We like to consider ourselves wise. But James
3:13-18 warns us that just because we think we are wise, does
not mean we are. There are two kinds of wisdom—one is from above
and the other is not. The reason we need to study this passage is
found in vs. 18. “The
seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace.” Our
congregational goal is to bear fruit that glorifies God. If we
will succeed, we must abolish earthly wisdom and live in godly
“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition
…” (James 3:14).
“… bitter jealousy …” Acts 13:45 is a great example of this kind of action. When the Jews
saw Paul’s success, envy entered their heart, they started
blaspheming, contradicting and opposing his preaching. According
to Matthew 27:18, the Jewish leaders crucified Jesus out of envy. Those
with ungodly wisdom want what others have. It angers them that God
has given someone else “their” blessing. They cannot stand
that someone else has greater influence. They do not like it when
someone else gets credit. They hate for someone else’s plans to
be adopted. They can hardly admit it when someone else has more
ability than they do. Because of this, they grumble, criticize and
slander. Some will go so far as to attack others. How many of you
remember the shock we had when we learned that Olympic hopeful
Tonya Harding was involved in the January 6, 1994 attack on her
possible teammate, Nancy Kerrigan. Considering that example, can
you envision how bad things can become in a church if even just
one person is acting with ungodly wisdom out of envy?
“… and selfish ambition …” Not only can the one
with ungodly wisdom not stand it when anyone is “ahead” of
them, they are constantly working to move themselves ahead. This
word is sometimes translated “contentiousness,” because the
self-seeker (NKJV) is constantly contending with others. To this
person, there is only so much out there and if you have some of
it, they lose some of it. They want most of it for themselves.
They want to push themselves forward. They want their plans to be
followed, their opinions to be adhered to and their interests to
be addressed. If people would listen to them, everything would be
alright. They want you to hear their advice and be in awe of their
wisdom. Ultimately, they want to run the show and their concern
for the interests of others goes only so far as to let others know
what their interests really ought to be. Paul says this type of
attitude must not be among us (Philippians
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then
peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits,
unwavering and without hypocrisy” (James
“… pure …” That is, it is undefiled and unsullied.
Godly wisdom works without hidden agendas and ulterior motives.
What you see is what you get. Godly wisdom does not apply
techniques to manipulate. Godly wisdom is pure and purely
“… then peaceable …” The goal of godly wisdom is
peace. The primary goal is peace with God. We do not allow sin to
go unchecked because that does not make for peace with God, in
fact it makes enmity with God (James 4:4). Then secondly, peace among the brethren. The actions of
godly wisdom are not designed to stir up contention, but to avoid
it. The actions of godly wisdom are not designed to put people in
their place, but on a pedestal. Those with godly wisdom do not
strive to bring everyone on to their path, but rather pursues a
path of peace with everyone.
“… gentle …” This term can best be understood by
seeing how it is used elsewhere in contrast. In I
Peter 2:18, Peter told servants to submit to their masters,
whether they were gentle or harsh. Godly wisdom is gentle, it is
not harsh, abrasive, abusive, vindictive or vengeful. In Titus
3:2, Paul said Titus was to teach Christians not to be
brawlers (KJV) or contentious (NASB) but gentle. Godly wisdom is
gentle, it does not criticize, pick fights, draw battle lines, set
up sides or attack. Godly wisdom acts in kindness, blessing,
honoring and praising others. When problems arise it acts with
unfeigned humility, looking to keep self from sin as well (Galatians 6:1).
“… reasonable …” The New King James translates this
“willing to yield.” This does not mean those with godly wisdom
are doormats. Rather, it means they recognize numerous areas allow
for different opinions. Because they are seeking peace and acting
with gentleness, they do not expect everyone to do things their
way. They are not constantly trying to figure out ways to give
their “two cents worth” to anyone. They do not look down upon
those who do things differently. Additionally, it means they
listen to the perspective of others and are willing to follow
“… full of mercy …” Note two passages that help
explain this phrase. In Matthew
12:7, Jesus said that because the Pharisees had ignored mercy,
they had condemned the guiltless. There are some, who strive to
find fault with everyone and everything. But those with godly
wisdom look for what is right. They still address sin. However,
they do not try to color everything as sin so they can find fault
with others for not doing things their way. In Luke
10:37 a lawyer explained that the Good Samaritan had been
merciful to the wounded Jew. Those with godly wisdom are full of
mercy, that is, full of kindness and goodness. Their goal is not
to inflict wounds, but to heal them, strengthening others and
making them better.
“… good fruits …” We know people by their fruit (Matthew 7:16). If the fruit is a fig, the tree is a fig tree. If the
fruit is a grape, then it is a grape vine
(James 3:12). Those
with godly wisdom are full of good fruit. We will see love, joy,
peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and
self-control in all their actions and in their relationships (Galatians
5:22-23). We will see actions and results that coincide with
this fruit all around them.
“… unwavering …” The New King James translates this
“without partiality.” Those with godly wisdom exhibit all of
the above qualities to everyone with whom they come in contact.
They do not waver depending on who they are dealing with. They act
in the meekness of wisdom toward the poor and the rich, the black
and the white, the beautiful and the ugly, the sinner and the
saint, the friendly and the unfriendly, the weak and the strong,
the young and the old, those who can repay and those who cannot.
They make no distinctions, but treat all people with the same
“… and without hypocrisy …” Those with godly wisdom
act in this way because they want to. They do not have to fake it.
