Wisdom the Principal Thing

Take a glance around the room where you’re sitting. What do you see? If you’re in your home, you see what you’re accustomed to seeing. If you’re somewhere else, you see whatever the owner of that space has filled the room with. Do you see anything else? Look hard. Anything? Don’t be afraid to say “no” this is not a trick question. However, if you look with Biblical eyes, you will see something much greater — you will see the incalculable abundance God has hidden in this world. If you allow the Bible to change your view of creation, you will realize how you may be living far below your God-given potential; and you will discover one of Christianity’s most paralyzing defects.

The Children of This World Are Wiser

The Scripture declares, “[T]he children of this world are in their generation wiser then the children of light” (Luke 16:8). The Greek term for wiser used here is phronimos, and it means “prudent, sensible, and practically wise.”1 It’s the same word used in Matthew 7:24 when our Lord considers a man wise “which built his house upon a rock.” It’s this practical wisdom that is often lacking among the “children of light,” and it’s due largely to the fact that we don’t accept the created order in the same way as the “children of this world.” Whereas the non-Christian will build his house upon a rock because it will simply better resist a storm, the Christian will build his house upon the sand and then pray for God to stop the wind.

I’m going to say something radical — something you wouldn’t expect a Christian writer to say. I’m going to suggest an obvious yet controversial reason why the children of this world are often wiser in their generation than the children of light. They are wiser because they are nonbelievers! That’s right. The atheist’s greatest advantage is that he is an atheist. Don’t stop reading yet. Let me explain.

By referring to the nonbelievers as “children of this world,” our Lord is revealing the source of their lives. They are “of this world,” and therefore all their expectation and effort is directed toward the world that is given to them. Nonbelievers don’t take God into account, so they approach all of life’s problems from an atheistic perspective; and how do nonbelievers get out of financial difficulty when they don’t have God to deliver them? How do nonbelievers maintain a healthy lifestyle when they don’t have faith? It’s simple. Since they are children of this world, they look to the principles found in the world to remedy their personal problems or obtain their desired goals. God is never considered, and this works to their advantage.

However, because Christians do take God into account, through ineffective teaching or doctrines, they often fall into the trap of mysticism. By this I mean that they expect their lives to develop by a series of miraculous provisions. Ancient Israel experienced her first real culture shock when she crossed the Jordan River into Canaan and the manna dried up, the pillar of fire dissipated, and water no longer flowed from a rock. Miraculous provisions would now give way to the rigorous work of dominion.

Israel would need a serious renovation of her thinking to prosper in the Promised Land. She was accustomed to bread falling from the skies, but she was about to enter “a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills thou mayest dig brass” (Deut. 8:9). In other words, the riches of Canaan were hidden deep in the mountains, and a passive miracle mentality would not unearth a single ounce of brass. They would need to prepare themselves for work.

The Unjust, but Wise, Steward

This parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16 deals with eternal implications, but the simple point that the ungodly are often more adept at utilizing their God-given wisdom than the righteous is a correct one. In other words, since the unbeliever does not take God into account, he will seek to exhaust the wisdom found in this world in order to prosper and alleviate difficulties.

For example, non-Christians write some of the best-selling books on finances, relationships, leadership, and self-improvement. Only in the last couple of decades have we seen capable Christian titles on any of these seemingly “unspiritual” subjects. Often, the Christian versions are just that — Christian versions! They’re only baptized copies of what the non-Christians have already produced.

Because non-Christians approach problems without God in mind, they are left only with what the world and their own minds provide. They can’t pray because they don’t believe there is a God to hear them. They don’t consult a pastor because a pastor is an expert in a faith they don’t share. So, they think. They labor. They work tirelessly to uncover principles and technologies found in the world around them. In doing so, they actually go much further than the average Christian because the Christian often stops short of wisdom’s best gifts by kicking the problem up for God to sort out.

The “children of this world” are wiser in their generation because they embrace the world as it’s given to them. They understand cause and effect. They know what motivates other people. They become shrewd in dealing with others and skillful in exploiting God’s bountiful creation. The unjust steward of Luke 16 wisely reduced the outstanding payments of all his master’s debtors. He reasoned, “[W]hen I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses” (v. 4). Although the Scripture doesn’t say, we can assume his plan worked.

