One of the first and most fundamental things to understand about godly wisdom is that the accumulation of spiritual knowledge is not in itself, godly wisdom.
Godly wisdom is a grace-based gift from God. One cannot gain this wisdom solely by the avenue of self-effort or personal experience.
The first chapter of James, verse five, speaks of wisdom from God:
“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. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
We are told that we cannot from a divided heart both trust and distrust God and expect to receive a gifting of wisdom. The Full Life Bible Commentary on the book of James states, “But what is it that causes “doubt” in the sense of distrust? Precisely the idea that God may respond to the request for “wisdom” not with a “good and perfect gift” (1:17) but by “finding fault” and sending “trials of many kinds” (1:2), so that one may learn “wisdom.” Those who think that they must “learn “wisdom” by their own efforts in the struggles of life cannot receive wisdom simply as God’s gift (v 7), and so will remain unstable (v 8).”
Some believe they can learn wisdom, while others believe that they can earn wisdom – most commonly through enduring hardship. Some point to James as evidence of this. James 1: 02-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
But, the development of perseverance by the testing of our faith through hardship is meant to be an occasion that causes Christians to acknowledge their complete insufficiency apart from God and motivate them to ask God for the wisdom that can only be obtained from Him as a divine gift. This is how perseverance finishes its work so that we will become mature and complete, not lacking anything. By learning to trust God for all things! Hardship does not create godly wisdom, although it can inspire practicality that may be viewed as a form of wisdom.
Proverbs also speaks to us of wisdom:
Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.
We are exhorted in Proverbs 4:7 to procure this understanding, this wisdom, no matter what the cost – “Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”
“Though it cost all you have!” Here is the key to the acquisition of godly wisdom. “Though it cost all you have” means that godly wisdom is of such value to God that He requires that we would be willing to give up every possession we own in the pursuit of it. God is communicating to us that this wisdom is to be highly prized and considered more valuable than all of our possessions combined.
As New Testament saints, we have a unique opportunity and methodology given to us through which we might receive wisdom from God. This opportunity does not come to us by a process of giving over our material goods in exchange for a compilation of knowledge, which we then try to learn and apply to our lives. Yet the opportunity does come to us through a unique process of exchange. A process of exchange that God has designed so that we might possess within us, as a very part of us, His very wisdom. As New Testament saints, godly wisdom is available to us in a way that it has never before been available. It is accessible to us in a special way, a way that was not even accessible to the Old Testament saints. Not even Solomon!
In 1 Corinthians 1:17 – 2:16, we begin to discover just how this godly wisdom is uniquely accessible and available to Christians today. (As we go through 1 Corinthians, try to keep in mind the key to the acquisition of godly wisdom from Proverbs 4:7 – “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” This is the theme that is developed in these verses.) We first read in 1 Corinthians 1:17: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel–not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.”
Paul states that his preaching was not with words of human wisdom. He does this in order to emphasize to the Corinthians that human wisdom is not a Christian’s source of power. Our source of power is the cross. And from this source we receive true spiritual wisdom. The apostle speaks this way because of the Greek’s admiration for human wisdom, which, he will demonstrate is misplaced and is actually an obstruction to their receiving the gospel. The Greeks prided themselves on their history of distinguished philosophers. Luke comments on the Greeks’ fascination with wisdom in Acts17: 21; “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.”
In verse 18, Paul states, “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.” The message of the cross was foolishness to the Greeks, because it did not correspond to their conception of wisdom. And it was a weakness and a stumbling block to the Jews, because it did not correspond to their conception of power. To a Jew, hanging from a tree indicated God’s curse. So a crucified Messiah was inconsistent with their idea of a Messiah who would appear as a conquering king and deliver them from their enemies.
By the seemingly powerless and foolish mechanism of crucifixion, Jesus took God’s curse upon himself in order to save us from that very curse. But to the Greek and to many Jews, it was nothing but foolishness.
