“Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life.” (Prov. 16:31)
I have benefitted greatly over the years from the wisdom of men and women who are older than me. I learned much at the feet of my parents and grandparents. I have been influenced by teachers and friends. As a minister, I have found several people to be my mentors. The counsel I have received from these individuals has been invaluable. Wisdom and good counsel are something we all need, but they are not something we all possess. Wisdom typically comes with age, but this does not mean everyone who is older is wise.
Young people need to listen to older people and most of them do, but this does not mean they listen to everyone who is older. Just because a person has lived more years than another person does not necessarily make them a voice of reason. It would be unwise to listen to someone who has lived life poorly and continues to live life poorly. No one wants to take advice from someone who is rude and unkind. It is not uncommon to be young and immature, but it is also possible to be old and immature. The wisdom of a sage is not immature. Although aging can contribute to a person having wisdom, it is not a given.
If one does not simply become wise by aging, then how does one live a life that leads to wisdom? When someone is looking for a mentor or someone to guide them, what does one look for in such a person? There are many things that help to shape a person into a sage, but here are four essential qualities to look for in a mentor.
Wisdom is best shared through relationships. True love is defined by Jesus as giving ourselves away (John 15:13). The relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one of constant giving and receiving. God continually gives himself to humanity. He is love (1 John 4:8). In the book of Hosea, we learn that God binds himself to adulterous Israel. In the Gospels, God takes on flesh and comes to earth. He reveals himself to humanity, and he lays down his life for everyone. Wisdom must begin by giving ourselves away. How does this happen? It happens in community and through relationships. When a person gives themselves away, they give others a reason to listen. They will not have to demand an audience because they will already have one. Giving opens people up to receive the wisdom they desperately need to hear.
True wisdom is always balanced with humility. Beware the person who is constantly proclaiming “Listen to me! Listen to me!” If a person laments the fact that no one ever takes their advice, then the issue may not be with the receivers but with the one who is offering advice. It could be that the wisdom being offered is not very good wisdom, or that it is not being given in a spirit of humility. The wise person should not have to boast in their wisdom. It should be apparent to the people they have endeared themselves to that they have something to offer. Wisdom is a gift to be shared; it is not an advantage that we hold over people’s heads.
The dispenser of wisdom should look like Jesus. Jesus invites us to follow him (Matt. 16:24). This means the people we follow should look like Jesus. If someone wants to mentor you or offer you advice and they look nothing like Jesus, then you should refuse it or at least not take it very seriously. We need to be shaped by communities and people that look like Jesus because this is our goal. If a person or community does not look like Jesus, then the wisdom they have been following is not good wisdom. Jesus says that we will know people by their fruits (Matt. 7:16-20). We can look at a person’s life and determine whether or not they would be a good person to follow. We can look at a community and make a decision whether or not we should bind ourselves to that community. If our goal is to be Jesus people, then we should seek wisdom from people who look like Jesus.
Wisdom is designed to make us better. On occasion wisdom may sting a little. It may not always be what we want to hear, but it’s purpose should always be to make us better human beings. We should ask ourselves, “Where is this wisdom leading me?” If the wisdom we are being offered is not leading us to look more like Jesus or to love more than it is not true wisdom. Augustine once wrote, “Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all.” Augustine understood that the word of God should always lead us to love God and love others, and if it doesn’t, then we are interpreting it wrong. We could say the same thing of wisdom.
“But 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)
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