Wisdom from above vs man’s wisdom

by Mike Ratliff

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. (James 1:16-17 NASB)

With Brian McLaren and his followers showing their true colors proclaiming that they are working to recreate the Church, to bring in a new form of Christianity, we must go back to the root of the matter. We must show what truth is and what it is not. Yes, we are in a post-modern culture that is relativistic, but that does not mean that we have to succumb to that fatal disease. If we are in Christ then we are new creations.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB)

This means we are not destined to the spiritual ignorance and blindness with which we were born, but have been changed through the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5) being resurrected from spiritual death unto reconciliation and renewal of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we have the freedom in Christ to know the truth, hold the truth, believe the truth, and stand firmly within it in His power as He sustains us and keeps us from succumbing to the lies and spiritual mediocrity of this lost and dying world and the charlatans who profess to be Christian theologians, but who are ignorant of God’s wisdom from above knowing only human wisdom. 

From where does the wisdom come in which all genuine Christians are to know, believe and walk?

13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18 NASB)

Look at the contrasts in this passage. Those who preach and teach the truth according to God’s wisdom received it from above. That is, it is the Word of God, the Bible. If we minister within this wisdom, we sow the seeds of righteousness and peace. We will possess God’s wisdom from above and from that we will be pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. However, the main attribute we will possess and exhibit if we are working within God’s wisdom is meekness of wisdom (v13). This is the attribute elevated by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 5:5 as a primary Christian virtue. Here is v13 from the NA28 Greek text.

13 Τίς σοφὸς καὶ ἐπιστήμων ἐν ὑμῖν; δειξάτω ἐκ τῆς καλῆς ἀναστροφῆς τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ ἐν πραΰτητι σοφίας. (James 3:13 NA28)

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good conduct his deeds in meekness of wisdom. (James 3:13 translated from the NA28 Greek text)

The “wise,” the σοφὸς, are watchmen. This word is used to signify one who knows how to regulate his course according to the will of God. These are Christians who are prudent, sensible, and judicious. In other words, these are believers who know God’s truth and live and minister within it. These are the wise, the σοφὸς. These would also be ἐπιστήμων or endued with knowledge. These believers know the Word of God and through that knowledge, they know God’s truth and are able to discern what is not. These believers live and minister within this wisdom and understanding and are, therefore, exhibiting godly behavior and works that are the fruit of πραΰτητι σοφίας, or meekness of wisdom. Jesus said in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” “μακάριοι οἱ πραεῖς, ὅτι αὐτοὶ κληρονομήσουσιν τὴν γῆν.” Here we have the word πραεῖς describing those who live and minister according to πραΰτητι. Πραΰτητι is expressed not in a believer’s outward behavior only nor in his or her relations to others or their mere natural disposition. No, it is expressed rather as an inwrought grace of the soul, first and chiefly directed toward God as seen in James 1:21.

21 Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21 NASB)

In other words, this is what real repentance looks like. The πραεῖς live within the attitude of spirit in which he or she accepts God’s dealings with them and others as good and do not dispute or resist His will. This is the nature that those who know and live within the wisdom which comes from above. On the other hand, in contrast, those who minister and live within the wisdom that does not come from above, man’s wisdom, are motivated by a jealous spirit and are full of selfish ambition. They lie or stretch the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes from God, but is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. In other words, those who reject the Word of God as God’s truth are operating from a wisdom that does not come from Him, but is from the enemy.

Some may say that those who use their discernment to warn the Body of Christ about false teachers and false doctrine, et cetera, are not kind or gentle or meek. Was Jesus meek? Absolutely! How did he operate around the Pharisees? What about Paul, Peter, and John? How did they operate around false teachers and apostates? They rebuked them and warned the Body of Christ about them. That is within the bounds of this meekness of wisdom. The motive for the watchman in this is to obey God and bring people to repentance by warning them about their false doctrine, et cetera. In Romans 1:18-23 the Apostle Paul describes these people.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four- footed animals and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:18-23 NASB)

Carefully read this passage my brethren. The bold part is vv21-22. The Greek word translated here as “they became fools” is εμωρανθησαν. The root of this word is μωραίνω, which is the source of our English word “moron.” This is not a description of stupid people. Even brilliant theologians can be μωραίνω. Those who reject God’s revealed Word of Truth as The Truth do not honor Him and so miss the whole purpose of life and are, therefore, fools. We see this in seminary professors who believe they have discovered the real purpose of the Church is to forget evangelism and become missional instead. That is, go into the world to do good works, to minister to the poor and make the world a better place. This theology (Natural Theology) assumes that there is no such thing as the doctrine of Total Depravity and that the primary mission of our Lord Jesus’ incarnation was not the purchase of His people by the shedding of His blood on the Cross. Even though parts of this “Natural Theology” sounds cool, it is not biblical. Therefore, it is doctrine based on a wisdom that is not from above, but is, instead, man’s wisdom which is earthly, unscriptural, and demonic.

Soli Deo Gloria!

4 thoughts on “Wisdom from above vs man’s wisdom

  1. Thank you for posting this topic. Here is what I’ve come to understand.

    A theology mindset brings a Roman mindset (wisdom of man). God is not found or understood through or within theology.

