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Heavenly Wisdom Verses Demonic Wisdom

James 3:13-18

Glen Tattersall

Wisdom, it could be said, is the ability to successfully apply what we know to the circumstances of life. To that end we all have a certain kind of wisdom.

The Scriptures encourage us to grow in wisdom. The book of Proverbs has the recurring theme of the need to seek for wisdom. Yet there is more than one kind of wisdom. There is one pleasing to God and there is one pleasing to Satan. Unfortunately, too many have the wrong kind.

James tells of the two kinds of wisdom one can have: “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? Let him show out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, 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 3:13-18. In this passage, he shows the differences between the two. Differences in their origins, differences in their nature, and the differences in their fruit. As he goes through these differences it should become self evident, that which we are to seek after.

They Are Different in Their Origins.  Worldly wisdom is earthly. It is the wisdom of the here and now. It gives no thought to spiritual things (cf 1 Corinthians 2:14). A number of years ago I spoke with a man who was very concerned about how much he would get in his superannuation when he retired. I mentioned that he might never reach retirement age, but what about considering his spiritual well-being and where he will spend eternity, something we will all face one day! He quickly lost interest. He was typical of so many who have given no thought to where they will spend eternity, nor do they want to. This kind of wisdom is the wisdom of the masses.

Worldly wisdom is also sensual in nature. It is guided by the lusts of the flesh (James 1:13-15). It is that which caused Eve to stumble (Genesis 3:6). The fruit was appetising, it looked good, it promised to make one wise, and so she took of it and ate, despite God’s explicit command not to.

The wisdom of the world is the guiding principle of the majority: “If it feels right, do it!” or simply “Do what is right in your own eyes”. It is the philosophy behind Situation Ethics, and it stands utterly opposed to God.

This wisdom is also demonic in nature, for it is the wisdom of the Devil. Satan and his angels sought to exalt themselves against God. For their rebellion they were cast out of heaven (Luke 10:18; 2 Peter 2:4). Selfish pride is a manifestation of this wisdom (Proverbs 16:18), and too many have fallen into the same error as Satan.

Those who focus on self, allow themselves to be guided by the Devil (Matthew 16:22,23; John 13:27). If we aren’t living for the Lord, we are against Him (Matthew 12:30). Therefore to be guided by worldly wisdom is to be lost and in the eyes of the Lord – a fool!

On the other hand there is that wisdom which is Godly in origin. It is above; from God - the source of true wisdom (Romans 16:27; 1 Timothy 1:17; Jude 25). From the Scriptures we learn that every goal, every direction, every manner of life that is not directed by God is foolishness. Consider the foolishness of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21), who put all his trust in his possessions only to leave it all behind. Or what of those who spend their whole life devoted to false religions, only to learn too late that Jesus is the only way to the Father? (John 14:6) Or again, consider the error of those who in their belief in Christ, obey the religious teachings of men and not God (Matthew 15:9)? Only by following God’s way, according to the Scriptures can we be truly wise (1 Corinthians 3:19,20).

Heavenly wisdom comes by: fearing God (Proverbs 1:7); by desiring it earnestly (Proverbs 4:4-7); by valuing it (Proverbs 16:16); by studying God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16,17); by prayer (James 1:5); and by practice (Hebrews 5:12-14). One cannot go into a Bible Class and come out wise. They can come out with more knowledge, but true wisdom will only develop from applying that knowledge in daily life.

They Are Different In Their Nature.  The focus of worldly wisdom is, as previously mentioned, essentially self-centred. Those possessing this wisdom see everything in terms of what can be done for them or theirs. This is manifest in their treatment of, and attitude towards others (cf Luke 6:32-34). It is also evident in their striving for things like power, position, and prestige. They measure themselves by these and crave for titles and status symbols.

Those with the wisdom of the world are full of bitter envy. They want what others have; they are never content. If they cannot have it, they try and spoil it for those who have. This is the mentality behind the ‘tall poppy syndrome’. If we cannot have or be what others are, then we will find fault in order to bring them down to our level.

Unfortunately, some in the church have this kind of wisdom. There are those who use Christianity in order to win the praise or attention of others. I remember one sister who seemed to be so involved in all that was going on in the church, but as time went by it became clearer that her motives were self-centred. When this could no longer be concealed, she quickly fell away.

Then, there are those who use Christianity in order to wield power. Diotrephes is a scriptural example (3 John 9). Again, I have known brethren who sit at Business Meetings, not out of a genuine concern to serve the church, but in order that they might have selfish influence.

