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Bible Search
James #13 - chapter 3, verses 13-18
Authentic Faith
The Test of Humble Wisdom
James 3:14-18
 
Let’s begin tonight by reading our text
 
James 3:13-18
 
Now keep in mind that James is giving a series of tests for genuine living saving faith. In chapter 1 he said that saving faith can be seen in how a person responds to trials. Then he said saving faith can be seen in how a person responds to temptation. And then he said that true faith can be seen in how a person responds to the Word of God.
 
Then in chapter 2, how a person responds to needy people, in righteous works and the use of the tongue. 
 
Next on the list is the test of wisdom. If a person is genuinely saved, he will demonstrate through his life the wisdom of God.  That's his whole point. In fact, the kind of wisdom you have will be made manifest in the way you live. If you have a relationship with God, it will be revealed by true wisdom, verses 17 and 18.  And if your faith is not real, you will demonstrate false wisdom, verses 14-16. 
 
So, James then in verse 13 asks a question that calls for self-examination. What kind of wisdom do you have? You say you're wise? You say you have understanding? Then let's look at your life and see who really has divine wisdom. That's the point. Who really possesses the wisdom of God?
 
Now we need to keep in mind, wisdom is not the same thing as knowledge.  Neither is it information.
 
Let me give yo a definition:  Wisdom is the application of knowledge accompanied by divine power to reshape life, transform attitudes and change behavior into righteousness.
 
To put it more simple terms, wisdom is not what I know, wisdom is how I live. And so how I live according to the wisdom of God is an accurate indicator of the authenticity of my faith and spiritual condition.
 
Just on a personal note, I think God could care less how smart you are or where your IQ is.  He puts no premium on human intelligence.  It seems to me the only interest God has in wisdom is the wisdom that transforms the life.
 
So wisdom then, in biblical terms, equals life style or behavior.  True wisdom is knowing God in a life changing relationship. True wisdom is the outworking of a life changing knowledge of God.
 
Now I think we need to keep in mind that James is a Jew writing to Jews.  And even though they are professing believers in Christ, they still have a very Jewish perspective on life. 
 
Now from an Old Testament viewpoint,  wisdom of was basically initiated by the fear of the Lord. Do you remember that? There we read such verses as “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”  Now remember, wisdom equals behavior. 
So the Old Testament Jew, if he behaved correctly, did so because he was afraid not to and was wise to do that.
 
But it goes deeper than that.  Wisdom, right behavior, begins in fearing the Lord. But we are unable to behave correctly on our own so what Scripture consistently teaches is that fearing the Lord equals saving faith.
 
To fear the Lord is to have a reverential trust in Him. So when the Old Testament says "fear God or fear the Lord," it is a call to salvation.  It is a call to a commitment in which a person turns from sin in faith to God and has a hatred of evil and a love of obedience.
 
So, wisdom began at the point when one was ushered into a relationship with God through reverential faith and trust, called in the Old Testament the fear of the Lord.
 
And once a person puts their faith in God, then that introduces them into a life of wisdom. See the order? 
 
The fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom. The fear of the Lord caused one to turn from iniquity and turn to God. The fear of the Lord meant to come to hate evil and love righteousness. The fear of the Lord resulted in doing what God commanded. 
 
So, when a person puts his faith in God, he is introduced to a world or wisdom that was previously unavailable to him.  And as a student of wisdom, we then have the privilege of living that wisdom out in our daily life, giving evidence we are the disciples of God.
Therefore, everyone who knows God through Christ in a personal way has received the wisdom of God. And that wisdom of God is demonstrated in the life of a true believer.  And that is a growing relationship and knowledge. 
 
A true Christian will love the Lord Jesus Christ, but we will also grow to love the Lord Jesus Christ more and more.  A true Christian will serve God, but we will grow in our service.  A true Christian will obey, but as time goes by, we will obey more and more.
 
So it is with wisdom.  We have received the wisdom of God, but that doesn’t mean we got it all in one helping.  What we have now does not mean we have received and are applying all the wisdom that is available to us. Okay?
 
So while it is the mark of a believer to put on display the wisdom of God, none of us are demonstrating the wisdom of God to the fullest possible capacity.
 
So we find here, not only a characteristic of authentic faith, but an encouragement and exhortation to increase our commitment to that wisdom at the same time.
 
