James 3:13-18Who 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.
Over the next week or so I would like to look at this passage and the implications that it has on wisdom. Let me set the stage with this.
Wisdom is something that human beings have put a premium on through out all of history. This is a particularly useful topic for students. They have not lived long, and have not had many opportunities to gain wisdom through experience. Thus, as we talk about wisdom with our students it gives them the opportunity to be ahead of the curve latter in life. Even beyond students it is important to study the topic of wisdom. Solomon, in Proverbs 4:7 wrote, “Acquire wisdom; and with all your acquiring, get understanding.” It is this very topic of wisdom that James focuses on in 3:13-18.
Part of the challenge of talking a lot about wisdom is that you have to define what wisdom is. If we were to go back to the great Greek philosophers we would see that to them wisdom was the possession of knowledge. “But it was the Hebrews who clearly understood that true wisdom was not intellectual, but behavioral. Thus, the biggest fool was one who knew truth and failed to apply it. To the Jews, wisdom was skill in living righteously.1”As we know from the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon made the subject of wisdom his focus in writing that book. As I have been studying through the book it has become increasingly clear to me that Solomon is trying to point out the futility of man’s wisdom without God. Solomon said to himself,
“ ‘Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge.’ And I set my mind to know wisdom and to know madness and folly; I realized that this also is striving after wind. Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.”
King Solomon indulged himself in all kinds of experiences and in the end- while acknowledging the benefits of wisdom over folly- his conclusion was that both the wise man and the fool will eventually die.
In 2:24-26 we see that the only source of true, satisfying, enjoyment comes from God.
There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him? For to a person who is good in His sight He has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, while to the sinner He has given the task of gathering and collecting so that he may give to one who is good in God’s sight. This too is vanity and striving after wind.
Solomon knew, from experience, that all the human accomplishments in the world were nothing in comparison with the joy that comes from knowing God. James uses very similar language in his letter. In 1:17 James says that “every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above…” In our passage, James 3:13-18, we see that James carries this same principle into the realm of wisdom. Ultimately James’ conclusion is that the only true wisdom one can have is from God, and it is demonstrated in the way that you live.
1. MacArthur, J. (1998). James. Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press.