Tuesday, July 28, 2015

James 3:13-17

In 1 Kings 3, King Solomon talked to God in a dream. He called out to God saying that he was just a little child and did not know how to go out or come in as he ruled a people that were too many to be numbered. He asked God for one thing, “an understanding heart to judge [God’s] people to discern between good and evil.” It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord because Solomon asked for discernment and wisdom to understand justice when he could have asked for a long life or riches. God gave abundantly to King Solomon, giving him not only a wise and discerning heart but also riches and honor. King Solomon even used this wisdom to discern what was true when two woman came to him the next day arguing over whose child was living after one had rolled over on her’s, killing it and stealing the other woman’s. God’s wisdom was in Solomon as he decided to cut the child in half to determine it’s true mother.

James 1:5  says “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” James continues with this by saying one must ask in faith without doubting, as King Solomon did and as God clearly gave him.
Wisdom from the earth and wisdom from God are both shown by the behavior and actions of a person. Wisdom from God is demonstrated by gentleness of deeds which is first pure. Purity of wisdom comes from a person who is drawing near to God, who is being cleansed by the spirit continually. Wisdom from God is next peaceable, meaning there is peace coming from the truth. If the wisdom does not bring peace because it is not backed by the truths of God then it is not from God. This does not mean that wisdom coming from God will always be easy to hear or say, Wisdom that convicts of sin should rattle a person. But that the wisdom is still able to be gentle, reasonable and full of mercy because it flows from God. Wisdom should be full of Mercy and good fruits meaning the wisdom of God is productive and compassionate, bringing about a growth in people, even when it requires a hard change of direction.

Often in my life when torn between a decision I first seek the council of believers around me, and when I feel torn between the different pieces of advice I go to God asking for wisdom and discernment. God’s wisdom is not clouded by the ways of the world, and He promises to always give wisdom when I ask in faith without doubting. So often I come to God doubting I will ever get crystal clear discernment and therefore come to His feet doubtful and already discouraged.
Wisdom from the earth can be discerned because it is the opposite of gentleness of deeds. Jealousy and selfish ambition will allow lies to be warped and twisted against the truth. When the truth is stretched in this way it brings about arrogance because the wisdom is no longer from God but from man. Colossians 2:8 says “see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”  The words ‘take you captive’ show that wisdom of this world can somehow grab hold of us if we are not discerning and always searching to be sure it is not going against the truths of God.  James does not even say that we can be fooled into believing the empty deception according to the elementary principles of the world, but instead suggests that a heart of bitter jealously that is self centered will steer me against the truth. James makes this seem like an inward battle against the wisdom of God and the truths I may let myself believe because of a heart issue. I can see how this is possible in my life when I think about my perfectionist nature. I can tell myself any lie I want to because I am always looking to challenge myself, learn more, and honestly ‘do better next time.’ I so easily take something that could be used for good in my walk with Christ and warp it into a selfish ambition that feeds myself lies. Lies against the real truth. Just the few weeks here I can tell how my perfectionist nature can really wreck a servant heart because it is self focused and really distracts from the desires of God. This is not something that is going to be ‘fixed’ overnight because it was such a part of my life in school, college, and useful in some regards in the teaching profession. Meditating on this reality in my life by confessing it daily to God and being hold accountable by people around me are going to be some important first steps because when the heart has been feed lies for so long it is not easy for it to immediately discern the truths of God from those of selfish ambition.

