Who is wise among you?
Be careful how you answer – because there are two different kinds of ‘wisdom’. On the one hand there is heavenly wisdom and on the other there is worldly wisdom.
A wise person, should probably examine themselves before they give an answer.Of course a Christian would want to say they were a ‘heavenly wise’ person. Indeed. Would others consider you to be?
James in his letter shows us the difference between these two kinds of wisdom – and helpfully suggests that the way to determine a heavenly wise person is to effectively ask those around them!
Heavenly wisdom is displayed in a person who lives a good life, evident by humble deeds (James 3:13). It is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, showing good fruit, impartial and sincere (3:17).
That is a tall order!
Allow me to ask you to reflect for a moment on the whole idea of ‘humility’. How do we see humility? ‘Humility’ is one of those values that we often assume to be an unseen quality. If I were to say to you ‘I am a humble man!’ – it is unlikely that you would agree. In fact it is a boast that in itself shows me not to be a humble man!
Yet James says, that ‘wisdom’ is something that is on display in the humble deeds of a person. Whilst I might desire to be humble and more to be pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, fruitful, impartial and sincere – together showing me to be a wise person, the measure of whether I am in fact those things is something that I have no say over. It is others who will judge me to be humble or not.
This is heavenly wisdom. To be driven, in line with the gospel, to live a good life before others such that they can say ‘He is a wise man – we know that because he does good deeds humbly putting others before himself.’
Humility is something that is on display! When a person displays their humility (as they actively live out their lives), they show their wisdom!
The opposite is Worldly wisdom. James says, the one who harbors bitter envy and selfish ambition – this is the earthly, unspiritual, devil-inspired, way of ‘wisdom’ (James 3:14-16).
Who would aspire to this kind of wisdom? Surely no one!
Yet, friends not many of us would say that they were free from envy or selfish ambition. James insightfully observes, that for many, the ‘wisdom’ that they live by is actually wisdom that is driven by the world.
Notice something in contrast to what has been said about heavenly wisdom. Worldly wisdom is the kind of ‘wisdom’ that is not on display – at least not as obviously as heavenly wisdom should be!
Bitter envy, selfish ambition, that which denies the truth is rarely boasted about. It may well drive a person to make the decisions that they do, but they are motivations that are hidden. The result is that they create disorder and evil practice (James 3:16).
We know this to be true. How often do you make poor decisions, or say things that hurt others, or damage relationships, because deep down you are driven by jealously or pride (two unsavory qualities that come from envy and selfish ambition)?
So, how does one grow in heavenly wisdom?
- Look at Jesus.
The practical emphasis of James, tells believers in the Lord Jesus Christ ‘what’ they should do (James 2:1), but not always the ‘why’ which should motivate the believer. That said, all that James suggests is driven by a desire to actively live for Jesus. When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he too was concerned that they lived wise lives, and as such he wrote:
God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things to nullify the things that are, so that no one can boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus who has become for us the wisdom from God – that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’ (1 Cor 1:27-31).
If you want to grow in heavenly wisdom, then you must walk in the footsteps of Jesus. If he has become the wisdom of God, and heavenly wisdom is something seen, then do what he does. Humbly – be pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, fruitful, impartial and sincere.
2. Check your motivations
If the opposite of heavenly wisdom is the hidden motivations prevalent in the so called worldly wisdom, then it makes sense that the Christian should watch their motivations carefully. If you find yourself harboring bitter envy or fostering selfish ambition then be warned – this wisdom is dangerous. Step back, pray, and ask God for a change of heart.