Another Saturday edition our our recap of the daily studies on James. Now we are in James Chapter 3. Again, allow me to issue a long post alert. Don’t read unless you really want to….read!
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
Taming the The Tongue
James apparently had strong feelings about the role of the tongue, or the words we speak, in the life of the believer. He actually mentions it in every single chapter of his book, in fact. He mentions it in the following passages: 1:19,26; 2:12; 3:5,6,8; 4:11; and 5:12.
Reading what James has to say about our speech and we can see the idea of the tongue not only being the reflection of what is in our hearts, but also representative of the depravity of our nature.
Also, since James’ primary objective with his Epistle seems to be to teach believers how to behave, it follows in line that one of his lessons here is that the ability to control one’s tongue is a mark of a mature believer.
Let’s just take a look at some of the thoughts God shared with us regarding the tongue in His Word for today’s devotional.
When Paul was illustrating to us all our fallen condition, in Romans 3:13-15, he listed 5 organs of the body which are common vehicles for sin: throat, tongue, lips, mouth and feet. It seems very significant that four of the five have to do with our speech!
The tongue is described using many words in Scripture: wicked, deceitful, perverse, filthy, corrupt, flattering, slanderous, gossiping, blasphemous, foolish, boasting, and many others.
Jesus even had thoughts about our tongues
Matthew 12:36,37 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
Our words are similar to a sound wave broadcast into the air. Eventually, that sound wave will reach the far parts of space in a never ending journey; not only that, but the trip cannot be cancelled. Once that sound wave or our words start their journey, they cannot be brought back to the source and packed away.
What do our words say about our walk with Christ? If our words are a reflection of our heart, then what do we reveal about our heart when we speak?
The Tongues of Teachers
Why does James lead off a passage detailing the misuse of the tongue, and our speech, with an opening sentence about masters, or teachers? That is a good question, so let’s explore it briefly. There are several possible applications of this teaching.
Teachers shall receive the greater condemnation. Teachers should be persons of great Christian maturity, and the ability to speak proper things in a proper way is a sign of that maturity. Anyone who places themselves in that position will be held to a high standard of judgment for the things they say while in that position. Here is a good illustration of this principle.
Luke 12:48 But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
Why then, this initial mention of the responsibilities of those who teach to bridle the tongue? It seems pretty straightforward. If the tongue in and of itself has great power when used just by one person to another, how much more powerful is a misused tongue in the mouth of a person influencing many?
Does this teaching apply to all of us? Primarily, this is directed to those holding positions of responsibility, such as pastors, evangelists, preachers and teachers. But, on the other hand, don’t we all teach somebody? Parents teach their children. Believers teach non believers. Mature believers teach newer believers. Every single one of us has a circle of influence, whether large or small. We need to insure that we mature in Christian behavior in such a way that our use of our tongue causes no harm, but only good.
The Power Of the Tongue
What I am about to say is simply the thoughts and opinions of one man, but this is simply one of the most vivid and descriptive passages in all of God’s Word. As we have covered, James is teaching the point that one of the ways we illustrate Christian maturity is by learning to control our tongue. He has also made the point earlier that by controlling our tongue, we can control the entirety of our bodies.
This seems rather like the two greatest commandments, the ones given by Jesus to the questioning Scribe in Matthew Chapter 22. When the scribe was attempting to trip Jesus up by pinning Him down to stating one commandment as more weighty than another, Jesus neatly rolled them all up in two simple directives: Love God above all else, and love one’s neighbor as oneself. The reason He did this was to show that by doing these two things, all other requirements would naturally follow as an outflow.
The tongue is like that. We can see in Verse 2 of our passage James stating that if a man can learn to control his tongue, he can control his entire body. James doesn’t seem to mean this in a literal sense, but in a metaphorical sense regarding the whole of our behavior. In other words, if what issues from our mouth tends to be God honoring and God exalting, then likely the rest of our behavior will be as well. Then he moves on to show two very clear examples of the smallest of things exercising the greatest of control.
