Wisdom from Above
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.
For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
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 partially, and without hypocrisy.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
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Someone has said that learning is like rowing a boat upstream; if you don't go forward you are really going backwards. We all agree that knowledge is important. In fact, most of us learn something new every day.
But have you ever considered the fact that knowledge in itself is not enough? The Bible tells us that divine wisdom is the key to happiness and a successful life. Solomon said, "Wisdom is the principal thing: therefore get wisdom" (Pro 4:7).
Recent statistics show that in 1972, in the United States alone, more than forty-five million children were enrolled in our public schools, over six million young people attended our colleges and universities, and tens of thousands more participated in special job training programs.
Never before in our nation's history has there been such a knowledge explosion! Never before has there been so much opportunity for learning, literally from the cradle to the grave. Today, formal education begins as the two-year-old sits in front of the television set and is taught the fundamentals of reading. Any man, woman, or child today can receive an education. Illiteracy is practically a thing of the past.
And yet as we witness this tremendous learning epidemic,
it is revealing to notice that education in itself has not proved to be the answer to our basic problems. Unfortunately, with all our knowledge, we have accumulated very little wisdom.
As we study the Bible, we find that wisdom is the key to successboth with God and with man. Solomon wrote, "Wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it" (Pro 8:11).
THE NEED FOR WISDOM
What is wisdom? The dictionary describes it as the "understanding of what is true, right, and lasting." In other words, the wise man is the man who is able to make the right choices. He has a proper sense of values, he knows what things in life really matter, and his decisions and actions are determined accordingly. Our wisdom is not determined by how much knowledge we possess. A man may be highly educated and yet never know true wisdom. On the other hand, there are many who know the true meaning of wisdom, but who have never received a formal education.
In James 3:13 the writer asks the question, "Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him show out of a good [life] his works with meekness of wisdom." James' question does not imply that no one is wise. The writer here is simply saying that, if your profess to be wise, then make sure your way of living backs it up.
Obviously James is writing here with a particular audience in mind. In the preceding passage he had addressed himself to those who were not genuine in their faith and love for Jesus Christ. Those who were uncontrolled in their speech were the very ones responsible for the dissemination of false teaching. Here James gets to the root of the problem by pointing out that these "wise men" were really not so wise after all. Their false, or fake, wisdom was actually that which was responsible for the creation of controversy in the church.
False teaching was not uncommon in the first century church. The numerous sects and philosophical groups of that day were a continual problem for the early believers. Several epistles in the New Testament were written with the primary purpose of combatting the heresies these groups espoused. In many respects the situation James describes was much like our present religious climatetheological creeds were a dime a dozen.
Throughout this letter James attacks the phony. Time and again he hammers out the need for true and genuine faithfaith that works, that is alive!
In James' day, even as today, there were many fakes, many charlatans and deceivers. Acts chapter 8 tells of one of these, Simon Magus, a false leader of Samaria who pretended to possess supernatural powers. Despite his trickery, many of that day believed him and followed after him.
When Simon saw the power of the Holy Spirit working through the apostles, he offered money that he might purchase their powers. He said, "Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money" (Ac 8:19-20).
Peter really said, Both you and your money will go to hell because you are fake! "Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God" (Ac 8:21).
God hates hypocrisy! There are no words strong enough to convey His feelings toward the phony. James is saying, Make sure your actions match your words. It's better to live right than to talk right. The greatest asset you have is your lifea life above accusation!
James says the wise man should "show out of a good life his works"not just the externals or stage effects, not just an
outward show. The wise is to show forth a transformed life, a life transformed by Jesus Christ.
Many people never read the gospel in a fine leather cover. Some even seem to avoid the inexpensive Bible portions that are distribution by the millions. But no one can escape from the gospel in shoe leather.
The wise man, the man who has been given wisdom from above, is the man whose life is an open book testifying to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
EARTHLY WISDOM AND ITS CHARACTERISTICS
In this same portion of Scripture, James describes earthly wisdomthe wisdom of this world. "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" (Ja 3:14-16).
