Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

Wisdom from Above

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (Jas 3:13-18, ESV)

Wisdom has particular characteristics. James tells us that there is a great distinction to be made between wisdom from above and wisdom from below. Godly wisdom is shown by good behavior, in gentleness (v. 13). Such godly wisdom is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruit, unwavering, without hypocrisy (v. 17). Worldly wisdom is grounded in bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, and arrogance. This shows us that not all wisdom is to be equated.

James is mirroring the Hebrew Scriptures in this approach to wisdom. The book of Proverbs draws out all of these points in more detail. Perhaps one of the more comprehensive statements on the wisdom from above comes from Proverbs 3:13-24.

Wisdom is to be discovered (v. 13). This would imply an active seeking on our part, not passively sitting back and waiting for wisdom to be zapped into us. We must “take hold of her” and “hold her fast” (v. 18). Of course, seeking after wisdom coincides with seeking the Lord, for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (9:10). Fearing God is the foundation of all wisdom, knowledge and understand (cf. 1:7), so to find wisdom is to find God. No other type of wisdom can have the benefits of His wisdom.

We go after what we deem as valuable. What, then, is the value of godly wisdom? “Her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor” (vv. 15-16).

God’s people must distinguish between the value of earthly wealth and the value of heavenly wisdom. Theoretically, we know there is a difference, yet we so often spend ourselves in the pursuit of worldly wealth. When we want to get rich and present ourselves to the altar of mammon, we become the fools about which Proverbs warns. If we can spend so much of our time and energy to seek our worldly wealth, which we know will not last, then why can we not spend ourselves completely on the wisdom that leads to salvation? (2 Tim 3:14-15)

The rewards of wisdom are great. “Long life” is not simply about how many years we spend on earth. Proverbs 3:17 even speaks of wisdom being a “tree of life” to those who take hold of her, indicating that this “long life” is one that takes us into eternity. The tree of life, first seen in the Garden of Eden, and at last found in Paradise (Rev 22), is attained only through God's wisdom. Here is the path to true and lasting happiness. Long life is eternal life.

God Himself is the pattern for wisdom. “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens” (3:20). God's wisdom is creative and powerful. Wisdom emanates from Him, not simply because He willed it, but because it flows from His very nature. It is who He is.

Wisdom, as described in Scripture, is a way of life. It is not something that we just do occasionally, but more something that we become. There is security in this. Wisdom and discretion becomes life to our souls (v. 22). “Then you will walk in your way securely and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet” (vv 23-24). How can this be? “For the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught” (v. 26).

James adds that seeking wisdom is attended by a life of prayer: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach” (1:5). So let us be resolved:

“Acquire wisdom;
And with all your acquiring, get understanding.
Prize her, and she will exalt you;
She will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a garland of grace;
She will present you with a crown of beauty.”  (Proverbs 4:7-9)