Sermon Text: James 3:13-18
Sermon Theme: Believers with true wisdom avoid envy and selfish ambition and produce peace and righteousness.
These verses show the difference between men’s pretending to be wise, and their being really so. He who thinks well, or he who talks well, is not wise in the sense of the Scripture, if he does not live and act well. True wisdom may be known by the meekness of the spirit and temper. Those who live in malice, envy, and contention, live in confusion; and are liable to be provoked and hurried to any evil work. Such wisdom comes not down from above, but springs up from earthly principles, acts on earthly motives, and is intent on serving earthly purposes. Those who are lifted up with such wisdom, described by the apostle James, is near to the Christian love, described by the apostle Paul; and both are so described that every man may fully prove the reality of his attainments in them. It has no disguise or deceit. It cannot fall in with those managements the world counts wise, which are crafty and guileful; but it is sincere, and open, and steady, and uniform, and consistent with itself. May the purity, peace, gentleness, teachableness, and mercy shown in all our actions, and the fruits of righteousness abounding in our lives, prove that God has bestowed upon us this excellent gift.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- What wisdom are you using to live your life? The wisdom we live by tells us who we are truly following — God or the world. Worldly wisdom teaches warped views on what beauty, success, marriage, parenting, sexuality, and morality are. If followed, this wisdom always leads to evil and disorder, as James 3:17 teaches. Worldly wisdom and God’s wisdom are virtual opposites and have opposite fruits. The wisdom that we live by is a test of the genuineness of our faith. It demonstrates whether we simply listen to God’s Word and are deceived about our faith or whether we actually practice it and consequently have genuine faith (James 1:22). Therefore, as we go through James’ list of fruits, we must ask ourselves, “Which fruits are we manifesting?” and “What do they say about the wisdom we are living by and therefore our faith?”
- Are you allowing today’s culture to guide your every decision? Are you seeking for only “What’s in it for me?” The career we choose, who we associate with, who we marry, the political party we vote for are all often guided by self-centered motives, instead of God-centered and others-centered motives. In Philippians 2:3-5, Paul challenged the Philippians who were struggling with selfish attitudes and the discord that came from them by saying this: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had. Christ did not come to the earth for His benefit, He came to serve God and others. Mark 10:45 says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This selfless attitude, produced by godly wisdom, should guide believers. In a world driven by selfishness, we should be driven to seek the good of others over ourselves, even as our Savior did.
- What does “tell lies against the truth” or “deny the truth” refer to? Some believe lying against the truth or denying the truth simply means that these people had never truly accepted the truth of the gospel and therefore were not saved. James 1:18 says that God gave us birth through the truth, in referring to the gospel. Also, James 5:19-20 says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” In James 5:19, truth seems to refer to the gospel as well, since not wandering from it would save a person’s soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. If James is referring to the gospel in James 3:14, then he is basically saying that those guided by worldly wisdom are deceived about their faith. It’s not real. They are lying against the truth by proclaiming to be a follower of Christ but living for the world. James will explicitly say this in James 4:4, when he says, “friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So, whoever decides to be the world’s friend makes himself God’s enemy.” There is no in-between (cf. 1 John 2:15). However, others believe James is simply saying that those who profess to be wise are deceived about what true wisdom is. Maybe, they were saying that their selfish, partisan spirit was of God, as they boasted in their doctrine or wealth. They didn’t understand that the fruits of godly wisdom are not envy and selfishness but humility and selflessness. They were denying the truth about what true wisdom is by professing to be wise but living like fools. Either way, those who live by the world’s wisdom are deceived. They think they are living wisely, when, in fact, they are not. The world and those who live by its principles are deceived.
- How have you seen or experienced the results of worldly wisdom in the church (envy, selfish ambition, disorder, and every evil practice)? How have the evil results of worldly wisdom affected the witness of the church — both to the world and other believers? Why is it so common for believers and churches to demonstrate much of these negative fruits?
