ELDER NEIL PHELAN JR.
TWO KINDS OF WISDOM
"And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God. Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory"
-I Corinthians 2:4-8
As we read Paul's first epistle to the Corinthian Church, we find the Apostle plainly exposing two kinds of wisdom: "man's wisdom" and the "wisdom of God". With these words, Paul warns Corinth of the dangers of "man's wisdom" as he encourages the church to follow after "the wisdom of God".
Every believer has some knowledge of the "wisdom of God". It is found throughout the scriptures. But just how much do we know about "man's wisdom" or "the wisdom of this world?" Can we identify it? Would we know it if we were approached by it? Have we been affected by it? Is there a way to avoid it? As we examine the two, we will discover the profitability of the "wisdom of God" as well as the dangers and pitfalls of "man's wisdom". But we must first recognize that there are "two kinds of wisdom".
Apparently, Paul knew something about worldly wisdom. His letter to the church at Corinth indicates that these people were not only knowledgeable of it, but also susceptible to it. Even though the terminology and methods of worldly wisdom have changed, its influence is just as deadly to the church today as it was at Corinth. For this reason God has preserved Paul's instruction concerning "two kinds of wisdom."
Yes, Paul knew that a knowledge of worldly wisdom, what it was, and what it represented, would prevent the believers at Corinth from falling into many of Satan's snares. He reminds the brethren at Corinth that if the princes of this world had known of it, "they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" -I Cor. 2:8.
Paul's illustration demonstrates the power of worldly wisdom and just how far people can be led astray by it. I am made to wonder just how many people were led away from Christ and duped by worldly wisdom as the chief priests and their colleagues shouted, "Crucify Him!"
THE WISDOM OF GOD
We find the "wisdom of God" on display throughout the Bible. James speaks of God's wisdom as wisdom "that is from above" -James 3:17. The "wisdom of God" emanates from the mind of God. It is the way that God thinks and the way that God performs. Although knowledge is an important principle of wisdom, it is more than that. In two words, we might define the "wisdom of God" as skillful living.
As James speaks of God's wisdom, he describes the abundant fruit that it will yield. God's wisdom is "first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" -James 3:17. It is first pure, unadulterated by worldly attitudes, comparing every thought with the word of God. And what peace this wisdom affords us. Christ, is the embodiment of all of these things. When we find Him, we find wisdom. God's wisdom is known and loved by believers alone. God's wisdom can only be comprehended by the spiritual man and the spiritual mind. For this reason there are many who despise it. This is Paul's premise in verses 9 through 16 of this second chapter of I Corinthians as he compares the mind and knowledge of the natural man with the mind of the spiritual man. According to Paul, "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" -I Cor. 2:14. The word "discerned" means to interrogate, investigate or judge. Therefore, the natural man, the man void of God's spirit, can not understand or judge spiritual things; God's wisdom is beyond him. He can not understand the wisdom of God. He is not affected by the preached word nor the written word of God. A man must be born again before he can "see the kingdom"(John 3:3) and understand the principles of God's kingdom. As Paul pens the last sentence of this chapter, he tells us why the born again believer can understand spiritual things and discern the difference between God's wisdom and the wisdom of this world: "But we have the mind of Christ". This kind of mind can perceive "two kinds of wisdom."
When we lack the wisdom of God that we need for life's struggles, God's promise is this: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" -James 1:5. Every believer has access to this wisdom. But we must first realize where it comes from and the source that we must tap to obtain it, or we too, will be duped by worldly wisdom.
The source of worldly wisdom is, of course, man. "Man's wisdom" emanates from the human intellect. It is human ideas and human reasoning: human philosophy. Since it springs forth from the creatures of this world Paul refers to it as "the wisdom of this world". James agrees as he writes, "This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish" -James 3:15.
Worldly wisdom is one of the greatest threats to Christianity today. It has misrepresented truth and led many Christians into gross errors. It looks good. It sounds noble. It seems to have an argument. But when closely examined under the microscope of God's word, we find a germ which is deadly to the Christian mind. It is sought after by the carnal mind as a mirage in the desert, boasting great things, but is indeed a well without water. Worldly wisdom is a battle for the mind made up of catchy phrases and carefully worded slogans which appeal to the human intellect. As a moth is drawn to the flame, the human intellect is drawn to the wisdom of this world.
