Seeking Wisdom in Difficult Days
A Study of James
The Power of A Life Lived With Wisdom
Solomon and his wisdom
The Influence of a Wise Person (v. 13)
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
James transitions from the power of our words in James 3:1-12, and now speaks to the powerful example of life lived with wisdom. James asks the question, “Who is wise amongst you?” If you are seeking to hold an office within the church and are doing out of selfish ambition and pride, he is going to call you out. James’ answer to this question will expose them.
If you are truly seeking wisdom, then the question becomes an invitation – you have a desire in your heart – so you set out to attain that aspiration. What that desire is and how you obtain it reveals if you are a wise person. So before we go any further, we have to ask, “Do you really want to be wise?”
So with the question, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” Job asks a similar question “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:12) and Proverbs 4:7 says it again, “The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” This is the only time these words are used together in the New Testament – so they point back to their use again and again in the Old Testament.
To be wise according to Clement of Alexandria is “the understanding of things human and divine, and their causes.” It implies thoughtfulness, penetration, grasp of the relations of things, and the right use of knowledge for the highest ends.
The second word (understanding) is used of a skilled person who has gained technical knowledge of a subject. “It implies personal acquaintance and experience, not merely abstract knowledge or intellectual apprehension of the theory of a thing.” It is book learning and applied experience.
James is still going after teachers who are full of empty words and worthless religion. Not only do the words of the teacher (James 3:1-12) have a great impact, so does the life they live. “To be endued with the knowledge of God’s Word is commendable, but such knowledge must be practical in our daily lives; else we are not wise.”
Elders and Teachers were primarily examples, and secondarily teachers. in 1 Timothy and Titus the requirements to hold office are outlined focusing on their character and the ability to teach is one in a list of qualifications.
How do you determine if a person is wise and has understanding among you? You can hear it in their words and you can see it in their lives. “For James, the spiritual and ethical character of the leaders in the church was primary. The status of an official would not compensate for moral defects.” To be a preacher is not enough, he must practice what he preaches.
Lincoln said, “a man may fool all the people part of the time, and some of the people all the time, but not all the people all the time.” People have a right to hold the preacher, teacher, or leader to the standard of the gospel – here is no room for hypocrisy.
“By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” James also says that it’s not just about words and deeds, but gentleness and modesty you exhibit verses “arrogance and passion.” So a person may be doing the work of God, but they are going about it in a sinful manner.
“The problem James is addressing, then, is not that there are teachers spreading false doctrine (as would be the concern in Paul’s letters). James is addressing the problem of arrogance, which can be present even when the correct doctrine is being taught.”
The commentator George Sulac said, “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.”
We are to go about the work of God “in the meekness of wisdom” – We typically don’t like the word meek because in our day it tends to hold the meaning of weak. But when James uses the word he wants us to think of humility. We are to live at peace with others, our deeds that we do resulting from a following of Christ are to be done in humility. The opposite of humility is “jealousy and selfish ambition.”
There are two ways of life, shown as two types of wisdom, and they are shown in contrast to each other. The meekness of wisdom, or wisdom from above compared to “demonic or earthly wisdom.” “the man who is genuinely wise remembers his moral responsibilities toward others.”
Wisdom From Below (vv. 14-16)
14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
The first time the word “wise” is used in the Bile it is in connection with Satan tempting Eve. He directed her attention to the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3:6 “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate . . .” Satan has always, since the beginning, offered a false wisdom.
If one follows the wisdom from below, then this wisdom is expressed in “jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts” jealousy is “a devotion to one’s position coupled with an insensitivity toward the views of others.”
Selfish ambition “refers to using any means to support one’s cause or program; it involves pride and personal ambition which will go to any length to be fulfilled.” Aristotle uses the word (self-ambition) to mean, “the self-seeking pursuit of political power by unjust means.”
“unspiritual” is drawn from Genesis 2:7 where God breathed the breath of life into Adam, and he becomes a living psyche. There is the appearance of life, but not the presence of the spirit of God in the person (or at least their argument). James is saying that a person may argue for what they say is right, but in the end they are being, “self-righteous, natural, base, and they have an unspiritual desire for personal status and prestige.”
Whenever people are pushing for their opinion, combined with an uncaring attitude toward others, and wanting to succeed, no matter what then, “there will be disorder and every vile practice.” The results of wisdom from below is unrest and strife. The word for evil here in the original Greek carries the idea of something being blown around by the wind and being worthless. The end result are actions that have no worth.
This wisdom from below has not added to the church, instead it has caused the church to question its direction, and its purpose. When the church doesn’t know where its going, or why it exists, disorder and all types of vile practices” rise to the surface.
