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Lesson Eight: How to Spot a Real Wise Guy

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During his retirement years, General Omar Bradley once remarked that "the world has achieved brilliance without wisdom." General Bradley realized that there is a vast difference between wisdom and knowledge. Unfortunately, that distinction is often lacking in our modern world. There is a tendency to equate wisdom with intelligence, titles and degrees. Little if any attention is given to the lifestyle of the quoted "expert" or the long-range effect of his supposed wisdom.

James points out that there are two kinds of wisdom. One is humanistic. The other is heavenly. The first is compatible with carnality. You can possess it and be considered a wise man though your heart may be filled with bitterness and your life marked by conflict. But the wisdom that comes from God is much more discriminating. It doesn’t keep company with envy and strife. Neither can it be divorced from the life of the individual. It first changes the one who has it, then those who hear it. It shuns hypocrisy and embraces purity. According to James, those who have it live right and do good deeds. It is more evident in how they live than what they say.

That is the key to understanding this brief section. James has already warned us that the tongue is an unreliable instrument. A man can profess to be wise, but how can we know for sure? James tells us to examine the life. A man may have a silver tongue, but does his life bear the marks of true wisdom?

I. The Connection between Wisdom and Works – Verse 13

A. Wisdom is evident through right living and good works.

  1. The verb shew is used in the sense of giving evidence or offering proof.
  2. Wisdom is not proven by writing books or earning degrees, but by living right and doing well (a good conversation coupled with good works).
  3. Wisdom is displayed in the arena of life – in our everyday actions and choices.
  4. Wisdom is the result of truth applied to the life – of being a doer of the word, and not a hearer only.

B. Wisdom is evident in a meek spirit. "meekness of wisdom"

  1. A meek person is one who is not pushy, demanding, or arrogant. He doesn’t come across with the attitude of "Do it my way, or hit the highway!"
  2. Meekness of wisdom refers to an attitude of composure that results from having confidence in godly wisdom.
  3. The truly wise man doesn’t batter men with the truth. He doesn’t feel threatened by those who reject or oppose wisdom.
  4. His confidence is in the power of the truth to win converts, as opposed to the envy and strife of verse 14.

II. The Carnal Substitute for Wisdom – Verses 14-16

A. The fruits of counterfeit wisdom

  1. It produces malice instead of meekness. Verse 14 "bitter envy and strife"
  2. Godly wisdom seeks to free others. Carnal wisdom seeks to control others. (My way, or the highway.)
  3. Carnal wisdom is often motivated by jealousy and leads to rivalries. Defending "the cause" is more important than discovering the truth.
  4. Carnal wisdom may lead to personal glory, but it opposes (lies against) the truth.
  5. It leads to confusion and opens the door to every evil work. Verse 16
  6. The spirit of envy and strife that accompanies counterfeit wisdom leads to confusion – a state of disorder marked by quarrels and constant struggles.
  7. In this environment of confusion may be found every form of carnality as men clash and compete over their philosophies, envious of having the preeminence.

B. The roots of counterfeit wisdom – Verse 15, Compare to Ephesians 2:2-3

  1. It is earthly – "according to the course of this world"
  2. It is in complete harmony with the motives, ambitions, and practices of the world.
  3. It may be packaged in religious wrappings and promoted by prominent Christians, but it is in complete agreement with the philosophies of fallen men.
  4. It measures success in worldly terms and is driven by worldly aims.

There is a habit today of taking what works for the world and adapting it to the church. As an example, compare the "self help" books marketed to Christians and those marketed to secular society. In many cases, the only difference is that a few Bible verses have been quoted to support the secular philosophies popular with society. Almost anything can be passed off as Christian belief and behavior.

  1. It is sensual – "fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind"
  2. The word translated sensual refers to that which is the product of the man’s natural, or "animal" appetites.
  3. It is the wisdom of an unspiritual mind, concerned only with fulfilling selfish desires and carnal ambitions.
  4. It is devilish – "according to the prince of the power of the air"

James informs us that when we choose humanistic wisdom over heavenly wisdom we are living carnally and following the course of this world plotted by our enemy, Satan. God’s wisdom does not lead to strife and confusion. That kind of wisdom is born in hell, brings satisfaction to the devil, and accomplishes his purpose for the church.

III. The Character of True Wisdom – Verse 17

A. It differs in its origin

  1. True wisdom is from above.
  2. It has its source in God. Compare to Proverbs 9:10
  3. Its standard is truth.
  4. True wisdom begins with God and is guided by the Book He has given us.
  5. It is the product of a spiritual mind
  6. It originates in heaven, satisfies God, and accomplishes His purposes in the world.

B. It is distinctive in its results

  1. It is pure. Because it is free from moral impurities, it imparts virtue and godly character.
  2. It is peaceable. Because it is not the product of bitterness, anger, or jealousy, it establishes good relationships.
  3. It is gentle. Because it is free from selfish motives, it makes men considerate and reasonable.
  4. It is easy to be entreated. Because it is not rigid and unbending, the wise man is willing to listen and adapt to meet the needs of others.
  5. It is full of mercy and good fruits. Because it is free of pride and jealousy, it leads to acts of kindness and compassion.
  6. It is without partiality. Because God’s wisdom works equally well for anyone who asks for it, it produces a confident lifestyle.
  7. It is without hypocrisy. Because it is free from hidden motives and selfish ambitions, it makes men sincere and reliable.


In this final verse, James uses the word "fruit," reminding us that righteousness is not produced BY the believer, but IN the believer. Humanistic wisdom leads to confusion and evil work. Heavenly wisdom produces righteousness and peace. Thus, James gives us a means of determining the source of the "wisdom" by which we live. If it is from above, it leads to a clean life that is free from bitter jealousy and carnal conflicts. That is why James tells us not to lie against the truth. If you have bitter envy and strife in your hearts, you are drawing on the wrong source of wisdom.

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