Growing into a Wise Guy/Gal–part 2
The Test of Wisdom–True Wisdom, James 3:17-18
What if I were to offer you the never-fail, always-will-work guide to a great marriage–would you read it? Students, what if I could give you the perfect formula for maintaining great friendships–would you want to hear it? As a spiritual leader, what if today I were to give you the secrets to getting along with others you minister with, whether they be lay leaders, missionaries or pastors–would that be valuable to you? And for all of you, if the Lord Jesus physically stood here this morning and said, “I have the ultimate steps to assist you in making every important decision”–would you want to hear what the Lord had to say?
Today is that day. The Lord speaks to us through his half-brother James, describing God’s true wisdom, which is not only necessary to give evidence of your salvation–but crucial for you to maintain a healthy marriage, cultivate biblical friendships, cause you to get along with others, and guide your decisions. God’s true wisdom is found in James chapter 3.
Turn in your Bibles to James 3:13 to 18. Last week we studied verses 13 to 16 describing man’s wisdom, and today verses 17 to 18 telling God’s wisdom. James teaches there are two sources of wisdom–wisdom from God and wisdom from man, wisdom from above and wisdom from below, heavenly wisdom and earthly wisdom. And as James writes to his scattered and battered, mainly Jewish believers, he now calls believers to pursue God’s wisdom and to reject man’s wisdom.
Man’s wisdom comes from reason, but God’s wisdom comes from revelation. James includes wisdom as one of the tests of true faith. Whether joy in trial, responsibility for sin, doing God’s Word, treating others impartially, guarding your speech–James continues to compare real faith against phony faith by asking you in 13 to 18, “do you live by man’s wisdom or God’s wisdom?
So then how would you know you live by God’s wisdom and not man’s? You could ask, “Do I live by God’s Word or gut feeling? Do I search the Scripture or make random decisions? Do I depend in prayer on the Spirit of God or reason through my options?” And the biggest way you can tell you’re living by God’s wisdom over man’s wisdom is how it is demonstrated in your relationships. Really? Yes. Look at the context!
What did James teach before wisdom? The tongue–how you communicate to others. What does James teach after wisdom in chapter 4–the source of conflicts among you. Wisdom is seen in the midst of relationships. And today, you’ll be blown away just how practical God’s wisdom is in strengthening your marriage, building friendships, solving family tensions, easing pressure at work, even helping you at school.
Read verse 17 and 18, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” The chart in your outline will help you know what James intended to say in these verses. James is comparing the unwise to the wise by exposing the heart (I call the core), the characteristics that come from wisdom, and conduct of both human wisdom and God’s wisdom.
First, James exposes the core heart issue–are you saved or unsaved? If unsaved, then verse 14, “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” will rule your life—and human wisdom will demonstrate itself with arrogant, dishonest, worldly, natural and demonic characteristics. The results will be conduct that is verse 16, disorderly and evil. James uses the same outline with the saved who live by God’s wisdom. The core heart issue is good behavior and gentle deeds (since true faith works)–and that new heart will show itself in “pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits [bountiful], unwavering, without hypocrisy [sincere]” characteristics (verse 17). And the result will be a relational conduct that’s righteous and peaceful. The passage is straightforward.
#1 The TEST of Wisdom Verse 13
Do you want to live your way or God’s way? It will show, by whether you live by man’s wisdom or God’s wisdom. We all know there are some who want to be miserable, who want to yell at their spouse and ignore their kids–others who want to scream at bad drivers, use swear words and cruise through their so-called Christian life, thinking they’re right and everyone else is wrong. These are the people who live by . . .
#2 The TAINT of False Wisdom Verses 14 to 16
But what about those who live by the wisdom from above?
#3 The TRAITS of True Wisdom Verses 17 to 18
In verse 13, James already exposed the heart of the born again, biblically wise who demonstrate God’s wisdom by their good behavior and deeds done in gentleness. That’s . . .
First The CORE of True Wisdom Verse 13
But if that is your heart, then it will show itself in key characteristics. Wisdom is not intellectual musings or philosophical thinking, but biblical wisdom is lived out in practical, everyday behavior.
Wisdom for the believer is skillfully applying biblical knowledge in practical life. Wisdom is the skill of living righteously, living biblically. Wisdom is living right–especially in your marriage, your family, your friendships, your ministry relationships. What will that look like?
