Lesson 22. The Discipline Of Attitudes (James 3:13-18) PART 1

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

13Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.

15This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.

16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

17But 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.

COMMENTARY

13. Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

We like to think of ourselves as wise, and we are quick to justify our role in conflicts. But James is just the kind of counselor we need – one who will not allow us to deceive ourselves and who will bring clarity to the issues. For Christians who want to learn true spirituality, James cuts to the chase.

James has given his readers a sobering picture of the certainty of judgment and their vulnerability in that judgment because of the terrible evil they do with their language. It leads to one of the fundamental questions of life anyone must face. How can I hope to purity my behavior when it flows from my evil inward character. How can my heart be changed from its selfishness? Is there any hope for me?

Now James addresses this hope saying, there is a spirituality available from God. This is to be distinguished from Paul’s focus in Romans 3. Paul would write about the impossibility of attaining a righteous standing before God. By a self-reliant observance of the law – and then about “a righteousness from God apart from the law” through Jesus Christ. James is writing about the impossibility of living the Christian life (for example, controlling our tongues) by our resources. Aspects of this spirituality will include gaining wisdom from God, asking for God’s provision, living in friendship with God, drawing near to God, and being lifted up by God. It is all from God; it is all attained by reliance on God. It is a spirituality that comes because God “gives us more grace” – “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (4:6). Though his focus is different than Paul’s emphasis in Romans 3, James’ message is just as much of a statement of God’s grace.

The first thing Paul wants his readers to know is brought to light in a question; “Who among you is wise and understanding?” When James invites people who are (supposedly) wise and understanding to step forward and identify themselves, he is returning more explicitly to the topic of “teachers,” which he addressed in the above paragraphs. He is primarily speaking to those who think they are wise enough to teach others. James wants to inform them of what true wisdom means, and what James discloses is more of a description than a definition of wisdom. Still, he describes it as humble submissiveness to God, resulting in a life of goodness, purity, and peace with other people. James will explain this with three aspects of wisdom.

“The Nature of wisdom?” Before we get into this, the impact of the question, “Who among you is wise and understanding?” must be faced. Some do not concern themselves with true wisdom but only want the status of being thought wise. James’ question will expose them for what they are. However, the question is an invitation to those who aspire to be wise, and his answer will divulge the way to achieve their aspirations.

Then we must submit to James’ answer about the requirement of true wisdom. In line with his previous instructions, James again requires actions that support words. Who claims to be wise? Let him show it by living a life of goodness. Today the phrase “a life of goodness” (or “a good life” has come to mean a prosperous, pleasurable life. That is not what James means, for he is talking about another matter: moral goodness – “good conduct” or “good behavior.” Genuine wisdom, like faith, is a practical matter; it shows itself in how one lives. James says, “Let him show by good behavior his deeds by the humility of wisdom.” Wisdom, then, is not something I will merely possess in my head; if I am wise at all, it is something I will demonstrate by my conduct.

Finally, the personality of wisdom should be taken to heart; the wise deeds will be done in humility. Humility is the character trait underlying the Christian behavior described in the entire letter; this is the trait to cultivate if one would take James’ teaching to heart. Therefore, James’ idea of humility – “meekness” and “gentleness” -- is worth exploring. Today these traits connote

a touch of weakness, gentleness, and passivity, which is not valid in James’s requirement of active obedience. The Christian virtue of humility is modeled after the ministry of Christ, who served others, sacrificed himself, and placed Himself wholly at the Father’s disposal in perfect trust and obedience.

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