Wisdom from Above
by Mark D. Roberts, Ph.D.
Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership
© Copyright 2020 De Pree Center. All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
Part 1: Wisdom from Above (James 3:17)
Part 2: The Source of Wisdom from Above (Ephesians 1:17; James 1:5)
Part 3: Preparing to Receive God’s Wisdom (1 Kings 19:11-12; Luke 6:12-13)
Part 4: Receiving Wisdom Together (1 Corinthians 12:7-8; 14:26)
Part 5: Is This Really Wisdom from Above? (James 3:13, 17-18)
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Scripture – James 3:17 (NRSV)
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.
As you face the complexities of life, know that you’re not on your own to figure out what’s best. There is “wisdom from above” available to you. In fact, the “only wise God” is able and eager to share divine wisdom with you, to help you live well in every part of life, at home and at work, among friends and neighbors, in your private life and your public life. That is good news, indeed.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Wisdom from Above.
Do you ever feel as if you aren’t quite sure what to do next? It could happen in the context of your work, where you’ve got a tricky personnel issue, a boss who’s overly demanding, or a client whose preferences aren’t obvious. We often feel perplexed about relationships with family and friends. Perhaps you’re wanting to be a good parent to a teenager or a good friend to someone whose hurting, but you’re just not sure how to act.
There was a time when, if we found ourselves in situations like these, people would tell us we need wisdom. These days, however, we don’t talk about wisdom nearly as much as we used to. We’re more apt to want to “fix things,” to look for “solutions,” or to look to Google for “the right answer.” We’re less likely to think, “I really need wisdom here.”
But wisdom is what we need, now more than ever as the world becomes more complex, more uncertain, and more volatile. We need wisdom at work and at home, in our neighborhoods and churches, and in a world filled with unprecedented and unruly problems. Wisdom isn’t the same as knowledge. Wisdom is judging what’s best or having good sense. It’s knowing how to live well and choosing to do so.
Yes, we do need wisdom, but not just any kind of wisdom. There are versions of wisdom that are neither truthful or helpful. The Letter of James in the New Testament labels such wisdom as “earthly, spiritual, devilish” (James 3:15). James doesn’t mean that all practical wisdom, such as what you get from years of experience in a job, is necessarily wrong. But he does recognize that what the world regards as wise can sometimes lead us astray.
In addition to common wisdom that comes from living attentively, we need wisdom of a special sort. James calls it “wisdom from above” (James 3:17). This is, of course, an understated way of saying we need wisdom from God, who dwells in Heaven above. Wisdom from above is godly wisdom, divine wisdom, supernaturally uncommon wisdom. It excels all over other kinds of wisdom because of its source. It comes from the “only wise God” (Rom 16:27).
Sometimes we might assume that such wisdom is only relevant to “spiritual things.” It matters only to how we pray, read the Bible, worship, and share our faith with others. But, in fact, wisdom from above touches every part of life. James writes, “Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom” (James 3:13). Wisdom has everything to do with living well in all segments of life, including our work, personal finances, citizenship, and neighborliness.
Now you may already be convinced that God’s wisdom is relevant to all of life. You may regularly seek “wisdom from above” throughout each day. If so, that’s great, though most Christians recognize that they’d like to be more attentive to God’s guidance. Alternatively, you may not seek divine wisdom for the practical, everyday matters at work, home, and beyond. You may see that you need to learn to receive “wisdom from above” for the challenges and opportunities you face each day.
This week’s Life for Leaders devotions will work on the question, “How can I receive wisdom from above?” We’ll look at several passages from Scripture that help to answer this question. Plus, this week’s devotions will introduce you to a discernment process called attunement. It’s one way that helps us pay closer attention to God. The Attune website explains, “Spiritual attunement means hearing God’s guidance and aligning our response with it. It means thinking, acting and feeling in ways that resonate with the tone, tenor and direction of his calling.” To use the language of James, attunement is one way to open your mind and heart to receive “wisdom from above.”
As you face the complexities of life, know that you’re not on your own to figure out what’s best. There is “wisdom from above” available to you. In fact, the “only wise God” is able and eager to share divine wisdom with you, to help you live well in every part of life. That is good news, indeed.
When you think of wisdom, what comes to mind? What ideas? What feelings? What experiences?
If you know someone you think of as wise, what is it about this person that reveals his or her wisdom? How did this person become wise?
In what parts of your life do you need wisdom from above right now?
