Our ladies group finished our study of Ecclesiastes last night, and I have to admit that I’m relieved. We’ve had fun with the study, but this is surely one intimidating book to teach. It’s full of hard questions and tough topics, and it requires a lot of cross-referencing to other books of the Bible. There’s not a single aspect of the human experience that Solomon (a.k.a. Mr. Sunshine) can’t sum up with the line, “This too is meaningless!”
One comes to the end of Ecclesiastes wondering if, after all, there really is any use in human reason or logic. The answer is yes, of course. We can do our work wisely and well. We can use our tongues and our good sense to get along with other people and help the communities that we live in. We can use our time on earth to do our duty: honor God and live according to His commandments. Even in this, however, we are limited. Solomon raises huge questions about oppression, injustice, pain and death. Sometimes, these come from human folly. Sometimes, the most heinous suffering comes from nothing other than the human failure to act wisely.
A breakthrough (for me) came when I saw the definition of wisdom in Easton’s Bible Dictionary. Specifically, Easton’s defines wisdom as a matter of morality rather than intellect. Anyone who has endured a college philosophy class knows that there is no harder word for an academic to define than the word “wisdom” (unless it’s the word “truth”). Perhaps, the reason for this is that we have been trying to define wisdom as an intellectual property when we should have been speaking of it as a virtue. The validity of this may be easily tested: is a foolish act and a wicked act the same thing? I wouldn’t bet on the answer always being “yes”, but I’m guessing that it would be most of the time.
What really rocked my thinking on the subject was one of the references Easton’s recommended on wisdom, I Cor. 1:24: “But to those called by God to salvation, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (NLT). According to this verse, if we want to truly define wisdom, we cannot describe what it is. We must describe who it is. Christ, as God in human flesh, is wisdom. Further, Galatians 3:27 states that when we became believers we “put on Christ.” Putting on Christ is New Testament speak for holiness.
So here is what unfolded: Wisdom is a virtue that Christ personifies. To put on Christ-likeness is to put on wisdom, as one would put on a garment. Therefore, to pursue holiness and to pursue wisdom is the same thing. Both holiness and wisdom are terms that describe a life lived rightly and lived well.
I think this reading will stand in the light of 2 Peter 1:3: “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence” (NLT). It is knowledge of God that equips us to live godly (holy) lives, and the application of that knowledge may be properly called wisdom.