13Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom, James says. But, there’s wisdom and then there’s WISDOM. It is plain to see that some people have one kind of wisdom, while others have a very different take on what is wise. There is the wisdom of the world and the wisdom that is from above. It is a distinction not often made, but it should be! It is a distinction that James clearly speaks of in our text.
The wisdom of the world is all around us. People base their everyday choices and actions upon this foundation. It is at the heart of even many a good Christian’s wrongful attitudes toward others and toward life in general. In its simplest form, the wisdom of this world is based on the ‘here and now.’ It is reactionary, it is volatile, and when you get right down to it, it is all about ME! It is wisdom that all boils down to “looking out for number one!” It is the attitude that says “ME first! ME only!” It is the idea that says “You can have what you want so long as I get what I want.” Or it says “I’ve done all I can! I won’t do anymore! Why should I have too, anyway!” It is wisdom that offers immediate answers, easy answers. But it is a wisdom that ultimately leads only and always to additional suffering and pain.
14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
Who is this speaking to? Every sinful human being that relies upon the wisdom of the world. Including, so often, you and me. Remember, these words of warning were written for us Christians, not for the pagans! “Passions at war in your members; desires that are unfulfilled; coveting but not obtaining.”
Why is it that so many things in our lives just don’t seem to go the way we think they should? Why do we have so much difficulty dealing with other people? Why is money always a problem? Why do our personal lives have so many unresolved issues? Why is it that even though you would never say it, you still find yourself thinking when things are not good that God must be just about the biggest jerk out there. Why? Because whether we realize it or not, we usually try to deal with things like family, jobs, money, and issues, using a selfish worldly wisdom. As James writes; “You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”
ls it any wonder that the Scriptures are so clear to say in Pr. 1:7; “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; fools despise knowledge and instruction” And again in our text: 5“Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? 6But he gives more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
And that is precisely the Good News for we who are so worldly wise and spiritually foolish. God does not leave us slaves to this world’s wisdom. His Spirit strongly opposes selfishness, and jealousy, giving grace and strength enough to fight these traits within us. In place of the world’s faulty wisdom He implants us with the good and perfect gift of a heavenly wisdom from above.
It is wisdom unlike anything else you will find in this world. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. It is the kind of wisdom that stands up in the face of all that befalls us in life. It does not look for easy answers. It is a wisdom that says “Others First! Others only!” “Me last, or even not at all!” It is the kind of wisdom that faces the most unpleasant things of life in this world and says; “It can be done! It will be overcome! With God all things are possible!” This is indeed a sharp contrast from the wisdom of the world, isn’t it? It is a wisdom that we see glimmers of in the lives of faithful believers. From time to time it may even shine through brightly and powerfully.
Pr. 2:6 “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;” Only God can give us this kind of wisdom, and He does it through the good and perfect gift of His Word which we pointed to last week. It is only from His mouth, through the Holy Scriptures, that we come to see what true wisdom and understanding involve. And again, it’s not what the world would have you believe is wise. In fact, it’s almost always the exact opposite: Life through death. Victory through defeat. Losing yourself to find yourself. Turn the other cheek. First being last and last being first. God being the servant. The Almighty made humble. The cross as an instrument of glory. The eternal God dying … for us. The world can only say How Foolish! But in Christ we know otherwise!
Eph 1:17-21 “The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, gives you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, … that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe, according to the working of his great might which he accomplished in Christ when he raised him from the dead and made him sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come;”
The message of Christ and his sacrificial love, is God’s blessed gift to us. It is the one event of human history through which all others come into sharp focus. The Gospel is at the heart of God’s good and perfect gift of wisdom. A gift He gives and strengthens in each one of us by the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments. It is a gift that truly is “pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.” True wisdom is simply this: Although we cannot see all that life has in store for us, we can face it all in peace, joy, and faith. We don’t know what the future holds, but we certainly know Who it is that holds the future for us! No wiser words were ever spoken!