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James 3:13-18 – Sermon Notes

By January 15, 2023March 23rd, 2023Sermon Notes

I want to contrast two James today.

The first is, James Cameron.

The second highest earning film director…notably of Terminator, Titanic, Avatar.

This James is famous for his films and for being demanding and demeaning.

He said…to his fourth wife, Linda Hamilton.

“Anybody can be a father or a husband. There are only five people in the world who can do what I do, and I’m going for that”

I hope he has changed since he made that regrettable statement.

The point is not to point fingers…clearly, we are all imperfect people.

But not all imperfect people consider themselves to be exceptionally smart and wise…and then go fully embrace such obvious folly.

The second James is the brother of Jesus, who in his letter asks the important question.

“Who is wise and understanding?”

James was raised on Proverbs, immersed in biblical wisdom.

Little did he know that he was growing up with wisdom personified in his own brother, Jesus.

As a young adult, James did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah…but that would change.

James would become one of the witnesses to the resurrected Jesus.

Paul wrote that Jesus revealed himself to many people, and he specifically mentions James, as if this was a special, one to one experience.

I can easily imagine Jesus doing this for his brother.

James would go on to become a leader in the early church.

He was a pastor of the church at Jerusalem for 20 years and was killed for his faith not long after he wrote the letter, we call James.

At one point in James’ ministry there was a disagreement among Christian leaders.

Some thought you had to essentially become Jewish before you could become a Christian…a terrible idea.

In Acts chapter 15 there was a meeting in Jerusalem where leaders gathered to discuss the issue.

Peter, Barnabas, Paul…told of their experiences and convictions and made their case that it would betray the gospel to add these conditions to it.

When they finished, James, who evidently was the chair of the meeting spoke up.

He quoted the Old Testament and related it to what was happening among them.

He then concluded…. “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead, we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. ” Acts 15

His point was this…don’t add to the gospel and put stumbling blocks in the way of non-Jews who want to come to faith in Christ.

But also make sure that the Gentile believers don’t unnecessarily become stumbling blocks to Jews who might come to faith in Christ.

What we see in all this is that James had a reputation for wisdom, leadership and peace-making.

He lived what he taught in his own letter.

What he lived and taught was the wisdom of Proverbs and the wisdom of Jesus…which of course are the same things.

Now, let’s go to James 3 to see what this wisdom is and what it isn’t.

James 3:13-17 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

To get the feel of this passage imagine this.

You are sitting in a room full of various people…all kinds of folks…much like this room.

James walks to the front of the room and asks…

“Who is wise and understanding among you?”

Various looks come across the faces of the crowd, hard to tell what they mean…let’s imagine we can read minds.

“Well, I am course…everyone knows it.”

“People don’t acknowledge it, but I am a wise person…I’m just not appreciated.”

“I have studied theology…I know the Bible inside and out…so of course…me.”

One person impulsively and very awkwardly raises their hand in response the question.

Imagine that James asks it again…but this time without pausing, he throws down a preemptive challenge.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good LIFE, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

So… wisdom seen in a good life. Humility expressed in actions…that seems like a different question…but is it?

You can google “Smart people who are not good people.”

I wouldn’t do it to gloat or judge…but it is fascinating who pops up.

Jesus, on the other hand, is both the smartest person who has ever lived and the best person who has ever lived.

He is wisdom and goodness personified.

When I was younger, I wanted to be and look smart (I especially didn’t want to ever look foolish) …as I get older, I would like to be good…especially goodness expressed in kindness.

Biblically there is no growth in wisdom if there is no growth in goodness…goodness that shows up in actions.

-He was an expert in the Old Testament and in the teachings of Jesus

-This took effort and intelligence

-You need true information about God (theology) in order to live a good life.

*But Information that does not make its way into application is not wisdom: Truth in practice in wisdom.

-Super important that we know truth about God

-We are leaning into theological instruction as a church because it is such a pressing and important need…we need to know the truth.

Truth has become relativized and so people are trying to build their lives on sand…we have a solid foundation for our lives in the Bible…truth has been revealed to us.

