Series on James, III Wisdom, B Conduct, Text:3:13-18. Title: Wisdom from Above. - NEW


It might seem that James has turned to a totally new topic here. He has been talking about the taming of the tongue. To get the connection we must go back to verse 1 where James says, not many of you should presume to be teachers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. Bear in mind that James has teachers in view. Verse 13 is addressed to this same group. The description wise man is often applied to a teacher in the New Testament and the word understanding, found only here, suggests someone who is thoroughly acquainted with something or an expert in a particular subject. We get our word epistemology from this Greek root meaning the study of knowledge. One might paraphrase, “Who among you has superior knowledge?” Thus we have a contrast here between the right and the wrong attitudes in being a teacher. Either we are meek or we sow the seeds of rivalry and confusion. The terms James uses here to describe these two attitudes require careful explanation. So let us consider that a teacher can either be manipulative or meek and let us search out the root of the difference.

I Manipulative Teaching, Its Connection and Character

A The Connection

The connection of this kind of teaching is earthly, unspiritual and devilish. Conversely this means that the motive and manner of teaching are not from God. Each of these terms points to that same reality in a significant way. It comes from the earth, not heaven. It comes from the teacher and not from the Holy Spirit. It comes from the devil and not God. It is the therefore the product of our sinful disposition. Both of the Greek terms used here, and translated bitter envy and selfish ambition appear in Galatians 5:20 in Paul's list of the works of the flesh.

B The Character

The character of this manipulative teaching is that it produces bitter envy and selfish ambition. What is in view here is jealousy, rivalry, and the formation of factions. What James is talking about here is a too frequent phenomenon in the Church. It is no wonder Paul identifies this sinful behavior in Galatians 5. He had to deal with it in the churches. He also mentions it in Romans 13:13,  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. The two classic New Testament examples of this kind of envy and rivalry are in the churches in Corinth and Philippi. I Corinthians 1:10-12, I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”and Paul uses these same terms to describe their behavior in I Corinthians 3:3 and 4, You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, ”I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men? A similar situation existed in Philippi to which Paul refers in Philippians 1:15-17, It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. and Paul reflects on this again in Philippians 2:1-4. Zeal is commendable only when it is a zeal for the glory of the Lord and not for our reputation. Suffice it to say that we have enough examples of this kind of behavior to make us wary and to recognize that earthly unspiritual devilish wisdom can lodge in our hearts and produce confusion, disorder and destructive behavior as it did in Corinth and in Phillipi.

II  Meek Teaching, Its Connection and Character

A The Connection

The connection of meek teaching is heavenly. James does not spell it out, but this means it comes from God and is imparted by his Spirit and is the opposite of the earthly wisdom. Therefore it is not natural, it is spiritual and that means we have to pray for it. We have already learned this in Chapter 1:5-7. In other words no man is going to be able to teach who is not humble. every teacher must seek the glory of God in his teaching. No earthly motive of jealousy or rivalry should be allowed to control us. This will be evident in the character of our teaching.

B The Character

The character of meek teaching is set forth in a series of descriptive adjectives: pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Each of these could take up a whole sermon in itself, but let me try to briefly point out the force of each. The purity has to do with devotion to God, it speaks of our motive. Peace loving means that meek teaching does not aim at engendering controversy. Considerate means gentle or sweetly reasonable and suggests that a meek teacher has a winning attitude and is not unyielding in his demeanor. The word submissive is translated in the Revised Standard Version “open to reason” and suggests that a good teacher is a good listener. Full of mercy and good fruit reminds us that a meek teacher aims at helping others rather than himself. The last two words, impartial and sincere are translated by Moffat as unambiguous and straightforward. In other words there is no hypocrisy, no duplicity, or we might say no shiftiness and no hidden agenda. One cannot miss the fact that this list closely resembles Jesus description of his followers in the sermon on the mount. Matthew 5:3-10, Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. James is saying that if you want to teach you must exemplify this character. this is the kind of teaching that produces a harvest of righteousness.


We all agree that Paul was a teacher par excellence. Let's look at the Apostle in one of his more difficult situations, defending his apostleship in II Corinthians 10, and see how he teaches.  In 10:1 he says that he beseeches them by the meekness and gentleness of Christ, but meekness does not mean lack of resolve for he says in verse 2, I beg you that when I come I may not have to be as bold as I expect to be toward some people who think that we live by the standards of this world. The reason he can come meekly is not that he lacks determination for dedication to the truth, but because the weapons of our warfare are not carnal or worldly, or fleshly. They come from God. It is His Word and Spirit that demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of Christ as we read in verse 5, We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. In verse 7 the Apostle adds that they are looking only on the surface of things. This is the key. We have a risen conquering Savior who has commissioned us to do his will. Meekness recognizes that in the overall plan we can do nothing. We are dependent upon him. Therefore it does not endeavor to manipulate. It waits upon the lord. If our character in teaching is like Christ then He will work through that teaching, but if our character is devilish then He will not. In the end Paul exalts Christ as the one who teaches through us and he rests in that assurance.