“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).
The truly wise demonstrate their wisdom in two ways. (1) They demonstrate it by good conduct. True wisdom goes beyond intellectual learning. Christians should seek to live by God’s word. James instructed, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only…” (James 1:22). Jesus stated, “Whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock…” (Matthew 7:24). (2) They do their works in meekness of wisdom. Guy N. Woods comments, “Meekness of wisdom (wisdom stripped of all arrogance, pride, and desire for worldly acclaim)… One may indeed be meek and not wise; but, one who is truly wise will be meek; and, where meekness is wanting there is evidence of the lack of wisdom also” (Guy N. Woods, The Epistle of James, p. 182). It is possible, even likely, that the words especially apply to the ones who teach. The chapter began by addressing those who would be teachers (James 3:1 cf. 3:13). The term “wise” can be used to refer to spiritual teachers (e.g. Matthew 23:34). Guy N. Woods comments, “The word ‘wise’ is from sophos, a teacher; and ‘understanding’ is from epistemon, one skilled. Thus, the question raised is, who is really a skilled teacher?” (Woods, p. 181). J.J. Turner comments, “The wise teacher will honor knowledge by putting it into practice in his everyday life” (J.J. Turner, The Book of James, p. 107).
R.L. Whiteside commenting on another passage said this, “Any man is a poor teacher if he does not teach himself while he is teaching others. He is a poor preacher that cannot preacher better than he can practice, but he is a poorer preacher if he does not try hard to live up to his preaching” (R.L. Whiteside, A New Commentary on Paul’s Letter to the Saints at Rome, p. 60-61).
“But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above but is earthly, sensual, demonic” (James 3:14-15).
Boasting of one’s wisdom does not make one wise. In truth, it is evidence to the contrary.
Here are two signs that one is not truly wise. (1) Bitter envy is a sign that your wisdom is not from above. Here is how other translations render the original word: bitter jealousy ASV; NASB; ESV. The original word, zelon, means here “an envious and contentious rivalry, jealousy” (Thayer). Christians should not be envious of each other (cf. Numbers 11:25-29; Philippians 1:15-16, 18); (2) self-seeking is another sign, which is closely related to the first. Here is how other translations render the original word: faction ASV; selfish ambition NASB, ESV. The original word, eritheian, means “ambition, self-seeking, rivalry… party-making” (Vine’s). “Used of those who electioneer for office, courting popular applause… a partisan and factious spirit” (Thayer). We should not seek to make followers of self (cf. Acts 10:25-26; 14:11-15; 20:29-31; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Titus 3:10-11).
Any wisdom which promotes envy and self-seeking is not from God (James 3:15). It is earthly (of earthly origin), sensual (springing from human desires), and demonic (demon-like). Such wisdom produces confusion (disorder) and evil (James 3:16). It will lead to problems between brethren. It will cause damage in the church.
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17).
Here is true wisdom, God’s wisdom. It has these characteristics: (1) It is pure. The origin word, hagne, means “pure from defilement, not contaminated” (Vine’s). The word is sometimes used of sexual purity (e.g. Titus 2:5; 1 Timothy 5:1-2; 2 Corinthians 11:2). It can also be used of purity from sin (e.g. 1 Timothy 5:22). The wise seek to maintain purity (cf. James 1:27).
(2) It is peaceable. The original word, eirenike, means, “peaceable, pacific, peace-loving” (Thayer). The wise seek to live at peace with their fellow man (cf. Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14).
(3) It is gentle. The original word, epieikes, means, “seemingly… equitable, fair, mild, gentle” (Thayer). Foy Valentine comments, “That is to say it is forbearing, patient under provocation, respectful of the feelings of others, considerate, moderate” (quoted by Rubel Shelly in What Christian Living is All About, p. 67). The wise have this quality. It is especially needed in teachers (e.g. 2 Timothy 2:24-25; 1 Thessalonians 2:7).
(4) It is willing to yield. Other translations read: easy to be entreated KJV; reasonable NASB; open to reason ESV. The original word, eupeithes, means – “easily obeying” (Thayer). Adam Clarke comments, “Not stubborn nor obstinate; of a yielding disposition in all indifferent things” (studylight.org). The wise are of this nature (e.g. Romans 14:19; 1 Corinthians 8:13; 10:31-33).
(5) It is full of mercy. The original word, eleous, means – “kindness or good will toward the miserable and afflicted, joined with a desire to relieve them” (Thayer). “The outward manifestation of pity” (Vine’s). We are to be a merciful people (e.g. Luke 10:36-37; James 2:1-3, 13).
(6) It is full of good fruit. The fruit of the Spirit should characterize us (cf. Galatians 5:22-23). We should bear fruit with patience (Luke 8:15). We should be full of good works (Titus 2:14; 3:8; 3:14).
(7) It is without partiality. Other translations read: variance ASV; unwavering NASB. The original word, diakritos, means – “to separate, make distinction, discriminate” or “to be at variance with one’s self, doubt” (Thayer). Some take this to mean that one should not hold the faith with partiality (cf. James 2:1-4). The wise views each soul as precious. Others take this to mean variance within the person. Guy N. Woods comments, “The wisdom which is from above enables one to be firm in his views, and to entertain complete confidence in God and in his word” (Woods, p. 194). The word was used earlier in this book (James 1:6; 2:4). The wise avoid both of these meanings of usages of the word.
(8) It is without hypocrisy. The original word, hupokritos, refers to – “an actor, stage-player” (Thayer). We should not be simply playing Christianity; we should be genuine (cf. Romans 12:9).
This wisdom does not produce confusion and evil. It produces righteous behavior (James 3:18 cf. 1:20) and peace (James 3:18). If every Christian lived by this wisdom, the church would be at peace among its members.
One brother remarked, “Not everyone can have the IQ of a genius. Very few will have the opportunity to achieve notoriety in science, education, or the professional world. But everyone can have the wisdom described by James in this very beautiful passage. We can all submit ourselves humbly to God and live under his control” (Rubel Shelly, p. 69).