Throughout the Bible there is a constant encouragement to seek wisdom. In fact the whole book of Proverbs is so full of these encouragements a blind man can miss it! For example, in 3:13,19, we are told that,
“Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding for the gain of her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold … The Lord by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens…”
Moreover, in Ephesians walking in wisdom is a mark of being spiritual life. See , 5:15-17;
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. (Eph. 5:15-17)
James in this passage helps to understand that there are two types of wisdom:
· Wisdom that comes from above – Heavenly wisdom
· Wisdom that is earthly/unspiritual/demonic
James goes on to compare these two types of wisdom in order that it may be clear what type of wisdom you ought to have. Because the Lord would not want anyone being deceived to believe that he has true faith when really he has spurious faith, in the same way, here pastor James shows what true wisdom is, in order that we may have nothing to do with earthly wisdom which is no wisdom at all. True faith produces true wisdom and the opposite is true.
1. What is the origin of?
a. Earthly wisdom
What does ‘earthly’(v. 15) mean? Negatively, it means that this wisdom is not from God, since it is from the earth. It is not from heaven. It is not eternal. It is temporary.
Positively identified, earthly wisdom means that it is according to the worldly standards and principles, in other words, it is false wisdom. Therefore, it is a wisdom that is limited in scope; this world is its boundaries. It begins and ends with this world. It is deficient of eternal perspective.
James’s point is obvious – worldly people may be cunning, clever and selfish and yet, at the same time think that they are being wise. Wisdom is reduced to a label that they use in order to sell, earthly wisdom. But the truth is that it is fake. A counterfeit product does not become genuine product simply because it picked up a label of a quality product.
He has already warned against many becoming teachers. When these people took up teaching positions in their churches for the wrong reasons and spoke in the wrong way, and taught the wrong things, with a selfish motive of impressing a man, if they appeared to succeed in the worldly terms, they were thinking like people of earth instead of people of heaven! This wisdom is foolishness to God. Therefore God asks these questions;
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1Co 1:20-24)
Earthly is wisdom also sensual (v.15). The word ‘sensual’ refers to fleshly appetites, as the source of this wisdom.That is, it appeals to the flesh, to senses, emotions, lusts and passions that wage war against your souls. In James’ days, just like in our days, there were people who sought to reach the flesh rather than the heart in their teachings. Once again, James is very clear that there are those who are only seeking to gratify themselves, they think only of self and no one else.
Earthly wisdom ultimately comes from the devil’s factory. This is why pastor James, as carried along by the Holy Spirit, says it is ‘demonic’ (v.15). The devil is wise in a certain way. That is, he is opposed to the truths of God. He seeks to pervert what God has given by deceitful schemes and cunning. When we allow ourselves to be driven by false wisdom, we are allowing Satan to slip into the driver’s seat! Some seem to think that there is no way the devil can drive them. If they see him coming, they will just lock the doors! But the devil does not come to us as he is often portrayed, that is, as an ugly, ferocious creature, one-eyed, black monster with horns and arrow-sharp tail. As James says, he comes in the garb of wisdom.
b. Heavenly wisdom
Heavenly wisdom comes from above (. 15, 17). Negatively, this wisdom does not come from men, and cannot be made on earth. This wisdom is neither from angels or demons nor is it from men. Positively, its source is heavenly. It originates coming from God. God is the author of all wisdom and He is the standard of wisdom.
Therefore, this wisdom comes from God and it is first and foremost about God our Saviour. Since it comes from God then it is eternal as opposed to the earthly wisdom which is temporary.
Ultimately, this wisdom is Christ, for we read,
but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor.1:24)
We must not think that knowing the origin of each of these types of wisdom, could be sufficient to help us to choose the right one – for we have no capacity to make such a choice. We depend on the Holy Spirit who applies the work of Christ to enable us to drink from this wisdom and live accordingly.
The point is when you find Christ, you find true, heavenly wisdom. He alone is the wisdom of God. For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things… (Col. 1:19-20).
