Everyone knows a real wise guy…
Who is the wisest person you know? We’ve all got people in our lives we look to for insight into tough situations, to come up with that little nugget to find a way out of a difficult situation. Then there’s the other guy. You know him, too. The guy who thinks he’s always got the answers. He has the plan. He knows what to do. Just ask him. But he really doesn’t. His “wisdom” has him fooled.
Proverbs 11:2 says:
When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.
We have a real problem, though—a division between different kinds of wisdom. James’s readers had this kind of debate about wisdom. Wisdom was a really big deal, because we often look to wise people for guidance, direction, and leadership. The beauty of our political system today is that any dummy can get elected…and many do! James wants us to understand that there is a difference between worldly wisdom and heavenly wisdom; wisdom that comes from our own hearts and the wisdom that comes from God’s heart
James 3:13-18 says:
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.
Let’s unpack this a little bit:
Wisdom plays out in two ways:
- Real wisdom that comes from God is exhibited through good conduct and work
- Demonic wisdom is characterized by jealousy and selfish ambition
When James talks about demonic wisdom he’s not saying that some people are given wisdom by demons. He’s saying that worldly wisdom that focuses on jealousy and ambition is the same kind of wisdom that even demons have. We’ve all met people that use what they know only to pursue their own gain. They look out for number one. They don’t care about you or anyone else—they use their wisdom for their own benefit. Doesn’t sound like a real nice guy, does it? Human wisdom seeks self-advancement and is anything but humble. It is driven only for its own success.
Obviously real wisdom is what we’re after, then. James tells us what heavenly wisdom looks like. It hits us and changes us—forms us in three areas: our character, our actions, and our constancy.
- As to character James tells us that Godly wisdom is pure. It is peace-loving. It is considerate. It is open to reason (submissive).
- As to actions James tells us that Godly wisdom is merciful (compassionate) and full of good fruit (this is a biblical metaphor for behavior – an apple tree produces good apples).
- As to constancy James tells us that Godly wisdom is impartial (unwavering) and sincere (no hypocrisy or anything false).
In a nutshell, what James is talking about is surrender, and these are our terms of surrender. We give over to God our character, our actions, and our constancy. That means who we are and what we do without any hypocrisy or waffling. We can’t be considerate today and inconsiderate tomorrow. We can’t be reasonable today and unreasonable tomorrow. We can’t be compassionate today and uncompassionate tomorrow. We need to be constant, allow God to change us more and more every day so that we are less and less like that old character.
God is calling his people to surrender our rebel hearts and to take on new character and new behavior without hypocrisy. On the job. In the home. With our families. With total strangers. It’s a call to a new way of living—his way of living.
– Think about your “wisdom” – what does it lead you to do?
– Does your wisdom lead you to godly behavior and godly character?