13Who is wise and learned among you? Let him show his deeds by his good behavior using gentle wisdom. — James 3:13
Christians are sometimes afraid to let anyone know what they’re doing because they might appear proud or self-righteous. Even worse, they might be or become proud and self-righteous, and that wouldn’t be good!
And there is indeed a temptation to become proud when we do well. We want to show others what we’re doing. But then we consider what Jesus had to say about not letting our right hand know what our left hand is doing (Matthew 6:1-4). Keeping your good deeds quiet is one way to avoid spiritual pride. But pride can pursue you even there. You can be proud without anybody knowing it. â€œI did that good deed without letting anyone know, just like Jesus told me to,â€ you say to yourself. â€œI bet Fred would have announced it from the rooftops!â€ And there you go again, with pride and self-righteousness.
You see how it goes? You can also get paranoid. Some of us are very anxious to claim humility. It was hard for me to learn to just say â€œThank youâ€ when someone would compliment me after a sermon or a lesson taught in class. When they’d say good things about my sermon, my first inclination was to downplay it, or to point out some of the glaring weakness I’d noticed. I didn’t have to make those up. I’m usually very aware of some mistakes in every sermon.
But that can become a form of pride as well. I tell people my mistakes so that they won’t think I’m proud. Then I get to be proud of my humility.
And round and round it goes . . .
I didn’t choose to borrow the translation from our verse, but the Revised English Bible translates the end of James 3:13 as â€œmodesty that comes of wisdom.â€ I get the picture of someone who doesn’t have to toot his own horn, but doesn’t feel compelled to stick his hand in the mouth of the trumpet that someone else is tooting for him. (If you’ve played a horn in a band, you’ll probably get that picture. Block the air off quickly enough and you can actually hurt someone.)
So now I’ve learned to just say thank you when someone gives that compliment, but it was a struggle. What God is calling for is gentle wisdomâ€”not overestimating ourselves, but not putting ourselves down. One good way to do that is to let others do the talking. Notice that the demonstration of character is in good behavior. We live our lives before others gently, wisely, and we don’t make a show of it. At the same time we do show what God is doing in us and has done for us.
Done with the â€œmodesty that comes of wisdomâ€ this will let us show â€œChrist in usâ€ to the world without appearing, or being, self-righteous.