Sunday, January 28, 2018

Defeating the Wisdom of the World

Imagine Marcy. She’s been a single mom for the last few years.  Her little family of three lives month to month barely scraping by. Yesterday her boss came up and suggested she could get a promotion and a small raise if she will just leave out some details on this month’s report.  Not lie.  Just not share this particular information.  Marcy is torn.  She calls you asking for prayer and good advice.

What would you tell Marcy?  Where can you turn in the Bible for this kind of absolutely practical advice?  We know there is no, "Thou shalt not leave out important details." It is in situations just like this one where living in and living out the story of scripture helps.  Let me suggest a story from Jeremiah.

We don’t think of Jeremiah as a story book.  But intermingled with the poetic prophecy, we have several chapters that tell the story of the end of the nation of Judah.   One of those chapters is Jeremiah 42.  To set the scene, Nebuchadnezzar has taken most of the people captive. He leaves the peasants and unskilled laborers behind under a governor.  One of those governors has already been assassinated by rabble and now the people want to seek God’s face and find out what to do next. 

The remnant of Israel comes en masse to Jeremiah to ask him to inquire of the Lord, swearing that whatever God says they will do.  God tells them to settle down and stay there and He will bless them (Jeremiah 42:7-22).  They say in effect, “Jeremiah, you are rotten liar.  We are going to Egypt” (Jeremiah 43: 2-3) Egypt is exactly where God told them not to go.

This is a story of worldly wisdom temporarily blinding people to the wisdom of God.

Worldly wisdom is fearful.  The people fear that famine and violence will continue to plague them in their homeland. Desperate, they hope Egypt will be safer.  They believe that their reason, political savy, and logic are leading the way, but in fact primal fear drives them.  They want God to confirm what their worldly wisdom tells them is the safest path, and when He does not, they refuse to honor their promise to obey.  When the Proverbs say that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, they are talking about THIS foolishness.  

Another factor is arrogance.  Chapter 43 begins with these words.

"But as soon as Jeremiah, whom the Lord their God had sent, had finished telling all the people all the words of the Lord their God—that is, all these words— Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You are not to enter Egypt to reside there’; but Baruch the son of Neriah is inciting you against us to give us over into a hand of the Chaldeans, so they will put us to death or exile us to Babylon.”

A stiff-necked, I-know-best attitude, a desire to HAVE what we want, to DO what we want--this is the epitome of worldly wisdom.  James says: “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth” (James 3:16). We don’t like to think about ourselves this way. But surely all of us have let what WE wanted drive us to do things we regret. 

Let’s go back to Marcy for a moment.  What would worldly wisdom say?  

Fear says: "If Marcy doesn’t cooperate she’s gonna make the boss mad.  They already live month to month.  What on earth would her family do if she loses her job?  Does she want to be a statistic?  A single mom living out of her car?"

Ambition says: "Marcy works hard and a little recognition is the least she deserves.  Common sense says that everyone has to play the game, and there is no sense on bucking the system for something that isn’t illegal or necessarily immoral." 

What could you say? After prayer and begging for wisdom you might come to this conclusion: The boss is acting this way because he feels the need to hide and deceive.  Marcy can’t be a part of that.  God will see her through whatever consequences come of her obedience.  She needs to go to the boss and explain her concerns and see what he says.

We could have picked a dozen other situations.  My own family faced a couple of situations recently where what seemed sensible (to avoid the chance of liability and loss) and what seemed to do the most good were at odds.  We chose the good but it was a close call.  I bet similar situations show up in your own life:

What situations in your life do you hear the voices of worldly wisdom? If you have answers you feel comfortable sharing, please leave me a comment or an email. I'd love to talk with you about your hard choices!



  1. Thanks for this practical exposition of Scripture, Helene! Such a great, tough reminder that we need to make the right choice in every situation, no matter what the world's perspective says we should do. As you said, God will see us through the results. It's so much better to go with God through the results of the right choice than to endure the consequences of having disobeyed Him.

    1. It's been a bit of theme in my life these last few years, trying to sort out what's God's wisdom, gentle and peaceable, yet robust and selfless, would point toward in my ordinary situations. Frequently it leaves me in places that are not "common sense!"

  2. A great post, Helene! I was asked to do something similar at work once (not for a promotion, though), but when they called to ask me, it was already too late. I'd already reported the issue and couldn't believe they'd ask me not to. So glad God took any gray area out of my hands on that one. Yet I see other situations where this applies, too, so I appreciate the truth you share!