Never Ever Do This (Part 2)
Last month I posted a blog about the surprising depth of foolishness there is in being wise in one’s own eyes. We saw this in an astonishing way in Proverbs 26. In that chapter, Solomon relentlessly rubs our nose in the foolishness of the fool. Could there be anything worse than being a fool or even being around a fool? Verse 12 was the shocking answer. Yes, there is something worse. Being wise in your own eyes is worse. So it seems there are different levels of foolishness. If you begin to be wise in your own eyes, then you have come to the summit. You have peaked. You are the fool beyond all fools. You are the consummate fool.
This week, I want to come at this from the other side. Since we are called, even implored in the strongest of terms, to attain wisdom, what happens when you do attain it? Can’t the grey-headed, humble, Bible-loving servant be the person who wisely can say, “I am now wise”? As Proverbs repeatedly told us, no, he cannot and will not ever say that. Why not? If wisdom is attainable, why can’t you ever say you have it? What is it about wisdom that will not allow a person to say “I am wise”? There are two ways that I think will help us understand wisdom, and why it never looks upon itself with self-satisfaction.
First, I want you to think about humility. Humility and wisdom go hand in hand in so many ways. Just as a wise person is never going to say “I am wise,” so also a humble person is never going to say “I am humble.” To do either is to cancel out the claim. Additionally, the very essence of each is tied into the other. Humility is wise, and wisdom will be humble. Therefore, humility is a good vantage point from which to look at wisdom.
When a person is humble, there are two things at play. First there is a sober assessment of his own self. We all know the humble person would not be strutting in his abilities or status, but neither will he mope around in his lowliness. The humble person knows who he is and holds that knowledge as just another piece of knowledge, right next to the fact that water boils at 212⁰. More importantly, the humble person is focused on others. The humble person is never going to say “I am humble” because the humble person isn’t taking up time thinking about himself. The humble person is others-focused. He is concerned or excited or grieving or rejoicing in the other person. Additionally, the truly humble person will be fixed upon God himself, the ultimate person. God will preoccupy the humble person’s thoughts, and he will know he is only a creature of such an exalted God.
How does this help us with understanding the wisdom of the wise person? Just as a humble person knows the value and glory and importance of the other person, and is truly caught up in the significance of relating to them, so the wise person knows the value and glory and importance of the knowledge and perspective of other people. The wise person knows he does not know it all. The wise person knows his own experience is limited. The wise person knows there is massive insight to be gained from the people around him, and the wise person knows the blindness and sinful propensities of his own heart as well. This is why the wise person will never say he is wise. Because he knows he is always needful of other people, and supremely needy of the all-sufficient God. When a person begins to feel wise, having just a hint of intellectual self-sufficiency, he has begun to cut himself off from all the wisdom he needs from so many other people.
Second, in helping us think about why a wise person will not say “I am wise,” I want you to think about holiness. Who is the truly holy person? What kind of things will he think and say? Let us cast away all notions of the robed man sitting cross-legged on a mountaintop contemplating his own navel. Holiness is always active, engaged, confrontive and real-world. But do holy people say “I am holy”? No, they don’t. They say “I am a sinner.” Paul is the unrivaled example of this. He is perhaps the most holy man we know about, yet at the end of his life he is saying “I am the chief of sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
How could a holy person say he is the foremost of sinners? Because being holy means you see your sin more clearly than ever before. The holy man has come so near to God in his daily walk, and breathed so deeply of righteousness, that the stench of sin is a kick in the face that can’t be ignored. If you roll in garbage all day, you don’t notice a rotting piece of meat on your shoe. But if you are spending time at a royal palace, you notice if even your tie is crocked.
Holy people know they are sinners in the same way that wise people know they need wisdom. What makes them holy is their awareness of their remaining sin, and what makes wise people wise is their awareness of their limited understanding.
Therefore, pursue wisdom with urgency by plunging prayerfully into God’s word and drawing close to wise people who know God’s word. But as you grow, beware of any impulse that makes you start to think that you have got this. God wants you to grow, but part of that growth is a growing awareness of your neediness and dependency on both God and the people he has placed in your life.
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