Paul in verse, 19 and 20 gives us an indication of how inferior worldly wisdom is, compared to God’s wisdom
For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? ”
On the other hand, in Isaiah, God indicates to us how superior His wisdom is, compared to the world’s wisdom:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55: 8,9
Returning to 1 Corinthians 1:21:
“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.”
Here God deliberately used a form of wisdom, which would appear as foolishness to the self-reliant, self-centered world, so that it would require humble faith in order for there to be restoration of healthy relationship with God. God’s wisdom as expressed through the cross of Christ, is a deliberate stumbling stone to those that deliberately choose to remain in their delusions – delusions that are based on worldly wisdom.
It is God’s wisdom that the world through its wisdom did not know him. And God is pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe, because the so-called wisdom of man is nothing more than a means by which man tries to secure a self-centered lifestyle of idolatry.
God tells us in Rev 3:17, what man, in his idolatrous striving, truly believes is wisdom:
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.
Look around. This is what the world believes wisdom to be. It is the most sought after type of wisdom in the entire world. The wisdom to acquire material wealth to the extent that we “do not need a thing.” Our goal is to acquire wealth to the extent that we “do not need a thing”, because in our pride we do not want to admit that we need God. In our pride we cling to worldly wisdom in a vain attempt to clothe ourselves, not with robes of righteousness, but with filthy rags, which we, in our delusion, believe are beautiful. But the Lord brings correction to this delusion:
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.’
Returning to 1 Cor 1:22-25: “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.”
This foolishness of God, which is wiser than man’s wisdom, this weakness of God, which is stronger than man’s strength, is, of course, the perceived foolishness, the perceived weakness of Christ crucified. Christ crucified is the “foolishness” of God. This foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom because from the foolishness of Christ crucified, true wisdom is made available, by faith, to all men.
We read on in verses 26-29:
“Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”
God has determined, in His wisdom, that He alone will receive the glory for the salvation of humanity. He chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and the weak things of the world to shame the strong to demonstrate, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that His grace is not a response to human efforts.
Finally, in verse 30, we discover the mechanism of exchange, whereby godly wisdom is now available to us in a way that it has never before been available. The process of exchange that God has designed, that we might possess within us, as a very part of us, His very wisdom:
“It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
It is because of Him (God) that you (we) are in Christ Jesus. It is by God’s grace that we are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Christ has literally become for us true wisdom from God. It is not the knowledge of Christ that is our wisdom; it is Christ himself!
Wisdom is no longer just an accumulation of information and the practical application of that information. It is a person! And Christ, the personification of God’s wisdom is now available to Christians by faith. In Him only “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).
The process of exchange, whereby true, godly wisdom is now available to us in a way that it has never before been available is simply this: By the grace of God, as we are in Christ Jesus, He is in us.
The beginning of this process is called the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. (Romans 8:3, 2 Cor. 5:21, Gal. 3:13) Christ was put to death as the substitute for all men and women. Our sin is transferred to Him; His life and His righteousness, holiness, and redemption are given to us. This transfer is what happens to us at salvation. It becomes our official position in Christ Jesus.
And yet, by God’s grace the process of exchange continues for the rest of our lives. That continuing process is called sanctification. Sanctification is at work within us to make our official position in Him become real in our everyday lives – in our thoughts, feelings and choices. Through sanctification, to the extent that we have surrendered our worldly wisdom and our ways to Him, His life in us will continue to reveal His wisdom in us and through us. This is what the Proverb means by “Though it cost all you have…”
As the person of Christ is allowed to rule in us, the personification of His wisdom is revealed in us. Wisdom, for us, is no longer placing our faith in a compilation of information. Wisdom for us, is Christ in us. And to the extent that His righteousness and His holiness reign in our life, to that degree, His wisdom will be perfected in us. And so, verse 31 declares: “Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ ”
In 1 Corinthians 2:1-4 Paul elaborates further:
“When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power…”
Why does Paul make the point in verse four that his preaching was not with wise and persuasive words, but, instead, with a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power?
The answer is in verse five – “so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” His message and his preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that their faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power!
