Wisdom From Above (James 3:13-18)

Main Idea: God’s wisdom looks much different from the world’s.


“You should eat better!” “You should get enough sleep!” “You should exercise more!” “You should do this, or that, or think this or that, and you should stop telling me what to do!”

I’m sure you’ve noticed that there’s no shortage today of people and viewpoints telling us what we should think and how we should live. It can be overwhelming to hear all the different things that others think we ought to believe and do. Some people that you talk with are so incredibly passionate about one thing, whether it’s about education or the environment, or whatever, and they’ll insist that it’s of utmost importance that you agree with them and live the same way. And then someone else will have another issue that’s most important to them, and they’ll also insist that you agree with them and live the same way. And they all seem to disagree with one another, too, right?

And, I don’t know about you, but it can be exhausting to live in this environment. And even when I agree with the things that people tell me I absolutely need to do, I just get tired of hearing it! You know?

But when it comes down to it, there’s really only one source of true, pure wisdom. I’m talking, of course, about the Bible. So even if we completely ignore all of the wisdom of the world, we ought not to neglect the wisdom that comes from God.

James 3:13-18.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Father, You promised that if anyone asks for wisdom, You would give Your wisdom to them generously. So, please God, fill us with Your wisdom, so that we might show the world Your righteousness and mercy. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Who is the wisest person that you know? I’m not asking who the smartest person you know is, that may be a different person. I’m asking who the wisest is. Wisdom, according to the Bible, isn’t about knowing lots of things, but about living the right way. So, who’s the wisest person you know? Who’s the person that you know who always seems to know the right thing to do?

[The congregation responds]

I don’t want to give her too big of a head, but one of the wisest people I know is Tina. She always seems to give the best advice, and always seems to know the right thing to do in any given situation. Maybe that’s because she’s had to deal with Ronald for so long, I don’t know.

We ought to all aspire to be wise. A lot of people seem to think wisdom is reserved for teachers and professors, and people who just sit around and think all day. But that’s actually almost the opposite of what the Bible calls wisdom. Because, once again, wisdom isn’t necessarily talking about knowing lots of things. Wisdom has much more to do with how we actually live. Look at verse 13.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. (James 3:13)

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I’m tempted to show off how much I know. And I honestly don’t know a lot, so that would be a pretty big illusion. I’m tempted to exalt myself by showing off how much I know. But according to James, the truly wise person shows his wisdom not through exalting himself, but through humbling himself. He becomes meek, and simply seeks to have good conduct.

Philippians 2 says that Jesus humbled Himself in coming to the earth as one of us. And even though Jesus certainly taught with wisdom that only He has, He also healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He loved the lost. And when He taught, He didn’t do so out of egotism, but out of love.

I think our instinct is to do the opposite of that. When we think we have wisdom, whether we fact check it or not, we think we have the responsibility to share our amazing knowledge with the ignorant masses whether they want to hear it or not. But by doing so, we boast in what we think is superior wisdom. But it’s not wisdom, and least not God’s wisdom; it’s worldly wisdom. Because worldly wisdom is all about exalting ourselves and proving ourselves better than others. Verse 14.

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. (James 3:14-15)

Isn’t it interesting how James says that you can be false to the truth? Like, you can believe true things, and even share true things, but share them in a false way when you share them to exalt yourself. Any time you think of yourself as better than anyone else, that’s not wisdom that comes from above, from God, but the false wisdom of this world.

James describes this supposed wisdom as earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. It’s earthly because it treats things of this world as having primary importance. It’s unspiritual because it doesn’t recognize the spiritual reality of everything. And it’s even demonic because it causes us to rebel against the clear commands of God.

So when you hear someone say something and are confused whether it’s from God or from the world, run it through these criteria. Is it earthly, unspiritual, and demonic? Does it treat the things of this world as if that’s all there is, or does recognize that God is in control? And does it keep you from obeying what God has clearly commanded, to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself?

What we believe matters. The advice you listen to matters. If you fill your head with the advice of unbelievers who have no regard for God and His word, it’s going to show itself in your life.

Because this kind of supposed wisdom always leads to bad conduct. Verse 16.