[This will need to be rewritten for the YouVersion plan. It’s more personal for LFL readers here.]
I want to introduce you to a wonderful exercise that might help you to be open in new ways to receiving “wisdom from above.” It’s called attunement, or spiritual attunement. It’s the work of a ministry called, appropriately enough, Attune. Attune is led by two dear friends of mine, people of deep faith and abundant wisdom. If you explore the Attune website, you’ll discover that I’m on Attune’s steering committee. By making you aware of Attune, I’m not trying to sell you anything. Yes, Attune does have programs that organizations can purchase. But those of us associated with Attune are eager to help you experience spiritual attunement without cost.
The folks at Attune have built a webpage for this devotional series. It features a 10-minute audio exercise that guides you through a spiritual attunement practice. (There’s nothing weird about this. It’s mainly a matter of quieting your heart so as to be more aware of God’s presence and guidance.) I’ve been led in this process by Attune’s staff dozens of times, both personally and with teams. That’s part of why I’m excited to share it with you.
If you are able, it would be great for you to do the attunement exercise via the website every day this week. Once again, here’s the link. I realize, however, that many of us would have a hard time finding ten free minutes in a day. So I would encourage you to do this as much as you can. I’d love to hear from you about your experience of Attune.
Gracious God, you are wise beyond anything I can imagine. Your wisdom brought the universe into existence. It stretches across space and time. Nothing hides from your wisdom.
Thank you, dear Lord, for being willing to share your wisdom with me. I do need “wisdom from above.” I confess that sometimes I act as if I have all the wisdom I need. But then, Lord, I confront situations that show me the truth. My wisdom is inadequate at best, worldly and sinful, at worst. In these times I realize the truth. I need your wisdom, Lord. I need it each day, in each situation, in each relationship.
As I begin this week of reflection on wisdom, I begin with a simple request: Give me your wisdom, Lord. Help me to grow in my ability to attend to your guidance. Help me to live my life attuned to you. May your wisdom lead me no matter where I am, whether at work or home, whether in church or in the community. Teach me, dear Lord, to be wise. Amen.
Scripture – Ephesians 1:17; James 1:5 (NRSV)
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.
God gives us, not just wisdom from above, but also the Holy Spirit, who dwells within each Christian. The Holy Spirit reveals divine wisdom to us in a variety of ways. The Spirit grants wisdom through Scripture. The Spirit helps us to know Christ, who is the embodiment of divine wisdom. The Spirit also gives gifts of wisdom to guide us in the daily challenges of work and life. We have access to “wisdom from above” because we have within us the Spirit from above.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Wisdom from Above.
Yesterday’s devotion focused on a phrase from James 3:17, “wisdom from above.” If we’re going to live well, if we’re going to thrive at home, at work, and in the community, we need God’s wisdom. Wisdom from above isn’t only for personal, “spiritual” matters. It informs and transforms every part of life.
How can we get such wisdom? Does it come only through years and years of experience? Do we get it from teachers and mentors? Can you find it in a book? Or on the internet? If you want wisdom from above, what should you do?
James offers a simple answer to that question: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you” (James 1:5). Now that’s encouraging! Wisdom from above is God’s wisdom. James says that if we ask, God will give wisdom to us, and not just moderately, but “generously.”
Asking God for wisdom is, of course, an exercise in prayer. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he exemplifies praying in this way: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him” (Ephesians 1:17). In this instance, Paul is not praying for wisdom for himself, but for the recipients of his letter. That he prays this way underscores the truth that God is the source of and the giver of a wisdom from above.
Notice, however, that Paul doesn’t ask only for wisdom. Rather, he prays that the readers of his letter might receive “a spirit of wisdom and revelation” (emphasis added). Other translations prefer “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” (NIV, ESV). Revelation comes only from the Holy Spirit, of course. This fact supports “the Spirit” as the best translation.
Paul’s prayer assumes that the Spirit gives, not only revelation, but also divine wisdom. This reflects what we see elsewhere in Scripture. Isaiah 11:2, for example, prophesies about Christ, the messianic “branch,” that “the Spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding.” In 1 Corinthians 12:8, the Spirit gives “the utterance of wisdom.”
How does the Spirit grant such wisdom? Scripture, of course, embodies spiritual wisdom, teaching us God’s truth and revealing God’s own wisdom. As we study the Word of God, the same Spirit who inspired the biblical writers will inspire us to understand and receive divine wisdom. Moreover, Scripture reveals that Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s wisdom. According to 1 Corinthians 1:24, Christ is “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Colossians 2:3 adds that in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Thus, as Scripture reveals Christ to us, the Spirit helps us know him and his wisdom.
