James 3:13-18 - Two Kinds of Wisdom
Understanding the difference between earthly and heavenly wisdom is essential for navigating the "present evil age."
This is the twelfth of an 18-part devotional series. Sign-up here to have these devotionals sent straight to your inbox.
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.
Throughout the course of the coronavirus pandemic, “the experts” have come out of the woodwork. In one year, Dr. Fauci has gone from being a relatively unknown figure to a household name. Each state has its public health officials advising citizens to take certain precautions on the basis of research and counsel from those with expertise in the field of epidemiology. The experts, or those with “understanding” have spoken.
Relying on the recommendations of experts certainly has its practical value. They help us make informed decisions. But such knowledge is insufficient in and of itself to make one wise. In fact, James seems to indicate that those with advanced degrees and expert understanding, yet lacking in Christlike virtue, may well use their knowledge as a means to corrupt ends.
Those who have acquired expert understanding possess a tremendous amount of power. They are typically articulate, make compelling arguments, and have other likable qualities. Professionals, professors, politicians, and pastors ordinarily fall into this category.
But to the degree that their public voice lacks personal holiness, their power can be used to manipulate and deceive those who lend them an ear. They are motivated by “jealousy” and “selfish ambition.” Their lives are characterized by “disorder” and “every vile practice.” James goes so far as to call this faux wisdom “earthly, unspiritual, (and) demonic.”
In contrast to such “earthly wisdom” is “wisdom from above.” And what we discover is that godly wisdom is not so much attached to the acquiring and education from the best schools, being gifted with a high IQ, or following a step-by-step plan to living wisely. Rather, the wisdom he speaks of is inextricably linked to the development of godly character.
In other words, wisdom is not only about the mind, however important that may be!. Rather, it is fundamentally about the heart; about the shaping of our desires, affections, and decisions around who Jesus is and what he is like.
Such wisdom – the kind that is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” – seems to be primarily a product of what Paul, in Galatians 5:22-23, calls “the fruit of the Spirit.” In other words, Jesus creates in us both holiness and wisdom as we come to know him personally and intimately.
Our cultural and historical moment is ripe with complexity and confusion. The personal, social, and spiritual forces at work are constantly preaching a message to us that is at odds with the wisdom, being, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth of God. Paul reminds us that what passes for “the wisdom of this world is folly with God.”
What James seems to want you to grasp is that the antidote to foolishness is to lean into all that Christ is for you in the gospel; to his promises and precepts, to his character, and to his revealed will and purposes for the church and the world. As your heart becomes galvanized by God and the things of God, you will increasingly find yourself living wisely in this “present evil age.”
Rev. Darin Stone is a State Capitol Minister in Raleigh, North Carolina.