Have you ever thought about how often you are faced with making decisions? We literally make dozens of decisions daily about things in our everyday lives: What will I wear today? What will I have for breakfast? Will I pay that bill this week or next? Will I make that comment or not?
Although some “decisions” are rather routine, others can really impact us and those around us—decisions that can change our futures or open or close doors. Decisions about career, where to live, marriage, making a job change, moving to a new location—just to name a few.
And all of these decisions require, to a greater or lesser degree, something that we all greatly need, and that something is wisdom.
Consider the importance of wisdom. Wisdom has a prominent position in our whole purpose of life in building godly character.
To begin, we really need to answer three fundamental questions about wisdom: 1) What is it? 2) Why do we need it? 3) How do we get it?
Wisdom is defined in the Britannica World Language Dictionary as “the power of true and right discernment; conformity to the course of action dictated by such discernment … Wisdom implies the highest exercise of all the faculties” (emphasis added).
When we think of wisdom, we often associate it with knowledge and understanding, but wisdom is really different from both of these attributes. Wisdom is on a higher level than knowledge or understanding. Here’s the distinction: Knowledge is “information concerning facts,” whereas understanding is “comprehension of how those facts work together.” In a simple analogy: Knowledge is like the pieces of the puzzle, but understanding is knowing how it fits together.
Wisdom, on the other hand, involves the application of knowledge and understanding to new situations. Herbert W. Armstrong explained what wisdom is in his autobiography: “I had discovered, very early in my ministry, that I lacked natural wisdom. I had always craved understanding. I had absorbed a reasonable share of knowledge. But wisdom is ability to put both of these together and form a right decision.”So, as Mr. Armstrong stated, wisdom actually involves putting knowledge and understanding to a proper use and application through right decision-making.
Why do we need wisdom? In Proverbs 4:5-7, God shows us that wisdom is important and something that we should desire and seek. The book of Proverbs is filled with comments about wisdom as are the books of Psalms and Ecclesiastes. Proverbs 3:13 says happy is the man who finds wisdom. Proverbs 16:16 says wisdom is better than gold and silver. Ecclesiastes 7:12 shows that wisdom exceeds money and knowledge and gives life. Ecclesiastes 8:1 says wisdom makes a man’s face to shine. Psalm 37:30 says the mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom.
There is ample biblical evidence that wisdom is something to be desired. We need wisdom because God shows us that it is important. It is an essential component of right decision-making (as Mr. Armstrong stated).
Since wisdom is so important, we now come to our third fundamental question: How do we obtain it?
Psalm 111:10 points out that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. This is repeated in several other places in the Bible (e.g. Job 28:28; Proverbs 15:33). If you fear God—if you respect Him you obviously will be keeping His commandments. And it is through keeping His commandments that we become wiser (Psalm 119:98).
But wisdom is also a gift from God. It is something that we must ask for and God will grant us through the Holy Spirit: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). So, we need to ask God for wisdom.
One of the prime biblical examples of someone asking for wisdom is that of Solomon when he became king. He obviously feared God and was obeying His commandments. And he asked God for the wisdom to rule the people of Israel. God granted him wisdom (1 Kings 5:12), and he became the wisest man who ever lived.
Likewise, God granted Daniel and his three companions wisdom such that they were 10 times better than all the other wise men in the realm (Daniel 1:20). God will grant us wisdom if we are obedient and ask Him in believing faith.
To continue with Mr. Armstrong’s example: “I had read God’s instruction in James 1. If any man lacks wisdom, he is to ask God for it; and, believing, he shall receive it. I had asked God for wisdom. God granted it. But even though it comes as a gift, He lets it develop gradually and through experience” (ibid).
We see, then, that wisdom increases with experience and time—just as character does. We read earlier that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, but wisdom grows through experience and trials. That is why God says that with the ancients is wisdom because age indicates experience (Job 12:12). Those of greater age have more experience and, thus, the potential for greater wisdom. We know also that Christ grew in wisdom while He was here on Earth. He learned obedience through the things that He suffered—and His wisdom, coupled with His obedience, increased with age and experience (Luke 2:52).
How do we get wisdom? We fear, which can also mean respect, God. That’s the beginning. We demonstrate that fear, or respect, by keeping His commandments. We ask God for the gift of His wisdom, and He will grant us wisdom that will increase through trial and experience.
Every day we have the opportunity to exercise wisdom in the dozens of small, medium and large decisions that confront us. Things like: What will I say to that person who is suffering? Will I listen and let the other person speak? Will I help even when I’m tired and don’t feel like it? Will I study and pray this morning even though I don’t have the time?
The way we make those decisions and use wisdom affects the character-building process that is taking place within each of us. Some decisions we may have to make quickly—with little time to consult. Those quick decisions will be made as a result of the character that God has already built in us. Other decisions we will have time to seek counsel and ponder—weigh and meditate—perhaps fast and pray. But wisdom, or the lack thereof, will affect all the decisions that we make. And ultimately, it will impact the very character God is trying to develop within us.
Royal Vision editor in chief Gerald Flurry writes about this topic in The Epistle of James: “True wisdom is a gift from God. It takes wisdom to know what to do when God denies you something you earnestly desire, or how to navigate our fiery trials, for example. … In my ministry, I have seen many people make huge, terrible decisions that have hurt them badly—because of a lack of wisdom. I have seen Church members lose good jobs that they needed. I’ve seen people make a bad decision about who to marry, which affects them the rest of their life. I have seen members make the wrong statement to a school teacher, or commit mistakes in home schooling. I have seen members mishandle themselves in dealing with medical authorities. All because of a lack of wisdom!”
So it is clear that we need wisdom to avoid hurting ourselves and those around us. The wisdom that we need comes from above, from our Father, who is willing to help us—if we ask and do our part.
When God grants us that “wisdom from above” (James 3:17), and we implement it in our lives, what will be the result? That wisdom will be of great benefit to the one who possesses it as well as to those with whom he comes into contact.
Let’s recognize the important role of wisdom in our lives—what it is and the acute need that we have for it. And let’s ask God to supply us with this “gift from above,” so that we can please Him and use the wisdom of God to serve others.