As you know my mom went to be with the Lord in July—and for the past couple months my siblings and I have been going through her house to get it ready to sell. If you’ve buried a parent then you know what it’s like to go through all the piles of pictures. Those stacks of prints—everything from Olan Mills to Polaroids and slides and black and whites—well they take you on a journey back in time where you relive a lot of things—happy times and sad—the joys and the challenges of life.
Well, the other day my “trip back in time” reminded me of a time when I was very disrespectful to my mom. It happened many years ago when I was home one summer after my second year in college. With all my new-found higher-education “wisdom” I had decided it was time for me to buy a new car.
To give you a little perspective, when I graduated from High School in 1972 my parents had given me a 1968 Mustang. I don’t know how they afforded it—in fact when dad took me looking for cars and I spotted it, he said, they’d love to get it for me but it was beyond their means. And I believed him—in fact, I was surprised that he’d even take me looking for a car. I knew how tight money was—especially with college tuition on the horizon. Well, a month later when I came home from school on the bus the last day of my senior year there was that mustang parked in our driveway. I wish I still had that car! Anyway, two years later I got it in my head that I needed something better—and while I was driving around one day I saw a car I liked at a used car lot.
It was a white 1972 Ford Fairlane. The salesman seemed so nice—so friendly—and he assured me that he had my best interests at heart and would give me a great deal on a trade. I was “wise” enough to accept what he said as the truth. Well, I drove home to talk to mom about it—expecting her to rubber stamp the transaction—but instead she began to question my plans. She tactfully, respectfully suggested that my mustang was fine—that I would regret getting rid of it and that I couldn’t afford a car payment. I remember my response—and it still causes me embarrassment. I said, “Mom, don’t be so stupid!” Well, I saw the shocked look on her face and immediately regretted what I said. I apologized. I put the Fairlane decision on the back burner. And mom was right. By the next morning, I had wised up enough to realize it was me who was being stupid—foolish. In fact, when look at these two cars side by side today I can’t believe I was ever dumb enough to think the Fairlane was a good idea. What an unthankful fool I was!
Now—I’m feeling embarrassed as I share this with you—so will any of you grace-driven people help me out? Can any of you think of a time when you said or did something foolish—stupid?
The truth is we all act like fools from time to time don’t we? We all struggle with making wise decisions and that brings us to this morning’s topic because as we continue our study of the attributes of the one true God—the REAL God—we are looking at His WISDOM.
Now—unfortunately, WISDOM is a word that brings to mind several inaccurate stereotypes.
For example, we often limit the use of this word to describing OLD people—people experienced in life—but you can be well-along in years and still be a very foolish person. WISDOM does not necessarily come with age. I’ve known a lot of OLD fools. I act like one from time to time!
And on the other end of the age spectrum I’ve seen CHILDREN—individuals with almost no life experience say things that show a great deal of wisdom and insight. For example, listen to these responses given by a group of children who were asked: “What do you think wisdom is?”
- Rocky, age 9, said, “Wisdom is…wearing a hat when feeding seagulls.”
- Nine-year-old Carol said, “Wisdom is…never asking for anything that costs more than $5 when your parents are doing taxes.”
- Nicholas, age 11, apparently spoke from experience and said: “Wisdom is…never bugging a pregnant mom.”
- And, Heather, a seasoned teenager said, “Wisdom is…knowing NOT TO ANSWER when your dad is mad and asks, ‘Do I look stupid?’”
These children had some pretty wise insights, wouldn’t you agree? So, wisdom is not necessarily related to AGE. Another thing we need to understand is that wisdom is much more than accumulated KNOWLEDGE. I mean you can be very educated. You can have a string of degrees after your name—and still be a very unwise—foolish—person.
Journalist and historian, Paul Johnson documented this principle in his book, Intellectuals, which is a collection of mini-biographies of the leading thinkers of the last 200 years—people like Rousseau, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Karl Marx and others—people whose ideas shaped cultures, began revolutions, and toppled civilizations. In his book Johnson shows that each of these men and women possessed massive intellects but they were fools—evil fools. I mean, history shows these intellectual “giants” were very lacking when it came to wisdom.
