You might recall from James 1:5 that James admonished his brethren about what to do if you lack wisdom. Ask of God, he said, and he will give it to you in abundance, with generosity. Remember that this wisdom was to aid these brethren that are dispersed everywhere in a time of persecution to remain dedicated to the Lord. That is why we titled this series, “Dispersed & Dedicated”.
Today in our study, James is going to teach us more about the wisdom that comes from God above. I have titled the message, “Wisdom of Heaven”. Believe it or not, there are various kinds of wisdom that you can find on this earth. Worldly wisdom, book smarts, and aptitude are all helpful when completing certain tasks and responsibilities down below. As Christians, we are told to gain wisdom that comes from above. This teaching is particularly addressed to those that want to become teachers, as we addressed in our last study. What James will offer here is a list of qualifications for those that want to teach the wisdom that comes from God.
Please join me in the reading of James 3:13-18 as this will be our context of study today:
13Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Wisdom is demonstrated by our actions (vs. 13)
13Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.
The type of wisdom in us will always be evident by how we conduct ourselves. James starts with this all-important question, “Who among you is wise and understanding?” The arrogant and prideful would be the first to hastily raise their hands to claim wisdom only in word, but not by their actions.
Then James adds that we need to show by good behavior the deeds of wisdom. Jesus once said in Luke 7:35, “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” This means that what is born out of my life through my actions will justify me. In the context, Jesus was pointing out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees where they criticized John the Baptist for not eating and drinking wine, saying “He has a demon”. Then when Jesus came eating and drinking, they said, he was a drunkard and a glutton.
They weren’t using wisdom, but their own arrogance and evil motives to judge in these circumstances. Jesus is basically proving that you must look at the overall actions of the individual and their personal behavior to decipher the wisdom by which they are operating. This will also prove the type of wisdom that you have while making your own choices in life (See Phil. 1:27).
James offers here that there must be gentleness to wisdom. We cannot be harsh or course with others and be using the wisdom that is from God. The Bible repeatedly talks about how a soft answer turns away wrath and that a man of a calm collected spirit will bring forth wisdom. The loud, angry, and arrogant man would not be a safe counselor. We don’t appoint such men to be teachers of the wisdom of God, for they have yet to achieve the practice of this wisdom in their own manner of life.
The wisdom that does not come down from above is marked by sin (vs. 14-16)
14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15This wisdom is not that which comes down from above but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
You can identify someone operating with worldly wisdom. Look into your heart. If you have bitterness, jealousy, and your motives are selfish, we are warned not to lie against the truth arrogantly. Next time you consider opening your mouth to speak, or before you take other actions, ask yourself,
Am I bitter?
Am I jealous?
Am I acting in selfishness?
Am I being arrogant and lying against the truth?
If you can answer “no” to these questions, chances are you are going to be able to proceed. If you answer, “yes” to any of these questions, you need to stop and check yourself before moving forward. Barnes says this person has “a fierce and unholy zeal”
James identifies this type of wisdom as earthly, natural, and demonic. It is a wisdom of this world, a wisdom that is carnal-minded, and a wisdom that comes from the depths of hell. It is the same wisdom used by demons. Think about that! Demons are bitter, jealous, selfish, arrogant and the devil is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). Don’t be someone who lives with worldly wisdom and thinks that it would be wise for you to become a teacher in the church of our Lord. You will be found lying against the truth.
James tells us that using this wisdom is sinful. We are warned that where jealousy and selfishness exist there is disorder and every evil thing. In I Corinthians 3:3, Paul wrote to the church, “for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” They were not men of God! James says this is a scenario where every evil thing lives. To me this describes hell. Consider that in hell there is uncontrollable weeping and gnashing of teeth, there is eternal punishment and torment day and night forever in a fiery furnace. There is no rest no matter how weary you become of the gloomy darkness there. There is not even a drop of water available to cool your tongue from the intense heat. We were just warned in the first portion of James 3:1-12, that we can set our world on fire by misusing our words and the tongue is set on fire by hell. The damage that we do with our words ultimately stems from hell and we are allowing Satan to use us as a vessel to do his work of evil when we don’t use wisdom from God that stems from a life that is lived in harmony with that heavenly wisdom.
If you want to invite chaos into your life, continue to use worldly wisdom. If life seems out of order or it seems like the results of your actions only create more drama and negative outcomes, you need to reflect on the wisdom that governs your decisions.
Wisdom from above has qualities reflecting godly characteristics (vs. 17-18)
17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
The wisdom that comes from God will reflect His divine nature and qualities. James begins by saying that wisdom from above is first pure. Pure wisdom is that which is revealed by the Spirit of God (Read I Cor. 2:6-14). Purity reflects the holiness of God. If only every thought that crossed our mind, every word that proceeded from our mouth, and every action that we carried out could be labeled as holy and pure. This would prove that we are using godly wisdom. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The answer to the age-old question is, how can someone keep their way pure and David answers in Psalm 119:9, “By guarding it according to your word.”
