5Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth. 6 Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee. 7 Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.Proverbs 4:5-7
Dr. Jim Stoutenborough was a friend who was 50 years older than I. When we met, I was in my 20s and I quickly saw a man who was everything that I was not: organized, well dressed, fastidious. I knew him mostly as a song leader. However, I think what influenced his care for details more than anything else was he was also a pilot.
I stood in the doorway of his office one day as he gave me one of his many words of wisdom. I can’t say that we “hung out,” but I always enjoyed any conversation I had with him. For some reason this one conversation has stuck with me 25 years later.
He quoted Proverbs 4:7 to me and said that should be one of my primary goals in life. Get wisdom. Get understanding. The world makes much more sense when you pursue wisdom as your top priority.
Wisdom and Understanding
Sometimes it is hard to define the difference between some words that seem like synonyms. Wisdom and understanding are similar, but not exactly the same.
Understanding is knowledge with meaning. Just knowing something does not necessarily mean you understand the reason behind it. That is facts without application.
An example is knowing what the accelerator and brake in a car are for. But, until you learn to drive, the facts of what accelerators and brakes do doesn’t really mean much to you. When you get experience behind the driver’s seat, you start to understand their importance and how those devices work.
The other word that interests us is the word wisdom. That word can also be interpreted as skill. Knowing is made of facts. Understanding is built through experience with that knowledge. But wisdom is when that knowledge and understanding become skill.
To continue the driving analogy let’s see where applied knowledge and understanding help to build skill. Think of a race car driver. They would have a more intimate knowledge and intuitive understanding of what a brake and accelerator are capable of. They have built skill that comes with applying everything that came before.
Solomon here in the book of Proverbs is telling us to not only learn, but seek to understand. Then, as you apply that understanding more and more to gain skill, you will begin to make wise choices without having to think too deeply about them.
As Dr. Jim encouraged me to do many years ago, make wisdom the the principle thing in your life. Get wisdom. Get understanding. Go beyond just learning facts, learn how to use them. This can be applied in any area of life. But Solomon is telling us to tenaciously pursue wisdom (skill) in applying God’s Word and interacting with people around us.