Wisdom that is earthly natural and demonic are contrasted with the true wisdom that comes from above. Earthly speaks of truths that are from rulers and leaders of our time. 1 Corinthians 2:6 explains that these so called wisdom filled leaders I may look up to are “passing away.” What a great reminder that the one who holds truth also holds time, is the author of all things, and does not gain His wisdom from a particular time. God’s truths are true now and always. 1 Corinthians 3:10 talks about the wise builder. A good builder put’s his knowledge into action by beginning all buildings with a strong and trustworthy foundation. How much more important for me to check the foundation of knowledge from those I may gain knowledge. If it’s not supported and built on top of God’s truths then it will surly “pass away” with time.  James then goes on to explain another false or ungodly wisdom that is natural or unspiritual. When Jude writes about divisions in the church he warns of worldly-minded people, devoid of the spirit. Again, this is a reminder that if the knowledge is not rooted in God and His truths then it is dangerous and causing divisions among believers.  The final type of wisdom that James lists in verse 15 is that which is demonic or evil. 2 Thessalonians 2:9 reminds that the activity of Satan may contain signs and false wonders. 1 Timothy writes that the Spirit warns that some believers have fallen away from the faith by the deceit of spirits and doctrines of demons. The teachings of Satan are even described as “deep things” in Revelation 2. Our God is greater and is the holder of all true wisdom, yet it is made clear how easy some can fall into false teachings and how they can take captive of the hearts. After studying this passing and the three types of wisdom that don’t come from above I realize how important it is that I constantly discern the material I am feed in this world. It’s important to always go back to scripture to have scripture reveal other scripture not the other way around. It is so easy to take what a pastor or a suggested book says as truth, but if it truly is wisdom from above then it will check out as I dig deeper. My application is to actually go back through sermon notes and dig deeper into some of their cross references. As we would all hope, the information will probably check out to be true, but this is still a great practice to develop as a student of the bible. To dig deeper into sermons and teachings as a life practice.

V16. James adds on to the problems with earthly wisdom when he writes “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist there is disorder and every evil thing.” The word disorder in this verse stands out to me. Our God is a God of order and perfect design. He created the heavens and earth, took what he made that was formless and void, making it into what he called “good.” Each day, God brought something new to what was once formless and void, from light, to man, taking it day by day when He was fully capable of creating all things in one instance. It is only when sin is brought into this world that disorder begins. The serpent is not cursed to eat dust, there is no bruising, pain in childbirth, desire for rule over the husband, no nakedness, no toil, until sin enters God’s perfect –orderly- design. James 3:16 says that where jealousy and selfish ambition are, disorder and evil things are. Even when I look in my own life, where I was more focused on friends, work, and school, putting God to the backburner of my life I can clearly remember times where disorder began. Focusing on myself and ‘living my life,’ making God smaller than He is just led to more heartache, stress and disorganization. Jeremiah is shown a message from God in Jeremiah 24 about two baskets, one of Good ripe Figs and one of Bad rotten Figs. God is speaking to Jeremiah explaining what will happen to King Zedekiah and the remnant of Jerusalem. God told Jeremiah that He would set his eyes on the good figs, giving them a heart to know Him and that He would be their God and they would be His people. But the bad figs that are rotten will be made a terror, a taunt, a curse and that He would scatter them. For me this is a great picture of what will happen when jealousy, selfish desires, and things of the flesh keep me from following God. God brings or allows disorder because I bring disorder on all things God has for me by disobeying. Sin ruins the perfect structure in which God created, and Romans 2:8 is another reminder of what is to be expected by those who choose to obey themselves, not God. It says “that those who obey unrighteousness and go against truth will face tribulation and distress.” When I see stress and disorder in my life, which is common because I’m an extremely disorganized person, I need to re-evaluate where my priorities are. Is this disorder coming from my disobedience to God? Is this disorder coming from my mis-prioritization of my time with God? Often I find I can identify a connection between my walk with God and disorder, I need to become keen to addressing it rather than continuing in the same way. I need to learn to take two steps back, which is hard when in the midst of stress, and ask myself if God is being placed in the center of my life and if He is the motivation for all that I’m doing.


James 3:17 - “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”

In verse 17 James describes the wisdom from above, God's holy wisdom, as first pure. When we seek wisdom from the Lord rather than the chaos of the world, the effect will be to purify our souls, making us peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. Paul speaks of this wisdom in 1 Cor 2:6-7, “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” This wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit, and with it comes the fruits of the spirit as laid out in Galatians 5:22. As a believer, my goal is always to become more Christ-like, which is the Lord's will for my life as evidenced by John 12:26 where Jesus says, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” This is the wisdom of the Lord, to follow after Christ. The world calls it foolish, but “the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Cor 3:19). I will pray for wisdom from God in how to best serve Him and how to best follow after Him in my life. In this I believe the Lord will speak to me and give me direction for the coming years, and my intention is to continue praying until the Lord does speak to me, whether He gives a clear answer or just tells me to wait.

