When I was a boy, my dad would often pray that the Lord would make us “wise beyond our years.” I’m not sure that I understood the importance of that prayer when I was young. The older I get—and the longer I have been in ministry—the more I appreciate that he prayed it for us.
That prayer, however, opens the door for a litany of interconnected questions: What is wisdom? Where does it come from? How do I know that I have wisdom? These are the questions James raises and answers for us in the third chapter of his letter.
First, he tackles the question, “What is wisdom?” Sometimes the best way to define something is to explain what it is not. J. Gresham Machen once explained, “You can’t set forth clearly what a thing is without contrasting it with what it is not… definition proceeds by way of exclusion.”
James explains that some who think they are wise actually have hearts full of “bitter envy and self-seeking” (3:14). Bitterness and self-seeking may accompany a form of worldly wisdom, but they are antithetical to true wisdom. By way of contrast, true wisdom is full of meekness. Meekness is willingness to bow to the will of God, even when it means laying aside what I want, for the good of others.
Next, James contrasts the source of true wisdom and its counterfeit. One is sensual, earthly, and demonic; the other is from above. James calls worldly wisdom “demonic” because it leads to “confusion and every evil thing” (v.16). The Scriptures tell us that the evil one is the author of confusion and the father of lies. When we adopt the wisdom of the world we inevitably begin to live and think like the evil one, rather than like the heavenly Christ.
Finally, James says we will be able to tell whether the wisdom we possess is from God or from the evil one by what it produces in our lives. Whereas the wisdom of this world brings about bitter envy and self-seeking, the wisdom that is from above manifests itself in “the fruit of righteousness” in the life of the one who possesses it (v.18).
True wisdom is pure in doctrine and life. It is peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, merciful, impartial, and sincere. The question we must ask ourselves is, “Which of these two forms of wisdom am I manifesting in my life?” God’s grace in Christ enables us to become wise beyond our years in the wisdom that is from above.
Written by Nicholas Batzig