There is a lot of advice out there. Back in the day, the bookstores were full of self-help paperbacks, each promising a simple solution to whatever we wanted to achieve – whether increasing our sales, losing weight, or just “finding ourselves”. Today, the Internet doesn’t just ooze with people telling you what to do – it practically screams at the top of its digital lungs.
While many of these pitches are glossy and look impressive, at some point the discerning reader must notice that all of them cannot be simultaneously true. It is logically inconsistent that specific habits are both good and evil at the same time (although specific actions may be more appropriate in some situations than others). Certain foods cannot be simultaneously the elixir of life and the cause of all maladies.
So, we are left having to decide between conflicting messages. Even you, as you read this article, along with so many others like it from other authors, must decide which claims are consistent with reality, and which are just the whim of the writer (or bait to try and reel in your hard-earned money).
The Biblical author James (whose track record has been well-proven, probably because his letter was inspired by God) provides some criteria that we can use to tell the difference:
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
James 3:17 NASB
If the wisdom you are applying in your life (or hearing from others) doesn’t meet these criteria, it is not from God (who is the epitome of wisdom). We can ask questions like these:
- Is it pure? Does it come from a source that is completely on your side? One that has only your best interests in mind?
- Is it peaceable? Is this knowledge or wisdom used to create conflict, or does it result in finding common ground in the truth? Jesus said that peacemakers would be blessed (Matthew 5:9).
- Is it gentle? Being obnoxious while presenting good ideas usually just makes people want to find a reason not to follow them, if only to spite the source.
- Is it reasonable? Does it pass the “sniff test”? Even if it seems unusual (as do some of God’s statements…at first look), does it make sense once we have had time to think through it, in light of other things that are true?
- Is it full of mercy? In God’s wisdom, He provided a second chance for each of us. We should show mercy to others (see Matthew 18:21-35).
- Is it full of good fruits? What are the results of acting upon the wisdom that you hear about? Is it purely academic, or does it result in positive outcomes?
- Is it unwavering? Does the message change with the whims of the speaker, or with the varying directions of a fickle culture?
- Is it without hypocrisy? Does the person sharing this wisdom live it out, or suggest that you live one way while he or she unapologetically does something entirely different?
So, the next time you read or hear something telling you what to do or how to live, give it the “James Wisdom Test”, and see if it’s worth incorporating into your life. When we find real wisdom, we would be unwise to not follow it. On the other hand, if what we hear isn’t real wisdom, it’s not wise to treat it as if it was!