Johnson writes, “They were cruel, shallow, heartless, and selfish. They loved humanity but hated people.” His observations remind me of Paul’s words in Romans 1 where he writes, “…their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be WISE, they became FOOLS.” (Romans 1:21b-22)
So, wisdom doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with knowledge. No—-genuine wisdom is seen in the way someone USES knowledge and/or experience. Wisdom is the ability to take knowledge and then judge rightly, following the best course of action. Well, the Bible tells us over and over again that God embodies this attribute. This is the fact that Paul was underscoring when he CONCLUDED his letter to the Romans with the following benediction, “To the ONLY WISE God, be glory forever through Jesus Christ.” (Romans 16:27) And, please note. Paul is not just telling us that God is wise. Nor is he saying that God is the ONLY god who is wise. Paul knew that there are no other Gods. No—Paul was saying that God is ONLY WISE. He’s saying that there is not even a shade of folly in our Heavenly Father. Wisdom saturates everything He is and everything He does.
To help us understand this particular Godly attribute I want us to take a moment or two to examine three Greek words for wisdom that are used in the Bible.
The first is SOPHIA—it’s the word from which we get our word “philosophy.” SOPHIA literally means, “insight into the nature of things, an ability to see through, to comprehend truly and fully what is going on.” For example, it would take “SOPHIA-wisdom” to see that someone’s anger was really woundedness. This brand of wisdom would see this individual’s angry words and actions as a “mask” they wear to cover their pain.
The second Greek word is PHRONESIS. Think of “phronesis-wisdom” as the understanding that this kind of insight needs to be APPLIED—that something has to be done about a person’s woundedness that leads to anger.
And this brings us to the third Greek word, “SUNESIS.” SUNESIS describes the joining of SOPHIA and PHRONESIS. I mean, sunesis is seeing beneath the surface of things, understanding something needs to be done, and then actually doing it. We see all three of these forms of wisdom in the description of God in Psalm 103. For example, we see God’s “Sophia wisdom” in the fact that, “He knows that we are but dust. He understands our weaknesses.”
He knows that many times we behave the way we do because we are flawed, “we are like grass—we flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone.” And His “Phronesis wisdom” is seen in the fact that, as the psalmist puts it, God is, “compassionate and gracious, abounding in love.” God knows we need His help. Then we see the two put together in “sunesis wisdom” when it says, “God does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” This psalm reminds us that God possesses all three of these dimensions of wisdom in completeness and perfection. He is ALL-wise.
But to fully understand the depth of God’s wisdom we need to review another aspect of His character—His omniscience—a long word that means God has COMPLETE knowledge. He knows EVERYTHING—every word spoken by every person who ever lived, every movement by any of the billions of insects, birds, fish, and mammals anywhere in the world—every chemical reaction going on inside every flower and tree and plant on every continent on every planet—God is fully aware of all of this. He is aware of the actions of every cell in every body of EVERYBODY. And—He knows literally everything about you. As David puts it in Psalm 139:
“You have searched me, Lord, and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You, Lord, know it completely.”
God knows everything about YOU and me. He knows our anxious thoughts—our fears. He knows our joys—He knows our strengths, our weaknesses.
And His knowledge is not limited to time. God reads the future just as clearly as He reads the past. Who we will be 30 or 40 or 50 years from now is no less certain to God than who we were 10 years ago. Do you remember how David puts it? “You created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb…all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be!”
Let’s try to get our finite minds around all this. I’m saying the Bible teaches us that every possible bit of knowledge in the universe is known and understood by God simultaneously. As someone once put it, “No question can confound Him. No dilemma can confuse Him, No event can surprise Him. He has eternal, intrinsic, comprehensive and absolutely perfect knowledge. There’s not a single motivation, thought, act, or word that has slipped out of your being and escaped the full, undivided attention of God.”
