Have you ever been around someone who had all the answers? Regardless of subject, they not only could speak to it, but also could tell you how and why the subject did whatever it did to make it worth talking about. Additionally, these “gifted individuals” are capable of making everyone else in the conversation struggle to resist the urge to roll their eyes. To a much lesser degree, this is just being a good “conversationalist”, but to the degree I reference here, it’s a know-it-all from whom most of us would rather find a polite (or maybe not-so-polite!) way of excusing ourselves.
In James 3:13, James just might have been dealing with such people. The text doesn’t say, but can you hear this in these sentences:“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
By using the [Greek] words he does for “wise and understanding”, James implies he is talking to the same leaders/teachers he addresses earlier in the chapter. He reframes the words of the Psalmist, “Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the LORD” (Psalm 107:43). It is not enough to believe the right things; they must be put into action. This is not a new concept—in James or the Scriptures. James already addressed this in 2:14-26 and you can’t read too far into the Old Testament before you realize belief is not enough to demonstrate righteousness. As James said, “even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19b).
If one is wise and understanding, it should be shown by “their good life”. More than knowledge, but real “know-how” should mark their lives. When I was a kid, I read a lot about cars. I understood things like each cylinder in an engine had valves and what those parts did. I knew, for example, that a “sixteen valve” engine was a four cylinder engine. I proudly announced to my dad one day (who is very mechanically inclined and did most of the engine repairs on his cars), “I know as much about engines as you do.” His response was gracious, “you do, huh?”
Looking back, I laugh hysterically. What did a ten-year old know about cars? But that’s not my point. My point is: no matter how much I read about engines, I could not actually do anything to improve an ailing car. I really didn’t know enough to tell someone else how to do anything to improve an ailing car.
Think about what James is saying here (in James 3:13). Knowledge residing in our heads doesn’t do anyone any good. Wisdom—true wisdom—is seen in our lives. Flip through your mental Rolodex of friends. When you need counsel, which ones do you turn to? I don’t mean counsel like, “should I buy these shoes”, I mean real counsel—when life turns sour. Is it the know-it-all? Or is it the “do-it-all”—that person who lives their life in a way that you know their wisdom is from a life spent with the Lord?
One quick look at the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) reveals one inescapable truth: they are all visible to those watching. Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control: these are internal inspirations resulting in external expressions.
Wisdom in the Lord is action for the Lord. As such, let us perform our “deeds…in the humility that comes from wisdom.”