I wonder if, in our modern culture, our default isn’t to gauge the measure of wisdom a person has by what they know. That we want to hear what someone has to say in order to discern how wise they are. That classic picture (I’m probably dating myself . . . again!) of climbing a mountain in order to hear from the guru who has figured out the secret to life, comes to mind. His understanding of life, we think, apparent by the utterance from his lips. But James portrays a different measure of wisdom. One that is based not on what is heard, but on what is seen. Not on what someone says they know, but on how that knowledge manifests itself in how they live.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
(James 3:13 ESV)
Just like faith, wisdom without works is dead. When what is known about God isn’t seen in how we live for God, then it’s useless knowledge. When the fruit of the Spirit is but something we memorize and not something we manifest, it’s just dead data. So James says, in effect, show me your wisdom by telling me what you know, and I’ll tell you what I know by showing you how I live.
Your life is marked by “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition”? Then don’t’ tell anybody you know something about the truth of life (3:14). That’s the evidence of worldly wisdom, of horizontal understanding, of earthly ignorance. And it can only bear the fruit of confusion and disorder. It is ultimately the genesis of “every vile practice” (3:16). Sound as wise as you want, but if you live for yourself above others, then it’s not the stuff of the celestial, its the way of the terrestrial. Not wisdom from above, it’s fake wisdom from below.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
(James 3:17-18 ESV)
No mention there of the platitudes one might give assent to. Not about the creed they can recite, or the confession of faith they claim to espouse. But true wisdom from heaven is demonstrated by how we really walk on earth.
Marked by purity, seasoned by the sacred. Jazzed by that which brings peace and not division, being motivated to heal rather than hurt, valuing reconciliation over recognition.
Mild in temperament, though strong in conviction. Ready to yield and open to reason, in order to gain common understanding.
Overflowing with mercy and kindness. Welcoming others as Christ has welcomed us (Rom. 15:7). Serving others as Christ has served us (Mark 10:45).
Sincere. Without duplicity or hypocrisy. Not playing favorites, but straight up with all people.
Those who live in such a way speak volumes, without uttering a word, by how they interact with others. Other-worldly in their behavior, it reveals something of their beliefs. Marching to the beat of a heavenly drum, they show by how they live, the truths they know.
And in their wake, they leave a harvest of righteousness sown in peace.
That’s wisdom. That’s the art of skillful living. Seen in our actions, not just heard in our words.
Made possible by God’s grace. To be pursued ardently for God’s glory.