The first example is that of a horse. It’s quite amazing, really that an animal weighing in at over a half a ton can be easily controlled by a 100 pound rider simply through a tiny metal bit in their mouth. Likewise the direction and course of a large ship can be controlled by no more than a small rudder which is only a fraction of the size of the ship.
Our tongues, and our speech are like the bit or the rudder. They are only a small part of us physically, but they can and do turn us in whatever direction they point. If our speech is Christlike, then we will be likewise Christlike. If our speech is the opposite, then our behavior will be as well.
A Controlled Tongue Shows Maturity
As I was preparing this Devotional, I received in my Blog feed a wonderful poem written by blogger Gloryteller. Rather than write anything on this issue today, I am including his poem as a powerful illustration of words, the tongue, and their proper role in the lives of mature Christian believers.
A Farmer of Words
I want to be a farmer of words
I want to nurture words
I want to plant them in good soil
Grow them until mature
Make them fruitful
Pick them and harvest them
Squeeze out their nutritious juices
Prepare them deliciously
Give them to those in need of
A good word
I want to begin a culture of
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.
The Destructive Power of the Tongue
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
It may be, that a more untrue statement was never written, or said actually, since I can remember it vividly from my school days. Think back, when did we normally invoke that phrase way back then? Usually when the exact opposite was true was when we would recite that phrase. In other words, we usually made a point to say that to somebody who had just hurt us with their words.!
Here, James uses a great comparison to discuss the destructive power of our tongues, or our speech. Earlier he compared the small tongue’s ability to control our conduct to a bit in a horses mouth, or the small rudder piloting a giant ship. Here, he compares the destructive power of the small tongue with a tiny spark which ignites a huge fire.
One of the most notable examples of this, of course, is the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Although started by something so small as a lantern in a barn, this great fire eventually burned almost half of the city of Chicago to the ground.
Two of the greatest men in the Old Testament, recognized the power of the tongue and issued guidance about controlling it. David and his son Solomon both wrote about the destructive power of speech. As David was somewhat hot tempered, we should strongly consider his words in this matter.
Psalm 39:1-3 I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me. I was dumb with silence, I held my peace, even from good; and my sorrow was stirred. My heart was hot within me, while I was musing the fire burned: then spake I with my tongue,
Solomon had the following to say:
Proverbs 17:27 He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.
Proverbs 14:29 He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.
The tongue and fire have other similarities as well. Few would dispute that a fire under control can have many benefits, and can be used for much good. On the other hand, few would dispute that a fire, like a mouth, out or control can cause massive devastation.
What do we do with our tongues? Do we use them for good, for edifying believers or telling the Gospel to unbelievers? Or do we use them for evil by teaching untruths, gossiping or pushing the non believing away from Jesus Christ?
The Tongue is the Fire of Hell
This is quite likely the strongest statement in the entire Bible concerning the misuse of the tongue in our lives. I this simple sentence, James quite completely and unequivocally lays the dangers of the misuse of it right out.
“The tongue is a world of iniquity.” One Bible translation words this, “the tongue is the very world of iniquity.” One writer describes this as referring to a system, scheme or arrangement. It is a system of iniquity that represents every other sin of mankind.
The tongue defiles our entire body. We already discussed the comparison of the tongue to a bit in a horses mouth or the rudder of a ship. How those two things direct something much larger than themselves, so does our tongue. In this case, the sins of the tongue defile the whole person. It’s similar to the fire and the smoke damage it causes. The fire itself may not destroy everything, but the smoke permeates and ultimately ruins even what the fire doesn’t touch.
The tongue is “set on fire of hell.” This particular description was simply fascinating. The word for Hell here is from the term gehenna. This was the Valley of Hinnom to the south of Jerusalem. This is the place where the Caananites and idolatrous Israelites had gone for their child sacrifices. Because all that activity had rendered that place unclean, it was finally used as simply a garbage dump. So, this was simply a big, rotting garbage dump, constantly burning and maggot filled. Jesus used the same term to represent Hell, the place which God had prepared for Satan and his demons. This comparison of the tongue with Hell strongly implies that the tongue can be Satan’s tool to pollute and corrupt.
