What is Wisdom?

Proverbs 1:1-7

The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel:

2 To know wisdom and instruction,
    to understand words of insight,
3 to receive instruction in wise dealing,
    in righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to give prudence to the simple,
    knowledge and discretion to the youth—
5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,
6 to understand a proverb and a saying,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge [wisdom];
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.

The Old Testament book of Proverbs is one of my favorite books of the Bible. I have waded in the waters of the book many times over the years (it is possibly my most read book of the Bible), and find myself continuing to visit it’s shores regularly. The book is written by a father seeking to equip his son with practical instruction for every area of life (see Prov. 1:8,10,15; 2:1; 3:1,11,21; 4:1,10, etc.). This father also happens to be the wisest man to ever live apart from the Lord Jesus - a man named Solomon (1 Kgs. 3:1-15; 28; 4:29-34). Proverbs, then, is a book filled with intensely practical wisdom for life, penned by Solomon, but given ultimately by God. In Proverbs, we encounter insightful, colorful, poignant instruction that covers a wide range of issues and topics, such as work, money, emotions, the tongue, the heart, manhood, womanhood, planning, parenting, friendship, and much more. Sometimes tough, often humorous, and always trustworthy, Proverbs provides us with wisdom from God for the journey of life.

As we embark on this journey through Proverbs, we’ll start by looking at wisdom itself - why we need it, what it is, and where we find it.


Rules Are Not Enough
Our lives are governed by certain rules. From common civil laws (stay in your lane on the freeway!), to biblical / moral laws (don’t murder, lie, or steal), right rules provide us with the healthy structure and guidelines we need for life. They mitigate chaos and provide order.

Yet, as good as the right rules are, there is much that rules don’t do - much that God didn’t intend for rules to do, and we all regularly face situations where there are no hard and fast rules to live by.

An example of this can be seen in marriage: There are rules about marriage in the scriptures, but there is no rule that tells us exactly how to find a spouse, where to find a spouse, or who exactly our spouse should be. Further, questions like, “How many kids should we have?”, “how should I spend my money?”, “where should I go to school?” “should I relocate my family for this new job opportunity?” “How do I most winsomely and effectively share the Gospel with my unbelieving co-workers?” Or “How can I comfort my friend who is grieving the loss of a loved one?” And so many others, are life decisions for which rules do not provide specific answers, and wisdom is needed to inform our decisions and direction.

Deep character, Straight-Thinking, & Fruitful Living
We desperately need wisdom. We need the deep character of God & straight thinking from God, that leads to fruitful living that glorifies God. Our churches need to be filled with wise Christians who make disciples. Our city needs wise Christians who are salt and light. Your spouse needs a wise partner, your kids need wise parents, your workplaces need wise employees and employers, and your friends need wise counselors. So, we turn to God’s word where we find God’s wisdom for life.


In seeking to understand what wisdom is, we should first be clear on what wisdom is not -

Knowledge is not wisdom
Knowledge is a good thing - we need it and ought to love it, but on its own it can be damaging. Paul warns us that knowledge “puff’s up” (1 Cor. 8:1). Without love, knowledge can cause us to be arrogant, dismissing, and disconnected. We can accumulate loads of knowledge, read myriads of books, have the highest scholastic degree, and know everything about a topic, and still lack wisdom. Consuming information without maturing in wisdom has the potential to result in an attitude that is good at criticizing but terrible at caring; informed in theory, but lacking experiential skill. Knowledge is learning and listening - wisdom is acting in light of that knowledge. In the New Testament, James exhorts us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (Jas. 1:22). We must not only hear and learn, but we must also do. Knowledge can be learned quickly, but wisdom is learned slowly.

One practical take-away: spend time learning, and also applying what you learn. If you are preparing for marriage, spend time learning a right theology of marriage, and get around Godly married couples; if you are preparing to have children, learn what God reveals about parenting, and babysit and serve in kids ministry; if you are seeking to know and follow Jesus, study your bible like crazy, and find someone to disciple.

Morality & Rule-Keeping is Not Wisdom
Like knowledge, rule-keeping in itself is good. The bible records lots of rules given by God to his people for us to obey (613 in the Old Testament, and 1050 in the New Testament to be exact). So, wise people seeking to follow God will keep his commandments, but, rule-keeping in itself is not wisdom.