Now, put these two attributes together. God has literally ALL knowledge and He also has complete, perfect “sunesis-wisdom” which means He always uses His knowledge to lovingly act for our good. Jerry Bridges puts it this way, “God always knows what is best for us as well as the best way to bring about that result.”
Well this attribute of God can make a world of difference in our lives. I mean think about it for a minute. Imagine what a difference it would make in your life, if in the midst of even the most difficult times you could believe that God is truly all-wise—that God knows what He is doing!
What difference would it make if you firmly believed that the problem in your life that is most pressing and difficult, the one you don’t understand—the one that causes you the most concern—the one that makes you feel overwhelmed and ready to give up—what if you sincerely believed even this problem was allowed or orchestrated by an all-knowing, all-wise, all-loving Heavenly Father?
When we face illnesses that won’t go away, biopsy reports that scare us, relationships with loved ones that are broken or breaking no matter what we do to fix them—well, wouldn’t it be a relief to rest and trust that an all-wise God is sovereignly in control and working for our good 24 hours a day, 365 days a year? Can you imagine what would happen to your anxiety level and your emotions if you had this quality of faith in our God Who is literally all-wise—ONLY wise?
I mean think of the difference it would make if you were absolutely convinced that God was producing the best possible results in your life by the best possible means—not his Plan B or C, but the plan A that He designed specifically for you!
In my opinion, not only should knowledge of this attribute give us comfort—it should also motivate us to embrace a deep respect for God—a reverence for our Heavenly Father based on our conviction that He knows far more than we could ever know—-that, “His ways ARE above our ways and His thoughts above our thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) This attitude is what Proverbs 15:33 is referring to when it says, “The fear of the Lord—the REVERENCE—of the Lord—teaches a man wisdom—and humility comes before honor.” Wouldn’t you agree? If you do, quote Psalm 131:1 with me. It’s on the screen. “My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with matters or things too wonderful for me.” (Psalm 131:1)
In 1969, in a science lab in New Jersey, Canadian physicist Willard Boyle and his colleagues invented the concept of the electronic eye. Using their knowledge of mathematics and the behavior of light they provided the science behind digital cameras known as a charged-coupled device or CCD. The CCD technology revolutionized photography because it made it possible for a picture to be captured electronically instead of on film. CCD technology is used on the Hubble telescope and the Mars Lunar probe. It’s used in your smart phone camera. It was Boyle’s invention that allowed us to see the surface of Mars for the first time. In 2009 Boyle was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.
Well, a few years after the original invention of CCD technology, Boyle walked into a store to purchase one of the new digital cameras that had come out based on his invention. During the visit, the salesman tried to explain the intricacies of the digital camera, but stopped, feeling it was too complicated for his customer to understand. According to one long-time friend, Boyle was normally a humble man, but on this occasion he was frustrated by the salesman’s arrogance and disrespect. So Boyle bluntly replied: “No need to explain. I invented it.” When the salesman didn’t believe him, Boyle told the salesman to type “Willard S. Boyle” into his computer and see for himself. A Nikon representative in the store heard the exchange and immediately came over to have his photograph taken with the famous inventor.
Have you ever acted like that impatient salesman with God? Have you ever questioned God’s judgment—questioned His love—doubted His wisdom—acted like you, the creation knew more than your Creator? We must turn from that kind of behavior and embrace a reverence for God. We need to trust that in His wisdom and goodness He knows what He is doing.
You know the amazing—wonderful thing is the fact even though His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways not our ways—our ALL-WISE God offers to advise us in life’s dilemmas.
As James tells us in his epistle, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, Who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” This verse and others like it tell us that God doesn’t mind it at all when we humble ourselves and show our reverence for His wisdom by admitting,
“God, I need your help. I don’t know what to do in this marriage; I don’t know how to handle this kid; I don’t know what do to do with our finances; I don’t know whether I ought to move, and I don’t know if I should take this job. I need Your wise guidance, God!”
In times of need like these it IS wise to come boldly to the throne of grace and find help.
Okay—to give us MORE confidence that this is actually one of God’s attributes—one that we can rely on four guidance in life—let’s review ways we can clearly SEE God’s wisdom.