This type of wisdom is described as “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” This is man’s condition apart from God, unregenerate. 1 Corinthians 2:14 “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Again, we are looking at a person (specifically as leader) whose life is being expressed. Lived out in front of you – In their wisdom of life, there is jealousy, selfish ambition, uncaring, unspiritual, evil – this example should be abandoned and left behind. “It is wisdom such as that which demons have, not such as God gives (James 1:5)”
Satan, when he was created is described in Ezekiel 28:12 “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” But pride came into his heart and his wisdom transitioned from being full of wisdom to a demonic wisdom, full of “bitter jealousy (of God) and selfish ambition” (he wanted to be in God’s place.)
We also must be careful to discern between earthly knowledge and earthly wisdom. We all benefit from the knowledge of mankind – medicine, science, exploration, technology, etc. but this is not wisdom. Wisdom is what we do with the knowledge. Mankind can unlock the secrets of the universe, but when he opens the door he doesn’t know what to do with it.
Paul gives two passages that help us see these two wisdoms Galatians 5:19-21 is the earthly wisdom list, and Galatians 2:22-23 is the list of the wisdom from above.
Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”
Wisdom From Above (vv. 17-18)
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
The wisdom that is from above is described in Galatians 5:22-23 as the Fruit of the Spirit, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control;”
James is careful in the order that he gives his list of wisdom from above. First it is pure, then it is peaceable – the leader who expresses wisdom from above does not sacrifice purity for the sake of peace. It is not a compromise on the godly standards so that we have peace – because peace without godly standard ultimately leads to destruction and chaos.
In fact, godly men may cause a disruption in the supposed peace because a sin needs to be addressed, or a compromise adjusted. These conversations are never fun, or peaceful.
Also, we live in a pragmatic day, here James urges us to do the right thing first (in purity) simply because it is the right thing to do. We don’t have to be able to see a benefit from a calling, only that it is what we are supposed to do.
How then do we have a “a harvest of righteousness”? This happens when the leaders and members of the church show wisdom from above and not that from below. James also says, “a harvest of righteousness is sown” Usually a harvest is gathered, but here James says the harvest is sown.
Whenever there is conflict in the church, ministries shut down. No real decisions are made, the church stops moving forward – it’s like a car that suddenly just turns off, and so you pull off the road. You are not going anywhere until the conflict is resolved. When those who teach, preach, or lead, use wisdom from above, there is peace, and in that peace comes “good fruits” and a “harvest of righteousness.”
Where there is peace righteousness can flourish.
In Matthew 5:9 the righteous are those that make peace, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” The result of living out wisdom from above is peace. When we live in godly wisdom, not only will we benefit, but the community around us will benefit by having peace. Righteousness thrives in peace, and dies in conflict. Proverbs 11:30 says, “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.”
“a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” Peace does not just happen in the passage James gives us; a farmer has to go gather the grain, prepare the soil, and make the effort to sow the seed (peace), In the Matthew 5 passage, those who are blessed are the makers of peace – making requires effort, it does not naturally happen, in fact it requires a supernatural effort to maintain the peace.
“The Christian life is a life of sowing and reaping. For that matter, every life is a life of sowing and reaping, and we reap what we sow. The Christian who obeys God’s wisdom sows righteousness, not sin; he sows peace, not war. The life we live enables the Lord to bring righteousness and peace into the lives of others.”
 George M. Sulac, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, James (Downers Grove, Illinois; Intervarsity Press, 1993) 132.
 A. T. Robertson, Studies in the Epistle of James (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1959) 125.
 Robertson, 126.
 Lehman Strauss, James Your Brother (Neptune, New Jersey; Loizeaux Brothers, 1980) 143.
 Peter H. Davids, New International Biblical Commentary, James (Peabody, Massachusetts; Hendrickson, Publishers, 1989) 88.
 Clifton J. Allen, The Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 12 (Nashville, Tennessee; Broadman Press, 1972) 124.
 Robertson, 128.
 Sulac, 134.
 Ibid, 135.
 Allen, 125.
 George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 12 (Nashville, Tennessee; Abingdon Press, 1957) 50.
 John Phillips, Exploring the Epistle of James (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Kregel Publications, 2004) 116.
 Allen, 125.
 David P. Nystrom, The NIV Application Commentary, James (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan Publishing House, 1997) 207.
 Nystrom, 208.
 Robertson, 132.
 Strauss, 144.
 Warren Wiershe, Be Mature, New Testament Commentary, James (Colorado Springs, Colorado; David C. Cook Publishing, 1978) 112.
 Hellenistic teachers of ethics and rhetoric made their pupils memorize lists of virtues or vices, to be used in moral guidance in learning good conduct and avoiding evil conduct. Buttrick, 50.