I recently saw a status update shared on social media. It was an image with a caption that read as follows: “I don’t hold grudges; you simply become irrelevant.” I usually don’t fret over the things I see on social media, especially among unbelievers. However, it gets me thinking deeply when I see professing believers subscribe to such mantras. What raises eyebrows is the fact that such a mantra is praised by many in the comment section as “wisdom.” And so I am compelled to ask myself, “Is it really wisdom?”
In a world where information explodes by the hour, the believer ought to weigh what they let their minds consume, before they accept it as wisdom. The scriptures are clear that when it comes to wisdom, there is a clear dichotomy- heavenly wisdom and demonic wisdom. The scriptures paint these two absolutes in a passage in the book of James 3:13-17:
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. (NKJV)
Let us exegete the passage and unearth the gems therein.
Verse 13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.
James starts by echoing what his elder brother, the LORD Jesus, affirmed in Matthew 11:19, “Wisdom is proved by her children.” Other translations render the word children as actions or works. The writer of the book of James was a child of Mary the Virgin and Joseph the Carpenter. Even Paul the Apostle visited James and called him “The LORD’s brother” (Galatians 1:18-19), affirming their sibling relationship. James grew up seeing his older brother, Jesus, being different from the other children. There were times when James and his siblings tested Jesus (John 7:3-4). They did not believe he was the Messiah (John 7:5). But with time, the good conduct of Jesus and the evidence of His work and deeds became irrefutable. His brothers realized that He was not related to them naturally. This was the Son of God. And the wisdom of Jesus eventually brought some of his brothers to repent and become born again. James was one of those brothers. James even later became an important leader of the church in Jerusalem. Wisdom is proved by her deeds and actions. The long term proof of the genuine nature of the thing that we call wisdom is that it will work effectively, without reservations. Wisdom is proved by her children.
The Bible then describes the heart of heavenly wisdom as meek. I found the word meek to hold a generous description in the dictionary. Meek means: humble, non-boastful, modest, mild of temper, not easily offended, not vain, submissive and gentle. I often cross reference my definitions from a variety of sources to get the most out of a word. But this generous definition came from one source alone and I found it sufficient. Let’s extract the essence of meekness from that generous definition.
Heavenly wisdom is humble. The very definition of humility in scripture is not elevating self above others (see Philippians 2:3-4). If the thing you call wisdom elevates you and puts others down, it is not wisdom.
Heavenly wisdom is non-boastful. If the thing we call wisdom beats it’s chest to show how advanced and above the system we are, it is not wisdom. One catalyst for boasting is being puffed up with knowledge. As my wife says, “knowledge is not wisdom.”
Heavenly wisdom is modest. If the thing we call wisdom has an undertone agenda to be flamboyant and call for attention to self, it is not wisdom.
Heavenly wisdom is mild of temper. If the thing that we call wisdom is conveyed through a rise in our temper, it is not wisdom.
Heavenly wisdom is not easily offended. If the thing we call wisdom responds in a hostile manner when engaged, it is not wisdom.
Heavenly wisdom is not vain. If the thing we call wisdom is self-centered and egotistical, it is not wisdom.
Heavenly wisdom is submissive and gentle. If the thing we call wisdom is not answerable to anyone and ploughs through people insensitively, it is not wisdom.
Verse 14: “But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.”
The scriptures then proceed to give an antithetical stance to heavenly wisdom. Demonic wisdom has bitter envy and is self seeking. These two characteristics are rooted in the promotion of self. Envy desires what others have to the point of harbouring ill feelings. So when the scriptures say bitter envy, you can imagine the steroids on this sucker. Self-seeking is self preservation and self absorption that is blind to the plight of others. These two terms tell us that heavenly wisdom pursues the interests of others. It does not elevate itself at the expense of others. It does not “make you irrelevant” like in the update I read.
And that is why it is dangerous to listen to the popular urban preacher who does not preach about repentance, sin and the wrath of God in great detail and extent. If the core of the sermons you are listening to are always saying (overtly and subvertly) that you are the star and it is all about you, you need to watch out. When the pulpits begin to show that a sinful man is the victim and that God is a butler to help you one-up the people you do not like, then you are sitting under demonic wisdom. Heavenly wisdom considers that there is potential in every human being to be a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, and that draws attention to Christ and not to self. Heavenly wisdom sees the importance to die to self. But demonic wisdom will boast and lie against these very truths as the verse ends in stating.