It was a simple strategy that comprehended the power of money and perception. The debtors would obviously take advantage of the offer to pay off their obligations at a reduced rate of 50 percent or greater. And since people buy from people, not companies, the debtors would credit the benevolence to the unjust steward, not the master. The unjust steward would gain a town full of friends now indebted to him for relieving their debts!

God Hides Wisdom in the World

Wisdom is the key to successful living. There is no lasting success without it. In fact, many people have described wisdom as “skillful living,” and you can find such wisdom in virtually every area of study. When people seek for information on improving their lives, they are typically seeking wisdom. But wisdom is not something we can see. Wisdom is invisible. In simplest terms, wisdom is the mind or thinking of God hidden for man to discover.

Proverbs is rightly described as the Bible’s “Book of Wisdom.” When compared to the Psalms, Proverbs stands as a very practical and illuminating series of brief maxims (wise sayings), whereas the Psalms are extended portions of songs, stories, and prophecies. The average reader can mistakenly view the Psalms as “spiritual,” while deeming Proverbs as a “hands-on” book. Yet according to Proverbs, wisdom is the voice of the Spirit:

Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? And the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. (Prov. 1:20–23)

Although the language used here is descriptive, the obvious implication is that not many people actually “hear” wisdom’s voice. We know, therefore, that the so-called “uttering of her voice” is not literal. Wisdom is silent to the physical ear. This is why the Bible says, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15). Wisdom’s frequency is at a spiritual level, and it requires seeking minds and hearts to hear it:

Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God. (Prov. 2:3–5)

Wisdom is a “hidden treasure,” and humanity is known for going to extremes to find hidden treasures. Imagine if you knew that fifty feet underneath your house was a vast amount of gold worth millions of dollars. Would you go to work the next day? Would you put off digging it up until you had some free time? Or would you tear down your house to dig? I think so.

This is the mentality God wants us to have regarding wisdom. It’s also the mentality that non-Christians often have for wisdom. Although they don’t recognize that the wisdom is coming from God, they do recognize that it’s available, and they exhaust themselves in “digging it up” so that they might use it for their own ends.

The Lord Giveth Wisdom

The Bible has a unique way of conveying the truth to our minds and hearts. One of the most common errors we make in our interpretation of Scripture is not recognizing the unique manner in which the Biblical writers used language. I already noted the way Solomon described wisdom, like a person crying out in the marketplace. This is not to be taken literally, although what it’s describing is very literal. Wisdom, in a very real sense, is crying out to us simple ones to forsake
our simplicity and pursue after her. Whenever you find yourself on the other end of a bad decision, there you have wisdom “laughing at your calamity” (Prov. 1:26). Not literally, but kinda!

The point is that wisdom is all around us. It permeates the world because all of reality is a reflection of the mind and thinking of the God who created the world. Many theologians have rightfully said that as Christians we must “think God’s thoughts after Him.” As Christians, we must do so intentionally. This is what separates us from the children of this world.

We also don’t literally “dig” up wisdom from the ground. But our diligent pursuit of knowledge and understanding, our laboring in thought and contemplation, are very much like searching for a hidden treasure. The visual description the Bible provides us is intended to help us better understand what we’re doing. It also helps us to understand what God Himself is doing in response to our seeking. As in all things, God rewards the diligent seeker (cf. Heb. 11:6):

For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and
understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk
uprightly. (Prov. 2:6–7)

God is the giver of wisdom — it comes from His mouth. Again, this is not in a literal sense. People are often listening for a voice when they should be diligent in learning; and that’s what Solomon is trying to tell us. By hiding the commandments within us, inclining our ear to wisdom, and applying our heart to understanding (Prov. 2:1–2), we are engaging in the spiritual process of gaining wisdom. It’s as we mull over the Scriptures and look for insight that we come to a better understanding of how God wants us to live. It’s as we mull over the writings of others in specific areas that we also glean the insights that they labored for. Socrates once said, “Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have labored hard for.”

