What the Bible says about
Wisdom of Man
(From Forerunner Commentary)
One thing stands out in studying the history of philosophy: Each new generation brought new schools of thought. No truth was fixed or permanent; the only constant was change. Thus, there are dozens of contradictory branches of philosophy: existentialism, gnosticism, metaphysics, Platonism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, pantheism, pragmatism, sophistry, stoicism, theosophy, and many more.
This in no way implies that thinking is bad. Meditation, for instance, is a necessary part of a Christian's life (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2; Malachi 3:16; Philippians 4:8). But our thoughts have to start from the right place. If we begin with the foundation of God's truth and continually check the Bible to verify that our thoughts and ideas are still grounded, it is difficult to get into trouble.
But extrapolating truth from the Bible is not philosophy. In fact, "Christian philosophy" may be a contradiction in terms. Solomon's wisdom excelled that of all people (I Kings 4:30), and he was famous in all the surrounding nations for his wisdom (verses 31-34). But was he a philosopher? Did he pursue wisdom by intellectual means, inquiring into the nature of things based on man's "logical" reasoning rather than on observing or experimenting? Look again at verse 33: "He spoke of trees, . . . of animals, of birds, of creeping things, and of fish." Solomon observed, experimented, and learned from the creation, and God gave him understanding (I Kings 3:9, 12), making him wise. Solomon says his words were spoken in righteousness and are plain to those that understand (Proverbs 8:8-9). "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). He started from the proper foundation.
Beware of Philosophy
We tend to think of worship solely as something confined to a church service. Worship, however, is one's response to his god, and it extends into every facet of life. My concern is with the effect of wrong worship, whether out of ignorance, misdirected zeal, or rebellion. What is the effect? Without the true worship of the true God, the standards and the ideals of faith and conduct in moral, ethical, and spiritual areas are left totally to human experience. Human experience is narrow, fallible, and selfish.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Second Commandment (1997)
Fearing God is a choice. Each and every day of our lives, we are faced with many pressures, forces, and influences that compel us to react. We must make a choice: "Shall I go this way, or shall I go that way?" One way represents the fear of God; the other way represents the fear of men, the fear of the loss of pleasure, the fear of the loss of some other physical, social, or cultural "need" that we do not want to lose.
Notice the verbs in this series of verses: "hated," "did not choose," "would have none," "despised"! Is it any wonder that Romans 8:7 says that the carnal mind is enmity against God? We begin to understand that it was the fear of God, given as the gift of God, that drove us to react, drove us in the direction of the very One who holds in His hands the issues of life! God instilled that reaction within us!
There is an antagonism toward wisdom—toward God. Wisdom is not hiding. People have access to common wisdom, which is described as being right out there on the street—out in public. It is in the forest; it is in the city; it is on the job—it is everywhere! We are surrounded by it! This is why God can make the accusation that the Gentiles who do not have the law are a law unto themselves when they do what the law says is right (Romans 2:14). Their own conscience bears them witness that they understand what is right and what is wrong (verse 15)!
Proverbs 1 shows that God (personified as Wisdom) uses just about every device imaginable to awaken people to what is right, so that they will fear evil. We see Wisdom threatening, laughing, and warning, like a dog baring its teeth. If a snarling pit bull braced to attack every time we were about to sin, we would fear, would we not? Our skin would crawl, our hair would stand on end, and we would be almost spitless!
God has not chosen to warn us in that way, but He does warn us through His Word. He also warns us through the fruit of sin, which we see in this world as well as in our own lives. It is almost as if Wisdom is saying, "I told you so, but you would not listen!"
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fear of God
"Lean on" is used here in the sense of relying upon or trusting someone or something for help or protection. The object of our secure trust is the Lord, a most reliable object of confidence!
When we lean against a wall or on a cane, we trust it to support us. If it should fail to do its job, we will fall to the ground and perhaps be hurt. In a figurative sense, in times of distress we lean on members of our families or friends; we rely upon them for encouragement, support, help, or protection. In this verse, "lean on" functions figuratively. Relying on our own understanding is compared to leaning on a cane that cannot bear our weight; it is unreliable for support. It is dangerous for a person to rely upon mere human wisdom or understanding because it is likely to fail him.
