“Wise Faith” – James 3:13-18

July 7th, 2013

James 3:13-18

“Wise Faith”

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Bible Memory Verse for the Week: It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. — 1 Corinthians 1:30


Background Information:

  • (v. 13) Greek has two words which receive the English equivalent ‘good’.  One (agathos, e.g. Lk 18:18) means ‘that which is intrinsically good’, ‘possessing the quality of goodness’.  The word James uses, however, is kalos, ‘lovely’, and what he speaks of is the loveliness of goodness, the attractiveness of the good life, its wholesomeness and helpfulness, as seen in the Lord’s people: a way of life whose goodness is plain to all who see.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 128)
  • (v. 13) The Greek word prautes has been called “the untranslatable word” and virtually every English Bible uses a number of variations to try to express its meaning.  In this instance, the NIV translators have chosen “humility,” which is certainly in the right general area, but hardly captures the precise quality that is meant.  Older English versions of the Bible almost always used “meekness,” but that word is now so widely misinterpreted as meaning weakness, that we probably need another to take its place.  “Gentleness” would be a good word to use–yet it is a particular kind of gentleness, one that can almost only be explained by way of illustration.  It is first of all a quality rooted in such a conviction about the overruling sovereignty of a wise and loving God that it accepts his dealings and dispositions without resistance.  But it is also a quality that accepts without retaliation the insults and injuries caused by one’s fellow men, recognizing that these, too, are under God’s providential control.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 205)
  • (v. 14) The first is “bitter envy.”  The word “envy” is the Greek zelos, which can sometimes have a perfectly good meaning and be translated “zeal.”  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 209)
  • (v. 14) The Greek word is pikros, (NIV = bitter) which comes from a root meaning “to cut” or “prick.”  When James speaks of “bitter envying” he is speaking of the kind of jealousy that cannot bear someone else’s popularity or success and, given the opportunity, will do anything it can to humiliate and degrade that person, regardless of who may get hurt in the process.   (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 209-10)
  • (v. 14) “Selfish ambition.”  This translates the single Greek word eritheia, which has a fascinating history.  Part of its background was political, when it was used of a person willing to do anything to get himself elected to office.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 210)
  • (v. 16) This emphasis is no doubt the product of James’ desire to eradicate the bitter, contentious quarrels and disputes that were rending the church (3:16; 4:1-2).  The peace that genuine wisdom should produce was notably absent.  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 136-37)
  • (v. 16) Yet it is interesting to notice that the word “evil” which James uses here is not one of the more usual Greek words, kakos, but poneros, which has a primary meaning of “trivial” or “worthless.”  Is there not a lesson here?  Whatever we achieve as a result of envy or selfish ambition proves at the end of the day to be worthless.  A Hollywood film star once said, “I did everything I could to get to the top of the tree, and when I got to the top I discovered that there was nothing there.”  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 214-15)
  • (v. 17) The particular Greek word used–hagne (NIV = pure) basically means “undefiled” or “uncontaminated” and the most important thing to grasp is that this is an adjective applied to God himself.  Writing of the certainty of Christ’s return to the earth, John says, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 Jn 3:3).  This takes us to the heart of what James is saying.  The purity of which he is speaking does not primarily refer to outward behavior (though it is obviously closely connected) but to an attitude of heart towards God.  There is an obvious echo here of the promise Jesus made: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Mt 5:8).  The emphasis stated there, and implied by James, is on the heart, the very center of the personality and the source of all outward activity.  It is here first of all, in what the Bible calls “the wellspring of life” (Prv 4:23) that God demands purity.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 218)
  • (v. 17) “Peace-loving” sounds a very comfortable, almost compromising word, but it is far from that.  It does not refer to a spineless anonymity that does not want to get involved.  It breathes action, not apathy.  It seeks to preserve peace where it exists and to promote peace where it does not exist.  It unites where false wisdom divides and reconciles where false wisdom rips apart.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 219)
  • (v. 17) It is “considerate.”  This is one of many words used in English versions of the Bible to translate the Greek epieikes.  It carries with it the sense of being prepared to see the best in even the worst of people and of being willing to forgive when one has the right to condemn.
  • (v. 17) The true wisdom is epieikēs (NIV = considerate).  Of all Greek words in the NT this is the most untranslatable.  Aristotle defined it as that “which is just beyond the written law” and as “justice and better than justice” and as that “which steps in to correct things when the law itself becomes unjust.”  The man who is epieikēs is the man who knows when it is actually wrong to apply the strict letter of the law.  He knows how to forgive when strict justice gives him a perfect right to condemn.  He knows how to make allowances, when not to stand upon his rights, how to temper justice with mercy, always remembers that there are greater things in the world than rules and regulations.  It is impossible to find an English word to translate this quality.  Matthew Arnold called it “sweet reasonableness” and it is the ability to extend to others the kindly consideration we would wish to receive ourselves.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 95-96)
  • (v. 17) The Greek word is eupeithes, which in turn is made up of two words meaning “easy, or well” and “to be persuaded.”  However, this does not mean that the person who is eupeithes is a spineless weakling, a “pushover,” someone who is without convictions or moral courage.  What it does mean is that he is open to reason.
  • (v. 17) In Christian thought eleos (NIV = full of mercy) means mercy for the man who is in trouble, even if the trouble is his own fault.  Christian pity is the reflection of God’s pity; and that went out to men, not only when they were suffering unjustly, but when they were suffering through their own fault.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 96)


