Why would one want to know what wisdom looks like?  Firstly, so that you can distinguish it from worldly wisdom and recognise it in other people and secondly, so that you can recognize the level of wisdom within yourself?

Thankfully James 3:17-15 gives us a description of what godly wisdom looks like:

But the 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 good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.’


Characteristics of “wisdom that is from above” (James 3:17, 18):

Pure – from a Greek word meaning: pure enough to approach the gods. Originally it meant ritually pure, but later it came to mean morally pure, in other words the absence of a sinful attitude or motive. The Corinthians lived in a city where knowledge was abundant and frequently discussed, Paul feared that the Corinthians would lose this purity of wisdom by having it corrupted with other motives:

“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent enticed Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:3 ASV)

In James, Paul also feared that lack of this purity would lead his readers to spiritual adultery: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

While much of the world’s wisdom would obviously not want to be scrutinized by anyone, let alone God, true wisdom has had its hidden motives removed and is up for Gods examination.

Peaceable – in terms of relationships.  Peace is characteristic of a right relationship with God and humanity. True wisdom will always aim for peace between people and God at the same time. When peace rules in our lives, there is tranquility and contentment.  (Col. 3:15: “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.”).

This peaceable attitude is in contrast to:
· Arrogant wisdom which separates people by setting up rivalries (James 4:1,2).
· Cruel wisdom that finds pleasure in hurting others with clever or cutting words. (Col 4:6)
· Depraved wisdom which seduces men from their loyalty to God. (2 Peter 2:18-20)

Gentle – from a word that cannot be directly translated from the original.  It has been defined as “justice and better than justice;” and as “that which steps in to correct things when the law becomes unjust.” It’s the ability to apply the Golden Rule in different situations: To forgive when justice gives the perfect right to condemn, to make allowances, when not to stand up for your rights, how to temper justice with mercy, and to remember that man-made rules are not an end-all in God’s eyes.

Willing to yield – might mean either “ever ready to obey” or “easy to persuade.” A truly wise person is ready to listen and obey whenever God’s word is spoken, and is easily persuaded by God’s word.  They are ready and willing to abandon a course they are on, once it shown to be wrong and equally ready to submit to authority.

Full of mercy and good fruits – Jesus gave the same instruction in Luke 6:36: “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.”  Mercy is when you don’t get what you deserve and this may be our attitude towards people who have trouble in their lives, brought on by their own making.   It is also merciful dealing with people when there will be no reward for us (like the Good Samaritan).  It also includes good work that flows out of our mercy, with practical help for those that are in need, or cannot help themselves.  James describes this kind of help further in James 1:27 and 2:15,16?

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble…” and “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?”
This is mercy that remembers that the measure of mercy we extend to others, will be the measure of mercy we receive.  (Matt 7:2)

Undivided – (without partiality). Not wavering, favouring or indecisive. Choosing a course and keeping to it. Many who say they are keeping an open mind are just refusing to make up their mind; in the spiritual realm this is fatal! True wisdom is based on the certainties laid down for us from God through Christ and described for us in Scripture. The fundamentals of faith are not obscure but are easily grasped. Our convictions are based on our faith in Christ and in God’s word.

Sincere – (without hypocrisy or wearing a mask) it is neither an act nor deception. It is not pretending to be anything it is not and does not have its own ends in sight. Hypocrisy in attitude is just as fatal to our spiritual lives as hypocrisy in deeds. Those without hypocrisy are: sincere, open in their dealings, and without deceit.


The end result of this true wisdom is that “seeds” of wisdom are planted, affecting those around us as we interact with them and plant our “seeds of wisdom” in their lives.  Seeds ultimately bring about a harvest, the harvest of these seeds, is righteousness or right living both in the life of the individual and those around them.

An examination of the characteristics of wisdom gives us a greater understanding of what wisdom would look like and exposes attitudes we may have that undermine true wisdom.

James 3:13 “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”

Lord, thank you for Your word that shows us how we should live.  Your word is clear and unambiguous and we clearly understand as we examine our hearts.  Thank you, Lord, that wisdom is not instant, but a lifelong endeavor, constantly being improved and refined by Your hand.  Lord may the search for wisdom become the priority of my heart.  I long for true wisdom and not the world’s wisdom, I long to see a harvest of righteousness around me.  I declare that God is growing wisdom in me that is pure, peace-loving, gentle, yielded, merciful, full of good fruit, undivided and sincere.

The Personal Pursuit of Wisdom (next in 10 part series on Wisdom)

What Does Wisdom Look Like? (previous)

Guarding Your Heart