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The Only Wise God

God displays his incomparable wisdom in unlikely places—like at the Cross and in the church.


The most revolutionary book ever written wasn't Karl Marx's Das Kapital or Mao's Little Red Book or any of that nonsense. The most revolutionary book ever written was the Book of Romans. It has caused revolution upon revolution in the hearts of men and women since the time Paul wrote it. Really it's a testimony of Paul's revolution, of Christ meeting this proud Pharisee, this strutting peacock who thought that he had a corner on God, that his righteousness had earned his way to heaven. Paul has this stunning moment of meeting Jesus and realizing that was all nothing. Paul learns of grace. So in the Book of Romans, Paul documents this incredible thing called the grace of God and how dependent we all are on it. Do you know how dependent you and I are? We were dead. We were enemies of God. We could do nothing about it. And yet God in Christ has acted on our behalf.

Paul takes the entire book of Romans to sum up this amazing story of God's rescue of dead enemies, of which I am one. And he ends Romans with this benediction: "To the only wise God be glory forever in Christ Jesus. Amen." The only wise God, or in the Greek: mono sopho Theo. Paul says that God alone is wise. If you compare the sum of wisdom of anyone, anything, any other god or guru or philosopher and compare it to God and his wisdom, you find they're all nincompoops. God alone is the only one we can actually say is wise. In comparison to God, everything else looks like sheer and utter and bumbling folly.

About ten years ago, Futures magazine did an article in which journalist Lora Lee catalogued some of the most audacious predictions in all of history. Here is a sampling of them. In the year AD 100, the Roman engineer Julius Sextus Frontinus said this: "Inventions have long since reached their limit. I see no hope for further developments." In 1895, a very worried teacher of Albert Einstein sat Einstein's father down and said, "It doesn't matter what he does, he'll never amount to anything." In 1949, no less a scientist than John Von Neumann who worked on the Manhattan Project said, "It would appear we have reached the limits of what is possible with computer technology." In 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles said, "The Japanese don't make anything that the people in the U.S. would want." In 1986, Roger Smith who was then chairman of the board of General Motors made this bold prediction: "By the turn of the century, we will live in a paperless society." And as recently as 1995, Bob Metcalf, the editor of Info World said, "I predict the internet will go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse."

There's nothing like letting facts get in the way of a good opinion. You see enough of this, and you can see why Paul would say, "The only wise God." If you want the fullness of unfailing wisdom, you've got to look to God.

We've been in a series that we started last week called "Be Thou My Vision: How the Apostles Teach us to See God." In each sermon we will take some time to unpack something about the character of God from the Old Testament, because the Old Testament is the foundation. Jesus said, "Salvation comes from the Jews." He was referring to the covenantal promise embodied in the Old Testament. We know God through the Old Testament. We'll also look at how that trait of God shifts as we come into the new covenant and see how the Apostles saw Jesus Christ up close and clearly.

The importance of wisdom

We're going to start with wisdom. This is a big theme in the Old Testament. The wisdom literature, primarily Proverbs, tells us to make wisdom the highest earthly treasure that we go after. Don't chase cars or chariots. Don't chase money. Put all of those goals way down the list of things you should pursue, and put all of your energy toward seeking after wisdom. Dig for it, stretch for it, long for it, pray for it. Be a wise person. We've seen, as Solomon himself demonstrated, that if you make those other things your top priority, you will be a rich idiot. You will be a famous fool. So put wisdom at the very top, and then if that other stuff comes, you'll actually know what to do with it.

Proverbs takes nine chapters to double and triple this call to seek wisdom: Make it the thing that matters most to you. Go diligently after it. Don't let up. Treasure it when you get it. Young people, are you listening? Go after this thing. Folly wants to seduce you with all the ways of the world. He dangles them in front of you and makes them very attractive, but Folly's ways are a death trap. Go for wisdom.

After nine chapters of that, we get 21 chapters of wisdom for living distilled into pithy little sayings. You can find wisdom on how to deal with a despotic boss, how to handle a wife who's on your case, how to handle a wayward child, how to walk through certain financial situations. There are 21 chapters of these rich sayings—these proverbs—that distill the wealth of the ages and the sages.

