“Wisdom From Below”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of James 3.13-16
James 3. What is biblical wisdom? A winter storm yesterday pounded the eastern coast of the United States, with some 85 million people in its path. The storm whipped up higher tides than during super storm Sandy. Major flooding in New Jersey and Delaware and it dumped the heaviest snowfall in New York which by this morning may have piled up 30 inches of snow, all within a couple of days causing at least 11 states to declare a state of emergency.
To say the least, travel must not have been easy. If you were to look at the pictures, you would see stranded motorists and overturned vehicles.
And no doubt, some poor pregnant ladies went into labor…what should they do?
Let’s say it’s your mom or wife and your responsible to get her to the hospital…you didn’t rent a hotel room before the storm hit and she’s had complications before, so you have to get to the hospital.
And so you lead your poor in-labor mom or wife into the car and take off, hoping for the best. You have no idea what to expect, you could get stuck, get in an accident, but knowing of her past complications, this is a life or death issue.
As you take off, you look up through your fogged up windows and there is a news helicopter up above, surveying the whole scene… “Boy,” you think to yourself, “I’d like like that helicopter to tell me what he sees. He can see the whole area and know exactly what’s coming up on the road ahead. If he would just tell me everything he knows, I could know where the snowplow had been so I could follow him.”
Now, this is just like life…
Which is biblical wisdom? Having the helicopter’s bird’s eye view in all of the storms of life and knowing all the “why’s” as to why this or that has happened? Or is biblical wisdom being in the car and simply knowing what turn to make next with the information you have?
See if you can answer that question as we read the text…
James 3:13–18 13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Did you catch it? End of verse 13… Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.
And so the better illustration of wisdom is not the helicopters birds eye view, but it’s being in the car and knowing what turn to make next. Biblical wisdom is skill for living; responding godly in all of what life throws at you.
In that car if you begin to fishtail … you must know the next right response. You must know the next right response if someone in the other lane begins to head straight for you. Or what do you do if the poor lady in the car with you begins to say, “Hurry up!!”
But as you drive the car, you don’t need to know why there is so much snow… You don’t need to know why you just began to fishtail… You need to know exactly how to correct the vehicle to stay safe… You don’t need to know why that car heading straight for you can’t seem to control his vehicle… You just need to know how to maneuver your vehicle to arrive safely at your destination.
This is wisdom. Wisdom is good behavior; it expresses itself in the life; it’s skill in life, knowing the next right response.
Our text is just verses 13-16 and if you contrast verse 13 with verse 17, you’ll see that we’re talking about 2 different kinds of wisdom. Wisdom from above or wisdom that is not from above. This morning is the wisdom that is not from above, or the wisdom from below.
I’m preaching this morning on the wisdom from below … And James starts out by asking…“Who is wise?” Let’s answer that…
Let’s ask Solomon in…
Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
Solomon says that fearing the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Knowing the Holy One is understanding. Foundational to wisdom, the very start of becoming wise, first of all, you must fear the Lord.
And the New Testament would say you must be godly to be wise. And there is no godliness, there is no fearing the Lord today, without salvation. Entering into the fear of the Lord is the first step to becoming wise.
Because of our utter sinfulness and in order to redeem us, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, left his glory, came to earth to be born of a virgin, to live a life of complete and utter sinlessness and complete righteousness, to work miracles upon miracles, and to die… He came to die for your sins so that you don’t have to die forever for your sins.
He was separated from his Father on the cross so that you yourself will not have to be separated for ever from the Father… But that you might enjoy everlasting life with him. And if you would but trust him and throw your life onto him and let him take away all of the burden of your sin and ask him to save you, he would save you… And you would begin to live a life of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
And to fear the Lord means to honor him and to be afraid of disobeying him. To fear the Lord does not mean to be afraid of God, but to honor and reverence him and to be afraid of disobeying him.
And as you grow in your respect and honor and reverence of God and as you grow in your obedience to him, you will be growing in wisdom. You will know the right next step. You will know the right next response to any given situation… as you grow in your respect and honor and reverence of God and in your obedience to him.
But this is gonna take something is it not? This is going to take crying out for wisdom. As it says in Proverbs 2…
Proverbs 2:1–5 1 My son, if you will receive my words And treasure my commandments within you, 2 Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; 3 For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; 4 If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures; 5 Then you will discern the fear of the Lord And discover the knowledge of God.
