13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
Introduction – Parable of the Weeds
“The Parable of the Weeds
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
This parable is a prophecy of what was to come in the early church. We see how Satan sowed seeds of heresy, distrust, selfish ambition and envy throughout the church. One example, in Acts 5, we see the fruits of such actions in the fate of Ananias and Sapphira who met the most severe fates for their greed and selfishness. We also have seen earlier in James (and in the letters of Paul) how the teachers and congregants were double minded, unstable and lacking unity. They were slanderers and gossips who showed partiality to the rich over the poor.
Matthew Henry Concise Commentary
“3:13-18 These verses show the difference between men’s pretending to be wise, and their being really so. He who thinks well, or he who talks well, is not wise in the sense of the Scripture, if he does not live and act well. True wisdom may be known by the meekness of the spirit and temper. Those who live in malice, envy, and contention, live in confusion; and are liable to be provoked and hurried to any evil work. Such wisdom comes not down from above, but springs up from earthly principles, acts on earthly motives, and is intent on serving earthly purposes. Those who are lifted up with such wisdom, described by the apostle James, is near to the Christian love, described by the apostle Paul; and both are so described that every man may fully prove the reality of his attainments in them. It has no disguise or deceit. It cannot fall in with those managements the world counts wise, which are crafty and guileful; but it is sincere, and open, and steady, and uniform, and consistent with itself. May the purity, peace, gentleness, teachableness, and mercy shown in all our actions, and the fruits of righteousness abounding in our lives, prove that God has bestowed upon us this excellent gift.”
Francis Schaeffer The Mark of a Christian
“Love–and the unity it attests to–is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.”
- Scholars disagree on whether James comments are aimed at teachers or leaders in the church or the church as a whole. I lean toward it being targeted toward teachers but it certainly is applicable to anyone who might become a teacher.
- James contrasts two kinds of wisdom: (creates a duality, a contrast between the two )
- True wisdom which produces peace
- False wisdom that sows envy and ambition and thus dissension in the church
- James is mirroring a popular literary genre which embodies moral topos or topics that trace social ills back to jealousy and envy. A close parallel to James is found in The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a Jewish work written around 100 BC. Slander, violence and murder are all traced to jealousy. The theme of being double minded, also popular in James 1:8 and 4:8. While it is unlikely James was directly dependent on this work in his letter, he and his audience would have been familiar with this common tradition. Now an excerpt:
THE Copy of the Testament of Reuben, even the commands which he gave his sons before he died in the hundred and twenty-fifth year of his life.
2 Two years after the death of Joseph his brother, when Reuben fell ill, his sons and his sons’ sons were gathered together to visit him.
3 And he said to them: My children, behold I am dying, and go the way of my fathers.
4 And seeing there Judah, and Gad, and Asher, his brethren, he said to them: Raise me up that I may tell to my brethren and to my children what things I have hidden in my heart, forbehold now at length I am passing away.
5 And he arose and kissed them, and said unto them: Hear, my brethren, and do ye my children, give ear to Reuben your father, in the commands which I give unto you.
6 And behold I call to witness against you this day the God of heaven, that ye walk not in the sins of youth and fornication, wherein I was poured out, and defiled the bed of my father Jacob.
7 And I tell you that he smote me with a sore plague in my loins for seven months; and had not my father Jamb prayed for me to the Lord, the Lord would have destroyed me.
8 For I was thirty years old when I wrought the evil thing before the Lord, and for seven months I was sick unto death.
9 And after this I repented with set purpose of my soul for seven years before the Lord.
10 And wine and strong drink I drank not, and flesh entered not into my mouth, and I ate no pleasant food; but I mourned over my sin, for it was great, such as had not been in Israel.
11 And now hear me, my children, what things I saw concerning the seven spirits of deceit, when I repented.
12 Seven spirits therefore are appointed against man, and they are the leaders in the works of youth.
13 And seven other spirits are given to him at his creation, that through them should be done every work of man.
14 The first is the spirit of life, with which the constitution of man is created.
15 The second is the sense of sight, with which ariseth desire.
16 The third is the sense of hearing, with which cometh teaching.
17 The fourth is the sense of smell, with which tastes are given to draw air and breath.
18 The fifth is the power of speech, with which cometh knowledge.
19 The sixth is the sense of taste, with which cometh the eating of meats and drinks; and by it strength is produced, for in food is the foundation. of strength.
20 The seventh is the power of procreation with which through love of pleasure sins enter in.
21 Wherefore it is the last in order of creation, and the first in that of youth, because it is filled with ignorance, and leadeth the youth as a blind man to a pit, and as a beast to a precipice.
22 Besides all these there is an eighth spirit of sleep, with which is brought about the trance of nature and that of death.
23 With these spirits are mingled the spirits of error.
24 First, the spirit of fornication is seated in the nature and in the senses;
25 The second, the spirit of insatiableness in the belly;
26 The third, the spirit of fighting, in the liver and gall.
27 The fourth is the spirit of obsequiousness and chicanery, that through officious attention one may be fair in seeming.