The question to be answered is . . . What is James attempting to show us here in the last part of the third chapter of his letter?


Answer:  That the fruit of your life is a direct result of what you have sown.  We can try, but we cannot deny the truth.  Look to Jesus to sow in your life the seeds of faith and the Word that can raise a harvest of righteousness and wisdom in your life.


Wisdom is the ability to see and build relationships. Wisdom is the ability to take disparate things and put them into a whole.  (Tim Keller message “Wise Relationships”)


“Wisdom is the endowment of heart and mind which is needed for right conduct in life.”  (Alistair Begg sermon, “A Biblical Perspective on Wisdom and Wealth”)


Wisdom is knowledge worked out.  (Tim Keller message, “Wise Relationships”)


Wisdom is to make ‘the good people nice.’  (Derek Kidner quoted by J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 129)


Wisdom is nothing less than one of the attributes of God: ‘To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his’ (Job 12:13).  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 199)


To the Jews, wisdom was skill in living righteously.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 164)


Wisdom = Seeing yourself, life and the world from God’s point of view.


Wisdom defined = You show your wisdom by your life, not by your words.  (Tim Keller message, “Wise Relationships”)


To get wisdom you must suffer (Jas 1:2-5).  Count it joy when you have trouble.  Trouble brings you to wisdom.  You don’t get wisdom until you are out of control, until you are humbled.  The prouder you are the more insane you are. The prouder you are the more out of touch with reality you are.  Whatever you are that is good is a gift (1 Cor 4).  You are what you are by the grace of God.  (Tim Keller message, “Wise Relationships”)


The Word for the Day is . . . Wisdom


How does James instruct us to discover the source of our wisdom and its root in righteousness?:


There is an inexorable causal relationship between godly wisdom, genuine righteousness, and peace.  Godly wisdom produces a continuing cycle of righteousness, which is planted and harvested in a peaceful, harmonious relationship between God and His faithful people and between those people themselves.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 180-81)


God’s economy revealed in this organic body is an amazing part of the world He has designed!  Christian Schwarz, developer of Natural Church Development, says it this way: “One of the greatest miracles of God’s creation is the interdependence of its parts, from the minutest microorganisms to the most magnificent stars.  Viewing a phenomenon in the context of its manifold relationships rather than in isolation is what the Scriptures call ‘wisdom.’”  (Paul R. Ford, Knocking Over the Leadership Ladder, 82-83)


