At the beginning of a new year, a lot of people come up with a new year’s resolution that they intend to accomplish during the upcoming year. Most of them don’t stick with it too long. I thought about a new year’s resolution quite a bit. I plan on starting a new exercise program. And I’ve already gotten started on my resolution. I’ve watched a lot of video’s about different workout plans. But to tell you the truth, that’s probably about as far as I want to go with it. Just watching all those video’s was exhausting.
It would be nice if you could get in shape just by wishing for it. Imagine if God were to give you one wish that He would grant you. Well, He did jut that with a young man named Solomon. Solomon had inherited the kingdom of Israel from his father David. And after he had established his right to the throne, he sacrificed to God 1000 burnt offerings. And in 1 Kings 3 we read that God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask what you wish Me to give you.” That’s what we all dream of, isn’t it? I wonder what we might answer to that question. If you could have one wish, what would you ask for?
Well, you know the story. Of all the things that he could have asked for, Solomon asked for wisdom. And the Lord was pleased that Solomon asked for wisdom and not riches or long life or any number of other things. And so the Lord granted that request, making the promise that no one before or after him would be the equal of the wisdom of Solomon. And in addition, the Lord gave him riches and a long life. Years later Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs, and he began by speaking of the importance of wisdom, saying, Prov. 1:7 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Now you will remember that James started off in his epistle, in chapter 1 vs 5, by speaking about the importance of wisdom. And as I said at that time, to understand what is meant by wisdom, or gaining wisdom, you have to consider the context, especially of the verses which come before. Starting in chapter 1 vs 2, James talks about trials of our faith, and God’s purpose in them. We learned that trials come from God, and we are to endure in them, so that God may complete our faith in us. God uses trials as a means of maturing us in our faith. And by the way, that’s the goal of our faith, that we might become mature Note how James ends that passage, he says, “that you may be perfect and complete (that’s a phrase which speaks of spiritual maturity). And then he says to be spiritually mature means you are lacking in nothing.” Lacking in nothing. That’s a key to understanding wisdom, in vs 5.
Because in vs 5, James says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” Notice the repetition of the word “lack.” So we go through trials that God may mature our faith, that we would be spiritually mature and not lacking in anything. Then immediately, he follows that by telling us something that we may be lacking. That’s the connection between spiritual maturity and wisdom.
So James says that if we are to be mature in our faith, nothing lacking, then we need the wisdom of God. We need to know the plan of God, and how we fit in that plan. We need to know His plans for us. We need to know His will, that we may be obedient to it. Wisdom then is knowing God’s truth, knowing God’s will, knowing God’s plan, knowing what God’s purposes are for our lives, and for the world. Strong’s concordance of the Greek word sophia from which comes our word wisdom, gives several definitions of wisdom. But the one which I think applies most here says, “wisdom is the the knowledge and practice of the requisites for godly and upright living.”
I think that wisdom is absolutely vital for the second phase of our salvation. The first stage being justification, the second is sanctification, and the third is glorification. All three are necessary phases for our salvation to be complete. Hebrews says concerning sanctification, that without it, no one will see the Lord. So Christian maturity, or sanctification, is essential, and without it, then the Bible says you aren’t saved. That’s what the scripture says, not me.
So I think James uses “wisdom” as a synonym for the gospel. Jesus said concerning Himself and His gospel, in Matt. 12:42 “[The] Queen of [the] South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.”
James has a unique writing characteristic whereby he brings up a subject, makes some remarks about it, lays down some principles, and then later on circles back around to expand even more on that subject. And that’s what’s happening here in chapter 3. He has just finished giving an argument at the end of chapter 2 about someone who says, or claims to have faith, who claims to be saved, and yet there are no works to support or give evidence of that salvation. James says if there is no evidence in his works, then there is no saving faith.
He then went on to show in chapter 3 the incongruity of someone who says they have faith, and yet their talk betrays them as someone who has not been changed by salvation. James says can a fountain bring forth both blessing and cursing? These things must not be.
Then continuing in that theme James addresses wisdom again. In a similar fashion as when he discussed faith vs works, In this section he is going to show the difference between true wisdom which is from God, and a false wisdom which is from the world. And so he begins with true wisdom. He says in vs 13, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.”
