”… so that the manifold wisdom of God
might now be made known through the church
to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”
God has a cosmic point to make: God’s WISDOM makes the wisdom of the world and the god of this world look foolish.
But what is the Biblical meaning of “wisdom”? The first mention of the concept in the Scriptures appears in Exodus. It is in reference to the skilled artisans whom God appointed to build the tabernacle. The Hebrew word is hokmah which can be translated as “wisdom”, “experience”, or “skillfulness”. Of this word, Biblical language scholar, W.E. Vine, says: “(It) signifies an important element of the Old Testament religious point of view. Religious experience was not a routine, a ritual, or faith experience. It was viewed as a mastery of the art of living in accordance with God’s expectations…. The ability to make the right choices at the opportune time.” We can understand the Biblical concept of “wisdom” as the art of living skillfully, namely living according to the ways of God.
The Scriptures say many things about “the ways of God”; but here are three things to consider:
- The psalmist said: “His way is perfect.”
- Proverbs tells us that “The way of the Lord is a strong defense to those who have integrity; but destruction or ruin to those who practice vanity.”
- Hosea said: “Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the Lord are right, and the righteous will walk in them, but transgressors will stumble in them.”
As we discuss the Biblical concept of “wisdom”, we are going to discover – maybe surprisingly – that one of the essential aspects of “wisdom” is HUMILITY. A foundational scripture is Proverbs 30:24 – “Four things are small on the earth, but they are exceedingly wise.” In a manner of speaking, for human beings: “SMALL” is “WISE”. The apostle Paul admonishes us: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment….”
In Matthew’s gospel, there is a passage in which Jesus is speaking about a time of God’s judgment coming upon cities. If you think about it, cities are places which represent humanity’s creation of wealth and security independently of and in rebellion to God. It is in this context that Jesus makes the following appeal: ”Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart (KJV: meek and lowly of heart), and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Through this, Jesus is inviting us “to be conformed to (His) image”, learning gentleness or meekness and humility or lowliness.
Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, in what we call The Beatitudes, Jesus said: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Do you see the “MEEKNESS-WISDOM CONNECTION”? This refers to inheriting the kingdom of God – both in the age to come, but also “in this world where we have tribulation”.
In Psalm 37, David offers the same concept: “Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place, and he will not be there. But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” Do you see the “HUMILITY – WISDOM CONNECTION”? In the New Living Translation, it says “the lowly will possess the land”. In the New Century Version, it says “the people who are not proud will inherit the land”. During a time of God’s judgment like we are experiencing on the earth today, it is the gentle, the meek, the lowly, the humble – “those people who are not proud” – who will find WISDOM. And in finding “wisdom”, one finds also all her blessings which are promised all throughout the Wisdom Books of the Bible.
In his epistle, the apostle James quotes from Proverbs: “God gives grace to the humble.” I find what James has to say about humility to be extremely interesting: “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: ‘He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us’? But He gives a greater grace. Therefore, it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” In the context of this passage, James is writing about “the wisdom from above”. And in this passage James is referring to two categories of people: those whom God opposes, and those whom God graces or blesses. Those whom God opposes, James describes as “proud”, “adulteress”, “friends of the world”. Their pursuit of the “pride of life” which the world offers them, causes them to become unfaithful to God and, instead, to become “friends of the world”. They become proud and hostile to God. God, in turn, opposes them. Then James describes “the humble”: These are those who are satisfied to simply be “friends of God” – being satisfied with God’s jealous love. And God, in turn, gives them grace – divine favor and blessings. So, it is wise to be humble – “God gives grace to the humble.”
The apostle Paul also instructs us on God’s dealings with humanity and the world – namely that He is opposed to the proud and gives grace to the humble: “The scripture says, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and set aside the understanding of the scholars.’ So then, where does that leave the wise? or the scholars? or the skillful debaters of this world? God has shown that this world’s wisdom is foolishness!” For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know Him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so-called “foolish” message we preach, God decided to save those who believe.” So we see that “God is opposed to the proud”.
Paul continues: “For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. Now remember what you were, my friends, when God called you. From the human point of view few of you were wise or powerful or of high social standing. God purposely chose what the world considers nonsense in order to shame the wise, and He chose what the world considers weak in order to shame the powerful. He chose what the world looks down on and despises and thinks is nothing, in order to destroy what the world thinks is important. This means that no one can boast in God’s presence.” Basically, Paul is saying: “God gives grace to the humble”.
The apostle James warns us against “the pride of life”: “Now listen to me, you that say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will travel to a certain city, where we will stay a year and go into business and make a lot of money.’ You don’t even know what your life tomorrow will be! You are like a puff of smoke, which appears for a moment and then disappears. What you should say is this: ‘If the Lord is willing, we will live and do this or that.’ But now you are proud, and you boast; all such boasting is wrong.”
