The Expository Files


Wisdom That Is From Above

James 3:17,18

Two constant demands of a child of God are a positive attitude and appropriate action. However, it is an application of "wisdom from above" that drives these demands. Note 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. "Meekness of wisdom" calls for the proper attitude towards power (meekness) accompanied by the proper attitude towards knowledge (wisdom). The truly wise Christian will demonstrate both of these characteristics as they go about their daily lives.

Wisdom from above is in direct contrast with wisdom that proceeds from an envious and self-seeking heart (James 3:14,15).
The wrong kind of wisdom is earthly, sensual, and devilish. Earthly in that it measures its successes in worldly terms and its aims are worldly aims; sensual in that its source is our animal instinct not our spiritual man; and devilish in that its source is Satan and is designed to produce results that he would delight in.
The wrong kind of wisdom is arrogant and designed to create factions and produce jealousy (James 3:16) Instead of bringing people together wrong wisdom drives them apart; instead of producing peace it produces strife; and it is particularly designed by Satan to agitate personal relationships.
The wrong kind of wisdom is exemplified in numerous Bible accounts such as:

The Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9).
Abraham's decision to go to Egypt (Gen. 12:10-20).
King Saul's decision to put his armor on the young David (1 Sam. 17:38ff).
The disciples thought the crowd should be dismissed to find their own food (Mt. 14:15).
The centurion (under the helmsman's advice) determining to leave port against Paul's warning (Acts 27:9-11).

Wisdom from above has its origins with God, not man. Its character is heavenly and not earthly. It is God's gift and must be received from Him. Note James 1:17: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. For Solomon's view on wisdom from above see Prov. 2:1-6. "Above" is where Christians are always looking. Consider:
Their citizenship is there (Phil 3:20).
Their Father is there (Mt. 6:9).
Their treasures are laid up there (Mt. 6:19ff).
They are reborn to gain entrance there (Jn. 3:1-7).
Their home and hope are there (Jn. 14:1-6)
Their affections and attention are aimed there (Col. 3:1-4).

There is no real surprise that true Christians seek their wisdom from above and not from man.

What is the Christian's Wisdom?
* Jesus Christ is our wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24, 30) ... Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God... In Him "are hid all treasures of wisdom and knowledge." (Col. 2:3)
The Word of God is our wisdom (Read: Deut. 4:4-6) It is only from the scriptures that we can become "wise unto salvation." (2 Tim. 3:15)
This wisdom can be accentuated through believing prayer. (James 1:5) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Characteristics of "wisdom that is from above" (James 3:17,18)

Pure - from a Greek word meaning: pure enough to approach the gods. Originally meaning ritually pure, it came to mean morally pure. This is the purity that Paul feared the Corinthians would lose: "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity that is toward Christ." (2 Cor. 11:3 ASV) And James feared lack of this purity would lead his readers to spiritual adultery "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4) While much worldly wisdom would obviously not want to be scrutinized by God, true wisdom has had its concealed motives excised and is prepared to be seen by God.

Peaceable - in a right relationship with God and man. True wisdom will always bring men closer to one another and to God at the same time. When peace rules (arbitrates) in our lives tranquility will prevail and contentment will be in power. (Col. 3:15: "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful."). This peaceable attitude is in contrast to:
Arrogant wisdom which separates man from man by setting up rivalries (James 4:1,2).
Cruel wisdom that finds pleasure in hurting others with clever or cutting words.
Depraved wisdom which seduces men from their loyalty to God.

Gentle - from a word that cannot be directly translated from the original. (It also appears in Phil. 4:5 and 1 Tim. 3:3) It has been defined as "justice and better than justice;" and as "that which steps in to correct things when the law becomes unjust." Matthew Arnold called it "sweet reasonableness." It's the ability to apply the Golden Rule. The man who can apply this principle is able to forgive when justice gives him the perfect right to condemn. A spiritually sick friend needs the same consideration given to a physically sick friend. Gentle wisdom teaches a man: how to make allowances, when not to stand up for his rights, how to temper justice with mercy, and to remember that man-made rules are not an end-all in God's eyes. However, a true Christian will not compromise the truth to keep the peace.

Willing to yield - might mean either "ever ready to obey" or "easy to persuade." I can see it either way. A truly wise man is ready to listen and obey whenever God's word is spoken, and should be easily persuaded (not almost persuaded) by God's word. He is ready and willing to abandon a course once it shown to be wrong. As James said earlier in his epistle: "...let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath..." (1:19).

[Note: the previous characteristics point to our attitude of heart; the following characteristics are our call to action.]

Full of mercy and good fruits - This the same injunction made by Christ in Lk. 6:36: Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.
In Christian thought mercy:
Indicates mercy for the man even if his troubles are of his own making. Our mercy must reflect God's mercy in this respect. Godly mercy expects no reward (The Good Samaritan).
Indicates that good fruits must be a result of the mercy. Here is an action word showing us that practical help for those in need must be available. There is no true pity without helping the one pitied! What has James already taught in 1:27 and 2:15,16? "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble..." and "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?"

Undivided - (without partiality). Not wavering or vacillating. Choosing a course and keeping to it. Many who say they are keeping an open mind are just refusing to make up their mind; in the spiritual realm this is fatal! True wisdom is based on the certainties laid down for us from God through Christ. The fundamentals of faith are not obscure but are easily grasped. Our convictions are based on our faith in Christ and in God's word.

Sincere - (without hypocrisy) it is neither an act nor deception. It is pretending to be nothing that it is not and does not have its own ends in sight. Hypocrisy in attitude is just as fatal to our spiritual lives as hypocrisy in deeds. Those without hypocrisy are: sincere, open in their dealings, and without deceit.

The Results
Worldly wisdom produces trouble - envy, strife, and disorder that comes from instability and works that are worthless and of no account (James 3:16). Not only must we avoid worldly wisdom as individuals but must also avoid it as a congregation of God's people. Battles among so-called Christians, church splits, operating the church according to business principles instead of God's word and the absence of purity and peace point out that "something" is wrong - would not that "something" the absence of true wisdom?

God's wisdom produces blessing (James 3:18) - "And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (RSV) Remember, this peace includes a right relationship between man and man. The seed can only be sown and flourish when this peace exists between the one sowing the seed and the fertile ground. Nothing good will grow in an atmosphere where men are at variance with one another. Mt. 5:9 reads: "Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God." With our verse under consideration is it any wonder that the peacemakers have such a close relationship with God the Father? Peace is a fruit of righteousness and it becomes the field in which righteousness and all that comes from righteousness flourishes. Christ is our peace through whom we are reconciled to God. (Eph. 2:14: "For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility." RSV) His peace is available through keeping his commandments and includes peace within ourselves, with one another and with God.

We are what we live and what we live is what we sow! Living by man's wisdom will sow sin and strife and we will reap confusion and worthless works. Living by God's wisdom will sow righteousness and peace; we will reap God's blessings.

God hates a troublemaker! (Read Prov. 6:16-19) Lot followed the wisdom of the world and his holdings literally went up in smoke. Abraham based his decision on God's wisdom and his choice eventually led to blessings upon the whole world!

Prov. 3:13: "Happy is the man who makes discovery of wisdom, and he who gets knowledge." (BBE)

The main points made in this article were supplied by consulting the following sources:
Warren Weirsbe's The Bible Exposition Commentary, Volume 2, pp. 362-66.
Guy N. Woods' Commentary on the Epistle of James, pp. 190-97.
William Barclay's Daily Study Bible Series (James and Peter - volume 14), pp. 93-98.


By Carey Dillinger
From Expository Files 13.4; April 2006