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. (James 3:16)

We need to be very careful about selfish ambition. It’s very easy for me to get tempted by these things. I see other pastors of huge churches with thriving ministries, and I get a little jealous. And if I allow jealousy to motivate me, I might have ambition to pursue that as well. But it wouldn’t be a godly ambition; it would be a selfish ambition. And I need to be careful not to follow such things, because James writes here that where these things exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

I wonder if that’s why we hear about some pastors who fall into major immorality that destroys their families, ministries, and ultimately themselves. It’s not that they intentionally decided to mislead anyone, or anything like that, but rather they slowly allowed themselves to be motivated by jealousy and selfish ambition.

Covid has been exhausting to deal with. As you all know, life has been harder. And ministry has been harder, too. Over the past year, I’ve gotten frustrated and discouraged more times than I can count, and in all honesty, I’ve thought about quitting many times. Just recently, in fact, my counselor even pointed out to me that a lot of churches are looking for exactly what I had to offer. I was a pastor under 40 years old at the time with a beautiful family and over 10 years of pastoral ministry experience. It just doesn’t get much better than that!

But if I were to resign in order to find a bigger church, that would be selfish ambition. Listen, I’m not saying that every pastor who resigns from his church in order to go to another church is sinning by doing so, I’m just saying that we can all get into the trap of wanting something bigger and better. Maybe you just wish you made a little more money. Or you wish you had a little more respect. Or you just wish you had slightly more influence. And all of these kinds of things can be hugely motivating. But if they stem from jealousy or selfish ambition, then they can cause you to engage in all sorts of immorality in order to get what you want.

That’s how the world operates. The world’s wisdom says, “If you want something, go get it!” And in the process, you may engage in all sorts of ungodly behaviors, and hurt those around you, and may ultimately destroy your life.

But godly wisdom says, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.”

Jesus said in Matthew 16:

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 16:25)

This is so incredibly different from the wisdom of this world. Many of us were taught all of our lives, “You can be whatever you want to be!” And we’re taught to make something of ourselves. But then Jesus tells us, “Stop trying to make yourself!” Instead, if you deny yourself for the sake of Christ, only then will you truly find your life.

Verse 17.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. (James 3:17)

We don’t see a lot of this kind of wisdom today, do we? Even when true things are shared, they’re often shared in an unwise way. And this is something we’ve probably all been guilty of. We’ve all shared our thoughts in such a way that probably wasn’t the most wise. We saw just a few weeks ago that if anyone is never at fault in what he says, he’s a perfect man, because no one can tame the tongue.

And yet, I think we certainly should continue to try.

So the next time you feel like imparting your wisdom to the masses, whether on Facebook or around the table during Thanksgiving dinner, go through this list of eight things that we find in verse 17. Wisdom from God is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere. We could spend weeks on this list alone, but I want to look at each one just briefly this morning.

First, it says that the wisdom from above is first pure. So when you want to share something with others, anything really, ask yourself, is what I want to share pure? In other words, is it really true, free of contamination, or am I mixing it with my opinion? Or, am I being influenced by the world’s opinion?

For example, I’m pro-life because I believe that the Bible teaches us to be pro-life. God sees all life as valuable, from the womb to the tomb. But the way that we talk about being pro-life should be informed by the Bible, and not by politics. In other words, if you think being pro-life and Republican are basically the same thing, I’m not sure your wisdom on this matter is pure. You may have allowed yourself to be influenced by the world’s opinion at some point.

And we could look at so many issues with this in mind. Immigration is another big one, as is human rights. It’s becoming increasingly more common for people to get so divided over these issues, usually because we let politics itself divide us. All I’m saying is this: don’t let your politics influence your faith, let your faith influence your politics. Because first, wisdom from above is pure.

Second, it says that wisdom from above is peaceable. So before you share your opinion on a controversial subject, ask yourself, is it peaceable? Am I sharing this in order to unite people together, or further drive them apart?

Now, this can be a difficult question to answer. Because it’s not saying that we shouldn’t talk about controversial issues. Paul did that all the time. But how and why we talk about these things will make a huge difference. If your goal is merely to show that you’re right and they’re wrong, maybe rethink how you can be peaceable even when you disagree with culture.

Third, am I sharing truth in a gentle way? So even if it’s a divisive issue, can you share it humbly? Can you share it in a kind way that isn’t unnecessarily harsh?

