by Douglas Estes

Day 19

Read James 3:13-16

James asks his readers to think of someone they know who appears wise and knowledgeable (James 3:13). In fact, this someone may very well be one of his own readers! Then comes his advice-we can discover who is really wise and who is not by examining their motives.

True wisdom is exemplified in our ministry to others, and not in reward for ourselves

If a person who claims to be wise has a humble spirit and leads a ″good life″ (v. 13), then this is a sign that his wisdom is true (see v. 17). But if a person who claims to be wise shows hints of jealousy or selfish ambition, be careful-this person likely has built his ″wisdom″ from an earthly, sinful source (vv. 14-15; see also Proverbs 3:7). True wisdom is exemplified in our ministry to others, and not in reward for ourselves.

James speaks pointedly to his readers when he says: if you have envy or ambition, ″do not boast about it or deny the truth″ (James 3:14). In other words, if you read this thinking you have wisdom and understanding, but your life and actions are marked by jealousy and selfishness, then you must neither hide them nor be proud of them.

People who claim to be wise but have these flaws need to understand that the source of their wisdom is likely demonic (v. 15). The word ″demonic″ may conjure up images of paranormal activity for us (and probably for James' readers as well), but James is in fact contrasting wisdom that comes from God and wisdom that comes from places in rebellion against God-earth and hell. These sources are at war with each other, and thus the two kinds of wisdom that come from them are at odds with each other.

The result of people being motivated by jealousy and selfish desire is the ″disorder″ and ″evil practice″ that follow in their wake (v. 16). Though these kinds of people may claim to be wise and knowledgeable, their personal lives are a mess-there is a clear trail of wreckage behind them.

James' readers would have likely been aware that true wisdom comes only from respecting and obeying God (Proverbs 1:7; 2:6; 9:10). In contrast, worldly wisdom can take many forms: age, experience, and education, for example. But there are really only two sources for the two kinds of wisdom.

Many people in our world today claim wisdom, but we should be circumspect of those claims. True wisdom is not claimed or earned, but given by God. We do well when we ask God to grant us wisdom to live in a way that honours Him.

Think through:

Why are people so quick to follow someone who claims wisdom and knowledge?

What are several practical examples of true wisdom today?




About Author

Douglas Estes (PhD, Nottingham) is Associate Professor of New Testament and Practical Theology at South University. He is the editor of Didaktikos: Journal of Theological Education, and is a regular science contributor at Christianity Today. Douglas has written or edited eight books, as well as numerous essays, articles, and reviews for both popular and scholarly publications. He also served in pastoral ministry for sixteen years.

Author of Journey Through Series:

Our Daily Bread Journey Through® Series is a publication of Our Daily Bread Ministries.

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