The Book of James, Part 26:
Detect Ungodly Wisdom - James 3:14-16
Describe God's Wisdom - James 3:17-18


Last week, we dealt with the first half of James' teaching about the fact that Christians need to show the wisdom of God. We differentiated between knowledge and wisdom. We have too much knowledge and way too little wisdom. I speak for myself. The wisdom we are looking for is Godly wisdom, which is ours for the asking:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. --James 1:5
We broke this section of James into three sections:
  1. Desire God's Wisdom (3:13)
  2. Detect Ungodly Wisdom (3:14-16)
  3. Describe God's Wisdom (3:17-18)
We looked at James' instruction that we should show God's wisdom by our behavior and gentleness.

    1. Desire God's Wisdom (3:13)

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. --James 3:13

This week:

...we continue, as James describes what is not Godly wisdom.

    2. Detect Ungodly Wisdom (3:14-16)

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. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. --James 3:14-16
Through James, God warns about two ungodly motives that every Christian must avoid.

So how do we detect or identify ungodly, worldly wisdom?  By its Roots  Let's break down what James tells us:

Have - the Greek word here is echo [ekh·o] and can also be translated "to grip" or "hold" or "harbor". James warns against the danger of holding on to these wrong attitudes. It's easy and humanly natural to do, because they appeal to our sin nature.

Bitter jealousy - The word for jealousy here is zelos [dzay·los] and is translated both "envy" and "jealousy". It is sort of hard to distinguish between these two.

Traditionally, envy was regarded as the second worst and second most prevalent of the seven deadly sins. Like pride, the first of the seven deadly sins, it is a sin of the spirit, not the flesh, and thus a "cold" and highly "respectable" sin, in contrast to the "warm" and openly "disreputable" sins of the flesh, such as gluttony. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is the one vice that its perpetrators never enjoy and rarely confess.

What are some negative consequences of envy or jealousy?

Selfish ambition - Another wrong motive is simply selfishness. Some people pursue leadership positions out of "selfish ambition". The Greek word translated as selfish ambition is eritheia [er·ith·i·ah] which means a desire to put one's self forward, a partisan and fractious spirit which does not disdain low arts. This word is found before New Testament times only in Aristotle where it denotes a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means.

Do you think there is such a thing as "godly ambition"? Why or why not?

I do. I think godly ambition is when the motives that drives someone toward a particular goal are the love of God, the glory of God, the will of God.

For those of you who have seen the interview that I did for World Focus, this question came up in a slightly different form. Dayna asked if there was a problem for a Christian to be ambitious. My answer couched it as "if it is constructive, positive and not overwhelming, then it is fine. If it becomes destructive and interferes with a person's relationship with Jesus, then it is not OK."

Here are some other places where this same Greek word erithos is used:

...but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. --Romans 2:8

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions... --Galatians 5:19-20

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves... --Philippians 2:3

How often do you stop and examine your motives?

That's what James is encouraging us to do. We need to be asking ourselves, "How strongly influenced are we by envy and selfishness?"

James continues:

This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. --James 3:15
Earthly, natural - Paul talks about this tendency:
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. --Galatians 5:19-21
Demonic - What motivated the devil? Many believe this following passage is speaking of Satan and referring to his envy and ambition:
But you said in your heart, "I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High." --Isaiah 14:13
It's sobering to think that these attitudes of envy and selfish ambition, which we so frequently struggle with, are so offensive to God, so Satan-like.

There is another way that we can detect or identify ungodly, worldly wisdom.  By its Fruits.  James warns us against two consequences of these ungodly motives:

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. --James 3:16
Disorder - This is from a Greek word akatastasia, [ak·at·as·tah·see·ah] which can be translated "confusion, disorder, disturbance" even "riots". It's a strong word. It comes from a root word that means "restless, unstable". The word presents a great picture of the consequences of ungodly leaders - there's division and a lack of stability, among other things.

But a lack of wisdom can also produce these results in our lives as individuals - restless, unstable, confused, disturbed.   Why?   Because we lack the godly wisdom needed to provide a good foundation for our lives.

Every evil thing - Ungodly wisdom (decision-making) can lead to all kinds of ungodly behavior.

    3. Describe God's Wisdom (3:17-18)

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. --James 3:17-18
This might be called James' "fruit of the Spirit" (see Galatians 5:22-23). It's his list of godly qualities that should be part of the life of every Christian. Again, I think it's important to remember that James has leaders in mind (James 3:1) as he writes these verses.  They certainly apply to all of us, but we need to be sure that our leaders demonstrate these qualities.

First of all Pure - The word "first" is important here. It's the Greek word protos [pro·tos] and can also be translated "foremost, of first importance, leading, chief". Clearly, James is saying that purity is the leading quality in this list.

