5 A wise man will hear and increase learning,
And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel
II Timothy 2:15
15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
Ignacy Paderewski was born in 1860 in the small village of Kuryłówka in what is now Ukraine. His parents were Polish and his father was a fierce advocate of Polish liberty during a time when Poland was under the control of the Russian Empire. Ignacy’s mother died soon after he was born and he was adopted by an aunt after his father’s arrest during an uprising against Russian rule.
From an early age, Ignacy loved music and his family soon enrolled him in the Warsaw Conservatory. He grew to become a gifted and skilled musician and composer. Paderewski’s skill as a pianist was noticed and he made his concert debut in Vienna in 1887. Over the next fifty years he would become a worldwide sensation as a musical celebrity–and change the course of history for Poland.
Paderewski’s fame would take him to America where he took the nation by storm. In an early use of branding and logo gear, it was reported that ladies in New York wore stockings embroidered with phrases from his minuets–more than half a century before “Beatlemania” would become a household word.
He was a skilled in PR and marketing but Paderewski possessed true talent and his accolades were well earned. He did not, however, rely on some form if innate skill, nor was his music some form of supernatural outpouring. The Polish musician practiced. Continually.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, the crowds of admirers (and presumably ladies seeking autographed stockings) would unnerve Paderewski before a concert. He would eat nothing the entire day and would practice piano until his fingers hurt or even bled. He is famous for his explanation of how important practicing the piano was to him:
If I don't practice for one day, I know it;
if I don't practice for two days, the critics know it;
if I don't practice for three days, the audience knows it. - Ignacy Paderewski
This devotion to craft and to his passion set Paderewski apart from the ordinary men of his day–and serves as an example of someone who truly understands his calling in this world.
After World War I, Poland became a new nation and Paderewski–whose musical fame, subsequent philanthropy, and love for the Polish people–became the new nation’s first prime minister. Under his leadership, Poland achieved remarkable success. He retired in 1922 and returned to his first love: music…and he continued to practice. [HERE is some incredible footage of Paderewski himself playing "Menuet in G" in the 1937 movie "Moonlight Sonata"]
The believer has this same calling when it comes to wisdom. “Practice makes perfect,” or so the old saying goes. This sounds like a biblical proverb but it is a common phrase that, according to Google, is likely of old English origin and first appears in print in a diary and autobiography of President John Adams.
Whether it is of Shakespearean origin or a maxim of America’s second president, the concept of “use makes mastery” is a wise saying and describes how the wise believer is to approach the scriptures.
Devotion to God’s Word is thus one aspect of wisdom that is illustrated in the first verses of the book of Proverbs:
5 A wise man will hear and increase learning,
And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel–Proverbs 1:5
The Hebrew here for learning is לֶקַח (leqah) or to “study.” Solomon tells you that to be wise is not to simply be content in what knowledge you have but to apply yourself to gaining more.
What is it that the truly wise need to study? The Psalmist reveals:
11 Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.–Psalm 119:11
105 Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.–Psalm 119:105
[Enjoy this version of Amy Grant's classic rendition of "Thy Word" HERE]
An Eastern Orthodox tradition holds that David taught the young Solomon his Hebrew alphabet from the acrostic structure of this, the longest psalm. In it he would have learned that the very building blocks of wisdom are formed by the precious gift of God’s word to His people.
Paul, who doubtless studied the book of Proverbs and the Psalms as a young man studying the law for life as a Pharisee, knew this as well–and shares this wisdom with the young Timothy:
15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.- II Tim 2:15
Timothy, the young pastor, is facing the numerous challenges that come in ministry. In particular his age gives him pause when it comes to dealing with those older than him and thus, maybe “wiser” in years. Paul is reminding Timothy that true wisdom is no respecter of age when it comes to the study of scripture and keeping it to heart.
The phrase “be diligent” is also translated “study” in some versions but the meaning is clear: to be wise is to apply yourself to reading and understanding the word of God.
