The Nature of Wisdom – James 3:13-18

James     Proverbs 16:25 reads, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but it’s end is death.” Jesus illustrated the same principle with His story of the wise man who built his house upon the rock, contrasted with the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. When the rains came down and the floods came up and the winds blew hard, the foolish man’s house fell. But, the wise man’s house stood firm because he wisely built it upon a sure foundation (Matthew 7:24-27). We are all living our lives by placing our faith in something or someone. How wise we are is determined not by the strength of our faith in that someone or something, but rather in the strength of the One/one or the thing upon which we have built our lives.

James makes the case that false wisdom, the kind that leads to destruction, is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (v. 15). Such wisdom comes out of hearts that are full of “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition” (vv. 14, 16). We might also call these characteristics, envy and strife. If envy (bitter jealousy) and strife (selfish ambition) are your motivations, then you are not operating from a Gospel-oriented worldview. You are not living out the reality of your salvation in Christ Jesus. You are not operating from the safety and security of your adoption by the Father through the Spirit. You are instead operating from a position of uncertainty. You are operating from a viewpoint that says you must fight, scrape, and claw your way to power, privilege, prestige, and prosperity. If others get in your way then you must outcompete them, often times even in “doing good.” Such is the nature of earthly wisdom. It is the wisdom Eve showed when, after she was tempted by the serpent, she ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is the wisdom Cain displayed when, after he witnessed God’s favor towards his brother, he killed Abel in a fit of bitter jealousy. It is the nature of the wisdom the older brother exemplified when, upon his father’s reception of the prodigal, he refused to join the party to celebrate. It is the type of wisdom we often see and hear championed by political candidates on the campaign trail. Sadly, it is a wisdom that too many times creeps into the hallways, classrooms, and even pulpits of the Church.

In contrast, true wisdom is from above, that is, from God. The conduct of the one who lives his life according to true wisdom is said to be “good.” The word can equally be translated as “beautiful.” This is the product of the wisdom of God in us! We live lives that are beautiful in His sight. Rather than living in such a way that we strive to get ahead at the expense of others, we live “in the meekness of wisdom” (v. 13). One who is wise lives a life that is pure, peace loving, polite, and pliable (v. 17). He is humble before God, for he knows the Lord as Creator first and foremost. Therefore he rightly shows honor and ascribes dignity to others as those created in the image of God. The wise man also lives meekly before the Lord because he knows his sinful condition and therefore his complete dependence upon Christ. Knowing this, he is able to be “full of mercy” towards others, even when those others have only shown envy and strife to him. He is able to live a life full of “good fruits” because his own nature has been changed by the presence of the Holy Spirit. The wise man is also “impartial” (unwavering, resolute) and “sincere” (v. 17) in his faith. His humble and gentle nature is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it is from the strength of his faith in Christ the Lord that he is able to be gentle even in correcting or rebuking others (see 2 Timothy 2:24-25). He is not ever trying to win glory for himself. He knows that his share in Christ’s glory is abundantly more than he could ever hope to achieve on his own. So he lives from a heart that is at peace with God. Such a person can show great wisdom.

Discuss and Pray – James 3:1-18

  1. Where, or to whom, do you turn for wisdom? Are there men or women in your life that have lived in an exemplary manner when it comes to godly wisdom? How do/did their lives match up with James’ assessment of the nature of true wisdom (see vv. 17-18)?
  2. Are there areas/aspects of your life where you sense you are making choices from envy or selfish ambition rather than from the meekness of wisdom? If so, how can the Gospel of Jesus help promote peace within you and through you?
  3. What are some ways in which we see false wisdom lived out in our culture? How can we respond evangelistically with wisdom from above? How can we serve the needs of our community and world in the meekness of wisdom?
  4. What might it look like to be wisely unwavering and sincere in our faith in Christ, yet peace loving, gentle, and open to reason in our manner towards others? How can we grow in this wisdom from above (prayer, study of the word, practice, etc.)?