What is Wisdom?

"Both the commands of the Law and the thunderings of the prophets spread out before us the gigantic truths of God, the metanarrative that makes sense of everything. But we need more. We live day by day where 'there are details of character small enough to escape the mesh of the law and the broadsides of the prophets, and yet are decisive in personal dealings.' So God gave us more than the Law and the prophets. He also gave us wise counsel." - Ray Ortlund, Proverbs: Wisdom that Works, p. 15.


When we read the ten commandments we find perfect moral clarity about what God expects of us. But, in the ten commandments you won’t find any information like, “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing,” (Prov 27:14). Shouting loudly to your neighbor who hasn’t had their morning coffee yet isn’t an issue of breaking commandments, it is an issue of wisdom


What is “wisdom”? Wisdom is aligning ourselves rightly to God and the world He has made. In one sense, wisdom is simply the appropriate application of what God’s black and white commandments are in the grey areas of life, in the thousands of different contextual circumstances of our varied lives. We all know we should “love our neighbor,” but what does that look like at 5 AM when they are stumbling out the door to get the newspaper? It looks like Proverbs 27:14. But wisdom also isn’t limited to only addressing moral issues–the wisdom of proverbs speaks of emotional fragility, friendships, rightly timed words, the building of homes, and the joy of feasting. Wisdom is cutting with, not against, the grain of the universe that God has designed. How we spend/earn money, the way we speak, the friends we make, how we work, the spouse we marry, the way we relax–all of these things require wisdom, require an understanding of who God is, what His law requires, how He made us and this world, and how He desires us to live.


And lest we think wisdom to merely be “advice for trivial matters” listen to Proverbs 13:14, “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death.” Wisdom is an issue of life and death.

What if we have many advantages in our lives but not wisdom? If we have love but not wisdom, we will harm people with the best of intentions. If we have courage but not wisdom, we will blunder boldly. If we have truth but not wisdom, we will make the gospel ugly to other people. If we have technology but not wisdom, we will use the best communications ever invented to broadcast stupidity. If we have revival but not wisdom, we'll use the power of God to throw the church into reverse gear. Jonathan Edwards wrote during the First Great Awakening, "When the devil finds he can keep a man quiet and [complacent] no longer, then he drives them to excesses and extravagances. He holds them back as long as he can; but when he can do it no longer, then he will push them on and, if possible, run them upon their heads." But wisdom knows how to spread the gospel with no embarrassing regrets.

Wisdom is the grace of Christ beautifying our daily lives.
- Ortlund, Proverbs, p. 17

This is why we need the wisdom of God. Jesus promised that those who hear and do His word would be like “wise men” who build their houses on the rock that saves them from the coming storm (Matt 7:24). Wisdom is having our hearts shaped by the gospel so that our character, temperament, emotional life, and decisions carry the aroma of Christ with them.

For a helpful visual summary of the book of Proverbs and what wisdom is, check out this video from the Bible Project:

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