Do you consider yourself to be a wise person? Do others consider you to be wise? What is wisdom? Is there more than one kind of wisdom? These questions are addressed in this passage of Scripture. Remember that this is a letter, written by the apostle James to Christian Jews who have been scattered throughout Asia because of the persecution by the Jews and by the Roman Emperor Nero. They have been separated from their Hebrew culture and the values of their forefathers, and are now being exposed to, and immersed in the Greek culture of their new environment. Because of this, one of the issues that James is addressing is the wrong understanding of, and application of wisdom.
According to the Scriptures, wisdom is one of the most desirable things in life. Proverbs 8:11 says, “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.” King Solomon wrote those words, and of all the people in the Old Testament, he ought to know!
Mankind has always wanted wisdom, hasn’t it? Right from the beginning, in Genesis chapter 1, man has wanted to be as wise as God. The apostle James even says, at the beginning of his letter, that wisdom is something that is available to all. Let me read James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach.” The word “ask” in James 1:5 means to “beg”. Though wisdom is available to all, it is only received by those who recognize their own inadequacy and realize that only God can provide it in answer to earnest prayer.
There are many words in Chapter 3, verses 13-18, that James has used to describe wisdom. This passage is opening up for me a whole new meaning of the concept. I hope this will be as eye-opening and profitable a lesson for you as it has been for me so far on the topic of wisdom.
I A Challenge (verse 13)
James begins this verse with a question: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” He is not being sarcastic here. He is being honest and forthright. Many of his readers are well-educated people: teachers, businessmen, and experienced craftsman. His question is more than just a question. It is a challenge. James is saying, “If you claim to be wise and understanding (and many of you are), show it, or demonstrate it in the ways that true wisdom should be demonstrated. The word translated “show” is the Greek word “deiknuo”. It literally means “a turning to and fro”. Life is considered to be a quick motion to and fro. We sometimes use the phrase “the ups and downs of life”. True wisdom and understanding are demonstrated regardless of the changing circumstances of life. James used the same word in chapter 2, verse 18 where he says, “I will show you my faith by my works.” Here James is saying, “show me your wisdom by your conduct (or good behavior).”
Verse 13 ends with an attitude of the heart that accompanies true wisdom: “gentleness”. Other translations say: “meekness”, or “humility”. It is a word that has lost most of its original meaning, and is considered a sign of weakness today. Yet Jesus used that word to describe Himself. He also pronounced a blessing on those who are meek in His Sermon on the Mount. In ancient Greece, the term was often used to refer to a strong and high-spirited horse which was brought under control. It’s strength and spirit were now harnessed and put to good use. Gentleness or meekness is one of the marks of true wisdom.
Greetings! There is so much to study and learn in the next five verses, especially the qualities of heavenly wisdom, so I am going to give you an outline of the rest of the paragraph, and will continue at verse 14 in my next message. The rest of the outline is given below.
II. A Warning (verse 14)
III. A Contrast (verses 15-17)
A. Earthly Wisdom (verses 15-16
B. Heavenly Wisdom (verse 17)
IV. A Conclusion (verse 18)
Summary and Application