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AM Bible Study Archives
"Wisdom From Above"
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
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
b. It's characterized by "selfish ambition" - the behavior of
someone who was seeking to become the leader only to gratify his
2. It's evil in terms of its sources.
a. It's "earthly"; that is, a product of worldly values and
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
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'?
III. IT'S PRACTICE (v. 18).
"Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make
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."
* * * * * * * * * *
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.