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Godly Wisdom

"He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.' " (1 Cor.1.30, 31)

The city of Corinth lay on the isthmus in Achaia and was a flourishing commercial sea port, through which came all kinds of people from the Mediterranean area. In those days there was an enormous trade between Africa and Europe. Corinth prided itself on its wealth and wisdom. It was also infamous for is immorality and it was a 'sink of iniquity', like a drain for the Roman world. Twice in its history it had been raised to the ground because of its corruption and each time it had risen again from the ashes. Wealth is a snare and love of it, said Jesus, is the root of all evil. Corinth was in an area of the world that regarded itself as leaders of wisdom and thinking. But is was human wisdom which was little more than an acquisition of knowledge much of which was inquisitive speculation which solves none of the real problems of life and is not unknown in this day and generation. It was also allied to much pagan religion and its associated immorality.

The ethical standards of the city appear to have infiltrated into the young church and it was causing many problems for these relatively new converts to the Christian faith. Information had reached Paul by several channels and among his informers were 'Chloe's people' who are mentioned more than once in this connection. The first major problem concerned the sectarian divisions that had arisen in the Church. It was inevitable that this was having an effect on the other causes for concern such as sexual immorality and mixed up ideas about Christian doctrine and the gifts of the spirit. Wealthy and influential believers were ignoring the needs of their less wealthy brethren.

Paul began his letter with warm greetings to the brethren of Corinth and he congratulated them upon their spiritual growth, expressing appreciation of their kindness and goodwill. Sadly, their boasting had marred the early progress of this Christian community and Paul had to explain to them the folly of their pride. Their wisdom was not of God but of the world. Spiritual gifts, however much they appeared to demonstrate the Church's spirituality, were being misused so that growth in grace and knowledge of God had been stunted. The morality of the church had become worse than many unbelieving Gentiles. Worst of all, they were not living 'in Christ' which was the only way to achieve their goal of love.

In spite of all their troubles, or perhaps because of them, the two letters of Paul to the church at Corinth contain some of those beautiful teaching in the New Testament. The treatise on the 'Resurrection' in 1 Cor. 15; the description of the greatest gift ‑ the love of Jesus ‑ enshrined in the Greek word 'agape' is in 1 Cor. 13 and in the second letter the opening up of the New Covenant in chapters 3-6 were all to have a tremendous affect on the Christian church.

The first chapter of Paul's first letter has much to set the record straight concerning wisdom; so what is wisdom? The Greek word 'sophia' means insight into the true nature of things. An ability to see inside of the things 'Phronesis' is the ability to discern modes of action with a view to their results. Sophia is theoretical while phronesis is practical (according to Vine). Wisdom has been defined as knowledge plus understanding. We may know how to grow fruit and vegetables but we also need to know something of nutrition and cook. One who has insight makes more than superficial observation of the outside of something. We may know how to write and draw our own descriptions of the brain of a water vole after carefully looking at many pictures, diagrams and models and even examining an actual brain of the species but know nothing of how that brain causes the animal's legs to move. Yet that is how many approach the things of God. They know thousands of Biblical facts and have made some remarkable assumptions and interpretations, but know nothing of living with the Lord and becoming like Him. That was the problem at Corinth or they would not have been so insensitive to the needs and feeling of those they should have been nurturing in the faith. But man cannot know God nor gain salvation unless faith becomes a personal relationship.

Wisdom is a characteristic of God and is plainly revealed in His physical Creation. We benefit from it every moment, waking or sleeping. "Lord how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures." (Psalm 104. 24). "The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew." (Prov.3.19) It is the opposite of evil and foolishness.







Job 42. 1-6



1 Kings 3.3-9



God had revealed as a teenager to Joseph things yet to come. That was one of the reasons that his brothers sold him to the Midianites. As he trudged along the road to Egypt, roped to animals and perhaps other slaves, he had time to ponder the wisdom of telling everything to the family. But in Potiphar's household and in the most important prison in Egypt he demonstrated wisdom and integrity, which seems so lacking in his family and in Potiphar. The head of one of the two greatest empires of his day designated him the ruler of his kingdom, as there could be none so wise as the young Hebrew.

