There are no self-confessed fools in our day. Everyone is an expert. Everyone has opinions. Do it this way. Do it that way. Here is the key to success. Here are the steps to happiness. We are bombarded with special wisdom all the time. And, everyone has their own spin on just about everything. Why? Because knowledge is the height of human aspiration.
Wisdom has always been a hot commodity. Even back in the garden. Eve desired to have superior knowledge to God, so she heeded the wisdom of a serpent—which ought to have raised some alarms from the jump. Adam tried to educate God on the malformation of his wife. Evidently, God needed to give her tune-up.
King Solomon, however, is probably the most well known in all of Scripture when it comes being wise. “People of all nations came to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom” (1 Kin. 4:34). Wisdom has always been a premium.
Even outside of Scripture, wisdom is sought after and prized. The ancient philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero said, “Wisdom is the best gift of the gods, it is the mother of all good things. The best and that which generates all of the best.” He was certainly on to something here. It was wisdom for which Solomon asked God when he could have asked for anything (2 Chron. 1:10). And, it was through this wisdom that Solomon acquired everything he desired.
A proverb reminds us, “By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches” (Prov. 24:3-4). In other words, wisdom will help you get the house, and all the furnishings. Get wisdom, and you can have it all.
It is wisdom to which James now turns in his practical epistle of trials. He is putting us to the test in order to discover the validity and maturity of our faith. By examining our wisdom, we can determine whether our faith is genuine. In this short verse, which begins with the trial of wisdom, James calls wisdom to the rug by demonstrating itself in three ways.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” (Ja. 3:13)
True Wisdom is Saving Faith
Coming to terms with the prominent point in the trial of wisdom will be difficult if you have the wrong idea about wisdom. The premise is simply this: Those who possess true wisdom possess saving faith. Now this assumes a few basic things.
To begin with, the epistle of James is a collection of trials meant to uncover the true nature of your faith. By examining your response to troubles, you can see your faith (Ja. 1:19-27). By examining your treatment of others, you can see your faith (Ja. 2:1-13). By examining your works before God (Ja. 2:14-26) and your speech before man (Ja. 1:12), you can see your faith. So, by examining your wisdom, you can also determine whether you have saving faith (Ja. 3:13-18). Why? Because those who have saving faith have true wisdom.
Now, if wisdom is legitimate test of saving faith, then there must be a wisdom that unbelievers do not possess. In other words, if both believers and unbelievers possessed the same kind of wisdom, the test would be a wasted exercise. There must be a distinction in wisdom. James says the unbelievers possess a wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (Ja. 3:14-160. Believers, on the other hand, will demonstrate a wisdom that is “from above” (Ja. 3:17-18). This is true wisdom.
It’s an important point to make because some have argued that only one kind of wisdom exists and both believers and unbelievers can tap into it. For example, to a successful married life, you must remain faithful to your spouse. To have a successful financial life, you should save money, live frugally, and invest sensibly. A successful work life is more likely to happen if you are diligent, work hard, and go beyond expectations. A healthy body, in most cases, is a result of exercise and good dieting. This is wisdom that is “built in” to God’s creation. It is like the fuel it runs on. And, if someone is privileged to tap into it, they will enjoy its benefits.
However, this wisdom is superficial at best. It is devoid of any ultimate meaning, intention, godliness, faith, and purpose. By “reverse engineering” God’s design for creation, one can only produce superficial results. King Solomon was guilty of this. With human wisdom, we accomplished a great many things. In fact, there was nothing on earth he did not have, and have in multitudes. But, it lacked true meaning. Everything he gained was vanity (Ecc. 1:14).
Wisdom is Found in God
It helps to know where true wisdom comes from. The Proverbs tell us. “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the deeps broke open and the clouds drop down the dew” (Prov. 3:19-20). Wisdom literature is more than often poetic in form making use of parallelisms. Here, the parallel is easy to see. The words wisdom, understanding, and knowledge collapse into one things—God’s mind accomplishing creation.
Further in the Proverbs, wisdom speaks to us:
“The LORD possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” (Prov. 8:22-31)
In other words, wisdom was there before creation. She was crying out, “I was there! I was there before everything!” Don’t miss this point. Wisdom predates creation. It comes from God. It has its existence in Him. It is very much a characteristic of His nature. James would attest to this. He said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let hims ask god who gives generously” (Ja. 1:5). God is the source of wisdom.
Wisdom is Given to Believers
The next question is: To whom does He give His wisdom? Anybody? Everybody? James answer this as well. Anyone who asks “in faith, with no doubting” (Ja. 1:6) because the one who doubts “must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord” (Ja. 1:7). In other words, faith is necessary to acquire wisdom. If you do not have faith, don’t bother asking God. He won’t give you true wisdom.
Job 28 is a powerful chapter on wisdom. The first eleven verses describe the tireless work that man will undergo to find the most precious metals in the earth. But, one thing he will not find is more precious than any metal, wisdom. “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:12). No one knows. The earth says, “It’s not in me” (Job 28:14). Nothing known to man can purchase it (Job 28:15-19).
