Read James 3:13-18

Have you ever known anyone who claimed to be wise, but acted foolishly? True wisdom can be measured by the depth of one’s character. As you can identify a tree by the type of fruit it produces, you can evaluate peoples' wisdom by the way they act. Foolishness leads to disorder, but wisdom leads to peace and goodness.

In this passage, James summarises for us the previous three chapters. He seems to be building a picture of the real Christian life. His method is to introduce a subject, make a point, move on, then return to the subject once again, hoping that the reader has made some changes, which he can then build on.

Wisdom versus foolishness

James describes here two kinds of wisdom.

  1. Firstly, there is wisdom from God which appeals to the spirit and lasts for ever. It is shown through humility, purity, peace-loving, considerate and gentle submissiveness, mercy and good fruit, wholeheartedness, impartiality and sincerity. (James 3:17)
  2. Secondly, there is the devil's wisdom. It is characterised by foolishness and more easily excites the senses but its pleasures are temporary. It is shown through envy, rivalry, selfish ambition, earthly activity, unspirituality, disorder, rebellion, disharmony and evil practice. (James 3:15-16; 1 Corinthians 2:6; Proverbs 3:18-19; Proverbs 9:1-18)

Solomon was offered his choice of any gift from God. (1 Kings 3:5) He chose wisdom, over wealth and possessions, in order to look after God’s children. We too can have the same wisdom if we just ask God. (James 1:5) Then we shall know what to do and have the courage to follow it through. Solomon did not ask God to do the job for him, but asked for divine help to do the job well. We should not ask God to do for us what He wants to do through us. Because Solomon had such wisdom (which caused him to have a discerning heart), he also received massive wealth and long life. Solomon was clearly wise in governing the nation of Israel, but he was foolish in running his own household. While he remained wise throughout his life, he did not always act upon this wisdom.

It is not godly wisdom to chase after wealth. (Luke 12:18-21) Setting our hearts on money and possessions is worldly wisdom and will only leave us dissatisfied, because the more we have, the more we want. As we put God and His work first, He will not only provide our every need but will satisfy every godly desire. (Matthew 6:31-33) We will then have plenty of money to give to His work, but we will only hold it; it will never hold us. (2 Corinthians 9:10-11)

Wisdom from God is not related to intelligence. In fact, our own clever minds can be a barrier to following God’s wisdom, causing us to think that we can manage a situation through our own ability. (Proverbs 28:26) This is really foolishness rather than wisdom. It makes us behave more like atheists than believers. (Psalm 14:1) We are actually proclaiming by our actions that God does not exist, because we are relying more on ourselves and our abilities than on Him. It can cause us to think that we do not need to follow God’s guidelines and, hence, we do not love Him with all our heart. Christ will save us from this trap if we turn to Him. (Romans 10:9-11) All who reject God’s message are "foolish" - no matter how "wise" the world thinks they are. The message of the resurrection can seem foolish to the cleverest person because we all need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the truth and we have to allow God to do that in our lives. (1 Corinthians 15:12-14) What we do with God’s wisdom is down to our choice.

Discernment and character

Wisdom is both the ability to discern what is best and the strength of character to act upon that knowledge. The ten aspects of God’s wisdom pointed out by James are so different to human wisdom. They are similar to Paul’s description of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22) Wherever we see godly wisdom being demonstrated, we can know that those concerned are walking by the power of the Holy Spirit. This wisdom should shine out of people in every church, especially those who are in leadership. (Luke 12:48) There is no point in someone having a grand position in a church, unless God’s wisdom to deal with everyday problems of church life is being used. When godly wisdom is missing but worldly wisdom is obvious, others will soon draw the conclusion that someone is building his or her own empire rather than the kingdom of God. It does not matter how wonderful everything looks; sooner or later, the foundation will be exposed and the organisation will crumble, because it is really based only on the superficial wisdom described by James. (James 3:15-16) Our teaching or preaching - whatever work we do - must be done in the humility that comes from godly wisdom. Human wisdom always leads to pride, envy and selfish ambition.

Godly wisdom

We can have godly wisdom in various ways:

  • through God's word; (Psalm 119:97-112)
  • through our fear (respect and honour) of God; (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10)
  • by trusting God; (Proverbs 1:1-7; Ecclesiastes 8:1-8)
  • by becoming more like Jesus; (Luke 2:40)
  • by asking for it in prayer; (James 1:5)
  • by using the gift of discernment; (Hebrews 5:11-14)
  • by living right - applying God's word; (Joshua 1:8; Proverbs 18:4)
  • and by "dying" to our self-centredness. (Galatians 2:20)

Strife, confusion and every evil work (James 3:16)

The Bible is very clear about strife and division. Where this is allowed to go unheeded and unrepented, then the devil is given free rein in relationships, church situations, in our homes, cities, towns or villages to encourage all sorts of evil and vile practices. If you have an area of your life where you can’t seem to have victory, then ask yourself if there is any strife in your life. If so, deal with this immediately, asking the Holy Spirit how best to deal with the situation and using His wisdom.

If our churches are going to really experience the greatest revival of all time, we have to "treasure" Jesus more than our petty personal differences or doctrinal high horses. There can be no room for pushing our own interpretations of God's word, rather than choosing love, forgiveness and respect for the value of other members of the body of our precious Saviour, Jesus. Problems of strife in any situation only serve to highlight where we are not "dead" to ourselves and "alive" to Christ. Dead things cannot rise up to defend, protect or attack, but can only stay dead! (John 12:24; Philippians 1:21; 1 Corinthians 15:31)

James talks more about conflict and strife at the beginning of chapter four.

Seeds and sowers (James 3:18)

If a farmer thought that he had sowed barley, but a crop of thistles came up instead, he would not hesitate to plough them up and seek recompense from the seed merchant who sold him the original seed. (Proverbs 6:30-31) Then he would go elsewhere to buy proper seed. If we recognise that the fruit of our wisdom is not peaceful, bringing harmony and agreement, then we need to repent, dig up that seed and plant God's word instead, casting out all doubt and fear. We shall need to cut out our own intelligent reasoning and conform our thinking to God's word, before we can bear fruit without limit that will last for eternity.

Peacemakers (James 3:18) are people who have God’s wisdom in a situation. They are those who have learned to control their tongue so that they reap a harvest of righteousness which brings peace. (Galatians 6:7)

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