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Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good behavior his works in meekness of wisdom. (James 3:13)
James has just gotten through telling his Christian audience that their actual nature shows by how they use their tongues, so now, in the same manner, he will address these Christians with the proper attitudes and actions that the Christian should have. He begins by asking another question, who is wise and understanding among you?
Who is wise and understanding among you? James refers to those who would be good in the position of a pastor, assistant pastor, deacon, or Bible study teacher within the church. It could, by extension, apply to every Christian making disciples as well. If they are wise and understanding as to the Bible, they should be selected for that office.
Wisdom: (חָכְמָה chokmah; σοφία sophia) is sound judgment, based on knowledge and understanding. The ability to use knowledge and experience with common sense and insight. Wisdom can understand and then act wisely and so have skill in living, adhering to the standards set out in the Word of God. Wisdom belongs to the person who has accumulated knowledge or intellect or enlightenment. It is the balanced application of that knowledge to answer difficulties, achieve objectives, sidestep, or ward off dangers, not to mention helping others to accomplish the same. The wise person is often contrasted with the foolishness or stupid person. – Deut. 4:6; 1Ki 5:9; Deut. 32:6; Prov. 11:29; Eccles. 6:8; Col. 1:28; 4:5.
Understanding (בִּין bin; בּוּנָה Bunah) is the ability to see how the parts or aspects of something are connected to one another. One who understands can see the big picture (the entire matter) and not just the isolated facts. – Prov. 2:5; 9:10; 18:15.
These are necessary qualifications. It is too easy in James’ day and even now to turn to a brother for his speaking ability. This brother may have the skill of clear and expressive speech, especially of distinct pronunciation and articulation. Maybe he can string winsome words together to move someone emotionally. This alone is not enough to be an influential pastor, and to select such a person is foolish and dangerous. The primary qualification is wisdom from deep Bible knowledge and to correctly understand that knowledge. It does not matter if you have discovered the most potent, eloquent speaker that has ever existed. It is insufficient and will only get the congregation so far spiritually and biblically.
The question that James is asking is directed primarily to those who teach the congregation. Then, by way of implication, it can also apply to every Christian evangelist. Let us address the primary point, i.e., what James meant by the words he used. Those men taking the lead in the congregation as teachers need to inspect themselves through this question. If one is to be an effective teacher, it will require more than being a charismatic, moving, motivational person. Moreover, it also requires more than having a witty and crafty mind. It requires true wisdom and understanding. ‘The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.’ (Prov. 9:10) This fear is a reverential fear of displeasing God because the teacher’s love is great for God and neighbor.
The teacher, who possesses understanding, will be able to see into life and the lives of those he serves, gaining a sense of it and detecting the relationships within their lives: God, congregation, family, friends, workmates, associates, and the like. The teacher’s ability to understand fully enables him to grasp fully the significance of what lies before him. The teacher takes in solid food, which makes him mature, as he has his powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.’ (Heb. 5:14) What he offers in his counsel to the congregation as a whole, as a Bible study group, in a private family, or in one-on-one sessions will accurately reflect the wisdom from above. His understanding of Scripture is accurate, giving his listeners what God said and meant by what he said, not what he thinks, feels, or believes he said. In other words, he does not interject his personal beliefs into (eisegesis) the Scriptures but instead takes the meaning out of (exegesis) the Scriptures.
Let him show by his good behavior. The church needs to select a brother with a consistent life of at least three to five years in demeanor, attitude, behavior manner. Why do I say only three to five years? All humans make mistakes. The apostle Paul as Saul, a Pharisee, was there co-signing the stoning of Stephen and traveling Palestine locking up Christians before his conversion. No one suggested that Paul wait twenty years before he could be used to lead the church. The apostle Paul wrote, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” (Phil 1:27) The Greek (πολιτεύομαι politeuomai) rendered “let your manner of life be” means they should be living an upright life worthy of the Gospel, and that this should be the foundation for appointing persons as leaders within the church.
His works. The prospective brother that will be teaching your church needs to have acts of uprightness and Godly devotion. He should be a man waking with God, living a holy life, obeying God so strongly, tightly, and personally, loving him so much as a friend.
In meekness of wisdom. This brother needs to have been living a biblically wise, sensible, gentle life, not in a loud, haughty, or braggart manner. The man who has wisdom from above will be meek, mild, gentle. This is exactly what the church needs in a pastor, teacher, leader, one who guides and directs. If one has taken the time to notice, most wise men that we have happened upon usually have a calm spirit, mild and gentle, quiet demeanor. Yet, he is also firm, offering expressions of his thoughts. A speaker that comes across with bold persuasiveness because of his ability as an emotional speaker may have some immediate short-term impact. Still, emotionalism will only carry someone until they get home that Sunday afternoon. The ministry of Jesus’ Gospel should be exemplified by a calm, gentle, and considerate, contemplative wisdom, which is displayed in all the person’s life.
We can see a person’s faith by his works because the one who has faith cannot go without doing Christlike works. His works are “an evident demonstration of his faith.” The same holds true for those who possess wisdom and understanding, as they will produce evidence of those qualities through the things they say and in their day-to-day actions. Everyone can make sensible decisions and judgments based on personal knowledge and experience every once in a while. Still, the man of true wisdom and understanding does this so often it stands out because, generally speaking, “in all that he [or she] does, he prospers.” (Psa. 1:1-3) We already know “the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom,” which means that we reverentially fear displeasing God because of our great love for him and his creation. Therefore, “all those who practice it (i.e., fear of) have a good understanding.” (Ps. 111:10) In other words, we apply God’s Word with a full or accurate, and balanced understanding. It is impossible to say that we are good Christian teachers unless our wisdom and understanding are visually evident through our words and actions, recommending us to others.
The meek one is mild, meaning he shows mildness or quietness of wisdom, especially the man who is teaching the Christian congregation. In fact, Isaiah 30:20 tells us that God is “your teacher,” and the Psalmist informs us “he leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble his way.” (Psa. 25:9) Thus, God will only teach a meek one. Christian teachers must be mild, composed, peaceful, not unforgiving, loud, narrow-minded, or haughty.