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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | James 3:13—4:3, 7–8

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (NRSV)

I generally think of “wise” as just a more sophisticated word for “smart.” But this passage makes it clear that that is not the case. According to Merriam-Webster, being wise “suggests great understanding of people and of situations and unusual discernment and judgment in dealing with them.” It has a “good” connotation. Therefore, it is possible to be very smart in the sense of having an enormous amount of knowledge and yet be unwise.

God calls on us to be wise in a variety of ways. Verse 17 lists them: pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. When I think about what that looks like in my daily life, I translate it as loving, kind, compassionate, patient, forgiving, thoughtful, gracious, generous, humble, unbiased, and honest. If I strive to be all of those things during my interactions with others, I will not only be wise but following Christ’s example.

That being said, that’s a long list, and some of those virtues come much more easily to me than do others. Fortunately, I can ask for God to help me grow in the areas where I am falling short of being wise. I’ve been focusing a lot on patience and humility, and I’ve seen the difference it’s made in my relationships with others, with God, and with myself. I’m by no means done working on those, and there’s certainly room for me to grow in all of these virtues, but this scripture challenges me to pick another attribute to focus on so I can continue to grow into the best version of myself. What is it challenging you to do?

Patient Teacher, help me to value being wise over being smart, and to act, speak, and make decisions reflecting that. Amen.

Written by Nicole Spirgen, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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