We all hear many ideas and opinions about what is considered to be good and wise in our world today. But how can we truly know what is good and wise in a culture that’s oozing with relativism and pragmatism at every turn? The way in which we answer that question will reveal our worldview and will tell us wherein our trust lies.
What feels right? What is popular? What has brought success in the past? Questions such as those are spurred by earthly wisdom. Earthly wisdom appeals to our senses and emotions and tells us to follow our hearts. It consists of thoughts and ideas that seem wise in the eyes of man, and it can change based on what is popular and what people believe to be true at the time.
Godly wisdom, on the other hand, never changes. It is based solely upon God’s Word and tells us to steer clear of emotional decisions and to reject our inclination to follow our hearts; after all, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
Let’s look to the writings of Paul to help us better discern earthly wisdom from godly wisdom. When Paul wrote 2 Corinthians he was attempting to defend himself after false teachers had gone into the Corinthian church and tried to debunk Paul’s testimony by attacking his character and his credibility as an apostle. He wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:12: “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.”
In this verse Paul says to the Corinthian church that his conscience is clear because he acted not with earthly wisdom toward the Corinthians, but with godly wisdom. The Lord gave Paul grace to behave with simplicity (not to try to impress people) and with godly sincerity (to be humble and to recognize his need for God’s grace), which caused him to boast in the Lord all the more.
Additionally, King Solomon gives us great insight into godly wisdom. When God asked him what one thing he wanted more than anything else, Solomon asked for wisdom (2 Chronicles 1). The book of Proverbs, written around the 10th century B.C. by King Solomon, teaches us about the source of godly wisdom: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10).
Fearing the Lord is where godly wisdom begins. This doesn’t just mean having a great respect for the Lord, as some people say. Fearing the Lord means our hearts and souls fall down before Him, recognizing His sovereignty, His power, and our eternal need of Him. My husband explains the fear of the Lord like this: Imagine there is a huge lion standing before you; no cage, no glass, nothing. Just you and a lion. Understanding the lion’s immense power and knowing that it could rip your head off at any minute leads you to tremble with fear. And although that lion allows you to get close and snuggle up to it, you’re always aware of its great strength and its capability to destroy you at any moment. Now, this analogy definitely falls short in many areas when we think about a believer’s relationship to God (for God has promised not to devour those who are in Christ, and believers can be confident in God’s promises while boldly approaching His throne), but we do get a clearer picture of what the fear of the Lord looks like as we acknowledge His power and sovereignty over us. And when we truly fear the Lord, we’ll read His Word and follow His commands because we will see what a mighty God He is, and we’ll desire to honor Him with our lives. This is godly wisdom from above that is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).