And the apostle Paul admonishes us to be humble and be willing to live humbly: “Do not be proud but accept humble duties. Do not think of yourselves as wise.” We can summarize with these words from Paul: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”
So, do you see the “HUMILITY – WISDOM CONNECTION”? “The lowly will possess the land”. “The people who are not proud will inherit the land”. During a time of God’s judgment like we are experiencing on the earth today, it is the gentle, the meek, the lowly, the humble – “those people who are not proud” – who will find WISDOM and all her blessings.
Some Thoughts on Simplicity
This humble, lowly attitude, which Paul said Jesus modeled for us, will manifest in a humble, lowly lifestyle – namely, a lifestyle characterized by SIMPLICITY. A couple of verses from Proverbs explain to us why this is so. Proverbs 4:23 tells us to “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” And Proverbs 23:7a says: “For as he thinks within himself (that is, in his heart), so he is.” This wisdom is telling us that our outward life is determined by our inner life. To apply it to our subject matter: If we have pride in our hearts, our lifestyle will tend toward complexity; but if we have humility in our hearts, our lifestyle will tend toward simplicity.
In his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes: “The Christian discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward lifestyle. Both the inward and the outward aspects of simplicity are essential. We deceive ourselves if we believe we can possess the inward reality without it having a profound effect on how we live. To attempt to arrange an outward lifestyle of simplicity without the inward reality leads to deadly legalism (externalism).”The Blessing of Humility & Simplicity
In one of his letters, the apostle Paul admonishes Timothy: “Tell those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone. But their trust should be in the living God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give generously to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them.”
It is pride that causes us to live beyond our means – or even to the max of our means. I remember back in the 80’s, I was living in the Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas area, and just barely making a living giving music lessons in a number of Christian schools and privately at my home. I had a young student whose father worked as an air-traffic controller at the DFW airport. I remember being quite impressed the day I drove the young guy home after one of his music lessons. His dad obviously made a very good living. They lived in a luxurious home in the suburbs with acreage, swimming pool, sport cars, etc., etc. The problem was that in 1982, the air-traffic controllers went on strike. After a number of months of negotiations for more money, President Reagan stepped into the situation by firing all the striking air-traffic controllers and replacing them with new people. This man was now unable to even keep up with the payments on his house and cars, etc. I remember thinking to myself: “Wow, here’s “little old me” essentially living on “minimum wage” earnings, but now I’m in a much better situation than this guy who had big-time earnings but is now drowning in big-time debt.” And, of course, we see many similar scenarios being repeated.
I am not unaware that the greed of corporate America and puppet politicians has caused a situation of a high cost of living combined with a low income for the “lower class” (and what used to be the “middle class”). But what we need to be aware of is this: That situation is not going to change – not in America or anyplace else. That is an intentional aspect of the Antichrist agenda for devolving the present nationalistic system and evolving a “new world order” globally. The future holds more of the present. It is a given. It is “a fact of life”. We would do well to face it, believe it, understand it, and conduct ourselves wisely in it.
The Freedom of Simplicity
Following are quotes from Richard Foster regarding the freedom of simplicity:
- “Simplicity frees us from the tyranny of the self, the tyranny of things, and the tyranny of people.”
- “The self clamors for attention, self-recognition, applause.”
- “Out of fear…, we create an artificial world of ostentatious display, extravagant ornamentation, and pretentious style.”
- “What horrendous gymnastics we will put ourselves through just to ensure that others will have a good opinion of us.”
Before going any further, I think it would be good to repeat one statement I quoted earlier from Richard Foster: “To attempt to arrange an outward lifestyle of simplicity without the inward reality leads to deadly legalism (externalism).” To this I will add: The ability to enjoy our physical life and the good things of life is evidence that one possesses the reality of the whole of the “abundant life” which Jesus gives. As the apostle Paul said: “… God has created (everything) to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude.”
The fact of the matter is, the evidence of carnality is fear and bondage, but the evidence of true spirituality is peace and freedom. One is truly spiritual when one is able to enjoy life. The ability to spend money from time to time on the good things in life is evidence that one truly believes that God is one’s Source, that He isn’t going to “run out of money” so to speak, and that the reality of one’s faith is dependence upon God – not upon one’s ability to be acetic, frugal and thrifty.
