Summary: Worldly wisdom versus the 'wisdom from on high.'
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5)
James has used an illustration of two sources in his discussion of the divisiveness of the tongue (James 3:10-12). Now he wants to get to the heart of the matter. It is not, after all, unwashed hands that morally defiles us - but our danger rises from within (Matthew 15:19-20). It is out of the heart that flows “the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
THE MEEKNESS OF WISDOM DEMONSTRATED
“Who is wise and understanding among you?” asks James. As usual, the brother of our Lord expects a practical demonstration of our “religion” (James 1:27). Are you a friend of the world or a friend of God? (James 4:4).
The friend of God will be known by the “good conduct” of his works. That which he does will be useful, valuable, and of great worth. This is the meaning of this word for “good” in Matthew 13:45.
Having received with meekness the engrafted word (James 1:21) - and continuing to take on the yoke of Jesus (Matthew 11:29) - the discerning and knowledgeable will demonstrate the Christ-like gentleness that is born of wisdom in all that they do. “The meek shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5)!
“The wisdom that is from above” reflects in behaviour, in the good life. Its meekness is seen in its purity, peacefulness, gentleness, openness to reason, mercy, fruitfulness, impartiality, and lack of hypocrisy.
When the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, the result is fruitfulness and peace, quietness and assurance for ever (Isaiah 32:15-18). This is the harvest of righteousness, due to those who make peace (James 3:18). Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)!
WORLDLY WISDOM EXPOSED
In contrast, worldly wisdom is betrayed by a strong feeling of jealousy, or bitter envy. This is the same word as is used for the “brackish” or “bitter” water of James 3:11. This is a misplaced, fiery zeal - perhaps not unlike that of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1). This arises out of a contentious heart, selfish ambition, divisiveness and disobedience (Romans 2:8).
The source of this kind of so-called “wisdom” is sinister. It is not from heaven. It is of Adam, earthy and earthly (1 Corinthians 15:47). It is natural, of fallen nature, un-spiritual. It is devilish, not God-breathed but arising from Satan himself.
The fruits of this divisiveness are confusion, disorder, and all kinds of evil practices. We are reminded that God is not the author of confusion, but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33).
THE VIOLENT OFFSPRING OF WORLDLY WISDOM
As we move on into James 4, we see the violent offspring of this worldly wisdom. In the church context which James is addressing, this may conceivably be hyperbole: but let us not forget that Jesus, in His famous rewrite of the law-book, places harsh words and unforgiving attitudes under the heading of “murder” (Matthew 5:21-22).