13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
Yesterday Martin showed us how James dealt with the problem we all have of controlling our tongues. We can speak in either a godly way or an untamed and sinful way – and sometimes the same person can do both! Now James moves on to consider the two very different types of wisdom which our lives can reveal – that which comes from God and that which certainly does not. This is territory we have looked at recently in our series on Ecclesiastes.
3:13 – James challenges us to examine our lives to see if they exhibit true wisdom. Such wisdom, he writes, is shown in good lives that are full of good deeds undertaken in humility.
3:14,15 – Too often our speech and actions reveal that our attitudes and motivations are not really from God at all! In our hearts we can harbour bitter jealousy, selfish ambition and a misplaced assumption that we are wiser than others. Even worse, James says that if our ‘wisdom’ lacks gentleness and is characterised by envy, boastfulness and competitiveness it “does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” James is certainly providing us with a very uncomfortable ‘health check’ here. We do need to examine ourselves regularly and then to ensure that any wisdom we think we might have actually comes from God and serves His purposes, not ours. We are good at fooling ourselves so must take care!
3:16 – James doesn’t mince his words when he goes on to warn his readers that envy and selfish ambition result in “disorder and every evil practice.” The Greek word translated rather politely as ‘disorder’ is ‘akatastasia.’ It actually implies a shameful state of disunity, disarray, disturbance, rebellion and tumult! So bad is this that even the nicest church with the nicest Christians (like St John’s for example!) has to be on its guard to prevent needless fallings out, damaged relationships and disunity. This is an ever-present danger so we must rely upon the true wisdom that comes to us from God (see 1Corinthians 1:18-31). Jesus is called “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor.1:24) and He will guide and lead us in His ways.
The life and death of Jesus best demonstrate to us what James describes as “deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (3:13). The Greek word for humility, ‘prautes,’ also mean ‘gentleness’ or ‘meekness’, qualities which were at the heart of Jesus’s character and actions. Apparently ‘prautes’ was used in secular Greek writings to describe a soothing wind, a healing medicine, and a colt that had been broken in. So this word describes power under control and a quality of gentle friendliness, meekness, consideration and a patient trust in the midst of difficult circumstances (from sermon index.net). This is what wisdom and humility will look like in our lives as we become more like Jesus. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus describes himself as “gentle and humble in heart”. This verse is the starting point of Dane C Ortlund’s best-selling book ‘Gentle and Lowly’ which we enjoyed so much at this year’s excellent Lent Course (thank you Matt – and Zoom). These Christ-like qualities are also the starting point for lives that will show true wisdom. May they increasingly be seen each day of our lives.
Today’s Prayer: Thank you Father that our lives can rest on the power and wisdom available to us through Jesus. Lord Jesus, please give us your wisdom and humility each day. May our hearts be softened and our aspirations purified so that our actions and words speak more of your love, gentleness and compassion than of ourselves. Amen. (Mike W)