Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
If you could have one wish granted to you, what would it be? Answer what immediately comes to mind. A million dollars, a thoughtful, loving spouse, a luxury car, well-adjusted kids. Of all our wishes, more than likely, few of us wish for wisdom.
Yet in Old Testament literature, the value of wisdom is described as more profitable than silver or gold and more precious than jewels. Nothing you ever hope or dream for (including whatever that one granted wish was) can even compare with wisdom. (Prov. 3:13–15). How do we get wisdom? According to Proverbs 2:6, God is the only source of true wisdom, and he generously gives it for the asking (James 1:5). True wisdom isn’t achieved; it’s received as a gift from God.
True wisdom can be seen by what it produces. Just as you can identify a tree by its fruit (Matt. 12:33), you can see wisdom—or lack of it—by attitudes of the heart that are shown through action. James distinguishes true wisdom from above by comparing and contrasting it with worldly wisdom.
- According to verse 13, how do you know who a wise person is?
- What attitudes of the heart are coupled with worldly wisdom? (v. 14)
- How does James describe worldly wisdom? What fruit does it produce? (v. 15–16)
- List the virtues James attributes to true wisdom. (v. 17)
- What will be produced as a result of sowing seeds of peace rather than conflict? (v. 18)
True wisdom comes from God alone, is marked by humility, flows from life in the Spirit, and is dependent on God as the giver of every good and perfect gift (1:17). The antithesis of wisdom is pride, which breeds obsessive self-focus and self-promotion, and excludes others.
Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition never lead to righteousness, only strife. In keeping with James’ agricultural metaphors, true wisdom from God bears the fruit of righteousness and peace, both of which cause fertile ground where righteousness can grow. God, in his wisdom gives of himself and makes peace with us, through Jesus. In turn, we have peace with others, and the character of God is reproduced in man’s heart—the very fruit that produces a harvest of righteousness.
- James begins this passage with a rhetorical question, “Who is wise among you?” The question might be rephrased, “Do you consider yourself wise?” What does God say about being wise in our own eyes and thinking of ourselves as experts of wisdom? (See Proverbs 3:7–8; Proverbs 26:12; Isaiah 5:21.)
- Read 1 Corinthians 1:26–31. How are the world’s standards of wisdom and God’s wisdom opposed? Why? (v. 29) In whom is God’s wisdom manifested? (v. 30) What do we have in Christ? Who is the object of our boasting?
- Compare James 3:16 with 1 Corinthians 3:3 and Galatians 5:19–21. Describe what it looks like for a believer to walk in the flesh. How is that similar to following worldly wisdom? How does this relate to being “false to the truth”? (v. 14)
- Compare the fruit of true wisdom in James 3:17 with the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22–25. Who produces this fruit of godly character in the believer?
- Read Hebrews 12:14–15. As believers, what are we to strive for and why? How does bitterness affect the believer? His relationship with God? His relationship with others?
- Share a time in your life when you gleaned wisdom from experience. Did you choose to follow godly wisdom instead of conventional wisdom? What did you learn? How did you become wiser from that experience?
- Spend a few minutes reviewing the questions below privately. Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to expose any areas of sin in your life so that you can confess and repent.
- What or whom do you typically turn to for wisdom (i.e., past experiences, opinions of experts, advice from friends, Internet searches)? What is keeping you from asking God for wisdom?
- Is jealousy or envy affecting your relationship with others—in your family, in the church, or in the workplace? Read 1 John 2:15–16. Are you justifying jealousy in your heart (i.e., “My circumstances right now are such that I can’t help but envy or be jealous of others.”)
- In what ways are you tempted to compare yourself with others? Does this manifest itself in pride or despair in your life?
- Have you allowed bitterness to take root in your heart? Do you feel resentment toward another person because they have something you feel like you deserve?
- Is there unresolved conflict in your life in which God is calling you to make peace?
This devotion is adapted from the James Study Guide. Pick up a copy today for only $9.99. The Study Guide includes a 15-week curriculum, a small group study, a group inductive study, as well as 75 daily devotions for your personal or family worship.