What is true wisdom? How is it defined? Is wisdom a matter of Mensa memberships, IQ scores, and success that is determined by wealth, achievement, and status? Or is wisdom something else…perhaps a combination of natural intelligence, the ability to learn, and the capacity to show compassion to others?
In other words, who is wiser…Elon Musk, the creator of Tesla and SpaceX, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, or Mother Teresa, who spent her life in poverty ministering to the sick and poor of Calcutta?
Merriam-Webster defines wisdom as “having the ability to discern inner qualities and relationships; having insight and good sense; and having good judgment.” Notice that this definition has nothing to do with IQ scores, economic achievement, or innovation.
The book of James is a fascinating exploration of the subject of wisdom. It becomes clear that God defines wisdom much differently than the world defines it.
James 3:13-18 (Common English Bible)
13 Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom.
Immediately we see that worldly wisdom falls short of this standard. James made a deliberate connection between being wise and having a humble lifestyle.
14 However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic.
That last sentence surely catches our attention. James delineated the difference between wisdom from above and wisdom of the earth, which he called demonic. That’s bold! Perhaps this is a straightforward matter of “considering the source.” Those who live, work, and strive for wealth in a state of separation from God cannot hope to achieve the peaceful, gentle, and genuine wisdom that comes from heaven:
16 Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. 17 What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine.
When we seek wisdom from above, it leads us to places of justice and peace. Those who have employed their intelligence for sheer profit and gain will often sell their soul, or at least their product, to the highest bidder. When wealth is the goal of wisdom, people on the lower economic spectrum are left behind. The poor will never enjoy a Tesla or a ride in space. Those who toil their lives away working for Amazon are underpaid and desperately overworked. But the people who received the wise counsel and ministrations of Mother Teresa, though they were the poorest of the poor, became the richest in the world because she gave them God. Mother Teresa sowed seeds of justice in an unfair world with her acts of humility and goodness. That is true wisdom.
18 Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.
Are you an example of wisdom that comes from above? How will you pass it along to others? True wisdom, according to James, is revealed in acts of mercy, justice, peace, and fairness. Go and share the wisdom of Mother Teresa with someone today.
Sow Seeds of Peace by Kathy Schumacher