Two Wisdoms and the Good Life

The pursuit of the good life is nothing new. In Jesus’ time, to live the good life meant to be a person of wisdom. Wisdom was a notion that was discussed, examined and sought after (1 Cor. 1:22), offering its practitioners a way to interpret life and to be good citizens.

Topics: Wisdom

The pursuit of the good life is nothing new. In Jesus’ time, to live the good life meant to be a person of wisdom. Wisdom was a notion that was discussed, examined and sought after (1 Cor. 1:22), offering its practitioners a way to interpret life and to be good citizens. But for the authors of the Bible, a competing dual concept of wisdom existed. They contrasted the worldly wisdom with divine wisdom, the wisdom from below with the wisdom from above.

Paul carefully addressed this provocative view, contending that he did not preach “with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:17). He went on to say, “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Cor. 2:7). Paul distinguished between “empty” human wisdom and the hidden, imparted wisdom that only comes from God.

James also distinguished two wisdoms: a wisdom from below that is “earthly, unspiritual and demonic,” characterized by “jealously and selfish ambition” (James 3:15-16) and a wisdom from above that is “pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

Paul and James knew that they were living in a world in which there were competing views of how to live the good life, of how to be wise. Our world is certainly no different. You do not have to look far for the latest self-help book, touting the most recent theories on self-actualization or the path to achieve peace financially, physically or spiritually. But most of this “wisdom” is wisdom according to the world.

How, then, does the Bible instruct us in wisdom from above?

1. Wisdom from above is a gift from the Spirit.

Worldly wisdom teaches that the good life can be achieved, while godly wisdom understands it is a gift, received from the one wise God: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5) We are not born with wisdom. We do not achieve it in school, through a relationship or at work. The fact that wisdom is something received and not earned runs counter to the very fabric of our culture. But if God is the only wise One (Rom. 16:27), then only those indwelt with His Spirit know how to live the life of wisdom—the good life.

2. Wisdom from above is cruciform.

The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ stands in complete contradiction to everything that is wise in the eyes of the world. It is folly according to human wisdom—and, in turn, it denounces all human wisdom as folly (1 Cor. 1:23-24, 30; 2:2). The crucifixion, according to human standards, is the antithesis of the good life. Since divine wisdom is cruciform, we must think how that redefines our own notions of power, glory, authority and leadership. God is revealing to us that picking up the cross is, indeed, the good life—the height of wisdom (Matt. 16:24).

3. Wisdom from above is Christocentric.

Jesus Christ is our wisdom, and He enables us to be wise because He breathes His Spirit upon us. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is continually mentioned in reference to the wisdom of God (Matt. 11:19; 13:54; Luke 2:40, 52; 7:35; 11:49; 1 Cor. 1:24, 30). Christ is the image of the wisdom of God—the perfect human embodiment of divine wisdom. Jesus met very few standards of earthly wisdom during His time and, undoubtedly, would meet very few of ours today. Yet, the Bible teaches us that the life of Christ is the ultimate picture of the good life. His disciples, who seek to live in light of divine wisdom, ought to pattern their lives in accordance with His. The Christocentric wisdom of God should invade our homes, our jobs and our relationships.

Who among us is wise, living the good life of divine wisdom? Only those who God’s Spirit dwells within, those who have picked up their cross and sought to embody and proclaim its seemingly foolish message. We who have been called into fellowship and union with God’s Son, who is wisdom personified, are meant to live lives of paradoxical wisdom—wisdom that comes from above. It is paradoxical because God has chosen to destroy the wisdom of the wise (1 Cor. 1:19). We are called to embody a kind of wisdom that is at odds with the wisdom of the world—the kind that produces the good life of Spirit-led, cross-bearing Christ-likeness.