There are two kinds of wisdom. Two ways of believing and acting in life that gather praise in different ways from different kinds of people. One is our default setting. It is earthly and too often demonic. The other is a gift of grace that requires discipline to grow in. It is a practical gift from God’s Spirit. Which wisdom we rely upon will shape our lives and the lives of those we are responsible to and for dramatically. [Audio | Notes]
For further thought
Q: Ever practical, in this passage James is giving us a description of the two types of wisdom available to us. Why?
Q: Throughout his letter James has been asking us to discern the outward signs of the inner reality that we belong to Christ. Can you summarise some of the signs he has described so far in his letter?
Q: How are these signs meant to be an encouragement as well as a challenge to us?
Here is a summary of the words James uses to paint the picture of earthly wisdom:
Selfish ambition – ambition can be good if harnessed to a good cause but here the cause is solely the self.
Envy – literally, zeal, which can also be good depending on its focus.
Unspiritual – limited to our animal nature; our reflexes, hungers, instincts, fight or light, basic desires.
Demonic – beneath us, deliberate, intelligent wrong doing
Disorder – lack of organisation, lack of relational harmony – the effect is to drive people apart.
Here is a summary of the words James uses to describe heavenly wisdom:
From above – that is, it is a gift of grace, it does not come from within us. It is an answer to prayer (James 1:5-8)
Pure – uncluttered, focused. Leaves aside the complications of selfish ambition and envy.
Peaceable – peace loving. Not peace at any price (see below) but sets the maintenance of relationships above the claims of our egos.
Considerate – a difficult word to translate. It is a legal term used to discuss where good judgement needs to be brought to bear when the law either fails or is unclear. Older translations used the word ‘reasonableness’ – to enact the spirit of the law when the letter of the law stumbles.
Submissive – older (and for our culture, wiser) translations wrote: ‘open to reason’ … a willingness to learn.
Mercy – able to make allowances and be patient (but not unendingly so) for change.
Impartial – literally, undivided. This wisdom may make allowances but it is not confused as to what is true.
Sincere – literally without hypocrisy. Consistency of character.
Peace – shalom. Wholeness. Right lives grow in the soil of a wise and peaceful existence.
Q: If James gives us these lists so we may recognise the different types of wisdom when we see them in our church, in our family, in our work, in ourselves; have you seen these two types of wisdom operating? What have been the outcomes?
Q: Why does right action (righteousness or justice) grow best in the soil of merciful wisdom that has produced peace rather than in the soil of human or demonic wisdom? (3:18).