The book of James is often considered the proverbs of the New Testament because of the wisdom it contains. In my last few posts I’ve shared several insights from James on problems, temptation, taking action, and words. Today, I want to look at How to Become Wise.
Bill Cosby once said, “A word to the wise ain’t necessary; it’s the stupid ones who need the advice.” While there’s some humor in that quote, even the wise understand the importance of lifelong learning, coaching, and personal application.
James begins with a question his observations on wisdom with a question: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (James 3:13) In the Old Testament, wisdom was considered to be the most valuable possession a person could have. In fact, in 1 Kings 3, we read the story of King Solomon having a dream one night where God said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” Rather than asking for wealth, power, or possessions, Solomon said:
“So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours. (1 Kings 3:9)
And God responded to Solomon’s request:
“…I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both riches and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in my ways and obey my statutes and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” (1 Kings 3:12-14)
Wisdom was a big deal to the Hebrews. It was far more than knowledge. It was much more than information or instruction. At it’s core, wisdom was behavioral. The Jews believed wisdom to be the skill of living righteously. The focus wasn’t knowledge of the truth but rather application of the truth.
In his book, The Divine Mentor, Wayne Cordeiro observes that wisdom is a higher form of knowledge. He compares it to sodium. Sodium in its raw form can be destructive. But when it’s converted into sodium chloride, or table salt, it is beneficial. Knowledge is the same way. It was never meant to be an end in itself. Knowledge must be converted into a higher form–wisdom–before it becomes truly beneficial to us.
Jesus understood that wisdom was greater than knowledge when he said:
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)
Who did Jesus say is wise? Not the person who hears the truth, but the person who puts it into practice. When James said, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” he was asking, “Who among you is skilled in living righteously?”
From his opening question, James begins a comparison between two types of wisdom. He compares True Wisdom and False Wisdom. He contrasts Godly wisdom and ungodly wisdom. And from this comparison we discover three ways to become wise.
1. Choose the Source of Your Wisdom
As James begins his comparison, he starts with the source of these two kinds of wisdom. The Source of True Wisdom is “Heaven.” Verse 17 says, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven…” This is a direct reference to a Person (God) more than a place (heaven). So what else does the Bible say about the source of true wisdom?
- Christ is the Source of True Wisdom - Colossians 2:3 says, “…that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” And 1 Corinthians 1:30 says, “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
- The Bible is the Source of True Wisdom - 2 Timothy 3:14-15 says, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
- Prayer Gives Us Access to True Wisdom - Finally, James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”
In the same way True Wisdom has a source, so does false wisdom. James 3:14-15 says, “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, of the devil.” Notice what James says about the source of false wisdom. He says its:
- Earthly – In other words, false wisdom is confined to the present world and is restricted to the ideas and theories of people.
- Unspiritual – It’s wisdom that’s corrupted by man’s fallen sinful nature.
- Of the Devil – It’s ultimately rooted in Satan himself.
When you compare the source of false wisdom with the source of true wisdom, the choice seems obvious. But when it comes to the actual application of wisdom, the choice isn’t so easy. Why? Because false wisdom is our natural default response to life, whereas true wisdom requires faith. It requires faith in God. It requires faith in His Word. And it requires faith when God’s wisdom doesn’t even seem to make sense. That “faith” tension is why so many times we end up falling on the “false wisdom” side of things.
2. Practice the Application of Wisdom
You can apply false wisdom or you can apply true wisdom. The choice is up to you. Look at what happens when you apply false wisdom. According to James 3:14, false wisdom has four characteristics: bitter envy, selfish ambition, pride, and lies. James said, “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.”