Monday, June 19, 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 verse 15 James solidifies his point. Whatever wisdom these people thought they had it was not wisdom from above. It was clearly not God-given skill for living righteously, because they were not living righteously. God was not the source of their wisdom. Thankfully, James did not leave us to speculate as to what the source actually was. Here we see that the sources of the false wisdom in these people’s lives, and in our own lives today, were earthly, natural, and demonic. The meaning of all three of these terms together is clear; the source of this wisdom is the opposite of God. These three terms are however, slightly more nuanced and deserve our attention.
First, James says that this fake wisdom is “earthly.” We do not have to go far to see what earthly wisdom looks like. This type of so-called wisdom is limited to what man can discover, and theorize by himself. There is no place for God in this false earthly wisdom. It is this kind of thinking that has led to non-Christian worldviews such as evolution, and atheism. For the Christian the final authority is God, through His revealed word. For the earthly thinker the final authority is himself, and he is responsible for deciding right from wrong all by himself. Unfortunately, this type of individualism has dominates the culture that we live in. It is for this reason that we must be very careful to understand what James is teaching and apply it to our lives (1:12-22).
Second, James says that this fake wisdom is “natural.” This is a reference to humans in their unregenerate state apart from the renewing work of the Spirit. Of the handful of occurrences of this word in the NT there are two that are very helpful in understanding what James is talking about here. In 2 Corinthians 1:12 Paul described the exact same thing that James did. In 2 Corinthians the same word is translated “fleshly” and it refers to that fake wisdom which is the polar opposite of “holiness,” “godly sincerity,” and the “grace of God.” The second cross reference that I think will be helpful to look at is found in Jude 19. In this passage Jude again describes the exact same thing as James. Here that same word is translated as “worldly.” What we see is that the result of this kind of “worldly” thinking is division, and this “worldly” thinking is “devoid of the Spirit.” On a side note I think that it would be helpful to take a moment to determine what devoid of the Spirit means. It has been the regular teaching of our Church, and the Bible, that the Spirit of God works through the Word of God to make a lasting change in our lives. By this we mean the chief tool that Spirit of God uses in the process of your sanctification is the Bible. Thus, if you want to avoid being “worldly-minded” and “devoid of the Spirit” in your thinking, then you must immerse yourself Scripture.

The third source that James gives for this fake wisdom is “demonic.” James saves the most serious for last. In saying that this fake wisdom is demonic James is clearly highlighting that this wisdom is in no way related to God. This type of wisdom is what Paul warned Timothy of in 1 Timothy 4:1 when he said, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…” Wisdom apart from God is nothing more than the foolishness of demons. This is an astonishing foolishness. It was these demons, led by Satan, who rebelled against God. They were so foolish that they left the direct presence of God’s glory in order to pursue their own glory. If we fall into this demonic wisdom we too will eventually find ourselves pursuing our own glory rather than God’s and in verse 16 we see the result of this.

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