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Conflicting Wisdom-James 3_13-18

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Conflicting Wisdom

James 3:13-18


A young man was being interviewed to be a pilot for a steamboat on the Mississippi River. The interviewer, doubtful that the young man could know the dangers of the river, asked if he knew where all the rocks were. To this he replied, “No, sir, I do not know where all the rocks are, but I know where they aren’t.” He got the job.

·         This young man had a choice.

·         He could learn and become knowledgeable in every place where there were rocks or he could focus on knowing where it was safe.

·         Wisdom like knowledge can come from more than one source.

·         In the Bible we find that it talks about wisdom that is attained and put to use in this world.

·         There is also the wisdom that comes from God and is used to further God’s kingdom.

·         Today we want to look at what James has to say about wisdom.

·         In chapter 3:13-18 he describes the wisdom of this world and wisdom that comes from God.

·         What we have in this world looks quite inviting.  We see people with vast amounts of knowledge.

·         We observe those with incredible savvy.

·         There are those who have written volumes filled with valuable facts.

·         There are those who have made it their goal to be wise and knowledgeable.

·         Our admiration for those with this wisdom has crept into our homes and churches.

·         James reveals that worldly wisdom while seemingly attractive at first, in the end does not produce the desired results when we try to apply them to Christianity.

·         He shows us that the wisdom that truly is of value has its source in the divine.

The Indicator of True Wisdom (3:13)

3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings.

·         James once again brings us back to the topic of wisdom

·         This is so because he is trying to emphasize that wisdom is key to a person staying is a right relationship with God.

·         It is those who have wisdom from God who remain faithful and demonstrate their Christianity through their actions.

·         James begins in verse 13 by giving us a general synopsis of wisdom that is true.

·         James poses to his reader a question that seems to allude to the idea that there were those that thought they had superior knowledge or wisdom.

·         His question is meant to challenge the church as to what makes up true wisdom?  How does a person know when they are truly being wise?

·         Wisdom we know is multi-faceted coming from learning and experience.  But this has limitations unless it is born of God.

·         James makes it clear in chapter one that wisdom is foremost a gift of God.  It is divine understanding that enables us to live out our Christianity in a manner pleasing to Him.

·         He provides two concepts concerning true wisdom

·         First he states that true wisdom should produce good works.

·         What he is saying is that if you truly understood the Christian life you would come to realize that it is not a faith that allows a person to claim a relationship with Jesus without demonstrating it by what you do.

·         Second he emphasizes that true wisdom is characterized by gentleness or as some versions state humility or meekness.

·         This characteristic of meekness has often been considered synonymous with weakness but this is not so.

·         In actuality the word has more the idea of power under restraint.

·         Meekness is a main quality of Christ (Matt. 11:29), an attitude to be adopted by believers (Matt. 5:5) and one of fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23).

·         When it comes to our relationships with family and the church, gentleness is essential.

·         There is plenty of opportunity for conflict and it takes a wise and understanding individual characterized by gentleness to often resolve an issue.

·         So James puts wisdom clearly in perspective; it produces a life of faith verifying action and is characterized by a humble attitude.

Mom’s Wisdom

To my kids who have left home and are on their own, I pass on a list of life lessons:

1. Don’t sweat your every mistake or faux pas. They make up for the things you got away with that nobody knows about.

2. Avoid marrying anyone who deliberately flushes the toilet when you’re taking a shower.

3. When someone tells you that what he’s about to say is “for your own good,” expect the worst.

4. The value of a dog is its constant reminder of how much fun it is to be idiotic.

5. If you are lavishly praised, enjoy the taste but don’t swallow it whole.

6. When a politician says, “Let me make something perfectly clear,” remember that he usually won’t.

7. Your children may leave home, but their stuff will be in your attic and basement forever.

8. If someone says, “I know what I mean, but I just can’t put it into words,” he doesn’t know what he means.

9. Two people cannot operate a TV remote control in the same room at the same time.

10. Don’t waste time trying to be your own best friend. You can’t pat yourself on the back, and it’s unsatisfying to cry on your own shoulder. Find a real friend instead.

