Without wisdom human flourishing is impossible. Today culture is bewitched by scientific knowledge and technical skill. This is seen, for example, in education’s emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). While these are amazingly productive disciplines, our world is left hungry for wisdom. There are problems that the hard sciences cannot solve. We have ATM cards and online banking, but our society struggles with an unprecedented debt problem. Quantum leaps forward in our knowledge of disease and new medical technologies have increased life expectancy, but where is the wisdom for heart-rending end of life decisions? The Internet and globalization have brought diverse cultures together. But without wisdom, the fabric of society threatens to unravel, leaving unanswered fundamental questions about what it means to be family, neighbors and people who can discern between good and evil. We are in desperate need of true wisdom.
The New Testament teaches that the person, teachings and work of Jesus are God’s wisdom for us. Do we have eyes to see this wisdom or ears to hear it? In a parable Jesus taught that the foolish person was the one who heard his words but did not do them. That person was building his house on sand that a storm would soon destroy. The wise person is the one who hears Christ’s words and does them – his life built on a rock will endure when the storm comes (Matt 7:24-27).
True wisdom is absolutely dependent on what God reveals.
It is God who gives believers “a spirit of wisdom” (Ephesians 1:17). Paul prays that God will fill believers “with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom”(Colossians 1:8 -9). Christ himself made it clear that the attainment of true wisdom was utterly dependent on God’s will. In Matthew 11:25-27 Jesus prayed, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”
The human pursuit of knowledge and technology is not sufficient. We must acknowledge our need and humble ourselves before God, who alone can give us wisdom. That is why James said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all ” (James 1:5).
God’s wisdom is uniquely located in Christ and the gospel.
In Matthew 11 Jesus went on to make this amazing claim: “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” God has determined to make his wisdom known to us in Jesus.
Paul celebrates this gospel wisdom when he says that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ (Colossians 2:3). Jesus himself invites us to come to him for true wisdom. In the Jewish literature of Jesus’ day, the law was considered wisdom, and the wise person would take it as a yoke on his neck. This sheds light on Jesus’ words, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:29-30). Christ and the gospel fulfill and replace the law as the source of true wisdom. Paul states it most clearly when he explicitly states that Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30). The apostle is speaking of Christ crucified, the basic gospel message (1 Corinthians 1:23).
God’s wisdom in Christ conforms our lives to the way of the cross. Not only does the cross of Christ provide forgiveness of sins for our broken and struggling world, but it also becomes a pattern for how we ought to live. The way of the cross teaches us about self-sacrifice, living for others, being merciful, and so much more. James summarizes the quality of life that this gospel wisdom brings: “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17-18).
Paul’s goal was to teach everyone “with all wisdom,” so that he could present everyone “mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). The “manifold wisdom of God” is to be lived out in the community of faith (Ephesians 3:10). We are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, “teaching and admonishing each other in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16). Toward outsiders we are to “walk in wisdom” (Colossians 4:5) as people who are truly “wise” (Ephesians 5:15). This is not a generic philosophical wisdom that transforms our lives, or a sophisticated worldly wisdom, but God’s unique and often counter-intuitive wisdom found in Christ and the gospel.
In a world of greed, confusion about life and death, and increasing violence and conflict, human knowledge is not sufficient. We need the divine wisdom that is found in Christ and the gospel.
For more on what the New Testament teaches about wisdom, see the author’s book, Wisdom Christology: How Jesus Becomes God’s Wisdom for Us, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers, 2011. Daniel J. Ebert IV, PhD, is Director of Graduate Programs and Affiliate Professor of NT at Trinity International University (Kendall) he can be reached at [email protected]