The True Measure of Wisdom

Men who are generally considered to be wise by the world's standards are readily identified by their places in society. They are found in academia, government, banking, and business. They have climbed to the highest ranks in their fields and acquired the highest level of respect in the world. The world gives them many accolades and praises their achievements.

While such men are very wise under the world's standards, many of them are patently unwise according to the measure of wisdom given by heaven. Conversely, there are many men who are very wise in the eyes of God but will never walk in the exalted circles of academia, government, banking, or business. This creates an interesting conflict and begs us to answer the question: What is true wisdom?

A truly wise man can be identified by applying heaven's standard for wisdom. This standard is given by God's inspired word in James 3:13-18. Consider these words:

13Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

This passage presents a contrast between the wisdom that "comes down from above" and the wisdom that is "earthly, natural, demonic." This contrast is manifested in behaviors. For those who are truly wise and understanding, their behavior will express a gentleness of wisdom that is selfless in nature. On the other hand, those who subscribe to the wisdom of the world behave in such a way that seeks their own benefit above all others. Their attitude causes them to be indifferent or opposed to the advancement of others' interests, and they are filled with "bitter jealousy and selfish ambition."

Genuine wisdom that comes from heaven has a definitive set of characteristics that must be present in a truly wise man. His wisdom must be pure, which indicates not only the sanctified and holy nature of his wisdom but also that he is uncorrupted by wisdom that is "earthly, natural, demonic." The peaceable nature of his wisdom is made evident in the fact that he is a peacemaker who sows "the seed whose fruit is righteousness." His wisdom is gentle, which indicates moderation and patience. It is also reasonable, which means that he is not inflexible and stubborn but is open to persuasion for good. By heavenly wisdom, such a man is full of mercy and good fruits just as God is also full of mercy and good fruits. He is also unwavering because heavenly wisdom does not waver, unlike the ever-changing wisdom of the world. Finally, his wisdom is free from hypocrisy because it is genuine, true, and without pretense.

The "earthly, natural, demonic" wisdom of the world produces opposite effects to that of heavenly wisdom. The jealousy and selfish ambition of worldly wisdom create "disorder and every evil thing." In the immediate context following the passage quoted above, James describes some of these effects. Notice James 4:1-3:

1What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

Jealousy and selfish ambition are shown here to be combative, self-destructive, and ultimately foolish. Those who behave in these ways while making claims on wisdom are deceiving themselves. For this reason, James said to them, "Do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth" (Jas. 3:14). Truly, there is no heavenly wisdom in selfish, jealous behavior.

Not all men who are in high positions in the world are worldly-wise and heavenly-foolish. It is possible to succeed in this world without being selfish and stepping on others to advance one's own ambition. However, there are many who have succeeded due to their selfishness and now enjoy selfish indulgences, and many others are tempted to do so. Let us be assured that such a path to selfish success is unwise by heaven's standards. Notice Proverbs 23:17-21:

17Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the LORD always. 18Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off. 19Listen, my son, and be wise, and direct your heart in the way. 20Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; 21for the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe one with rags.

Therefore, let us follow the wisdom of heaven while on earth so that in the future when we leave the earth we may be in heaven.

Stacey E. Durham


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