28 The fifth is the spirit of pride, that one may be boastful and arrogant.
29 The sixth is the spirit of lying, in perdition and jealousy to practice deceits, and concealments from kindred and friends.
30 The seventh is the spirit of injustice, with which are thefts and acts of rapacity, that a man may fulfil the desire of his heart; for injustice worketh together with the other spirits by the taking of gifts.
31 And with all these the spirit of sleep is joined which is that of error and fantasy.
32 And so perisheth every young man, darkening his mind from the truth, and not understanding the law of God, nor obeying the admonitions of his fathers, as befell me also in my youth.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
- In James 3:13-18 we see that such wisdom is evil and is opposed to the true wisdom from God which is full of mercy and good fruit.
- James calls out those who take pride in their wisdom and learning. He calls on them to show their wisdom not through their theology or biblical linguistic skills but through their works.
- Note the challenge in James 2:18 18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds. ”Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.
- Also note I Peter 2:12 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
- Douglas Moo
- “What James appears to mean, however, is that good works are to be done in a spirit of humility – a humility that itself is the product, or result of wisdom… “True wisdom produces good works and true wisdom produces humility.”
- “This Christian meekness, or humility; comes from understanding our position as sinful creatures in relationship to the glorious and majestic God…It recognizes how unable we are in and of ourselves to achieve spiritual fulfillment or to chart our own course in the world. And this humility before God should then translate into humility toward others.”
This view of Wisdom as shown in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools[a] despise wisdom and instruction” is antithetical to the secular Greek and Roman ideas of wisdom that prized intellectual ability and knowledge of divine secrets sometimes to the detriment of the moral life.
Note the description of Moses in Numbers 12:1-3.
12 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. 2 “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the Lord heard this.
3 (Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.)
Scot McKnight “… a wise teacher is the one who creates godly, loving peace in the community.”
14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.
The word for envy can also be translated as zeal. Zeal can have a negative and a positive connotation. We know from James that many in the Messianic Church were seeking the favor of the wealthy and influential. We know that their discrimination against the poor caused serious divisions in the congregation and threatened the unity of the church.
- Bitter envy (or zeal)
We are familiar with the Jewish Zealots who sought the overthrow of the then Roman Government to be replaced with a Jewish theocracy. A modern day application is the in similar radical violent acts by sects within many religious and political groups.
Zealots in the first century.
The Beliefs of the Zealots
The movement was religious, but certainly an activist one. The common ground for all these Jewish parties was the Torah. But unlike the Pharisees the Zealots offered no new conception of the Law; they were not out to interpret it, just to fight for it to assert all that it demanded. Herford summarizes the simple ideas that they believed the Torah demanded:19 1) YHWH was the only king that the Jews would acknowledge;20 2) they would establish His reign by rooting out paganism and by breaking the yoke of tyranny; 3) the Torah made separation from Gentiles necessary, exalted Israel as the chosen of God, and promised triumph. The zealots would seek to enforce these beliefs by violence of any kind. In the end, though, they lost their sense of order and their high motivation.”
“The actual Zealots were the extremists in Jerusalem who tried to seize power after the fall of Galilee in 67, 68. They basically carried on terrorist activities.14 John of Gischala was also an important rebel; he tried to take royal authority in Jerusalem, betrayed the people in the process, and was eventually captured at the fall of Jerusalem.15 Simon bar Giora attempted to take Jerusalem; he controlled the south. Galileans, followers of John of Gischala, are described as transvestite assassins.16 Eleazar, son of Simon, was the leader of the Zealots when they revolted against John.
So when Titus was on his way to destroy Jerusalem, there were three groups of rebels in the city: Eleazar and the Zealots held the Temple, John controlled the upper city, and Simon controlled the lower city. These were all disparate groups and individuals; but because they all had essentially the same goal, and similar methods, they can be grouped together under a discussion of zealots. They were basically fanatics, waging war on all who opposed them, but certainly exhibiting bravery, for they endured sieges and torture rather than call anyone “lord” other than God. We know from history that the temple was destroyed by the Romans as punishment for this “Jewish” revolt in Jerusalem.
Note – Some believe that Titus in destroying the temple in 70 AD was the instrument of fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy in Luke 21:5-25 that the current generation would not pass until the temple would be destroyed and that Jesus would return to earth. Josephus reports that during this event observers saw heavenly beings and heard perturbations and audible voices from the heavens. Thus the belief is that Jesus returned with a heavenly host to pass and execute judgment in the destruction of the Temple.
- Compare to Godly zeal in the OT
Elijah – I Kings 19:10
“And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
And the word of Jesus in the NT
“16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”[c]
Definition of Ambition
“Unscrupulous determination to gain one’s own ends” as referring to teachers within the messianic congregation.
II Corinthians 12:20
20 For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.
Boasting and Denying the Truth
Moo “To boast about wisdom when one is displaying jealousy and ambition is, in effect, to give the lie to the truth about what wisdom is and does.”
