Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 15

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by the good behavior—his actions in humility of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, boast not, nor lie against the truth: this “wisdom” is not descending from above, but is earthly, physical, demon-like. For where jealousy and selfish ambition are, there is disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom from above, first, indeed, is pure, then peaceable, gentle, cooperative, full of loving-kindness and good fruits, uncontentious, and unhypocritical; and the fruit of righteousness in peace is sown to those making peace. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 3:13-18, mjlt)

Who, indeed, is wise? For many of us, wisdom is only for the learned, the scholarly, those well-versed in the knowledge of the ages. For others, wisdom is for the experienced, the aged, those who have learned from the hard teachings of a long life. For others still, having wisdom is knowing the difference between right and wrong, and possessing the judgment or discernment to offer insight and guidance to others. But what if true wisdom and understanding are not simply based on how much we know—and on the nature of those things we know—but on where that wisdom comes from, and how it is put into use? What if what we think of as wisdom is not really wisdom at all?

The evidence that we are wise is not necessarily proved by what or how much we know. On the contrary, according to the Scriptures, wisdom is shown by our “good behavior—[by] actions in humility of wisdom.” In other words, true wisdom does not only make us wise, but humble. While knowledge puffs up, one who is wise knows better than to be arrogant about his wisdom. His behavior toward others, then, is good—he treats all with esteem.

This is in stark contrast to those who consider themselves wise, and credit their wisdom to themselves. This “wisdom” is instead fueled by a heart of “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.” They see their “wisdom” both as a means and a justification to advance their personal agenda at other people’s expense. Such “wise” ones are known not for humility, but rather for boastfulness and conceit. In a twisted way, they use their wisdom to “lie against the truth.” Through their command of knowledge and charisma, they confound and confuse, leading others astray with their version of “wisdom.”

True wisdom “descend[s] from above,” intended by God to be a selfless benefit and blessing to others. But the arrogant “wisdom” that results in jealousy and ambition is instead “earthly, physical, demon-like.” This “wisdom” concerns itself only with worldly accomplishments and achievements. It is self-serving—a perversion against God’s gift—and is only base and evil in its output.

Indeed, while true wisdom brings order to chaos, inspiring good and godly behavior, the presence of jealousy and selfish ambition in “earthly” wisdom incites “disorder and every evil practice.” The mind and heart of wisdom become corrupted, and the gift that was intended for good instead sees others as enemies and obstacles. The apparent ability to understand things from God’s perspective is used as an advantage over others. The ensuing confusion this “demon-like” wisdom creates manipulates situations and people for its own gain—and no one is the wiser.

True wisdom—”the wisdom from above”—is only ever pure in its motives. It is not envious, but a seeker of peace. It is not evil in its superiority, but gentle in the use of its godly gift. True wisdom does not desire control, but looks for ways to cooperate and work together with others. It is full of loving-kindness, not arrogance; it is uncontentious, not combative; it is unhypocritical, not deceptive.

The wisdom that God bestows on us, then, is not evidenced by how much or what we know, but on our ability to apply His wisdom without allowing our flesh to corrupt it. The wisdom from above is pure, producing humility and goodness; earthly wisdom is selfish, breeding envy and ambition. Which wisdom will you wield?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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