Second The CHARACTERISTICS of True Wisdom Verse 17
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” What are the characteristics of true wisdom?
1. PURE “But the wisdom from above is first pure”
This characteristic of wisdom stands above all the rest that follow. The word “first” means more than merely first on a list—“first” describes first in order of importance. God’s wisdom, the true wisdom from Heaven, is most importantly “first pure”. If your wisdom comes from above, from God, then it will be pure like He is pure.
Our Lord Jesus Christ exhibited sinless purity and absolute holiness in every thought, every word, and every deed. Even His enemies couldn’t find any fault, sin or blemish in Him. And as you hope to see Christ face to face someday soon, then you will seek to live pure–“Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him [Jesus Christ] purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3).
James is saying of most importance is purity–and this Greek word pure is translated holy, chaste, cleanliness, unspotted, innocent, free from defilement and free from contamination. And James’ point here is the heart that is made pure in salvation will desire to live pure. As a Christian, you’ve been delivered from sin’s penalty and power in salvation, made pure–so now in sanctification you will desire to avoid sin and to live pure, even when you fail to.
Pure was used by the ancient Greeks to describe a cleansing ceremony whereby a worshiper was made pure and worthy enough to approach the gods. At the temple in the city of Delphi in Greece, there is an inscription which says, “He who would enter the divine temple must be pure.” Even pagans realized that a deity should only be approached with a pure heart.
The writer of Hebrews reminds all believers in Hebrews 12:14, without such purity or “sanctification … no one will see the Lord.” When God saves you, He will sanctify you. God expects Christians to pursue holiness, and desire to live pure. You’ve been made pure, so now live pure through confession of sin, getting help from brothers and sisters over sin, repenting or turning from sin. Jesus said in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” And James says here, “But the wisdom from above is first pure.”
The first step in relational difficulty is to focus on your own heart. You have been made pure by Christ, so live pure. Are you currently pure? Are you currently up to date with your Savior–any unconfessed, unrepentant sin? Ask the Lord if there is anything in your own heart which needs to be dealt with. Repent of where you are failing–in what you did or didn’t do. Do not focus on others or their words or their actions, but on your heart.
I teach pastors who are struggling with their flock–first examine their own heart. Husbands and wives in marriages, check your heart first–confess your sin first. Children with parents and parents with children–first ask, “Where am I to blame?” The starting place of wisdom, practically, relationally, is first pure–is your heart pure, right, relationally with Christ. That’s wisdom from above.
2. PEACEABLE “then peaceable”
In contrast to the “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition” of the unwise/unsaved–God-given wisdom produces peaceful relationships. The Lord Himself has made peace with you—and the Lord gave you His peace. So now wisdom from above should result in peace through you. Our natural tendency is to be fleshly instead of peaceful. We want to be argumentative, quarrelsome, belligerent, and quick-tempered. But God’s supernatural life within us guards against alienating others, because true wisdom will seek to remove all ill-will with others. Jesus says in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
The truly wise don’t enact conflict through selfishness, but the wise engender peace through humility (Philippians 2:1 to 4). James will show us in chapter 4 that man’s wisdom leads to conflict and strife, but God’s wisdom seeks to generate peace, because you were saved by the prince of peace. Think about it–God made peace with you at the very moment you were still defiant to Him.
Wisdom’s peace is based on holiness, not on compromise. God never calls for peace at any price. Christ was not a pacifist—He cleaned out the Temple with a whip. The Lord openly opposed those who were misleading His people and called them hypocrites. The peace of the Church is not more important than the purity of the Church. Christians and the Church can never make peace by sweeping sin under the rug. Man’s wisdom says cover up sin to make peace. God’s wisdom says confess sin in order to make peace.
So after you first examine your own heart, then in relationships, seek to make certain your heart is at peace. Then Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Don’t let it sit, soak and sour. Don’t allow sin to ferment into bitterness. Ephesians 4:26, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Seek to make peace–wisdom from above drives you to make things right in your relationships.
A third characteristic of the biblically wise is gentleness. This is a different Greek word than the word translated “gentleness” in verse 13. That word for gentle in verse 13 emphasized humility. Here in verse 17, “gentle” means equitable, moderate, yielding–it describes a person who surrenders his rights for a higher ideal.