Pure is the word hagnos [hag·nos], meaning "holy". We don't talk as much about purity and holiness today as Christians have done in the past. However, this quality is so important to God.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." --1 Peter 1:14-16

Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. --1 John 3:2-3

Peaceable - God is talking about peace in our relationships with others. There are lots of people out there who love a good fight. They like to disagree, to quarrel, to pick fights. But God wants us to love peace and to pursue peace with others:
Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. --Hebrews 12:14
Pursue is translated as "Make every effort" in some translations. That's a strong phrase. People who are peace-loving "make every effort to live in peace" with others. What do you think are some keys to living in peace with others? Jesus said,
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. --Matthew 5:9
I like the way that the New Living Translation states this verse:
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
Gentle - What does the word "gentle" communicate to you? The Greek word here is epieike, which means "equitable, fair, mild, gentle'. It is sometimes translated as "considerate of others". Reasonable - It comes from the Greek word eupeithes [ep·ee·i·thes]. It's only found here in the New Testament. The New Living Translation writes it "willing to yield to others". The sense of the word seems to be that we have a cooperative spirit.

Bill McCartney, the founder of Promise Keepers, once said, "We have not come together to compete with one another--but to complete one another."

What do you think are some characteristics of a reasonable person?

Full of mercy - We talked about the importance of this quality in our study of James 2:13. James mentions mercy five times in three verses (2:13, 3:17, 5:11).
For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. --James 2:13

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. James 3:17

We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord's dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful. --James 5:11

Notice the emphasis here - we are not to just be merciful, we are to be full of mercy. What does being "full of mercy" imply to you?

Chuck Swindoll writes, "Mercy is not reluctant. Force is not required to move it into action. No one has to hammerlock you and say, "Show mercy!" Mercy is voluntary, falling like gentle rain. What can we expect if we show mercy? Our Lord assures us that the merciful will, in turn, receive mercy. Your merciful investments today will reap wonderful benefits tomorrow."

As Christians today, we're often like the story that James Dobson tells. He reports seeing a sign on a convent in southern California reading: "Absolutely No Trespassing! Violators Will Be Prosecuted to the Full Extent of the Law. Signed, "The Sisters of Mercy."

Like the Sisters of Mercy, there's just something that doesn't add up when Christians who experience so much mercy from God fail to show mercy toward other people.

Full of good fruit - Every life bears fruit. The person whose life is characterized by Godly wisdom will have a life full of good fruit. Here are two types of fruit God expects to see in the life of every believer:

  1. The fruit of the Spirit
    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness... --Galatians 5:22
  2. The fruit of influence
    My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. --John 15:8
In John 15, the fruit seems to be speaking of reproducing ourselves spiritually in the lives of others. An apple tree produces other apple trees. In the same way, the Lord expects His followers to seek to influence others to follow Him.

Unwavering - This is the only place in the New Testament where this Greek word adiakritos [ad·ee·ak·ree·tos] is used. It means "without dubiousness, ambiguity or uncertainty". The New Living Translation says "no partiality"; Today's English Version translates this "free from prejudice".

Without hypocrisy - is from the Greek word, anupokritos [an·oo·pok·ree·tos] , which means unfeigned, undisguised, sincere.

The idea here seems to be that we are real, authentic. There's no pretending, no trying to give the impression that we're better or more spiritual than we really are.

Whose fruit is righteousness - James goes back to the "fruit" word picture that he used in verse 17 ("full of good fruit"). What "harvest" is coming forth from our words, our deeds, our choices?

Maybe we can look at it this way: Think of everything you do as being some kind of seed that you plant - the words you say to people, your thoughts, how you treat people, your time in the Word, and so on. Every day we're planting all kinds of different seeds. Then as time passes, we start seeing these seeds bear fruit - in our relationship with God and our relationships with people (family, co-workers, etc.).

Ask yourself:

What seeds are you planting? What harvest are you producing?

Paul said:

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God... --1 Corinthians 1:30
A number of years ago, Gordon MacDonald was pastor of Grace Chapel, a church in Lexington, Mass, just outside of Boston. He writes:

 "I used to struggle with overconfident intelligentsia while living in Boston. I would leave the town of Lexington, where my family and I lived, and I would drive past the towers of Harvard University. Another mile down the road, on the left, sits the campus of MIT, and to the right, the campus of Boston University. Straight ahead were the towering headquarters of many great multinational corporations. There were moments when I was tempted to be intimidated by these unmitigated, unadulterated symbols of power. Here were great world leaders being trained in the business school at Harvard. Over at MIT, signals bounced off Mars every 30 seconds. In those towers, decisions were being made that created and destroyed the economies all over the world. And who was I? What was our congregation with this Christian gospel trying to preach? That's what was happening in the Corinthian church. They were intimidated by all the talk of so-called intelligent people who said the Cross is silliness. Paul tells us not to buy it. It has never been true, and it's not true today. God is going to show the wisdom of men and women to be rank foolishness. For the wise, the Cross must be in its central place."

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln once said, "I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day."

Let's close our study of wisdom with a verse about Jesus from His childhood:

And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. --Luke 2:52
There's an example we all need to follow - we need to keep growing in wisdom. We need to understand that being wise is not a destination but a journey. We need to be committed to spending the rest of our lives learning what God has said to us in His Word and then applying it to our lives.

Next week:

...we will start James Chapter 4. James will talk about winning the war within us, James 4:1-10