James 3:13-18 – Who is wise?



JAMES 3V13-18.




Last time we were in James we dealt with the tongue – James showed us that in order for our speaking to be pure the source of our speaking needed to be pure.

If the source of the river is bitter the whole river is bitter – if the source of our speaking is bitter then bitter words will come out of our mouths.


If it is the source that is all important then how do we deal with the source.

James is saying “Listen, guys, if you want to be wise and understanding then you must understand where this wisdom comes from amd what it is supposed to look like.


James has talked about faith and deeds – and also the tongue. He has looked at our actions and our words — he has seen from where they are supplied viz. the heart — now he is going one step further and dealing with how and from where the heart is supplied. He is also dealing in the following verses with characteristics that the person will exhibit when the heart is rightly supplied.


Our actions and words reflect our level of wisdom and understanding – but the questions is what is wisdom??




James 3:13

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? … (NIV)


James uses two words here – wise and understanding –


“Understanding” – it carries the idea of someone who is an expert in something – one who has gained a particular kind of knowledge in a certain area.

All people have been given some level of intelligence and are expeted to use it for the glory of God. No where does the Bible ever suggest that a person who is well educated or has a high IQ is therefore superior to someone of lesser ability. What we must do, however, is see the importance of learning all we can in order to be better equipped to live life the way God intended.


“Wise” – wisdom is different – closely related but somehow greater and deeper than knowledge.

In the Bible wisdom always begins with knowing God –

Proverbs 1:7 7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (NIV)


When the Proverbs speaks of fear it does not mean that God is some kind of heavenly policeman – rather it means acknowledging that God is the source of all things and we should worship and obey him as such.


Wisdom is not just knowledge – there is little value in knowledge that remains purely cerebral – Christian belief in a creed is of not value is must reshape the life!


There are some people who know a lot about many things but their lives are in a mess – they are not very wise.


ILLUS. Janet and I know two brothers in SA who are both in the business world – one has no qualifications – but he has worked hard, not made dumb business moves and is very well-off today – the other is a Chartered Accountant – who should know how how to handle money BUT at 60 was bankrupt after a kife of bad decisions and irresponsible living.


Knowledge does not equal wisdom!!


C C Colton “It is better to have wisdom without learning than to have learning without wisdom….”


When Solomon was to become King of Israel God asked him what he wanted – His reply 2 Chronicles 1:10 10 Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (NIV)


Wisdom is seen in the Bible as being God centred – living closely to God – it is not just the possession of knowledge but the ability to put that knowledge to use and live the good life.

In order to explain this wisdom and understanding to us James does not tell us what we must do – rather what we must be in character.




How do we know what true wisdom is? James talks of two types of wisdom – Earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom

James 3:15-17 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 …….

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven ….


It is not always easy to identify which wisdom is which – in God’s common grace he has given people the ability to think wisely – thus an atheist can still make wise decisions and give good advice – it amazes me sometimes how someone who does not acknowledge God in a personal way can live a good life [from an earthly point of view] — can give good advice and make wise decisions WHILE IN CONTRAST a Christian can sometimes be the mouthpiece of devilish wisdom — e.g. Peter told Jesus not to go to Jerusalem and what did Jesus say

Mark 8:32-33 32 He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

33 But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (NIV)


We know that Satan masquerades as an angel of light so why not in this area also?


How then are we to know which of these two wisdoms we are dealing with??

Let’s see what James says!




James 3:14-16 14 But if you harbour 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. (NIV)


Source of earthly wisdom.

If wisdom is such a wonderful quality – we must expect a forgery.


v15 – 4 things about source

  1. NOT FROM HEAVEN – earthly wisdom will ultimately be shown for what it is – earthly – not from above – what the word lit. means.


  1. EARTHLY – see Philippians 3:19 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. (NIV)

same word that James uses here . What James and paul are saying is that such wisdom – living – thinking is bound to this earth – their lives are governed exclusively by the desires and influences of this world.


  1. UNSPIRITUAL – we talk of worldly-wise – there is a certain wisdom of the world – natural instincts — but it lacks a God-centredness – it is not Holy Spirit directed –

BUT simply because you and I may be Christians we must not therefore assume that all our decisions and actions will be wise – ALL Christians gifted by the Spirit is some way BUT possible to use gift in spiritual OR unspiritual way –


ILLUS.: Corinth was probably the most gifted Church in the NT but also the most carnal – “Ability or giftedness is not yardstick of spirituality


  1. DEVILISH – we hesitate to call things devilish – it is easier to talk of worldy ot natural or unspiritual but devilish conjures up picture of witches and black magic and voodoo – Is not the worldly, natural unspiritual system basically opposed to God?? YES! Then it is devilish – Satan is ultimately the promoter of all that is in oppostion to God.


Characteristics of earthly wisdom.


We have said – difficult to always iscern earthly wisdom – finally by its fruit.