Today, I refer to this verse (1 Cor 2:5) at the end of the first counseling session with most of my clients. I also stand on this verse for myself and for my ministry. My message and my preaching are not with worldly wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power, so that their faith might not rest on my or any other man’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
And if the desire for change is in the heart of the one to whom I am ministering, God’s power always shows up. Someone once said, and I concur, that “the Holy Spirit has developed in me an incurable confidence in His ability to transform people.”
Immediately after remarking that his preaching was not with wise and persuasive words, Paul goes on to say:
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.
1 Cor. 2:6,7
What is this message of wisdom among the mature, this secret wisdom that has been destined for our glory before time began? It is, as verse five maintains, “that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” The secret message of wisdom among the mature is simply that our faith must rest on God’s power, not our own efforts. Our faith must rest on God’s sanctifying power through Christ Jesus, which has been destined for our glory before time began.
Our glory is, of course, a reflection of the glory of Christ as Christ is perfected within us. Paul declares that this wisdom, available to us today, has previously been hidden. And that it was destined for our glory before time began. Therefore, it has never been available to anyone in the way that is available to us today in Christ Jesus!
Now there are other avenues to certain types of giftings of wisdom. For example, in 1 Cor.12:8, we see that there is a gift of the Holy Spirit that can be received from God. It is called the message of wisdom. It is an immediate gifting for a specific purpose.
And in 1 Kings 3:7-13, Solomon requests and receives wisdom from God:
“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?”
In response to this the LORD replies:
“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”
Solomon was given a wise and discerning heart for administering justice. He was told that in this kind of wisdom, there will never have been anyone like him, nor will there ever be. Yet, Solomon did not possess the kind of wisdom available to us through Christ Jesus. Solomon was the recipient of a special gifting of wisdom by the Spirit of God. But he was not a recipient of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the same way that brings transformation of the soul to Christians in the New Covenant.
Only the people of the New Covenant have this special presence of the Holy Spirit available to them. We have available to us, as Paul says, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. The gifting that Solomon had received certainly helped to persuade him to make proper moral choices along the way, because this was the direction in which the Holy Spirit would be guiding him. But, it was not enough to save him from his fleshly desires:
“King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter–Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. 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. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites.”
1 Kings 11:1-5
This was a man who had received a gift of wisdom that was unparalleled in the history of mankind!
“So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.”
1 Kings 11:6-8
How could a man with such unparalleled wisdom do such foolish things? Well, one reason may be that Solomon was a believer, but he was not “born again.” He was justified through his faith in God, but he did not have the Holy Spirit dwelling within him in the same capacity that we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Solomon had inspiration. We have inspiration and transformation. We do not have inspiration alone. Instead, we have the opportunity, if we will surrender our souls, to experience holy living as a supernatural product of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit within us. Inspiration alone is not enough to produce consistent moral character. The power of inner sanctification is required. This is “God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”
This same wisdom that has been destined for our glory before time began, is also spoken of in 2 Cor 3:17,18 – “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
As we increase in Christ, who has become for us wisdom from God, we increase in wisdom. As we increase in His previously secret wisdom, we increase in the reflection of His glory, because we are increasing in Christ. You do not read of such things in the Old Testament. It is an entirely new thing that God is doing.
Returning to 1 Cor 2:8, we read,
“None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”
The rulers of Jesus’ time could not understand this wisdom because they did not really desire true wisdom, which is righteousness from God by the power of God. Thus, they were not receptive to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And yet, if they had understood, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory. And if Christ had not been crucified we would not have received the avenue of salvation available to us through our faith in the sacrifice of Christ. So, in their ignorance, “the rulers of this age” unknowingly fulfilled God’s will and, as a result, the purposes of perfect wisdom prevailed.