*But keep this in mind: There are two really good reasons to learn theology: In order to better Love God, and in order to better Love People.

-I’ve known people who study theology in order to be impressive, debate, mere curiosity…and other not so good reasons.

We must forth effort to learn more truth about God…but only in order to know God, to love and honor him, and to love others…and we will thrive in the process.

A theologian with a hard head and hard heart…is a poor theologian indeed.

Back to James.

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

Wisdom and understanding can be seen…it does not hide in the brain, or merely come from the mouth; it shows up in a life.

A life that does good empowered by humility that reveals wisdom.

Why is humility such a critical part of this?

Humility is wisdom because pride is stupid and it makes us stupid.

We think life is about us and so we live in foolish ways that lead to empty lives.

Humility leads to a life seeking to love God and others…this is life in line with our design.

Knowledge and the discipline to acquire it can be a good thing…IF they are components of a “good life, deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”

Again, if we use knowledge to exalt self…then its less than worthless…even Biblical knowledge.

Humility was not highly valued by the general culture when James wrote this.

It was not thought to be a sign of a strong and confident person…but rather a weak and servile one.

Meanwhile Jesus, the true King humbled himself to become a servant…and he said that the meek are the blessed.

Humility or meekness comes from understanding who we are in relationship to God.

Humility towards God should translate to humility before others.

Humility is sanity…pride is insanity.

Insanity as in living outside of reality.

Look at that person so proud of their physical body(and impressive to others)…what can they do with it?
-Throw a ball?
-Pick up some steel?
-Run fast around a track.

Now look at their body…it has been taken down by a very small germ, a microscopic cancer cell, or by some injury to their very weak and vulnerable body.

Look at that person proud of their power and position…impressive…now look at them.
-Who thinks about them, talks about them, even knows about them…in a very short time after they have left the stage of public power…no one cares…now the next impressive person is up…

Look at that smart person…they know so much but about so little.
-Now look at them…they are alone, they are confused about important things like relationships and joy and purpose…they were so smart in their field…but empty in their life.

My point is simply…humility is sanity…we ARE humble beings…we are weak, needy, temporary.

Pride is crazy.

Pride leads to crazy life choices…and true humility brings wisdom that brings peace between people.

Let’s go on…

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.

Bitter envy is desire to possess things that are not ours…and to be unhappy that you don’t have them.
-A life sucking attitude.

Selfish ambition= is what Paul said we are to not to act out of in Phil. 2.

Why would James say if you do these things, you should not boast about it?

Who would?

Many would and do…just pay attention.

It is common to openly embrace, and boast about being self-centered.

But this “wisdom”, James writes…using the term ironically…is not from heaven (God)…it’s not wisdom at all.

It is…

Earthly (a word that is the opposite of heaven)
-Earthbound: a narrow perspective that fails to consider the reality of God.

Unspiritual (not of God)
-This describes the person whose feelings and reason reign supreme…again, they do consider the reality of God and what is in his great mind as they move through life.

Demonic: It is as far from the wisdom of God as you can get.


Where you have envy and selfish ambition, THERE you find disorder and every evil practice.

Wisdom from God…is seen in a life

This false wisdom…is also seen in a life and the impact of that life on others…there is cause and effect for both wisdom and folly.

The earthbound, unspiritual, and demonic nature of this false wisdom is seen in the effects on relationships in the church.

This “wisdom” that is of the world, flesh, and devil…breeds disorder and every evil practice

When people are seeking their own selfish desires rather the good of others and the good of the community…disorder rules…and there is breakdown of all that is good between people.

So, we have what wisdom is not…now we see what wisdom from God is…or more accurately what real wisdom does.

It shows up out here, in relationships.

Wisdom as a life orientation to God’s will and ways, has practical effects on how we live our lives…together.

He started this passage with: “Who is wise and understanding? Then let them show it by the way they live their life.”

Wisdom produces:

First of all, or above all:

-This is given as the foundational quality of wisdom…the things that follow are derivatives of a pure life.

