I’m right. I’m always right. I cling to my right-ness as a part of my identity; it is core to who I am. Some of it comes from how I was raised, some from my friends, some from what I learned in college or read in a book. Now it is simply sugar in the cake mix – so stirred into my being that it is inseparable from me.
You are also right, and you know it. You have thought about what you think, read about it, debated it, and shared a meme or two about it. It’s part of you now – you are made up of all the bits and books and experiences that you have picked up along your journey.
We are wise people, you and I. We stick together – those of us who know the truth, who are wiser and more intelligent and better read than the others.
And then, inevitably, it happens. THE THING COMES UP. The thing we don’t agree on. It could be as big as immigration or gun control or abortion, or as “small” (but perhaps just as big to us) as pasteurized milk or immunizing our kids or public school vs. homeschool.
Faster than a 2-year old can dump a cup of milk, we are in conflict – if not externally, then at least internally. Our wisdom, our truth, has been challenged. The ball has been passed to the other team, and we amp up the defense.
You know what happens next…
The Facebook debate turns ugly, and two well-educated, kind, wise people turn into know-it-alls tossing ugly word grenades at each other.
All of our common ground suddenly shrinks away from us. Two islands form. We drift apart, not sure how to build a bridge between the differences in our rightness-es.
You become critical or judgmental of their choices. Or worse yet… they become critical and judgmental of your choices.
The gossip starts. Someone whispers to you that they could’ve handled something “better” or “more wisely” if only they had been in charge. You respond that you knew better all along. Your gut instincts are much right-er than that other persons, obviously.
“Wisdom” may be smart, but it gets twisted in our human hands. It become a source of pride, a sword to wield, a knife to cut someone else down, a tool to gain advantage, or a stepping stone to gain something we want.
But take heart. There is an alternative. There is an upside-down description of wisdom found in James 3:13-18. (Don’t skip this… read it. It’s important).
If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. 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 the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.
Just in case you missed all of my bolded words above, I’ll summarize. The biblical version of wisdom has very little to do with what we know, and a whole lot to do with how we treat other people. James says that wisdom means:
- Doing good works with humility
- Loving peace
- Being gentle
- Being willing to yield to others
- Being full of mercy
- Showing no favoritism
- Always being sincere
Guess what? It’s not just in James. Very, very few verses in the Bible have much to do with knowing the right things or making the right choices. Instead, most of the references point towards our actions towards other people.
It’s in the Old Testament:
“Observe [my decrees and laws] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations.” Deuteronomy 4:5-7
And even Jesus himself said it:
“Wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” Matthew 11:19
More specifically, it’s not just about doing good deeds. It’s about humble actions. It means not using wisdom to justify our beliefs or to prove our point or to get something we want in life. Not using it for gossip or throwing someone under the bus or judging someone else for the way they think. James repeats this idea over and over, even saying that “selfishness is not God’s kind of wisdom… [but] unspiritual and demonic.”
A couple of years ago I disagreed with the way someone was handling a situation. Pretty soon I started to get twisted up inside every time I saw a text or got a phone call from them. God rescued me from myself, though, when he dropped this truth-nugget of wisdom into my heart. If you can’t let go of being right, you are going to lose the relationship.
I would have to let go of my own “wisdom” of what I “knew” better than my friend… of my pride… if I wanted to keep my friendship with the other person.
I had to (humbly) say, “You might be right.” And leave it at that. Leave all of my “right-ness” at the door of our friendship.
Sometimes we have to stick to our guns, especially when it comes to situations of abuse or manipulation or something that could be a danger. And I am not saying that we should not discuss the things that are important to us! But in the everyday conflicts that we find ourselves in, God’s standard for wisdom seems to be… Humility over pride, peace over conflict, yielding to others over wielding our wisdom, relationship over rightness. If we can’t talk about what we think and believe without resorting to insults, gossip, judgment, and criticism, then we are doing it wrong.
It is a different kind of wisdom than we commonly see, but then, God is not a commoner. And if we want to have a reputation for being wise, then we should start by living out God’s definition of humble and peace-loving wisdom rather than the world’s definition of being knowledgeable and right.
Oh, for the strength to love others as much as we love ourselves! Lord, help us – we are weak and prideful and we know we are always “right.” Help us acknowledge our wrong attitudes so that we can be truly wise – wise by Your standards.
The content from this article has been adapted from a recent sermon called “Faith Works” that I preached at Urban Heights Covenant Church. You can listen to the podcast here.