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"Wisdom From Above"
James 3:13-18

Wednesday AM Bible Study
August 20, 2003

Jesus gives us the perfect pattern of a truly "wise" teacher in Matthew 11:28-30. In this passage, Jesus invites people to take His yoke upon themselves and learn from Him; and in so doing, He invites us to receive Him as "teacher". But He then affirms His qualifications: "for I am gentle and lowly in heart"; and in saying this, He shows us what the true heart attitude of godly teacher is.

The apostle Paul sought to follow the pattern of Christ in his own teaching ministry. When ministering the Gospel the Corinthians, he deliberately refrained from using "excellence of speech or of wisdom", but deliberately came to them "in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling" (1 Cor. 2:1-3). He didn't try to 'dazzle' them with the brilliance of his 'wisdom and understanding'; but rather urged them "by the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:1).

What a contrast such an attitude is to so many today! Many of the 'experts' who boast of the wisdom of this world today sell themselves as "wise"; but as is so often the case, the "wisdom" they dispense to others is anything but "gentle"; and the attitude of their hearts in dispensing this wisdom is far from "humble". Such displays of "wisdom" are even seen in churches and among those who claim to be followers of Christ.

James' words in this new section relate to the warning about "many teachers" found in 3:1. Here, he affirms that that there is a wisdom that comes from above. And if we would be followers of Jesus' example, then we must seek to display true "wisdom and understanding" in the way James here describes. Note how James describes this wisdom in terms of ...

I. IT'S PROOF (vv. 13-14).
"Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth" (NKJV).
A. When James asks his question, "Who is wise and understanding among you?"; many who think themselves cleaver with words may be tempted to quickly raise their hand. But his next statement shows that true wisdom isn't found in such things as 'cleaver put-downs', 'snappy answers', 'witty retorts', or by 'being so victorious in debate that we leave our opponent looking like a fool'. Rather, the claim to be "wise and understanding" can only be proven through "good behavior" and through "deeds in the gentleness of wisdom."

B. In fact, the true situation is quite the opposite from what people tend to think. Those "fleshly" forms of "wisdom" - far from revealing wisdom - instead only reveal a heart attitude that puts the lie to the claim to be wise. People who behave in such divisive ways should not be arrogant and lie against the truth of their situation - the truth being that their behavior is sinfully unwise and unknowledgeable.

C. And the proof that this is so is found in the results of "wisdom". Many a church has been split and destroyed by someone gathering a following around their "wisdom". Whatever one may say about their agenda, the end results of such wisdom - the ending of a ministry, the damage of a witness, the disillusionment and bitterness of new Christians, and the alienation of believers from one another -could hardly be called "wise and understanding". Only a fool would work to produce such things. As James says, he one who is truly "wise and understanding" will "show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom."

II. IT'S PATTERN (vv. 15-17).
"This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For wherever envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy."

A. James here speaks of two different kinds of wisdom; and these two types are identified by their source: either "wisdom from above" (that is 'from God'); or wisdom from a more diabolical and evil source. And you can tell which is which by the sort of pattern it follows. Perhaps that's what Jesus meant when He once told the Pharisees, ". . . Wisdom is justified by her children" (Matthew 11:19).

B. Notice first that divisive behavior is the pattern of a kind of "wisdom" that does not come from God, but is fundamentally evil:

1. It's evil in terms of its character.

a. It's characterized by "bitter jealousy" - that is, an unrighteous zeal.

b. It's characterized by "selfish ambition" - the behavior of someone who was seeking to become the leader only to gratify his own pride.

2. It's evil in terms of its sources.

a. It's "earthly"; that is, a product of worldly values and goals.

b. It's "sensual" - literally, "soulish"; a word that is used to contrast a "natural" man with a man who is "spiritual". It's a wisdom that's a product of the flesh.

c. It's "demonic"; that is, a wisdom that follows after the pattern of the devil (Isaiah 14:13-14).

3. Because of its character and source, such wisdom can do no good - only harm. James 1:19-20 teaches that it cannot bring about the righteousness of God.

B. But "Wisdom from above" follows a completely different pattern.

1. It is first "pure"; that is, there's nothing of 'bitter jealousy' or 'selfish ambition in it.

2. This purity must be first; and all the other characteristics of true wisdom follow from it:

a. It's "peaceable"; that is 'peace-promoting', or as it is in the NIV, "peace-loving".

b. It's "gentle"; or as in the NIV, "considerate", or 'forbearing' (Phil. 4:5). It's the idea of being able to patiently take it when treated unjustly; being willing to leave the matter in God's hands.

c. It's "reasonable"; or "submissive" (NIV). This is the idea of being easily persuaded and being willing to yield when shown that one is in the wrong. Imagine! True wisdom means you can be shown where you are wrong!

d. It's "full of mercy"; that is, true wisdom doesn't look down its nose toward those who are hurting because of their own foolishness, but is willing to help.

e. It's "full of good fruits"; that is, it acts in compassion and meets the needs of others. It isn't all 'talk'; it actually brings about practical 'good'.

f. It's "unwavering"; or as it is in the NIV, "impartial". True wisdom will bend when it needs to; but it also knows when it must not bend. It acts from a clear-headed knowledge of what the essentials are; and it doesn't 'waver' on them.

g. It's "without hypocrisy"; or, as it is in the NIV, "sincere." There's no pretense to it. It doesn't try to be what it isn't.

C. What would be the result if we all, in our church family, conducted ourselves from the standpoint of this pattern of 'wisdom from above'?

"Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."

A. Notice that James here uses a metaphor for "wisdom". He compares it with a seed that is sown, and that results in a particular fruit being produced. This reminds us that "wisdom" has expected consequences.

B. It anticipates that the specific kind of 'produce' from true wisdom is "the fruit of righteousness".

C. It recognizes that this fruit only comes when the seed is "sown in peace by those who make peace."

D. William Barcley said that, in the end, this sort of peace is to be understood in terms of the relationships between people. He paraphrased the thrust of this verse this way: "We are all trying to reap the harvest which a good life brings. But the seeds which bring the rich harvest can never flourish in any atmosphere other than one of right relationships between man to man. And the only people who can sow these seeds and reap the reward are those whose life work it has been to produce such right relationships."

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Read Matthew 5:1-12 - 'The Beatitudes'. To live in accordance with these - that is, to be "poor in spirit"; to "mourn"; to be "meek"; to "hunger and thirst for righteousness"; to be "merciful", "pure in heart", and a "peacemaker" - now, that's a "wisdom" that's radically different from what the world, the flesh and the devil boast of! That's what the one who is, as James says, truly "wise and understanding" looks like. That's how they prove wisdom; that's how they pattern wisdom; and that's how they practice wisdom. May God help us to live by it.

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