The Book of Proverbs is the single greatest volume devoted to personal development in the Scriptures. Its 31 chapters bring into focus every aspect of our lives and decision making. It is evident throughout the book that wisdom is the central theme of Proverbs. Solomon will address many of the writings in the book to his son, and he defines the purpose of this book to his son with these words, “To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding” (Pro. 1:2).
We oftentimes use wisdom and understanding interchangeably thinking that they are essentially the same, but such a belief is a flaw that keeps us from understanding to the fullest Solomon’s, and by extension the Lord’s, intent. The term “wisdom” is used 54 times in Proverbs. It is best defined as the knowledge of right action. Wisdom is the ability to make the right decisions in a given situation; to consider a problem and find the right answer; to direct one’s steps down the right path. Wisdom is the principal attribute to obedience. It is for that reason that wisdom is so often compared to foolishness in Proverbs. Wisdom proclaims righteousness, foolishness proclaims selfishness.
However, it must be comprehended that wisdom and understanding are not the same. Understanding means perception or discernment. It centers around, not what the right action is, but why that action is the right one. There is equal emphasis in Proverbs upon both wisdom and understanding, with the word “understanding” also being used 54 times in the book. The importance of recognizing the distinction between these two words is often underestimated.
To many people’s perception, the difference between wisdom and understanding is so small that it is not meaningful. To the contrary, I would contend, it is the lack of comprehension of the difference between these two terms that has the church in such difficulty today.
As parents, we often tell our children to do something and the first word out of their mouth is, “Why?” We have given them wisdom, but not understanding. It is also the case that often the response to that question is – “Because I said so.” Again, we have delivered wisdom, but at the same time we have refused to give understanding. It is recognized that the present circumstance is not always convenient or appropriate for a long diatribe on the reason for the necessity of the action; but how often does the rationale never come? Oftentimes we can be found training our children with wisdom, but at the same time completely neglecting their understanding.
The same holds true in the spiritual arena as well. There are many Christian parents who bring their children to services regularly, teach them the correct actions and beliefs (The plan of salvation, the commands of worship, the foundations of faith, etc.), but they don’t ever answer that question of why those things should be so. Once again, there is wisdom delivered, but it is void of understanding. Therefore, the child grows up and leaves home knowing what Mom and Dad say are the right things to believe and practice, but having no comprehension of why they are right. Then we set back and wonder why we lose so many of our young people. It is because, in practice, we have been raising them as children with an inherited faith. They have all the wisdom of the parents, but none of their understanding, and hence, no true faith of their own.
Solomon is trying to give us the formula to alleviate those issues, but we have to recognize the importance of it. It is far easier to say, “Because I said so,” but it is not nearly as beneficial. As God has seen fit to deliver to us the reasons for his commandments and the explanations of what they should mean to us and why, so we must be willing to do the same for our children. We need to think before answering with a simple, “Because I said so,” and instead begin teaching our children with useful understanding why such decisions and actions are important; and if we don’t know the answers ourselves, it’s time we were better educated.
Solomon wrote, “Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Pro. 4:5-7). May that thought be always before us as we seek to raise faithful servants to God.