The Beginning of Being Like God

As we draw closer to the Passover and continue examining ourselves (as I talked about in last week’s post) I keep thinking about how vital our understanding of God is to understanding ourselves. Paul tells us to examine, evaluate, and discern ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28-32), but in order to do that we need the help of God’s spirit, as Paul talks about earlier in 1 Corinthians. To see ourselves clearly and know what needs to change (and how to make that change), we need a wisdom that we can only get by understanding God.

Understanding, Wisdom, and Fear

I like to study 1 Corinthians at this time of year because (as I wrote about in more detail a couple years ago), this epistle references the Exodus story, Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread over and over. Before Paul begins talking directly about Passover, he expands on the idea that the wisdom of God is very different than what human beings speak of as wisdom (1 Cor. 1:18-31, quoting Jer. 9:23-24). Knowing and understanding the Lord is far more important than having wealth, power, or worldly wisdom. Echoing a sentiment expressed throughout scripture, Paul tells us a proper perspective on God is where true wisdom begins.

The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord,
and acknowledging the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10, NET

The idea that we ought to fear a God of love seems odd to many of us, mostly because we think of fear in the sense of being terrified of something scary, dangerous, or bad. But I think the more we learn about God, the more we realize that our love for Him must also be mixed with awe, reverence, and even fear. A devotional book that I’ve been reading puts it this way:

when we approach the Holy One with casual familiarity, we do not take Him as seriously as we ought, and we do not take our sin as seriously as we ought. Fear–not of punishment but of the overwhelming greatness of God–sees Him correctly. When this fear grips us, we begin to understand the enormity of the gospel and of our God. That understanding begins to rearrange our lives. And that is what wisdom is all about.


Understanding God leads to wisdom, which leads to us changing our lives. The more we know Him, the more we’ll want to be like Him, and the more clearly we’ll see what we need to keep working on in order to move closer to that goal. Wisdom begins with fearing the Lord, and change happens as we start to become wise.

Knowing God through His Spirit

After Paul explains that God’s people don’t often seem wise in the world’s eyes (and if they do, they’re not supposed to glory/boast about it), he starts to talk about “the wisdom of God hidden in a mystery.” God has decided to share with us deep, wonderful things that other people haven’t even imagined, and he has “revealed these to us by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:7-10, NET).

For who among men knows the things of a man except the man’s spirit within him? So too, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God. And we speak about these things, not with words taught us by human wisdom, but with those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. … we have the mind of Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:11-13, 16, NET

This is where we get wisdom–from God’s spirit working inside us and making our minds like Christ’s mind. The closer we draw to God the more we understand Him, and the more we understand Him the more in awe we are. And the more all of that comes together as we grow and change and learn, the more we become like God.

Wisdom Can Change Us

Real, godly wisdom is an incredible thing. Last year, I spent months studying and writing about wisdom in a series of 10 posts. We could write whole books about Godly wisdom, but a quick summary of the things God reveals about His wisdom can be found in James’s epistle.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings. … the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical. And the fruit that consists of righteousness is planted in peace among those who make peace.

James 3:13, 16-18, NET

A proper perspective on God is the starting place for this kind of wisdom. And much like fear is the beginning of wisdom, I think we can also say that wisdom is a beginning to being like God. Notice how much of this description of godly wisdom involves character traits we can develop and/or actions that we can take. If we want to examine ourselves, this is an excellent place to start. As we consider God’s goodness and greatness, learning more and more about who He is and how we can be like Him, we ought to meditate on the characteristics of His wisdom. Every aspect of “the wisdom from above” is a part of God; are they also a part of us?

Featured image by Pearl via Lightstock

Growing in the Wisdom from God

We just wrapped-up a series of posts going through all the characteristics of “the wisdom from above” that James writes of in his epistle. That’s not all there is to say about Godly wisdom, however. I already wrote an introduction post to this series that’s about God’s definition of wisdom, but today as we conclude this series of articles I want to narrow in our focus on wisdom as it relates to Jesus Christ.

My dad’s the one who pointed out to me that Paul says “Christ Jesus … was made to us the wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30). God — both Father and Son — are the starting point for true wisdom. It seems, though, that God the Son plays a special role in giving this wisdom to us, and I think that’s worth looking at more closely.

Glory in the Wisdom from God

One of the things Paul does in his writings is reference scriptures from the Old Testament as support for what he’s talking about in his letters. He doesn’t always quote the referenced passage in its entirety, though, leaving it to his readers to familiarize themselves with scripture and recognize the connection. That’s what he’s doing here in 1 Corinthians. He’s talking about God choosing the foolish, weak, lowly, and despised things of this world and then he says,

Because of him, you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption: that, as it is written, “He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:30-31, all quotes from WEB)

This phrase that Paul says “is written” comes from Jeremiah.

Yahweh says, “Don’t let the wise man glory in his wisdom. Don’t let the mighty man glory in his might. Don’t let the rich man glory in his riches. But let him who glories glory in this, that he has understanding, and knows me, that I am Yahweh who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth,
for I delight in these things,” says Yahweh. (Jer. 9:23-24)

Paul talks about God choosing people who are the opposite of wise, mighty, and rich to make a point. None of us have room to glory before God based on our own merits. Read more

Wisdom Without Hypocrisy

I dare say we’re all familiar with the problem of hypocrisy in the church. For most of us, it’s something we’ve had close experience with. We’ve found ourselves disgusted with others who we identify as hypocrites and we may even have caught ourselves doing hypocritical things.

