The Book of James, Part 25:
Desire God's Wisdom - James 3:13


In our last James lesson several weeks ago, we dealt with James' tongue lashing about lashing our tongues. You may remember that we talked about how anyone who teaches the Bible is held to a higher standard of what they say, how words influence people, like a bridle turns a horse or a rudder turns a ship, a little force turns a much bigger thing. He talked about how harmful words can be, a spark that ignites a forest fire, and how words can be poison, and how important it is that believers control their tongue so that they talk like a believer should speak.

He finished that section by telling us that it is impossible for us to control our tongue, so we have to depend on God's help.

Today we pick up with James 3:13-18, where James says "Wise Up."

I think wisdom has kind of fallen on hard times today in America. Do people really want to be wise? People seem to want to be rich, want to be popular, want to be successful, want to be happy - but I don't hear many people talking about wanting to be wise.

Here a funny story that illustrates what I'm talking about:

An angel appears at a faculty meeting and tells the dean that in return for his unselfish and exemplary behavior, the Lord will reward him with his choice of infinite wealth, wisdom, or beauty. Without hesitating, the dean selects infinite wisdom. "Done!" says the angel, and disappears in a cloud of smoke and a bolt of lightning. Now, all heads turn toward the dean, who is surrounded by a faint halo of light. At length, one of his colleagues whispers, "Say something." The dean sighs and says, "I should have taken the money."
The punch line suggests that wealth would have been the "wiser" choice!

Wisdom and Knowledge:

One reason we don't seek wisdom may be because we confuse wisdom with knowledge. Wisdom is more than just knowledge.

We have access to incredible amounts of knowledge today. Someone calculated that a single edition of the Sunday New York Times contains more information than a person living in the 17th century would encounter in a lifetime!

Plenty of knowledge but not enough wisdom - that describes most people today.

Another reason that we don't seek wisdom may be because we are such a pragmatic society. Pragmatic means dealing with real life, being practical. There's a perception that wisdom isn't very practical. That may be true with the world's wisdom, but not with God's. In fact, by definition, God's wisdom is practical.

The Bible shows clearly that wisdom is an important topic to God - there are over 360 references to the words "wise" and "wisdom" in Scripture. Can you guess the book in the Bible that talks the most about wisdom? If you said Proverbs, you're right!

Here's a definition of wisdom that fits the way the Bible uses this word:

"Wisdom is the right application of truth to every day life."
Here are three quick thoughts about wisdom that may be helpful to remember as we consider this passage in James:
  1. To gain wisdom, you must start with God.
    For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. If we re going to be wise, we need to start by centering our life on God. The world may give knowledge but only God gives wisdom. --Proverbs 2:6
    Are you taking God seriously? Are you centering your life on Him and His wisdom? Remember what James 1:5 says,
    But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. --James 1:5
  2. To gain wisdom, you must value wisdom.
    How blessed is the man who finds wisdom And the man who gains understanding.  For her profit is better than the profit of silver And her gain better than fine gold.  She is more precious than jewels; And nothing you desire compares with her. --Proverbs 3:13-15

    It is always amazing to hear about celebrity auctions, where they take a bunch of stuff that belonged to Elvis, or Frank Sinatra or Marilyn Monroe and sell it to the highest bidder.

    It is amazing how much people are willing to pay!

    People pay for that stuff because they see it as valuable.

    As a Christian, do you value God's wisdom? How important is it to you? We will never acquire wisdom until we recognize its value and are willing to pay the price it costs - in time, in choices - to acquire it.

  3. To gain wisdom, you must seek wisdom.
    Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth.   "Do not forsake her, and she will guard you; Love her, and she will watch over you.  "The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; And with all your acquiring, get understanding.   "Prize her, and she will exalt you; She will honor you if you embrace her. --Proverbs 4:5-8
    The word acquire, or seek in some translations, is a powerful word.

    What does the word "acquire", or "seek" imply to you?

The Bible is the primary source of wisdom that God has provided for His people. That means we need to be reading the Bible, studying the Bible, seeking God's wisdom in the pages of God's Book. We need to be developing the habit of turning first to the Bible for wisdom about every area of life - marriage, parenting, work, finances and so on.

We can break James' teaching into three sections.

  1. Desire God's Wisdom (3:13)
  2. Detect Ungodly Wisdom (3:14-16)
  3. Describe God's Wisdom (3:17-18)
James teaches us to:

   1. Desire God's Wisdom (3:13):

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. --James 3:13
I think this question in verse thirteen refers back to verse one - that James is talking about the leaders within the Christian communities. In James 3:1-12, he emphasized the accountability of leaders and the need for leaders to control their tongues. In James 3:13-18, James now adds that these leaders need to have godly wisdom and understanding.

However, just as the teachings on the tongue apply to all of us, so do these teachings about wisdom.

James starts with an assumption. That assumption is that we desire God's wisdom. Of course, as we noted in the Introduction, that's not a given today.

We don't really desire wisdom the way we should, because we don't really appreciate the priceless value of wisdom.

Who among you is wise and understanding? --James 3:13
That's a great question for any community of Christians to ask. He doesn't ask, "Who are the most well-educated?" or "Who have the most university degrees?". He doesn't ask, "Who has the best personality?" or "Who is the most forceful leader?".

No, James asks, "Who among you is wise and understanding?".

Here's an example from the Old Testament when Moses' father-in-law counseled him to learn to delegate responsibility to others:
'Choose wise and discerning and experienced men from your tribes, and I will appoint them as your heads.' --Deuteronomy 1:13
Think of someone you know personally that you consider wise and discerning.  Why? - What is it about them that makes them wise and discerning?
... Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

Let him show...   How do we show wisdom? Webster's Dictionary states that the word "show" implies "bringing something into view so that it can be seen." That's a great definition because it fits exactly what God wants us to understand about wisdom.

By the way, the tense of the verb here is imperative in the Greek. What that means for us is that it is a command. It isn't a suggestion; it isn't optional.

James introduces us to two ways that we can "show" God's wisdom:

  1. Wisdom is shown by your conduct.
    ... Let him show by his good behavior his deeds ...
    Behavior: - the word behavior here is the Greek word anastrophe, which means manner of life, conduct, behavior, deportment. It can be translated "conduct" or "way of life". So God isn't just talking about isolated actions, but a lifestyle.

    One application here has to do with choices. Are the choices we're making on a daily basis rooted in God's wisdom? When faced with temptation, what choice do I make? When responding to the wrong attitudes of others, what choice do I make? Wisdom really shines in the context of choices.

  2. Wisdom is shown by your character. The Greek word translated here as "gentleness" is also translated as "humility". God makes an important point for us here and that is that God's wisdom is fundamentally humble or gentle. James speaks of the humility of wisdom.

    Each of us knows people who might be called a know-it-all. A know-it-all thinks he has all the answers and tries to convince others of this. But a know-it-all is never humble, is he?

    Remember the postman on the sitcom, "Cheers"? What was his name? He was a great example of a know-it-all!

    Every church has one or more people who are know-it-alls. They may impress others with their knowledge but they aren't demonstrating godly wisdom.

What might be some ways that a wise person could demonstrate humility?
We broke this section of James into 3 sections
  1. Desire God's Wisdom (3:13)
  2. Detect Ungodly Wisdom (3:14-16)
  3. Describe God's Wisdom (3:17-18)
We have covered Number 1, the instruction to Desire God's Wisdom.


Next week: we will cover how to detect God's wisdom, and we'll look at James' description of His wisdom.

Assignment: Reread Chapter 3 to prepare for the lesson.