James 3:13-18 talks about true wisdom.
James 3 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.
Wise people are people who apply the truth to their daily lives. If I know that it is dangerous to put my finger in a light socket but do it anyway, I may know the wise thing to do, but I wouldn’t be exercising wisdom by doing the opposite of what is wise.
In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus told this parable: 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
Jesus says here that wise people are people who act on the truth God reveals. When we live wisely, not just when we possess wise information, but when we live wisely by acting on that information, we become established in ways that the storms of life cannot take us down. Jesus went on to speak about this wise man who built his house on the rock by putting God’s words into practice:
25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Destruction awaits those who don’t practice the wisdom they know. In fact, this is just my summary on the whole thing, but knowing the wise thing to do and doing the unwise thing instead makes you a fool. You can be super smart yet still be a fool for doing the unwise thing.
Let’s move on in James 3:14ff
14 But if you harbor 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.
The wisdom of earth and the wisdom of Heaven aren’t in sync. They are opposed to each other and they have two different outcomes. Where you go to find wisdom is critical. Heavenly wisdom comes from the Word of God, not the world.
James says the wisdom that is the result of living for yourself, what he calls harboring bitter envy and selfish ambition, that is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. He points out that living with a jealous or competitive eye isn’t wise. Living for selfish ambitions isn’t wise. Why? Because, verse 16, “Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” Why might that be the case?
This bitter envy that James is talking about, pits you against people. It creates rivalries that aren’t healthy. It puts distance between you and other people. It takes away your ability to be happy for others when they succeed, something Scripture tells us we are to do. Who wants to be around someone who is always trying to one-up them? It also turns you into the kind of person who is happy when someone doesn’t succeed or gets into trouble. What kind of person have we become when we are happy that someone else fails or falls? When we are bitterly envious, we’ll stop at nothing to attain our goals which can result in all kinds of corner cutting and stepping on people in the process.
The pursuit of winning at every cost, of selfishly advancing yourself, of perceiving others as less than, of not being able to encourage, support and help others succeed is a direct violation of Scripture.
17 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. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
If you will rely on God for wisdom, there will be a purity about your life because God’s wisdom is pure. It ought to be important to believers to live a life of moral excellence. When you align yourself with God’s wisdom, it will change you. You will become someone who values purity and righteousness. You will become someone who begins to love peace which means you will become a lover of people. You won’t be embroiled in drama. You won’t want to create it. You won’t want to add to it. You won’t want to perpetuate it. You won’t even be entertained by it on TV.
James says that Wise people, are peace-loving. That makes them peace-pursuing. And verse 18 says that peacemakers who are sowing peace will reap a harvest of righteousness. I don’t want to reap a harvest that comes from drama and hating on people and bashing people. I want the harvest that comes from righteousness and moral purity. I don’t want to live angry and in conflict with other people. I don’t want to wake up every morning looking for a fight. I don’t want to live triggered by other people’s bad decisions. I want to live my life to glorify God and that includes living at peace with other people.
James went on to say that people who receive God’s wisdom will be considerate of others. When you help someone else win, you will be a winner as well. When you think of others and bless others and reach out to others and pay attention to the needs of others and look for ways to elevate others, you are incorporating God’s wisdom into your life and you are the one who will be blessed. You won’t lose your spot because you help someone else find theirs. You won’t take a back seat because you helped someone else get into the front row. You won’t lose momentum because you celebrated someone else’s success. Just the opposite. Good things will come to those who are good to others.
Next James says in verse 17 that the wisdom from Heaven is submissive. Another translation says, “willing to yield.” A third translation says, “open to reason.” So, we aren’t talking about being a doormat or letting people walk all over us or compromising Christian principles just for the sake of peace. We’re talking about being reasonable, being approachable. We can’t positively influence people if we are a jerk. We can’t positively influence people if they can’t let down their guard and be vulnerable with us. It is wise to be reasonable, to pick your battles, to listen to someone else’s point of view and to disagree agreeably. You don’t have to disrespect someone as you disagree with them.
Those who receive heavenly wisdom are also full of mercy. Why is it wisdom to show mercy to people? Because one day you are gonna need some mercy yourself. Matthew 5:7 says, “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” In addition to needing mercy, we have already received incredible mercy from God. (Ephesians 2:4) We are supposed to extend to others what has been extended to us.
Those who are wise bear good fruit. They do good works. When we do good works, we are pleasing to the Lord. John 15 says we are called to bear fruit. It is a wise person who pays attention to God’s desires for their life. It is wise to go about doing good. Not only will it help us fulfill our calling as Jesus’s disciples, but it will cause us to have a good reputation. We will leave a favorable impression on people who will bless us down the road.
The last two pieces of this heavenly wisdom that James talks about are impartiality and sincerity. Wise people don’t write people off. You can learn something from everyone you meet. You can benefit from being with people who aren’t like you. If you are truly going to follow Jesus, you are going to have to love everyone as He did. Wise people see the value of others and see the value of being in relationship with all kinds of people.
As for sincerity, people can spot a hypocrite a mile away. Telling people only what they want to hear, pretending, faking something, lying—all will come back to bite you. Lots of people say they aren’t attending church today because of the lack of sincerity from the people who say they are Jesus’s people. Listen, non-believers don’t expect you to have all the answers to their spiritual questions, but they do expect that you are sincerely trying to live out what you say you believe. Nobody’s perfect, but there is a difference between a person who is sincerely trying to live a Christ-like life and someone who uses Jesus for show or to manipulate the people they influence.
From where does your wisdom come? Tik Tok? Google? Your friends at school? The Kardashians? Hollywood? Washington? Or does the wisdom you follow have a heavenly origin? It will take more than knowledge, more than hearing wise words; It will take applying the words of wisdom as you do works of wisdom if you will truly live wisely.