The graced of God to be made wise.

Greeting in the Name of Jesus Christ. We live in the times when Jesus warned us that the love of many for Him and for holiness would grow cold and that lawlessness would increase. (Mt.24:4-14) The Bible calls this age in which we are living a present evil age. (Gal.1:4, 2 Cor.4:4, Eph.2:2, Titus 2:12) Peter calls it a perverse generation. (Acts 2:40) And certainly men call evil good and good evil; they pervert the truth into a lie and pervert the lie into truth. (Isa.5:20, Rom.1:18-26)

Paul tells us this.

Philippians 2:14. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16 holding fast the word of life.

So as God’s children of light we need wisdom of how to live among the children of darkness.    

The word of God to make us wise.

God gives us His word to make us wise. (2 Tim.3:14-17) Our passage for today is James 3:13-18 where James will speak of wisdom, actually two kinds of wisdom. Please read along with me, the holy word of God, read.

James 3:13. Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

The help of God that we would become wise.

Let’s pray and ask the Lord make this study in His word effectual to us, that we would increasingly glorify him and shine as children of light in this dark world, pray. 

The exhortation to live as wise Believers.

In James 3:1-12 James was exhorting believers to govern their speech for holy use and to refrain from sinful speech. Related to this exhortation James introduces in our passage the necessary gift needed to govern our tongue and everything else as well and that is wisdom.

As we have seen James do a number of times already, he returns to expand upon a previous idea.

James 1:5  But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Listen to Paul in the book of Ephesians.

Ephesians 5:14. For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.” 15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

As an aside there are five books in the OT that are classified as wisdom literature, so they are expressly inspired by God to make His people wise. Here they are, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.

Now, some theologians also classify James as the one NT book of wisdom literature, because it primarily consists of moral exhortations on living a godly life.

The definition of wisdom.

Let’s begin with a general definition of wisdom. Here is a basic dictionary definition. Wisdom is the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.

So, wisdom is not exactly the same thing as knowing right things; it is more along the lines of knowing the right thing and knowing how to apply that thing. See how James combines the idea of skill with knowledge (which is wisdom) and understanding or knowledge.

James 3:13. Who among you is wise and understanding?

Let’s look at one of the Hebrew words for wisdom in the OT and then a Greek word in the NT.

Proverbs 1:7  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Knowledge here in Hebrew is daht, which in this context means knowledge of God, understanding what you are to believe about Him and what duty He requires of you.  And this knowledge is gracious, given to us by God, taught by God (His Spirit and Word) to men as Jesus tells us in His high priestly prayer.

John 17:3  “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

The second word is the most common OT Hebrew word for wisdom is hakham.

This has to do with skill or shrewdness or prudence in the ability to use knowledge rightly, effectively.  Again, in this context we are talking about religious wisdom, a God-fearing Man is one that knows God and keeps God’s law, and I would add believes God’s gospel.

This is what James is getting at.

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

The Greek word in James is sophia – wisdom. In keeping with the things we have just said James is speaking about godly or heavenly wisdom that makes us wise to live by God’s word in this world.

But again, let’s acknowledge that knowledge and wisdom may be two different things. A person may be smart and knowledgeable but not wise. And a wise person may not necessarily know a lot of things, but what he or she does know they are wise to apply it. However, a wise person will strive to grow in their knowledge of the Lord and of His word – which is really the subject of James.

The necessity for wisdom to live in community.

James discusses the concept of wisdom in relationship to or with community.

God made man a social creature designed by God to live in community with other people. The first community or social group that God instituted is marriage or the family. The union and communion of husband and wife and then children are the seedbed for the other two main communities that God has given man. That is the state/society and the church.

In order for groups of people living in nearness to one another to get along they need wisdom on how to think, feel, speak, and act towards others. We need God to tell us how to get along with others. This is especially so after Adam’s Fall. And our passage teaches us that even true Believers need instruction in wisdom and that is because we still have the flesh as Paul tells us in Galatians 5:16-18.

You see this with his examples of hellish and heavenly wisdom. 

James 3:16  jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder 

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

Again, we need heavenly wisdom to get along in families, in society, and especially in the church.  If we live without thinking, without faith, without faithfulness, without effort, without striving for Christ and without striving to obey the Bible we will not live well in community with others. Christ-like peace is the goal.

The possession of holy wisdom.

