Wisdom for Life in a Broken World
In my last blog post, Ancient Philosophy and Modern Psychology Cover the Same Terrain, I wrote about Paul’s warning against co-mingling the world’s wisdom and the wisdom of Christ.
That said, my ministry has never focused on what I’m against, or anti-this or anti-that. Neither is Paul’s ministry. Yes, he’s not shy about expressing pastoral concern when his flock is tempted to learn how to live life from anyone but the Creator and Sustainer of life—the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
However, most of his focus in Colossians is decidedly positive. Colossians 1 is all about the supremacy of Christ and the sufficiency of Christ’s gospel of grace for relational living now and forever. Colossians 2 is all about Christ’s all-sufficient wisdom to live the good life (life abundant and eternal) out of a good heart (a renewed heart) for the good of society (a life of love for God and others) for the glory of God.
Paul writes Colossians 2 to help the Colossians to ponder, “Who is the wisest person who ever lived?” Not just the most brilliant person who ever lived (though that would also be Christ) who might give the Colossians information. But the wisest person who ever lived who offers the Colossians transformation. And Paul doesn’t just want the Colossians to know about the wisest person who ever lived; he wants them to know Him. He wants them, and us, to have the full riches of complete understanding that we might know Christ—in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3).
Paul’s excited. He says, “Let me tell you about the truly purpose-driven church. It’s a community of believers on a search-and-discover mission, a treasure hunt, to find and uncover the greatest treasure ever—Christ who embodies wisdom, who is wisdom for life.” It’s not so much that Paul is “anti-psychology.” It’s that Paul is “pro-Christ”!
Jesus Knows People
Paul’s fascination with Christ reminds me of the Apostle John’s captivation with Christ. At the end of John 2 we find a “textual marker”—like a blazing, blinking neon light demanding our attention. That neon light proclaims, “Jesus Knows People!” Everyone was enamored with Jesus because of his many miraculous signs (John 2:23). But Jesus would not entrust himself to the fickle crowd because “he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man” (John 2:24-25). Jesus knows people intensively and extensively—He knows everything about everybody. He wasn’t googling the latest pop psychology book at Amazon because Jesus knows people.
John 3-4 seems to have been penned, in part, to address folks who might have been thinking, “Yeah, right, John. Prove it. Prove that Jesus knows everything about everybody.” Who does Jesus minister to in those two chapters—the two most different people imaginable in John’s day—Nicodemus and the woman at the well. Consider their differences: Nicodemus, the Jewish, male, self-righteous, insider, religious leader and the nameless, Samaritan, female, unrighteous, outcast, irreligious follower.
Trace Jesus’ soul care ministry to each of these unique individuals and you’ll see many “methods” but one message communicated in numerous person-specific ways. He meets both where they are, but leaves neither where they were. To Nicodemus the Pharisee, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God, being born again, of Moses, and of God’s love. To the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus connects through their common humanity—they thirst. Then he speaks to her of living water, of her husband who is not her husband, and of worship in spirit and in truth.
Rightly so, it is the nameless Samaritan woman who rightly names Christ. Her words are like the second bookend around these chapters. “He told me everything I ever did” (John 4:39). That’s simply another way of saying Jesus Knows People!
Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. He’s the ultimate Physician of the soul. His personal ministry with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman depict His understanding of people—thoroughly, His diagnosis of root problems—precisely, and His prescription of “soul-u-tions”—perfectly.
Impact the Babylonians, Don’t Spoil the Egyptians
It is to this Wonderful Counselor that Paul points us when he exalts Christ as the only One in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. To understand Paul’s point, we have to understand the biblical image of wisdom. Throughout the Bible, wisdom and folly relate to the whole person living a godly or ungodly life in all our relationships, thinking, motivations, behaviors, and feelings. Wise living from God’s perspective is not “Sunday living;” it has to do with practical reality 24/7.
Wisdom is shrewd, never simplistic. Rather than offering a mathematical formula or an exact science in every situation, it offers eternal perspective that we are responsible to apply daily as we think deeply and love intimately. Studying the Old Testament primary word for wisdom (hocmah) and the primary New Testament word for wisdom (sophia) reveals a very practical definition: God has given us in His Son, His Word, His Spirit, and His Church all things we need to live sanely in this insane world in light of the world to come.