A study of the book of Job shows Elihu's extraordinary insight into God's wise ways which was lacking in the worldly wisdom of the older men who blamed either God or their fellow men for their folly. Solomon asked God for wisdom and was mightily used as a result. His proverbs are most interesting but when it came to his growth in character he indulged in the folly of wealth and power, in the indiscretions of foolish marriages and the dreadful evils of idolatry and violence ‑ all aspects of the wisdom of this world.

In wonderful contrast, Daniel in his exile, became the wise minister of Nebuchadnezzar and Darius, providing others with insights into their future. But it was the strength of his character that resisted the charms of foolish Belshazzar and the hostility of Persian noblemen, that really made him the beloved of God.

So what is wisdom? In the making of the tabernacle and its equipment the wisdom of God resided in the skills of the craftsmen (Ex.28.3; 31.3,6).

Knowledge and expertise resided in those who had a special work to do for God. It is not only ability to do things but wisdom to use those gifts and skills for the glory of God and the benefit of fellow men.

Wisdom, in the end, must be doing things as God directs. The Greeks sought wisdom and they had many great thinkers but that did not lead them to God as Paul's visit to Athens demonstrated. Despising the 'barbarians', for all their 'highbrow thinking, they had no ability to save. They regarded Christ's crucifixion as folly just as the people of God who had His Law, stumbled at the cross.

It was not the wealthy nor the influential, nor the wise of this world, who found God but those who were insignificant by worldly standards. Great men are humble not placing themselves above others. Standing in awe of God is easier to understand when we are close to some great piece of God's handiwork. It was not always easy to understand the wisdom of God in Old Testament times but the prophet Isaiah revealed that Messiah would be endued with it. "The Spirit of the Lord rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;" (Isa.11.2-4) These hardly sound like the counsel of the great ones of the earth, but of Him of whom the temple guard said "never man spoke like this man". The wisest in Israel thought how remarkable his questions were in the Temple when he was twelve years old. His first allegiance was to his Heavenly Father ‑ not as Joseph's son nor a 'Son of the Law' as he might have been called at the age of twelve and a half. He sought His Father's will and that became the absorbing passion of His life. It was when He went to the synagogue at Nazareth early in His ministry and read Isaiah 61 that people began to take notice of the wisdom of this special young man..

When Jesus called disciples to Him, few were the wise of the Jewish world. Nicodemus found Him hard to understand. Joseph of Arimathea preferred to keep in the shadows until Jesus had died. Teachers and leaders among God's people understood Him no better than their forefathers had understood the prophets. Now the message had gone to the Gentiles and judging from Paul's words in 1 Cor.1 the same failure to understand the ways of God was still the human problem. The early believers in Corinth wanted to boast in their wisdom. Perhaps their standing among the citizens of that Greek city and certainly their prestige within the Church meant more to them than their standing with God. They had failed to realise that humility ‑ real humility ‑ was more important to God than their acquisition of knowledge, their spiritual gifts and being in the 'right set' within the Church. Has the lesson been learned yet? It is easy to focus attention on other Christians, be it today or yesterday. It is much harder turn the spotlight of God's Word upon ourselves. Is our treatment of Christ's followers better than the wise of this world treated the Master ‑ with contradiction and crucifixion? Have we totally left behind the spirit of men than used the rack and stake?

As Paul comes to the end of his discussion about wisdom he mentions the wisdom of God in the Christian doctrines of righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. We were reckoned righteous through the sacrifice of Jesus. We are being sanctified through the Holy Spirit. We shall finally reach our deliverance as we are beckoned into the eternal presence of God.

These three stages are only accomplished by our standing "in Christ Jesus" for in Him is the source of life. Jeremiah knew the only source of wisdom and what it did to those who found it. He is the prophet whom Paul quotes "Thus says the Lord: Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the  mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and no me, that I am the Lord, I act in steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth for in these things I delight says the Lord." (Jer.9.23,24) and knowing the Lord is enlarged by this man of God, speaking to the son or grandson of good king Josiah of his forbear "He judged the cause of the poor and needy, then it was well. Is not this to know me? says the Lord". (Jer.22.16)

Human intelligence has found it hard to understand the ways of God because of the blinding effect of God's adversary but our Father will not allow it to be so for ever, "For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful upon all. And God has provided a way out of that prison of disobedience now ‑ for Christ unlocked the door on Calvary and in Him we may have life now (John 5.25,26,28) O the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? (Rom.11.32-34).

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