We Can’t Tame Our Tongue
Man, in the Garden of Eden, was clearly given dominion over all of the animals of the world. Genesis 1:26.Even today, after the fall, we know that human kind is generally able to control the beasts of the world.
We need to look no further than the nearest circus to see that man is able to bring the largest, and most terrifying of animals under his control. Lion, tigers and the largest of land animals, the elephant can be controlled by one tiny human being.
However, our tongue is an “unruly evil.” In its natural state, our tongue is similar, if not worse, than any wild animal. It is wild, untamed and without discipline. Rather than tromping us or eating us, however, our tongues destroy by lies, gossip, slander and filthy language.
James tells us that no man can tame the tongue. In and of ourselves, we cannot even to the same to our mouths as we can do with a huge elephants; we cannot tame it our bring it under control.
Since James’ Epistle is about Christian living, the solution to our problem seems readily evident. Like any sin, sins of the tongue can be managed by the saved person through the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit. We certainly do not have the power to do it, but God does!
David, back in the Old Testament, had something to say about how we actually take advantage of the strength of the Holy Spirit to control our tongues in Psalm 141:3:
Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.
Gossip Is Poisonous
Gossip: the favorite indoor sport of many Christians. In an earlier Devotion, we talked about that old school yard saying on how sticks and stones hurt, but words do not. We all know that is patently untrue, because words do hurt; gossip and lies about other believers is one of the primary ways we use our words to wound other believers.
I have heard a particular story several times over the years, and I would like to relate it here as an illustration of how the power of gossip spreads. In a particular church, there was a woman who had, over time, spread some completely untrue things about another woman in the congregation. Ultimately, these lies had just ruined the reputation of the victim. One day, the woman who had spread the slander came to realize that everything she had said was untrue and unfounded. To her credit, she was seized by remorse and wanted to make things right. She went to her pastor, seeking guidance on how to accomplish a repair of what she had done. He pastor told her to take a down pillow, filled with fine feathers, and scatter them in the streets of town; he then told her to come back and see him the next day. Upon her return, the pastor instructed her to walk the city streets and gather the feathers and put them back in the pillow. Instantly she responded, “Well, of course I can’t ever gather those feathers back!” His response to her: “Correct, and unfortunately you can never gather back the words you said either.”
The Bible has much to say about the subject of gossip. In Romans Chapter 1, as Paul is laying out the list of the sins of man which have separated us from God, gossipers were right there in the middle of the list. In verses 29 and 30 he referred to them as “whisperers,” and “backbiters.”
Solomon had much to say about the subject as he wrote Proverbs as well.
Proverbs 11:12,13 He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace. A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.
Proverbs 18:7,8 A fool’s mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.
Proverbs 21:23 Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.
Visualize the following if you will. If a man stands up during church prayer time and offers the following prayer: “Lord, please deliver my friend Joe from his alcohol and drug addiction, his womanizing and his little gambling problem. Thank you, Father, and Amen!” Is that a prayer request? Not really. That would be gossip shrouded in the guise of a prayer request.
What then, do we do about his issue? How do we fix ourselves? A wise older gentleman I know, who has never been known to say a bad word about anyone, offered the following advice to us all one day:
Is it true? If it’s not, stop right there.
Is it necessary? Just because it’s true does not mean it has to be said.
Is it kind? Neither truth or need matter if the words are unkind.
I don’t think any words are necessary to add to that!
The Danger of Flattery
One writer I read commenting on the Book of James said the following: “If gossip is saying behind someone’s back what you would never say to their face, then flattery is saying to someone’s face what you would never say behind their back.”
What is flattery? Well flattery and compliments are not the same; that is why the saying above rings so very true. A compliment is good for the person being complimented, whereas flattery is primarily for the benefit of the person giving the praise. And that, in a nutshell, is why God has a problem with flattery.
Like almost anything having to do with our tongue, we can find much guidance on the subject of flattery in the Book of Proverbs.