Acknowledging the Lord in all our ways means keeping Him in mind in every event of our lives. Godly living is not to be confined to the Sabbath, for God is involved in each moment of each day. His instruction covers our lives from waking up in the morning to going to sleep at night. He wants us to remember Him all the time and to trust and obey Him to guide our conduct in everything we do.
That "He shall direct your paths" suggests that God will "smooth" or "make straight" the road of our lives. This is a promise that God will go before us and remove many of the obstacles from our path. He wants us to be successful, so if we trust Him and follow His instructions, He will lead us forward, sweeping many of our potential problems to the side. How encouraging!
My Parents Won't Let Me!
It is helpful to understand that God provides two distinct callings for every person on earth. The first is quite general, and everybody rejects it regardless of how religious he might be. Solomon writes in Proverbs 8:1-4:
Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice? She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entrance of the doors: "To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men."
Here, the wisdom of God, personified as a woman, claims that the knowledge of God is readily available to mankind. Proverbs 1:20-26 affirms this:
Wisdom calls aloud outside; she raises her voice in the open squares. She cries out in the chief concourses, at the openings of the gates in the city she speaks her words: "How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge. Turn at my rebuke: surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, because you disdained all my counsel and would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes."
Again, God's wisdom is personified, and her testimony is that no one paid attention. All of mankind "disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my rebuke." With this in mind, recall what Paul writes in Romans 1:18-20:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and [divine nature], so that they are without excuse.
In other words, no man can stand before God and claim that he turned away from Him because God never provided any understanding of, not only His existence, but also many details of His power and works among men. How is this possible? Apart from the reality of creation, one reason is the ready availability of the Bible. Into how many languages and dialects have men translated it? Nearly everyone on earth can read or hear it in his own tongue!
Romans 2:14-15 presents yet another claim of God that blocks mankind's excuses:
. . . for when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thought accusing, or else excusing them. . . .
Deep within everyone, regardless of race or location, is a God-given awareness, a consciousness, not only of His existence, but even of some of the basics of what He requires, things written in God's biblical law. Despite all of this evidence, we universally reject Him. So thorough is mankind's rejection of God that, when He came as a man, we killed Him!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)
The manager of an estate, accused of wasting the owner's goods, cunningly reasons through the situation using his worldly wisdom. However, he continues to deal deceitfully with the rich man's estate. By clever thinking, he devises a plan to defraud his master still more and prepare the way for future employment. He turns the owner's debtors into his friends by forgiving up to half their debts. Reluctantly, the master commends the unjust steward for dealing shrewdly in the worldly ways of cleverness, level-headedness, and forethought. The master does not commend him for wasting his estate, for which he fires him.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Unjust Steward
1 Corinthians 1:19-21
God has purposely chosen this means to put proud and stiff-necked man totally in debt to Him for the most important achievement in all of life. Men have accomplished much and will continue to do many great things. However, verses 19-21 expose why the wise of this world will not submit to God. The reason becomes clear in the phrase, "the foolishness of preaching" (verse 21, King James Version [KJV]). This translation is somewhat misleading in the King James; it should read "the foolishness of the message preached," as in the New King James Version (NKJV). Paul is not saying that the wise of this world reject the act of preaching but that they consider the content of the message preached to be foolish. In other words, the wise will not believe the gospel, most specifically that God in the flesh has died for the sins of the world.
It cannot be overestimated how important humility expressed by faith before God is to the overall spiritual purpose of God for each individual! Each person must know as fully as possible that Christ died for him, that his own works do not provide forgiveness, and that he has not created himself in Christ Jesus. Nobody evolves into a godly person on the strength of his own will. It is God who works in us both to will and to do (Philippians 2:13). No new creation creates itself. So, by and large, God calls the undignified, base, weak, and foolish of this world, people whom the unbelieving wise consider to be insignificant and of no account. He does this so that no human will glory in His presence. On this, a German commentator, Johann Albrecht Bengel, clarifies, "We have permission to glory, not before God, but in God."
