There is a difference between earthly “wisdom” and that kind of wisdom that comes from heaven. One might ask; “How can one know the difference?” James, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, answers that question for us very clearly here.
Earthly “wisdom,” James tells us, is often full of envy and selfish ambition. We can see this kind of “wisdom” all around us. James tells us that, “…where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (verse 16) How many times has humanity been led into perdition by such earthly wisdoms? In relatively recent human history there have been many examples: Fascism in Hitler and Mussolini; Communism in Stalin and Mao Tze Tung and, even more recently, the fanaticism of the Taliban and the Islamic State. Another less serious, but still troubling, example of this kind of wisdom can be seen in how often people will accept the mouthings of some Hollywood type called upon to expound on some important issue of ecological, political, social, or even religious concern, as if they are somehow “experts” in the field. In our media-mad culture, the words of these types are often accepted as if they were oracles from on high. For some inexplicable reason, the culture seems to believe that a little fame and a lot of money makes one somehow wiser than the average person.
As the apostle James tells us here, the wisdom from heaven is recognized more in, “…deeds done in humility.” This wisdom is seen, not merely heard. It is seen in the quality of goodness that is modeled in a person’s life. James challenges us with the idea that heavenly wisdom is, “first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” This, then, is how we can tell the difference between earthly and heavenly wisdom. Is the “wisdom” given for the benefit of the one that is giving it, or for the benefit of the common good? If it is the latter, we will be able to recognize it for its humility. Its purity will be seen in its truthfulness. It will be given from a peaceful heart and its fruit will be true peace. Mercy will be its purpose and its effect. It will favor only the good that is common to all. It will be given with impartiality and, because it is given without guile, its sincerity will be instantly recognizable. This is the wisdom that Jesus calls us to.
Lord, help us to keep our minds always in union with your Holy Spirit. Save us from the arrogance of thinking ourselves wise in earthly ways, so that we may neither be led away, nor lead others away from you. Give us the gift of discriminating between true and false in all things. Give us the strength and the courage to be, “Peacemakers who sow in peace, [who] raise a harvest of righteousness.” We pray these things, as always, in the power of your most holy name, Jesus. Amen!
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