Wisdom: Smarts or Maturity?
Too often wisdom is equated with knowledge. Someone might seem knowledgeable and thus, we assume they must be wise. Wisdom is oft associated with the ability to postulate new ideas, a perceived intelligence—and is therefore associated with “knowledge,” “ideas,” “creativity” and “intelligence”.
While none of these things are wrong of course, they are poor synonyms for “wisdom”.
The Hebrew word (chokmah) implies “skill in living,” stressing the correct application of knowledge; that is, good judgment in practice.
In short, wisdom is applied knowledge. Yes, knowledge applied.
However, having now taken a quantum leap already is grappling with wisdom, what is the context? Who are the beneficiaries?
Solomon waxed wonderful about wisdom and her seven pillars in a day, not too much unlike ours, when itching ears sought out tickling words (Proverbs 1-9). In contrast, the pragmatic, veteran James succinctly spelt out the seven qualities of wisdom in one statement, but not as one would expect it.
In his description, there’s no hint to knowledge or ideas or creativity or intelligence—which is not to deny these otherwise good qualities. I mention this only to give due weight to the focus of James’ “wisdom that is from above.” In fact, before he unpacks what this wisdom is, he first contrasts it with “earthly, sensual, demonic” wisdom—explaining in no uncertain terms that this wisdom is the product of “envy and self-seeking” and results in “confusion and every evil thing.”
I find that sobering and even scandalous, especially taking into account Paul’s warning that knowledge in itself “puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). In other words, good things like “knowledge,” “ideas,” “creativity” and “intelligence”—when driven by a self-serving agenda—can, in fact, be a portal through which deception and darkness flood our world.
In sharp contradiction, James explains, “the wisdom that is from above is first…
willing to yield,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without partiality and
Do you see what I’ve just seen afresh?
These seven qualities are all selflessly people-ward.
The wisdom from above has more to do with pragmatic relational maturity and less to do with our perceived intellectual smarts. The beneficiaries of wisdom are not the wise person, but those whom he serves wisely. The focus is not on the sage, but on those he serves.
In a day when knowledge puffs up, ideas so often separate, creativity elevates one above another and intelligence is so often used to belittle or patronise, godly wisdom imparts the character of Christ into the relational context of our missional lives.
Enlarged with this wisdom from above, faith communities not only function cohesively—wisdom serving as the oil to lubricate the relational engine—but also tap into the counsel or Mind of Christ together.
Yes, God’s “people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6), but it seems we’re puffed up if we settle for knowledge alone; big heads and small hearts never impart Jesus or advance His Kingdom.
I’m convinced we need to ask Father God for wisdom, knowing He gives liberally (James 1:5), so that we can better apply our knowledge to serve one another, use our creativity and smarts to build each other, and seek and pioneer new ideas to improve our world—advancing His Kingdom through servant-hearted wisdom.
To meditate on this verse and dig into the depths of these seven qualities, consider reading James 3:17 from several different versions of the Bible:
New American Standard
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
English Standard Version
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
New International Version
17 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.
New Living Translation
17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favouritism and is always sincere.
Young’s Literal Translation
17 and the wisdom from above, first, indeed, is pure, then peaceable, gentle, easily entreated, full of kindness and good fruits, uncontentious, and unhypocritical…
17-18Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour.
One implication for me is this: Can true wisdom be separated from community? That is, can you be wise—as the Bible defines it—flying solo?