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Two Types of Wisdom—Which Do You Practice?

Today’s Devotional to Flourish:

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. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” –James 3:13-18

If we want to flourish, then we need to be rooted in wisdom. But how do we root ourselves in the wisdom of God?

N.T. Wright observes:

“Wisdom, in the biblical tradition, includes in its wide embrace both the encyclopedic collection and arrangement of the data, the evidence, the facts, and that strange, soft something which sneaks round the back and asks the question, But what’s it all for? What does it mean? And what should we do with it?”

Wisdom looks like right relationships, or a lifestyle of peacemaking. This passage is the crux of James’s letter and the essence if these verses seems to be, ‘A dividing force produces strife. Yet a binding force produces good fruits.’

We should not be dissenters out of principle, but disciples of peace.

Teachers, whom James addresses at the beginning of the chapter, would be (or should be) wise enough to know that this is what good deeds, and the good life, is about.

What’s notable here is that the sins of dissension, the earthly wisdom, are primarily sins of the tongue and a teacher should never be ‘bitter in their zeal, full of selfish ambition, arrogant or blind to the truth’ (James 3:14).

The tongue can be used wisely in order to create peace in a myriad of ways listed in James thus far: we can pray for peace and order that glorifies God, be slow to speak, comfort the victims of injustice, call out false truth with gentleness, renew our mind by refraining from slander, and avoid improper judgments. These are the ways in which James is leading us to act with wisdom (here, doing good deeds even with our tongues) that reflects the God who gives it.

When we are properly oriented to God, we are characterized by his humility, grace and peace.

The moral virtue of prudence is a close cousin to wisdom. “Prudence is the virtue of choosing well, or doing practical decision-making well.”

Perhaps prudence is merely a fine-tuned aspect of wisdom, but it shows us what wisdom looks like in our lives.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think about what you are doing and what is likely to come of it… He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.”

Thus, wisdom in our lives might look a lot like the sub-virtues of prudence: caution, decisiveness, discernment, truthfulness, integrity, reasonableness, contentment, and dependability.

Flourish Today by reflecting on the areas of your life where you are walking in wisdom as well as where God is asking you to walk in greater wisdom.