But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. James 3:17 (NIV)
We sat on roughly hewn marble slabs in the shade of a tree and out of the scorching heat before we climbed the Acropolis in Athens. Our guide made sure we had water with us. Then, she began to tell us the history.
The Parthenon temple on the hill of the Acropolis was built for Athena, the goddess of wisdom. A huge statue in gold and ivory stood in the temple.
“The Greeks believed wisdom came from the head,” she said. The story is Zeus gave birth to Athena from his head after he experienced a terrible headache. She arrived into the world fully grown and clothed in armor.
The Bible, however, talks about a heavenly wisdom—one that comes from God.
Scripture doesn’t deny there is an earthly wisdom, and the apostle Paul knew about these two forms of wisdom when he visited Athens. There, he debated with philosophers—the people who were considered wise and the intellectuals of their time. They loved to discuss ideas with anyone who came to the city and they wanted to hear Paul’s unusual and new ideas.
These men and women invited Paul to speak on Mars Hill with the high council—not far from where I sat and in the shadow of the Acropolis.
Paul talked about the wisdom of the living God manifest in the flesh as Jesus Christ, not the wisdom born from the head of a god, personified in a gold and ivory statue.
Paul told them to pursue God’s wisdom—Jesus Christ.
Some philosophers scoffed at what he said, but others listened, and we should do the same.
From scripture we discover: The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. James 3:17
God came from heaven and became human, as Jesus. We only need to imitate Jesus and his life to have heavenly wisdom.
To be wise is to:
Be peace loving and gentle.
Jesus did not get angry, combative, or defensive even under provocation. The wise person knows when to back down.
Allow discussion and be willing to yield to others.
Jesus listened carefully to the other people. It doesn’t mean we’re swayed and have to agree with everything anyone says, but we are to listen and carefully consider their opinions, and certainly not attack them whether to their face or behind their back.
Demonstrate practical mercy and help others.
Jesus was full of mercy and good deeds. There are many needs in the world and we can’t help everyone, but it’s the attitude behind our actions that is important.
Be wholehearted, straightforward, and sincere.
Jesus did not pretend or playact in order to influence people, but he acted alike toward all. In other words, the wise person is never two-faced.
Pericles, who gave the orders for the Parthenon to be built, is described as a great statesman and orator. He was one of the great scholars of Athens.
He said: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
We can see irony and wisdom in his words because they point, not to an earthly wisdom, but to a wisdom that comes from heaven.
When was the last time you got angry or defensive? I have to admit it was only a few hours ago for myself.
Have you listened lately, without reacting negatively?
Did you overlook an opportunity to help another person because you thought they didn’t really deserve it?
Have you recently smiled and pretended to be happy with or to like the person when underneath you have a loathing for them, or you are annoyed with them?
Are you living a life worthy of your calling—one that measures up to the standard God asks and given in Ephesians 4:1-3?
Share what being wise means to you. Are there other ways we can imitate Jesus in being wise?
(Commentary used for this devotion: Peter H. Davids, The Epistle of James: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 155.)