Since 2004, Dove has been promoting their products with the Real Beauty campaign. Several years ago, they released a video titled “Real Beauty Sketches,” and it quickly went viral. In this video, they had a number of women describe themselves to a hidden forensic sketch artist. He listened to them and created a drawing based on their description of their physical characteristics. Then the subject left the room, and a second person entered who had met the woman only the day before. This person was also asked to describe her while the artist created a second sketch. Not surprisingly, this second drawing was not only a more accurate depiction of the subject but also a far more attractive one. Each of the women was deeply moved to learn that others had assessed her more accurately and more favorably than she had assessed herself. It was a clever video that made its point well.
But I can’t help but wonder if in the end it actually made much of a difference in the lives of these women. After all, it is one thing to gain another person’s assessment of ourselves but a very different thing to believe it. In fact, one of the hardest things to do is believe what other people say about us, especially when it contradicts our self-assessment. Sometimes, we have too low a view of ourselves, as was the case in the Dove commercial. But because of our indwelling sin, we also can have too high a view of ourselves. We are sometimes too close to ourselves to see clearly, too proud to see ourselves as we really are.
In this entry in the series “Advance!” you will hear an important assessment of yourself and your character. It will not be easy to believe because the results will not be pretty. You will be tempted to doubt them, to deny them, or to excuse them away. But as others often have a better view of ourselves than we do, the Bible gives us the most accurate view of ourselves, allowing us to advance our character from a sober understanding of our position.
Advance in Wisdom
I am one of those people who just wants to be told it like it is. Don’t dress it up, don’t beat around the bush, and don’t be too concerned with offending me. Whatever you do, don’t try to be cute by sandwiching a heavy rebuke between two trite encouragements. Please, just tell me the truth, and I’ll do my best to deal with it.
Maybe that’s part of what first drew me to the Bible. The Bible is blunt. It never shies away from tough or uncomfortable truths. Instead, it just lays them on us and asks, “So, what do you plan to do about it?” The Bible’s blunt truth you need to grapple with right now is this: You are foolish. At least, you are not as wise as you were created to be, as you ought to be, and as you someday will be. This lack of wisdom is partly the product of your natural humanity and partly the product of your unnatural depravity. In both cases, you are responsible before God to acknowledge it and address it.
Do you need proof of your lack of wisdom? Just read the book of Proverbs. Solomon wrote this book for young people with the premise that they are foolish and in desperate need of wisdom. He begins with his statement of purpose: “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth” (1:2-4). Implicit in the necessity of obtaining wisdom, insight, and instruction is the acknowledgment that you don’t already have it. To succeed in life, you will need prudence, knowledge, and discretion that you do not yet have. These attributes come with age and effort.
In Proverbs we see concerned parents pleading with their children to become wise: “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck” (1:8-9). We see Wisdom personified and crying out to people just like you: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you” (1:22-23). We read of the tremendous blessings available to the wise: “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (3:13-15). We read of the ugly woes promised to those who forsake wisdom: “Toward the scorners [God] is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor. The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace” (3:34-35). From the first to the last chapter of Proverbs, Solomon pleads with young people to turn away from the path of foolishness and to walk on the path of wisdom. The book of Proverbs is one solid proof that you are foolish and need wisdom.
A second proof comes when Luke summarizes Jesus’ life between childhood and the start of his public ministry at around age 30. He tells us that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). Even Jesus, who was God, had to advance in wisdom because he was a man. In his divine nature, Jesus had complete knowledge and complete wisdom; in his human nature he had no more knowledge and no more wisdom than any other child. If the young Jesus needed to advance in wisdom, surely you do, too.
How did Jesus advance in such wisdom? First, he submitted to his parents in obedience and honor, since he, like any other child, was deeply dependent upon their wisdom to navigate his early life. They were his first and most important teachers as they undoubtedly heeded God’s command to parents: “You shall teach [God’s words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Second, from the one glimpse we get of the boy Jesus, we also see how he learned from religious authorities. On that occasion, he was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). He sought out teachers, he put himself under their authority, he asked questions to clarify what he did not understand, and he used his growing wisdom to express what he knew.
Jesus advanced in wisdom. As his followers, we are called to advance in wisdom as he did, to move out of the immaturity of childhood into the maturity that wisdom brings. But as sinners, our advancement in wisdom will be marred by foolishness and sin—downfalls that Jesus never experienced as the sinless Son of God.
Growing Wise Like Jesus
As an infant, Jesus knew only what infants know, which is not very much. He had to learn the most basic skills—standing, talking, controlling his bodily functions. As a child, Jesus behaved like any other child—he explored his environment, he learned social skills, he discovered facts about God, he grew in his understanding of the world. At some point, he even came to grasp his own identity as the long-awaited Messiah and to consciously embrace the mission God had assigned to him. Like all of us, he went through a long process of maturation in which he advanced in wisdom. Perhaps we can define that wisdom in three categories: knowledge, reason, and emotion.
