Notes on James 3:13-18

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

13 Who (is) a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.

At this point, James introduces a multi-verse section dealing with wisdom and knowledge. He first asks who among the believers was first, a wise man, and second, who had been endued with knowledge among you—i.e, the believers who were reading this letter. Then James insists that he should demonstrate his good deeds by meekness and by living a good life wherever he/she was living.

14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

James again contrasts the ones who are wise with those who have bitter envying and strife. Part of this goes back to the favoritism which may have been inevitable in these early days of the Church. Another part probably deals with the issue of the tongue and the problems caused by the tongue.

Here is a solemn warning, not to lie against the truth. The classic example would be Ananias and Sapphira back in Acts 5. They lied to the Holy Spirit, they lied to Peter and anyone else who was there, by withholding the truth, and they were struck dead immediately.

15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but (is) earthly, sensual, devilish.

Now James describes the two different types of wisdom. In this verse, he refers back to verse 14 where the wrong kind of wisdom (bitter envying, strife, etc.) stayed in the believers’ hearts. This type of wisdom had nothing to do with God’s wisdom which is described below.

The use of the word “wisdom” reflects several different meanings. Besides the wisdom which God gives, such as what Solomon requested, is much different than the strategies Solomon employed to purge his reign of some of David’s subjects (Joab, Shimei, Adonijah, to name three. See 1 Kings 2:1-9 for David’s final instructions to Solomon, so to speak, before David died).

16 For where envying and strife (is), there (is) confusion and every evil work.

James again jumps back to verse 14, mentioning envying and strife. The situation seems to be different, though: there, he admits that some have envying and strife in their hearts—which may or may not be found by others—but here, he states that now envying and strife are out in the open. These problems are in full view and people know it, with the end result being confusion and every “evil work”, which were fully known when James wrote this letter even though we may not have full knowledge.

Before this, James must have known about the envying and strife generated by the ruling class in the time of Jesus, namely, the ones who hated Him and broke any number of their own laws in order to have Him put to death. They even changed the charges, saying at first that Jesus planned to destroy the temple and rebuild it (Matt, 26:61) to later, claiming that Jesus made Himself to be “the Son of God” (John 19:7) and was worthy of death. Peter reminded them of this in Acts 3:17, not long after Pentecost.

Later, the sons of Sceva, a Jewish priest, went to Ephesus and tried to cast out a demon from a demon-possessed man. They couldn’t do it, even though they had seen Paul do it, and the demon-possessed man inflicted physical harm on them (see Acts 19)! They had envy and perhaps had something besides God’s glory as their primary desire. Perhaps we could learn from their mistakes.

17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, (and) easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

Compare these definitions of wisdom—God’s wisdom—with the three-fold description above.

18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

Although this statement is not clear, James knew his readers would be able to understand and apply these words of wisdom from the Holy Spirit. Perhaps James combined two Beatitudes (Matt 5:9-10).

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV)

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