Today, when people feel their rights are being violated, they’ll strike back with a lawsuit over the most insignificant offenses. Even so-called Christians will snub, talk down about, even seek to hurt others. But that’s the world’s wisdom–petty, contentious, selfish, and bitter. With God’s wisdom, we meet petty infractions of our rights with a different ethic. Jesus said it this way in Matthew 5:39 to 40, “I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.”
One commentator calls this gentleness a “sweet reasonableness”. It carries the meaning of moderation without compromise–kindness without weakness. The gentle saint does not deliberately cause fights, but neither does he compromise the truth in order to keep peace. One historian called Abraham Lincoln a man of “velvet steel”. That’s gentleness–a saint with convictions who is also fair, moderate, forbearing, courteous and considerate.
Jesus showed His gentle heart as he dealt with women, children, the broken and sick. Describing Christ, the prophet Isaiah said this in 42:3, “A bruised reed He will not break. And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish.” This imagery points to Christ caring for and ministering to the most broken, useless, burned out people–He was gentle. Paul calls all shepherds and disciplers in the Church to be gentle. Second Timothy 2:24 and 25, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged 25with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”
So wisdom in your relationships demands that you, 1) examine your own heart first, making certain your sin, your failures, your weaknesses are your first concern. Then 2) to desire and seek to pursue peace. And 3) to do so with gentleness, you choose/decide not to quarrel, be kind and patient over the things they have wronged you with. And just in case you are not getting it, James addes–godly wisdom is . . .
This Greek word appears only here in the New Testament. “Reasonable” comes from two Greek words–well and persuadable. Together they mean easily persuaded. Now don’t get the wrong idea–this doesn’t mean a wise person is a naïve pushover! Rather, reasonable is a wife or husband who puts aside stubbornness and readily yields to the truth. That’s a direct way of saying you want what’s right over what you want.
My family, this is what makes a plurality of elders work–they have to want what Christ wants over what they want with every decision. This is what makes a husband’s headship and a wife’s submission work–they want what Christ wants over what they want. They want what the Bible teaches over what they think or feel every time. Reasonable wisdom will choose principle over preference, and truth over tradition.
The Greek word reasonable refers to a senior saint who is flexible and open to change. Christ Himself was the most friendly and approachable of men. And when the Spirit of God captures the heart, He makes us more reasonable. Like Abraham in Genesis 13, who didn’t want his shepherds battling with Lot’s shepherds. And even though Abraham was the focus of all of God’s promises, instead of kicking Lot out, Abraham gives him his choice of grazing land.
God’s wisdom makes a believer cooperative, flexible and easy to live or work with. Man’s wisdom makes a person hard, stubborn and self-centered. The reasonable person is willing to hear all sides of a question, without compromising his own convictions. He can disagree without being disagreeable. And he will be . . .
Wisdom from above is not harsh. God’s wisdom does not rush to justice, but God’s wisdom is seen in giving mercy. If grace is giving a person a blessing they don’t deserve, mercy is withholding a just punishment a person does deserve. They deserve the silent treatment, but they get a gracious embrace. They deserve to be rejected, but what they get is kindness. Mercy implies looking on somebody with compassion when they deserve punishment. While worldly wisdom would heap on judgment, mercy shows acts of kindness.
Once Napoleon was condemning a man to death. The man’s mother appealed to the emperor for a pardon. Napoleon replied it was the man’s second offense and that justice must be done. The mother persisted. “I am not asking for justice,” she said, “but for mercy.” The emperor replied, “He doesn’t deserve mercy.” She said, “It would not be mercy if he deserved it. And what I ask for is mercy.” Napoleon gave in.
In Matthew 5:7 Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Did you notice in verse 17 James says wisdom makes you not merely merciful, but “full of mercy”? To be full of something means to be controlled by. The saint who is pursuing God’s wisdom is controlled by mercy. Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
God in His mercy does not give us what we deserve. And when wisdom is at work in your marriage, or with your friends, wisdom gives kindness to those who don’t deserve it. That is why wisdom proves you are genuinely saved, because God gave you His mercy in salvation, so now wisdom demands you are controlled by mercy toward those who don’t deserve it. Like the Good Samaritan, you have compassion for those who need assistance. And like Galatians 6:10, you are especially kind to the household of faith, your fellow Christians.