As we have been discussing, James is trying to teach us how to live the Christian life; he is attempting to teach us how our salvation will always result in some fruit, or action as a result. What’s that got to do with what James is teaching? Well everything, really. Because just as hard as James is trying to teach us how to do right, there are a host of people trying to teach us wrong. These would be false teachers, and flattery is one of their primary weapons in their arsenal.
Paul warns clearly of this danger in Romans 16:18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
Peter likewise warns of this in 2 Peter 2:3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
Here’s a question just for bloggers. Ever like, comment or follow just in the hopes of getting one yourself? A little encouragement in there just to make it look good? Of course we have to engage others to build a network of readers, but where is the line? I would really like people’s thoughts on that one.
Talking From Both Sides Of Your Mouth
Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary series, used the following illustration:
A man at work one day, a professing Christian, got angry and turned loose with a series of oaths and profanities. Embarrassed, he turned to his coworker and said, “I don’t know why I said that. It really isn’t in me.” His partner wisely replied, “It had to be in you, or it wouldn’t have come out of you.”
In real life, I had a friend who faced a similar situation. He, in his younger days(while a believer), had been noted for letting loose with an oath or two when angry or upset. One day, he decided he should clean up his act and quit all of that. His solution was to pick some simple nonsensical word to use in situations where before he would have cursed. I don’t recall what he said the word was, but I do recall that he said he would use that word in place of a curse word. Let’s say the word was “bullfrog.” Every time he would get angry, instead of cursing, he would say, “bullfrog.” That went along fine until one day a coworker, who happened to be a non believer, said the following: “You realize, of course, that using that stupid word doesn’t really change what you mean, right?” Ouch.
Discerning what James is teaching us here is not particularly difficult; in fact, it is very easy. We have already studied the tongue quite a bit, and this passage just continues this analysis.
Note some of his comparisons here: blessing and cursing, sweet and bitter, salt water and fresh. The common vein among these is simple; one of each pair is good and one is not good.
If we show through our words both good and bad consistently, which would see say is the real reflection of what is really inside?
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
What is Wisdom?
Wisdom and knowledge are not the same thing. Surely, we all know somebody who fits the bill of having lots of book knowledge but no common sense. In fact, I have been accused of that very thing myself! How many down South have heard the phrase, “That boy ain’t got no common sense!”?
Wisdom can be defined as, “the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting.” This definition was put in the dictionary with life in mind, but certainly applies to our relationship with God’s Word as well. In fact, one might say it is the key to our relationship with God’s Word. Proverbs 4:7 sums up in one sentence the importance of wisdom in our spiritual lives:
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.
We have discussed in some depth that an intellectual, or head knowledge, about God’s Word or about Jesus Christ does not necessarily translate into a saving faith. The same is true concerning our intellectual knowledge about The Bible. We can know the whole thing from front to back and still not possess wisdom concerning it.
Wisdom regarding God’s Word, then, might be defined as the ability to take a knowledge of the facts in The Bible and transfer that knowledge into practical applications in our lives. God did not inspired the writers of The Bible to write so that we would have facts; He intended us to take His Word and use it as our guide for faith and life.
We ought not to be surprised that James is addressing this subject; in fact, it would be rather surprising if he did not talk about it. After all, the entire Epistle is about the practical applications of the Christian life.
Also, it may be possible here that James is simply continuing his discourse on our tongues, and the things which come out of our mouths. A lack of wisdom causes things to come out of our mouths which destroy, and the presence of wisdom causes things to come from our mouths which edify and build up.
We are going to spend a bit of time on this particular passage, but here is just a question to ponder over in the meantime: Are we smart, or are we wise?
Wisdom for Teachers
One way this passage is considered by some is that it is a continuation of an exhortation to teachers. This exhortation would have begun back in in the Verse 1 of this chapter.
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
If this interpretation is correct, then James made it clear at the first of the added responsibilities teachers have for the ways in which they allow their tongues to behave. Greater responsibility brings greater loss of reward if the responsibility is fulfilled improperly.
