James 3:13-18 Devotional Commentary

Who is wise? Devotional Commentary for July 12-18

James 3:13-18 (NASB)

This is the Word of God. May the Spirit of Truth give us Wisdom and Insight to receive what has been conveyed through His Word by His Inspiration.

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

Like the Sower's seeds in the Gospel narrative, James' teachings seem to have fallen on hearts with disparate levels of maturity. Perhaps just a few among his audience took his words to heart while others may have resisted his admonitions. Still others may have been confused and uncertain about the business of controlling this thing called the tongue. So instead of arguing on points, James opted to see the wise and the insightful among his audience whose lives reflected true wisdom, mature understanding, and responsible actions.

He wondered if anyone among his audience had enough wisdom or maturity to understand what he had been saying about the problems relating to uncontrolled tongue. James did not expect to hear a verbal answer from his audience. Rather, he wanted to see good conduct and practical understanding flowing out of a life guided by godly wisdom. He wanted to see a life that is not leaning on its own understanding—a life that has committed its ways to God.

So he candidly asks, do any of you have wisdom and insight? If so, the same must be shown by living the right way with the humility and gentleness that come from true wisdom. That is, if the tongue is to be controlled, then godly temperament must prevail in the life of such a believer. So James proceeds to confront his audience from the perspective of two types of wisdom which respectively bear out the evidence of what is reflected.

3:14-16
14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.
15This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.
16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

James is troubled by the disparity between what he observes in the behavior of his audience and what he hears in what they say. Their conduct and actions reflect bitter jealousy and selfish ambitions—better said greed, yet they deny the reality and pridefully claim to have wisdom in spite of what the evidence shows.

A life that is characterized by bitterness, jealousy, selfishness, and greed is neither superintended nor directed by the wisdom that comes from God. Such a heart is inundated by wickedness and cannot, therefore, engage the tongue with a godly role. Such a "wisdom" is ungodly and carnal. It is earthly and comes from the devil through the flesh. Such a "wisdom" leads people to deny the reality of their own ungodliness and urges them to lean on their own lies against the truth.

James is simply saying, if you are bitterly jealous and are filled with selfishness and greed, then do not be boastful about it and falsely claim to have godly wisdom knowing that is not the case. Simply put, do not say that you are wise when it is not true. Anything that is not of God is of the enemy and its cohort the sin-nature. God’s children should not accommodate the flesh in its battle against the spirit and undermine our own spiritual well-being.

In other words, when jealousy and bitterness rage in the hearts of believers, there will be disorder and disharmony both within the spirit of the individual believer and in the community where such troubled Christians live and serve. This is when and where the unruly tongue rules as the destructive weapon of a wicked heart. Fellowship with God is severely undermined because ungodly "wisdom" can never bring forth true wisdom which comes from above, from God.

3:17-18
17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
18And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

In his continuing effort to offer a cautionary yet constructive counsel, James now mentions the second type of wisdom and its outcome. This is godly wisdom—a wisdom that comes from God. Whereas false "wisdom" casts its bearer into a life of bitterness, jealousy, selfishness, and greed, the wisdom from God sets the believer free from the corrupt ways of the sin-nature.

Therefore, since the wisdom from God is intrinsically pure, peaceful, gentle, reasonable, responsible, merciful, good, steady, reliable, and without hypocrisy, the life that has it is also characterized by those same attributes. Believers who are guided by the wisdom from God, not only are able to control the tongue and teach the truth, but also sow seeds of righteousness and peace by God's peaceable wisdom. God's wisdom is not of the earth. It is free from the infectious traits of the sin-nature and the demonic influences of corruption and ungodliness. God's wisdom is given by the Spirit of God. Its attributes are the fruit of the Spirit. Therefore, believers who have God's wisdom are blessed with the Fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit effectively displaces selfishness, jealousy, and greed.

Notes/Applications

Having candidly issued strong admonitions regarding the role and influence of the tongue in Christian ministries and relationships, James now turns his attention to Christians who, either deny the problem with uncontrolled tongue or consider the matter so negligible that it is not worthy of their attention. In other words, James directly speaks to believers who have confidence in their own natural ability to rise above the struggle to control the tongue. But then, James wonders how such a misguided mindset could mislead believers who should know better.

So he moves to explain the obvious by referring to two types of wisdom, one coming from God and the other a counterfeit proposed by the devil and promoted by the sin-nature. In both cases, our conduct and actions reflect the evidence of the prevailing wisdom in our lives. If it is godly wisdom, then the attributes of a godly behavior are observed. If not, then the corrupt characteristics of the sin-nature will affirm the prevalence of earthly "wisdom" as the driving force for conduct and for action. The evidence reflects the prevailing reality.

James' ultimate exhortation is that it should be obvious to us as Christians, we ought to be yearning for godly wisdom in all our ways. We should not be driven by bitter jealousy and selfish ambitions. Our conduct and actions must be the outcome of the fruit of the Spirit working in our hearts.

God's wisdom is inherently pure because it is not earthly. It comes right down from God. It is not corrupted by the sin-nature or influenced by the devil. God's wisdom is peaceful because its Author is the Prince of Peace. It is not self-seeking and does not sow confusion and strife to advance itself above others. It is gentle because it is patient and caring. It is giving, and willing to serve. It nurtures faith in God.

It is merciful because it is gracious. It is without hypocrisy because it is firmly anchored in the Truth. Such is the type of wisdom James urges us to seek and receive from God, so that we might live a purposeful life fulfilling the Purpose that God had set before us for His glory.

We are neither stupid nor weak. We are wise and strong in Christ. We are the Called of God blessed to live according to His sacred Purpose walking in godly wisdom sowing seeds of righteousness in peace. We are Christians, sinners saved by Grace, called to do the work that God had set aside for us to do in His wisdom. For as much as God is always with us, we live, move, and have our being in Him. Therefore, we cannot reflect His presence with us without His wisdom.

Here at Practical Christianity Foundation we believe that God has mercifully extended His Grace toward us and has given us His living and Holy Word to guide us in our journey in this world. We count it privilege to come alongside you and minister to you through prayer and the sharing of God's living and holy Word. Please contact us if you have any questions concerning your faith and journey as a Christian.

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James 3:13-18
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