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The Ways of Wisdom

We can learn wisdom from others.

Get Wisdom (6)

And men of all nations, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom, came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. 1 Kings 4.34

Even a cursory reading of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs – the greatest literary achievements of King Solomon – will reveal that Solomon knew a good deal about the ways, longings, interests, hopes, fears, and needs of men and women. His writings are filled with examples of people pursuing relationships, carrying out roles, and fulfilling (or not) their appointed responsibilities. Solomon believed there was something to learn by observing people and sifting their actions and choices through the filter of God’s Law (Eccl. 12.13, 14).

Solomon knew that God had made people in His own image, after His likeness, with the ability to know Him and to understand the world and life in ways consistent with God’s design, though not exhaustively (cf. Eccl. 3.10, 11). Solomon discerned the wisdom of God by observing people in their everyday lives and measuring their choices and actions against the Word of God. Even his own experience he found to be replete with insights to wisdom, derived largely from his excesses of ego and indulgence (Eccl. 2).

By observing people, and trying to learn from their ways, Solomon believed he would grow in the wisdom he sought so earnestly from the Lord.

If we recall that wisdom is nothing more than “skill in living according to the purpose and plan of God”, then it makes sense to think that the actions of men and women, arising from the decisions and choices of their consciences, can lead us to discern the wisdom of God. Some people are better than others at living wisely, and it is a good idea to identify such people, observe their ways carefully, and learn from them as much as we can. But we can learn God’s wisdom even from the follies, foibles, and failures of those who lack wisdom, just as Solomon did.

All kinds of people
Solomon saw God’s wisdom in all kinds of people. In Song of Songs, he shows that wisdom can guide human love in proper ways, not in serving oneself but in honoring the beauty, dignity, and desirability of the beloved.

At the same time, Solomon warns us, in both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, of the danger of cheapening love, reducing it to lust and making it nothing more than a sensual experience. Human love should be like the love God has for His people – pure, eternal, self-giving, mutually edifying, devoted, and engaging the whole person. Anything less than this, Solomon knew, was but a cheap imitation of love.

He must also have observed many friends relating to one another, for he had much to say about being a soul friend with another person. Solomon also warned readers about the bad examples of sluggards, cheats, deceivers, adulterers, oppressors, and those who play fast and loose with the truth. He watched businessmen, rulers, parents, and people in a wide range of situations, in each case studying their actions to gain the wisdom of God from them. He extolled the example of a godly wife, a wise citizen, and a devoted ruler. He saw what happened when people obeyed God’s Word, and he warned about the folly of thinking we know better than God about how we ought to live.

By thus observing others, Solomon sought to gain wisdom to fortify his own conscience for choices and actions in line with the teaching of God’s Word.

Observing the wise
We can learn much about wisdom from paying attention to the people around us and the goings-on of the world. As C. S. Lewis reminds us, you will never meet – or observe – a mere mortal. Every person is an image-bearer of God and a beneficiary of God’s common grace; and by paying attention to others, and observing their choices and actions, we can discern wisdom from God to live more consistently for Him.

Those closest to us – spouse, family, and friends – represent the best opportunities for discerning God’s wisdom, both because they’re the ones we see most frequently and there is a good likelihood that they are believers in Jesus. Beyond that, the people in our Personal Mission Fields can teach us wisdom, too, as we see them making choices and taking actions that line up with the grace and truth of God. We can also learn wisdom from reading biographies of great people – poets, theologians, humanitarians, missionaries, and leaders in various arenas of life.

Growing in wisdom is learning to make good choices, choices in line with the Law of God and all His Word, choices that demonstrate that skill in living which honors God and others. Observing creation, making right use of culture, and paying attention to the ways of wise people can help us learn to make wise choices. When all such studies are grounded in and understood and directed by the teaching of God’s Word, we may expect to discern the wisdom of God to honor and glorify Him in all we do.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ means being a learner, and wisdom is a learned characteristic. Like Solomon, we’re not born with it; we must acquire it through diligent effort. We can learn much about the wisdom of God from watching wise people who know the Lord and are faithful in serving Him and by reading their works, especially those of our forebears in the faith. The more godly people we have in our lives, and the more carefully we observe them, the greater will be the likelihood that we will understand how to live in the wisdom of God as well.

When our quest for wisdom is grounded in the love and fear of God, framed by the Law of God, and devoted to the service of God, then we may expect that diligent study and careful observation of creation, culture, and people will yield insights into the wisdom of God that can help us maintain a good conscience and a strong soul. 

For reflection
1.  Can you think of a wise person who has influenced you greatly? What is it about that person that caught your attention?

2.  What’s the difference between a hero and a celebrity? Should Christians have heroes in their lives? How might heroes help us to learn the wisdom of God? How would you counsel someone to begin looking for some heroes?

3.  Read Hebrews 11. Jot down whatever you think we might learn about the wisdom of God from these heroes of the faith.

Next steps – Transformation: Who are your heroes? What have you learned from them? What have you learned of wisdom from those closest to you?

T. M. Moore

All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here.

Two books can help you in thinking about culture and how to use it wisely. Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars looks at Jesus’ use of culture to discern the wisdom and God and use it for His glory. And Redeeming Pop Culture provides practical steps for avoiding the pitfalls and discovering the beauty and wisdom in pop forms. You can learn more about each book and order free copy of each by clicking here and here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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