Earthly Wisdom vs. Heavenly Wisdom

Written by: Inés Franklin

When I moved to California from Puerto Rico, I was 16 years old, and I came with a vocabulary of English words. In Puerto Rico, they teach children from kindergarten through high school English, so I came packed with knowledge of the English language.

I had a lot of words, but I did not have the wisdom to apply that into some sort of a conversation. It took me about eight months until I could actually have a conversation with someone and use some of those vocabulary words, because there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.

Charles Spurgeon said “Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.”

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3

James is essentially saying your wisdom, your knowledge, and your understanding is revealed by your actions. He calls us to examine ourselves to see if there is real, heavenly wisdom in us, or just earthly wisdom.

Four points about the nature of earthly wisdom that we can learn from this passage:

  • Earthly wisdom possesses bitter envy and selfish ambition. James says that any time you see bitter envy kind or any time you see selfish ambition, there is no heavenly wisdom. That’s just earthly wisdom.
  • Earthly wisdom is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. Talk about a description here! James says, basically, the same thing we all know. There are three enemies for every believer and they are… In reality, humanity only has so much capacity, and we tend to not speak the truth, we tend to deny ourselves what is truth, we try to use our brains to our capacity and we can only go so far, and the world teaches us things that are not of God.
  • Earthly wisdom brings disorder and evil. That’s the result. When we rely on earthly wisdom, we can guarantee ourselves there is going to be disorder and, what he says, is every kind of evil.
  • Earthly wisdom is God’s wisdom corrupted. It’s defective, and it brings nothing but destruction and all kinds of evil.

God may give us wisdom to succeed. Maybe God gave you wisdom to succeed in your work or in your business, and you’ve reached a great level of success, but if you take that wisdom and you use it to oppress others, to step over people to make it to the top, that’s perverted wisdom. That’s corrupted wisdom.

But here’s four points about the nature of heavenly wisdom, in contrast to what we just learned about earthly wisdom.

  • Heavenly wisdom is pure and peace-loving. Wisdom from God inspires unity. It brings us together. It does not perpetrate conflict. Jesus said in Matthew 5, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
  • The action of heavenly wisdom is full of mercy and good fruit. It cares for the needy. It is unconditional and compassionate. It treats others better than themselves. The wise person puts into practice the words of Jesus when he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
  • The posture of heavenly wisdom is impartial and sincere. Godly wisdom is unwavering. It isn’t divided. It doesn’t play favorites. It’s openhearted. It is vulnerable, honest, and true.
  • The motivation of heavenly wisdom is a harvest of righteousness. Like throwing seeds to sow peace, and that peace produces a harvest of more peace. That’s the motivation of heavenly wisdom: producing good and producing peace.

Job 28 says:

“Where then does wisdom come from? Where does understanding dwell? It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing, concealed even from the birds in the sky. […] God understands the way to it and he alone knows where it dwells…then he looked at wisdom and appraised it; he confirmed it and tested it. And he said to the human race, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.'”

When we start in the fear of the Lord, when our hearts are filled in a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we are able to receive the wisdom that comes from God. Without reverence (also described in the Bible as “fear”) we cannot experience his wisdom.

God wants us to receive wisdom.

If you are in Christ Jesus, we’re told in Scripture, Jesus was made wisdom for us. As Christians, we have full access to God’s powerful, peace-loving wisdom.

We live in a world that is desperate for reconciliation and peace. You and I have been entrusted through Jesus Christ to carry God’s wisdom to the world, to be ministers of reconciliation. That’s our call. We don’t get to sit quietly and do nothing. We get to participate in the work God is doing to bring peace in this world. Will you join him?

Paul wrote these words to the church in Ephesus. These are the words for you and for me today as we think about wisdom. “I [pray] that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”


Ask God for heavenly wisdom this week and trust him to change your mind and heart toward the people around you. Let us know about your encounters with wisdom in your life!