2. What is the nature of?
a) Earthly wisdom
The nature of this earthly wisdom is given in verses 14 and 16 as;
· Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts…
· Boasting and being false to the truth
· Jealousy and selfish ambition exist…
False wisdom is exposed by its proud and selfish nature. Envying and strife are in conflict with the meekness of wisdom. The heart could not be the seat of both. Envy and wisdom cannot dwell together in the same heart. They are mutually exclusive in nature.
Notice the order – jealousy comes first and it excites strife. Strife excuses itself by boasting and lying or by being false to the truth. Effectively, this leads to confusion, disorder and vile practices of every kind. Surely, all these are from their father the devil whose iniquity was discovered in Him.
Finally, the nature of earthly wisdom is such that it upholds such things as money, position and power. Unless there is prestige and privilege this wisdom would not take responsibility and initiative since it is so self-seeking and proud. This is why it has already been pointed out that it is from the devil. We know that the devil rebelled against God in order to take position and power.
However, we are well instructed from the Scriptures to know that pride comes before the fall. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God so that in due course He may lift you up. Do not think a Christian can rear pride, malice or any vile practice. Christians bear the fruit of the Spirit as we’ll see shortly.
b) Heavenly wisdom
We read from verse 17 that,
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
ü It is first of all pure. Heavenly wisdom, above anything else, is not mixed with the corruptions of the world. It is not corrupted by sin and other pollutions of this world. It is pure, true and faithful to do God’s pleasure. Moral purity is an evidence of heavenly wisdom.
ü Then it is peaceable. God’s wisdom, which comes through Christ who is the Prince of Peace, and that which is promoted by the gospel of peace delights and is founded on peace. Peace flows from purity. This wisdom is peaceable and promotes peace between individuals, families, churches, in the society and in nations. Peace is more than lack of strife – for absence of strife is calmness. Peace is only the work of God.
ü Gentle. In other words, it is not harsh, argumentative, antagonistic or abrasive. It is reasonable and courteous. It is a product of the indwelling of the Spirit and so this gentleness, just like peace is part of the fruit is conspicuous, without drawing any attention to itself.
ü Open to reason. In other words it is willing to yield and even to submit. It does not insist on its own way. It does not insist on personal rights but in humility counts the other person more significant than oneself. Heavenly wisdom is very easy to persuade with heavenly truth. It is persuaded, either to what is good or from what is evil.
ü Full of mercy. Heavenly wisdom comes from the Father in heaven who is the Father of mercies. Therefore those who receive wisdom from Him also learn to show mercy and compassion to the needy. In other words, when the fear of the Lord comes so as to give wisdom, it will also come with love and care for those who are in the image of God (v.9). Christians care for the needy, that is the widows, the orphans and the aliens and in this way display that God indwells them, because He is God of compassion.
ü Bearing good fruits. Inwardly it is disposed to everything that is kind and good. It is inclined both to relieve the needy, to forgive those who offend, and actually to do this whenever proper occasions offer. This shows that heavenly wisdom is of God, produced with the fruit of the Spirit.
ü Impartial. The original word employed here is ‘adiakritos’. It means to be without suspicion, or free from judging, or making neither undue assumptions nor differences in our conduct towards one person more than the other. Here is an exhortation to stop acting as dividers, and disputing and objecting merely for the sake of a party. It is an encouragement to stop all manner of censuring others purely on account of their differing from us. The wisest men are least apt to be censurers. This is what Pastor James has already condemned in 2:1-13 and has compared partiality with ‘blaspheming the glorious ones’. He said,
“If you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors (James 2:9).
ü Sincere. Heavenly wisdom can fit no mask for it is without hypocrisy. It has neither disguises nor deceits. Instead it is sincere and open, steady and uniform, and consistent with itself. O that you and I may always be guided by such wisdom as this!
3. What is the fruit?
a) Earthly wisdom
Earthly wisdom bears confusion and disorder and rebellion (v.16) – For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
James has already torn the mask of wisdom from this imitation. Therefore in its nakedness it is carnal and devilish conduct, he shows it to be ἀκαταστασία which is not only mere disorder but the termination of order, that is anarchy and rebellion which must not be found among those under the rule of God because He is not God of confusion but of order and peace (1 Cor. 14:33). Confusion, disorder and rebellion is funded by the kingdom of darkness, from where this demonic wisdom comes.
