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