Not everybody agrees with this particular interpretation, but feel James’s instruction was for all members of the audience he was writing too; either way seems perfectly okay, so we will just touch briefly on how this might apply specifically to teachers.
Simply put, teachers need more than just a lot of pretty words; they must have something to say. Teachers are not in place just to read scripture, or regurgitate some Sunday School lesson; teachers are there to impart wisdom.
I heard it said that knowledge enables us to take things apart but wisdom enables us to put things back together and relate God’s truth to everyday life.
If we are teachers, are we relying on just knowledge, or do we have wisdom to impart?
Where Does Wisdom Come From?
James teaches us that there are only two sources of wisdom. Wisdom can come from God, or man. Wisdom can come from above, or not. In other words, we can get our wisdom from God, or Satan. We could stop right there and the point would be made, but let’s continue and break it down some anyway.
James was not alone in his thoughts about the wisdom of man versus the wisdom of God. Paul had some to say about this in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2. In fact, those chapters are good reading for anyone placing great stock in the wisdom of the world. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 1:20 that God considers the wisdom of the world to be foolish, and in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that man considers God’s wisdom to be foolish.
If we can take a quick side trip here, I have been amazed to see how the two writers in God’s Word sometimes said to conflict with one another(James and Paul), in actuality complement each other in astounding ways.
How do we get the wisdom of God? How do we get the wisdom of the world? Immersion is the answer. That word has been coming up a lot lately around every corner I turn, and it’s a good word. We get our wisdom from wherever we choose to immerse ourselves.
If we are immersed in television, movies, music and literature which is from the world, we will get our wisdom from the same place. If we are immersed in God’s Word, immersed in prayer, and immersed in fellowship with other believers, then that is also where our wisdom will come from.
Worldly Wisdom is………
The wisdom of the world is, “earthly, sensual, devilish.” Another Bible translation says the wisdom of the world is, “Earthly, natural, demonic.” Let’s expand on these three some in today’s devotional.
Anything other than God’s wisdom is earthly. That is, it is restricted to the limits of this world. It is limited in time, in the sense that earthly wisdom is restricted to the present world only and has no bearing on our eternal world. It is limited in that earthly wisdom is man’s wisdom. It is restricted to what we can do, learn and create under our own power and ability. There are some fruits, really negative fruits, of earthly wisdom we will talk about in another devotion.
Anything other than God’s wisdom is natural. That is, it is interested only in things of the flesh. If we look back, we can clearly see that it was natural wisdom which resulted in the Fall of Man in the first place. It was the seeking to know what God knew that lead Eve to take and eat the forbidden fruit. Instead of accepting the wisdom God had provided, Adam and Eve sought worldly wisdom. Remember what John said in 1 John 2:16?
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
Finally, anything other than God’s wisdom is demonic. Now, that doesn’t mean if we study the Encyclopaedia we will become demon possessed. (For those readers who remember what those are!). That means the root of any wisdom other than God’s wisdom is Satan. Once again, a trip back to the Garden of Eden is in order. Adam and Eve had all the wisdom they needed. Adam, at least, had marching orders straight from the mouth of God. One rule and one rule only. That was simple wisdom and Godly wisdom. Let’s see what happened in Genesis 3:5:
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Satan first introduced worldly wisdom to mankind, and he still does it today. Just like Adam and Eve, we have a choice what we listen to. Do we listen to the wisdom from above as provided in God’s Word, or do we listen to the wisdom of the world as provided by The Devil?
But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
Worldly Wisdom Is Motivated by Jealousy
We, as humans, prefer the wisdom of the world over the wisdom given by God. We prefer it because, in our natural states, we have our own goals in mind instead of God’s goals. Once again, we only have to take a trip back to the Garden of Eden to see that we started this process very early in our human careers.
James tells us that there are two primary motivations for our preference of worldly wisdom over Godly wisdom: “bitter envying,” and “strife.” One translation words these as “bitter jealousy”, and “selfish ambition.”
