James 3:13-17 Wisdom Choosing Humility

James is wisdom literature. His goal is to mature our trust in Jesus Christ, and the way we live.

So he calls us to internalize the good news of what Jesus has done. And to look daily to Jesus as a mirror which tells you who God is and who you are. And to take the next step and do the Word.

It’s all relational. Not just religious rituals or private devotions, which doesn’t help anyone.

Endure trials with Christ and help others through their trials (Ch1). Be generous toward those who trust Jesus and have less than you (Ch2). And be careful with your words (Ch3). So, James connects the good news we have in Christ with how we relate to God and one another.

The church trusted Jesus, they had eternal life, but the way they expressed their faith didn’t help anyone.

They valued religious practices, outward appearances—dressing sharp, acting holy, seeming wise. But this church ignored the poor and hurting among them, widows and orphans.

Yet these Christians considered themselves mature, wise. This what the church celebrated. 

Therefore, James asks,

James 3:13 Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.

The gospel is meant to change us. Following Jesus should lead to wiser living.

James says godly wisdom can be measured in actions, not wise sayings, religious practices, or clever memes.

Wisdom demonstrates submission to God in one’s life.

Wisdom demonstrates the love and power of Christ—not reacting to every provocation, not overreacting to every slight, not judging others.

During marital strife, family conflicts, unfair work conditions, or just rude mistreatment by a customer or manager—wisdom is gentle.

Wisdom is shown in loving words and gentle deeds.

But, you say, I’m not gentle; it’s not my nature.

Granted everyone has a different personality, yet he’s not talking about personality types.

God loves your personality. He doesn’t seek to make us all soft cuddly bears. He wants you to trust Jesus in strife and trials and conflicts follow Him in it.

Gentle isn’t weak. He doesn’t want the men to be beta males and the women to all be dainty girls. Gentle is "strength under control." It is power rightly directed. Like a fighter jet under the control of an ace pilot or like Jesus yielding to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus has all power, strength and dominion yet He responded to hostile people and undeserved hatred with the gentleness of wisdom. Jesus knew how to be led by the Holy Spirit. He knew the Father’s love. So He didn’t have to defend Himself or prove Himself. He was free to love.

This is what we are maturing into: a community of Christians, men and women strong in the Lord, strong in our knowledge of God’s grace and the Father’s love, who know who we are in Christ, and who live out of this to love and serve one another.

James 3:14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. [Be humble, don’t justify it, don’t make excuses.] 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.

We’re not all morally pure nor fully mature; we don’t always act with godly wisdom. It happens.

When we’re hurt or lonely or feeling rejected, we can think and act super selfishly and justify doing whatever we feel in the moment. Our reason is a slave to the passions. When our heart is bitter or we’re jealous and feeling unloved or rejected, we can be harsh, judgmental—and justify it, blame others. We can all do this. It’s how our flesh thinks…

And if someone points it out, calls us out on it—we can double down, become worse. How dare you! For their words become law that accuses and condemns.

James says, “Do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.” This is huge.

When God’s Word or a friend or the person we’re unloving toward points out our behavior, the hurt in our our actions, arrogance justifies our actions.

We all do this at times. We justify being rude to our wife or disrespecting our husband. In the moment we justify screaming at our kids or yelling at our moms, insulting a coworker, or being snarky with the girl at the counter.

Our flesh feels what it feels, and arrogance justifies doing whatever we feel at that moment. Sometimes, all we want is to scream or run away or to make you hurt or make you leave. At our worst and in pain, we don’t care. We only care about what we feel.

That’s your flesh. That’s your hurt.

It’s not who you are. It does not have your best, nor God’s, nor the other person’s best in mind.

This is not godly wisdom. At best it is worldly. At worst it’s demonic.

So, its source is rotten, and what it produces is just as rotten,

James 3:16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist [wherever the flesh is in control], there is disorder [chaos, not order; tumult, confusion] and every evil thing.

When we are arrogant—not trusting God or others—whatever our flesh wants seems wise to us, otherwise we wouldn’t do it.

But it’s foolish. It makes a mess of our life and relationships, and creates all sorts of hurts and problems. And we don’t have to live here…

Go back again to verse 14, James says, “Do not be arrogant and lie against the truth.”

Rather than be arrogant and insist that everything is fine, and what I want is best and wise, wisdom chooses humility. We are wise to humbly listen. When God’s Word confronts something in us, if someone close to us says we’re being hurtful, selfish, unloving—rather than be arrogant and deny it or blame or accuse—wisdom gently listens. Wisdom receives it.

