How Do You Know If You Are Wise?

By Mark D. Roberts

June 4, 2024

The Gift of Wisdom

Scripture — James 3:13 (NRSV)

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.


If you want to know if you are wise, the letter of James in the New Testament will help you to know the truth. If you are wise, according to James, then you will live a good life characterized by gentleness and humility.

Today’s devotion is part of the series The Gift of Wisdom.


How do you know if you are wise? I expect there are various answers to this question. For example, here’s one possibility. If there are people in your life whom you consider to be wise and they think the same of you, this may be evidence that you are, in fact, wise. But I wonder if there are more reliable indicators of wisdom.

James 3:13 helps us to know whether we are wise or not. This verse begins with a question similar to the one I’ve been asking: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” The beginning of James’s answer is surprising: “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” To put it more personally: How do you know if you are wise? Look at your life. You are wise if “your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” Wow!

First of all, evidence of wisdom doesn’t come from looking inside of yourself. Rather, it comes from paying attention to how you’re living. True wisdom will be seen in action.

But what kind of action? Here’s where things get even more surprising. A reliable indicator of wisdom is a life characterized by “gentleness born of wisdom.” Gentleness as a prime proof of wisdom? That’s what James says.

The Greek word translated here as “gentleness” is prautes. The standard Greek-English lexicon defines it as: “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness.” Whereas the NRSV prefers “gentleness,” other translations opt for “humility.” Or, as the CEB puts it, “Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom.”

The close relationship between wisdom and humility can be seen in the passage from Matthew that was the basis of yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion. As you may recall, Jesus extended this invitation: “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 [praus] and humble in heart. . . .” Jesus, speaking as God’s Wisdom, describes himself as “gentle,” using the adjective form of prautes. Jesus, therefore, demonstrates how divine Wisdom is expressed through gentleness or humility.

So, if you’re wondering about whether or not you are wise, pay attention to how you’re living. In particular, are you gentle in the way you relate to others? Are you truly humble? (I do realize that answering this question affirmatively runs the risk of proving the opposite!) If you dare, you might even ask people who know you well whether they consider you to be gentle and humble. What would your family say? What would your colleagues at work say? What would your direct reports say? What would your customers say? What would your competitors say?

In his book The Wise Leader, Uli Chi devotes a whole chapter to the theme “Wisdom and Humility.” If you haven’t done so yet, I’d encourage you to buy this book and then be sure to read Chapter 3. Among the things that impressed me in this chapter was a quotation from St. Augustine who wrote about “three essential ways to pursue truth and wisdom” (p. 79). They are, “first humility, second humility, third humility.”

From a practical point of view, Uli suggests five “Practices That Cultivate Humility”:

1. Exhibit genuine curiosity about others and their differences.
2. When there is disagreement, let each person define their views.
3. Build trust and agree when possible.
4. Own your own responsibility.
5. Exhibit vulnerability.

So, taking the lead from Uli, if you want to know if you are wise, consider how you’re doing when it comes to the five items on this list. Do these statements describe how you live and lead? Or, as would be true in my case, are they more aspirational? Sometimes I actually do some of what Uli recommends, but often I fall short. I’ve got a long way to go when it comes to acting in the way of wisdom.

Nevertheless, I am encouraged in this growth process because I know I’m not in it alone. I have family members and friends who can support and challenge me. My spiritual director helps me to see things about myself – both good and bad – that I might overlook. But, even more importantly, I continue to hear and respond to the invitation of Jesus, “Come to me . . . .” Jesus invites me to take his yoke and learn from him. The one who is the very embodiment of divine Wisdom will teach me, guide me, and inspire me so that I might become wise. Such good news! Thank you, Lord.


How do you respond to the question of whether or not you are wise?

To what extent are you usually humble? Gentle?

What helps you to be humble?

What helps you to be gentle?


If you dare, ask a couple of people who know you well and will be honest with you whether they consider you to be gentle and/or humble. See what you learn from their insights.


Gracious God, thank you for showing us in Jesus how wisdom can be seen in humility and gentleness.

I do want to be wise, Lord. So I’m reflecting even now on the question of whether I am gentle and humble. Help me to see myself truly and honestly.

I’m reminded, Lord, that one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness (prautes). So may your Spirit be at work in me, shaping my heart and guiding my actions. May I be gentle and humble, not because I’m so great, but because you are alive and at work in me, for your 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. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Selfish Ambition (James 3:13-4:12).

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

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,...

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