“Who Is Wise and Understanding Among You?”
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show out of his fine conduct his works with a mildness that belongs to wisdom.”—JAS. 3:13.
WHOM do you think of as truly wise? Perhaps your parents, an aged man, or maybe a college professor? Your view of who is wise may be influenced by your background and circumstances. However, God’s servants are primarily interested in his viewpoint.
2 Not all whom the world considers wise are truly wise in God’s eyes. For example, Job spoke to men who viewed themselves as speaking words of wisdom, but he concluded: “I do not find anyone wise among you.” (Job 17:10) As to some who rejected the knowledge of God, the apostle Paul wrote: “Although asserting they were wise, they became foolish.” (Rom. 1:22) And through the prophet Isaiah, Jehovah himself said pointedly: “Woe to those wise in their own eyes.”—Isa. 5:21.
3 Clearly, we need to determine what makes one truly wise and thus a recipient of God’s favor. Proverbs 9:10 offers us this insight: “The fear of Jehovah is the start of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Most Holy One is what understanding is.” The wise must have a proper fear of God and a respect for his standards. However, more is needed than just intellectual acceptance of God’s existence and ways. The disciple James stimulates our thinking about this. (Read James 3:13.) Notice the expression: “Let him show out of his fine conduct his works.” True wisdom should be seen in what you do and say every day.
4 True wisdom involves exercising sound judgment and applying knowledge and understanding in a successful way. What actions will reveal that we possess such wisdom? James lists a number of things that will be evident in the actions of those who are wise.* What did he say that can help us to have good relations with fellow believers, as well as with people outside the congregation?
Actions Identify the Truly Wise
5 It merits repeating that James tied wisdom to fine conduct. Because the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom, a wise person strives to conduct himself in harmony with God’s ways and standards. We are not born with godly wisdom. Still, we can gain it by regular Bible study and meditation. These will help us to do what Ephesians 5:1 urges: “Become imitators of God.” The more we conduct ourselves in harmony with Jehovah’s personality, the more we will display wisdom in our actions. Jehovah’s ways are vastly superior to those of humans. (Isa. 55:8, 9) So as we copy Jehovah’s way of doing things, outsiders will see that there is something different about us.
6 James shows that one way to be like Jehovah is to have “a mildness that belongs to wisdom.” Although mildness involves being gentle, at the same time a Christian can have strength of character, which helps him to act in a balanced way. Though limitless in strength, God is mild, and we are not afraid to approach him. God’s Son reflected his Father’s mildness so well that he could say: “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am mild-tempered and lowly in heart, and you will find refreshment for your souls.”—Matt. 11:28, 29; Phil. 2:5-8.
7 The Bible tells of others who were outstanding in mildness, or meekness. Moses was one. He had great responsibility, yet he is described as “by far the meekest of all the men who were upon the surface of the ground.” (Num. 11:29; 12:3) And recall the strength that Jehovah gave Moses to carry out His will. Jehovah was pleased to use mild individuals to fulfill his purpose.
8 Clearly, it is possible for imperfect humans to display the “mildness that belongs to wisdom.” What about us? How can we improve in showing this quality? Mildness is part of the fruitage of Jehovah’s holy spirit. (Gal. 5:22, 23) We can pray for his spirit and consciously exert effort to display its fruitage, trusting that God will help us to improve in showing mildness. We find solid motivation to do so in the psalmist’s assurance: “[God] will teach the meek ones his way.”—Ps. 25:9.
9 Nevertheless, it may take real effort to improve in this area. Because of our background, some of us may not be inclined to be mild. Moreover, people around us may encourage an opposite viewpoint, saying that a person has to “fight fire with fire.” However, is this really wise? If a small fire broke out in your house, would you douse it with oil or with cool water? Pouring oil on the fire would make matters worse, whereas dousing it with cool water would likely bring the desired result. Likewise, the Bible counsels us: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.” (Prov. 15:1, 18) The next time irritations arise, either inside or outside the congregation, can we see how we can show true wisdom by reacting in a mild way?—2 Tim. 2:24.
10 As noted above, many who are influenced by the spirit of the world are far from gentle, peaceful, and calm. Rather, we find harsh and arrogant people in abundance. James was aware of this, and he gave warnings so that individuals in the congregation could avoid being corrupted by such a spirit. What more can we learn from the counsel he gave?
Characteristics of the Unwise
11 James wrote very frankly about characteristics that are in direct conflict with godly wisdom. (Read James 3:14.) Jealousy and contentiousness are fleshly traits, not spiritual ones. Consider what occurs when fleshly thinking prevails. Six “Christian” groups control parts of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, supposedly built where Jesus was put to death and buried. Their relationship has been one of ongoing contention. In 2006, Time magazine told of an earlier situation when monks there “brawled for hours, . . . clubbing each other with giant candlestick holders.” So great is their distrust of one another that the key to the church is entrusted to a Muslim.
12 Such extreme displays of contentiousness should certainly not be found in the true Christian congregation. Nevertheless, imperfections have at times caused some to manifest a stubbornness for their own views. That could lead to a degree of quarreling and strife. The apostle Paul noticed this in the congregation at Corinth, so he wrote: “Whereas there are jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly and are you not walking as men do?” (1 Cor. 3:3) That sad situation did exist for a time in this congregation in the first century. Therefore, we need to be on guard that such a spirit does not enter a congregation today.
