(By Theanna Joyce)
The Bible’s definition of wisdom is slightly different from that of the world’s. Well, to be more precise, I’d say they’re just about polar opposites. The world tells us that the wise way to live is to find yourself. The Bible advises us to find God. The world advises us to seek our own gain, then care for others. God says to lay down your life. The world urges us to be better, try harder, work faster. God says, “Look to Me and rest.”
Let’s take a look in the book of James and see what he has to say about wisdom in his letter to his fellow Christians. In James 3:13 he tells the wise and understanding (i.e. us/the people we are trying to be): “By [their] good conduct let [them] show [their] works in the meekness of wisdom.” Did you get that? Wisdom is shown by our works. It’s not the eloquent phrases spouted off about society or the church. It’s not just the advice we whisper (or broadcast) to our family and friends (or whoever will listen). It is our works—our good conduct. Essentially James is saying, if you are wise, prove it by your works done in the meekness of wisdom.
Further down in verse 17, James lets us know more of what this wisdom from God looks like. “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” James is telling us that if our wisdom compels us to do anything impure, it is not wisdom from God. If any of our wisdom prompts us to sow discord, it is not from God. If we are not gentle and open to reason, then we are not filled with wisdom from above. If we are not abounding in acts of mercy and good fruits, then we cannot claim to have wisdom from above. If we are not impartial or sincere, then we must be listening to the advice of the deceiver, rather than God. In verse 14, James tells us that if we have bitter jealousy or selfish ambition in our hearts, then we have earthly, unspiritual, demonic wisdom. This is a scary thought and it requires a response from us all—we need to look at our own lives, our conduct, and judge it.
This is a hard word. It cuts deep into my heart because so many times, I have been jealous. So many times, I have been partial. Selfish. Insincere. Empty of mercy. Empty of good fruits. So many times, I have not been gentle or a peacemaker. And that means I’ve listened to the wrong voices. I’ve been guided by wisdom not from God. The reality is, it’s hard to follow God’s wisdom when we’re surrounded by the world. I beg you to look at your life. Please be honest—don’t assume that you’re fine because you’re a Christian; please don’t jump to the opposite conclusion because you know the flesh is still at war within you.
I think the reason we have such a hard time with this concept of living a life filled with God’s wisdom is because life is a process. It is not defined by a single sin or failure, righteous act or success. Wisdom is defined by a lifestyle characterized by the fear of the Lord. This idea—to fear the Lord—means to see God as He truly is. It means seeing His majesty and worshipping Him. It means seeing our sin and repenting. When we’ve sinned and truly repented, we are forgiven. God is not holding that sin above our heads; we are clean in Jesus’ name. Don’t let past sin keep you from seeking God’s wisdom now. Fear Him, see Him as He truly is, and these fruits of wisdom will flow.
James teaches us that if we realize that we’re being guided by this world’s wisdom, then we need to be “wretched and mourn and weep” (James 4:9). Sin is not something to laugh at; it’s not something to casually address or brush away. Jealousy and selfishness are not just unflattering character traits. Jesus had to die to cleanse us from our involvement in these things. We can’t take them lightly.
But there’s hope! (Thank God that with Him there is always hope!) In James 1, we’re told that anyone can ask for His wisdom. In verse 8, James writes: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” What a promise! How incredible is our God; how far above us He is yet He is not ashamed to be right beside us. He says, “Ask and you will receive.” Sounds familiar right? Is this not how you were saved? Did you not humble yourself before God and ask forgiveness? And now, if you’re trying to live your life for God, you must realize that the process hasn’t changed. God is still telling you to ask Him. HE is the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17)! Ask Him in faith for wisdom and He will give it to you.
There’s one more thing I’d like to share with you, and that is—we need this wisdom in order to serve God. In 1 Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul writes:
"We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ."
Our job here on earth is to spread the name of Jesus, to extol our God, to make disciples of all people. And how do we do this? With wisdom. Our battlefield is not physical but spiritual! We must have wisdom so that we can use the tool God has given us to take every thought captive to Christ and to destroy the lies of the deceiver.
“From where, then, does wisdom come?
And where is the place of understanding?
It is hidden from the eyes of all living
and concealed from the birds of the air.
Abaddon and Death say,
‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’
God understands the way to it,
and He knows its place.
For He looks to the ends of the earth
and sees everything under the heavens.
When He gave to the wind its weight
and apportioned the waters by measure,
when He made a decree for the rain
and a way for the lightning of the thunder,
then He saw it and declared it;
He established it, and searched it out.
And He said to man,
‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”