February 3, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – James 3:13, 17-18 (NRSV)
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. . . . But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
Jesus was the embodiment of wisdom from above. Scripture teaches us that he “became for us wisdom from God” and was “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Thus, we will know that our wisdom is from above if it reflects Jesus, his message, his actions, his death and resurrection. And we’ll know that we are enacting this wisdom in our own lives if we are becoming more and more like Jesus each day.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Wisdom from Above.
In this week’s devotions, we have seen that God generously gives wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5). “Wisdom from above” is available for the challenges we face in every part of life, including our work, our relationships, our discipleship, and our citizenship (James 3:17). God gives wisdom through the Holy Spirit, speaking to our hearts through Scripture, through solitude and silence, and through our Christian community.
But if we get an idea that seems to be a bit of wisdom from above, how do we know it’s really from God? Many of us have thought at one time or another that God was guiding us in a particular way, only to realize later that we were mistaken. It’s so easy to project our own desires onto God and claim them to be God’s will. Plus, we regularly come across stories in the news of Christians who do silly or even hurtful things, claiming they are following God’s guidance. So, if we believe we have received a gift of wisdom for a particular situation in our lives, how can we know it’s wisdom from above and not, as James puts it, false wisdom that is actually “earthly, unspiritual, devilish” (James 3:15)?
In this devotional series, we’ve seen that God’s wisdom often comes to us through the vehicle of Scripture. Thus, weighing our particular bit of wisdom in light of biblical teaching is an essential element of discernment. Anything that contradicts Scripture is surely not wisdom from above. But often the wisdom we’re evaluating isn’t obviously measured by biblical teaching. If, for example, you believe God is guiding you to quit your job and move to Alaska, you can’t point to a passage in the Bible that says, “Yes, quit your job and move to Alaska.” Scripture may help you evaluate your motivations for such a change. But Scripture alone may not completely solve your discernment problem.
We’ve also seen that the Christian community is a receiver of gifts of wisdom from the Holy Spirit. Thus, we rightly conclude that the church is also a place for appraising Spirit-inspired wisdom. In 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, for example, we are taught to be open to the Spirit but also to “test everything.” 1 Corinthians 14:29 urges the Christian community to “weigh” what appears to have come from the Spirit. We who are doing the weighing need to be sure and we’re not just offering our personal opinions. If you believe God has granted you wisdom from above, be sure to check it out with your Christian community. Share what you believe the Spirit has placed upon your heart with mature, godly Christians who can help you in the crucial task of discernment.
The letter of James gives us yet another way to evaluate wisdom. He writes to one who is wise, “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom” (James 3:13). A few verses later in chapter 3, James gives what appears to be a definition of “wisdom from above.” It is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy” (James 3:17). This description points more to the fruit of wisdom than to its essential nature. If we are guided by and filled with God’s wisdom, then we will act in ways that are peaceable, gentle, yielding, merciful, fruitful, impartial, and consistent. For example, you might ask yourself: As I’ve been following this wisdom, have I become more peaceable? More gentle? Etc.
When we reflect on the description of wisdom in James, we’re reminded of Jesus. He was, after all, peaceable, gentle, yielding, merciful, fruitful, impartial, and consistent. We mustn’t confuse this with being nice, however. Jesus didn’t hold back from teaching difficult truths, confronting injustice, and unveiling hypocrisy. Yet Jesus himself said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
The way Jesus talks about himself and calls us to him echoes the portrayal of God’s Wisdom among ancient Jewish writers, such as found in the book of Proverbs (see Proverbs 8, for example). These similarities remind us that Jesus wasn’t just a teacher of wisdom from above. He was the embodiment of wisdom from above. We read in 1 Corinthians that Jesus “became for us wisdom from God” (1 Corinthians 1:30). He is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). Thus, we will know that our wisdom is from above if it reflects Jesus, his message, his actions, his death and resurrection. And we’ll know that we are enacting this wisdom in our own lives if we are becoming more and more like Jesus each day.
Do you ever worry that what you take to be God’s guidance for your life may not actually be what God wants? If so, what do you do with your worry?
As you read the description of wisdom from above in James, what does this make you think? What feelings does it stir up in you?
In what ways are you peaceable, gentle, yielding, merciful, fruitful, impartial, and consistent? In what ways do you fall short in these qualities? Can you think of times in the last week in which you displayed the positive qualities mentioned here?
Once again, I would encourage you to engage in an attunement exercise led by our friends at Attune. You can find the ten-minute audio exercise here.
At the end of this week focusing on wisdom from above, I want especially to thank our partners at Attune and the Theology of Work Project for their collaboration in this devotional project. If you are not familiar with these organizations, I’d urge you to check them out. Both organizations feature outstanding people doing outstanding work.
Gracious God, once again I thank you for your generosity in giving your people wisdom from above. I need your wisdom today as I try to live faithfully and fruitfully in the world. I need wisdom at work and at home, with my colleagues and my friends, as I think about my future and as I spend my money. O Lord, grant me wisdom from above!
Lord Jesus, today I honor you as the unique embodiment of divine wisdom. Through what you taught and how you lived, you revealed the essence of wisdom from above. You are, indeed, wisdom from above come to live with us. Thank you!
In all that I do, Lord, may I seek your wisdom. May I reflect your wisdom in all I do and say, to you be all the glory! Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. An article on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Lady Wisdom and the “Beginning of Wisdom” (Proverbs 1:20-32; 9:10)
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
Thanks for this series, Mark. In today’s piece, you stated, “Many of us have thought at one time or another that God was guiding us in a particular way, only to realize later that we were mistaken. It’s so easy to project our own desires onto God and claim them to be God’s will.”
While I think that is so true, I’ve often wondered if we are too prone to always think of ourselves as the lead character in God’s story. Maybe what we perceive as a mistaken decision from our perspective was really for the benefit of a fellow traveller in their journey. When I was little I wondered about this when I lost a ball in the park or toy at the beach. Maybe there was some other little kid praying that God would provide for him or her, and God was providing through me.
I’ve often wondered about this regarding what turns out to be a “bad hire” after much prayer and thoughtful consideration. Maybe from both my and the organization’s perspective the hire was no good, but maybe from the employee’s perspective we aided him or her in their professional development or spiritual journey. As an employer who is a Christian, I like to think that being a good steward of resources means that human resources are better off for having crossed my path, even if it doesn’t work out the way we had hoped.
Or maybe, I’m just projecting a need for optimism onto what is just mis-perceived wisdom.
In any event, thanks for this thoughtful series.
Thanks for your comment.
I’m sure what you say is true. And the good news is that even if we make a full-on mistake, God is not stymied. God can use all things for his purposes and glory. This gives us freedom to act in faith, trusting God with the results, knowing that he can redeem all things.
I enjoyed this series but was very confused about the suggested worksheet that direction was given to write in that I didn’t have or wasn’t give direction to get before starting.