Count It All Joy: Support for Suffering Saints part 3


If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5) 

Wisdom, in Jewish thought, has an important role in helping people endure trials well and grow to perfection. It is not surprising, therefore, to see James bring it into his discussion at this point.

I hope to show you through this study that wisdom is vital for counting it all joy in trials. To see this clearly, we need to develop a Biblical understanding of wisdom. We will begin by jumping forward a few chapters to 3:13-18 where James expands his thoughts on wisdom.

James begins with a challenge. He invites all those who consider themselves wise to put themselves forward for examination.

Who is wise and understanding among you?

Once the examinees have stepped forward, he introduces his test.

By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

The test of wisdom is works. Much like the wind, we can know wisdom is present by observing its effects. In order for this to be true, there must be some form of cause-effect relationship between wisdom and behaviour.

It seems from the way James continues that not everyone passed the test. But interestingly enough, he doesn't call the failures unwise. Instead he differentiates between two kinds of wisdom; the wisdom from above and the wisdom from below. Read the rest of the passage and notice the connection James makes between wisdom and behaviour.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:14-18) 

Throughout this passage, James doesn’t give us a definition of wisdom. He is more interested in describing what wisdom does. In so doing he makes the connection for us between godly wisdom and godly character. The wisdom from above produces godly character. Although this isn’t a definition, it provides important clues that will help us come to one.

Wisdom’s connection to behaviour shows it is bound up within the motivational complexities of how we function as moral beings. With this in mind, it will be helpful for us to step back from James to explore a wider Biblical understanding of how we work. Consider Jesus' words from Matthew 15:18-19.

But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matthew 15:18-19)

Jesus describes our heart as the governing centre of who we are. You might like to think of it as the control room. All of our thoughts, feelings and actions flow out from it. But if our heart controls what we do, what controls our heart?

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45)

Let us summarise what we have seen so far. In Jesus’ scheme, our treasure controls our heart, which in turn controls our actions, thoughts, emotions etc. (Treasure --> Heart --> Behaviour). James says our wisdom controls our actions, thoughts, emotions, etc. (Wisdom --> Behaviour).

How do you think these two schemes fit together?

I would like to suggest that our wisdom determines our treasure. Wisdom is that faculty of the mind whereby we make value judgments.[1] Since wisdom determines the treasure of our heart, it consequently produces all our actions.

Wisdom --> Treasure -->   Heart -->   Behaviour

We finished the previous study by saying joyfulness in trials can only happen when we value Christ-likeness above everything trials take away. Do you see how wisdom fits into this thought?

Godly wisdom --> Treasuring Christ-likeness --> Joy in Christ-likeness producing trials

Wisdom is essential for joyful endurance of trials. How do we get this all important faculty? We seek it from its source.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

[1] This is why James can speak of two kinds of wisdom. The kind of wisdom one has determines the kind of things one values.

· Wisdom from below --> evil treasure --> evil works

· Wisdom from above --> good treasure --> good works

J.I.Packer defined wisdom this way. ‘Wisdom in Scripture means choosing the best and noblest end at which to aim, along with the most appropriate and effective means to it.’ Concise Theology (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1993) 48. This is consistant with my definition of wisdom as ‘best’ and ‘noblest’ are value judgments that we make through wisdom. Through wisdom we choose the best end because through wisdom the best end is deemed most valuable.

Support for Suffering Saints
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

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