Wisdom is the power to see and the inclination to choose the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it. - J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 80.

·         The value of wisdom does not take place in a vacuum.

·         Whether you are heeding the words of a mother or of J.I. Packer the same truth is being revealed, wisdom has to have an end product.

·         When we seek the true wisdom we seek the best and highest goal.

·         We know that we have attained it and understood it when it can be seen manifested in our actions.

Worldly Wisdom (3:14-16)

3:14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfishness in your hearts, do not boast and tell lies against the truth. 3:15 Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, natural, demonic. 3:16 For where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is disorder and every evil practice.

·        These verses describe the type of wisdom that is found in this world.

·        It is a type of wisdom that in the end is really no wisdom at all for it only brings destruction and strife.

·        In verse 14 we find several characteristics of worldly wisdom that are in stark contrast to being gentle.

·        He states that worldly wisdom is bitter jealousy.

·        This type of wisdom always compares itself to others instead of the ultimate standard; God.

·        This wisdom wants to compete with others, is not satisfied or content.

·        It holds grudges against those that it envies.

·        The actual word in the greek is translated ‘zeal’.  It has the idea of having an intense feeling over another’s achievements or success.

·        Normally the word ‘zeal’ would be a neutral word but by adding the word ‘bitter’ James depicts a state of mind that is only self interested.

·        God is described as being jealous through out scripture.  He has a zeal or intense interest in his creation that they would worship and obey him.

·        The zeal that comes from worldly wisdom does not seek to worship God but to please themselves.

·        James describes worldly wisdom as being selfish.  This type of wisdom is completely self-seeking, it does not want to obey God or glorify his name but wants to do what pleases itself.  It causes division and strife because it does not work for the betterment of others but does only what satisfies itself.

·        Those who possess this worldly wisdom boast about their true spiritual condition.

·        From their heart through their actions and words they reveal that their aim is to compete against others, elevate their name instead of Christ and do what pleases them.

·        This wisdom reveals that they are liars who may claim wisdom but actually speak against true wisdom that is characterized by gentleness.

·        Those who are in the Christian community claiming wisdom and boasting are not of God because their lives are not marked by humility.

·        In verse 15 James describes the source of such wisdom.

·        He says that it does not come from above-another words Heaven.

·        Its roots are not from God who is the author of all wisdom and all truth.

·        He says that it is earthly, it is concerned with immediate pleasure and success rather than being concerned with what God would want. It is inferior and does not measure up to wisdom from above.

·        This type of wisdom, earthly wisdom meets its end in destruction. Phil. 3:19:

Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, they exult in their shame, and they think about earthly things.

·        It also finds its source in the natural.  Some versions use the word ‘sensual’ which can be misleading.  Others use the word ‘unspiritual’ which is a better rendering that comes close to the word ‘natural’

·        To have a wisdom that is natural has its source in things of this world and not of God.  This wisdom has ambitions and solutions that emulate the patterns and values of the world rather than God.

·        This wisdom ultimately finds its source in the one who is father of jealousy and selfishness.

·        The Devil comes as an angel of light masquerading and attempting to put forward a wisdom that is remarkably similar to God’s wisdom but at the heart is jealous and selfish.

·        If a person has a wisdom that is revealed to be self-seeking, James tells us it is instigated from Satan.

·        In verse 16 James tells us that this type of wisdom has devastating effects.

·        Where there is jealousy and selfishness there will be all kinds of evil.

·        It does not bring unity, it does not build up the body, it does not allow for service to take place, outreach will not happen, sanctification will be halted, families will be destroyed, there will be disorder, unspeakable hidden sins that plague the church.  It will bring double-mindedness, an ignorance of the Word, favoritism, a faith without action, and the use of words that tear down.

·        Not only this but there will be every kind of evil practice that infects not only the church but the families and private lives of those in the church.

