True Wisdom – James 3:13-18

There was a man in Boston who was entertaining a famous Chinese scholar. He met his Oriental friend at the train station and rushed him to the subway. As they ran through the subway station, the host panted to his guest, “If we run and catch this next train, we will save three minutes!” To which the patient Chinese philosopher replied, “And what significant thing shall we do with the three minutes we are saving?”[1] Often times we run through life as the man in the subway station without thinking about what we are doing and the purpose for which we are doing it. We will make spur of the moment decisions based on our emotional level at the time. We have a tendency to go with the flow and follow the crowd. We look to see which way the wind is blowing in our culture and then we decide which route to take. But, what if the crowd is wrong? What if the wind of the culture is blowing in a not so pleasant direction? I found an interesting poem that illustrates the dangers of following the crowd:

I am a raindrop I was born in the sky and settled into a hillside there to dance in the sun and sparkle And nourish green and growing things But there are other raindrops on the hillside and they invite me to join them for a downhill romp, and we become a chain of raindrops. Thus able to travel faster and what do you know soon others join us until we become a stream now remember I’m still just a drop of rain. And yet the other drops say I’m important to them and they are important to me and together we hasten downward toward the beautiful forest. The grass bends in our path the soil beneath us begins to crumble until my companions and I are carving out a pathway farther and deeper until we are tearing little gullies in the earth and then big gullies. I’m just a little drop of rain its my friends who have the power I’m just along for the ride Ahead a towering tree stands majestically at the edge of the forest. And soon my friends and I are playfully ripping the soil from the roots and its roots from the rocks and low and behold the great tree comes crashing down in front of me. For a long moment the tree lies motionless: Facedown, defeated, dying. But then my friends and I are under, and lifting, and moving the great tree carrying it before us as a huge battering ram. Nothing can stop us now. I wonder if I can stop myself now, or, if I even want to. Into the forest we plunge my friends and I and our battering ram tree. Other trees grouped together stand their ground, from us they can see there is strength in numbers. And our numbers are greater. Our battering ram is sideways now. We raindrops get behind; we push with all of our might. My friends and I are learning the strength and the weaknesses of trees. Erode the soil, denude the roots, and you leave them with nothing to hold to. So, soon, we are a raging torrent. And they and we and the turncoat tree are thundering toward the sea. And I am freighted. I’m just a little raindrop, but I’m soiled now. How did I become a part of this? I never wanted to conquer, nor to destroy I only needed to be needed. I only needed to be one of the crowd. Down there ahead, at the end of the valley Dear God that’s a town! I will not be a part of this any longer. Now my friends have gone too far. Far too far. I’m stopping right here right now. But I can’t. I can’t stop. I am no longer me. I am something different then I ever meant to be. It took a thousand million gallons of water they say to drown that town that day. So don’t blame me. I’m only one little drop of rain.

Certainly, the world’s wisdom can be a very dangerous thing. That little raindrop would have been better off if he had practiced true wisdom rather than following the wisdom of the world. In our text, James shows us what it means to have true wisdom. Not only as believers in Christ are we to learn to submit ourselves to the Lord and thus control our tongues, but, we are also to practice and seek after true wisdom. In this passage, we find three characteristics of true wisdom.

True wisdom is humble (v. 13). James begins by asking the question, ‘who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you?’ It must be understood that wisdom and knowledge are two different things. Knowledge is what you know. It is facts and information. There is a lot of good knowledge to learn of in this world. However, wisdom goes beyond just mere facts and information. Wisdom is the skill to take what you know and apply it to daily life. Have you ever met anyone that was very smart, yet they lacked common sense? There are many people who have a lot of knowledge but has very little wisdom. This world contains a lot of knowledge, but the world has very little wisdom to offer.

A man or woman with true wisdom, James says, is one who displays his or her wisdom through good words and works with meekness or humility. James already spoke concerning the practice of good works and the control of the tongue. A wise individual will practice good works that have been produced by the life transforming power of the Gospel and they will control their speech through the power of the Holy Ghost. One who understands the source of their good works and wholesome words will naturally be humbled, understanding that such a life cannot be achieved in one’s own efforts, but only by humble submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our little raindrop could have certainly benefited from this lesson instead of being puffed up with pride for his acceptance in the world.