Earthly wisdom is characterized by bitter envying and strife. What is envy? It is our discontent at the good fortune of others.
It was envy that led Cain to become the world's first murderer. God had shown His pleasure and acceptance of Abel's sacrifice, and Cain became envious and slew his brother.
It was because of envy that Joseph was sold by his brothers to be a slave in Egypt.
It was envy that gripped King Saul's heart as he heard the fair maidens singing the praises of David.
Envy is a characteristic of human earthly wisdom. It is earthly and not from above. It exists not only among relatives, but is general toward the well-favored. It is a disease that not only disturbs the mind, but consumes the body as well. In Proverbs 14:30 we read, "A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones."
I know a Christian housewife who is outwardly very charming, talented, and intelligent, and yet she is totally frustrated. She is so envious of her sister she is near mental collapse.
Envy eats at the mind like a moth eats at a garment. It is like a cancer as it grows in intensity.
The great F. B. Meyer was pastor of Westminster Chapel in London at the same time G. Campbell Morgan was pastor of nearby Christ's Church and Charles H. Spurgeon was pastor of the Metropolitan Chapel. Both Morgan and Spurgeon often had much larger audiences than did Meyer. Troubled by envy, Meyer confessed that not until he began praying for his colleagues did he have peace of heart. "When I prayed for their success," said Meyer, "the result was that God filled their churches so full that the overflow filled mine, and it has been full since."
Envy is a characteristic of human wisdom. It weighs us down, and it leads to sorrow and frustration.
Another sign of earthly wisdom is strife. We are living in an age of strife! Quarreling in the home, discord in the office, antagonism in schoolall are facts of life for most people.
We have been bombarded with so much violence on our television screens, in our magazines and newspapers, that we have become as some psychologists suggest, ''a violent generation."
And yet God's Word tells us that violence and strife are of the fleshthey are the result of human wisdom, and they have no place in the life of the Christian.
Where do these things come from? James says these characteristics are the result of wisdom that is "not from above, but that which is earthly, sensual, devilish" (Ja 3:15). This, my friend, is human wisdom, and it results in "confusion and every evil work."
HEAVENLY WISDOM AND ITS CHARACTERISTICS
Genesis 1:2 pictures a time when the world was in a chaotic state. The Scripture reads, "The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep." Confusion reigned. But then God spoke. He said, "Let there be light." He dispelled the darkness and confusion. He established order, and "he saw . . . that it was good" (Gen 1:4). Heavenly wisdom is the answer to earth's conflicts.
Today, my friend, God wants to say, "Let there be light." He wants to solve your problems and to rearrange your life. If you will let Him, Jesus Christ will give you purpose, direction, and satisfaction.
God will give you His divine, heavenly wisdom if you will but ask of Him. Back in the first chapter of his epistle, James says, "If any . . . lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally" (Ja 1:5).
God's wisdom knows nothing of envy and strife. It is not characterized by disorder and confusion. His wisdom is as different from human wisdom as day is from night, as light is from darkness. In James 3:17 we read that "the wisdom that is from above [God's wisdom] is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy."
James says that God's wisdom is first pure! Heavenly wisdom rejects immorality, lying, and cheating. An impure person cannot be wise! He may be very cleverbut he will be foolish and unwise in God's sight. Purity is paramount in gaining wisdom.
Paul instructed Timothy, his young son in the faith, to keep himself pure (1 Ti 5:22). Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Mt 5:8). God's wisdom is first of all pure.
Heavenly wisdom is also peaceable. Romans 12:18 says, "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with
all men." The man who possesses God's wisdom will be a seeker of peace. Yes, we must "contend for the faith," we must struggle in opposition to evil, but "if it be possible" we are to live peaceably. "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God" (Mt 5:9).
