“Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3:13-18).
THE WISDOM FROM BELOW IS DESCRIBED IN VERSES 14-16.
1. The fruit of evil wisdom is bitter envying and strife.
Envy is jealousy. One can be envious because another person has more money or has a better position or is better looking or is better gifted or is perceived to be better liked or more popular or whatever. Envy does not have to have a basis in reality; it can be the mere product of one’s imagination.
Envy is a trait of the old fallen flesh (Rom. 1:29; Titus 3:13). It means that I am not content with what God has given me. Instead, it bothers me when others prosper and when they advance and when they have things and positions that I do not have. To envy means I am unwisely comparing myself with others. It means I am selfish. It means I am lacking in compassion and that I do not love others as myself. (1 Cor. 13:4).
Envying embitters. “Though these may not be expressed by words, or actions: envy at the happiness of others ... is a root of bitterness in the heart, which bears wormwood and gall, and produces bitter effects in the persons in whom it is; it embitters their minds against their neighbours and friends; it is rottenness in their bones, and slays and destroys those who are so silly as to be governed by it” (John Gill).
Strife is the opposite of peace. It refers to quarreling and stirring up trouble. It refers to backbiting and gossiping, talking against the brethren because I don’t like them and I don’t like what they do. Such strife is not caused because I love the truth but because I care more for my own selfish interests and my own desire to injure others than I do for the work of God. Even if the church splits apart, that will not bother be greatly. There is a hardness of heart caused by the sin of envy. It is the opposite of gentleness and compassion and longsuffering.
Observe that envy and strife are intimately associated. Burkitt says, “Envy is the mother of strife.” If I have envy toward others I will eventually cause trouble among my brethren. The Philistines envied Isaac and stopped up his wells (Gen. 26:14-15). Rachel was envious of Leah and caused strife in her own home (Gen. 30:1-2). Korah and his followers envied Moses and Aaron and stirred up opposition against them (Psa. 106:16-18; Num. 16:1-4). Joseph’s brothers were envious of him and sold him into slavery (Acts 7:9). The Jewish religious leaders envied Jesus and stirred up the people and the government against Him and caused His death (Mark 15:10). They also envied the crowds that followed the preaching of the gospel and stirred up strife against it (Acts 17:5).
2. Envying and strife produce confusion and every evil work.
When envy is nurtured instead of confessed and rejected, and when strife begins to run its course, there is no telling where it will lead. It led Joseph’s brothers to disregard their father’s feelings and the great love he had for Joseph and to dishonor their father by kidnapping their younger brother and to harden their hearts against his crying and even to contemplate murdering him. All of this started when they envied Joseph and nurtured this envy in their hearts month after month instead of renouncing it to God (Gen. 37:11). This led to hatred, strife, kidnapping, and lying.
3. James is emphatic that this type of thing is not of God but is of the earth or the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Worldliness does not consist merely of external things such as drinking and smoking and wearing immodest clothing. It is also a matter of one’s heart condition. One can be impressively clean on the outside and worldly on the inside. This was the condition of the Pharisees (Mat. 23:25). Worldliness consists of “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16), and those are sins of the heart that have external fruits.
The world, the flesh, and the devil are closely associated. If I walk according to the evil ways of the world and the flesh, then I am walking according to the devil, because he is the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4) and the one that “worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2).
The devil is the father of envy and strife and of the selfish pride and lack of compassion that produces it (1 Tim. 3:6). When we commit these sins, we are walking in the devil’s own footsteps.
4. James warns us not to be deceived and to lie against the truth. This describes many professing Christians. They live in carnal strife and gossiping and backbiting and envy and hatred and other sins, but they claim to be right with God. Some judge themselves only by the externals. They even think of themselves as wiser and more spiritual than others. They refuse to heed reproof and repent, even though they fail the test of true wisdom.
5. Those who say they are walking in light and wisdom but live like this are liars (v. 14). They deceive themselves (Jer. 17:9), and they try to deceive others, which is hypocrisy.
6. The first step toward true wisdom is to acknowledge one’s actual condition. If I agree with God’s Word and confess my sin of walking according to the world, the flesh, and the devil, I can obtain God’s mercy and life-changing power. But if I pretend that everything is fine and refuse to acknowledge my sin, there is no spiritual progress, because I am walking in the darkness rather than in the light (1 John 1:5-9).
7. In this context, confession of sin is not a once-for-all thing but a continual, day-by-day process. Spiritual victory in the Christian life is a matter of growing in grace (1 Peter 2:1-2; 2 Pet. 3:18).
THE WISDOM FROM ABOVE IS ALSO DESCRIBED IN THIS PASSAGE.