According to James, worldly wisdom is "earthly, sensual, devilish" -James 3:15. This language alone should demonstrate to all of us the dangers of worldly wisdom. The word earthly means "worldly". As we have noted, it is the wisdom of man: worldly creatures. The word, "sensual" is translated from the Greek word "Psuchikos", which refers to "nature" or the natural man. It is translated into the word "natural" in I Cor. 2:14, 15:44, and 15:46. The word "devilish" speaks for itself. It means "demon like". In verses 14 and 16, James reveals the fruit that worldly wisdom yields: "bitter envying and strife in your hearts".... "confusion and every evil work." As we consider several specific examples of worldly wisdom, we will discover the accuracy of these words.
"The wisdom of this world" has a larger audience than "God's wisdom" because it appeals to the flesh: it appeals to the human intellect as well as the carnal nature, both of which all of humanity is in possession of. For this reason, many Christians have been duped by the enticements of worldly wisdom. What do we know about worldly wisdom? Do we understand the Apostle's admonition? Can we identify the worldly wisdom of our day? Have we been affected by it? Our first example of "worldly wisdom" is a simple one in which most Christians will agree upon. From there we shall approach several examples that many Christians are divided over.
I wonder how many people have been duped concerning the theory of evolution? It is through the wisdom of this world that this theory has been advanced in ages past, and continues to be advanced in our modern day of technology. Paul warned Timothy to avoid "profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called" -1 Tim. 6:20. We wonder what kind of advancements science had made in the days of Paul and Timothy, but apparently, even then, the intellect of depraved men was challenging the first words of the Bible: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" -Genesis 1:1. Evolution and creation are diametrically opposed and demonstrate to us that there are indeed "two kinds of wisdom."
Not only do we find the Apostle warning Timothy in the avenues of science, we also find Paul challenging the schools of philosophy. When Paul waited for Timothy and Silas at Athens, "certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him"-Acts 17:18. These were two prominent schools of philosophy in Athens at that time. The Epicureans were the followers of a man by the name of Epicurus. Do you know what they taught in this school of philosophy? Evolution!!! According to Gill, "Epicurus was born 342 years before Christ, and taught philosophy at Athens. The principle tenets of which were, that the world was not made by any deity, or with any design, but came into its being and form, through a fortuitous concourse of atoms, of various sizes and magnitude, which met, and jumbled, and cemented together, and so formed the world."(Gill's Commentary, Acts 17:18). Apparently, Epicurus was the Plato of that day. I wonder how many wise and noble creatures were duped by this same worldly wisdom almost two-thousand years ago? Paul wasn't. When it came his turn to speak, Paul began his discourse on the subject of creation, "God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that is Lord of heaven and earth" -Acts 17:24a. And even today, approximately two-thousand years later, after the invention of the great telescopes that span the galaxy and the electron microscope, scientists and philosophers are still asking the same question: "Where did those atoms come from anyway?" Only the wisdom which comes from God can answer this question.
How many times have we picked up the newspaper and read, "the earth is ten-billion years old", and just believed it because it was in the newspaper? Many eminent scholars believe the world to be about six-thousand years old. Even Gill wrote "...the sun rises and sets at its appointed time, as it did almost six thousand years ago." (Gills Commentary, Eccles. Ch.1, ver. 9). This is determined by adding the life span of the patriarchs. Should this not cause us to question the "oppositions of science?"
And what have we been told about dinosaurs and dragons? We have been told that dragons are mythical creatures and the dinosaur roamed the earth millions or billions of years ago? Was it millions or billions? The scientist just can't agree. There is only a million or so years difference between their theories. This is another aspect of worldly wisdom: there are many opposing opinions. But God's word agrees from Genesis to Revelation.
If we want to know about dinosaurs the Bible gives us some very accurate information. The dinosaur is spoken of in Job 40:15 and is referred to as "behemoth". When was this monster created? Was it millions or billions of years ago? According to the Bible God created this monster on the sixth day with man: "which I made with thee". Even though many references depict behemoth as an elephant or an hippopotamus, we must ask this question: have you ever seen an elephant or a hippopotamus with a "tail like a cedar"? -v17.
In the following chapter, we find God speaking of another creature, a deadly creature which was contemporary with Job and his friends. God describes this creature as one whose "eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a seething pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth" -Job 41:18-21. Truly, this was a dragon! This creature apparently survived the great flood for they were also contemporary with David, for David mentions them in the Psalms: "There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein" -Psalm 104:26. But what have we been taught by worldly wisdom in the classroom, in the magazines, as well as on television? Evolution! Has worldly wisdom affected our society in these areas? We can say that it has.
