By Meredith Cook
Several years ago, I was a first-year seminary student with a business degree from a secular institution and I was very aware of my lack of knowledge about deep theological issues.
On a visit to Southeastern Seminary, I spoke with an employee who used the term “hermeneutics” as if it were everyday speech and I wondered what on earth I was getting myself into.
However, my years at Southeastern were some of the most formative of my life, and I’m deeply grateful the Lord allowed me to receive a theological education.
While there, I learned about “that guy.” He wasn’t one specific person, but a characterization of a type of student who thought he knew more than he did and was inclined to show off that knowledge—often in the form of challenging a much-more-educated professor. It made no sense to me that a student would challenge a professor who had decades of study and experience under his belt.
However, since graduating over a year ago, I’ve started realizing how easily we can allow our knowledge (or perceived knowledge) to fuel arrogance. We are all, in fact, capable of becoming “that guy.”
I was recently convicted of my own arrogance while reading my Bible one morning. As I read, a thought struck me: how many times do I come to Scripture with an agenda?
So often, I read the Bible with an ulterior motive—looking to refute an idea with which I disagree, treating the Bible as a mere self-help book, or seeking ways to evaluate others’ words. In these moments, I seek to appear wise but I’m not sure I’m pursuing the right kind of wisdom.
Showing Off Our Knowledge
Today, anyone can speak publicly about any issue through social media, a blog, a self-published book, or, for some, the pulpit. Additionally, technology allows us to speak to almost anyone about any issue. If someone says something we don’t like, we can let them—and everyone else—know.
[epq-quote align=”align-right”]To treat Scripture as anything but life-giving and life-changing truth is a tragedy and requires repentance.[/epq-quote]However, we must be diligent and cautious when we speak. We can easily fall into prideful self-promotion, speaking before thinking, or policing social media and blogs for the sole purpose of voicing disagreement (also known as “trolling”).
We may think we’re doing so under the guise of biblical wisdom, but do we stop to consider whether our wisdom is from above? Regardless of whether we’re speaking in the pulpit, on social media, or in a personal conversation, let’s consider what the Bible has to say about wisdom.
Earthly Wisdom versus Biblical Wisdom
The morning the Holy Spirit convicted me of my own arrogance and agenda, my Bible-reading plan brought me to James 3. As I read, I became increasingly uncomfortable. James uses some strong language that should cause us to pause and consider the source of our wisdom.
James 3:13-18 is a short passage, but it gives a clear distinction between earthly wisdom and godly wisdom. Earthly wisdom is full of bitter envy and selfish ambition. This kind of wisdom leads to disorder and evil practice. David Platt notes that worldly wisdom views life from a limited perspective—that of immediate self-advancement and self-pleasure.
Contrast this with wisdom from heaven that is, “first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense” (verse 17). Godly wisdom results in righteousness and peace. Platt also notes that godly wisdom sees things from an eternal perspective—one that can only come from God as we search His Word and pray.
Combating Our Arrogance
The Bible says much more about wisdom (the entire book of Proverbs is dedicated to helping us live wisely), but this passage from James is a nice summary and guides us as we pursue genuine, godly wisdom. As I’ve meditated on that passage, these are some ways I’ve considered how to combat my own arrogance.
Repentance and Submission
To treat Scripture as anything but life-giving and life-changing truth is a tragedy and requires repentance. Before we speak, we must search God’s Word and prayerfully submit to what it says. We must ask God to give us His wisdom.
Be Slow to Speak
James 1:19 tells us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Before we speak, we should ask ourselves some questions:
- Are my words based first in biblical truth, or in my own biased opinions?
- Am I seeking self-promotion with my words, or am I genuinely trying to spur others on to godliness?
- Is the venue I’m using (the pulpit, social media, etc.) the best place to speak to this particular issue?
- Am I seeking peace? Am I demonstrating gentleness and mercy?
- Have I actively listened to and adequately understood the person to whom I’m speaking?
We should be as quick to recognize our own limitations and lack of sufficient knowledge as we are to point it out in others. Regardless of age, race, social status, or education, we’re all sinful, finite beings. We must allow ourselves room to be wrong.
We benefit from seeking the wisdom of other believers. As we search for godly knowledge and wisdom, and as we speak on important issues, we should listen to the voices of others and receive their input. We should humbly listen when others disagree, accept correction when we’re wrong, and seek forgiveness when necessary.
Humbly Correct Others
The Bible tells us to hold our brothers and sisters accountable and gives us instruction on handling conflict within the church. There are times when we shouldn’t shy away from confronting others when they’re wrong.
However, Scripture doesn’t give us license to “bite and devour” one another or fuel our own arrogance as we confront others. The Lord will hold us accountable for how we conduct ourselves in every sphere of our life, including social media.
In these caustic and divisive times, we should be a people who exhibit true, godly wisdom. May the fruits of the Spirit be on display and our speech be full of grace and mercy. Let us seek peace and honor the Lord in all we say and do.
MEREDITH COOK (@meredithcook716) is the wife of Keelan, an editor for IMB.org, and an M.Div graduate in Missiology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.