When we read the Bible, we hear the voice of God. Through Scripture He teaches, directs, corrects, encourages, and transforms us into the image of Christ.
God’s Word is alive; therefore, it retains its power to transform us day after day, week after week, year after year, century after century.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
But we need ears to hear. The ability to comprehend what is said and interpret it correctly.
Since Scripture was written in the past, an archeological dig is necessary to understand its context. We dig for historical events occurring at the time, issues taking place in the lives of the people expected to read the original text, and the cultural norms of the era.
While studying the book of James, I discovered the importance of genre in this archaeological dig. This book is both an epistle and wisdom literature. Getting the definition of wisdom literature firmly embedded in my mind helped me understand the text.
Let me show you how it helped…
–James writes about godly choices.
In the Bible the wise are oriented to God, and thus please Him through the godly choices they make. The ability to make Godly choices is wisdom.
Wisdom literature was part of ancient culture. Many nations produced writings on decision making with the goal of achieving the best life. Biblical wisdom was written with the idea that the only good choices are godly choices. The theme of Proverbs is “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”1
–James demonstrates practical application.
In Biblical times the wise person was highly practical, not merely theoretical. James includes many examples of practical application in the epistle he wrote to Jewish Christians who had been dispersed due to persecution.
“Be doers of the word, not hearers only.” [1:22}
“A religious person bridles their tongue.” [1:26]
“Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” [2:17]
“My brothers, show no partiality.” [2:1a]
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” [4:10]
–James pinpoints hindrances to godly wisdom.
Godly choices are thwarted when someone is double-minded or deceived. Being influenced by the world as well as the word of God causes us to make a godly choice here and a worldly choice there, struggling to get a footing on solid ground.
In chapter four he discusses quarrels, fights, speaking evil against a brother, making decisions apart from God. This is choosing to act like the world. Deception can throw us off, preventing us from perceiving the truth, thus we fail to make the godly choice.
Several times in his letter to the dispersed church he warns his readers not to be deceived or to deceive themselves.
Double-minded is to be wavering, undecided, vacillating. In James 1:8 we are told a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. He is like a wave of the sea tossed by the wind.
Double-mindedness is exhibited when a Christian blesses the Lord one minute and then the next curses people in His likeness. “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” [3:10]
–James tells us godly wisdom is ours if we ask.
In chapter one verse five we are instructed to ask for wisdom if we lack it because God gives generously without reproach. It makes sense that God would be the source of godly wisdom.
But our approach to God must be filled with faith free from doubt or we will receive nothing, according to James. This faith “refers both to intellectual belief and to relational trust or commitment.”2
John Stott explains faith as “a reasoning trust, a trust which reckons thoughtfully and confidently upon the trustworthiness of God.”
In the Christian sense, “faith may be defined as a conscious mental desire to do the will of the God of Scripture.”3
–James contrasts earthly versus godly wisdom.
Jealousy and selfish ambition are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic, states James. [3:14-15]. He gives examples. Coveting what others have for our pleasure. Fighting with others to get what we want. Criticizing and judging others. Cheating workers of their pay to get rich. Focusing on satisfying our desires. Each is a choice.
He says wisdom from above is “first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” [James 3:17 NLT]
To obtain godly wisdom we are to humble ourselves before God and resist the devil, repent, and purify our hearts. In this way we will be loyal to God, seeking His ways alone. Our loyalty will not be divided between God and the world.
©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved
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1-If you have not formed the habit of studying the genre of the book of the Bible you are studying, I encourage you to begin. Why do you think knowing the genre helps us interpret a book?
2-In your own words describe the difference between earthly and godly choices.
1-How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee & Douglas Stuart Zondervan Publishing House Grand Rapids, Michigan.
2-Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms by Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki and Cherith Fee Nordling. Published by InterVaristy Press in Downers Grove, Illinois.
3-The Compact Dictionary of Doctrinal Words” by Terry L. Miethe. Published by Bethany House Publishers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.