Intentionally Wise (Proverbs 13:20)

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In my 30+ years of following the Lord I have become familiar with various buzzwords that seem to have arisen within Christendom. One of those words is “awesome.”

When I was involved in Campus Crusade for Christ in the late 1970s and early 1980s “awesome” was part of everyday lingo. In fact, on a recent flight home from the United States, during a layover in Dakar, I overheard a group of American young adults on the other side of the plane talking loudly and frequently uttering the word “awesome.” Two of my daughters were seated on that side of the plane and later reported to me that that group of young adults was in fact part of Campus Crusade for Christ! Little has changed!

But another buzzword that is becoming increasingly familiar in Christian circles today is the word “intentional.” The word, in fact, is somewhat frequently employed at BBC as we encourage our members to be intentional in their walk with Christ.

This is a good word, which speaks of having a plan, of being deliberate, of determination and steadfastness. It highlights the ideas of perseverance and commitment. Of course, at this point in our calendar year a good many people are well-intentioned.

I have noticed early in this year that there seem to be a lot more runners on the road. As one who runs daily myself, I have become familiar with the regular runners on the road, and it is clear that there are a lot more of them this early in the year. Time will tell how many of them persevere throughout the coming year.

People at this time of the year often become far more intentional regarding their diet. Many find that they have somewhat overindulged over the December period and so January is a time of great intentionality with regard to proper eating plans. It is certainly true in our house that there is far more fruit than potato chips!

But this is also a great time to be intentional about our relationship with Christ: intentional about knowing Him, about owning Him and about making Him known.

My design in this study is to exhort us in this regard, with particular reference to living wisely for Him. I want to exhort us to be intentional “wise guys.”

If you asked me what is my life verse, I would probably reply with Proverbs 13:20. It is a verse that has given me great guidance in my walk with Christ. It states a wonderful truth about being intentional for godliness, about being intentionally wise. And so, in this study, I want to consider this verse and with it the issue of biblical wisdom. What does it mean to be “wise”? How does one become “wise”? How does one remain “wise”? These are some of the issues we will explore together in this study.

The Meaning of Wisdom

In the Hebrew language, “wisdom” had the idea of skilfulness, of the ability to make right judgements in human and civil matters. Solomon’s great wisdom was displayed in civil and judicial matters, as well as in his ability to give wise counsel to others.

In Hebrew thought, wisdom was not merely theoretical or speculative, but intensely practical. Friedrich Gesenius described the word as “wise from experience of life, and skillful with regard to affairs both human and divine.” The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says that wisdom “represents a manner of thinking and attitude concerning life.” Wisdom, it says, is “practical, based on revealed principles of right and wrong to be lived out in daily life.” Wisdom can be defined as “godly cleverness and skill, which results in practical action” and as “the practical blend of the revealed will of a holy God with the practical human experience of life.” In short, wisdom is the ability to apply God’s Word to everyday life.

We must be careful of thinking of wisdom merely in terms of an intellectual attribute. It is true that Solomon had encyclopaedic knowledge of the world in which he lived, but that was not the full extent of his wisdom. Nor should we think of wisdom only in practical terms. Instead, wisdom is deeply and profoundly relational. The source of all wisdom is a personal God, who is holy, righteous and just. Therefore, the “wise” are rightly related to Him. And, of course, we can only be rightly related to God through His Son. “But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

In sum, we might say that true wisdom for man involves knowing the Holy One. Solomon stated it well in his counsel to his son:

My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.

(Proverbs 2:1-5)

Wisdom, therefore, speaks of trust in God, coupled with avoidance of sin, motivated and mediated by Christ.

The wise are God-centred to such a degree that they see beyond the immediate (gratification) to the ultimate (glory). They see glory in the details. They see Christ. Bezalel is the first individual in Scripture to be called “wise,” and his “wisdom” lay in the ability to take raw materials donated for the temple, see beyond the obvious, and fashion those raw materials into items that would glorify God through the corporate worship of His people (Exodus 31:1-3ff). Those who are biblically wise today similarly see beyond the obvious and do what they do to bring glory to God.

Wisdom drives us to live for the glory of God. And it does so no matter what period of life we are in. Moses was an old man when he wrote, “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). You are never too old (or too young) to begin living intentionally for the glory of God.

But how do we get such intentionality? What is required for us to strive intentionally for godly wisdom? Proverbs 13:20 tells us: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed.”

A Means to Wisdom

Proverbs 13:20 does not give us the only means for godly wisdom, but it does offer a means to seeing the glory of Christ in all the details of life. One means to being rightly related to God and walking closely with Him is to walk closely with those who themselves are walking with God.

The Potential

Solomon highlights here the potential for biblical wisdom. The NKJV speaks of “he” who walks with wise men. The ESV speaks of “whoever” walks with the wise.

