Thursday, June 08, 2006

Wisdom From Above

James 3:13-18

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

In verses 14 through 18 James plays out for his readers the principle that he established in verse 13. That is, you demonstrate your wisdom by how you live. Here in verse 14 we see very simply that if your behavior is destructive you should not claim to be wise. Here the destructive behavior is “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition.” James has just finished saying that wisdom is, at least in part, demonstrated by gentleness/humility. In fact the direct source of this gentleness/humility that James speaks of is wisdom itself. So, to have jealousy and selfish ambition is to demonstrate a profound lack of wisdom.

Since wisdom is understanding the truth and applying it to our lives, then those who do not have wisdom will not have a proper view of themselves. The wise person understands that, because of the self-deceptive nature of sin, people are deceived into thinking higher of themselves than they should. It is from true wisdom, wisdom from God, that we understand our sinfulness and humiliation in light of God’s perfection. Those whose lives are based on ungodly, or false, wisdom will be motivated be self-centeredness, they will be jealous when good things happen to other people, they will look out for their own good, and seek to fulfill their own selfish ambitions. All because they do not have a proper understanding of who they are. This lack of humility is directly proportional to a lack of wisdom. This is the exact problem that the original readers of this letter were having. In 4:1-17 we see that a lack of wise humility had a very destructive result in this community. They fought (v. 1), spoke against one another (v. 11), they put their own ambition ahead of God’s will (v. 13), and all because they lacked the wisdom to see God at work. This goes right back 1:2-5. It was there that we saw that God was working in the midst of these people’s trials. We also learned that if they had faith that this was true but lacked the wisdom to see exactly how God was working, then they should have prayed for that wisdom. I think that we can deduce from chapter 4 that these people never did ask for that wisdom (vs3).
To those people who were acting this way James’ command was “do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.” Let me paraphrase James, “All of you who claim to be wise and understanding, but live self-centered lives, do not boast of your great wisdom. Because when you boast of your wisdom you are lying against the truth. You do not have wisdom.” James’ point is crystal clear. If wisdom is skill in living righteously, which it is, and you are not living righteously then you are not wise.


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