I write this days after the horrible events in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, a day filled with sinful rebellion, violence, and tragedy which is but yet another horrific event added to so many similar days of unrest, rioting, anger, and viciousness which have taken place last year. The times in which we live are disturbing. A pandemic which has brought about many deaths and grief, economic and financial ruin and hardship for many, dissatisfaction with the reactions of many who are in positions of governmental power, outrage and distress over racial tensions and perceived police injustice, concern and indignation of the results of elections which many understand to be unjust and fraudulent, and fear and anger over what many believe and profess to be serious changes to our freedoms which are said to be coming soon…all of this has contributed to the violence in our cities’ streets and even within the halls of Congress itself.
How should Christians respond to all of this? How should we live our lives during times like these? In asking these questions, I am reminded that Christians have been through times of societal turmoil before. Paul was divinely inspired to give “judgment” (gnome, advice) about whether it was wise to marry in light of the “present distress” currently being experienced by the Corinthian saints (1 Cor. 7:25-40), that “distress” likely being persecution. Inspiration inherently shows that what Paul wrote here ultimately came from God (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16) and yet he repeatedly stressed that what he was saying was “no command from the Lord” (v. 25), not meant “to lay any restraint upon you” (v. 35), and it would be “no sin” to disregard his counsel and marry anyway (v. 36). Yet this divinely inspired advice was given to help the Corinthian Christians determine between a choice which was “well,” and one which was “even better” and would make them “happier” under the present circumstances which were causing them much distress (vs. 38, 40).
I have heard several of my brothers and sisters in Christ recently wish that God could directly give them advice about how to best react to all that is happening in our society these days. “How I wish I were as wise as God!” has been commonly declared in face-to-face and online conversations. I understand the desire. I’ve wished for it myself. As God directed through James, I and many other saints have prayed for it (James 1:5-8). We should be grateful that we have his promise in that passage that to the Christian who asks with faith wisdom is given by God “generously…without reproach.”
Undoubtedly God gives us wisdom providentially through lessons learned via mistakes we’ve made in life (cf. Heb. 12:5-13). I’ve seen a couple of interviews with rioters who are now under arrest, facing termination from their employment, and stating as one did, “This was the worst decision I’ve ever made.” We can learn from mistakes.
However, God also gives us wisdom through his inspired Word. As the Psalmist wrote, “Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts” (Ps. 119:98-100). We can garner wisdom from the entire Bible. The purpose of the book of Proverbs is to give wisdom to its readers (Prov. 1:1-9, 20-33; 2:1-22). I encourage you to take time every day to thoughtfully mediate upon Proverbs; you won’t regret it.
However, in light of the times of violence and fear combined with the lack of peace in our culture today, let us now focus our attention on the attributes manifested by those with “wisdom from above” (James 3:13-18). Note first that those who are “wise and understanding among you” will be known for their “good conduct” (v. 13). Wisdom that comes from God prompts one to speak and act in ways that one’s parents likely taught them were proper when they were children. Perhaps it would do us well to “examine ourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5) and see if how we react to what is on the news and how we interact with those with whom we disagree would be considered by us to be appropriate conduct if our children or grandchildren conducted themselves in the exact same way.
Also note that James speaks of “the meekness of wisdom” (v. 13) and contrasts it with “bitter jealousy,” “selfish ambition,” “boast(ing),” and being “false to the truth” (v. 14). The latter is specifically cited as “not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (v. 15). Its end result will be even more of what is tearing our country apart: “disorder and every vile practice” (v. 16).
Friends, how meek and humble are you? Do you feel that you have to “weigh in” with your thoughts on everything? If someone disagrees with you, do you feel the need to put them in their place? How is that evidence that you have God’s wisdom? Are you “bitter”? Can you find nothing good in your life or in our country or world because all you focus on is the bad news which makes you more and more upset? Do you have “jealousy and selfish ambition”? In other words, is how you want things to be in this country, or in Washington, or in your home or job the most important thing, with everything else, even the law, taking a distant second? Do you “boast”? Are you proud? Do you think you have it all figured out? Is it inconceivable that you would be wrong in any way about how you see what’s going on in the world today? If so, it’s likely that in the name of pride you are being “false to the truth” concerning anything that might contradict your mistaken perception.
James then describes “the wisdom from above” as “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (v. 17). To see things wisely today, we must first work to make ourselves penitently pure (1 John 1:7-9). All that matters to us is what would promote peace rather than violence or strife in everything (Matt. 5:9). Our first inclination at all times would be to speak and act gently with all and about all, even those whom we disapprove (Prov. 15:1; Tit. 3:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:13-17). We must be known for our reasonableness rather than our tendency to believe every conspiracy theory that sounds good to what we wish would occur (cf. Is. 8:11-13). We must also be known for our mercy and the continual showing of every facet of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Matt. 5:7; Gal. 5:22-23). Everyone must also clearly see our impartiality, our desire to “test everything” so we only “hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21) instead of having one standard for those whom we like and another for those whom we dislike (1 Tim. 5:21; James 4:8). In like manner, our sincerity — our lack of hypocrisy, our genuineness, our strong desire to “abhor what is evil” and “hold fast to what is good” no matter where that evil or good may be (cf. Rom. 12:9) — must be continually evident.
What is the result of having this “wisdom from above”? God promises, “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (v. 18). Christians, we will contribute to the solutions of our society’s ills instead of adding to them. This is how we let our light shine and open doors for the gospel, the real need of our country. May God give us his wisdom to help us achieve this worthwhile goal!