Job asked, “Where shall wisdom be found?” James queries, “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge?” The quest for life’s age-old answers concerning wisdom, its source and substance, takes one ultimately to the Book of Wisdom, Solomon’s Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and on a similar theme, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” (Provs. 9:10; 1:7) Therefore, no one has begun to attain unto wisdom or knowledge, in the absolute sense, until he has learned to fear God; that is, to have a reverential respect for Him.
Knowledge and wisdom do differ. Knowledge has to do with the accumulation, assimilation and organization of facts. It deals with science, scholarship, education, comprehension, perception, intelligence, laws and axioms. Wisdom on the other hand is the proper application of knowledge in everyday life situations. It has to do with judgment, prudence, common sense and discernment.
Knowledge will enable one to obtain a driver’s license, wisdom will ensure that you drive sensibly, sanely and safely.
Knowledge will enable you to get a license to marry, and wisdom will enable you to live so that your marriage will be happy and lasting.
Knowledge will reward you with a diploma or a degree; wisdom will help you in applying what you have learned as you “spend your years as a tale that is told” so that you may achieve success.
“Wisdom is the principal thing,” Solomon admonishes, “therefore get wisdom and in all thy getting get understanding.” (Provs. 4:7)
Of course, Solomon is referring to the wisdom that comes from fearing the Lord. James calls this the “wisdom that is from above.” (James 3:17)
There is another kind of “wisdom” and James refers to it as wisdom that “descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” (James 3:15) It is, therefore, in contrast to wisdom from above (heavenly) and is a wisdom that is worldly, earthly. This wisdom is a counterfeit wisdom, and you can identify it by its fruit which is destructive (bitter envying), divisive (strife) and demonic (devilish). It is the wisdom that most often rules the day in the cultural marketplaces, the great educational, political, social, economic and even religious arenas of not only the 21st century but of past ages also. It is often alluring, appealing, attractive but always and ultimately anti-God and is at its very core humanistic and antithetical to true wisdom.
That wisdom, which is not from above, James warns, is characterized by bitter envying, which is a heart issue, (3:14) confusion, and every evil work as by-products. It often produces a zeal but one that is selfish, and Paul illustrates this kind of destructive wisdom citing the religious zealots of his day: “I bear them record that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (Romans 10:2) History affords us multiple examples of this kind of destructive zeal, as in the person, for instance, of King Olaf of Norway who spread his particular brand of religion by a violent sword and justified it by saying “I had to defend the honor of God.” This wisdom, James would attest, is not from above.
Worldly wisdom delights in that which is rational; Godly wisdom in that which is Biblical.
Worldly wisdom focuses wholly on the temporal; Godly wisdom is grounded in that which is eternal.
Worldly wisdom makes much of the physical, Godly wisdom the spiritual.
Worldly wisdom is at its core humanistic; Godly wisdom is first and foremost theistic.
Cain, in earth’s earliest days, illustrates for us a life that was designed and driven on the principles of worldly wisdom. Cain disobeyed God’s instructions and then brought to God in what he considered worship the very best that his hands were able to produce through his own efforts; and he came to God doing worship his way. Paul, indicting this whole class of humanity who “have gone the way of Cain” (Jude 11) said that the world by its wisdom knew not God, and that “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” (Rom. 1:22)
Possessing this worldly wisdom may catapult one to heights of extraordinary achievements and with it the applause and acclaim of the world, but James reminds us that no matter how much we gain on the world’s ladder of success we are lying against the truth (3:14). Check your heart, for as the half-brother of Jesus indicates, it is all a heart matter and unless our wisdom has the earmarks of being from above, then what we have in our hearts is eventually going to be manifested as bitter envying and strife which will only lead to confusion. (3:16)
How do we know, one might ask, whether we have wisdom that is from above? The answer to that question I will address in the second installment of “Two Kinds of Wisdom,” which will appear in the next post of “You And God,” Lord willing. But, interestingly, you might, in preparation, read James 3:1-13, a torrid discussion of James about the powerful tongue, its uses and abuses. It is that discussion on the tongue with which one can either “bless God the Father,” or “curse men, made after the similitude of God” (James 3:9) with which James introduces this discourse about “who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.” (3:13)
“For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (I Cor. 1:19,20)