Paul admonished young Timothy to be an example, in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity (I Tim. 4:12). Again, Paul admonished Timothy, “keep yourself pure.” (I Tim. 5:22). Paul told the saints in Philippi to think on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and things that are worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Such “things” are only found in God’s holy word. The point is that the initial quality found in a teacher of God’s word is not his intellect, knowledge, or personal grasp of the Scriptures, but whether or not the word of God has changed his life to be pure before God. Doctrinal purity is one thing, but the purity of heart and life because of the doctrine of Christ is altogether different and of first importance.
Then James adds that wisdom from God is peaceable. We are admonished to be at peace with all men. This is part of the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace…” (Gal. 5:22). Jesus taught us to be peacemakers in order to be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9). Paul wrote that if it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all (Rom. 12:18). We want to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace and Paul tells us that in order to do this we must let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts (Eph. 4; Colossians 3:15). Paul also told us not to let anxiety get the best of us in any situation but to go to God in prayer and give thanks. The result is that the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7) The peace that the Lord gives is different from the peace that the world offers (John 14:27) Striving for this peace is important because without it we will not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
The third quality of wisdom from God is gentleness according to James. Some people think that to be gentle is to be a pushover or to lack passion. Neither of these is true. The word used by James can also be translated as moderate or patient. The greatest compliment that could be paid to a man of God is that he would be known as a “Christian gentleman”. Even while we make a defense for the gospel of Christ and give a reason for the hope that is in us, we need to do it with gentleness and respect (I Peter 3:15). Even when we correct opponents, we do it with gentleness (II Timothy 2:22-24). Paul wrote to Titus and asked him to remind the brethren to speak evil to no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people (Titus 3:2). Again, this gentle quality is a part of the fruit of the Spirit that we must produce instead of the works of the flesh, “...gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). Even when we attempt to restore brethren that have fallen away, we must learn to do this in a spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1), because we realize that we too could fall into the same circumstance. Jesus even taught, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matt. 11:29; See also Eph. 4:2) When Paul came to the brethren to preach the gospel, he said, “I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ…” (II Cor. 10:1) Paul described the gentleness of his approach in ministry in comparing his work to a nursing mother taking care of her own children (I Thess. 2:7). Paul admonished the young preacher Timothy in I Timothy 6:11, to pursue gentleness among other godly characteristics. Are you pursuing gentleness in your life?
Continuing in James 3, we find that the wisdom from above is also reasonable. The real meaning of this word is “easy to be entreated”. If someone calls upon you to discuss matters of faith, how do you reply? This is critical! Even God said in Isaiah, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD; though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” The LORD is saying that He is approachable while we consider together the spiritual welfare of our souls. We have to be willing to listen and be open-armed. The Bible says of Paul that he often reasoned with people about the word of God and discussed the truth with them. In Acts 17:2, “And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures.” In Acts 28:30-31 we read, “And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.” Paul was successful in this work because he became all things to all men that they might be saved (I Cor. 9:20-22). We need to get back to this place where we can be open, and people feel comfortable coming to and talking with us. While we are taught to go into all the world to preach the gospel, Paul had people coming to him to hear him preach and teach. He was approachable and open to listening and replying reasonably.
Next, James will add that heavenly wisdom must also include being full of mercy and good fruits. Let’s consider why James appears to link these two traits together. Again, in the Beatitudes, Jesus taught, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” I think the best way to see a connection between these two qualities is to look to the LORD. The psalmist wrote in Psalm 145:8, “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” It is not enough to have bowels of mercy, but we go beyond that to showing or demonstrating an abundance of love. We are moved with compassion and the desire to bless others. The Bible refers to this as producing fruits of righteousness for the Lord as His disciples (Phil. 1:11). Good fruits will grow out of a life that extends mercy to others. We are taught by Jesus in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful.” That is a tall order, especially since the context was talking about how we should love our enemies since God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. The rain still falls on the just and the unjust. If we refuse to show mercy, mercy will not be shown to us in the end (James 2:13). Remember that God desires mercy and not sacrifice. Never enter worship with gifts and offerings if you are holding a grudge with your brother or sister. Get that issue resolved (extend mercy and forgiveness) and then come and bring your sacrifices to the LORD (Matthew 9:13). The real sacrifice is not in the gift but rather from the heart behind the offering. In a parable that Jesus taught, the Master was merciful to a slave forgiving his debt, but right after receiving mercy from his Master, he went out and showed no mercy to a fellow slave that owed him money. The Master replied, “shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:33) Paul told Christians to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and malice, but rather be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
The next trait that James says is a part of the makeup of wisdom from above is to be unwavering or without partiality. Teachers were given to the church in order to bring maturity to the Lord’s church. If someone immature enters the role of teaching not only will they fail to equip people for the work of ministry, but they will also fail to encourage their brethren and build up the body of Christ. In Ephesians 4:13, Paul says that the goal will be met when, “we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” He goes on to say that we will no longer be like infants, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men…” We are to speak the truth in love at all times and by this truth, we gain maturity by growing to be like Christ (Eph. 4:11-16). Paul would exhort us to remain steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (I Cor. 15:58). We studied in a previous episode about prayer and how our requests cannot be offered with doubt (the original word meaning wavering) because we end up like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. The Hebrew writer said in Hebrews 10:23, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Those wavering often fall under the category of those riding the fence. They want to be in church on Sunday, but they want to be in the bar on Saturday night. These are they who sing the praise of God in worship and then on Monday morning are taking His name in vain before co-workers. We call this wavering or being partial. The English Standard Version (ESV) translates this quality that we must have as impartial while in the American Standard Version (ASV), it is rendered without variance. Since this is the only time this word appears in the New Testament it could have several meanings. We cannot vary from one minute to the next in our faith. We cannot “grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9). There are too many people giving up on their walk with the Lord and they are being wishy-washy in the faith. This word could also mean without strife. In other words, always be steady and calm in your demeanor. Let us be like David who said, “Vindicate me, Lord, because I have lived with integrity and have trusted in the Lord without wavering (Psalm 26:1). We cannot be two-faced or double-minded. We need to be consistent always in our work for the Lord.
