“Practical Wisdom” is a term used in a few instances in the Bible. In at least one case, it is evident that it is synonymous with “street smart(s)” (Street smart is understood as “having the experience and knowledge necessary to deal with the potential difficulties or dangers of life in an urban environment.”) Practical wisdom is the difference between “showing all the cards in your hand” vs “stacking the cards in your favor.” Yes, in some cases shrewdness is involved. This was the case of the illustration that Jesus gave in Luke 16:8, wherein the financial manager used unethical means to secure his future. Rest assured Jesus was not recommending unethical methods; he was recommending practical wisdom to protect and preserve life. (Specifically, the point Jesus was making was regarding the value of practical wisdom with regards our relationship with God and the godly way we live, view and handle ourselves – a skill he said his disciples were lacking.)
One way even godly people today can learn this is ponder the application of Proverbs 13:7. In most cases “pretending” to be rich can have very bad repercussions. Giving the appearance of having wealth in public (even when you truly are wealthy) can make you the target of thieves. There is a saying that we should “put our best foot forward.” However, our “best foot” may not always be so clear. To illustrate, consider another two sayings: “Dress for success.” And “dress the part.” “Success” and “the part” in this case, is the goal we want to achieve. So let’s consider a couple examples of a specific goal: You go to the grocers decked out in your finest threads and approach the store manager, indicating you are broke and asking for a hand out. Are you dressing to achieve your goal? No. Although you don’t have to dress slovenly, less flashy dress might be believable to the store manager. On the other hand, if you show up at a new car dealership selling BMW or Mercedes Benz vehicles dressed in baggy pants, several layers of loose-fitting T-shirts, and wearing a baseball cap backwards, what are the chances you’ll be taken seriously? In that case, even though a 3-piece suit may “sell” you, again, just neat clothing more akin to blue-collar workers may also work.
Personally, in application of Proverbs 13, I rarely dress up when going shopping just because I’m trying to apply the scripture and thus safeguard myself from potential attacks. Is that paranoid? Maybe to you. But I have been stocked three times in the past while I was carrying certain electronics. But this article is not to tell you how you should dress. It is to help you put your brain in gear and meditate on Proverbs 13:7 and how you can use it to protect yourself.
A different angle on Proverbs 13:7: This time, let’s take it part by part. The first line reads: “There is one who pretends to be rich, yet has nothing.” Besides being possibly attacked, this person will probably find himself surrounded by false friends whose only desire is to get some of the wealth. Now, when those fake friends discover what a fake man he is, he will find himself abandoned and probably be the target of cruel gossip. Whatever ego such a man is feeding himself in order to appear rich, it really is of no benefit to him to advance this pretense. The second line of this proverbs says: “There is another who pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.” Really, this is the wiser course. No one will pester you for money; no one will consider you a worthwhile target; and you can buy what you need, when you need and want it.
But in all the above, I’ve focused on the material, the mundane, features of Jesus’ advice and the application of Proverbs 13:7. What are the spiritual applications? First is the intelligent acknowledgement that God does indeed exist. Any other conclusion is foolish. Second, and this is more applicable to believers than non-believers, is the idea of implicit trust in God. When life is “going smooth and good” for us, we tend to feel everything is okay between us and God – and it may be. However, when difficulties arise, it is not uncommon for people to wonder “why God is allowing this?” It is no more true that God is being unkind to them than it was that he was being cruel to Job. Even when undergoing difficulties, we should never doubt that God loves us. Even in cases where we may be getting punished for a wrongdoing, his only interest is not to crush, but to spiritually heal us.
More information: In this article on wisdom, note the Hebrew and Greek original-word meanings of “wisdom:” The basic terms signifying wisdom are the Hebrew chokh·mahʹ (verb, cha·khamʹ) and the Greek so·phiʹa, with their related forms. Also, there are the Hebrew tu·shi·yahʹ, which may be rendered “effectual working” or “practical wisdom,” and the Greek phroʹni·mos and phroʹne·sis (from phren, the “mind”), relating to “sensibleness,” “discretion,” or “practical wisdom.”