Now for the sake of the subject at hand, James is telling his hearers that divine wisdom is an identifying mark of a saved person. And if you want to know if someone is genuinely saved, look at the testifying wisdom of their life.  What kind of wisdom do they demonstrate? There are only two types of wisdom.  In verse 14 to 16 we find false wisdom and in verses 17 and 18, true wisdom.
 
Now before James gets into the two types of wisdom, he lays out the test in
 
Verse 13
 
There were, no doubt, people then, as there are today, parading around claiming to be wise. So James asks the question, “How do you know if someone is exhibiting true, God-given wisdom? 
 
It will show in three areas.  First it will show
 
- in general
 
“Let him show by good conduct”.  First, godly wisdom will show in his general way of life.  Just watch over a period of time and see how he acts.  He may have had in mind the things he’s already discussed.  See how a person responds to trials and temptations.  Take note of his regard for the Word of God.  See how he treats other people.  How does he conduct himself? 
 
But then he goes deeper.  How does this person react in his “works”?  Works means specific deeds Not just the generalities of life, but  
 
- In specifics
 
God’s wisdom will be evident in general, but if he’s dealing with some specific set of circumstances, the wisdom of God will shine.  
 
Not only will it be generally made manifest but specifically in a given deed that wisdom of God will be seen.
 
And then finally, James says true wisdom is seen
 
- in attitude
 
What is done is done with meekness.  There will be a humility that let’s God get the glory.  It’s not a know-it-all kind of intelligence that belittles and holds it over.  It is an attitude of meekness.
 
So true wisdom is manifesting the power and the word of God in every area of life and the one who is truly wise will prove it by his general conduct, his specific deeds and his attitude of humility.
 
Then upon that premise, James then turns his attention to the contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. 
 
First he talks about
 
1.  False Wisdom
 
in verses 14-16
 
First he identifies
 
  • the motivation for false wisdom
 
verse 14
 
The key to understanding the verse is found in the three little words “in your hearts”.  In Hebrew thought, that is the place of motive. As Proverbs 4:23 says, "Keep your heart with diligence for out of it are the issues of life." So he's doing a heart examination to determine the motive for what is done.
In this particular case, there are two motivators.  One is bitter envy and the other is self-seeking. 
And remember, he is identifying the motives behind human wisdom.
 
First is bitter envy.  The word "bitter" means exactly that.  The word roots back to bitter undrinkable water. The word "envying" is better understood as "jealousy".  And although there can be a positive side to the word, here it is used in a negative way to describe an evil jealousy. It is the idea of a harsh bitter self-centeredness that produces a resentful attitude toward everybody else.
 
In other words, it's a "me" kind of mindset that these people live in. People who possess false wisdom have their own world. It is a self-formed world. It is a self-focused world. And it is a bitterly jealous attitude toward anyone else who threatens that little world. They are resentful of anyone who threatens their territory, who threatens their accomplishments, who threatens their reputation, who threatens to crowd their little slice of this world.
 
Anyone who differs with them or crosses them becomes their enemy.  Anyone who crosses them is wrong. And if anyone who differs with them and is successful, the stiuationis made that much worse because of their jealousy. 
 
It is this attitude of selfish ambition that creates rivalry or a party spirit or antagonism.
 
In fact, what we read as “self-seeking” or selfish ambition has a very interesting history.  The word originally meant “spinning for hire” and was used of ladies who made thread.
Then it came to mean anything anybody did for what they could personally get out of it. It eventually entered the political world and came to be used of  people who in selfish ambition tried to seek high political office, attaining their person goals at any cost no matter what they had to do to other people to get there.
 
To just boil it down to a simple thought, James says the wisdom that is not of God is a selfish, self-centered attitude that is consumed with ego fulfillment. It has as its goal personal gratification at any cost. It is the goal of humanistic thinking.
 
It shows no selflessness.  There's no humility.  There’s no love of service for others.  for someone else. And to put it in the terms of 1 John, there's no love for one another. Those with false wisdom have proud, selfish, self-focused, self- centered motives for all of life.  They are people working for their personal gain, their personal fulfillment and their personal happiness. 
 
And James says if that describes you, you really need to quit bragging about it. 
 
verse 14
 
So what are they boasting about? They're boasting that they have the wisdom of God. 
 
If you're running around boasting that you’re a Christian and thus have the wisdom of God but the character of your life is proud, loveless, self-centeredness, then you need to keep your mouth shut.
Stop claiming to possess a wisdom which you're not living because, he says at the end of verse 14, you are lying against what is obviously the truth.
 