I.  Spiritual Wisdom from God in heaven above is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere  (Jas 3:13, 17)  


There is a great difference between fits and graces.  In The Work of the Holy Spirit, Octavius Winslow writes, “it is a remarkable fact…that the Corinthian church, the most distinguished for its possession of the gifts of the Spirit, was at the same time the most remarkable for its lack of the sanctifying graces of the Spirit.  It was the most gifted, but at the same time the least holy community gathered and planted by the apostles.”  Mark that carefully!  Ability is no yardstick of spirituality.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 212-13)


Commenting on this word, Robert Johnstone says, “The Christian man loves to make allowances for the ignorance and weakness of others, knowing how great need he stands in constantly of having allowance made for himself both by God and man.”  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 220)


He is not so obstinately entrenched in his own opinions that he refuses to listen to any alternative view–like the man who during a presidential election in the United States put a sticker on the back of his car which read: “My mind is made up.  Don’t confuse me with the facts!”  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 220-21)


Next, this godly wisdom is “considerate” (epieikēs).  This is one of the great words of character description in the NT.  In the LXX it is used mostly of God’s disposition as King.  He is gentle and kind, although in reality he has every reason to be stern and punitive toward men in their sin.  God’s people also are to be marked by this godlike quality, not insisting on their rights according to the letter of the law, but exercising love’s leniency instead.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 191)


II.  Unspiritual Wisdom from the Devil and hell promote bitter envy, selfish ambition, disorder and every evil practice (Jas 3:14-16)


The term for unspiritual is used in the NT for the person who does not have God’s Spirit (3:15), or does not accept the guidance that comes from the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:14).  This person teaches only the wisdom of this life.  His or her wisdom is based on human feelings and human reasoning alone without God’s help.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 86)


Akatastasia (disorder) is the noun form of the adjective James has used in 1:8 and 3:8 to characterize the ‘double-minded’ man and the ‘double speaking’ tongue.  The term connotes a restless, unsettled state.  It is used in Luke’s Gospel to describe the ‘tumults’, the uprisings and revolutions, that will typify the period preceding the parousia (Lk 21:9).  And Paul, pleading with the Corinthians to refrain from an unbridled, unorganized display of individual spiritual gifts in the assembly, reminds them that ‘God is not a God of confusion (akatastasis) but of peace’ (1 Cor 14:33).  ‘Confusion’, ‘disorder’ and ‘tumults’ will inevitably break out in the church where Christians, especially leaders, are more interested in pursuing their own ambitions or partisan causes than the edification of the body as a whole.  (Douglas J. Moo, Tyndale NT Commentaries: James, 134)


Was John Calvin not right to warn us of “minds so infected with the power of malignity that they turn all things into bitterness”?  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 210)


What is absolutely clear is that when these unholy wars come about as the result of envy and ambition, God is not to blame, for “God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Cor 14:33).  The other, more personal, application is the tragic truth that the envious, ambitious man is never at rest.  There is always someone else to envy, another mountain to climb, another position to attain.  There is an unholy restlessness about a man who is eaten up with envy and selfish ambition.  He never has what Anna Laetia Waring calls “a heart at leisure from itself.”  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 214)


When Paul admonishes the Ephesians not to grieve the Holy Spirit, he tells them to “get rid of all bitterness” (4:31).  A heart that nurtures “bitter envy and selfish ambition” is devoid of heavenly wisdom.  (Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: James, 119)


James also calls wisdom psychikē (“unspiritual”).  In 1 Cor 2:14-15 psychikos (“unspiritual”) is contrasted to pneumatikos (“spiritual”).  The pneumatikos (“spiritual”) man has received the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:12), but the psychikos (“unspiritual”) man does not have the Spirit (Jude 19).  Thus “wisdom” that is psychikē (“unspiritual”) characterizes unregenerate human nature.  James also says that it is “of the devil” (more lit., “demonic” [daimoniōdēs]).  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 191)


James is addressing the problem of arrogance, which can be present even when correct doctrine is being taught.  His warning should bring all teachers to an abrupt halt for self-examination.  I can be correct in my doctrine down to the most esoteric details; I can attain a consistency in my orthodoxy which surpasses others’; I can gain a reputation for my thorough grasp of theology and be regarded as a protector of the faith; and my teaching may still be earthly, unspiritual, of the devil, resulting in disorder and every evil practice by stirring up suspicion, slander, distrust and contention within the Christian community.  (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 135)


