Chapter 3:13-18 (ESV) - Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Question to consider: How do we receive wisdom when we are filled with jealousy and selfish ambition?
The tongue is a small part of the body that leads us like a bridle or rudder into a life full of blessing or of strife and discord depending on what fills our hearts and attitudes. If we are filled with wisdom and understanding, we will demonstrate it through our good conduct. The contrast to this is to be filled with bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. Even then, James gives an encouraging word that our lives can still be a blessing if we recognize our inward motives are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic and turn instead toward wisdom. If we give in to jealousy and selfish ambition, we create disorder and every vile practice, but wisdom is a gift from above.
In this, James appears to be expressing a similar idea to the apostle John in 1 John 1:8-9, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If we confess our sins, we can pray along with King David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:10-12)
When God gives us His pure wisdom, we become peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. This list is similar to that of the apostle Paul when he wrote to the Galatians, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Modern culture suggests that we can expel bad behavior by “blowing off steam” like we would with a boiler. They think that if urges are vented in safe, non-destructive ways, we can keep from boiling over and committing vile acts against our neighbor. Thus, they present movie ideas like “The Purge” which dedicates one night out of the year when murder is sanctioned in order to curb such crime the other 364 days.
The Bible, however, rightly diagnoses our evil thoughts and intentions as sin and takes an agrarian view of our actions where our behavior and legacy are produced by what kind of seeds we sow. James recognized that when we sow seeds of godly wisdom, it will produce a harvest of righteousness and peace.
Dear heavenly father, we ask that You produce a harvest of righteousness and peace in our lives by teaching us to sow seeds of wisdom that only You can give. Help us to faithfully gather together with our brothers and sisters in Christ to confess our sins and receive Your grace and mercy and be filled with Your good word and sacrament. Amen.