Two Kinds of Wisdom

If the links don’t work for you, here is Ruth’s video presentation Wisdom, Coming Alive and Feels Good

Todays reading is James 3:13-18Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

What is wisdom?

The Oxford English Dictionary says, ‘The capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to, life and conduct; soundness of judgement in the choice of means and ends.’ Interestingly, before it says this, it frames the definition by saying, ‘The quality or character of being wise’.

Who have you known, or who do you know, who you would think of as a wise person? What sort of picture do you have in your mind of ‘Wisdom’?

As James continues with his practical teaching about the Christian life, character is right at the heart of this—and in how we are to live a life of faith.

Our passage today follows straight on from the verses in chapter 3 last week, when we looked at James’ teaching about how we use the tongue—how our character and our heart is reflected in the words we use. Are the words we use wise words, and what does this mean for the follower of Jesus?

The Bible has lots to share about wisdom. The Book of Proverbs again gives us plenty to think about. Right at the beginning in Proverbs 1Open Link in New Window, it says, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline’. And much of Proverbs chapter 1 is about embracing wisdom together with warnings about the consequences of rejecting it.

Jesus speaks about wisdom—remember the story of the wise and the foolish builders—one who built his house on the rock, and it stood firm against the storms, and the other who built his house on the sand—and of course it came crashing down.

All these bible verses show us that Wisdom is highly regarded. But is it any old wisdom?

In these verses, James compares the difference between wisdom that comes from God against what the world thinks of as wisdom. And, as ever, James speaks about the importance of the practical outworking in our lives. It’s not just talk. It’s about how we actually live this out by what we say and do.

‘Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.’ (James 3:13Open Link in New Window)

I may have said this at St Matthews in another context, I can’t remember. But among different memories from my childhood, this one has always stayed crystal clear for me.

I have a brother Andrew who is two years older than me, and we get on extremely well and love each other very much. But when we were young boys, we knew like most boys, how to have a good scrap together. Some of the doors in our home had large glass panels in. One day, during a particularly good scrap, one of us slammed the door on the other—and we then both stood there in horror and stunned silence, as the large glass panel shattered into hundreds of pieces while making a terrible noise! Our father came upstairs, and very fairly I think, we were both expecting a bit of a roasting. But Dad just looked at us, and then quietly said, ‘Let’s all clear this up, and I’ll ask Brian to come and sort this out tomorrow and mend it.’ He said no more than that. He didn’t need to. I shall leave you to think about that as we draw together our thoughts on this bible passage about wisdom.

James says there are two kinds of wisdom—wisdom from above and wisdom from below.

Wisdom from below, says James is earthly wisdom, measured in worldly terms, usually controlled by emotions. This sort of ‘wisdom’ (even James puts it inverted commas around it!) is motivated by selfishness, our own agendas motives—Selfish ambition as James puts it. ‘This is what you should do….’ etc. And it is corrosive and damaging, as what we want eats into our opinions and words, bringing division and discord.

This contrasts with wisdom from above, and James makes clear that this wisdom is firmly rooted in God. It is heavenly wisdom—which produces godly fruit. Remember that verse from Proverbs 1Open Link in New Window? ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge’. Rooting ourselves in God, in is ways, in His understanding—this is the source of true wisdom.

Proverbs chapter 2 says, ‘For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.’ (Proverbs 2:6Open Link in New Window)

As I think again about the words I use, the opinions I have, about the suggestions I make, the advice I give, I am asking myself, is this all about me? Is this based on my reason? Or is it rooted in the revelation of God’s grace and love in my life?

With such wisdom comes great fruit, with purity of motive, and where peacemakers hold a special place in God’s Kingdom.

When my dad calmly spoke into the tension of my and my brother’s situation, he spoke words of experience, rooted in love and understanding, with the heart of a merciful Father and a peacemaker. We were chastened, reconciled, and thankful—and we grew in wisdom and understanding as a result.

‘…the wisdom that comes from heaven’, says James, ‘is first of all pure’; (in other words not about ourselves). ‘Then it is peace-making, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.’ (James 3:17-18Open Link in New Window)

Jesus himself said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God’.

Let’s claim these verses for ourselves in the coming days, and be people in the places where we live and work, who share godly wisdom from above, bring peace—and glorify God in our world today.
Rev Ian Tomkins

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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