Sunday, January 22, 2017

Church Sermon about wisdom

I went to church today, and I went to church last week as well. But I went to a different church that I usually go to from the one I went today as I had to pass something to a friend there. The church which I had went to last week was a Bible-Presbyterian (BP) church. I have been to that church a few times now, and my impression of it is that there is quite some difference in the stuff that they bring up there from the church that I usually go to. For example, in a previous service which I had gone to in the BP church, the Pastor gave a sermon about how the congregants there should bring the church to the world at large. He had a catchy jingo to capture the essence of his sermon. “Bring them in, see the change, send them out.” The church was a place for people to be reformed, and then to bring that change to the world outside the church. I don’t hear as much about bringing change from within my church to the outside world as much in the usual Lutheran church which I have been attending since young. It would seem to me that my church is more focused on the redemption part of the gospel than encouraging people to bring their reformed self beyond the church so that they can change the world positively in their likeness as well. There is a good I suppose to not being too assertive about the need for congregants to go out and make disciples of all nations and messages of such nature. Sometimes, what a church goer needs to hear is how the church or God is administering to his or her need, and not about how he or she should fulfill his or her obligation to God to minister to the world or society or large. Given my own stage in life right now where I find myself struggling with my religious faith and belief in God, I find myself being more drawn towards my own church than towards the BP church where the emphasis seems to be about how we as Christians can bring positive change to the world.

I shall write about what went on in service at the BP church last week, and then on what went on in my church today. At the BP church last week, the preacher there was giving a sermon on the passage of Daniel 2 where the biblical character Daniel had to give an interpretation to the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar. The message of the sermon was about how Daniel, in contrast to the other wise men in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court, recognize that his wisdom came from God, while those other wise men relied upon their own wisdom. The preacher made the point that true wisdom is not about knowledge or intelligence, but about a relationship with Jesus Christ. I have a question about the point made by the Pastor though. “Is that really what wisdom means in the bible?” I mean, a relationship with Christ is nice and good and all, but is that what the bible means by having wisdom? From my own reading of the bible, it seems that wisdom has a certain quality and merit of its own altogether apart from simply a relationship with God. Like there are certain characters who are called wise, and this wisdom seems to entail something along the lines of them having certainly qualities of mind or capabilities apart from their moral rectitude or devotion to God. Why, even a character like Ahitophel who went against King David by siding with Absalom in his uprising was esteemed for his great wisdom. On the other hand, there may have been other exemplary biblical characters like Moses or David, but they were not as much esteemed for wisdom. In terms of relationship with God, David is called “A Man after God’s own heart”, but this is not the case for wisest man who ever lived, Solomon who is described in 1 King 11 as having turned away from God. I would prefer to keep the term wisdom and the notion of relationship with God as separate categories.

The thing is, is that I don’t think that it is God’s will to grant high amount of wisdom to everyone. Sometimes, I feel that Christians make the mistake of thinking that wisdom or intelligence is a sign of a person’s close relationship with God, or vice versa, that a close relationship with God would grant one wisdom or intelligence. I myself am probably guilty of such thinking. Fact of the matter is, there are Christians who are smart, and there are Christians who are not so smart; And there are non-believers who are smart, and non-believers who are not so smart as well. Whether a person is smart or wise does not necessarily mean that he or she have a greater standing with God than someone who is less smart or wise. Someone might have a more prominent standing in church ministry, but he or she is still very much human nonetheless, and liable to err.

For service at my usual Lutheran church today, the sermon passage was on Matthew 4:12-23, where Jesus first began his public ministry. The Pastor’s message was about how Jesus ministered to a darkened world, and how we continue to live in a darkened world where many people in Singapore society are still non-believers and idol worshippers. The Pastor shares about how, for exercise, he would run up the stairs of a flat, across the corridor to the stairs on the opposite end, and repeat that until he gets to the top. As he goes about his exercise, he would observe the outside of the apartments he passes by, and notice that many households in Singapore display various paraphernalia indicating their adherence to various folk religions. According to the Pastor, these are still signs that we are trapped in the darkness of an unbelieving world.

What do I think of this characterization of unbelief as that of a dark world? Well, it’s pretty much conventional Christian paradigm of framing things. It’s kind of like a lingo actually which may or may not have as much negative connotation as one would intuitively associate with such a term "darkness". For myself, I am not so keen on characterizing mere unbelief as darkness. It is kind of hyperbolic in my opinion. But I do recognize that there are quite some disturbing or concerning social phenomena that take place in society or in the world, part of which may stem from lack of religious belief, whether Christian or others, and of which Christianity and other religions can serve as a guiding light.


James Pate said...

Thanks for this post, Sam.

I think that the Bible does believe in a religious aspect to wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, according to Proverbs. Paul calls Jesus the wisdom of God.

That said, you may be on to something when you argue that wisdom is not necessarily religious. If I'm not mistaken, there are scholars who think that the Book of Proverbs has two layers: a secular wisdom about how to get through life (if "secular" is the right word), and a pious sort of wisdom.

When the biblical authors talk about a religious aspect of wisdom, though, they may still be defining wisdom as intelligence. God made the world in an intelligent, orderly manner that benefits people (at least if you look at parts of the picture). Or following God is the intelligent way to go, since God is the status quo.

Yet, there are times when the Bible seems to suggest that God's wisdom goes beyond our wisdom----God used the wisdom of the cross, which is deemed foolishness by human beings, or God's ways are higher than our ways. In that case, is wisdom mere intelligence? I don't know. I mean, there are reasons that God acts as God acts----points God wants to get across for God's glory and our righteousness. In that case, wisdom may be intelligent.

I'm somewhat rambling here. Thanks again for the post!

Samuel Tee said...

Thanks for your insightful comments James!

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