William James Sidis was born in 1898 with an IQ of 250. He could read by the age of 2 and was composing original works in French by age 4. At age 12, he entered Harvard University in a program for gifted students. However, Sidis lived the remainder of his life quietly in a series of obscure mechanical jobs. Newspapers reported that the boy genius “did not want to think.” Some say Sidis’s retreat from public attention was intentional—he wanted to live a normal life.
James begins this section by asking a rhetorical question: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (v. 13). The passage goes on to expound on this challenging question, for who among us would go so far as to label themselves as a “genius” like Sidis or “wise” according to James?
It is important to note, though, that James is distinguishing between two different types of wisdom: earthly and heavenly. Earthly wisdom is often associated with qualities like mental ability. In Scripture, the “wise” (from the Greek word sophia) were often teachers.
Intellectual ability, in and of itself, is of course not inherently evil. But relying on our own intelligence, uninformed by God, can lead to “selfish ambition” and “bitter envy” (v. 14). James warns that such so–called “wisdom” is not from God, but rather is earthly and unspiritual (v. 15).
Heavenly wisdom distinguishes itself by a discretion and sensitivity that comes from God. It is distinguished by a life well lived. It has an attitude of humility (v. 13). Such wise people will surely know how to control their tongue (as noted earlier in this chapter). They will not boast (v. 14).
A host of positive qualities follow true heavenly wisdom. It is pure. The word pure here denotes purity of heart and intent. It arises from the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. True wisdom loves peace. It is “considerate, submissive, full of mercy, and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (v. 17). This wisdom does not require a high IQ or a great SAT score. It comes from a rebirth of our hearts and spirit to a life truly taken captive by God.
It is easy to turn to “smart” friends to solve problems or to rely on our own know–how. We have a tendency to solve our problems on our own. Today’s passage encourages us to turn to the only source of true wisdom: God. On this day of Thanksgiving, pray to the God of all wisdom. Thank Him for His heavenly wisdom that seeks truth and promotes peace. Thank Him for His help in all times of need.