I was almost as nervous as a school boy sitting in the principal’s office. But I was no school boy, and this was the pastor’s office, not the principal’s.
I was in my early 20s and working as an InterVarsity Campus Staff minister on a local college campus. I’d recently joined a local church, and I found myself in the pastor’s office explaining why I couldn’t be more involved in the church’s ministry.
I thought I had a reasonable case. I was working 50 hours a week already, much of it in the evenings. And my work was ministry! Surely the church would understand why I wanted, even needed, to show up on Sundays and receive rather than give.
The pastor listened patiently and then gently but firmly suggested that I should serve in the church anyway. He noted that men in the church working at IBM or GlaxoSmithKline also put in 50-plus hour work-weeks and still managed to serve as deacons and elders, Sunday School teachers and sound techs. And while my work was “ministry,” businessmen and professionals were equally expected to use their labor to glorify God. Finally, he noted that to be a part of a local body meant to use one’s gifts in service of that body (see 1 Corinthians 12-14), and that applied to everyone from the pastor to the newest member.
By the time he was done, he didn’t have to say it. I could see that my perspective had been selfish and self-serving. I walked out of his office knowing that I should serve the church even though he never gave me a direct command. Soon I found myself deeply involved in local church ministry, the beginning of a chain reaction of events that led directly to my being a pastor today.
What had happened to so radically change both my perspective and my behavior? You could say that I submitted to pastoral authority. But the authority applied that day was not the commanding authority of “thus saith the Lord,” which to disobey is sin. Rather it was the persuasive authority of scriptural wisdom, skillfully and lovingly applied, which to refuse is folly.
Guidance as Wisdom
Every morning in my quiet time, I read a chapter from the book of Proverbs. As a father of four, I need wisdom, and I need to impart that wisdom to my children. And there’s no better place to turn than the Proverbs. The first nine chapters are written as a letter from a father to a son, urging the son to listen to his words, to heed his advice and to seek wisdom.
Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck” (Proverbs 1:8-9).
What’s the result of gaining and heeding wisdom? The most important result is the fear of the Lord.
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you … then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:1, 5).
To fear the Lord is not so much to be afraid of Him as it is to hold a right view of Him and ourselves in relation to Him. It’s to recognize that He is God and we are not, and to live our lives accordingly. It’s to recognize that the purpose of life is His glory, not ours, His pleasure, not ours, and that we only find our true pleasure and glory in Him and not apart from Him.
The Proverbs tell us that this “fear of the Lord” is both the beginning and the goal of wisdom.
When we understand who God is, especially as He has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, and as we understand how we are to live life in relation to Him, the result, says the Proverbs, is that we will have wisdom. To be wise, biblically, is not the same as being smart or having a head full of trivia and knowledge. Rather, wisdom is simply thinking about life the way the Creator of life thinks about life. As one author puts it, “Wisdom is the moral skill to understand and apply the commandments of God to situations and people. It is the ability to connect the principle to the application.”James C. Petty in Step By Step, p. 144.
Proverbs puts it this way:
Then [when you have wisdom] you will understand what is right and just and fair — every good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you” (Proverbs 2:9-11).
Wisdom is God’s means of guiding us, especially in those situations where it seems there might be more than one allowable choice. There are lots of situations where we don’t need guidance. “Should I marry a non-Christian?” “Should I get physically intimate with my girlfriend or boyfriend?” “Should I under-report my income on my tax return?” “Should I get drunk?”
We don’t need wisdom or guidance in those situations. What we need is the moral courage to obey God’s clear commands. But when the question is “Should I date Drusilla or BillyBobJoe?” guidance is precisely what we need. And the way God guides us is through wisdom.
So how do we get wisdom? Where does it come from? Some people look for signs, others put out fleeces, and still others listen for an inner voice or feeling. But the Scriptures do not tell us that guidance and wisdom come from any of those things. Rather, Scripture teaches that “the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).
Wisdom is a gift from God, and that gift comes through His Word, spoken by His mouth. Hebrews 1:2 tells us that “in these last days, God has spoken to us by His Son” who is Jesus Christ. And Jesus himself tells us that He sent the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, in order to “teach you all things and … remind you of everything I have said to you … and guide you into all truth” (John 14:26; 16:13).
In those verses, He doesn’t mean you and me, He means the apostles, whom the Holy Spirit inspired to write the New Testament. Now, having inspired both the Old and New Testaments, which speak unfailingly of Christ, the Holy Spirit works in believers to soften our hearts, illuminate our minds, and apply the Scriptures to our lives (2 Timothy 3:14-17). This is where wisdom comes from — from the Lord, speaking by the Spirit through His Word.
So how do we get it? Two ways. First, listen to God’s Word. And second, listen to others who are listening to God’s Word. Put another way, heed God’s Word and walk with the wise.
Heed God’s Word
Again and again, God tells us to reflect on His Word. Here are just two examples:
Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. 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 119:97-100).
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).
To reflect on God’s Word is to do more than to read it. It’s to pray through it, meditate on it, turn it over in your mind and think about its implications for your life. You may not feel wise. But God promises that when we reflect prayerfully and humbly on His Word, He will give us insight and understanding (2 Timothy 2:7).
But sometimes we can deceive ourselves, or lose our way, especially when God’s Word seems to be leading in a direction that cuts against our own desires. That’s exactly where I was when I was sitting in my pastor’s office. I was tired and not a little selfish, and I didn’t want to serve any more than I already was. I wanted others to serve me, and I wanted to feel righteous about it at the same time.
Walk With the Wise
This is where the second way of getting wisdom becomes so important. We need to spend time with the wise and heed their words of counsel. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” And a few chapters later it says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22).
Who are the wise advisers in your life? Perhaps they are Christian parents or other family members. Perhaps a Christian teacher at school, or campus minister. Without doubt, among your wise counselors should be your pastor and elders in your local church. (By the way, here’s one oft-overlooked benefit of church membership — wisdom!)
Paul tells us that Jesus Christ gave pastors to the local church as a gift, so that the body might be prepared and 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” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Pastors aren’t infallible. I should know, since I am one. But godly, Christ-honoring and Christ-proclaiming pastors are men who have devoted themselves to God’s Word and its application to the body of Christ. So put yourself in a posture to receive wisdom from your pastor or elders. It will require humility on your part, especially when their counsel contradicts your desires. But remember that God means their ministry to be of spiritual advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17).
So when you’re faced with a question of wisdom — whether to date Drusilla or BillyBobJoe — turn to the Scriptures and reflect on what they say about the choice you’re making.
And then turn to your pastor and other wise counselors, and ask what they think. And then evaluate what they say, not according to your desires, but according to God’s Word. In such cases, you don’t have to obey your counselors — you don’t have to obey your pastor. But if he is faithfully and lovingly applying God’s Word to your life, you’d be a fool not to. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise” (Proverbs 19:20).
Copyright 2008 Michael Lawrence. All rights reserved.