Lesson Nine – Wisdom From Above

Wisdom from Above

Text:  James 3:13-18.

A.  Word study from “The Expanded Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.”

1.    Verse 13. Wise (Gr. sophos). This is an adjective describing believers endowed with spiritual and practical wisdom.  See Romans 16:19. Wisdom is translated from the Greek word “sophia.” It means insight into the true nature of things.

2.    Verse 13. “Endued with knowledge” (KJV), or “understanding” (NIV), is translated from “epistamon.” It means to be intelligent and experienced, that is, one having the knowledge of an expert.

3.    Verse 13. Life (NIV), or conversation (KJV), is translated from the Greek word “anastrophe.”  It means one’s “manner of life,” or conduct.  A good life is synonymous with beneficial conduct.

4.  Verse 13. Meekness (KJV), or humility (NIV), is translated from the Greek word “prautes.”  An inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercise of it is first and chiefly toward God.  It is that temper of spirit in which one accepts His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.

5.   Verse 14. Boast (NIV), or “glory not” (KJV), is translated from the Greek word “kauchomai.” It means “do not exult over,” or “glory against.”  We should not boast of our “self” to the injury of another person.

6.    Verse 15. Natural (NIV) or sensual (KJV) is from “psuchiko.” It means “belonging to the soul.” Soul in this sense refers to the man “in Adam” and what pertains to him (set in contrast to spiritual).  See I Cor. 2:14; 15:44.

7.    Verse 16.  Confusion (KJV) or disorder (NIV) is from the Greek word “akatastasia.”  It means a standing down, a state of disorder, a tumult, revolution or anarchy.

8.    Verse 17.  The English words found in their order in this verse are: pure, peaceable, forbearing, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits.  The following are variations in two translations:

(a)  The word forbearing is translated “considerate” (NIV) and “gentle” (KJV).  The Greek word is “epieikes.”  It has two parts:  Epi – unto and eikos – likely.  It denotes “seemly fitting,” hence, equitable, fair, moderate – such as a person who is not insisting on the letter of the law.

(b)  Compliant is translated “submissive” (NIV) and “easy to be entreated” (KJV).  Compliant was translated from the Greek word “eupeithes.”   It means to obey – to be persuaded.

B.  Introduction.              

The subject in our text is wisdom, and more specifically: “How we can know if we are applying heavenly or earthly wisdom.”  This will be the main aim of this lesson.  Since the topic of the wisdom of God has been discussed in several of the forgoing lessons, they will serve as an introduction to this lesson.  However, the introduction to the previous lesson should be reviewed.  Although, a complete study of the wisdom of God must start in eternity before time, this lesson will be in the context with the information James presented.  The Apostle Paul revealed the great difference in the wisdom of God and man in the first four chapters of his first letter to the Corinthians.  The important point is the results.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.  No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God has destined for our glory before time began.  None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.   I Cor. 2:6-8

C.  Lesson.

Wisdom is a discipline in which a person applies truth to his or her life experiences.  Wisdom can be defined in other ways but this definition best fits this study.  The truth Christians apply to our life’s experiences is God’s word; however, James declared it is not enough to “merely listen to the word.”  Christians need to “humbly accept the word implanted.”  Jas. 1:21.  The principles, commands and laws of life that describe the way God created mankind has been set forth in the word of God.  The principles in the new covenant must be accepted by faith; therefore, we can think of our faith as “experimental faith.”  This is to say, we will need to apply the principles of life to our personal life experiences to determine for ourselves if they work for us.  Jesus assured us they will work; consequently, our first point of faith will be to trust Jesus for the development of our lives.  Jesus challenged the Jews who believed in Him:

If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.                                                                                                      John 8:31

His challenge to the general public was and is:

If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.                                                                                    John 7:17

Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and taught life as it is developed and lived in the culture of the kingdom of God.  Since then people in every generation have marveled at how He spoke with authority about life principles (Matt. 7:29).  His teachings have found their way into the work of psychologists, sociologists, philosophers and even humanists.  The Jewish leadership did not persuade the Romans to crucify Jesus because they did not appreciate His teaching about life.  The people listened to the parables Jesus used to help them understand the kingdom of God.  The issue many of them struggled with is the same issue every person must make a personal decision about today: Indeed, was Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God?

