The difference between godly wisdom and worldly wisdom is the difference between righteousness and unrighteousness, heaven and hell, God and Satan. The contrast is that great. Yet God has made His wisdom readily available to those who seek for it.
In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon personifies wisdom as a woman calling out to the naïve. The call from lady wisdom teaches us of the availability of God’s wisdom (Proverbs 1:20-23). Without God’s wisdom, it is impossible for us to live in a manner that receives His blessing. No wonder, then, that God’s word identifies wisdom as a valuable treasure (Proverbs 3:13-18). But what is wisdom, exactly?
- Wisdom is more than knowledge. There are many intelligent fools in our world. Just because a person is smart, even brilliant by human standards, does not mean he is wise.
- Wisdom is the application of God’s truth to life under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit.
- Wisdom does not come naturally; it is gained by walking with God.
Due to the total depravity of our human nature, we have default mechanisms by which we operate. That is, when making decisions about how to live, we naturally default to our own fleshly understanding, or the wisdom of this world, both of which lead us away from God’s good path of righteousness. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 16:25). When we lean on our own wisdom and understanding we are sure to fail. We are sure to forsake the blessed way. But God liberally holds out to us a different kind of wisdom, His wisdom, which is for the asking (James 1:5).
5 Ways We Get Wisdom
Wisdom comes from God, but it is mediated to us indirectly in 5 primary ways.
- We receive wisdom when we are in Christ; that is, when we are truly saved then Christ is our wisdom. First Corinthians 1:30 says, “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” To the Colossian believers, Paul said that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3).
- We receive wisdom from the Holy Spirit whom Isaiah calls the Spirit of Wisdom (Isaiah 11:12).
- We receive wisdom from God’s Word. The psalmist declared, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me” (Ps 119:97-98).
- We receive wisdom from other believers who love and submit to the Word of God. Proverbs 15:22 teaches, “Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.”
- We receive wisdom through prayer (James 1:5). If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God.
Now, let’s begin looking at a key New Testament passage on the subject of wisdom, which we will do for three days. Here, in the following passage, we are called to seek after the meekness of wisdom, warned to watch out for the marks of hellish wisdom, and then encouraged to apply heavenly wisdom.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Since there is no grammatical break between verses 12 and 13, we conclude that James sees this passage as further explanation of his previous teaching on the power of speech. Just as our speech should consistently honor God, and not include both blessing and cursing, so we ought to be filled with the wisdom that honors God. Therefore, we are called to put away worldly wisdom and pursue the wisdom that comes only from God.
The Wise Man is Marked by Meekness
The wise man must “show” himself as wise; that is, let him display his wisdom and understanding by being meek and gentle. James challenges his readers to examine their own claims to wisdom. The “wise” person is the individual possessing moral insight and skill in deciding practical matters of conduct. The word understanding describes one who has the knowledge of an expert, one who is able to apply fuller knowledge to practical situations. Both of these qualities come from the Lord (Prov. 2:6).
James calls for gentleness and wisdom to act in tandem. A person may be gentle and soft-spoken, but lack wisdom in the application of biblical principles to his life and to his family. But James says that both wisdom and gentleness should be displayed together. If you are gentle, but not wise, then you are merely a soft pushover. If you think you are wise, but lack gentleness, then your wisdom is only in your imagination. You are actually proud and foolish.
James exhorts us to possess the “meekness” of wisdom, which is displayed in humility and gentleness. But meekness does not equal weakness. Moses, the most courageous leader in the Old Testament, is described as being meek. Numbers 12:3 says he was “very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” Meekness is often defined as strength under control. It is a humble, patient endurance when in the midst of difficulties. It is the opposite of arrogance.
Tomorrow, we will take a look at how James describes worldly wisdom which, he says, is ultimately from below. It is hellish.
[This 3-part blog post series is based upon the first sermon I preached at Cornerstone Community Church in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, entitled “Wise Up.”]