James 3:13-18: Two Types of Wisdom

James 3:13-18: Two Types of Wisdom

Prepared and preached by Pastor Steve Rhodes for and at Bethel Friends Church in Poland, OH on Sunday, May 24, 2020

Last week we continued our discussion on the New Testament epistle of James. Last week we looked at James 3:1-12. This passage talked about our language. Our language cannot be hypocritical. Blessing and cursing should not come out of the same mouth.

This week we will talk about wisdom; our language should be guided by wisdom from God.

How do you know if someone is wise? What is the test? Is there a difference between worldly wisdom and the wisdom of God?

In a commentary on 1 Cor by New Testament scholar Gordon Fee, on page 81 a man named Celsus is quoted. He wrote this during the early church and his goal appears to be against the church. He says:

Their injunctions are like this. [that is an act or instance of enjoining.] ‘Let no one educated, no one wise, no one sensible draw near. For these abilities are thought by us to be evils. But as for anyone ignorant, anyone stupid, anyone uneducated, anyone who is a child, let him come boldly.’ By the fact that they themselves admit that these people are worthy of their God, they show that they want and are able to convince only the foolish, dishonorable and stupid, and only slaves, women, and children.” Footnote shows that this is quoted by Origen in Contra Celsum

In other words, to this man, the early church was full of ignorant and unlearned people. Now, there certainly were many very learned people in the early church, but to him there was a different type of wisdom in the church than in the world.

Today, we will look at two types of wisdom, one from the world and one type from God. Wisdom must guide our language and our actions, and the wisdom of God should be evidenced by our works and our words.

Read James 3:13-18

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

  • In verse 13, we see a test of wisdom.
    • James starts with a question, who is wise? Before anyone can answer he gives a self-test.
    • Let him show it by his good life.
    • Now before I talk more about this good life, allow me to talk about wise and understanding. James asks: who is wise and understanding?
      • Are they the same? Are wisdom and understanding the same?
      • They are listed as two different things, two different adjectives.
        • John MacArthur says:

Notice again back at verse 13, he says, “Who is wise and understanding?” Now I don’t want to make a big distinction between those words because I think basically they’re synonyms put there for emphasis. But they do have a bit of a shade of difference in their meaning. This is the only time in the whole New Testament these two words appear together…… The simple distinction is that wisdom probably relates to the application of principles whereas understanding relates to the understanding of those principles or the knowledge of those principles. One would have more impact on the mind and one might have more impact on the conduct. But basically they have to do with the same thing. You can’t be wise if you don’t understand and you can’t really understand if you’re not wise.

  • Swindoll says: “Wisdom is the ability to see with discernment, to view life as God perceives it. Understanding is the skill to respond with insight. Knowledge is the rare trait of learning with perception—- discovering and growing. [1]
  • So, there is a hair of difference and I believe that James gave both of those adjectives for a reason.
  • Wisdom, according to MacArthur is the application of principles and understanding is understanding those principles.
  • Wisdom, according to Swindoll, is to see with discernment as God perceives things. Understanding is the ability to respond with insight. Let’s move on.
  • If you are wise, show it with your life. Godly wisdom is evidenced by our works, our words, and our life.
  • James says to show this by your good deeds done in humility. Those deeds they come from wisdom. Again, Godly wisdom is evidenced by our works, our words, and our life.
  • How many people have you known that are wise, at least by the world’s standards?
  • How many people have you known who are highly learned, but hard to be around?
  • How many people have you known who have great knowledge, but they don’t help anyone?
  • They are selfish?

In the next few verses James will talk specifically about this wisdom of the world.