Bitter envying and jealousy. “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” is a phrase we have all heard. We humans seem to have a tendency to want what we do not have; unfortunately that often means wanting what someone else has. We become envious and jealous of it. The wisdom of God tells us to be happy with what He has provided; the wisdom of the world tells us to covet what our neighbor has. “Keeping up with the Jones,” so to speak.
We can all succumb to the wisdom offered by the world and slip into jealousy and envy. Even those closest to Jesus were found guilty of that offense. In Luke 9:46 we can see how Jesus’ Disciples argued about who would be the greatest among them. In Matthew 20:21 we even see the mother of James and John asking for a special place for her sons in Heaven.
How about us? What are some times we allow the wisdom of the world to drive us to jealousies and envy? Are we worried about the message contained in a song sung at church, or are we worrying about who is singing it? Are we listening to the Sunday School lesson being taught or are we worried about why “that person” is teaching it and not us? What wisdom are we relying on, God’s or man’s?
Worldly Wisdom Is Motivated By Strife
We previously discussed what motivates us to choose worldly wisdom over the wisdom of God. Our previous devotional covered how we allow jealousy and envy to cause us to make this choice.
The KJV translation uses the word “strife” to discuss our next topic. Other translations use the words, “selfish ambition” to relay the thought. Not only are we jealous of what others have which we do not have, but we are strongly motivated by our own ambition to choose worldly wisdom.
We want what we want, we want it how we want it, and we want it now. That sums up our sinful natures and drives us to gain our wisdom from the wrong sources. The world tells us how to get what we want, God tells us how to get what He wants, which if we had any sense we would realize is, in fact, best for us.
Many writings on the word strife here give it the meaning of having a “party spirit.” This was often used to refer to a person who was beating the streets to gain a political job. That really sums up the image quite well of what James is saying. This would be us manipulating; this is us operating with a hidden agenda to accomplish our own goals; this is us either trying to manipulate people to obtain our own position or ingratiate ourselves with the person who does have a position.
Paul was inspired to write something on this topic as well(There Paul is again, with James.) :
Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
James is teaching us that our own agendas and needs are secondary. First and foremost, our goals should be God’s goals. Actually, reverse works better on that phrase; God’s goals should be our goals.
Worldly Wisdom Is Arrogant
he choosing of worldly wisdom over the wisdom of God is motivated by proud arrogance and boasting. James’ use of the words, “glory not” is no more than a warning to us to avoid proud arrogance and boasting.
Arrogance and boasting is clearly and simply the hallmark of a man who is concentrated on self rather than God. “Look what I did!” screams the boastful person, or the person operating under the wisdom offered by the world. “Look what God did!” screams the person operating under the wisdom offered by God. After all, none of what we accomplish is our own; James already told us that once back in Chapter 1 of his epistle.
James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
Again, Paul reinforces what James is teaching us here.(I just love that!)
2 Corinthians 10:12 For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
To close, here is nice poem by a lady named Glenda Palmer, quoted by David Jeremiah in his book, What to do when you don’t know what to do. It’s pretty sarcastic, but makes the point well.
I thank you, Lord, for giving me
terrific looks, a brilliant mind
and sparkling personality
that’s spiritually inclined.
I love my kinds and Christian mate,
our friendly church and Sunday School,
our ranch -style home with patio
and solar-heated swimming pool
I know my talents come from you;
I’m praised for my angelic voice
that sings and teaches weaker ones
the way to make a Godly choice.
And thanks for my prestigious job
and giving me an added gift-
that anything my pen jots down
becomes indeed, inspired script.
You ought to bless every Christian;
some lives seem ready to crumble,
but I am so proud that You blessed me-
I guess it’s just that I’m so humble.
Jealousy and Ambition Cause Confusion
Jealousy and strife may be what motivates us to rely on worldly wisdom, but these two have effects. They are not just things we feel; they cause things to happen.
One of the thing jealousy and selfish ambition cause is confusion. Here, confusion is not used in the sense of people not knowing what they are doing, but in the sense disorder or lack or harmony. It can be used to express the thought, “to disturb,” and is even used to describe a state of anarchy.
