Prof. Dykstra is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
In a matter of weeks, another new school year opens. Another year of covenantal instruction. Teachers have been planning for some time how best to teach their courses, what improvements to make, and what material to include. The new year will mean countless hours of preparation and study by teachers and students. It will be another year packed with lesson plans, assignments, papers, and tests. Subjects will include everything from art and music to history and algebra.
Why all this activity? What, exactly, teachers, do you hope to accomplish this year? What, specifically, students, do you hope to obtain in another year of school? New skills? More knowledge? More ability in areas where you are weak? Perhaps better grades?
Proverbs 4:7 tells us the one thing that teachers must strive above all else to give their students, and what all covenant youth must be seeking. It is wisdom. Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. This is the command of God to all — from the little girl entering kindergarten, to the boy in his last year in grade school. It comes with equal force to those in high school and to those who will sit in the lecture halls of a university.
What is wisdom, and how do we get it?
Wisdom is an attribute of God. God has perfect wisdom. By His wisdom He determined the whole course of history. As God, He not only knows all the factors, He is sovereignly able to control them. And He has no sin to mar His judgment. Truly He is the All-wise God.
In His wisdom God has determined everything both in time and eternity, in heaven and on earth. This plan of God includes all creatures, all events, all actions and words. God has so wisely planned that all these work together for the highest good possible, namely, for the utmost glory of His holy Name!
Psalm 104:24 sings, “O Lord, how manifold are thy works: in wisdom thou has made them all.”
Wisdom in man is a dim reflection of that infinite wisdom of God. This is due to our being creatures, and thus very limited. We are limited in our knowledge of how to use the material things in our lives to the best advantage. In addition, we do not have control over the elements around us. Not knowing the future, we cannot know what choice is best. Besides, we are sinners, and sin distorts our judgment. Scripture teaches that sin is foolishness, the very opposite of wisdom.
In general, for a man to be wise, he must have a certain amount of knowledge. He must know what is the best goal, that for which he must aim. In addition, he must know the factors in his life and how important each one is. He must know also how to use the things of this life to attain the goal.
The wise man will set his eyes on what God’s wisdom seeks, namely God’s glory. He will see the factors in his life in the same light that God sees them. Then by God’s grace he will plan and walk in harmony with God’s wisdom toward the goal of God’s glory.
The Bible teaches that Christ is the wisdom of God. He is that because He is the fullness of the revelation of God’s glory. God has made Christ the center of the whole counsel of God. God’s plan to glorify Himself as the covenant God revolves around Christ, the Mediator of the covenant. As the Mediator, He went to the cross, established the covenant in His blood, redeemed His own, and reconciled them to the Father. As Mediator He brings His people into fellowship with God. In the wisdom of God, these covenant people will live in covenant fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, praising God for an eternity.
Since Christ is the wisdom of God, for us to be wise, we must have Christ. We must have the “mind of Christ” and live in all humility. Christ must live in us, and we must live out of His life. We must be renewed in His image. We must keep his commandments, and follow His example. We must flee all folly, that is, sin.
However, wisdom is not all that we should desire. We must also have understanding, according to Proverbs 4:7. What is understanding? Think about the literal meaning of that word — to stand under. A man with understanding recognizes what is under, or behind, the things he sees. Understanding is the ability to evaluate and then explain what we see and hear and experience daily. It is the ability to grasp the character of the person or event, and then to recognize his or its significance.
Wisdom is chief. We must get wisdom. However, in all our getting of wisdom, we must also get understanding.
Wisdom and understanding are related in this way. Understanding, along with knowledge, is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge is first. To be wise, a man must have at least some knowledge of God, of himself, and of his world. Added to that must be understanding — the ability to explain what he studies in the light of God’s Word. Built on both knowledge and understanding is wisdom. Equipped with a knowledge of the facts and an understanding of their significance, a wise man can plan his way for the goal of giving God the highest praise.
How does a teacher impart that precious gift, that chief quality of wisdom, to his students? How does a student seek wisdom?
