Jamesby Douglas Estes
We are now at the heart of James' message: wisdom. For many people, the search for wisdom is key to earthly success. In the garden, Eve ate the fruit because she hoped to have wisdom and understanding without going through God (Genesis 3:6). Solomon asks for wisdom from God, and the request pleased God (1 Kings 3:9). Several books of the Bible address the issue of wisdom, most notably Proverbs.
In thinking about wisdom, James likely read how Solomon was unmatched in wisdom while young but later traded that wisdom for human foolishness. He was familiar with the development of wisdom in the writings of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and probably other Jewish works like Sirach (a popular book modelled on Proverbs and written 200 years before Jesus). James had heard his brother Jesus speak with wisdom.
What is wisdom? Wisdom is the ability to effectively apply what we know whenever we need to act. The most famous example is found in 1 Kings 3:16-28, where Solomon applies his understanding of the depth of a mother's love to determine how two people in conflict will act in a given situation. It is important to remember that from a biblical point of view, real wisdom does not come from age, experience, learning, or intelligence. Those things may produce a kind of wisdom, but it is not the same as real wisdom. Why? Because-the Bible makes this point repeatedly-real wisdom comes from God (e.g., Proverbs 1:7). As believers, we may possess a kind of wisdom from our experiences on earth, but what we really want and need is the real wisdom that comes only from God.
In 3:17-18, James helps his readers understand some characteristics of wisdom, so that they can determine what kind of wisdom they see in others (and themselves).
First and foremost, godly wisdom is ″pure″, meaning it is holy and not lacking in anything (v. 17). Just as God is complete in himself, so too is His wisdom complete in itself. God's wisdom is sufficient (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3).
Godly wisdom is also ″peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere″ (James 3:17). Notice how each of these qualities stand in contrast to wisdom motivated by envy and ambition (v. 14). If you see someone with these qualities, it is a sure sign that their wisdom comes from the Lord. James concludes this section with a statement about peacemakers, who in this case would possess godly wisdom and know how to deal with the challenges James brings up in chapter 4. Amid the storms of life, these peacemakers calm others, which allows godliness to take root and grow.
As we live our lives, people will try to influence us, claiming to be wise and knowledgeable. We must be aware that there are two kinds of wisdom in this world-one we follow, and one we reject-in order to avoid being double-minded (1:8). Let's ask God to grant us the wisdom we need to be faithful in all He has called us to do. He will give generously, as every good and perfect gift comes from Him (1:17).
In a world overflowing with knowledge, why is wisdom of critical importance today?
How can we discern the type of wisdom people are using in the world?