One should read Wisdom Literature to learn how to discern which are “better” or “best” options in a particular situation, not necessarily what is the only “right” or “wrong” course of action. Scripture indeed provides many absolute rules regarding what is right or wrong, or what is commanded or forbidden. Yet many decisions in life involve more than just the consideration of what is right or wrong.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10; see also Job 28:28; Ps. 111:10; Prov. 1:7). While there have been many insightful non-Christian teachers over the ages, all true wisdom ultimately comes “from above”—that is, from the triune God (Eph. 1:17; Col. 2:3; James 3:15, 17). Wisdom can only find its truest fulfillment in those who revere and worship the one true God.
Yet more needs to be said, because not all Christian believers display wisdom in their lives. In fact, Christian believers often act foolishly and irresponsibly, bringing shame on themselves and on the name of God (e.g., Ezek. 36:20; Rom. 2:24; 1 Cor. 6:5; 1 Cor. 15:34). Scripture says that wisdom will be given to those who ask for it (James 1:5). In particular, the Holy Spirit has inspired diverse books of wisdom such as Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes precisely for this purpose. How should a Christian read the Wisdom Literature profitably?
1. Acknowledge how easy it is to become wise in our own eyes.
First, one should read Wisdom Literature with the acknowledgment of how easy it is for sinners to become “wise in their own eyes.” The book of Proverbs often speaks of this serious problem (Prov. 3:7; 12:15; 26:5; 28:11; also Isa. 5:21). Indeed, a person “wise in his own eyes” is worse off than a biblical “fool” (Prov. 26:12). Signs of this spiritual malady include refusing to listen to the counsel of godly advisors (Prov. 26:16)—particularly one’s parents (Prov. 1:8; 4:1; 23:22; 30:17)—and an insistence on winning every argument (Eccl. 7:15–16). One should beware of a knee-jerk “doubling down” on one’s point of view when challenged by spiritually mature believers. Rather, Christians should always display a teachable spirit.
2. Look for general patterns.
Second, one should read Wisdom Literature to learn general patterns for how the world typically works, and they should act accordingly.