The term "in Christ Jesus" (I Corinthians 1:30) indicates that we are in an intimate relationship with Him. Paul then details—through the terms "wisdom," "righteousness," "sanctification," and "redemption"—that God, using our believing, humble, submissive cooperation, will be responsible for all things accomplished in and through us. Some modern commentators believe that, because "wise" and "wisdom" appear so many times earlier in this chapter, the terms "righteousness," "sanctification," and "redemption" should be in parentheses because Paul intends them to define what he means by true wisdom in this context.
God, then, is pleased to save those who believe and to do a mighty work in them. This set Abel apart from, as far as we know, every other person living on earth at that time. What he did by faith pictures what everyone who receives salvation must also do to begin his walk toward the Kingdom of God. Everyone must be called of God; believe enough of His Word to know that he is a sinner who needs the blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins; repent, that is, undergo a change of mind toward God; and be justified, made legally righteous by having Jesus Christ's righteousness imputed to him. This enables a relationship with God to begin, and sanctification unto glorification can proceed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)
1 Corinthians 2:2
First, notice that Paul does not say the only thing he would preach was Christ and the crucifixion, as some have assumed; he says the only thing he would know among the Corinthians was Christ, the One crucified. The Amplified Bible renders it this way: "For I resolved to know nothing (to be acquainted with nothing, to make a display of the knowledge of nothing, and to be conscious of nothing) among you except Jesus Christ (the Messiah) and Him crucified."
Looking at the audience (the people of Corinth were Greek) and the verses preceding this one, it is clear that Paul's intent is not to be distracted by extraneous topics that the Corinthians might have been more inclined to listen to. His statement in verse 2 ties back to two different themes before it:
For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (I Corinthians 1:11-13)
At the beginning of the letter, we see that Corinth seemed to be more focused on the human leadership than on the Messiah. Paul's statement in I Corinthians 2:2 gives an answer to this. He says, in effect, "I'm not going to be focused on myself, or on any other servant of God; I'm going to be focused on God Himself."
The second theme starts in I Corinthians 1:18 and goes through the end of the chapter. Paul is addressing something else the Corinthians were dealing with: The Greeks are renowned for their love of human wisdom, philosophy, metaphysics, and debate, as well as a religious system of multiple gods and goddesses. To such a mindset, the fact that a God would not only submit Himself to a lower (human) form, but also die for the very people He created, was unthinkable! This is why Paul says in I Corinthians 1:23, "But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumblingblock and to the Greeks foolishness." The God of Christianity, and the whole Christian system, did not make any sense to the Greek philosophers, intellectuals, and theologians.
Paul contrasts the Greek ideals, which were largely humanist, with the godly ideals. In I Corinthians 1:26-29 Paul shows that God is not interested in what the Greeks (or mankind in general) were interested in; instead, He called the weak, the base, the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, the mighty, the noble - those that the Greek world certainly would have been holding in high esteem. Paul continues this thought in I Corinthians 2:1, where he says he did not come to the Corinthians with "excellency of speech" or "wisdom" - again, things the Greeks regarded highly. Instead, as verse 2 says, he came to "know" Christ among them and Him crucified.
It is evident from Paul's letters to the Corinthian church, as well as his other writings, that the life and death of Christ were not his only topics. I Corinthians 5 explains the defilement of immorality. Chapter 6 deals with working things out among the brethren rather than taking matters to a civil court. Chapter 7 contains principles of marriage. Chapter 8 covers not defiling the conscience. Chapter 9 speaks of service and self-denial. It is easy to see that Paul wrote on a great deal more than just the life and death of Jesus Christ - they were just the starting point for his instruction. With Christ's sinless life and willing self-sacrifice comes remission of our sins, and justification - being brought into alignment with God and His inexorable law. Once we have been forgiven and have entered into the New Covenant, our responsibility becomes focusing on the Christian walk and conforming our life to the life of Christ. This is where all of Paul's instructions on "Christian living" come into play.