There is an old hymn with which I am familiar titled “‘Whosoever’ Meaneth Me.” Written in 1910 by J. Edwin McConnell, the hymn rejoices in the fact that Jesus invited “whosoever will” to come to Him, and claims the promise that “‘whosoever’ surely meaneth me.” Similarly, “whoever” here (ESV) clearly refers to the fact that it is an open invitation to wisdom. Anyone who will accept the invitation to intentionality can enjoy wisdom. As we noted briefly above, there is no age restriction!

The invitation is an invitation to effort. It is a journey, a pursuit, but it is an invitation nonetheless.

Consider some of the benefits of wisdom—why you should accept the invitation to wisdom.

First, wisdom offers wonderful perspective into life. Consider the example of David, who was harshly treated and pursued in an ungodly manner by King Saul, though he had harmed the king in no way at all. We are told in 1 Samuel 18:5 and 24 that, in response to Saul’s relentless persecution, David “behaved himself wisely.” Wisdom gave David biblical perspective in his problems and persecution. It did the same for the early new covenant church (see Acts 5, 8, 16).

As you face the realities of live, and as you are exposed to those realities in media reports, you would do well to intentionally pursue biblical wisdom so as to have proper perspective.

Second, wisdom offers wonderful progress in spiritual growth. This can be clearly seen in the life of our Lord Jesus, who, in the days of His flesh, “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men” (Luke 2:52). Jesus Christ Himself progressed in wisdom, and there is an open invitation for us to do the same.

Third, wisdom gives us great power, in the sense of influence for God and for good. Consider the biblical examples of Joseph and Daniel who were used greatly of God to impact a great number of people through the daily application of biblical wisdom. In more modern times, take the example of William Wilberforce whose commitment to biblical wisdom resulted in earth-shattering socio-political changes.

Fourth, wisdom gives us hope for propagation. Psalm 128 is one psalm that sings the potential of biblical wisdom.

Blessed is every one who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labour of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children like olive plants all around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD. The LORD bless you out of Zion, and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your life. Yes, may you see your children’s children. Peace be upon Israel!

(Psalm 128:1-6)

You can see here the wonderful opportunities for multigenerational family life for those who will live intentionally wise and lead their families in that wisdom.

We were recently privileged as a family to spend five weeks in the United States for a Christmastime family reunion. On Christmas Eve we spent the day with my wife’s side of the family—all 37 of them: parents, siblings, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

At one point my brother-in-law shared a brief devotional and spoke of the blessing of a household full of people who love Christ and serve the Lord. I could not help but think of Psalm 128 at that point. The fear of the LORD (v. 1) is the beginning of wisdom, and my father-in-law is certainly an example of a man who fears the Lord and lives with biblical wisdom. The result is that he has seen his children and his children’s children raised with the same commitment to Christ. His intentional wisdom has been—and continues to be—propagated from generation to generation.

As you stand on the brink of a new year, will you respond appropriately to the invitation? Thank God for an appetite for it!

The Prerequisite

The prerequisite for this wisdom is a commitment to “walk with wise men.” A walk is required. It is not a one-off commitment that you make and then promptly forget about. It requires daily effort to remain on the journey of intentional wisdom. You must walk and persevere with wise men in order to pursue a life of intentional wisdom.

The biblical term “walk” means “to go with.” It speaks of following a particular manner of life, of conduction oneself in a particular way. This is not a matter of sporadic association but of intentional association for the purpose of being influenced for God and for good. And as we intentionally seek to walk with the wise, there is an inevitable influence on our lives.

As a matter of application, let us note the necessity of picking out wise associations. Look around for them. Be on the lookout for those who are growing in their passion to see the glory of Christ in the details of life. And when you have found such individuals, walk with them!

When I first got right with the Lord and graduated for university I took a job at my local church. Every day I would knock on my pastor’s door with a list of questions about things I had been reading in Scripture. He was a man whom I saw as intentionally wise and I wanted to learn from him. I only realised much later how much pressure he must have been under as the pastor of a thousand-strong congregation, but he never brushed me off. He always patiently answered my questions, and helped my walk by giving me reading material and challenging my mind in different directions.

Find those who can influence you for good and deliberately walk with them!

During our recent holiday I went out running one day with two of my daughters, offering to show them some of the sights in the area in which I grew up. We ran past an elderly lady with a small dog and greeted her on our way past. I stopped a short distance away and told my daughters that I thought I knew her. Unless I was very much mistaken, she was my fourth grade teacher! My daughters urged me to go and confirm my identification and, though somewhat reluctantly, I did so. She confirmed that she was indeed Mrs Griffith, my fourth grade teacher. (I suppose she might have been pretending, but she at least acted as though she knew me!)

I remember Mrs Griffith well, because she had quite an influence on me as a fourth grader. She once suggested, because I was doing rather well at fourth grade maths, that I move into the school’s advanced maths program. The idea was rather exciting and so I promptly accepted. About three months later she informed me that it evidently was not as good an idea as it first seemed, and I was bumped back to the regular class!