James also tells us that "the wisdom that is from above is . . . gentle" (Ja 3:17). The word gentle indicates "a sweet reasonableness." Oftentimes it is possible for us to win an argument but in the process to lose the person with whom we argue. We must be strong and firm in our convictions and in our service for Christ, but we must be gentle with those to whom we minister. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:1, "I . . . beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (italics added). How gentle our Lord was! Human wisdom produces strife, but God's wisdom is gentle.
Heavenly wisdom is easy to intreat. It is approachable. It is characterized by an open mindedness, a willingness to shareto consider others.
I have known some people who have held grudges for years. Some churches are divided right down the middle by warring factions and grudge-holding members. Some folks never forgive one who has erred. James says that divine wisdom is not obstinate but easy to be intreated.
God's wisdom is also "full of mercy and good fruits." God's wisdom produces more than leavesit produces fruit-bearing Christians. Mercy is the active principle of divine love. This heavenly wisdom bears good wholesome fruit. The plural, "fruits," shows that there is abundance for all.
I think of Stephen, "full of faith and of the Holy Ghost" who, Luke says, "did great wonders and miracles among the people" (Ac 6:5, 8). I think of Dorcas, a woman of Joppa who was "full of good works" (Ac 9:36). I am reminded of John's description of Jesus, "the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14).
My friend, we are to be "full of mercy and good fruits." We are to show love and kindness toward those in need. A truly wise man is a tender manand one who reproduces his faith in the lives of others.
Finally, James tells us that wisdom that is from above is "without partiality and without hypocrisy." This word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It is rendered "without wrangling," "without judging," without distinction." With the truly wise man there is no first, second or third class. There are no rich and poor, no black and white. All men stand as equals at the foot of the cross. And although some may fear to preach the whole gospel, afraid that they may offend certain people, our message at the Moody Bible Institute is the whole gospel. Our invitation and concern is for all lost people.
My friend, are these characteristics of your life? Is your life controlled by God's wisdomthat which is from above? Or are you troubled by envy and strife and the confusion that comes when you try to run things your own way?
HOW TO EXPERIENCE HEAVENLY WISDOM
This wisdom can be yours by a simple, yet deliberate, act of faith. Some time ago a woman told me how that all of her life she had longed for peace and the qualities of heavenly wisdom. Following high school she had marriedbut that did not make her happy. She had no real communication with her husband beyond the physical level. She had one baby after another, and soon she was living just for her four children. Life was an empty routine of strife and confusion.
One day she was invited by a friend to one of our meetings, and she soon realized that in the gospel of Jesus Christ her needs could be met. Upon accepting Jesus Christ as her personal Saviour she literally came alive.
Despite the great joy that she had realized, she was aware
that there was still a great gulf between her husband and the Lord. In counseling with her I pointed out that she was the key to winning her family for Christ. She began to substitute heavenly wisdom for her own human wisdom, and immediately things began to happen.
The Holy Spirit taught her how to avoid strife. Her housekeeping improved. She became gentle and easy to entreat. She even worked off some excess pounds and became more concerned about her personal appearance.
A short time later she came back to see me and said, "You know, Dr. Sweeting, the other day my husband kissed me and said, "Things have certainly been different, Darling!' " Then she said, "You know, it's really working."
Yes, my friend, God's wisdom does work, and it will work for you if you will let Jesus Christ have absolute control.
In the third century, Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, wrote to his friend Donatus: "It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and good people who have learned the great secret of life. They have found a joy and wisdom which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are Christians . . . and I am one of them."
If you have repented of your sins and have received Christ as Saviour, then you, too, are one of them.
Ask God in faith for heavenly wisdom because this is God's way to solve conflicts.
* "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" (Ja 3:17).
* The greatest asset you have is your lifea life above accusation!
* James says that God's wisdom is first pure! Heavenly wisdom rejects immorality, lying, and cheating. An impure person cannot be wise! He may be very cleverbut he will be foolish and unwise in God's sight. Purity is paramount in gaining wisdom.
* Many people never read the gospel in a fine leather cover . . . . But no one can escape from the gospel in shoe leather.
Chapter Nine || Table of Contents