We like the idea of special, individualized messages from God about our particular circumstance or question. We don’t much like the idea of struggling in prayer and thought over what is the wisest course. But as important as the Reformed doctrine of illumination is, when it comes to making decisions, Scripture probably says more about “wisdom” than it does about illumination.
Remember, there is an entire section of holy Scripture that we describe as the “wisdom literature.” The most frequently OT term for “wisdom” (chokmah) occurs (I think) 113 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. To return to the verse we looked at last time, it is linked closely to the illuminating work of the Spirit: “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom (chokmah) in the secret heart” (Ps 51:6; 51:8 MT).
Frequently wisdom denotes a particular (usually God-given) skill such as building or some other craft (Ex. 31:6; 1 Kings 7:14). When it comes to making decisions we might think of wisdom as the God-given skill of applying the moral law of God to particular issues. Solomon had this sort of wisdom (1 Kings 10:23). He had a unique, God-given insight into the nature of things. He was clear minded. He had a firm grasp on reality. He paid attention. He learned. All of these things are aspects of wisdom.
In Luke 2:40 we read that Jesus was endowed with wisdom (sophia). There is a worldly (unbelieving) “wisdom” which we might call either rationalism or empiricism. Those forms of “wisdom” make the human intellect or human sense experience the arbiter of all truth. Paul rejected this sort of pseudo wisdom (1 Cor. 1:19-22; 3:19 etc). God’s salvation of his people in Christ seems foolish to the wise of “this age,” but Christ is God’s wisdom, i.e. the perfect and appropriate and even surprising saving act at just the right moment (1 Cor. 1:24; Eph. 3:10).
Paul prayed that the Colossians might have wisdom:
And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:9-10).
When Paul says “spiritual,” he does not mean “ethereal” or “immaterial” but rather he means, “that which comes from the Spirit.” It is not necessarily immediate, however. There is an objective standard of wisdom: the revealed will of God. The fruit of it is not that we know what God has not revealed publicly in his Word but that we live congruently to and in obedience to the revealed moral will of God. This bears fruit (James 3:17). This brings knowledge.
We often think that we have to know secrets before we can obey. Scripture teaches the exact opposite. John Frame very wisely said once in class that genuine wisdom begins with obedience. Only when we have obeyed the Lord (or at least tried to make a beginning of obedience) do we see and realize the wisdom of God’s Word as distinct from what we think is good or proper. It is counter-intuitive but it’s true nonetheless. That’s the difference between theory and practice. There are some skills that have to be learned through practice. The skill of swinging a golf club just so takes a great deal of repetition, discipline, and training. One can study video and books, and a grasp of the theory of a golf swing is essential, but so is practice. The satisfying “ping” of club meeting ball perfectly is the result of skill which, in turn, is the result of submission to the nature of the game. That’s a sort of wisdom.
If we want to know the moral will of God, we need a public revelation, which we have. We need illumination of that will, which the Spirit gives. We need wisdom, i.e. skill in understanding that will, in knowing ourselves, and in reckoning with the circumstance to which it is to be applied.
Wisdom is essential in knowing God’s will. Getting wisdom is not easy. It takes practice. You will fail. You will struggle. If it were easy, everyone would have it and it seems obvious that not everyone has it! That’s why God gave us an entire collection of axioms, a book of Proverbs, to see what wisdom looks like in daily life. Wisdom may not be “sexy” and one might not be able to market it as the latest and greatest thing, but it’s God’s thing and it’s just the thing for those who would be godly.