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James 3:13-18

"13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealously and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity. 18 And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."

James has just been writing at length about how we use our tongues and the destruction that can occur when our own double-mindedness towards God and others is allowed expression through our words. James now turns to the deeper issue of wisdom. "Who is wise and understanding among you?" James asks. Wisdom is the knowledge we need to live in this life and to interact with our circumstances and with those around us. James compares the two basic sources for wisdom--from God or from the world around us.

All along James has been focusing on how to live as Christians in the midst of continuing, ever-present trials in a twisted and fallen world. The Christians he is writing to are struggling and their struggles have led them to be tempted to even question God's presence, care, and activity in their lives. How are they (and we) to handle the pressures of devastating health or financial problems, loneliness, manipulative relationships, or the daily frustrations that pile up and so easily lead their (our) gaze away from the presence of their (our) heavenly Father? To know how to cope is to be wise.

Of course, James is clear from the start that the only true wisdom he believes exists is wisdom from God, or "from above" as he puts it later in the passage. To the one who is wise and understanding, James says, "By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom." What is a good life? Is it one free of trial? No, it is a life that is lived out of the meekness of wisdom. So, first of all James is saying that wisdom is meek. What does he mean by this? Well, if we look back to the first chapter James encourages his readers that if they are ever lacking wisdom to ask God, "who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given to him."(1:5) God is the true source of wisdom and is always willing to give it to us when we ask. In fact, the beginning of wisdom for James, is to be wise about the character of our good God and so to be willing to receive from Him.

This is why there is a meekness to wisdom. We are not wise on our own. We are God's children--dependent on our heavenly Father to give us life, love, peace, joy, and wisdom to live. We are to allow this generous, giving God to give to us. This is the wise thing to do--to recognize that we are children who receive our life from our Father. James touches on this point later in the first chapter when he encourages his readers to "put away all filthiness and rank growth of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls."(1:21) Remember that passage? The word is already implanted in them, not by themselves but by God. But they need to receive the word, make room for it, live by the truth of its living presence. And they receive it with meekness. I think one way to talk about this is to say that we are to receive from God what we know we cannot give ourselves. We are trusting, not in ourselves, but in His good, generous, loving character. So the person who is wise is able to show his works in the meekness of wisdom. True wisdom is not just good advice, good ideas or ideals, or knowing which side of a debate is the right side. Wisdom is real when it is in motion. What are his works? Not even just acts of charity but, all of what goes into how he lives--how he deals with his family, friends, acquaintances and business associates, how he handles his finances and spends his time, how he approaches the ordinary tasks of the day. To live in the meekness of wisdom is to go about our lives in a light-handed, self-forgetful manner because we know that we are not receiving our life and our identity from the relationships and tasks at hand. We are receiving moment by moment our life from God. We do not look to those around us or to our present circumstances (be they currently good, okay, or horrible) to tell us who we really are, to give us a sense of worth, or our life and livelihood. To be wise is to see that our present circumstances do not and indeed cannot tell the story of our real worth or limit our real ability to receive full life from God even now. Paul gets at this very point when he says, "For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, now depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."(Ro.8:38-39)

This is so radical and not at all easy in this world. Everything is always so uneven, isn't it? It is always so tempting to notice all that is out of place in our lives and to feel therefore that we are not yet able to live in the fullness that we could be. And, it is so very difficult not to compare our lives with others and to use those comparisons either to puff ourselves up or tear ourselves down.

James now turns to these dangers: "But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth." When we are jealous or selfishly ambitious, we are not trusting in God's ability to give us life in the midst of our trials, and to lead us, through these very trials to become "perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."(1:4) Our jealousy and ambitious plans for ourselves do not reflect the real truth about who we are and where real life is to be found. As I read this I frankly was really struck by how much of my life is battling with these things. Every day, the temptation to be jealous of someone else comes up. We can be jealous of another's spouse, looks, children, financial situation, personality, happy childhood, good health, even their faith! And it is so easy to maneuver myself in ways to make me look good, wise, humble, attractive in others' eyes.

