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Book of James Lesson Eight
by Dr. Michael Cochran 
Not For Sale


LESSON #8 - (James 3: 13-18, NIV)

APPLICATION: My wisdom will be shown more by peacemaking deeds than by pious-sounding words.

JAMES 3:13

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

“Who is wise and understanding among you?” The question does not suggest that James thought no one wise in the New Testament church. Rather the question challenges those who have been boasting of their wisdom to show that wisdom by deeds done in humility.

James seems to be continuing his assault on self-appointed (but spiritually unqualified) teachers who were troubling the church. These teachers were not just aggressively vocal; they were assuming a wisdom they evidently did not possess. The Greek word translated “wise” in the question indicates that a practical wisdom is being referred to. The word translated “understanding” indicates one who has become an expert, on who has acquired a skill.

So, what is wisdom? According to James, it is speaking the truth in gentleness and meekness. The wise person loves God and let's God's attributes shine through. Wisdom isn't just knowledge; it is the telling of knowledge in a gracious way. Wisdom applies the truth of God to life with the end result being a righteous change for the better. When this change hasn't occurred, wisdom hasn't really put in an appearance.

JAMES 3: 14-16

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, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

It is easy to see how the church could become involved in a struggle with teachers and others who had put themselves forward as self-appointed authorities. The Church has always had its share of ambitious people, and the zeal of early Christians mixed with ambition would fuel leadership conflicts of all sorts. “Envy and selfish ambition” may not of been there to start with but soon developed in the competition for church recognition and authority. The boasting referred to in verse 14 suggests that to get ahead, certain ones who wanted to be recognized as teachers were taking the time to make sure that no one missed their qualifications for the job. They were doing a little personal advertising so they wouldn't be overlooked.

James makes it quite clear, however, that any boasting in one's self or one's abilities is against the truth. Truth conforms to a transcendent pattern, that of God Himself, and that which does not conform to God is not according to the Gospel. False teachers would probably get no start in the church if such a basic principle could be kept in mind. James judges people on the basis of their moral fruit, whereas we tend to judge people by their appearance. Do they sound convincing? Do they seem sincere? Do they say the right things? But on such a basis as this almost any new teacher deserves to be listened to and respected---until he or she proves otherwise. However, if we only used James's guidelines, we would take our time to first see how such people live.

God Himself will put forward those whom He wants to advance to leadership roles in the church. At first this approach may seem to be too “spiritual.” Wouldn't only chaos result from yielding our ambitions and desires to God in this way? How would things get done? Thoughts such as these may be all to common, but they only indicate that we think God cannot run His Church. Perhaps that's the problem. We are so possessive we think it is our church. If such were the case, it is easy to see why bitter “envy and selfish ambition” might be mistaken for spiritually worthy attributes.

In a sense James is saying we have to earn the right to speak. Just as the apostle Paul would not have a “bishop” be one who is young in the faith(see 1 Timothy 3:6), so James wants the proven disciples to be the one's who teach and lead. Younger leaders may appear to have more “earthly wisdom,” but when that wisdom is looked at more closely, it is found to be “unspiritual,” full of “envy and selfish ambition.” It is wisdom that is as destructive as the unprincipled tongue that he has already warned about. Jealously and selfish ambition produce turmoil and “every evil practice.” (The word for evil here means “worthless, good-for-nothing.”) In the Body of Christ, such an ungodly harvest can hardly accomplish the purposes of the Kingdom.

JAMES 3: 17-18

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 raise a harvest of righteousness.

In contrast to disruptive wisdom is godly wisdom that produces a harvest of righteousness. Earthly, sensual, demonic wisdom is incubated in bitterness and strife and hatches barrenness and sterility, but “peacemakers, when they work for peace, sow the seeds which will bear fruit in holiness” (3:18, Jerusalem Bible).

Wisdom that is from above is just the opposite of what the world expects wisdom to be. Where there has been discord, there is now love. Where there has been arrogance, there is now consideration. Where there has been warfare, there is now peace. This is the “purity” of wisdom. In the Greek, the word “pure” is related to the word “holy.” Since God is holy, all that bears relationship to Him must be holy.

Wisdom that is pure is peaceable. The desire for a right relationship with God and other people colors all of its activities. And such a desire makes it considerate, pliable, merciful, unvacillating, and sincere. Knowledge is the accumulation and assimilation of facts while wisdom is the ability to relate such facts to experience. Knowledge deals with relationships, while wisdom involves an understanding of their ends.

The wisdom that “comes from heaven” is the result of “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” so that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that [we] may know the hope” to which we are called (Eph. 1:18). Such wisdom can only be acquired from the Father; and if anyone lacks this wisdom he or she “should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given” (James 1:5).

The Bible places a high premium on such godly enlightenment. God commended Solomon because he sought for wisdom more than wealth, health, or any of the other things for which he might have prayed (see 1 King 3: 11-14). “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverb 4:7). For “blessed” is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold” (Proverb 3: 13-14). Why is it better than gold? Because in Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3).


1. Can you think of times when “selfish ambition” has brought disharmony and discord into your life?
2. According to Proverb 9:10, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” In what way do you think that is so?
3. How would you advise those who are careless with their speech to correct this problem?

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