I want you to see how James practices what he preaches on this subject of wisdom. In other words, he is wise in trying to motivate these scattered suffering Christian to live wisely in a hard world.

He shows us this by opening with a question.

James 3:13. Who among you is wise and understanding?

Questions are great ways to teach, they are a somewhat indirect way of correcting bad behavior. Rather than outright saying, you are living unwisely, which can drive people away, a question draws them in. Questions make the audience active in the instruction.

Pastor-teachers need wisdom.

Some commentators believe that James is specifically refers to those Christians that were elder-teachers or presumed to be elder-teachers.

They see James at continuing to speak to those people he spoke to in James 3:1

James 3:1. Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.

Certainly, Christian teachers need to govern their speech, and for this, they need wisdom.  And not only speech, but Christian ministers must also have wisdom to govern their affections and their actions. Churches have been destroyed because a minister acted foolishly and unwisely in his ministry. The examples are legion.

Every Believer needs wisdom.

But all Believers need wisdom.  And all Believers by virtue of being believers we fear-adore-revere the Lord.  And as such all believers have graced heavenly wisdom.  This exhortation is for all to grow in their wisdom. 

The necessity of self-examination.

James’ question is designed for his readership to examine themselves to see whether they have this (heavenly) wisdom that James says is a necessary part of the Christian life and the degree of this wisdom we possess.

Self examination is a necessary practice for Believers if we are to make progress in our sanctification. (2 Cor.13: 5)

Look to God’s Word.

And in our self-examination, we must rely upon the Spirit of the Lord in His inspired Word to guide us in all truth about the state of our souls, of our lives.

Psalm 26:2. Examine me, O LORD, and try me; Test my mind and my heart. 3 For Your lovingkindness is before my eyes, And I have walked in Your truth. 4 I do not sit with deceitful men, Nor will I go with pretenders.

The opposite of a wise man is a fool, a person bereft of sense, religious sense.

Psalm 14:1  The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God. (Isa. 53:1, Prov.28:26) 

Proverbs 10:8  The wise of heart will receive commands, But a babbling fool will be ruined. (Isa.32:6, Ps.94:8, Prov.12:1)

Look to your fruits.

James as he regularly does, he directs the people to look at the fruit or the deeds of their lives. You see what God is teaching us through James is that what we believe about God in Christ will produce certain fruits in our life. Behavior comes from belief. Holy behavior testifies that we have saving belief in Jesus. Conversely, a habitually unholy life testifies that we are still “in” the flesh. (Jas.2:8-26) 

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

The apostle Paul in Galatians in his section on the deeds of the flesh versus the fruits of the spirit teaches the same thing. (Gal.5:16-26)

Moral or religious wisdom is seen in moral excellence.  James wants the wise Christian to show his wisdom by a holy life. And this holy and good life is that which is defined by the Bible and not defined by any mere man. I commend to your reading the Westminster Confession of Faith 16.1-7 on Good Works.

And this encompasses holy speaking and holy actions.  The Spirit teaches us here that one’s deeds often speak loader than one’s words as to our Christian character and commitment.

True Christianity is not theoretical or speculative, but very, very practical. The emphasis of heavenly wisdom is on gentleness or meekness. (Ps.45:4) This is in contrast with boastfulness, arrogance, and pride. (Ps.5:5, 75:4, Rom.1:30, Gal.5:26)

Look to Christ.

Listen to our Savior. 

Matthew 11:28. Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30 “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Jer.6:16) 

Matthew 5:5  “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

Listen to how Paul puts this. 

2 Corinthians 10:1  Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ– I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! (I Cor.2:1, 2 Cor.10:10, 11:6)

So, if we are wise or foolish our lives will reveal it. (Prov.2:20)

The wise instruction on unholy wisdom.

Now let’s spend a little time considering God’s instruction on unholy wisdom or earthly wisdom. This is here, obviously, as an instructive warning. Read I Corinthians 10:1-14 is a well know example of learning by negative example. 

James 3:14. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. (Gal.5:20-23) 

Unholy wisdom is fallen.

V.15, 16.  Now the wisdom which originates in Man and not in God is earthly, unspiritual, and devilish.  Earthly as opposed to God, opposed to heaven; it is carnal.  (Rev.13:11) This wisdom reasons according to worldly principles – self looking out for self! (I Cor.1:21)

Philippians 3:18. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ,  19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.

Unholy wisdom is unspiritual.

