Walking the Path of Divine Wisdom with James - Calvary Baptist Church of Kalkaska

Walking the Path of Divine Wisdom with James

As we journey through life, we continually encounter a fundamental crossroads: the choice between worldly wisdom and divine wisdom. This essential dichotomy is powerfully articulated in the book of James, particularly in James 3:13-18. These verses offer a compelling comparison between two types of wisdom. On one hand, we encounter wisdom that is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic – wisdom that is derived from below. On the other hand, we find wisdom from above – wisdom that is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere. As we grapple with the day-to-day realities of life, these scriptures invite us to critically evaluate the sources of our wisdom and the fruit it bears in our lives. In this reflection, we will explore these two distinct wisdoms, the characteristics and consequences of each, and the life-giving necessity of discerning and applying divine wisdom.

Understanding the Nature of Wisdom:

In our exploration of James 3:13-18, it becomes clear that the scripture speaks of wisdom not as a singular, unified concept, but rather as two contrasting types. The nature of wisdom, as illuminated in this passage, is both dualistic and paradoxical.

The first type, often referred to as the wisdom from below or earthly wisdom, may initially appear to be genuine. It is the wisdom of the world, prevalent in societal norms, popular philosophies, and human intuition. Rooted in the temporal, it is unspiritual and fundamentally disconnected from the divine. It’s worth noting that this wisdom can present itself as appealing, even logical or reasonable in the eyes of the world. However, its essence is a stark contradiction to what scripture illuminates as true wisdom.

The wisdom from below is characterized by “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” (James 3:14), leading to disorder and all kinds of evil practices. It is essentially self-serving, placing individual desires and ego above the unity in the body of Christ, fostering competition and strife. It seeks to elevate the self, often at the expense of others, and in doing so, it sows seeds of conflict and discord.

Conversely, the wisdom from above, or divine wisdom, originates from God and aligns with His character and purposes. This wisdom does not merely stand in opposition to earthly wisdom; it transcends it. While worldly wisdom is rooted in selfish ambition and envy, the wisdom from above is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). It is inherently selfless, oriented towards peace, and marked by a willingness to yield. Its fruits are mercy and goodness, and it operates without partiality or hypocrisy.

In essence, while earthly wisdom can masquerade as truth, divine wisdom as portrayed in James 3:13-18 bears the true hallmarks of authenticity and righteousness, leading us towards a life that reflects the nature and will of God.

Worldly Wisdom’s Characteristics and Consequences:

As we move deeper into the text of James 3:14-16, we uncover the stark characteristics and detrimental consequences of worldly wisdom. This wisdom is primarily defined by two key traits: bitter envy and selfish ambition. Both elements contribute to a perspective that is oriented towards self-interest, personal gain, and the accumulation of wealth, power, or status, often at the expense of others.

Bitter envy involves a corrosive resentment that corrodes relationships and community bonds. It involves dissatisfaction with one’s own circumstances and an unhealthy craving for what others possess, whether that’s material wealth, skills, status, or even personal qualities. Selfish ambition, on the other hand, is the relentless pursuit of personal success without consideration for the well-being of others. It’s a relentless striving to place oneself on a pedestal, irrespective of the cost.

The immediate consequence of such an approach, according to the text, is disorder. This refers not merely to physical chaos but extends to moral, social, and spiritual disarray. It speaks of a disruption of the peaceful order that God intends for human relationships and communities. This disorder breeds conflict, animosity, and broken relationships, rupturing the fabric of community and undermining the peace that God desires for His people.

Beyond disorder, worldly wisdom also gives birth to “every vile practice.” It leads to behaviors that are contrary to God’s character and commandments. It fosters actions that can harm others and oneself, ultimately causing a multitude of evil practices that are destructive to the whole of humanity.

Thus, the wisdom of the world, despite its appealing facade, inevitably leads towards a path of destruction. It harms relationships, disrupts communities, and distorts moral judgment. In stark contrast to the peace and righteousness that come from divine wisdom, worldly wisdom is a pathway that leads away from the will and ways of God.

Divine Wisdom’ Characteristics and Consequences:

While the worldly wisdom detailed in James 3:14-16 brings about chaos and turmoil, the passage pivots in verses 17 and 18 to describe the attributes and results of divine wisdom. This wisdom is not of this earth, but instead descends from above, bestowed by the Creator Himself.

The first attribute James ascribes to divine wisdom is purity. This wisdom is untainted by sin or selfish motives; it’s wholesome, honest, and true. It’s not mixed with hidden agendas or a desire for personal gain. It represents a clarity of purpose and motive that reflects God’s own nature.