I read a story about a man named Richard who bought a nasty fish tank at a garage sale. The price was right, just $5! So Richard didn’t mind spending a couple hours cleaning it up in order to use it. And the four goldfish looked great in their new home, at least for the first day. But by the next day, one of them had died. And the morning after that revealed a second casualty, and by that night, a third goldfish had gone belly up.

So Richard called a friend of his who also had an aquarium, and it didn’t take him long to discover the problem. Richard had washed the tank with soap, which apparently is an absolute no-no. In his desire to help clean up the environment for the fish, he had destroyed the very lives he was trying to protect.

You see, sometimes in our zeal to clean up our own lives or the lives of others, we unfortunately use “killer soaps” such as condemnation, criticism, nagging, and fits of temper. We think we’re doing right, but our harsh, self-righteous treatment could actually be driving them further from Christ. But wisdom from above is gentle, realizing that the people we’re seeking to share Jesus with need to see Jesus’s love through us.

Fourth, am I being open to reason? If I’m sharing an opinion, am I being closed-minded about it, or am I willing to be proven wrong? Sometimes we can be so convinced that we’re right, and yet our thoughts can be informed more by family tradition, or even church tradition, rather than Bible truth.

For example, we have a lot of traditions in the church, but we should never insist so much on our traditions to the point of division. The Bible doesn’t say anything about how many songs we sing, what style of songs we sing, whether we physically pass an offering plate, or even whether we do an altar call at the end of a church service. It’s okay to have different opinions about all of these things, and it’s okay for us to discuss them in terms of how to be more effective as a church, as long as we’re open to reason, realizing that our opinions are just that.

Fifth, am I full of mercy? And this is an interesting one because even though we don’t want to compromise on biblical truth, we still ought to show grace toward those who reject biblical truth.

So if someone’s in your face and telling you how wrong you are, our instinct is to do the same back to them. But when Jesus was insulted and mocked, he didn’t open His mouth to defend Himself.

Maybe we need to do a little less shouting, and a lot more loving. Maybe we need to display to our culture the same mercy that God has displayed to us. Because while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. In the same way, let your light shine, not your opinions, but Christ’s light in you, let your light shine before men that they might see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. And that leads right into the next one.

Sixth, am I full of good fruits? In other words, your lifestyle needs to back up what you say. There’s the old cliche that says, “People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Before we even think about telling people what we think or believe, we need to be committed to showing them mercy and love.

Seventh, is your wisdom impartial? Or do you side with certain people simply because of who they are? We’ve already talked about how political lines can get in the way, but sometimes the same can be true about economic or family lines. I fear that sometimes we’ve compromised on biblical truth because of the beliefs and lifestyles of our family members.

Something our culture doesn’t understand today is that it is actually possible to disagree with someone, and yet still love them. We ought to be unwavering in our commitment to the Bible’s teachings, and yet still loving and fair to those who believe and live differently. Being impartial means treating everyone with the same love and dignity that God shows us, because we’re all made in the image of God, and we’re all sinners, depending on God for the same grace.

Eighth and finally, is your wisdom sincere? Do you share God’s truth with people because you genuinely love them and want to see them trust in Jesus, or do you do so to in order to boast in your own righteousness? It’s easy to try to justify ourselves when we share truth. We can subtly think, “I’m sharing Jesus with people! Look how awesome I am!” But God’s wisdom is sincere in our motivation. We ought to be thinking less about ourselves, and more about others.

And if we do that, living according to godly wisdom does lead to righteousness. Look at verse 18.

And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:18)

You see, when you rely on God’s wisdom, seeking peace, it leads to a harvest of righteousness. This implies not only that will you live more righteously, but that you will lead others around you to live more righteously also. It’s a harvest of righteousness.

But it doesn’t come through shouting angrily at culture. It doesn’t come through creating a spirit of division. It comes through sharing God’s word God’s way. It comes through sowing seeds of peace. We have to intentionally seek to live at peace with the people around us, even when we disagree with them. And we have to be full of mercy, showing people the same mercy that God has shown us.

Pastor Chris Huff

Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009.  He and his wife, Abby, have four children.  Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)

James is one of the most simple and practical letters in the New Testament written to encourage and instruct believers. The fact that this letter is in the Bible is interesting, though, because it actually almost didn’t make the cut. Some well-known Christians throughout history didn’t like it or think that it measured up to… (read more)

Bible Passages: James 3:13-18
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