Earthly wisdom also produces every vile practice. This is foul in an ethical sense. That is, wicked or an abomination. ‘Evil’ or ‘vile’ translates phaulon, an adjective marking the moral character of a person or activity. It is used in John 3:20 and Titus 2:8 to mean worthless or empty activity. James is concerned for the unity of the body, that is the church, and where unruly tongues and worldly wisdom reign the result will be selfishness, confusion, and the like.
Remember that this is James the peacemaker from Acts 15 and 21:18–25. He labored to keep the opposing parties together in Christ. It is that same spirit that breathes through this passage.
This is the wisdom behind denominationalism and sectarianism and schisms. And it must be exterminated in the church of Christ by embracing heavenly wisdom.
b) Heavenly wisdom
While verse 16 describes the evil fruits of worldly, spurious and devilish wisdom; verse 18 describes the harvest of true, godly wisdom. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
The structure of this sentence leaves room for a wide variety of possibilities and the English translations reflect that fact. One concern is how to render the genitive ‘of righteousness.’ Is it appositional: ‘the fruit which is righteousness’? Or is it subjective: ‘the fruit which righteous living produces’? 
Pastor James gives a summary of all he has been saying in terms of good works and peace, of a living and not a dead faith. A closer look will show a close relationship between righteousness and peace, which is not surprising because we know that he is writing to a people who were divided in terms of their social status, in terms of position and possession.
Therefore, by the mercies of God he implores them ‘to sow in peace’. And what James is saying is that a Christian’s life should consist of, habitually and continually, without getting tired, sowing the seed of peace. Those who love peace innately sow peace everywhere they go – in homes as well as in churches and in the society. But they also will also reap a bountiful harvest of righteousness.
1. Cast all hypocrisy to the cross of Christ. Pretend all you want, and think yourselves to be the wisest. However, your bitter envying and strife exposes you to be Mr. Worldly Wise. Even with your zeal for truth or orthodoxy, if you are constantly boastful about knowing more than others, you show yourself to be who you are – a child of the devil. If you employ these only to make others hateful, and to show your own spite and heart-burnings against them, then you are not a shame to the cause of Christ, you are just as a shame to yourself for being a fake, for such is downright contradiction of Christianity and her wisdom. However, there is hope for you, if you will repent to Christ and ask for His mercy.
2. Teachers reveal by their tongues what kind of wisdom they possess. Self-appointed teachers, will not possess heavenly wisdom because God did not call them. Sooner rather than later, their selfish motives may lead them to cause factions and disorder. Genuine Christian teachers, however, called by God and filled with His Spirit, though not perfect, will be most concerned about truth and their example (good life and deeds, v. 13). They will sow in peace and produce a harvest of practical righteousness in men’s and women’s lives by means of their consistent teaching and example.
3. Sober judgment, humility, impartiality and sincerity are necessary to show your wisdom. When informed by the Word of God, and controlled by the Holy Spirit you are likely to be peaceable. Clearly we are best able to be quick to hear and reason, and best able to speak in the heavenly wisdom, only if the Lord Jesus Christ is the Lord of our lives. Unless, we are led by the One who humbled Himself to the point of a servant even to death and death on a cross, then we cannot have His wisdom. Wisdom of Christ, who is the wisdom of God produces meekness, and meekness increases wisdom.
4. Our Christian wisdom is likely to draw the attention of unbelievers. Thank God for the common grace that causes foolish unbelievers take notice of that which is good, true and beautiful. Therefore we have reason to believe that unbelievers will take note and will themselves desire to have the wisdom from God. And when they express that desire, we can point them to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is himself ‘the wisdom from God’ (1 Cor. 1:30). Jesus is God’s wise way of providing forgiveness of sins and eternal glory for all who receive him as their Lord and Saviour.