I never forgot how kind and gracious she was to me, and what an influence she had on my little fourth grade mind.

Those with whom we spend time influence us, either for good or for ill. We need to deliberately partner with those who will influence us for good.

The psalmist wrote, “I am a companion of all who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts” (Psalm 119:63). The writer of this psalm understood the truth of Proverbs 13:20, and he deliberately picked out as his companions those who were wise. I would encourage you to do the same. Intentionally seek to associate with those who will help you to grow in Christ. That is why local church associations are so important. Find those in your local church who are committed to living intentionally wise and walk with them.

But note that our walk with the wise must be deeper than casual association. We must actively and actually partner with those who are wise. Paul actively sought out those who were committed to wise living—Timothy, Titus, Silas, etc.—and he partnered with them. His relationship with these men was hardly casual. He invested in them and sought at the same time to learn from them. He was selective regarding his closes associates but those whom he selected he invested in wholeheartedly.

We must also realise the need to persevere in our relationships. Maintaining relationships is often hard work, but it is effort that must be exerted if we will be intentionally wise. Once you have determined to be wise you must discover others who are wise and then diligently connect with them.

The Promise

Spiritual growth—advancement in Christlikeness—is possible! After all, we are “confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). And as Paul wrote elsewhere, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

This growth will only come about by exposure and effort. You can be wiser in your marriage, in your child-rearing, in your relationships, in your response to being wronged, and in your temptations. If we will seek exposure to wise people, and will apply the effort to that exposure to learn and to continue learning then we will grow in wisdom.

The Perilous Possibility

There is an alternative to wisdom. Our text verse contains a “but.” The clause is perilous: “But the companion of fools will be destroyed.” “But” is a horribly contrasting preposition.

Psalm 14 begins, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (v. 1). Warren Wiersbe once noted that the words “there is” are italicised, which means that they are not found in the original, but are supplied by the translators. The text, then, Wiersbe noted, literally reads, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘No, God!’” Indeed, it is foolish living to say no to God. You will either associate with those who say yes to God or with those who say no to Him.

Solomon writes here of the “companion” of fools. The Hebrew word is related to the word for pasture. It has the idea of grazing, herding or feeding. “Companion” speaks of two animals grazing in tranquillity with one another (cf. Isaiah 11:7; 65:25). Literally, then, the Hebrew could be translated, “But those feeding with fools will be destroyed.”

The question that faces us is, who will shepherd and feed us? Your answer will determine whether or not you live wisely (as though you are saying, “Yes, God!”) or foolishly (as though you are saying, “No, God!”).

Fools are those who live as if there is no God. And as someone has said, a fool he ends whom a fool befriends. If you befriend fools, you will end up being just like them—but for the grace of God. Therefore, choose your companions discerningly, deliberately and intentionally.

Parents, will you guide your children in this? I’m sure I have missed days in my 25 years of parenting, but almost every day of my life since I became a father I have prayed that God would give my children—and make them—godly influences. While on holiday in December my eldest daughter and her husband gave us the wonderful news that she has fallen pregnant. I have already begun praying for my grandchild that God would give him or her godly influences. Largely, however, that is up to parents. We must guard our children and help them to select the right friends.

The late Christopher Hitchens and his brother Peter were both raised in the same home, and both raised to be atheists. For a long time both brothers were, until Peter was one day converted to Christ. As far as we know, Christopher died an unbeliever, but God’s grace moved in his brother’s life to stir him with the gospel.

In The Rage against God Peter Hitchens recalls his time as an atheist. He admits that he was a great sinner, though he does not go into much detail because he does not want to glory in his sin. Christopher Hitchens was a prodigious author and a very clever man, but he was a fool. For a long time his brother was likewise a fool, but he has started to gain wisdom as he has begun to fellowship with the godly.

I am thankful for the godly influences God brought into my life over the years. One of those was my pastor, who is also my father-in-law. As a pastor myself, there is probably no one I reference more in my ministry than my pastor. There is barely a major decision with which I am faced as a pastor that I do not consider in the light of how I saw my pastor live. We have some doctrinal differences, but I am thankful for a wise man like him from whom I have been able to learn. That is the kind of husband, father, pastor, church member and friend I want to be. I want to be someone from whom others can learn to see the glory of Christ in the details of life.

The measure of all wisdom is Christ, and as we aim to grow in Christlikeness we automatically grow in wisdom, and we can therefore impact others to be wise. And as we see others grow in Christ, let us latch onto them, and learn from them how to grow in Christlikeness. Let us motivate and mentor one another to meditate upon Christ, so that we will begin to develop and appreciate an increasing appetite for Christlikeness.

Thankfully, wisdom is not a fleeting dream. Instead, “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Let us be intentionally wise!