III.  The fruit of righteousness in your life indicates the heavenly wisdom you are following (Jas 3:13-14, 18; see also Ps 37:30; Prv 9:9; 10:31; 15:1; 23:24; Eccl 9:1; 10:2; Jer 23:5;  Isa 32:17; Dan 12:3; 1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:17-20; Gal 6:7-10; Col 4:5-6)


That one word makes a very important point, and that is that peace is something that needs to be made!  It is not something that exists naturally in the world.  In fact, it would be difficult to think of a single word in the dictionary about which the world says so much and of which it experiences so little.  It has been calculated that in the last 4,000 years there have been only 300 without a major war somewhere or other.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 225)


Take his agricultural analogy.  Can you imagine a farmer spending all his time sitting in an armchair reading glossy magazines about seeds, equipment, fertilizers, farming techniques and the like?  He would have little to show for it if he did!  If the farmer is to raise a harvest he must work for it, and the same is true for the Christian.  It is an interesting coincidence that every single chapter in the Epistle of James ends with a call to action.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 226)


Our works show where our hearts are invested (Mt 6:19-21, 33).  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 84)


We look about us and see fellowships being sundered–sometimes in the name of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of fellowship himself!  It does not look as if we really believe James when he says that the spirit which promotes, tolerates and brings about divisions is of the earth (not of heaven), of the natural man (not of the Spirit of God) and of the devil (not of the Lord).  We look about us and find Christians being catty and petty, as anxious to keep their end up, and to defend their rights, and so on, as the next man.  It does not look as if we believe James when he says that all that is mean lacks heavenly validation.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 135)


We can never say that we have truly pitied anyone until we have helped him.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 97)


As A. W. Tozer says, “Hardly anything else reveals so well the fear and uncertainty among men as the length to which they will go to hide their true selves from each other and even from their own eyes.”  Yet unless we are utterly out of touch with God we know the truth; we know when we have done something or got somewhere by our own carnal efforts.  We know because the Holy Spirit rebukes us and we should never cease to praise God for this part of his ministry.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 211)


An ounce of help is said to be worth a ton of pity.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 221)


Christians prove the reality of their relationship to God by their concern for peace.  One of the Bible’s titles for God is to describe him as “the God of peace” (Heb 13:20), but this is not just a passive characteristic.  It sent the son of God into the world “to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Lk 1:79) and so that we might have “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 226)


Lord, make me an instrument of your peace!

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled, as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  –Francis of Assisi


The false wisdom that is of the devil will manifest itself in practices of disorder and evil.  This is simply the application of the principle James learned from Jesus:  by their fruit you will recognize them.  When self-glorification is at the heart of Christian ministry by church members, those Christians will eventually become sowers of disorder, contention and other evil practices in the church.  (George M. Stulac, The IVP NT Commentary Series: James, 137)


At the end of the day, the greatest single thing a Christian can do to promote peace in the world is to share with others what the Bible calls “the gospel of peace” (Eph 6:15).  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 228)


Is there an apology you ought to make?  A letter you ought to write?  A restitution you ought to pay?  A hand you ought to offer?  A misunderstanding you ought to correct?  A breach you ought to heal?  A gift you ought to make?  Then do it quickly, while it is still seed-time.  Remember that “Night is coming, when no one can work” (Jn 9:5).  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 230)


Righteousness promotes peace and peace promotes righteousness; they form what we might call a virtuous circle.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 231)


To “raise a harvest of righteousness” demands a certain kind of climate.  A crop of righteousness cannot be produced in the climate of bitterness and self-seeking.  Righteousness will grow only in a climate of peace.  And it must be sown and cultivated by the “peacemakers.”  Such persons not only love peace and live in peace but also strive to create conditions of peace.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, 191-92)


The ultimate wisdom is the fear of the Lord.  Not scared of the Lord but (Ps 130) in awe or to be amazed.  You have not begun to be wise, the beginning of wisdom is when your knowledge of God becomes something that you are relating to, you are relating the knowledge of God to your life.  (Tim Keller message, “Wise Relationships”)


The light bulb comes on when the knowledge of the scriptures becomes reality and relates to you in a real and tangible way.  The reality of what you know hits you and smacks you in the face and you are able to relate to God in a way you never saw before.  This is wisdom from above.  Your knowledge is being churned into wisdom.


