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Lesson 17: Real Faith Seeks Wisdom From Above

James 3:13-18 

Reflecting back on the first part of Chapter three in James we saw that James focused in on the responsibility and accountability of teachers of the truth- of God’s Word. The emphasis in the first part of the chapter was on the use of the tongue. Real Faith controls the tongue through yielding to the Holy Spirit as the one who bridles the tongue and directs the ship. The other important truth was that our tongue reveals what is in the heart And there may be a need to deal with what has contaminated our heart.

Now in verse 13 James begins to challenge us with the truth that Real faith has wisdom from above.

Read James 3:13-18

In verse 13 James begins to exhort us that not only our speech is important, but our witness in our behavior is also, as we exhibit God’s wisdom with gentleness.

He begins with a question to examine our self with…"Who is wise and understanding among you?" In context this could reflect back on those who would be striving to be teachers, but we each can examine our own lives with this question. Whether we apply this to teachers, or counselors we seek wisdom from, or friends we choose to keep company with, we need to understand whether or not we are using the wisdom of God or not as we conduct our personal lives. Look at the next part of verse 13 – We are to show (there’s that visible reality again which James stresses throughout his writing) by our good life (by our good behavior –NAS), by deeds done in the humility that come from wisdom. Our lives are to give evidence to the humility that comes from wisdom.

In order to begin to understand this, we need to understand how wisdom and gentleness are defined. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. This word for gentleness was used in reference to domesticating animals, breaking as a horse to bring under control. So we are under control of the Holy Spirit when we are walking in gentleness. We are called to work as women under control as we seek and apply the wisdom of God to our lives. Gentleness is an act of submitting to God.

In order to walk according to God’s wisdom in all gentleness, we need to understand the wisdom of God. James contrasts two types of wisdom here –God’s wisdom and man’s wisdom. We’ll look at their sources, their effects and their results.

Man’s wisdom – False wisdom

Its source is defined in verse 15. It is not from above. It is earthly, natural, and demonic.

Earthly or worldly wisdom bases its values on the world’s standards and sources. It will measure success on the world’s terms and make its aims the world’s aims. Man will gather knowledge and use it according to the world’s standards. This wisdom is gained, not given to us. In I Corinthian, Paul says that the man’s wisdom is foolishness to God.

Natural or unspiritual wisdom- the word used here is the word from which we derive the word psychology. It is wisdom without the spirit of God. It indulges the flesh and its natural desires and lusts. It is natural reason without supernatural light as Matthew Henry says in his commentary.

Demonic wisdom - "of the devil" wisdom. The devil has tried to deceive man since he tried in the Garden of Eden. He delights in bringing confusion to any situation he can.

The wisdom not from above is man’s wisdom. These three words describing man’s wisdom parallel our three enemies listed in Ephesians 2:1-3 – the ways of the world, the ruler of the air, cravings of our sinful nature.

James describes how man’s wisdom operates or its effects in verse 14. It operates out of bitter envy and selfish ambition. The word used here for bitter jealousy or envy is really zeal gone bad. Zeal perhaps which was initiated for a good reason but has turned to bitter envy or jealousy. That jealousy leads to selfish ambition which is the heart attitude that you are out for yourself and nothing else. Man’s wisdom will use anything it can to promote the person often creating rivalry or division – even in the church. These attitudes can very easily lead to arrogance or boasting. The person can become puffed up with their knowledge, even expecting their ideas to be accepted. There is a pride in their knowledge that in order to protect it can lead to lying or denying the truth. And what does it produce according to verse 16 – disorder (confusion) which comes from instability and every evil or worthless practice. See the downward spiral away from the righteousness of God?

Now look at the wisdom from above or God’s wisdom in verses 17-18.

First we see its source – from above. It is given to us from God. The ability to use knowledge in the right way comes from God. In Jesus are all the treasures of wisdom (Colossians 2:3). I Corinthians 1:24 and 30 say that Jesus is our wisdom. So the first step in receiving the wisdom of God is to accept Jesus as Savior. The Word reveals His wisdom to us and as we saw in James chapter 1, believing prayer releases God’s wisdom to us.

We receive wisdom from above (heaven), we don’t gain it like the world does.

And what does it look like?  How can we identify God’s wisdom? It is first pure, uncontaminated. One of the commentaries says that the purity of God’s wisdom is simple in its ethical character and absolute in its goodness. It is not complicated or contaminated.

God’s wisdom is also peace-loving. This word is directly related to the maintaining of right relationships between man and God and man and man. God’s wisdom preserves peace or restores peace. It will build up relationships, not break them down. It is also considerate, appropriate to the situation or people involved. It is reasonable as it takes all into consideration and extends kindness to another as we would appreciate ourselves. Wisdom is also submissive. His means that true wisdom is not stubborn. It is willing to listen and knows when to yield without compromising truth. It is also full of mercy and good fruit. These two go together because mercy is not just pity, but compassion that takes action and produces the good works towards others. Wisdom from above is impartial or unwavering. It is without uncertainty or indecision. It is sincere. Never acts a certain "part" or way to gain its own end. It is honest and without pretense. This is a pretty comprehensive description of God’s wisdom. We can use this as a guideline to evaluate the wisdom used by a teacher of the truth, or someone we seek counsel from or for our own lives as we walk in wisdom.

The wisdom of God will reap what it sows - a harvest of righteousness. If you sow with the gentleness of wisdom it will be done in peace and it will bring peace. If you sow in righteousness it will reap righteousness. Isaiah 32:17 is a verse that says it clearly. The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever." These are the exact opposite of disorder and every evil practice.

I was thinking of a biblical contrast of these types of wisdom and I began to reflect on the situation that Jesus and the disciples confronted when there was a multitude of people to feed and no food. The disciples wanted to send the people away to find their own food, but Jesus said to feed them all. In the disciples minds they couldn’t fathom the task that would be ahead of them – gathering food for everyone? But Jesus’ wisdom was uncomplicated. It preserved peace. It was considerate, taking into account what it would mean to send these people looking for food on their own –He acted in the way he would have wanted to be treated. It was definitely compassionate action he took toward them! He was certain and he was sincere! And the Lord performed a miracle – sowing the gospel in peace and reaping the peace of the hearts of many who believed in Him that day. I wonder how many opportunities God misses our on to work when we use the wisdom of the world.

Man’s wisdom relies on man’s knowledge and selfish nature and the ways of this world which feeds into the devil’s intent to bring about confusion and disorder. God’s wisdom is received by a humble spirit and it produces peace and righteousness.

Which wisdom will you seek? Which will you receive?

Which will you practice?