The Psalmist prayed to God, “Give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments” (Psalm 119:73).
I’ve met a lot of people in recent years that I thought were brilliantly smart. In their presence, I felt much like an intellectual pygmy. And though I wasn’t looking for fault, I couldn’t help but notice a common deficit in some of them: they had no spiritual judgment. It wasn’t that they were ignorant. It’s just that the things they had learned and embraced were inconsistent with God’s Word. Their unbelief had dwarfed their understanding of what should have been the simplest of life’s issues.
Charles Spurgeon once said, “A man without a mind is an idiot, the mere mockery of a man; and a mind without grace is wicked, the sad perversion of a mind…Fools can sin, but only those taught of God can be holy. We often speak of gifted men, but he has the best gifts to whom God has given a sanctified understanding wherewith to know and prize the ways of the Lord…He who made us to live must make us to learn; he who gave us power to stand must give us grace to understand.”
Many years ago, I knew a man who had lived an impoverished and rough life. He was illiterate. By the standard of many, he was a hopeless and abject buffoon. One day he heard the Gospel of Christ and believed. He started listening to the Bible on cassette tape. Over time, he became a changed man. He was humble, gracious, sincere, and remarkably wise.
The last time I was with him, I listened to him teach a Sunday-School lesson that blew me away. He still couldn’t even read, but he understood better than most what life was about, and what our Creator-God requires of us.
One of the most judicious individuals to ever live was King Solomon, who said, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7). Solomon also said, “Wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it” (Proverbs 8:11).
What is wisdom? Wisdom is different than knowledge. We’re living during a time when there is an explosion of knowledge, unlike any time in human history. Anyone can get an education today. Illiteracy has nearly been stamped out. Yet there seems to be very little wisdom. A wise person knows and comprehends what’s true, what’s good, and what’s enduring. A wise person has the proper set of values, and all knowledge is filtered through these moral standards.
Dr. George Sweeting, former president of Moody Bible Institute, has rightly concluded:
“The wise man, the man who has been given wisdom from above, is the man whose life is an open book testifying to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.”
In his epistle, the apostle James contrasted a life devoid of spiritual judgment with a life directed by God’s wisdom. In chapter 3 and verses 13-18, James said that there is wisdom from above and wisdom from below. Earthly wisdom, he said, is characterized by envying, strife, confusion, and every evil work. Wisdom from above, however, is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, and without partiality and hypocrisy.
When James talks about carnal wisdom, his description matches our nation’s current political and social climate to a tee. Why can’t we come together? Why are we seemingly driven further apart with each passing year? It’s because we have thrown out what God has said or we’ve revised or redefined it to suit our sensuous desires. We have become slaves to our passions and pleasures, and these push us to malice, jealousies, bitterness, greed, spite, and hatred.
Cicero said, “It is insatiable desires which over-turn not only individual men, but whole families, and which even bring down the state.”
Is there any hope? Wise King Solomon also instructed: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5, 6).
During the third century, the Bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, wrote to his friend Donatus: “It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and good people who have learned the great secret of life. They have found a joy and a wisdom which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are Christians…and I am one of them.”
Will you become “one of them” in 2019? Will you turn away from your sins, deny yourself, and receive Christ? Will you pray with the Psalmist, “Give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments”?
All of this may seem an overly simplistic answer to life’s many conflicts. But trust me. It’s the right start for a New Year and a new life. It’s the smartest thing you will ever do. It’s what our entire nation desperately needs.