The Bible describes a group of men who had tons of accumulated knowledge, and were among the best rule-keepers in history, and because of this, everyone viewed them as the wisest & holiest; yet they were neither wise or holy, but were filled with envy, hostility, and hatred toward God. They were called Pharisees. Jesus thundered this rebuke to these men,

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! -Matthew 23:23–24 (ESV)

 In other words, they scrupulously kept rules that were outward and measurable, like tithing 1/10th of their spices and seasonings, but they neglected the inward character - justice, mercy, and faithfulness - things that there are no rules for and cannot be easily measured.

Wisdom is outward to be sure, but it is also inward. Wisdom is conduct, but it is also character. While wisdom informs our actions, it also shapes our hearts. Wisdom teaches us that more people will be won to Christ by our brightness than our rightness.

Worldly Wisdom is Not Wisdom 
What is wisdom according to the world? Solomon tells us that “there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 16:25). There is almost endless bad advice coming from the world that may seem right to the undiscerning hearer, but does indeed lead to destruction: We are bombarded from every angle with a worldview of tolerance and acceptance. We are told that total, unhindered freedom to express oneself sexually, whatever that may look like, is the ultimate path to happiness. We are inundated with the satanic lie that a child in the womb is nothing more than mere tissue, and therefore it is a basic human right of a mother to terminate the child at will. If we do have children, we are told to not discipline them because discipline doesn’t affirm, while simultaneously told that if we do affirm the God-given gender of our child, we are oppressing them with an artificial social-construction.

In our broken and corrupted world, we are in desperate need of wisdom to help us discern the truth from falsehood. Wisdom is the right application of the right knowledge, with the right heart.


    The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge [wisdom];
fools despise wisdom and instruction. -Proverbs 1:7

Solomon says that Wisdom begins with fearing God. But Fear doesn’t mean that God is waiting to spank us when we blow it. Instead, to fear the Lord is to be in humble submission to him, his person, power & instruction. Fearing God is to rightly grasp a glimpse of his magnitude, majesty, his big-ness. Fearing God is confessing our complete dependence on him, and responding to him with love and trust. Fearing God is seeing God in his right place, and us in ours. Fearing God is the foundation of wisdom, but “fools despise wisdom.”

[29] Because they hated knowledge
and did not choose the fear of the LORD,
[30] would have none of my counsel
and despised all my reproof,
[31] therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way,
and have their fill of their own devices.
[32] For the simple are killed by their turning away,
and the complacency of fools destroys them;
[33] but whoever listens to me will dwell secure
and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” -Proverbs 1:29–33 (ESV)

Fools reject Godly wisdom for expedient, worldly wisdom. Fools despise God’s reproof for momentary pleasure. Fools operate as if they are on the throne instead of God, with disastrous results, “the complacency of fools destroys them.”

Here’s the hard news: If we’re honest, we know that we’ve all been the fools Solomon wrote about. We’ve all failed at wisdom. We’ve all had times of shallow character, crooked thinking, and complacent living. The question then is, where will we go for wisdom?

Wisdom Became A Person
We look to the one who is himself wisdom. Wisdom became a person, his name is Jesus, and he came into the world and pursued fools. The Lord Jesus is the only one who perfectly embodied deep character, straight thinking, and fruitful living. Jesus is the one who manifested to us the glorious wisdom of God

    “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
    And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD." -Isaiah 11:2-3 (ESV)

How do we get to wisdom? We get to Jesus.

"In [Christ} are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” -Colossians 2:3 (ESV)

In Proverbs, Jesus himself counsels us with wisdom. May we respond to him by asking him to shape us into a family that know, love, trust, and fear God, a people that become wise as he is wise.

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1 Comment

Hannah Snyder - December 15th, 2022 at 10:12am

This was an awesome read, thank you!

I feel like I knew what the ‘Fear of the Lord’ meant, but the way you laid it out made me understand its meaning and context differently. Better.

Having a right understanding of what it means to ‘fear the Lord’ definitely changes how you read verses like 7, and how to appropriately respond.

Am I fearing the Lord through humble submission? Confession my dependence? Responding with love and trust? I think these are great questions to ask myself daily.

So grateful we have Jesus to reach us this wisdom and what it looks like.