We live in a world where there is a great deal of knowledge. Indeed, some say the sum total of human knowledge doubles every 13 months. Yes, we know a lot. Is this is a good thing? Yes. But a better question is this, do we know what to do with this knowledge? Another way to put this, are we wise? You see, wisdom and knowledge are not exactly the same thing.
So let’s first address the question, what is wisdom? In Hebrew the word for wisdom is chokmah. The Greek is sophia. Both words are similar in meaning. They both were originally words indicating skill in craftsmanship or handicraft, e.g., pottery, woodworking, weaving, etc. When applied to behavior and morals, it means to know how to live. It is more than just knowledge, having information. It is knowing what to do with that information. Considering the origin of chokmah and sophia, I like to think of wisdom as skill in living. It is knowing how to live in an appropriate manner.
In James 3:13-18 we see two types of wisdom contrasted: the wisdom of the world, and the wisdom from above.
James first of all talks about worldly wisdom. It is interesting that the same word, sophia, is used for both worldly and divine wisdom. The reason for this is that earthly or fleshly wisdom will have the appearance of being reasonable, effective, and skillful. But this is only an appearance. Actually it is opposed to God’s wisdom. It presumes to know how to live skillfully without God’s insight, without God’s help.
The Bible offers quite a few illustrations of earthly wisdom. For example, Lot choosing the plain of the Jordan for his flocks to graze—after all the land was fertile and it made sense to utilize such abundant resources, so “he pitched his tent near Sodom.” Remember the consequences of this decision? (See Genesis 13:5-13 and Genesis 19.)
Saul offering sacrifice instead of waiting for Samuel—after all it was not good time management to wait on some wacky prophet—he was king and had things to do. Again, what seemed reasonable to Saul ended in disaster (1 Samuel 13).
We see King David counting his troops. Doesn’t it make good sense to know what your assets are, and act accordingly. Yet, this demonstrated David’s heart, his reliance on troop strength rather than God’s power. (See 1 Chronicles 21.)
And probably the ultimate example is Eve in the Garden—she saw that the fruit was pleasant to look at, good to eat, and would make you wise—didn’t it make sense to try it (Genesis 3).
Now, contrast this with divine wisdom. This comes from God Himself. It shows us how to live skillfully in a righteous, godly way. It is true wisdom. And it is a higher wisdom than natural wisdom. It operates in the supernatural, following the ways of God. As a result, it sometimes appears unlike wisdom to the natural man. Indeed, it may even appear foolish to the undiscerning. Consider some examples:
- Peter getting out of the safety of the boat to step on water (Matthew 14:29).
- Gideon sending troops home, reducing his army from tens of thousands to only 300 (Judges 7).
- Putting mud in a blind man’s eyes, after all… he already is blind (John 9).
- A poor widow giving all she had as an offering (Mark 12:41-44).
- David using a sling and stones—instead of Saul’s battle-tested armor (1 Samuel 17).
- Another widow using her last bit of flour to bake bread for a prophet, while her son is starving (1 Kings 12:7-14).
And the supreme example: God Almighty sending His only Son to die for rebellious and sinful human beings. Paul even notes the foolishness of this to the natural man. But God’s wisdom is greater than men… (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-31).
There is an old saying to the effect that “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” In other words, you can see how good something is by it consequences. What is the end result? So what consequences result from each of these two types of wisdom?
James has some very significant things to say about godly wisdom (James 3:17-18). He notes that divine wisdom is pure, peaceable, and gentle. It is easily entreated. It is full of mercy, and good fruits. It does not show partiality, and it is genuine, without hypocrisy. Can you imagine living your life according to God’s wisdom, and seeing these results in your life? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
However, look at earthly or natural wisdom (James 3:14-16). It manifests itself by being bitter, and living in envy and strife. It is untruthful. It is not of heaven. It is earthly, sensual (carnal). It causes confusion. It is an evil work. Indeed, it is actually devilish! What a difference. These patterns of behavior are not desirable at all. Yet, if we choose to live according to our own way of doing things, our own wisdom, this will be the result.
It is interesting to note that the results of each type of wisdom has consequences in relationships, in how we treat others. So the bottom line is this: Godly wisdom is basically not about things, it is about people.
What an important lesson for all of us. Wisdom is something that we always need to seek, and always need to grow in. We would do well to recall that as with King Saul and King David, even the most godly of men or women can fall into the trap of depending on earthly wisdom as opposed to the wisdom that comes from above. We must not lean on our own understanding, but trust and acknowledge God above all. In all decisions, and in all our actions, let us learn to seek the wisdom of God.
“Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. Exalt her, and she will promote you; She will bring you honor, when you embrace her. She will place on your head an ornament of grace; A crown of glory she will deliver to you.” Proverbs 4:7-9
Truth Builders is a ministry initiative of Advancing Native Missions. However, the content of this site is the personal opinion of Victor Morris, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions, views or conclusions of Advancing Native Missions, its leaders or staff