I’m reading through Proverbs this month and after reading chapter 2 today I found myself a little bit confused by these four words: knowledge, understanding, discretion, and wisdom. A lot of the time, at least in our modern English, we tend to use them interchangeably. And, granted, they are synonyms, but a quick dictionary search and some further Bible reading really gave these words and what they imply a new depth and I wanted to share it with you. I’ll start with these four definitions from Webster’s Dictionary:
Knowledge: acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition
Understanding: mental processes of a person who comprehends; comprehension; personal interpretation
Discretion: (1) the power or right to decide or act according to ones own judgement; freedom of judgement or choice
(2) the quality of being discreet, especially with reference to ones own actions or speech, prudence or decorum
Wisdom: the knowledge or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgement as to action’ sagacity, discernment, or insight
I noticed throughout the verses that God had some really specific things to say about each of these four words and how He wants us to practice them in our lives. The words are used in varying orders throughout chapter 2 of Proverbs and I found myself wondering how they were related and what their relations meant to me as a Christ-follower. I put them in the order I did because I think that you have to have the previous one(s) in order to possess the latter.
Beginning with knowledge, we are told a few things in Proverbs 2, namely, that knowledge comes from the mouth of God. Now, I know there are people alive today who literally hear the audible voice of God. I wish I could say that I’d had that experience, but I haven’t, as I’m sure many of you can relate. Since we aren’t all privy to that audible voice, there must be another way to receive knowledge from the mouth of God, and there is – the BIBLE!!! Of course it’s a “duh” moment, but if we believe that the Bible is the inspired perfect word of God breathed by the Holy Spirit, it needs to be the first place we go when we need knowledge. I have a tendency to seek out blogs, or the advice of favorite pastors, authors, or friends when I need knowledge about what to do in a given situation, but the Word of God should always be the first place we go when we need knowledge. Especially as a parent, there are so many times that I find myself scrambling for bits of advice about what to do or what to say when my kids leave me feeling stumped by their behavior. Instead of running to an online source or calling a friend to vent my frustrations, I need to go back to the source of all knowledge – God’s Word. I think that knowledge has to come first in the list of those four words, because we can’t have understanding, discretion, or wisdom about anything without first having knowledge of what it is that God has in store for us.
The second word that stood out in Proverbs 2 was “understanding.” Once we have knowledge of something, especially as it pertains to something that God is calling us to do or who God has created us to be, we have the responsibility to seek a deeper understanding of that truth. Proverbs 2:3-4 says that we have to”cry aloud for understanding, and look for it as for silver and hidden treasure.” I really had to ponder these words, because in 2015 in America, we are definitely encouraged to “cry aloud” for riches more than for wisdom. We live in a culture that glorify’s money, prosperity, and wealth. Unfortunately, it’s not just the secular world that lauds riches, the American church has increasingly become more and more guilty of seeking wealth and prosperity instead of the wisdom from above. You don’t have to look very far or very hard in the United States today to find a church (and remember, WE are the church, not the building in which we meet) that has cried louder for wealth and success than for the wisdom that comes from God. When I survey my own generation and the attitudes I see in my peers, I cannot help but notice a greater desire for the material things of this world than for the imperishable wisdom from God. If we want understand that comes from God, we have to set aside the desires of this world and “turn our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Heb. 12:12) Proverbs 2 tells us that understanding, like knowledge, proceeds from the “mouth of God.” Understanding comes from the same place that knowledge comes from – the Bible. Verse 11 of chapter 2 also says that understanding will “guard you.” This sense of guarding is especially necessary as we proceed to the next step – discretion.
Discretion is defined in two ways, and I want to touch on both of them, because they’re both relevant to the topic at hand. Firstly, discretion is defined as “the power or right to decide or act according to ones own judgement; freedom of judgement or choice. And, secondly, it is “the quality of being discreet, especially with reference to ones own actions or speech; prudence or decorum.” Proverbs 2:11 says that discretion will “protect you.” I really felt like there had to be more to this whole “protect” idea, so I looked up the Hebrew word for protect and it was “shamar” (shaw-mar). In the original Hebrew that the book of Proverbs was written in, this word means “to hedge about.” A light bulb went off in my head when I read the word “hedge.” One of the definitions for hedge says that a hedge is “a barrier or boundary designed to prevent a complete loss.” This definition paints a really neat image of what purpose discretion can serve in our lives.
Discretion is such a practical thing to possess, and seeing it as a protective hedge around our lives really helped me understand the importance of practicing discretion. I tend to be the kind of person who is quick to speak, quick to form an opinion on something, and quick to get my point across. I often speak without giving enough thought to what I am going to say or how what I say is going to be interpreted. Over the course of the last 3 or 4 months, I have had it pointed out to be by a few honest and faithful friends that it would be profitable for me to give more thought to the words I say and the way that I present myself both in online and “real life” situations. It’s can be pretty hard to get criticism from friends, but when four different people in three different states randomly tell you they’re noticing the same issue in your live, it’s a good idea to take heed to their words and ask the Lord if He’s trying to tell you something. As I have prayed about it and asked God to show me how I can be more aware of the words that I use and the way that I use them, I have realized that He is showing me an area of my life that needs to be refined before we move to Hawaii. Hawaii has a very strong and established Asian culture. Amongst the many beautiful facets of this culture is a high value on respect, kindness, and a soft-spoken tongue. Since I have never been described as any of those things, I have a strong feeling that God is trying to show me an area of my life that needs to change if I want to be a teachable and usable reflection of His love in the new place we are going to be living. I am always so thankful when God loves me enough to prepare me in advance for the jobs that He has destined for me to do. The word “discretion” might just be the word I have been searching for as I ask God to prepare me for this next season.
Finally, the forth word that God put it on my heart to write about was the word “wisdom.” If there were one word that is most often used to describe the book of Proverbs as a whole, it’d be this one. Wisdom is defined as, “the knowledge or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgement as to action.” Did you catch the last part of that definition? The part that says that wisdom has to be “coupled with just judgement as to action.” I love that part! That’s what wisdom is all about – ACTION! If our knowledge, understanding, and discernment doesn’t spur us on to action, we’re missing the whole point! James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
Proverbs 2 tells three special things about wisdom: (1) that it comes from God…v.6 (2) that it enters through the heart…v.10 and (3) that it will save your from the ways of wicked men (and women)…v.12 & 16. The Bible talks about a kind of wisdom that the world offers and says that it is foolishness. The wisdom from God, however, is pure, peaceful, considerate, submissive, merciful, fruitful, good, and sincere. Do those 8 words describe the way that you and I act toward others? Wisdom that spurs us to action must be rooted in love and display the character of God. When we ask God for wisdom in how to address the many different situations we encounter in our lives, and when we allow that wisdom to enter our hearts and affect the ways that we walk in our day-to-day lives we get to enjoy the promise that God gives us in Proverbs 2:20-21, “Thus you will walk in the ways of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous. For the the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it.”