Practically James – Wisdom

“It’s just common sense!” How many times have you said or heard that phrase? The idea behind it is that there is a well-known set of knowledge and wisdom we all share. It’s common sense that spitting into the wind is unwise. But how often is common sense invisible until someone violates it and trips our “that was stupid” warning light. I wonder though, is common sense, well, common? Is your library of wisdom the same as mine? Probably not. Just by observing the world we see that common sense is the seed of many disagreements, arguments, conflicts, and fights. Whose wisdom is right? Let’s turn to James for the answer.

Early in his letter of encouragement and instruction James says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” (James 1:5, NLT)  Boom! Did you catch it?  In one decisive blow, James removes our experiences, our senses (what we can see, hear, feel, taste, and smell), our “common sense”, our knowledge, and our friends from being sources of wisdom. If you need wisdom (and who doesn’t) ask God. And that’s just the first punch.

James returns to wisdom later in his letter. In a few short verses, he identifies the conflict and struggle, the joy, and what endurance looks like regarding wisdom.  “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:13–18, NLT)  Let’s break this down a bit.

The Conflict

James describes two kinds of wisdom – worldly wisdom and Godly wisdom. That in itself explains a lot, there’s not one source of wisdom, but there is only one that leads to peace.

James identifies worldly wisdom as jealous, ambitious, boastful, lying, selfish, unspiritual and even demonic. Worldly wisdom is born out of survival of the fittest and a strong motivation to look out for ourselves above all else. Nothing is forbidden because the only thing that matters is me, myself, and I. The fruit of that wisdom is chaos, disorder, tearing down, and evil of every kind. We’ve all traveled that road to some degree. No one needs to be taught how to be selfish.

In contrast, James identifies the attributes of Godly wisdom. It is pure, without blemish and unseen motives. Godly wisdom loves peace, is always gentle, willing to yield to others, filled with mercy, rejects favoritism, and shines with sincerity. There is an other-centered humility inherent in Godly wisdom. It is easy to act that way with some folks. However, James doesn’t give us that luxury.

The problem, of course, is that these two wisdom’s are in conflict. And to be clear there are many shades of grey between these two black and white pictures. But remember, Godly wisdom is pure. The whitest of white. The battle lines are those moments of consequence when our social group, a family member, a friend, an employer, or a trusted advisor says go right and God says go left. We are conflicted about whose wisdom to follow.

The Joy

The fruit we reap by following Godly wisdom is peace. That’s the joy of this mountain. Peace doesn’t mean that everything is right in our world, but that our hearts are at peace in the midst of the world’s chaos.

Choosing God’s wisdom means peace with Him. Our view of God changes from that of a harsh judge to a friend that sticks closer than a brother. We may not understand everything but we know we can trust Him in all things.

Have you ever noticed that conflict begets conflicts but if someone is willing to bend peace is possible?  An attitude of willingness to be wrong, to go second, to show mercy, and reject favoritism seems to break impenetrable walls and cool intolerable tempers. I’ve seen it time and time again. Peace is born from listening much more than convincing.

James emphasizes the reward of choosing Godly Wisdom, “And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.” Choosing Godly wisdom will bring peace to our hearts, however, we may not see an immediate effect in our world. But as we continue, as we endure, we are planting seeds of peace that will germinate, grow, and ultimately produce good fruit.

The Endurance

James opens this passage with what endurance looks like in regards to Godly wisdom. “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. Prove it James’ demands. We can say anything we want. We can mentally agree that something is right or the right way to go. James is declaring that if we say we’re following God’s wisdom it will be visible to all.

Living an honorable life means continuing to follow God’s moral path. Our worlds are filled with examples of folks that proclaimed a path but didn’t follow it themselves. That is not living an honorable life. You could call this aspect of endurance direction.

There is no limit to the way good deeds are done. James is more concerned that they are done. Let’s define it based on what we’ve already looked at. Good deeds are those moments when we put someone else’s needs above our own needs in a tangible way. Regardless of your station in life opportunities abound every day for good deeds. Let’s call this aspect of endurance action.

Direction and action are fruitless unless planted with a humble attitude. We are constantly pulled in the direction of worldly wisdom, of saying and doing things for selfish reasons. I wonder sometimes if God is less concerned about what we do than our attitude in it. We can all do the right things with a wrong attitude but walking in Godly wisdom means doing the right things for the right reasons with the right attitude.

Consider it…

Following God’s wisdom often seems like walking upstream against a herd of hungry middle school students heading for lunch. Everyone else seems to be heading one direction but God’s wisdom often takes us in a completely different direction.

The direction of the world today seems to be division, anger, nearsightedness, and tribalism on just about everything. Common sense would say to stay in your bubble of relative peace instead of encountering those angry or challenging voices. Godly wisdom is not common sense, it’s not natural, and it is definitely not easy – but it does bring peace in the midst of our storms.

Dale Heinold
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