Peninsula Community Church
James – What is Spiritual Wisdom
May 5, 2013
James 3:13-18 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. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James in this passage continues to define what a passionate follower of Christ will look like. Here he qualifies the difference between wisdom that is earthly or demonic and that wisdom which is spiritual. James notes that false wisdom is earthly, natural, and demonic. You will notice that wisdom here is not defined by one’s education or by one’s intellectual prowess. As James has done through this text he uses a comparative analysis to establish his point. In this case he uses a comparison between spiritual wisdom and earthly wisdom. This is not the first time a comparison of spiritual wisdom and man’s wisdom or earthly wisdom has occurred in Scripture. We have seen this in Paul’s writings of 1 Corinthians chapter one and two. We also see this comparison throughout the Book of Proverbs and for that matter throughout the Biblical story as related in the stories of the biblical characters of both the Old and New Testament.
Wisdom is revealed through one’s actions and lifestyle. James begins this passage by stating that the level of one’s wisdom is witnessed by way of one’s conduct. This is not a new idea as James has highlighted this idea of conduct being a mirror to one’s soul and heart in earlier verses. Wisdom as defined by James is characterized by how one lives their life and what one does in that life. Wisdom is in essence a lifestyle as much as it is something that is accomplished or done in one’s life.
In this passage, James notes two defining characteristics of earthly, unspiritual, and demonic wisdom is defined as bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. He suggests that the one who is walking in earthly wisdom will be defined by a lifestyle of bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. Jealousy is defined as an inordinate longing for, being envious of others and being careful to guard or protect something or someone. The problem defined by James is not just having jealously but having a jealousy rooted in bitterness. Bitterness binds us and preempts God’s work in our heart. Jealously is in reality a lack of trust in the person to which we are extending love. It is for that reason spiritual jealously is rooted in a lack of trust in God. It is also motivated by a lack of contentment in God’s ways and his ability to work out the various situations we experience in our lives. The writer of Hebrews has this to say about having a root of bitterness. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled … (Hebrews 12:15).
The second qualifier of earthly wisdom is that it is defined by selfish ambition. Selfish ambition is an act of wanting to put ourselves above everyone one else and to obtain praise and adulation from others. In the Greek, the word used here for selfish ambition is the word eritheia which means to “work for hire.” It is to do things for one’s own gain regardless of the discord it causes. It places self-interest ahead of what the Lord declares right or what is good for others. Some commentators suggest the term represents that person who is politically oriented. They will say and do anything to get votes. They do things to gain recognition rather than to glorify God. They commit to serve Him so that they will be patted on the back and not to honor God. Jesus dealt with this phenomenon on the Sermon on the Mount. With selfish ambition comes a false understanding of who we are and what we are designed to do. The writer of Proverbs noted, Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips (Proverbs 27:2).
Paul also reminds us in Philippians 2:4-5 that we are not to do anything “from selfish or empty conceit but with humility of mind; let each of you regard one another as more important than himself and do not merely look out for euro personal interest but also for the interest of others.”
How do we know we are selfish and jealous? One way to know is to answer a few questions. Do we get angry when we are confronted? Do we reject counsel? Do we feel that no one else is capable of teaching or sharing a particular truth? Do we try to force others to accept our viewpoint or our way of thinking? Do we become angry when someone else gets credit for something we achieved? Are we able to rejoice when others are rewarded? Your answers to these questions will let you know if you are dealing with selfish ambition.
Now before we move on let me say that ambition is a good thing. It is a God given trait. But as in every God given gift, the enemy of our souls and our carnal nature can drive us to unhealthy expressions in life.