“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” (James 3:13, ESV)
When I moved to New Hampshire from Savannah Georgia, it was in March. While the winters were not over in March, the snow-falls were slight by New Hampshire standards, usually 12 inches or less. We lived in a rental unit for three months and then moved into a house. It was June and the summer was beautiful. In November our next-door neighbor drove some green fence stakes into the ground along the road at the edge of his property with reflectors on the top. They stood up about 6 to 8 feet. I was not sure what he was doing, but later I discovered the reason. When it snowed in that area, it sometime came down in blizzard fashion with up to two feet or even more.
The amount of snow that came down was something that I had not seen, even when I lived outside of Chicago. One year in New Hampshire, we had an accumulation of over 80 inches of snow. Yet, the amount of snow was not the worst. The snowplows would pile this stuff up in mounds. My boy and I shoveled the driveway and that year, we had mounds of snow at the end of our driveway that were over 8 feet tall. Moreover, the snowplows had piled up snow on each side of the road nearly as high. So high that you could not tell where the property line and the road ended. As I looked up and down the street, I could see the reflectors on my neighbor’s property. He had wisdom regarding the winters in New Hampshire and I did not.
James now moves from a discussion regarding the power of the tongue to the necessity of wisdom. Here he stated, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” Here, wisdom, shophos, refers to that quality of dealing with the issues of life in the best possible way. Understanding, epistemon, refers to one endued with knowledge (Strong 1990). Many people can have knowledge but lack wisdom. This often happens with people right out of college who know a lot, but struggle to apply what they know. Wisdom puts feet on knowledge. Both go hand in hand. My neighbor had wisdom regarding the winters in New Hampshire. He had the knowledge of the issue of the large snowfalls but also enacted an exact method for dealing with it.
With regards to the Christian life, James is telling his readers that their wisdom and understanding must be seen by others in good conduct that will result in good works. The knowledge of which he writes, is the understanding of God’s will as He has revealed in the Scriptures and as illuminated by the Holy Spirit. This understanding must be put to practice in our various areas of life. This is vital for our lifestyle witness to the unbelieving world. People should see us in action and see a marked difference in the wisdom of believers as opposed to the unbelieving world, for our good conduct will bring glory to God.
One more thought on this is that we who have believed are continuously growing in this wisdom. This happens by the Spirit’s work of sanctification. As we seek God, grow in the knowledge of His word, and encounter life’s issues, we will also grow in wisdom. All who believe are in this process of continuously growing in Christlikeness.