No matter what the source — believer or nonbeliever — all true wisdom comes from God, and the means to obtaining that wisdom is always the same: diligent pursuit. Therefore, non-Christians can easily, and often do, obtain great wisdom in what they do because they are persistent in their labors. The “experts” themselves are building off the discoveries and insights of others while taking their area of study into new directions. If they’re diligent at it, they become “gurus,” and the world beats a path to their door.

The children of light can be wiser in their generation than the children of the world. After all, they are children of “light,” right? Why then are Christians often left in the dark in certain areas? Why aren’t we the ones being sought out for wisdom in finances, economics, medicine, film, science, philosophy, and politics? I’ll tell you why. It’s because we’re too spiritual for our own good. Even more, our idea of being “spiritual” is a far cry from the Biblical concept of spirituality. We’ve identified spirituality with being “other worldly,” and this has led otherwise brilliant people to engage in strange spiritual exercises. Worse yet, the subjective (i.e., “internal”) idea of Christian spirituality so prevalent today has taken Christians “out of the game” and left the world for the wicked to possess.

Wisdom: God’s Technology

Q: What is creation?

A: Creation is God’s making everything out of nothing by His powerful word in six days — and all very good.2

Since I am a six-day creationist — believing God created the world in six days some six thousand years ago — I embrace the truth contained in the catechism’s brief answer. However, I italicized above the only portion I believe needs more explanation. The passage used to support the catechism’s definition of creation is found in the book of Hebrews:

Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. (Heb. 11:3)

When the writer of Hebrews says that what we see is “not made of things which do appear,” the Puritans described this as “out of nothing.” This is true at face value, but our idea of “nothing” is that nothing means nothing, i.e., no thing! But is that true? Did God make everything out of nothing? Or did God use something, even if that “something” is found within Himself? I realize this is a bit abstract, but stay with me.

If we read this same passage in another Bible translation, we get a better idea of what the writer is attempting to convey. For example, the New International Version reads:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Whatever is “not visible” is called “invisible,” and something that is invisible does not qualify as “nothing.” In other words, God created visible things with invisible means. Faith understands that God used His own resources of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to create a universe that is sensible to man. This is clearly taught in both Old and New Testaments:

The LORD by WISDOM hath founded the earth; by UNDERSTANDING hath he established the heavens. By his KNOWLEDGE the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew. (Prov. 3:19–20, emphasis added)

He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his WISDOM, and hath stretched out the heavens by his DISCRETION (NIV: understanding). (Jer. 10:12, emphasis added)

God used wisdom, knowledge, and understanding when He created the world. These are invisible qualities, but they are not nothing. They are very real, and very present, in our world. In fact, they are present for us to discover and use to “recreate” our world in God’s image. I’m getting ahead of myself here, but the fundamental point is that wisdom was a central part of the creative process. In another passage, Solomon is even more descriptive of wisdom’s role in the foundation of the universe:

The LORD possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was
set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I
was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were
settled, before the hills was I brought forth: While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields,
nor the highest part of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he
set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he
strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters
should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by
him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; Rejoicing
in the habitable part of his earth; and my delights were with the sons of men. (Prov.

These passages are often seen as a description of the preexistence of Christ. This is certainly true since He Himself is the living Word of God. He is the logos — the expression of God’s thought.3 This brings us to the New Testament’s endorsement of God creating all things by means of His invisible Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1–3)

What I want you to understand is that since God used wisdom, knowledge, and understanding to create the world, then the world itself is filled with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. It’s that wisdom that we are to seek. In that sense, the world is drenched with God’s wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, and this is the source for all that man has ever created. Even in the realm of the exclusively spiritual, this same triad is described as the primary resource to understanding God’s will:

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the KNOWLEDGE of his will in all WISDOM and spiritual UNDERSTANDING. (Col. 1:9, emphasis added)

