Who is Wise?

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning,

       and the one who understands obtain guidance.”

(Proverbs 1:5)

As the people of God, we are to seek wisdom, grow in wisdom, and strive to become people who exude the wisdom of God. There are various ways we do this. We obtain wisdom through our relationship with God. We spend time in his word, and we pray to God to give us wisdom. Just as God is the creator of all creation, he is the source of all wisdom. We gain wisdom from his word, but this is not the only source of wisdom in the world. According to the book of Proverbs, we become wise by surrounding ourselves with wise people who embody the wisdom of God. We sit at the feet of these wise teachers, and we learn from them.

Who are the wise among us? This is a pivotal question that deserves our careful consideration. There are many people who want to be seen as wise. They want people to listen to them and heed their advice. They want followers who will agree with them and go along with what they say. We find these people everywhere. They are in our families, at our jobs, and members of our churches. We must be careful that the voices we are listening to are the voices that will help shape us into the image of Christ. We should follow wise people who want us to become like Jesus. We should be wary of anyone who is merely looking for followers.

Before looking at what makes a person wise, we should consider some false assumptions. Wisdom is more than knowledge. It is the combination of many characteristics (Prov. 1:2-3). Wisdom is associated with experience. In the book of Proverbs, the inexperienced (youth) are in need of wisdom from the wise. Because of this, it is sometimes assumed that experience is the equivalent of wisdom. We think that because someone has lived a long time, they must be wise, or because they have done something a long time, they must be wise. The reality is that experience should lead to wisdom, but it does not always do so. It could be that someone has a lot of experience doing something poorly. In this case, we would not want to take advice from them. Another person may have lived many years, but they are bitter and do not display the fruit of the Spirit. We would not want to choose a person like this as our source of wisdom.

How do we identify who we should follow? We are not left empty-handed. The Bible goes into great detail describing who is wise and who is not. We should seek to surround ourselves with people who meet the descriptions we find in Scripture. Here are some of the things we should be looking for in our mentors, teachers, and companions.

Lifelong Learner: Every wise person will never stop learning. This is the first thing said about wise people in Proverbs (1:5). A wise person understands there is always something to learn. They have a humble heart that allows them to learn from anyone. It could be someone younger. It could be someone with less education. It could be from a Bible passage they have studied hundreds of times. It doesn’t matter. They are always looking to learn. If a person is not willing to learn, then they are not wise.

The book of James is full of descriptions of what it looks like to be wise.

A Person Who Listens: “let every person be quick to hear.” (James 1:19)

Not Angry: “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)

Has a Faith that Can Be Seen: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27) “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” (James 3:13)

Shows Mercy: “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)

Not Jealous or Selfish: “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (James 3:14-15)

Peaceful, Gentle, Open to Reason: “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17)

Humble: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

Patient: “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.” (James 5:7)

Willing to Confess and Devoted to Prayer: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16)

Two of the most important questions we should always ask ourselves concerning any influences are:

Does it look like Jesus?: Someone who is wise according to the wisdom of God is going to look like Jesus. If someone is causing us to move away from the image of Jesus, then they do not have the wisdom we need.

Will it help me produce the fruit of the Spirit?: The goal of all Christians should be to produce the fruit of the Spirit. If a teacher cannot help us in this goal, then they are not sharing God’s wisdom.

Scott Elliott is a graduate of Oklahoma State University and Austin Graduate School of Theology. He lives in La Grange, TX and is the minister for the La Grange Church of Christ. He is married and has two sons. He enjoys writing about the Christian faith and posting the occasional film review. His articles and reviews have appeared in RELEVANT magazine, Englewood Review of Books, and other publications.