Gracefully Truthful

Faith,Gospel,Joy,Purpose

Discover the original intent of Scripture. Make good application to our everyday lives.
Become equipped to correctly handle the Word of Truth!

Read His Words Before Ours!

James 3:13-18

Who among you is wise and understanding? By his good conduct he should show that his works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom.

14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and deny the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.

The Original Intent

1) How do our actions reveal the type of wisdom we possess? (verses 13-14)

James started chapter 3 stating that the accountability for teachers is greater than for others. (James 3:1) He spends the rest of the verses (2-12) explaining how teachers should watch how they talk, admonishing them to get control of their tongue.  In verse 13 James makes a switch from speech to behavior. He presents two words, wisdom and understanding. Understanding comes from the Greek word epistēmōn, which focuses on intellect and factual knowledge. Think book knowledge. Wisdom comes from the Greek word sophos which means a person who possesses phronesis or a type of wisdom or intelligence relevant to practical action. Think practical experience applying understanding.

In their study of James, West Palm Beach Church of Christ noted, “Good conduct is the inevitable outgrowth of true wisdom. Wisdom is revealed by the way one lives his or her life.” James was directly saying if teachers were taking up that mantle due to “selfish ambition” or because they envied other teachers, then they did not possess wisdom, and they should not pretend they do. (verse 14)

This is also evident in Galatians 5:25-26, which tells us if we are in the Spirit, who imparts godly wisdom to us, then we will not be conceited nor envious. I believe these two verses were not just meant for teachers but also for the greater congregation based on his words, “Who among you…”.  Wisdom that comes from God means we have good and righteous words and actions. (James 1:5)

The Everyday Application

1) How do our actions reveal the type of wisdom we possess? (verses 13-14)

In studying various passages in the Bible, we shape and understanding of what godly wisdom looks like. One of those passages is Colossians 3:2-9 which tells us to Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (verse 2) The things we are to put off include “evil desire and greed, …anger, wrath, malice, slander…”.

If we exhibit these behaviors, we prove our “wisdom” to be based on earthly wisdom. According to Sonlight.org, “Some people are undoubtedly skillful in laying plans and using circumstances to achieve their goals, but their actions are often characterized by jealousy, selfishness, and dishonesty. This is worldly wisdom. It comes not from God but from Satan, and results in wrong actions. It contrasts sharply with spiritual wisdom, which is characterized by humility and uprightness.”

We should continually evaluate which column our actions fall under, godly or worldly. If we see our actions are leaning toward earthly wisdom, we must return to our Bibles and ask the Lord for His wisdom. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The Original Intent

2) How are envy and selfishness opposed to godly wisdom? (verse 16)

In verse 15, James continues establishing what true wisdom is, by clearly laying out what it is not. Wisdom that does not come from God is “earthly” and, therefore, is “unspiritual” and “demonic”. (verse 15)

These are very  strong words but are upheld in other parts of Scripture such as Romans 8:6-8 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. Bible.org says, “‘Demonic,’ of course, points to the ultimate source of all that is opposed to God.” Simply, if the “wisdom” did not originate from God, then it belongs to the enemy.

Envy and selfish ambition are not from God as shown in Philippians 2:1-3, which says “…if [there is] any fellowship with the Spirit…[then] Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit…”

James wanted to make sure the recipients of his letter learned to determine the fruit from godly wisdom versus that of earthly or demonic wisdom and not be deceived, be it a teacher or neighbor.

The Everyday Application

2) How are envy and selfishness opposed to godly wisdom? (verse 16)

Steven Cole writes, “If we hear that the preacher across town has a bigger church, as long as he’s preaching the truth, we should think, “Praise God that His truth is going forth!” But worldly “wisdom” doesn’t seek God’s glory. It is rooted in selfishness and pride.” 

Whenever our “wisdom” seeks to lift us up and make our name great with no thought of God or the gospel, then it is not godly wisdom. We are to operate in humility like John the Baptist modeled when he said things about Jesus like, He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30) and “Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him, but John tried to stop him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and yet You come to me?”(Matthew 3:13-14)

He could have been envious and told his disciples, “Don’t follow Jesus, I was here first.” If this were happening today, John could have baptized Jesus then bragged on social media how he was “the one” to do this work and Jesus had to come to “him”.

Of course, because John was led by the Spirit of God who leads His people into true wisdom, John would never act this way. Instead, John’s actions follow God’s wisdom which states, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) What the world prescribes is polar opposite to what God instructs us to do.

The Original Intent

3) What does godly wisdom look like?  (verse 18)

James leaves no room for question of what godly wisdom entails. David Guzik says, “The character of this wisdom is wonderful. It is full of love and a giving heart, consistent with the holiness of God”.

James’ list of wisdom’s descriptors is similar to others found throughout Scripture; all of which point to the purity and steadfastness of God’s trustworthy, wise character, “pure, peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy, full of good fruits, unwavering and without pretense.” (verse 17)

Each mark of God’s wisdom demonstrates the character of God who imparts His character to us in increasing measure as we lean into the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit. The more we practice submitting to the Spirit, the more He helps us become like Him. (Romans 12:2, Romans 8:29)

The Everyday Application

3) What does godly wisdom look like?  (verse 18)

Godly wisdom looks like a luscious garden. Galatians 5:22 says, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” James gives a very similar list in his letter.

These evidences are not “good acts” we can cultivate ourselves through a self-help class or book. Godly wisdom reflects God’s character and His will for mankind. If we are living in submission to the Spirit, He will lead us into His wisdom and it will be plainly evident. If not, worldly wisdom will also be made plain. The outcome is based on the source, either the Spirit of God or ourselves.

In Touch Ministries says, “Divine wisdom could be defined as seeing life from the Lord’s perspective and responding accordingly in reliance on His strength. Then we are able to stand firm in our faith and choose His way. If we are to graciously submit to the hardships God allows, it is essential that we have His viewpoint.”

We need God’s Spirit within us in order to bear the fruit of godly wisdom, which requires full surrender of ourselves to Christ along with true repentance from our sin to accept His offer of forgiveness and rescue. We can look to passages such as Titus 3:1-11, 1 Timothy 4:6-16, and Philippians 2:12-18 to help us operate with godly wisdom and learn to submit to the Spirit’s work in us. Scripture will never steer us wrong because God will never steer us toward sinful behavior.

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