Ten Wise Traits
I realized I wanted to see the list all together, so here it is, with their passages in James.
- A wise person lives in humility, submitting their life to God, allowing the Holy Spirit to control their thoughts, their feelings and thereby their words and actions. James 3:13-17
- A wise person is strong in the Lord by humbly submitting to God, to be patient, to persevere, and to stand firm against evil, against Satan himself.James 4:6-7
- A wise person knows a reboot is just a confession away and is therefore always living a life of repentance. James 4:8, 10
- A wise person speaks words that naturally glorify God and build up the people who listen. James 4:11-12
- A wise person, in submission to God, understands their complete and utter dependence on the Lord for the course of their life, the course of their day-to-day living, and sees the hand of God in all the events and people in their life. James 4:13-17
- A wise person views wealth as God’s resources to be invested in what pleases God and furthers God’s purposes. James 5:1-6
- A wise person keeps their word out of reverence for God and in reflection of God’s character. James 5:7-12
- A wise person is always praying, thanking and praising God, seeking healing and cleansing from all unrighteousness. James 5:13-15
- A wise person regularly prays for others, for their salvation and for the maturing of their faith. James 5:16, 19-20
- A wise person knows the mighty wonder-working power of prayer comes by the divine outworking of God in concert with God’s will, plans, and purposes as they are realized through prayer. James 5:17-18
Priests and Pharisees
James, Jesus’ brother and servant of Christ, created a space for priests and Pharisees to learn how to transition from their roles as religious elite to the radical new world of equality among brothers and sisters. He was their bridge between an insulated world that revolved around the temple and its practices to Jesus and His Way; from the daily, hourly occupation of the Law of God in the scriptures to the daily living by faith in God’s incarnate Word.
We cannot expect those men of long ago to simply change with a snap of the fingers.
They had dedicated their whole lives at great personal sacrifice to the service of the One Almighty True and Living God. Now they knew, they understood, that God the Son had actually died and been raised from the dead as Eternal Conqueror of all evil, corruption, and death. Messiah had died judged for the sin of the world and risen Compassionate Judge. He had drunk the Father’s cup of wrath over the ruins of sin and its corruption of God’s beloved cosmos, and now risen the Eternal Fountain of Life and Health.
They knew these things, and they believed these things. But knowing and believing are only the beginning. Living this belief is every person’s life work, and it takes time to spread that new worldview throughout every layer of our inner beings, so that it will flow out into our real lives.
James taught them the old wisdom with new insight, he reassured them what they had learned and lived thus far, from the words of God in the sacred ancient writings, was good.
But not life-giving.
That is the difference.
Throughout his letter, James showed the goodness and soundness of the wisdom in God’s words, while also reminding his readers that life itself can only come from God, not from the doing of God’s commands.
James began his letter by talking about the importance of faith tested and strengthened
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothingJames 1:2-4 (NRSV)
James spoke of receiving wisdom directly from God, of every good thing coming from God, and he indirectly—by the positioning of his words—intended the reader to see that even these tests and trials, coming through the hands of God, are good for our upbuilding.
And what trials were the Pharisees facing? The believing priests who now understood their work of physically sacrificing animals was no longer necessary once the Lamb of God had made the ultimate sacrifice?
Think about it.
Everything that had given their lives meaning, that brought them dignity and respect within their community, their understanding of the scriptures, of themselves, of God, and of the world around them had now shifted in what surely must have been even physically unsettling.
Consider the last time your eyes were opened to something that changed, literally, everything. Maybe it was something someone told you about yourself that until now you had been completely blind to. Maybe it was learning something about someone else, or an institution, or a set of circumstances that made the ground rumble beneath your feet.
When you and I start questioning “established truths,” the process can be very messy, disruptive, alienating to others. Our communities will often respond in hostile ways. That had to have been true then as well, in an already politically tense, economically desperate, and religiously volatile world. For a priest or a Pharisee to say, “Hear O Israel the Lord your God, the Lord is one, and His name is Jesus” would have invited a dragging to the edge of town, and a hail of stones.
A Man’s Book
These men—and they were all men—were in a massive deconstruction phase, unlearning and relearning everything they had ever been taught and had one hundred percent invested themselves in.
James was the one God rested the Lord’s hand upon to lead, teach, guide and counsel these courageous, powerful, deeply spiritual men.
Scripture is written for everyone.
Still, there are places, here and there, where it seems scripture is written to a specific audience. James is one of those books. James included wisdom all of us can grow from, but in places where he could have used a more all-encompassing Greek word, anthropos | person, or human being, James uses the word aner | man. In fact, James makes this studied choice of word in four places.
But let him be asking in faith, not doubting at all. For the one doubting is like a surge of the sea being blown-by-wind and tossed. For let that person not be supposing that he will receive anything from the Lord—a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.James 1:6-8 (DLNT)
If James’ audience had a large subgroup of priests and Pharisees caught in the gravity-pull of their upbringing and life vocation, then the word man would alert them this teaching was very particularly for them.
Blessed is the man who endures the trial, because having become approved, he will receive the crown of life which He promised to the ones loving Him.James 1:12 (DLNT)
This is what priests and Pharisees had longed for their whole lives, and thought they would receive, in their old lives. But James was saying this would come only in their new life in Christ, hidden yet meant in the “He” and “Him” of this verse.
For if a gold-ringed man in shining clothing enters into your gathering, and a poor man in filthy clothing also enters, and you look-upon the one wearing the shining clothing and say “You be sitting here honorably”, and you say to the poor man “You stand there, or be sitting under my footstool”, did you not make-distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?James 2:2-4 (DLNT)
This is exactly what the religious elite did do in synagogue and temple. It was second nature, at this point.
Except it was absolutely wrong in the Kingdom of God in Christ.
Do not become many teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a greater judgment.
For we all stumble many ways.
If one does not stumble in speech, this one is a perfect man able to bridle also the whole body.James 3:1-2 (DLNT)
Finally, James said to his targeted audience, you were known as teachers in your old lives, many came to you seeking answers, and you gave them. And you thought you were faultless in your old life.
But be careful. You must learn anew what it means to be a man of God.
[James Tissot | The Brooklyn Museum, CC0]