The ultimate reason for this is that the gospel message is not just about our forgiveness of sins through Christ's sacrifice. The gospel is also about the soon-coming Kingdom and government of God. The scriptural evidence that the Kingdom is a foundational part of the gospel is overwhelming:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3:1-2)
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17)
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. (Matthew 4:23-24)
For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:18-20)
But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. (Matthew 9:35)
The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! (Matthew 13:41-43)
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:14-15)
This is just a small sample from Matthew's account (with an additional verse from Mark to demonstrate what Christ preached) - and it does not even include the parables, the vast majority of which were about the Kingdom!
Paul also wrote a considerable amount about the Kingdom, even to the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 4:20; 6:9-11; 15:20-25; 15:50; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5; II Thessalonians 1:3-5; II Timothy 4:1-2; Hebrews 12:28-29). James also spoke of inheriting the Kingdom in his epistle (James 2:5), as did Peter (II Peter 1:10-11).
In the face of all of this evidence, it is clear that the soon-coming Kingdom of God, which will be ruled by Jesus Christ on earth (Zechariah 14:3-5, 9; Matthew 5:5, Revelation 5:10; 20:4-6), was certainly a significant part of what Jesus Christ preached, as well as what Paul wrote about. The gospel is not about Christ or the Kingdom; it is about both. It is the good news that a relationship is available with our Creator, on the basis of a sinless life sacrificed on our behalf, but that is only the beginning. The Kingdom is what we are striving for - living eternally with God, and as He lives - but it is evident that not all will make it into the Kingdom. Men have rejected, and continue to reject, the law of the King, and in doing so they signify that they do not want to be ruled by God (Romans 8:7). The perfect work that Christ did is really just the starting point. It allows for the relationship with God to start, but it also obligates us to respond to God in submission and obedience. God is not going to have someone in His Kingdom who will not be ruled by Him! It is our responsibility to begin living now as we will be living in the Kingdom.
This is why Christ and John the Baptist specifically link repentance with the Kingdom of God. Repentance is a wholehearted turning from the ways and acts which caused our Lord to have to be crucified. The first part of repentance is determining what sin is: "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4, KJV). It is our transgression of the law which caused Christ to have to die for us. Now that our sins have been forgiven, are we free to live in sin (iniquity, lawlessness) again? "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin [shall we continue to transgress the law] that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). Part of our obligation is to determine from God's Word what is the right way to live, the way that is in alignment with God and not enmity against Him (Romans 8:7). God has codified this right way to live in His law; it is up to us to follow through with it!
To focus only on the crucifixion of Christ, to the exclusion of His teachings and examples, as well as the instructions contained in the rest of the Book, is to fail to understand the depth of what God is doing. To leave Christ hanging on the cross, as it were, is to emphasize our forgiveness above what is then required of us.
David C. Grabbe
1 Corinthians 4:6
The marginal comment on this verse in the New Revised Standard Version is, "What is written, in Scripture, thus avoiding speculations." Apparently, some of the ministers in Corinth were speculating on things that were not revealed in the Bible. They were using human reasoning to explain things that were not spelled out in the Word of God. This was probably one of the reasons that some members preferred some ministers over others, because they were "more interesting" than others.
The lesson we can learn from both the Corinthian experience and observing the fruits of theological speculation is that, to understand spiritual truths and grow in knowledge of the spirit world and spiritual principles, we must humble ourselves before the Word of God. In such matters, human logic and wisdom are totally worthless. Our understanding of God's nature is limited to those things that are revealed in His Word. All of our beliefs and practices must be based on the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Can Theology Define God's Nature?
James Moffatt renders this verse as, "Beware of anyone getting hold of you by means of a theosophy [a branch of philosophy] which is specious make believe, on the lines of human tradition."
This verse is the only place where the biblical writers use the word "philosophy." The word has survived the years with its meaning unchanged: the love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means. It is translated from the Greek philosophia, which can be broken into its individual parts: philos (fond or friendly) and sophos (clever or wise).
