The Sources of Wisdom
©July 2020 C. O. Bishop
James 3:13-18; John 7:40-53
How can we tell Godly wisdom from Worldly wisdom?
13 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.
The scripture says that we are to “show” or demonstrate by our lives, the result of the “wisdom” to which we claim to adhere. People need to:
- See a consistent walk that emulates the Savior; to
- Hear kind, gracious, wise speech;and thereby to
- Smell (metaphorically speaking) a consistent aroma of the fragrance of Christ, not the reek of the old nature. The words we speak, and the things we do, will accomplish either the one or the other.
Therefore, the results in our own lives (our lifestyle and works) are what will ultimately reveal the source of that “wisdom.” The old English word “conversation” never refers to “people chatting:” it either has to do with our way of life (as in this case: the Greek root is ‘tropos’) or, in a few cases, (Philippians 3:20, for example, where the Greek root is ‘polituema’) it means citizenship, or commonwealth.In no case it is referencingtwo people involved in verbal interaction. In this particular passage it specifically means “the way you live your life.” This reveals to those around you how they should regard your wisdom.
The Greek word (prauteti) translated “meekness” is sometimes translated “gentleness”, and it can mean just that, but it also carries the idea of “yieldedness;” being yielded to God, and being willing to yield to others, as a result. Not “insisting on proving oneself right,” but, having stated one’s case, willing to allow others to make up their minds about issues.
14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
So, then, even when there is someone who, by all accounts, is considered to be a real source of genuine “wisdom”, if any of the listed attributes are a consistent part of their life:
Then, we should not automatically consider the “wisdom” they have to offer to be “Godly Wisdom.” We should at least take it carefully, knowing that it has definitely been mingled with other sources. This begs the question, “what are the other sources?”
Three Sources of Non-Godly “Wisdom”
James lists three other sources. He states that, when bitterness, strife or envy are present, such “wisdom” is:
- Earthly, (meaning, in keeping with the World’s way of thinking)
- Sensual, (after the natural manner of thinking; “soulish;” from the Flesh) and/or
- Devilish (From the enemy of our souls, Satan, who is also called the Devil.)
As a matter of fact, this is how we know that the Christian actually has three real enemies: the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. The World is the enemy “outside the gate”, so to speak. The Flesh is the enemy within the gate—residing within each individual. And the Devil, as always, will seek to strengthen the World and the Flesh against us, and use them to defeat us if possible. In fact, just as a military force, if unable to hold a bridge, or some other vital piece of territory, will seek to render it useless to the enemy…blow up the bridge, fill up a well, burn down buildings, etc., in the same manner, our enemy, Satan, wants to render you useless to God. He desires to destroy your joy, destroy your testimony, and, if possible, destroy you, physically, through slavery to sin. We need to take this seriously!
So: What does Godly Wisdom look like?
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
Godly Wisdom, then, should produce a different sort of fruit than the other sources:
- Good fruits (fruit of the Spirit?)
- Genuineness…no hypocrisy
- Producing Peace, as it is given in peace.
Nine evidences of Godly Wisdom, just as there are nine evidences of the Fruit of the Spirit, given in Galatians 5:22, 23. If this is not the pattern you are seeing, then you can conclude that the “wisdom” may not really be from God. Knowing that the “wisdom” may not be from God, and that there are only three other sources, all of whom are our enemies, should give us serious pause about where we look for wisdom.
Proverbs 2:6, 7 states that God himself is the only completely reliable source of wisdom, and that His wisdom specifically comes “from His mouth.” So, the Word of God should be our constant primary source, and the standard to which we compare whatever comes from human counselors. As long as the wisdom we receive from human counselors matches that of the Word of God, and we see a pattern of Godliness, then it is very likely sound teaching and counsel.
Further: Jesus Christ, as the Living Word, is identified as THE Power of God, and the Wisdom of God. (1st Corinthians 1:24)So, the more closely we can walk with Him, the more firm our grasp will be on the leading of the Lord. Without exception, His leading will always match His written Word, because He is the Living Word. (See John 1:1, 14; Revelation 19:13)
Some time ago, a younger friend, a missionary whom our church has supported, who had been forced by circumstances to “retire” from missionary work, shared how two different couples had responded to her needs:
The first couple, who were also retired missionaries with a very similar background, offered to have her join them in the work they were doing (a relatively new ministry.) They were completely kind and supportive; they discussed the options with the governing board of their mission, and stated that they would put the whole thing in writing for her to consider, but made no demands on her. She stayed in their home for a week, and had a good opportunity to really get to know them.
