Before leaving for a meeting in Atlanta, I open my Waze app and type in the address of my destination. I’m not ashamed to say that usually I am in desperate need of navigational assistance when driving in the city 🙂 and I like Waze because of its real-time ability to re-route around problematic traffic issues.
On a recent trip to the city, Waze told me to exit onto a side road just inside the perimeter. This was miles before my destination and I couldn’t imagine a secondary street being a more efficient route than 400, which at that point was flowing unusually smoothly.
You know what happened.
By rejecting the guidance of Waze, I found myself stuck in a sea of brake lights for nearly an hour.
Wisdom works a lot like that. Wisdom is being willing to turn when you are told to turn by something or someone with greater knowledge than yourself.
Obviously, wisdom for life does not come from Waze or any other app. True wisdom is found in God’s guidance for us that has been revealed in the Scriptures.
If the opposite of wisdom is foolishness, don’t we all want to grow in wisdom, which is not only concerned with what is right, but what is good—that which will lead to blessing for ourselves, our marriages, our families.
This is where Gods’ word for us in James 3:13-18 is going to really help us as we seek to live in the way of wisdom
I. TRUE WISDOM IS TRUTH APPLIED (v. 13a).
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life,
“Let him show it.” The Greek word for show means to reveal or display something publicly. It is to take a theoretical concept or truth and apply it to real life. Related to wisdom, to apply knowledge to real life is wisdom.
Knowledge is crucial for wisdom. We need biblical information.
But even if I claim to know a lot, if I gossip and slander people by spreading a bad report; if I am easily offended and angered; if I disrespect authority and if I am unteachable, then I prove my lack – not of knowledge, but of wisdom.
You’ve heard the quote, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”
What we say and what we do reveals whether or not we really are acting in wisdom or whether we are playing the fool.
Wisdom is the willingness to allow the Holy Spirit to set the agenda, not only of what I profess to believe, but in how I actually live—in what I choose to say and choose to do.
This means that true wisdom can only function within the environment of a teachable spirit, which requires that we examine the second part of verse 13, which tells us that…
II. Humility is necessary for true wisdom (v. 13b).
“by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
John Calvin said, “This is wisdom, to be a learner to the end.
Jeremy Collier, a late 17th and early 18th century English theologian agrees, saying, “Humility is the hallmark of wisdom.”
Humility is a willingness to admit that apart from God revealing truth and giving me grace to act on it, that on my own, I am an ignorant fool. I’m not as smart as my flesh thinks and I am prone to do really stupid things.
- Things said in the heat of the moment
- Spending money that increases debt
- Decisions to cross physical boundaries in dating
Things that usually feel right in the moment, but are later shown for being not only unwise, but foolish.
Several Bible versions translate the word humility as gentleness, words that seek to convey the idea of “receptivity to instruction and teachability,” as opposed to making hard, knee-jerk reactions, pushing back, and resisting anything that challenges our thinking, our emotions, or way of life
The only way I will be guided by true wisdom is to possess the kind of humility that makes teachability possible. And the only way to possess this kind of teachability is to confess that apart from grace in my flesh, I am an ignorant fool.
It is the presence of foolishness in our flesh that leads to James’ third teaching on true wisdom, which is that…
III. The enemy of true wisdom is pride, which is fueled by the world, the flesh, and the devil (vv. 14-15).
14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.
While James describes the fruit of envy and selfish ambition, the root of these insidious qualities is pride, which causes us, as James says, to boast in self and to deny the truth, which is a dangerous combination of rotten fruit to have growing in my life. Pride. Boastfulness. Arrogance. Envy, which leads to bitterness, resentment and eventually hostility.
Paul addressed this pride problem in Romans 12:3, writing, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.”
When I act the fool, I am drunk on the flesh rather than filled with the Spirit.
Because what fuels prideful arrogance does not come from God, or heaven, but is what James calls earthly, what we might call conventional wisdom—or attitudes and practices that a particular culture deems right, good, acceptable, and normative, even if they are at odds with what Scripture considers right, good, acceptable, and normative.
While watching the UGA game yesterday, a commercial came on for a TV show called Wisdom of the Crowd. This is what James is talking about. Following the wisdom of the crowd versus following the wisdom of God.
While the truly regenerate believer will have the “wisdom radar” to detect earthly wisdom, the unspiritual “flesh” or sin nature that resides within even regenerate believers is able to deceive us into accepting the wisdom of the crowd as congruent with biblical teaching
What happens is that professing Christians get sucked in, whether by peer pressure or sheer biblical illiteracy, and bend the clear teaching of Scripture to accommodate the view of the fool.
Remember, a fool is someone who rejects the guidance of the Waze app, or for us, rejects the guidance of God that has been clearly revealed to us in the Bible.
When considering wisdom, the question for me to ask is not necessarily what would Jesus do, but what would Jesus have me do? Whatever it is, we can be pretty sure that it will be contrary to what feels natural. Because what feels natural—my first inclination or response—is almost always driven by or influenced by the world, the flesh, or, as James says, the devil. Walking in the Spirit is not natural, it is supernatural—it is a conscious decision. Which is why walking in the way of wisdom often requires a pause. Reflection. Time to connect with the Spirit, possibly repent, and seek the way of God—the way of wisdom.
