Charles Dickens opened his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, with possibly one of the most famous lines in English literature. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity …”
How well it describes the times we live in. Scientific discovery has opened doors to many possibilities. Man is able to better explore this world. Medical research is helping in the fight against certain diseases.
But at the same time man is still faced with age-old problem of pain, death and decay. The 20th century had seen arms races and two world wars, resulting in the death of many millions. The 21st century sees no letup in acts of terrorism.
The controversy of genome research and cloning has been ongoing for years now. Science has ‘allowed’ man to try to ‘play’ God. The accumulation of so much knowledge has caused some men to believe that we are terribly wise.
This has led to arrogance and the feeling that we no longer need God because we are now self-sufficient. But is mankind any wiser in the sight of God in spite of these scientific and technological advancements?
James asks an open question. “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you (James 3:13)?” Without waiting for an answer, he provides an inspired one. “Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.”
This question challenges every one of us to examine if we are truly wise and understanding, not whether we are pretending to be so.
Knowledge is the accumulation of facts. We go to school and we learn from people who have the knowledge we need. We build up a data bank of facts. But knowledge is not wisdom.
Wisdom has to do with the ability to use knowledge in a right, responsible way. Wisdom is practical. This is true in the secular realm but even more so in the spiritual. James points out that to be wise our manner of life must be good and meek.
Real wisdom is demonstrated by a godly life; not by claim, argument or university degrees. Good conduct with meekness of wisdom – without pride and desire for worldly acclaim. Meekness is the very opposite of pride. Good conduct is not to draw attention and garner the praise of men.
How do we distinguish the wisdom from above and that of the devil? By the very opposite of godliness and meekness.
“But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work (James 3:14-16).”
Out of envy and strife come all sorts of evil imaginable – backstabbing, rumour-mongering, maliciousness, physical and emotional abuse, etc. Envy and strife are included in the catalogue of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21.
“Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).”
The wisdom God is pleased to bestow us is a holy, godly wisdom. We see the Lord’s characteristics in this godly wisdom, totally unlike the wisdom of the devil and the world.
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace (James 3:17-18).”
Not every one of us can have the IQ of a genius, but everyone can have the wisdom described by James in this passage. There is a key factor which must not be overlooked as we think about how we may attain to this wisdom.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever (Psalm 111:10).”
“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man (Ecclesiastes 12:13).”
Obedience to the Law of Christ is the key to the wisdom from above. All who desire to be truly wise are invited to come to Jesus.