THE WISDOM OF GOD
Romans 16:27 “To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”
If there is one grace that every Christian prays for then it is patience “Oh that I were a more patient Christian.” And if there is another grace each of us asks God to give us then it is wisdom. When Ernest Reisinger was heading a large construction company employing many men building schools and bridges then every day, he told me, he prayed for wisdom. Ernie was doing what the word of God exhorts all of us to do in the early verses of the letter of James, “If any of you lack wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). He doesn’t find fault. He doesn’t sigh and say, “You have been foolish so often, and now you’re asking me for wisdom? A bit late isn’t it?” No, God is not grudging in answering our prayers for wisdom. He gives generously to all, and if you behave foolishly then it indicates that you’ve been neglecting to ask God to make you wiser.
The wonderful feature about wisdom is how multifaceted it is. James later in his letter gives us an utterly extraordinary definition of wisdom. It is not about academic knowledge, or having that sort of brain some people have. They can memorize and recite endless sequences of numbers. Rather this is the divine wisdom that God gives; “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). In fact that is a beautiful summary of the perfections of God, “peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” This is the only wise God and this is the kind of wisdom he offers to every Christian! How crucial it is. What good is a high I.Q. without wisdom, or beauty without wisdom, or parenthood without wisdom, or orthodox theology without wisdom, or sexuality without wisdom, or drugs without wisdom, or power without wisdom, or man-management without wisdom? So when you are asking for wisdom you are making a request that God is delighted to hear and that God can give, exceeding abundantly above what you are asking for. He wants us all to find out what wisdom is and then to ask him to give it to us.
You remember that the Lord once said to king Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (I Kings 3:5). Incredible! Imagine anyone with illimitable power and wisdom making that offer to you. What would you ask for? Solomon’s reply was, “Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong” (I Kings 3:9). And we are told, “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for – both riches and honour – so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life” (I Kings 3:10-14). Do you see that that is an echo of what the Lord Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33).
Now it is in the Christian, God-centred way of looking at things that wisdom comes to us, or some increase in any grace or virtue. It is in considering the beauty of the living God, and then to imitate God. We begin to become wise in the first definitive way when we start to set our minds on God and on this glorious attribute of his – his wisdom. He is to be our paradigm, our model of what real wisdom is. Many people judge themselves to be wise men, but in fact they’re foolish people because they’ve never discovered what real wisdom is. That comes from encountering the living God. It is the fool who says in his heart there is no God. You must have a true knowledge of God. It is in fearing the high and holy one who inhabits eternity whose name is Holy that is the beginning of wisdom. It is the first step. So our first happy task today is to understand a little more of the wisdom of God.
WHAT IS THE WISDOM OF GOD?
He is called the only wise God. In other words this wisdom is uniquely God’s because his wisdom is infinite, eternal and unchangeable. That is the wisdom of the Father; it is the wisdom of the Lord Jesus, and it is the wisdom of the indwelling Holy Spirit. What resources are at the disposal of the Christian! We have the privilege of illimitable access to God only wise! No archangel has such wisdom as God has. He is wisdom itself. Many of you know the distinction between knowledge and wisdom. Paul will pray for a church and he asks God that it will be full of knowledge and wisdom. Now there is a distinction between the two. That is not a mere redundancy for emphasis sake. First there is knowledge and knowledge is crucial information; who made the world . . . why is the world in the state it is in . . . what is God like . . . who is Jesus Christ . . . why did he come to this world . . . what did he say . . . what did he do . . . why did he die on Golgotha . . . what is he doing now . . . what is the good life . . . what must I do to be saved . . . how can we glorify God? That is all essential knowledge, and so it is exceedingly important. Paul prays that every member of the church in Ephesus will have it. Knowledge is the foundation of wisdom. Secondly wisdom is knowledge applied. It is applied to our minds and our consciences and our affections. It is applied to us as individuals, as members of a family, or as people who work for others and with others, and as those who have neighbours. It is applied to us as members of the body of Christ and to all the inter-faces of human experience. We need wisdom at all those levels because wisdom will take hold of knowledge, and then wisdom will put our knowledge to the best use. We need both knowledge and wisdom – “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God!”
