By Dick Koehneke
Please ponder these words with me for a few moments: “Wisdom is better than strength. But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded. The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.” (Ecclesiastes 9:16-18)
In nearly four decades of parish pastoral ministry, one of the lessons I learned was this: Don’t listen only to the people with the loudest voices. Don’t pay exclusive attention to the people with the highest verbal skills. “The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.” To put it another way: Sometimes the people who speak the least have the most to say.
Sometimes, in the midst of a stressful situation or a complicated decision, the wisest thing a church leader can do is to go to a quiet, faithful person, someone who would never come to you, someone who would be petrified at the notion of speaking at a public meeting. Go to that person one on one and ask this question: “What do YOU think?” Then listen. Listen actively. Listen very carefully. “Wisdom is better than strength.”
“Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.” People in church leadership positions tend to apply that last phrase to other people. We sometimes call them “alligators” or “antagonists.” They are rare, thank God, but they do exist, and they need to be dealt with according to the Word and will of God. It’s a tragedy when a leader is an alligator. One influential person can “destroy much good.” An antagonistic church leader (ordained, commissioned, or lay) can cause enormous problems. You have influence, and it can be used wisely or foolishly. Use your influence to build up, not to tear down. Wisdom is better than strength.
“But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded.” People tend to pay attention to people with worldly resources: wealth, popularity, position. The poor and weak are rejected and ignored because they don’t seem to have anything to offer. How contrary this is to the ways of God! Listen to the poor person, the unemployed person, the person in poor health, the person with no power, the person no one seems to know. They are important people in God’s sight. As Scripture says, God exalts the lowly and humbles the proud. God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong, so that no one may boast before him.
Jesus Christ perfectly personified this principle. When Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin after his arrest in Gethsemane, no doubt his accusers thought he was weak and foolish. They treated him with contempt and abused him. He didn’t say very much, did he? But when he spoke in response to their accusations, he spoke words of wisdom: “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.” Wisdom is better than strength.
Because Jesus humbled himself and became obedient unto death on the cross, God has exalted him to the highest place. Because Jesus was humble and obedient, our sins are forgiven, and we too will be seated with him in the heavenly realms. The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. “Wisdom is better than strength” after all.