We see this same word used previously in James’ Epistle and it describes the same sort of situation there as well.
James 1:8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. Here, unstable, is the same word as unstable used in our text today.
James 3:8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Here, the word unruly is the same original word.
So, we can see here that our jealousy and ambition creates situations of confusion, instability, and unruliness in the body of believers. John McArthur in his commentary series gives a good list of many of the things caused by our jealousy and ambition: anger,;bitterness; resentment; lawsuits, divorce; racial, ethnic and social disorders. He says they include the absence of some things as well: love, intimacy, trust, fellowship and harmony.
In case we are unclear on how God truly feels about this situation in His churches and among His people, let us look again at something The Apostle Paul said; this time Paul was writing to a very confused Church in the city of Corinth.
1 Corinthians 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
God, and His wisdom, do not produce confusion and disorder. That is the product of or own man-made, worldly wisdom.
Jealousy and Envy Cause Every Bad Thing You Can Imagine
Today is the last day we will spend on James 3:16, as we have covered it fairly in depth. The category of “every evil thing” basically provides a catch all for anything not specifically mentioned as coming from a reliance on worldly wisdom.
In this usage, the word “evil” doesn’t really refer to evil in the sense of the evil produced by sin. It actually refers to a possible range of things caused by worldly wisdom. The most common usage seems to be describing something that is worthless, or of no account or value. The word “thing” also carries a particular meaning; here it refers to work, deed, event or occurrence. We could paraphrase, then, by saying that every single worthless event, deed or work is caused by the reliance on the wisdom of the world rather than the wisdom from God.
Again, the Apostle Paul made some references to things that are the product of worldly wisdom:
1 Corinthians 3:12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
The foundation, of course, is Jesus Christ. But what we choose to build on that foundation is up to us. Worldly wisdom will produce wood, hay and stubble; wisdom from God will produce gold, silver and precious stones.
I hope and pray that each person reading this is laying your life’s works on the foundation of Jesus Christ. The question is: what are you laying ON the foundation and what is it based on?
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
Wisdom From Above
We have spent a substantial amount of time talking about the negative aspects and consequences of worldly wisdom, but all of the news is not bad! Now we will spend some time talking about the positive aspects and consequences of Godly wisdom.
The first thing James notes is the origin of Godly wisdom; it comes from above. What does this mean exactly? It means quit a bit, actually. It has to do with the source of it, and it has to do with who can have it.
The source of heavenly wisdom, or course, is God Himself. James has covered that previously in his epistle, notably in James 1:17 when he tells us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.“
In James 1:5 we also learned that wisdom comes from God in response to our prayer.
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
We get wisdom by praying; there are implications to that statement. Let’s get right to them. If a person is lost, what is the only prayer of his or hers that God can even hear? Of course, the answer to that question is: a prayer for forgiveness and salvation.
Implication: Wisdom from above is only available to those who belong to God as His children; wisdom from God comes from the filling with the Holy Spirit.
Solomon was inspired to give us these thoughts on following God with Wisdom:
Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.
Here we see Jesus Himself linking a solid foundation(salvation) with wisdom.
Matthew 7:24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
Again, we see Paul chiming in on this issue as he talks to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 1:30 But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
So, then, Godly wisdom: where does it originate and who gets it? Well, it comes from God, and only those saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit get it.
Wisdom From Above Is Pure
God’s wisdom is pure. James is later going to cover this same thought in James 4:8 when he tells us to “purify your hearts,“. In a general sort of sense, the word used here describes being “chaste or free from defilement.”
The word can also be used to describe a state of being Holy. Or course God Himself is Holy and pure. Therefore His wisdom is Holy and Pure. Therefore the resulting wisdom in us will therefore….be Holy and pure!
God’s Word has much to say about this, and here are just a few.
2 Corinthians 11:2 For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
1 Timothy 5:22 Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.
1 John 3:3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
We have discussed previously the two sources of wisdom: God, or the world. In light of James’ recurring theme of acting out our professed beliefs in the daily aspects of our lives, we can only really come to one conclusion.