As we wrap up our study of how James talks about godly wisdom, we come to the last characteristic on his list. “The wisdom from above is … without hypocrisy” (James 3:17, WEB). In Greek, the words for hypocrisy and hypocrite have to do with someone playing a part, as if they were an actor on stage. They’re dissemblers, pretenders who simulate, feign, and pretend to be something they are not (Thayer’s dictionary, entries on G5273 and G5271). The opposite is what we find in wisdom — anupokritos (G505), something that is unfeigned, undisguised, sincere.

The Bible tells us “wisdom is the principle thing, therefore get wisdom” (Prov. 4:7, KJV). Wisdom is something God has in abundance and which He is eager to share with those who ask for it (James 1:5). As we grow in wisdom we will become people who are sincere, authentic, and live without hypocrisy.

Traits of the Hypocritical

Before we talk more about living without hypocrisy, let’s take a look at what a hypocrite is like. Jesus talked about this quite a bit in the gospels recorded by Matthew, Mark, and Luke (in fact, the word hupokrites, G5273, only appears in these three books).

  • Hypocrites call attention to the godly things they do in order to be seen and respected by other people (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16)
  • Hypocrites judge others before fixing up their own problems and repenting of their own sins (Matt. 7:5; Luke 6:42)
  • Hypocrites have double standards when applying God’s law (Matt. 15:4-7; Luke 13:14-16)
  • Hypocrites try to tempt others to sin (Matt 22:17-18)
  • Hypocrites block others from getting closer to the Lord (Matt. 23:13-15)
  • Hypocrites are greedy and have misplaced priorities (Matt. 23:16-19)
  • Hypocrites get distracted by minutia and neglect the things that are most important to God (Matt. 23:23)
  • Hypocrites appear righteous on the outside but are inwardly wicked (Matt. 23:25-28; Luke 11:44)
  • Hypocrites play lip-service to God but their hearts aren’t committed (Mark 7:6)

Read more

Wisdom Without Partiality

Balanced, impartial, unbiased views are going out of style in our culture today. While we like to think that we act with fairness and have a balanced way of looking at the world, I don’t think most of are as impartial as we’d like to be. We tend to prioritize emotional arguments over facts and logic (or vice versa, depending on our personality). We may favor certain groups of people when making decisions. Or perhaps we think that what’s “fair” should always work out in our favor. We’re partial to certain types of arguments, certain types of people, and to our own self interests. Those are very human reactions. In contrast, James tells us that godly wisdom operates without partiality.

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. (James 3:17, all quotes from WEB translation)

Acting without partiality is a hard thing to do, but it is a godly thing and therefore worth doing. Part of growing to have the “wisdom that is from above” involves setting aside our automatic human reactions to situations and replacing them with how God would react.

Impartial Gift of Wisdom

Before we start looking at how we’re to be impartial, it’s important to note that God doesn’t show partiality regarding whom He blesses with wisdom. James writes, “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” If you meet the basic requirements  — seek God and ask in faith (James 1:5-6) — then God will give wisdom regardless of your age, background, ethnicity, status, ability, etc. He is not a “respecter of persons” who shows favoritism or twists His rules based on who someone is (Deut. 10:17; 2 Chr. 19:7; Acts 10:34). Read more

Good Fruits of Wisdom

“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom,” says a verse in Proverbs (4:7, KJV). In an effort to do that, we’ve been studying how James defines Godly wisdom in his letter to the New Testament church.

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18, WEB)

Today’s post is about the sixth characteristic on this list — wisdom is full of good fruits. Fruit is an often used metaphor in the Bible. It typically refers to what is produced in/by a person’s life. Certain fruits are associated with a life guided by God’s spirit and others indicate a life lived apart from God.

How to Fruit

There are certain actions and things that are not fruitful. As followers of Christ, we are to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather even reprove them” (Eph. 5:11, WEB). A life lived in spiritual darkness cannot lead to the production of good fruit. And if we’re not producing good fruit, then we’re in trouble. Read more

Merciful Wisdom

In his epistle, James describes “the wisdom that is from above” as “first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17, WEB). We’ve looked at those first four traits in previous posts, and now we come to study merciful wisdom.

Mercy, loving kindness, and compassion are key traits of our God, who is the source of true wisdom. (Language note: the Hebrew and Greek words translated “mercy” are also frequently translated as “kindness,” or more rarely a related word such as compassion or goodness.) If we want to be like God, then we also need to learn kindness and mercy. And we must use them wisely, as He does.

Consider the Loving Kindness

The end of Psalm 107 says, “Whoever is wise will pay attention to these things. They will consider the loving kindnesses of Yahweh” (Ps. 107; 43, WEB). Since we’re studying wisdom and loving kindness/mercy, this psalm seems like a good place to start.

Psalm 107 begins, “Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good, for his loving kindness endures forever.” A similar phrase echoes throughout the Psalm: “Let them praise Yahweh for his loving kindness, for his wonderful deeds to the children of men!” (Ps. 107:8, 15, 21, 31). In between, we’re given reasons for this praise and illustrations of the Lord’s loving kindness. Read more