Meditations in James: 33 : Humility with Wisdom
Jas 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
We have in this day, in the West, many TV games shows that test knowledge. We may watch and wonder sometimes at the shear breadth or depth of knowledge that a particular contestant shows. We move on to programmes about specialist subjects and we watch and listen to men or women who are ‘experts’ in their field, regaling us with the wonders that they know about. We think how great these people must be. We wonder at their learning, their scholarship, and their experience of life. And then the media tells us something about their personal life, and we hear they have just parted from their third partner, and a little nagging doubt rises in our mind. Then there are politicians or some of the world’s shakers and movers. We watch on TV as their latest achievements are being lauded and we think about what incredible people they must be. We slightly wonder about some of the people who are their friends, because they are those who live in the shadows, and we wonder. We don’t ‘know’ but we wonder. But God knows.
God is and never has been impressed by outward signs. We’ve seen that before with Samuel (1 Sam 16:7). The disciples were impressed by big buildings (Matt 24:1) but Jesus had bigger issues on his mind. No, we can be swayed by rhetoric or apparent knowledge, but God has different criteria for assessment of people. You can be very knowledgeable but godless. You can bring great changes in the world, but be unrighteous. Have you spotted the link yet with what James has been saying about the tongue? The tongue has the power to deceive us. We just mentioned ‘great people’ on TV who astound us with their words. There are politicians and world movers and shakers who speak and the world holds its breath. Oh yes, words are the currency of these people, but the trouble is, that so often they are godless and unrighteous people, and in God’s eyes they mean nothing. Their words do not impress Him.
So James seems to spin us on our axis and we point away from thoughts of the tongue and move to a wider sphere of thinking. Ah yes, thinking comes in here: Who is wise and understanding among you? Wisdom and understanding; these are things of the mind. They are the fruits of what has gone on inside us. Wisdom is the knowledge of ‘how to’. Moses was able to say to his people: “See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deut 4:5,6) God had spoken to Israel and given them His Law, which were simply rules on how to live wisely in accordance with the way He had designed people to live. If you follow them, said Moses, the nations round about will see your wisdom and comment upon it. It will be clearly visible. Wisdom is something that is practically worked out in life.
Understanding is knowing why things are. Understanding goes beyond simply knowing ‘how to’; it knows why is it right to do it. It knows the reasoning behind it. Of course as God’s people we know that it is right to follow God’s ways because He is all-wise and He is the Designer-Creator of this world and so He knows best. The psalmist wrote, “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.” (Psa 119:104). As He studied all that God had given Israel he came to understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of life. The more we consider God’s word as we seek His face, the more He gives us understanding of His ways.
James then challenges us. He basically says, if you understand life, then you will live God’s ways and if you live God’s ways, those ways will involve goodness, and people will see good deeds coming out of that knowledge and understanding. Just like Israel, as we saw just now, those round about us will see and wonder. But don’t we wonder about the life of the great and the glorious? Yes, until we start hearing about their personal lives which reveal the sort of people they are. This is where James differentiates between these people and the people of God. The people of God, he is saying, live out their lives in humility. Yes, here is an unusual characteristic in today’s age! Humility is about having a realistic assessment of yourself. When you really know yourself there is no room for pride (the opposite of humility). When we really know ourselves we know that without God we are lost. Without God we know our lives are pretence, a sham. We know that although we may look good on the outside, inside we’re something quite different. This realistic self awareness is humility. This humility comes from wisdom. Solomon said, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Prov 9:10). An awesome respect for Almighty God brings wisdom and that wisdom brings humility as we realize our smallness and His greatness. As we live out our lives in the light of this, it will be seen, goodness! May it be so!