to God. He is the source of all wisdom, and the Master Teacher, who is more than willing to give generously without reproach.

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