The Worldly Wise in Scripture

This week’s scripture reading, Matt. 11:25 At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.

Worldly Wise People

For readers who pride themselves on being worldly wise and highly judicious in their ways, this is a verse from Jesus that you should not pass over lightly. In short, the mysteries of the kingdom of God are being hid from individuals who flaunt their own wisdom instead of heeding the wisdom that comes from God. It was for this very reason, that Jesus often criticized the religious leaders of that era, commonly known as the scribes and pharisees. In the same manner, Jesus also upbraided entire cities such as Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum for refusing to believe his mighty works as noted in Matt. 11:20-24; with all of this making for great prelude and context to this week’s scripture reading on the worldly wise in scripture.

The apostle Paul similarly wrote about the wisdom of the wise in contrast to the wisdom of God in his letter to the church in Corinth as recorded in 1 Cor. 1:18-21, For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where [is] the wise? where [is] the scribe? where [is] the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. The world’s intellectuals should stop and take notice of such verses in the Bible.

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

1 Cor. 1:19b

Peril of Worldly Wisdom

Clearly, Paul’s words were an indictment of the wisdom from worldly wise people who are made foolish by the works and word of God. Paul further proclaimed this message in his second letter to the Corinthian church as shown in 2 Cor. 4:3, But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost. Does this not often seem to be the case when the gospel is preached to the seemingly wise who often have a reaction of indifference towards it? Paul also wrote of this in his letter to the church in Rome as documented in Rom. 1:22, Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. This contradiction of thinking, when one thinks they have all the answers, it is nothing more than foolishness in God’s eyes. Paul’s writings resonated along this same message further on in his same letter as shown in Rom. 12:16, Be not wise in your own conceits.

All of this tends to beckon us back to the words of Jesus in his illustration of building our house on rock instead of sand in Matt. 7:26, And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand. The message of the worldly wise in scripture also brings us back to common themes expressed by Jesus in his Sermon on the mount. This is because most of them portray how blessed people are who come to Jesus or live their lives for him with the following traits such as the poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness and the pure in heart. Are not all of these antithetical to the prideful worldly wise who see themselves above any need for religion in their lives?

Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.

Rom 1:22

Finally, on this same topic, consider how Paul cautioned people to be aware of how a false perception of wisdom in this world becomes problematic as noted in 1 Cor. 3:18-21, Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, He taketh the wise in their own craftiness. And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. Therefore let no man glory in men. Paul was quick to point out instead that a person’s faith should stand in the power of God from 1 Cor. 2:5, That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

Not Many Wise

With this context in place of outlining the perils of the wisdom of the world, or rather a sense of self wisdom, let us now transition to the wisdom that comes from God. Note how Paul highlights how many believers were not called to Christ from their own wisdom. Rather it was the very opposite as shown in 1 Cor. 1:26, For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, [are called.] Further to this, Paul points out that many of us could be considered foolish and weak as he continues on in the next verse, 1 Cor. 1:27, But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise;

1 Cor 1:27a

Babes in Scripture

Let us now go back to this week’s scripture reading. Jesus indicates that the Father in heaven has hid the things of God from the wise and the prudent and revealed them unto babes. But what exactly does he mean when he says babes? Is he implying young children? The short answer is no, not at all but he is likening those to whom the word of God is revealed as individuals who receive it like young children. Think how children look with wondrous eyes and inquisitiveness when learning something and accept it without skepticism or judgement. This by no means people should not be discerning but it helps to point out how the so called wise and prudent can often reject the gospel message through its seeming simplicity.

This is why Jesus made the following comment in Matt. 18:5, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. He was not talking about being immature like children, rather he was talking about being receptive to the message as a young child would be when they heard it. Jesus also proclaimed later on to the chief priests and scribes a reiteration of the same message as noted in Matt. 21:16, And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?

The apostle Paul also wrote of the need to speak to early believers in Christ as babes shown in 1 Cor. 3:1, And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, [even] as unto babes in Christ. In the same way, the apostle Peter also wrote to believers in his first letter by describing them in 1 Peter 2:2, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby. By humbly learning at the feet of Jesus in humility and with a contrite heart it indeed opens us to the hearing of his word.

Wisdom of God

Let us recap thus far as we have covered a lot of ground pertaining to wisdom. The portrait of worldly wisdom has been presented in contrast and context to the wisdom of God and rightly so, since the prince of this world largely influences wisdom of the world. Jesus noted the influence of the prince of the world in John 14:30, Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. Paul tied this together in making the distinction between worldly wisdom in contrast to wisdom of God from 1 Cor. 2:6-7, Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, [even] the hidden [wisdom,] which God ordained before the world unto our glory.

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery,

1 Cor. 2:7a

God’s Wisdom in Scripture

So how should we then turn to God for wisdom in a world that often makes a mockery of God? Are we destined to be the worldly wise in scripture? No, not at all. God reveals his wisdom and knowledge to us in many ways such as from the scriptures as Paul noted in 2 Tim. 3:15, And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. God’s word is also noted in other scriptural references from Paul’s other writings such as in Col. 3:16, Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

God’s Wisdom in Prayer

In addition to scripture, wisdom is also given to us from the Holy Spirit through prayer as expressed in Eph. 1:17, That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. Paul noted prayers for wisdom in many of his letters such as in Col. 1:9, For this cause we also, since the day we heard [it,] do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Prayer is often something that becomes important during desperate times but this should not be the case; prayer really must be part of a believer’s daily walk with God.

The apostle James also wrote in his letter on the importance of seeking wisdom from God through prayer in James 1:5-6, If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all [men] liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. Paul notes in his letter that it is the spirit of wisdom whom God will impart unto you as shared in Eph. 1:17, That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.

The wisdom from God is often described in scripture with themes of moral goodness and wholesome intent such as expressed in James 3:17, But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, [and] easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Godly wisdom is never coupled with wrongful thoughts, intentions or self fulfilling wisdom.

…be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.

Col. 1:9b

Proclaiming God’s Wisdom

Let us close off this Bible study on the worldly wise in scripture by highlighting verses to further proclaim the wisdom of God. Take for example Paul’s first letter to Timothy where he makes this declaration in 1 Tim. 1:17, Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, [be] honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen. Also contemplate upon this proclamation from Jude in Jude 1:25, To the only wise God our Saviour, [be] glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. it is verses such as these where seekers of faith find inspiration for their soul and spirit.

In conclusion on the worldly wise in scripture, let us end with Paul’s notable expression of praise as shared in Rom. 11:33, O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable [are] his judgments, and his ways past finding out! Was it any wonder that the multitudes were so astonished with the teaching of Jesus by questioning it as recorded in Matt. 13:54, And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this [man] this wisdom, and [these] mighty works? Ask yourself therefore, to whom should you seek eternal wisdom from, whether it be from the world, or from God. For it is only God’s wisdom where eternal treasures await you as noted in Col. 2:3, In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Bible Study Questions

  1. In this study on the worldly wise in scripture, why do you think people who are worldly wise often reject God’s word?
  2. Can you name two religious groups who rejected the preaching of Jesus during his earthly ministry?
  3. Fill in the blanks from Rom. 1:22, Professing themselves to be _______________, they became ______________
  4. How would you explain the use of the phrase babes in scripture as it relates to the teaching of God’s wisdom?
  5. From the teaching in this study, seeking God’s wisdom can be obtained from reading scripture and praying to God, true or false?
  6. For building your faith, memorize Romans 11:33 as noted in the section called Proclaiming God’s Word.
  7. What is something you could do today to seek God’s wisdom in your daily faith walk with him?

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