The Wise Life! — James 3:13-18
By Pastor Lee Hemen
June 22, 2014
Where does wisdom come from? Does it come about because of age? Does it come from the amount of knowledge one knows or has acquired? Mark Twain retorted, “The person who has had a bull by the tail once has learned 60 or 70 times as much as a person who hasn’t.” Another quote that is often falsely attributed to Twain is the one that states, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years!” My father used to remind us that “Just because you think you know something, does not make it true.” We find this pithy bit of wisdom to be quite true in our day and age whereby so many think they know God when in fact they know nothing about him at all. Both the psalmist and the writer of Proverbs agree that, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…. (Psalms 111:10 & Proverbs 1:7 NIV)” What then is the wise life? James gives us a glimpse in what he defines as a person who is wise.
He writes, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13 NIV)”
We have to remind ourselves that James is writing to believers and not the world at large. So, his premise is that Christians would already understand that what he is so concerned about comes from a life that is already given over to Jesus Christ. If not, you will not understand or have the wisdom to discern what James is trying to teach. We all would like to be known for being “wise and understanding”, but for James it is predicated on that fact that Jesus is the focus of your life, then you would show your understanding and wisdom by your “good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from” the “wisdom” he has been writing about! Remember James had just told us that he would show us his faith by what he did and not simply by the words he used (James 2:18). The fact remains if one has placed their faith In Christ, then Christ will affect their lives and in the humility of Jesus we will do the deeds we need to do that displays our wisdom is from following him!
However, James knew that “if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth (James 3:14 NIV).”
These kinds of characteristics in the life of someone who claims Christ cannot be! If we harbor, hold on to and tenuously keep, bitter envy and selfish ambition in our hearts, how could we possibly be a follower of Jesus! Bitter envy is like deliberately sucking on a lemon and expecting something sweet! We have those around us who would have you disdain others who have worked hard for what they have. Then, there are those who would walk over anyone to gain a nickel! We should not boast about bitterness or hidden envy that we have kept like pampered pets, nor should we try to deny the sin of it because when we do, such action denies the truth of the gospel that should have affected our lives!
In fact, for James, “Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. (James 3:15 NIV)”
Literally James is saying it is not from God at all but from world, earthly, unspiritual, and demonic! Much of what we hear today on the TV, read online, or are inundated with in the classroom and workplace is the ungodly sensuality of the world’s wisdom. It is thoroughly demonic! The demonic wisdom of the world tries to rewrite the definition of what love, marriage, family or faith is. It belches out the satanic propaganda that loves is what you feel at the moment, marriage is defined as to whatever you desire, family is anyone or anything in relationship and faith is any spirituality. This ungodly and demonic “wisdom” has given us unprecedented violence, dysfunctional families, perverted tolerance, and small-minded selfish mysticism! Recently Fox Channel 12 News gushed how wonderful it was that Portland, Oregon has become a Mecca for gay men to come and have women give birth to their children!
While some of the things we do in our society today are in of themselves harmless, they are perhaps symptomatic of the deeper spiritual sickness that has crept into our society. Instead of believers being the salt and light of the world, the gospel change agents they are commanded to be, we have become societal chameleons. Take for instance the rampant sexualization of our society. I believe it represents the self-absorb outcome of the culture we live in. We readily use our bodies without a care as to the ultimate psychological, physical, emotional, and spiritual result. The legalization of marijuana when we have not come to terms with the horrendous fallout of alcohol as a society, speaks volumes as to where our wisdom is coming from.
For James, the proof was in the outcome of what he saw in the lives of believers, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:16 NIV)”
My Dad used to say, “If you have to think up an excuse for what you’re doing, do you really need to do it?” James understood that when you’ve seen lives filled with the envy of what others have or where one was willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead, even lie, cheat, or steal – he knew there was a problem! The problem was a sin problem because when you see this kind of ungodliness of character, “there you find disorder and every evil practice.” In fact, as Paul retorted to the Roman church that, “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools… Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another… Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:22, 24, 32 NIV).” Paul would also later lament, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:20-21 NIV).” The world today disdains godly wisdom because it understands that what itself teaches as clever is nothing but stupidity. This is why Paul would continue by writing, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV).”
James, however, would write, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17 NIV).”
What a difference there is between what society prizes as sensible and what God sees as wisdom! Godly wisdom does not have to make excuses for its behavior because it is first and foremost pure. After all it comes from God himself! James is making reference to the fact of the gospel message. The message of the cross is always foolish to the spiritually or morally ignorant and corrupt. Yet we see that the life affected by gospel is “peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” He did not mean it accepted sin but that it was impacted by the Spirit!
The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, reported concerning how “Parents of children at a primary school in the suburbs of London, England are complaining after they were treated to a pole-dancing exhibition at a school fair. A four-year-old girl participated in the pole-dancing festivities at Crockenhill Primary School, the Daily Mail reports. Other performers ranged in age up to 12.”
“‘A lot of people were upset about it,’ a father who endured the pole-dancing routine told the Mail. ‘They were performing a routine to music in inappropriate clothing and they had children doing it and I just thought, “This is so wrong.”’ Of course, School official Sarah Warshow defended the pole-dancing performance.”
“‘There was one performance by the teacher and some by the children,’ she added. ‘It’s great for the children to keep fit and it’s fun as well.’”
We have an economy still cannot provide jobs for millions of Americans, there are rumors of $6 gasoline, the Middle East is aflame but we have time to support the gay agenda? This is despite the CDC’s warning that one in five homosexual males in the U.S. is infected with HIV/AIDS and new studies proving children raised by same-sex parents are far more likely to commit homosexual acts and abuse than other kids.
James ends this section by reminding us that “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness (James 3:18 NIV).”
Calvin wrote that “Those truly wise towards God, while peaceable and tolerant towards their neighbors, yet make it their chief concern to sow righteousness, not cloaking men’s sins, but reproving them with such peaceable moderation as to be the physicians, rather than the executioners, of sinners.” Far too many believers have instead become enablers of sin in our world today so that they can be seen as “tolerant” instead of righteous. Peter reminds us, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:15-17 NIV).”
Isaiah warned his nation, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight (Isaiah 5:20-21 NIV).”
What is wisdom? The wise life “fights the good fight of faith” that Paul encouraged Timothy to do. Wisdom comes from God himself as we walk with him daily, as we fight the good fight. As James would say, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom (James 3:13 NIV).”
This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.