Also, frugality is relative to the material and financial blessings one has been given. I remember the testimony of some wealthy friends who owned a chain of department stores: In surrendering their lives to the Lordship of Christ, they felt He wanted them to “downsize” their house to one which had just a regular in-ground swimming pool in the back yard, instead of one that housed an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool – and maybe this year they should pass on their annual vacation in Acapulco. Most of us live somewhere in between a mansion in Monaco and a squatter camp in New Delhi. “It’s all relative” as they say. Where we find ourselves in this world has largely been ordained by God; and God is there with us. He desires in every place “to make known His manifold wisdom through the Church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places”.
The Wisdom of Simplicity
The apostle Paul offers pastoral wisdom in what are known as his “pastoral epistles”. He says that the grace of God comes “instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age.” The Greek word here translated “sensibly” is sophron, which can also be translated self-controlled, sound, or sober minded, temperately. Its meaning applied to our material/financial lives is thrifty or frugally. Paul explains both what it means and doesn’t mean “to live godly in this present age”: “But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” A study of the word “contentment” will show that it simply means “not wanting what one doesn’t have”.
Paul explains further that a “godly life” is a “quiet life”. He writes: “Also, make it your goal to live quietly, do your work, and earn your own living, as we ordered you. Then your way of life will win respect from those outside [the church], and you won’t have to depend on anyone else for what you need.” The Greek scholar, Thayer, says the word translated quietly is “a description of the life of one who stays at home doing his own work, and does not officiously meddle with the affairs of others.”
The Key to Simplicity
Jesus, Himself, gave us the key to simplicity – that inward reality that will result in an outward lifestyle of simplicity. In His Sermon on the Mount, He said: “So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the idolaters eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” There is only one thing that brings simplicity – a focus, a unity – to the whole of life. In other words, there is only one thing to be concerned with – namely, “seeking first the kingdom of God”. Jesus said: “Don’t worry, don’t be anxious… seek first the kingdom of God.” Freedom from worry and anxiety is the inward reality of simplicity. Freedom from worry and anxiety is the evidence of “seeking first the kingdom of God”.
But what does that mean? What is the “kingdom of God”? The “kingdom of God” is an immense topic in itself, but for our purposes here, suffice to say that the “kingdom of God” (in this age, on this earth) is His rule, provision, and protection in the life of those who submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. “And His righteousness” refers to the day when His righteous reign fully comes to the new earth. We are to eagerly seek this.
I believe in his epistles, the apostle Paul gives us some significant phrases which offer simplicity – a focus, a unity to the whole of life:
- “single (or simple) devotion to Christ”
- “… fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith….”
- “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. ”
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“The Humility-Wisdom Connection” is an excerpt from the eBook “Facing the Future”, pages 35-48. See the corresponding eBook and Audio Message on our website.
At Christ’s Table – ACTpublications © 2013
“Explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.” 1 Corinthians 2:13
* * * * * * *
 Ephesians 3:10
 I Corinthians 1:19-20, 25, 27-28, 30, 2:6-8
 Exodus 28:3 and then also in 35:31
 Strong’s # 2451
 Psalm 18:30
 Proverbs 10:29, a rendering based on Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary
 Hosea 14:9
 Romans 12:3
 This is the theme of French Reformed sociologist, Jacques Ellul, in his works, The Technological Society and The Meaning of City.
 Matthew 11:28-30
 Romans 8:29
 Matthew 5:5
 Psalm 37:11
 Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes
 Proverbs 3:34
 James 4:4-6 (Proverbs 3:34)
 James 3:13-18
 I John 2:16
 Proverbs 3:34
 I Peter 5:5
 I Corinthians 1:19-21 Good News Translation
 I Corinthians 1:25-29
 I John 2:16
 James 4:13-16 Good News Translation
 Romans 12:16 Good News Translation
 Philippians 2:5
 Psalm 37:11 New Living Translation
 Psalm 37:11 New Century Version
 I Timothy 6:17-18 New Living Translation
 The title of another book by Richard Foster.
 Paul addresses this externalism in his epistles: I Timothy 4:1-5, Romans 14:17.
 John 10:10
 I Timothy 4:3-4
 Romans 8:5-6
 Galatians 6:8
 Matthew 6:25-34
 Ephesians 3:10
 Titus 2:12
 I Timothy 6:6-10
 (Greek) autareia
 I Thessalonians 4:11-12 God’s Word Translation
 (Greek) hsucazo. Also found in II Thessalonians 3:12. Thayer and Smith’s Bible Dictionary.
 Matthew 6:31-33 Holman Christian Standard Bible
 Revelation 21:1-2
 Galatians 5:5, and Romans 8:23, I Corinthians 1:7, Philippians 3:20, II Timothy 4:8, Titus 2:13
 2 Corinthians 11:3
 Hebrews 12:2
 Romans 11:36