This wisdom is unspiritual as in not taught by the Holy Spirit, only having to do with temporal and material things and not spiritual and lasting things. (I Cor.2:14, Jude v.19) Graceless wisdom is natural or fallen.

Unholy wisdom is evil.

The source of all this wisdom the devil!  Wisdom of the devil.  It thrives on lies.  It seeks to kill, steal, destroy peace, truth, goodness.  It promotes sin.  It is from hell.  And it is going to hell. (I Tim.4:1) Graceless wisdom is anti-God, anti-Bible, anti-holiness, and pro-sin.

This language is somewhat shocking especially since he is writing to professing Christians.  But Jesus also used hard language for those in the visible church.

John 8:42. Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Part of the reason James uses such hard language for professing Christians is that when their wisdom is not biblical, not Christ-like and gentle then they aggravate their sins. (WLC 151) Christians acting like the world is more wicked than the world acting like the world. (I Cor.3:3) And God wants to wake us up from that.

Unholy wisdom is foolish.

Wisdom without holiness is stupidity before God, useless to men and to Christ’s church.

Thomas Manton says the thoughtless, careless Christian is the greatest fool because he does not heed his main business in life.  There is no fool like a sinning fool gambling his soul for sin.

Unholy wisdom is destructive.

The opposite of being a wise man characterized by understanding and gentleness is being a bitter person a moral and religious foolish man, a man devoid of any God-pleasing sense.

James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit indicates that there are people in the Christian church that are not living as wise men, they are not gentle and kind, rather they are mean and bitter.  This is picking up from the theme of bitter-cursing speech.

James 3:8. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

Ephesians 4:30. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. 

Let’s see how the book of Proverbs addresses this.

Proverbs 10:12  Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions. 

Proverbs 15:18   A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, But the slow to anger calms a dispute. 

Proverbs 16:28  A perverse man spreads strife, And a slanderer separates intimate friends. (Prov.20:3) 

The description of holy wisdom.

James ends this chapter with a description of heavenly holy wisdom.

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

Holy wisdom is reflective of God’s nature.

Wisdom is first and foremost an attribute of God manifested to us in Christ by the Holy Spirit. (I Cor.1:30, 2:7, Gal.5:22-23)

Christ is personified as “Wisdom” in Proverbs chapter eight.

Proverbs 8:22. The LORD possessed me at the beginning of His way, Before His works of old. 23 “From everlasting I was established, From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.

Holy wisdom is a gift of God.

True wisdom is God’s gift to every believer, at least in one sense the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Proverbs 9:10. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. 11 For by me your days will be multiplied, And years of life will be added to you.

Holy wisdom is a product of sanctification.

But in another sense greater degrees of true wisdom are God’s gifts only for those Believers that ask God for wisdom. (Jas.1:5)

Proverbs 8:1  Does not wisdom call, And understanding lift up her voice? 

Proverbs 8:34. Blessed is the man who listens to me, Watching daily at my gates, Waiting at my doorposts.  35 “For he who finds me finds life And obtains favor from the LORD.  36 “But he who sins against me injures himself; All those who hate me love death.”

The apostle lists characteristics of heavenly wisdom, and they are the opposite of earthly wisdom.  Heavenly wisdom is peace-loving, considerate of others, and submissive to God and serviceable to others. (Prov.3:17)

Holy wisdom is humble.

The wise man does not consider himself above others but the opposite. (Phil.2:3, 4:5) A wise man considers others. A wise man does not crave preeminence. The wise man imitates Christ or walks in His footsteps. (I Pt.2:21)

Holy wisdom is teachable.

As to the submissiveness, true wisdom is able to be corrected, to learn from others.

Holy wisdom is merciful.

Wise people are merciful people merciful and forgiving to evil and ungrateful people, to people that do not deserve mercy. (Mt.5:7, Jas.2:13, Mic.6:8)

Holy wisdom is peaceable.

V.18.  Again, in contrast with the foolish bitter person that is busy stirring up strife and divisions within the church, within families, the wise Christian labors to be at peace with all men, insofar as he is able. (Rom.12:18) A wise man is a peacemaker. (Mt.5:9, Isa.32:17)

Beloved, remember this James is still speaking to the idea of true faith produces true holiness whereas false of dead faith produces the deeds of the flesh. What are the fruits of your life Beloved? In your speech? In your actions? Do you see wisdom from above? Or wisdom from below? Remember this, you will know them by their fruits, whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. (Mt.5:1-16, Mt.7:15-20, Gal.6:7, Gal.2:20)


Study Guide.

