Bible Topics In The Christian Library
Chapter 4
Becoming Wise

Becoming wise begins with a state of mind which involves a certain emotional-motivational attitude having a special approach-avoidance orientation. This type of mentality serves as the basic driving force for creating wisdom within a man. It consists of both a love and a hatred. In simplest terms, it is a love of good and a hatred of evil.


First, consider the hatred. Now as beautiful and necessary as love is, it alone, lamentably, is inadequate in a world containing both good and evil. Evil will overcome good if we do not combat it. Therefore, we must also be willing to hate evil and have the courage to oppose it if we are to please the Lord. Speaking of Jesus, the Lord said,

Thou hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, thy God, has anointed thee with the oil of gladness beyond thy comrades (Hebrews 1:9; RSV). It is not enough, then, only to love righteousness; like Jesus, we must also hate lawlessness. God has created us in his image and has given us freedom of will; but, unlike the Lord, we are imperfect creatures, and we have the propensity within us to commit evil. According to Solomon, the first step in becoming wise is developing a hatred of the evil that is both within us and around us. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge(Proverbs 1:7; KJV).

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding (Proverbs 9:10; KJV).

The fear of the Lord is training for wisdom (Proverbs 15:33; NAB).

Solomon's meaning of "fear of the Lord" includes "hatred of evil." The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogance, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I [wisdom] hate (Proverbs 8:13; KJV). Several other references to the "fear of the Lord" illustrate this connotation. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil (Proverbs 3:7; KJV).

The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death (Proverbs 14:27; KJV).

and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil (Proverbs 16:6; KJV).

Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day (Proverbs 23:17; BSV).

Job, quoting the Lord, said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding (Job 28:28; RSV). We are all born full of life and energy, but without intelligence. Yet, the infant's mind is not actually empty. Perhaps it is better to call it confused or primitive, like the earth at its beginning—chaotic and undeveloped. Infants do not know the difference between what is good and bad; thus they are helpless and dependent. They do not know how to communicate their needs and so they just yell loudly and hope. They cannot coordinate their bodies, so they just wiggle about and make messes. They live unwisely because, as Solomon said, Folly is bound up in the heart of a child (Proverbs 22:15; RSV). There is a natural joy and pleasure in being alive doing things and experiencing things. Being unwise, babies try everything they can, good and bad; and being full of energy, they possess potential for harm, both to themselves and others. Hence, we must impose restrictions upon them. Consider gasoline. It contains energy and is a valuable commodity providing a major source of the energy that activates our economy. But raw gasoline is dangerous. Only when it is placed in a strong container and carefully metered out a little at a time can it be used for constructive purposes.

So it is with life in the raw, this unchecked pride of life within us. All energy (including the energy of life) must be carefully restrained and channeled constructively a little at a time. Therefore, inhibition and self-control are fundamental qualities of the wise.

The well-documented effect of intoxicating liquors is to both dull the intellect and release the inhibitions. A drunk is a dangerous fool because he possesses the power of an adult with the mind of a child. The alcohol does not generate the dangerous behavior; it simply releases it. Only when a man is sober can recognition and remorse emerge.

The very first step in becoming wise, then, involves the inhibiting power of a special attitude. It is an emotional orientation or feeling that motivates us to reject whatever produces failure and harm. It is the desire not to do wrong—a hatred of evil. Solomon also revealed how it is developed.

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him (Proverbs 22:15; RSV). We learn to hate evil by experiencing the consequences of it. This is the purpose of punishment. It creates in us a healthy fear for whatever produces bad consequences. John wrote, fear has to do with punishment (1 John 4:18; RSV). Effective punishment produces discomfort (physical and/or mental). If wrong actions result in discomfort, wrong actions will be feared. For example, knives cut. The careless use of knives causes pain. Therefore, we abhor the careless use of knives. Likewise with everything else, from guns to atomic energy.

The Lord is the ultimate avenger of all wrongdoing. Fear of the Lord, then, includes abhorring wrongdoing and its consequences. It is developed by recognizing the harm produced. It encourages internalized control—self-discipline. This orientation of mind enables wisdom to begin. Developing a healthy respect for the consequences of doing wrong serves to bottle-up and to restrain behavior. It captures and contains the raw energy of a free life. It creates self-control by purifying and cleansing us of our natural wildness. It encourages humility, which softens the heart, making it more receptive for education.

This purging of impulsiveness is like plowing a field to make it suitable for growing good crops. It is like refining ore in a furnace to purify the raw materials so that they can be shaped into useful products. It is like the pain of surgery that cuts out the diseased tissue. Punishment is designed to correct; its purpose is to improve and make a man better. To correct someone is an act of kindness, and an expression of love. The Lord's wisdom includes correcting faults.