·        There will be lying, cheating, alcoholism, adultery, incest, rape, pornography and abuse and this is only a partial list.

·        When we buy into earthly wisdom in place of striving after Godly wisdom we see only destruction.

An ambitious farmer, unhappy about the yield of his crops, heard of a highly recommended new seed corn. He bought some and produced a crop that was so abundant his astonished neighbors asked him to sell them a portion of the new seed. But the farmer, afraid that he would lose a profitable competitive advantage, refused.

The second year the new seed did not produce as good a crop, and when the third-year crop was still worse it dawned upon the farmer that his prize corn was being pollinated by the inferior grade of corn from his neighbors’ fields.

·         When we choose to adopt the practices and heart of this world, the unspiritual and demonic it has negative consequences.

·         The wisdom of this world wants to be greedy and selfish but only leads to destruction.

Godly Wisdom (3:17-18)

3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, accommodating, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and not hypocritical. 3:18 And the fruit that consists of righteousness is planted in peace among those who make peace.

·         James now proceeds to tell us what holy, spiritual, Godly wisdom truly is to be.

·         We will note that he has a particular interest in the results of Godly wisdom

·         He begins in the first part of verse 17 by saying that the wisdom from heaven is primarily pure.

·         The word James uses for holy is an interesting word in that it comes as an attribute of God and everything belonging to Him.

·         So this opening statement of Godly wisdom provides the source of true wisdom.  He tells us that it comes only from God and no other means.

·         Its source is God and those who follow Christ must aim for holiness in order to attain it.

·         The church if it wants to be the body Christ in a way that brings God glory must be marked first and foremost with a focus on the things above that is distinguished by holiness.

·         James then lists seven characteristics that contrast the worldly characteristics of verse 14.

·         This wisdom with grow when the church is at peace with one another.  This peace is produced when selfishness is abandoned and humility is practiced.  Phil. 2:1-4:

2:1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2:2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. 2:3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 2:4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.

·         Godly wisdom is marked by gentleness.  The basic idea of the word is that it is yielding, fair, moderate,kind and courteous.

·         The person who is gentle is humbly patient, submits to dishonor and abuse for it knows that there is no need to defend and uphold rights that we may have from a worldly standing.

·         It has the wisdom to know that there is more to life and the reward will be seen in Christ.  Matt. 5:10-12:

5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

5:11 “Blessed are you when people11 insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely12 on account of me. 5:12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.

·         Wisdom from God is marked by being accommodating.  If we would take the word literally it has the idea of being ready to obey.

·         This type of wisdom is teachable, compliant and not stubborn.

·         Again if one was selfish this would be impossible as a selfish person would never want to be obedient if it meant not getting exactly what they wanted.

·         The next characteristic of good wisdom is that it is full of mercy.  One of the greatest attributes that benefits us is his mercy.  Without his mercy we would be in such terrible straits it would be impossible to function.

·         He asks us to have wisdom in this by demonstrating mercy to others.  In fact Jesus makes it clear that mercy is given to those who demonstrate it.  Matt. 5:7:

5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

·        The fifth attribute of Godly wisdom is that it has good fruit.  Rather than use the word fruit, James could have used the word outcome or product.

·        This again goes to his emphasis on actions.  The wisdom that is true will be seen and not just talked about.

·        The sixth is that true wisdom is seen as being impartial.

·        Going back to James and his discussion of favoritism we see that there is no room for judging the value of a person over another person.

·        True wisdom treats all people equal.

·        The seventh attribute of Godly wisdom is that it is found without hypocrisy.

·        The idea that James is conveying is that Christian wisdom is without pretensions.  It is to be the real deal, the genuine article.

·        One cannot as he describes with the tongue be two things at once.  One cannot display ungodly actions and lay claim to Godly wisdom.

·        Verse 18 describes the results that come from true wisdom.  This verse is extremely difficult to translate which makes it hard to understand.

