Skillful living . . . that’s what Chuck Swindoll calls it. I remember reading years ago a piece by him where he defined wisdom as “skillful living.” Wisdom is about so much more than just what you know. It’s about how you live out what you know. It’s about how what you know impacts how you live. And so, I’m reading this morning in James 3 and the last six verses, verses 13 through 18, talk about two forms of wisdom, two types of “skillful living.” One is earthly . . . very natural . . . driven by the passions of fallen human nature . . . exploited by the devil himself. And the other is wisdom from above.
First, what a reminder that I operate in two spheres. There’s that which just “comes natural.” That which is encouraged by the ways of this earth . . . fed by appetite and passion . . . literally “governed by breath.” It’s the way I behave when I’m tired or stressed and get a “bit crabby.” It’s the actions I take when I’m worried about how I look or come across or will be perceived by others. It’s things I pursue when I’m envious of someone else. “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above,” says James (3:11). It is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. It leads only to “disorder and every vile practice.”
But, as a child of God, . . . as one redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God, . . . as one who has been brought into marvelous light from darkness, . . . there is another realm I operate in. It is the realm of “the above.” And it is the antithesis of the earthly.
Skillful living which is naturally driven by envy and self-seeking can be replaced by the wisdom from above. This sort of wisdom manifests itself in meekness and humility (3:13) and results in “good conduct” (3:13) and a “harvest of righteousness” (3:18).
Check out James’ shortlist of “from above” attributes . . .
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17 ESV)
And as I think over this list, I gotta admit that’s how I want to live. That’s the wisdom for me. That’s the skillful living I want to characterize me. Less duplicity, more purity. Less crabby, more peaceable and gentle. Less wanting to win, more willing to yield. Less judgment, more mercy. Less picking and choosing who to deem “cool,” more impartiality. Less hypocrisy, more sincerity and authenticity.
And, as I continue to chew on this wisdom that is from above, I realize that it is Christ. That the wisdom described is Him.
He is pure. He is also the Prince of Perfect Peace, gentle and “will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle” (Isa. 42:3 NLT). He is willing to submit and yield, a patient Gentleman who doesn’t force Himself on anyone but invites all to drink of the living waters only He can offer. He is full of mercy and grace. And He is impartial, having died for all . . . willing to save all . . . ready to move into the lives of all.
He is the Wisdom from above. He is Skillful Living defined. And, get this, He lives in me. And, get this too, the Father desires to conform me into His image (Rom. 8:29).
The wisdom from above isn’t some ethereal, unattainable goal. It’s within my grasp. It’s available to me through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Mine is to recognize its existence and then say no to that wisdom which is earth-bound and human nature driven. Mine is to desire the heavenly wisdom, the divine pattern for skillful living, the way of Christ. And mine is to then trust that the Christ in me will empower me to live out this wisdom from above.
Might I not forget that what “comes naturally” isn’t necessarily a good thing. Instead, my mind and heart need to be tuned to what comes supernaturally. May I recognize when I’m operating under earthly wisdom and repent of it. And may I pattern myself more and more after the wisdom from above . . . that I might be more like the Son.
By His grace . . . for His glory!