We have what we need to live this life—relating, thinking, choosing, doing, feeling—in light of the life to come. Christ, who is Wisdom, offers us all we need to move toward spiritual, relational, mental, behavioral, and emotional healing and health.
This comprehensive definition of biblical wisdom is important because we’re often told that pastoral counseling, one-another ministry, and biblical counseling are fine for “spiritual matters”—for our eternal relationship with God, however, how we relate to one another, how we handle our mental and emotional life—that’s primarily the domain of psychology not the domain of the Bible. That’s like saying some things are not the domain of Christ! That’s in direct opposition to what Paul has communicated throughout Colossians. In everything Christ has the supremacy (Col. 1:18) and for everything we have Christ’s sufficiency (Col. 2:3).
It is an unbiblical secular-sacred dichotomy to proclaim Christ is supreme over “spiritual matters” but not over daily life issues of relating, thinking, choosing, behaving, and feeling. Those are spiritual matters—everything is spiritual—in relationship to God.
This is certainly Paul’s view as He encourages us to apply Christ’s wisdom to our daily lives and relationships. “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him” (Col. 2:6, emphasis added). Paul then applies Christ’s wisdom for daily living to restraining sensual indulgence (Col. 2:23). Think about that. When most people think of what to include in the category of “spiritual,” the last item that would enter their mind is the physical body and sexuality. Paul says, “Everything, including our sexuality, our sensuality, is under the Lordship of Christ and is redeemable by grace—salvation grace and sanctification grace.”
Paul then urges us to apply Christ’s wisdom to our emotional life—how we deal with anger, rage, and malice (Col. 3:8). When most people think of what to include in the category of “spiritual,” the second-to-last item they would think of is our emotions and feelings. Paul says, “Everything, including our emotionality, our ‘emotional intelligence,’ is under the Lordship of Christ and is redeemable by grace—salvation grace and sanctification grace.”
Christ then teaches us to apply Christ’s wisdom to our relational struggles—to husbands who are harsh and fathers who embitter their children through discouragement. Abusive husbands and fathers—is that only the domain of the secular social worker, or is even that under the domain of the Lordship and wisdom of Christ?
You may be wondering about the header to this section: Impact the Babylonians, Don’t Spoil the Egyptians. In the counseling world, the phrase “spoil the Egyptians” is frequently used to picture the idea of blending the best of what the world has to offer with the best Christ has to offer. It comes from an incident in Exodus where, “Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians” (Exodus 3:22; see also Exodus 12:36).
Connecting that verse to counseling theory and practice involves an inaccurate analogy and an incorrect application. In Exodus, God’s people were leaving a pagan nation and were told to spoil them, not of their wisdom, but of their material possessions. The more apt analogy for counseling would be Daniel in Babylon. Here we have a spiritual analogy of God’s people entering a pagan nation and impacting it with God’s wisdom. Thus, Paul’s analogy in Colossians 2 could be called “Impact the Babylonians.” As the Church, we are to be salt and light taking Christ’s all-sufficient wisdom into our hurting, broken, and confused world.
A Gospel-Centered Counseling Prayer
This is exactly Paul’s prayer request for himself. “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly as I should” (Col. 4:3-4).
And it is Paul’s prayer for the Colossians and for us that we would impact the Babylonians—impact our world for Christ with Christ’s wisdom. “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversations be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:5-6).
What a beautiful portrait of gospel conversations. The Colossians were surrounded by floundering people who were listening to the “wisdom of the world,” to the philosopher-counselors of their day. Paul said that such worldly counselors lacked wisdom and any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Into this confused world, Paul didn’t say, “Spoil the Egyptians.” Instead, he said, “The Egyptians are spoiled—their so-called wisdom is folly! Impact the Babylonians—pray for wisdom to share gospel conversations that are full of Christ’s grace so that as Christians you will have insight for every person—just like Christ shared His wisdom with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.”
Join the Conversation
Where do you turn for wisdom for life in a broken world?
RPM Ministries: Equipping You to Change Lives with Christ’s Changeless Truth