The Holy Spirit can also reveal wisdom from above when we seek divine guidance for the challenges of daily life. The “utterance of wisdom” in 1 Corinthians 12:8, for example, addresses a particular need of a particular congregation at a particular time. Gifts of practical wisdom come, as James writes, from the God who gives wisdom “generously and ungrudgingly” if we ask (James 1:5). Once again, it’s important to note that these spiritual gifts of wisdom are not only for worship services or private life. They can guide us in all we do, whether we’re at work or at play, whether we’re in church or in class.
We have seen that God gives us, not just wisdom from above, but also the Holy Spirit, who dwells within each Christian. The Holy Spirit reveals divine wisdom to us in a variety of ways. The Spirit grants wisdom through Scripture. The Spirit helps us to know Christ, who is the embodiment of divine wisdom. The Spirit also gives gifts of wisdom to guide us in the daily challenges of work and life. We have access to “wisdom from above” because we have within us the “Spirit from above.”
Can you remember a time in your life when you asked God for wisdom and God answered your prayer in an obvious way? If so, what happened? What did you think and feel as this was happening?
Since Jesus Christ embodies God’s wisdom, what do you know to be true about wisdom from above?
How often do you ask God for wisdom? If you do this regularly, why? If you don’t, why not?
Yesterday, I introduced the spiritual practice of attunement. If you missed yesterday’s devotion, you can check it out here. Simply stated, attunement can help us become more attentive to the Spirit of God. It’s a way of quieting our hearts so we can be more open to what God might say to us through the Spirit.
I’m encouraging Life for Leaders readers to engage in the practice of attunement this week, using online guidance produced by my friends and partners at Attune. Specifically, at this web page you’ll find a ten-minute long audio exercise that walks you through an attunement practice.
I’m encouraging Life for Leaders readers to practice this exercise each day of the week. If you can do it five times, great. But if you can’t do it every day, that’s fine too. And if your life is so crazy that you can’t imagine finding ten free minutes, let me encourage you to set aside five minutes to quiet your heart before the Lord as you ask for wisdom from above.
Gracious God, we praise you today as the only wise God, the One whose wisdom is unlike any other. We marvel at the fact that you have revealed your wisdom to us in many ways, most of all through Jesus Christ who is the embodiment of your wisdom. All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, the power and wisdom of God!
Thank you, O God, for the freedom we have to ask you for wisdom. Thank you for giving wisdom to us “generously and ungrudgingly.” Thank you for giving us, not just tidbits of wisdom, but your own Spirit. Thank you for giving us access to your wisdom through the Spirit who dwells within us.
O God, today I ask for wisdom. Grant me wisdom for my work. Grant me wisdom for my key relationships. Grant me wisdom as I seek to live for you in the world. Amen.
Scripture – 1 Kings 19:11-12; Luke 6:12-13 (NRSV)
[The LORD] said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
Now during those days [Jesus] went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles.
Though we can’t make God give us wisdom through the Holy Spirit, we can ask expectantly. We can seek wisdom for every facet of our lives, including our daily work. And we can imitate the example of Jesus, making time for solitude and silence so that we might hear the “still, small voice” of God’s Spirit. God loves to give wisdom from above to those who ask for it.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Wisdom from Above.
So far in this devotional series, “Wisdom from Above,” we’ve focused on the gift of divine wisdom and how we can receive it. In yesterday’s devotion, we saw that wisdom is a gift from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us wisdom in a variety of ways. For example, often the Spirit speaks to us through Scripture. At other times the Spirit gives gifts of wisdom to help us judge rightly and live well in the challenges of everyday life.
If we have accepted God’s grace through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit dwells within us (Romans 8:9-11). The indwelling Spirit does many things for us, such as joining us to the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), causing spiritual fruit to grow in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23), and empowering us for witness and other kinds of ministry (Acts 1:8). The Spirit gives us life, peace, joy, and hope (Romans 8:6; 14:17; 15:13). The Spirit also gives us practical and specific wisdom to guide us as we seek to live in a way that glorifies God (1 Corinthians 12:8; Galatians 5:25).
