by Seattle ALC
Two Kinds of Wisdom
In writing to his brethren, the twelve tribes that were scattered abroad, James described two kinds of wisdom. He states that one is from above and the other is of the earth. Both reveal the conditions of human hearts—one is truthful and of good report, and the other is false, yielding a poor report. These are not only outward symptoms that we may change at will. They reflect our inner conditions as evidenced in our thoughts, in our words, and in our deeds.
James concludes the third chapter of his epistle with a description of these two kinds of wisdom. First, he writes about the use of the tongue—the God-given gift that is ours to use every day. He writes about the tongue and compares it with the bit and bridle that are used to control a horse, and then about the helm that is used to direct a ship. Each of these performs its proper function although in size both are very insignificant in comparison with the horse or the ship. “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defiles the whole body and sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire of hell” (James 3:5-6).
James acknowledges that beasts of all kinds have been tamed by men, but the tongue cannot be tamed. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. He then enters into a dissertation on these two kinds of wisdom by saying that we cannot bless God, even the Father, and curse men, that are made after the similitude of God. Blessing and cursing should not proceed from the same mouth even as a fountain does not send forth sweet water and bitter water from the same source. When we read these words, we are reminded that Jesus said: “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34).
In order to appreciate these teachings rightly and to reconcile them with Apostle Paul’s great doctrinal statements on justification, we must understand that James is treating the second article of our Christian faith—that of sanctification—the fruit of the Spirit. In the early part of his epistle he shares his understanding of justification through new birth by stating: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (James 1:18). To us whom he calls his beloved brethren, he gives counsel that helps us in our daily lives as Christians. The apostle continues to expand on his theme that as the body without the spirit is dead, so “faith without works is dead also” (James 2:20). He does not leave us to arrive at our own conclusions as to what constitutes this desirable wisdom.
He opens the very core of our spiritual lives in his next statement by saying: “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13). Then as though he opens the blinds on the windows of our hearts so that we may better examine them in the Light, he continues: “But if you have bitter envying and strife in your hearts; glory not, and lie not against the truth” (James 3: 14). With these words he exposes the wisdom that is of this world. He calls it sensual and devilish. It is not the wisdom that is from above, but it is earthly.Envy is often the root of conflict, and the result is confusion and every evil work.
Apostle James was familiar with the proverb: “Where no wood is, there the fire goes out; so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceases. As coals are to burning coals, and wood is to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife. Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd covered with silver dross. He that hates dissembles with his lips and lays up deceit within him. When he speaks fair, believe him not; for there are seven abominations in his heart” (Prov.26: 21-25).
Now then, let us look at the beautiful word picture James paints for us of the wisdom that is from above. “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace” (James 3: 17-18).
Dear Lord, open to us this source of wisdom every day. “Let patience have her perfect work that we may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, not wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1: 4-6).
From the Archives of the late Pastor A.C. Holmgren- February 2004
Submitted by Pastor Stan
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