17 “Wise” Is Not a Suffix

7173_tractor-through-the-wheat-fieldOne of my pet peeves is hearing “-wise” used as a suffix.

William Strunk and E.B. White, co-authors of The Elements of Style, (Macmillan, 1979) share my disdain:

Not to be used indiscriminately as a pseudo-suffix: taxwise, pricewise, marriagewise, prosewise, salt water taffywise. Chiefly useful when it means “in the manner of”: clockwise. There is not a noun in the language to which -wise cannot be added if the spirit moves one to add it. The sober writer will abstain from the use of this wild additive.

James grew up with the wisest Man who ever lived–with the all-wise God of Creation, come in flesh. Jesus never made a wrong decision, never regretted something He’d done, never acted on impulse, never exercised poor judgment. Not even as a child–and children are notoriously unwise! In fact, the second-wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, reminds us that “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child…”(PRO 22.15)

James says a significant thing about wisdom in his epistle:

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (JAM 3.13-18)

First, he makes it clear that thinking we are wise or saying we are wise–or even using -wise as a suffix!-neither makes us wise nor shows that we are. Wisdom is demonstrated by my conduct, not by my crowing. Wisdom is characterized by meekness, not by arrogance.

Second, James tells us that there is one thing that militates against real wisdom every time: self interest. He describes it as “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition,” two sides of the same coin. Aside from the fact that God hates them, jealousy and rivalry will wreak havoc on our relationships, colour our choices, and make us miserable and discontented. They will lead to “disorder and every vile practice.” We have to realize is that if self interest ever enters into our decision-making, our “wisdom” is not godly wisdom.

What’s the alternative? Well, James says, if wisdom isn’t from above, it’s got to be from below–it’s “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” That’s clear language. If wisdom doesn’t come from the One who made the world, it comes from the one who made a mess of the world. There is no Door Number Three.

And look at the description of godly wisdom. It’s “pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” The antithesis of self interest, wouldn’t you say? And the result is different, too–instead of disorder and vile practices, we reap a harvest of peace because the seeds of wisdom are sown in peace by those who desire peace.

So how are we doing, wisdomwise?

Image is from Wallpaper Mania.


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