Get Wisdom, Go Beyond the Gold

Every year, the GEMS have a theme which guides their discussions and activities.  The theme for GEMS this year is “Get Wisdom, Go Beyond the Gold”.  The GEMS have been learning about what it means to pursue wisdom.  Like the GEMS, wisdom is something that is near and dear to my heart – so it’s no surprise that in grad school I majored in philosophy and that my daughter’s name is Sophie.  The Greek word for wisdom is “sophia” – so, philosophy literally means “the love of wisdom” and the name Sophie is based on the same word.

This theme also reminds me of one of the best scenes in one of my favorite movies – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Who has seen the movie?  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.  And even if you have seen it, you should watch it again.  It’s a great movie.  In the scene Indiana Jones and his nemesis Donovan have discovered the secret location of the Holy Grail, the cup Jesus used at the Last Supper.  The grail is “protected” by a 700 year old knight who can barely lift his sword.  There is, however, one slight problem – there are dozens of different cups in the room.  No one but the knight knows which cup is the real Grail.  In order to find out, a person must choose one of the cups, fill it in the water basin, and take a drink.  The knight warns both Donavan and Indy that the right choice will lead to everlasting life, but the wrong choice will lead to death.

Donavan, the bad guy of the movie, rushes to go first.  He chooses a very opulent goblet made of pure gold and encrusted with jewels.  It is, he says, a cup for the king of kings.  Kings should drink from the finest cups, cups that display their power and wealth.  What Donavan forgets is that Jesus is a very different kind of king –a king unlike all the kings of the world.  Immediately after drinking from the cup, Donavan dies a horrific death, to which the knight remarks “He chose poorly”.

Indy, on the other hand, remembers that Jesus was a carpenter, so he chooses a very plain wooden cup, the type of cup that a commoner would have used.  Indy nervously drinks from it, not sure if he, like Donavan, has chosen poorly.  We, as the audience, hold our breaths in anticipation.  The knight tells Indy, “You chose wisely”.

This scene paints a great picture of the GEMS theme verse for this year: “How much better to get wisdom than gold”.  Donavan was blinded by gold and the lust for power.  Indy was motivated to save his father and had a clearer head about who Jesus is.  So, as we explore what it means to purse wisdom I want you to keep this scene in your mind.

Before we can go any further, we need to be very clear that there are two kinds of wisdom – the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God.  Not only are these two types of wisdom very different, they are complete opposites of each other.  Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:19: “Do not deceive yourselves…the wisdom of this world is foolishness is God’s sight.”  These are very harsh words, aren’t they?  After all, look at everything humans have accomplished!  We’ve found the cures for diseases, we’ve created marvelous inventions, and we’ve sent people to the moon!  And yet, Paul makes it clear that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1. Cor. 1:26).

So, what does human wisdom look like?

It all goes back to the Garden of Eden.  After God created everything, he instructed Adam and Eve to take care of everything.  Everything was good – Adam and Eve were cared for and they walked with God in the garden.  But then…

But then the serpent came along and tempted Adam and Eve.  He promised that if Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command not to eat from the tree of life, that they would become wise – they would become like God, knowing good and evil.  Adam and Eve selfishly craved this wisdom for themselves –they saw the fruit, they were tempted, and they ate.  Their disobedience led to their banishment from the Garden.

Adam and Eve were disobedient because they were selfish – they lusted after something that was not theirs; they wanted something they were not allowed to have, at least something they were not allowed to have at that time.  They wanted their own way.  Selfishness is like that – “yes” to my way and, as a result, it says “no” to the way of God.  Selfishness says “it’s all about me!”  – my wants, my desires, my way.    And, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that at the height of our selfishness, we try to make our way appear like God’s way.  Human wisdom is rooted in the selfish pursuit of our own desires and will always lead to disappointment and devastation.

We can see human wisdom work itself out in many different ways.  One of the main things human wisdom desires above all else is wealth – the more money I have, the more comfortable I will be, and the more comfortable I am, the happier I will be, so I’d better do everything I can to get as much money as I can.  So, my primary goal in life is to make lots of money.  I envy those who have more money or success than me and I do what I can to surpass them.  However, Jesus reminds us that whenever we “go for the gold”, we will always turn our backs on God – he says “No one can serve two masters.  Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24).

Another thing human wisdom desires is fame and popularity – if I am well known, then people will like me, and if people like me, the happier I will be, so I’d better do everything I can to be as popular and famous as possible.  The pursuit of popularity requires putting yourself first, and this almost always means trampling over other people; it means building yourself up at the expense of others, cutting them down to build yourself up.  The pursuit of popularity destroys others so that you can be number one.   However, this goes directly against what Paul tells us in Romans 12: “Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought”; rather, he says, you should “be devoted to one another in love” and “honor one another above yourselves”.   Popularity makes everyone into a potential enemy, someone who is in my way and must be defeated st that I can become top of the heap.  However, Jesus commands us to “Love our enemies” and to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27; 31).

Human wisdom also desires knowledge.  Knowledge itself is not a bad thing – God has blessed us with minds to think and explore his world.  However, our knowledge becomes corrupted when we think that we no longer need God, that because of the power of our own minds, we can do and think as we please.  When we fail to consider our pursuit of knowledge as an act of worship, our intelligence becomes a source of pride and knowledge becomes our idol.  We make the mistake of equating intelligence with wisdom; we think that being smart makes us wise, that having lots of letters and acronyms after your name is an indication of wisdom.  However, Paul tells us that if I “can fathom all mysteries and knowledge…but do not have love, I am nothing” (1. Cor 13:2).  When we pursue knowledge for its own sake, we forget that, as Paul reminds us, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up.  Those who think they know something do not yet know as they out to know.  But whoever loves God is known by God” (1 Cor. 8:1b-3).

