Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you may learn not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. (1 Corinthians 4:6, NASB95)
The apostle warned the Corinthians “not to exceed what is written.” His warning still applies. What does that mean? How does that happen? Another version translates this phrase, “not to think beyond what is written” (NKJV). We are not to entertain, have a sentiment for, be disposed to, or interested in reaching beyond what the apostles of Christ have written (Strong, G5426). According to today’s verse, this happens when we become arrogant. In his broader context (1 Cor. 1:10-4:21), Paul identified the “message of the cross” (the revealed mind of God) as that which we must not exceed (since it is the power, wisdom, and mind of God). By contrast, the “wisdom of this world” is the thinking that exceeds what is written. Due to pride, the wisdom of this world concludes the message of the cross is foolish. Pride’s deception rejects the apostolic traditions for the traditions that men put in their place (1 Cor. 3:18-20; 2 Thess. 2:15). The “pattern of sound words” is trampled upon as the philosophies, commandments, and doctrines of men advance, plundering the eternal treasures of the gospel in Christ (2 Tim. 1:13; Col. 2:8, 20-23). To guard against this, we must humble ourselves to the gospel of Christ. It is God’s power, wisdom, and mind (1 Cor. 1:23-24; 2:6-13, 16). Thinking that exceeds it takes one into regions of doubt, compromise, and unbelief – places the Father and the Son will never be (2 John 9; Gal. 1:6-9).
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).
97 Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day. 98 You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; For they are ever with me. (Psalm 119:97–98, NKJV)
It is self-evident from a casual reading of Psalm 119 that this psalmist had a deep relationship with the word of God. He magnifies and extols its virtues and benefits, its blessings and advantages, its supreme authority, and its unwavering reliability. Like the psalmist, we must love God by loving His law (Matt. 7:21-23; Lk. 6:46). At a time when many say “law” and “commandments” are hindrances to grace and liberty, respect for and obedience to the law and commandments of God is the very foundation of loving God and being favored by Him (Jno. 14:15; Acts 10:34-35; 1 John 2:3-6). God’s law is on the mind of the person who loves Him – “all the day.” Let God’s word be your constant companion by reading it, learning it, and pondering it. Without knowing God’s law, we cannot keep it or be made wiser from it. The inspired word of God teaches us, reproves us, corrects us, and instructs us in righteousness, completely furnishing us to do God’s work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). God’s word surpasses the vain wisdom of men, giving insight, discernment, and understanding to withstand sin’s temptations (1 Cor. 1:25). When, O when, will we so love God’s law and commandments that they are our constant meditation? When we do, we will love Jesus the way He says we must, by keeping His commands (John 14:15).
21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, (Romans 1:21–22, NKJV)
The elevation and exaltation of human wisdom comes at the expense of gratefully honoring our Creator. Knowing God exists should compel us to revere Him and thankfully obey His will. After all, it is His power that created us and that now sustains us each day (Rom. 1:20; Acts 14:15-17). Wisdom was the companion and possession of God at the beginning of creation and before (Prov. 8:22-31). How arrogant it is to think wisdom begins and ends with us (Job 12:2)! The apostle calls our attention to the futility of thoughts when void of a faithful recognition of God. The philosophy of humanism – a materialistic, purely humancentric view of life that rejects the divine – does not successfully answer the most basic questions of our existence: “Where did I come from?,” “Why are I here?,” and “Where am I going?” Asserting we are wise does not make it so. In fact, it exposes our foolishness (v. 22). Such prideful conceit darkens the heart and numbs the senses to the evidence of our Creator’s power and deity, and to the faith we should place in Him. Without God’s wisdom to guide us we are left to our own devices and sin’s demise (read wisdom’s plea in Prov. 8:32-36). “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (Jas. 4:10).
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).
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17–18, NKJV)
Just as the wisdom that is “earthly, sensual, and demonic” has identifiable traits (bitter envy, self-seeking, pride, lies, and confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), so does the wisdom from above. God-approved wisdom is marked by dignified purity, and so is “consecrated to the service and glory of God” (Lange). With God as its object, wisdom from above has a social character that reflects innocence toward men and women. This wisdom is peaceable (not warring, Jas. 4:1). It is gentle – mild, moderate, fair, and just in its judgments and treatment of others. Approved wisdom is “willing to yield,” it is easily entreated, “open to reason” (ESV). Wisdom hears all the evidence instead of entrenching itself without reason against it. It is full of mercy and it bears the impartial, genuine fruit of compassion. Because of its nature, heavenly wisdom plants the seeds of peace (not hostile confusion, Jas. 3:14-16), and so produces peace (Matt. 5:9). Let us pursue the wisdom that is from above and bear the fruit of righteousness.
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.