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The entire Book of James can be organized around the verses that we are studying today and tomorrow. We can seek to obtain the understanding that results in wise attitudes and conduct either from God or from our own best thinking. Each of the major topics in James can be classified as wisdom from God or “wisdom” from below (that is, from our own best thinking).
– Trials and temptations can be approached with wisdom from God or our own best thinking (chapter 1). God’s wisdom will give us victory over temptations and will use trials to further our maturity. So-called “wisdom” that comes from our own best thinking, will cave in under temptation and blame someone, even God, for our failure.
– Wisdom from God knows the truth of the saying, “Don’t talk about it, be about it.” Our own best thinking is content to just talk a good talk. (see chapter 1).
– So-called “wisdom” from below prefers one kind of person over the other and allows unfair treatment and the oppression of others. (see chapter 2). God’s wisdom applies the royal law of love to life and treats all people the same way we desire to be treated.
– With God’s wisdom and help, we are able to control our speech and speak living words to other people (chapter 3). The sad state of our own best thinking is revealed the minute we open our mouths.
James’ Message about Wisdom
James 3.13-18 – Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
“Wisdom” from Below
“My own best thinking is out to kill me,” said one of my friends to me, while we drove down Winner Road. He was speaking about his battle with addiction that kept getting sabotaged by his own way of thinking. I think he was stating something that applies to all of us.
James shows us what is the exact nature of our own best thinking, the “wisdom” that comes from below. Let’s look at each element in verses 14-16 to get a clearer picture of what is involved in this kind of “wisdom.”
Envy – In the original language, this word can describe an opinion that is so strong that you’re willing to fight for it. It also can describe being envious or jealous.
James tells us that “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1.20). My own best thinking is guaranteed to not produce the kind of right living that God desires, plain and simple.
Selfish Ambition – The words associated with “selfish ambition” are: disputes, strife, backbiting, slander, gossip, dissensions and factions. We are guaranteed drama and pain if our own best thinking leads us to engage in selfish ambition.
Boastful – The dictionary definition of this word in the original language is this: “to boast of one’s self to the injury of another person.” “Trash talking” is a good example of this kind “wisdom” that is from below. The actions of the boastful in heart are guaranteed to show favoritism to some and prejudice to others.
False to the Truth – Our own best thinking is not directed by the Holy Spirit and runs the risk of being contrary to the truth. We are deceived by our own best thinking (Jeremiah 17.9), and we live deceptive lives before our family, friends, employers and more.
The source of “wisdom” from below is “earthly, unspiritual, devilish.” These are the big three forces that oppose God’s purposes on earth. They have been described for centuries as “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
Earthly wisdom stems from the world system’s best thinking. It is nearly impossible to escape being influenced by this kind of thinking. Only a conscious decision and effort to live according to God’s direction will make it possible.
The “unspiritual” or “flesh” way of thinking is flavored by my life apart from God. This kind of thinking can range from gross barbaric thoughts to self-righteous religiosity. The barbarians pillaged their way through Europe and the self-righteous crowd invented the Crusades. Both displayed a tragic example of what happens when our lives are lived apart from God.
All wisdom from below is fueled by a devilish or demonic person, Satan. No doubt our best thinking is out to kill us. Behind the wisdom from below is a being whose sole purpose is to kill, steal and destroy our lives (John 10.10).
Spend a few minutes with the news and the obvious results of our own best thinking will be evident. “Wisdom” from below produces “disorder and wickedness of every kind” (verse 16).
Do We Believe James?
An old man was about to embark on his first airplane trip. He looked a little nervous and the flight attendant asked, “Are you okay?” He told her that it was his first time to fly.
When they reached their destination, the flight attendant came by and asked him, “How was you flight?”
He replied, “I guess it was okay, but I never put my full weight on the plane.”
Let’s be honest. As we consider these words from James, how many of us are putting our full weight on what he teaches? Are we ready to abandon our own best thinking, in order to embrace the wisdom from above, God’s wisdom?
If we are ready to turn away from our own best thinking. What can we do?
(1) Some of my friends have an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. They choose to take contrary action against their own best thinking. When they are confronted with a difficult decision, they check with their sponsor and take their direction. Often, the direction goes against their own “wisdom” from below, but they make the choice to follow the counsel of their sponsor.
(2) My practice is to read the Bible every day. I also read books by people whom I call my “spiritual heroes.” The Bible and these books act like a sponsor in my life. They show me that my own best thinking is often not the best for my life. They provide an example to me of another way of life.
(3) I don’t know about you, but I often have to silence the inner voice of my flesh. That is the unspiritual (or flesh) aspect of my being. My “flesh” is my own best thinking removed from the influence of the Holy Spirit. I am very capable of convincing myself that my wants are exactly what I need for my life. It sometimes takes me days to find God’s direction, because he has to wait until I surrender my own self-centered ideas and plans to his direction.
(4) Like the man’s airplane trip, whether I know it or not, I have to place my trust in God. If I don’t I will be the “double-minded” person James describes (James 1.8).
I can no more have my mind controlled by the “wisdom” from below and God’s wisdom at the same time, than the man could fly to his destination with one foot on the ground.
We must make a decision and put our entire trust in God’s wisdom. After all, what do we have to lose by following the wisest, most loving and most powerful Being of all.
Dear God, you promised to give us wisdom, if we ask for it. Today, we not only ask for your wisdom, but we ask you to help us live by your wisdom every day of our lives. We put our full weight on you today.