God's secret wisdom

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1Co 2:6–8)

Wisdom is supreme

The Bible speaks a lot about wisdom. The word is used fifty-one times in the Book of Proverbs alone, with six of the first nine chapters devoted to extolling its virtues. It's also used twenty-seven times in the Book of Ecclesiastes. With only ten chapters in the book, that's an average of almost three times per chapter.

Pro 4:7 says:

Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.

Wisdom is supreme: the Hebrew word means the head; the first as to place, time, order or rank. Wisdom is the most important thing any human being can possess, but what is it?

Wisdom can be defined as the ability to make a decision, or pursue a course of action, that will benefit oneself or someone else. In 2Sa 20 a wise woman advised a course of action that saved her city from destruction: her wisdom benefited many. Similarly, if we have wisdom it will benefit us (Pro 4:6–9).

The Bible speaks of three kinds of wisdom.

Human wisdom

As you would expect, the Bible has a low opinion of human wisdom. It says that human wisdom is foolishness in God's sight (1Co 3:19), and that God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom (1Co 1:25). Can God be foolish? Only in the eyes of sinners.

1Co 1:18 says that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. God's Son, hanging on a tree, is foolishness to those who can't understand it. They can't understand it because they haven't the Holy Spirit to give them understanding (1Co 2:14).

What those without the Spirit regard as foolish—the truth that can make them wise for salvation (2Ti 3:15)—is wiser than any wisdom of their own. So, if they think they are wise, they should become fools so they can become truly wise (1Co 3:18).

Have you become a fool for Christ? Have you believed the foolishness of the gospel—that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins (1Co 1:21)? I have, and I hope that you have. If you have, then you've become wise—wise in the sight of God, but foolish in the sight of the world.

Divine wisdom

Divine wisdom (or wisdom from God) is the wisdom Solomon asked for. God appeared to him in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted. Solomon asked for wisdom to govern his people (2Ch 1:7–10), so God gave him what he asked for and made him wiser than anyone who had ever lived (1Ki 3:10–2). Only Jesus was wiser than Solomon (Luk 11:31).

This is the wisdom James tells us to ask for (Jam 1:5–8). It's the ability from God to make wise decisions in life. God gives such wisdom to those who ask him.

Divine wisdom is so beneficial to us that a message of wisdom is one of the nine spiritual gifts (1Co 12:8). It's an inspired utterance, through a believer, that reveals God's wisdom to an individual, or church, in a particular situation. Act 13:1–3 shows the gift in action.

Secret wisdom

This is by far the most important type of wisdom in the Bible and is the theme of our study. If I asked you what was the first thing God brought into existence, what would you say? If you said it was the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1) you'd be wrong. The first thing God brought into being was wisdom.

The Lord brought me [wisdom] forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.

When there were no oceans, I [wisdom] was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I [wisdom] was given birth, before he made the earth or its fields or any of the dust of the world. (Pro 8:22–6)

But why should wisdom be the first of God's works? Because this wisdom, and the wisdom Paul wrote about in our opening text, is the gospel: the good news that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world (1Jo 2:1–2).

1Pe 1:20 tells us that Jesus was chosen by God before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for our sake. The Greek word translated chosen means to foreknow, to decide in advance. God decided that Jesus should die for the sins of the world—a wise decision that has benefited many—before the world was created.

Think about that. It puts the whole of creation into perspective and shows how important Jesus dying on the cross for our sins was. It was the first decision God made.

The gospel in Proverbs

The fact that the word wisdom, as used in the early chapters of Proverbs, is referring to God's secret wisdom (the gospel) and the righteousness that leads to eternal life (Rom 6:19–23), can be seen from the following examples:

Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech: 'How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?' (Pro 1:20–2a)

The Hebrew word translated simple in the Book of Proverbs means to be naive, easily deceived or enticed. It refers to those who have been led into sin by the deceiver (Gen 3:13). The above passage describes the public preaching of the gospel: How long will you sinners love your sinful ways?

'Blessed is the man who listens to me [wisdom], watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway. For whoever finds me finds life and receives favour from the Lord. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death.' (Pro 8:34–6)

Blessed are those who listen to wisdom (the gospel), and pay constant attention to it. For those who find it find life (eternal life) and receive favour from the Lord (2Co 6:2). But those who don't find it suffer harm (eternal punishment); and all who hate it love death (the second death; Rev 20:12–4).

Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men… who leave the straight paths… who delight in doing wrong…. It will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words…. For her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life. (Pro 2:12–9)

Wisdom (the gospel) will save (Hebrew deliver, rescue) a person from sin; it will set them free from it (give them the power to resist it; Rom 6:18). Christians who don't remove sin from their lives (Col 3:5–10), or later return to it (2Pe 2:20–2), will not attain the paths of life (will not ultimately be saved; Gal 5:19–21; Eph 5:3–7).

The tree of life

She [wisdom] is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed. (Pro 3:18)

Wisdom (the gospel) is a tree of life. The tree of life imparts eternal life to all who eat from it (Gen 3:22). The gospel imparts eternal life to all who believe it (Joh 3:14–5).

