Previously, we talked about taming the tongue. If you noticed, that maybe one of the hardest things you will ever do; and, it is wisdom at its best if you do. Now, under the premise of “Wisdom from Above” James elaborates on how this faith action demonstrates good behavior and the gentleness of wisdom.
Wisdom from Above
The section starts with the verse we ended on, but from Eugene Peterson’s perspective.
James 3:13 MSG Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts.
In contrast to the person who lives in this appropriate manner, we have James chapter three, verse fourteen, which seems to be in total opposition to wisdom.
James 3:14 NASB But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.
Where did this person who is living well, wisely, and humbly get off to? Do you see those categories?
- “you have bitter jealousy” and
- “selfish ambition in your heart” But note, that these things equate to arrogance and lying against the truth.
The word bitter is the Greek word pikros and means sharp (with the idea of piercing,) or pungent.
Jealousy is as it says.
Selfish is the Greek word eritheia and also means rivalry and ambition.
Ambition is merely the Greek word eritheia used twice. I am not a scholar, so I look at translations from a layman’s point of view, and it makes no sense to say selfish twice. So, typically, in conjunction with a defining term, the word changes into something that has a similar meaning, and hence we get selfish ambition. When words are used in succession, it is wise to pay attention.
Arrogant is the Greek word katakauchaomai and its primary meaning is to exult over. This is often understood as arrogance.
To lie seems like such a simple word that it needs no explanation but let’s examine it anyway. It is the Greek word pseudomai and it means to utter an untruth or attempt to deceive by falsehood. This is the root from which we get the term pseudopods. Clams are pseudopods, meaning, they have a false foot. A dictionary definition includes protozoans and says, it is a temporary protrusion of the protoplasm, as of certain protozoans, usually serving as an organ of locomotion or prehension.
So when it comes to uttering an untruth what could James possibly be talking about? Especially since James just finished talking about a person who shows good behavior and wisdom by controlling their tongue.
Against is the Greek kata and means that this untruth is indicating motion meaning down from a higher to a lower place.
Truth. Again, this seems to simple a word, as it means what it says. But as Pilot said to Jesus, what is truth?
Jesus responded to Thomas, with, I am the way, the truth, and the life … John 14:6 NASB
Jesus said this of the Father, and therefore Himself – His word is truth John 17:17
The Psalmist David tells us, The sum of Your word is truth, … Psalms 119:160 NASB
Refocus on the passage once again.
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.
So, once again, in the course of studying the book of James, I ask, who is James talking to?
Jewish followers of Christ – who hold to the old ways and attitudes. This holding to the old ways is not necessarily a bad thing, as the Jew tends to have a grip on the Holy feast days – something we “Christians” have little to no idea about; and yet, these Holydays – Pentecost which we just went through, plays a role in the end times events.
Consider this idea for a moment. God brought the church into being on Pentecost; is it possible that He will remove the church in conjunction with this one? Yes, I know, it is June of 2020 and we are still here, but the momentum that brought about the birth of the earth might be something comparable to the pandemonium we have been witnessing on our city streets. Example: Chaos came to the streets of Minneapolis somewhere around May 22, 2020. Having been on quarantine for three months, many churches challenged “the law” and opened, specifically on May 31, 2020, Pentecost Sunday. It felt like a clarion call to come back to life; and, if you are honest, you will have to admit that our Churches have been dead or dying for a while.
Having looked at the alternate words that could have been used, I can see that James is having to deal with horrendous attitudes and pride. We Gentiles, who stumbled in off the street, have our own set of issues; but stick around religion long enough and we can learn to develop our own biting attitude that longs to lord over someone else. You probably noticed that James just straight out said, our bad attitudes are twisting the truth – lies. Wait a minute, I was just trying to make my point in that conversation, besides that, I know I was right and they needed to hear it.
If we are lying, then what are we lying about?
Truth! If God’s word is truth, and it is, then without thinking about it, we are disparaging almost everything that God stands for. Have you ever thought about that?
What then does God stand for?
What you should really be asking at this point, is, what is God’s nature and character, because WE get every twisted potential, such as God is an angry God, willing to send everyone to hell; or that He is unapproachable and uncaring. Yes, God stands for justice; but there is another word that is often used here, and it is vengeance.
In the context of the now global rioting, under the premise of a murdered black man, George Floyd. Not only are crazed people trying to find justice, but because of the looting, fires, and additional harm done to the public, we too are now crying out for vengeance and justice. This evokes more questions.
- When will God bring this justice?
- Are we supposed to be motivated by fear?
We are broken, and therefore we all have the capacity of acting out of this brokenness that we see in James 3:14. Now pay attention as James continues to disassemble what acting outside of wisdom gets you.
James 3:15 NASB This wisdom is not that which comes down from above but is earthly, natural, demonic.
If you are acting as if bitter jealousy and selfish ambition are okay, then you are operating in a wisdom that is earthly and demonic.
James 3:16 NASB For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.
Operating in a realm that is earthly, natural, and demonic, puts us in a position where there is disorder, and to make things worse, every evil thing.
But the wisdom that comes from above.
James 3:17 NASB But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.
Eugene Peterson’s Message says, “Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, …”
Dr. J. Vernon McGee states, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure—that is, it’s not mingled or mixed; it’s undiluted; it’s the original. It is that wisdom which comes down from God, and James clearly identifies it.”
- full of mercy
- full of good fruits
- without hypocrisy.
James 3:18 NASB And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Once again, look at what Peterson has to say.
You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. (James 3:18 MSG)
Lacking the Super Hero characteristics to take on all the looters, I really only have a handful of reasonable tools to combat the fear and anxiety fear tries to bring, prayer, and teaching. Since my teaching is not what I thought it would be, then I must pray.
The seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace?
Look at alternative passages.
The wicked earns deceptive wages, But he who sows righteousness gets a true reward. (Proverbs 11:18 NASB)
Fairness will produce peace and result in lasting security. (Isaiah 32:17 NET.)
Sow with a view to righteousness, Reap in accordance with kindness; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD Until He comes to rain righteousness on you. (Hosea 10:12 NASB)
Can horses gallop over boulders? Can oxen be used to plow them? But that’s how foolish you are when you turn justice into poison and the sweet fruit of righteousness into bitterness. (Amos 6:12 NLT)
he who sows for his flesh will reap destruction from the flesh, and he who sows for the Spirit will reap life eternal from the Spirit. (Galatians 6:8 Moffatt NT)
May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.
(Philippians 1:11 NLT)
So be seed planters of peace, the times are calling for it. This is NOT peace as the world understands it, it is the Word of God, which often tells you NO. In doing this you will reap a harvest of righteousness.