The unbeliever has a word for this hidden wisdom: technology. This is the universal term that describes all the principles that man extracts from the world. Technology is not a cell phone, an airplane, or a computer. Technology creates cell phones, airplanes, and computers. Nobody discovered a cell phone under a rock. It is a creation comprised of a myriad of technologies that are themselves extracted from God’s world. What the world calls technology, the Bible calls wisdom. And it is proficiency in wisdom, knowledge, and understanding that enhances your productivity in God’s Kingdom:

See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in WISDOM, and in UNDERSTANDING, and in KNOWLEDGE, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work all manner of workmanship. (Exod. 31:2–5)

Wisdom is God’s technology, and its power potential for creation and dominion is the reason for God’s insistence that we seek for it as a hidden reasure. This is what diligent unbelievers do anyway. Since they do not take God into account, they exhaust the world of its wisdom. In this sense, they are often wiser than their Christian counterparts. In this sense, their atheism is their advantage.

Am I suggesting we become atheists? God forbid. I’m simply stating that our approach to creation and what it offers must exceed that of the unbeliever as we work harder and wiser than our hell-bound counterparts.

Missing the Headline

The most powerful portion of an advertisement is the headline. This is where copywriters direct most of their creative energy because it’s supposed to contain the single most important benefit to the reader. Because of my background in advertising, marketing, and communications, I often read certain portions of the Bible from that perspective. One example is in Genesis 2:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Gen. 2:16–17)

God told man that he could freely eat of every tree of the garden, and in advertising, there is no more powerful word than “free.” This great offer to man served as a headline — it informed man of the single greatest benefit to serving God — but man forsook it in order to reach for the warning label: don’t touch the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is a fitting metaphor for modern church history. While fundamentalism wrestles with the knowledge of good and evil, the wicked avail themselves of the abundance of wisdom hidden in the other trees.

The fact that God called His man to indulge in the other trees made the Creation Mandate essentially an entrepreneurial calling. God did not give man instructions as to what to do or make with what he would find in those trees, God only made them available. Man would have to occupy himself with the raw stuff of creation to develop the world’s vast potential. For this, man needed technology — or as we should say, man needed wisdom.

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. (Prov. 4:7)

The purpose of wisdom — God’s technology — is that it serves as man’s primary means to dominion. No matter what field of expertise, man would have access to the limitless wisdom of God hidden in the trees. However, this wisdom would not simply fall into his lap. He would have to labor for it. He would need to experiment with it. But despite his efforts, this wisdom would still be the result of God’s revelation:

Give ye ear, and hear my voice; hearken, and hear my speech. Doth the plowman plow all day to sow? doth he open and break the clods of his ground? When he hath made plain the face thereof, doth he not cast abroad the fitches, and scatter the cummin, and cast in the principal wheat and the appointed barley and the rie in their place? For his God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him. For the fitches are not threshed with a threshing instrument, neither is a cart wheel turned about upon the cummin; but the fitches are beaten out with a staff, and the cummin with a rod. Bread corn is bruised; because he will not ever be threshing it, nor break it with the wheel of his cart, nor bruise it with his horsemen. This also cometh forth from the LORD of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working. (Isa. 28:23–29)

God Himself created all things with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding (Prov. 3:19–20). Therefore, all of creation is filled with that very same wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, i.e., God filled the world with His own technology. He then placed man in the Garden to cultivate it for His glory. This left man with an entrepreneurial calling sidetracked by the entrance of sin and the reaching for the wrong tree. But, like so many other things, dominion is an inescapable concept, and the wicked soon took to the remaining trees abdicated by the righteous.
However, history is far from over, and there is so much more “hidden in the trees” for us to discover and develop, if we make wisdom the principal thing.

It’s wisdom that’s hidden in the room where you’re sitting. That’s what you’re supposed to “see.” God has technology readily available for you whether you’re writing a story or developing a product or service. Our only requirement is to respond to this great entrepreneurial calling by investing ourselves in our chosen fields of pursuit and exhausting all they contain. Certainly, we shall pray and recognize that God is the source for both the wisdom we extract as well as the strength and power by which we extract it. What’s important is that we begin immediately to see the world more Biblically and encourage our actions to follow suit. Get wisdom!