-By purity he doesn’t mean just in terms of sexuality…but purity as in wholeness.

-Pure gold, pure chocolate…pure godliness

-The opposite of being double-minded.

-A person who is more and more, fully given over to God…this is pure.

Purity or wholeness is the foundation for wisdom: Then he gives seven words to describe what this looks like in practice.

He groups these seven words into three groups of…three, two and two.

The first three words start with the same letter and have the same ending in the Greek,

Peace loving, considerate, and submissive are evidence of wisdom, spiritual wholeness.

They are the opposites of envy & selfish ambition.

Peace between us starts with peace inside of us.
-Some people are so conflicted on the inside that they get nervous when then is no drama on the outside.

-They create dissension…they bring disorder…because of the disorder inside of them.

Considerate just means…considering or thinking of others not just of self.
-When we are considering others, we are not moving through life only seeing self…self needs, self-wounds, self desires,

Submissive, is better translated as, “open to reason”…able to be influenced

So… we could summarize…

Wisdom is not hard-hearted
Wisdom is not hard-headed

A fool has a hard heart and a hard head to match.

Open to reason…doesn’t mean you are without conviction or easily swayed by the opinions of others.

The wise person can be wrong (life is about God and others, and truth is precious) …the fool cannot afford to be. (Life is about them, and truth can be a threat)

James demonstrated this mixture of conviction and flexibility when he was leading that heated conference in Jerusalem.

He held to the absolute truth of the gospel…”Don’t add barriers to people coming to Christ…period.”

And he was not hard-headed, but open to reason…”But make sure in matters of secondary importance, that people do not unnecessary cause offense.”

James had firm convictions but a willingness to hear others…wisdom.

To see someone with a joyful, fixed foundation and a joyful and open mind is a beautiful thing..

I have decided…Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life…no one comes to God apart from him.

The Bible is true…it has been proven historically, personally, practically, grammatically, etc.

They have decided…they are not living deciding…this is important.

No one is going to come up with some new idea, new discovery…that suddenly undermines the foundations of the gospel and Scripture.

It’s a done deal…the foundation is fixed…we build our lives on it.

And because er have confidence in out core convictions…they don’t have to be right about everything.

Wisdom means I must hold to my core convictions absolutely…and be open to the input, correction of others on things that are not absolute truth of God.

We want to be joyfully convinced and joyfully correctable people.

Contrast this with the common image of the sour, unhappy person who is convinced they are right about everything…no matter what it is.

Or the nervous person flittering from this new idea to that one…no fixed foundation for their life.

Wisdom is built on the foundation of the truth of the gospel…there is joy, and security there.

Wisdom is humble and able to hear others and be corrected.

Proverbs says that the wise person literally rejoices in correction (they have learned to love it) …they don’t want to maintain their pride at the cost of what is true and real.

The second group of virtues are set off by “full of”

-Full of mercy & good fruit

Jesus frequently mentioned mercy as an indicator of the godly person…and he loved the analogy of bearing good fruit.

James couples’ mercy with good fruit…mercy is love for others that shows up in actions towards others.

So, clearly the wisdom from heaven will bear this kind of fruit…mercy.

Love in practical action.

One thing that you find in “smart people who were not good people” historically.

They were void of mercy…they did not treat people well.

Over and over people who have talked about Bernie Madoff say that he was void of mercy, compassion for others.

-He was called a financial serial killer…a sociopath…without the capacity for mercy.

-He was behind the greatest ponzi scheme, money fraud in history…ruined many lives.

-He went from being called the Wizard of Wall Street, to being called the Monster of Wall Street.

-He was thought to be brilliant by everyone who knew him…but he was not, and he was not good.

-His own sons, both of whom died, one by suicide…disowned him.

-He died in prison, alone, and his ashes sit in a lawyer’s office…no one wants them.

-True wisdom is full of mercy and good fruit…others around you thrive because you are wise.

-But when true wisdom is absent…no one thrives.

*But as with Madoff and many like him…folly and wisdom can take time to reveal their fruit…but reveal it they will.

