Proverbs 15:2 ESV
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
We expect good things from good people, bad things from bad people, and lies from politicians. This is as it should be, but it’s only the beginning of the truth this verse points to: the works of the people are according to their character. Good counsel comes from the wise man, and he commends good counsel to his hearer, even when it is not his own. The fool speaks more readily than the wise man, but he speaks foulness and foolishness. Of course, there’s a little more to real life than just this binary, even if it is essentially applicable in all situations.
Remember first what the definitions we’re working with are. Biblical wisdom is not merely cunning or know-how. Biblical wisdom is skill in practical application of knowledge and virtue to life. The wise man has, in God’s grace, learned to discern the truth, however unfortunate and ugly, to assess it and himself, and to act according to the law of God, according to the goals which virtue gives him, even if other, easier options exist. Wisdom is not merely knowledge; it is the character to apply that knowledge well and consistently through trial and suffering. A man cannot be said to have wisdom if he has not the fortitude to maintain the wise course through dark waters. Foolishness, meanwhile, is wisdom contradicted, whether in denying truth, in desiring immorality, in acting wrongly, or in failing to persist in righteousness.
Of course, people aren’t a single adjective’s worth of description. In the first place, no man is perfectly wise or entirely foolish, though we average and reach much closer to foolishness than wisdom. A wise man will give good counsel, but his wisdom and knowledge are limited. He is not infallible, and he can judge wrongly, whether from lack of information or simple failure. Conversely, a foolish man can stumble upon a good idea. More, most people lie somewhere between ‘invariably wise’ and ‘invariably foolish’.
This is true not just as an assessment of a person’s general traits- some people are a little foolish, a lot wise, some the inverse- but as a fact of the different circumstances in which wisdom is relevant. A sleepy wise man will likely give somewhat lower quality advice than usual; a fool, on a topic that he actually knows something about, may give good advice. So here we have to take into account not jus the general character of our counsellors but the specific circumstances and relationships they have.
Let’s try an example.
Let’s imagine we’re looking for advice about marriage. Who’s the best source? We have two candidates. Generally speaking, neither one would rate above the other on the wisdom-v-foolishness scale; both are good choices in generally. The first one is a confirmed bachelor of 45 years; the other is three decades into his marriage, chugging along quite happily. The answer, I think, is obvious: ask the guy who has experience on the topic. He may not be wiser in general, but he is likely to be wiser in specific.
Understanding a person can also be key to sifting through their advice for the good, the bad, and the merely dubious. Everybody has biases, and the more somebody says they don’t, the more wary you need to be of their biases, assuming they aren’t obviously truthful, because the less aware they will be of them. Paradoxically, self-awareness of biases, willingness to admit bias, leads to less biased advice than assertions of being without bias.
Aside from biases, though, there are still half a hundred factors. Personal experience with a certain topic (or lack of it) will change what type of advice it is and how you weight it. So too will their success in the field you’re getting advice about (or in a related field), their fruit in it. Thus advice from a divorcee about marriage really is worth much less than from a happily married man, albeit the divorcee may have some real insight into how things can go wrong. It could also be emotional junk data, though. This part of the process requires personal discretion and benefits from multiple counsellors.
In the end, we have only one true Counsellor: God. The Scripture is here our first and greatest source of counsel. Financial problem (that’s wisdom not math)? Try Proverbs. Marital problem? Try the epistles or the Song of Solomon or (again) Proverbs. Theological problem? There’s an answer in God’s word somewhere. It is sufficient to us for “every good work”, after all, sufficient for the worst and the best times of our lives (2 Tim. 3:16-17). He has given to His people too the Helper, His Holy Spirit which guides us to peace and joy in Him, even through the darkest of times (John 14:16; Ps. 23:4).
Written by Colson Potter
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.