When you have that kind of a heart toward God and toward wisdom you will seek his face and you will desire to know him. You will pray to Him and read, study, and meditate on His words. Your heart will be the heart of a man who wakes up early enough to be in God’s word and who’s eyes fall at night while searching for the hidden treasure of God’s wisdom.
TRANS: Whoever is wise … prove it…how?…anyone can claim to be wise…
But the way you prove it is by, end of verse 13 … “showing by your good behavior your deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.”
Who is wise? Prove it. How? By living an honorable life filled with doing good works with the humility that wisdom brings.
Your honorable life should be filled with doing good works. And you don’t show off and you aren’t ambitious or competitive with God’s people no … you have with your good works … the humility, the gentleness that only godly wisdom can bring.
“Show by your good behavior your deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.”
In other words, your service to Christ in your daily and weekly works must be done properly, with gentleness. It’s not what you know in your head…how much doctrine you know, how many verses you have memorized, it’s the result of those those things … true wisdom is practical, it’s lived out, it’s displayed day to day in the way you live your life.
If you are wise, you’ll have good behavior, or an honorable life. You’ll have good works…but your good works will have with it this idea of gentleness.
What is gentleness?
The word gentleness here is also translated meekness. Meekness is part of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5. But meekness is not weakness. Meek people don’t get walked all over. Meekness is not someone who is always nice. Instead, meekness has the idea of strength under control.
The word here was used for a tamed horse. The horse is powerful, but when it is tame it is under control. Strength under control. The Greek translation of the Old Testament describes Moses as the meekest man on earth, yet he wasn’t always nice, but he was very strong and under control. And Jesus describes himself as meek in Matthew 11.
But he wasn’t weak. He didn’t need anything from anybody and he confronted the religious leaders and those who exchanged money and drove them out of the temple with a whip. Sounds harsh, but he’s being meek in those moments. He is strong and he is under control of himself and the situation.
Do you make a claim to wisdom? James is saying … “Someone who is wise will show by his good behavior his works with the meekness that comes from wisdom.” If you make a claim to wisdom, then you will show by an honorable life your works. And your works as you do them throughout the day and week will have meekness. You will have strength that will be under control. You will be under the control of the Holy Spirit.
You won’t brag be arrogant. It’s the very opposite of the evil traits in verse 14…bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.
Wisdom will work itself out in the life, guiding the lips, motivating the actions, and even giving intentions to thoughts.
APP: Take Joseph. In Genesis 39, Joseph is falsely accused of rape, he didn’t know why. But he knew that he had to continue responding rightly even in that circumstance. And, as you know, his story would turn out for good. Through him, God saved many people alive because of the famine. But he put Joseph through the ringer in order to do it. Joseph didn’t need to know why this was happening, he just needed to continue responding correctly.
Take Job. Job didn’t know why all of his children and property were wiped out, but he knew that he had to continue responding rightly even in that circumstance. And it would turn out much better than previously.
Take Paul. Paul did not know why God refused to remove his thorn in the flesh, but he knew they he had to continue responding rightly even in that circumstance. God would perfect his own strength in Paul’s weakness to better accomplish his own purposes.
So here’s the point: wisdom is not having all of the “why is this happening to me” perspective on the issue. But it’s having God’s perspective in order to continue responding rightly in every circumstance.
And this is going to take you being faithful to God every day in the joyful times and in the sad times. It’s gonna take you seeking wisdom with all of your heart fearing God and growing every day. Being in his word thirsting for it… longing for it…and pleading with Him to give wisdom to you.
TRANS: James issued a challenge for all those who make a claim to wisdom: prove it by your good works that you do, not with pride or an ambitious character, but with strength under control. Now, James will move to the wisdom that is from below…
James 3:14–16 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
James describes here the wisdom that is from below. And he’s gonna talk here about … what is in the heart, what is in the life, the source, and the result of it all.
When someone has the wisdom that from below, what is in his heart, what is in the life, the source, and what is the result of it all?
What’s in the heart: Bitter jealously; selfish ambition (v.14)
The first word James uses to describe the wisdom that is not from above is the word jealousy, or bitter jealousy. Depending on the context, this can be either good or bad. Obviously here it’s bad. This word refers to somebody who is selfish and desires to possess things that are not really his. Or it’s talking about the kind of jealousy or envy that people put on display when others are challenging them and challenging their ideas.
