Wisdom is not only about making the right decisions but about living by the power of God in Christ Jesus. Wisdom and folly are right and wrong ways of living in God’s world, and therefore there are only two paths available. But only one is the path of true wisdom and power.
According to James, these two paths are the way from above and the way from below. They are two opposing ways of power in the world. These ways of power are distinguished first by their source. The way from above is power from God, the power found only through embracing God’s power and depending upon him. But to embrace God’s power requires that we accept our own weakness and abide, not in our strength, but in Christ (John 15:1–5). Conversely, the way from below is a rejection of God’s power and dependence upon ourselves in sinful autonomy. The way from below rejects abiding in God in favor of our own willpower, turning to the power of the self to make a difference in the world. Ultimately the source of this power is the world, the flesh, and the devil (James 3:15).
As important as our source of power is, we cannot simply ask where power is from. We also have to ask, What is power for? These are two sides of the same coin, even as they are distinct questions. The way from above and the way from below are distinguished not only by the source of power but also by the fruit or results of power. The way from above is power for love. As we walk the way from above, our lives are “pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). By contrast, the way from below is power for the sake of being powerful, for the sake of control. As we walk the way from below, our hearts grow full of “jealousy and selfish ambition”; and the fruit we produce is “disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:16).
Father, please help me to walk in the way from above. Please give me guidance and wisdom, and please grant me the strength I need to reject the way from below. Amen.