(1) First, like the other attributes we have studied, we can see God’s wisdom in CREATION.
Mark Buchannan writes, “The wonder of creation—its infinite bigness—its infinitesimally small detail, its staggering beauty—is astounding. The simplest things, from worms and stones to eyebrows and fingernails, involve a magnitude of genius humans can admire but never fully imitate.”
Do you AMEN his statement? I do! I mean, everywhere we look in this created world—we see proof of a Creator—Who is infinitely WISE. Let’s take the human body as an example. As Wilbur Nelson puts it in his book, If I Were an Atheist,
“Think of your skin—while water penetrates the skin outwardly, it cannot penetrate it inwardly. Think of the bones—capable of carrying a load thirty times greater than brick will support. Think of the liver—it breaks up old blood cells into bile and neutralizes poisonous substances. Think of the blood—ten to twelve pints of a syrupy substance that distributes oxygen and carries away waste from tissues and organs, and also regulates the body’s temperature. Think of the heart—weighing less than a pound, it’s a real workhorse. On the average it pumps 100,000 times a day, circulating 2,000 gallons of blood through 60,000 miles of arteries, capillaries and veins.”
We could go on and on talking about the complexities in our eyes and our kidneys and our endocrine systems. I mean God’s creative power—seen in the bodies you are all walking around in this morning—clearly displays His wisdom. In fact, I give you permission to look at your bodies and say out loud, “Way to go God!” The Bible tells us that we are made in God’s image—so like our Heavenly Father, we love to create—but let’s be honest. Our attempts are feeble in comparison. I mean think of it—scuba divers need all kinds of bulky equipment to swim underwater for a limited amount of time. God put all those complicated systems in a tiny guppy and he can stay underwater his entire life. To fly we need a perfectly designed pile of aluminum and steel and powerful engines. God created a tiny hummingbird that can do all that and more. This week I came across some wonderful facts about these tiny birds in a book by Sy Montgomery appropriately titled: Birdology. She writes.
“Hummingbirds are the lightest birds in the sky. Of their roughly 240 species—the largest, an Andean ‘giant,’ is only eight inches long; the smallest, the bee hummingbird of Cuba, is just over two inches long and weighs a single gram. Hummingbirds have unrivaled powers of flight. Alone among birds, they can hover, fly backward, even fly upside down. For such small birds, their speed is astonishing: in his courtship display to impress a female, a male Allen’s hummingbird, for instance—can dive out of the sky at sixty-one miles per hour. Diving at 385 body-lengths per second, this hummer beats the peregrine falcoln’s dives and even bests the space shuttle—as it screams down through the atmosphere at a mere 207 body lengths per second. Hummingbirds’ wings beat at a rate that makes them a blur to human eyes, more than sixty times a second. They are little more than bubbles fringed with iridescent feathers—air wrapped in light. In most birds, 15 to 25 percent of the body is given over to flying muscles. In a hummingbird’s body, flight muscles account for 35 percent. An enormous heart constitutes up to 2.5 percent of its body weight—the largest per body weight of all vertebrates. A person as active as a hummingbird would need 155,000 calories a day. Each [hummingbird] is just a speck yet each is an infinite mystery.”
Montgomery writes, “You know that kind of awestruck feeling you get when you look at a great work of art? That sense of wonder, that sense of connection to something great and mysterious? It’s the same feeling looking at a hummingbird.”And I agree—it’s the feeling that Someone incredibly WISE created this amazing animal. We can see God’s WISDOM in all of creation.
(2) And another place we can see it is in His CHURCH.
