by Mark Miller
The quality of being wise; power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action, based on knowledge, experience, understanding, etc.; good judgment; sagacity.*
Over the last twenty-five years of ministry experience I have accepted from others – with too much false humility – assertions of my possessing the gift of “uncommon wisdom.” I never really questioned the importance of the word “uncommon;” whether it spoke to a spiritual versus worldly component of my “gift,” or to some above-average degree of acquired wisdom in the way I lead. Honestly, it did not matter. Something about being labeled as one with “uncommon wisdom” puffed me up in those insidious ways usually unseen by others, but are both titillating and terrifying to the one upon whom such distinctions fall. In my youth (anything under fifty by most standards now!) I dismissed the terror and basked in the titillation.
But then I found myself approaching middle-age and suddenly surrounded by younger, smarter, and more talented staff – not to mention the sheer scope of our ever-expanding ministry – and I began to wrestle more and more often with my capacity to lead wisely in such a context. In fact, I frequently find myself musing to others in leadership that I feel as if I know less today than thirty-plus years ago. But as the common paraphrase of Matthew 26:52 goes, “He who lives by the sword, will die by the sword;” and so I find myself needing to reflect “wise-ness” in a season that leaves me feeling as if wisdom has failed me.
If, by wisdom, we just mean the common, worldly understanding – a ’la Webster’s earlier definition – which finds its source in “knowledge, experience, and understanding,” then the Seminary has fulfilled its mission. My concern comes from the obvious conclusion: in the worldly paradigm, one can only increase their knowledge and/or experience, and their capacity to assimilate those resources, to grow in wisdom.
But the Word of God says otherwise.
While both the Hebrew and Greek words our Bibles most often translate “wisdom” seem to support the more common “worldly” meaning of the word, their use in context – contrarily – seems to point more towards a spiritual capacity to know what God would have us do. While that difference may sound subtle, even inconsequential, the plain reading of Scripture tells us differently.
When speaking of wisdom, James’ letter to the Jewish Christians of the Roman Empire indicates that just such an uncommon capacity is needed. When we lack that what-would-God-have-us-do conviction, we must ask Him. And He gives it as a gift of His grace, and it will only be allotted when there is evidence of unwavering faith, (James 1:5-6a, NASB):
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting.”
The book of Proverbs, rich with the personification of wisdom, even shows there is both worldly, common wisdom and a Godly, uncommon wisdom by claiming that “there is a way (a “wisdom”?) which seems right to man, but its end is the way of death,” (Proverbs 14:12, NASB). This wisdom suggests that all the knowledge, experience, understanding, and the attendant capacity to assimilate it all, stills leads to devastating consequences. That kind of decision and fate could be avoided by looking not inward to our own resources, but outward to the graces of God.
Biblical wisdom, then, calls us into godly attitudes and behaviors which will keep us in the light of God’s glorious will, and away from the worldly attachments of personal aspiration and human agenda. Most things can be taught, many others can only be “caught,” but the most glorious aspects of life must be diligently sought because they only come as gifts – gifts of which we are never worthy, but with which we must always be faithful.
*Note: Webster’s New World College Dictionary, 4th ed. (Cleveland, OH: Wiley Pub., 2005), “wisdom.”