Do you want to be wise? Do you want to know the truth?
Do you want to be a wise person? Do you want to be someone who is known by your conversation and your behavior to others as wise? We need more people like that in our neighborhoods, don’t we? We need more friends like that, don’t we? There’s a big difference between knowing a lot and being wise. Words like sagacity (sage instruction), discernment, and wisdom have fallen out of favor. It’s very popular to talk a lot and to presume to know a lot, but this is not the same as actually being wise. The Bible has a lot to teach us about true wisdom.
Let’s look at the difference between the words wisdom and knowledge. Here are two definitions from en.wikipedia.org:
Knowledge is “a familiarity with someone or something, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education.” Wisdom is “a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding.” Everyone has at least some knowledge of this world unique to their own life and circumstances. But this isn’t the same thing as having wisdom.
You can know facts about yourself and other people, and you can talk a lot about these, but this doesn’t mean you have the skill to apply your knowledge in a way that benefits you or anyone else. For example, let’s say you’ve watched a lot of Bear Gryl’s episodes on TV. He’s the man who goes around the world from the arctic tundra, to deep remote jungles, and vast deserts and demonstrates what to do to stay alive. You bought yourself a survival knife with his name on it. Because you love his show are you ready to book your trip to remoteChina? I hope not.
Remember Steve Irwin the crocodile hunter? He had a lot of knowledge about animals and safety, but one misplaced tail from a stingray ended his life. In the same way, knowledge and facts can’t protect us from temptations and trials in this life. We need wisdom, and good relationships with wise people in order to thrive and be all that God desires. So many people have never met a wise Christian who demonstrated God’s love in a way that drew them into faith. How can you become such a person?
In the letter from James to the churches of the diaspora we are given a guide to lead us from confusion, distraction, and ignorance, into the reality of thekingdomofGod. James, the brother of Jesus, once a doubter himself, became a pastor in the early church inJerusalem. He wrote as one informed by the genre of Jewish wisdom literature. Here’s a taste of that wisdom:
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed. By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew.” (Proverbs 3:1-20, NIV)
James is fluent In this wisdom and yet his faith in Christ as the Messiah extends it beyondIsrael’s obedience to all who are in Christ. At one time the path of wisdom was only for some, and others were sure to be left ignorant. But James writes that God’s wisdom is now for all.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5, NIV) Wisdom is a free gift but its fruit is worked for. The fruit of wisdom takes a community and it takes time. We can’t be wise in our own eyes. Jesus said that wisdom is vindicated by all her children. (Luke 7:35) So each of us has to learn and live wisdom within the Body of Christ.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (3:13-18)
So what we’re told here is that this world full of selfish lusts, ambition and envy is not just all around us, but can actually come from within us as well. We can’t presume that we’re ever experts in wisdom, because we continually have to submit ourselves to God and humbly accept it as a gift. Standing in a garage does not make me an auto mechanic. And if my garage has a lot of car manuals offering the wrong information, I’m no expert, I’m actually a guy with a lot of tools, the wrong information, and enough experience to make sure my car never runs again.
This is what happens when in our pride we tell God how much he knows about being God in our lives. Everyday I have to submit myself to God, silence the thoughts and temptations that make me want to take back control, and seek out the true wisdom James talks about.
Listen to some of the wisdom found in James:
- The wise consider it a joy to suffer in trials of all kind, knowing that perseverance is growing in them. (James 1:2-8)
- The wise don’t favor the powerful over the vulnerable. (1:9-11, 2:1-11)
- The wise are eager to listen. (1:19-20)
- The Wise know when to shut up. They know the power of words and weigh them accordingly. (1:26)
- The wise are slow to anger. (1:19)
- The wise are merciful, knowing that they are judged by the freedom law. (2:12-13)
- The wise know that their faith is real because they act on it. Hearing the truth is not enough, they obey it. (1:22-25, 2:14-26)
- The wise don’t presume to teach. They know the tongue and fear God. (3:1-12)
- The wise submit to God and humble themselves. (4:6-10)
- The wise do not slander or judge others. (4:11-12)
- The wise do not boast but say “If it is God’s will we will live and “. (4:13-15)
- The wise know that riches are not here to stay and that oppressing the vulnerable results in God’s judgment. (5:1-6)
- The wise learn from the prophets and Job and look expectantly for God’s future. (5:10-11)
- The wise believe in the power of prayer in sorrow in joy in suffering and sickness. (5:13-18)
- The wise confess their sins and receive healing In prayer. (5:16)
- The wise know that those who stray can still be brought back, be saved from death and have their sins covered. (5:19-20)
So here are four things you can act on right now that are really wise.
1. Wisdom is a divine gift (1:5, 3:13-18), Acknowledge the gift.
2. Wisdom must be implanted. (1:21) Get rid of the evil, welcome the Word.
3. Must be received humbly. Humility involves submission. Submit to God.
4. Good fruits are produced. (3:18) Harvest of righteousness for those who work for peace. Let God use your speech and behavior for His glory.
We have such a good God. While we were sinners he reconciled us to himself through the death of resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. He did this allowing all of us who are willing to receive the gift of wisdom from his Holy Spirit. Within the Church we welcome the Word of God planted in us. The Church helps us rid ourselves of the evil and be ready for wisdom. Together we learn humility and mutual submission. We learn to shut up, to bite our tongues. We become better listeners and able to overlook little irritations. In this wisdom of Christ God is producing a harvest of righteousness as we work for peace. The world learns that we are Christians by the love it sees in us for one another. Let’s go to God now and ask for his wisdom.
Heavenly Father of the heavenly lights, you do not change like shifting shadows. You chose to give us birth through your word of truth, making us the firstfruits of all you created. Every good and perfect gift comes from you Lord. Perfect in us your will. Help us keep a tight reign on our tongues. Keep us from the sins of slander and character defamation. Forgive us for showing favoritism to the rich and powerful. Forgive us for neglecting those in need.
We pray all this in Jesus name. Amen.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Chris Rice