From Tim LaFleur: On Wednesday afternoons, I meet with a group of young pastors and staff here at Long Hollow. We call this group “Above Reproach.” Lately, we’ve been going through the book of James, and this week I wanted to share a presentation from one of the men in this group, Robert Hutchison, on James 3. I pray that the deep truths Robert explains from these verses opens your eyes to the true source of all wisdom.
Before getting to Chapter 3, and to the passage we’ll be diving into today, let’s do a brief survey of James’s epistle to help us get situated.
In Chapter 1, James talks about suffering and enduring during trials and temptation, reminding us to stand firm. He also explains that God doesn’t tempt anyone, but we’re all tempted by our own evil desires.
Then in Chapter 2, he talks about the sin of favoritism, making distinctions among ourselves and then talks about our faith being displayed and demonstrated by the good works that we do.
Next, in Chapter 3, James talks about taming the tongue, which apart from allowing the Holy Spirit to control us, to guide and direct us, is impossible.
Which brings us to James 3:13-18. As we begin to look at wisdom, let’s define “wisdom.” For us, wisdom is simply applied knowledge. After all, knowledge without application is useless information.
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. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace. (James 3:13-18, CSB)
The main point that James is reminding his audience of is that we must seek wisdom from God and in doing so, we will be empowered to live out the Christian life.
Wisdom Comes From God
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. (James 3:13, CSB)
Wisdom comes from God, but it is displayed in our lives when our “works are done in gentleness.” James already said in Chapter 2 that our works don’t save us; they demonstrate the faith that lives in us. In the same way, “works done in gentleness” demonstrate wisdom in our lives.
If we lack wisdom, we are to ask God for it. James tells us in 1:5…
Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him.
An example of this is Solomon from 1 Kings 3:1-14. He realizes he is a “youth” when compared to his father’s advisers, and asks God for wisdom and discernment in order to judge and lead the people of God.
Jesus also says in the Sermon on the Mount that when we seek wisdom from God, that it will be provided. “Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8, CSB)
In scripture, we see a correlation between wisdom, humility and righteousness.
Look at these examples from Solomon in Proverbs:
For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up success for the upright; He is a shield for those who live with integrity so that he may guard the paths of justice and protect the way of his faithful followers. (Proverbs 2:6-8, CSB)
Instruct the wise, and he will be wiser still; teach the righteous, and he will learn more. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:9-10, CSB)
The psalmist says in Psalm 1,
How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3, CSB)
But the opposite of this is found in scripture as well; that there is a correlation between pride, envy, selfishness and poor judgement. That is, being “unwise.”
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:7, CSB)
The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand up in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin. (Psalm 1:4-6, CSB)
My challenge to you is to recognize that wisdom comes from God. He is the source of knowledge and wisdom; we must rely on Him and not be “wise” in our own eyes.
Living an Unwise Life Will Lead to Ruin.
But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:14-16, CSB)
Bitter envy and selfish ambition are the polar opposite of a humble and contrite heart before the Lord.Bitter envy and selfish ambition are the polar opposite of a humble and contrite heart before the Lord. Click To Tweet
The apostle Peter said it this way:
…All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God resists the proudbut gives grace to the humble.Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, (1 Peter 5:5-6, CSB)
At its root, earthly, unwise living is ultimately demonic. Why? Because it’s an attitude of “I know what’s best” instead of an acknowledgement of God and an utter dependence on Him.
We place a self-shaped idol on the throne of our heart instead of allowing Christ His proper place. It’s arrogant and prideful; and it is detestable to God.
But it’s not new. In fact, it’s the oldest sin, an appeal to pride, going all the way back to the Garden of Eden when Satan tempted Adam & Eve to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, saying, “…you will be like God…” (Genesis 3:5, CSB)
Solomon also warns us against relying on our own wisdom.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight. Don’t be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. (Proverbs 3:5-7, CSB)
We have to remember, we can’t “outsmart” God. His laws and statues are meant to be restraining protection for us, not keep us from some secret happiness that we think we must have. Envy and selfish ambition always lead to disorder and disaster.
Next week, we will examine what Godly wisdom looks like and how we can live it out in a way that is consistent with what He teaches and brings Him glory.