What James says there is similar to what he has said about faith. He says, if you have wisdom, then you will exhibit it by your works. If you have salvation which produces spiritual maturity, then you will show it by your deeds. Wisdom cannot be divorced from it’s evidence. Wisdom then is not the accumulation of knowledge and facts, even knowledge and facts about God, or about the Bible. But it is shown by one’s deeds. Wisdom is not just knowledge, but the application of knowledge which is evidenced by the way you live.
And let’s take note of how he describes that evidence. He says it’s good behavior, deeds performed in the gentleness of wisdom. The KJV uses the word meekness instead of gentleness. And I like that word better, though they both say the same thing. But the idea of gentleness or meekness is not to be confused with weakness. It’s not a mealy mouthed, limp wristed behavior. The best way to understand meekness is strength under control. It was used to describe a horse that had been tamed. You still hear the term gentled as a way of describing horses that have been tamed. They still have tremendous strength and power, but it is under control.
So it is with meekness, gentleness. It is being under subjection to the Lord. It’s being under the control of the Spirit of God. It’s submission to His plan, His way. Other Bible translations use the word humility instead of meekness. And that is ok as well. Humility is bowing to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in your life. It’s esteeming others as more important than yourself. It’s not being proud, arrogant.
The opposite of humility then is to be proud, arrogant. And that’s the defining quality of the world’s wisdom. Vs 14, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, 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.”
Let’s be sure to notice this reference to the truth that James makes in that verse. Wisdom is founded on the truth of God’s word. God’s word is wisdom. It is absolute truth against a world of relevance and deception and double meaning. Today we often hear people saying they believe in science. As if science is truth and God’s word is fallible. The Bible says, “let God be true, and every man found a liar.” I’m not saying that all science is a lie. But I will say that God’s word is true, and when so called science contradicts God’s word, then such “science” is a lie. More often than not, it seems that science is influenced by a political agenda, more than any unbiased, empirical evidence.
Now the apostle Pau speaks to this idea that James contrasts between godly wisdom and the world’s wisdom. He gives a similar statement in Galatians 5:19-23, but substituting the idea of the fruit of the Spirit vs the fruit of the earthly nature. He says, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
The first set of behaviors are deeds of the flesh, which are evidence of the wisdom of this world, which are of the natural man, the carnal man, and even worse, are demonically inspired. You cannot be a child of God, supplied with the wisdom from God, and have those things characterize your life.
You know, the original sin was pride, which is selfish ambition. Satan said he would be like the Most High. And perhaps all sin stems from pride and selfish ambition. Caring more about yourself than about others. Of course in Satan’s sin of pride there must have also been jealousy. And so James identifies these as motivations for sin, whereas Paul identifies the sins themselves. But make no mistake, pride and jealousy and selfish ambition are the root of all sins. And if your behavior exhibits those things, then James says you don’t have godly wisdom, but you are operating under the wisdom of this world, which is demonic. He says, “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” Such attitudes produce evil. Godly wisdom produces good behavior, but worldly wisdom produces evil behavior. It’s just that cut and dry.
The world system champions selfish ambition. Movies and television glorify those who sacrifice anything and anyone for the sake of climbing to the top. The end justifies the means. Selfish ambition is a synonym for ego. The world tells us the way to happiness, to fulfillment is to feed our ego, to satisfy our ego. But God’s word tells us to slay our ego. To lay it aside for the sake of building up others. To be humble, to do good deeds in the spirit of meekness. Quite a contrast that James presents here between godly wisdom and the wisdom of the world.
But then he leaves off worldly wisdom and goes back to talking about godly wisdom and gives us a description of it, so that we might be able to recognize it, and also to utilize it and put it into practice. He says in vs 17, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” Seven characteristics of wisdom. Let’s think about each of them briefly.
First, it’s pure. I think it’s significant that pure is first. Because I believe that when he says wisdom is pure, he is speaking of being holy. God is holy, and as Peter said, we are to be holy because He is holy. But pure also has the connotation of chaste. Chaste is the word from which we get the word chastity. It has the meaning of avoiding extramarital affairs. And when we think of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then that is how we should think of our relationship to him. We are as Paul said in 2 Cor. 11:2 to be a chaste virgin. He says, “For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you [as] a pure virgin.” We don’t leave our devotion for Christ to have an affair with the world. We have pledged our life to Christ, so we must be chaste in that regard.