So God has both those graces in their fulness. This is not a feature added to God’s essence. It is what God is. You can have a ball that is red and a ball that is white, but those colours are not the essence of a ball. That is its perfect roundness. So it is with the being of God. His wisdom is not like some optional colour; it is the essence of God. Without wisdom he wouldn’t be God. God’s wisdom is transcendent, in other words, he is wise necessarily; he is wise originally – he never began to be wise or to grow in wisdom. His is an unbegun and an underived wisdom. He did not learn it; no one taught him. Isaiah famously asks in chapter 40 “Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counsellor?” (Isa. 40:13). Who has taught him a single lesson? Can you imagine the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit sitting at desks and someone with a Ph.D. or a D.D. teaching the Godhead and they are taking notes? The Prime Minister has a cabinet and they all share their insights with him, but God doesn’t need a cabinet. He is above all teachers and tutors. There is a teacher whose work is to teach children with learning difficulties, children who cannot understand even the one times table. It is incredibly difficult work for this reason, because of their diminished intelligence, but God is not incapable of receiving instruction because he is deficient or limited in some areas. God is incapable of receiving instruction because of his existing immense wisdom. His ability and understanding are so measureless that there is nothing that God can learn. God is all understanding. If you are reading by the light of a 40 watt bulb and are finding it difficult to make out the words because of the gloom then you turn on another light or you put into the socket a 100 watt bulb. Two lights are brighter than one. But God is the only exhaustively wise God. He is ignorant of nothing. One sun is brighter than a million bulbs. God is light. He cannot shine any brighter than he does this moment, and when Jesus came into the world he said to us, “I am the light of the world.” Don’t go on walking in darkness. In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Nothing is absent; nothing is missing; the Lord is never perplexed.
Even the angels’ wisdom is an imperfect understanding. Peter talks of the sufferings of Christ and then he says, “Even angels long to look into these things” (I Pet.1:12). The angels had been looking at their Lord being whipped and the blood running down his back. They were seeing their Lord being hit in the face, and spat on. God still would not give them orders to swoop down and deliver him and smite his enemies. Then they saw their Master being crucified. What was God doing permitting their beloved Lord to be killed like this? They were longing to zoom in in their legions and take him up to the welcome of heaven. They did not know what God was doing! They did not have the wisdom that God alone had. The truth is that the angels are nothing like God, and so God does not periodically hold a committee meeting of all his top angels and ask them for advice. In fact we are told this in Job chapter 4, “If God places no trust in his servants, if he charges his angels with error, how much more those who live in houses of clay” (Job 4:18&19). Of course the angels in heaven don’t display the least foolishness in any of their actions, but in comparison to God’s wisdom their thinking is as different from God’s as the difference between truth and error, because their grasp of God and his ways is a creature’s grasp. They need God’s wisdom to instruct them each day what they are to do.
God is wise universally and cosmically. If you took the wings of the morning and flew to the uttermost recesses of space the first discovery you would make there would be the only wise God and Father of the Lord Christ. He is there protecting you and keeping all his promises for you. He is putting the knowledge he has about everything he’s created to the best possible use. God is wise perpetually. An author can rise to a peak at one period in her life and she can write one brilliant book – like To Kill a Mocking Bird, – and then she gently descends from that peak and never shows such wisdom and creativity again. But God never descends or declines; he never becomes decrepit or senile. He never loses it. Every day is a new time to show his glory in creation; every sunset is different from the day before. We are famously told that there are not two snowflakes God has made that are identical, no two grains of sand are the same. Every day he is building his church and he is translating thousands from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his dear Son, all of them in a unique way.
God is wise incomprehensibly. Sometimes he causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble, and he offers us no explanation why. His judgments are unsearchable and his ways are past finding out. Why did he permit Paul to be kept in prison for years and not free him for evangelizing and church-planting and preaching, exalting the name of his Son? He released Peter why didn’t he release Paul? Why did he give such ill health to Luther and to John Calvin? Why did he give those brief lives to M’Cheyne and Brainerd? They were both dead before they were 30 years of age. God has given us no explanation.
God is wise infallibly. There are no mistakes that he has to confess. He carries no regrets in heaven. He does not apologize to his Son for the pain and loss he caused to come into his life. When his people make mistakes he can take up their errors and misjudgments and sins and God can bring good out of them for us. But God himself has no foolishness to regret for ever and ever.
