In our reading today James highlights sources of wisdom because he is about to address conflict in the church. Wisdom is not an ethereal concept, disconnected from human reality. It is helpful to note this because wisdom has real outcomes, one source leading to peace and the other to disorder. James’s question is grounded and he asks, “Who is wise … among you? Let them show it by their good life that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13) Wisdom is revealed in how we live. In the church of his day the earthly wisdom of false preachers had led people to discriminate against the poor, to be judgmental, and to withhold help from the needy. It had resulted in conflict and so James was redirecting them towards heavenly wisdom that would lead them to be peacemakers.
James introduced the topic of wisdom at the start of the letter writing, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:2–5). At any time but especially in troubled times we need godly wisdom. James states, the biblical path to wisdom is to ask God who gives generously. Some might say I asked God for wisdom, but he didn’t give me any. But I must ask, Friend, do you have a bible? If so, you have God’s wisdom at your fingertips. The book of Proverbs contains many wise sayings. It opens explaining to the reader, these sayings are … for gaining wisdom and instruction; for understanding words of insight; for receiving instruction in prudent behaviour, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to those who are simple, knowledge and discretion to the young (Proverbs 1.1-4)
How do we gain heavenly wisdom? Primarily, wisdom comes from a relationship with God. Typically we read, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Ephesians 1:17) With a relationship with God in place, we find two helpful sources of wisdom. 1) wisdom can be found in the scriptures as God’s word becomes a light to our path. 2) To gain the fullness of wisdom God has gifted us a relationship with each other, so we as a church family learn wisdom together. When you ask God for wisdom, He might well remind you of a mature Christian friend who loves you well enough to listen to you and to kindly offer you godly advice. The church, our spiritual family is a repository of heavenly wisdom.
Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, gave a list of attributes which are known as the fruit of the Spirit. James, in this passage, lists the fruit of wisdom. Wisdom is shown by: a good fruitful life of sincere humble service; a pure merciful life, which is peace-loving; and an impartial, humble, submissive and considerate life. Such a life results in a harvest of righteousness. It seems to me this is a description of Jesus’ life. In him we see submission to God’s will, the Prince of peace who brings peace to humanity, considerate of others, doing what is right and good.
What difference does this make to us? We have the choice of allowing our lives to be shaped by earthly wisdom or heavenly wisdom. One results in a harvest of evil, the other a harvest of good. One leads to disorder the other leads to peace. Imagine a life, imagine a church, shaped by heavenly wisdom. Therefore, let us ask God for heavenly wisdom, knowing that he will give it to us generously.
- Have you ever known a person you consider to be wise? How was wisdom shown in their lives?
- Can you recall examples in the gospels which reveal the wisdom of Jesus?
- Can you think of a time when you sought heavenly wisdom and it made a difference to your life?
- Read 1 Kings 3.7-13 & 4.29-34 Why do you think Solomon asked for a discerning heart?
- Read Proverbs 1.1-7. Why do you think many people in the ancient world valued wisdom? Do you think wisdom is valued today – explain the reasons for your answer.
- Take a moment to compare and contrast the fruit of heavenly wisdom with the fruit of earthly wisdom. What differences might there be between a church that lived out of heavenly wisdom and one which was influenced by earthly wisdom?
- As we begin to recover and emerge from the effects of the pandemic on our church life, how might heavenly wisdom help us re-establish in the months ahead?
- In the week ahead pray as Paul did, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Ephesians 1:17)
Rev John Malcolm