Seven Ways to Grow in Wisdom
Seven Ways to Grow in Wisdom
Lawrence of Arabia is one of the most successful films of all time. Much of the film is drawn from T.E. Lawrence’s own account of his time in Arabia. He was a British archaeological scholar, military strategist (colonel by the age of thirty), best known for his activities in the Middle East during World War I. Lawrence explores the theme of wisdom in his memoirs, written in 1926, with the title, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
Presumably, Lawrence had in mind today’s passage, ‘Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars’ (Proverbs 9:1). In Scripture, the number seven is often used to represent completion or perfection. In the book of Proverbs, the teaching of Jesus and the Bible in general, we find many ways to acquire and grow in wisdom. Seven of these can be seen in today’s passages.
1. Handling criticismProverbs 9:1-12
When we are criticised, there is no point in replying to those who are merely mocking us (v.7). If we do, they will hate us even more. But it is worth replying to the ‘wise’.
Our response to criticism should never be to ‘insult’, ‘abuse’ or ‘hate’ (vv.7–8). Rather, we must learn from it in order to become ‘wiser’ and to ‘add to [our] learning’ (v.9). Indeed, our response to a rebuke should be increased ‘love’ (v.8b).
This is far from easy – my natural reaction to criticism is often to be tempted to lash out verbally or try and justify myself. Yet the wise path is to seek to learn from the rebuke or instruction, however difficult that may be.
For example, I have noticed over the years that those speakers who do not like their talks criticised seldom improve. Those who invite constructive criticism and are not threatened by it often improve rapidly and become far more effective. A right relationship with God will increase your wisdom (v.10) and enable you to hear constructive criticism and grow through it.
Lord, give me wisdom to be constructive when I give criticism and gracious when I receive it.
2. Responding to sufferingLuke 13:1-30
In this passage we see Jesus responding in two different ways to suffering. Jesus’ response to people who were suffering was always one of compassion, as we see in his healing of the crippled woman (vv.10–16). Yet here we also see his response to the questions raised about ‘suffering’.
‘Pilate had killed some Galileans while they were at worship, mixing their blood with the blood of the sacrifices on the altar’ (v.1, MSG). Some people came to ask Jesus, in effect, ‘Why does God allow suffering?’ ‘Was their suffering the result of their sin?’
Jesus, of course, shows extraordinary wisdom in his response. So much suffering in the world is caused by human sin, and we are all guilty. Yet Jesus makes it very clear that there is no automatic link between sin and suffering. They were not suffering because they were worse sinners than all the other Galileans (vv.1–2). Jesus also points out that natural disasters are not necessarily a form of punishment from God (vv.1–5).
While it may be appropriate for us to examine our own hearts when we are suffering, we need to be very careful about making judgments about why others are suffering. Jesus was not so interested in philosophical explanations for suffering. Rather, he was interested in our response. He warns of the dangers: ‘unless you repent…’ (v.3).
3. Pruning and planting
The parables of the fig tree (vv.6–9), mustard seed and yeast (vv.18–20) give us wisdom on how things grow in the kingdom of God. We see when things should be nurtured, when activities should be stopped and when projects should be started.
God is patient, giving as much time as possible for people to repent. In response to the desire to cut the fig tree down, the man gives it one more chance: ‘If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down’ (v.9).
The key is to ‘look for fruit’ (v.6). For example, as we look at the numerous ministries in the church, some are extremely fruitful. Others are less so. The temptation is to cut back on the less fruitful ones straight away. However, Jesus encourages us to be patient: ‘If it bears fruit next year, fine!’ (v.9a). Yet this patience doesn’t last for ever – sometimes the moment will come to stop an unfruitful ministry, to ‘cut it down’ (v.9b).
The parables of the mustard seed (vv.18–19) and of the yeast (v.20) remind us that, while the kingdom of God starts small, over time there is vast potential for growth. When the seed was planted it ‘grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches’ (v.19). This shows the enormous value in planting seeds of the kingdom (church planting included). It also suggests that we need to wait patiently to see this potential fulfilled.
4. Knowing when to confront
Personally, I find confrontation extremely difficult. Jesus had the wisdom of knowing when to confront. He exposed the hypocrisy and double standards of those who criticised him for healing a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years, simply because he did so on the Sabbath. He reminds them of the importance of compassion over legalism. If that is a principle they follow in caring for animals, how much more should they follow it in caring for people (vv.15–16)!
Jesus’ answer was brilliantly wise. It ‘delighted’ the people (v.17).
5. Turning to Jesus
When someone asks Jesus a question: ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’ (v.23), he gives an intensely practical answer. He says, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door’ (v.24). In other words, don’t focus first on others, but make sure you yourself have entered the kingdom of God. You cannot know about everybody else but you can be sure about yourself.
In this parable, many find themselves unable to enter the house, which represents the kingdom of God. The reason for this is because of the lack of a personal relationship with Jesus. Twice the owner of the house, who represents Jesus, says to those shut out of his house, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from’ (vv.25,27). Being part of God’s kingdom is all about turning to and knowing Jesus.
It appears that some who expected to be included are excluded, but it also appears that more people will get in than expected: ‘People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast of the kingdom of God’ (v.29). Turning to and following Jesus is the wise thing to do, even if it feels like we are in a minority.
Lord, I pray for wisdom today in all the conversations that I have and all the decisions I make. Please fill me with your Holy Spirit and give me the wisdom of Jesus.
6. Testing prophecyDeuteronomy 13:1-14:29
We need wisdom in discerning between true and false prophets. ‘Prophets’ today might include not only those with the ‘gift of prophecy’, but also anyone who speaks ‘in the name of the Lord’ – such as pastors, preachers, teachers and evangelists. In all these cases, we need to distinguish the true from the false.
One of the Old Testament tests of the true prophet comes in this passage. Even if a prophet performs signs and wonders, if he says ‘Let us follow other gods’ the people were warned: ‘You must not listen to the words of that prophet’ (13:2–3). In other words, the people were to test the prophet by his teaching – whether he led people to God or away from him. Jesus says, ‘we will recognise them by their fruit’ (Matthew 7:15–23).
7. Revering God
You are a child ‘of the Lord your God’ (Deuteronomy 14:1) and God’s people are called to be holy to the Lord (v.2a). You have been chosen to be his ‘treasured possession’ (v.2b). Under the old covenant this involved strict rules as to what could and could not be eaten. Under the new covenant, Jesus declared all food clean (Mark 7:19).
Under both the old and new covenant, one of the ways in which you ‘revere’ the Lord is through your giving (Deuteronomy 14:22–23). It is a blessing to give. God blesses you as you bless others, and so that you can bless others (v.29c). In particular, God promises here to bless us in our work (v.29). God’s vision for his people is as a community, upheld in mutual giving. As we saw in today’s reading in Proverbs, reverence for the Lord is ‘the beginning of wisdom’ (Proverbs 9:10). And ‘if you are wise, your wisdom will reward you’ (v.12).
Lord, thank you that I am your treasured possession. Please help me to grow daily in wisdom.
Not having a huge number of academic qualifications, I take comfort from these verses:
‘Let all who are simple come in here!... Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding... The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’ (Proverbs 9:4,6,10).
Verse of the Day
‘… the LORD has chosen you to be his treasured possession’ (Deuteronomy 14:2).
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.