Fools to the World: Three Countercultural Marks of a Wise Person

Sometime in my early teen years I fell in love with the book of Proverbs. Dozens of bright sticky notes scrawled with Scripture embellished the wooden slats above the bottom bunk I slept in, many of them from this beloved book. A number of years later I became enamored with the book of James. I went through two studies, read it countless times, and found myself clinging to its truths on a daily basis. 

As I’ve pondered my love for these two books, I’ve discovered a common theme that I believe has drawn me back to them again and again: wisdom. Since the Lord got a hold of my life, I’ve longed for His wisdom. I have a burden to be filled with it as I draw near to Him, saturate myself in His Word, and seek to live in faithful obedience. However, I’m reminded daily just how much godly wisdom I lack. My flesh tries to convince me it’s more satisfying to act like Scripture describes a fool. I can’t muster what I need by sheer willpower, but I know this grace is available because I see it lived out by godly men and women who model beautiful, biblical wisdom. And it’s a gift God promises to give to those who ask. 

James 1:5 says, “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him.”This kind of godly wisdom is often despised by the world. In fact, we see elsewhere that worldly wisdom is marked by exactly the opposite of wisdom from the Lord, which helps us to understand why His ways are so offensive to those whose hearts haven’t been changed (James 3:14–15). But God says wisdom that comes from Him is to be pursued and prized. That should be more than enough motivation for us as believers to seek after it with all our hearts even though it will often put us at odds with the culture around us. 

So what are a few of these traits that mark the life of someone who is filled with the wisdom of God?

A Wise Person Is Humble

Proverbs 29:23 says, “A person’s pride will humble him, but a humble spirit will gain honor.”

The interesting truth reflected in this proverb is that humility comes one way or another. We can either humble ourselves or be humbled by some other means. If we take a sweeping glance at the examples found in Scripture, it’s pretty easy to conclude that it’s far better to choose humility on the front end. 

Sadly, we live in a society that upholds pride as a virtue in countless ways, shapes, and forms. This just adds to the difficulty we already face due to our sinful tendencies. It’s not easy to fight against self-promotion, to serve rather than be served, to forgo recognition in exchange for behind-the-scenes faithfulness, or to seek forgiveness while another person’s sin goes unrecognized. But this is where the eyes of faith come in. When we look to Jesus as our example, the humility we’re called to live out pales in comparison to what He did on our behalf. Godhumbled Himself to die in our place in the most shameful of ways—crucifixion. He took the form of a servant and laid down His rights as King (Philippians 2:5–8). His Spirit now lives inside of us, enabling us to overcome our fleshly pride and embrace humility. As James 4:6 says, 

But he gives greater grace. Therefore he says:

         God resists the proud
         but gives grace to the humble.

A Wise Person Is Careful with Words 

There’s no shortage of comment in Scripture regarding how our mouths provide a window into our inner person. The way we use our words is a significant indicator of whether we’re filled with God’s wisdom or filled with folly. Consider these examples:

The tongue of the wise makes knowledge attractive,
but the mouth of fools blurts out foolishness. (Proverbs 15:2)

The heart of a wise person instructs his mouth;
it adds learning to his speech. (Proverbs 16:23)

All we have to do is quickly peruse social media to see that we live in a time when being wise with our words isn’t largely encouraged or valued. But the use of words is such a significant indicator of inner character that, 

Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent —
discerning, when he seals his lips. (Proverbs 17:28)

Finally, one of my favorite verses that directly connects wisdom with our words: 

A word spoken at the right time
is like gold apples in silver settings. (Proverbs 25:11)

True wisdom is displayed in speaking the right way at the right time for the right reasons. This requires wisdom and discernment that God alone can give. It requires self-control and submission to His Spirit. We’ll all fall short of this standard as we mature in our Christian walk, but even in our failings we can display God’s work of wisdom in us as we use our mouths to confess and repent. 

A Wise Person Listens to Godly Counsel

It’s no secret that our culture, by-and-large, has rejected the wisdom of godly people—especially older voices. They’re often considered backward and silly. Instead we’re told to follow our instincts (or hearts) and that we have everything we need inside ourselves to live rightly. However, this is the kind of mindset that believers should reject. God has designed us to learn from righteous people who’ve gone before us. Listening to their experiences and insight equips us to walk our own life’s path with greater care. When we neglect to listen to mature, godly voices (whether out of pride or for any other reason), we forsake a priceless gift God desires to give us. Scripture agrees: 

One who listens to life-giving rebukes
will be at home among the wise. (Proverbs 15:31)

A fool’s way is right in his own eyes, 
but whoever listens to counsel is wise. (Proverbs 12:15)

Without guidance, a people will fall,
But with many counselors there is deliverance. (Proverbs 11:14)

Sometimes wisdom will come from those physically older, whether a parent or teacher or some other godly mentor (Prov. 1:8; 5:13). But sometimes it will come from a peer who is submitted to the Lord, bearing the fruit of a righteous life. Regardless of who it comes from, we have to watch for the knee-jerk, fleshly response to bristle at the wisdom offered. When our hearts are postured toward the Lord, we’ll be ready to reject our pride and receive wise counsel—even correction—no matter who it comes from. It’s a beautiful thing for children of God to humbly accept and even invite counsel from one another for the sake of becoming more like Him. 

James 3:13 says “Who among you is wise and understanding? By his good conduct he should show that his works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom.” Our actions, attitudes, and words will demonstrate whether we bear the marks of God’s wisdom. We ought to live in such a way that goes against the grain of culture because we’re empowered by His grace to live for His glory. Is it difficult at times? Yes. But it’s worth it. The blessing and joy it brings far outweigh any struggle. 

We can’t begin to grasp how God might want to use us as vessels to display just how perfect His ways are even when we might face some funny looks—or worse—this side of heaven. But we can find confidence in the reality that “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:25). One day that reality will be recognized by everyone who’s ever walked this earth. Let’s choose to embrace the way of wisdom today. 

If you were encouraged (or convicted!) by this article, you might also be interested in “The Power, Wisdom, and Reward of a Gentle Word,” a Revive Our Hearts podcast series featuring teaching on Proverbs 15 by Dannah Gresh. Over three episodes she’ll show you that your words can affect how others view Jesus, for better or for worse, and she’ll help you cultivate the skill of a gentle word. Listen now!

About the Author

Heather Cofer

Heather Cofer

Heather Cofer is a wife and mother of six living in northern Colorado with a passion for encouraging women to love Jesus. She is the author of Expectant: Cultivating a Vision for Christ-Centered Pregnancy, and has also written for Set … read more …

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