Wisdom’s Principal Purpose

Reflection: James 3: 13 – 18

James continues to address his opponents, who were teachers and their followers, in this passage, after noting earlier the potency of the tongue (3:1). He differentiates the nature of divine and worldly wisdom. Wisdom is often interpreted rather narrowly in terms of our expressed thoughts, but he takes us a step further; where wisdom from God (Jam 1:5-6) produces humility in conduct (v.13). Hence, the first step in genuine wisdom is to ‘know’ God. How we live our lives indicate whether we have grasped the character of wisdom – which essentially is a Hebraic view, a moral rather than an intellectual emphasis. His rhetorical question, “Who among you is wise and understanding?” begs an answer immediately, “…let him see that he makes his virtuous life show the peaceable humility of wisdom” (v.13). Thus, to possess wisdom and understanding implies an ability to know how to relate to life. It becomes a way of seeing how God-honouring relationships function, and allowing it to guide us in impacting others around us. The reverse is earthly wisdom, exemplified by teachers who are opinionated and arrogant. In fact, James denounces it as devilish behavior; meaning, its conduct is in opposition to God (vv.14-16), as they habitually destroys relationships.

Generally, we possess much knowledge compared to wisdom. So how does wisdom benefit others? James separates divinely derived wisdom into inner and outer markers. It is undefiled moral and spiritual integrity (pure); peace-loving and peacemaking (peaceable); conciliatory and submissive (gentle); and fair, considerate, and deferential (reasonable). It is also all embracing lovingkindness (merciful); produces a rich harvest of kindly acts (produces good fruits); impartial (unwavering); and sincere, upright and honest (without hypocrisy) (v.17). These characterize who our God is, and His desire is to see them in His people. James summarizes them: wise people are peacemakers, where the fruit of a righteous mind is peace-loving (v.18), suggesting that righteousness is no sudden growth, but the product of seed sown in peacefulness. A wise life is a beauty to behold, where everything is perfectly balanced, and truth is freshly embodied. The beginning of wisdom is related to a sense of awe (the fear) of the presence of the Lord (Ps 111:10). Without this attainment, we have no fear of the Lord, and would not be counted as wise in His eyes. James informs us that wisdom is given as a gift when we humbly ask for it in the midst of trouble or when our faith is being tested (Jas 1:2-8), so that we are again in touch with reality in the presence of our Creator God.

Wisdom in JamesWherever the church of Christ is rich in reconciling ministries (to name a few: evangelism, counselling the distressed, offering hospitality to the stranger who comes in our midst, defending the underprivileged and outcast, and sending missionaries to the unreached), she would certainly obtain a rich harvest of righteousness. Believers seeking to be divinely wise are to humbly live morally insightful lives daily, with hearts unstained by sin. They are also peacemakers, tolerant, with no prejudice, sincere toward others, and friendly, with hearts that are full of love for other people, which produces a good crop of merciful deeds.