Summary: Just as true faith is shown but good deeds, so to true wisdom is shown by good deeds and good character
James 3:13-18 February 16, 2003
True & False Wisdom
James has been talking about what faith looks like – faith is shown by its good deeds, and its ability to control its tongue. From talking about the bad that come out of our mouths, he turns to the good that can come out of mouth – wisdom.
Wisdom is something that we should all desire. In Proverbs 3, there is a psalm to wisdom:
When I mention the word wisdom what do you think of? Do you envision the old wise man sitting on top of the mountain that the young person makes a pilgrimage to in order to understand the meaning of life? For James, this is not wisdom at all – James teaches us that true wisdom is always practical, never theoretical.
True Wisdom is Active (13)
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
Just as faith without works is meaningless, so to wisdom that does not show itself in good deeds and good character is worthless.
You might be the greatest armchair quarterback in the world, but Argos aren’t beating down your door – because while you might have a lot of opinions about how the game should be played, you can’t deliver the goods in the same way that the guys on the field can.
In the same way, you might be the greatest bar stool sage (or back pew sage), but if your many opinions about how “the world would be a better place if only…” are meaningless unless you can act on them.
True wisdom has feet, … and hands. True wisdom walks and works to show itself as wisdom. All the platitudes are the preacher are meaningless if they do not come to life in humility, strong character and good deeds.
God is telling us through James that true wisdom is not found on the mountaintop with our head in the clouds, but down in the valley with our hands in the muck of everyday life.
In Latin America there was a movement called Liberation Theology. It was mainly a Catholic movement, and it was mainly concerned with the political liberation of oppressed people. Like most movements it had strong points and weak points. One of it’s strong points was the idea that “Theology is done in the evening.” It was a reaction against theology (the study of God) done in isolation from the real in the ivied towers. They taught that the priests must be out and among the people in their struggle, and then after a day of work and interaction, you sit down and reflect on your experience with an eye to God and scripture. I think that James would agree – there is nothing wrong with thinking great thoughts, but those thoughts must be grounded in the practical wisdom of good deeds and a good character.
False Wisdom is Self-Serving (14-16)
But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
The Bible is rife with stories of people who prospered because of God’s Wisdom. Joseph goes through slavery and imprisonment to become the second in command of all Egypt, Daniel goes through … to become a advisor to the King, Ester attains the position of queen because of her beauty, but save her people through wisdom.
On the other hand we see the wisdom that God grants corrupted through envy and selfish ambition.
Saul, the first king of Israel is given wisdom by God, but that wisdom is corrupted when he steps outside of his role and tries to be both king and priest so that he would gain glory, that wisdom is corrupted when he hears the women in the streets singing that Saul has killed his thousands, but David his tens of thousands. Saul’s envy and his selfish ambition in the end finishes him as king.
Solomon, known as one of the wisest people ever: his wisdom is corrupted by selfish ambition, as he tries to create a name for himself by collecting wives from all the pagan countries around him.
Hezekiah Served God with a whole heart, he tore down the idols that the people worshiped and had the people only worship God. God gave him great wisdom and military success, along with military miracles and healing. But one day when envoys came from Babylon, he had to show off and show them all of his treasures. Because of his selfish ambition, God removed his favor, and Isaiah prophesies, “"Hear the word of the LORD : 17 The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your fathers have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD . 18 And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood, that will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon." (2 Kings 20)