Everyone assumes that they have common sense and are wise. Recently, I have noticed that self-assuredness is incredibly common in our culture. You see it in memes on Facebook, proclamations that the poster has more sense than the rest of the world. Bumper stickers proudly proclaim the driver’s amazing sense compared to the population at large. At the foundation of many arguments and articles is the assumption that the wisdom drives the position of the author, whereas the other political party’s adherents live with their heads in the sand. This self-assuredness, often without reflection, is spoken of in the book of James. James uses the word “wisdom”, rather than common sense, though the concept is similar. Wisdom is knowledge that translates into action.
UnCommon Sense: Is Your Wisdom Godly or Worldly?
James 3:13-18 describes two kinds of wisdom: worldly wisdom and wisdom that is from God. These two kinds of wisdom differ in their orientation and in their results. Noting the results of wisdom is important because in the passages preceding, James writes at length about the tongue and how loosely spoken words can create havoc in the church, comparing these loosely spoken words to sparks that ignite a forest fire. Wisdom is the source of the thinking that drives our words. As such, we can look at the result of our spoken words and get a hint as to what sort of wisdom lies behind them.
Words that create chaos can be easily identified because they breed conflict, anger, and infighting in the body of Christ. Words that create chaos and destruction are likely rooted in worldly wisdom.
Words that make peace tend to spread the gospel, and create unity in the body of Christ. These are the sorts of things James points to as coming from words that are steeped in Gods wisdom.
The major focus of verses 13-18 is the source and characteristics of worldly and Godly wisdom.
Worldly wisdom: Wisdom that is worldly is self-centered. James describes this as bitter envy and selfish ambition. Both of these are focused on what the individual wants for themselves and the emotional drives that motivate the individual. If the desire to be right breeds misery and anger over others not recognizing the value, rightness, awesomeness, or importance of you or your words, worldly wisdom is at play. The final component described here is boasting, which is essentially bragging over how smart, sensible, or right you are. Such self-aggrandizing is described as a lie, because it is proclaiming wisdom that isn’t Godly Wisdom. James goes on to describe this sort of wisdom as being essentially the opposite in origin from Godly wisdom. James closes his comments regarding worldly wisdom by pointing out that wherever wisdom is driven by self-interest, you will find sinful behavior and disorder. The fruit of worldly wisdom is chaos.
Heavenly wisdom: Heavenly wisdom is first described as “pure” meaning “not sinful.” If wisdom arises out of any sort of rebellion against God, it isn’t heavenly. He goes on to describe it as peace-loving, considerate, submissive, impartial, and sincere. These qualities essentially point toward heavenly wisdom creating peace and harmony in the body. “Considerate” is best understood as flexible, or not rigid in personal preferences or opinions, something worth considering when a fight breaks out over whether the organ belongs in every song in the worship service. “Submissive” refers to submission to scriptural truth. Wisdom that is Godly essentially takes God’s design as the template for the world. “Impartiality and sincerity” refer to honest, loving treatment of others, regardless of their past, wealth, social status, etc. The final two ways James uses to describe heavenly wisdom are “merciful and full of good fruit.” “Mercy” refers to love for neighbors that translates into action, which consistently produces good fruit.
The final comment James offers on the matter of wisdom is “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” Wise people seek peace and plant seeds of peace in the lives of others. The harvest they reap is right relationship with God and their family in Christ.
Self Examination: Earlier in his letter, James urges believers to look at the scriptures as though they were a mirror. We are directed to look at the scriptures and compare our own behavior and life to the ideal. The passage offers a few great pointers regarding what we are to look for in considering whether or not our wisdom is spiritual or worldly. Do we consider our own wants and interests first or those of others and of God? Does our attitude create chaos and conflict or do we make peace and encourage unity in the body of Christ? The answers to these questions tell us where our wisdom comes from. Most folks are wise in their own eyes, but this is very different from being truly wise.