According to Buddhist folklore. Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed. As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!” “Brother,” the second monk replied, “I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her.”
As I’ve thought about this story, I’ve been reminded of how important it is to acknowledge that,
While the Bible is the measure of all moral and spiritual truth, all moral and spiritual truth is not confined to the Bible.
To avoid losing perspective on moral and spiritual insight found outside of Scripture, I’ve found it helpful to compare the similarities and differences between secular, religious, biblical, and redemptive wisdom.
Secular wisdom includes helpful insights that can be observed without regard for God or the supernatural. Examples of the countless principles of secular wisdom include:
● What we have as the center of our attention has us.
● You can learn more from your critics than your admirers.
● Don’t make a decision in a mood.
● Live for what you will not later regret.
● Trouble is easier to get into than out of.
● Worry robs tomorrow of its problems and today of its strength.
● The measure of a man is not how much he has done, but how much he has loved.
● Wise are those who give others the same generosity they offer themselves, and who give themselves the same criticism they are inclined to give others.
Religious wisdom encompasses secular wisdom, but recognizes God and the supernatural. Some examples are:
● God is the measure of all things.
● What God thinks of us is more important than what we think of ourselves.
● Give yourself to God so that He can give Himself to you.
● Nothing is more relevant than the eternal.
● The most important thought I ever had was my individual accountability to God.
● The most important thing about a person is what he or she believes about God.
● God can enable us to handle everything He sends into our life.
Biblical wisdom selectively encompasses secular and religious wisdom, while in the process providing something like an international standard of weights and measures. The combined Old and New Covenants provide an authoritative yardstick for evaluating wisdom found inside or outside of the Scriptures. The authors of the Bible urge us to reflect on the wisdom of the Scriptures until God’s Word becomes the window through which we see everything else.
By selectively collecting secular and religious insights into a canon of inspired authority the Bible gives reason to accept all principles that are consistent with truths like:
● A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.
● As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.
● Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?
In biblical terms this fourth category is the wisdom of the cross. Although foolish by human standards, this kind of insight is what it takes to establish lasting relationships, and to be reconciled to our Creator.
Conventional human wisdom says we must live and grow on the merits of our own thoughts and choices. The wisdom of the cross says that we must live and be enlightened on the merits of One who lived in our place, who died as our stand-in, and who rose from the dead to overcome in our behalf the fatal consequences of our own choices. By redemptive wisdom we learn that we are saved by God’s mercy, not by our merit; by Christ’s dying, not by our doing; by trusting, not by trying.
If we don’t see the difference between redemptive wisdom and other kinds of biblical insight, we might be apt to settle for our knowledge that the greatest of the commandments are to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The problem is that, as those two commandments enlighten and inspire us, they also condemn us. As moral laws they remind us that we have not loved God with all of our hearts, nor have we loved our neighbor as ourselves.
Redemptive wisdom is knowing how to escape the reality of our failure to love. And that is where we need the wisdom of the cross (1 Corinthians 1:20-25). It is our failure to love that helps us understand what Paul meant when he said that Christ Jesus “became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, ‘He who glories, let him glory in the Lord’” (1 Corinthians 1:30-31).
Note: I pulled this out of the file and re-posted it as a part of our present conversation. I originally wrote it out of a concern for young people who discover in college, or even just on the street, that even though the church was entrusted with the truth of Christ, and even though the Bible is the measure of God’s wisdom, the Bible and Church are not the only sources of wisdom. Sometimes as Jesus and the Bible remind us over and over, God’s people show far less heart and wisdom than those who have not yet bowed the knee– and opened the heart– to our only source of forgiveness and immortality.