There isn’t a secret formula we can use to make the Holy Spirit give us wisdom. The sovereign Spirit gives gifts according to the will of the Spirit as they are needed by God’s people for ministry. However, there are ways we can help ourselves to be more attentive to the guidance of the Spirit. We can, for example, be active in a Christian community in which the Holy Spirit guides and empowers. We will hear what the Spirit is saying to us through the faithful channels of our fellow believers.
But there are times when Spirit-given wisdom comes in the midst of solitude and silence. For example, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus “went out to the mountain to pray” (Luke 6:12). He spent a whole night alone, talking to God. Then, Luke tells us, “when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them” (Luke 6:13). From his time alone with his Heavenly Father Jesus became clear about whom to call to follow him.
In the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah had experienced a grueling spiritual battle with the royal authorities and their pagan prophets (1 Kings 18:20-40). Though he prevailed in this battle, Elijah’s life was threatened by the queen. So he took off for the wilderness, hiding in a secluded cave. While he was there, the Lord spoke to him, telling him to stand on a mountain. The Lord was about to pass by in front of Elijah. Soon there came a blasting wind, a rattling earthquake, and a blazing fire. But the Lord was not in any of these. Then God appeared to Elijah in “a sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:12). The classic King James Version renders this phrase as “a still small voice.” In stillness and silence, the Lord spoke to Elijah.
The examples of Jesus in Luke 6 and Elijah in 1 Kings 19 suggest that we can put ourselves in a place of readiness to hear from the Lord. When we step back from the noisiness and business of ordinary life, when we let commotion inside our heads quiet down, we’re ready to hear God more clearly.
In those times of silence, sometimes God speaks distinctly. Sometimes we simply receive the gift of stillness, which is a precious gift in these days. If, when you set aside time for solitude and silence, you don’t hear anything special from God, don’t worry. Don’t make something up. Sometimes the “still, small voice” of God is there, but so quiet that it takes us time to hear it. Nevertheless, even if it seems like you’ve received nothing from God, allow the time of quiet fellowship with God to be its own reward. But, also remember that James urges us to ask for wisdom, noting that God “gives to all generously and ungrudgingly” (James 1:5).
So, though we can’t make God give us wisdom through the Holy Spirit, we can ask expectantly. We can seek wisdom for every facet of our lives, including our daily work. And we can imitate the example of Jesus, making time for solitude and silence, so that we might hear the “still, small voice” of God’s Spirit. God loves to give wisdom from above to those who ask and seek.
How often are you able to get away from the busyness and noise of life in order to be quiet with God?
Are there special places that help you to quiet down? If so, how often are you able to visit those places?
What helps you to be attentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit? What keeps you from paying regular, close attention to the Spirit?
As you may know, this week I’m encouraging people to use a wonderful process I’ve discovered for quieting down our hearts so that we might pay more attention to the Spirit. I explained this process in Monday’s devotion. You can read what I said here. If you’ve made use of the the Attune resource, I’d encourage you to do so again. Just use this link. If you haven’t had the time to check out Attune, see if you can set aside ten minutes to do so. In the past, I have found the Attune process to be most helpful. I’d love to share it with you.
Gracious God, thank you for being eager to give us the gift of wisdom from above. Thank you for the generosity you show your people, including me.
Lord, today I ask for wisdom once again. I need your wisdom in every part of my life. So I ask with boldness, trusting in your grace.
But I also ask that you help me, Lord, to make times for solitude and silence, times when I can quiet down and pay attention to you. Even if it’s just a few minutes when I rise in the morning or when I’m ready for bed, help me to spend intimate time with you. And in this time, may I be open to receiving your wisdom.
Thank you, dear Lord, for your kindness to me. Amen.
Scripture – 1 Corinthians 12:7-8; 14:26 (NRSV)
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit.
What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.
Though we rightly anticipate that the Holy Spirit will give us wisdom from above when we are quiet and alone with God, we should also seek the wisdom that comes in a community of believers. The Spirit of God lives in each of us individually and among us as the body of Christ. Thus, God may give you wisdom from above, not just for yourself, but also for your Christian community. And God may give many gifts of wisdom to you through your Spirit-filled brothers and sisters in Christ. Wisdom from above comes in many ways from the God who “gives to all generously and ungrudgingly” (James 1:5).
Today’s devotion is part of the series Wisdom from Above.
In yesterday’s devotion, we reflected on how to prepare to receive God’s wisdom by getting alone and being quiet. We saw the practices of solitude and silence modeled in Scripture. Elijah heard God’s “still, small voice” as he was by himself in the wilderness. Jesus went out on a mountain alone to pray all night before he chose his twelve closest disciples.
