Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.  But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

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.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.—James 3:13-18

If you read the Bible often, and pay attention as you read, you start to notice something: God doesn’t think like we do.  He tells us in Isaiah 55 that His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts like our thoughts.  In a conversation about money in Luke 16, Jesus told the Pharisees that what people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.  We use the word “blessed” to describe someone who is experiencing abundance, ease, and comfort, but 1 Peter chapter 5 tells us that people who are persecuted for their faith should consider themselves “blessed.”  We rejoice when things go well in our lives, but the Bible tells us that we should rejoice in our sufferings, because of the spiritual benefits that come through struggle.

It’s a hard concept to get our heads around: we think something is bad, but God says it’s good.  We think it would be best if a situation turns out in a certain way, but God decides to take things in a completely different direction, because He has a different idea about what is best.  And here’s another example: In our culture, people believe that morality is determined by popular vote; if enough people say something is okay, then it must be okay.  But God says that He is the one who determines right and wrong, even if all of His creation disagrees with Him.  People say “this is what love looks like,” and God says, “No, you’ve got it all wrong; that’s not love at all, it’s actually sinful.  It’s harmful to you and offensive to me.  It’s the opposite of love.”  Time and time again, when we ask God how He views something, it’s often very different from how we view it.

When we read the above verses from James chapter 3, we can see that the concept of “wisdom” is one more area where God doesn’t think like us.  According to God’s word, wisdom is not a guru on a mountain saying profound things.  It’s not clever sayings shared on social media.  It’s not shrewd politicians who know how to out-argue or out-maneuver their opponents to get their way.  It’s not discovering shortcuts to save a few pennies.  It’s not “life hacks.”  Let’s look at what God thinks true wisdom is:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

First of all, God corrects our thinking by explaining that wisdom is not demonstrated in the words we say, but the life we life.  Saying wise-sounding things does not make a person wise.  Do these words describe you, or your favorite political figure: “A good life, and deeds done in humility…”?   If you want to know if someone is wise, look at their relationships.  Look at the way they handle their personal affairs, the way they treat others and take care of themselves.  Wisdom shows up in the life we life, not the words we say.

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.  Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

Apparently, from God’s point of view, one major aspect of wisdom is humility.  He’s already mentioned “deeds done in humility,” and now he says that if someone is driven by the desire to be better or do better than others, they are not wise in His eyes, but have embraced an earthly, demonic definition of that word.  Strong language!  Disorder and every evil practice come from selfish ambition.  A selfish, proud person is not wise, no matter how successful they may be.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure…

Pure!   A morally corrupt person cannot be wise, according to God.

…then peace-loving…

Someone who enjoys and promotes conflict is not wise, according to God.

…considerate…

Someone who doesn’t care about the needs of others cannot be wise, according to God.

…submissive…

Someone who never places themselves under the authority of others cannot be wise, according to God.

…full of mercy…

Someone who never treats people better than they deserve is not wise, according to God.

…and good fruit…

Again, wisdom is proven by a life well lived.  Someone whose life does not produce good fruit may sound wise, by they are not, according to God.

…impartial…

Someone who never considers that their friends may sometimes be wrong and their enemies may sometimes be right, someone who does not apply justice consistently, is not wise, according to God.

…and sincere.

Someone who is not the person they are pretending to be, who puts on a false front to impress others, is not a wise person, according to God.

Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Peace is mentioned twice in this short description of the truly wise person.  A wise person promotes peace.  They are a source of unity, not division; they love to see relationships healed and people reconciled to each other.  Someone like this reaps “a harvest of righteousness.”  What a great thing to strive for!  I would love for the outcome of my life to be a harvest of righteousness.

As we begin a new year (and an election year), it’s a good idea to ask ourselves the question:  Am I demonstrating God’s kind of wisdom to the world?  Would God call me a wise person, based on this passage of scripture?  What about the people I align myself with?  This week, take some time to use James chapter 3 to evaluate yourself, and your heroes, and invite God to lead you into His kind of wisdom.

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