The other couple, whom she met in her home church, seemed determined to “take her under their wing”. They were somewhat dominating, and directive, and stated that she needed to get more education, so as to gain “educational credibility”, etc. They did seem concerned about her well-being, but when she mentioned the offer the first couple had made, they were quite dismissive, even suggesting that the first couple were trying to cheat her, and take her support money. They said all this, knowing nothing about those people, and never having met them. They did not consider her 25 years of full-time ministerial experience (specifically in linguistics, Bible translation expertise, literacy-teaching, Bible-teaching, and cross-cultural communication) to have “educational credibility”. And they seemed very sure that she was not making good decisions, though they gave no scriptural reasons.
Since both couples seemed “caring”, and both seemed “wise”, she felt torn, since she could not respond favorably to both. But hidden in the behavior of both there were clues as to where their “wisdom” originated. She called me, asking for my counsel, and we had a long phone conversation.
The exchange with my friend triggered more pondering, in my own mind, regarding wisdom: What is the ultimate origin of real wisdom? What does the whole counsel of the Bible have to say about it? What is the character and source of “false wisdom?” What is the motive? Why would someone bother to try to coerce another person with bad advice? What could they hope to gain by it?
Genesis 1:1 begins with four “packed” words, which are easy to miss, because we tend to focus on the last six words of that sentence. We are so familiar with the “Created the Heavens and the Earth” portion, and argue endlessly about the meaning, truth (or untruth) and limitations (if any) of that portion that we ignore the first four words: In the beginning, GOD! He is the origin of all things—He existed before all things; the causeless cause, the ultimate source of literally all things. He exists outside of time and space, without limits except those imposed by His perfect character and wisdom. Nothing is too hard for him, yet there are things He says He cannot do, because of His perfect character.
So, if He is the ultimate source, but, as we see in our own experience, and read in the Scriptures, there is also “false wisdom” out there, waiting to trip us up, we need a pattern of thinking or a litmus test, or something, by which to determine which is which.
James offers some of that test: we saw that “where bitterness, envy or strife are present,” we are not to see this “wisdom” as being from God. In the next verse (v.17) James goes on to say that the “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”
Thinking back, then: What was there in the behavior of the friends from her church that might give us a clue as to the source of their wisdom?
They were somewhat domineering, and were not open to her thoughts: they dismissed her training as not having been worthwhile, though it had definitely been from God, and had been used in service already for 25 years. They were suspicious of the motives of a godly couple whom they had never met, suggesting that they were somehow trying to rob my friend. (In reality, the support-structure of that mission was set up in such a way that no one but the intended recipient of the funds could touch it.) Their behavior was neither producing good fruits, nor acting in a loving manner. They were not “easy to be intreated,” as James said. So…we had to conclude that their counsel was at least “not necessarily from the Lord.” No accusations were leveled at them, or anything. She simply thanked them for their concern and went on to make a decision based on God’s Word.
I had a Bible-teacher, more than 40 years ago, who had more of the scriptures memorized than anyone else I have ever known. More than that, he had a better understanding of how it all fit together than anyone else I have ever known. During a Bible-study, one evening, there was a man who had an argument. The teacher answered his questions with scripture, but that was not enough. The man kept insisting and arguing. Rather than asserting his superior knowledge and considerable pedigree in any way, the teacher began answering with a simple “OK…” to every accusation and argument. Finally the dissenter quieted down and the study could continue. This teacher had a gentle spirit, and was “easily intreated.” He did not allow his natural desires for “personal validation” to interfere with a productive study of God’s Word.
I was in a different venue, once, a public meeting with that same teacher, when a much younger person raised their hand and questioned something he had just said, bringing up a scripture to back their question. He immediately answered, “You are right! I was wrong, and the change will be in the next revision of my book!” Now, that is being approachable! His wisdom was from God’s Word, and he proved it by his responses. There was no “vying for position,” no envy, no strife, and he was a man of impeccable purity, and proven integrity. I wish he were still alive and teaching today.
What about those other Sources?
Frequently the argument is offered, “Well, look! This is what all the scholars agree to be true!” Hmmm… So there has never been a case where “everybody” was wrong, and one person, the dissenter, was right? Even in secular history, there are countless times when a researcher or an inventor proved that “everyone” was, in fact, full of baloney, and that (for instance) the earth really does orbit the sun rather than the other way around; or that, in fact, it is possible to achieve true flight by means of a machine, or that it is possible to travel faster than sound…etc.
John 7:40-53 tells of a time when people were beginning to draw conclusions about Jesus. Some were convinced that He was the Messiah. The argument of the Pharisees was that “Nobody who knows anything would believe that! These people who obviously don’t know God’s Word are under a curse! The Messiah isn’t going to come from Galilee, nor does any prophet!”
