The book of James is a practical book for living well. In James one we learn there is a purpose for the testing of our faith. We only exercise faith, develop faith and can evaluate our faith during times of testing. We learn, also, in chapter one that we can overcome life’s trials through our faith.
Listen, you can go through difficulties and just make it through them, or you can move through them with insight and spiritual power as you exercise faith. On the other side of your trial, you can just be existing and be glad you made it through a tough time, or you can be stronger, wiser, more resilient and have many reasons to glorify God.
Later in chapter one we see that perhaps the reason we have two ears and one mouth is because we are supposed to listen more than we talk. We are to deal with our feelings before they escalate into anger because acting in anger or speaking in anger isn’t wise and will create more problems for us.
Chapter one goes on to admonish that we can’t say we are truly following Christ if we hear His Word but live in defiance of it. We must listen to it AND do what it says if we want the blessing that comes from living that way. James says the blessing of God comes from doing and not just hearing the Word.
Practical stuff, right? James was on a roll in chapter one. He added that we need to learn to keep a tight rein on our tongue. We don’t have to say everything we think. We don’t need to be careless with our words. He says that people who don’t watch what they say have a religion that is worthless. That’s food for thought, isn’t it?
He finished chapter one with a talk about helping to take care of people who are weak and disadvantaged. That can be hard for people who think that everyone should be able to care for themselves. There are probably more people who could be more personally responsible, but there are legitimate needs that if we overlook them, how can we say we are Jesus-people?
Oh, and the last thing he mentioned was the need to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. You will either change the world or the world will change you. Jesus called His people to live an unpolluted, holy life.
He moved into chapter two by discussing the sins of racism and classism. This is real-life stuff that we need to wrestle with today. Are our hearts open to people who don’t look like us? Do we embrace people who don’t live to a certain economic standard? Do we see ourselves as better than others? Do we treat others as if they are less than we are?
In the second part of chapter two we learn that faith is a verb. Faith and works go hand in hand. You can’t say you have faith without any demonstration of that faith. Faith moves true Christ followers to action. If we aren’t moved to do the kinds of things Jesus did, we don’t possess real faith.
In chapter three James started talking again about the destructive power of the tongue. I guess he thought we needed to hear about it more than once. He had already addressed our mouths in chapter one, but he brought it up again. He likened it to a destructive fire. He called it deadly poison. He lifted up the hypocrisy that can sometimes be clearly seen when we are praising God on Sunday and cursing people on Monday.
James is pretty thorough in the way he addressed practical, daily life kind of stuff. This brings us to chapter 3:13-18 which talks about true wisdom. That’s what we are going to look at this morning.
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.
It is wise to not go into debt when it can be avoided, but people do it every day. When they do the opposite of wisdom, they aren’t wise, and they pay for it dearly. They pay more than would have if they had waited for some of the things that are wants and not needs. I see so many people who are in over their heads with their mortgages and new vehicles because they think they can keep up with the mortgage or monthly payment. Well, what if something changes and that doesn’t become the case? Everything you will have invested into owning something could be taken from you.
Proverbs 22:7 says, “The borrower is a slave to the lender.” That statement is truth. When you borrow money, you will wind up paying extra to finance whatever it is you are purchasing. Most of us do have to borrow money to buy a house, and sometimes, a vehicle might have to be financed or a college education, but that isn’t always unreasonable debt. However, not applying the truth of this statement about debt and charging whatever we want or getting a house or car that we can’t afford, one that requires you pick up all kinds of overtime, can get you into a huge hole that takes years to come out of, not to mention it can take years off a person’s life. We must practice the wisdom that we learn from God’s Word for it to be effective.
It is wise to make sure that you and God are solid, that you have made peace in your soul with Him, that you know where you will spend eternity. But there are people who know the truth and refuse to act on it. There are people who know the truth and yet live with an expectation that they will put off making that decision so that they can live the way they want to as long as possible and maybe count on the grace of God in the last seconds of their life. What if you don’t have last seconds to count on? What if death comes suddenly? It is very unwise to live that way.
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.
Let me comment on verses 15 and 16 first. 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. When you are struggling and you turn to your unsaved friends for counsel, you haven’t made a wise decision because they don’t have the Holy Spirit in them to be able to listen and share from a holy or righteous perspective. They also don’t have the Word of God as their compass, so the views they share with you are likely not going to be connected to God’s. 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. So, please understand with me this morning that there is the world’s wisdom and God’s wisdom and the two are diametrically opposed to each other. James 1:5 says that true wisdom comes from God. Anyone can receive it. You just must ask for it and apply it when it is given.
James 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.
Ambition itself is a good thing. We should have a desire to excel and achieve, but selfish ambition puts you above everyone else in every situation. It keeps you from occupying the place of a servant, from being an encourager, a mentor, a supporter, a friend. It keeps you from looking out for anyone but yourself. It even elevates your self-interest above what God’s agenda is for your life. It is a huge character flaw.
Philippians 2:3-4 says, “3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
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.
Did you hear what James said in verse 14? If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. The only way to move towards wisdom is to confess that you are living for yourself and that you have hurt others along the way. Not only do we have the capacity to hurt others when we are self-absorbed, but we can severely hurt our witness for Christ as well. We must confess that as sin, repent and let Christ take the lead instead of trying to ram our agenda through. We must let others become more important to us than any earthly focus we have.
It isn’t wise to deny the truth. It isn’t wise to attend church Sunday after Sunday and pretend everything is OK with you if there is something the Holy Spirit is spotlighting as you are in God’s presence. Denial will keep you from applying wisdom. It will keep you from living wisely.
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. The fact that the Jerry Springer show is still on TV is a sign that people are truly wisdom deficit. Do you know that filthy train-wreck of a show is in its 25th season? The whole premise of the show is that people prefer drama and chaos over peace, and so they make money off exploiting the drama and division in people’s lives. In many instances, our culture has thrown wisdom and civility out the door in favor of drama and chaos. Church, we are the ones who need to work to change this because I guarantee the world won’t. Wouldn’t we all benefit from there being more peace on this planet?
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.