- How do envy and selfish ambition express themselves in your life? What are you doing to combat them? Don’t live your life based on and motivated by human, ungodly wisdom which leads to a self-centered world in which your own personal ideas, desires, and standards are the measure of everything. Whatever and whoever serves those ends is considered good and friendly; whatever and whoever threatens those ends is considered bad and an enemy. Those who are engulfed in self-serving worldly wisdom resent anyone or anything that comes between them and their own objectives. For bitter envy and selfish ambition prove that a person is following the route of false wisdom.
- How do we grow in God’s wisdom so we won’t have the disastrous fruits of worldly wisdom manifesting in our lives, families, and communities? 1) When we are born again, God gives us wisdom in Christ, who resides in us. For “those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24) and Christ is “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3). If we have Christ in us, we have God’s wisdom. If Christ is truly our Lord, as we daily seek him, he will guide us. 2) “The beginning of wisdom is to fear the Lord” (Proverbs 9:10). But what does it mean to fear the Lord? It means to fear his displeasure, not wanting to break God’s heart by practicing sin. It means to fear his discipline, as God promises to discipline his children to help them grow in holiness. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts” (Hebrews 12:6). Fearing the Lord also means to stand in awe and reverent worship of him. When we truly know how awesome God is — how special his pleasure and blessing are — we will want to run away from anything that dims our view of his glory. Are we fearing God as we should? It’s the beginning of living a wise life. 3) Studying God’s Word makes us wise. When we neglect it, we spiritually impoverish ourselves. 4) Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Pride leads us to independence — independence from God and others. When we’re prideful, we don’t feel like we need assistance. We can figure things out on our own. But the reality is, God has allowed many before us to experience what we’re currently going through, so they can offer us his wisdom (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3-6). To grow in wisdom, we must be humble. Humble people seek the counsel and prayers of others. Are we allowing God to speak to us through his body? Or are we too independent?
- Are we always comparing ourselves with someone else? Are not all men created in the image of our Maker? Envy and jealousy typically arise when we are comparing ourselves with others — what they have and what we don’t have. This is not just a problem in recent times, it was a problem in the early church, even without social media. In 2 Corinthians 10:12, Paul said this about the self-proclaimed teachers in those congregations, “When they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” Worldly wisdom commonly leads to comparing, resulting in depression and discouragement for some, and leading others to pride and judgmentalism. This worldly wisdom is not wisdom at all; it is fleshly, foolishness. It leads people to constantly try to outdo each other by the schools they go to, the cars they drive, the places they live, and their accomplishments. It even leads to stepping over and harming others to get what one wants. It’s this harsh and destructive envy, produced by worldly wisdom, which causes fights and wars amongst friends, family, communities, and nations. We must be careful that this demonic wisdom is not in us.
- Job asks rhetorically,” Where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?” (Job 28:12) and then answers,” Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28). True wisdom, the wisdom from above, is not a matter of how much one knows but of how much one trusts, loves, and obeys the Lord. Therefore, seek true wisdom from above, for true wisdom is a gift of God and is a reflection of His character.
- Are we stubborn in our friendships, church relationships, or even marriages? Some people can’t be told anything because they think they already know everything. However, the truly wise person realizes that he or she doesn’t know much at all and, therefore, is willing to learn and be corrected. God’s wisdom leads us to be reasonable, not stubborn. If we are stubborn and slow to listen to others, we reflect worldly, selfish wisdom — not God’s. Therefore, those with godly wisdom demonstrate it in every area of life: their work habits, response to conflict, how they treat their family and friends, and how they live out their faith amongst unbelievers. The wisdom guiding us speaks to us about our faith—whether it is genuine or false. It reveals who is Lord of our lives, God or the world. Likewise, as we consider the fruits of these two wisdoms, we must ask ourselves, “Is God’s wisdom being displayed in all of our conduct? Or is it the same on Monday as it is on Sunday?” and “How is God calling us to make changes?”