·        As John MacArthur states “There is an inexorable causal relationship between godly wisdom, genuine righteousness, and peace.[1]

·        In order to understand this verse we must first understand what James means by ‘righteousness’.

·        In much of the NT this word has the idea of being correct or right before God that leads to salvation.

·        In James he has an emphasis that leans more towards the idea of the characteristic of upright behavior.  In other words for James it is doing that which pleases God.

·        When we practice in Godly wisdom we will want to do what God asks us to do, we will want to treat others as God intended for us.

·        The result of such righteousness will be an increasingly close relationship with God; a greater peace with God.

·        What will also happen is our relationships with each other will also result in a more peaceful and harmonious relationship.

·        The church and its people will be in much better relationship, accomplish much more and make deeper effectual change in this world if they would only practice Godly wisdom.

The Coney is a rock badger, a bit larger than the prairie dogs that infect our state of Colorado. Coneys are gray, the color of the rocks. As long as the coney, the rock badger, is on the rock sunning itself, it's almost impossible to see. When a predator comes to attack, the Coney will run into a hole, the crag in the rock. If a vulture or an eagle wants to sweep down on the coney, it has to knock down a mountain to get at it.

One thing about Coneys, they know where their security lies. If a coney decides to go off on the prairie, venturing away from the rock, then it's vulnerable. It doesn't matter how courageous the coney is. It doesn't matter whether or not it's been taking body building lessons at the local gym. The most courageous coney falls victim to the smallest wolf or lion. When it wanders away from the rock, a Coney is dead meat.

Biblical writers would have taken that truth, and you know as well as I, they would apply it to God. They would have said, “If you have the wisdom of a badger, you'll know where your security is. And the security you must have is the security of God himself.”

·         The wisdom we need to seek is in the one who is our foundation, our rock.  First and foremost besides all the other attributes of Godly wisdom it is essential that we remain focused on being pure before God.

·         There is only one way to be wise and that is to seek purity from the God of purity.


I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.

—Abraham Lincoln, Leadership, Vol. 3, no. 1.

·        It should be our prayer that we do not succumb to the temptation to embrace worldly wisdom.

·        It should be our goal to seek the wisdom that has its roots in our holy God and not in jealousy and selfishness.

·        There are many places of worship and Christian homes that have not made that their goal and it has caused irreparable harm.

·        We should seek that which is valuable, that which brings life, we should seek to live our Christian lives is such a way that through our actions we demonstrate wisdom from above.

2:1 My child, if you receive my words,

and store up my commands within you,

2:2 by making your ear attentive to wisdom,

and by turning your heart to understanding,

2:3 indeed, if you call out for discernment –

raise your voice for understanding –

2:4 if you seek it like silver,

and search for it like hidden treasure,

2:5 then you will understand how to fear the Lord,

and you will discover knowledge about God.

2:6 For the Lord gives wisdom,

and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding.

2:7 He stores up effective counsel for the upright,

and is like a shield for those who live with integrity,

2:8 to guard the paths of the righteous

and to protect the way of his pious ones.

2:9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice

and equity – every good way.

3:13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,

and the one who obtains understanding.

3:14 For her benefit is more profitable than silver,

and her gain is better than gold.

3:15 She is more precious than rubies,

and none of the things you desire can compare with her.

3:16 Long life is in her right hand;

in her left hand are riches and honor.

3:17 Her ways are very pleasant,

and all her paths are peaceful.

3:18 She is like a tree of life to those who obtain her,

and everyone who grasps hold of her will be blessed.

3:19 By wisdom the Lord laid the foundation of the earth;

he established the heavens by understanding.

3:20 By his knowledge the primordial sea was broken open,

and the clouds drip down dew.

3:21 My child, do not let them escape from your sight;

safeguard sound wisdom and discretion.

3:22 So they will give life to you,

and grace to adorn your neck.

3:23 Then you will walk on your way with security,

and you will not stumble.


[1]John MacArthur, James, 180 (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1998).

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