The Two Wisdoms
One of the most repeated prayers I hear the brethren make is the one for wisdom. We ask for wisdom:
- To do the right thing
- To make the best decision
- To know and do God's will
To discern the "A" plan for our lives - For instance, we have many options but we want wisdom to know which option will serve the kingdom best.
In this search for wisdom, we look for "signs" or open/closed doors. In other words, we look for clues to God's will in circumstances or in physical things and events that somehow point the way.
Some believe God's wisdom comes to them in dreams or an "inner voice" or through the advice and instruction of some other person. Now I'm now discounting the fact that there is some truth to all of these and that we often can trace the direction of God's will through these various methods. After all, God is not limited, He can draw us to His will and wisdom in any way He sees best.
However, if we are seriously looking for God's wisdom and how to apply it to our lives and situation, the best place to look for it is in His word. We are aware that the Bible contains the wisdom of God but in the book of James we find specific instructions concerning our finding and using of this wisdom.
You see, James provides the seeker of wisdom with guidelines to help choose one's way between the different types of wisdom offered in this world. Now this is important to know because not all wisdom comes from God and in order to do God's will, have His plan in operation in our lives, our actions need to be generated and guided by His wisdom.
James teaches that you will know what kind of wisdom is driving you, or driving your choices in life by examining the results you are having. If you look at what your wisdom produces, you'll know where it is coming from. Knowing this will help a person in two important ways:
You can "try on" a decision, when not sure, in order to see what it will produce. And what it will produce will usually tell you which wisdom is at its base. This should make the choice easier.
Many decisions and issues in our lives revolve around people. Examining carefully what is being produced in someone's life in light of James' teaching will help us know what's in a person's heart. We can all be fooled by looks or words but a person who has God's wisdom in their heart will produce God's will in their lives and this is evident.
So let's look at what James has to say about the two kinds of wisdom.
The passage preceding this teaching talks about the power of the tongue, especially for destruction. Among other examples, James compares the tongue to a fountain saying that the same fountain cannot offer up both bitter and fresh water. His point is that if this is so, there must be something wrong with the source, and so it is with the tongue that is both bitter and sweet at different times. This is an indication that there is something wrong with its source which is the heart.
This point leads to the discussion of wisdom (which is what fills the heart which powers the tongue). James says that there are two types of wisdom:
1. Wisdom from Below – vs. 14-16
Satan was the first to exemplify this type of wisdom:
The serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.
- Genesis 3:1
Earthly/worldly wisdom is clever, shrewd, self-serving, shinny, gets the job done, but its fruit (James says) is unmistakable.
14 But if you have bitter jealously and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.
Wisdom from below produces and revels in:
- Strong envy and rivalry
- Selfish desire for position and privilege
- Boasting and arrogance
When he says, "…And so lie against the truth," he means to claim that these things can't actually come from any other source than worldly wisdom. In other words, don't pull yourself up, don't be a hypocrite. When this is the result, you are operating under the influence of worldly wisdom.
15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.
James calls a spade a spade in defiance of those who would justify actions motivated by wisdom from below:
The results are plain to see:
- They are strictly from the earth, fleshly, devoid of the Spirit of God.
- They, like all things inspired by worldly wisdom, are in the purview of Satan.
Satan doesn't only work in the occult and those who practice the black arts. He's alive and active on Wall Street, Madison Ave., as well as in school, government, or the local bar, even in the church!
What "feels" natural to man is often quite ungodly. Feelings are no guide for truth or righteousness. Worldly wisdom is manipulated and promoted by Satan who knows too well how to appeal to our flesh and emotions in order to unwittingly get us to serve him and think we are doing what is natural.
16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
James summarizes the next result of worldly wisdom's product. Disorder:
- In thinking
- In families
- In society
- In relationships with God
- In the church
It's not of Jesus when we're mad and fight and give each other the silent treatment. Every evil thing — worldly wisdom is capable of producing every kind of sin. James traces the path:
Worldly wisdom leads to jealously and selfish ambition and from these sins of pride can come every disorder of sin. James doesn't give an exhaustive list of sins and situations, he only lists a few and alludes to the rest. The point is that when you see things "like" these (pride, selfishness, sin, disorder, etc.) know for sure that it isn't God's Spirit or Word or wisdom that is at work.