McKnight “Proclamation without performance, which is clearly on James’s mind, severs the truthfulness and fidelity of the gospel from its own anchors.”
15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
The world, the flesh and the devil.
False wisdom has 4 characteristics:
- “Does not come from above”
- Similar usage to John 3:31 “31 He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.”
- The veil between in the temple was torn from top to bottom in Matthew 27:51
“1 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.”
- Earthly (contrast to “comes from above”)
- This is a moral usage of the word which refers to an earthbound way of thinking or behavior as contrasted with that from above or from God.
- “that part of man where feeling and reason reign supreme” Moo
- The term is focused on behavior not some metaphysical use of the term. Unspiritual in terms of one’s outward behavior
- This is the only place in scripture where this term is used. It means that the origin of such wisdom is from a demon as opposed to true wisdom which comes from god
Moo calls this type of wisdom a “phantom wisdom” or a false representation of the real thing.
It’s origin is worldly and demonic. It may mean that this type of wisdom has a demon as its origin which is a direct antithesis to the true wisdom whose origin is from God.
16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
Word for disorder can also be translated as double-minded or unstable.
James 1:8 “8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
James 4:8 “8 Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded”
I Corinthians 14:33 “33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.”
Moo “For envy and selfish ambition among the leaders have tremendous potential to damage the unity and order of the church as a whole.”
Every vile practice refers to sins in general not a specific type or gradation of sin. James is focused on individual and corporate behavior in the church.
“17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
Moo “For James quite clearly continues to operate with the biblical understanding of wisdom as a basic, God given orientation that has profound practical effects on the way a person lives.”
Compare v. 17 to Gal: 5:22-23.
“22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24”
James description of the manifestation of wisdom is similar to Paul’s statement about the fruit of the spirit. James wrote his letter before Paul so it is unwise to make too much of any equivalence between James use of the word wisdom and Paul’s theology of the Spirit.
- James was following OT examples and personification of Wisdom thus providing a general profile of the godly person.
- Proverbs 3:13-17
“Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.
- Paul develops the implications of Covenant fulfillment and attributes them to the Spirit.
- Purity is the preeminent attribute in this passage. The greek word connotes innocence and moral blamelessness.
- The seven qualities that follow are specific dimensions of overall purity.
- They are arranged in three groups;
- First group – peace loving, considerate, submissive
- Exact opposite of : envious, selfish and ambitious
Group I (peace loving, considerate, submissive)
- Peace loving is the primary trait as the peace of the church is the theme of the passage and the book of James. This is supported by Jesus words in the beatitudes.
- Considerate refers to a willingness to yield to others and an unwillingness to exact strict claims. (I ‘m Third!)
- Submissive – “what is meant is not a weak , credulous gullibility, but a willing deference to others when unalterable theological or moral principles are not involved. “ Moo
Group II (full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere)
- Jesus emphasized mercy as the key example of a Godly person.
Matt 23:23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
- James defines mercy as love for neighbor that shows itself in action. This is the definition of being full of mercy and good fruits.
- Contrast “full of mercy and good fruits” in James with Jesus description of the Pharisees in Matt 23:28
“In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
- Impartial and Sincere
- We saw in chapter 2 how the church was showing partiality to the wealthy at the expense of the poor. The messianic community was rampant with verbal partisanship and judgementalism.
- Zeal and ambition can lead to false teaching, inappropriate behaviors and partisanship.
“18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”
”Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God”
James concurs with Jesus that there is a reward for being a peacemaker.
“The harvest of righteousness” is the righteousness or true religion produces certain results on the life like the effects of seed sown in good ground. Righteousness or true religion as certainly produces such effects, as seed that is sown produces a harvest.” Barnes Notes on the Bible
YHWH Shalom-Hebrew name for God for example in Judges 6:2:
“So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The LORD Is Peace. To this day it stands in Ophrah of the Abiezrites.”
McKnight “…”peace” (Hebrew shalom) is God’s design for humans and this world as humans relate to God, self, others, and the world around them. In this instance, James primary focus is on relationships among members of the messianic community, relationships now in jeopardy because of zeal and ambition of its teachers and the unjust practices of the community.”
“What Christians are to wear” by Francis Schaeffer from Mark of a Christian
“First, Christians are called upon to love all men as neighbors, loving them as ourselves. Second, we are to love all true Christian brothers in a way that the world may observe.
This means showing love to our brothers in the midst of our differences– great or small– loving our brothers when it costs us something, loving them even under times of tremendous emotional tension, loving them in a way the world can see.
In short, we are to practice and exhibit the holiness of God and the love of God, for without this we grieve the Holy Spirit.
Love– and the unity it attests to– is the mark Christ gave Christians to wear before the world. Only with this mark may the world know that Christians are indeed Christians and that Jesus was sent by the Father.
Questions for Discussion
- Do we bear the Mark of a Christian? What are the things that divide us and which might negatively impact how non-believers perceive us?
- Do we act out of selfish ambition or zeal?