In the recent case involving a high profile mega church leader who was found guilty of misappropriating a large amount of the church’s money, he posted on his Facebook on the day before he started his jail sentence that, “I have made unwise decisions in the past that have led me to where I am today. I am filled with grief and regret over my mistakes and I sincerely ask for your forgiveness.”
This church leader had acted in a manner and made decisions for the church which he thought was clever, even smart. But ultimately it proved to be an unwise decision that landed him and his staff in trouble with the law.
What is the difference between being clever (or intelligent) and being wise? In a simplified way, we can say that being clever is the ability to understand how things work and to be able to find a solution or to be able to get things done. But being clever does not necessarily mean one gets things done in a right way. So we have the saying that one can be “too clever for his own good”. To be wise means to do things in a proper and right way, with discernment, prudence, discretion, and understanding the implications and consequences of our actions/decisions.
An example from the Bible will be Lot, Abraham’s nephew. In Genesis 13, we read that both Lot and Abraham had large herds of cattle and their herdsmen quarrelled over the land. Abraham suggested that they went their separate ways and he let Lot have the first pick of where he (Lot) wanted and Abraham would go the other way. The Bible tells that Lot chose “the whole plain of Jordan” which was a well-watered and fertile piece of land. But it was also near to Sodom, a wicked and sinful city. Lot made a smart decision (to choose a fertile land for his herd) but an unwise one, as he ‘pitched his tent toward Sodom’ (v.12). As a result, Lot lost everything, except his two daughters, and his wife turned into a pillar of salt.
In the book of James (chapter 3), we learnt that there are 2 kinds of wisdom – worldly wisdom and godly wisdom. How do we tell which is which? James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Here we see the result of godly wisdom as described by James.
Worldly wisdom tells us to “follow your heart”. But godly wisdom tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure (Jeremiah 17:9). We should instead be men (and women) after God’s own heart.
Worldly wisdom tells us that seeing is believing. But godly wisdom tells us that we must walk by faith and not by sight.
Worldly wisdom says to enjoy life to the fullest. Godly wisdom tells us to delight ourselves in the Lord so that He will give us the desires of our hearts.
Worldly wisdom tells us to always protect our own interests. Godly wisdom says to value others above ourselves and to look to the interests of others.
Worldly wisdom wants to punish every wrong. Godly wisdom urges us to show mercy.
Worldly wisdom tells us to be ‘kiasu’, to fight to be the first. Godly wisdom says that the first shall be the last and to be great in God’s kingdom, we must learn to be the servant of all.
Worldly wisdom urges us to make a name for ourselves. Godly wisdom encourages us to lift high the name of Jesus.
Worldly wisdom tells us to take care of our family and loved ones. Godly wisdom says to love our family and also to love our enemies.
How do we then gain godly wisdom? The Bible tells us…
1. The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom (Proverbs 9:10)
The start point of gaining wisdom is the fear of the Lord. We need to recognise and acknowledge who God is in order to have the fear of the Lord. This fear is to be in awe of the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, to be in reverence of our Heavenly Father. When the reality of God’s true nature has caused us to fall down in worship, we are then ready to gain wisdom. Without the fear of the Lord, we make decisions based on our own agendas, desires and understanding. When we have the fear of the Lord, our decisions are based on His approval.
2. Ask for it (James 1:5)
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you”. Memorize this verse. What a comfort to know that God is always ready to bless us with godly wisdom and help us deal with our situations in a God-honouring way.
3. Work at it (Psalm 90:12)
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom”. As we seek the Lord and desire to please Him, His word will instruct us on how to conduct our lives and to walk in His ways. Regular studying and meditating on the truths of God’s word and having intimate fellowship with Him helps us acquire the heart and mind of God, thus making us wise.
We are constantly bombarded by the world and its value system. That’s why Romans 12:2 exalts us ‘not to conform to the standards of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” As we desire to live lives pleasing to the Lord, we will need wisdom from above to help us discern right from wrong in God’s eyes. As we grow in wisdom, we will be able to exercise good judgement in our decision making and in the way we deal with everyday matters. And we will become a blessing to everyone in our lives. May God help us.