What We Really Need for Father's Day: The Wisdom of Serpents
- Thursday, June 15, 2006
And the need for wisdom is greater than most realize. Of the thirteen character traits that the Barna Group tested for among more than 1,300 Christian leaders, wisdom came in dead last.
We are out of balance — a dangerous place to be. Christian men have been given the false message that personal piety alone will pave the way toward an abundant, God-glorifying life, to happy wives and healthy kids. But Jesus never said this. He wants us to marry virtuous living to wise living.
The problem for many of us is that wise living isn't always nice and pleasant. A wise man is sometimes hard to get along with. A wise parent sometimes appears mean. Writes Marilyn Chandler McEntyre: "One of my husband's finer moments in parenting came one day when, after he had uttered an unwelcome word of correction to a disgruntled child, he leaned down, looked her in the eye, and said, ‘Honey, this is what love looks like.' Love, in that case, must have seemed to her a far cry from nice."
Mark Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today, writes in his excellent and upcoming book Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of An Untamable God, "We are assaulted with messages about grace and love, sweetness and light, freedom and peace… And all of this is true in some respects, thank God. But we risk lying to others, we risk lying to ourselves, if we don't fill out this picture."
That's what we need to do this Father's Day and many more to come: fill in the picture, the way Jesus did when he told us we can't just get by on moral fiber. More is required in order to be his fruitful disciple.
Here's what I mean about completing the picture and in the process bring needed balance to men. We often preach about the virtue of generosity without telling our congregations that there's an end to wise generosity. More so, there's a time when generosity with valuable things (God's holy word, our resources, energy, and talents) is sinful as found in Jesus' own words. "No not give dogs what is holy and do not throw pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you" (Matt. 7:6). How can one tell the difference between genuine generosity and stupid generosity? You guessed it: the wisdom of serpents, which we aren't born with. We need to learn more about it this Sunday and many more to come.
Why is wisdom so valuable but rare? I don't know all the answers, but I know a few of them. Wisdom, like humility, helps us see life more clearly than before. And with this clarity comes inevitable decisions: continue down the same sinful path, or repent by turning away from lies and related deceit and move in a better and more God-glorifiying direction. The choice seems easy, until you count the cost. For many of us, wisdom is too demanding because it often requires change. We prefer our comfortable but dark illusions.
Like the good parent mentioned earlier, we know that wisdom requires tough decisions and with them, varies degrees of conflict. We would rather concentrate on piety, which is innately personal, than exercise wisdom, which is innately social, involving conflict with others.
Virtuous living without wise living is not only wasteful, as found in Jesus' words regarding pearls before swine, it may well make you an accomplice to evil, as drug counselors will tell you when well-meaning people enable others to continue their destructive lifestyles. Personal piety by itself may give the impression that we're doing good works when we really aren't. Marry virtue to wisdom in sermons and in your life, and then you'll find your life being blessed as never before, increasing your ability to bless others as well.
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