James 3:13-18.
The Wisdom of God and Man

Copyright 2009, American Journal of Biblical Theology
www.biblicaltheology.com   Scripture quotes from KJV

The previous passage in the epistle of James to the church included a comprehensive evaluation of the damage to the kingdom work that can be done by words that are not brought under the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  James characterizes the uncontrolled tongue as an evil that can be compared with the violence of an untamed animal.  James continues by examining the power of unwise speech to create the same destruction within the fellowship of believers, words that sow havoc instead of peace.

Much damage is done to the work of God by those who profess wisdom and exert their views on others based upon their own pride-filled opinion.  True wisdom is shown by meekness and the absence of pride, jealousy, and faction.  Strife arises from evil desires, and from worldliness.  Our natural spirit covets the goods of others, and so leads to envy.  James reminds us that the grace of God can overturn our natural disposition.  Therefore he counsels us to submit to God and resist the devil; draw near to God in humility and he will exalt you.

James 3:13.  Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

True wisdom will be known by its works.  Two examples of a lifestyle that shows wisdom and understanding included here are,

A truly wise person is a knowing person.  He will not accept the reputation of being wise without putting great emphasis on knowledge to facilitate understanding.

Note, thought this passage follows the dissertation on the tongue, this verse refers to the lifestyle, or conversation (old English)

James 3:14.  But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

A lack of wisdom is exposed when harbored envy and selfish ambition is demonstrated in words and action.  Such a spirit is a contradiction to the love which is otherwise professed, thus denying the truth.

Envying and strife are opposed to meekness and wisdom.  They are mutually exclusive.  "Holy zeal and bitter envying are as different as the flames of seraphim and the fire of hell."[1]

James 3:15.  This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

The source of such false wisdom is clearly from earthly principles and earthly motives.  It is sensual, indulging in the flesh, driven by base desires which we share with the rest of the animal kingdom.[2]

James 3:16.  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

Envy and selfish ambition produces confusion and disorder.  The proprietor of such motivation is not truly concerned with the good of others, and is not going to contribute to the common good.  By imposing one's personal lust for power or position, the Godly order of things is set off-balance.  Things will not progress in a sound and loving manner, but rather in a manner which is reactionary (reacting to stimulus), and consequently unpredictable.

Such motivation produces decision making based upon rationalization rather than upon wisdom.  Rather than seeking God's will, His will is presupposed and defended by arguments rationalized by that selfish desire.

Those who are lifted up with such false wisdom as this must fall into rebuke and condemnation.

James 3:17.  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

Contrast the wisdom of the world described in verses 14-16 with the wisdom from God.  True wisdom is a gift of God.  It is not gained by conversing with the world or by knowledge of the world, but rather it comes from above.

It is pure, without mixture of error which would defile it.  It is guarded against sin, testing the spirits and motives against the love of God.

God's wisdom is peaceable.  It is not going to incite strife or disunity, but rather, will move in ways to promote peace, reconciliation and restoration.  It is gentle, not standing upon extreme right in matters of property, not furious in opinions, urging the will of self above others, neither rude, overbearing, harsh or cruel.  All these are opposed to gentleness.

Heavenly wisdom contains the humility to be submissive to the Word and will of God whether it is perceived from scripture, the Holy Spirit, or even the testimony and works of other Christians.  It doesn't insist that it is always correct, but can discern truth and be persuaded to change where error is evident..

The nature of Godly wisdom is to generate good works motivated by mercy and love.  There will be a predisposition to forgive those who offend in all instances which present themselves.

Godly wisdom is impartial and sincere.  The Greek word refers to a freedom from judging, making no undue differences in conduct towards individuals.  It is sincere and open, steady and uniform, and consistent with itself.

It is a wisdom without hypocrisy.  It has no disguises nor deceits.

James 3:18.  And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

Let others reap the fruits of contentions and self promotion, and all the advantages they can attain through their actions.  Let us go on peaceably, sowing the seeds of righteousness, and we may depend on the fact that our labor will not be in vain.  "For light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart; and the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.

[1] Matthew Henry.

[2] 1 Timothy 3:6.