Let me tell you the story of a very disciplined Christian. He had kept his time of prayer with God every morning for thirty years. He hadn’t missed it once. And then one morning the alarm didn’t go off and he was still asleep at a time he was normally studying the Bible. Then to his astonishment the devil came to him in a dream and said to him, “It’s late. Time to wake up. Your quiet time is here. Get up! Get up!” The man was bewildered. “What are you doing telling me to get up and pray? You are the devil. You can’t want me to pray.” “Oh yes,” said Satan, “I was once an angel of light myself and I remember being in the presence of God. Get up and pray.” The man was even more shocked. “I can’t believe that you’d want anything good for me.” And then he woke up in a sweat, the impact of that dream leaving him quite weak. Why had the devil wanted him to rise and pray? He thought much about it, and about his own attitude to his praying, and as he continued to do so he became aware of what a fetish the routine of morning devotions had become in his life. How proud he was of being a disciplined believer, and how upset he would have been if he had slept that morning instead of reading the Bible and praying, breaking a decades long tradition. He saw how his vanity was getting mixed through and through his daily devotions, and what a snare his self-righteousness had become about being a man of regular praying. He needed to kneel before God and confess to him his pride in praying, and as he did so then he knew the forgiveness of the Father and a new embrace of his love. Then and there he learned a very great lesson and it was this, that God loves our sins when they are followed by repentance more than he loves our virtues when they are followed by pride.
It is utterly necessary for God to be wise. Daniel says, “Wisdom and might are his” (Daniel 2:20). There is no uncertainty with God. He is not biting his nails, looking and wondering how things are going to pan out. There is no recklessness in God. If he chose to then God could explain to your total satisfaction why everything that has happened in your life has been allowed to happen. God has to be wise because he couldn’t be perfect without wisdom. In the degree of importance that all his attributes possess his wisdom must be somewhere up there – near the top! Without wisdom all his other perfections would be imperfect. His patience would be cowardice; his power would become oppression; his justice would be cruelty; his love would be mere sentiment.
God could not govern the things of heaven and earth and hell without wisdom. Think of the stars and galaxies, the meteors and comets. Consider the atom and tiny viruses in a fallen groaning world, and yet chaos does not rule! God, we believe, is wisely governing all his creatures in all their actions. There is a harmony by which all creation is at work even without the creatures’ knowledge of it, and that demonstrates the wisdom of God. Wherever we explore, ocean depths and silence of space, the working of the bacteria and the brain, there is order and design and inter-relationships and all are revealing the wisdom of God. Everything would be only confusion without the only wise active God.
That was the deliverance of Job. He went through an experience in his life when he lost everything, his family, possessions, the trust of his wife, his own health and the confidence of his friends. Did God know what he was doing? That was Job’s mounting dilemma. How did God pastor and restore him? He did so by reminding Job of the divine wisdom, how he had designed and created and sustained and was governing all things without any contribution from Job or any man. “You weren’t there, were you, Job? I did all this by my power and wisdom alone, didn’t I?” And Job saw it. He deserved nothing as a sinner from the holy God and yet had been the beneficiary of the wisdom of God all his days. And you know how Job answered in the opening words of the last chapter of Job, chapter 42: “Then Job replied to the LORD: ‘I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, “Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?” Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. . . My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes’” (Job. 42:12&5). God’s wisdom demands we live in a spirit of repentance.
God is the source of all the wisdom of men. You may appreciate a columnist, or a school teacher, a stimulating lecturer, or a politician. What they teach or write in your estimation is just spot on. It is a privilege to learn from them. You profit so much from their insights. You would like all your neighbours to learn from them. Yet these men or women are not professing Christians. Maybe she is a Jew and yet she possesses deep insight into the human condition. The excellence of her wisdom is an echo of the infinitely superior excellence of the wisdom of God who made her. She bears the image of God. There is an earlier grace in the world from God’s creating the heavens and the earth, from God writing the things of his law on her heart, from her conscience which is his monitor, and from the existence of the Bible in this country and the church being salt and light for centuries. There is a legacy – of which all men are inheritors – of the earlier knowledge of God. So she displays a wisdom that ultimately is divine in its origin. Think of the giants, William Shakespeare or Jane Austin. Did either of them really understand the grace of God in Jesus Christ? Perhaps they did, but if they didn’t they were still able to show incredible insight into human relationships and the human condition. We just marvel at them and hesitate about criticizing them. They have shown a wisdom that ultimately comes from God. He is the source of all wisdom. Sometime we hear a piece of music and we are left weak with our appreciation of what we have heard. We are deeply moved. That comes from God whether the musician and the orchestra believe in him or not. We give the glory to God.
