The author of this book is generally accepted to be James the Just, the brother of Jesus and leader in the church at Jerusalem. It was written in the mid-40s; certainly before A.D. 62 since that is the year he was executed and likely before A.D. 49 since it does not mention the momentous Apostolic Council in Jerusalem which concluded that year. The letter is addressed to Jewish Christians – the twelve tribes in the Dispersion (James 1:1) who were likely meeting in house churches outside Palestine – the assembly (James 2:2).
It appears that troubles and conflicts had entered the church and that they were splintering into quarreling factions. In this letter, James challenges the Christian to seek divine wisdom in working out problems and to put it into practice in their lives.
Most of the book takes the form of a genre of Greek wisdom literature known as a “diatribe.” This genre has several different literary traits. One trait of diatribe is the use of imaginary question and answer dialogues. Another is the apostrophe – a direct address to absent people or things as though they were present.
James reminds the reader of the importance of divine wisdom. With little delay after the salutation, James reminds the reader of the importance of divine wisdom.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting…. (James 1:5) He then tells them to avoid being double-minded and unstable. There is strong similarity to Proverbs 1:7 – The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Few people profess themselves as fools and boast of making unwise decisions. Most people consider themselves to be wise and have a desire for others to recognize their wisdom.
So, James encourages his reader to evaluate the 1) origin of wisdom, 2) the characteristic evidences of wisdom, and 3) the results of wisdom.
There is a type of wisdom too often demonstrated among Christians that is not from God and that sows and reaps havoc within the body of the church. Instead, Christian’s lives should be marked with evidences that their wisdom comes from God…that it is exercised in tandem with an understanding and submission to both His Word and the Holy Spirit…and, sown in peace, reaps a harvest of righteousness.
I. Definition of Wisdom & Understanding (13a)
The word wise is from the Greek word, Sophos. You may have seen pictures of the Hagias Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Constantinople. The knowledge of facts does not equal wisdom. The dictionary defines “wisdom” as the keen evaluation of facts; insightful analysis. In our culture, the word “wisdom” has a positive connotation.
The word that means understanding, epistēmōn is used only here in the New Testament – the skill of a tradesman or professional. I think of a painter who has a knowledge of facts about paints, has keen evaluation and insight, and can apply that that to a project.
The Greeks viewed wisdom as speculative knowledge. Whereas Jews viewed wisdom as the application of conclusions (Proverbs 4:7; 1 Kings 3, Solomon asked God for “an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil.”).
The passage seems to indicate that the “understanding” is applied wisdom; comprehension of God’s spiritual purposes, not just of temporary and “events” and “circumstances.”
J.I. Packer wrote of an engineer involved in creating an interchange on an interstate highway. A driver doesn’t need to know the theories of velocity, gravitational pull, and distance that affect the banking of a curve. The driver trusts the design of the interchange and where it is taking him, and he needs to know the right thing to do when the car ahead is braking and drifting into his lane.
II. Origins of Wisdom (15, 17)
However, in this passage the scripture tells us that there is natural, evil, and even demonic wisdom that does not come from “above” (God). The passage tells us that wisdom has moral origin (comes from). Much wisdom attributed to people today is not from God and is not of regenerate understanding. At best, it is pseudo-wisdom. A businessman may be insightful, calculating, discerning of situations, and may exhibit effective leadership and management skills, but he may not have godly motives or practices and methods. The same is true of famous world leaders, statesmen, counselors, teachers, and even pastors. Additionally, there is a nuance of difference between “wisdom” and “understanding.”
As human-beings we are finite, we have a sin nature. By nature we are self-centered, self-promoting. We want to be self-governed and to make our own choices – and we think that we are wise enough to do so. Indeed, Satan’s temptation of Eve in the Garden of Eden centered on her desire for the fruit that Satan said would make her wise like God – knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:5-6).
The Holy Spirit of God works in a person’s heart and brings him to the realization that God is sovereign, holy, and just and that he (the person) has rebelled and sinned against God. When that person confesses his sin, repents of it, and trusts in God’s provision for his justification through the blood of Jesus Christ, that person is regenerate – a new creature, converted, and saved. The regenerated man, then, understands that he should submit his thinking to the governance of the Word of God and to the Holy Spirit’s illumination and guidance.
Wisdom from below (15):
Not that which comes down from above (15)
Earthly, unspiritual (NASB natural), demonic. (15)
A trio of great enemies to believer is the world, the flesh, and the devil
Earthly wisdom is limited to the present material world of space & time. Gives attention to only things that are finite, that man can theorize and accomplish by himself. It gives no consideration to God.