What we find as we look at wisdom as understood in the Old Testament is that wisdom isn't so much cerebral, it's not brainpower though you do have to have enough understanding to know what's going on, but wisdom is the art of living well. It's about what you do with the things you know. In fact, if you look at how the Proverbs describe wisdom, the wisest person in the room is hardly ever the one with the highest IQ. Often, the one with the highest IQ is the one called the mocker and is a menace on the face of the earth. We know some people like that, right? This person is very bright and he uses all that so-called intelligence to sort of rip and tear at God and the things that matter most. The people who really have wisdom are not necessarily those with the high IQ, but they live well.

So then that's the other part that the Old Testament adds to wisdom. It's not simply about quality or capacity of mind, but it's about a quality and capacity of soul. It's character. Wisdom is fundamentally character. It's goodness, it's righteousness, it's being rebuked and responding with, "Thank you so much. Do you know how that saved me from doing something harebrained?" instead of "What do you mean I did something wrong?" That would be folly, the Bible says. Folly rages at rebuke and correction.

God's wisdom in the Old Testament—creation and law

That's the principle teaching about wisdom in the Old Testament. But the Old Testament also acknowledges mono sofo Theo—the only wise God. The wisdom of God is a significant cut above anything that we would call wisdom. One example is Isaiah 55:8-9. God says: "'My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'" In the Book of Job, which is part of the wisdom literature, Job asks this piercing question twice: "Where can wisdom be found, and where does understanding dwell?" Is humanity in possession of real wisdom? It takes 11 verses at the beginning of Job 28 to talk about how clever we humans are. There's no question that humanity is clever. Just think of all the gadgets we've come up with! So the Bible actually says that man is really innovative, but where is wisdom found, where does understanding dwell? The Book of Job faces the fact that our cleverness doesn't add up to this thing called wisdom. The book ends by pointing to God—that God alone is the source and God alone is the embodiment of wisdom—and chapter 28 ends with this: "Therefore, fear God. That is wisdom." In other words, you're going to come to the end of yourself. It doesn't matter how clever you are, how shrewd, how innovative, how inventive, how big your IQ is, you will come to the end of yourself. And then what? God. Mono sopho Theo, the God only wise.

There is a wisdom that transcends anything, anywhere, anytime. This prediction I can make with boldness. It doesn't matter how many more whiz-bang, cool, nifty things we come up with on this earth; we will still be desperately in need of this wisdom beyond us, because we will always come to the end of ourselves. That's why James says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, ask God." Ask God.

The Old Testament has two primary arenas in which there is unmistakable evidence that God is wise beyond us. Mono sopho Theo. The two arenas are creation and law. The Old Testament says that if you are having doubts about whether God is wise and wiser than us, just go outside. Look at creation.

My son and I went out on the motorcycles the other day. It was so awesome being out by the ocean and in the forest taking in all these incredible spring smells. By the time we were done, we couldn't help but be in awe of God. I mean, could we make grass? Can anybody here make grass? Can we create the simplest organism? God is the only wise God. God's law also shows his absolute wisdom. There are the physical laws that run the universe and the cosmos, but the moral law is a sign, a testimony, of the wisdom of God. Creation and the law have this in common: both are divine acts where God creates order and beauty out of chaos and nothingness. There was a void. It was chaos—a teeming, boiling mass, and God just started to speak. Out of that came order and beauty. That's called creation.

And then God came to this rough-necked, stubborn, violent, warring, nomadic desert tribe. They were steeped in pagan nonsense, and God came and spoke the law. Out of that emerged a sense of God, fair play, righteousness, and justice. That's wisdom.

God's wisdom in the New Testament—the Cross and the church

Here's where this shifts in the New Testament, and it's a dramatic shift. I think most people would agree that bringing order out of chaos and beauty out of mess takes incredible wisdom, and that creation and law are good showcases for the wisdom of God. But in the New Testament, these two showcases fade to the background. They remain, but they're not nearly as prominent as two other displays of divine wisdom that move to the foreground: the Cross and the church.

