The Value of Teaching Our Teens Godly Wisdom
A few years ago, I was talking with someone from my graduating class about who went where after high school. She mentioned that one of our classmates became a surgeon, remarking, “she’s the bright spot of the class.” Translation: she is to be exalted because her salary as a surgeon far surpasses any other classmate’s earnings.
We all want smart kids. Many of us double down on grades, spending countless hours and dollars putting them in tutoring classes and SAT prep classes so they can get into a prestigious school. We believe that academic knowledge translates to financial security, career success, respect, and the admiration of peers and family members.
In a 2018 study, more than 1.17 million students in the class of 2017 took 3.98 million AP Exams in public high schools nationwide, more than a five-fold increase from the class of 2007. There appears an arms race among parents as to whose child can be the most academically proficient, because many parents believe that they will derive joy from these pursuits. Many of us think that we have succeeded as parents if our kids have a strong academic resume and get into a prestigious school.
We want our kids to be smart, but are they smart in God’s eyes? Godly wisdom and worldly wisdom are not synonyms, otherwise James wouldn’t delineate the difference between the two in his epistle (3:13-18).
Proverbs 23:24-25 says “The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him. May your father and mother rejoice; may she who gave you birth be joyful!” Consider the context of the verse. There is another adjective used alongside wise: righteous. Both the father and the mother can derive joy not merely from having a child that has a lot of knowledge, but one who knows how to use that knowledge in living out their faith.
There are three ways in which we can better understand this knowledge as parents so that we can teach it to our children.
Godly Wisdom is the Fear of the Lord
Proverbs 1:7 says “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Across all of wisdom literature in the Bible (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon), the fear of the Lord is mentioned 48 times as a virtue to have or a vice to be without. Many of today’s youth are taught, informally or formally, to question and be skeptical of authority. The idea that there is a being in authority like God that we are supposed to fear is unsettling to many, especially those among Generation Z.
But while we want to pretend that we are equals with God, that is simply not reality. We may think we are good compared to others mired in scandals on the news, but Isaiah 64:6 says “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” I hear some young people say, “if I am mostly moral, I don’t like the fact that God would have a problem with that.” When Michael Shermer, founder of Skeptic magazine, was asked why God should let him into heaven, his response was, “Yes, I fell short many times, but I tried to apply the Golden Rule whenever I could…I can’t believe that a good God – an all-powerful and loving God – would do anything bad to me for that.”
The problem with these responses presupposes that we can dialogue with God as if we are near equals in some type of cosmic courtroom. To believe that we have attained that kind of leverage because we are “mostly” good is a gross fallacy. Understanding who you are before God is a sign of wisdom, not weakness. That wisdom allows us to understand the gospel, because when we understand that we are helpless before God because of our sin, it allows us to receive Jesus’ forgiveness through his work on the cross.
Godly Wisdom Exercises Discernment
When people buy computers, what is often the most important thing they are looking for? The speed of the processor. Second would be the limit of the hard drive. What good is having a bunch of information if it takes you forever and a day to access it and execute the needed functions with it as a result? In the same way, godly wisdom is not merely about the storing of information, as if we are some type of computer. It is about the ability to execute certain functions on that information – hence, discernment.
Let’s revisit James 3:18. “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.” What do all of these attributes have in common? They are all an execution of knowledge, not the mere accumulation of it. As a matter of fact, the knowledge required to attain these attributes does not come from an AP Calculus textbook, but from the Word of God, taught in the community of believers. I’m not saying that accumulating knowledge is bad – by no means – but we must remember as parents where we should be directing our kids not only with the accumulation, but also with the application of that knowledge.
Godly Wisdom is Built on Things Eternal
Many young people live by two slogans: YOLO (You Only Live Once) and FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). In other words, you have one life and if you don’t put all of your eggs in the basket of now, you will regret it forever (even though you won’t have consciousness with which to feel regret).
But in 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul tells Timothy that the Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Godly wisdom produces in us a perspective of the eternal, not merely the temporal.
When teenagers can think with an eternal perspective instead of just the here-and-now, their entire axis on how they view life will change. Godly wisdom allows teens to process difficult situations like what we have endured the past two years. It also helps them prioritize their time and their energy into what’s truly important – living according to the gospel – rather than climbing the corporate ladder and “fitting in” to the dominant culture.
I admit, teaching our kids these three things about godly wisdom seems like a daunting task, but Jesus did promise in John 14:6 that the Holy Spirit would help us as a counselor. Memorizing Quadratic equations and Shakespeare’s sonnets only can only take our kids so far, but teaching them to embrace godly wisdom proves invaluable not only in this life, but also for the one to come.