In the past I have struggled with understanding the difference between knowledge and wisdom. I knew things. I knew a lot of things. I prided myself on learning and knowing facts. I earned a few degrees along that way and that only added to the confidence of knowing. Even if I didn’t know specific details about a subject, I always knew enough that I was able to mash it together with other knowledge and make it sound like I knew what I was talking about. I thought all that knowledge meant I was wise. I thought that was enough.
Turns out that it is not enough. Over the last seven years I have been learning to follow Jesus better than I did my first thirty-one years. During that time God has taught me, through numerous circumstances, that I knew way less than I thought I did and that I was severely lacking in the wisdom department. He also taught me that true wisdom, His wisdom, is essential to fulfilling my roles as a follower of Jesus, a husband, a father, and a leader.
For clarity sake let’s differentiate between the two in meaning. Knowledge is the gathering of facts or information acquired through experience or education. Wisdom, on the other hand, is the prudent or sensible application of that acquired knowledge in any specific circumstance. When I see the definitions next to each other I realize that knowledge is good, but wisdom is preferable.
During those seven years God has continually brought me back to James 3:13-18. Maybe because the two things that I struggled with the most have been the two things God, through James, tells us that wisdom from God is not. In order to understand what true wisdom is we need to understand the things that create roadblocks to it. These are the two things that true wisdom is not and are in fact what James calls, “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”
…is not Jealous.
In verse 13 James calls wisdom meek. The quality of meekness is grounded in quietness and gentleness, which will be addressed in the second part of this article. Jealousy is opposed to and cannot occupy the same heart as meekness. Jealousy in a person causes them to focus on their discontentment and resentfulness at what others have, whether it is their possessions, influence, or even authority. Jealousy often insights one’s heart toward malice for the person that is the object of their envy. A heart consumed by jealousy resides in a world of strife and confusion and dampens your ability to prudently apply knowledge in a quiet and gentle way.
…is not Selfish.
Jealousy gives way to selfishness. When a person’s focus becomes their glory and their advantage, then their ability to wield wisdom in a way that is beneficial and God honoring no longer exists. If jealousy gives way to selfishness, then selfishness gives way to a myriad of other sins. Deceit, surrender to temptation and the like are all sewn by the desire to indulge one’s self. James calls this is the wisdom of devils. Selfishness shuts down your ability to be truly wise.
One of the most important things to understand about true wisdom is that it is a gift from God. James tells us that if we lack wisdom and ask God, who by His very nature “gives generously to all without reproach,” it will be given to us. True wisdom comes from God and consists of seven qualities.
It is undefiled by the world and is the unadulterated Word of God residing in you. It does not allow known sin, but instead studies and meditates on holiness of heart and mind.
Peace follows purity. Wise men preserve peace at all cost. They seek to create peace and to restore it where it may have been lost. In his commentary, Matthew Henry says that wise men seek to create and restore peace “In kingdoms, in families, in churches, in all societies, and in all interviews and transactions, heavenly wisdom makes men peaceable.”
This is the meekness that James first mentions. Acted out it is far more than simply timid and quiet. Heavenly wisdom is not cruel or harsh and is slow to anger. It is not domineering, pompous or offensive in conversation. Heavenly wisdom maintains a gracious and controlled behavior toward others in a way that exhibits humility.
…is Open to Reason.
In a word it is persuadable. It seems counter-intuitive to suggest that wisdom can be persuaded, but in the context of heavenly wisdom, someone that is wise can be persuaded toward good and away from evil. We make mistakes and the wise person is open to the persuasion of the Word of God to influence their behavior and conscience.
…is Full of Mercy and Good Fruits.
True wisdom is full of and offers the same mercy that God extended to us. That God-extended mercy compels the wise one to do good works, relieve needs, forgive offenses and to do those as often as the situation presents itself.
True wisdom does not separate others because they are different. The impartiality of heavenly wisdom is that which does not pass judgment based on conjecture and does not seek to admonish others based on preconceived notions. It offers the same acceptance to everyone, regardless of differing conditions.
Heavenly wisdom is without deceit. It rejects craftiness and guile that the world counts as wise. It is genuine and wide-open, sound and unchanging, and dependable with itself.
Heavenly wisdom draws others to Jesus. This is the wisdom that I’m continually asking God to produce in me. This is the wisdom that produces wholeness and allows us to walk in the roles that God created us to in a way that honors and glorifies Him. This is the wisdom that helps us to sharpen each other. This is the wisdom from above.