See how it all flows together?  In verse 13, James says you say you have wisdom, show it. If I look at your life and I see you motivated totally by self-centeredness, selfishness, pride, ego- fulfillment, then for goodness sake stop your arrogant boast about having the wisdom of God because the fact is you're lying against what is obviously true.
 
Stop claiming to have what you don't have.  An evil-motivated, arrogant, selfish, self-promoting, jealous person is lying in the face of the truth when they claim to have the wisdom of God.  Don't be a living lie.
 
That’s the motive.  Next he deals with
 
  • the characteristics
 
verse 15
 
This kind of wisdom doesn’t originate with God.   It is not from above.  Instead, he gives us three words to describe the wisdom that is false.  It is earthly, sensual and demonic.
 
The word
 
  • earthly
 
means just that. As to its extent, it is limited to the sphere of time and space. It cannot crawl out of its locked prison. Man is in this little box and that box is a box of time and space.
And no matter how much be bangs against it, he is imprisoned by it.  He can’t jump high enough to escape.  He can’t climb high enough to get out.  He’s not strong enough to break out. 
 
Therefore, the only information he has available to him is contained in the little world he exists in.  He must function without spiritual illumination. He never rises above the level of the material world. He is in a closed system, locked up. And everything that he comes to conclude is a part of his own self-styled system. He is earthbound.  And so, all of his wisdom has the mark of the curse of fallenness.
 
Secondly, he says it is
 
  • Sensual
 
It is not only limited to the world’s system and way of thinking, it thinks only in terms of that which is human.  This is what Paul had in mind when he said the natural man cannot understand the things of God. 
 
All of his feelings, impulses, appetites are concerned only with that which is immediate and temporary.  There is nothing of eternal value or nature because false wisdom, human wisdom does not, cannot think in those terms.  And whether it is sociology, psychology, philosophy, education or whatever it is, it must be viewed from a purely humanistic, fleshy sensual perspective.
 
And thirdly, it is
 
  • demonic
This is the only place in the New Testament where the word demon is used as an adjective.  And here we discover that this human wisdom, even though it seems to spawn out of the human mind and concern itself only with that which is human, is actually generated by the demons in hell. 
 
And believe it or not, that's the way most people live. This is where the world lives.  They have the same problems and trials and difficulties as do the people of God.  They deal with time and eternity and all that we come in contact with. 
 
But when they try to find answers and solutions and make sense fo things and find reason and purpose, they have only what feeble, puny, finite, stuglling human brains can come up.  It is all limited to what they know and experience and what their experiments reveal.  They hypothesize and postulate and offer conjecture. But it is all earthly, sensual and demonic.  And yet they call it wisdom!  In fact, Satan calls it wisdom.
 
Think about it:  when Eve was in the garden in chapter 3 verse 6, she looked on the fruit because she heard that the tree was able to make one wise. That was a lie. Satan always promises wisdom. And he always promises that you will know and be in the know and understand and be smart and educated.
 
But the wisdom of the world proceeds from evil spirits. It proceeds from fallen angels. It proceeds from demons. It proceeds from Satan and his agents who are disguised as ministers of light when in fact they are ministers of darkness.
 
And the thing that makes human wickedness so devastating is that man is smart and man is wicked and the combination is deadly. And this demonic natural, earthbound wisdom leads man into smugness and immorality.  It leads him into arrogance and self-sufficiency.  And ultimately, it leads him away from God. 
 
And if that doesn’t describe the world in which we live, then I don’t know how to describe it. Don’t you look around at our world sometimes and worry?  Don’t you look at your children and grandchildren and what they’re being taught and how they’re living and the decisions they’re making and want to stop them and shake some sense into their heads? 
 
The problem is, without God, they don't have any answers. And unfortunately, many of them don’t want to hear what He ahs to say about life.  They’ll figure it out on their own!  They’re smart!  They know what to do! And that's the wisdom that characterizes the world.
 
And then James explores
 
  • the results
 
verse 16
 
He returns to the same two motive of envying and self-seeking and says where this kind of system is at work, here’s what you can expect.
 
First comes
 
  • Confusion
 
This word is a fascinating word.  It speaks of disorder resulting from instability.  The result is chaos or confusion or disorder.
 