He has to be in control or she has to dominate the conversation or say the most important things or always one up the next guy in something. It’s bad enough in the world, but James is concerned because this is going on in the church!
This word jealousy is used in Acts chapter 5 and chapter 13 to describe the Jews and the high priest and their response to the strength and popularity and the miracles that were done through the apostles in the early church.
They couldn’t stand to see others have what they themselves wanted. And it set them off.
ILL: There is a fable that Satan’s agents were failing in their various attempts to draw into sin a holy man who lived as a hermit in the desert of northern Africa. Every attempt had met with failure; so Satan, angered with the incompetence of his subordinates, became personally involved in the case. He said, “The reason you have failed is that your methods are too crude for one such as this. Watch this.”
He then approached the holy man with great care and whispered softly in his ear, “Your brother has just been made Bishop of Alexandria.” Instantly the holy man’s face showed that Satan had been successful: a great scowl formed over his mouth and his eyes tightened up.
“Envy,” said Satan in the made up story, “is often our best weapon against those who seek holiness.”
Some who say that they are wise are actually displaying jealousy, bitter jealousy that’s the exact opposite of meekness that comes from real and godly wisdom. They want to serve, but it’s because they want control or the honor that comes with position in the church.
TRANS: Well, bitter jealousy has a wicked twin called selfish ambition in verse 14.
EXP: This word selfish ambition was used in Greek literature to describe greedy politicians … these politicians who were divisive and partisan.
ARG: That’s why Paul can say in Philippians 1:17 that there were some who “proclaimed Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives.”
The proclamation of Christ out of selfish ambition for one’s own desires to pursue one’s own purposes and build one’s own kingdom… That’s selfish ambition in the church.
This is the kind of spirit that says “I’m going to serve here … no you can’t.” “No it’s my turn to sing the solo…” The in crowd and the out crowd in the church… we do such and such to please so and so … even though others may suffer. If there is a conflict of interest, the trophy is given to the person or group who wields the most power.
ILL: A great example of this in the Scripture is man named Diotrephes. He hides in the small letter of 3 John. John describes him … listen to John…
3 John 9–10 9 I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.
Diotrophes was controlling and manipulating circumstances and situations so that he himself would gain or retain power.
Wickedness in the heart and life…bad politics in the church, selfish ambition.
TRANS: This is wisdom from below, that’s what’s in the heart, but what do you see?
What you see: boast, be proud; and lie against the truth. Don’t do that. (v.14)
James insinuates that the person given over to bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are particularly prone to boasting and denying the truth. That’s what you’d see…
James 3:14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.
These kinds of people are arrogant, they boast, they take pride in themselves. But the wise man, Jeremiah 9:23-24 is not to boast of his wisdom. And this boasting results in lying against the truth. It makes a falsehood of what you really claim. You claim to know the truth, you brag, and go on like you have understanding, but the whole time you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart thereby falsifying your claim to godliness and wisdom. This is lying against the truth.
Bragging that you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread isn’t godly wisdom on display, but arrogance on display and that display lies against the truth you claim to hold. It’s the display of wisdom that’s from below…
Now, this wisdom’s source
It’s source (v.14)
James 3:15 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.
That’s where it comes from, it’s earthly.
ILL: Earthly wisdom is bound by this earth. The wisdom that is not from above is held captive by the things of this world. It doesn’t move beyond. It’s the wisdom of the world. There are certain people who are worldly wise.
They know how to manipulate the things of this world to get what they want. You know how best to make life operate in this life alone. How to get along with people, how to make money, how to enjoy your life. This is worldly wisdom.
MR. worldly wise man approaches Christian in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s progress. I trust you either read that book or it’s on your book list.
Soon after Christian realized he was a sinner and needing salvation, and after he met evangelist who pointed him the way to Christ, he needs Mr. worldly wise man.
Christian has left the city of destruction in which he was living in order to find the blessed Wicket Gate and eventually the Celestial City. And Mr. Worldly wise man is concerned about Christian and his burdened attitude. And indeed Christian is burdened about his sin.
Worldly wise man gives him counsel saying to him that he should get rid of the burden of his sin so that he can enjoy the things God has given to him. And Christian wants to do that to get that burden of sin off of his back and that’s why he’s headed away from the city of destruction toward the wicked gate of salvation.