James 3:16 - “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”

In verse 16 James explains that disorder, or chaos, is the result of jealousy and selfish ambition in the church. Furthermore, he says that there will be “every vile practice”, suggesting that jealousy and selfishness are at the heart of every evil that could befall a church. This makes sense in light of verse 15 where James describes them as demonic, suggesting that they're origin is in the powers of darkness. However, the things of God are inherently in order, as it is one of God's unchanging characteristics. Jeremiah 31:35 says, “Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—the Lord of hosts is his name...” The Lord wants His church to have order also, Paul exhorts the Corinthian church in 1 Cor 14:40, “But all things should be done decently and in order.” And he commends the church at Colossae in Col 2:5, “For though I am absent in the body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” I do not believe it is a coincidence that the Colossians are both in good order and firm in their faith in Christ. Yet James is warning the church about the weak faith, shown in their selfishness, that will result in disorder. I believe this serves as a warning to keep Christ at the center of our ambitions. When I am distracted by the world I am prone to jealousy, wanting more than what the Lord has provided. This leads to me following my own selfish ambitions in trying to obtain worthless possessions, or positions, rather than focusing my efforts on glorifying God. I should humbly seek the Lord by writing down a list of areas in my life where I am selfishly motivated, and then take them before the Lord for forgiveness.

James 3:15 - “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”

In verse 15 James contrasts wisdom that comes from God with the jealousy and selfish ambition mentioned earlier in verse 14, calling it “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” I believe James is using the progression from bad to worse to describe that which is not wisdom from God, similar to how he describes the tongue in verses 5-6, as “...the tongue is a fire...setting on fire the entire course of life...set on fire by hell”. This fits well since the worldly tongue, or ungodly speech, is usually the manifestation of jealousy and selfish ambition. In contrast, “wisdom that comes down from above” is a great example of a gift from God, about which James says in 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” If God has no variation in his character then we can be sure His gifts will not be prone to change either. Therefore wisdom that comes from God will always be true and constant in nature, while the jealous ambitions of man are of the world (at best) and doomed to failure. The application I draw from this is actually found later in James, where is verse 6 he cites proverbs 3:34, saying, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” I must always humble myself before the Lord and ask for wisdom, as anything I try to accomplish on my own will surely fail, even if it succeeds. I want to commit to going before the Lord in prayer before making decisions, and not even necessarily big decisions, just decisions that will impact my service to Him.

James 3:14 - “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.”

James contrasts the “meekness of wisdom” in verse 13 with “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” in verse 14. The problems with slanderous speech described in the previous verses of chapter 3 were causing division among the body of believers, and James pins this problem on jealousy and selfishness in the church. Such actions were named by Paul with the “desires of the flesh” that are against the spirit in Galatians 5:20, where he goes on to say “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Such is the serious nature of these sins, and James even goes on to say in verse 15 that this selfishness is outright demonic. I think this is still often a problem today in the church, as we now have another 2000 years of theological interpretations to disagree on, which will readily cause dissension. Keeping egos in check is never easy, and selfish ambition is still a plague to every church, but proverbs 3:34 speaks about God that, “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.” It is my duty to the body of Christ to be humble and follow the example laid out by Christ. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

James 3:13-17 “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 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. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

James begins this passage with a question, “who is wise and understanding among you?” This sets the stage for an explanation on how to prove you are wise, and builds a contrast with jealousy and selfish ambition. A wise man will show meekness in his works, while the unwise will boast and be false to the truth. Moreover he shows that wisdom is from God, where selfish ambition is worldly, and even of the devil. Jealousy and selfish ambition promote chaos and get worse from there, but wisdom from God will be blameless, and because of this purity it will promote peace, gentleness, reason, mercy, good fruits, impartiality and sincerity. The verses previous to and following this passage deal mainly with the dissension caused by slanderous speech and selfishness, so this passage serves to contrast that reality with the meekness that they should be showing towards one another. I think it will be easy to find application for this teaching in my life, since I (like most people) am prone to selfishness and often lack wisdom. I should pray for wisdom, but often I do not, or otherwise I pray for wisdom on how to fix some terrible mistake that I should have prayed for wisdom before making.


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