Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

What is Wisdom?

Making the right choice on an uncertain path


Proverbs 1:2

To know wisdom and instruction,
To perceive the words of understanding,


James 1:5 

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


What does it mean to be wise? What really is wisdom? Solomon asked God for it. Through him, God has given us the book of Proverbs to go with the books of wisdom in the canon of scripture. It is difficult to put a fine point on even a definition of wisdom itself. 

Defining most things is relatively easy, despite the awkwardness or vagueness of language. Solid objects can be readily cataloged and even human emotions–as indefinite as they can be–can usually be defined with little trouble. 

Love, for instance, that almost magical spark between a man and a woman or a parent and child, is defined as an intense affection between two people. From the centuries of poetic description since Adam’s “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” to the avalanche of entertainment found on the Hallmark Channel, love has been fairly well nailed down.

Trying to define the concept of wisdom is sort of like tying to define the concept of time. In Os Guinness’ recent book “Carpe Diem Redeemed: Seizing the Day, Discerning the Times,” he seeks to define the concept of time and how believers can make the most of their lives and the time they have on earth. 

Guinness reveals that time, like wisdom, is a concept that is hard to put a finger on. He provides a quote from St. Augustine: 

What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.–St. Augustine, “Confessions,” Ch XIV

Wisdom can sometimes best be identified by its absence–or when you recognize it in someone. You know it when you see it in other words. 

Certainly, when you find yourself at the business end of an unwise choice you have made you can become aware of your need for better counsel or at least a better decision making process. Likewise you can probably readily call to mind a half dozen people in your life who seem to move from one train wreck moment of drama to the next.   

A famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein calls the drought of wisdom in humanity to mind:

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.”–Albert Einstein

Speaking of Einstein, in him–and figures like him–you can see how it is possible to define wisdom by noting its presence in others. Einstein was doubtless one of the most brilliant individuals to live who appeared to join incredible intelligence with astounding insight into the effects of intelligence upon all aspects of life. 

Our culture seeks to uphold figures like Einstein as earthly sources of wisdom. In literature and movies humanity’s heroes and heroines are paragons of wisdom.

Athena was perhaps the wisest figure of Greek mythology as heroes sought her for advice. In more recent times you see wisdom in literary figures like Gandalf the Grey in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” or even Augustus McCrae of the western epic “Lonesome Dove.” Of course, the character of Yoda in “Star Wars” has become the personification of wisdom for a generation. His simple maxims, reminiscent of an eastern mystic, call on you to:

Do or do not. There is no try.–Yoda, “The Empire Strikes Back" 

Two and a half thousand years ago Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War,” a small volume of military maxims that still remain relevant today. They were so effective that they brought him notice of Ho Lu, king of Wu who made him a general. His successes brought him fame and his own kingdoms. 

If you know your enemy and know yourself, then you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.–Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”

Translated into French by a Jesuit, Father Amiot, in 1782, The Art of War is rumored to have been carried by Napoleon in his conquest of Europe. Author James Clavell has speculated that this could help explain how the little Corsican artillery corporal rose to become Emperor of France.    

This is the kind of wisdom you wish to possess, is it not? However, these mere men were but shadows of the wisest One of all:

54 When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?–Matthew 13:54

Everywhere Jesus went He astounded people with His wisdom. Jesus’s understanding not only of the law and the redemptive history of the people of God but also of the inner workings of the heart are what God, through Solomon, sought to reflect in the book of Proverbs.

The Hebrew word and concept of wisdom in Proverbs is hokma (חָכְמָה):

To know wisdom and instruction,
To perceive the words of understanding,–Proverbs 1:2

This definition of wisdom is loaded with many different nuances but this use generally means, “expertise,” “skill,” “discernment,” or a kind of shrewdness in the dealings of life.  

The bible is filled with stories of men and women who live and work through the struggles and joys of life, with the picture of holiness in God’s law and and His commands, and with what it means for you to daily walk with Christ. The problem is that there are no specific instructions for every detail of life–and this can often require difficult decisions to be made.

This is where wisdom, such as the kind you will come to know as you study and understand Proverbs, comes into play. Tim Keller defines wisdom as:

…making the right choice, even when there are no clear moral laws telling you what to do.–Timothy Keller, “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life”

Thinking back to Sun Tzu and his “Art of War,” he was on to something when he said you needed knowledge of yourself and your enemy to find success. There is a timeless truth to this but John Calvin does this one better. In his Institutes, Calvin reveals that more than just knowledge of yourself and the world, wisdom is knowledge of God and knowledge of self:

Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.–Calvin, Institutes 1.1  

In other words, to be wise in this world, to know true wisdom is to know God and yourself. This is not an urge to get in touch with your “inner self” but that to know yourself is to know your need for God. 

Your knowledge of God comes directly from His word. As you consider yourself honestly in your daily struggles with sin and the trials of this world, you are driven by by the Holy Spirit to devour scripture, such as the book of Proverbs, to understand the nature and will of God. Wisdom is when you take this and use this, as Alistair Begg describes:

To process knowledge in the light of truth God’s word and then to apply that knowledge to the practicalities of life.–Alistair Begg

The author of James reminds us that the source of this knowledge of God and self is none other than the author of wisdom–and He freely gives to all who ask with a believing heart:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.–James 1:5

One of my favorite hymns is “Be Thou My Vision,” based on a 6th century song of early Irish Christians. [Find a beautiful rendition HERE or a rousing version by the Irish group, Rend Collective HERE] In this beautiful tune, this combination of pursuit of God and self is seen:

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light 

Call on God to provide you with wisdom–and to send His spirit to seek Him in His word.   In pursuing Him you will come to see that wisdom is found in seeing life through His eyes–when He is your vision for living.



The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:

The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.


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