James: Wisdom From Above and Below

In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, ran into a man on his journey towards removinghis burden and reaching heaven. The man he met was named Mr. Worldly Wiseman. He told Christian that there was an easier way to remove his burden. He said he was older and wiser so his words should be heeded. Everything he said sounded so good. It sounded right. But the wisdom he gave was not from above but from below. The path he set Christian on was not actually going to release him from his burden. It took him away from the pilgrimage to the celestial city. If Christian had followed through with the advice from Mr. Worldly Wiseman, his journey would have ended in hell instead of heaven.

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” This world is full of its own “wisdom.” But as we will see James explain in the last section in chapter 3, the wisdom of this world has its origins in utter darkness.

So what must we do to combat this dark thought? We need wisdom that comes from above.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

James 3:13

Meekness is not weakness. While the world sees a meek person as little, Jesus called this gentleness a main Christian virtue. It takes humility to know that our humanely wisdom is not enough. Proverbs 1:7 states that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” One who approaches God with humility, reverence, and meekness is wise. This person trusts God and His ways and is free from the folly of his own understanding.

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.

James 3:14-15

James shows the complete opposite of true, godly wisdom. There is nothing meek about jealousy and selfish ambition. If people who are so envious and selfish claim wisdom, they are lying to themselves and others. They are in reality full of the world, sin, and utter darkness.

Earthly refers to the inferior: without God, our view of life is limited dramatically. Unspiritual, or as other translations put it, nautral, is only a human view and cuts out the supernatural as the Holy Spirit is not in this wisdom. Demonic shows that this so called “wisdom” the world and unfaithful Christians have is not just formed out of our feeble minds but is demon instigated. Our own wisdom apart from God is second class, spirituality dead, and inspired by demons.

This seems like a big statement for a little bit of jealousy and selfish interest. But we cannot take these words too seriously. This church is no place for selfishness. We are not apart of the body of Christ because it raises our own personal status. Christians are called to die to self. If we are not willing to pick up our cross and follow Christ, we have no business claiming Christianity. If we allow our selfish motives to infiltrate the church by claiming we are wise, we introduce chaos and sin into the body. When we believe we should have a certain status or power in the church, we allow evil into the body of believers. Every believer must take this seriously and evaluate the motives of their heart.

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.

James 3:17-18

True wisdom is wisdom from God and James gives the attributes of that in verse 17. First, we must notice that it is pure before it is anything else. For something to be pure it must be free from anything that contaminates, stains, or pollutes. It must be free from all selfishness and incapable of producing evil. A pure wisdom from above is fixed solely on God.

The purity of wisdom overflows into peace which is the opposite of the strife we see in worldly wisdom. It is gentle and considerate. Wisdom is thoughtful and measured and is not void of ration and reason like we see in the world. It is full of mercy and the fruits of the Spirit because the Holy Spirit is in those who have God’s wisdom. It is impartial and judges fairly. Finally, it is sincere and fully genuine.

Those who are truly wise long for peace. The opposite of worldly wisdom and selfish ambition is peace. But those who love God also love peace. The wise will aim to live righteously and in peace. Peace with God and with man is the goal of wisdom. We will only ever reach the goal of righteousness and peace when we operate in the wisdom of God.


Like Christian in The Pilgrim’s Progress, we choose whom we will follow. We can choose to chase after worldly wisdom that appeals to our flesh but will end us with strife, hate, and ultimately loss of union with God. Or we can choose to follow God’s plan for wisdom which will lead us to purity, peace, and righteousness. Do not think that your lack of a definitive stance on this issue is acceptable. If we do not outright choose wisdom from above and walk in the fear of the Lord, we will fall into folly from below. We must soberly look at our lives and repent of where we have forsaken God for our own wisdom. We must ask Him to give us His wisdom and walk in the meekness and humility that comes with it.

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