Heavenly wisdom

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Bible passage James 3:13–18

Two Kinds of Wisdom
 13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

 17But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

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The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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We began looking at James in the previous week, and finished on the dangerous power of words. The verses we read today are almost a recap of what James has said about biblical wisdom. We are reminded that true wisdom comes from God, and that it manifests itself in right relationships.

A clever intellectual arrogance or a selfish one-upmanship that leads to quarrels and division is the opposite of what God sees as wise (v 15). In our modern world, being wise is often equated with intellectual expertise. And unfortunately, the Christian church is not immune from that way of thinking. But this is not the wisdom described here.

Once again James writes of a practical, lived out wisdom. What words are used to describe this wisdom from God (v 17)? Note that the behaviour that comes from this lived-out wisdom ensures that the wise person lives well with others. Biblical wisdom is a gift of God’s free grace, is seen in the transformation of one’s character, and above all, shows itself practically, particularly in the treatment of others (vs 17,18). It is love in action.

The wise person imitates the life of Jesus in their selfless love and humility; in maintaining peace in their relationships and in a radical service of others. The life of a wise person results in a goodness that radiates ‘a harvest of righteousness sown in peace’.


Pray that God will help replace any self-absorption with true wisdom from above, so that your life will offer hope and peace to those around you.

Michelle Smart

Introduction to James 3:12 – 5:20

The letter of James simply begs to be read out loud. The author is a man who is primarily a preacher rather than a writer. Although couched in high-quality Greek, the letter lacks a coherent, logical sense of development, such as that found in the letters of Paul. Instead we have short, pithy sections about his key themes of patience under pressure, the power (for good or evil) of words, the responsibility of wealth, and words acted out in deeds and prayer. He lays out these themes in chapter 1 and returns to them in an apparently random manner through the remainder of the letter. There is a constant concern to engage his listeners. Rhetorical questions stimulate the audience to consider the context of the point he’s about to make: ‘Who is wise and understanding among you?’, ‘What causes fights and quarrels among you?’, ‘Is anyone among you in trouble (happy, sick)?’. Even today, a face or name leaps into our minds and James’ teaching assumes immediate contemporary relevance. ‘Now listen!’, he writes in a commanding tone, in chapters 4 and 5, just at the point when concentration might be flagging. Above all, there is the range of startling, often extended similes and metaphors: the sea and ships, nature and animals, birth, a mirror, a forest fire. Such imagery provokes a response in our imagination, adding depth to our initial understanding.

So who was the James who wrote this letter? The simplicity of the introduction tends to support the theory that this was James the brother of Jesus. No explanation of his identity is provided, so it is probably unnecessary. This James was a prominent leader in the Jerusalem church, namechecked by Paul in Galatians 1:19 and 2:9. A letter of encouragement from James the brother of Jesus to Jewish believers dispersed by persecution seems totally appropriate. The only question mark lies over the quality of Greek language used. Could an Aramaic-speaking man from humble beginnings write like this? Maybe, with practice, he could.

Deeper Bible study

Bring to mind those people who have given you a helpful word this past week. Thank God for the wisdom he gave them.

Who springs to mind when you’re asked to consider who is wise among the men and women within your congregation? Who do you feel really understands you, empathising with your situation? Do the names of the leadership team come first? Who do you know who can make sense of the world in which we find ourselves? James’ rhetorical question in verse 13 makes us pause for a moment and consider our church communities and our perceptions of one another.

How do we recognise wisdom? How do we assess understanding? Immediately James provides the criteria: it’s shown by the deeds done and by the humble attitude in which they’re accomplished. He gives us a check list but, with a surprising turn, he makes us apply it to ourselves. He tells us to look at the plank in our own eye rather than the speck in the eye of the candidates we’re assessing (Matthew 7:3–5). Are we envious (literally ‘bitter’ like the salt water of verse 11) of the status, achievements or wealth of others? How about our motivation? Do we aspire to personal recognition as we share our wisdom? If so, any wisdom we demonstrate has no spiritual value: in fact, it’s from the devil (v 15). The result of following such wisdom will be social division and personal impropriety.

How, then, can anyone demonstrate true wisdom? By receiving it from heaven (v 17) is James’ answer. In a passage that closely parallels Paul (see Galatians 5:22,23), James gives seven adjectives that describe the gift of wisdom God gives. This wisdom is self-effacing, gentle, open to reason and welcoming. James’ final farming metaphor emphasises his overwhelming concern throughout the letter: what is the practical result? Application of God’s wisdom creates a community that is united and productive.

Brian Radcliffe

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Isaiah 63,64

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Seeking wisdom, obeying God and having a right perception of ourselves – all strong themes in James’ words this week – are all themes of this anonymous prayer attributed to a confederate soldier during the American civil war. Are the values in this prayer such that you can echo them for yourself?


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  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Monday, 02 October 2017

    The AMP for Prov 4:11 reads 'wisdom which is comprehensive insight into ways and purposes of God'

  • Angela Munday | Monday, 02 October 2017

    The Bible tells us that wisdom is freely given to those who ask and whose faith is in God alone. May we only ever boast about what the LORD has done because...."God has brought you into union with Christ Jesus and God has made Christ to be our wisdom. By him we are put right with God; we become God's holy people and are set free." ( 1 Corinthians 1:30 ) RUTH, praying with you on this Monday morning.

  • Kath Prior | Monday, 02 October 2017

    I agree, people maybe quick to see 'intellectual expertise' as wisdom but they are also quick to say of actions that hurt others 'that was unwise'. I think unless society can see the need to learn the discipline of true wisdom it will continue to expect its earthly wisdom to also be beneficial to people, which of course it rarely will be. Christians need to model God's better ways to those around them, not only in the Church but in workplaces and families and social settings.

  • Derek Forster | Monday, 02 October 2017

    I sing the almighty power of God, That made the mountains rise, That spread the flowing seas abroad, And built the lofty skies. I sing the wisdom that ordained The sun to rule the day; The moon shines full at His command, And all the stars obey. I sing the goodness of the Lord, That filled the earth with food; He formed the creatures with His Word, And then pronounced them good. Lord! how Thy wonders are displayed Where’er I turn mine eye! If I survey the ground I tread, Or gaze upon the sky! There’s not a plant or flower below But makes Thy glories known; And clouds arise and tempests blow, By order from Thy throne. Creatures that borrow life from Thee Are subject to Thy care; There’s not a place where we can flee, But God is present ther

  • Sandra Laythorpe | Monday, 02 October 2017

    helpful comments, brian, thank you.

  • Joyce Cleland | Monday, 02 October 2017

    I came to this reading tonight searching for wisdom and God knew exactly what I needed- He is amazing!!!

  • Barbara Sabin | Monday, 02 October 2017

    When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers— the moon and the stars you set in place— what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honour. You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority— the flocks and the herds and all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, and everything that swims the ocean currents. O LORD, our Lord, your majestic name fills the earth! If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him

  • Ruth Chisholm | Monday, 02 October 2017

    Thank you ANGELA coming late in the day to this, slept the afternoon away! Had treatment 7 but blood counts on border line ok, they are anticipating a week off next week, we shall see if this is in God's plan for me! Met another couple today to engage with, the Respond is my daily prayer, that the essence of God in our lives and conversation may offer hope and peace to those we meet, that God places in our path. Sometimes I think that I'm just being me, but add the holy spirit into our hearts, we can trust God to use all of our encounters, they're all ripples. A good measure for wisdom is given at the end, This wisdom is self-effacing, gentle, open to reason and welcoming. Application of God’s wisdom creates a community that is united and productive.

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