Monday, May 3, 2010

Musings on How the Gospel Redefines Wisdom

...that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places... (Ephesians 1:17-20)

What is wisdom? At one level it is the practical application of knowledge. Not just knowing stuff, but knowing what to do. When we arrive at the book of Proverbs (where we are currently doing a series at Gulf Coast Community Church), we find that it is, in a manner of speaking, how to live out God's rule in the affairs of life; obedience to God, rather than following “the way that seems right to a man.”

In fact, the book of Proverbs is set as a contrast to the lie of the serpent in the garden of Eden. There, “Did God really say...” and “You will not surely die,” are a direct assault on the wisdom of God. There, for the first time, folly masquerades as wisdom by questioning the truth of God's word, and denying the reality of God's judgment. If God actually didn't forbid eating (“Did God really say...”), there is no reason to fear disobedience; if there are no consequences to fear (“you will not surely die”), again, there is no reason to fear disobedience, even if God did prohibit eating. The serpent's attack was directly aimed at the fear of God.

The path to Wisdom begins right where the path to folly began. It is at that same “fork in the road”.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7)

Here, knowledge is used to summarize the whole first paragraph of the book. This knowledge is “knowing wisdom and discipline...understanding words of insight...acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair,” it is the “prudence...knowledge and discretion” that the young and simple need. (Proverbs 1:2-4) In short, it is another word for Wisdom. This Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord just as the original folly began by losing the fear of the Lord.

The book of Proverbs begins by describing Wisdom in the ultimate sense... that which saves us from destruction and death. Then it moves toward the practical sense of how to apply its foundational truths to every day life. The Wisdom of Proverbs (in the ultimate sense especially) very strongly points to the Gospel. It really is the kind of wisdom needed for “saving our soul” rather than “gaining the whole world.” (Luke 9:25)

Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1:17-20 brings our understanding of Wisdom up a notch. Paul prays that we would be given a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God. How? By having the eyes of our hearts (of course, not the organ which has no eyes, but our unseen person, our inner person) enlightened to know two things. First, that you would know “the hope to which he has called you,” and then he amplifies that a little, “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Second, that you would know, “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe,” and that if then defined as, or compared to, “the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”

The Gospel defines Wisdom, what is practical in walking out our obedience to God, by its relationship to eternity. If I were to view hardship, or suffering, I might not find much “wisdom” in it, if I am merely looking on this side of the grave. Because Paul understood the relationship between his present circumstances and the hope to which God had called him, the riches laid up for him in heaven, Paul could say,

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The Gospel not only defines wisdom by its relationship to eternity, it also defines it in light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and the same power available to us. For instance, humbling myself before others may not be wise because they may take advantage of me or loose respect for me, if I think in merely worldly terms. Treating another person who has wronged you with kindness, may seem to make myself a rug, which looses all sense of wisdom in the practical sense.

How often, when someone talks about Jesus' instructions to love our enemies, give to those who ask of us, or to forgive those who ask us to repeatedly, do we hear something like, “but we really have to use wisdom in this.” The implication is, “What Jesus said is all well and good, but it surely isn't very wise, so you need to balance this impractical advice of Jesus with some practical advice from some other part of the Bible.” Of course, no one comes right out and says it that way, but that is a rough paraphrase of what we are thinking.

The problem is, we don't yet have the wisdom that sees the exceeding greatness of his power for us who believe... the power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of the Father in heavenly places. We need to see that, because when we see that, it suddenly makes sense of what Jesus said. Yes, humbling myself, treating kindly those who have wronged me, giving to those who ask of me, or forgiving those who continually sin against me, may cause my demise, my suffering, my difficulty, or even my death. But if I know that the power that raised Christ from the dead is there for me, and when I see the outcome for Christ, I realize that there is no folly in Jesus' instructions. Jesus' teaching is not in need of being balanced by wisdom at all, it is in need of being brought into focus through the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

It may be that we are often, wisely called to be “under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despair even of life,” wherein “we feel the sentence of death”. But it may well be that “this happens that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (from 2 Corinthians 1:8-9.) That is Gospel defined wisdom! Trust in the Lord with all your heart (even if in means He would have to raise the dead), and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)