Now, that should be a fairly easy lesson to acquire but when people are…
- In a hurry
- In love
- Weak or ignorant in faith
…They often overlook the signals and rush ahead making bad decisions based on worldly wisdom anyway. The way to make this principle work for you is to look for the signals and believe them when you see them.
2. Wisdom From Above – 3:13; 17-18
Vs. 13 – James introduces in this verse and later explains in vs. 17-18, what true wisdom is, what the substance of true knowledge consists of.
He summarizes what this knowledge and wisdom produces — a good life marked by good deeds done in humility. This, of course, as opposed to deeds done from selfish ambition and jealousy that cause strife The one who claims wisdom, who claims to have superior knowledge will demonstrate it in this way.
Vs. 17 – In this verse, James picks up the thread of ideas beginning in vs. 13 and ascribes the true wisdom and knowledge to God who is above. He gives more details as to the quality of that wisdom. He says that it is:
- Pure – No secret motivation, no pride or self-promotion
- Peaceable – as opposed to envious and disorderly Wisdom from above brings calm, quietness to one's soul and one's surroundings.
- Gentle – meaning not self-willed, a person who can submit to authority; who can be flexible to accommodate limits placed on them by circumstances or trial; a person who can do it your way and still be happy.
- Reasonable – One who is considerate of others, who seeks fairness and not only to please self.
- One who is ready to obey
- Full of Good Fruits – Wisdom from above doesn't just produce fruit (success, power, money, etc.) Wisdom from above produces the good spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace, etc., along with others.
- Unwavering – solid, dependable, consistent, trustworthy
- Without Hypocrisy – Sincere, honest and frank
Vs. 18 – James summarizes by saying that what makes for righteousness (right living, the right choices, right actions before God) is the planting of heavenly wisdom, which is the seed, in ways which reflect wisdom from above (peace) by people who are guided by wisdom from above (those who make peace).
In other words, it is evident who the people are who are guided by wisdom from above; they are the ones bearing and sowing the fruit of wisdom from above in this world below, and the ones who live in and promote peace.
Making the right choices is not easy, but when our decisions are accompanied by the things mentioned by James…
- Purity of purpose
- Peace of mind
- Honesty, etc.
…you can feel secure that the door that has opened is one that God has opened for you (because Satan can open doors too) and the only way to know the difference at times is to see what fruit will be produced by walking through.
When these markers are evident in your life, then you can be confident that you are operating on God's wisdom and not simply your own. When your choice or decision helps you become a better person, a more spiritual person and even those around you are blessed by your actions – then you are doing the right thing; choosing God's way; using plan A.
Now when we hear a lesson like this many people say, "Why didn't you tell me this a long time ago? You could have saved me a lot of trouble!" Well, we can't change the past, we even have a hard time forgetting it, especially our mistakes, but wisdom from above guides us to put our past into the merciful hands of God for forgiveness; and forgiveness comes in two ways:
- For those who have never been to Christ this calls for repentance and baptism for the remission of sins.
- For those who have been baptized but have been unfaithful or unfruitful, this calls for a prayer of repentance and restoration.
For all of us, however, who consistently struggle with making the right choices, I encourage you to hold your thoughts up to the test of the two wisdoms:
- Are you operating by the wisdom from below? Are your choices based purely on self-interest and create anxiety, disorder, jealousy in your life? If you're not sure, just look at what your life has produced in the last five years/you'll know what wisdom is giving you.
- Are you operating by the wisdom from above? This will also be evident by the spiritual fruit produced in you and those around you.
Let's put it this way, if you're constantly apologizing and asking God to have mercy on you because of you decisions — you're probably basing them on wisdom from below.
If, on the other hand, your prayers are full of praise and thanksgiving no matter what your lot in life is, you are bearing the fruit of wisdom from above.
Now that we know, let's start making better decisions, choices that will bless our lives and the lives of those around us.
If today you've made the decision to be right with God, reconciled with your Lord or your neighbor; the decision to grow spiritually or lean on the Lord for help, you've made the right decision and the wisdom from above is in your heart. Make that decision complete by coming forward as we stand and sing.