Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (NIV)
The great challenge of life for everyone is to respond to it rightly – to handle the people, situations, and responsibilities of life well. We all need wisdom. Wisdom is doing right and just things in the concrete actual situations of life.
Wisdom is much like driving a car. There is a certain body of knowledge that you need to drive. Driving is much more than knowing the driving manual and passing the driving test. The purpose of knowing the laws and how to drive a car is so that you can drive well on actual roads under all kinds of traffic and weather situations. Driving wisely means you keep your eyes on the road and are mindful of all that is going on around you and even within you. You do not fret about why there is a curve in the road or a stop sign in a certain location. You do not try and figure out the mechanics of a stoplight, or the philosophy behind the engineering layout of the road system. You just try to do what needs to be done on the road to get where you need to go by responding to the conditions as they come. In Midwest America where I live, if you drive a car, you will face snow and ice conditions; you will have to respond to a deer in the road; you will have to deal with other drivers and practice wise defensive driving skills. And you must come to grips with your own road rage when getting from point A to point B when it does not go as you think it should.
Wisdom in the Christian life includes and is more than knowledge. The Bible is not a three-ring binder that covers every single life situation that you can simply look up and follow the three steps. Rather, Holy Scripture has a body of knowledge contained in differing kinds of literary genres to give us wise guidance for all of life. Like driving a car, Christian wisdom involves being attentive and mindful of the people and circumstances around us as we move through life by responding with gracious practical knowledge to everything and everyone. So, then, wisdom is the practical application of biblical truth to all of life.
Wise people possess two distinguishing marks: a good life, and a humble life.
A wise person is the same inside and out, with integrity between the inner attitude and outward behavior. The motive for being good springs from a disposition of meekness and gentleness.
The distinguishing mark of the unwise person is hidden agendas.
The unwise are continually doing something, which on the surface seems altruistic and good, yet something else is driving them: bitter envy and selfish ambition. If we want to live the good life, it begins with identifying the envy that will sometimes arise within us and the selfish ambition that goes with it – then choose a path of true wisdom by embracing the good gifts and abilities of others and delight in them. At the same time, we focus on our own gifts and abilities and are at peace with them, able to express them. There is real beauty when this happens.
False wisdom (selfish pride) is earthly, unspiritual, and evil. It relies on tactics of manipulation, power politics, parking lot conversations, and passive-aggressive behavior. Having good intentions but utilizing bad methods to get it is false wisdom. Having an evil intention but cloaking it in good words is demonic. Our words and our behavior both need to be good.
The unwise person has a pathological progression occurring within them:
- Envy over not having something someone else has or losing something that was once possessed.
- Devious plans for dealing with it.
- Using pious language to cloak that plan in religious garb.
- Strife, division, and disharmony to get what they want.
- Unhealthy practices and habits of life which damage others.
The wise person, in contrast to the unwise, possesses seven characteristics which enables them to live well and enjoy a good life:
- Pure. There are no mixed motives with purity – no hidden agendas, no secret desires that are self-serving. It is a purification through repentance of the old unwise person and embrace of the new through the cross of Jesus.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
- Peace-loving is more than the absence of conflict. Peace is to embrace harmony, to work well together, and to enjoy full relational experiences. Wise and godly people are healers, active in bringing unity and integration.
“Blessed are the peace-makers for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:13-14).
- Considerate of others is to be flexible, open to reason, level-headed in anxious situations, gentle, non-combative, non-retaliatory, and generally understanding. It is the wisdom to make allowances for the weaknesses and shortcomings of others and takes the kindest possible perspective.
“Remind the people… to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:1-2).
- Submissive attitudes and actions are a choice. If a person is coerced into submission, that is slavery, not submission. To submit means to willingly place oneself under someone else’s authority. The submissive person is teachable and humbly receives correcting wisdom.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
- Merciful. Mercy is compassion in action. It is to empathize with the needs of others, and then do something about it. There is always good fruit that results from mercy.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
- Impartial people are without favoritism. It is to be the same person toward everyone. They are steady, consistent, and not swayed by the crowd; and, do not act one way with a certain group of people, and then act different with another group. Impartial people have a passion for justice and despise injustice, believing that all people’s needs must be met with equity.
“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great but judge your neighbor fairly” (Leviticus 19:15).
- Sincere hearts are without hypocrisy. The sincere person is the same both inside and out, having no ulterior motives and no skeletons in the closet.
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for you brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 5:22).
The telltale signs of false wisdom are envy and selfishness – resulting in disorder and all kinds of unhealthy practices. Conversely, the signs of true heavenly wisdom are good deeds done from a devoted heart to God and a humble attitude – resulting in righteousness and peace. This, my friends, is the good life.
Heavenly Father take me to the place where I am saved from my pride and arrogance and where Christ’s humility is center stage, where I am lifting clean hands and a pure heart to you. Take me to the place where I am no longer looking at obstacles but looking down upon them, where I can see clearly, and my decisions are flooded with your divine light, truth, and justice. I bend my knee and receive your truth. I open my ears to receive your counsel. I open my heart to receive your godly wisdom through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.