James 3:13-18 talks a lot about practical living and about wisdom. James starts this section by saying that if we are wise and understanding, this will be seen by the way we live (something of a recurring theme by now!) Wisdom and understanding are often linked together in poetical parallelism (see Prov 2:6, Prov 3:13) in the Bible. The Wisdom writings (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon) are thus named because they offer us insights into right and godly living. Wisdom has been defined as ‘applied knowledge’; it is not just knowing something or having information about something but knowing what to do in specific situations. James clearly contrasts earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom in this section.

Biblical wisdom shows us how to live God’s way, which arises from having correct reasoning and thought patterns which shape our behaviour (rather than simply having right behaviour without any understanding). Rom 12:2 tells us not to conform to the pattern of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Transformation (the same word that is used to describe Christ’s transfiguration) means being changed into another form; renewal is the same word used in building projects where total renovation is required.

Wisdom arises from having our hearts and minds set on the things of God (see Col 3:1-3). We used to walk and think in certain ways, but God now wants us to walk and think His ways. Biblical wisdom seeks to elevate God (earthly wisdom is full of bitter envy and selfish ambition) and has definite characteristics that reflect God’s character (after all, Jesus is described as ‘the wisdom of God’ (1 Cor 1:24)). These characteristics are that it is “first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

Just as James has reminded us that our speech shows us our hearts, so our lives will reflect whether we are driven by earthly wisdom (which ultimately leads to disorder and every evil practice) or by heavenly wisdom. “The fruit shows the root,” as Garry reminded us. If we want to live wisely, we need to obey Col 3:16: “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” The Wisdom writings can give us clear guidance about how to live wisely before God, showing us the paths of wisdom and the ways of folly. In all of this, we have to look within to find out what is motivating us and being careful not to harbour wrong thinking that will ultimately taint our walk with God.