The wisdom from above is not intellectual but practical. It transforms the heart, making it lowly. The lowly heart directs the tongue, the whole person, to behave in ways that are pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, merciful, impartial and sincere. The outcome is a righteous community at peace with God and within itself.
It is noted that the tongue does not direct itself any more than does a rudder or bridle-bit. The tongue speaks as its pilot – the heart – directs. If one’s feelings and thoughts are malevolent, the tongue will speak evil. To bridle the tongue, therefore, one must address the heart (see Luke 6.43-45). That requires the wisdom which James has already exhorted them to ask God for (1.5).
James speaks of the work of wisdom in similar terms to those Paul uses to speak of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in Gal 5.16-26. He also echoes Job, who rejected the notion that wisdom can be found on earth:
From where then does wisdom come?… It is hidden from the eyes of all living… God understands the way to it, and he knows its place… And he said to man, behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding (Job 28.20-28).
Consistent with Job, James teaches that wisdom is a gift from God. It is heavenly, so it is described as “coming down from above”. James understands wisdom as a spiritual gift, as does Paul (1 Cor 12.8).
He recognises only too well that there is also what he calls an “earthly wisdom”, but it is the very antithesis of the wisdom which he commends, which manifests itself in meekness. Instead of coming down from heaven, it rises up from below. It is from the earth, of natural rather than spiritual origin. Worse still, it is demonic. All this is evident in the way it manifests itself – in behaviour driven by bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.
This is a commentary on the Greco-Roman society within which the Diaspora churches lived. Meekness and humility were not valued, except as qualities desirable in slaves. The wisdom aspired to was associated with intellectual achievement and esoteric knowledge.
Teachers and philosophers loved to compete in debating ideas and attracting disciples. In such a competitive environment jealousy and selfish ambition were the key drivers. But such traits lead to baseless boasting and drive individuals and groups apart, resulting in disorder and “every vile practice”.
The wisdom from above is not intellectual but practical. It transforms the heart, making it lowly (cf. 1 Cor 13.4-7). The lowly heart directs the tongue, the whole person, to behave in ways that are pure (i.e. not false to the truth, two-faced or hypocritical, cf. 3.9f., 14), peaceable, gentle, reasonable, merciful, impartial and sincere.
The outcome is a righteous community at peace with God and within itself. As always for James, the proof of true religion is not what it boasts but the life it produces.
What evidence is there of the wisdom from above in our church?
Righteous Father, I thank and praise you for the example of your Son, who humbled himself and became the servant of all. Grant me wisdom from above that I might be like him, gentle and lowly in heart, that all I say and do may advance your peaceable kingdom; in Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
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