13 How could such a spirit creep in? It could begin in small ways. For example, when a Kingdom Hall is being built, differences of opinion might arise as to how things should be done. One brother could become contentious if his suggestion is not accepted, perhaps becoming vocal in his criticism of decisions made. He may even refuse to do any further work on the project! One acting that way would be forgetting that accomplishing a task involving the congregation usually depends more on the peaceful spirit of the congregation than on the specific method used. A mild spirit is what Jehovah will bless, not contentiousness.—1 Tim. 6:4, 5.
14 Another example might be if elders in a congregation observe that one elder, though having served for some years, now clearly does not meet the Scriptural qualifications. Noting that the brother has received specific counsel in the past but has failed to improve, the visiting circuit overseer agrees and joins in the recommendation that he be deleted as an elder. How will he view that? Will he accept the elders’ unanimous conclusion and Scriptural counsel in a spirit of humility and mildness and be determined to meet the Scriptural qualifications so that he might serve again? Or will he harbor resentment and jealousy over no longer having the privilege that he once had? Why would a brother act as if he qualified as an older man when in reality he did not? How much wiser it would be to show humility and be understanding!
15 Granted, there are other ways that a similar attitude could appear. But whatever situation develops, we must work to avoid such traits. (Read James 3:15, 16.) The disciple James called such attitudes “earthly” because they are fleshly, devoid of spirituality. They are “animal” in that they are the product of fleshly inclinations, similar to characteristics of unreasoning creatures. Such attitudes are “demonic,” for they reflect the disposition of God’s spirit enemies. How unfitting for a Christian to display those characteristics!
16 Each member of the congregation would do well to make a self-examination and work to eliminate such traits. As teachers in the congregation, overseers should be conscious of the need to rid themselves of negative attitudes. It is not easy to succeed in this because of our imperfection and the influence of this world. Doing so might be likened to trying to climb a muddy, slippery slope. Without something to hold on to, we could just slide backward. However, with a firm grip on the counsel found in the Bible, as well as with the help offered by God’s earth-wide congregation, we can move forward.—Ps. 73:23, 24.
Qualities That the Wise Seek to Display
17 Read James 3:17. We can benefit by considering some of the qualities that come from displaying “the wisdom from above.” Being chaste involves being pure and undefiled in our actions and motives. We need to reject evil things immediately. Doing so should be an automatic reaction. Perhaps you have had a doctor use a reflex hammer to tap the tendon just below your kneecap. Your leg reflexively straightens with a kick. It is automatic; you do not have to think about it. It should be similar when we are tempted to do evil. Our chasteness and Bible-trained conscience should reflexively move us to reject what is bad. (Rom. 12:9) The Bible provides examples of those who reacted in this way, such as Joseph and Jesus.—Gen. 39:7-9; Matt. 4:8-10.
18 Divine wisdom requires that we also be peaceable. This involves our avoiding aggressiveness, a belligerent attitude, or actions that would disrupt peace. James expands on this point when he says: “The fruit of righteousness has its seed sown under peaceful conditions for those who are making peace.” (Jas. 3:18) Notice the expression “making peace.” In the congregation, are we known as peacemakers or as peacebreakers? Do we frequently have differences or disagreements with others, being easily offended or offending others? Do we insist that others accept us as we are, or do we humbly work to eliminate personality traits that others rightly find offensive? Are we known to go out of our way to promote peace, being quick to forgive and putting errors behind us? Honest self-examination can help us to see if we need to improve in displaying divine wisdom in this regard.
19 James included being reasonable in the description of what reflects the wisdom from above. Are we known for being inclined to give in to others when no Scriptural principle is involved, not being quick to insist that our own personal standards be followed? Do we have a reputation for being gentle and easy to talk to? These are indications that we have learned to be reasonable.
20 What delightful conditions can exist in a congregation as brothers and sisters work at displaying ever more the godly qualities about which James wrote! (Ps. 133:1-3) Being mild, peaceable, and reasonable with one another will surely result in improved relationships and will make it evident that we have “the wisdom from above.” We will next look at how learning to view others as Jehovah does can help us in this regard.
The context indicates that James had first in mind the older men, or “teachers,” of the congregation. (Jas. 3:1) These men should certainly be examples in displaying godly wisdom, yet all of us can learn from his counsel.
Can You Explain?
• What makes a Christian truly wise?
• How can we improve in showing godly wisdom?
• What characteristics are seen in those who do not display “the wisdom from above”?
• What qualities are you determined to cultivate even more?
1, 2. What can be said about many who are considered wise?
3, 4. For one to be truly wise, what is required?
5. How will a truly wise person conduct himself?
6. Why is mildness evidence of godliness, and what does this quality involve?
7. Why can we look to Moses as a good example of mildness?
8. How can imperfect people display the “mildness that belongs to wisdom”?
9, 10. What effort is needed for us to display godly mildness, and why?
11. What characteristics are in conflict with godly wisdom?
12. When wisdom is lacking, what might happen?
13, 14. Give examples of how a fleshly spirit might be shown.
15. Why do you feel that the inspired counsel of James 3:15, 16 is so important?
16. What adjustments may we need to make, and how can we succeed in doing so?
17. How do the wise usually react when confronted with evil?
18. What does it mean (a) to be peaceable? (b) to be a peacemaker?
19. How does one come to be known as a reasonable person?
20. What will result as we manifest the godly qualities just discussed?
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How could strife creep in today?
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Is it your automatic reaction to reject evil?