Only God knows where to find true wisdom (Job 28:23). He says to the man who is looking for wisdom, “Behold, the fear of the lord, that is wisdom; and to turn away from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28). Again, the parallels are clear. If wisdom and understanding are equal, then the fear of the Lord and turning away from evil are also equal. And, if wisdom is the same as fearing the Lord, then it is also the same as turning from evil. This is nothing short of an evangelistic outcry. “Repent, turn from your sins, and trust God!”
Wisdom is found in the call to repentance and faith. The Proverbs convey this point as well. “Wisdom,” who is personified, “cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?” (Prov. 1:20-22). She calls to the sinner, “Why do you remain in your sin? When will you turn from your ways and come to me?” This is Lord’s cry to sinners.
The simpletons, those who remain in their sin, despise God’s wisdom. It says that they “did not choose the fear of the Lord,” which is a refusal of God’s “counsel” and “reproof,” and they continued in their sin (Prov. 1:29-30). “But,” says wisdom, “whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster” (Prov. 1:33). Wisdom, in case you missed it, is God’s gospel.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” (Prov. 3:5-7).
Wisdom is inseparable from fearing the Lord and turning away from evil. In fact, “the fear of the Lord is hatred of evil” (Prov. 8:13). It couldn’t be more clear. Wisdom says, as our Lord has said, “I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me” (Prov. 8:17). “For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov. 8:36). Whoever seeks wisdom finds life. Whoever seeks God finds wisdom.
Fearing God is an Old Testament phrase to refer to saving faith. Abraham, trusting God with his son and sacrifice, is described as fearing God (Gen. 22:12). Satan, when speaking of Job, says that fears God (Job 1:9). God told the Hebrews “to learn to fear me all the days that they live” (Deut. 4:10). In the New Testament as well, Cornelius was called “an upright and God-fearing man” (Acts 10:22). When Paul was in Athens, he reasoned with “the devout persons” which some translations call “God-fearing Greeks” (Acts 17:17).
The point is this: True wisdom is an exclusive gift to those who trust God for salvation. It is inseparable from saving faith. Those who possess true wisdom possess saving faith. So, the test of wisdom is legitimate test of faith.
The Challenge to Demonstrate True Wisdom
A short time before the turn of the last century, a hip hop artist made the pop scene with his iconic look and lyrics. His name was Eminem. His fame spread quickly as soon as his songs hit the charts. He was an instant sensation. People around the world began to imitate his antics and style—dying their hair blonde and wearing white t-shirts. So, he rebutted the fame and wrote a song about his pretenders. The chorus went like this:
I’m Slim Shady, yes I’m the real Shady
All you other Slim Shadys are just imitating
So will the real Slim Shady please stand up?
Please stand up? Please stand up?
He wanted the world to know that he was the true Slim Shady. James, in a like manner, calls out to a crowd of self-confessed experts. “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (Ja. 3:13). In other words, will the true wisdom possessors please stand up?
While he mentions both wisdom and understanding, it is clear by the context that he is searching for those with wisdom. He might have employed the Old Testament phraseology to evoke some emphasis. (The Old Testament, as we have already seen, uses these two words together quite often.) Whatever the case, “wisdom” is the application of knowledge and “understanding” is the apprehension of knowledge. The two go hand-in-hand.
How does true wisdom stand up? In a crowd of pretenders, how can true wisdom rise above the rest? In other words, how can we demonstrate true wisdom? James gives us three ways: good behavior, godly deeds, and humble attitudes.
True Wisdom is Demonstrated by Good Behavior
The first way to demonstrate true wisdom is by our mannerisms. He tells us to demonstrate “by his good conduct” (Ja. 3:13). The word good refers to things that are lovely, ordered, beautiful, attractive, noble, and excellent. The word conduct refers to our behavior, manner of action, and the way we perform. Since wisdom is the application of knowledge, then true wisdom can be seen in our behavior.
True Wisdom is Demonstrated by Godly Deeds
While “good conduct” is a general demonstration of behavior, the next way is specific. “Let him show his works” (Ja. 3:13). This is a reference to your deeds, the things you do, not just how you do them. Since wisdom is the application of knowledge, then the very things you do each day are affected by God’s truth.
True Wisdom is Demonstrated by Humble Attitudes
The third and final way to demonstrate true wisdom, at least from the vantage point of James, is “in the meekness of wisdom” (Ja. 3:13). Contrary to earthly wisdom, which more than often exudes great pride and arrogance, true wisdom humbles us. God’s viewpoint of all things results in a low view of self and a high view of others. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). Since wisdom is the application of divine truth, then our attitude toward all things will reveal Christ in us.
Does your behavior reveal true wisdom? Is your day filled of godly doings? Do people consider you to be humble and meek? These are the ways we demonstrate the existence of true wisdom. Only those who possess saving faith possess true wisdom. Do you have what it takes to stand up?