The wise believer doesn’t keep a list. In an argument, you don’t recall the eight infractions they committed last month. You don’t bring up old hurts. You forgive—meaning, you release the offender from their debt. No paying back necessary. You cancel all the debts, you dismiss all the wounds, all the wrongs done to you and move on. And not only are you full of mercy, but you are full of good fruits.
Wise people are filled with “good fruits”–full of “good fruits”. James ties this closely with the previous quality, “mercy”. It probably refers to the outward actions that accompany the heart full of mercy for others. A person who has genuine mercy will give bountiful blessings to others. “Faith without works is [what?] dead.” If you see a friend in need and do nothing, then your faith is useless. God’s wisdom moves you to put mercy to work in bountiful fruitful deeds–a lot of them.
People who are faithful are fruitful. Do you recall the lawyer in Luke 10? He was willing to discuss the subject of neighborliness, but he was unwilling to be a neighbor and help someone else. But God’s wisdom leads to a change in behavior. The Holy Spirit in a transformed heart produces fruit to the glory of God. You won’t just say kind words, you will do kind acts. John 15:16, “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain.” God’s wisdom is practical–it changes the life and produces good works to the glory of God. And Godly wisdom is “full of … good fruits”, which refers to every sort of good deed. If you are saved, then saving faith will produce good works for God’s glory.
So in your relationships, wisdom demands you 1) examine your own heart first–making certain you’re pure before God. Then 2) seek to make peace. And 3) with gentleness and 4) a desire to do what is right over what you want, 5) and even though they deserve harshness, you are merciful, and 6) even though its seems like you should do nothing, you show them good deeds, and give good gifts. And wisdom in relationships is . . .
This is a steadfast person who is never willing to compromise the truth of Scripture. Now this doesn’t contradict the earlier characteristic of “reasonableness”. Rather, James is describing the balance that true wisdom brings. A wise person does not take this quality of steadfastness to the extreme of ornery legalism, nor do the wise take flexibility to the extreme of compromising on absolute truth. That kind of balance demonstrates true wisdom–and that comes only from above.
This word unwavering is only used here in the New Testament and literally means not to be parted or divided, which gives it the sense of no vacillation, indecision, inconsistency, or doubtfulness. True wisdom does include the idea of decisiveness. The word suggests singleness of mind and is the opposite of wavering. When you lean on the world’s wisdom, you are pressured from one side, then another, to change your mind or take a new viewpoint. When you have God’s wisdom, you need not waver–you can be decisive and not be afraid. Wisdom from above brings strength from above.
Finally, James describes wisdom from above as “unhypocritical”. The Greek word hypokrisis comes from a term used to describe an actor playing two parts. In Greek plays, one actor would often switch masks to play a different role. When the actor played a comedic role, he would wear a mask with a big smile. For a tragic character, the mask would change to sorrow. He’d then run off the stage and come back out with an angry face for the villain. That’s the essence of hypocrisy–a shiftiness, instability, unpredictability. Hypocrisy is one of the sins Jesus condemned most–four times just in the Sermon on the Mount.
But believers endowed with the spirit of wisdom will live a life of sincerity. When God’s wisdom is at work, there is a sincere openness and an honesty that is unique. Ephesians 4:15, “Speaking the truth in love.” All the masks come off and believers follow the WYSIWYG principle–“What You See Is What You Get.” Why? Because our Lord Jesus Christ was absolutely transparent and totally honest. With Christ, there was never any pretense and nothing put on. He was always Himself–His life was an open book. He is a living epistle, known and read by all men.
Wherever you find God’s people pretending and hiding, you can be sure the wisdom of this world is governing their ministry. Religious politics is an abomination to God. Genuine faith is living without scheming. True ministry is never manipulation. Are you genuine, sincere–do you live the same at home as you do at church? “But” you say, “Chris, I don’t feel like obeying, or serving, or trusting others. I don’t feel like making things right between me and my spouse, my parents, my friend.”
Obedience is not based on feelings, but your dependent will. The key principle is this–do what is right until it feels right! Do what is right until it feels right! These characteristics of wisdom from above are life changers and relationship repairers. They’re a reflection of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. They are the same truths Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount. They are the same principles Paul taught when you are dependent and filled with the Holy Spirit. James calls you to live by the wisdom of the Spirit and not the wisdom of the flesh. And when you do, your conduct will dramatically change.