The next challenge Christians accept, after we decide to have faith Jesus is who He claimed to be, is about our spirits:  All human beings spirits’ have been designed in the likeness of God (Jas. 3:9).  Yes, even our enemies.  We speak of the spirit in each of us that has become our present “self.”  Many believers in Christ may still be struggling with the idea of our spirits coming from God (Heb. 12:9).  Faith in these truths plus the sacrifice of the Son of God will indeed set us free.  Grace and truth both came through the Christ who was named Jesus (John 1:17).  These are two different entities.  There would be no purpose for the grace of the cross, if we do not have faith our spirits came from God and have a been created in the likeness to God (Gen. 1:26).

Yes, faith in both grace and truth will set us free from our sins and even the fear of death.  Faith in God’s wisdom will also set us free from the “wisdom of men.”  This is the issue in the text of this lesson.  Children are bombarded with the wisdom of men from the day they are born because of the nature of passive learning.  This will continue to happen until they are taught the wisdom of God from God’s word, or when they mature enough to learn with their own capacities.  Unfortunately, most of the seven billion people in the world were not taught the wisdom of God from their parents or their neighbors.  These people will need to find this “pearl of great price” in their own search for the meaning of life.  The wisdom of the world will also be learned by children in Christian homes to some extent because Christians are still growing in our faith in the wisdom of God.  Our faith in these two theologies, grace and truth, will be tested regularly in our life encounters.  We accept God’s wisdom but we are not there yet.

Our faith, when made complete by each challenge we encounter, will show itself in our deeds (Jas. 2:18).  James worked this out for us in chapter two.  Next he introduced the topic of teachers and their greater judgment after they accept the appointment.  In this context, we were led through a frightful discussion of the wrong usage of our tongues.  This was followed by the opening statement of our text:  “Who is wise and understanding among you?”  Jas. 3:13.

This rhetorical question would be the appropriate question with which to open a meeting of the church for the purpose of selecting a teacher for the church’s Bible school.  It would certainly be the right question to ask if the meeting was called to select an additional elder to guide the flock.

James’ statement following his rhetorical question is a divine guideline for finding the answer to his question.  The answer: “Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom.”  The principle set forth is simple enough to be done by the members of the church:  Check the quality of the fruit of the person’s life before the ordination or appointment.  Jesus set forth this principle in Matt. 7:15-20 to help us identify false prophets; “Thus, by their fruits you will recognize them.”  It is a divine principle for selecting elders and deacons in the church (I Tim. 3:1-13).

The selection exercise by the church for leaders, teachers, preachers and members to serve in all the other functions in the body of Christ can be done in a manner that gives Satan an opportunity.  James may have had this in mind in verses 14-16 of the text.  Strong willed people want to have a voice in the leadership.  Strong willed people are valuable for the Lord’s different ways Christians serve in His body, the church (Rom. 12:3-8).  Saul was a strong willed person.  Jesus decided to use him as the Apostle Paul.  Strong willed people need to learn to humble themselves to Jesus, the head His body, as well as, serving the other members (I Pet. 5:1-4).

Strong willed may have a tendency to be proud of their abilities they often develop (Jas. 4:6, 7).  When proud people are passed over in the selecting of teachers and leaders, they sometimes become jealous (I Pet. 2:1).  Christians who have a habit of “looking intently into the law that gives liberty” will be concerned about being jealous (Jas. 1:25).  Christians know it is a self destructing sin within us.  When we become envious of those who were selected, we will want to examine ourselves.  We ask ourselves if we are selfishly ambitious or a disciple of Christ?  It does not matter whether we were the right person for the leadership position or not.  We may have been, but this is not the issue with which we now need to deal at this point – after the fact of not being selected.

The question Christians want to answer for ourselves is whether or not our desire to serve in a leadership role is motivated by selfish ambition or because we want to serve our Lord in His church.  Members of the church were noted by Luke in his Acts document who was motivated by selfish ambition (Acts 5:1-11; 8:18-24).  The first churches were plagued by people joining themselves to the assemblies whose motives were money and glory (Rom. 16:17-19; II Cor. 2:17; Jude 17-19).

