The Bible180 challenge, week 25


In light of our present social and political climate, I've found some of the words of this week's reading in James to be incredibly relevant - especially now, as our read through the Bible begins to draw to a close, and we consider all that we have begun to learn.

There is so much being said and done that we don't know if we understand, and that we struggle to relate to. There are so many arguments on both sides that are filled with holes - cleverly disguised by passion. There are sweeping generalizations, guilt trips, and cruel words; there are lofty causes, soul-searching questions, and many different methods of wielding history. We need wisdom to navigate these, to find the genuine truth in a maze of counterfeits - but who among us is wise? Or perhaps the more basic question we need to answer is, what is real wisdom? How do we know when we are taking in wisdom, as opposed to just grand and persuasive words?

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James 3:13-18

According to James, wisdom is more than words. Truly wise people are not validated by what they say, but by the lives that they live: lives of goodness and gentleness. The Greek phrase for "good behavior" can also be translated "beautiful conduct." This is not just someone who has figured out how to toe the line or how to follow the rules or how to be a good person, but someone whose life radiates the beauty of God and His Word, and who does his work "in the gentleness of wisdom."

And there are behaviors that reveal who is disqualified from the league of the wise. James says that to call yourself wise when your life is riddled with selfish ambition (that is, rivalry - any kind of strife resulting from the promotion of self and the need to "win") and bitter jealousy (a phrase that may also be translated "sharp zeal") is to lie from an arrogant heart. Such wisdom is "earthly, natural, demonic" - essentially the polar opposite of the wisdom that comes from God.

It's this zealous, self-promoting "wisdom" that I've seen far too much of in recent days. It is distinctive from true wisdom by its desperation to win the argument at any cost - by its quick dissolution into hatred, insults, and chaos when it feels threatened by those who disagree. This "wisdom" is fraught with logical fallacies, deceptions, and/or manipulation tactics, and spares no thought for the real people it leaves hurting in its wake. "For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing" (James 3:16).

By contrast, the wisdom that comes from above is set apart by its very quietness and compassion, not by its effort to be the loudest or to get the last word. James lists several characteristics to watch for among the wise:

  • Pure: undefiled, holy, sacred
  • Peaceable: a word denoting wholeness - that is, the peace which comes of all being as it should be, because one has known and obeyed God's will
  • Gentle: emphasizes the seemly yielding that may be necessary in order to fight for what is truly at stake, rather than squabbling over petty and overly-strict standards
  • Reasonable: ready to obey - not stiff-necked or closed-minded, but willing to submit
  • Full of mercy: compassionate toward others
  • Full of good fruits: productive of things eternal, through partnership with Christ
  • Unwavering: not ambiguous or divided, but standing with a whole heart on the certainty of the truth
  • Without hypocrisy: not fake or put on, no hidden agenda

God's wisdom is quietly confident, changeless and undivided, fearless of opposition because it stands on the truth. God's wisdom is others-centered and open-hearted, deliberately placing self below the far greater causes of truth and love. God's wisdom is known by its fruit.

Who among us is wise? Perhaps not as many as we thought.

But if we long for justice and welfare for our fellow man, it will not be achieved by anger, hatred, destruction, Facebook rants, guilt tripping, or insults. It will only be achieved by the wisdom that is from above.

And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James 3:18



Philippians: God of Joy

Genre: Prescriptive
Read time: 15 minutes

Colossians: God of Preeminence

Genre: Prescriptive
Read time: 15 minutes

Philemon: God of Reconciliation

Genre: Prescriptive
Read time: 3 minutes

1 Timothy: God of Godliness

Genre: Prescriptive
Read time: 15 minutes

Titus: God of Works

Genre: Prescriptive
Read time: 7 minutes

2 Timothy: God of Endurance

Genre: Prescriptive
Read time: 11 minutes

Hebrews: God of Fulfillment

Genre: Prescriptive
Read time: 45 minutes

James: God of Trials

Genre: Prescriptive
Read time: 15 minutes