The Book of James – Two Kinds of Wisdom

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Today we delve into James 3:13-18 where James juxtaposes wisdom from above and wisdom of this world.

The quality of being wise is defined as having knowledge, good judgement and having experience. 1 Cor 3:19 says “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” Meaning that worldly wisdom does not equate to Godly wisdom.

What is the difference between worldly and Godly wisdom?

Worldly wisdom is to be clever related to the things of this world, to achieve or succeed in what that the world deems important. To be self-confident and assured in one’s own capabilities. It usually involves keeping self in the centre of it all and benefitting self is often the focus.

Proverbs 9:10 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Having a reverence for the Lord, living out your life with a perspective of eternity. Understanding that our actions can either please or grieve the Holy spirit and thereby living accordingly. Where self is not in the centre of it all but God is, around which everything else finds its place and its axis.

Scripture urges us to get wisdom above all things as Proverbs 16:16 says “How much better to get wisdom than gold, insight rather than silver.”

Scripture does not disparage us from being wise in the things of this world, but the wisdom that does not acknowledge the Authority and Sovereignty of God is wisdom that does not find its source in the Lord.

James beings this passage with a question in verse 13a Who is wise and understanding among you?

To answer this question, we need to first ask ourselves what we base our determination of one who is wise and understanding. This will help us reflect on what we truly value, enabling us see whether we inadvertently hold earthly wisdom a little higher than godly wisdom. Often, we can get caught up in desiring to be successful in the things of this world that we end up looking up to those that depict these qualities. That by itself is not wrong, but if we allow earthly wisdom goals to define the parameters of how we live, then we would gradually allow ourselves to pursue and eventually be defined by it rather than seeking to live out from a Godly perspective.

James continues in verse 13b by saying “Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”

This verse alludes to wisdom from God showing itself in a fruit producing life that is characterised by humility. And it bleeds through into being behavioural rather than restricted to only intellectual.

In James 3:14-16 we read “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.”

James talks about the content of one’s heart. Harbouring envy and selfish ambition, these qualities reflect a discontentment within oneself and a disregard for others.

In 1 Timothy 6:6, Paul says “Godliness with contentment is great gain.”

Scripture calls us to pursue godliness (1 Timothy 6:11) and to say no to ungodliness (Titus 2:12). Godliness is living an obedient and righteous life, to be Christlike, to live a life as Jesus did for the glory of the Father and in complete obedience to him.

Hebrews 13:5 says “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For, He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”

Tying the verses above, harbouring envy in our hearts goes against our call to be content in God, a contentment that comes from having a right relationship with Him. And selfish ambition, does not reflect a pursuit of godliness. We are called to “Be Holy, for I am Holy” (Leviticus 11:44 and 1 Peter 1:16.). How do we be Christlike if we operate with selfish ambition? Ask the Lord to search your heart regarding these things and to help you know what motivates you to seek a position in your church or community? Do you do so to serve God and others or for self.

James writes that such wisdom that harbours envy and selfish ambition is earthly, unspiritual and of the devil.

How does James describe Godly wisdom Verses 17-18 “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.”

The source and outcome of godly wisdom is starkly different from worldly wisdom. It is first characterised by purity, we know that the only thing absolutely pure is the Lord and wisdom from Him too will be such and therefore such wisdom glorifies God, seeks the good of others and is always obedient to the Father.

Earthly wisdom produces strife and discord whereas godly wisdom is peace loving, it is considerate towards others rather than being selfish and envious.

Godly wisdom when lived out, produces further fruit in us and we see it in our own lives by living in a manner that is increasingly pleasing to Him, but it also has an impact beyond our own lives to that of others.  

How do we get such wisdom?  

Godly wisdom can be gained and learnt as Proverbs 4:5 says, “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them.”

It begins with God, acknowledging the Authority and Sovereignty of God and having a reverence for Him. James 1:5 says “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God.”

Nothing beats studying God’s Word. This is how we will be able to decipher His ways, His will, and His character as Psalm 119:98-100 says “Your commands are always with me and make me wiser than my enemies. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.”

Take a moment to think through both the silent dialogue of your heart and the audible dialogue of your words over the last day. In what ways did you display earthly wisdom and wisdom from above? Think about any habits you might need to let go off to pursue Godly wisdom.

God Bless.

16 thoughts on “The Book of James – Two Kinds of Wisdom

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  1. Godly wisdom is needed to navigate this life. Asking God for wisdom has become one of my regular prayer request. We need help from the Holy Spirit daily not to fall prey to the world’s wisdom, which is foolishness compared to the wisdom of God. Thanks Manu, this was encouraging.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree Dawn, this is something I pray for too because I do not want to make decisions in my life from my own intellect but rather have wisdom from God speak into my life leading me on the path that He has destined for me.
      Thank you Dawn 💙

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve posed some great questions here Manu. I’m currently studying a post-grad and have to constantly ask myself whether the prescribed reading is godly wisdom, or man’s wisdom. Thanks for highlighting the importance of this topic, and especially how only God’s wisdom is pure and fruit producing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jo. When I read something I too always think about that question – whether it is godly wisdom or the authors own wisdom. I guess there has to be caution exercised when we read material because there is so much material out there and just because someone is published it does not mean all that they say is good.

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  3. This is a very deep and profound post. In the beginning I was asking myself what the difference was between godly wisdom and worldly wisdom, because often times we associate wisdom with intelligence. But you did a terrific job of breaking it down and helping us to see what godly wisdom really is. Some key take aways that I pulled from this was that godly wisdom is not selfish, it comes from a pure heart, and it seeks contentment in things not of this world. And in order to live a happy and productive life for the Lord, I believe that seeking His wisdom is essential. Towards the end you asked us to reflect on our behavior over the last day to see what kind of wisdom we used. One thing that came to mind was when someone was short with me, and I had to seek God’s strength in being kind in return. Sometimes seeking godly wisdom is difficult, but in the end it is well worth it. I pray we can learn to seek godly wisdom, as we lean into Him and embrace the things that He deems important. Thank you for this thought provoking post, my friend! 🦋

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    1. Thank you Bridget. You have summed up so well what I felt I gained from studying this passage of scripture. I must say that unless we think intentionally about the difference between the two kinds of wisdom, it is so easy to blur the lines between the two.
      On a side note- I have been journaling my prayers more often and it has helped me so much with laying my worries at the Lords feet on a daily basis and I thank you for it. You encouraged me towards it.
      Blessings my friend, have a wonderful day ahead💙

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is wonderful. I have been trying to be better with a prayer journal as well. It brings a lot of comfort to know that God is handling things on our behalf. I pray you have a blessed weekend 💜

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Good food for thought, Manu. One kind of wisdom is self-centered, the other God-centered. One produces pride, the other yields the fruit of humility. It’s good to stop and ask ourselves (regularly!) which kind of wisdom is growing in us. If we’re honest with ourselves, and if we’re asking God, it isn’t hard to tell the difference. Then the question is, what are we going to do about it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely Ann. It is good to reflect on what kind of wisdom is growing in us and what do we do with that knowledge. Thank you so much Ann.


  5. Where your heart is – the desires of your heart – determine what we treasure. If our wisdom is God-centered, our heart is focused on peace, producing good fruit, and following God’s path rather than pursuing selfish ambition and worldly treasure. I like your idea of looking back at your day and seeing if you were pursuing worldly wisdom or Godly wisdom. Manu, thanks for this timely reminder. Have a wonderful weekend! 💖✨💐🌺

    Liked by 1 person

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