WARNING AGAINST JEALOUSY AND FACTION . James 3:13 contains the positive exhortation to meekness; James 3:14 the negative warning against jealousy and party spirit; and then the following verses place side by side the portraits of the earthly and the heavenly wisdom.
Contrast between the earthly and the heavenly wisdom:
I. WISDOM SHOWS BY ITS FRUITS IN HEART AND LIFE . The following are some of the fruits of the heavenly wisdom:
"By their fruits ye shall know them;" and therefore the presence or absence of such qualities as these form tests by which every one may recognize the presence or absence in his own heart of the wisdom which is from above.
II. THE SINFULNESS OF PARTY SPIRIT . A sin which is not always recognized, especially in religious circles, as being a sin. Its true character, however, may be seen by a consideration of
III. THE CHARACTER OF THE NATURAL MAN . The meaning of "animal" or "natural" ( ψυχικός ) in Scripture requires careful consideration. The fact that wherever a moral emphasis rests upon this word it is always depreciatory, and that here ( James 3:15 ) it stands between "earthly" and " devilish ," forms one of the clearest indications of the absolute need of grace. Scripture has nothing but condemnation for the man who is ruled by the ψυχή . "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God." Mere good nature will never save a man. It is not enough to be "well disposed. " Esau was all this. He stands out in Holy Scripture as the type of the natural man, ruled only by the ψυχή —good-natured, generous, brave, and kindly, but " not having the Spirit;" no grace , and therefore, by the verdict of an inspired writer, his character is stamped as that of "a profane person" ( Hebrews 12:16 ).
The apostle suggests here that those who aspired too hastily to become Christian teachers ( James 3:1 ) showed themselves to be sadly deficient in wisdom. They were unwise at once in their estimate of their own powers, and in their judgment as to the kind of public discussions, which would be profitable for the Church. The cause of gospel truth could never be advanced by dogmatic disputations or bitter personal wrangling. Attend, therefore, says James in verse 13, to a description first of false wisdom, and then of true (verses 17, 18). Many members of the Churches of "the Dispersion" desired to appear "wise" (verse 13), but only some were really so. Many might even be "knowing," or "endued with knowledge," who were not wise.
"Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one,
Have ofttimes no connection."
Knowledge is only a hewer of wood, while wisdom is the architect and builder. A man may possess a large library, or even amass vast stores of knowledge, and yet be "a motley fool." Indeed, no fool is so great as a knowing fool. The wise man is he who can use his knowledge for the largest moral and spiritual good. And the true wisdom is bound up with the life of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ ( Job 28:28 ; 2 Timothy 3:15 ). It makes the will of God its rule, and his glory its end. So the man who lives without God should be thought of as the impersonation of stupidity, and Satan as the supreme fool of the universe. But, if a man be "wise unto salvation," how will his wisdom appear?
1. By " his good life. " (Verse 13) The quiet even flow of one's daily occupation will furnish an ample sphere for it. Even the heathen philosopher, Seneca, has said, "Wisdom does not show itself so much in precept as in life—in a firmness of mind and a mastery of appetite. It teaches us to do, as well as to talk; and to make our words and actions all of a color." The weighty 'Essays' of Lord Bacon "come home to men's business and bosoms;" yet their author cannot justly be called "the wisest," if he was in his own life "the meanest of mankind."
2. By " his works in meekness of wisdom. " Character is perceived not only by its subtle aroma, but in connection with individual actions. Wisdom shows itself in acts of holiness. And these acts are done "in meekness," which is one of wisdom's inseparable attributes. True wisdom is mild and calm, patient and self-restraining. And yet a meek spirit is not a mean spirit. The "poor in spirit" are not the poor-spirited. The "meekness of wisdom" consists with the greatest courage and the most ardent zeal. An old commentator says, "Moses was very meek in his own cause, but as hot as fire in the cause of God." And the Man Christ Jesus was mild, just because he was strong and brave. There was no fierceness, no fanaticism, no sourness, about him. He is our perfect Pattern of the "meekness of wisdom" ( 1 Peter 2:22 , 1 Peter 2:23 ; Matthew 27:12-14 ). The spirit of strife and wrangling is not the spirit of Christ. James now proceeds to a statement of principles regarding false or earthly wisdom.