  1. What OT books are classified as wisdom literature? What NT book is sometimes classified as wisdom literature? What is a definition of wisdom? Are wisdom and knowledge the same things? Explain. Can a person be smart or knowledgeable and not be wise? Can a person be wise yet have limited knowledge? Explain. (Jas.3:13-18, Prov.1:7, Jn.17:3, Prov.2:6, Prov.16:16, Prov.19:8, Prov.18:2, Exod.28:3, Exod.31:3, Dt.5:5-6)
  1. What are the three basic social groups that God has instituted? Explain why and how you need wisdom in order to live in harmony within each of these communities, be specific for each community. What are some examples of being unwise or foolish within each of these communities that destroys the unity? (Jas.3:13-18, Gen.2:18-25, Eph.5:14-28, Eph.6:1-4, Mt.16:16, I Cor.12:4-31, Ps.133:1-3, Rom.13:1-10, Heb.13:7-17, I Pt.2:12-18)
  1. How does asking his audience if they possess wisdom manifest James’ wisdom? Why and how can questions be a wise way to correct error and to promote truth? How might it be unwise to simply state to another Christian they are unwise and need to change? If you tell a person, they are unwise what are you calling them? (Prov.16:21, Prov.15:1, Prov.16:18, Jas.3:13, 2:5, 2:13-16, 3:11-13, Mk.8:5, 8:12, 8:17-18, 8:21, 8:23, 8:27-29)
  1. Why would pastor-teachers especially need wisdom to govern their speech, emotions, and actions? (Jas.3:1, Jas.3:16-18, I Tim.1:1-7, I Tim.3:1-7, I Tim.4:12-16, I Tim.5:19-22, I Tim.6:20, 2 Tim.2:24, Heb.13:17, Lk.12:48, I Kg.3:7-9, 2 Cor.2:16, Mt.10:22-24)
  1. In what way or in what things (reasons) do you need wisdom to live with other people in your marriage, in your family, in your culture, and in your church? How has your lack of wisdom or foolish speech and or actions harmed your relationship in those three communities? Why is self-examination in this necessary?
  1. How should the word of God inform our examination of our wisdom? How should the fruits of our life inform our examination of our wisdom? How should we respond to the examination if we lack wisdom in an area as indicated by our examination?(Ps.26:2-4, Ps.14:1, Isa.53:1, Prov.28:26, Prov.10:8, Isa.32:6, Ps.94:8, Prov.12:1, Jas.3:13-18, Gal.5:16-26)
  1. How can we learn from negative or sinful examples? In reference to our study how can we learn from moral or religious foolishness – even our own? (Jas.3:13-18, I Cor.10:1-14, Gal.5:20-23)
  1. How is the “wisdom” of fallen unconverted man foolishness before God? How and why is man’s “wisdom” apart from God earthly, unspiritual, and devilish or evil? (Rev.13:11, I Cor.1:21, Phil.3:18-19, I Cor.2:14, Jude 1:19, I Tim.4:1, Jn.8:42-44, I Cor.3:3, WLC 151)
  1. How does carnal “wisdom” ruin the peace, love, unity, and usefulness of marriages, families, cultures, and churches? How does our fleshly “wisdom” hurt our gospel witness to others? (Jas.3:8-12, Eph.4:30-32, Prov.10:12, 15:18, 16:28, Prov.20:3)
  1. How and why is graced wisdom meek or gentle? What is the opposite or meek or gentle? How is graced wisdom teachable? (Jn.3:16, I Cor.6:9-11, I Cor.6:19, Gal.5:22-26, Mt.11:28-30, Mt.5:1-5, Jer.6:16, 2 Cor.10:1, I Cor.2:1, 2 Cor.10:10, 11:6)
  1. How is graced wisdom reflective of God’s nature? (Jas.3:13-18, I Cor.1:30, 2:7, Gal.5:22-23, Prov.8:22-23)
  1. How does graced wisdom produce peace? How does carnal “wisdom” seek to promote the gospel of peace? How does graced wisdom seek to promote the gospel and kingdom of Christ? (Jas.3:18, Rom.12:18, Mt.5:9, Isa.32:17, Mt.5:1-16, Mt.7:15-20, Gal.6:7, Gal.2:20, Col.2:18-23, 2 Tim.3:14-17, Jn.3:16, I Cor.2:2)








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