Two Voices of Wisdom: James 3:13–18

Editor’s note: We are in a series through the book of James. In these uncertain times, we hope this book and our writers’ reflections on it will give you hope and practical wisdom for continuing in the journey. Here is a link to today’s passage: James 3:13–18

Hello, I’m the voice of wisdom. I’ve been around for a long time, and I know how things work here in the world. If you listen, I’ll point you in the right direction. Every step of the way, I’ll tell you to focus on you. 

I think you’ll find me quite motivating. I use messages like: “You should try to prove yourself and measure up. You need to stand out so you can finally get ahead!”

You want to be accepted and admired, not excluded or ignored, right? I’ll keep reminding you of this and pushing you forward with positive, measure-up goals. Or I can use negative ones too, if those work better for you. Things like: “You should be ashamed of yourself. What will they think? Look how you’re falling behind!”

Keep Your Eyes on You

Either way, my goal is to keep you focused on you. Incidentally, one of the best ways to do this is to turn your attention to other people, whom you can compare yourself with.

With this in mind, I’ll invite you to consider other people and measure your progress against theirs. Like that woman across the street, the one whose marriage is so perfect? I’ll regularly call you to the front window so you can watch as her husband tenderly takes her hand, kisses the top of her head, or drinks lemonade with her on the front steps. Together, we’ll carefully ponder your marriage and whether it would have lasted if you were as thin and beautiful as she is. 

As I try to guide you with my wisdom, these windows into other peoples’ lives will be powerful motivators for you—both the real-life glass windows and the virtual ones. Social media blows back the curtains of a million windows at once, allowing us the opportunity to look into the houses and lives of friends, family members, and complete strangers. We’ll take careful note of how their kids are succeeding, their wealth is growing, and their ministries are thriving. And when these all take a turn for the worse, we’ll find secret pleasure in watching it happen.

I Won’t Leave You Floundering

As you click and swipe and glance sideways, scrutinizing others’ progress against yours, I promise to always give you next steps. If you do measure up, I’ll show you creative ways to boast and call attention to your elevated status. And if you don’t, I’ll teach you to posture and project, to cover the ugly and inflate the beautiful. We’ll do it all for you

As you measure and compare, I promise that focusing on you will become as natural as looking in a mirror as you walk by. I will keep flooding your heart with jealousy until bitter roots shoot out and entwine themselves around your heart. Trust me, dear. This will fuel your measure-up obsession for a lifetime, so that all other goals lose their significance. From childhood until old age, I’ll keep igniting your me-first ambition. I’ll show you what it takes to get ahead. I’ll tell you what to do when you’re lagging behind. I will never leave you floundering. 

For the rest of your life, I will lead you in the way that’s good and right for you. I am the wisdom from below. 

Another Wisdom

I too, am the voice of wisdom. A different kind of wisdom. I’ve been around just as long, and I know how things work in the kingdom of heaven. If you listen, I’ll point you in the right direction according to Jesus. Every step of the way, I’ll tell you to focus on others, like He did.

My motivation and “next steps” for you will be calibrated by the value system of the life to come, not this momentary measure-up world. I’ll give you reminders like: “You should position yourself last, because the last will be first in heaven. And remember that whoever exalts herself will be humbled, so stop worrying about trying to get ahead. Don’t try to make it look like you already have arrived.”

You want to please the Father, right? You want to hear, “Well done,” don’t you? So I’ll keep reminding you of heaven and keep pushing you toward your kingdom goals—which will always involve serving others, never yourself. 

As you lower yourself, you won’t have to worry about what others think, because in the kingdom there is no shame. Even those who have no status on earth can be considered great in the life to come. Remember Jesus? He made himself nothing. He emptied himself on the cross. Jesus displayed more humility than the world had ever seen, and therefore, God has lifted him and given him the name that is above every name (Phil. 2:5–9).

If you’ll listen to the whisper of my wisdom, I’ll teach you to lift your eyes beyond this measure-up world and live like Jesus did—pouring your life out. 

Keep Your Eyes on Others

Your goal must be to focus on others, not yourself. It’s not that you aren’t special or loved, dear one. You are! You have great worth in the eyes of the Father. But your me-focus will keep you from kingdom greatness, which is marked by humility, serving, and lifting others up. 

The me-free mindset of Jesus is what will protect you from the vacuous measure-up mindset of this world. If you’ll bend yourself into a servant’s position, it will give you a whole new vantage point for seeing the world. If you’ll approach each window—virtual or not—with a desire to lift others up rather than yourself, you’ll be free to enjoy the beauty in their lives, and you’ll feel compassion for their pain.

With your eyes off yourself, you’ll also be free to brighten the world with your gifts and to enrich the lives of others. It’s not that you’ll be immune to pain. The jagged edges of this shattered world will tear at you, just like it does at everyone else. Instead of contributing to the brokenness of the world with its measure-up agendas that pit people against each other, you’ll learn through my teaching how to bring healing and joy. 

I Won’t Leave You Floundering

As you face trials, disappointments, and broken relationships, I promise to always give you next steps for me-free living:

  • I will show you how to have a heart that’s pure, not tainted with selfishness.
  • I will teach you to love peace and unity instead of angling to get ahead.
  • I will teach you to be gentle and considerate, not harsh or self-protective.
  • I will lead you to be accomodating and reasonable, not closed off in stubborn willfulness.
  • I will train you to be compassionate and generous with mercy, ready to give fresh opportunities for reconciliation.
  • Under my direction, you’ll produce fruit that is sweet, not bitter.
  • I will show you how to be impartial, not biased toward those the world calls “great.”
  • I will teach you to be genuine and sincere, not a hypocrite who boasts or covers the truth.

As you choose this me-free life of Jesus, I will never leave you floundering. For the rest of your life, I will lead you in the way that’s good and right according to God, and in it you will flourish. I am the wisdom from above. 

If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:14–17)

Friend, there are two kinds of wisdom calling out to you, saying, “You should go this way with your life.” Which will you listen to? Who will you become? Your enemy wants to entangle you in self-focus and the bondage of a measure-up agenda, rooted in wisdom from below. But your Jesus wants to restore your freedom, confidence, and joy with me-free living, rooted in the wisdom from above. 

Read more about the wisdom from above in Shannon’s new book Comparison Girl: Lessons from Jesus on Me-Free Living in a Measure-Up World or at ComparisonGirl.com.

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About the Author

Shannon Popkin

Shannon Popkin

Shannon is a writer and speaker, who loves to blend her gifts for storytelling and humor with her passion for God’s Word. She is the author of Comparison Girl, Control Girl, and Influence. Shannon is from west Michigan and is happy to be sharing life with Ken, who makes her laugh every single day. Together, they have the joy of parenting two college students, a high schooler, plus two adorable shih tzus.

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