Christian Living

The seduction of worldly wisdom

I know many people just can’t watch Funniest Home Videos– you know the old TV show with people doing really dumb things that go predictably, horribly wrong. You can see everything that’s about to happen coming a mile away, because we know how the world works; we have a certain level of worldly wisdom.

Watching people who don’t have a clue might make for good TV, but it doesn’t make for a successful life. That’s why having worldly wisdom matters – it stops us making stupid decisions. It’s helpful and necessary. However worldly wisdom has its limitations. It can’t work out what really matters, or what’s best. 

When it comes to living our lives as Christians, we need a wisdom that’s much bigger than what the world has on offer. Our society is happy and content with worldly wisdom, because worldly wisdom seems to work – at least for a while.However, as Christians we really want to live with godly wisdom as our ‘MO’. But we easily slip into worldly wisdom because it’s everywhere; it’s in the air we breathe. Worldly wisdom is also in our hearts.

Ephesians 2:3 tells us that our natural bias is away from God and his wisdom. Another reason we struggle with worldly wisdom is that superficially, it looks like people really succeed using it, and it seems easy. Worldly wisdom often provides a quick fix. Honouring Jesus with God’s view of relationships and God’s view of morality in fact sometimes makes our lives even moredifficult in the here and now – it’s harder and more costly. And so worldly wisdom seems the attractive option. 

Worldly wisdom isn’t useless, but if it is not assessed through the lens of godly wisdom, ultimately it’s destructive. So how do we get godly wisdom?

The Bible says that real wisdom, godly wisdom, is found when we listen to God. This is because it’s God who controls all things; he determines where our world is going and what will happen in the end. And in God’s goodness, he’s told us his plans in his word.

There is a really helpful description of godly wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:30:

Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God –that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

Real wisdom, godly wisdom, is not about things, techniques or actions, but it is a person. It’s knowing the person Jesus that produces real change, at the deepest level in our very character as we turn to him for forgiveness. 

Jesus is also our redemption. Redemption is what’s needed when everything is hopeless and there is nothing we can do to repair the situation. Our only hope is for someone from outside to come and fix it up. That is what Jesus brings – he’s our redeemer. That is how we gain godly wisdom. Having Jesus as our righteousness and our redemption shapes our decisions, our relationships and our morality – how we live. It is with godly wisdom that we can make decisions that bring honour to God. Worldly wisdom can never give us that!

The getting of real wisdom – a) it’s impossible for us

The bad news is that we can’t get it by ourselves. We can’t seek it out, think it through or put it together. And it is not just that we are incapable of getting godly wisdom, but that because of our nature we won’t listen to and learn this wisdom:

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. (1 Cor 2:14)

At least that puts everyone into the same boat. Missing out on godly wisdom isn’t because I’m not smart enough! No one can get it anyway. But I don’t think that all being in the same boat comforted anyone on the Titanic. It doesn’t comfort us either. We’re all in the same desperate position: all under the judgement of God as we’re out of relationship with him, and so we’re stuck never being able to make lasting, right decisions. 

The getting of real wisdom – b) we have the mind of Christ

If I were to end there it would be bleak indeed. Thankfully Paul didn’t run out of ink and kept writing after verse 14 of 1 Corinthians 2. He adds in verse 16 words that give us great hope: “we have the mind of Christ”.It is possible to have what we can’t get by ourselves. It comes as the gift of God. How, in three short verses do we go from being never able to get godly wisdom, to having the mind of Christ? 

There’s a wisdom that’s beyond worldly wisdom, from outside of this world. It doesn’t come from deeper, smarter thinking, but from God himself, through his Spirit. That is the only way it could come because it can’t be learnt by even the best of worldly thinking. And this wisdom is available only to those who are spiritual – Paul means only to those who are Christian. Once received, this wisdom connects us to the very mind of God. It’s impossible for anything to be wiser than that. So Paul then declares “we have the mind of Christ”.

But how do we get the mind of Christ? What does this wisdom look like?

Remember 1 Corinthians 1:30, that Jesus is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. As we live and grow in relationship with Jesus, he shapes all our relationships, all our priorities, all our decisions. So we’ll ask: How does my relationship with God and his Son influence this situation? What will bring honour to him? What will cause me to grow more like Christ? This is godly wisdom. 

But worldly wisdom and godly wisdom don’t operate beside each other, as if we flit between them depending on the circumstances and our preferences. Worldly wisdom can only operate withingodly wisdom. Godly wisdom shapes how we think, and worldly wisdom will sometimes help us determine helpful ways of implementing this in our situation. 

It’s godly wisdom that will teach us when it’s appropriate to follow worldly wisdom and when we must stand out as different. Godly wisdom will tell us when worldly wisdom is helpful, or when it will lead us away from how God wants us to be. We are very skillful at ‘careful’ thinking for those times we want to justify what we want to do. But we need to train ourselves instead to apply this careful thinking for living in those times where godly wisdom goes against the flow of the world.

The more we train ourselves this way, the more we’ll live by the revelation of God’s word, and not just by observation of the world. And the more we live like this, the stronger our godly wisdom will be – all to the glory of God.