  • Verses 14-16 show us a little about wisdom of the world.
    • Verse 14 starts with a conjunction that shows contrast “but” and it is a “big but” too.
    • And then there is this conditional conjunction, “if.” “If” is a conjunction showing a condition. Now what is the condition?
    • If you have bitter jealousy, you don’t just have envy, your envy is bitter.
      • If you have bitter jealousy this means that you are so envious, so jealous that you cannot bear to think of someone, you cannot bear to see someone, you cannot bear to look at their house. You think, “I cannot believe they can afford the new fishing boat. I deserve a new fishing boat.” No that’s just what my bitter jealousy might be. Point is the jealousy is advanced and it will cause damage.
      • And this bitter jealousy is about “you,” who “YOU.” Look at the next phrase: “and selfish ambition.” It is about SELFISHNESS.
        • Listen there is nothing wrong with ambition.
        • Selfish ambition is wrong, ambition is not wrong. I will watch Star Trek and watch Captain Kirk or Captain Picard and think I want to captain my own space vessel. Is that wrong? If so, it is the motivation that is wrong. Do I want to do something because I believe God has called me to do so and I believe that I can help out people? That is good ambition. However, if my motives are selfish, that is selfish ambition, and that is wrong (Phil 2:3-5).
  • Well, James writes if you have these two traits, don’t boast about it. If you talk about your wisdom, yet your life is full of selfish ambition and bitter envy, you are missing the truth. Where is the truth? The truth is in your actions. The truth is in your words.
  • The wisdom of selfish ambition and bitter envy is of the devil, earthly, unspiritual. This means it comes from our sin nature. The devil is alive and active, don’t think he isn’t. Read Eph 6:12.
  • How do you know if your wisdom is this way? Verse 16. This kind of wisdom leads to disorder, and evil practices.
    • Now, let’s talk about you. Do your practices produce disorder?
    • Do your words produce disorder or evil?
  • Before we go into the wisdom of God, let me give some of the differences of the two types of wisdom: The world versus God’s wisdom:
  • The world’s wisdom: Look like a model.
  • God’s wisdom: you are beautiful. God created you the way you are.
  • The world’s wisdom: Have a sarcastic answer which makes you look good and others bad.
  • God’s wisdom: Love your enemies (Phil 2), return evil with good.
  • The world’s wisdom: Do what you have to do to get to the top.
  • God’s wisdom: Jesus gave up everything and went to the bottom.
  • The world’s wisdom may say to drink, do drugs, have fun.
  • God’s wisdom says, these things harm you. They take you out of control of your actions. Your body belongs to God.
  • The world’s wisdom may say your voice isn’t good enough, your body isn’t good enough, you are too fat, too tall, too short, your hair is ugly, and your clothes are too cheap.
  • God’s wisdom says, “I created you the way you are for a reason.”
  • The world’s wisdom: Disrespect your parents or others.
  • God’s wisdom says, be submissive to authorities. Respect all people. Jesus was submissive to authorities that were corrupt.
  • The world’s wisdom: It is ok to have sex, just use protection.
  • God’s wisdom says, that sacrifices your purity. Sex is a gift God has given you for reproduction and joy with someone you have a lifelong commitment with in marriage. Sex is emotional and emotions are hurt if the intimacy of sex is shared with more people.
  • The world’s wisdom: Have fun! Life is short and there is no eternity.
  • God’s wisdom says we will all face judgment someday and there is an eternity. There is one way to Heaven.
  • The world’s wisdom says, if life doesn’t seem fun or you have had some trauma it is ok to end your life.
  • God’s wisdom says that He created you for a purpose. Life will get tuff but lean on God.
  • The world’s wisdom skews our view. We see through a haze. When I was 24 years old I realized that I needed glasses. I was so excited to be able to have perfect vision once again. But when I went to work as a McDonald’s manager my view got skewed again. I would leave work and my glasses would be coated with grease. I would have to clean them off. Just as my glasses were coated with grease so is our view of reality. The world’s wisdom skews our view.
  • We need God’s wisdom. Godly wisdom is evidenced by good works.

Verses 17-18 show us a little about the wisdom of God.

    1. God’s wisdom produces purity.
    2. God’s wisdom produces peace.
    3. I am sure there have been several people in the world who were wise yet their words didn’t produce peace.
    4. God’s wisdom is gentle, this means you think of others first (Phil 2:3-5).
    5. God’s wisdom is reasonable.
    6. God’s wisdom is full of mercy.
    7. God’s wisdom produces the good fruit.
    8. God’s wisdom is impartial, unwavering without hypocrisy, objective.
    9. Verse 18 wraps it up. If you do things in peace the outcome is righteousness.


How do you know if someone is wise? What is the test? Is there a difference between worldly wisdom and the wisdom of God?

The test of wisdom is right here in Scripture. Do an individual’s actions produce disorder and evil practices? Or, do an individual’s actions, an individual’s life, show purity, peace loving, considerateness, submissiveness, mercy, good fruit, impartiality and sincerity?

Apply this to yourself, by looking at your life: Do your actions produce disorder and evil practices? Or, do your actions, does your life, show purity, peace, gentleness, reasonableness, mercy, good fruit, objectivity?

Now, you can examine yourself, but it would be better to ask a close friend.



[1] Swinoll, Charles R. The Strong Family. Read in Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes. Thomas Nelson. Nashville, TN 1998. Page 613.

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