James says that having wisdom means that your life is beautiful. That sounds really nice to me. I would like a beautiful life. A life skillfully lived.
What that means to me, naturally, is practically learning life skills. Making right choices. Showing good works. Developing good conduct.
Not so fast, James says. There are actually two kinds of wisdom. Two types of living that show skillful living and good conduct. They aren’t actually the same thing.
Earthly wisdom, to James, appears to be applying skill in good works from the vantage of self. If the reality is that good works are applauded, then ambition guides rightly to skillfully accomplish them. If good conduct brings reward, then jealousy would be an appropriate motive to get as many works done as possible. The more I do, the more I get rewarded. This is simple math. Wise people can do math.
The problem with this earthly wisdom is that James calls it out. If you think this is the way, think again. It is unspiritual. It is demonic. Ouch. I can just picture James making the point that this is how demons think. They are wise, in some sense. But not in the sense that matters. Acting wisely from a base of ambition and jealousy leads to disorder and every vile practice. Earthly wisdom is, at its core, futile and ugly.
Thankfully there’s another way. Wisdom that by contrast doesn’t come out of self. There’s no ambition or jealousy. It’s pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, sincere. James calls this wisdom “from above.” Heavenly wisdom.
Ok. How do I get it, if it is outside of me? What exactly is this wisdom from above?
All of a sudden, the gospel raises its head. Wisdom that is outside of you. Wisdom that is from above. Wisdom that isn’t about your attaining, working on yourself, building yourself, obtaining for yourself. It is beautiful and selfless and wonderful. This wisdom actually doesn’t sound like you or me at all. It sounds like a different person altogether. Heavenly Wisdom. Could this be Jesus?
Jesus as wisdom isn’t as far-fetched as you might think. Proverbs 8 tells us that Wisdom as a person was with the Father when he established the heavens and made all that is. In Luke 11:49 Jesus refers to himself as “the Wisdom of God” personified (take a look at Matthew 23:34 if you need to). Jesus is everything that is skillful and understanding and good. Everything he does comes out of a perfect understanding of what is. He literally is the Word become flesh – the truth of God worked out in a breathing, living, practical way.
When you see this, James makes sense. Jesus is pure. Jesus is peaceable. Jesus is gentle and reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits. Jesus is sincere. Jesus brings righteousness.
There’s only one way to get out of the trap of self. It isn’t transcendental meditation. It is wisdom from above. Jesus Christ. All of our skillful living and good behavior is ruined by imperfect hearts. But Jesus takes these ruins and makes them beautiful. By his wisdom. By his righteousness. By his selfless sacrifice, in love, for us.
You can have a beautiful life. Fix your eyes above, on our Heavenly Wisdom. We call him Jesus Christ.