Two Wisdoms: Wisdom Shows

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13)

Are you a wise person? According to James, if I knew you I wouldn’t have to ask that question. Having a high wisdom quotient (WQ?) isn’t something that comes from filling in the right ovals on a multiple choice test. Wisdom shows.

twowisdoms_350Wisdom stands out in our world in the same way that having purple hair or being eight feet tall stands out. What we’re going to see in this week’s study is that living wisely – with the “wisdom of heaven” – is not the norm in this zip code. It’s weird, even.

So if you’re a wise person, people will notice. They’ll see you living a good life. They’ll see you making choices like a humble person, like someone who knows the story isn’t about him or her.

Come back tomorrow to see what wisdom ain’t.

Think: If “wisdom is as wisdom does,” do you think many people would describe you as a wise person? Do you know any smart people who are not very wise? How about the reverse of that – people who live wisely without being very “book smart”?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be a wise and understanding person so that it becomes obvious by your good life and deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

Do: Make a quick list of the 5 wisest-living people you know.

Two Wisdoms: Success = Envy and Ambition?

“But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.” (James 3:14)

How do you define success in life? That’s the giant question James is trying to get his readers to wrestle with. Yesterday, he set up one version of success: wisdom and understanding. Not many people reach it, but it is obvious in those that do from their good lives, from their humility, from their great choices.

twowisdoms_350His other definition of success is the one we’re all more familiar with. It goes like this: “Look around. Notice what you really want out of life. Get hungry for it. Then make a plan and go out there and get what you want!” Wow, that sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

The problem is that what sounds good to us is just a nice way of saying “bitter envy” (decide what you want by looking at what other people have) and “selfish ambition” (making a plan to make yourself happy by getting what you want).

James said that if you’re defining success by getting all the money, fame, and power you can – don’t pretend you’re not doing that and don’t brag about it like it’s a good thing. Admit it – and then be willing to hear why that version of success fails. Every time.

Think: Why do you think it sounds almost healthy to us to make a plan to try to work to get everything we really want out of life? Do you believe that version of success is flawed? Why or why not?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be willing to understand what his version of success would mean for your life.

Do: Make a quick list of 3 people you know who seem to have been successful at deciding what they wanted out of life in terms of money, fame, or power – and getting it. Notice whether it seems to have made them happy or not.

Two Wisdoms: Earthbound Unspiritual Demonic

“Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” (James 3:15)

The world’s wisdom fails, even though it sounds like a pretty good worldview to us most of the time. Again, we’re talking about a plan of deciding what you want by looking at what other people have (“bitter envy”) and finding a way to get it in order to try to make yourself happy (“selfish ambition”).

twowisdoms_350It sounds good to us because it’s the way we’ve always looked at the world. It’s the operating system installed in our sinful hearts. James describes three problems with it.

First, it’s earthly, meaning this wisdom can’t provide a “bird’s eye view” perspective on life. Next, it is unspiritual, limited in understanding to only what the senses can perceive. And it was written by demonic sources.

So the serve-self-first view of life is earthbound, spiritually blind, and demonic. Yikes!

Think: What’s wrong with these three characteristics of worldly wisdom? What would be the advantage of wisdom that was heavenly, spiritual, and NOT of the devil?

Pray: Ask God to give you the desire and the courage to reject the serve-self-first wisdom of the world.

Do: Read John’s definition of everything in “the world” in 1 John 2:16.

Two Wisdoms: Disorder More Evil

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16)

Do you have a picture in your head now of what worldly “wisdom” is, what worldliness is? We’ve looked at how James describes it – envy and selfish ambition. Put another way, this “wisdom” is about defining success by getting what I want most out of life.

twowisdoms_350One reason that fails is the same reason a basketball team fails when the players are more interested in their own stats than they are in winning the game. Nobody passes. Nobody plays defense. Everybody shoots the ball every time they get it. That is disorder. And that team loses the game almost every time, even if one or two players “succeed” in getting high scores.

The other problem with defining success by getting my way is that I’m more and more willing to do “whatever it takes” to get my way. If the choice is between hurting you and succeeding by getting what I want, I can get used to the idea of hurting you. I can get used to the idea of all kinds of evil if the other option is “losing” at life.

