“Wisdom From Above”

James 3:13-18

James is writing a letter and telling those who believe in Jesus as their Lord and Savior, how to demonstrate their belief in the way they live. So far we have learned that followers of Jesus show love towards everyone and do not show favoritism. They watch what they say and keep tabs on their tongue. Today James focuses on living in such a way that demonstrates we have wisdom. It is God’s wisdom that shows us how to do good works.

James began this chapter speaking to those who desired to be teachers. Those who thought they were wise and wanted to share that wisdom. James started by telling them how to talk, now he is telling them how to live. For Christians it is not enough to have mere head knowledge. Real wisdom and understanding will be shown in our lives by our good conduct. 

This means wisdom and understanding are similar to faith; they are invisible, inner qualities. If a person is wise and has understanding it is fair to say that we should be able to see this invisible quality in their regular life. James offers us a way to judge if a person truly is walking with God. 

One significant attribute to look for is humility. The Greek word used for humility is not a passive gentleness coming from weakness but an active attitude of deliberate acceptance of those around them. The opposite of humility is when good works are done in a way designed to bring attention to oneself. Always putting yourself first shows lack of true wisdom according to James. 

He goes on to elaborate on such behavior, calling it earthly wisdom. 

Those with bitter envy and who are self-seeking and who boast and lie against the truth, are “earthly, unspiritual and demonic.”

Earthly – “Having this life only in view.”

Unspiritual – “Not concerned with, consisting of or relating to religious values.”

Demonic – “Demonical-inspired by demons, and maintained in the soul by their indwelling influence.”



This type of wisdom evaluates everything by worldly standards and makes personal gain life’s highest goal. 

I feel like I am watching the evening news. It seems our culture promotes personal gain first and foremost. 

James provides us with concrete concepts in which to evaluate the news, the people around us and ourselves. We are back to looking at the fruit which is produced. Earthly wisdom certainly is capable of accomplishing things, but the ultimate fruit it produces will be “disorder and evil of every kind.”

In comparison, the fruit that comes from God’s wisdom is first of all pure. The sense of pure James is referring to has the absence of any sinful attitude or motive. 

It is also peace loving. This is a description used in Scripture to refer to how God presents Himself as King. He is gentle and kind, when in reality He has every reason to be stern and punitive towards humans and their sin. 

James tells us, those who have wisdom from above, are gentle at all times. 

This is where our English definitions might lead us astray. The English language doesn’t have a word to describe the sort of “gentleness” meant here. The gentleness meant here is when a person realizes it is actually wrong to apply the strict letter of the law. They know when to forgive and when to offer strict justice, both in a guiding wise way, providing a kind consideration we would wish to receive ourselves. 

Wisdom from above is willing to yield to others.  This may sound weak and sissy, but remember we are talking about wisdom and for me this makes sense. When someone is willing to yield it doesn’t mean they automatically yield. Rather, it means they are not stiff or unbending, they are willing to listen and to reason rather than being stubborn and always “right.” Godly wisdom isn’t afraid of listening and deciding if changes are indeed necessary.

Wisdom from above is full of mercy. Mercy means judgment is not done completely on the basis of the law, but rather on the basis of the human being. Remembering what Jesus said in Matthew 7:2

For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

James repeats the concept of bearing good fruit. People using Godly wisdom can be seen by the fruit they produce. It’s not just about the power to think and talk about things the “right way.” It’s about seeing that power and talk produce good fruit. 

God given wisdom shows no favoritism. James refers back to favoritism again, from chapter 2, verse 1, 

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

Before you just let this statement fly past you, I encourage you to take inventory of how easily favoring some people over others is done. Our culture teaches us to defend our own. Whenever someone is different from us, we often immediately go to “they are less than.” It is a protective instinct that kicks in to insure we are better or in control. 

Lastly, wisdom from above is always pure. Purity means you aren’t pretending to be what is not but acting as you are, never putting on a mask of any sort. True wisdom seeks God’s glory above all else. While doing this they are considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. That about sums it up. Those with this wisdom see themselves as instruments of God. Strong in their awareness of who they are and giving that strength to further God’s truth, love, mercy and grace.  

James closes with a description of the fruit from those who hold wisdom from above. They will be seen as peacemakers and plant seeds of peace which reap a harvest of righteousness. 

What does that mean for us today?

Godly wisdom begins by planting God’s Word in our hearts and lives. Then we are called to live out God’s Word in our lives. Which isn’t easy. Because we live in a world dominated by our sinful nature. Paul wrote to the Romans with a similar request, Romans 12:2,

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

May we take God’s Word today, provided by James and meditate on it, asking God to put His wisdom in our lives. So that we can indeed, (James 3:16, taken from The Message),

develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoys its results, by us doing the hard work of getting along with others and treating others with dignity and honor.

Let’s pray.