What does it mean to be wise?   To show it by your good (kalos [Gk] – beautiful) life.  Real wisdom makes your life beautiful.  What makes something beautiful?  It is when the parts relate properly to each other.  The opposite of wisdom is disorder (v. 16).  Wisdom is a proper relationship between body and soul and spirit.  Wisdom is a proper relationship between work and rest.  Wisdom is a proper relationship between everything in your life and is in perfect balance.  Wisdom is when all of the parts of your life are related to reality.  A wise person is someone who makes the word become flesh.  To have your life based upon lies creates ugliness and disorder.


CONCLUSION/APPLICATION: What does this message have to do with Christ and me?:

A-  The natural carnal man (who is naturally against Christ) will receive by default his wisdom from the Devil below.  (Isa 5:21; Prv 28:26;  29:15; Jer 17:9; Jn 3:16-21; Rom 3:10-23)


The heart of man’s problem is the problem of man’s heart.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 209)


The Bible and Christian tradition tell us that sinful pride (hybris) is an enemy of God.  And so it is, no matter whether in fashion or out.  According to traditional Christian wisdom, a main problem with pride is that it recognizes neither sin nor grace; in fact, pride hammers them flat and discards them.  (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 84)


To make room for wisdom, get rid of pride.


Beginning with Genesis 3, where Satan successfully deceived Eve, and continuing through the entire Bible, there is a “wisdom of Satan” at work, fighting against the wisdom of God.  Satan convinced Eve that she would be like God.  He told her that the tree would make her wise.  Ever since that event, people have continued to believe Satan’s lies and have tried to become their own gods (Rom 1:18-25).  Satan is cunning; he is the old serpent!  He has wisdom that will confound and confuse you if you do not know the wisdom of God. (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 106-07)


Jonathan Edwards once said, “Although the devil be exceedingly crafty and subtle, yet he is one of the greatest fools and blockheads in the world, as the subtlest of wicked men are.  Sin is of such a nature that it strangely infatuates and stultifies the mind.”  We may find it amusing to hear the devil called a blockhead, but this is a matter for learning and not for laughter.  It is no light or little thing when Satan so corrupts the Christian’s thinking that he follows false wisdom, something the Bible uncompromisingly describes as being “earthly, unspiritual, devilish.”  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 213)


1 Cor 1-4 is a passage especially concerned with wisdom.  In fact it is primarily a denunciation of wisdom.  It is important to know that the wisdom against which Paul wrote was not of Jewish parentage, but Greek.  It was the vain speculations of philosophy expressed in the empty, high-flown phrases of meaningless rhetoric that brought the apostle’s wrath.  This philosophy was a trusting of man’s thought processes rather than a reception of God’s revelation.  It was especially at the point of the meaninglessness and futility of the cross of Christ in the judgment of men that Paul took his stand.  Such an attitude toward the cross was clearly a testimony to the perversity of the wisdom against which he wrote.  (Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, 944-45)


Those whose lives are based on and motivated by human, ungodly wisdom are inevitably self-centered, living in a world in which their own personal ideas, desires, and standards are the measure of everything.  Whatever and whoever serves those ends is considered good and friendly; whatever and whoever threatens those ends is considered bad and an enemy.  Those who are engulfed in self-serving worldly wisdom resent anyone or anything that comes between them and their own objectives.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 171)


A professed Christian who is proud, boasting, self-centered, loveless, and arrogant is a fraud.  To claim otherwise is to lie against the truth, to utterly contradict the gospel of Jesus Christ and the clear teaching of all the NT.  Near the beginning of this letter, James speaks of salvation as God’s bringing “us forth by the word of truth,” and at the end he says, “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth,” (1:18; 5:19, emphasis added), clearly identifying truth as a synonym of the gospel, where true wisdom starts.

