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Nathan Mates' Christian Pages

Get Wisdom and Discernment

By Nathan Mates

Wisdom is a tricky gift to manage. In the Garden of Eden, one temptation of the forbidden fruit was that it would grant wisdom like God's: "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it." [Genesis 3:6] Instead of merely asking God for wisdom, Adam and Eve tried to short-circuit the process, and got burnt by it.

Thousands of years later, King Solomon of Israel took the right steps in seeking after wisdom: he asked God for it. "At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you." Solomon answered, "You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. "Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?" The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this." [1 Kings 3:5-10]

Like he is so often when we ask for beneficial gifts, God was pleased by this request, and honored it."So God said to him, "Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for--both riches and honor--so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life."" [1 Kings 3:11-14]

Solomon's prayer of asking for wisdom is a good model to follow: he thanked God for his faithfulness to his father and himself, acknowledged his weaknesses in wisdom, and admitted that only God's wisdom could govern the Israelites. And God honored that, making him one of Israel's greatest Kings. Solomon certainly wasn't perfect-- he loved women, especially foreign women. Like his father David, he was not able to marry just one woman, but instead tried to emulate other nation's Kings by marrying many.

Speaking of his wives, the author of 1 Kings notes this: "They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods." Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray." [1 Kings 11:2-3] And in this, Solomon's wisdom failed him: he followed other Gods, and did evil in the eyes of the Lord by that. That broke the first commandment-- No other Gods before me [Exodus 20:3]-- and for that, Israel split between the northern Israel and the southern Judah after Solomon's reign.

Despite the failings of Solomon's wisdom, we can still learn from his example. First off, trying to emulate his having hundreds of wives is flat-out wrong: marriage is for one man, one woman. Next, as noted above, and later in the New Testament, God's people are not to be "unequally yoked"-- married to a nonbeliever by choice. [Conversion of one spouse after marriage does not invalidate that marriage: "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives." -- 1 Peter 3:1-2; I'd say that the reverse case of a believing husband is also true.]

Finally, we should stay close to God's word. The Ten Commandments given in Exodus 20 are valid for everyone, even Kings and Presidents. If you can't list those ten commandments off the top of your head, I'd suggest some time refreshing your memory so that you do know what God certainly disapproves of. Beyond that, regular reading of the Bible helps remind you of God's words and teaching.

When I first read through the Bible, I did that cover to cover-- starting in Genesis, and plowing straight through until the end of Revelation, a few chapters per day. This isn't recommended for everyone-- some get bogged down in the raw data of Numbers, others in other places of the Bible. [I personally didn't mind Numbers at all, but had lots more trouble with the Psalms; I suppose that says a lot about me.] A "staggered" approach works to get through the trouble books-- take a few chapters each day of the trouble book, and a few chapters of something else more "interesting."

The first time you read through the Bible, I highly recommend a NIV Study Bible or the like, which explains the background of each book, people and events. This is especially useful towards the end of the Old Testament, where the prophetic books (Isaiah thru Malachi) aren't interspersed with the historical events that precipitated most of them recorded in the more historical books of Genesis through Nehemiah.

Getting back to the study of wisdom, Solomon extolled its virtues in the Proverbs, with such comments as "For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse," [Proverbs 2:10-12] and "Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding." [Proverbs 4:5-7]

A far more insightful comment on wisdom comes from Job: "The fear of the Lord--that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding." [Job 28:28] While we may be sons of God, we are not to get arrogant about that, or ignore him, as he still rules over this universe and will call all humans to account for their sins. [Revelation 20:12] God is not capricious, and won't smite you for sinning (we'd all be dead in a few nanoseconds if that was the case), but we must continually live in respect to God and stay away from the evil that he hates. This is one of the aspects of wisdom that Solomon certainly tripped up on. Like all good gifts, pure wisdom is one of God's attributes, and while we can only experience it in diluted form, we do need to acknowledge him as the source of our wisdom, and try to draw closer to him.

We are not to be based purely on world's wisdom, which can't figure out God's ways, because it's not wise to them: "Jews demand miraculous 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. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength." [1 Corinthians 1:22-25] The Greeks, the intellectuals of the day, couldn't understand why God would send his son as a sacrifice for others, instead of compelling humans to believe.

Even to this day, the message of the Gospel is almost foolishness to some: it seems too simple, not enough, to confess sins to Jesus, ask for forgiveness, and invite him into your heart. The world teaches people to strive after money, power, and control, while God teaches service, forgiveness, and submission. But, as Paul said above, God's foolishness is far more powerful than man's wisdom-- one will get you temporary gain and much pain, while the other leads to eternal life. James says this about God's wisdom: "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." [James 3:17]

So, if wisdom is something we should have, how do we go about getting it? James reminds us to take the Solomonic route: "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." [James 1:5] Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, said this: "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God." [Philippians 1:9-11]

Wisdom is from God, and provides discernment as to what is Godly, what is merely human, and what comes from Satan. Wisdom is given to us through the Holy Spirit, as Paul says elsewhere: "To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, ..." [1 Corinthians 12:8a] We need wisdom more and more these days, as immoral behavior becomes the norm-- wisdom on how to deal with it in our lives, and wisdom as to how to oppose it.

We also need wisdom to deal with Satan's plans and schemes: "If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven--if there was anything to forgive--I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes." [2 Corinthians 2:10-11] Paul aware of Satan's schemes. With wisdom, so can you also be. Are you aware, or is Satan just some bad guy that you know that you need to resist, but don't know much beyond that? Pray for wisdom, pray for understanding, as God gives that.

Finally, Paul comments on how we can daily seek wisdom: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will." [Romans 12:1-2] By continually seeking after God, his word, and following his desires, we will be granted more and more wisdom to deal with his word, his will, and our lives.

See more Christian writings by Nathan Mates at http://www.matesfamily.org/xtian/index.html