The reading plan I’ve settled into for the year has me alternating between Old and New Testaments throughout the week, and presently I am in Job and 1 Corinthians. Last week I wrote about Job, and honestly, I was left with more questions than answers. I’m sure I’ll have another go at that book before I’m done with it.
But what I’m noticing this week is the parallel between Job’s message and Paul’s message to the Corinthians about what it means to be wise unto godliness or foolish unto futility and destruction.
John Wimber and Brother Andrew both famously posed this wonderful question (I’m not sure who said it first): “I am a fool for Christ…whose fool are you?”
This quote means a lot to me because I grew up in a family that elevated pursuit of knowledge to a position of highest value. It has always been a given that I would be a lifelong learner, seeking intellectual command of whatever domains were of greatest interest to me and benefit to those around me. I was taught that this would lead to a good life.
This was a great way to start out, actually. I’m glad God gave me a curious mind, and that I had parents who, without his conscious spiritual influence, spurred me on to become intellectually accomplished. But as I became immersed in study of the Bible in my twenties, I discovered that all the learning in the world, about the world, would not necessarily make me wise.
The Apostle Paul, who was quite a learned man, a teacher of Jewish law and member of the religious ruling class, admonished the Corinthian Christians with these words:
“The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.As the Scriptures say, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.’So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:18=21).
When I came into faith as a young adult, my family had no frame of reference to understand the transformation they were observing in me. They thought I had gone off the rails because I had arrived at the conclusion that the Bible truly is the inspired word of God, and that it was able to make me “wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). I had started to embody this passage. To my family, I had embraced a path of foolishness.
Paul goes on,
“But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God.This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength” (v.24-25). Beautifully stated, Paul.
Job, in what is believed to be the oldest book in the Bible, agrees with Paul. As he cries out in complaint and lament to the God in his affliction, he repeatedly circles back to God’s wisdom and sovereignty in his life. When his wife tells him to “curse God and die,” he rebukes her, saying: “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10).
Later, he scolds one of his friends, “…True wisdom and power are found in God; counsel and understanding are his. Yes, strength and wisdom are his; deceivers and deceived are both in his power. He leads counselors away, stripped of good judgment; wise judges become fools” (Job 12:13-17).
How are we to understand this distinction between God’s wisdom and human wisdom? And how do we grapple with this idea that we must become foolish enough to believe the preaching of the word, and wise enough to surrender our lives to God?
Jesus helps us here, when he tells us that “the foolish person builds his house on sand” (Mt. 7:26) and “a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth and not have a rich relationship with God” (Luke 12:21). He contrasts this with the wise person who listens to and follows his teaching, building his house on solid rock. It seems evident to me that he is saying that we can have all the worlds’ wealth and knowledge, but if we ignore God’s wisdom and his ways, we will ultimately be judged as fools.
Walking with the Lord requires humility and surrender.
It isn’t wrong to go to school and learn about science, or literature, or mathematics, or any of the “ologies” of the academic realm. Lord knows, I’ve done it plenty. But while we are gathering knowledge, we must keep in mind the true source of wisdom, which is different from knowledge.
True wisdom comes from above, and this wisdom is “pure…peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere” (James 3:17). True wisdom leads to love, and love keeps us from being puffed up with pride (1 Cor. 8:1).
As believers, we are wise when we direct our time, our talents, our money, and our affections toward pursuits that matter to God. We pursue godliness. We pursue radical love and mercy. We pursue the wisdom of his word.
I know I’ve quoted a boatload of Scripture in this blog, but what can I say? I can’t express myself better than Holy Spirit does. So, I’ll end with yet more Scripture, a passage I requested to be read as part of my ordination ceremony. I wanted it to be publicly noted that my ministry would be devoted to seeking God’s priorities above my own, and his wisdom instead of the world’s wisdom.
Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you.Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God” (1 Cor 1:26-29).