As if you needed any further evidence that James is heavily influenced by the book of Proverbs, today’s reading should kill any doubts. The one-word summary of Proverbs is “wisdom,” and that’s the theme of today’s passage. To James—and Solomon, and really the rest of the Bible—wisdom isn’t an issue of head-knowledge. People with doctorates in philosophy could still flunk this course. It’s an issue of knowing a Person, the fount of all wisdom, the One who’s the Wisdom of God made flesh.
As we went over and over in our studies of Proverbs (here if you missed it), as we start, develop, and cultivate our personal relationship with Christ, he’ll make us more wise, giving us everything we need to do well in this life and to prepare us for the next one.
You know, I’ve been thinking this over, and I’ve noticed a similarity between James and 1 John. The latter book’s purpose, as stated by its author is so that those of us “who believe in the name of the Son of God. . . may know that [we] have eternal life.” In his short little book, he gives some tests so that genuine believers can know that they’re saved, while conversely warning those who’re relying on false assurance so they can know that they’re not. For more on these tests, you can see here and here if you’re so inclined.
I’ve come to the conclusion that James seems to have a similar purpose, at least part of the time. Yes, he gives some commands which he expects us to obey. But another purpose, as we’ve seen when we examined chapter 2:14-26, is that he wants us make sure we truly belong to Jesus. If we have no works to show, then something’s wrong, and the most likely candidate is that our faith is “dead,” “useless,” and just a head-knowledge instead of a heart submission.
In today’s passage, he doesn’t exactly tell us where to get good wisdom. He tells us that elsewhere, but not here. His point here is not how to get wisdom, but how to tell whether the “wisdom” we have is worthy of the name, whether it’s the real stuff or counterfeit (the same way he wants us to approach faith).
So what’re the signs and characteristics of bad wisdom? Let’s list them:
· Sinful lifestyle (implied by vs. 13)
· Prideful (ditto)
· Bitter envy
· Selfish ambition
· Earthly (coming from human resources)
· Unspiritual (not coming from the Holy Spirit)
· Demonic (pretty self-explanatory)
· Every type of evil practice
You see, there’s a “wisdom” which can be pretty useful in this world. It’s common among political and business leaders; not that all such leaders are bad, but it’s common for them to use this “wisdom” to rise up in the ranks. It might be better termed as cleverness, or shrewdness. It takes the worst of human nature and uses it for its own ends. It’s based on selfish ambition and bitter envy, and its ultimate source is, well, pretty obvious. It’s even creative--in the worst kind of way--in coming up with new ways to do evil.
But the wisdom we need to be seeing and cultivating in our lives is characterized by
· A good lifestyle
· Pure (seeking only one thing in life, the Kingdom of God and his righteousness)
· Loving Peace
· Full of mercy
· Full of good fruit
Let’s camp out on “humility” just for a moment. He says in vs. 13 that wisdom produces humility. Why? Because the closer you grow to the Source of Wisdom, you more you see in stark detail just how foolish you are, not to mention how sinful.
But do you see the pattern here? From elsewhere in Scripture (including 1:5 of James), we know that wisdom starts with knowing him and seeking his face. But it ends up expressing itself in practical ways, kind of like faith does.
So once again we see James putting out a test for us. Are we wise? Are we in a good relationship with the Source of Wisdom? Well, here are some very practical tests laid out in front of us.
Which type of wisdom is showing up in your life?
As I leave you with that question, let's have another song by the inimitable Rich Mullins, "Higher Education and the Book of Love."