A God Kind of Wisdom

Over the weekend, I explored with my students the ideas expressed in James 3:13-18 of "wisdom." Isn't interesting how the writer James turns on its head our ideas of being wise, smart, intelligent, and SUCCESSFUL. In our day, success has been directly linked to wisdom. The better a business or the bigger a church or the stronger a government, the more we think that such a place is wise. Indeed, such things are successful in this world's system. Bigger, better, and faster are the ways of this world. To succeed in this world, you must be big and fast and better than the next guy. Godly wisdom was not designed for such a world. Godly wisdom has in mind another world-- a place where the the Lord's will is done on Earth as it is in heaven. This wisdom heals people-- it is peace filled, mercy filled, considerate filled, submissive filled, humility filled, etc. It doesn't necessarily lead towards riches, glory, possessions, place, and power. It does not seek to make you successful for this world, but for another world. However, let's not make the mistake to think that this other world is the world of heaven. Indeed to quote the Lord's prayer again, "May your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven." The goal is to make this Earth, this place we reside, into that other world. That world cannot happen by force like some Christians view the Second Coming. That would be worldly wisdom or this current worlds idea of bringing order. That is about having more power than the other guy. Indeed, if we listen to James and if we listen to Jesus, this world will change because of the power of God's story-- the one that says that humility and love is better than power and violence.


  1. In our day, success has been directly linked to wisdom.

    Weren't these two concepts closely linked in Solomon's proverbs? I know that the proverbs aren't meant to be interpreted literally, but it does seem that there's at least an indirect link between wisdom and sucess.

  2. proverbs is about living the good life and what one should do in order to do this. So yes proverbs is about being successful. Its wisdom for life.

  3. Julie, great question. I think you have a great insight here. I spent all of last year at a Christian highschool teaching only the book of Proverbs. It is a book all about linking wisdom and success. However, I think that its idea of success is very different than the idea of success presented by American culture. For example, Proverbs 8:10-16. This Proverb says that God's instruction is to be sought after rather than gold. Also, the success of a ruler/king is not about his/her status. Instead it is about making just laws and righteous judgments. Indeed, if rulers acted this out, we would begin to create the kingdom of God on Earth. At least thats my opinion. I would love to hear your thoughts about this Julie.

  4. I see what you're saying, especially with regard to American culture- it's so easy to welcome those cultural concepts in our congregations. My church is (mostly low income) Pentecostal, and the parishioners are enamored with folks like Creflo A Dollar and other prosperity teachers, who link Proverb's words on sucess to their promises that anything asked for in faith will be granted. (United Church of the Great and Glorious Vending Machine?)

    So, I hear you, but I wonder how to communicate this to the kids in my youth group: 4th-12th grades. Wisdom does lead to success, except that sucess may not mean 'sucess' because we have to count events such as Stephen's martyrdom as sucess stories... that's a confusing concept, for kids still learning to handle abstract thought. It's quite a jump for them to go from 'O Holy Vending Machine' to 'God will grant me the wisdom to make just decisions that might completely destroy what the world considers to be my life.'

    I love their complete trust in God- they absolutely believe that God is their Jehovah Jireh. I want them to see that 'God has plans to prosper you' does not refer to their bank accounts. But... their understanding of God's provision is so closely entangled with their expectation that God will shower them with money that I don't know how to teach against one without damaging the other- it's like a cancer that has twined itself through the tissue it feeds off.

  5. Brian McLaren speaks towards this idea in his book Generous Orthodox on pages 179-181. In summary what he says is that in being present to God, we can begin to truly enjoy all of His creation. This is true "having." Consumerism leads to the accululation of stuff. Whereas, truly having anything is being content with it as a gift from God that is to be enjoyed and cherished.
    My students can be focused a lot on money and success and having a good life. I am trying to teach them that this is antithetical to the way Jesus lived his life and the story that he wants us to live out. What our students need to know is that everything already belongs to us because all things belong to God. We only use these resources when we need them, not when we want them for our own pleasures.