Summary: James draws a contrast between true and false wisdom.
Wisdom was an important thing to the Jewish people. They realized it was not enough to have knowledge; you had to also have wisdom to be able to use the knowledge correctly. All of us know people who are very intelligent, perhaps almost geniuses, and yet, seemingly are unable to carry out the simplest tasks of life. They can run a computer but cannot run their own life.
“Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!” - Proverbs 4:7 (NLT)
But in acquiring wisdom, we must be sure that we seek wisdom that is true, for there is a false sort of wisdom that can lead to wrong
application of knowledge and consequently, disaster.
“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” - Proverbs 16:25 (NIV)
To help us grow in true wisdom, James contrasts wisdom that is false with wisdom that is true.
1. They have different origins - vs. 15; 17a
True wisdom comes from above; false wisdom comes from below. True wisdom has its source in God; false wisdom has its source in man.
Please note that we are talking about wisdom here, not knowledge. The world has a great deal of knowledge from which we can benefit, but there is not much wisdom. Man may accumulate knowledge as he unlocks the secrets of the universe, but he doesn’t know what to do with that knowledge, and consequently, misuses or abuses it.
“Man has improved means to unimproved ends.” - Henry David Thoreau
In other words, no matter how much man learns, he still seems to come back to the same old issues and problems that he is always dealing with in this world. Injustice still exists, evil still prevails, selfishness still runs rampant. Things become more efficient, more modern, more “instant” but not better, in the ultimate sense.
Why? Because of the origin of man’s wisdom. Believers have three enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. James says that these are the sources of false wisdom. This is how we lived before Christ.
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” - Ephesians 2:1-3 (NIV)
“The twentieth century produced an information explosion unparalleled in human history-instant access to volumes of knowledge at the click of your mouse. Yet with all we have learned and with all that's been written, man’s wisdom is still impotent to answer life’s most basic spiritual questions like: How did we get here? Where do I go when I die? What is the meaning of life? God has given man the ability to study, analyze, categorize, and develop the physical resources of this earth to benefit physical life. But that’s where his wisdom ends. Because of sin, his mind is totally unable to discern the spiritual dimension. He has no power to change his own heart, no understanding to solve his spiritual dilemma, and no resources to satisfy his soul-he is spiritually dead.” - John MacArthur
That’s how we once lived. But now, as ones alive in Christ, we look to the revelation of God’s Word and trust in the guidance of God’s Spirit.
“Acquire true wisdom this way: examine the Bible and the Bible will examine you; read the Word of God and the Word of God will read you; go through the Bible and the Bible will go through you; abide in the Word and the Word will abide in you.” - Jack Wellman
“You have known the Holy Scriptures since you were a child. These Scriptures are able to make you wise. And that wisdom leads to
salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by God. And all Scripture is useful for teaching and for showing people what is wrong in their lives. It is useful for correcting faults and teaching the right way to live. Using the Scriptures, those who serve God will be prepared and will have everything they need to do every good work.” - 2 Timothy 3:15-17 (Easy to Read)
2. They have different operations - vs. 13-14; 17
James tells us that false wisdom is revealed in envy, selfish ambition, boastfulness, and a denial of truth; but the wisdom God gives is seen in actions that are pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, fruitful, impartial and sincere.
“The Christian life is a life of sowing and reaping. For that matter, every life is a life of sowing and reaping, and we reap just what we sow. The Christian who obeys God’s wisdom sows righteousness, not sin; and peace, not war. The life we live enables the Lord to bring righteousness and peace into the lives of others. What we are is what we live, and what we live is what we sow. What we sow determines what we reap. If we live in God’s wisdom, we sow righteousness and peace, and we reap God’s blessing. If we live in man’s worldly wisdom, we sow sin and war; and we reap ‘confusion and every evil work.’” - Warren Wiersbe