Lesson 22. The Discipline Of Attitudes (James 3:13-18) PART 2
by John Lowe
This seems to be James’ own concept of obedience. Humility is first the teachability by which we accept “humbly” the Word of God in 1:21. But James emphasizes that humbly taking God’s Word entails doing His Word. Humility is, second, a submissive readiness to do what the Word says of deeds done in … humility. Third, James shows in our current passage that in humility toward God, we will become humble (and gentle) and live at peace with one another. The opposite of humility is an unwillingness to learn and a refusal to yield: the bitter envy and selfish ambition that will result in disorder. For James, humility surrenders oneself in ready teachability and responsiveness to God’s Word, resulting in a good and unselfish life of peace with other people.
The problem James is addressing, then, is not that teachers are spreading false doctrine. James addresses the issue of arrogance, which can be present even when correct doctrine is being taught. Friends, I can be correct in my doctrine down to the last detail, and I can be consistent in my orthodoxy; I can have the reputation of having a thorough grasp of theology and be regarded as a protector of the faith, and my teaching may still be earthly, unspiritual, of the devil, resulting in disorder and every evil practice by stirring up suspicion, slander, distrust, and contention within the Christian community.
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.
“The source of wisdom.” The wisdom James wants his readers to seek is said to come from heaven (from above). “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. It is” used in John 3 to describe being born “again” or born “anew.” The sense is indicated by the verb “come down” and by the contrast to be adjective in 1:17, where every good and perfect gift was said to come from above and then explicitly from the Father. Wisdom is now declared one of those special gifts from above and then explicitly from the Father.
“The Source of Wisdom.” But the divine origin makes the gift more important than mere location. Earthly origin, in recurrent New Testament usage, implies inferiority to the heavenly origin. James makes this more specific: bitter envy and selfish ambition are also unspiritual, denoting a natural source devoid of God’s supernatural Spirit. Finally, to leave no doubt about envy’s evil source (jealousy) and ambition, James says they are demonic: of the devil. James intends to point us to a pearl of wisdom from heaven, in contrast to wisdom from hell, a knowledge far superior to any wisdom we find in ourselves naturally and undoubtedly superior to anything that comes from demons.
Since true wisdom comes from outside ourselves and from God Himself, we must examine where our reliance is placed. It makes sense of what James has already prescribed for a life of faith. It requires from us an active prayer life – to ask for wisdom as 1:5 commends. It requires of us a conscience dependence on God – in the humility prescribed in 3:13. True wisdom can only be had by people who live in active reliance on God.
16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
“The Expression of Wisdom.” What will genuine wisdom look like in a person’s life? James describes both the false wisdom and the true, and in each case, he lists identifying attitudes and actions.
Regarding false wisdom, we can understand why jealousy (envy) and selfish ambition are the characteristic attitudes: they are the opposite of the humility entailed in admitting one’s need and relying on God for the wisdom one lacks. The adjective “selfish” describes a harsh stance of demanding to be recognized as wise instead of being willing to learn. The noun jealousy reveals the motivation as envy. The second noun, “selfish ambition,” expresses the sinful desire for personal glory – wanting a teacher’s status so that others will have to learn from me. It is valuable to remember that James has been addressing people who gather in Christian assemblies and function as teachers. His words shine a spotlight on the craving for self-glorification in many who work in Christian ministry.