The wisdom of the world is foolishness in the eyes of God because it removes love for God from the centre of our lives and replaces it with the love of ourselves.  St. Augustine said it best: “There can only be two basic loves… the love of God unto the forgetfulness of self, or the love of self unto the forgetfulness and denial of God.”  The root of true wisdom is the love of God.

But what does God’s wisdom look like?

Simple – God’s wisdom looks like Jesus because Jesus is God’s wisdom.

Paul calls Jesus “wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30).  He says that it is in Jesus Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).  Jesus is wisdom personified in the flesh.  Human wisdom says “it’s all about me because I’m most important!”  God’s wisdom says “it’s all about Jesus because he is most important”.  Because Jesus is Wisdom, he is the source, the foundation, of all godly wisdom.  Therefore, to be wise is to be Christlike.  To be Christlike is to love unconditionally.

The truly wise person is the one who has a relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  This is what Proverbs 9:10 is about when it says “the fear of God is the foundation of wisdom” (NLT).  The type of fear this verse is talking about is not about the way I feel when I’m alone in the dark.  Rather, the fear of the Lord is the realization that God is the source of all things – we stand amazed at who he is and what he has done.  To fear the Lord is to make him the centre of our lives, it means relying on his strength and letting him guide us.  When we fear the Lord, we commit ourselves to his service and to living our whole lives as an act of worship.  This is the beginning of wisdom.

Wisdom is also gift we receive.  One night, God appeared to Solomon and said to him “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (2 Chor. 2:7).  Wow – what an offer!  Solomon could have chosen wealth, fame, or knowledge – but what was his answer to God?  “Give me wisdom”.  God gives Solomon the deepest desire of his heart precisely because he did not ask for worldly things but sought wisdom first and foremost.  James reminds us that God wants to give us wisdom, if we would but ask for it – “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).  Likewise, Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus was that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better” (Eph. 1:17).  Indeed, to receive wisdom is to receive the Holy Spirit – as Paul tells the church in Colassae – “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives”.  To be wise is to receive the Holy Spirit; therefore, we know someone is wise when the fruits of the Holy Spirit are evident in their life.

God’s wisdom is not for “spiritual superstars”, the “perfectly pious” or the “holier-than-thous”.  God’s wisdom is for everyone who asks for it, for those whose hearts and minds are ready to receive it.  We prepare ourselves to receive God’s wisdom when we seek his face and pursue his kingdom before anything else.  God does not give his wisdom to the proud or the selfish; he does not call those who would live by their own devices.  Rather, God gives wisdom to the humble, to those who put God first.  Listen to how Paul explains it to the church in Corinth: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor.1:26-27).  Wisdom is a gift from the God who loves to turn things upside down, the God who uses the weak to show his strength, and the God whose wisdom the world considers foolishness.

Wisdom is not a gift that once we have it remains in our possession forever.  God’s wisdom is a gift that requires continual nurturing and growth.  We all know the story Jesus tells of the wise man and the foolish man in Matthew 7.  We know that in spite of all the raging storms and rising waters, the house of the wise man stands firm, while the house of the foolish man is destroyed.  However, what we often forget is the introduction to the story where Jesus says “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice…”  The wise person receives wisdom as a gift and puts that gift into use.  Wisdom is both listening and doing.  We cannot be wise if we are doing only one of these things and not the other.  We need both.  Wisdom if, therefore, a way of life.

In one of our Scripture passages for today, James describes what way of wisdom looks like: “Do you wanted to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom?  Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly.  It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts.  Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom.  Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom.  Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom.  It’s the furthest thing from wisdom – its animal cunning, devilish conniving.  Whenever you’re trying to letter better than other or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.  Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others.  It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced” (James 3:13-17 MSG).  In other words, wisdom seeks to live life with God and life for God; wisdom is rooted in God’s love and always seeks the good of others.

The wise person heeds the advice of Paul to the church in Philippi: “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking on the very nature of a servant…” (Phil. 2:1-7a).

Following the way of wisdom, the way of Jesus Christ, the way of the Holy Spirit, is not an easy task and it is not something we can do in our own strength.  Therefore, a wise person is careful and diligent in developing good habits that help her grow in her relationship with Christ – praying frequently, worshipping with the body of believers regularly, and serving others continually.  A wise person is someone who can make good and godly decisions because they are rooted in God’s love and rely on his strength.  A wise person is motivated by love, desires to live at peace with everyone, actively pursues justice, and seeks to be Christ’s hands and feet.  The way of wisdom is a way of life that the GEMS verse summarizes perfectly – “And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humblywith your God” (Micah 6:8).

The way of wisdom is difficult – it requires total surrender to Christ, a desire to become like him, to live the way he lived, a life of love, of forgiveness, of caring for the underdog, of proclaiming the good news that God is King, a life lived with and for God.  However, we know that this way of life is possible precisely because of what Christ has done for us.  He has redeemed us and saved us from sin.  He has made new life possible – life lived in him; life transformed by his love.  We can walk in the light because Christ is the light that has conquered darkness.  We can become wise because Christ is wisdom.

This puts us in a situation similar to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30, where we are faced with a choice: “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction.  For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.  But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.   This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight”.

How long will you waver between two opinions?  If the Lord is God, then follow him.  If money, or fame, or knowledge is god, then follow them.

So, the choice is yours – will you choose the way of death, the way of selfishness, the way of human wisdom or will you choose the way of life, the way of God, the way of wisdom?

May you choose wisely.

Amen.

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