Think: Can you think of any examples of disorder and evil in our world that seem to come from a worldly definition of success? What would be the opposite of this definition of success?

Pray: Ask God to help you not to live according to the world’s definition of self-serving success.

Do: Write down a number between 1 (low) and 10 (high) describing how committed you are to getting what you want out of life. Then write a number rating how committed you are to accomplishing what God wants with your life.

Two Wisdoms: Wisdom from Heaven

“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.” (James 3:17)

Had enough of the world’s brand of self-serving wisdom? Want to define success differently in your life? James turns the focus on God’s version of wisdom. Notice that it’s not so much about getting my way.

twowisdoms_350First, this wisdom is pure. That means it’s not some of one thing and some of another. God’s wisdom is all one thing all the way through. It is all about God from start to finish. It’s all about his view of the universe and his view of my life. Those living on God’s wisdom will always be moving in the same direction – the one he chooses.

With this wisdom, I am so confident God will have his way I can quit fighting to get my own way. This wisdom tells me I’d rather have his way, anyway. So I can work to make peace. I can spare the time to look at things from your point of view and be willing to have my mind changed. I can afford to show mercy and make choices that cause good things to happen for everyone.

With God’s wisdom, I’m not trying to beat you to build myself up. I’m trying to serve you because I know he will build me up when the time is right.

Think: Do the consequences of living by God’s wisdom – purity, peace, thoughtfulness, etc. – appeal to you? What keeps people who live by God’s wisdom from getting walked on by everyone else?

Pray: Ask God to give you the desire and courage to live by his wisdom in your world.

Do: Write down each of the attributes of heavenly wisdom listed in today’s verse. Rate each one on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being high) by how much of that thing you notice in your own life, lately. (e.g., peace-loving: 6; considerate: 4; etc.)

Two Wisdoms: Keeping It Real

“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.” (James 3:17)

God’s wisdom always keeps it real. It doesn’t have a hidden agenda. It doesn’t do nice things for you with a secret motive to get something from you afterwards.

twowisdoms_350Why? Because those living on God’s wisdom are “impartial,” a word that here means “not uncertain” or “not doubting.” We are wisely convinced that living for God is the best possible path for us and that He will meet all of our needs (and many of our wants).

So we don’t have to try to manipulate each other to get what we want. In his wisdom, I understand that I don’t need anything from anyone except him. I am free to be completely sincere, completely who I am in Christ. I don’t need to fudge the truth or threaten people or deploy my sales tactics. I can afford to do the best thing for you and let God worry about your response to me.

Think: Why does living by the world’s self-serving version of wisdom require us to avoid being sincere, to become hypocrites when we pretend to be motivated by doing good for others?

Pray: Ask God to help you to live in his pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, fruitful, convinced, sincere wisdom.

Do: Make a quick list of words that are the opposites of those wisdom characteristics mentioned in today’s verse: pure (e.g., “impure” or “diluted”), peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, fruitful, impartial, sincere. Notice how those opposite character qualities lead to unwise living in your life.

Two Wisdoms: Plant Peace

“Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18)

One of the bottom-line differences between the world’s wisdom and the wisdom of heaven is this: The world’s wisdom leads to conflict. Heaven’s wisdom leads to peace.

twowisdoms_350The world’s wisdom says, “You’ve got to be willing to fight to get what’s yours. If you don’t compete to promote yourself, nobody else will. If you want something, you’ve got to compete for it on the battlefield of sports or academics or business or war or relationships. You’ve got to take it. Nobody is going to give it to you.”

Heaven’s wisdom says, “God will give you whatever you need and many amazing things you didn’t even know you wanted. You won’t have to fight for them. You can do the hard work he calls you to and trust him to provide. You can join him in doing good things for people, finding new ways to make peace. People who love making peace ending up doing what’s right.”

Think: Does heaven’s wisdom appeal to you? Why or why not? What does that say about us that sometimes we’d rather fight than make peace?

Pray: Ask God to help you to be a peacemaker who sows in peace and raises a harvest of righteousness.

Do: Read James 4:1-12 to hear more about the conflict that comes from living by the world’s wisdom.