Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Do you really want to be wise? James asks a penetrating question that we would do well to ponder. “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). In regard to the nature of wisdom, first the impact of the question in the above verse must be faced: "Who is wise and understanding among you"? For it seems that in any group there are those who do not really care about true wisdom but they only desire the prestige and status that comes from being thought wise. This question becomes a special challenge to them because the answer will expose them for what they are. On the other hand there are those who honestly aspire to being wise, for them the question becomes an invitation. The answer will show them the way to attain their aspirations. James is saying, "I am about to tell you the nature of true wisdom. James is calling us to examine our own hearts before reading beyond the question posed. Do we really want to be wise? Should the answer to this question be yes, then we must submit to James' answer about the requirement of true wisdom. James says "Should a person claim to be wise" then "Let him show it by his good life." The term "The good life" in our culture has taken on the connotation of a prosperous, pleasurable life. James, defines the "Good life" quite differently, he is talking about moral goodness. This phrase means, "good conduct" or "good behavior." Then James says "Let him show it...by deeds." Genuine wisdom, like faith, is a practical matter; it shows up in how one lives. Wisdom, then, is not something I will merely possess in my head; if I am wise at all, it is something I will demonstrate in my conduct. Everyone lives out their belief system. God says "Keep your heart with all wisdom, for out of the heart comes the issues of Life. Humility is the character trait that underlies Christian behavior for the wise deeds will be done in humility. This is the trait to cultivate if we would take James' teaching deeply into our life. James would have approved of what Calvin wrote quoting Augustine, "When a certain rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied, `Delivery'; what was the second rule, `Delivery'; what was the third rule, `Delivery'; so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, `Humility' " (Institutes 2. 2. 11). When we begin to live a humble life before God and others we will live at peace with each other. The opposite of humility is an unwillingness to learn and a refusal to yield. Should we refuse to humble ourselves, our lives will produce the fruit of bitter envy and selfish ambition that results in disorder. For James, humility is a yielding of oneself in being teachable and responsive to God's word, resulting in an unselfish life of peace with other people. James is addressing the problem of arrogance, which can be present even when correct doctrine is being taught. We can teach the right things in the wrong way. Should our attitude reflect "Superiority of knowledge," our lack of humility would negate our message. Paul tells us that "Knowledge puffs up but love builds up." We are exhorted to "Speak the truth in love." Love and truth balance each other. Truth without love can be brutality, love without truth may result in compromise and sentimentality." Since true wisdom comes from outside ourselves, we have to examine where our reliance is placed. It makes sense of what James has already prescribed for a life of faith. It requires that we cultivate an active prayer life--to ask for wisdom. It requires a conscious dependence on God--in the humility prescribed in our verse today. True wisdom can be had only by people who live in active reliance on God. Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.