Who is Truly Wise?

Day 19 | Today’s passage: James 3:13-16 | Historical context of James

13 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. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

At school, children are often encouraged to participate in class by answering a myriad of questions posed by their teachers. It is a common sight to witness a few hands shoot up in the air (with some attempting to raise their hands even higher to catch the teacher’s attention).

But how exactly do you identify who is smart? Is it necessarily the one who answers the most questions in class? Or is it the one who scores the highest grades? Well, this might be the world’s way of assessing one’s intellect. But when it comes to true wisdom, God has a different assessment criteria altogether.

Who is truly wise?
James says: “Let them [who are wise and understanding] show it by their good life, by deeds done” (v. 13). According to James, wisdom is shown through how a person applies the knowledge he has gained about God in life’s situations, and who does so in a right and loving way. It is evidently displayed through the decisions made, actions undertaken, and words spoken. As Ronald Blue (a Christian financier) states: “Wisdom is not measured by degrees but by deeds. It is not a matter of acquiring truth in lectures but of applying truth to life.”

It is interesting to note that there is a close relationship between wisdom and humility (v. 13). The wise person is a humble person. Humility has the attributes of gentleness and submissiveness; it does not imply weakness in any sense. A familiar Bible character who’s described as such is Moses (Numbers 12:3)—and Moses was certainly not weak! Throughout his life, there was a constant submission to God and His word—which truly marked him as a man of God.

James also goes on to distinguish between false wisdom and true wisdom. The source and outcome for both are completely different. False wisdom is “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil” and results in “disorder and evil practice” (vv. 15-16). It is marked by “bitter envy and selfish ambition” (v. 13). Have we ever been guilty of taking on a difficult role in church on the pretext of serving God sacrificially but really because we wanted to prove that we could do a better job than our predecessor?

True wisdom, on the other hand, comes from having a holy, reverent fear of the Lord, and humbly acknowledging that God is the Lord of our lives (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10). True wisdom results in peace instead of disorder, and in righteousness instead of evil practices (v. 18).

That’s a sobering thought! If our effect on any committee or group is to drive people apart, stir up trouble, or create discord, then perhaps, the source of our wisdom is from the devil—not God.

Let us then pursue true, godly wisdom. James encourages us: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (1:5). Are you willing to humbly admit your lack of true wisdom and ask God for it? What a privilege it is for us to have a loving God that generously gives wisdom to all who ask!

—Priscilla Goy, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. Do you know someone who is wise? How can you tell?

2. What are some ways to cultivate godly wisdom? (See Proverbs 2,9)

Hand-lettering by Rachel Tu


Priscilla has an economics degree but decided she prefers reading stories to reading numbers. She loves true stories – especially stories of God’s love for people, people’s love for God, and people’s passion for social causes. She told such stories as a former journalist for five years, and hopes to still do so after joining the non-profit sector.
She loves Christian music, especially those with well-written lyrics. She writes poetry a few times, watches movies sometimes and drinks tea too many times. She’s a bit of a grammar Nazi, but is thankful for God and people who love her unconditionally.

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