Give heed to my reproof; behold, I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you (Proverbs 1:23; RSV).

For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life (Proverbs 6:23; RSV).

He who winks at a fault causes trouble, but he who frankly reproves promotes peace (Proverbs 10:10; NAB).

He whose ear heeds wholesome admonition will abide among the wise he who heeds admonition gains understanding (Proverbs 15:31, 32; RSV).

Smite a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence; and reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge (Proverbs 19:25; ASV).

Stripes that wound cleanse away evil; and strokes reach the innermost parts (Proverbs 20:30; ASV).

As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear (Proverbs 25:12; KJV).

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6; RSV).

He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue (Proverbs 28:23; KJV).

Correction almost always involves some initial pain or discomfort. Even gentle forms of correction such as criticism or reproof hurt at the time; but after the necessary improvement occurs, the feeling is made better. If I am going about ignorantly committing some offense (say, in the way I look). a friend would inform me to help me correct it; then we could all relax and enjoy life more. On the other hand, an enemy (laughing behind my back) would flatter me on my fine appearance.

Punishment is designed to correct error, to make right what is wrong. Its goal is healing. It is, in fact, simply a form of communication, a feedback mechanism, a control device to steer the deviating party back on the right path, a message regarding the value of actions to inform both the offending party as well as all others who can learn by observing. Failure to administer just punishment deprives the individual of important information. It keeps him blind to the harmful consequences of what he is doing and so both retards maturity in children and interferes with intelligent behavior at any age.

The chastenings of punishment are designed to encourage wisdom in us; and the Lord would have us wise. Indeed, nature "punishes" us when we transgress; that is, the Lord, through nature, disciplines us.

My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: for whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth (Proverbs 3:11, 12; KJV). Its application is a necessary part of rearing children. Attempting to train a child without the use of any form of correction is like trying to build a house with string instead of hammers and saws. It may reduce noise during the process, but the underlying weakness of the structure makes it much more vulnerable to collapse under stress. I am convinced that most of the growing number of horrors committed both by men and women these days is a direct result of the lack of serious discipline (including painful punishment) applied to them when they were children. Never having "tantrumness" driven out of them as children, they lose control and throw adult tantrums, which are much more violent and catastrophic. He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him (Proverbs 13:24; RSV).

Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying (Proverbs 19:18; KJV).

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child: but the rod of discipline drives it far from him (Proverbs 22:15; RSV).

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. if you beat him with a rod you will save his life from Sheol (Proverbs 23:13, 14; RSV).

The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame (Proverbs 29:15; KJV).

Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul (Proverbs 29:17; KJV).

Punishment or correction takes many forms and its proper use depends upon a variety of circumstances. For example, words alone are ineffective for some. By mere words a servant is not disciplined, for though he understands, he will not give heed (Proverbs 29:19; RSV). Physical force is necessary for children, animals, and fools. They need a stronger message. a fool [goes] to the correction of the stocks (Proverbs 7:22; KJV).

but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding (Proverbs 10:13; KJV).

Condemnation is ready for scoffers, and a flogging for the backs of fools (Proverbs 19:29; RSV).

A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool's back (Proverbs 26:3; KJV).

Even though the application of strong pain may not penetrate the thick skull of some stubborn individuals, nevertheless, the demonstration can benefit others. Smite a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence (Proverbs19:25; ASV).

When the scoffer is punished, the simple is made wise (Proverbs 21:11; ASV).

Neither observing nor experiencing the just application of punishment encourages violence. On the contrary, it generates healthy fear and restraint. However, Solomon also said that gentle forms of correction are all that are needed for the wise. A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool (Proverbs 17:10; KJV).

reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge (Proverbs 19:25; KJV).

Indeed, being too forceful can be unjust. to flog noble men is wrong (Proverbs 17:26; RSV). The wise application of punishment is the most powerful technique available to restrain evil, both within the individual and within a community. Withholding punishment is like permitting the weeds to grow in a garden, or tolerating rust in a machine, or allowing an infection to remain in the body. Rightly used, it can be an act of mercy and kindness even to the point of saving lives. Indeed, psychologists have punished infants with electric shock (in some cases less than ten months of age) to cure them of chronic ruminative vomiting (a life-threatening habit) when all other forms of treatment failed. Electric shock (a source of pain considered to be more "scientific") has also been used, paradoxically, to cure self-mutilation in children. Some, for example, would bite their fingers off, pull out their fingernails with their teeth, poke out their eyes, chew off their shoulders down to the bone. Before discovering the effectiveness of corporal punishment, these children were kept in full body restraints, often for years at a time—a cruel form of prolonged bondage.