True wisdom is gracious (v. 14-16). With true wisdom, there is no room for jealousy and selfish ambition. Perhaps our little raindrop was jealous of the fun his friends were having and was discontent with his life. Perhaps he had big dreams of making a big name for himself and being praised by the world. Such jealousy and selfish ambition will only lead to your demise. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious. There is nothing wrong with wanting to do great things and to be successful. However, when those ambitions turn to a hunger for self-praise and gratification rather than for the glory of God, then you are not practicing true wisdom. This jealous and selfish ambition comes not from God, but is worldly and evil. The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “Envy and selfish ambition, or rivalry, can only produce disorder, or confusion, and every evil practice. A truly wise person does not seek glory or gain; he is gracious and giving.”[2] When there is disorder, confusion, and division in the home or in the church; mark it down, there is envy and selfish ambition present. However, true wisdom does not behave as such. True wisdom is gracious. It seeks only what brings glory to God. True wisdom puts others first. True wisdom goes against the flow and practices what is right and good rather than what brings destruction and heartache.

True wisdom is peaceable (v. 17-18). The wisdom that comes from the world brings envy, strife, and division. True wisdom, that which is dispensed from the throne of heaven, brings peace. In verse 17, James describes what that peace that comes from true wisdom is really like. (1) It is pure. True wisdom is whole, it is complete. It is not defiled by selfish ambitions and envy. It is completely honest and trust worthy. (2) It is peaceable. In other words, it makes peace. A man or woman who practices true wisdom has a way of bringing calm to a difficult situation. Years ago I served as the associate pastor for the late Pastor Bobby Edwards at Gospel Baptist Church in North Carolina. Pastor Bobby was a man of great wisdom. There were many times when a difficult situation arose and when Pastor Bobby walked in the room, everyone just calmed down because we knew that everything would be okay as long as Pastor Bobby was there. He had a way of making a difficult situation less difficult. He had a way of bringing people together. He had a way of bringing calm and peace. I often pray that I would be such a man; that when I walk in the room everything just calms down. Oh, that I would be a man of true wisdom! (3) It is gentle. The old Biblical Proverb says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” True wisdom has a soft touch. A man or woman with true wisdom will be able to get things done, because they are gentle. (4) It is easy to be intreated. This means that a person with true wisdom is one who is approachable. They are compliant and open to reason. They are not puffed up with pride thinking that they have all the answers. They are willing to listen and to consider change if necessary. (5) It is full of mercy. Mercy and grace go hand in hand. In one sense it is giving what is not deserved and in the other sense it is not giving what is deserved. A man or woman of true wisdom understands the love of Christ in such a way that they are not quick to judgement and condemnation, rather, they are dispensers of grace and mercy. (6) It produces good fruits. I believe that the fruits of the Spirit are in mind here. Someone who exercises true wisdom will live a Spirit filled life, evident by the fruits of the Spirit displayed in their behavior. (7) It shows no partiality. True wisdom focuses on what is best and does not show any partiality. A person of true wisdom understands that all people are created in the image of God and should be treated with equal care and justice. (8) It is without hypocrisy. The positive aspect of being without hypocrisy is being consistent. A man or woman of true wisdom is consistent is his or her walk with God and in their treatment of others.

In verse 18, James concludes that righteousness comes from those who makes peace; those who practice true wisdom. I’d like to conclude with this commentary by Roger Ellsworth: “This is God’s wisdom, and when we allow this wisdom to drive us down the road of life—which is another way of saying we allow God to drive us—we achieve a wonderful result. That result is righteousness (v. 18). Righteousness is, of course, right conduct. It is right living, that is, living in accordance with the will of God. There is a sequence here. Right living is the result of people of peace sowing seeds of peace. And the people of peace are those who are driven by true wisdom. James has put quite a challenge before us. At every point of our lives, and especially in our speaking, we who know the Lord have the opportunity to demonstrate that we are functioning on the basis of wisdom from above. As we demonstrate that wisdom, we have reason to believe that unbelievers will take note and will themselves desire to have wisdom from God. And when they express that desire, we can point them to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is himself ‘wisdom from God’ (1 Cor. 1:30). Jesus is God’s wise way of providing forgiveness of sins and eternal glory for all who receive him as their Lord and Saviour. The other side of the coin is this: with every opportunity, there is a danger. The danger is that we who know the Lord will not seize the opportunities to demonstrate divine wisdom, but will rather reflect worldly wisdom. Because that danger is always very present and real, we must each day pray, ‘Lord, let me this day be driven by your wisdom.”[3]


[1] Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 362–363). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[2] Blue, J. R. (1985). James. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 828–829). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[3] Ellsworth, R. (2009). Opening up James (pp. 120–121). Leominster: Day One Publications.

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