Christian Living

Godly Wisdom Versus Worldly Wisdom, What Is The Difference?

Everyone wants to be wise because we all want to know and understand what is happening in life. Since the beginning of time wisdom has been a much sought-after attribute. In the Garden of Eden, Satan used this desire for wisdom to tempt Eve. What appeals to our nature and seems like good advice may in fact be just the opposite. It is important then to understand the difference between godly wisdom versus worldly wisdom…

What is Godly Wisdom?

I remember having lunch with some Christian friends and one lady asked the group for advice. She wanted to know how to respond in a family situation where she felt she had been treated unfairly. But you know there were as many opinions as there were people around the table! Everyone advised out of their own experience…

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

James 1:5

The truth is God wants us to seek Him, and to ask Him for wisdom. The wisdom that He gives is not just knowledge, or acquired information, but practical and spiritual insight for our daily lives. When we don’t know what to do, and we’re unsure as to how to respond, our Heavenly Father wants us to come to Him. As we ask and reflect on the guidance in Scripture, and the witness of Jesus, the answer for our situation will come…

7 Characteristics of Wisdom

Godly wisdom versus worldly wisdom can be identified by its characteristics. It is the gift of God and therefore is full of the attributes of our Heavenly Father, working for our ultimate eternal good.

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

James 3:17
  • 1 Pure. Godly wisdom is pure as it flows from God’s throne of mercy and grace. It is God alone who can discern the truth in any and every situation. He is wholly righteous and the only true judge.
  • 2 Peace-loving. Godly wisdom does not seek division or strife, but looks to maintain, or make, lasting peace with God and among His people.
  • 3 Considerate. Godly wisdom reveals careful thought. We often want a quick answer, and a simple instant fix. But seeking God and listening for His answer takes time and consideration.
  • 4 Submission. This is another one of the characteristics of wisdom. To submit to God’s ways, trusting that He is working for our good, requires humility. Sometimes we can say we are seeking an answer when we are looking for confirmation of our own decision.
  • 5 Merciful. Godly wisdom will show and exercise mercy. This is because mercy is an aspect of God’s character, and He cannot deny Himself. God will always be true to who He is, steadfast and unchanging.
  • 6 Impartial. It is only God who can examine peoples hearts. He sees the hidden motivation and intentions and will give the gifts of wisdom and discernment to all who seek Him.
  • 7 Sincere. Godly wisdom is free from pretence, or deceit, and has no hidden agenda. The attributes of godly wisdom work together and are often counter cultural. To implement, or to follow godly wisdom, may require a step of faith.
A picture zoomed in on a hand writing in a notebook while holding a Bible in the other hand. The text 'Godly wisdom versus worldly wisdom'
Godly wisdom versus worldly wisdom

Godly Wisdom vs Worldly Wisdom

Wisdom is a gift from God, and is rooted in our humility and dependency on Him. Worldly wisdom is simply the opposite, founded in selfish-ambition and self-sufficiency.

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”

James 3:14-15

In our western society ambition is considered worthy. Does it seem harsh to say that selfish ambition is demonic? Has worldly wisdom colored our thinking? This truth highlights the contrast between godly wisdom versus worldly wisdom. What we allow to take root in our hearts will always work its way out. Whether we are God-centred or self-centred, the two kinds of wisdom are evidenced in our lives by the choices that we make.

“Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish plotting. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.”

James 3:14-16 MSG

Examples of Worldly Wisdom vs Godly Wisdom

The Bible is full of examples of those who acted on worldly wisdom, such as Saul the first king of Israel. He chose to rally his men for battle by seeking the Lord’s favor with a burnt offering. Saul’s action cost him the kingship, because he acted independently of God’s law and the prophets.

Or Ahaz, a later king of Israel. When Jerusalem was under threat, he refused God’s gracious offer of a sign to strengthen his faith.  Ahaz had already decided what he was going to do. Rather than depend on God, Ahaz chose to rely on the power of a foreign army. His actions brought disaster on Israel.

There are so many more examples like godly king Uzziah who eventually became powerful, prideful, and religious. He tried to offer incense to God in the temple blatantly breaking God’s ordinance. His actions marked him out and set him apart from the people and access to the Temple until the day he died…

But equally there are many examples of godly wisdom, such as Jethro who advised Moses. He gave good advice that was godly because ultimately he committed his words to God’s authority, ‘If you do this, and God so commands…’

Or Solomon’s wise ruling over two mothers who were disputing whose baby had died, and whose had survived. Solomon was able to use discernment with the gift of wisdom that God had given him. This gave him insight into human nature and revealed the truth of the matter.

And of course Jesus is always our example. He continually demonstrated the difference of godly wisdom vs worldly wisdom during His ministry. Even the Temple guards who were sent to arrest Him said, “No one ever spoke the way this man does.”

Benefits of Divine Wisdom

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10

Godly wisdom, versus worldly wisdom, aligns with the principles of God’s word and is for our good. But it is a stark reality that we are all susceptible to worldly wisdom that disguises itself as good advice. Often the enemy of our faith is not outright rebellion but subtle distraction to choose what appears good.

It is relatively easy to assess what is morally right or wrong. But the gift of divine wisdom brings discernment to see the difference between what is good, better, or God’s best. And that begins with the humility of a teachable spirit and the desire to know God more.

Wisdom brings discernment to see the difference between what is good, better, or God’s best.

The benefits of divine wisdom are found in relying and depending on God. But God is gracious to us and there are times when we need help from others. We are not isolated and alone, God places people around us who are able to bring counsel and comfort. This is not airing our problems to a room full of people but knowing when to seek advice and with whom. It could be that we need prayer support from a trusted leader or friend. Or there may be times when we need professional counselling to process grief and trauma.

“let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.”

Proverbs 1:5

The benefits of divine wisdom are not only for our counsel and guidance but surely, as with any gift, to be shared with others. There are so many times when I’ve regretted speaking out and equally when I’ve missed an opportunity to speak an apt or timely word. But divine wisdom is found in knowing when to speak and when to stay silent, trusting in God’s perfect timing.

Text only 'The wise know what they have to say may be true and crucial, but they also know God is in charge and only He can open hearts.' Timothy Keller
Godly wisdom versus worldly wisdom – Timothy Keller quote.

The difference between godly wisdom versus worldly wisdom is measured, not by our successes, but by our mistakes. The call in Proverbs is to get wisdom, and understanding, at all costs as the way to prosper. I’m so grateful for this reminder to seek God for the wisdom that brings practical insight. This is not only for big decisions, but to impact our lives and daily interactions for good!

“The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown.”

Proverbs 4:7-9 ESV

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