Solomon recognized the paradox three thousand years ago.

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die, if you beat him with a rod you will save his life from Sheol (Proverbs 23:14; RSV). The story of the blind and deaf Helen Keller is a marvelous example of how an undisciplined life that was controlled by selfishness and tantrums was later saved by the administration of strict and severe discipline. Anne Sullivan was the courageous young teacher who saved her. She was hired by Helen’s parents when Helen was six years old.

The following excerpts are taken from one book written about them. First, here is some of what Anne remembered about their early experiences together.

It was Annie’s plan to move slowly, first winning Helen’s love. "I shall not attempt to conquer her by force alone," she said. She had yet to learn (she began to learn it the following day) that Helen had always done exactly as she pleased and, like all tyrants, domestic and royal, intended to keep on. She learned that sometimes it was impossible for days to comb her hair; that force was necessary to get her to button her shoes or wash her face, and that force always brought on a fit of temper. She was exceedingly strong, and since she fought with the complete abandon of a wild animal she was a dangerous adversary. Some times members of the family were black and blue from her assaults. Helen is puzzled now when she considers this conduct of hers and wonders what the behaviourists [a leading school of psychology] would say about it. She had been surrounded by kindness and had no pattern to work from, but the baffled rage within her gave her so successful a fighting technique that in one of their early struggles she succeeded in knocking out one of her teacher’s front teeth. For a few days it looked as if Annie Sullivan were beaten.

She recognized at once that her biggest problem was to get Helen under some kind of control without breaking her spirit, and saw almost immediately that it could not be done while Helen was with her family, none of whom could bear to see the child punished. Annie, on the other hand was so used to affliction [remember, affliction encourages strength of character] that she knew no other course but to treat an afflicted person just as she would have treated a normal person

"I had the idea (she wrote) that I could win the love and confidence of my little pupil by the same means that I should use if she could see and hear. But I soon found that I was cut off from all the usual approaches to the child’s heart. She accepted everything I did for her as a matter of course, and refused to be caressed, and there was no way of appealing to her affection or sympathy or childish love of approbation."

Anne would in all likelihood have been arrested for committing child abuse if she had lived these days and had practiced the same tactics of discipline; for she freely employed corporal punishment. For example, during one mealtime conflict Ann said, "She pinched me, and I slapped her every time she did it." Faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverbs 27:6; RSV).

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die, if you beat him with a rod you will save his life from Sheol (Proverbs 23:14; RSV).

Now consider Helen’s remembrance of their early experiences together. The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrast between the two lives which it connects I guessed vaguely from my mother’s signs and from the hurrying to and fro in the house that something unusual was about to happen, so I went to the door and waited on the steps I did not know what the future held of marvel or surprise for me. Anger and bitterness had preyed upon me continually for weeks and a deep languor had succeeded this passionate struggle.

Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen?" I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding line, and had no way to knowing how near the harbour was. "Light! Give me light!" was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour.

I felt approaching footsteps. I stretched out my hand as I supposed to my mother. Some one took it, and I was caught up and held close in the arms of her who had come to reveal all things to me, and more than all things else, to love me.

Notice their contrasting memories. Anne was an adult who remembered those first painful weeks of battle, but Helen was a young child, and she only remembered the wonderful results—her education. The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame (Proverbs 29:15; KJV). Anne remembered what an adversary Helen was, but Helen only remembered how much Anne loved her. He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue (Proverbs 28:23; RSV). One final comment about discipline. Certain kinds of self-restraint and discipline involve only a form of pseudo-wisdom. Developing an irrational obedience to some legalistic system does not produce the kind of self-control necessary to combat evil. An example, perhaps, is the asceticism of some athletic and military training regimens. Paul alluded to this when he warned against a legalistic approach to religion. why do you submit to regulations, "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (referring to things which all perish as they are used). according to human precepts and doctrines? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigor of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh (Colossians 2:20-23; RSV). In sum: Becoming wise begins with the establishment of an attitude of rejection toward wrongdoing and error by learning to hate evil. This emotional state promotes the development of self-control; and it is encouraged by experiencing the correcting consequences of evil.
Love of Learning

Fear of the Lord, with its hatred of evil, produces self-restraint and discipline. But this is just the beginning of wisdom. Plowing a field, refining ore, or removing diseased tissue accomplishes nothing useful unless crops are grown, goods are manufactured, or the wound heals.

The next component of that basic mentality needed to become wise involves love; namely, a love of wisdom. This is what Solomon emphasized most.

