Pure Wisdom

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Wisdom can be a tricky thing to quantify. When I was researching this sermon I came across all kinds of interesting scientific articles, writings from religious perspectives, and even one how to fake it article. My favorite article had this conclusion about what wisdom was that I would like to share with you.

  • It is uniquely human.
  • It is a form of advanced cognitive and emotional development that is experience-driven.
  • It is a personal quality, albeit rare.
  • It can be learned, increases with age and can be measured.
  • It is probably not enhanced by taking medication. [1]

So, that is what everyone else says, but what does our tradition say? The book of Proverbs is full of references to what wisdom looks and acts like, and still it feels that even during the writing of that book the criteria changed with the circumstances. Proverbs does give us an excellent starting place when it talks about wisdom’s basis in a very important piece of knowledge, the “fear” of the Lord. It is important to note that the translation “fear” is what we call a good try by translators to bring a concept from one culture with no real one word equivalent in another. The word we translate as fear in Proverbs implies much more than simply being afraid. Fear of the Lord in this context is understanding exactly how small you are in a large universe and knowing that God is even bigger than that. Fear of the Lord is knowing that you are trying to live in relationship with the one who spins the stars and planets into their orbits. Proverbs 1:7 might be more helpfully translated as “Reverential submission to the reality of your own insignificance and powerlessness when faced with the awesome power and wonder of God is the beginning of knowledge.” That doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as well though. What has struck me as I studied wisdom in the scriptures is that wisdom is not quantified by specific actions as much as the results of actions. What I am saying is that wisdom can only be recognized by others after the fact, and often doesn’t seem to make sense during a time of decision making. With that as the biblical context it seems that in today’s scripture James is somehow speaking directly to our culture.

13Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

People around us are scrambling left and right to find wisdom to guide them. Even in Christian bookstores there are stacks of books on tapping in to the wisdom of God with specific steps you can take to get specific results. Who is wise and understanding among us? Whose good life displays gentleness? It is interesting to note that James is connecting gentleness with wisdom implying a cause and effect relationship. In our world it is abrasiveness and biting remarks that get you ahead, not gentle wisdom. James reminds us once again that we live in a world that has twisted the priorities of God’s way of being and doing what is right, a world in which envy and selfish ambition bring you more success in the world than following the path of the cross. Wisdom that puts you ahead of others or glorifies you is not the true wisdom that comes from God. True wisdom is restorative in nature, it brings wholeness and peace and glorifies God. When the point of our wisdom is to say “Hey, look how wise I am! Don’t you wish you had it together like I do?” we are glorifying ourselves and our own accomplishments without acknowledging our brokenness. We distract others from God so that we can receive worship and thus enter into the idolatry of the self.  Now self-idolatry is the rallying cry of the hyper-independent American culture. We have the mythos of the lone ranger going out on their own to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps with no help or advantage from anyone else. Cheating to get ahead is rampant, and we are not immune. When I was in seminary I was the Teacher’s Assistant for the New Testament class and an article came out in the journal of higher education that was submitted by a person who worked for an online service that wrote essays, took tests online for students and even wrote Graduate theses for hire. This person wrote that “I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow.”[2] The professor who I was assisting taught me to look for inconsistencies between work, but reading that article profoundly shocked me. It also helped me to understand that the temptations of life have deep roots in us that must be pulled up to prevent their spread.

If we do not do that interior work of confronting the value systems that lead us into selfish isolation, harshness, and envy; that is when disorder and wickedness flourish. We begin demanding our own way and our own gratification regardless of the consequences, and how many churches have been pulled down from within when the people inside lose track of the gentle wisdom that comes from Christ and his love. This wisdom is first marked by purity. It does not seek to twist or force others to follow it, but seeks instead to point others to God. The impurities of selfish ambition or envy have no part in wisdom, but are opposed by a humble nature. The purity of motivation for employing wisdom comes from no other source than humbling ourselves before God. True wisdom leads to a peaceful resolution and does not rely on the weapons of this world to enforce its will. The peace that passes all understanding comes from dependence on God to protect and sustain us, even in the face of those operating by the false wisdom of “might makes right”. True wisdom is gentle, not harsh or abrasive. We do not need to wound others through misapplied judgment, but must carefully direct each other to the source of holiness and allow Jesus to transform others through the power and love of the Holy Spirit. True wisdom is ready to yield rather than demand an ultimatum because the core of wisdom is the knowledge of the awesome nature of the God whose ways are as far above ours as the stars are over the sea. God’s power is sufficient to overcome the hardest heads and hearts. I mean he changed me and you didn’t he? True wisdom recognizes the infinite mercy of God and seeks to emulate that font of wisdom. We can then look at others, not as means to an end, but as equally beloved of God. Not only that, but we can then begin to admit to our own imperfections and submit them to the transformation of the Holy Spirit. When we are honest about our weakness and powerlessness before God, and display the transformed life that comes from submission to the awesome glory of our loving God then, oh

then our light shall break forth like the dawn, and our healing shall spring up quickly; our vindicator shall go before us, the glory of the Lord shall be our rear guard. 9Then we shall call, and the Lord will answer; we shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If we remove the yoke from among us, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if we offer our food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then our light shall rise in the darkness and our gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide us continually, and satisfy our needs in parched places, and make our bones strong; and we shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. (Isaiah 58:8-11)

How do we get there though? This isn’t easy, but I have a very simple solution that any of us can do: Pray. Do you feel insulted? Pray. Left out? Pray. Rejected? Pray. Fearful? Pray. Do you feel like things are spinning out of control with no anchor in sight? Pray. What would change in each of our lives if our first impulse was to prayer rather than anything else? If we seek to have God’s wisdom we must cultivate God’s presence. Our default response to every situation must be prayer. If we cultivate God’s presence in our lives how can we not have peace in the face of any circumstance, and the peace that comes from dwelling in God’s presence will lead us into righteousness, not because of any inherent goodness, but because we never lose awareness that the Prince of Peace stands beside us through everything that comes our way. Following Jesus is the essence of wisdom and we have a lot to learn from him as we travel our path. As long as we remember our dependence on Christ for wisdom, courage, and transformation, we can then through the righteousness that Christ plants within us reap a harvest that will fill this church to bursting and beyond. Let us begin the practice of God’s presence here where it is easy so that we can be ready to seek and hold to that presence when we leave.


[1] n.p. (2010, May 10). “What Is Wisdom? Experts Define It.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/188170.php.

[2] Dante, Ed (pseud). The Shadow Scholar.  http://chronicle.com/article/article-content/125329/

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One response to “Pure Wisdom

  1. Pingback: Pure Wisdom | ChristianBookBarn.com

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