Let’s talk about wisdom.
Wisdom is kind of an old-fashioned value, not something people think about much in our fast-paced culture. Many of us would probably say we’d like to be healthier a year from now, or richer. Some of us might say we’d like to spend more time outdoors, see our family and friends more, or maybe even pray more or know our Bibles better. But how many of us ever think to ourselves: “A year from now, I hope to be a wiser person”?
As we think back over the last several months, I think it’s fair to say that we have seen a lot of evidence of a lack of wisdom in our society. Even when it comes to those who lead our country, wisdom doesn’t seem to be something we value all that highly—especially when we define wisdom the way God does. In James 3:13-18, the Bible tells us what God says wisdom looks like, and shows how different His wisdom is from the wisdom of this world. Let’s take a look at it piece by piece:
13 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.
God says that we show we are wise by living a good life. Wisdom is not just saying things that sound profound (or posting them on social media), it is living well. Specifically, it is living with humility. A proud person, a person who thinks too highly of themselves, is not a wise person.
14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
The world’s wisdom is selfish. It seeks ways to get ahead at the expense of others. This world sees nothing wrong with striving to climb to the top of the heap and treating people as obstacles instead of partners. The Bible says that Satan, not God, is the source of that approach to life, even when it results in “success.” The desire to climb to the top increases sin in our lives and produces chaos in the lives of those around us. A person who lives a self-centered, self-promoting life is not a wise person.
17 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.
That verse is worth looking at even more closely. According to the Bible, true wisdom is:
Pure: The world says that sometimes you have to make moral compromises in order to achieve your goals. If that’s the case, they are the wrong goals. God’s wisdom is pure.
Peace-loving: Wise people love peace. Wise leaders don’t start wars. Wise spouses let small things go instead of picking fights. Wise church members don’t create division through petty criticism. Wise people know that harmony between people is a beautiful gift from God, and they work to preserve it.
Considerate: Wise people pay attention to the needs of others, and go out of their way to meet them. They do small things to make the people around them feel comfortable and important.
Submissive: I don’t think “submissive” is anyone’s favorite word. It has so many negative connotations because of the ways those in authority have often abused their God-given power. So let’s just say this: wise people understand their role. They trust that God knew what He was doing when He gave them authority in some areas and gave it to others in other areas. Wise people understand that they are not always in charge, and they have the strength to follow God-appointed leadership.
Full of mercy and good fruit: Wise people treat others with such kindness that they leave in their wake a trail of people who are grateful for them. As God’s grace flows through them, they make a positive impact on whatever environment they find themselves in.
Impartial and sincere: Wise people don’t let their personal desires or preferences cloud their judgment. They want what is right, even when it is uncomfortable. They have no hidden agenda; in fact, they have no agenda at all but the glory of God.
Finally, the passage closes with this statement:
18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
James returns to the idea that a wise person is a peacemaker. Wise people build bridges between others. They work to foster harmony, unity, and love. And the fruit of their labor is righteousness: homes and churches and workplaces and nations where life is lived in such a way that God is pleased and people are blessed.
So what do you think? If we use this passage as a checklist, are you a wise person? Is your favorite political hero a wise person? Do you know anyone who is truly wise according to God’s definition of that word?
What about Jesus? When the Son of God lived as a man, He was everything we have just read: He was humble and selfless, pure and peace-loving and considerate. He lived a life full of mercy and good fruit; He was impartial and sincere. And He was the ultimate peacemaker: at the cost of his own life He reconciled sinful people to a holy God. When God calls us to be wise people, we don’t have to wonder what that looks like. Jesus has shown us true wisdom. Now the question is: will we invite Him to make us wise? Will we let Him make us more like Himself?