Summary: We’re going to take a close look at these two kinds of wisdom. In the process, we will see James describe wisdom that is tried (vv. 13), wisdom that is treacherous (vv. 14-16), and wisdom that is true (vv. 17-18). This morning we’re going to study verses 13-16.
Two Kinds of Wisdom (Part 1)
Preached by Pastor Tony Miano
Pico Canyon Community Church
May 13, 2001
Introduction: We find the following story in the Old Testament book of 1 Kings. King David, probably the greatest king who ever lived on the earth, had just died. His son, Solomon, who served beside his father in the last years of his life, was now the sole ruler of the nation of Israel. “In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, ‘Ask what you wish me to give you.’”
“Then Solomon said, ‘You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.’”
“Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
“It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing” (I Kings 3:5-10).
God was so pleased with Solomon’s request for wisdom that He granted his request and gave him many things for which Solomon didn’t ask. Solomon will forever be recognized as ruling one of the wealthiest kingdoms the world has ever seen. During the forty years that Solomon ruled Israel, his wisdom was tried. His wisdom was true. And his wisdom was, sadly, treacherous as well.
Wisdom was a very important topic to the Old Testament writers and, therefore, obviously important to God who inspired the text. In fact, there are five books in the Old Testament that are classified as wisdom literature—Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. Solomon partially or exclusively wrote four of the five books—Palms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. “In the Old Testament, the words wisdom and wise appear some three hundred times, a hundred of those times in Proverbs alone” (MacArthur, p. 164).
The Bible teaches that there are two kinds of wisdom—that which is from above, and that which is from below, that which is human in nature and that which is given to man by God. Over the next two weeks we are going to finish our study of James 3. As we do that, we’re going to take a close look at these two kinds of wisdom. In the process, we will see James describe wisdom that is tried (vv. 13), wisdom that is treacherous (vv. 14-16), and wisdom that is true (vv. 17-18). This morning we’re going to study verses 13-16. But let’s begin by reading James 3:13-18.
A Wisdom That Is Tried
Again, in verse thirteen, James shows us what it looks like to try or test wisdom. James begins verse thirteen with the question, “Who among you is wise and understanding” (3:13a)? There are those who misinterpret this verse as a question to teachers only. The personal way in which the question is worded tells us that James is talking to all of his readers. Although James probably still has in mind the problem of false and inadequate teaching in the church, what he is about to say is written to be applicable to every reader, every believer.
We shouldn’t construe James’ question to be an accusation that there wasn’t anyone reading his letter that was truly wise and understanding. James isn’t being sarcastic here. James wants those in the church, whether they are teachers, leaders, or members, who claim to have superior knowledge, to identify themselves.
James’ question is a rhetorical one. He is asking his readers the question in such a way that he is expecting a “yes” answer, with maybe a hint of hesitancy, maybe one like this. “Yes, there are those among us who have the wisdom and understanding of a teacher. At least we think so.”
It will be helpful to us in trying to understand the true meaning of James’ question if we have a biblical understanding of two important words—“wise” and “understanding.” Although the two words are closely related, there is a shade of difference that is important. As we’ve seen so many times already in James’ writing, he chooses a combination of words in verse thirteen seen nowhere else in the New Testament.
The word “wise” is best understood as being knowledgeable of things “human and divine, and their causes” (Thomas, p. L30). The Jews recognized wisdom to be an attribute of God. So a person who is wise is thoughtful and has a good grasp of things. Their wisdom is practical and moral because it is based on their knowledge of the character of God.