“Who is wise and understanding among you?” This is the question that James asks his readers – and it’s the question that I’m going to ask you now – “Who is wise and understanding among you?” Do you think you are wise? You don’t need to answer out loud, just think about it for a moment, are you wise? I imagine most of us believe we have some degree of wisdom –  but would we say we are wise.

OK, now, take a look around the room, at your brothers and sisters in Christ – again don’t answer aloud but have a think, do you consider any of these people to be wise? Definitely don’t answer aloud if you consider any of them to be fools.

What’s quite interesting about wisdom is that what may seem wise to one person may seem incredibly foolish to another. You may look at somebody and think they are a font of knowledge, a wise sage, and somebody else might disagree completely. Sometimes it’s very difficult to discern, firstly, whether our own actions and decisions are wise. And secondly, whether we are looking to the right people for wisdom, for guidance, as a positive role model.

James initially wrote his letter to the first century church, one which was still new and was growing fast. There were no creeds, no 39 articles, the New Testament hadn’t even been compiled and many people thought that they knew best and disagreed and of course that would lead to quarrels, to divisions.

We are very blessed in the 21st century church to have many rules and structures in place to help prevent false teaching and alike and in one sense the church looks very different to how it did in James’ day. But in other ways it is still very similar, it is still full of human beings, saved by Christ, living in a broken world. And so arguments break out, divisions occur. I should make clear that I’m not talking specifically about our church here in Amington, in fact, I think we are very blessed that we have very few situations like that, although of course they do happen occasionally. But when I think more of the church as a whole I think we do see divisions over many things, conservative theology verses liberal theology, a few years ago arguments over the role of women within the church, more recently disagreements over sexuality and gender identity – to name a few. And sometimes it’s really difficult to know what is wise and what isn’t.

But I have good news for you, because if you don’t know if you are making wise decisions, if you don’t know who to look to as an example of wisdom – James has given us a handy little guide.

Earthly Wisdom

James paints a picture for us of two kinds wisdom that are in stark contrast with each other, they couldn’t be more different. One is a false wisdom, one which is characterised by selfishness and bitterness. He tells us that those who are wise should show it by their good life and then in verse 14 writes “But if you harbour 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.”

Notice the language  that James uses here, he doesn’t merely say “if you harbour selfish ambition then that isn’t quite so wise!” – he says this kind of ‘wisdom’ is earthly, unspiritual and demonic. For James, it’s not only the things that we do that are important but also our motivation for doing them. If we are doing them for our own selfish motives – this is absolutely unacceptable – it is “demonic”, about as far from Godly as you can get and so it’s a warning for us to check our hearts regularly and to assess why we are doing what we are doing.

 According to James, this kind of false wisdom will only lead one way – to disorder and evil practice. A little later in chapter 4 James talks about what causes fighting among people? “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but you do not have, so you kill. You covet but cannot get what you want , so you quarrel and fight.”  The worldly wisdom “follow you heart”, clearly doesn’t have good motives or good outcomes. It seems to lead to adults behaving like toddlers having tantrums when they don’t get their own way.

Heavenly Wisdom

The second image of wisdom is characterised by humility. Unlike the first description, this type of wisdom, real wisdom is not earthly, is not demonic, it is the complete opposite. James calls it in verse 17, “Heavenly Wisdom” this is Wisdom that comes from God. And James gives us this list of 8 things that describe heavenly wisdom. It is described as “first of all pure” Pure, there is no blemish, no spec of impurity within it. True heavenly wisdom does not contain an ounce of sin, there is no room for “well the ends justify the means”, or “well it won’t hurt just this once.” It is pure. It’s peace-loving – it doesn’t seek to quarrel or fight like false wisdom does – but it seeks peace amongst people and between humans and God. It’s considerate, it’s “submissive” –you know that part of the Lord’s prayer “your will be done.” Heavenly wisdom seeks God’s will above our own, we don’t put ourself first. “full of mercy and good fruit”. True wisdom is forgiving, it lifts others up, it’s encouraging and allows good things to grow as opposed to the rotten fruit of the false wisdom. Finally, it’s “impartial and sincere”, there’s no playing favourites, no one rule for one and one for another, no lies or hypocrisy. It’s impartial and sincere.

So there you have it, a check list, all you need to be wise and recognise wisdom in others, it’s a great list and a very useful one. print it, laminate it and tick it off every time you need to make a decision and you will never make a foolish decision again.  Of course, that’s not quite true. Using this list to help with your decision making is a good idea but of course we will still make unwise decisions, we will still fail to tick off every single one of these every time we make a decision because we are human. But just think down that list – Pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere – who does that remind you of?

Just think of those first two lines from our reading “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.” – who does that make you think of?

It reminds me of Jesus!

Jesus is our Wisdom

If you want to see heavenly wisdom look at Jesus – he is pure, peace-loving, submissive even to death and everything else on that list. Jesus is exactly what James is talking about when he talks about being wise. James says “peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”  Look at Jesus, the prince of peace, he is reaping a harvest of righteousness, giving all people the gift of righteousness by his sacrifice and calling them back to him.

Remember what Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians – “you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us Wisdom from God…” (1 Corinthians 1:30) If we want to live in heavenly wisdom then the way to do that is to live in Christ and to allow his holy spirit to live in us.  Christ is our wisdom, without him we can only aspire to the false earthly wisdom.  True wisdom, just like true love and anything else good in this world, comes from him and points back to him and so to be wise is to follow Jesus, allowing his ways to become our ways and allowing our lives to point to his life, death and resurrection.

In verse 7 and 8 of our reading we read “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.”

How do we submit ourselves to God? Well, we follow Jesus, even to the cross. How do we resist the devil? By turning toward Jesus.  What is the only way to Come near to God? Remember John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except through me.” – We come near to God through Jesus.

And so if I ask you the question again, who among you is wise?

The answer is the one who is in Christ, who allows Christ to be their wisdom – and their righteousness, their holiness and their redemption. And who in doing so,  shows Christ to the world by living a good life of humility, submission to God, peace and sincerity – as well as the other things on James’ list.

My challenge to you this week, is to keep your Bible open on this passage, or bookmark it on your phone, and when you make decisions, when you offer advice, when you listen to guidance from others – use this as a tool to discern how wise it is, and whether there may be a more Christ-like option.