103 How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way. (Psalm 119:103–104, NKJV)
God’s word is pleasant to the taste of those who meditate on it continually, who rest their understanding in it, and who follow it to avoid evil and do good (Psa. 119:97-102). Possessing a knowledge of truth and an aversion to error equally describe the lover of God’s word. The real test comes when God’s word reproves us and rebukes us. Does God’s word become bitter to us when it exposes our sin and error? It ought to remain just as sweet as when it approves us, for its reproofs identify where we need to correct ourselves and grow in the Lord. Does God’s word become bitter to us when it rebukes our sin? It ought to remain just as sweet as when it approves us, for in its rebukes are pleas to repent and be renewed. Solomon wrote, “The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise. He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding” (Prov. 15:31-32). Preaching the word of God includes reproof and rebuke – not to become a judge over others – but to proclaim God’s word of warning and salvation to the lost (2 Tim. 4:2). Whatever message God’s word contains, it will always be pleasant and refreshing to those who accept its wisdom and obey its precepts.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. 100 I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Your precepts. (Psalm 119:99–100, NKJV)
I remember a course in school called Reading Comprehension. We learned to read with understanding, retention, and application (the essence of education). Repetition assists comprehension and retention. By repeatedly hearing and using information, we learn and retain knowledge. Over time, the ability to comprehend and retain information educates the child, whose use of that education can produce success. Today’s passage explains the advantage of being educated and trained in the word of God. The student may even surpass the teacher in wisdom and understanding by consistent meditation on God’s word, as well as persistently obeying His mandates (Col. 1:9-10; Phil. 1:9-11). The “uneducated and untrained” apostles had a greater understanding than the religious intellectuals – much like their Master before them (Acts 4:13; John 7:14-15). Age does not necessarily mean greater understanding (Job 32:6-9). God’s word contains the knowledge and understanding we need to wisely “abhor what is evil” and “cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9). Let us be humble enough to realize wisdom does originate with us, but with Almighty God. Then, may we absorb understanding from His word to live in harmony with Him, even when doing so does not harmonize with the learned ones of this age (1 Tim. 6:20-21).
31 The ear that hears the rebukes of life will abide among the wise. 32 He who disdains instruction despises his own soul, but he who heeds rebuke gets understanding. 33 The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom, and before honor is humility. (Proverbs 15:31–33, NKJV)
When these proverbs are combined they give us good insight into developing and living in wisdom. First, we must accept the rebukes of life (v. 31). There are lessons to be learned from the school of hard knocks. Life’s ups and downs will teach us wisdom – if we will hear them. Otherwise, we foolishly continue to repeat the same mistakes. Secondly, redirecting our lives through instructive rebukes means we care our about our own soul (v. 32). Understanding comes from accepting wise instruction. Unfortunately, pride and selfishness will prevent us from learning and heeding the rebukes of life, as well as the rebukes contained in God’s inspired word (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Matt. 16:26). Thirdly, when we couple fear (reverence) of God with humility we will gain wisdom and its honor (v. 33). Jesus repeatedly said only by humbling ourselves will we be exalted (Lk. 14:11; 18:14; Matt. 23:12). God gives grace to the humble, but He resists the proud (Jas. 4:6). Let us humble ourselves to hear the rebukes of life (v. 31). Let us reverence God and properly value the life He gives us (v. 32). And let us fear God, receive His wise teaching, and humbly do His will (v. 33). God will come in due time if we will hear, heed and humble ourselves before Him (1 Pet. 5:6).
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” (James 3:13–16, NKJV)
Wisdom and understanding are traits much needed by every Christian. These are observable character traits – shown by one’s good and meek conduct (v. 13). Wisdom is the skillful use of knowledge; it is excellence in the application of knowledge. Understanding is akin to this, as it is the evaluation, comprehension, perception, or discernment that gives knowledge its skill and usability. Understanding evaluates and wisdom actuates knowledge. We must avoid the false wisdom that is generated by selfish conceit. Measuring itself against others and elevating itself over others, earthly wisdom works on the basis of self-interest instead of truth (v. 14, 16). Its selfish, sensual instinct of survival leads to bitterness, envy, confusion, and evil. It is fleshly, faithless, futile, and demonic. We remember those became fools while professing to be wise. They plunged into the darkness of sin’s depravity and death by refusing to recognize, honor, and thank God (Rom. 1:20-23). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). To leave God and His truth out of your life is exceedingly foolish.
14 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mark 7:14–16, NKJV)
We can understand the teachings of Jesus by listening to them. It concerns us when Christians take exception with that simple statement of trust in the inspired word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Eph. 5:17). When we reduce the teachings of Christ and His apostles (who taught His commands, 1 Cor. 14:37) to personal and relative “interpretation,” we have elevated ourselves above the Lord and surrendered our allegiance to His authority (Matt. 28:18-20; Col. 3:17). In today’s passage, Jesus taught that spiritual corruption does not occur because of what one eats, but is due to what comes out of the heart (Mk. 7:17-23). Understanding that evil proceeds from the heart and is identifiable is not a personal, relative, or so-called traditional interpretation of the Scriptures – it is what Jesus said (read Mark 7:20-23). We ought to ask ourselves, “Do I have ‘ears to hear’ Jesus?” If so, you will understand Him. Do not be deceived by attempts to persuade you that understanding God’s word amounts to accepting a tradition about the Scriptures. Truth is not open to different interpretations or opinions. Therefore, neither is understanding it. We open our hearts to the devil when we close our ears to the word of God by reducing an understanding of it to “our tradition.”
5 “Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. 6 Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you; Love her, and she will keep you. 7 Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:5–7, NKJV)
People everywhere are trying to get fortune, fame, and fun. But, when was the last time you heard someone say, “I want to get some wisdom!”? Unfortunately, wisdom is not like driving up to the gas station and topping off the tank. Wisdom is the careful understanding and application of truth. Solomon prayed for “an understanding heart” to judge Israel and to “discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). He asked God for a “hearing” heart, and God blessed him with “a wise and understanding heart” (1 Kings 3:12). So, how do we “get wisdom?” James said to “ask of God” for wisdom (James 1:5). Today’s passage adds that we must listen to and not turn away from the words of our heavenly Father by loving and keeping the wisdom that comes from God. God’s wisdom is revealed in the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 1:23-25). Wisdom is developed by having a hearing heart that receives God’s words, loves them, and keeps them. Many people are striving to get many things – wealth, fame, power, a name for themselves, etc. – but, the principal thing to get is wisdom from above. That wisdom, when remembered and kept, will bring you blessings now and forever more (James 3:13-18).
20 “Have I not written to you excellent things of counsels and knowledge, 21 That I may make you know the certainty of the words of truth, that you may answer words of truth to those who send to you?” (Proverbs 22:20–21, NKJV)
God’s word repeatedly extols the virtues of wise counsel that comes from God’s words of truth. Wisdom is not merely knowing something is true. Wisdom is correctly and consistently applying one’s knowledge of truth to life’s situations and circumstances. Wisdom is not merely something to possess, it is something we must apply. As James said, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13). The proverbs are a case in point. These general maxims of life do us little good until we practice them. When followed, their wise counsel leads us down constructive and righteous paths. The wisdom of God is contained in the certainty of His words of truth. We see that one’s attitude toward truth is integral to shaping wisdom within the heart. If we refuse to bend and shape ourselves to the truth of God’s word we will inevitably make foolish, hurtful, and sinful choices. To be wise we must listen to and follow the wise counsel of God’s truth. Write His words on your heart and follow them (Hebrew 8:10; 10:16). They will equip you with wisdom for life’s endeavors and insight to sustain you as you face life’s challenges.