Smart or Wise?

Written on: July 7, 2021

Article by: Geoffrey Ellis

(1 Corinthians and Ephesians)

Would you rather be smart or wise?

The one aspires to being as sharp as a tack!

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The other reaches for values and discernment.

Yet, it is not an either/or matter. Intelligence and wisdom should partner.

Moderns assume that we possess both—in large measure! After all, have we not perfected vast, lightning speed computing technologies; have we not developed globally encompassing communications and transportation systems, etc., etc.?

Today, more than ever, it seems, that humans laud their “smarts” and parade their special “values.”

However, isn’t it a little curious that it is human conduct that is propelling the globe we live on in a crash course to disaster?

Certainly, true wisdom rests rests upon accurate intelligence, and a certain humility.

There is the three-legged stool of stability.

  • Being smart understands the intricacies of machines, medicines, monies, and man’s behaviour.
  • Being wise applies appropriate judgment and understanding.
  • But there is the third leg, humility.

Wise people, even the most intelligent, recognize the inherent flaw of the race, its proneness to sin. This human failing distorts intelligence, and reduces wisdom. The challenge is to strive for a balance: intelligence, wisdom, and humility.

It is significant that the Christian scriptures flag the presence of presumptive “knowledge,” while featuring enduring values. A check will be made in First Corinthians for the former and in Ephesians for the latter.

1. Smart

One of the challenges facing the “Smart” is the temptation to feeling superior. It is one thing to maintain intelligence with humility, and another to just be a “smart Aleck.” This is the central challenge to all who would prepare their hearts for fellowship with Christ, the Saviour—penitance. The Christian walk begins with an admission of guilt. Fellowship with the Saviour begins when one repents of their sin. The story of the cross resonates with those who hearts are broken over their own sinfulness.

Paul’s challenge: “For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart’ [Isaiah 29:14]. Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?… For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:19–20, 25, ESV).

The point that Paul is making is, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1:18).

Paul explains his approach: “…when I came to you brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1–5).

Thus, Paul concludes, “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness,’ [Job 5:13] and again, ‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile’” [Psalm 94:11] (1 Corinthians 3:18–20).

Two millennia have passed since Paul composed these words. In the interim, human intelligence has mapped the marvelously integrated macro universe and discovered the remarkably linked microscopic systems that propel our planet’s life. But rather than standing back in awe and appreciation, humans have generally concluded that awareness equals ownership, and burgeoning pride has resulted. Truly, the thoughts of the “wise,” in this sequence, are “futile.”

Paul concluded his assessment of the misguided of his day and pointed to the value of godly wisdom: “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1:20–21).

2. Wise

Wisdom is the ultimate virtue of the human experience, “the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting” knowledge. The attraction of the Bible is the identification of God as the Lord of wisdom. Nothing achieved by human wisdom has surpassed the portrayal of the wisdom of God in the Scriptures. Wisdom upholds the values that elevate the human experience.

But in fact, wisdom is not featured as a primary value in our day. Being smart is. Ancient insights have given way to modern revisionist values. In the West, reconstructed ethics demand unquestioned acceptance. And ubiquitous communication devices support—with lightning speed—the spread of these recently reinvented standards.

Paul’s prayer nevertheless remains valid, “…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you might know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe…” (Ephesians 1:17–19a).

Paul’s conclusion in his day holds true for today: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (5:15–17).

Understanding what the will of the Lord is and doing it is both smart and wise—in this age and in any age. For “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight” (1:7–8).

The truly smart will seek to be wise—according to the values of God, our Creator!

The grace of the Scriptures is their portrayal of God as the all knowing, all wise Creator. The Bible, God’s gift to mankind, is replete with truth, addresses wisdom, and provides the remedy for sin. The smart will seek to understand it, the wise to be shaped by it, and the sinner to be cleansed by its remedy!

Grimsby, Ontario