As Christian women living in the twenty-first century, we aren’t likely to face many of the tricky difficulties that confronted ancient Israelite women. Just think of Queen Esther, who had to learn how to get along in a harem of women whose only calling was to please the king with their beauty. Even after Esther became queen, the cost of displeasing her king-husband was death. Other Old Testament women dealt with slavery, such as Hagar, and having to share a husband with another woman, such as Rachel and Leah.
Our problems, while less life-threatening for the most part, nevertheless pose tremendous challenges for which we need the same wisdom that ancient women needed. But we want to do more than merely minimize stress and ward off unnecessary difficulties; we also want to please God in every aspect of our lives. This is one way in which biblical wisdom differs radically from worldly wisdom. The world’s wisdom centers in how people can please themselves and maximize every pleasure. The wisdom in Proverbs isn’t unconcerned about our enjoying life as a gift from God. That’s the beauty of it—as we put into practice the wisdom of Proverbs, we find that God’s ways work at a very practical level; life does tend to run more smoothly. As this happens, God is showcased as the all-wise one, and He is glorified.
The benefits of wise living are too numerous to include here, but let’s look at a few of them.
Women who live wisely will experience security. Wise women are confident that they rest on safe ground:
You will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. (Proverbs 3:23-24)
Wise women have no fear. Because they trust God, they have no need for anxiety. They are confident that a kind, wise God is in control of everything. As wisdom increases, anxiety decreases. What makes you worry? Is it finances, your kids, your spouse—or the lack of one? Wise women know that God is trustworthy and that He can and will handle all these matters for our good and His glory.
Another result of wise living is guidance. Some time ago I heard someone say that wisdom isn’t so much something that God gives to us as something he does for us, a truth reinforced by this passage:
For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. (Proverbs 2:6-8)
The link between wisdom and guidance is also made crystal clear in this proverb:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
This does not mean that God’s guidance is conditional upon our trusting; He is always actively directing the lives of human beings. Yet it is only as we actively trust God and submit to His ways that we experience His guidance as a straight path, one not filled with frustrating self-made detours, as we see with Jonah.
Another benefit of wisdom is the calm enjoyment of sanctified common sense. There is no issue in life that Scripture doesn’t somehow address. Situations arise in all of our lives that Scripture doesn’t directly speak to—those gray areas. But the Bible does address them somehow; even if indirectly, and wisdom is what enables us to use the Word to make black-and-white application into the gray places of our lives. Wisdom enables us to better discern not only what God’s Word says explicitly but also what the Word says implicitly, and we are increasingly equipped to apply its truths to all areas of life. Sanctified common sense is the result of wisdom.
Still another result of wise living is generally good living:
My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. (Proverbs 3:1-2)
The book of Proverbs reveals to us how God has designed the world to work; so, in general, those who live according to God’s design prosper because of it. That being said, the proverbs aren’t a guarantee for the good life. We all experience times when things don’t go well, despite our efforts to follow God’s ways, and that’s because God has as much to teach us through suffering as He does through blessing us with the practical benefits of wisdom. That’s why it is best to view the proverbs as observations or principles rather than as promises. We must keep both things—the practical benefits of wise living and the spiritual benefits of suffering—in tension, and trust that God knows what He is doing in each case.
That being said, we tend to be suspect of this whole idea of delighting in prosperous living. It just seems so, well, worldly. But God delights to bless His children, as any good father does. When God blesses us with a season of prosperity, we can grieve God’s father heart if we bar ourselves from rejoicing in it. After years of saving money for a house, a friend of mine was blessed to be able to purchase a lovely home. But she couldn’t fully enjoy it because, she said, “I keep waiting for the ax to drop. If God has given me this, what is He preparing to take away?” Such thinking robs both God and us of taking pleasure in His gifts. If He blesses us in some material way, we are free to enjoy it. As Solomon wrote, “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God” (Ecclesiastes 2:24).
Another benefit of acquiring wisdom is happiness:
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profits better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. (Proverbs 3:13-15)
Can you think of a better definition for happiness? If we are unhappy Christians, the problem isn’t our circumstances; it’s our interpretation of our circumstances, an interpretation that’s lacking in wisdom. Even unhappy occasions can be experienced with joy and peace when we remember who has ordained them and that he has done so for good reason. Wise women know that lasting and deep happiness will never be found in circumstances but only in Wisdom, which is Christ.
One more fruit of wisdom is self-knowledge. John Calvin said that before we can know ourselves, we must first know God. Only God really knows and understand our hearts, of course, but the better we know God, the better we will know ourselves. Self-knowledge, part and parcel of which is awareness of our personal weaknesses, is vital when it comes to resisting temptations, since temptations appeal to us in areas where we tend to be weak. Women who know God are better able to recognize where they are prone to sin and are therefore better equipped to deal with it intelligently. Knowing ourselves is a benefit of wisdom.
In vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird. (Proverbs 1:17)
All of this leaves us with a problem: We can’t do it! Who among us could ever hope to achieve wisdom such as we see in Proverbs? Wisdom is indeed impossible for us, even though, after glimpsing the benefits of it, we want to become wise women. What are we to do? The realization of our impossible dilemma brings Paul’s words to life: “God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God” (1 Corinthians 1:28-30). Christ is our wisdom, in both its characteristics and benefits. We have no wisdom of our own, but if we are in Him, we have His wisdom, which means we can grow it to fullness. In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). If we are in Christ, those treasures are ours too.