Strong's Concordance writes that Paul was speaking of sophistry, that is, plausible but misleading argumentation or fallacious reasoning. Our word "sophisticate" derives from sophos. To sophisticate someone causes him to become less natural or simple; he becomes corrupted or perverted. A sophisticated person has acquired worldly knowledge and lacks natural simplicity.
Philosophy, the love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means, is not wisdom from God but wisdom as defined by man. It is man's attempt to be wise. God says, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). Since man cannot see God, he concludes, "There is no God." Because man's philosophy does not consider God, its very foundation is faulty.
Beware of Philosophy
2 Timothy 4:4
Once people reject the truth or decide for themselves what the truth is, what is there? What is left? What does it produce? Fables, myths, manmade wisdom, unsound teaching. It is certainly not the pure truth from God, and so Paul writes, "They turn their ears away from the truth and are turned aside to fables."
"Fables" is a general catchword for anything that is not the truth. When we are not focused on God and those He has sent to preach the truth, we are dabbling in error. What happens when one pours poison into a drink? Is it a good drink any longer? It is poison! Any amount of poison in that drink means that it is no longer pure. And any truth that has error mixed within it is an error. That may seem to some like a hard saying, but God wants His truth preached purely. So, we have to be careful, do our best, to feed ourselves the unadulterated truth. Otherwise, we will find ourselves turned away to fables, to myths, to manmade wisdom, to false gospels.
In Romans 1:18-25, the apostle gives a quick summary of what happens when truth and error are mixed. He asserts that the truth is out there. People are without excuse because God's message is readily available. The truth is knowable, but men have suppressed it—in certain places, in part, and in other places, almost fully. What they have mainly done is to add their own "wisdom" to the mix.
They have thus made their own religions. Why? They satisfy them in some way. God just replies, "Okay. If that's the way you want it, go ahead" (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). It is like Jesus' attitude to those who rejected the truth that His disciples preached: "Shake the dust off your skirt and go somewhere else" (Matthew 10:14). He essentially instructs them, "Don't worry about the naysayers. Leave them be. I'll deal with them later. Move on."
The greater point we need to understand is how they did it. These unrighteous people suppressed the truth, adding their own bit of "wisdom" or supposed knowledge or truth—and they immediately became fools because they believed a lie. They thought they could come up with a religion better than the true religion from God. And they will answer for it in time.
But we have to be careful the same thing does not happen among ourselves:
The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (I Thessalonians 2:9-12)
This prophecy returns to what Paul said is the foundational reason for false gospels and false teachings. It is what he writes in the last phrase: They took "pleasure in unrighteousness." It lined up with their own lusts. They wanted their itches scratched, and so they believed the lie—Satan's lie.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
James concludes chapter 3 by describing the wisdom that comes only from Almighty God. It is the bit and rudder by which we can effectively gain control of our speech. Godly wisdom begins in the heart, replacing the self-indulgent human motivations with purity, peacefulness, gentleness, yieldedness, mercy, goodness, fairness, and sincerity. Words that employ these godly attributes contrast to the raging winds that fan flames of war toward total destruction. The apostle does not allow us any time to spend in the middle; our words should be fresh and trustworthy, without the bitter and shocking elements of a sharp tongue.
In Matthew 12:34, Christ says, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." The real issue is that our words reveal the essence of our hearts. They will tell whether we are motivated by the earthly wisdom of human desire or by the godly wisdom of the fruit of the Spirit. Unkind words reveal an unkind heart, and kind words, a kind heart.
Are You Sharp-Tongued? (Part Two)
1 John 4:6
No Christian thinks that the message of Christ is foolishness, nor do we think that the wisdom of men is really all that wise—in fact, we have a tendency to reject it. What the Bible shows is that we are susceptible to it. "Let him who thinks he stands take heed, lest he fall" (I Corinthians 10:12). We should not willingly put ourselves in the line of fire. None of us is strong enough to resist Satan as Jesus Christ did—it took Christ to defeat him! All that God asks us to do is resist him. If we do this, Christ will come to our aid and rebuke him. Never be deceived into believing that we can out-think, out-wit, out-subtle, or spiritually overcome Satan alone. His powers and "wisdom" would put us to shame.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wisdom of Men and Faith
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