That is so hard because it feels like law, it feels condemning, but the Law is meant to lead us to Christ. Law points out our lack of unrighteousness—not that we double down and prove our worthiness and defend our behavior, but that we fly to Christ for His grace, His righteousness.

We may argue 49 times, but the one time we listen—that’s wisdom. Being quick to hear. That’s allowing someone to love you, allowing the wise person to remind you of who you are in Christ.

It’s not that you’re a terrible person or a miserable failure and they’re hating on you. But you aren’t living out of who who you are in Christ. You’re not necessarily allowing God to love through you right now. Do not be arrogant and defensive, turn to Jesus for His love. Seems half of Christianity is being able to see our inability and the other half is trusting Jesus for His ability.

Throughout the wisdom literature of the OT, wisdom receives a rebuke, wisdom receives discipline. Instead of fight or blame, we can choose to trust Jesus with our weakness, and accept this as truth. Love. God’s protection. God doesn’t use this make you feel bad, or to fix your behavior, but to draw you back to Him. To open your heart to His love and His blessings.

This is the wisdom of God and it is so opposite of worldly wisdom.

Your worth and identity does not depend on everyone affirming that you’re always right and you always do the right thing. We’re not right all the time. We’re never good enough. And if we have to be this, if others have to affirm this that’s a lot of pressure on us and on them. Godly wisdom gives us the freedom to be imperfect and humble, and frees people to be honest w/us.

When we’re secure in God’s grace and we get how the death and resurrection of Christ totally forms our identity—do think that just maybe we can accept from others how our words or the way we treat them isn’t as loving or godly as we want. And this brings us closer to Jesus…

Cause the really good news is we aren’t limited to the flesh and its selfish and foolish wisdom,

James 3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

Rather than jump at whatever the flesh desires, wisdom is morally pure. When you are ready to jump into another impure, shameful choice don’t think this is God’s will. See this as the flesh. Don’t be arrogant and lie against the truth! Bring this to the One who loves you most and the One who can cleanse you and satisfy you most.

Wisdom is peaceable. It doesn’t enter conversations armed for war; it doesn’t put people on their heels. And if you see this in yourself, this is not law that condemns you. This is an invitation to come to Jesus and let Him have this area of your life. It’s okay to admit to this.

Wisdom is gentle, not proud, not controlling, not manipulating.

Wisdom is reasonable, conciliatory—non-argumentative.

This doesn’t mean it’s unreasonable to dispute over the truth, there are mountains to die on. But if everything is a mountain, or if you constantly stir up controversy over petty issues, you are not acting with godly wisdom.

And the point isn’t that you’re a bad person, but this is an area to let Christ mature you in.

Wisdom is also full of mercy and good fruits—love, meeting people’s needs—it’s unwavering and without hypocrisy. It’s sincere; without faking, without virtue signaling, without pretending.

This is an apologetic for Christianity. Mature Christianity. Christianity fully experienced. It’s kind of like this is what following Jesus leads to, the type of people we become as we walking humbly with our Lord. It may take a lifetime or more, but this is Jesus. This is Christ in us.

James 3:18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. Peace is the seed sown that yields a harvest of righteousness.

The truly wise man or woman is a man or woman of peace. There’s not chaos and hurt people.

Peace doesn’t come about through our flesh. Our anger. Our accusations. Our control. Peace doesn’t come through rabid activism, unhinged tweets, violent threats, or by shaming or cancelling those who disagree with us. It comes buy the Spirit of God working in us.

Our relationships—marriages, friendships, families, workplaces, church—need godly wisdom. Gentleness. Peace. Not criticism or judgment. The world we’re in needs this peace, the good news of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. They don’t need us to be rude, angry, passive, aggressive.  

And wisdom knows that the same thing we deal with, they deal with too.

People are damaged because people are damaged. It’s not an excuse or a justification. It just is. And the hard truth is that people actually long to be good. They do not intend to hurt one another. We are not the main character in a play about people being mean to us. We are in a sea of people who are all doing the best we can with the piece of floor we happen to be standing on. And thanks to trauma, childhood, brain chemistry, alcoholism, addictions, and myriad other additions, sometimes we do a really terrible job of doing our best.”

Wisdom understands this and rather than be angry and judgmental, we bring peace in the Person of Christ. Peace with God. Peace in their hearts. Peace through Jesus Christ alone.

This is true for us and for others.

So, this is what we are maturing into. A community of grace and humility. A community of Christians who trust Jesus and one another. Holding to the truth. Valuing grace in relationships. Knowing who we are. Able to let others speak to us when we’re not like Jesus at all. Which is a lot. When we are hurtful or self-hurtful. Bringing us back to Jesus. Back to sanity. Wisdom. Love.