HOW WE SEE THE WISDOM GOD.
i] In creation we see the wisdom of God. Solomon records in the book of Proverbs, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Proves. 3:19). David the psalmist says, “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all” (Ps. 104:24). And isn’t that the most evident reality everywhere we look in creation? We see the wisdom of the Creator. There was an hour-long programme on BBC2 in September about the moon and how essential it is for our existence on the earth, that life would be impossible without the moon. God’s wisdom designed its size and its distance from the earth, its waxing and waning. And God sustains it, and so we live. I will not weary you with what I’ve told you often about some of the thousands of facts concerning the nature of our world from the design of the atom to the ozone layers around the earth. God in wisdom created the world we live in.
But just consider the beauty of all creation. We are told in Ecclesiastes, “God hath made every thing beautiful in his time” (Eccl. 3:11). God could have made everything plain and bland, worthy and functional. It is not like that at all. It is devastating; the beauty of the world is overwhelming and it all displays his wisdom, and it is wonderfully suitable for the end to which they were all made. Nothing is unprofitable; everything serves some purpose. The heavens, the earth, the seas, plants, animals – all tell of God’s wisdom.
See God’s wisdom in how he governs his creation. God wisely governs man as a rational creature. He gave man his law, which is holy and just and good (Rom.7:12); it is plain and simple; it is perfectly suited to the special rational and moral nature of man. Adam was capable of obeying this law. It was a law well suited to the happiness and benefit of man. The whole law could be summarized with one word: love. Man’s conscience approves of this law. God in wisdom gave incentives for its keeping. Had man obeyed this law, how happy would our world have been! So we see God’s wisdom in creation.
ii] In providence we see the wisdom of God. God was in control of the trials that came into the life of Job. It was the same God who permitted a thorn to be inserted into the flesh of the apostle Paul. It really hurt, and it went on hurting. It was also the messenger of Satan and it brought pain into his life. Yet it was the over-ruling God who ordained that, and that same God comforted Paul by telling him that his mighty grace was sufficient for all he wanted Paul to do throughout his life from that time until glory.
Some years ago Isabel Fleece’s youngest son, Ned, was killed in a car crash. His sister later went on to marry David Calhoun the church historian and author of a number of Banner of Truth books. The teenager, Ned, had just past his driving test and wanted to run all the errands and he had gone off to pick up a swimming costume for his cousin. He was late in getting back and then the message came that the car had crashed. His mother Isabel tells us what she learned from all that happened that July day: “I learned that God is good and that all things work together for good to them that love him. In that first moment when word came that there had been an accident – a bad accident – we knelt in anguished prayer. I could only say, ‘Lord, let it be good for everyone concerned. Let it be as good, Lord, as it can possibly be.’ And it was. Before I called he answered. It was good for Ned: he went immediately to be with Christ. It was good for Katherine, his eleven-year-old cousin who was in the car with him: she was not seriously injured. There was no other car or person involved, and that was good. And then, strangely, it was good for us. For in the eternal greatness of our Father’s wisdom this is one of the ‘all things’ that is working together for our good. ‘Oh, how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee’ (Psalm 31:19).
“I learned that God is fully trustworthy and that in the vast realm of his knowledge and wisdom there is no room for the faithless question, ‘Why?’ With God there is no ‘if’. ‘If’ I had not sent Ned on the errand, ‘if’ I had not let him have his driver’s license, ‘if’ we had never gone to the beach, ‘if’ he had only gone elsewhere for the summer. An endless line of ‘ifs’ could stretch before us – an ‘if’ for every moment of our lives. If we had only done it differently. But up above each ‘if’ and beyond each finite thought stands One who is the only wise God, and from the realm of his abode he sees the end from the beginning and charts the course that leads us. His purposes are sure, his will absolute, his foreknowledge supreme. Before the foundation of the world his plan was made, and no unexpected accident has ever taken him by surprise. His hand – his loving and almighty hand – was in control of that car that day. And when the sixteen years of Ned’s bright life on earth were completed, God took him home where now a brighter life has begun. ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!’ (Romans 11:33).” (Isabel Fleece, Not by Accident: Comfort in Times of Loss, Moody Press, 1987, pp.5&6). So in providence we may learn the wisdom of God.
iii] In redemption we see the wisdom of God. In our redemption God reveals his great hatred of sin and also his great love for the sinner. No action of God ever displayed his wrath against sin as his refusal to spare his own sinless Son on Golgotha’s cross. No act of God ever displayed his love for us as when he imputed our sin and guilt to Jesus and imputed his righteousness to us. What love! In the same transaction on Calvary God is satisfied and the sinner is sanctified. Nothing motivates us to obedience like the knowledge of the price that was paid for our salvation.
