13-16Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here's what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn't wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn't wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn't wisdom. It's the furthest thing from wisdom—it's animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you're trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others' throats.
It is always good to have a "recipe" to follow - especially when you are trying to create something you are not familiar with. The same is true in our spiritual walk - we have not walked this way before, so we need the "recipe" for how it is that we are to live. James sets down a couple of important principles - contrasting the way we should live against the way we often choose to live.
First, we need to understand what is that we are choosing to have "made of our lives" - it is to be counted wise and to build a reputation that is rock-solid. Reputation is how we are known - it reflects either the wisdom or foolishness of our choices. Some people refer to a reputation as the "character" of a man or woman. So, James is focusing on what develops a "solid" character.
There is a simple contrast presented here:
- Live well, wisely and humbly - OR -
- Be mean-spirited, twisting the truth, focusing on what makes you look good, but destroys relationships
It doesn't take a rocket-scientist to evaluate the "best" course of action. We want to be known as having made wise decisions with our life. Individuals who bring tragedy into lives of others are certainly known for their actions, but we would not say they have a "good" or "solid" reputation.
The most important portion of this passage is the idea that our actions and words should match. We lose credibility when we say one thing and then act completely opposite. We cannot call ourselves disciples of Christ and then never spend any time or effort at being discipled. We cannot say that we are ambassadors of Christ if we never make any effort to bring the message of reconciliation to others. We cannot say that we care for people, then engage in all kinds of destructive behavior that tears down others.
I remember going up and down the ladder this holiday season, hanging the lights that would adorn the house. When I got to the end, I was ready to plug them in and give them a try. To my dismay, the end of the lights that I held in my hand was the wrong end! I had somehow reversed the lights, plugging them into each other without consideration that I needed to end the row of lights with a "male-type" plug at the farthest end. When I tracked my error back, I had to take down over half the lights and re-string them all over again. Needless to say, I was disappointed in myself (getting up and down that ladder is not as easy as it once was!).
The "carelessness" by which we engage in some of our activities in life can be just as frustrating when we see the outcome. We end up having to "go back" to "undo" our mistakes and to "redo" our efforts all over again. "Redoing" life is costly - we cannot make up for lost time, miss opportunities that would have existed the first time around, and often find that relationships are just not the same once we have "damaged" them in the first place. The simple truth is that it takes more work to "redo" life than it would have resulted in if we'd just have taken the time to consider the result of our actions before we ever pursued them the first time around!
Thank God that we have the opportunities for "do-overs"! I am grateful for each one, but it is apparent to me that the "do-over" cost more than I often wanted invest in the first place! I have had my share of "doing again" what I did not do right the first time. I remember Mom saying to me from the time I was a young child, "If the job is worth doing, it is worth doing right." She spoke much wisdom in that truth, especially as it deals with relationships. If a relationship is worth having, it is worth "doing it right" the first time. That means that we don't allow things in the relationship that damage either of the people.
Much discord in our homes, work relationships, and even in society in general, could have been avoided if we were more concerned with maintaining solid character (both for ourself and the other in the relationship). Relationships are much more complicated than the string of lights I hang at Christmas - but the principle of "connecting" correctly, with fore-thought and intention, applies!