Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 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. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James uses two Greek words, “wise” (σοφὸς, sophos) and “understanding” (ἐπιστήμων, epistemone) here because the Hebrew language (and, thus, the Israelite culture) is so nuanced on this topic, and he wants to be clear.
No words can do this justice though. There are lots of different kinds of smarts and lots of kinds of wisdom too. They’re all useful, but our sinful nature gets in the way.
Knowing, say, how to treat a burn is genuine wisdom, as is knowing how to sharpen an axe. People with this kind of wisdom can be very useful—or very annoying if they think this makes them better than other people.
And that’s James’s point here. Wisdom can get competitive. You can use your wisdom to help people—as your works are done in the meekness of wisdom.
But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, then it all goes wrong. This wisdom does not descend from above (the practical wisdom lacks spiritual wisdom), and so it is earthly, sensual, demonic.
That’s shocking. Sure, self-promotion isn’t admirable, but demonic? That seems a bit over the top.
So, James backs up his extreme assessment.
For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
Sin ruins everything, even something as beautiful and important as wisdom.
Henry Kissinger famously said, "Academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." He was paraphrasing Sayre’s law, which states, "In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the issues at stake." Sayre adds, "That is why academic politics are so bitter."
Money, fame, and good looks are the main status symbols in our society, but wisdom connotes status in some circles. A university faculty lounge is definitely one of those circles.
This can get insanely annoying. Fortunately, it’s not universal. In my experience, the most illustrious professors don’t seem to have a chip on their shoulder. And the seminary professors I’ve known don’t have this disease at all. They’re peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits.
They love their students instead of themselves.
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These weekday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. Saturdays' by Matt Richardson. Subscribe here: https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community
The weekly study guides, which include questions for discussion or meditation, are here: https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.