Then God in wisdom has made our trust in Jesus to be the means of receiving the benefits of redemption. God doesn’t ask for us to become sinless. God does not ask first for total obedience or there would be no hope for us. Simply turn in repentance from your sin and put your trust for forgiveness in Jesus Christ, in who he is and what he did as he invites us to come to him, “All ye that labour and are heavy laden come to me, and I will give you rest.” Bring nothing else. Come empty-handed and put all your hope for full pardon in what the Lord Jesus has done. So there was hope for king David, and hope for cursing Peter, and torturing Paul. There is hope today for the vilest offender who truly believes!
Who would you choose as the vilest of criminals today? We would say, those two men who killed a soldier in London so brutally months ago. We are told that up to 500 English Muslims, mostly men but some women too, have gone out to fight for ISIS and torture and behead and crucify men. Do you think there is hope that such men could repent and believe in Jesus Christ? Has the wisdom of God devised a redemption that is powerful to save such psychopaths? I was reading the Spectator on the last day of September. There is a new columnist named Mary Wakefield and she had written an article called, ‘Can Brutalised Jihadis Be Saved?’ She recounts in 2008 meeting in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, a man called Joshua Milton Blahyi who was them a warlord in that country who described to her how he made sadists out of young men. I don’t want to tell you those graphic details.
The startling part of Mary Wakefield’s article was to read that Joshua Milton Blahyi has given up his career as a psychopath warlord after being spoken to by a local Christian preacher. Joshua had just sacrificed a baby to the hungry tribal spirits who ensured his safety in battle, and he was preparing for another raid, when a local preacher braved the rebels’ den and preached to him the gospel and begged him to repent and beleive. Perhaps Joshua was already beginning to sicken of blood, because for some reason he didn’t kill the man; he listened. Then he disbanded his army and he is today a preacher.
She writes, “There are many who are cynical about Joshua’s conversion, and it’s true, epiphanies are all the rage among former warlords in Africa, especially those with an eye on politics. But I saw the shadows shift behind Joshua’s eyes; the uncalculating chaos in his mind. He’s a man driven almost mad by what he’s done, and I chose, and I choose to believe him. There’s at least a partial proof of his sincerity in his new mission. But there is more. For the last few years Joshua’s been seeking out the boys he once turned into killers, preaching to them and rehabilitating them. First, he weans them from amphetamines, then he helps them confront those fateful choices they made. After that, if they are to remain in Joshua’s church, they must visit their families and ask for forgiveness.
Then she says this; “It’s interesting to me, a Catholic, that just as original sin best explains our propensity for cruelty, so the recovery from sin requires repentance, confession, mercy, absolution. Some say that Christianity is just a useful crutch for recovering psychopaths in Liberia, because west Africans will always believe in spirits. But Joshua and his boys will swap their murderous old demons for the Christian God, but they will never exchange it for the lonely void of atheism.
“In which case, remember that the brutalised British boys of ISIS are inherently spiritual too. They have believed in and followed a god who demands murder and offers glory. If and when they ever come back, perhaps, like Joshua’s boys, they might be best served by the God who offers forgiveness. (The Spectator, 27 September 2014, p.31). You ask who that may be. Christ Jesus it is he!
Do you see what she is saying? We are living in days of unspeakable violence and young people especially have access to its brutalizing message. What can protect them and save them? The wisdom of God in the message of Jesus Christ his Son. He can save and change the most evil criminals. Let’s never lose faith in the gospel. Let’s never stop telling men and women how wise it is to know God and fear God and do what he says. Our mighty Creator has provided a redemption through Jesus Christ that is very, very powerful. It changed a murderer like Saul of Tarsus and it changed a Liberian warlord Joshua Milton Blahyi whom you would think would be the last man to repent and believe and seek to put right what he had done wrong.
Take courage! I have been struck by the picture of that anonymous local preacher taking his life in his hands and going into that den of monstrous evil, and speaking to Joshua Milton Blahyi and telling him that he had to repent, and stop doing the terrible things that he’d been doing, and trust in the mercy of God offered through Jesus Christ. That little village preacher believed that the gospel was the power and wisdom of God and he laid it on Joshua Milton Blahyi and the warlord didn’t shoot him dead but herepented and believed and changed his whole life! How powerful is the gospel. How glorious is Jesus Christ, who of God is made unto us, wisdom. It is simply the wisest thing you will ever do in your life to turn from your sinning and unbelief and look to the mercy of God in Christ.
“Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (I Cor. 1:20-25).
12th October 2014 GEOFF THOMAS