Wisdom Over Rules

At work I am often asked to write policy letters to cover every possible contingency of human behavior. These policy letters are reviewed by lawyers to ensure every lawsuit is avoided, operations officers look for the impetuous for action, the employees immediately look for a loop hole which, when found, prompts more policy letters. ENOUGH! You can’t write a standard operating procedure for common sense.

A recent presentation by Barry Swartz at the TED conference struck a cord with me. In it, Dr. Swartz describes practical wisdom as defined by Aristotle as the “combination of moral will and moral skill.”


This message should ring true to Christians. Sadly, in many Christian religious traditions the basis for their beliefs is rooted in commandments and rules instead of the spirit of Christ. Colossian 2:20-23 reads:

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (NIV)

The church on Colossi was struggling with Gnosticism manifesting in part as a form of Jewish legalism to which Paul reminds them of the internal nature of Christ. In Jeremiah it was prophesied that when Christ comes the laws will be written on our minds and hearts.

“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people. (Jeremiah, NIV)”

God’s plan for us is to live with wisdom within the context of His will. Even the Bible, as perfect as it is, can not regulate every action of the human mind. My children are fond of justifying their actions by the phrase, “but the Bible doesn’t specifically say we can’t….”

That’s why Paul’s message and prayer to the church in Colossi was that “… we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. (NIV, Colossians 1:9)”

Practical Christian wisdom is a combination of Spiritual will and Biblical skill. As Christians we must continue to study the scriptures and let the spirit of God take control of our lives. Choosing a life filled with the Spirit instead emptied by sets of rules

James 3

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 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, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

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. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Proverbs 10:13-14

Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning,
but a rod is for the back of him who lacks judgment.
Wise men store up knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.

“Your credibility suffers when you rely on rules and policies instead of being flexible enough to help others solve problems. It’s easy to say, ‘That’s against the rules!’. It’s better to say, ‘Let’s identify the problem and see if there is a way to solve it.’ People trust problem-solvers.” Sandy Allgeier, “Can You Be Trusted?, “ Personal Excellence, June 2009

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