The California Gold Rush of 1848 created its share of prospectors who thought they had struck it rich—until learning about a glittering rock that came to be known as fool’s gold. More than a few saw their dreams fade in the metallic luster and brass-yellow hue of a relatively worthless mineral called iron pyrite.
Such disappointment has parallels in all of our lives. Sooner or later each of us learns that “all that glitters is not gold.” What looks like a bargain is not necessarily a good deal. People we put our hopes in break our hearts.
In so many ways, we need wisdom to see the difference between real treasure and a worthless look-alike.
Long ago, an ancient king learned that finding real wisdom is worth more than anything else we are looking for. Solomon wrote, “Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. For wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her” (Proverbs 3:13-15 NLT).
Solomon, however, adds a caution. He warns would-be treasure hunters that a rush for wisdom can leave us with something worse than fool’s gold. In his collection of proverbs, he adds, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (26:12 NKJV).
Another way of saying that might be, “Do you see people who think they know it all? If they don’t wise up, they will never know as much as a person who discovers what a fool he’s been.”
Solomon’s enthusiasm for wisdom, and his strongly worded warning, is picked up by a New Testament writer. The author who identifies himself as “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” joins Solomon in affirming that wisdom comes from God (James 1:1,5). He encourages us to ask for it with all of our heart (1:5-6). But James also later warns us to beware of wisdom’s worthless look-alike (3:13-18).
To make sure that we understand how to test and recognize a treasure that is worth more than gold, James writes, “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (3:17 NKJV).
In the middle of the real conflicts, troubles, and temptations that come into all of our lives, we cannot afford to forget these identifying marks. The treasure that is worth more than anything else we could desire is:
1. Pure. To the extent that our wisdom comes from God, it will not be polluted with the toxins of envy and selfish ambition (James 3:14-16). Nor will its insight leave us double-minded about whether we want God’s help in the troubles and conflicts of our lives (1:5-7).
2. Peaceable. This is not a desire for peace at any price. Because it is a wisdom rooted in pure motives, it longs to draw others into a harmony that has its source in God. James is asking for truth-and-love-based peace as he responds to conflicts that are dividing the family of God.
3. Gentle. To further express a wisdom that loves peace, James uses a word that carries the meaning of being gracious and patient with others. It is a strength under control that enables us to make allowances for one another. It is a reasonable, fair, and equitable gentleness that helps us to show our love and the goodwill of Christ in the face of real or potential conflict.
4. Willing to yield. Because of the preceding conditions and qualifiers, this is not a surrender to evil. It reflects a willingness to give up our own rights, when doing so will express the strength of our concern for others. Such yielding also gives us a chance to show by our actions that we believe our own well-being is found not by winning or by getting our own way, but by entrusting ourselves to God.
5. Full of mercy and good fruits. The wisdom that comes from God is discerning, but not judgmental. Nor does it callously assume that those who are suffering deserve their pain more than those who are blessed with good circumstances. Attitudes that add to the troubles of hurting people reflect the “wisdom from below.” The wisdom from above seeks to relieve their misery.
6. Without partiality. Worthless wisdom teaches us to flatter and indulge those who have something to offer us. It causes us to ignore and disrespect those whose problems could cost us time, money, or effort. True wisdom sees all people as those for whom Christ died.
7. Without hypocrisy. Being wise in our own eyes prompts us to cover up motives that show our real nature. The wisdom of God enables us to be real and transparent in our love and respect for others.
Father in heaven, please help us to see how such knowledge can keep us from being wise in our own eyes. Show us how to use these insights to trust not only what You’ve said, but to entrust ourselves to all that only You can know and do for us. Above all, Father, please help us to see how such wisdom leads us to the infinite, eternal benefits of knowing Your Son “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3 NKJV). —Mart De Haan