Has the "wisdom of the world" had an impact upon the parents of our day concerning the training up of children? Most child psychologists today tell us that spanking a child is "corporal punishment". Is this wisdom from above or from the intellect of man? What does the Bible say about it? God says, "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" -Proverbs 13:24. The Bible clearly demonstrates to us that there is a time to chasten the child. The word "chasten" includes everything from the verbal warning to the physical punishment of the child. The world "betimes" means early: early in their life and early in the transgression. One who truly loves their child will "chasten him betimes".
It takes more love to chasten a child that it does to ignore their offenses. Of course, love is the most important thing that we will ever give our children. But notice in this verse of scripture how intricately Solomon ties love and discipline together. And there is another ingredient which is necessary for the implementation of both of these: time. How could we convince our children that we truly love them if we never spent any time with them? How could the chastening hand of the parent achieve any lasting results if the parent did not spend the necessary time to set the proper example and display a lasting love? Is there any wonder so many children are diagnosed today with ADHD? These children need the love and attention of a mother and father. And they also need discipline.
Of course, the Bible will never condone the abuse of a child. But it does provide the information the parent needs for proper discipline and love which formulates the stable environment needed for the nurture of children. Discipline is never abuse, but rather a firm hand, or small switch, uncomfortable enough to become discipline, which says "I don't approve of that". Some children need a lot of discipline while others need very little. But it is a scriptural principle avoided today and scoffed at by worldly wisdom.
There are millions of children in our world today who are alone and neglected concerning these things. Their environment is anything but stable. They have not a mother or father to share their love, time or give them the proper discipline they need. But the Bible does not tell us to change our methods because the world is failing. The Bible is information given to the Christian parent to train up Christian children. Our first duty is our immediate family. We should never allow the injustices of the world to bring us away from the sound instruction of God's word. Our children will never be what they could be without discipline. This is the wisdom of God.
All through the book of Proverbs we find the same language: "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying" -Proverbs 19:18; "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die" -Proverbs 23:13; "Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul" -Proverbs 29:17. Worldly wisdom has duped many mothers and fathers and what do they have to show for it today?: a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. Proverbs 29:15. Where is our trust? In God and His word, or the "wisdom of this world".
As we approach the subject of abortion we find a variety of opinions, even among believers. Their allegiance to God and His word is broken up by carefully worded slogans and fearful speculations. Worldly wisdom is at work here as well. The word, "Pro-Choice" is a word which is founded by worldly wisdom. This word appeals to the human intellect. It is a word which is suggestive of freedom and power because choice, in essence, is both of these. The human intellect craves power and the depravity of man is no lover of discipline. This slogan places the woman, and not God, as the sole proprietor of her body, the only one involved in the choice. But what does the word of God have to say about it? "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" -1 Cor. 6:19-20. The body, whether it is a man's body or a woman's body, belongs to the Lord. He is the creator of it; He gave it to us; and if we are His, He redeemed that body with His blood. Therefore, what we do with our body concerns the Lord.
According to the Bible, life begins at conception. Therefore any abortion is the termination of a life. The word "conceive" is used in the Bible 13 times and the word "conceived" is used 45 times. That alone, should be enough evidence to convince the Christian. According to the scriptures, "Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the Lord" -Genesis 4:1. This language of the Bible declares that life begins at conception. David wrote, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" -Psalm 51:5. David confesses his life and his sinful state, even at the moment of conception.
Why are children aborted? "According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (the research arm of Planned Parenthood): 1% are victims of incest or rape; 1% had fetal abnormalities; 4% had a doctor who said their health would worsen if they continued the pregnancy; 50% said they didn't want to be a single parent or they had problems in current relationships; 66% stated they could not afford a child; 75% said the child would interfere with their lives." (Sanctity of Life, James C. Dobson, pg.12, 1990). In our country alone, "1,600,000 babies are put do death every year by abortion. That's 4,383 per day." (Ibid. pg13). It is by the power of worldly wisdom that these laws are defended and protected.
In the 139th Psalm, David speaks of his first moments of life, even before he saw the light of day. He speaks of being knit together in his mother's womb, "For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth" Psalm 139:13-15. The word "reins" means kidneys, organs, and mind. And the word "covered" means entwined as a screen. The words "curiously wrought" mean embroider or fabricated as a needle work. From these words we see God's handiwork within the womb. According to God, life begins a conception. How many thousands are duped by worldly wisdom concerning this great atrocity in our society? Perhaps many, "had they known it, they would not have"......!
