Question: "What is godly wisdom?"
Answer: Proverbs 16:16 says, “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver!” The Bible urges us often to seek wisdom above all things (e.g., Proverbs 4:7). But there are different kinds of wisdom. First Corinthians 3:19 says, “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” And verse 20 says, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” There is obviously a difference between godly wisdom and worldly wisdom (see James 3:13–17).
Godly wisdom is, of course, from God and honors God. Godly wisdom starts with the fear of God and results in a holy life. Worldly wisdom, on the other hand, is not concerned with honoring God but with pleasing oneself. With worldly wisdom, we may become educated, street-smart, and have “common sense” that enables us to play the world’s game successfully. Godly wisdom enables us to prepare ourselves for eternity. With godly wisdom, we trade earthly values for biblical values (1 John 2:15–16). We recognize we are citizens of another kingdom, and we make choices that reflect that allegiance (Philippians 1:27; 3:20). Having godly wisdom means we strive to see life from God’s perspective and act accordingly.
The book of Proverbs is part of the Bible known as wisdom literature. Proverbs is full of practical instructions for life. Many proverbs contrast the wise with the foolish and warn against repeating foolish actions (e.g., Proverbs 3:35; 14:24; 15:7; 26:11). Everyone makes mistakes, but the wise learn from their mistakes and take steps to avoid repeating them. The foolish may make the same mistake over and over again and never learn their lesson.
Godly wisdom may look very different from worldly wisdom. Jesus highlighted these differences in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7). For example, He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” Godly wisdom often requires us to do that which is opposite our natural inclinations. Godly wisdom goes against the “conventional wisdom” of the day; it is not focused on self-preservation but on furthering the kingdom of God. We can only live in godly wisdom when we are committed to crucifying our flesh and living in the Spirit (see Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 5:16, 25).
The primary way we gain godly wisdom is by learning God’s Word (Psalm 119:169). “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130). No one is born wise; we must acquire wisdom from God if we are to be truly wise: “Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts” (Psalm 119:98–100).
Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Immersion in God’s Word produces a heart of worship and thanksgiving. That heart of worship becomes fertile soil for seeds of wisdom to grow. Jesus prayed to the Father: “Sanctify them by your truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). He wants His followers to be set apart from the world, making godly choices and living godly lives (1 Peter 1:15). We can only do that when His Word lives in us.
We can also develop godly wisdom by carefully selecting those who journey through life with us: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). Paul instructed the Corinthians to “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1). Those who want godly wisdom will choose for their heroes those who exhibit wisdom in their personal lives.
Scripture tells us to ask for godly wisdom: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). God wants us to have His wisdom. He is delighted to give it to us when our hearts are set to receive it. However, James goes on to say, “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (verses 6–8). God knows the position of our hearts. When we are committed to trusting Him and obeying His Word, He pours out His wisdom on us (see Jeremiah 29:13). But if we want to retain the right to disobey, we are double-minded and may not receive the wisdom we ask for.
Solomon received godly wisdom when he asked the Lord for it (2 Chronicles 1:10–11). He became known for his great wisdom, yet, in his later years, he turned away from following the wisdom he’d been given. He disobeyed the Lord and even began to worship idols (1 Kings 11:1–11). Receiving wisdom did not insure that Solomon would follow the path of wisdom. Sadly, he exchanged his godly wisdom for worldly wisdom, and he suffered for it. The rest of 1 Kings 11 details Solomon’s downfall as the Lord removed His hand of blessing from a man who was once great.
“Indeed, if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding”