The Principle Thing
At my graduation from Southwestern Adventist University, our speaker emphasized the necessity of “keep[ing] the main thing, the main thing.” In his discourse, he outlined what he defined as the “main thing” — Jesus. And I agree with. To this day my father and I repeat this phrase to one another as an encouragement to stay faithful.
As you read through the scriptures, several passages encourage us to keep various things the “main thing.” They are all related of course and are actually parts or facets to a whole. So today I would like to highlight one of these facets of THE “Main Thing.”
In Proverbs 4:5, 7 we find the following advice:
Get wisdom! Get understanding!
Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth.
Wisdom is the principle thing;
Therefore get wisdom.
And in all your getting get understanding.
According to this passage wisdom is the principle or most important thing to possess. Indeed the key word in Proverbs is wisdom. And Proverbs is the central book in the category of Wisdom Literature in the Bible.
For wisdom is better than rubies,
And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her. (Prov. 8:11)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Prov. 9:10)
Based on just these few texts we understand that wisdom is pretty important. But is it really important enough to be called the principle thing? What about love? Shouldn’t that be the principle thing?
The reason we have questions about wisdom being the principle thing is due to what we think the authors are talking about when they use the word wisdom throughout the Bible.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines wisdom as:
- the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships
- good sense
- generally accepted belief
- accumulated philosophical of scientific learning
- wise attitude, belief, or course of action
- the teachings of the ancient wise men
These are all great definitions and are worthwhile traits to possess, but I think there is an alternate definition to the ones above. It is found in James chapter three. We first encounter this alternate definition of wisdom in verse three.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.
Meekness and wisdom are not usually words that are used together. Much less would most people choose to use wisdom to describe meekness — meekness of wisdom. James obviously sees something in wisdom that many of us don’t. Thankfully he does not leave us to conjecture as to his full definition of wisdom, as he provides it in verse 17.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.
In the Bible in Basic English, this verse is rendered:
But the wisdom which is from heaven is first holy, then gentle, readily giving way in argument, full of peace and mercy and good works, not doubting, not seeming other than it is.
And in the English Standard Version it is:
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
As I read through this verse, I think of Paul’s list of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5: 22 and his chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13.
Wisdom, according to James, is not having superior intellectual ability or the sagacity to use the knowledge you possess; it is how we behave. Or at least is seen in how we behave rather than in what advice we can give or what mysteries we can explain.
Our opening texts from Proverbs are encouragements to gain wisdom, so it isn’t something we are just born with. So, how do you get it? In his epistle, James has already answered that question.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and with out reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5,6)
Ask. That’s it. In fact, James takes the time to accentuate God’s generosity and compassion by saying that He will supply wisdom liberally (my cup runs over – Ps. 23:5) and without reproach ([t]there is therefore now no condemnation – Rom. 8:1). What wonderful news!
There is a “catch” though, if you will. You must not doubt that God will or can do this for you. This isn’t about your willpower; it is about God’s transformative grace in you. This is why Paul could say, “I can do all things through [not for] Christ who strengthens me“ (Phil. 4:13). At times we may not manifest this wisdom from above in our lives, but we should remember that “when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). In and of ourselves we are still without strength. It is as we abide in Christ (John 15) that we receive His strength to follow Him. The surrender of our selfish, self-serving natures makes it possible for us to be recipients of His guidance and counsel.
So who are those who possess this priceless (better than rubies) gift?
The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom. (Ps. 37:30)
The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom. (Prov. 10:31)
However, Paul assures us that there are “none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). So these righteous don’t have wisdom because they are righteous. They are both righteous and wise because they have sought those gifts from the Lord. For as we surrender to Christ, He wraps us in His righteousness for He is “Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1) and “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jer. 33:16). Praise the Lord!
So now you see why wisdom is the principle thing. It is a facet of the transformed character, along with love and righteous, that Christ desires for each of us to have. Won’t you take the wise man’s advise and seek the wisdom that is from above?