Becoming Wise Men
by Steven Harper
When Job had suffered some great losses due to the devil's personal attack on him, we are told “when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him” (Job 2:11). [Some friends!] We later find that another man, Elihu, was also present during the discourse between them and Job (Job 32:1) and that, after these men were done, Elihu had something to say.
Elihu had patiently listened to Job's three friends and their accusations against Job and he had patiently listened to Job's response to their accusations, justifying himself rather than God (Job 32:2,3). Elihu patiently waited to hear what these men had to say because these three friends were “years older than he” (Job 32:4) and Elihu wanted to show respect for them and their years. But he was not happy with what he heard! When Elihu finally spoke, he first said, “I am young in years, and you are aged; therefore I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you. I said, ‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand. It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right” (Job 32:6-9). As patiently and respectfully as he could, Elihu basically told these men, "Just because you are older then me doesn't make you wiser!" — and he was right!
I can speak from experience about how Elihu felt then. A few times, in my younger years [and even occasionally, now], I have had older Christians, preachers, and elders give me a kindly pat on the back and a patronizing smile as they told me, "You're young…you'll understand when you get older," or elders simply dismiss my observations because, well, I was not as old and 'experienced' as they were. When I look back at a few of those occasions when this was how I was treated, I consider what I said and did then and I'm still wondering just when it is I am going to 'understand' what they were talking about then, because it still doesn't match with Scripture! I would like to meet those who told me to "wait until you get older" so I could revisit their words and actions and see if they have a better explanation for what they said and did than a reference to what they saw as my youthful ignorance.
Old age doesn't necessarily make a man wise — it just means he is older. And that assumption by many [that old age equates with wisdom or vice versa] is what is troublesome to me as a 'young' man who is also a disciple of Jesus Christ. If we are waiting for wisdom to come to us just by the passing of time, we are in for a sad disappointment! If we are waiting for the day when we will wake up with a sudden infusion of wisdom just because the calendar shows we have successfully made it through another 365 days [366 this year], or if we think that wisdom will suddenly come bursting forth from our lips when we hit that 'magical age' [whatever it is], we are seriously mistaken!
If wisdom does not come by merely the passage of time, then how do we become wise? And what makes us wise — as God defines wisdom? It would be wise [as always] to consult God's revealed Word on the matter, and so let us do just that.
The Beginning of Wisdom. We might be familiar with the words of the wise writer, who said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Wisdom is not a matter of going to the right theological seminary or the brotherhood college, but in the fear of the Lord! Though it sounds contrary to conventional wisdom and 'common sense', just remember that God has told us “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (I Corinthians 3:19); we are not measuring wisdom by what man says, but by what God says. God says the beginning of wisdom is fearing Him.
As thoughtful and as well-meaning as the friends of Job were, they did not understand the workings of God nor did they even know the life of Job, yet they willingly and freely made assumptions about Job (cf. Job 8:6; 22:5) and about God's part in his sufferings (Job 5:17; 8:20; 22:4). What was missing in all their words was any knowledge about what was actually happening [because they did not know the circumstances]. If they had listened to their own words about God (Job 8:3) they might have recognized their own presumptuousness in speaking for God. When we do not know why some things have happened, it is better to fear God and remain silent than to open our mouths and spout foolishness, as they did. How many times have we heard people, after some natural disaster, questioning why God did this to them? Such comes from the mouths of men who do not fear [respect] God!
Fearing [respecting] God is so important that one man concluded that fearing God and keeping His commandments is our whole purpose in life (Ecclesiastes 12:13)! If we would but learn this at an early age, we would be, what some say, "wise beyond our years." [But we would know the truth, that wisdom does not necessarily come with age!]
Growing in Wisdom. When my children began schooling, it was exciting to see them learning. From time to time, they would remind us what they had learned and they would recite the knowledge they had gained. That was exciting, but it was even more exciting when we saw them at some point later realize that the knowledge they had gained could actually be put to use and they then figured out how to do something because of their knowledge gained, and the application of it [the meaning of wisdom]. As they continue to get older and as they mature, it is always refreshing [and a relief] to see the proverbial 'light bulb' come on when they put two and two together and come up with answers on their own, using their knowledge and the wisdom they have newly acquired. I would be worried, however, if they were still excited about telling me they knew what two plus two equals! They — and I — expect growth in knowledge and wisdom!
For the disciple of Jesus Christ, we are also expected to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (II Peter 3:18) so that we are not led astray by those who will twist the Scriptures to their own destruction (II Peter 3:16). We should be willing to listen to the counsel of God and of wise men who will lead us in the right paths, and not trust in our own wisdom (Proverbs 12:15); the wise one listens more than he speaks (Proverbs 10:19), and that alone will make even the foolish ones appear to be wise (Proverbs 17:28).
But the wise one is also one who wins souls (Proverbs 11:30). The wisdom he speaks of here is not necessarily learning a method of teaching the lost so they can obey the gospel [though that is certainly one way], but the wisdom of learning and applying God's righteousness to our own lives so that the world may see Christ living in us and be persuaded that it is a life worth living — one to which they might also aspire to live. If we never go beyond the basics of our faith, we will have a hard time convincing others they should follow Christ. There comes a time when we “ought to be teachers” (Hebrews 5:12), and this comes by increasing in knowledge and wisdom.We must continue to desire the pure milk of the word (I Peter 2:2), but we must be willing to move on to the 'meat' when the time comes (cf. Hebrews 5:14); that comes only through exercise of our senses to discern between good and evil [spiritual growth]. When we continually do this, we will grow in spiritual wisdom and will be more able to withstand attacks against us. Let us not be foolish in thinking the wisdom will come with age.