At church last Sunday, a young college-age student stood before the congregation and shared a testimony. You see, he had learned some things during church student sermons about seeing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. He spoke about how we dwell in the Kingdom of Heaven as we walk upon this earth, and that wherever we go, the Kingdom of Heaven goes with us. This young man excitedly told us of healing, baptisms, and conversions of which he was privileged to be a participant.
For such a young man, he has gained wisdom and understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven at an early age.
James comprehensively addresses wisdom and understanding in the last five verses of chapter three.
Who is wise and understanding among you? (v.1)
Take a look around. Can you point out those who are wise and understanding in your own life? How about you? Are you wise and understanding? Do you know how you can tell?
James tells us: By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. (v.1)
Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
It’s not only about doing good works and demonstrating good conduct, but as James points out, doing it all in “meekness of wisdom.”
The adjective “meekness” means humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others.
Maybe it would help if I point out that the opposite of “meek” is “proud.”
The Message says this: Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. (James 3:13, MSG)
So what, exactly, is good living? If any of you are NFL fans, you see the world’s definition of good living in most beer commercials. You may think good living is being able to buy whatever you want. Maybe it’s always having the newest gadget or technological device. Or maybe good living is fishing with your buddies and wishing it would never end.
All of those things can be good living. But James wants our “good living” to be far more rewarding and filled with goodness and richness. For example:
- Good living is the sacrifices a mother makes for her children to provide for and nurture them.
- Good living is the time a father spends with his family.
- Good living is the loving care a person gives to a family member who can no longer eat without help.
These aren’t things that are often spoken of or admired or glorified. The quiet, humble, righteous deeds we do in our lives are what make for good living. It’s all about attitude.
In v.14-16, James writes, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”
- How many people resent the sacrifices they make because they’d rather be doing something else?
- How many absent parents refuse to pay child support because they’d rather spend their money on themselves?
- How many children refuse to listen to wise counsel from older people who’ve “been there” because they’d rather do what they want to do?
- How many Christ-followers resent, even hate, the blessings of a fellow believer because they themselves do not have those blessings?
- How many church members listen to a sermon about humility and meekness and can honestly go to sleep at night believing that the sermon did not apply to them?
An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment. A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions. When wickedness comes, so does contempt, and with shame comes disgrace. (Proverbs 18:1-3, ESV)
When bitter jealousy and selfish ambition find root in our hearts, wisdom and understanding are destroyed. Jesus warns in Mark 7:21-23, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.“
Wisdom that does not come down from above is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. When we are self-driven instead of Holy Spirit driven, when we are motivated by worldly standards and desires, and when we open the door for the enemy to lure us into temptation, we are using a wisdom that will destroy us.
Think of King Saul when you read v.14-16. The Lord found favor with Saul as a youth, but Saul became proud and confident in his own strength. When Saul saw that the Lord favored David, he allowed jealousy to embitter him and ensnare his heart. In the presence of jealousy and selfish ambition, Saul’s life became one of disorder and vile practices.
James rounds out this section about wisdom in v.17-18: But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Doesn’t v.17 remind you of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23? I like to examine the young people in my church … the teens and college students like the young man who shared his testimony. Having known many of them from when they were in elementary school, I can see evidence of their upbringing by wise parents. These parents demonstrated lives filled with wisdom that was pure, peaceable, open to reason, full of reason and good fruits, impartial and sincere. How do I know this? Because their harvest of righteousness, their children, are proof of it.