BITTER ENVY – ‘envy’ lit. can be good or bad word – ‘zeal’ — ‘bitter’ means to cut or prick — it is the kind of envy that cannot bear someone elses popularity or success. Putting others down in order to elevate self. — this meaning becomes clearer when linked to selfish ambition.


SELFISH AMBITION – this is one word in Gk. – part of original meaning was political – used of a person willing to do anything to get elected to office – and we know the jealouses and schemeing involved in party-politics – not only at national level – it starts with electing house captains at school – it creeps into the church with who will do what job and hold what office.


Jmaes is dealing with motives – because at the heart of people’s problems is the problem of peoples hearts.


We can only see the actions – God weighs and searches our hearts for the motives that lie behind what we do!!


When we are motivated by jealousy and bitterness and boasting then we are walking the path of earthly wisdom!!


Outcome of earthly wisdom.

James is a great believer in cause and effect – ‘If you do this or don’t do that then such and such will follow’ — following earthly wisdom produces disorder and evil practice.


DISORDER – interesting word – used 2x in this letter James 1:8 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (NIV) James 3:8 8 but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (NIV)


‘unstable – restless – disorder’


a variety of meanings – maybe he was referring to fights, divisions and disorders in the church – clearly these thibgs do not come from God -1 Corinthians 14:33 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.


When a person is full of envy and selfish ambition there can never be rest. There is always someone else to envy, another mountain to climb, another position to strive after.


EVIL PRACTICES – James could have made a long list but simply says evil practices – in thought and word and deeds – when driven by envy and selfish ambition there is no limit to what people will do when driven by these passions.


The Spirit of Gof promotes unity and harmony NOT division and chaos – so when we see churches splitting we need to ask where the heavenly wisdom is. Usually these things come about because of petty, non-essential doctrines – sometime nothing to do with doctrine at all but simply a defence of self and position and a saving of face rather than a humble ‘I am sorry – I was wrong!!




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. (NIV)


Source of Heavenly wisdom.


Left in no doubt from book of James that wisdom – true wisdom – is from God.

James 1:17 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (NIV)


emphasize – true wisdom is a free gift from a God of grace and is no way a result of our cleverness, effort of schemeing!! It come from heaven!!


Characteristics of heanenly wisdom.


PURE – concerned not with outward expression but inner experience – examine the heart – what we are more than what we do.


Jesus in the Sermon on the mount – Matthew 5:8 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (NIV)


The question is _’How is your heart?’   Is it pure?   undefiled? OR full of jealousy and selfish ambition.


PEACE-LOVING – Matthew 5:9 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. (NIV)

This is not a peace at all costs – not a spineless ‘keeping everyone happy’ – Jesus was apeace lover and maker – nothing spineless about him. —action not apathy.


CONSIDERATE – a sense of looking for the best in people – looking out for others or as the Bible puts is esteeming other better than self – not easy!!


SUBMISSIVE – sometime translated ‘gentle’ – again not a pushover but one not obstinately entrenched in his own opinions — standing up for his own rights — but a willingness to defer to others. Stubborn obstinacy – some people are so closed to others opinion that they think they know it all – “My mind is made up don’t confuse me with the factS!”   in churches such attutudes -esp. in leadership lead to an unhappy church!!


MERCIFUL – full of mercy – Christian Gos has been merciful to you surely you should be merciful to others!!


FRUITFUL – full of good fruit – The Salvation Army has a slogan ‘WHERE THERE IS NEED THERE IS THE SALVATION ARMY” — James would approve — Christians should be the best neighbours there can be –


IMPARTIAL – A sign that appeared over a Church door may help us to understand what James means here – —

O God, may the door of this house bewide enough to include all who need divine love and human friendship; narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and strife. May its threshold be smooth enough not to be a stumblingblock to children or straying feet, yet rough enough to turn back the tempter’s power.’


SINCERE – without hypocrisy –


Outcome of heavenly wisdom.


James 3:18 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (NIV)


Harvest of righteousness –

  1. Righteousness that produces a harvest – the qualities listed above –



  1. the qulaities above produce a harvst which is righteousness –


As with many places in the Bible probably both !!


Peace is the soil in which this harvest grows – Surely when the above qualities are in evidence in our lives there will be peace – we will be the best and easiest people to live with.


Things that destroy peace —

Proverbs 6:16-19 16 There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. (NIV)



Proverbs 3:13 13 Blessed [happy] is the one who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding, (NIV)


How wise are we? Blanchard sugests was use the word ‘RIGHTWISENESS’ – good word combines the pusuit of wisdom and righteousness – and the two are interrelated.   God help us to be rightwise!!




James 3:13 – 18.





      ¦ not from above

      ¦ from above



      ¦ Source   not from above





      ¦ Characteristics        bitter envy

                                                selfish ambition


      ¦ Outcome      disorder ~ evil practices



¦ Source         from above


      ¦ Characteristics pure ~ peace-loving ~                                                     considerate ~ submissive ~

                                         merciful ~ fruitful ~ impartial ~



      ¦ Outcome      harvest of righteousness                                                 “rightwiseness”



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