Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18 NASB)
James is a book we tend to dissect into pieces. It can be kind of difficult to find a constant train of thought. This passage comes to us right after all the words about the tongue. I’ve had a bad habit of overlooking this passage. But it fits so well with learning to tame the tongue.
We all give advice whether someone wants it or not. I lean toward a view of advice that may be a little different than most. Advice is a gift. What the listener does with it is completely up to them. I can’t get upset if they decide to take my “gift” and set it on the shelf for awhile. Maybe they’ll take it when they need it later. I only think this way because I have to distance myself from the advice I give if someone chooses not to take it. I can’t take it personally if they choose not to listen to me. It’s difficult sometimes, but it helps them learn by consequence if they choose not to listen. But if they take it and use it, it’s dangerous for me if it doesn’t work. And if it doesn’t work, then I’m in trouble because they’ve listened to me. I need to be sure I understand what true wisdom looks like, what wisdom from above is so I can only give that. But they can choose to do what they want after I give it.
What we need to understand is that advice is only needed when someone asks for it, unless they’re putting themselves in true jeopardy. I’ll tell you why I think this way…the passage above.
Sometimes the wisdom we have to give may not be wisdom from above but rather a preference or opinion on personal taste. What we want to say we truly believe is right. But how we deliver wisdom could be wrong. Let me ask you something, is the wisdom you give based on personal experience? Does that mean you stand to gain something when you impart wisdom to someone? What are you going to get out of imparting your wisdom? What are you looking for? How are you going to say it?
This passage is eye-opening to me. What I’m beginning to realize is that any wisdom I give toward others that has any other motivation outside of bringing glory to God is purely selfish. That kind of wisdom actually lies against the truth. It’s a wisdom that sounds good and seems good, but it’s lying. Wisdom from above seeks first the glory of God above all other things. What it tells me is that how we respond to life’s dealings is one more step in which we can take closer to God or away from Him. Wisdom is action-based, not simply knowledge. It’s movement in the direction of God. Wisdom from above moves us upward.
There are ways we can tell whether or not we are using wisdom from above or from the earth. The first one is selfish ambition. A majority of the time we look to ourselves for just about everything. What we do is bent on building our own kingdom or making ourselves seem better than others or feel good. But that kind of wisdom is not just dangerous, it contains every evil thing. So a selfish wisdom is the complete opposite of God-wisdom. It’s demonic. That’s a hard pill to swallow because we’ve lived our lives with a wisdom that mostly looks out for self.
Our delivery of wisdom says a lot about where the wisdom has come from as well. Are we more concerned about being right and making sure everyone knows our side of the story, or are we careful to pursue peace, to be gentle with no ulterior motives, showing mercy, and having a history of past experience to back it up? Really, what are you known for? Do you blow up at people when things don’t seem right, or are you quick to extend grace and mercy? Do you pursue peace or do people have to know your side of the story or what you think? Do you require everyone else to follow you in what you say while not applying your words to yourself? (For example, telling your kids to come to you immediately when you call them, but when they need you, you tell them to wait.) Is what you have to say reasonable and pure?
This is the kicker of the whole thing. Wisdom from above doesn’t lack one of those things. It contains them all. Let me submit to you that any wisdom that excuses one part isn’t truly wisdom from above. God is concerned just as much about the delivery of the wisdom as He is the principles themselves. If we’re not careful to deliver wisdom with gentleness, we won’t “win them over.”
Let’s say someone comes to us and explains a difficult situation or a choice they’ve made. We tend to react harshly in the moment or blow it off as something unimportant, which means we’re in it for ourselves to make sure we’re heard or that our point gets across (we tell them what they should’ve done or act like you don’t care). And we’re writing it off thinking we’re helping them while in reality, we’re withholding mercy and bringing judgment. It only causes them to resist or feel completely helpless. They don’t listen. It goes in one ear and out the other. And we get upset and take it personally, which then isn’t reasonable because their problem wasn’t ours to begin with, and yet somehow we’ve made it our problem too! If they don’t listen, we get jealous about it and want our words of wisdom back to make sure they’ve heard it and understood it…”I told you so. Didn’t I tell you? Why didn’t you listen?”
Wisdom from above seeks peace. That means grace heavily influences it. Wisdom from above is pure. It comes from God and is meant to develop a deeper relationship with Him which will bring Him glory. It makes sense to the one who hears because there’s no judgment on their end against you, the deliverer. It’s completely consistent and doesn’t change, just like God doesn’t change. It doesn’t depend on the situation because the motive isn’t bent on us bringing glory unto ourselves but to God.
So from a “wisdom-giver” standpoint, wisdom from above seeks to encourage the listener’s relationship with God. And from a personal standpoint, wisdom from above is my response toward my condition or situation which involves me humbling myself before God and drawing near to Him in order to deepen my relationship with Him and bring Him glory through it. Wisdom from above moves us upward. It’s action-based. It’s full of fruit. It’s seen.