As Jesus matured, he accumulated knowledge. By formal teaching, informal observation, and diligent memorization, he learned about himself, his family, his people, his nation, and his world. Added to these was knowledge about God and the Scriptures, about language, math, geography, and every other discipline. Then there was all that his father taught him about carpentry, the profession that would occupy him for most of his life. He began infancy with a mind that was an empty slate and, like all of us, gave his younger years to gaining knowledge.
As Jesus matured, he also learned to reason. He learned the difference between a compelling line of argumentation and a trite one. He learned to ask leading questions that would draw people out and to answer questions in a way that would stimulate further conversation. He learned to teach effectively through extended sermons and simple parables. The Jesus who later wowed great crowds and confounded furious Pharisees is the Jesus whose mind was formed and trained in childhood and young adulthood. It was in these years that he learned the reasoning skills that would forever mark him as history’s greatest teacher.
Finally, as Jesus matured, he learned to govern his emotions and to put them to the best use. Like any other little boy, he once would have laughed at things that weren’t actually funny and cried at things that were hardly reasons for great grief. Like all teenagers, he would have been prone to sudden changes in mood. But he learned to control his emotions and to use them well. This Jesus would later put his emotions to effective use in angrily driving money changers out of the temple, compassionately weeping over Jerusalem, and hilariously poking fun at the kind of people who fret over a speck in another person’s eye while ignoring the giant log protruding from their own.
In these silent years, Jesus advanced in wisdom. He learned how to best apply what he learned to life. He accumulated knowledge and the understanding of how to effectively teach that knowledge to others. He mastered his emotions so he could rejoice with those who rejoice and grieve with those who grieve. Because his mind was unhindered by sin, it rose to the highest heights possible for a human mind. In these years, he prepared himself for who he would become and for what he would accomplish.
In that way, Jesus provides an example of how you can put your teens and 20s to good use. Of primary importance is learning wisdom from parents and pastors. God calls you to submit to the leadership of your parents when you are young, to obey them in all they ask of you. But whether you are young or old, you should equally honor their wisdom by speaking to them and deliberately learning from the wisdom they have accumulated over many years. At the same time, learn wisdom from your pastors. Commit to your local church as the place you will serve, worship, and learn. Place yourself under the authority of the leadership there and learn God’s wisdom as they teach it in their words and display it in their lives.
Growing Wise As Sinners
By virtue of his natural humanity, Jesus lacked wisdom and had much to learn, just like you. Yet Jesus was morally perfect, unlike you. Because he was the Son of God, he was unstained by sin and unmarred by moral foolishness. Jesus was born holy, but you need to become holy. You are not only battling immaturity in your advancement in wisdom but also foolishness.
When the Bible describes human beings as “fools,” it sometimes refers to a simple lack of knowledge. Other times, though, it refers to something far more insidious—the natural atheism that inhabits the hearts of all who are born sinful. This is the kind of person David refers to in Psalm 14:1: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Foolish people rebel against God and declare independence from God. Of all the human beings who have ever lived, only Jesus has ever been entirely free of this kind of foolishness. Only he was completely unstained by sin from conception to death.
What was true of David is true of you: “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). You were sinful from the moment of your conception, rebellious from before you drew your first breath. You were a fool in that deepest, darkest sense.
Yet you have put your faith in Jesus Christ and been indwelt by the Holy Spirit. You have been saved by his grace and forgiven for every sin. You’re a Christian and long to live like one. The great challenge that will consume the rest of your life is to become who you are in Christ—to put to death all the sin that remains within and to come alive to the righteousness given to you by Christ. You will battle to your dying day to stop behaving foolishly in rebellion to God to instead live wisely in submission to God.
Many young people waste their teens and 20s by committing these precious years to sin and foolish indulgence. Young Christian, you can put these years to the best use by making great strides in holiness. You can commit your teens to destroying foolishness and growing in wisdom. You can commit your 20s to living wisely instead of foolishly. You can commit them all to living in holy ways instead of depraved ways. As you do that, you will lay a foundation of wise thinking and wise living that serve you well for the rest of your life.
“The beginning of wisdom is this,” says Solomon. “Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight” (Proverbs 4:7). Jesus knew and heeded these words. He acknowledged his lack of wisdom, and he joyfully submitted to those called to teach and train him. As he prepared to live out his God-given purpose, he prepared his mind by training it to be wise. Just as he committed his teens and his 20s to this noble pursuit, so you ought to devote yourself to advancing in wisdom.