Well, they were wrong about the prophet, at least: according to 2nd Kings 14:25, the prophet Jonah was from “Gathhepher,” which happens to have been a city in Galilee! And, had they asked where Jesus was born, or checked the genealogies in the temple, they would have found that He was born in Bethlehem, of Judea (not Galilee) just as the Prophet Micah had predicted! But they made their false accusations, and they stalked off, feeling triumphant.
In some circles, this is known as “argumentation by sneer!” If you don’t have a rational answer, then you try to intimidate the other person, either by shaming them or by pointing out that they are alone in their belief. Neither is a valid argument, but both are common in “worldly wisdom.”
We are to find our truth in God’s Word. If someone has a clear argument from God’s Word, then we are to carefully consider it, as it might very well change our outlook. The people in Berea (Acts 17:10, 11) responded correctly, in that they listened to what the Apostles had to say, and then went and “searched the scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” And they were commended by God for so doing.
There have been times in scripture, where some other source of wisdom was sought…and the results have not been good. We are cautioned, in Proverbs 3:5, 6, not to lean upon our own understanding alone, but to constantly look to God’s Word to find God’s Way. Jeremiah 17:9 makes it clear why this warning is needed: “The heart (also called the “flesh”) is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” The World constantly says, “Follow your heart! It will never lead you astray!” Really? When God says that my heart is the single most likely source of a bad decision, you want me to follow it unquestioningly? That does not sound like good advice! In fact, it sounds like exactly what an enemy might say, if I were so foolish as to ask an enemy for advice! Well, guess what? It is what the Enemy advises!
2nd Chronicles 18 tells us the story of a wicked king (Ahab) who was planning to go into battle, and had convinced a good king (Jehoshaphat) to join forces with him. Ahab had a multitude of false “prophets” who all unanimously told him he would be victorious in the battle.
Jehoshaphat was not so sure, and he wanted counsel from God. So, they called in Micaiah, a prophet of God, and he told them in effect, that this was from God, for the express purpose of bringing about Ahab’s death! Verses 18-24 tell how God chose a “lying spirit” to speak through Ahab’s “prophets,” to convince him to go into battle! (This is Ahab’s final warning to repent!) And what was the response of the false prophets? One of them walked over and punched Micaiah in the face! (Real “spiritual response,” there, bud! No envy, bitterness or strife there!)
But Ahab went on into battle, and died, as Micaiah had prophesied. Jehoshaphat survived, but on the way back home, another prophet of God, Jehu, met him on the road, and Jehoshaphat got a scolding from God for having joined forces with someone who was an enemy of God. (2nd Chronicles 19:1-3)
The Result of Non-Godly “Wisdom”
Ahab listened to a lying spirit, just as Eve did, in the Garden of Eden, and it cost him his life. When Adam went along with Eve, in the Garden of Eden, and fell into sin, it cost us ALL our lives! (Romans 5:12)
Whenever we choose to follow some other counsel, rather than that of God’s Word, we are, at the very least, “straying from the Shepherd,” and we are in danger of attack from the enemy of our souls. It could seem a minor issue, and we may excuse the wandering astray in our own minds. But if we persist in such folly, it will destroy our walk with God, it will produce irreversible results in our lives, and ultimately, it will render us fruitless in God’s Service.
What is the result of Godly Wisdom?
Verse eighteen makes a peculiar statement: “The seed of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (KJV) Modern translations render the passage, “The seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” That is pretty clear language. So, what does it mean?
In Matthew 5:9, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Sons of God.” (Greek “huioi”—sons…mature offspring of God.) If a child of God approaches a situation in peace, seeking to make peace, and to sow seed that has the intended fruit of righteousness, then there is a good chance that righteousness will be the result.
If the person sowing the seed is either not a child of God coming in peace, or not acting as a peacemaker, then the results are truly doubtful, even if the “seed” itself was correct. But if the source of the “seed” is not God’s Wisdom, then it almost doesn’t matter who “sows the seed,” nor how they went about it: the results will not be good.
We, then, have to not only be sure that the “wisdom” we offer is from God’s mouth, as it were, because it is His Word; we also have to be sure that our hearts desire is to produce and maintain peace, and righteousness. Otherwise the results may not be what we hoped for.
At the beginning of this chapter, James says we have a problem with our mouths; in other passages we saw the reason why: our mouths reflect our hearts. The wisdom or the folly of our hearts is expressed in our actions and our words. In the next chapter, James says, “purify your hearts!” God’s Word, by His Spirit, is the only cleansing agent by which our hearts may be purified.
I pray that we will all repent of our frequent folly, and look to God for our leading, so that we may be the men and women of God and the peacemakers He has chosen us to be.