He’s used the same word twice already in this letter.  He used in chapter 1 verse 8, to describe the impact of double-mindedness and in chapter 3 verse 8, to describe the impact of an uncontrolled tongue.
 
Listen, earthly wisdom will never produce harmony ot stability or love because it’s aim and goal is just the opposite.  It will never produce love because it proud, self-seeking, self-serving, self-indulgent.  It destroys intimacy.  It destroys love.  It destroys unity.  It destroys fellowship. 
 
It brings discord and chaos and confusion.  In fact, James goes on to say it produces
 
  • Every evil thing
 
You can't get more general or all-inclusive than that.  At best, every vile, repulsive, worthless thing in the world comes from human wisdom.  By the way, the word “thing” is where we get our word “pragmatic”.   
 
James is telling us that human wisdom substituting for God’s wisdom produces absolutely nothing of any  pragmatic value at all. At its best it produces worthless things and at its worst it produces vile things. And it certainly can't be of God.
 
 
 
 
 
So James says who's wise? Let's see it. Show it. When a person claims true wisdom from God, when a person claims true faith, when a person claims to know the Lord Jesus Christ, when a person claims salvation but his heart is filled with evil motives centered around selfish pride and his approach to life is earthly and sensual and demonic and the product of his life is chaos and discord and disorder and confusion and nothing of value and plenty of evil, that is not the wisdom of God. He lies against what is obviously the truth. So, false wisdom.
 
Let's look at
 
2.  True Wisdom
 
We can follow the same pattern form true wisdom.  Let's start with
 
  • the motivation for true wisdom
 
verse 17
 
This wisdom is “from above”.  We immediately see the contrast.  Whereas the false wisdom was “in your hearts”, this wisdom is from outside of us.  It is from above.  It comes down from God.  And notice, it is
 
  • pure
 
Now you may see it differently, but I believe that is a a reference to its motive.  The word implies a sincere, moral and spiritual character. It's not the ordinary word that is used to describe something as pure. 
 
This word has more to do with the spiritual integrity or the moral sincerity.  It is distinct from bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.  By the way, it's used of Jesus Christ in 1 John 3:3 because He is pure as the pattern of all purity. So, first of all, as to motive, the wisdom of God is pure.
 
You show me a believer and I'll show you a person whose heart has pure desires. The deepest part of that believer wants to do God's will, wants to serve God, wants to love God.
 
We saw that his morning in Psalm 51 as David cries out, "O God, purge me with hyssop and I will be clean, wash me and I will be whiter than snow." The true believer hates his sin and rising out of his inmost being is a longing for what is clear and clean and pure and holy and good and honest. 
 
Next, note
 
  • the characteristics
 
verse 17
 
Compared to the last kind of wisdom which was earthly, sensual, demoniacal, this kind of wisdom is
 
  • Peaceable
 
It is the idea of peace loving or peace promoting. What do the Beatitudes say? "Blessed are the peacemakers.  They are the ones who are called the sons of God.
 
 
 
And notice, the wisdom from God does not create confusion or disorder.  It is not self-promoting. It is peace loving and peace making.
 
Secondly, he says the wisdom from above is
 
  • Gentle
 
That is a beautiful word.  Unfortunately, is untranslatable. William Barclay says it's the most difficult Greek word of all to translate into the English language.  One writer called it sweet reasonableness. It is the beautiful attribute of redeemed character and godly wisdom that is humbly patient, that is steadfastly gentle, that submits to dishonor, disgrace, mistreatment, persecution with an attitude of humility, an attitude of courteousness, an attitude of kindness, an attitude of patience, an attitude of consideration without hatred, without malice, without revenge.
 
What did Jesus say in the Beatitudes?  Blessed are you when you are persecuted, when you are reviled, when men say all manner of evil against you falsely, for the ones who are persecuted for righteousness sake are the ones who inherit the Kingdom.
 
James is just repeating what Jesus said.  Kingdom citizens are peaceable and they are gentle. They are the kind of people who know no revenge. They take persecution, they take mistreatment with kindness.
 
Thirdly he says this wisdom is
 
  • Willing to yield
 
That means they aren’t stubborn.  They have a teachable spirit.  It's used of a person who submits to military discipline willingly. It's used of a person who observes legal and moral standards in life and willingly submits.
 
