“the beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom”

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Proverbs 4:7
Wisdom is something everyone wants, at some level; to understand oneself, to give something to the world, to live life well, to come to end of it satisfied. Too often we pervert the meaning of wisdom by making it all about our own distorted visions of happiness, at others’ expense and at the expense of our own real happiness. But even people stuck in obviously self-destructive ruts are, in a twisted way, pursuing “wisdom” in perhaps the only way they know how: to make the hurt go away, to prove they are their own person, whatever.
The Bible paints a picture of real wisdom. In his epistle James describes it like this:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:13-18 (ESV)
Other translations make different choices for some of the adjectives in verse 17, such as “submissive” (NIV), “easy to be entreated” (KJV), and “willing to yield to others” (NLT) for “open to reason.” That quality of wisdom – the willingness to hear what others have to say, and not only hear, but eagerly submit when others are closer to the truth than oneself – is one of the defining qualities of wisdom, and the book of Proverbs speaks of it repeatedly. For example:
  • Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man and he will love you. 9:8
  • The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. 12:15
  • A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. 13:1
  • The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. 15:31
  • Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. 15:32
  • Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. 18:1
  • A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his own opinion. 18:2
  • Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. 26:12
  • Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. 28:26
A wise person is someone who seeks correction and instruction, who wants to learn, to be led and shepherded, who recognizes the limitations of his or her own understanding, who welcomes rebuke and the input of others. As James said, meekness, peace, gentleness, and willingness to submit to the truth, even when it proves you wrong, characterize heavenly wisdom.
Meanwhile, a fool is not an unintelligent, stupid, or ignorant person. In biblical terminology, a fool is someone who refuses to learn, to be corrected by a higher authority. Morally, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, their only authority is their own opinion and their own carnality. Fools are already “wise in their own eyes” and are therefore dismissive of wisdom itself, even when it – literally or figuratively – shouts in their face (Proverbs 8:1).

“The beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom.” The beginning is to begin. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). The Bible defines wise people as those who seek wisdom, who endeavour to submit their entire lives to the truth, even if that means reversing their entire paradigm or giving up all they hold dear – not as those who have already attained all the answers.

Wisdom belongs to God, and seeking wisdom ultimately means seeking God himself. “Seek his face” – seek him, personally, and he will not hide from you, nor will he withhold wisdom from you, if you will simply ask.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5
For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6

spiritual maturity

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:11-16

“Personal growth” is a popular cultural concept; people often speak of growing as a person, and finding themselves. Maturity is in fact something everybody wants, at some level, although fear or complacency often get in the way of seeking it earnestly. Many Christians, too, mistakenly remain content as spiritual “infants” in both worldview and action.

When a baby is born, it is by nature physically and mentally immature. But, the baby grows. If the child does not mature there is a serious problem; if it remains infant-like it will never live anything like a full life. So it is with us. When a person puts their faith in Jesus, they are born for a second time: not out of a womb into the world but out of spiritual death into spiritual life. The simple message of God’s love for us in Christ becomes the new bedrock of the person’s life. Like a baby, everything feels new and scary; everything is handled by other people; all they really know and care about is that they are safe in the arms of their parent. It’s beautiful. It’s called being “born again.”

The whole culmination a human being’s life, however, is not their birth. When a parent speaks about their child, they speak not only about their birth but about how they’ve grown. We too cannot stay babies forever – we need to grow.

Spiritual maturity begins first with knowledge. We must know who God is, what matters to him, and what he has said to the world. We need to know who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. We need to know Jesus and his salvation, and the implications of his hold on our lives. Essentially we need to know what we believe, why we believe it, and how to articulate it. God has given us a “living and active” resource – the Bible – expressly so that we may know him more. Without knowledge, our love for God and our ability to influence other people will always be stunted.

Knowledge by itself, however, is completely useless. Paul said, “We know that ‘we all possess knowledge.’ But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know.” (1 Corinthians 8:1-2). In order for knowledge to really be worth something, it must be coupled with understanding. Understanding means that a person allows the knowledge of God to penetrate their heart and mind. To a person with understanding, the concept of the Redemption is not just a fact but the reality of their life. The Bible is not just words on pages, but God’s words of life to human beings. Knowledge is prattling off John 3:16; understanding is humbly explaining what it really means to say “God so loved the world that he gave his only son.”

If we stop at understanding, we are close. We are not, however, fully equipped. Spiritual maturity requires wisdom. Wisdom means applying the truth of God to human life. Wisdom sees through the first impression, the outer appearance, the surface-level words. Wisdom can awaken and refresh the life of another person by speaking God’s message into their own life and experience. Wisdom is a “tree of life” (Proverbs 3:18) which receives life and stability freely from God and passes them on freely and intelligently to others. And it takes a great deal of wisdom for anyone to keep a clear vision while navigating the struggles and pains of this life.

Watching a person “grow up” in Christ is like watching a child take their first steps, then say their first words, then write their own name: it is incredible. I have blessed by God to watch it happen over and over again in my friends. I have also been blessed by him with the privilege of knowing many Christians whose walk with God has defined their lives for decades. Their wisdom testifies to God’s faithfulness; and it is of great help to me, over and over again.

Real spiritual knowledge, understanding, and wisdom flow out of the persistent study and application of God’s word, and from prayer. They always express themselves by “speaking the truth in love.” Maturity is not passive, and it does not sit by while others continue on in sin and ignorance: conviction of the truth necessarily leads to real, living compassion for other people. Nor is spiritual maturity the goal of life in and of itself. The goal is simply this: to know and love Jesus, and to worship him.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:7-14