Unspiritual (Natural) wisdom is sensual, fleshly and relates to the fallen, unredeemed man. The natural man who fulfills his desires, appetites, impulse and views the things of God as foolishness.
Demonic wisdom is the root of both earthly and natural wisdom - Satan himself. Satan tempts people to disobey God; rebel; to be their own god.
Wisdom from above (17; Proverbs 1:7):
Holy Spirit Empowerment (Galatians 5:23-24)
Scripture (Psalm 119 – Your commands make me wiser than my enemies; give insight)
Prayer (shows ineptitude of human resources; helplessness; humility shown in asking)
III. Characteristic Evidences of Wisdom (14)
Wisdom that is from below:
As is true in so many situations, it often seems easier to identify what something is not than what it is; to identify something as a counterfeit.
Bitter = unpleasant; opposite of sweet
Jealousy = intolerant of rivalry; resent advantages of another
Selfish = concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, and well-being without regard for others
Ambition = desire to achieve. Motivation is always determined in the heart; if you have these in your heart (14). People motivated by selfish ambition resent anything or anyone who comes between them and their own objectives and become bitterly jealous.
Arrogance: An attitude of superiority; an exaggerated sense of one’s own worth. When arrogance is the norm and unabashed attitude of a person it demonstrates an absence of a saving relationship to God. And in so doing you are lying against the truth (make an untrue statement with the intent to deceive). People who are wise in their own eyes are usually arrogant about it; usually accompanies selfish ambition. There is nothing more characteristic of fallen, unredeemed people than their being dominated by self.
Reiterates the two motives of selfish ambition and jealousy (v. 16) when stating results of wisdom from below.
Wisdom that is from above (13 & 17):
James begins by saying “show it,” and show in the meekness of wisdom (13)
- Gentle can be translated as meek
- Meek = is not weak; it is power under control
- Greek = taming a wild animal; a wild horse must be broken to be useful to its owner
- Jesus, Himself, was meek and humble. When Jesus was reviled, he did not revile in response. We are untrained, young oxen, yoked with an experienced Savior (Matthew 11:29-30).
Meekness (humility) is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:23) and should characterize everyone in the kingdom of God.
Pure (17): Pure is from the same word as holy. It means unmixed. It means undefiled – only through our justification in Jesus Christ’s blood. Purity is the overarching quality and key to all characteristics that follow.
The word THEN is a connecting adverb that indicates motive and source not characteristic.
Peaceable: Literally, peaceful; full of peace. We are at peace with God and content with His plan. This is opposite of selfish ambition and bitter jealousy. Ephesians 2:14, we read “keep the unity of spirit through the bond of peace.”
Gentle: There is no English equivalent, but the best idea would be forbearing and courteous.
Open to reason
Full of mercy and good fruit: Forgiving and reaching out to others with Holy Spirit Fruits – Galatians 5:22-23
Impartial: It is unwavering without vacillation and doesn’t change positions for different people and circumstances.
Sincere: It means to be genuine and without hypocrisy. Conan Doyle sent a telegram to twelve men of significant position, “Fly at once; all is discovered!” – Within 24 hours all had left the country! Paul writes in his second epistle to Corinthians “we have conducted ourselves in holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.” (2 Corinthians 1:12)
IV. Results of Wisdom
That from below:
Disorder (16) – instability, state of confusion, even rebellion and anarchy.
Every vile practice (16) – worthless, vile, contemptible
Nothing of any ultimate good results from human wisdom.
That from above:
Sown in peace by those who make peace and produces a harvest of righteousness (18).
The cycle of acting with wisdom from God which produces peace
The unregenerate person only has access to earthly, natural, and evil wisdom. Repent & Trust God’s justification through the blood of Jesus Christ.
The regenerate person too often evidences that his wisdom is not from above; this revealed in his motives, the characteristics, and the results.
Too many of our actions are a result of selfish ambition and bitter jealousy.
Twisting and manipulating His Word to our purposes. Too many pushing our personal agenda. Too many in cynicism and with a chip on our shoulders. Too many that lead to quarrels and fights among us.
Not enough of our actions are a result of humble submission to God’s perfect, sovereign plan. Not enough after prayer and reading of His Word. Not enough with Holy Spirit empowerment – evidenced by meekness.
Peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
Repent & ASK FOR DIVINE WISDOM – to zealously know and pursue God’s plan for your life in His ultimate purpose.
Read the Scripture & pray for Holy Spirit to give illumination – wisdom and understanding
Lord, give us wisdom and give us understanding. We want your will to be accomplished in our lives in all matters and circumstances. Help us to be submissive to your will. Help us to abandon our selfish ambition and bitter jealousy. Develop in us a meekness and gentleness.