And again, it's very reflective of a Beatitude attitude in chapter 5 again of Matthew, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth." Those who are humble, broken over their sin, mourning over their sin, meek because of their sin, they are the compliant ones, they are the easily persuaded ones, the teachable ones, the yielding ones. That's the spirit.
 
Fourthly, he says one who is characterized by the true wisdom, the wisdom of God is
 
  • full of mercy
 
This really means a concern for people who suffer.  It’s not just forgiving people who have wronged you, but reaching out to people with compassion who are in suffering. What did Jesus say in Matthew 5:7? "Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy." Those who are full of mercy exhibit the wisdom of God.
 
And then
 
  • full of good fruits
 
That simply means good works.  The evidence of God’s wisdom spills out through what they do.
It's very much like the Beatitude, "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness..." This is the person whose life is demonstrated in good deeds.
 
Next, he says it is
 
  • without partiality
 
That's the only place in the New Testament this term is used and it means it's unwavering.  It's undivided in its commitment. There's no vacillating, no shifting, no turning one way and then turning another way. It's consistent.
 
And then finally, number seven,
 
  • without hypocrisy
 
Utterly sincere, genuine, not phony, not fake, no pretense, no mask, and no hypocrisy. That's the climax of true wisdom.
 
And if you want to know who a truly wise person is then find a person who manifests this kind of life  style, this kind of behavior.
 
Now, if you think about it, you will discover in Christ the perfect demonstration of all seven of those characteristics.  And Christ is our wisdom and since Christ is takes up residence in your life, then those characteristics become yours and mine. As Christ lives His life through me, these characteristics come through me as well.
 
 
 
So, when a person claims true wisdom and has pure motives and behavior that reveals a love for making peace, a humble, patient, non-retaliatory spirit, a sweet reasonableness, a willingness to yield in obedience, a habit of merciful compassionate acts toward others, a variety of righteous deeds that minister spiritual good and benefit to others, an undivided commitment to God's truth without partiality toward anyone, and all of this is sincere and genuine, James says that person shows that they have true wisdom.
 
And what is
 
  • the results
 
verse 18
 
You may say, well wait a minute.  I thought we were talkinga bout wisdom.  Now he’s talking about righteousness.  Exactly!  Good observation!  True wisdom is here equated with righteousness because wisdom is righteous living.
 
And notice that it is fruit that is sown.  That’s a rather interesting word usage because normally seed it sown and produces fruit.  But here the fruit is sown.   So what is he saying? 
 
Well, think about it like this. When fruit is harvested it provides seed for the next crop.  Isn't it interesting that James says the fruit of righteousness is sown, literally resown, in peace by them that are making peace.
 
 
 
This is nothing more than the law of sowing and reaping.  Where true wisdom exists there will be true righteousness.  True righteousness always expresses itself in fruit.  And that fruit becomes seed which generates more true righteousness.
 
Read the verse like this and it will make more sense:  , "And the fruit of righteousness is being sown in peace by them that make peace." As you sow the fruit of righteousness, it produces more righteousness.
 
And that ongoing process, the continual cycle of righteous fruit, one righteous act harvested from the field of true wisdom becomes the seed to grow another one. Righteousness flourishes in a climate of peace in the hands of peacemakers.
 
So, James follows a clear line of thought. If one professes to be a Christian, he must prove it by living like a Christian. And nothing is more convincing than the kind of wisdom revealed in his or her behavior. God's wisdom will be revealed in the way we live.
 
The entry into wisdom is through faith in God through Jesus Christ. We are saved into wisdom. Once we come into wisdom, then Scripture becomes the source of wisdom, the Holy Spirit becomes the teacher of wisdom. And whatever application of wisdom we lack, we may ask God who gives and holds back nothing.
 
So ask yourself: do I have the wisdom of God? Do I exhibit the wisdom of God? 
 
The answer is not anything other than what is the character of your life, what are the specific deeds you do and what is your attitude. And you run the inventory yourself. Is your life worldly wisdom? Or is your life divine wisdom?
 
You say, "I don't know. Maybe I'm in the middle." Well, you better get on your knees and find out which side of the line you're on. It may be that you're in the worldly wisdom area but you've been around Christians so long you've picked up some of their habits.
 
It may be that you are in the godly wisdom area but you've been hanging around the world so long you've picked up some of their habits. And if you're having trouble figuring out where you are, you're in desperate situation. God's wisdom should mark without equivocation those people who belong to Jesus Christ.
 
Let’s pray.
 
 
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