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Wisdom's Well

Proverbs of the New Testament?

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield,
full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17, NKJV)

The epistle of James has been called “the Proverbs of the New Testament.” But is that a helpful way to approach the letter? The answer is an unequivocal “it depends.” 

James has the feel of a wisdom book and so fits right in with Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and other Old Testament wisdom literature. One of the characteristics of wisdom literature is not only the explicit mention of wisdom language, but also the intensely practical nature of the teaching. 

Early on, James broaches the topic of wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). The hallmark of his letter is its practicality. James urges us not to be hearers only of the word, but to be doers of it. Throughout, he gives us much counsel that we can put into practice. 

There is a less helpful way in which James is likened to the book of Proverbs. Pastors will often preach through books of the Bible. That is no easy task when it comes to Proverbs. There are those fuller sections that develop a theme but much seems to be a collection of disjointed advice. Some see the epistle of James in this light, a compilation of tossed-about teachings on the likes of the tongue, trials, and temptations. 

But there is a flow to James. In fact, the teaching on individual subjects is greatly enriched by recognizing that flow. For example, James opens by calling us to consider it all joy when we encounter trials (James 1:2). We don’t typically associate trials with joy and may be at a loss in how to go about finding joy in adversity. That’s why James says, “for you know” (James 1:3) and goes on to lay out what God wants us to know that will enable us to capitalize on our trial. 

That’s when James talks about the need for wisdom to navigate the trial and how to gain that wisdom (James 1:5). The problem is there is genuine wisdom from God and “wisdom” that is earthly and demonic (James 3:15). We need to be discerning. 

James writes as a pastor, addressing those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus (James 2:1). His letter is filled with theological depth, but is communicated with warmth, concern, exhortation, application, illustration, and example. 

In reading James we drink deeply of wisdom’s well to our spiritual nourishment and growth in grace.

(For a devotional journey through James, see A Living Faith (Stanley D. Gale, Reformation Heritage Books, 112 pages). Click here for a sample devotion. 

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and ten grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale

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