James is aware of this. He knows that his readers are constantly bombarded by the temptation to compare themselves and so be jealous and selfish. He knows that when we are struggling with trials, this temptation is increased. So the first thing he is saying to his readers here is if you have these feelings in your heart, "do not boast and be false to the truth." No wisdom, especially the wisdom of meekness, can come out of a jealous and ambitious heart. This will put a wedge between us and God and between us and others, especially those nearest and dearest to us. These motivations are grounds for the charge of foolishness not confidence, much less pride and boasting.

The second way James seeks to encourage his readers who are wrestling with these temptations of jealousy and selfishness is to state clearly where this kind of "wisdom" comes from and where it leads. "This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish." The wisdom of the world which comes by way of comparison with others is really "anti-wisdom" as it leads to nothing but destruction and death. Yet, it is regarded as sophisticated, advanced, adult and so, well, worldly wise. James is clear, however, that there is nothing good that can come out of our trying to justify our jealousies. Sometimes we want to make exceptions for ourselves because of our difficult trials. "Yes," we may think to ourselves, "we know that God is the source of life, but my marriage, finances, state of affairs, etc. are so bad or unusual that I can't help but have envy and jealousy towards others right now." Or, we may want to acknowledge that while God is present in our life right now even as it is, He can't be fully my source of joy, peace, and life until I make my life change. But James wants to remind his readers that this kind of thinking, or "wisdom" is from the world. It is not coming from our "Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."(1:17) James encourages his readers to turn away from all thinking that is hindering their receiving wisdom from their always good, loving heavenly Father.

"For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice." These are the fruits of worldly wisdom. And we have all seen and experienced the truth of this statement in our lives. There can be no good result when we are motivated to protect, advance, focus on ourselves at the expense of others. There is no security or peace in an environment where everyone is primarily concerned for their own interests. It is hard to find rest here! Being jealous of others, or selfishly ambitious is "a big deal" James says. Don't be fooled, but be wise. When we are preoccupied with these things we are, at that time, not enjoying, resting in, soaking in, our wonderful Father from whom "every good endowment and every perfect gift"(1:17) comes.

Now that James has exposed the true poison of worldly wisdom, he turns his readers attention again to the wisdom God gives. You notice he uses the same phrase "from above" here that he uses in the verse I partly just quoted: "...every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights..." This wisdom is part of the good and perfect gifts our Fathers wants to give us. There is a lot you can meditate on in this list. First, James says God's wisdom is pure. He actually comes back to this at the end of his list when he says, "without uncertainty or insincerity." God's wisdom is not double-minded. He gives us all one thing--Himself. As He enables us more and more to grow in wisdom, more and more we are filled with His one real life. This perfection He is working out in us is a perfection where there is no longer any double-mindedness in us either--we are through and through pure--who we were created to be.

Wisdom from above is peaceable. When we know and live in the truth that we receive our lives and identities from God, then we have nothing to prove, or manipulate for here. We can be in His peace and so be peaceable. God's wisdom is gentle, not violent. God's wisdom is open to reason, not threatened. And, the wisdom from above is "full of mercy and good fruits." Wow, how delightful!

This wisdom is from God because this is God. James is describing the wisdom that God has first towards us! This is who He is: pure (not double-minded), peaceable (Christ is our peace), gentle ("Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls."Mt.11:28-29), open to reason ("Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord"Isa.1:18), and good fruits ("Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures."1:18--not to mention that He is the Creator, and all the good fruits of this world are His), without uncertainty and insincerity ("the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change"1:17). How wonderful God is! He is wise in all these ways towards us, and His implanted word in us, that we are to receive with meekness, is at work to share His very heart with us.

James ends this section with this thought, "And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." With this, James is summing up his whole point. Envy and jealousy can never lead to righteousness, but only strife. True wisdom from God, given as the gift of God, bears fruit and that fruit is the harvest of righteousness which has as its roots peace with God and peace with others. Wisdom and peace always go together, for the wisdom of God always creates right relationship since God Himself is a triune communion of holy love. God shares with us Himself and His wisdom about right relationship which aims for reconciliation and restoration and so brings peace with God and with each other. No wonder Jesus said He offers us through Himself His own peace, a peace that the world cannot provide or accomplish.

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