Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. – James 3:13
It’s easy to confuse wisdom and intelligence. If someone has all the right answers and an encyclopedic knowledge of seemingly every subject, and particularly of Bible verses, we may be prone to assume that they are wise—and they very well could be. But equally, they may well not be, for raw intellectual ability and the capacity to retain a vast number of facts don’t necessarily equate with wisdom.
In his epistle, James links wisdom not with knowledge but with good conduct and meekness. The one who is truly wise in God’s sight will act in a way that accords with the humility (Philippians 2:3-4), gentleness (Ephesians 4:2), and joy (1 Thessalonians 5:16) that God asks of His people. God, who needs no counselor (Romans 11:34), doesn’t need us either to impress Him with what we know. Rather, God tells us that what draws His appreciative gaze is the man or woman, girl or boy, who is “humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). James has a memorable phrase for this approach to ourselves and to life: “the meekness of wisdom.”
A genuinely wise person knows how much they don’t know. They know that however much they know, it is only a tiny portion of the vastness of the knowledge that God has. Intelligence marked by wisdom will not be polluted by showy displays of verbosity or railroad others with intellectual vigor. Instead, it will be marked by a humility that always aims to build others up with whatever we have—be that physical, intellectual, spiritual, or emotional strength. Wisdom echoes the prophet Isaiah, who acknowledged, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary” (Isaiah 50:4).
The truly wise maintain a high view of God, a sober view of themselves, and a generous view of other people. How do I know if I have a high view of God? If I am constantly aware of just how much I depend on Him for everything. How will I know if I have a sober view of myself? If I am aware of my own shortcomings and understand that all I have is only what I have received from God—if I am in the habit of pointing away from myself instead of toward myself. How do I know if I have a generous view of other people? If I am routinely building them up instead of cutting them down.
This is the sort of wisdom that pleases God and which the world so desperately needs from you—a gentle wisdom that demonstrates itself in good conduct and consistent meekness. How does this challenge you? How will you pursue living with this true wisdom today?