James writes to Christians experiencing conflict. In order to help them, James confronts them with this question: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” In other words, how do you know you are right? Then he moves on to explain the difference between earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. Two key words in this passage are worthy of deeper consideration: show and life. Wisdom is something that can be seen or shown, and our lifestyles will reveal the kind of wisdom we choose.
Like the Christians to whom James writes, we live in conflict with one another for following “earthly wisdom” in many instances. When churches experience change, conflicts can begin when people say, “We have been doing things this way for years.” These persons are really saying, “We are comfortable with this approach; this is our preference; don’t change the status quo.” James calls this wisdom from below. Such earthly wisdom is often based upon envy, self-ambition, or personal preference.
When we decide to follow “wisdom from above,” things begin to change—not just for our own benefit but for that of our whole community. This kind of wisdom considers others; it shows respect and listens willingly. Wisdom from above recognizes that it is not about us; it is about God’s will. Wisdom is not about receiving recognition but giving honor and glory to God in everything.
James encourages our awareness of motives behind our arguments. He invites us to choose the type of guidance we will follow: earthly wisdom or heavenly wisdom.
God, guide us as we seek to follow your wisdom in our lives and our communities. Amen.
Proverbs describes the noble wife and sets a standard that can seem impossible. This woman is capable and respected but also generous and wise. She serves but is not weak. Is she a “superwoman,” and do all women need to be “superwomen”? No, she is noble because she follows the counsel of the psalmist and is deeply rooted in the teachings of God. Therefore, she sets a standard for everyone to emulate, not just women. James, another teacher of wisdom, encourages believers to show these same characteristics by following the wisdom given by God. In Mark the disciples display a lack of wisdom by arguing over who is the greatest. Jesus reminds them that greatness in God’s eyes comes through service, not through seeking recognition.
• Read Proverbs 31:10-31. How have societal expectations shaped your life? How do you allow them to shape the ways you interact with others?
• Read Psalm 1. When have you had to choose between wickedness and righteousness? What influenced your choice?
• Read James 3:13–4:3, 7-8a. You can choose the way you react to conflict. How can facing your internal struggles help you deal with external conflict?
• Read Mark 9:30-37. With what are you too preoccupied? How do your personal worries constrain your perspective?
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