    “The word theology is regarded as the ‘science of a god,’ a systematic (and rational) presentation of the idea of god according to the dialectic of human reason” (John Parsons).

    With an application of hermeneutics comes a Greek mindset (wisdom of man).

    Hermeneutics as tough in Bible Colleges and Seminaries is the branch of theology, dealing with principles of exegesis. It is the rational and systematic study of religion and its influences. Scholarship by hermeneutics in an attempt to understand texts, actions, and gestures in Scriptures.

    Hermeneutics – “as a theory of interpretation, the hermeneutic tradition stretches all the way back to ancient Greek philosophy [wisdom of man] In the course of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, hermeneutics emerges as a crucial branch of Biblical studies. Later on, it comes to include the study of ancient and classic cultures” (Stanford Encyclopedia).

    Since the early Roman church was led by orators and others schooled in classical Greek thought (i.e., Hellenism), many of the basic assumptions of the Greeks were implicitly integrated into the earliest forms of Christian theology. Paradoxically (and perhaps tragically) the early western church therefore became a carrier of the legacy of ancient pagan thinking. Thus we find two of the greatest theologians of the Christian world – Augustine and Thomas Aquinas – attempting to synthesize Greek philosophy with the Scriptures (Augustine following Plato and Aquinas following Aristotle). It’s not empty blather, therefore, to suggest that the western Church eventually absorbed as much from Athens as it did” (John Parsons).

    The Word is not discerned with hermeneutics (Hellenism) and we don’t come to know God by studying theology but only by a personal ongoing experience led by the Spirit of Truth. Thank you Lord.

    Blessings to you, Psalm 33

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  2. DJ, Theology is simply “The study of God.” That’s what the word means. Since the way I study God is through the study of His Word exegetically then I must disagree with your statement that God is not found or understood through or within theology. However, if people go through some sort of training or exercise that is “called” theology that is actually based in the wisdom of men rather than the wisdom from above then your statement would be right. I have no idea who John Parsons is, but in these quotes I find myself fully disagreeing with him IF he also includes theological study as I do it. For instance, the whole purpose of my pursuit of theology is to know God as He has revealed Himself to us in His Word and we know from the Word that it is the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ who has revealed Him. How did we learn this? It was through an exegetical study of God’s Word. I do not adhere to a systematic theology since I never went to seminary. However, I am a trained Bible teacher and know how to study the Word exegetically and I know how to do original language studies. My good friends who comment on this blog often have stated that they read my posts because I simply exposit scripture and teach what it says rather than make a point I want to make and try to use the Word to back it up. That should be our goal as teachers of the Word shouldn’t it? God has blessed me with the spiritual gifts of a teacher, but He has also given me the practical tools of education and Bible study tools and knowledge of Greek, etc. I am certain that what I write and post is of little interest to many trained theologians and is a threat to many in the ministry, but I’m not after anyone’s job nor am I trying to replace any as anyone else’s pastor, etc. No, I just teach the truth from the Word and pray that God uses that for His glory and for the edification of the saints.

    Finally, while I agree with some of what you said, there are many who are theologians and use systematic theology and rely on hermeneutics who are absolutely not contaminated by wisdom of man or the Greek mindset or whatever. They do not use the philosophy of men. John Calvin and Martin Luther, for instance, were very good theologians, but very different from one another. However, neither of them would match up with what John Parsons accused them of in that quote, whoever he is. God used both men in a tremendous way to bring the Church out of the darkness of the R.C.C. In any case, God is bigger than all that and can use anyone He wants. However, I have found that the more I study theology the more He uses me.

    In Christ

    Mike ratliff

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  3. A. W. Pink had something similar to say in his book “The Sovereignty Of God” to what you have written. It was a simple task to cut and paste the short passage, so I did in hopes that you may be encouraged. Pink is responding to an assumed objection to predestination, that such a doctrine would discourage men from evangelism and zeal, since men’s eternal destinies were already decided. He answers:

    No; instead of discouraging His servants, a recognition of God’s sovereignty is most encouraging to them. Here is one, for example, who is called upon to do the work of an evangelist, and he goes forth believing in the freedom of the will and in the sinner’s own ability to come to Christ. He preaches the Gospel as faithfully and zealously as he knows how; but he finds the vast majority of his hearers are utterly indifferent and have no heart at all for Christ. He discovers that men are, for the most part, thoroughly wrapt up in the things of the world, and that few have any concern about the world to come. He beseeches men to be reconciled to God and pleads with them over their soul’s salvation. But it is of no avail. He becomes thoroughly disheartened and asks himself, What is the use of it all? Shall he quit, or had he better change his mission and message? If men will not respond to the Gospel, had he not better engage in that which is more popular and acceptable to the world? Why not occupy himself with humanitarian efforts, with social uplift work, with the purity campaign? Alas! that so many men who once preached the Gospel are now engaged in these activities instead.

    Pink, Arthur W. (2013-04-01). The Sovereignty of God (Kindle Locations 3680-3680). . Kindle Edition.

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