These two words, self esteem, have become so popular in our society that hardly a day goes by that you do not hear them either on the television, in the newspaper, at the gymnasium or at the school. Until a few years ago, these words were seldom used as such. In all of the hype and training we must ask this question: Is the behavior of children today improving as a result of this teaching?
This, also, is not new. Paul observed it and warned Timothy that "perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy" -2 Tim. 3:1-2. When men love themselves above all others the times shall indeed become "perilous". This is a time when man will want his way and do anything to get it.
The love of self is the essence of self esteem. We observe the gigantic proportions of this wisdom in our society today by the many books that are available to help people love themselves more. Books such as "Love yourself", "The Art of Learning to Love Yourself", "Loving Yourselves", "Celebrate Yourself", "Your Someone Special", are only a few that one will find in the book stores today. Many popular songs today echo this same deadly principle. Is this Biblical teaching or is it the wisdom of this world?
Paul was speaking of himself when he said "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? -Romans 7:24. Are these words one would use to build up their self esteem? Isaiah was speaking of himself and his people when he said, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts" -Isaiah 6:5. These men were touched by God. They had an experience of grace and through their experience with God they gained great wisdom. It is through such experiences that God, in every age, has shown his children their sinful state which caused them to cry, "Abba, Father." Where was their esteem? It was the "Lord of hosts!"
Man has never had a problem with loving himself. When Jesus was asked to define the great commandment in the law Jesus said, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" - Matthew 22:37. Loving self was not mentioned. Nor was loving self the Lord's second item of importance. Jesus said, "And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" -Matthew 22:39. The Lord takes if for granted that man loves himself. Here He instructs us to endeavor to love others as much as we already love ourselves. Worldly wisdom shifts the priority away from God and others to self.
Indeed, we want our children to feel good about themselves. But are self esteem techniques the prescription that the Bible gives us to accomplish this need? Does teaching children to love themselves more give them stability? No. Rather than the worldly wisdom of self esteem, God's wisdom has something much better to offer and that is the feeling of confidence, not in self, but in God. If we want our children to feel good about themselves, they must be taught to please the Lord. Here they will find confidence and peace in their lives. In our country there has been a radical shift. Parents, who once read the Bible to their children and attended God's house on the sabbath day are placing this responsibility upon the shoulders of others. Rather than teaching their children about God and his word, they are teaching self esteem.
Children, as well as adults, will feel good about themselves when their lives are right with the Lord "For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" -2 Tim. 1:7. The power of a sound mind comes from love for God and not the love for self.
It is certain that the agenda of self esteem could not agree with the words "Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me". People, whether children or adults, who feel good about themselves, are those who find their pleasure in walking with the Lord.
WISDOM THE SUPERSTRUCTURE
The wisdom of God is the superstructure of families, homes and even nations. Solomon tells us that "Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars: She hath killed her beasts; she hath mingled her wine; she hath also furnished her table" -Proverbs 9:1-2. The number seven is not indicative of particular fruits of the spirit or specific points of doctrine, but rather, a number which represents perfection. The seven pillars are the supporting columns of homes, families, governments and lives: skillful living. Through the use of God's wisdom we will find the provisions of life.
The opposite will be observed concerning "the wisdom of this world". Paul warned the Colossian church to "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" -Col. 2:8. Again, Paul warns the churches against the subtility of worldly wisdom. He defines it here as "philosophy" or "the rudiments of the world." And rather than have a building influence, Paul uses the word "spoil". This word means booty. In Paul's day, when an army spoiled a city they took all their possessions, burned their city with fire and either killed or took captive the women and children. The worldly wisdom of today's society today has achieved the same results!
These are only a few examples of the worldly wisdom that we observe today. So many more could be named. But I hope these few examples will cause us all to realize that there is indeed, "Two Kinds of Wisdom" and enable us to recognize worldly wisdom when confronted with it. We must be careful to build our house upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and His doctrine comparing every facet of our lives with the word of God. Jesus said it like this, "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it" - Matthew 7:24-27. Where are we building our house today? Upon worldly wisdom or the wisdom of God? May God help us to identify worldly wisdom for what it is and give us the strength to oppose the influences of worldly wisdom.