There is nothing more characteristic of fallen, unredeemed men than being dominated by self.  James is therefore saying that, if a person claims to belong to God and to have the wisdom of God, but his life is motivated and characterized by selfish ambition and bitter jealousy, he is simply lying against the truth.  Whatever he might claim, he cannot be saved.  He is a living lie.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 172)


The apostle warned Timothy that “the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” 1 Tm 4:1).  The wisdom from below is nothing more than the “foolishness” of demons.  Appealing to men’s natural fallenness and sinful inclination to arrogant self-interest, this wisdom deceives them into believing Satan’s lies rather than God’s truth.  What they believe to be their own wisdom is really the devil’s.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 173-74)


The real trouble with man in sin is that he always wants to understand.  The ultimate sin of man is pride of intellect.  That is why it is always true to say that “not many wise men after the flesh, not many might, not many noble are called.”  The wise man after the flesh wants to understand.  He pits his brain against God’s wisdom, and he says, “I don’t see.”  Of course he doesn’t.  And Christ says to him, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3).  If you think that with your mind, which is so small when you compare it with the mind of God, and which is not only small but also sinful, and perverted, and polluted, and twisted–if you think that with the mind you have you can comprehend the working of God’s eternal mind and wisdom, obviously you do not know God, you are outside the life of God, and you are lost.  The first thing that must happen to you before you can ever become a Christian is that you must surrender that little mind of yours, and begin to say, “Of course I cannot understand it; my whole nature is against it.  I can see that there is only one thing to do; I submit myself to the revelation that God has been pleased to give.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 5, 251)


For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality; and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline and virtue.  For the modern man, the cardinal problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of man, and the solution is a technique.   (C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man)


B-  Genuine faith in Christ will look to God in heaven above for wisdom to sanctify you. (1 Kgs 3:11-12; 2 Chr 1:10; Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Prv 1:7; 2:6; 3:13; ch 8; 11:2; 15:33; 28:26; Eccl 2:26; Isa 11:2;  Dan 1:17;  1 Cor 1:30; 14:33; Eph 1:17; 4:17-5:21; Col 1:9; 3:1-17; 2 Tm 3:14-17; Heb 12:2; Jas 1:5; 1 Pt 2:11-23)



The Bible says that wisdom is a gift.  You have to work it out and seek it but it is a gift.  (Tim Keller message, “Wise Relationships”)


In contrast to the wisdom that is earthly, sensual, and devilish, James describes a “wisdom that is from above” (3:17).  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (Jas 1:17).  The Christian looks up to heaven for all that he needs.  His citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20), just as his Father is in heaven (Mt 6:9).  His treasures are in heaven, not on earth (Mt 6:19ff).  He was born from above (Jn 3:1-7) when he trusted Jesus Christ.  The believer’s home is in heaven (Jn 14:1-6) and his hope is in heaven.  He sets his affection and attention on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3:1-4).  (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, 106-07)


Eight characteristics of God-given wisdom are enumerated by James.  This list bears similarity to other lists in the NT that speak of the Christian way of life: the description of true love (1 Cor 13:4-7), the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), the godly mind-set (Phil 4:8), and the life-style of the new man (Col 3:12-15).  Our Lord, “who became to us wisdom from God” (1 Cor 1:30), exemplified perfectly these characteristics.  As the believer grows in Christlikeness, these traits become increasingly visible in his life; he is “being transformed into the same [Christ’s] image from glory to glory” (2 Cor 3:18; cf. Col 3:10; 1 Jn 3:2-3).  (Vernon Doerksen, Everyman’s Bible Commentary:  James, 90)


One of the most difficult things in the world is to argue without passion and to meet arguments without wounding.  To be utterly convinced of one’s own beliefs without at the same time being bitter to those of others is no easy thing; and yet it is a first necessity for the Christian teacher and scholar.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 92)