Then there are those who are spoilers. They see the righteous attitudes and actions of others. Rather than being spurred on by these good examples, they seek to discredit and find fault with faithful brethren. The same jealousy Saul exhibited towards David unfortunately can arise in the church today.

How different Godly wisdom is in its nature! “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” James 3:17.

This wisdom is pure. It is not mixed; it is not corrupt. Those who have this wisdom focus on following God wholeheartedly. They have counted the cost of being a disciple (Luke 14:28-33); they do not look around (Luke 9:62); they keep their eyes on the goal of heaven (Colossians 3:2; Philippians 3:13,14). Those with this wisdom test all things and hold fast to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Godly wisdom is peaceable. The sincere Christian does not seek for strife (Romans 12:18) rather they seek for harmony and unity among brethren (Psalm 133:1; Philippians 1:27). They seek to do good to all (Galatians 6:10), and the greatest good one can do for another is to help them be at peace with God. Those who have this wisdom are truly blessed (Matthew 5:9). As heavenly wisdom seeks for peace with God, the faithful Christian will not compromise the truth for worldly peace, but will hold it fast, seeking for spiritual peace, for they know that unless they have peace with God, they have no real peace. Peaceable wisdom does not strive for the absence of all conflict, but the absence of conflict with God.

Heavenly wisdom is also gentle. It has with it the quality of fairness and forbearance. It is patient and considerate. It stands in contrast to the fruit of worldly wisdom, which is contentious and argumentative (Titus 3:2). The gentle Christian does not insist on his own ‘rights’, but puts the well-being of others before his own (1 Corinthians 8:13).

James further tells us that the wisdom of God is easy to be entreated or willing to yield. It is willing to yield to authority: to the authority of the Scriptures, to the authority of the elders, and to civil authority. Those with this wisdom are not too proud to admit they have made errors and allow themselves to be corrected. Apollos in Acts 18:24-28, was such a one. Again, possessors of this wisdom will always acknowledge that there is more to learn. They hold fast to what is true, deepen in that knowledge, and are prepared to learn new things. How many problems would disappear in the church if more brethren had this kind of wisdom?

This wisdom is said to be full of mercy and good fruits. Mercy, being the quality of seeing the needs of others, and if it is within our capability, doing something to help. It will be manifest in the deeds we do (James 2:14-16; 1 John 3:17,18); it is a true token of a living faith. Those who have shown mercy will also be shown mercy from on high (Matthew 5:17).

As we consider the nature of Godly wisdom we also learn that it is without partiality. The truly wise do not show favouritism in the handling of God’s word, but they follow and teach the whole counsel of God to all (cf Acts 20:27). Nor do they show favouritism to persons (cf James 2:1ff). They apply God’s word equally to physical family who are in Christ, to close brethren, to ‘prominent’ brethren, and to all. In both attitude and actions the wise are consistent.

Finally, God through James tells us that this wisdom is without hypocrisy. The difference between what a person says and really thinks, or between selfish ambition and a genuine good deed, will often be suspected before it becomes obvious. However, even, if one could hide their hypocrisy before man, it cannot be hidden from God (Romans 2:16). The wise Christian will be consistent with what they profess and what they do. Christians are not to play act, but genuinely desire and attempt to live righteously.

They Are Different In Their Fruits.  We are told that worldly wisdom brings forth  confusion and every evil work (James 3:16). When people are self-seeking, worldly-minded, envious, guided by ungodly thoughts, there will be problems! Trouble in the home, trouble in society, and trouble in the church.

The wisdom of Satan promised so much, it seems so appealing, yet it always leads to so much wickedness. Hurt, as we use others to satisfy our desires, and they do so unto us. Hate, as we envy what others have or are doing. Hell, as it takes us away from God (Romans 7:5). When this wisdom is present amongst the brethren, it leads to cliques, division, false teaching, backbiting, and every evil work.

In stark contrast, the fruit of heavenly wisdom is righteousness, which is the product of those who are at peace with God.  They will bring forth many other  wonderful kinds of spiritual fruit (cf. Galatians 5:22,23); the greatest of all will be eternal life.

To conclude, who then is wise and understanding among you? We will have one of two kinds of wisdom. One is of this world and the other is from above. One is self-seeking and causes strife; the other is God centred and creates peace. One causes harm and division, the other brings forth righteousness, joy, peace, and love.

Although, it should be self-evident which kind of wisdom we should have, sadly some prefer (even brethren) the wisdom of this world. Godly wisdom is one we should earnest strive for. Brethren, let us not be deceived, but let each of us leave behind the wisdom of this world (which is in reality, the wisdom of fools) and grow in the peaceable wisdom of God (Colossians 1:9,10).


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