Summary: The wisdom of the world is fleeting; seek godly wisdom!
Seek Wisdom, James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Those who study bees tell us when a honeybee drives its barbed stinger into flesh, it becomes so firmly imbedded that the only way the bee can escape is to leave the stinger behind. This, however, is sure to cause the death of the bee. It receives such a wound that it cannot possibly recover. So it is with us. Sometimes we sting others because they are a little better than we are. Being jealous of them, we not only leave the sting in those who happen to disagree with us, but the act brings about spiritual harm to ourselves. If our zeal embitters others, it will multiply bitterness within our own hearts. Thus, when others feel the bitterness of our zeal, they will surely come to the conclusion that we do not possess Jesus Christ who descended from heaven to give us new life.
O, but if we possess zeal in the love of Christ, then how much more wisely shall she walk in this life? If our zeal is multiplied as the grace of God empowers and enlivens us, how great a wisdom we shall display. If we want to be a wise people who exhibit success in our personal relationships, who display contentment, happiness, peace, then we must learn to fear the Lord and walk in the power of His wisdom. To live wisely, we need the wisdom of God!
Psalms 111:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!” (ESV) Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. (ESV)
In today’s text James draws a parallel, a contrast really, between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of God. His contrast bears out for us the foolishness of those things the world calls wise and the wisdom of those things this world calls foolish. The kingdom of God, as I have often said, is an upside down Kingdom and it should not surprise us that the Lord commands us, in this passage, to seek a wisdom that comes down from Heaven which is juxtaposed to earthly wisdom.
The wisdom of any age of this world is ultimately foolishness when considered in light of the wisdom of God. I Corinthians 1:18-25
What, according to James, are the things which are considered wise in the eyes of the world, that is, the power structures, the driving forces, the common wisdom, of the governments, institutions, and people of the world, apart from the direct influence and indwelling power of the Holy Spirit? When James refers to “earthly wisdom” he is not merely saying the “wisdom that we find on the earth,” although that is inherent to the concept, he is saying that and more; he is referring to that wisdom which is present on the earth and tainted by the earthly, sin-sickened, fallen state of mind of humanity in his present imperfect state.
There is a notion prevalent in the modern culture that says that man is inherently good, or at the very least man’s moral condition is neutral and as such his wisdom is merely a growing wisdom as he evolves further and further from the animal kingdom into an unknown destiny and future. What James is saying is completely opposed to that notion; and so is the rest of the Bible for that matter.
According to the Scripture, there is not such a thing as neutral wisdom. There is that wisdom born of the fallen and imperfect mind of man and that wisdom born of God. The world says that what is wise is that which gets me what I want. The world says that what is wise is that which produces the best results and goes on to qualify, quantify, and justify those results in terms defined by similar wisdom.
The wisdom of the world is self-perpetuating and driven, according to James, jealousy and selfish ambition. (v16) Do I really need to give a great deal of example for us to see plainly that James words speak to our circumstance in the here and now of today? We live in a culture driven by jealousy of physical appearance; were it not so would plastic surgeons be so well compensated and so regularly employed in their craft?
Must I really work to persuade you that we live in a culture consumed by selfish ambition when we each know so many men women who work tirelessly, day and night, to provide financial means for bloated lifestyles? Are we not, in light of the modern economic situation keenly and painfully aware of the consequences of selfish ambition and greed?
Look with unfettered eyes, even if only briefly, at our culture, and you will see the foolishness of its abandonment of a healthy reverence, fear, of God and its forsaking of even the so simple a thing as the wisdom to be ashamed.