They have worked so it is natural and sincere. Paul made this same
point in Romans 12:9
teaching us to let our love be without hypocrisy. In another
sermon, perhaps we can examine Romans
12:9-21 to see what love without hypocrisy looks like. For
now, simply read what it says. This is a picture of those with
godly wisdom in action.
“… 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.” (James 3:14).
“… do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth
…” This statement, I believe, highlights the great danger in
all of this. Most of the envious and self-seeking are hardly aware
that they are anything less than wise. They are certain of their
wisdom and understanding. But their boasting is a lie. That is,
their claim to wisdom is not true. Because what they have is not
wisdom at all.
“… but it is earthly, sensual, demonic.” Their wisdom
is not godly wisdom, but earthly. And those following this wisdom
are as the men described in Philippians
3:18-19. Their wisdom is sensual. And those following this
wisdom are like the people described in Jude
16-19. Their wisdom did not descend from God above, but is
demonic ascending from the very pits of hell. We must be objective
and honest with ourselves, examining ourselves to be certain that
we “show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of
wisdom” (James 3:13).
“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is
disorder and every evil thing” (James
If self-deception about this is so easy and commonplace,
then we must determine a way to examine ourselves. This verse
implies the way. Examine the fruit in and around your life.
Throughout the book of James, we read of some of the confusion and
evil that exists when we are envious and self-seeking. Though not
all of these examples are given in the direct context with the
verses we have studied, I believe we can see their connection to
the ideas and principles of the passage. And, above all, be
honest, if you see any of these things in your life, then you have
envy and self-seeking that you need to get rid of.
Consider James 1:13.
Do you blame God or anyone else for your sins (or even your
failures)? The envious and self-seeking are masters at shifting
the blame for their conduct. When something goes wrong, do you
naturally figure out how it is somebody else’s fault? Be honest.
Consider James 1:19.
Do you have trouble listening? Are you quick to start talking? The
envious and self-seeking have trouble listening because they want
you to hear their solutions more than they really want to hear
your problems. So they have trouble bridling their tongues (James
1:26). Do you find that you dominate conversations with your
opinions and think-so’s? Do you say most of the things you
think? Have you ever justified that feeling by saying that you are
just trying to be honest? Be honest.
Consider again James
1:19. Do you get angry easily? The envious and self-seeking
are quick to get angry because it infuriates them when others
disagree. They just cannot understand why other people do not
listen to what they are saying and see things their way. Do you
spend a lot of time upset with others or getting on to others? Be
Consider James 2:1-4.
Do you treat different groups of people differently? Is there a
group that you treat with respect and awe, while you condescend to
the opposite group? The self-seeking and envious typically butter
up to people they believe will give them advantage or to people
that they deem are part of the “in” crowd. Others, however,
are unimportant and do not need the same respect and proper
treatment. Do you act one way with one group and another way with
others? Do you treat your spouse, children or parents with less
respect than others? Be honest.
2:15-16. Do you provide lots of advice but have trouble giving
people what they need to help them? The self-seeking and envious
love to give people advice and tell them things will be better,
but they do not like sacrificing their own things. Do your actions
fall short of your words? Do you struggle sacrificing in order to
benefit others? Be honest.
Consider James 3:9. Do you curse men? What about James
4:11? Do you speak evil of your brother? Or James 5:9? Do you grumble against your brethren? The envious and
self-seeking find it hard to say much good about people,
especially those who disagree with them. When you talk about other
people, do you spend more time talking about what they do right
and what they are good at? Or do you find yourself highlighting
their faults and flaws? Do you have trouble hearing someone else
receive a compliment? When you do hear someone complimented, is
your natural reaction to explain why they really aren’t “all
that”? Do you spend much time explaining why someone else’s
flaws are goofing things up in your family, neighborhood,
workplace or church? Be honest.
Consider James 4:1.
Do you find that you are repeatedly in some conflict or another?
The envious and self-seeking are typically at odds with somebody
because they constantly contend with those who disagree with them.
And, as earlier mentioned, the envious and self-seeking rarely see
their own fault but can shift the blame for the conflict to
others. Do you ever notice that a lot of the conflicts in your
family, workplace or congregation seem to have a common
denominator—you? Be honest.
Consider James 4:1,
3. Do you spend much time thinking about all the things that
you want? No, it is not wrong to have desires, but the envious and
self-seeking gauge most situations and decisions based upon what
they will get out of it and how it will make them look good. They
spend a great deal of time thinking about how to get what they
want and how they will enjoy it when they get it. Do you get upset
when the way that most benefits you is not chosen? Do you get
upset if the plan does not highlight your strengths? Does it
bother you when whatever is done makes someone else look good or
benefits them more than you?
5:19-20. Do you get upset when those who have sinned against
you repent and are accepted back into the fold? The envious and
self-seeking have trouble accepting the repentant because the
envious (like the Prodigal’s brother) think the repentant got
away with something and it just isn’t fair. Because of that
feeling, the envious and self-seeking do not spend much time
trying to bring the sinner back into the fold, especially if the
sinner did something to them. Too often, they want that person to
pay for what they have done. Do you spend more time talking about
someone’s sins than doing anything about it?
“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by
good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” Let us all
examine ourselves—not everyone else—and be certain that what
we do is in the meekness of wisdom. Let us keep the pestilence of
envy and self-seeking out of the vineyard and produce the fruit of
righteousness by which our Father will be glorified.
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