Where to get wisdom
I’ve always enjoyed taking things apart because I like to find out how things work. Thankfully I’m pretty good at putting things back together and getting them to work as they should.
As a seven/eight-year-old I spent hours taking my bicycle apart and putting it back together. I remember the first time I undid the wheel spindle and all those little steel balls fell out. I had no idea what they were, but thought they must be important, so put back as many as I could find. The wheel was a bit lumpy after that!
At that point I was gaining in knowledge about how my bicycle worked, but I did not have the wisdom to actually understand why having all the ball bearings was so important and why they needed to be lubricated with grease. Knowledge enables us to take things apart, and to put things back together again in working order, but wisdom is the understanding of why we need to put things together in a particular order, for it to work as designed.
The same can be said about God’s truth. We need more than just knowledge about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. To really understand the person of God we need to be able to relate Him to our daily lives. As we do this we then begin to understand and start to walk in the truth of who God is. We also begin to understand where Jesus fits into this truth, and the role the Holy Spirit plays in our continuous growth in this truth. This is Wisdom!
Wisdom was an important thing to Jewish people. They realised that it was not enough to have knowledge. They understood that you had to have wisdom to be able to use that knowledge correctly. “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7)
In the New Testament, James (James 3:13-18) is writing about those who say many good things about God, but somehow miss the heart of God’s message. You see the heart of God’s message contains the wisdom we need in order to understand life and so discover the truth contained therein. Wisdom comes when we are able to relate God’s truth to everyday life, and in our reading from James’ letter he is contrasting true wisdom and false wisdom.
In verses 15 and 17 James is stating that true wisdom comes from above, and that false wisdom comes from below. In other words, there is a “heavenly wisdom” that comes from God, and there is a “man-made wisdom” that does not come from God. A conclusion we can draw from this is that whatever does not come from God is destined to fail, no matter how successful it may seem at the time.
The Bible contains many examples of the folly of humanities wisdom.
- The building of the Tower of Babel seemed like a wise enterprise, but it ended in failure and confusion (Gen. 11:1-9).
- King Saul thought it was wise to put his own armour on young David for the lad’s battle with Goliath, but God’s plan was otherwise (1 Sam. 17:38ff).
- The disciples thought it was wise to dismiss the great crowd and let them find their own food; but Jesus took a few loaves and fishes and fed the multitude.
- The Roman “experts” in Acts 27 thought it was wise to leave port and set sail for Rome, even though Paul disagreed; and the storm that followed proved that Paul’s wisdom was better than their expert counsel.
So, what is the origin of man’s wisdom? James tells us, “Such wisdom does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” (James 3:15).
Therefore, believers have three enemies; the world, the flesh and the devil (Eph. 2:1-3).
Wisdom of the world
Certainly, there is a great deal of knowledge in this world, and we all benefit from it; but there is not much wisdom. We are able to unlock the secrets of the universe, but we don’t always know what to do with them.
It is clear that Paul, in the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians, is not enamoured with the wisdom of this world. He tells us that man’s wisdom is foolishness to God (1 Cor. 1:20), and God’s wisdom is foolishness to man (1 Cor. 2:14). He tells us that man’s wisdom comes from reason, while God’s wisdom comes from revelation. Man’s worldly wisdom will come to nothing (1 Cor. 1:19), while God’s wisdom will endure forever.
Paul is saying that because the world has turned from God, it has lost its wisdom, and every increase in man’s knowledge only magnifies the problems.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).
“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18).
Wisdom of the flesh
“Unspiritual” wisdom it is of the flesh, or of the human nature. It results when we follow our own desires and not God’s desires and ways.
“Wisdom” of the devil
Beginning with Genesis 3, where Satan successfully deceived Eve, and continuing through the entire Bible, there is a “wisdom of Satan” at work, fighting against the wisdom of God. Satan convinced Eve that she would be like God. He told her that the tree would make her wise. Ever since that event, people have continued to believe Satan’s lies and have tried to become their own gods (Rom. 1:18-25). Satan is cunning; he is the old serpent! He has wisdom that will confound and confuse you if you do not know the wisdom of God.
In contrast to the wisdom that is earthly, sensual, and devilish, James describes a “wisdom that is from above” (James 3:17). The Christian is to look up to heaven for all their needs. Our citizenship is in heaven, just as our Father is in heaven (Phil. 3:20, Matt. 6:9). Our treasures are in heaven, not on earth (Matt. 6:19ff). We were born again from above when we trusted Jesus Christ (John 3:1-7).
So, as believers we are to set our affection and attention on things above, not on earthly things, because our home and our hope is in heaven (John 14:1-6, Col. 3:1-4). The first step toward true wisdom is the receiving of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord of in each of our lives.
So how can we be the friends of God and the enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil?
James gives us some help in v7 and 8 of chapter 4. First he encourages us to Submit to God (v. 7). Submit is a military term that means “get into your proper rank.” If you keep any area of your life back from God, there will always be battles, so the way to resist the devil is to submit to God. Submission is an act of the will; it is saying, “Not my will but yours be done.”
Secondly we are to Draw near to God (v. 8). How do we do this? By confessing our sins and asking for His cleansing. (“Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded.” James 4:8b) God graciously draws near to us when we deal with the sin in our life that keeps Him at a distance, for He detests sin.
Millions of people all over the world begin the Christian journey. But as soon as discipleship gets arduous or prayers are not answered the way they wish for them to be, people start to drop out. Too few of us have enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of Christian virtue. You see the Christian journey, which starts like a sprint, ends up as a marathon.
Sadly for some this marathon ends up lonely and silent. We can start beautifully but too often by the middle of the race we’re broken because we transfer from heavenly wisdom to earthly wisdom. We often die with our greatest wisdom, that which comes from above, still within us, unused, unspent, unrecognised.
Too often the world looks at people and says, “wise in the ways of the world,” or “a shrewd business person.” James wants us to avoid such endings. He wants us to be declared the winner in the Battle of the Wisdoms, by the only judge whose decision ultimately matters, our heavenly Father, God; our Saviour Jesus; and the Holy Spirit, our Counsellor and helper.