Let's look at 1 Corinthians 1, starting with verse 18:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is a philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

So the wisdom of God displayed on the Cross looks like foolishness to us. Paul then deals with the wisdom of God displayed to the church that looks like foolishness to us. He goes on,

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential, not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are so that no one would boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus who has become for us wisdom from God, that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, it is written, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

Paul realizes how counterintuitive this is. Creation and law are deeply intuitive. People get those. But the Cross and the church are counterintuitive evidences for the wisdom of God. Paul understands this. To the Greeks who want wisdom, to the Jews who want miracles, the Cross is a stumbling block, he says. The Cross is scandalous to the Greeks. It's shocking. How could the Cross somehow be the wisdom of God? How could it be the wisdom and power of God to decisively crush sin, evil, and death in this way? Didn't God instead decisively crush innocence? Wasn't it a symbol of sin, evil, and death that took Jesus Christ and killed him? Isn't the Cross about the triumph of all those things?

If what Paul said about the Cross wasn't counterintuitive enough, he goes on to say that the church is where God's wisdom really shines forth! Is he crazy? I mean, this thing called the church has become the laughingstock of the world. Who's phoning up the church saying, "Hey, we've got a political crisis," or, "We've got an economic meltdown," or, "We've got a war happening and we need you to come and tell us what to do." I'm waiting for that phone call. We're not perceived by the world as a showcase of the divine wisdom.

The key phrase in this passage is that the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom. You can take the most foolish looking think God has ever done and it will still beat out anything that the highest human wisdom could come up with. God's wisdom trumps every time. Think about it: from time immemorial until this present day, when faced with humanity's greatest plight, how do we get saved? How do we overcome the problem of sin and death? How do we get into heaven? The world answers these questions in one of two ways. The world either says that the answer is love, and that God is love. The world believes that God simply says, "Come on in, everyone." That, of course, means Hitler's included, but that doesn't matter. The world says that love wins out. It's a love without justice.

If the world doesn't go the love route, it goes the justice route. You've got to be good. To this I always ask: How good is good? The problem with the justice solution is that the world just doesn't know what the standard of goodness is. The symbol of justice is a pair of scales. If we bring our pile of good stuff and our pile of bad stuff, our good stuff will be outweighed, if we're honest. We've all messed up. Do we want only fairness? We will never be saved through fairness.

At the Cross there is level ground. At the Cross God's not interested in your pile of good or your pile of bad. At the Cross God is perfectly loving and perfectly just. He doesn't turn a blind eye to evil, yet he loves infinitely. At the Cross God takes it all—all of our sin, the whole pile—and he pours out his wrath on it, consuming it completely. Justice is done on the Cross. And when justice is done, God turns and pours out love and mercy. Perfect justice, perfect love. That's wisdom. Man's wisdom is nothing compared to this wisdom of God.


Say you were given a mandate to build a company, a corporation, an enterprise, and it had to be sustained 2,000 years running and it had to be global. Your business has to be found in the slums of the world as well as in the highest places of society. Not only does it have to have this incredible reach, but it has to do a work of transforming lives with which the world can't do anything. So you've got to take crack addicts and prostitutes and hardened criminals, and you have to turn them inside out. That's your mandate.

Okay, if anybody in the business world was given that mandate, how would they begin? They'd go to the Fortune 500 companies, they'd headhunt, they'd get the "A players," they'd get the crème de la crème from law schools, the best and brightest. Those are the people to start with. But God says: I'll take Mark.

You know, my parents never had a bumper sticker that said, "My child is an honor roll student," because I never was. I was a solid C student. I actually thought that my parents should give me monetary reward for getting a C+, and usually they did because they were astonished. Until I was 29, I knew one thing above all things: I knew that God would never, ever call me into anything involving public speaking. But here I am, God's prank played on you. Because God chooses unlikely people.

The reality is that everyone is going to look back and say, "How did you do that one, God, with those kinds of people and with that kind of clientele?" You've heard people who argue against the church saying it's full of hypocrites and misfits. But no other corporation, no other franchise, could have survived for as long or had the sweeping scope it has if it weren't made up of the likes of us. The only thing that can explain us is mono sopho Theo, the only wise God.

To the only wise God, mono sopho Theo, be glory forever. And if you accept his invitation, his wisdom of how to come into that glory, you get to enjoy it forever.

Mark Buchanan is an Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta.

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Sermon Outline:


I. The importance of wisdom

II. God's wisdom in the Old Testament—creation and law

III. God's wisdom in the New Testament—the Cross and the church