First, it is plain that the foundation must be there. The goal of Christian education is not to raise a child’s self esteem. It is not to develop social skills, or to entertain. It is, first of all, to impart knowledge. With all diligence, therefore, the teacher seeks to teach — reading, math, history, Bible, spelling, grammar, and the rest. With all diligence, the student applies himself to know these things, and that, not as ends in themselves, but as the foundation for understanding and wisdom.
Notice, then, that the mere imparting of knowledge is not sufficient. No parent or teacher may be satisfied merely with high academic standards and high ACT test scores. No student may be content simply with grades that reflect his ability. Our goals must be higher. We are striving for the chief thing — wisdom, and for understanding with it.
In our seeking of wisdom, we turn to the Bible and learn that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This means, first of all, that the fear of Jehovah is the start of wisdom. Without that fear, there will be no wisdom, no matter how outstanding the educator or brilliant the student.
Secondly, the fear of Jehovah is the principle of wisdom. This stands to reason since the fear of the Lord makes one to stand in awe of God, to reverence Him, and to humble himself before God. That godly fear is also a love for God, a love so deep and controlling that one never wants to do anything that would make God angry with or disappointed in him.
Therefore one who fears Jehovah wants to do His will. He loves the commands of God and strives to keep them. He is daily putting on the new man in Christ, and putting off the old man of sin. He orders well his way, in wisdom, earnestly desiring that his life give all the glory to God.
What must the teacher do to instill this? It should be obvious, first, that a teacher cannot give wisdom. Wisdom is a gift from God alone. Unless God regenerates the student and recreates him in the image of Christ, he will never have (true) wisdom. What humility this works in the believing teacher! All his efforts are vanity, unless God works in the students.
Even though he realizes the necessity of God’s work in the student, the teacher does not ignore this aspect of his teaching. His chief calling is to impart to his students wisdom. He therefore understands that the essence of his work is rearing covenant children in the fear of the Lord! In all his instruction, he is teaching them to know God in and through Christ! He seeks to set before them the wisdom of God, which is Christ. That is what Christian education is — Christ-centered education!
In practical terms, it means that the instruction is given in light of the Scriptures. This is necessary for the basic facts as well as for the more complicated processes. In arithmetic we learn that 2+2 always equals 4, not because it just happens, but because the unchanging God has determined it, and in Christ upholds the creation in such a way that this fact consistently holds. The same can be said of the chemical reaction in the laboratory. Such instruction imparts true and correct knowledge, the knowledge of God in Christ. That is because it presents the facts of these subjects as the works of God, and these works reveal God.
True understanding will go beyond the mechanical, as, for instance, merely how and why a given chemical reaction occurs as it does. True understanding comes from a spiritual discernment gained from the Bible. It requires that students grasp God’s purpose of the whole creation, and then how each creature (from the elephant to the carbon molecule) fits into that creation. True understanding comes through the knowledge of the proper (God-glorifying) use God has determined for each creature. Such understanding even includes how this element contributes to the earthly creation as a picture of the heavenly and spiritual.
With that understanding comes wisdom, as God grants it. Christ must be displayed. Christ, the fullness of the counsel of God. Christ, who rules over the chemical reaction as much as He does the development of the kingdom of the antichrist — all for the same goal and purpose — the final glorious kingdom, where the covenant of God and His people will be enjoyed in perfection, and God glorified to the utmost.
Such wisdom enables the believer to walk in the ways of God. It enables him to use the world about him in the service of God. It equips him to be watching for the return of the Lord, discerning the signs, knowing their significance, reacting to them in obedience to God.
A new school year dawns. What are we seeking?
Woe to the student who does not use the opportunity to gain the knowledge, and who spurns wisdom, and the understanding with it. Woe to the student who earns all “A’s” but gains no wisdom. It were better for that student that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were cast into the sea — before the school year starts.
The same is doubly true for the teacher who makes orderly lesson plans, is lively in his teaching, and gives profitable assignments, but does not impart wisdom.
In the new school year, then, let parents, teachers, and students alike resolve that we must get wisdom — that is the principal thing. And with all our getting, let us get understanding.