Online Bible Commentary
The Meekness of Wisdom
James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 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. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (NKJV)
James is writing to the Christian Jews who have been driven out of Palestine by persecution. James stayed in Jerusalem his whole life. He led the church there, and the Book of James is likely a summary of various sermons to the believers.
James is addressing those who would be teachers of the gospel. In this passage he cautions them against worldly wisdom, exhorting them to spiritual wisdom.
The word translated “wise” (v. 13a) is from the Greek word “sophos”, which means “wise, expert, or skilled”. It refers to one who is an expert, or skilled, in life. The word translated “understanding” (v. 13b) is from the Greek word “epistemon” which means “understanding, expert, or learned”. In verse thirteen, James is asking who is wise, who is expert, who is skilled, in living life?
In Jewish usage this is a reference to a teacher of Scripture, one who has a practical moral wisdom based on a knowledge of God. This person exhibits good conduct which is defined as “meekness of wisdom” (v. 14). The good conduct is meekness, or humility, which comes from wisdom. This is spiritual wisdom, the wisdom that comes from God.
James will give a broader description of spiritual wisdom in verses 17-18, but first he describes worldly wisdom, the opposite of spiritual wisdom. Worldly wisdom is the wisdom of our human nature, the wisdom we are born with. It is the wisdom of “bitter envy and self-seeking” (v. 14a), selfishness. It is the wisdom of boasting and lying (v. 14b).
Worldly wisdom does not come from God (v. 15a). Instead it comes from Satan. It is worldly, sensual, and demonic (v. 15b). This wisdom of envy and selfishness results in “confusion and every evil thing” (v. 16).
But God is not the author of confusion. He is the God of order. He is not the author of evil. He is the God of purity. James describes God’s wisdom as “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (v. 17). The fruit of God’s wisdom is “righteousness” (v. 18a). This fruit “is sown in peace by those who make peace” (v. 18b).
So James is directing this passage to those who would be teachers of the Gospel. He is calling for them to have Godly wisdom, and to abandon their worldly wisdom, that of their human nature. This is a description of someone who is spiritually mature.
Only those who are spiritually mature should be teachers of the Gospel. If the teacher is not spiritually mature, the result is false teaching in the church. False teaching leads to confusion, disorder in the church.
Unfortunately we see the result of spiritually immature teachers in many of our churches today. We see a liberal gospel being taught. We see worldly teaching, demonic teaching. We see teaching of bitter envy and selfishness, boasting and lying. Homosexuality is accepted as normal. Sin and Hell are ignored. Anything goes in the liberal churches of today. The result is “confusion and every evil thing” (v. 16) in the church.
This is the teaching that James is condemning in this passage. This is the teaching of worldly wisdom, demonic wisdom. This teaching comes from those who are not spiritually mature.
In contrast, the person who is spiritually mature shows “by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom” (v. 13b). His conduct is aligned with his teaching. He produces good works. His good works are done in the meekness of Godly wisdom. There is no bitter envy, selfishness, boasting, or lying. He does not twist the words of the Bible to try and prove his agenda. His only agenda is that of honoring God by honoring God’s word.