This is a description of Christ, whereas the wisdom from below is a description of the devil.
It is FIRST PURE (Jam. 3:17). This refers to being pure from sin; it refers to holiness (1 Tim. 5:22). The same Greek word is translated “chaste” in 2 Corinthians 11:2; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:2. God is first and foremost holy, and if He is effectively working in a person’s life, then that person will pursue holiness. This shows the error of “rock & roll Christianity” which emphasizes the love of God and tolerance of sin more than moral purity and holy separation.
It is PEACEABLE (Jam. 3:17).
True wisdom always inclines toward peace if there is any godly possibility of it. It desires peace, and will not cause strife based on its own selfish and sinful purposes.
This does not mean that true wisdom keeps peace at any cost. It does not care more for peace than for truth and righteousness. The Lord Jesus said that He did not come to bring peace to the earth but a sword (Mat. 10:34). This is because this world is at war with the truth. Peace at the expense of truth is carnal and cowardly compromise. The apostle Paul did not pursue peace with false teachers. Rather, he confronted them (Acts 13:7-11), exposed them (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:16-18), and warned the churches of them (e.g., Acts 20:28-30; Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 15:33-36; 2 Cor. 11:1-4; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Tim. 4:1-5).
It is GENTLE AND EASY TO BE INTREATED (Jam. 3:17). True wisdom is willing to listen to others and to submit to the truth. It is not self-opinionated. It doesn’t reject good counsel. It is willing to answer questions and try to explain itself. It is eager to solve difficulties. This is a picture of Jesus. He was easily approachable. He allowed men to ask questions. He was gentle and easy to be intreated. He explained Himself clearly.
It is FULL OF MERCY AND GOOD FRUITS (Jam. 3:17).
True wisdom is merciful and patient and kind. This is what is required of peacemakers.
True wisdom is full of good fruits. It is not content to excel in only one or two spiritual things. It wants to add to “faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brother kindness; and to brother kindness charity” (2 Pet. 1:5-7). It is full of “compassion and beneficence to the poor; feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the widows and fatherless in their affliction; and doing all other good works and duties, both with respect to God and man, as fruits of grace, and of the Spirit” (John Gill).
It is WITHOUT PARTIALITY (Jam. 3:17). True wisdom does not play favorites. It doesn’t show respect to persons. It applies the truth equally to all men. Compare 1 Timothy 5:21. “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.” True wisdom does not treat the rich church member differently than the poor. It does not exercise discipline against some members while ignoring the same kind of sins of others. It does not require some workers and leaders to meet the Bible’s standards and the church’s covenant while allowing others to get by with things. It does not allow some to get away with gossip and strife while coming down hard on others for the same thing.
It is WITHOUT HYPOCRISY (Jam. 3:17). True wisdom does not preach one thing to others while living contrary to the preaching with no repentance and no intent of changing. It does not make a show of being what it is not. It does not condemn others for things that it is guilty of. It does not condemn relatively small sins in others while allowing more serious sins in itself. It does not condemn a new church member for something like wearing a modern fashion that is not exactly modest or for wearing too much makeup or such things, while allowing envy and hatred and pride and strife to rule in his own heart.
It is MEEK (Jam. 3:13). It is pride that stirs up carnal strife in churches, but true wisdom is meek. It is not self-willed. It does not think of itself more highly than it ought to think (Rom. 12:3).
THIS PASSAGE IS A TEST FOR THOSE WHO LEAVE CHURCHES.
There is a proper time to leave a church, if it is not following God’s Word, but there is a proper way to leave and many times people leave churches for carnal reasons and in a carnal manner. If someone leaves a church for biblical and spiritual reasons, the fruit will be characterized by the description in James 3:17-18--purity, peaceableness, gentleness, easy to be entreated, mercy, without partiality, without hypocrisy. Someone leaving in this mode will speak the truth in love. He leaves because he is convinced it is God’s will, but he does so in a peaceable and godly manner. He is respectful of the leaders even if he doesn’t agree with them, and he harbors no ill will toward the leaders or the church.
But if someone leaves a church for carnal reasons the fruit will be characterized by the description in James 3:14-16--bitterness, envy, strife, confusion, and other evil works. This is not of God! Many times I have observed this. People get upset at something and they leave a church, but they do not do so in a godly manner. They cause all sorts of trouble and try to hurt the church, both before they leave and after. Many times they won’t even talk about the matter with the leaders in a gracious, open manner. They are not “easy to be entreated.” All of the love they once had for the church and its leaders disappears. They deal deceitfully. They go behind the pastor’s back and despise his position.
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