Ephesians 3:10 says that the plan was, “…that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known.” This verse and others like it tell us the astounding fact that it is God’s will that we—His church—can display His wisdom. Now—I know what you’re thinking. Too many of us have been hurt by a church. Too many of us have heard of churches who failed to show the wisdom of God. A sad—but typical example is in Colson’s book, The Body, where he tells the story about a large and wealthy suburban church that sat next door to a rescue mission. The church, through legal maneuvers, forced the mission to close its doors because some of the men and women the mission was trying to help—-kept wandering over onto the church’s beautiful property, smoking in the parking lot, sleeping in the stairwells, littering behind the manicured shrubs, etc. That church and too many others like it act more like God’s Big Blunder than God’s Great Wisdom. The thing to remember is that it was and is God’s INTENT for us to display His wisdom—but He leaves the choice to us. I mean, everyday you and I make the choice to BE the church—to act in ways that show God’s wisdom. As Ingram put it in last week’s video—we are God’s church—each of us are His temple. We are to show by the way we live that He lives in us—dwells in us—wherever we go. Well, when we let Christ rule, when we let His presence in us become visible, we display God’s wisdom—we show that God is wise enough to empower even lowly feeble, often foolish, sinners like you and me to do His great will. When we love as only God can love—when we sacrifice to help others as God sacrificed when He sent His Son to die for us—when we help the hurting and listen to the lonely—when we tell sinners about the grace of God in sending Jesus—the world sees the wisdom of God made manifest. When the church—IS the church—when the church ACTS like the body of Christ—it’s a “WOW moment!” It shows a watching world that God is WISE—WISE enough to use even you and me.
May we always be a church that does that—a church that demonstrated to a watching world the wisdom of God! This leads to another way—the BEST way—we can see God’s wisdom.
(3) We see it in the CHRIST.
Now this makes sense because Jesus was God—the Creator—become flesh. And in that flesh God showed His wisdom all the time—every second of Jesus’ 33 years on this planet. Dallas Willard writes,
“Jesus knew how to transform the molecular structure of water to make it wine. That knowledge also allowed Him to take a few pieces of bread and some little fish and feed thousands of people. He knew how to transform the tissues of the human body from sickness to health and from death to life. He knew how to suspend gravity, interrupt weather patterns, eliminate unfruitful tress without saw or ax. Revelation 1:5 tells us that He is now supervised the entire course of human history while simultaneously preparing the rest of the universe for our future role in it. He is not just nice. He is brilliant. He is the smartest Man Who has ever lived.”
But it was not what Jesus KNEW that displayed His wisdom as much as what He DID for us. As Paul puts it in 1st Corinthians 1:30 on the cross: “Christ Jesus has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” Think of it. Because, as Kevin reminded us last week, God is holy, our sin had to be judged. Because as Peggy will remind us in a couple weeks, God is love—He wanted our relationship with Him to be restored. Because as I’ll talk about next week, God’s justice demanded a settlement. Because His grace provided the willingness—then God’s wisdom—-taking all His other attributes into account—-devised the plan. Jesus would come to earth as the one perfect Sacrifice required to pay for our sin.
Jesus Who did no sin—and knew no sin—would become sin for us.
That’s the plan. Jesus was—and still is—and always will be—THE ONLY WAY for us to be saved. Gregory Koukl puts it like this: “Most ailments need particular antidotes. Increasing the air pressure in your tires will not fix a troubled carburetor. Aspirin will not dissolve a tumor. Cutting up credit cards will not wipe out debt that is already owed. If your water pipes are leaking, you call a plumber, not an oncologist, but a plumber will not cure a cancer. Any adequate solution must solve the problem that needs to be solved, and singular problems need singular solutions. Some antidotes are one-of-a-kind cures for one-of-a-kind ailments. Sometimes only one medicine will do the job, as much as we may like it to be otherwise. Mankind faces a singular problem. People are broken and the world is broken because our friendship with God has been broken, ruined by human rebellion. Humans, you and I—are guilty, enslaved, lost, dead. All of us. Everyone. Everywhere. The guilt must be punished, the debt must be paid, the slave must be purchased. Promising better conduct in the future will not mend the crimes of the past. No, a rescuer must ransom the slaves, a kindred brother must pay the family debt, a substitute must shoulder the guilt. There is no other way of escape.”
Paul’s words in 1st Corinthians 1 come to mind: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called—both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
LET US PRAY