Third The CONDUCT of True Wisdom Verse 18
“And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James makes his point crystal clear. If you claim to have wisdom like you should, then why do you live like you shouldn’t? God’s wisdom produces blessing. James returned to a key word–fruit. I think fruit is the Spirit-empowered manifestation of Christ’s life, words and actions. There is a vast difference between man-made results and God-produced fruit.
In the New American Standard Bible, the words “seed whose” have been added, since it is not fruit itself that is sown, but rather the seed of the fruit. Seed represents godly wisdom, whose fruit is righteousness. Usually it is the seed that is sown, but here it is the fruit that is sown. As we share the fruit of God with others, they are fed and satisfied, and they in turn bear fruit.
The conduct of godly wisdom–when you live this way, impacts others. Every life (saved and unsaved) is a life of sowing and reaping, and we reap just what we sow. The Christian life is a life of sowing and reaping. The Christian who pursues living by God’s wisdom sows righteousness, not sin. And James concludes here that he sows peace, not arguments–joy, not strife. The life you live enables the Lord to bring righteousness and peace into the lives of others, meaning godly wisdom lived out results in salvation and sanctification to others.
What we are is what we live, and what we live is what we sow. And what we sow determines what we reap. If we live in God’s wisdom, we sow righteousness and peace, and we reap God’s blessing of salvation and sanctification. If we live by man’s worldly wisdom, we sow sin and strife and we reap verse 16b, “confusion and evil work.”
A Like faith without works is dead, so wisdom without Christlike FRUIT is empty
The person who professes to be a Christian must prove it by his daily works. If you are a true believer, you will possess a new heart which will desire God’s wisdom, manifesting that wisdom with good behavior. And because you have God’s wisdom spelled out in Scripture and the empowering of the indwelling Holy Spirit, you can grow in greater wisdom. Which is why Paul prayed for the church at Ephesus in Ephesians 1:17, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom.” As a born again Christian, you will want and you will pursue God’s wisdom and manifest Christlike fruit.
B The first step to healthy RELATIONSHIPS is to live by God’s wisdom
James is teaching you how to get along with others. Wisdom from above is not merely thinking differently, but living differently with people by pursuing verse 17. “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” You will be committed to maintaining relationships in a totally new way. You will now begin to 1) examine your own heart first–making certain you are pure before God, then 2) seek to make peace, and 3) to do so with gentleness, and 4) have a desire to do what is right over what you want, and 5) even though they deserve harshness, you will be merciful, and 6) work to show good deeds, 7) you stand firmly upon God’s Word, and 8) live sincerely, genuinely, unhypocritically. Start to treat your spouse that way, and watch how God blesses your marriage. Start treating family and friends that way and you will enjoy healthy relationships.
C The pursuit of godly wisdom will require dependent EFFORT
One of the key qualities of false human wisdom is verse in 15, it is “natural”. Secular wisdom is easy, natural, and requires no effort. It takes no work to live by the flesh. Just keep excusing yourself, go with the flow, and you’ll produce the fruit of human wisdom and live in strife and confusion.
But to live with godly wisdom like Christ will take dependent effort, choices to rely on the Spirit, choices to build new friends, choices to have your identity be in Christ and not in your career. You will make choices to stand firm against the devil, the world and your own flesh. You will make choices to pursue the means of grace, corporate worship, service to Christ, reading and applying God’s Word, communion in prayer, living in the Spirit. It will not always be easy, it will definitely not be convenient, and it will not be natural–but supernatural. Christ must live through you.
D You will never become wise without CHRIST as Lord
The message of this world is that you are good and struggle a little. The message of the Scripture is that you are sinful and struggle as a result. The world’s wisdom tells you what the answers are–live to feel good, live to avoid pain and death, live to do your own thing and submit to no one.
God’s wisdom tells you the only true answer–live for God’s glory, live for life after death, live according to God’s Word and to submit to Christ as your Master. You will never know peace, embrace love, enjoy forgiveness, and experience purpose until you submit to Christ as your Savior and Lord. Turn from your sin in repentance and depend on Christ by faith and be saved and you will begin a life of true wisdom.