When God planted a garden in Eden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden (Gen 2:8–9). He did that because of their importance. One symbolized sin—that which was forbidden and brings death. The other symbolized the cross—that which brings forgiveness and life.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus died on a cross? Our sins are cleansed by his blood. For him to have shed his blood in any way would have been sufficient for our salvation; but they nailed him to a tree.

For Adam and Eve to have received eternal life after they had sinned, they would have had to have eaten from the tree of life or, more precisely, from what was hanging on that tree (Gen 3:22). God was showing through this that one day sinful human beings would receive eternal life from what was hanging on a tree—from his Son, Jesus Christ.

Many watched Jesus die that day, including his disciples. I don't think any of them realized they were looking at the real tree of life, of which the one in the Garden of Eden had been but a type and a shadow.

Have you eaten from the tree of life? Jesus said that whoever feeds on him will live for ever (Joh 6:57–8). If you haven't received Jesus Christ as your Saviour and your Lord, do so today. He is the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through him (Joh 14:6).

Rulers of this age

Why is the gospel described as God's secret wisdom? Because, as our opening text tells us, the understanding of it was hidden from the rulers of this age. For if they'd understood it, they would not have crucified Jesus.

Who were those rulers? Act 4:25–7 says that the human rulers of the day, Herod and Pontius Pilate, conspired with the Jews and the Gentiles to put Jesus to death. That is true, but they are not the rulers 1Co 2:8 is talking about.

When Satan told Jesus he had authority over all the kingdoms of the world (the Greek word means authority, power, the right to rule, govern and control), he was telling the truth (Luk 4:5–6).

Satan is the god of this age (2Co 4:4). It's not flesh and blood we struggle against, but the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12). Those forces influence, and can even control, the behaviour of individuals and nations (Rev 20:7–10).

Who entered into Judas Iscariot when Jesus gave him the bread? It was Satan (Joh 13:27). Judas then went out under Satan's influence and betrayed him, which led to his death. Pilate was prepared to release him, but who stirred up the crowd to demand that he be crucified (Mat 27:15–26)? Again, it was Satan.

Jesus knew beforehand that some of the Jews wanted to kill him. He told them that their father was the devil and they wanted to carry out their father's desire, for he was a murderer from the beginning (Joh 8:37–44). And they did carry out his desire.

Satan was the instigator of Christ's death. Did he have a motive for killing him? Yes he did. Jesus was driving out demons and releasing people from his power. Do demons know everything? No. They only know what God permits them to know. And if Satan had known what would happen when Jesus died, he would not have plotted to kill him.


We tend to think of the cross only in terms of it providing forgiveness for sins, but much more than that was achieved when Jesus died.

And they sang a new song:

'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.' (Rev 5:9)

Redemption is an important subject in the Bible. In the Old Testament it referred to the buying back, usually by a sum of money, of what once belonged to someone—either a piece of land or something they'd dedicated to God.

God created Adam and Eve to have fellowship with them. They belonged to him but Satan, by deception, stole them away. The moment Adam obeyed Satan he became subject to his dominion (Col 1:13–4). The Greek word is the same word used in Luk 4:6: it means authority, power, the right to rule, govern and control.

When Jesus shed his blood on the cross he bought people back for God from under Satan's authority. A price had to be paid for their redemption, and Jesus paid it.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1Pe 1:18–9)

In the New Testament, the Greek words translated redeemed, redemption etc, refer to the releasing of someone—either a prisoner or slave—by the paying of a ransom. Have Christians been prisoners or slaves? Yes we have!

The Bible says that the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1Jo 5:19), and that those in the world are prisoners of sin (Gal 3:22a) and slaves to sin (Joh 8:34). Jesus, by his blood, has paid the ransom to set us free from sin (Mat 20:28; Joh 8:36) so we can become slaves to God and to righteousness, the result of which is eternal life (Rom 6:18,22).

All that took place on the cross. If Satan had known what would happen when Jesus shed his blood, he would not have plotted his death—but the understanding of it was hidden from him.

God's purposes

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…. (Eph 1:11)

I find it fascinating how God used Satan to help bring about his plan of salvation. Satan is a powerful being, but God is all-powerful.

We've seen that Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Jews and the Gentiles conspired against Jesus (Act 4:27), and that Satan was behind the conspiracy; but v28 says: 'They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.' Everything that took place had been planned in advance by God.

Satan rebelled against God and led mankind into sin. Sin is usually the result of temptation. If Satan had not tempted Adam and Eve, would they have sinned? Probably not. They were created innocent and had no awareness of evil; it was Satan who put the thought of disobedience into their minds.

If they had not sinned there would have been no need for our Lord to die; but his death was planned before the world was created, so it had to happen. That doesn't mean that God is the author of evil, he isn't. But because he is sovereign he can use the evil actions of others to fulfil his purposes.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?'

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory for ever! Amen. (Rom 11:33–6)

Our finite minds may not be able to grasp everything God has done, or is doing, or will do in the future by his wisdom; but we know that he will fulfil his purposes on earth because he is God. Let's thank him today for his wonderful salvation! Amen.

Michael Graham
April 2009
Revised November 2017

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

guide | home | next