There is no doubt that wisdom from above can come when we are alone and quiet before God. But that’s not the only context in which the Holy Spirit guides and speaks to us. In fact, in the New Testament emphasizes the presence and work of the Spirit when Christians are in community together. For example, at Pentecost the Spirit was poured out, not upon separate individuals, but upon the gathered followers of Jesus (Acts 2:1-4). Later, when the early Christians faced a challenging crisis, they found God’s guidance as they convened for extensive conversation. Through their communal discernment, they were able to come to a unanimous decision and could say with confidence that what they decided “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28).
In 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul provides in-depth teaching on how the Holy Spirit empowers and guides a Christian community. “To each,” Paul writes, “is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Notice that the gifts of the Spirit are meant in this case not primarily for the individual who receives them, but for the common good, for the community of believers. The first specific gift mentioned by Paul is “the utterance of wisdom” (1 Corinthians 12:8; the Greek literally reads, “a word of wisdom”). When Christians are gathered together, the Spirit gives wisdom from above through someone who delivers this wisdom orally.
Later, in 1 Corinthians 14:26, we find this exhortation: “What should be done then, my friends? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” Though Paul doesn’t mention wisdom explicitly in this verse, it is surely one of those gifts that the Spirit gives for the “building up” of the community. It would be rather like “a lesson” or “a revelation” or “an interpretation.” Notice that each person has the potential to contribute gifts because the Spirit dwells in each one. Once again, the benefit of the community is the point of the Spirit’s gifting. Even as Paul emphasized the “common good” in 12:8, in 14:26 he notes that gifts are given for “building up” the body of Christ.
So, while God does at times give wisdom from above to individuals, divine wisdom often comes to and through communities of believers. That makes perfect sense, of course, since the Holy Spirit dwells, not only in individual Christians but also in the body of Christ together (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Corporate discernment of spiritual wisdom usually happens through conversation and prayer. But wisdom from above can also come to groups, as to individuals, in times of quiet. Waiting upon the Lord silently is something we can do, not just when we are by ourselves, but also when we are gathered with others. For example, an organizational leadership team recently sensed a need for divine wisdom related to racial diversity and justice. They reached out to the folks at Attune for help with this process. A time of guided corporate attunement – listening quietly and attentively to God and to each other – helped these leaders get clear on God’s guidance. This wisdom from above led to several new, fruitful initiatives.
So, though we rightly anticipate that the Holy Spirit will give us wisdom from above when we are alone with God, we should also seek the wisdom that comes in a community of believers. The Spirit of God lives in each of us individually and among us as the body of Christ. Thus, God may give you wisdom from above, not just for yourself, but also for your Christian community. And God may give many gifts of wisdom to you through your Spirit-filled brothers and sisters in Christ. Wisdom from above comes in various ways from the God who “gives to all generously and ungrudgingly” (James 1:5).
Can you think of a time in your life when wisdom from above was given as a group sought the Lord together? What happened? What was this experience like for you?
Have you ever been with a group of people who, in seeking God’s wisdom, spent an extended time of silence together? If so, what happened? How did you feel about it? If not, why do you think this kind of corporate silence is rare among Christians?
Are you part of a group or a leadership team that is eager for wisdom from above concerning challenges you’re facing? What are those challenges? Do you think your group might be open to a time of shared silence and discernment?
This week I’ve been inviting Life for Leaders readers to explore a spiritual discernment process known as attunement. I’ve been encouraging you to make use of a wonderful tool on the Attune website. It’s a ten-minute audio exercise that guides you through a brief attunement experience.
Now, if you’ve availed yourself of this opportunity, I expect you’ve done it alone, and that’s great. But attunement exercises can also be shared. You might wish to do this online exercise with a leadership team, a small group, or members of your family. After you’ve finished the exercise, take some time to debrief together. If you’d like more help with this sort of thing, the folks at Attune are available. You can contact them through their website.
Gracious God, thank you for giving us the gift of wisdom from above. Thank you for times when you give this gift when we are alone with you. Thank you also for the times when you give wisdom to and through the community of your people.
Lord, I pray today for the groups of which I am a member, that we would seek and be open to your wisdom. I pray also for the leaders of my church, that they would receive gifts of wisdom as they exercise their calling. Teach us all, Lord, how to seek you together, how to be quiet before you, how to be open to your wisdom. Amen.
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?
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.
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