Tonight we attended a Bible study (remotely), part of which was spent on James chapter 3. There wasn’t a lot of time left by the time we got to James’s discussion of the “wisdom from above” in verses 13-18. But as it generally does, this passage got me thinking. If we take the passage apart, there’s just so much to think about, in relation to our own walk.
James’s first point is to ask us “who is wise and understanding?” Of course we all like to think of ourselves being in this category. Well then, James says, “By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.”
Point 1: Think yourself wise? Prove it, by how you live your life. And how we do that matters too—it’s to be “in the meekness of wisdom”.
Point 2, then, is that a genuinely wise person is going to be meek. Opposite of the world’s standard, which expects its “experts” to be on talk shows and book tours. Real wisdom is much quieter, much less prone to blowing its own horn. Doesn’t actually care who gets the credit.
James goes on. Earthly, unspiritual, demonic wisdom is fueled by, and characterized by, jealousy and selfish ambition. Now, how many people will actually say, “Yeah, I have a problem with being jealous of how people revere that guy (or gal), and man I want some of that!” Show of hands? Thought so. We just aren’t very likely to come out and acknowledge feelings like that. We skate over these words—gotta apply to somebody else! Hm.
There are two outcomes, James goes on to say, depending on whether the wisdom you think you have is earthly, or from above. The earthly produces disorder and vile practices. In contrast, the wisdom from above produces a harvest of righteousness, a crop of peace sown by people to make peace. Always, you reap what you sow.
Worldly wisdom scoffs at what James advocates.
He gives us some other indicators to know when we’re dealing with wisdom from above. This is the heart of what struck me about this passage tonight. “Wisdom from above if first pure…” There shouldn’t be any element of politics in it, there shouldn’t be manipulation, or jockeying for position, or currying favor, getting credit.
Wisdom from above is “…then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy…” Wise courses of action (heavenly-wise ones) won’t be about confrontation, won’t be belligerent, won’t assume motives. It may be necessary to confront, but the action won’t be about the confrontation. The action will be gentle, and will be listening—open to being reasoned with rather than having the mind already made up. And ready to forgive.
Heavenly wisdom is also “…full of good fruits…” What does that mean? Can’t be too different from the characteristics detailed in Paul’s fruit of the Spirit. Jesus said we would know the quality of leaders by their fruits. What results from interaction with them? Love, joy, peace and all the rest? Or the reverse?
James expects us, it seems to me, to evaluate ourselves against the standard he has just described… how do we measure up?
The final phrase in James’s description of the wisdom from above is that it is “…impartial and sincere.” No prejudgment, no bias, no assumptions. And really sincerely caring, sincerely helping, sincerely seeking the best for everyone involved.
James expects us, it seems to me, to evaluate ourselves against the standard he has just described. In one on one relationships, in our church, in our family, at work, how do we measure up?
When a situation arises that really needs to be handled well, are we heavenly-wise? Are we, first off, sowing peace and looking for a harvest of both peace and righteousness? Are our motives pure, or tainted with selfish ambition? Are we gentle and merciful to everyone? Do we come with assumptions and biases, certain we “know”? Or do we listen, and even respond to someone else’s reason? Is our conduct above reproach? Do we come to whatever the situation is, with meekness? Ready to forgive?
Worldly wisdom scoffs at what James advocates. And it’s true that we probably won’t win worldly acclaim by exercising heavenly wisdom. But that’s not the harvest we’re really interested in. Is it?