Remember, this letter is concerned for the heart of the church. So this week we look at the inner part of us, and how that shapes what we say/do. James hits this by talking about two kinds of wisdom and which one we buy into. The first is earthly wisdom, the kind that focuses on self, on “getting mine”. Nowadays some of us call that street smarts or whatever else – this idea that we gotta watch out for ourselves, ‘cause no one else will, we gotta survive, build our own destiny, etc. Anybody who knows anything knows that.
It’s a cut-throat way of life. Where does it come from? Why is it so common to humankind? To me, this wisdom of the world attitude is most present in people who’d say they’ve been through the school of “hard knocks.” Just listen to little orphan Annie in the video, for instance:
Orphans know about hard knocks. Kids from the street know about learning quick, wising up, and taking care of themselves. But, really, isn’t that all of us sometime? Maybe some more than others, but however we grew up or whatever circumstances we’re in now, haven’t we all taken some knocks? And isn’t it easy to think, “it’s time I start fending for myself”? Well maybe that’s the first kind of wisdom, the world’s wisdom, and James says that when folks buy into it, it’s the root of most of our envy/ambition. And it causes strife in the fellowship when everybody’s looking out for number one.
But the other kind is heavenly wisdom, Godly wisdom that puts self last and nurtures those around us. A way of life that trusts and hopes for better, that allows us to be vulnerable to God and each other. Maybe this kind of wisdom says, “however many knocks I’ve had, I still know God is good and God loves me and I can’t be or do my best all on my own”? To James, the second kind of wisdom nurtures our faith, which nurtures our action, which then nurtures true wisdom even more…and so on.
So at any given moment, which brand of wisdom do we buy into? And do we even know it? Do we know what basic assumptions are shaping our thoughts, and then our actions, the lives of those right next to us, and even our faith?