Study Notes

James 3:13-18


So far, James has been pretty straightforward, exhorting us regarding trials, faith, riches, temptation, God's gifts, holiness, the Word, partiality, works, teachers, and the tongue. These things have been stated very clearly. However, as we read the rest of chapter 3, we run into some language that can be difficult to understand at first reading. But rest assured, the truth that James presents is just as simple and understandable once we see what he is saying.

3:13 Wise And Understanding

The key to understanding this and the next five verses is to understand what wisdom is. Once we know what wisdom is, the rest of the chapter is a piece of cake.

If I asked you to picture someone who is wise, you might imagine an old college professor who has horn-rimmed glasses. Although that man may have great knowledge, he may not necessarily have wisdom. Because, you see, wisdom is greater than knowledge. Wisdom, in short, is the proper application of knowledge. Many people accumulate vast knowledge through schooling and experience, but are not wise. Many others are wise, although they have had little or no schooling. To take the knowledge that you have and apply it properly is to be wise.

In these verses, James is going to tell us what wisdom looks like, and where it comes from.

Good Behavior

Real wisdom looks like godliness. It is manifested in good behavior. It is demonstrated in gentleness. If you think that you are wise, you can find out by looking at your life.

Why does wisdom look like good behavior? Because the Scripture tells us,

Prov. 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

If you are truly wise, it is only because you fear the Lord. Apart from the reverential awe of God and desire to walk in a manner pleasing to Him, no one has true wisdom. So wisdom begins with the fear of God. And the person who fears God lives a life of good behavior.

3:14-16 Earthly, Natural, Demonic Wisdom

Some people boast in their great wisdom. They are competitive and argumentative, and they are arrogant, prideful, and full of themselves. They want people to notice how wise they are.

Although they have no fear of God, they believe that they are very wise. And in a sense, they are right. They do have wisdom. But it is not true wisdom from the Lord. It is wisdom that stems from three places.


Wisdom that is not from God is earthly. That is, it is worldly. It takes into consideration the philosophies and practices of the world system. The dog-eat-dog, look out for number one, climb the corporate ladder by stepping on others kind of wisdom. This is the wisdom that we see people using in the world today.

If I have knowledge that you have ripped me off, I will use my earthly wisdom to decide to sue you. If I have knowledge that you are doing something wrong, I will use my earthly wisdom to blackmail you. If I have knowledge of your weaknesses, I will use my earthly wisdom to gain the advantage.

Have you noticed that godly wisdom doesn't line up with the world's wisdom? Have you noticed that in the kingdom of God, the proper use of knowledge is not to sue, to blackmail, to gain advantage? Paul told the Corinthians,

1Cor. 1:20 ...Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

Never rely on the world's wisdom to make a wise decision.


The next source of wisdom not from God is the natural. This word in Greek is "psoo-khee-KOS," where we get our words "psychic" and "psychology." It is most often translated "soul." You may recall that we discussed in a recent study that your soul is where the thoughts of your mind and the feelings of your heart combine to make you, to make up your psyche.

The wisdom that our soul, our psyche, gives also seems to make sense: if I am struggling with an issue, my psyche uses that knowledge to tell me, "think about it, mull it over, dwell on it." If I'm angry at someone, my psyche says, "you don't need them. It's okay to hate them. They are the source of your pain." When I have personality problems, my psyche uses that knowledge to tell me, "Find out where it all began. See if there's someone you can blame it on, so you don't have to take responsibility."

Again, natural wisdom is the application of your knowledge, but it's not godly wisdom. True wisdom never says, "dwell on the issue, hate the person, look for the source in your past and blame them."

Our souls, our psyches, are deceived by wisdom not from God. That is why Solomon wrote,

Prov. 24:14 Know {that} wisdom is thus for your soul; If you find {it,} then there will be a future, And your hope will not be cut off.

If we get true wisdom for our souls, we have hope.


Lastly, James tells us that this kind of wisdom has a demonic source. This is out and out deception on a spiritual level, which causes us to give in to the wisdom of the world and our souls. In the Garden of Eden, Eve was deceived by the devil to follow after her own wisdom instead of God's wisdom. The devil tempted her by appealing to her soul.

Gen. 3:6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make {one} wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.

The devil deceived King David by appealing to the wisdom of the world. All the other nations kept records of the people in their kingdoms. It was a way to measure the greatness of your power by how many people you had rule over.

1Chr. 21:1-2 Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, "Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me {word} that I may know their number."

The worldly way was not the godly way.

How long shall we fall for these same old tricks? Paul reminded the Corinthians,

2Cor. 2:11 ...that no advantage be taken of us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes.

We know that the devil will try to deceive us into following the world's ways, to follow after the instincts of our psyche. So let's not let him get the victory. We are children of God, and must not give in to the schemes of our enemy. Paul told the Ephesians,

Eph. 2:1-3 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Deceived by the devil, walking in the way of the world, indulging the desires of the flesh and mind. Saints, we must not live in that deception any longer.

3:17 The Wisdom From Above

If we cannot use the world's wisdom, or our soul's instinctive wisdom, where can we get true wisdom? It comes from above. The proverb also tells us that He is the source.

Prov. 2:6 ...the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth {come} knowledge and understanding.

Paul, when he was writing to the Colossians, described Jesus as being the One...

Col. 2:3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

How can we get that godly wisdom? Two sources. Remember that James said in chapter one,

James 1:5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Prayer is a vehicle by which God will bestow His wisdom to you.

Secondly, Paul described to Timothy,

2Tim. 3:15 ...the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation...

The Word of God is the second source of wisdom. If you need advice, if you need counsel, if you need to know how to apply the knowledge that you have, the Word and prayer are the answer for finding God's wisdom.

Peaceable, Gentle, Etc.

You'll know when you have the wise answer, the response of wisdom, because it won't be argumentative and contentious. It won't be self-seeking. It'll be gentle and peacemaking. It'll be merciful and true.

3:18 Seeds of Righteousness Sown In Peace

The reward for seeking God's wisdom is plain: your life is overcome by righteousness and peace.

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