First Mennonite Church
“Wisdom From Above”
Text: James 3:13-18
In the Bible, there is a rich tradition of themes dealing with wisdom. The topic is explored both as a human achievement, based on careful observation of life, and also as a divine revelation. Prime examples of these two sources of wisdom are the books of Proverbs and the book of Job.
The Hebrew word for wisdom, hokma, reflects a kind of classroom setting, where our God-given intelligence to pursue the insight and know-how we need in order to negotiate life in the public square, takes place. Therefore, it is no wonder why in the book of Proverbs, wisdom has the purpose of “giving instruction,
for understanding words of insight;
for . . . prudent behavior,
for doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
and knowledge and discretion to the young (1:2-4).
This is the kind of wisdom that is achieved based on careful observation of life. If your dealings are done diligently and wisely, things will go fine for you in life.
However, in the book of Job, the logic found in the wisdom of Proverbs is put upside down. Job does what is right, but life does not go well for him.
And this is the same kind of experience we see in Jesus. Jesus lived the most perfect life, yet he died the cruelest death. And this is the kind of wisdom Paul speaks about, when he says, “To those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom . . .” (1Corinthians 1:24-25).
In parentheses, let me tell that in Proverbs, chapter eight, wisdom speaks of itself as a woman. She (wisdom) makes some very interesting claims about her identity. She was the created first, before anything was created by God. She was, sort of, co-creator or at least, co-designer with God as he created the world. (This week, take the time to read Proverbs chapter eight and give it some thought.)
Now, going back to our passage, it would be important for us to acknowledge who James is. James is one of the younger brothers of Jesus, our Lord. James only came to believe in his brother after Easter, that is, after James had witnessed everything that had happened to his brother. We should also remember that James, at one point in time, thought Jesus was either losing his mind or something more seriously was happening to him. If someone would know anything about Jesus, James would be one of those.
I am sure, there came occasions when James thought his brother was a fool, unwise, and naïve. It is likely that when James saw Jesus’ humility, peace-loving spirit, selflessness, submissive and gentleness towards others, even towards those who sought to discredit him, James thought Jesus must be crazy.
But after Jesus died and was raised, God’s light came upon James. It dawned in James heart that the wisdom of God, as reflected in the life of Jesus, is not according to the wisdom of the world.
Therefore, when James asks the question: Who is wise and understanding among you? He is speaking of wisdom as the source of human attitude and behavior. James is talking about a deeper motivational force that makes us act in one way or another. James is asking whether it God or the devil who has control over our will.
According to James, true wisdom comes “from above,” from where all good gifts come: from the Father of lights. The other source is earthly, which is unspiritual and even “devilish” or demonic (v. 15). In this light, the way we live our lives reveal the source of our wisdom. Whatever our lifestyle is tells whether we live by God’s wisdom or the world’s wisdom.
According to James, everyone is confronted with a choice of spiritual allegiance and there are only two options: God or the devil.
Once again let us remember that James is addressing believers. And therefore he asks: Who is wise and understanding among you? If anyone claims to have true wisdom, James says, “Let them show it by their good life.” Wisdom is visible. Wisdom is known, not by the talk but by the walk. True wisdom is reflected through godly character.
Humility: a sign of godly wisdom
In chapter 4, James says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Solomon had a straight-forward way to put it: “When pride comes (walks in), then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). Humility is selfless. It does not call attention to self when it does something. The one who is humble never demands to be first, to be served, or to be acknowledged. Humility is a fruit of the Spirit of God.
Signs of Earthly, Unspiritual and Demonic Wisdom
James switches from his first sign of true wisdom to what is not. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
Contrary to humility is bitter envy and selfish ambition. The Greek word translated in most Bibles as “envy” is the word “zelos.” Zelos can means “jealousy” or “envy.” Jealousy is the unhappy feeling towards others for what they have. Jealousy says, “I should have had that too.” Envy on the other hand is the desire of having something, which, in our view, others are not supposed to have or deserve having. Envy says, “I should have had that; not you.” These attitudes are in the world. These attitudes are what James says cause conflicts and disputes among people. The selfish desire to have and not to sharing is what causes wars and murders, says James in chapter 4, verses one and two. Whenever we feel envy for some reason, let us remember that this is not the spirit of Christ.
The second evidence of earthly, unspiritual and demonic wisdom, according to James is selfish ambition. The Greek word “eritheia” literally means “electioneering, vying for office, self-promoting. Self-ambition is exactly what politicians have when appealing for the votes of their constituencies. We just went through an ugly period of that recently.
Selfish ambition is the opposite of humility. Self-ambitious people think they are more important than everyone else. They think they know better, thus deserve respect and admiration.
Interestingly, in James’ case, the idea that church members were vying for prominence amongst themselves was concerning to James. Thus, he tells them that self-promotion is contrary to the spirit Jesus. Jesus came to serve and not to be served.
That might have been the very reason Paul also had to write these words of the Philippians: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:3-5).
God’s people are supposed to look for what enhances the kingdom of God. We are supposed to do everything out of love for the Lord and each other.
The Evidence of True Wisdom
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
True Wisdom Is Thoroughly Pure
The wisdom that is from above imparts purity of thought and motives in what we do and say. It makes us sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit in everything we do. Sanctification means the pursuit of a pure life.
Let us allow the Spirit of God to sanctify our every motives in whatever we do or say.
True wisdom Is Peace-loving
True wisdom is gentle and peace-loving. It makes us good listeners. It gives us a teachable spirit. There might be times when we might not realize our words sound aggressive to others. True wisdom gives us the ability to submit to others without feeling we have lost of sense of identity.
True Wisdom is Full of Mercy and Good Fruit
Mercy flows from the heart of God, thus, we are channels of God’s mercy. Mercy is not selective about the recipients or object of it. Just as the prophet reminds us that God’s mercy is new for us today, so should be our disposition to show mercy on others. It takes mercy to forgive. It takes mercy to help the needy. We might be a fool to the world when we give to the needy, but again, the wisdom that comes from heaven is merciful. Mercy is not a feeling. Mercy is also visible through good fruit—acts of kindness.
True Wisdom is Impartial and Sincere
These last two characters describe the unchangeable nature of the one who has godly wisdom. The New American Standard Bible translates these two words as, “unwavering and without hypocrisy.” The true wisdom of God in us is best reflected through our steadfastness in doing what is right before the eyes of God and with honest and genuine love towards our neighbor. The way Christ lived revealed God’s love for the righteous and the unrighteous, for the just as well as for the unjust. Our love should also be that way. Our love should not be reserved only for those who look, think, live, or do things like we do. Our love should be sincere and our actions should be done in love.
What kind of wisdom guides our life? Do our words and actions reveal the wisdom that is from above? Do we struggle with jealousy or feel envious when things go well for others? At home or in the workplace, do you promote yourself at the expense of others? James reminds us today that the true wisdom that comes from above cannot be hidden. Our actions reveal source of the wisdom we live by. The true wisdom of God is in the first place full of purity; it is peaceable, gentle, and full of mercy. Let us go and live out God’s wisdom for the world to see. Let us go out and glorify the Father from above, from whom all good gifts come. Amen!