Though it strains against our selfish fiber, the key to biblical wisdom truly is teachability. If we would get a heart of wisdom, then we should pursue humble receptivity to God’s Word and biblical counsel. Wisdom’s house can’t be built without the stable steel of a teachable spirit. May God grow in us a longing to be taught by his wisdom today.
If you’ve read the Bible’s ancient library of sage counsel – the book of Proverbs – then you know where wisdom begins: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7). So, there it is. Fear God and you can be wise. Simple, right?
Well, if being wise were as simple as just fearing God, then why does wisdom still seem so elusive for so many of us?
You might think, “I fear God, I love Christ, and I want to be wise, but I still struggle to know how to make good decisions.” Perhaps you find yourself drawn back into some besetting sin over and over again, and you wish you knew a wise, biblical path to break that horrible cycle. Maybe your friends are asking you for godly counsel, but you feel ill-equipped to respond with anything more than anecdotal tips. Isn’t wisdom part of the fearing God package deal? Why can’t I seem to find the wisdom I so desperately need?
As we’ve taught through the book of Proverbs in our young adult ministry recently, I’ve been struck by the consistency of Solomon’s answer to this common predicament. The key to wisdom isn’t age – Proverbs is addressed to Solomon’s son, probably in his teens or twenties. The secret isn’t experience either – as Bruce Waltke has noted, “The world’s wisdom is live and learn. God’s wisdom is learn and live.” And while Solomon does repeat that the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7, 9:10, 19:23), that reverent awe isn’t an automatic connection to wisdom. Solomon tells us that there’s one more needful ingredient for wisdom to work in our lives, and it’s probably not what we want to hear.
In a word, the unteachable key to biblical wisdom is teachability.
Proverbs Teaches Teachability
Think about gaining wisdom like building a house. The fear of Yahweh is the concrete foundation and teachability is the metal rebar firmly planted in the foundation that attaches to the frame of biblical wisdom. Without the foundation, everything would fall apart, and you could never begin building. But you also need for the foundation to connect to the frame, or else the frame would just slide off or blow away. That connection is teachability – the bond that seals the fear of God and God’s revealed wisdom.
Now, you won’t find the word “teachability” in any translation of Proverbs, as far as I know, so I need to defend that word for a second. Why use that word? Well, because teachability implies at least two things: First, it implies a humble acknowledgment that one needs to be taught. Second, it implies a willingness, even an eagerness to be taught. And Solomon tells us in Proverbs that those two elements are essential to gain wisdom.
One of the most common synonyms for “wisdom” in the book of Proverbs is the word translated “instruction” or “discipline” – Solomon uses it 29 times. “To know wisdom and instruction,” “to receive instruction in wise dealing” “the reproofs of discipline are a way of life.” According to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, it’s a word that describes “correction which results in education” (TWOT, 386). Think chastening, admonishing, reproving. Gaining biblical wisdom requires being told that we are wrong about something and then shown the right way. That is, to become wise we must first be teachable.
Solomon also speaks explicitly about the need for humble receptivity in Proverbs.
- Proverbs 12:1 “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.”
- Proverbs 9:9 “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.”
- Proverbs 11:2 “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.”
Consider Solomon’s instructions to parents, to children, to sluggards, to kings – to every category, Solomon says essentially the same thing: Know that you need wisdom. Receive this teaching. Don’t reject it. Don’t assume you’re above it. If you would be wise, listen and learn.
Solomon goes further still and structures his introduction to Proverbs (chapters 1-9) with a repeated refrain to be teachable.