Day 8: James 3:13-18
Who is wise and understanding among you?
For me this section right in the middle of the book of James is the most important, pivotal section in the whole letter. Everything James has said up till now about trials and temptations, being doers of the word, avoiding favouritism, faith and works and taming the tongue; as well as everything that he is going to say, all hinge around this important passage about wisdom.
It can be hard for us to fully appreciate how important the concept of wisdom was in the ancient world. Men like Aristotle and Plato, men of massive influence were called philosophers – literally “lovers of wisdom”. The study of wisdom was what characterised them.
In ancient literature as well as in the bible, wisdom was more than the ability to make a few good, well reasoned decisions in life. Wisdom in the ancient world was all about your worldview, your beliefs and the actions you took that stemmed from those beliefs.
So when James asks “who is wise and understanding among you” he is not just asking about one or two useful qualities from among many. He is asking who is there that knows who they are, who knows what they believe and who live according to those beliefs. Of course the wisdom that he is talking about is godly wisdom not the unspiritual wisdom of the world which looks quite different.
He is asking (a possible rhetorical question) “who among you has these pre-eminent qualities?” and the reason he asks this is because this pre-eminent quality of wisdom is the one that enables the believer to live out the life that he has been describing up to now.
At this pivotal moment in the letter he wants to tell his readers two things – the source of this wisdom and the qualities of this wisdom and he contrasts it with the world’s wisdom that leads to envy and selfish ambition and bitterness.
The source of wisdom
James describes this wisdom as “coming from heaven”. When we’ve been looking at all that James has said so far in this series our temptation may be to look to our own resources or efforts. NO! The source is heaven (God)
What wisdom looks like
Paul describes what this wisdom looks like.
It is pure
It is peace loving
It is considerate
It is submissive
It is full of mercy and good fruit
It is impartial
It is sincere
We may be surprised that good decision making isn’t in this list! That’s because good decision making flows out from having these qualities that James describes and which in turn come from having God himself at work in us.
At a time when lots of our normal structures and routines are missing, we may have a lot more decisions to make. Our heavenly father can parachute wisdom in to us for these decisions. But he also wants these decisions, just like everything else to flow out from his life at work in us.