You see, if I let my natural self make decisions, then…
IV. Pride, as the antithesis of true wisdom, will reap unpleasant consequences (v. 16).
16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practiceIn other words, where pride wins, peace loses.
Think about how this works out in marriage. What happens when I am unteachable and easily angered? What happens when I must win the argument or have my view prevail? What happens when I cut off my spouse in conversation or raise my voice so that I can be heard? What happens when I pound the table, make stabbing insults, and storm out of the room?
Unpleasant consequences. Relational disorder and other evil by-products of self-righteous conflict begin to rule the home. What seemed right in the moment and was driven by such a powerful urge that welled up in anger was me acting the fool in the flesh fueled by spiritual pride.
This is the opposite of wisdom… and it always gives birth to unpleasant consequences.
The same thing takes place in the church, in the workplace, in the dorm, in the world.
All the result of sinful pride.
A number of us are there right now—and maybe feel stuck. I know. I’ve been there.
But realizing how powerfully pride has taken root in your heart is the beginning of the new way—the new way of wisdom. Look, if you are under conviction right now, you are experiencing a gift—the gift of humility, which prepares us to embrace that…
V. True wisdom is revealed from God (v. 17).
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
If true wisdom is truth applied, James is describing what applying the truth of God looks like.
The word for pure means holy. Think of that. Pure. Holy. Without the mixture of sinful attitudes, sinful motives, and sinful desires.
Which is why true wisdom is peace-loving and considerate. It thinks of others first. It considers how words and actions will impact someone else and make them feel… so that I begin to think before I speak.
It is submissive, or teachable. It doesn’t assume it is right, but is willing to be critiqued and corrected. It is willing to engage in a conversation in order to learn, not just to win.
It is full of mercy, or we could say, true wisdom provides a safe place for those who struggle. Just like God does. In Romans 2:4 Paul tells us that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. It is this kindness, the mercy of God that is our safe place. Do I tend to judge or give mercy? The difference is wisdom.
True wisdom produces the good fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. The fruit of the flesh is just the opposite. It’s not good; it’s rotten. It stinks.
Wisdom also manifests impartiality. True wisdom is not a chameleon; it is impartial in how it treats people and acts around people, being comfortable in its own skin as one who is covered in the perfect righteousness of Jesus.
Which culminates in sincerity. What you see is what you get. A willingness to be honest, real, and vulnerable.
What if your marriage looked like verse 17? What if mine did?!
If you are like me, I am most discouraged in marriage when there is unresolved tension and conflict. But what James is telling us is that true wisdom leads to the relief of tension and conflict by creating peace—the glorious peace experienced when grace comes home to the heart and provides the motive and means for relational reconciliation and restoration.
Which leads to the final teaching in verse 18, which is that…
VI. True wisdom is manifested in peacemaking (v. 18).
18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
Can you think of anyone who represents the embodiment of peacemaking? Is there anyone you know about who is uniquely known for making peace?
Verse 13 began, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life.”
Isn’t this entire section a portrait of Jesus, who himself is the wisdom of God incarnate who came down from heaven to make peace between unholy sinners and a holy God?
Isaiah 53:5, He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace.
Ephesians 2:13-18, 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.
Not until I come to grips with the bloody sacrifice of Jesus for me as a condemned sinner and experience the grace of peace with God will I be able to put down my self-righteous pride and hostility—the pride that prevents me from walking in wisdom. The pride that burns bridges, destroys relationships, and undermines the work of the Spirit in my life and in yours.
It is when I experience the peace of the gospel that I, too, will be a peacemaker, walking in the way of wisdom.
On the morning of Sunday, February 4, 1912, an Austrian tailor named Franz [Reechelt] arrived at the Eiffel Tower in Paris to conduct an experiment on his new parachute that he had developed for airplane pilots.
As Reichelt posed for pictures, he announced that instead of using a test dummy, he would perform the jump himself.
While modern parachutes use 700 square feet of fabric, Reichelt’s parachute used less than 350. Engineering experts attempted to talk the tailor out of the jump, but Reichelt was convinced. He was right in his own eyes… and hit the ground at sixty miles an hour.[i]
People would later say that Reichelt was an arrogant fool.
Well, it takes one to know one, because I am one, too. In my flesh, I am as arrogant and ignorant a fool as anyone who has ever lived. I’ve jumped with a defective parachute off of a thousand Eifel Towers. No, not literally. But with words and actions that have badly wounded others and myself.
A pastor friend of mine posted a prayer on Twitter yesterday, saying, “Lord, make me as patient, kind, and loving as people think I am.”
Thank God that Jesus died for fools.
When he went to the cross, he didn’t wear a parachute. He was taking our fall, fully expecting to absorb the complete impact, not of the ground, but of my sin—of my arrogant, ignorant foolishness.
But now, as a redeemed, forgiven fool, I am able to stand firmly on the rock that is grace as I abide in my Savior, not only as my sin bearer, but as my wisdom provider. For when I am standing on that rock of his perfect righteousness, he fills me with his Spirit and enables me to live in a new way—the way of wisdom… for my good and to the praise of his glorious grace.
[i] Adapted from Kevin Ashton, How to Fly a Horse (Doubleday, 2015), pp. 88-89