Three Wisdoms (Part 2)
If James can describe fallen, worldly wisdom as “demonic” (3:15), it should not surprise us when he says that the alternative wisdom “comes down from heaven.” This wisdom, according to James, “is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Those who possess such wisdom “show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” They are “peacemakers who sow in peace” and in the end “reap a harvest of righteousness.”
Note the contrasts between the two wisdoms in James 3. The first contrast has to do with their sources. One originates with flawed and finite human beings, whereas the other originates with and comes down from God. We tend to equate this wisdom that comes down from above with God’s revelation in Scripture, but as we will see in Part 3, there is more to the story.
(It might be helpful to point out here that even though knowledge and wisdom are closely related, wisdom transcends knowledge by its ability to place that knowledge in proper context and direct it to its intended goal. The claim of heavenly origin for James’s second wisdom highlights this distinction.)
The second contrast relates to the fundamentally different character of the two wisdoms. We do not have to look far to find evidence of the selfishness and resulting disorder in even the best of human ideologies and institutions. The democratic principles of American government, for example, have provided many freedoms and opportunities, but democracy’s potential has also been undermined by lust for money and power, corruption, and partisanship.
Heavenly wisdom, on the other hand, is characterized by humility, compassion, and sincerity, yielding the good fruit of righteousness and reconciliation (peacemaking).
Before leaving heavenly wisdom, we should address the fair critique that an unbeliever might level against the brief contrast above. “Oh yeah, most of the Christians I know just reek of humility, peace, mercy, and righteousness (self-righteousness, maybe)!”
For the wisdom that comes from above to manifest the qualities James describes in its adherents, more is required than a mere claim of belief in the Bible. In all fairness, James describes two types of wisdom, not two groups of people.
In fact, it should be noted that, as with Old Testament reflections on wisdom such as those found in Proverbs, James is warning “insiders” about false wisdom. In other words, the proper application of wisdom is not a given for those who believe in God and Scripture. Believers continue to struggle with sin, accounting for this incongruity.
Next: Good news for unbelievers – and believers – in Wisdom #3 (or is that 2a?)