Nothing good can ever grow in an atmosphere where men are at variance with one another.  A group where there is bitterness and strife is a barren soil in which the seeds of righteousness can never grow and out of which no reward can ever come.  The man who disturbs personal relationships and is responsible for strife and bitterness has cut himself off from the reward which God gives to those who live his life.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: James and Peter, 97-98)


We call peacemakers those who have a ministry or gift of helping others to compose their differences.  (J.A. Motyer, The Message of James, 138)


According to the Bible’s teaching, an unbeliever can be knowledgeable, intelligent, clever and shrewd, but “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10).  As Dr. J. I. Packer puts it, “Not until we have become humble and teachable, standing in awe of God’s holiness and sovereignty…acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts, and willing to have our minds turned upside down, can divine wisdom become ours.”  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 202)


Knowledge is extended by observation, wisdom by meditation.  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 203)


In his marvelous little book The Knowledge of the Holy A. W. Tozer puts it like this: “To believe actively that our heavenly Father constantly spreads around us the providential circumstances that work for our present good and our everlasting well-being, brings to the soul a veritable benediction.  Most of us go through life praying a little, planning a little, jockeying for position, hoping but never being quite certain of anything, and always secretly afraid that we will miss the way.  This is a tragic waste of truth and never gives rest to the heart.  There is a better way.  It is to repudiate our own wisdom and take instead the infinite wisdom of God.  Our insistence on seeing ahead is natural enough, but it is a real hindrance to our spiritual progress.  God has charged himself with full responsibility for our eternal happiness and stands ready to take over the management of our lives the moment we turn in faith to him.”  (John Blanchard, Truth for Life, 207)


Wisdom is a reality-based phenomenon.  To be wise is to know reality to discern it.  A discerning person notices things, attends to things, picks up on things.  She notices the difference between tolerance and forgiveness, for example, and between pleasure and joy, and between sentimentality and compassion.  She can spot real humility and keep it distinct in her mind from its thinner cousin, unpretentiousness.  (Consider the ambiguity of the assertion “He’s a humble man,” which might mean either that the man virtuously sees others as his equals or that he leads a lowly life and never pretends otherwise.)

Discernment is a mark of wisdom:  it shows a kind of attentive respect for reality.  The discerning person notices the differences between things but also the connections between them.  She knows creation–what God has put together and what God has kept asunder–and can therefore spot the fractures and alloys introduced by human violation of it.  She knows, for instance, the way a particular sort of request can contaminate a friendship.  The discerning person, moreover, possesses an eye for the details and oddities of reality–the anxieties, for example, that sometimes lie behind overbred chit-chat, name-dropping, and the overuse of foreign phrases at dinner parties.  She knows that kindness sometimes coexists with stupidity and integrity with humorlessness.  She knows that people full of shadows may also be full of a light that causes them.  In such and other respects, Lewis Smedes remarks, “a discerning person has the makings of a connoisseur.”   (Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, 116-17)


There can be no wisdom from above apart from a saving relationship to Jesus Christ, who is Himself “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:24; cf. v. 30; Col 2:3) and who brings sinners into eternal communion with God.  (John MacArthur, MacArthur NT Commentary: James, 177)


In Prv 3:19 we’re told, “By wisdom the Lord laid the foundations of the world.  By understanding he set the heavens in their place.”  So God’s got wisdom.  God, in the ultimate act of wisdom, He brought order out of chaos.   He created us.  He created all the interrelationships and beauties of nature, all the interrelationships and beauties of the human being and soul, all the intricacies and . . . God is the Source of all beauty, of all narrative pattern, of all stories of everything. He created the ultimate wisdom.

But, here is the interesting thing. His wisdom does not just reside in heaven. . . . Obviously, if we could just get up there and get God’s wisdom.. . . There is a wisdom behind the universe.  There is a Word behind the Universe.  There is a wisdom and an order behind the Universe.  Boy, think of all the ramifications we could go into which we can’t.