But Mr. Worldly Wise Man is astonished and says, “who told you to go this way to get rid of your burden?”
And Christian says evangelist told me, a great and honorable person. Mr. worldly wise man says to him, “You ought to curse him for this counsel. It is dangerous to go this way to walk this way toward the wicked gate. You’ll find yourself with many sorrows, you’ll be filled with pain and hunger nakedness peril and sword and lions and dragons and darkness and death… This is not the way to enjoy your life.
Worldly wise man gives worldly advice … earthly wisdom, wisdom only for the hear and now. It seems so pleasant to follow the ways of this world. It seems wise to store up treasures for yourselves upon earth where worm off and rust destroy and fail to store up treasures in heaven… by having treasures on earth you’ll be able to enjoy everything you want to, but you’ll forsake what God would want for your life.
1 Corinthians 1:21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
The wisdom of this world will seek to discredit the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 2:5 5 your faith is not to rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”
Because here’s the thing…
1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Follow Christ and his wisdom.
James says in the second to last word in verse 15 … that the wisdom that is from below is also natural, it is not spiritual. It comes from the mind of humans … and because we’re all depraved, all of our natural wisdom is flawed, in error.
Like Paul says in…
1 Corinthians 2:14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
ILL: It is natural, not spiritual. It’s the kind of wisdom that makes an animal do what it does. When it’s attacked its snaps… When it’s hungry, it devours. When animals do this, it’s by instinct.
APP: and that’s just like us. In our flesh and in our natural instinct, when we are attacked, we snap back. When we are hungry and hungry for power, we devour. This is natural wisdom. This is animal instinct. This is not wisdom from above, but from below.
And lastly, James describes this wisdom as demonic, as authored by Satan himself. Selfish ambition in the church is demonic.
TRANS: We know what’s in the heart, what we see, it’s source…now, what’s the result of all of this…?
Result: confusion/disorder, every evil work.
James 3:16 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
In other words, when there is a church where these kinds of individuals dwell, everything is messed up. There is disorder and every evil thing. It’s chaos in the church because of jealousy and selfish ambition… As the church bites and devours each other and individuals seek to rise up to some power over the other… Neglecting the needs of each other and not caring for one another.
This is disorder, there will be every evil thing in an assembly described like this.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of James 3.13-16
 A satire Christian news site had the following…
100 years of Christian fellowship, spiritual love, Godly unity, and community growth ended last Tuesday in a fit of congregational discord not to be rivaled in this century. Holy Creek Baptist Church was split down the middle like a sausage cooked over a fire. It is said that one could hear the split a hundred miles away. Holy Creek Baptist was severed from the once stalwart cord of unity that bound them together. The fist of discord has pounded an army of Christian soldiers into two disheveled, unorganized factions of estranged members.
The source of dissension in this once Holy house of God, is a piano bench which still sits behind the 1923 Steinberg piano to the left of the pulpit. Landover Baptist members who have friends or relatives at Holy Creek Baptist, say that the old bench was always a source of hostility. People should have seen this coming. “That congregation was getting ready to break for the last 10 years,” some said. “It’s just a shame that it had to be over a piano bench.” One outside pastor commented, “However ridiculous it might sound, I’m sure the Lord is using this whole thing in some way that none of us can see or make any sense of at all or ever hope to comprehend.”
At present, Holy Creek Congregation will be having four services a day. There has been an unspoken agreement mediated by Pastor Deacon Fred of the Landover Baptist Church. Each faction will have it’s own separate service with it’s own separate pastor. Since the head pastor is not speaking to the associate pastor, each will have their own service, which will be attended by factioned members. We are told that the services are far enough apart that neither group will come into contact with the other. An outside party will be moving the piano bench to different locations and appropriate positions, between services, so as to please both sides, and avoid any further conflict that could result in violence.
Thankfully that’s fake, but the spirit behind that isn’t. That’s devilish wisdom on display, each side vying for power.
Unfortunately, this is all too common. This attitude had been brewing for years. Lack of unity, a yoking of ourselves with the world and it’s wisdom, and a failure to yoke yourself to the Lord, who alone can say … Matthew 11:29–30 29 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Yoke yourself to Jesus Christ and you’ll grow in controlled strength as you perform good works.
462 be thou my vision…note the stanza of wisdom.