Now, we have a relatively small amount of control over the development of our bodies. It is primarily genetically determined. The knowledge of its nature is fixed and built-in. But the Lord made our minds relatively free. We are born without knowledge and have great capacity to learn. Being free means that we have an independent will, and what we become in mind depends to a large extent on what we choose to become. If we would be wise, and so capable of productive living, we must set our hearts to get wisdom. Unlike the growth of our arms and legs, teeth and hair, it will not happen automatically. We must orient our will to achieve knowledge and understanding-wisdom. It is a personal responsibility. No man can make me wise without my cooperation.

Indeed, there is a natural disinclination to learn useful knowledge and to develop good understanding because it requires effort and hard work. The casual trivia that we experience and remember in our routine living rarely contributes to the development of wisdom. Such things are something like junk food, which may be enjoyable but does not provide much nutrition. Paul wrote of certain foolish sinners who were,

ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7; RSV). Therefore, Solomon repeatedly urged the reader ("my son and "ye children ") to cultivate the desire for knowledge and understanding. Fall in love with wisdom because she is "the principal thing"; the means by which the Lord gives us all good things. The following rather lengthy list of Scriptures from the Proverbs illustrates Solomon's major plea: Set your heart to get wisdom. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels (Proverbs 1:5; KJV).

Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and reject not your mother's teaching (Proverbs 1:8; RSV).

Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth (Proverbs 4:1-5; KJV).

Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her (Proverbs 4:7, 8; KJV).

Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings (Proverbs 4:10; KJV).

Take fast hold of instruction (Proverbs 4:13; KJV).

My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding: that thou mayest regard discretion, and that thy lips may keep knowledge (Proverbs 5:1, 2; KJV).

Hear me now therefore, O ye children, and depart not from the words of my mouth (Proverbs 5:7; KJV).

Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth (Proverbs 7:24; KJV).

I [wisdom] love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me (Proverbs 8:17; KJV).

Now therefore hearken unto me, O ye children: for blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors (Proverbs 8: 32-34; KJV).

Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, Come, eat of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding (Proverbs 9:4-6; KJV).

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning (Proverbs 9:9; KJV).

The wise in heart will receive commandments (Proverbs 10:8; KJV).

Wise men lay up knowledge (Proverbs 10:14; KJV).

He who heeds instruction is on the path to life (Proverbs 10:17; RSV).

Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge (Proverbs 12:1; KJV).

a wise man listens to advice (Proverbs 12:15; RSV).

A wise son heareth his father's instruction (Proverbs 13:1; KJV).

The mind of him who has understanding seeks knowledge (Proverbs 15:14; RSV).

Without counsel plans go wrong, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22; RSV).

The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge (Proverbs 18:15; KJV).

Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom for the future (Proverbs 19:20; RSV).

Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge (KJV). For it is a pleasant thing if thou keep them within thee, if they be established together upon thy lips. That thy trust may be in Jehovah (ASV) (Proverbs 22:17-19).

Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge (Proverbs 23:12; KJV).

Hear thou, my son, and be wise, and guide thine heart in the way (Proverbs 23:19; KJV).

Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding (Proverbs 23:23; KJV).

My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off (Proverbs 24:13, 14; RSV).

As we gain wisdom, we should take great care to preserve it. Against his own advice Solomon allowed himself to be led astray in his later years. (See I Kings 11.) My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments (Proverbs 3:1; KJV).

Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart (Proverbs 3:3; KJV).

My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion (Proverbs 3:21; KJV).

never leave her, and she will guard you, love her, and she will take care of you (Proverbs 4:6; MOFFATT).

let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life (Proverbs 4:13; KJV).

Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart (Proverbs 4:21; KJV).

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23; KJV).

My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother. bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck (Proverbs 6:20, 21; KJV).

My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee. Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye. Bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the table of thine heart. Say unto wisdom, Thou art my sister; and call understanding thy kinswoman (Proverbs 7:1-4; KJV).

Cease, my son, to hear instruction only to stray from the words of knowledge (Proverbs 19:27; RSV).

Solomon emphasized the necessity of exercising our will because becoming wise involves an if-then, cause-and-effect relationship: from voluntary effort to wisdom. My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints. Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path. When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee (Proverbs 2:1-11; KJV; italics mine).

I love them that love me; and those that seek me diligently shall find me (Proverbs 8:17; ASV; italics mine).

In sum: Solomon most urged the cultivation of an intense love for wisdom (knowledge and understanding). Of all our resources, it should have a our highest priority, for wisdom comes only to those who actively pursue her. Thus, the process of becoming wise begins with an orientation of will away from folly and evil toward knowledge and understanding. This mentality is the foundation that supports all the accumulated knowledge and skills a man acquires as he develops his intellect.

Copyright 1997 by Walter L. Porter may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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