In the last blog, we noted that James is very concerned that his readers ‘walk the walk’, so to speak. That they actually live out their convictions. As far as James is concerned, they cannot simply ‘claim to have faith’, and yet, not have any works. It doesn’t work that way. Such ‘faith’ is not faith. Rather, true faith results in works. And so, James wants his readers to have works. To have consistency between what they profess and how they live.
Indeed, he wants them to be perfect. “Let endurance have its full effect, in order that you might be perfect and compete, lacking in nothing.” (1:3) James wants them not to stumble in what they say, because when they achieve that, they will be “perfect.” (3:2) James calls them to perfection.
But, perfection is a bit of an ask. It’s tall order, don’t you think, James?
Elsewhere James says, “We all stumble in many ways.” (3:2) And so, some people think that James is just speaking in hyperbole (exaggerating for dramatic effect) when he calls people to perfection. But, I think we need to take James words seriously. We need to wrestle with the fact that perfection is what James calls us to. And, thankfully, James has a secret for us.
Enter wisdom. Wisdom is James’ key to attaining perfection
“If you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic… But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:14-15, 17)
You see: wisdom that comes from heaven is pure, peaceful, considerate, submissive, merciful, does not show favouritism and sincere. But those who harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in their hearts do not possess the wisdom that comes from heaven, rather, their so-called ‘wisdom’ is earthly, unspiritual and demonic. Therefore, the difference between a person who claims to have faith and the one who has works, is wisdom. The difference between the one who is double-minded and the one who is singly devoted to God, is wisdom. True wisdom. Wisdom is the secret to perfection and completion. Wisdom is pathway to consistency between our faith and our works.
But what is wisdom? And how can I get it?
Wisdom enables us to see the big picture. In chapter 1, James commands those who are experiencing various trials to count it all joy (v. 2). Now, why would someone rejoice because of a trial? Because they understand that trials work to strip them of the things that they are tempted to trust in and force them to trust in the only thing that never changes, the Father of lights (1:17). They understand that there is a “Lawgiver and a Judge” (4:12). They understand that “the Lord is coming” (5:7) and that “the Judge is at the door” (5:9). They understand that a judgement is coming. They understand that this world is not all there is. That’s why someone would rejoice because of a trial. Because they see the big picture. And the big picture changes everything! They are able to rejoice, even in the midst of a trial, because they have wisdom.
How can we get this wisdom? James says, “If anyone of you lacks wisdom, let them ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (1:5). If you want to be able to go through life, not getting caught up in all the things of this world. If you want to live your life with this big picture in mind. Then just ask, and it will be given to you.