This leads us right into the last characteristic of wisdom from heaven and that is “without hypocrisy”. This simply means that we must be sincere. You can tell if someone lacks genuineness in their faith. We call them phonies who are just playing the part. Hypocrisy by Oxford’s definition is, “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform, pretense.” Others have identified hypocrites as mask wearers that are acting but not truly living out the part that they are playing. Christianity is meant to fully transform us by completely renewing our minds (Romans 12:1). If we lack sincerity in our words and actions, we cannot be effective in sharing our faith with others. Before we can help others get the speck out of their eye, Jesus said, we have to take the beam or log out of our own eye (Matthew 7:5). James had just taught about how our religion is worthless if we do not bridle our tongues or if our actions toward others do not resonate with the proclamations of our faith (James 1:26-27). We must avoid becoming like those described in II Tim. 3:5 who had, “the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” In Titus 1:16, Paul wrote, “They profess to know God, but they deny Him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” We are warned about false prophets that come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves (Matthew 7:15). It really doesn’t have to be this drastic for us to fall into hypocrisy. Do you recall where James taught that if we see a brother or sister in need and we do not meet the need that we are living in hypocrisy? We claim to love our brother, but when given the opportunity we turn them away empty-handed. John said it this way, “Whoever says, ‘I know Him’ (the LORD), but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (I John 2:4). Go back and read the gospels and think about how many times Jesus exposed the insincere faith of the Pharisees. What are some of the things that they did? Jesus said that they worship God, but their heart is far from Him, they offered lip service but taught as doctrines the commands of men. They dressed fancy with long phylacteries on their robes and prayed long prayers in public to be heard by others and did works to be seen by men and receive their praises. Jesus said they were like whitewashed tombs that appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of dead men. They fasted and boasted about it, trying to make themselves look gloomy and disfigured. They would gain a follower and make them twice as much a son of hell as they themselves were. They would create bylaws that kept people out of the kingdom of heaven, but Jesus pointed out that they did not enter in themselves. The best advice we have been given is in Luke 12:1, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” They are going to receive a great condemnation someday. We need to let our faith and love be genuine and our devotion to God be true (Rom. 12:9; I John 3:18).
Paul said it this way, “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” He adds to that in II Corinthians 1:12, “For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.” Let this be our aim. Paul was afraid that as the serpent tempted Eve by his cunning, that the thoughts of his brethren in Corinth would be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ (II Cor. 11:3).
James will conclude with an amazing summary point. Just as good fruit is produced and harvested when good seed is carefully placed in good soil and properly cared for, likewise, we can expect the fruits of righteousness to be produced by the ones who aim to sow the seed of the word of God in peace and make peace with those who would listen. Can you think of anything more calm, quiet, and collected than a farmer walking up and down the rows of his field strategically placing the seed in the ground and then watering and caring for their crop until it is harvested. Our work is not marked by screaming, brawling, or winning arguments. Our goal is to be at peace with all men as much as is possible and to lead them to have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
If I can assist you in obeying the gospel of Christ, please reach out. After you hear the truth about Jesus (Romans 10:17) and put your faith in Him (John 8:24), repenting of your sins (Acts 17:30-31) and claiming Him as your Savior (Acts 8:37), you are made new in baptism (Mark 16:16). Once you come up from the water, you will walk in the newness (Romans 6:1-8) of life allowing your life to be governed by the wisdom of heaven found in God's word. If you are in need of restoring your relationship with Him in prayer as a Christian that may be struggling, it would be an honor to help. If we confess and pray, He is faithful to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9; James 5:16).