13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.
15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.
16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Let’s do a bit of review…
You may remember us discussing wisdom back when we studied James 1:5-11. You can go back and read the whole post here http://elijahsbunker.blogspot.com/2011/09/james-15-11.html , but I will also summarize what we learned about it here:
* Wisdom is a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:8, 1 Kings 4:29).
* Wisdom is the ability to discern good and bad, right and wrong in your own life, and to pass this on to others (1 Kings 3:9).
So what is James saying here?
First, remember that James was most likely writing to Jewish converts, so they had a very works-based background.
The point I see James making in this passage is that the Christians he was writing to thought they were spiritually mature, thought that they knew everything spiritual and were experts in righteous behavior --- but they didn’t live it. They knew the right thing to do, but they didn’t do it.
James will say shortly thereafter (in 4:17), “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Also consider what Paul said in Romans 2:6-8, “[God] WHO WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life, but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. Also remember how Jesus concluded a parable in Luke 12:20, “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’”
It seems to me that if the Christians to whom James was writing were truly wise, they would have realized that testing God by living in unrepentant sin is playing with fire, quite literally. Rather, they were acting like fools!
How can we apply that to our lives?
The answer is simple: DO THE RIGHT THING. And, because wisdom includes sharing it with others, ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO DO THE RIGHT THING.
Obviously, it’s not quite that easy in practice, but the stark simplicity of God’s message to us in the passage remains.
Another Infamous Bible List
As I always like to do whenever I run across a “Bible list,” let’s evaluate what each item in verse seventeen means, individually.
Pure: Greek hagnos. Meaning free from defilement, holy, sacred, chaste, free from sin, innocent, pure. In other words, living out wisdom means staying far, far away from sin – don’t joke about it, don’t condone it, don’t hang around with others when they’re engaging in it.
Peaceable: Greek eirenikos. Meaning peaceful, peaceable. In other words, living out wisdom means not getting worked up about stuff that doesn’t matter from an eternal perspective, and not getting in fights with people.
Gentle: Greek epieikes. Meaning seemly, equitable, yielding, gentle. In other words, living out wisdom means acting in a classy, dignified, appropriate manner – in your life, and in your relationships.
Reasonable: Greek eupeithes. Meaning ready to obey, reasonable. In other words, living out wisdom means always being willing to obey God’s will – after all, He knows everything and has the best planned for us, so it is *reasonable* to trust His guidance.
Full of Mercy: Greek eleos. Meaning mercy, pity, compassion. In other words, living out wisdom means that when others screw up, forgive them rather than judging them.
Full of Good Fruits: Greek agathos and karpos. Meaning good, generous, goodness, kind, kindness; meaning benefit, crop, fruit, descendants, fruitful, grain, harvest, proceeds, produce, profit. In other words, living out wisdom means producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23); it means showing noticeable changes in the way you live – proof that God’s Holy Spirit is working in you.
Unwavering: Greek adiakritos. Meaning indistinguishable, without uncertainty, unwavering. In other words, living out wisdom means that you need to practice what you preach – what you do should be indistinguishable from what you say and what you profess to believe.
Without Hypocrisy: Greek anupokritos. Meaning unhypocritical, unfeigned, genuine, sincere. In other words, living out wisdom means that your good deeds stem from a true passion for God in your heart, you’re not just putting on an act to impress the church crowd.
If you’d like to dig more into this topic, I’d suggest reading the book of Proverbs – pretty much its entire focus is wisdom (both spiritual and practical) versus foolishness. J
Join the Discussion!
Did any item on the list jump out to you particularly? Are there any personal experiences with wisdom you’d like to share with us? Any other thoughts on the subject?