What is wisdom? It dwells with God, meaning that our wisdom depends upon our relationship with Him. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10). The phrase “fear of the Lord” signifies reverence, worship, and obedience. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding” (Ps. 111:10).
Mature faith, the result of persevering through trials and troubles, does good deeds, and these good deeds should be “done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (v. 13). There are two kinds of wisdom. One is worldly and demonic (vv. 14–16). It’s characterized by bitter envy, selfish ambition, pride, and self-deception or suppression of the truth. The consequences are “disorder and every evil practice.” In other words, this sinful kind of “wisdom” will be clearly revealed by how it does things and what happens as a result (as in the story of Ananias and Sapphira; see Acts 5:1–11). Just as living faith is evident by its actions, so also the source of worldly wisdom is revealed by its qualities and outcomes.
The second kind of wisdom is godly and heavenly (vv. 17–18). The contrast couldn’t be greater! James described it as “first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate [or gentle], submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” “Submissive” here means mature wisdom does not cling stubbornly to one’s own opinions but is “open to reason” and “able to be persuaded.” “Impartial” reminds us that God does not show favoritism.
The result of this kind of wisdom is a “harvest of righteousness.” Even better, this wisdom, as James has already told us, is available as a gift from our generous God (1:5, 17).
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