Peaceable is the next description. Peace loving is another possible translation. Heb. 12:14 says, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” So the author of Hebrews says that peace is essential to sanctification. We are to be conciliators, We love peace. We don’t love dissension, or making trouble, or strife. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
Gentle is the next characteristic. We have already talked about gentleness, meekness. Meekness is strength under control. Being submissive to God and to authority. Not egotistic.
Then reasonable: it means of sound judgment. Not acting rashly, not speaking before you think. Able to be reasoned with. Listening to reason. God’s wisdom is reasonable. He is not asking us to live unreasonable lives, to do some crazy thing, or to take a vow of poverty, or a vow of silence. But to live in a way that shows love for our fellow man, and our love for God. Reasonable means willing to yield, not being stubborn. It has a lot to do with peaceable.
Full of mercy and good fruits. I suppose mercy and good fruits are actually speaking of the same thing, so it’s counted as one characteristic. Mercy is a fruit of wisdom. If you have godly wisdom, then it will be evident by showing mercy. In other words, he reaches out to those around him. He puts into practice the words of Jesus who said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” We show mercy to those who don’t deserve it. Otherwise it is not mercy. We follow the example of Christ who showed mercy to sinners. And mercy is what James calls good fruits. Good deeds. Deeds of mercy. Not merely feeling sympathy, but showing sympathy by your deeds.
The next characteristic of wisdom is unwavering. That speaks to something James spoke of earlier about a double minded man. Unwavering is without dubiousness. Without duplicity. Without uncertainty. We can know for sure how we are supposed to live because the Bible is unambiguous. It is God’s certain word. And so we can be unwavering in our resolve. We can be stedfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.
The final characteristic of wisdom is without hypocrisy. The Greek word for hypocrite means an actor on a stage, who performs for the applause of men. So to be without hypocrisy means to not act for show, to be seen, to gain approval from men. But we seek to gain approval from God. It means to love one another with sincerity, without having an ulterior motive. It means not wearing a mask. Not hiding behind a false face.
The conclusion then to this section of James argument concerning wisdom from above versus wisdom from below, is found in vs 18. He says there, “And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James uses the analogy of a farmer who sows a seed and expects to get a harvest of what he planted. And so what he’s saying is that we plant righteousness by our good behavior, by our good deeds. And we plant that righteousness in peace when we make peace.
That statement is difficult to parse as the translation is one that is difficult. But what we can be certain that James is saying, is that the fruit, or the evidence of wisdom is righteousness. Wisdom is carried out by peacemakers, and when we are peacemakers, then righteousness is our fruit. Jesus said, “You shall know them by their fruits.” So you will know those who have the wisdom from God, because they will show the fruit of righteousness in their lives. Their life cannot produce bitter water and sweet at the same time. They cannot say they have faith and not have works. So then if they are wise and have understanding, then they will show by their good behavior their deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.
Listen, in all of these examples of faith, of the tongue, of wisdom, James has been trying to show the difference between those who claim to be saved, versus those who really are saved. And the point that must be understood is that to be saved requires a complete transformation from the carnal natural man, to be a new spiritual man, with a new heart, a new spirit, and a new nature. This transformation is not something you can achieve on your own. Just as a baby cannot orchestrate his own birth, neither can a man orchestrate his own salvation, which is called the new birth. But as Jesus said, you must be born again.
And by being born again, God gives you a new heart, a new spirit, and a new nature, that has new desires, that is able to be like Christ. Only when you have been born again can you ever hope to be the sort of person that James says is a person of wisdom. Only then can the Spirit of God be in you, and work in you, and lead you into the paths of righteousness. And the only way to be born again, is to confess that you are a sinner, you are earthly, natural, carnal, corrupted, and ask God to cleanse you, to change you, and to renew a right spirit within you. God promises to answer that prayer on the basis of what Jesus Christ did for us by dying on the cross, and paying the penalty for our sin, that we might receive His righteousness. Only when you have first received the seed of His righteousness, can you expect to have the harvest of your righteousness. I pray that you have received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior today so that you may come to know the wisdom which is from above.