If our source of wisdom is the world, then our lives will be impure and filled with sin; if our source of wisdom is from above, or from God, then our lives will be pure.
Wisdom From Above Is Peaceable
We don’t really need to belabor the point concerning the fruits of worldly wisdom; we have covered them quite thoroughly. Strife, jealousy, envy and discord are all fruits of the wisdom of the world. These are the things that destroy churches and destroy the work for The Kingdom New Testament churches are supposed to be doing.
Godly wisdom, on the other hand, builds peace; it builds edification; it builds unity. Godly wisdom results in New Testament churches moving forward in unity and truth to further the work of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
If a church’s work is based on the teachings of the Bible and on God’s work, there will be peace.
Isaiah 32:17 And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.
Isaiah 26:3 Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.
Jesus, of course, had this to say in the Beatitudes:
Matthew 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
And, as has become habitual, we will close our scripture with some things Paul was inspired to say.
Philippians 2:1-4 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
Here is a question for readers. Does wisdom from God include peace at any cost? James has answered that question already for us. The wisdom of God is first, pure; then it is peaceable. It is truth as presented in God’ Word which unifies us. In fact, the peace of the church takes second place to the purity of the church; it does not seem to be accidental that James talked about purity first, then peace.
Wisdom From Above Is Gentle and Easygoing.
Wisdom from above will cause us to be gentle and easy to be intreated. We are going to consider these two together, because they seem to work hand in hand to a certain extent. One Bible translation refers to these as being gentle and reasonable, which seems like a good choice of words to use.
Gentle can be defined as, “equitable, fair, mild, gentle.” Easy to be intreated can be defined as, “Led easily obeying, compliant.”
James is speaking from a position of experience and authority as he writes his epistle. In all likelihood, this is the very James who back in Acts Chapter 15 averted the schism between Jewish and Gentile believers in the Church at Antioch. If readers remember, there was trouble brewing in that church as the issue concerning believers continuing to follow Mosaic Law or not festered and threatened to divide that church. In fact, it threatened to divide the entire early church into Jewish and Gentile encampments.
James was able to come up with a solution which more or less made everyone happy. Additionally, the willingness of the two sides to be gentle and reasonable concerning the other side made the solution work. Read the story, it is a great one.
Most importantly, James showed the value of compromise without compromising Biblical truth. He never once backed down from the position of Salvation being of faith and not works. He never conceded that adherence to Mosaic Law AND faith was needed for salvation. He stood firm on that correct position. He simply asked that the Gentile believers agree to bend on a couple of secondary issues which were very offensive to the Jewish believers in the church.
Worldly wisdom seeks a fight; Godly wisdom seeks peace. Worldly wisdom is confrontational; Godly wisdom is peaceable. Worldly wisdom seeks it’s own way on all issues; Godly wisdom is willing to bend for peace on non essentials.
Wisdom From Above Shows Fruit.
Godly wisdom is “full of” mercy and good fruits. One writer described this as being “controlled by.” A person who is full of mercy and good works, then, is controlled by them. In other words, these things are part of the new person who has been indwelt by the Holy Spirit after his or her salvation. Continuing with James’ overriding thought, we can see that mercy and good works will be the natural result of salvation. No mercy and good works, no salvation could be one way his words be taken.
Our mercy should be in accordance to God’s mercy. We should attempt to show the same mercy to others that God has shown to us. In other words, we show mercy to others not because they deserve it, but because we care. God does not give us what we deserve, therefore we should not give others what we think they might deserve. A wonderful example of this is the story of the Good Samaritan we see in Luke 10:25-37. What we see there is an act of mercy done just because it was merciful, rather like God’s act of mercy towards us in providing His Son as an atonement for our sin.
Every good work. This is a very broad statement and brings to mind the fruits of the Spirit Paul discusses in Galatians 2:22,23
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Every good work is a very encompassing sort of guidance, and covers a lot of things that should be the natural outpouring of our salvation.
Are we full of the works of the flesh as outlined in the same Chapter of Galatians as above? Or are we full of the Fruits of The Spirit?