Wisdom is a grandfather telling his grandchildren, “Life wouldn’t be so hard, if you didn’t think it was going to be so easy.” Wisdom is Andrew at 12 saying when he saw we might run out of orange juice, “Give me the smallest glass.” Wisdom is cleaning the toilet, not complaining to the gas station manager about the filthy room, which my friend Per did.
We need wisdom. A mom says, “Help, we’ve got a teenager in our home.” A girl says, “I married a prince. Last week he turned into a creep. I know I can’t trade him in, but…?” We all face pressing problems that require wisdom.
So Paul was traveling through Athens, the city known for its philosophers. Luke wrote that “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” (Acts 17:21). Impressive. Good at talk; terrible at wisdom. Athens was one of Paul’s most disturbing missionary experiences. He didn’t write from prison, “Dear Friends in Athens.” He ran up against human wisdom in its grossest form. He went on to Corinth shook up and determined to have only one message in his pocket–Jesus Christ crucified. He discovered five things about wisdom:
Wisdom is found in the cross.
Sounds like a theological statement.How is one person dying on a cross wisdom? Wisdom is what resolves the hardest of conflicts, like Jews and Gentiles hating each other. The cross heals us of guilt and shame and breaks strongholds that counseling doesn’t touch. One sacrificial Lamb got the job done that all the good advice of a million people couldn’t begin to address. Paul said, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (I Cor. 2:2).
Wisdom is discovered in weakness.
Wisdom is my number one son emailing his siblings to confess that he had not been the kind of elder brother that he wanted to be. That was followed two weeks later by number two son doing the same. Vulnerability releases grace. Weakness builds relationships. Paul wrote after leaving Athens, “I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling…” (I Cor. 2:3). Weakness brings unity; strength creates divisions and competition.
Wisdom is illustrated by power, not words.
We tend to think of wisdom as well-chosen words or solid advice, and that can be an ingredient. True wisdom goes beyond words to works: “Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (James 3:13). Paul said that “the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (I Cor. 4:20). The Gospel is not good advice–it is good news. It is “the power of God unto salvation.” (normal length here: two more paragraphs).
Wisdom comes by revelation.
Reason does not come up with God’s wisdom. Jesus prayed, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hid these things from the wise and learned and have revealed them to babes” (Matthew 11:25). So whom do we go to for wisdom? Those open to revelation more than reason. Students at Carlton College used to go to a mentally challenged woman with the brainpower of an eight-year old, because she had the gift of wisdom. Stephen Hawking has a high IQ, but the Bible calls him a fool, because he doesn’t believe in God. “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (I Cor. 1:27).
Wisdom is given by the Spirit.
“If anyone lacks wisdom, let him…study…speak to smart people…ASK” (James 1:5). Wisdom comes to people who know they do not have it. Solomon asked (I Kings 3:9-12). Daniel asked (Daniel 2:18). All can manifest the fruit of wisdom developed as we submit to the sanctifying work of the Spirit. And some are given the gift of wisdom according to I Cor. 12:7. So if you are needing wisdom, Paul gives you five ways: Focus on Christ’s death, embrace weakness, believe in God’s power, open yourself up to revelation, and ask to be filled with the Spirit.