Next, divine wisdom is peace-loving. It fosters harmony, not discord; unity, not division. It looks for ways to reconcile and heal, to bring people together, rather than drive them apart. Closely related to this peaceable nature is its gentleness. Divine wisdom is not harsh, overbearing, or self-assertive. It approaches others with respect, humility, and a willingness to yield to reason, which is another characteristic of divine wisdom. It is open to listening, willing to be corrected, and eager to understand others’ viewpoints.

Divine wisdom is also characterized by mercy and good fruits. It is compassionate, showing forgiveness and kindness even when it’s undeserved. The good fruits refer to the moral and ethical actions that result from operating in this wisdom: acts of kindness, justice, honesty, and love, which are impartial and sincere. Divine wisdom doesn’t play favorites or operate with hypocrisy. It’s genuine, consistent, and authentic.

The outcome of applying divine wisdom is profound. Verse 18 says, “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Instead of the disorder and evil practices that result from worldly wisdom, divine wisdom produces a harvest of righteousness—a life aligned with God’s will—and does so in a manner that promotes peace. Thus, divine wisdom not only influences our behaviors but also shapes our character, guiding us towards a path of righteousness and peace.

Discerning and Applying Divine Wisdom:

Navigating through life requires us to continually discern between worldly wisdom and divine wisdom. The wisdom we choose to apply in our daily decisions shapes our character, influences our actions, and impacts our relationships. To discern effectively between these two forms of wisdom, faith plays a pivotal role. Our faith in God, bolstered by an intimate knowledge of His Word, equips us to recognize and reject the deceptive allure of worldly wisdom while embracing the divine wisdom that aligns with His character.

Practically, discernment begins with prayer. James 1:5 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Regularly seeking God’s wisdom through prayer invites His divine insight into our decision-making process.

Additionally, immersing ourselves in Scripture provides a roadmap for discerning wisdom. God’s Word is a treasure trove of divine wisdom, illuminating His character, revealing His heart, and providing guidance for life’s complexities. The scriptures can help us recognize the fruit of each type of wisdom, allowing us to understand when we are operating out of selfish ambition or fostering peace and righteousness.

Moreover, seeking godly counsel is another practical way to discern and apply divine wisdom. Proverbs 15:22 reminds us, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Surrounding ourselves with mature believers who exhibit the fruits of divine wisdom—peace, gentleness, mercy, good fruits—provides us with a supportive community that can offer wise counsel and accountability.

Finally, applying divine wisdom in our daily lives requires intentional action. It means choosing to respond with gentleness instead of harshness, fostering peace instead of conflict, showing mercy even when it’s undeserved, and demonstrating impartiality and sincerity in our interactions with others. As we do this, we reflect the fruits of divine wisdom, leading us towards a life of righteousness and peace that glorifies God.

Bringing it all together:

In this exploration of James 3:13-18, we’ve looked closely that the contrasting nature of worldly and divine wisdom. We’ve seen how worldly wisdom, marked by envy and selfish ambition, inevitably leads to disorder and vile practices. Conversely, divine wisdom, descending from God Himself, is characterized by purity, peace, gentleness, and a host of other godly traits. Importantly, it results in a life of righteousness and peace, a bountiful harvest borne out of aligning with God’s will.

As we navigate the complexities of life, our need for divine wisdom becomes increasingly apparent. It is therefore essential that we reflect on our decisions and actions, and ask ourselves what type of wisdom we’ve been leaning on? Our answer to this question profoundly impacts our character, our relationships, and our spiritual journey. Remember Proverbs 3:5-6: 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

As we make the conscious choice to reject the allure of worldly wisdom and instead pursue and apply divine wisdom, we position ourselves to experience the peace and righteousness that God desires for us. Through our faith, through prayer, through scripture, through godly counsel, and through intentional action, may we strive to embody the divine wisdom that comes from above, reflecting the very character of God in our daily lives.

A Challenge for Your Journey Ahead:

As we close this exploration, imagine standing at a crossroads—two paths lie ahead. One is well-worn by the footsteps of those who have chosen worldly wisdom, a path seemingly smooth and appealing, but ultimately leading to strife, disorder and death. The other is a path less traveled, one that may appear challenging, yet it’s marked by the peace, love and life. 

In this moment of choice, challenge yourself to venture onto the path of divine wisdom. Seek it earnestly in prayer, mine it from scripture, share it in fellowship, and most importantly, live it out daily. Let your life become a radiant display of the fruits of divine wisdom, influencing others to join you on this transformative journey. Your next step could be the start of a remarkable adventure in wisdom.