This is the reason there is a design behind the universe.  This is the reason why you know that if today something weighs 200 lbs. tomorrow it will weigh 200 lbs (if everything else being equal) because of the uniformity of nature, because there is wisdom behind it.  Because a mind is behind it because there is a Word behind it.

But, how are we going to get up there?  Well, James is wise enough to say, “You can get this wisdom because even though it resides, it has come down.”  The wisdom that comes down.

Well, how did it come down?  Here is all we can say.  The Greeks knew that there must be a wisdom behind the universe.  They saw nature.  There are people who are always going to say, “You know the universe is an accident.  There is no wisdom behind nature.”

And yet everyday they assume the universe is uniform that there is a rationality in nature.  They assume mathematics work.  They assume there is a moral order.  They assume all these things.  You live as if there is a wisdom behind nature because there is.

The Greeks were not so stupid.  They knew there was. . . . They believed it was a realm of abstract ideas that you could know through contemplation.  But, John says, “The Word, the wisdom, the Logos, through which God created the universe, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.”

And do you know what that means?  The Greeks should have known if, whenever you see wisdom in anybody’s life it is always a relationship.  It is always relational.  Surely, if there was a wisdom behind the universe it could not be something you could know in the abstract—you would have to relate to it.  The wisdom behind the universe is a person you have to know personally.  A person you have to love.  A person you have to commit yourself to.  Not a person you have to arrive at through contemplation.

The Greeks should have known it.  We should have all known it.  If the essence of a wise heart is relationship then wisdom itself behind the universe would be a relationship.

You know, Christians believe that God is triune.  There has always been a Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  And for all the problem that that creates, you know rationally and logically, what it means is that relationship is the key to nature and grace.  Relationship is intrinsic to the universe because God is a relationship.  Because God is filled with a relationship from all eternity.  That is the reason why wisdom is what it is.  But the ultimate wisdom was not even Jesus creating.  It was on the cross.  You want to know why?

Because on the cross He related the two things that could not be related any other way.  God’s love and His law, his truth and His love.  Those things were irreconcilable.  But in the most ultimate act of wisdom He brought them together.  And as a result He brought God and us together.  That is wisdom.  And when that gets into your heart . . .when it catches fire in your heart you become wise.  You know why?  Because you finally see that truth and love should not be pitted against each another. (Tim Keller message, “Wise Relationships”)


This passage tells us that what makes Him The Most High is that He was able to become most low.  In fact, to disbelieve in the incarnation, in the name of the greatness of God, is actually to diminish His greatness.

One writer put it this way and I think it is fascinating: “The power of the higher just in so far as it is truly higher can come down to include the lesser.  And everywhere the great enters the little its power to do so is virtually the test of its greatness.

Now listen . ..  Think!  Think! . . .  You can become kittenish with your kitten but your kitten will never talk to you about philosophy with you. . . . Everywhere the great enters the little its power to do so is the test of its greatness.  The inability of the lesser to enter the greater is a proof of its lesserness.

Hitler could never understand Lincoln but Lincoln can understand Hitler. . . . wisdom always understands foolishness (because wisdom sees the foolishness in yourself) but to foolishness wisdom is utterly incomprehensible

Unselfishness knows selfishness’ number but to the selfish the deeds of the unselfish are completely incomprehensible.

Therefore, if God is truly Great, this makes perfect sense.  In fact, now we know how great He is.  The greatness of God is greater than we ever thought.  The Most High has become the most low.  (Tim Keller message, “The Deity of Jesus”)


Worship point:  The intensity and joy in your worship will be in direct proportion to the amount of heavenly wisdom/righteousness in your life.


When our true motives are exposed, one defense is to become arrogant.  Our very pride ought to tell us that our desire to be seen as wise is based on selfishness.  The moment that we least want to admit our pride is the moment when recognizing it will do us the most good.  (Bruce Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary; James, 85)


Spiritual Challenge:  Carefully evaluate your wisdom.  Is it from above or below?  How do you know?  What can you do to weed out of your life wisdom from below and cultivate wisdom from above?




Wisdom Incarnate


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