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James 3:13

ESV Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
NIV 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.
NASB Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.
CSB Who among you is wise and understanding? By his good conduct he should show that his works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom.
NLT If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.
KJV Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

What does James 3:13 mean?

What is wisdom? In a new section beginning in this verse, James will show that how each person answers that question depends on whether their focus is limited to this life or includes eternity in heaven. He starts out with a provocative question. This test immediately challenges our personal pride: "who is wise and understanding among you?"

James uses two different Greek words, with two different meanings. "Understanding" comes from the Greek epistēmōn, which focuses on intellect and factual knowledge. "Wisdom," which James will center on more heavily in this passage, is from the Greek sophos. This term is more related to practical, real-life use of moral reasoning. This is not to say intellect is unimportant, but James's primary point in this letter is about what we do. As a result, it's natural that he leans more heavily on the applied "wisdom" aspect.

Those with some scriptural training or higher status in the faith community will be tempted to count themselves qualified as "wise." Those who feel inadequate in spiritual things might hope they won't be noticed. James's answer to his own question, though, comes as a surprise. As human beings, we tend to measure wisdom as having all the right answers to the hard questions. Instead, James suggests, wisdom is as wisdom does. He echoes what he wrote about faith and good works in chapter 2: "I will show you my faith by my good works."

A truly wise person will demonstrate the humility of wisdom by his good works. The true test of God's kind of wisdom is a life well lived, a life spent doing good works for others. As the wisdom book of Proverbs repeatedly makes clear, humility is an essential component of living wisely (Proverbs 1:5–8). Without setting ourselves aside, we cannot hope to become the wise servants God has called us to be.
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