I. ITS NATURE . (Verse 14) The spurious wisdom of the " many teachers' carried in it not so much burning zeal as "bitter zeal." Its spirit was factious, arrogant, bigoted, Its roots lay in the angry passions of the heart. Its aim was personal victory rather than the triumph of the truth. While it may be sometimes dutiful to contend earnestly in defense of the gospel, the love of controversy for its own sake, and the cherishing of a contentious spirit towards brethren, is always sinful, much less a ground for "glorying." A professing Christian who lives to foster either doctrinal wranglings or social quarrels presents to the world a caricature of Christianity, and is himself a living lie "against the truth."
II. ITS ORIGIN . (Verse 15)
1. " Earthly. " Every good gift is from above; but this so-called wisdom is of earthly origin, and busies itself about earthly things. Those cultivate it whose souls are wholly immersed in worldly pursuits.
2. " Sensual ;" i.e. psychical or natural, as opposed to spiritual. It originates in the lower sphere of man's intellectual nature; it is the wisdom of his unspiritual mind and his unsanctified heart. Until the human spirit becomes possessed by the Spirit of God, its works will be "the works of the flesh."
3. "Devilish." The false wisdom is demoniacal in source, as it is in character. The envious heart, like the evil tongue, "is set on fire by hell" (verse 6). Implicitly followed, this wisdom will tend to make a man "half-beast, half-devil." These three adjectives correspond to our three great spiritual enemies. Earthly wisdom has its origin in the world; natural wisdom, in the flesh; demoniacal wisdom, in the devil. And, recognizing this, our prayer should be, "From all such deceits, good Lord, deliver us."
III. ITS RESULTS . (Verse 16) Where there are "bitter zeal and faction" in the heart, these may be expected to produce commotion and wretchedness in society. What misery has not the spirit of strife and self-seeking wrought in the midst of families, and in the bosom of Churches! It is a fruitful source of heart-burnings and of lifelong alienations. It sows tares among the wheat. And the harvest of "this wisdom" shall be "a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow."
1. Loathe the vile spirit of strife.
2. Covet earnestly the gift of holy wisdom.
3. Remember that the climax of the true wisdom consists in meekness.—C.J.
Wisdom, true and false.
The temptation to be "teachers" ( James 3:1 ) arose from the notion that they possessed wisdom. How shall they show this wisdom, how shall they even use it, if they may not teach? The life is to be at once the practice and the manifestation of a wisdom that is true ( James 3:13 ). James here reverts to his earlier theme ( James 1:5 ); and we have for our consideration—The false wisdom and the true, in their origin, nature, and fruits.
I. THE FALSE WISDOM .
1. What was the nature of the false wisdom which prompted them to much speaking? It was nothing other than the spirit of faction and jealousy—competing with one another for precedence; envying one another. And this was a lying against the truth! What truth? Their brotherhood in Christ, and the love which such brotherhood required. Such false wisdom was:
2. What were the fruits of such wisdom as this? "Confusion." Think of their assemblies, with the wrangling, cursing, and swearing! so also confusion in all the relations of social life. "And every vile deed;" for what would not men descend to, to further their base, party aims?
3. What was the origin of such wisdom? "Not from above:" no, indeed, but rather "set on fire of hell"!
II. THE TRUE WISDOM .
1. Its nature. "First pure:" for at any cost, even at the cost of peaceableness, a Christian must be true. So Christ, even though it involved the "woes" of Matthew 23:1-39 .; even though it involved the cross! And his followers likewise ( Matthew 10:34 ). "Then peaceable," as against the jarrings and discords of the false wisdom; "gentle," as against faction and jealousy; "easy to be entreated," as against the sullen resentments shown by those who imagine themselves to be offended; "without variance," i.e. fickleness of purpose; and "without hypocrisy," to which double-mindedness so easily leads.
2. Its fruits. Peace, as opposed to confusion; and the good fruits of mercy, as opposed to vile deeds.
Who is a wise man? Alas, who! But let us ask of God, who giveth liberally; remembering that "he that winneth souls is wise," and that "they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and … as the stars forever and ever" ( Proverbs 11:30 ; Daniel 12:3 ).—T.F.L.