Verse 15: This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.
The ungodly wisdom is then described as not from above (not from God and His Kingdom of Heaven). It is earthly (sinful, humanistic and very base). It is demonic (it has an endgame of leading you away from the truths of the scriptures into the lies of Satan). This demonic wisdom is also sensual; it is hedonistic in nature. It pursues pleasure over purpose.
Verse 16: For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
This demonic wisdom, being envious, humanistic and selfish in nature, results in a spiritual chemical reaction. It opens a portal to every evil thing. Just imagine that. EVERY EVIL THING. That is not a statement to be fooled with. This so-called wisdom introduces all kinds of sins in your life. If you live in sin and the content of your online preacher doesn’t preach the Gospel to bring you back to the Father, but rather coddles you, you will end up in more danger than sitting under his or her demonic wisdom. Evil will find a comfort pillow in your heart without the goads of conviction.
One believer admitted this to me, “Ever since I started following and listening to pastor xxxx, I have become more apathetic to the holiness of God. I have read the Bible less and simply run to his sugary sermons. I have prayed less. I have comforted myself in indulgences like wine and entertainment when I’m feeling low. My depression has increased and I have had bitter scores with believers walking in the light.” It took them long enough to see the correlation between the thing they called wisdom and the outcome of their life. In health they say that you are what you eat. It’s true spiritually as well. You become what you imbibe.
Verse 17: But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.
James then highlights the heavenly wisdom. And you can use this as a template for the things you deem as “wisdom.”
Heavenly wisdom is pure. It does not compromise to sin. It does not advocate for the breaking of God’s law to achieve it’s “wise results.” I hear this kind of demonic wisdom whenever I minister to youth. It sounds something like, “I need to fornicate so that I practice for sex in marriage.” Heavenly wisdom is pure. It doesn’t compromise. If it compromises, it is demonic. Also note that the verse explicitly says that this wisdom is first pure. That word first is very key. James is telling us that this characteristic of purity and non-compromise to God’s law is the flagship characteristic of wisdom. This should therefore be the primary checkpoint of all the things that you hear and listen to in this world. Does it contradict the Word of God? If it fails this checkpoint, then don’t bother going on, leave it alone; it is not of God and it is not wisdom. And if it insists to be wisdom, it is demonic wisdom, even if it is being said by your favourite preacher.
Heavenly wisdom is peaceable. This wisdom wants to bring peace in relationships. It is not out to exacerbate strife in relationships. Of course we understand that some relationships cannot be salvaged. But even then, the scriptures command that we pursue peace with those people (Romans 12:18). A wisdom whose primary aim is to promote strife is not of God.
Heavenly wisdom is gentle. It does not seek to hurt one’s feelings in order to be validated. It is not fueled by ad hominems in order for it to work. If the point you need to make desperately needs to embarrass and hurt someone’s feelings in order for it to make sense, then it is not wisdom from God. It is demonic. Only demonic wisdom is desperate to one-up the other person in order to be believed. However, that is not to say that to one-up a person is always evil. There is a time to one-up a fellow so that he can see his folly. But even in that, the point is to help him or her see their folly. Even the scriptures state that there is a time for this and there is a time to not do this.
Proverbs 26:4-5 “Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are. Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation.” (NLT)
These two verses are placed side by side in contradiction to prove something. That context matters. There is a time to one-up and there is a time to not do it. However, the common thing in both verses is the endgame- to help a soul and not to crush it.
Heavenly wisdom is willing to yield. It is more interested in winning the relationship than to win the argument. It doesn’t keep scores and strain to have the final word.
Heavenly wisdom is full of mercy and good fruits. It is willing to cast favour on one who does not deserve that favour. And it has the inevitable fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It does not bear the fruit of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21).
Heavenly wisdom is without partiality and without hypocrisy. It is not two-faced. It does not say one thing and do another. It does not disfavour one and lift another. It metes out the same standard of justice. It does not speak condescendingly to one class of people and then respectfully to another. It does not speak sarcastically to the youth but honourably to the adults. It does not water down the Gospel message to the heavy tithers and give it raw to the poor. It does not rebuke the men and coddle the women. It is without partiality and without hypocrisy.