What is Wisdom? Part 3

By Mark D. Roberts

April 23, 2024

The Gift of Wisdom

Scripture — James 3:13-18 (NRSV)

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 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.


Wisdom is found not so much in a list of best practices as it is in persons. Thank God for people in our lives who embody wisdom even as they share it with us.

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


In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I noted how James 3:13-18 talks about wisdom in such personal terms. Wisdom isn’t a thing “out there.” It’s not just an idea or concept or a list of best practices. Rather, wisdom is deeply connected to persons, most of all the person of Jesus. As Uli Chi observes in his forthcoming book, The Wise Leader, wisdom is “not first and foremost a body of knowledge but is instead . . . embodied in a person.”

In today’s devotion, I’d like to share with you an example from my life of wisdom embodied in a person. The story I’m about to tell happened seventeen years ago when I was Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church in Southern California. I had always assumed that I would be the pastor of that church for the duration of my professional life. But in my sixteenth year as pastor, my expectations were being unsettled by the possibility that God was calling me to something new, namely the leadership of Laity Lodge in Texas.

My conversation with the Laity Lodge people spanned six months. Finally, in July of 2007, it seemed clear that God wanted my family and me to move to Texas and begin a new season of life and ministry there. Because it was the summer, and because my congregation had no idea I was soon to leave, it seemed right to me not to rush my job move. I planned to let the church know in July that I would be leaving after December. That would allow for a smooth transition which, I believed, would be best for the church as well as my family and me.

But before I announced my plan to the congregation, I consulted with a friend and colleague, Steve Yamaguchi. Steve was at that time the leader of my local denominational body. He was also a person I knew to be very wise. So I called Steve to talk with him. I would share my plan with him and, I imagined, receive his blessing.

But Steve responded surprisingly. After listening attentively to what God was doing in my life and how I planned to respond, Steve said, “Mark, I love your commitment to your church and your care for them. But you may want to consider another way to move forward. In my experience, when pastors announce that they’re leaving a church, two things usually happen. The first is that the pastors find they are eager to leave sooner than they had expected. Right now, you think you’ll want to stay at Irvine for several months, but before long you may feel differently. You’ll be ready to move on. The second thing I’ve seen is that when churches learn that their pastor is leaving, even when they love their pastor as your congregation loves you, they’re ready for the pastor to leave sooner rather than later. So if you announce your departure in July, it’s likely that both you and your church will want that to happen by the end of September, not the end of the year.”

At first, I wasn’t happy with Steve’s perspective. I couldn’t feel its rightness. But I had deep respect for Steve and his wisdom, so I was willing to consider what he had said. Moreover, Steve shared his wisdom with me in a way that James would describe as “with gentleness born of wisdom.” As he spoke, Steve was “pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” I told Steve I would need time to think and pray about what he had said and to talk with my wife about our family timetable. Steve and I agreed to talk again in a couple of days.

In the end, I followed Steve’s wisdom rather than my own. Why? Because what Steve shared with me wasn’t just advice he found on the internet or something he had read in a book. Rather, Steve’s wisdom was embodied in his life and shared with great integrity and care. Therefore, I decided to leave my church at the end of September.

When September 30 rolled around, much to my surprise, two things were very true. First, though I loved my church family, I was indeed very eager to begin my new work in Texas. It would have been difficult emotionally for me to stay on for three additional months while remaining focused on my congregation. Second, though I felt loved by the folks in my church, they were indeed ready for me to move on. What Steve had told me was absolutely true about me and my church. I was and still am grateful that he shared his wisdom with me and that, by God’s grace, I was able to receive it.

The point I want to make here is that the wisdom that helped me in that season of life wasn’t a list of impersonal principles. It wasn’t “out there” somewhere in the realm of ideas. Rather, it was “in there,” in the heart, mind, and life of a person. Moreover, because Steve was the sort of person James describes in Chapter 3, he not only had wisdom but was able to share it in a way that enabled me to receive it.

Since that experience seventeen years ago, I have passed along Steve’s wisdom to many others. Every time I do, I remember the wisdom I received and the person from whom I received it. I hope to be like Steve not only as a conduit of wisdom but also as one who embodies wisdom through my gentleness, humility, and mercy.


Have you ever had an experience rather like mine with Steve’s? If so, what happened? How did this experience affect your life? What did you learn from it?

What do you think enables someone to embody wisdom in the way of James 3?


Use the description of wisdom in James 3:17 to reflect on your own life. To what extent are you “pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy”? In which of these characteristics would you like to grow this year?


Gracious God, thank you for the wise people you put in our lives. Thank you for those who not only have wisdom to share, but also embody wisdom. Thank you for their gentleness and humility.
Help me, I pray, to be such a person for others. May I grow in your wisdom. As I do, may it shape my mind and heart, my character and actions. May I embody wisdom whether I’m at work or home, in my community or worship, with friends or co-workers. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here

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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