Another type of problem developed in the Corinthian churches.  It has become a worldwide destroyer of the church Jesus built in the first century and the church He still desires to build.  This type of problem developed after the Corinthian Christians started claiming “I follow Paul;” another, “I follow Apollos;” and so on.  I Cor. 1:12.  After being informed of this activity, Paul immediately gave a long discourse on the “wisdom of God” versus the “wisdom of men.”  Some members of the church were “boasting” about their wisdom.   Even worse, they were ignoring what God had done for them based on His wisdom (I Cor. 1:30, 31; 3:18-23).  Please review the first four chapters of the I Corinthian letter.  The boasting of men had fueled other problems in the Corinthian area.  Some of these boasters had set themselves up as clergy.  This is often found in churches that have been developed by the wisdom of men.  They claim they are superior over what they may refer to as the laity – lesser kind of people in the group.  Although this may be difficult to accept the following scenario, it is a common happening today:

You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise!  In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face.  To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!  II Cor. 11:19-21

The church in Corinth may have financially supported the person Paul described (I Cor. 9:12).  Monarchial pastors, those who are referred to as “the preacher,” have developed a mythical role in many churches who advertise themselves as the Lord’s church.  A Christian who proclaims God’s word is a preacher.  There are no “the preachers” designated as such mentioned in the Bible.

Selfish ambition is a great motivator to inspire young people to become leaders.  This form of motivation is according to the wisdom of the world.  We sometimes hear the comment; “He will never get anywhere in life, he has no ambitions for himself.”  Christian men would not serve well as shepherds if they desired this leadership role based on the “wisdom of men.” The motivation is completely opposite in principle.  By the wisdom of God, elders feed and guide other members of the church as shepherds do sheep.  Jesus is the Chief Shepherd.  He taught and practiced the “towel and wash basin” leadership mentality (John 13:1-5).  The wisdom of the world mentality about leadership belongs in the category of seeking the “chief seat.”  They think the power is in the seat (Mark 10:35-38).  The towel and wash basin mentality sees perceives power in the service motivated by love.

What James described in 3:14-16 is a fair description of the world scene outside the church.  They can only think about the secular world God created.  Mankind cannot understand spiritual things without the wisdom of God.  Wise men, scholars and philosophers, by their own wisdom, did not come to know God (I Cor. 1:21).   God is spirit (John 4: 24).  The church strives to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Eph. 4:3.  Jesus did not trust the members of the first churches He was building for God to select their own leaders, teachers and preachers (Acts 14:23).  Jesus selected these men and the Holy Spirit assisted them (Eph. 4:11; I Cor. 12:1-11).

Today, the members of the church must choose our shepherds, teachers, preachers and those who serve in other ways.  The church’s task is to scrutinize their fellow members.  Since we cannot see the condition of their minds, hearts and consciences, we must consider their deeds.  What they claim to have faith in will appear in their behavior.  Like a shepherd of actual sheep, those who desire the office of an elder must understand the people (Jas. 3:13).  They must believe their spirits are designed in the image of God.  They understand the law of life in the new covenant will give each member freedom to grow in the way God created us to grow as His children.

The Christians who understand these issues of life, and have faith in them, will have shown their faith by their deeds for all to witness.  They will have applied these and other truths to their own lives.  This is wisdom from God because He provided the truth in Jesus for all to witness.  The church can choose their leaders, teacher and preachers from those who have a good life because their “deeds were done in humility that comes from wisdom.”  The result is the church members become “peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”  Jas. 3:18.

Peacemakers in the church have faith in God, “our Father of heavenly lights.”  He has given us good and perfect gifts “in Christ.” James 1:17.  One of these gifts is His wisdom.  It is “first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”  James 3:17

D.  Study of Text

1.            Explain the connection between this text and the principles in 3:1-12.

2.            How might this text (3:13-18) suggest the recipients of this letter needed some guidelines for selecting elders?

3.            In what sense might James’ question in 3:13; “Who is wise and understanding among you?”  relate to his declaration about teachers in 3:1?

4.            What is James saying to the recipients in verse 14 when he said, “do not boast about it or deny the truth?”

5.            How might the content of verses 14 – 16 suggest the church, or churches, had some members who were trying to usurp the leadership roles for personal reasons?

6.            What are the two sources of wisdom spoken of in our text?

7.            How does earthly wisdom manifest itself in a congregation?  (v. 16).

8.            Consider verse 17:  In what kind of situation, might a Christian ask God for His wisdom?

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