It is easy to imagine wisdom as merely the accumulation of knowledge but it is the use of that knowledge–and the nature of that knowledge–that contributes to being wise. To obtain knowledge for the sake of retention is to build a storehouse of trivia. To be wise is to be out functioning in the world as a servant of God and to this end knowledge must be carefully built and used for God’s glory.
Samuel Butler had an interesting description of this in his poem “Hudibras:”
'Tis known he could speak Greek As naturally as pigs squeak. – Samuel Butler (1663) "Hudibras," pt.1, canto1, l.51-2.
The poem–a mock narrative of Puritans, Presbyterians and Cromwell’s administration post-English Civil War is meant to satirize the Parliamentaians from a Royalist perspective. In its harsh light it captures the image of a Christian who knows all the ins-and-outs of theology and religious study but whose pride renders him a poor servant of Christ.
Pastor and author Eric Alexander remarks that:
Paul’s great obsession was not theology, it was knowing Christ.–Eric Alexander
Paul knew that knowledge for the sake of knowledge–theology for the sake of knowing theology–is not to bloat the ego or allow you to win debates, but is to serve to lead you to Christ.
As you study, read and immerse yourself in God’s word you will grow in wisdom and you will also come to understand two significant effects on your approach to life and in your dealings with others.
The first of these is that you will come to live your life in the light of truth. As the earthquake of the truth of God’s word floods the dungeon of your heart with light you will begin to carry this truth about you. There are so many ways in which the world, the flesh and the devil work in lies and falsehoods that when you begin to understand and live out the Biblical knowledge you attain, you will begin to see and abhor them.
Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn knew this and after listening to lie after lie from the state he resolved to “live not by lies” and only speak the truth:
The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie. One word of truth outweighs the world.–Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
He knew that when a culture begins to tolerate lies from its leaders this will ultimately pervade the lives of each citizen.
You see this in the world around you now, where daily outrages and falsehoods in the news or entertainment are consistently glossed over as truth. Little by little a people who have been abandoning God’s word for the pursuit of their individual desires, grow more comfortable accepting the most preposterous ideas as reality.
Can you do this? Can you proclaim the truth of Christ in a world that is increasingly drifting into a fantasy of politics, sexual identity and personalized spirituality?
Even more challenging: can you speak nothing but truth to your family, friends and fellow believers at church? Once you try this you will be amazed at how difficult it can be to simply speak truthfully and not try to hide your faults or provide honesty to others.
The only way to do this is to go fully armed with the sword of the spirit and the belt of truth (Ephesians 10:14-16).
As you study the word to grow in wisdom and adopt an attitude of truth you will experience the second effect: you will begin overcome your fear of man, the world and the devil:
28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.–Matthew 10:28
For to study, read and understand God’s words to you is to be confronted by His holy might in this age and throughout all eternity.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?–Romans 8:13
It is easy to despair over the state of the sinful world and the current culture around you. But think of all the ways in which God has blessed His people with access to His holy word! Gone are past ages when scripture was confined to churches or centers of learning.
The past one hundred years alone has seen unprecedented access to Gods’ word through print, televised and internet media. Scholarly works and commentaries can be stacked to the moon and back and there are apps for your phone that allow you to listen to podcasts and have scripture read aloud to you as you drive.
Remember Paderewski’s piano and practicing until his fingers bled. Smithsonian tells that in Rochester, New York, he walked onto the stage and struck the opening chords of Beethoven's Appassionata. A searing pain shot through his arm and he realized he had seriously injured his hand.
Paderewski continued to play in almost blinding pain and not only finished the concert, he finished the tour. Doctors told him of permanent damage but Paderewski insisted on honoring his commitments even though it meant teaching himself to play with just four fingers of his right hand.
What is keeping you from studying God’s word with this same passion? In the words of evangelist Dwight L. Moody:
The Bible will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the Bible.–D.L. Moody
Study God’s word with passion and as you practice you will grow in wisdom.
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.