After challenging his readers about the stricter judgment for those who teach and the universal problem we have in controlling our tongues, James exhorts readers to live in the meekness of wisdom (James 3:13). James first asks, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (James 3:13a, ESV). He then explains the way to demonstrate wisdom and understanding: “By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13b, ESV).
James contrasts good and bad behavior and shows the relationship of both to wisdom. He warns against bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, noting that, if a person claiming to be wise has those traits, he is arrogant and lying against the truth (James 3:14). The kind of wisdom that results in bitter jealousy and selfish ambition is not from above but is earthly, natural, and demonic (James 3:15). This kind of wisdom houses jealousy and selfish ambition and is accompanied by disorder and all evil practice (James 3:16).
By contrast, the kind of wisdom James advocates is wisdom from above. That kind of wisdom is first pure, then peaceable, gentle (or tolerant), listening to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and without hypocrisy (James 3:17). This kind of wisdom bears the fruit of righteousness; the seed sown in peace by peacemakers (James 3:18). Lest a person think that this incredible heavenly wisdom is out of reach, James introduces his discussion by exhorting his readers to ask for wisdom from God, who will certainly provide it (James 1:5).
Paul offers a similar contrast and helps demonstrate how can we live in the meekness or humility of wisdom. Paul shuns the wisdom of this age (1 Corinthians 2:6), noting that such false wisdom led to the rulers crucifying Christ (1 Corinthians 2:8). Instead, Paul speaks of wisdom from God—a wisdom that leads to our glory (1 Corinthians 2:7). It is important to Paul that his readers don’t place their faith in the wisdom of men, but rather in God’s wisdom. This wisdom of God can allow a person to be spiritual rather than filled with jealousy and strife (1 Corinthians 3:1–3).
Both Paul and James work from the same understanding of wisdom as Solomon, who also helps us understand how we can live in meekness of wisdom. The concepts of meekness and humility are closely connected. Solomon has a great deal to say about humility and wisdom, and he connects the fear of the Lord to both. He notes that the fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom and that before honor is humility (Proverbs 15:33). Before one can be wise, he must fear the Lord. Before one can be worthy of honor, he must have humility. Humility and the fear of the Lord go hand in hand and precede the fruit that is born from them (wisdom and honor). This proper perspective is necessary for us to live the kinds of lives He has designed. This is the meekness (or humility) of wisdom that James wants his readers to walk in. The challenge James offers to his readers is simple: live by earthly, natural, or demonic wisdom, or live by the wisdom that God freely provides for all who ask (James 1:5).