- Is God’s wisdom guiding us to be gentle when personally offended and fierce when others are abused? Are we being meek and submitting to the Lord and allowing him to guide our lives? Meekness is especially demonstrated in how one responds when mistreated and when others are mistreated. When Christ was falsely accused before going to the cross, he said nothing. He didn’t defend himself; he was like a lamb. However, when others were mistreated, he was like a lion. He flipped over tables and kicked people out of the temple (John 2:13-22). He used his power at the right time and for the right purposes. Likewise, God’s wisdom guides us on how and when to use this power. We should be gentle when personally offended but fierce when others are hurt and abused. The person with meekness is not a doormat for the desires of others, but controls and overpowers the natural human tendency to be arrogant and self-assertive. For Jesus promised the meek that they would inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Jesus meant a believer who relates to God with dependence and contentment will reap God’s abundant blessings. Even when you are involved in a disagreement, you must demonstrate a gentleness and kindness of attitude. You must banish all contentiousness and mutual accusation. The Bible calls on all Christians to show the presence of spiritual wisdom in their lives by deeds of humility and goodness.
- Is your purity the first priority in your living a wise, godly life? When James says, “wisdom from above is first pure,” this means purity is the priority of the wise. The word pure means unmixed and free from defilement. It probably focuses on a person’s inner motives, which affects how he or she lives. This reflects the Matthew 5:8 beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” When somebody is living for God and by his wisdom, it provokes them to not only get rid of outward sins like immorality, lying, and cursing but also inward sins like pride, anger, self-condemnation, hypocrisy, and lust. For 2 Corinthians 7:1 says, “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that could defile the body and the spirit, and thus accomplish holiness out of reverence for God.” Is our priority being holy in our thoughts and actions so that we can please God? If not, then we are not living by God’s wisdom. Those who are truly wise focus on becoming pure in body and spirit, and because of that they see and experience more of God in their daily lives. For the apostle John reminds us,” Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
- Are we patiently laboring for righteousness and peace in the spheres God has placed us, especially in seasons of hopelessness, fear, difficulty, and conflict? Unfortunately, some infected by worldly wisdom actually enjoy gossip, discord, and fighting. It’s a sign of spiritual unhealthiness and possibly not being redeemed at all. Naturally, worldly wisdom leads to sin and discord in our communities. Sin and discord are actually the default setting, so we shouldn’t be surprised when they arise. Righteousness and peace don’t happen by accident in a family, church, workplace, or nation. It must be patiently labored for just like a farmer works for a harvest. To have peace and righteousness in our relationships, believers must faithfully sow patience, impartiality, endurance, mercy, and other good works, even in the midst of seeming chaos. For God’s wisdom leads believers to passionately pursue the restoration of people’s relationships with God. For the truly wise, if their friends and family are unbelievers, they prayerfully share the gospel with them. If they are believers who are falling away from God, then they prayerfully offer correction. As God’s peacemakers, we must understand this: Our world’s greatest needs are righteousness and peace, and as those with God’s wisdom, we are the ones who sow them as we bring Christ into every situation and reap the joy when others are walking with the Lord and with one another.
- Are the good fruits of mercy abounding in our lives? Being merciful means three things: First, we must see the needs of those around us. This is where a lot of us fail; we simply don’t recognize the problems around us because we’re so focused on ourselves. Second, we must feel their pain. Certainly, this is a grace that only God can give. We often experience others’ pain when, instead of being detached, we get involved in their lives. And finally, we must act to relieve their pain. Biblically, mercy is not just seeing and empathizing, it is compassion in action. The fruits of mercy prove that we are being guided by God’s wisdom and therefore have true faith (cf. James 1:27).
- Are we partial like the world — honoring the rich, educated, the young, and healthy — or are we impartial like God? True wisdom treats everybody equally — the poor, rich, young, old, the beautiful, the less attractive, the athletic, the un-athletic, and those from different ethnic backgrounds just as our Lord does (cf. Acts 10:34). When the world exalts one and dishonors another, God’s wisdom leads us to believe that all people are made in the image of God to reflect his glory, and therefore each person has great dignity and purpose.
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