James Lesson 9

Wisdom, Earthly or Godly?

James 3:13-18

Opening Discussion:  Have you ever met someone who was knowledgeable in Biblical facts, but was not a believer?  Why do you think this person has never accepted Jesus as their savior?

1.  Earthly wisdom - Within the limits of the earth's perspective, a person having earthly wisdom has the ability to judge and follow the proper course of action based on knowledge, understanding, experience, common sense, and insight.  This type of wisdom can pertain to anything from a heart surgeon to a judge, nuclear physicist, automobile mechanic, pipe fitter, web site designer, or any other earthly profession that requires training and skill to apply their expertise to practical situations.

2.  Godly wisdom - Although similar to earthly wisdom, this type of wisdom adds the key element of gaining such wisdom from a Godly or Biblical perspective of understanding.  Godly wisdom originates from God.  It flows from an understanding of Biblical teachings, which includes prophetic writings, the Ten Commandments, the teachings of Jesus, apostolic writings, and promptings from the Holy Spirit.

a.  True and Godly wisdom is always consistent with the Bible, embodied in humble reverence for God the creator, respect for and obedience to Godly teachings and respect for all people.  This wisdom brings us in harmony with God and His will for us. 

b.  Godly wisdom is way more than following a set of rules.  Note how Jesus condemned the hypocrisy of religious leaders, who observed the Law of Moses in its strictest sense, but violated the spiritual meaning of the law.  For instance, in Matthew 23:23 Jesus scolded them, saying, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you pay tithe of mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law - justice and mercy and faith.  These things you should have done without neglecting the others."

c.  Godly wisdom is a prize worth gaining.  Look at proverbs 3:13-18.  "How blessed is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding.  For her profits are better than the profits of silver, and her gain (more) than fine gold.  She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire compares with her.  Long life is in her right hand, in her left hand are riches and honor.  Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace.  She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her."

Q1.  Ask the group to think of a person they consider to be wise.  Identify the major attributes of this person, and why they admire them.

3.  Customs and traditions are not the same as wisdom.  For example, some accepted traditions and past practices that have been abandoned are slavery, tyrannical or dictatorial societies, treating women and others without the proper respect, etc.

a.  Most of these practices have been discontinued in God-honoring societies.  All professing Christians need to stop any such practices, if they exist on a personal level.

Q2.  Ask the group to discuss some other practices, or traditions, which may need to be abandoned.

4.  James approaches the subject of wisdom from a perspective of application and connection.  He connects the previous passage on the destructive power of the tongue and wisely teaches of the need for the Christian's tongue to be under Godly control, and connected to the mind!  His message is, "righteous thinking produces righteous talking".

5.  Let's follow James's practical logic as we read the following.  Note how he connects his thoughts in James 3:13, 14 with verses 15 and 16 and then verses 17 and 18.

a.  James 3:13, 14 - "Who among you is a man of wisdom and understanding?  Let him show it by ... loveliness of behavior.  If in your hearts you have a zeal that is bitter,and (you have) selfish ambition, do not be arrogantly boastful about your attainments, for you are false to the truth."  If you harbor envy in your heart, and selfishly seek to promote your own agenda, at any cost, do not lie to yourself by boasting about your accomplishments.

b.  James 3:15, 16 - "Such wisdom is not the wisdom which comes down from above, but is earthly, characteristic of the natural man, inspired by the devil.  For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil thing."

(i)   James is saying that the wrong type of wisdom comes from an unsanctified heart and is generated by Satan.  This wisdom is arrogant, self-centered, and is characterized by selfish ambition and human frailty.  This wisdom is simply good for nothing.

c.  The right and desirable type of wisdom is described in James 3:17 and 18.  "The wisdom which comes down from above is pure, then peaceable, considerate, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, undivided in mind, and without hypocrisy.  For the seed, (which will one day produce the reward which righteousness brings), can only be sown when personal relationships are right, and by those whose conduct produces such relationships."

(i)   The wisdom that comes from God is characterized by moral integrity, righteous living, and spiritual peace.

d.  In summary, righteous wisdom comes from God, but the wrong type of wisdom comes from the influence of the evil one on mankind.

6.  James then identifies attributes of those who have the right wisdom, which in turn produces the right talk:

a.  A humble and meek spirit that reveals a person's wisdom by how they serve.  There is no job too small, no deed too insignificant, no person they won't serve, and no condition they aren't willing to love someone through.  Note how the authenticity of this person is shown by what they do, not what they say.  There is God-honoring strength and the promise of inheritance in this attribute.  (Matt. 5:5; Psalm 37:11)

b.  A gracious and gentle attitude (Prov. 22:11), where there is no room for envy, selfishness, rivalry, boasting or strife.  Such a person does not seek glory or gain for their self, but remains gentle, patient, courteous, and desiring the best for others.  They are always thanking others for their efforts.  The opposite of this is bitter envy and selfish ambition, which is often an indicator of a demonic influence in their life.

c.  A peaceable nature , which James calls the "wisdom that is from above".  When Christians display the ability to speak carefully, they portray to others that they are God-pleasing, God-honoring, and God-led.  Other characteristics of this attribute include: a willingness to yield, merciful, peace-loving, compassionate, easy going, impartial, and forbearing.  (Gal. 5:22, 23)

Q3.  If you had to resolve a matter of differing opinions in the courts, would you want a judge who stands on the facts and always judges on the law or one who is forbearing and compassionate?  How do you want to be judged for eternity?

7.  James closes with this statement, "Peace is the seed that yields a harvest of righteousness."  Another way to look at this is, "Christians are morallly right or justified in the eyes of God.  (Matt. 5:9)  A person who is righteous speaks as God wants him to speak.  Also, we should remember that the right wisdom produces the right talk!





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