In this passage James offers a contrast between two types of preached wisdom. There is the wisdom of this age and the wisdom of the age to come. The earthly wisdom comes out of selfish ambition and is no better than lies or pretensions. The heavenly wisdom comes out of a personal relationship with God and issues in practical social concern for the needy and distressed. When we promote earthly wisdom we deny Christ.
v13. James addresses the worldly wise teachers of the church and calls on them to set aside words and replace them with deeds. True wisdom will issue in deeds of humility and it is true wisdom that should be exhibited in the fellowship of believers, rather than the power of secular oratory. The humility that James speaks of may be that of brokenness in the sight of God, but given the context, it is more likely gentleness, as opposed to pride and boastfulness.
v14. James now contrasts the humble wisdom of v13b with a wisdom of "fanatical ardor" and "quarrelsome spirit." This is clearly a party-spirit wisdom where believers are running their own personal agendas. James' exhortation is, "don't be arrogant and so promote the lie that selfish party-spirit is a product of God's wisdom."
v15. Wisdom that expresses itself in party-spirit, enmity, offensive pride.... is not a wisdom that derives from God. Such wisdom is "earthly", ie. not from above, but rather earthbound, inferior, "bears the stamp of the world", Adamson. It is "unspiritual", ie. sensual, devoid of the Spirit. It is "of the devil", demonic, instigated by Satan.
v16. Those who proclaim this pseudo-wisdom, this non heavenly, unspiritual, ungodly, party-spirited wisdom, achieve no good for the church. Their wisdom does not build up the body of believers, rather it results in "disorder" (anarchy) and "evil practice" (promotes everything that is worthless rather than good).
v17. James now tells us about the wisdom that is divine in origin, in contrast to earthly wisdom. He doesn't actually say what heavenly wisdom is, but rather he describes its results. These results are very similar to Paul's fruit of the Spirit, Gal.5:22-23. In fact, it is quite possible that James' "wisdom" is actually akin to the "Spirit" - a very Jewish idea. Believers need to submit to the wise rule of God through the Spirit of God, a rule which purifies from within. The practical consequences are easily observed: i] peaceable; ii] considerate; iii] gentleness; iv] non-combative - able to yield to persuasion; v] merciful; vi] loving; vi] impartial - "not given to party spirit" NASB; vii] sincere - "without show or pretence", Mayor.
v18. Those who apply true wisdom, and as a result, honour God in their life, are those who produce the fruits of godliness - they make for peace, and do their just acts in a peaceful way.
James writes to a church fractured by argumentative members who are determined to push their own barrow. In our passage for study he sets out to attack those who proclaim a self-styled wisdom, while affirming those who proclaim a wisdom that comes from God. He seeks to expose those who, in the name of wisdom, of truthful speaking, practice envy and selfish ambition. At the same time he underlines the criteria that will enable us to discern the gifted teacher of God's Word - those possessing true wisdom, those who are of the Spirit, the genuine Spirit-gifted minister of the Word.
1. False wisdom (false ministry)
i] Counterfeit ministry is harsh and self-centred. Such teachers may be enthusiastic, but they disturb the unity of the church.
ii] A false ministry adopts and applies secular ("not of God", "sensual") ideas and systems which are "of the devil".
iii] Such ministry results in "disorder" and is therefore worthless.
2. True wisdom (Spirit-gifted ministry)
i] Genuine ministry is humble and sincere.
ii] The character of the genuine teacher is marked by seven (wise/spiritual) qualities.
iii] The product of a Spirit-gifted ministry is "peace".
For Jesus, the political and religious options of first century Judaism were polarized between the passivity of the Essenes and the activism of the Zealots. The middle ground consisted of a socially conformed and conservative hierarchy of Sadducees and Pharisees. In the face of this fraudulent worldly wisdom, Christ brought the wise rule of God. Rather than a rule of power, Christ brought a rule of purity and goodness; he offered the reign of peace.
The political and religious structures within our society cry out for the wise rule of God, of peace found in the harvest of righteousness realized through the wisdom of the gospel.
James' notion of "wisdom" applies to our personal lives, the church, and society. Consider the application of this passage to each.