The rulers of that time may not have understood this wisdom, but as for us:
However, as it is written: “ No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”– but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. 1 Cor. 2:9-10
God has revealed to us by his Spirit the secret wisdom that has been hidden and destined for our glory before time began. All that we need to know about the secret wisdom that God has prepared for us in this life is available to us through the Holy Spirit:
“For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” 1 Cor. 2:11-13
The teaching of the Holy Spirit is not merely informational, it is transformational. We received the Spirit from God that we may understand what God has freely given us. But we do not understand simply by being told. We come to the fullness of understanding by surrendering our opposition to the truth we are receiving so that we may be transformed inwardly by the power of the Holy Spirit. Remember what we read in verse four, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (Italics mine)
We are not simply collectors of information about God; we are receivers of living truth. Truth and wisdom are more than facts. They are a person. We receive living truth and wisdom through surrendering to the process of the character of Christ being perfected within us by the power of the Holy Spirit. As Christ lives and reigns in us, truth and wisdom live and reign in us.
1 Cor. 2:14 states,
“The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Yes, the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. But even though we have the indwelling Spirit in our hearts, we must continue to be willing to submit to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and ongoing sanctification in order to receive spiritual discernment. Otherwise, we will behave very much like someone who has not received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
A number of years ago, I was attending some revival meetings that were being held in a large rented space in a nearby shopping center. The presence of God was being experienced powerfully and intimately by many, if not most of the people who attended these meetings. For several evenings, there was a man lying on the floor toward the back wall. He was apparently encountering the presence of God in such a way that he was filled with joy and expressing his joy through laughter. Fairly loud laughter – sporadically – all night long – night after night! I became irritated by his behavior and I began to wonder why he wasn’t being ushered out of the room. The laughter sometimes made it difficult to hear what the speaker was preaching about. Eventually, I began to judge the man as being “in the flesh.” I felt that he was out of order because of his disruptive behavior in the meeting.
Later that night the Lord inquired of me – had I ever been to a party where people were drinking alcoholic beverages? I had – many times before receiving Christ as my Lord and Savior. And was there ever a person at any of these parties who had become very intoxicated and laughed and talked in a loud and annoying manner? Yes, many times.
The Lord explained, ‘Well, this is a man very much like those that you have experienced at those parties. Except that this man is filled with the intoxicating presence of the Holy Spirit, and yes, his “flesh” is reacting to the presence of the Spirit. But, because of your irritation with his vocal reaction to the joy he has been experiencing from the presence of the Holy Spirit, you have judged this man as being entirely “in the flesh.” ’
My critical judgment toward this man had caused me to be oblivious to the larger picture. Temporarily, I had not accepted this thing that came from the Spirit of God, for it was foolishness to me, and I could not understand it, because it had to be spiritually discerned. But as I submitted to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, I was able to discern the truth and see the larger picture. When I was willing to repent of judging this man by his personal reaction to the presence of God, I was able to access God’s process of change for my own soul. I was willing to give up my prejudiced, stereotypical views and allow God to replace them with His living wisdom.
In the next verse, 1 Corinthians 2:15 we read,
“The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment.”
This does not indicate infallibility in making judgments, but it does accentuate that, in spiritual matters, such a person operates in a completely different realm from that of the natural person. Any natural man, that is, anyone who is without the Spirit of God dwelling within them is unable to accurately evaluate matters that are in the realm of the Spirit. This realm of the Spirit, the realm of the spiritual man, whereby the spiritual man is able to make spiritual judgments about all things is specifically described in verse 16:
“For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
The realm of the spiritual man is, specifically, the mind of Christ. That place where “the spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment,” is the place where we allow Christ to rule within us. Where Christ has been allowed to rule within us – there is wisdom personified. And from this wisdom, wisdom personified, we are able to spiritually discern the ways and the will of God.
For Christ has become for us wisdom from God.
Let us pray:
“Lord God, just as we received Christ Jesus as Lord, we commit ourselves to continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as we are being taught and overflowing with thankfulness. Through the wisdom of Christ in us, we will guard our hearts, that no one takes us captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and we have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority”
“…Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” Rev 7:12
Copyright © 2000 by R. Thomas Brass. All rights reserved.