What does it mean to be truly wise? The Old Testament Book of Proverbs has many answers to this question. The New Testament Book of James shares insights which are very helpful.

To be wise does not necessarily mean just to have an abundance of knowledge. In our modern education, we at times seem to be preoccupied with the accumulation of knowledge to the neglect of the wisdom which alone can save us from the misuse of that knowledge.

As Charles Spurgeon put it, “Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many persons know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it.”

True wisdom is to know what is best worth knowing and to do what is best worth doing.

Again, the writer of the Book of James reminds us that wisdom is a gift from God. Wisdom is so cleansed of all ulterior motives, so cleansed of self, that it has become pure enough to see God. True wisdom is not only pure, it is peaceable. It is the wisdom which at all times brings us closer to one another and to God.

True wisdom is gentle or considerate. It is the ability to extend to others the kindly considerations which we would like or wish to receive ourselves. Matthew Arnold called it “sweet reasonableness.”

To be truly wise is to be open to reason and to be submissive to discipline. It is willing to listen, willing to be persuaded, and being skilled in knowing when to wisely yield. True wisdom is full of mercy or kindness and good works. This is the dominant characteristic of the Book of James.

This is the showing of practical sympathy toward the plight of others in need. True wisdom is undivided, without partiality, wholehearted. True wisdom is not wavering, hesitant nor vascillating; it means that it knows its own mind, chooses its course, and abides by it. True wisdom is honest and never pretends to be what it is not.

We have many challenges presented to us as we seek to live meaningful lives. To be truly wise is one of them. May we seek to understand more fully and apply more readily these truths about wisdom.

Dr. Curtis Coleman is emeritus dean and professor of religion and philosophy at Athens State University.

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