“For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.” (Romans 16:19, KJV 1900)
You may have heard the expression “Be as smart as you can, but remember that it is always better to be wise than to be smart” (Alan Alda). Having wisdom is much different than being smart or intelligent. Being smart has to do with knowledge and having knowledge is good. Yet, knowledge without wisdom can be fruitless if not dangerous.
I knew a person once who was very intelligent. Unfortunately, while this person was a genius, he lacked certain life skills. With all knowledge, he struggled in critical aspects of life. Knowledge is great, but it must be connected with wisdom.
Paul here commends the Roman believers for their obedience. But then he exhorts the Roman believers to apply wisdom to that which is good. Strong’s indicates that wisdom, sophos, is something that forms the best plans and is using the best means for their execution. However, this type of wisdom requires knowledge. Without knowledge there is no basis upon which wisdom will function. Yet, without wisdom, knowledge is most often hindered. Both are inseparable in dealing with life’s situations and decisions.
The writer of Proverbs indicates, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: But fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7, KJV 1900). In other words, anyone who does not seek wisdom and instruction is not very smart. He goes on to tell us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” Reading these Proverbs leads us to understand that knowledge and wisdom are inseparable and we cannot have either without the “fear of the Lord.”
Paul deals with this thought in his exhortation to the Romans. He tells them to be wise in that which is good and innocent to that which is evil. What is good? God is good and everything that proceeds from Him is likewise. This is an exhortation to pursue holiness and to flee from the profane. Those that have a proper fear of the Lord will do just that.
So, what does it mean to fear the Lord? It does not mean to be deathly afraid of God that somehow if we step out of line, He will take a divine flyswatter and squash us like a bug. Though, the unbeliever should have such a fear of the coming judgment for sin. For the believer this fear has to do with us having a high respect, reverence and awe for God. This will have the effect on believers that they will respond to God with love and obedience. Therefore, the believer’s great fear is the idea of displeasing God.
The greatest problem with having wisdom and knowledge is that many people do not truly get started. Scripture tells us that both begin with “The fear of the Lord.”