The final group of two traits, again, start with the same letter and end the same way in the Greek.

Impartial and sincere

Impartial makes sense, remember how James wrote about showing no partiality and treating all people the same…rich, poor?

Sincere means to not “play act”…to be “for real”

Impartial and sincere are coupled because…Wisdom puts on no show for others, you can actually count on this person to be who they seem to be…all the time, with everyone.

-No hollow core, no trap doors, no trying to please or impress…what you see is what you get.

They want to bless not to impress others.

Then, as the capstone of this passage of contrasting the “two wisdoms” (one fraudulent, one real) he concludes with…

Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

This is James’ true concern in all this…not individual “growth” or personal development…but he is concerned about what individual wisdom brings to the community…the church.

We tend to read the Bible and move through life thinking mostly as individuals rather than as a connected part of others.

So, we read James as a sort of self-improvement manual.

But James’ main focus is “we” not just “me”

If you read the Bible from a “me” not a “we” perspective…you will misread it.

The body of Christ is the kingdom of God manifest in the world.

The world will know we are his as we love one another.

Love for God shows up in our practical love for others.

Unchurched Christians wandering the earth trying to pursue individual spiritual growth would be unthinkable to James and the other NT writers.

Godly wisdom is always faith practiced together in community.

When I live, as a connected member of a local body…and as I grow in wisdom, I will be a part of growing peace in the body and the harvest of righteousness will be manifest in how we live together.

We are profoundly social beings…this is beyond dispute.

God has made us for community.

Why, if James is so concerned with peace in the local church did, he spend all this time on wisdom and self-reflection?

Because both drama and PEACE above ground are the “shoots” of the plants…the things happening below ground are the roots of the plants.

The next verse in James asks another penetrating question…with an equally challenging answer.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you.

We will get there next week.


Everyone should seek wisdom

James 1:5, “If anyone lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all.”

We tend to think of wisdom as getting data.

We use that data to make a good decision or avoid making a bad one.

We see wisdom as knowing the will of God for our lives…jobs, marriage, purchases, etc.

We see wisdom as mainly good “intel”.

None of that is bad and wisdom certainly has those components to it.

But when James says in the first chapter that if we lack wisdom, we should ask God for it and believe he will give it.

We should pay close attention when in a very short letter he soon defines what wisdom actually is.

Wisdom is not merely the ability to make a good decision (what do I do here?)

Wisdom is the ability to live a “good life”…to know God’s will and ways in regard to how to live life and love others…of course that includes decisions…but it much more.

When people live together in wisdom, they will live together in peace…if peace is absent, wisdom is absent.

When James asks, “If anyone lacks wisdom, he should ask God for it.”

He is not saying we should merely ask God for information in decision making.

We are asking God for transformation…to become more like Christ.

We cry out…”Oh God, please give me wisdom.”

*Looking at our time in James so far…what will that mean?

God says…”Okay…trust me in this trial, and you will grow in wisdom.”

And…”be content in your current situation and you will grow in wisdom.”

And…”embrace that person as your equal and treat them as more important than self and you will become wise.”

And…”put away arrogance and have a soft heart and don’t be a hard head…bring peace in your church community…that is wisdom.

Who is wise and understanding? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

People can be impressed (briefly at least) by human wisdom…but people are blessed by heaven’s wisdom.

You really do want your life to bless not to impress.

Because blessing others leaves them, and us, more full.

Seeking to impress others…only makes us feel emptier…and it does not draw others into the beauty of God.

Be impressive…but impressive to God…he is impressed by faithfulness, faith, kindness, sacrifice, love.

James Cameron said, “Anybody can be a father or a husband. There are only five people in the world who can do what I do, and I’m going for that”

He was so wrong:

1. This is just utter folly…you could not think about life in a more empty way.

2. Anyone can live for themselves, anyone can make life about them…that way of life is not unusual all.

Making life about self is so very common.

What is unusual is the life lived for the good of others and the glory of God…go for that…that is wisdom.

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