Verse of the Day Devotion James 3:17
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” – James 3:17
James begins his discussion on wisdom by asking a rhetorical question. “Who among you is wise and understanding?” James 3:13a. James is asking those who think they have special understanding and insight regarding spiritual matters to essentially step forward so he can check out whether they are telling the truth or not. Now, based on verse one, James is no doubt speaking to those who are teachers, or desire to be one. Those people who respond to James’s invitation soon find themselves the object of searching and perhaps unwanted scrutiny. For James assesses these people’s claim to wisdom not in theological terms—how much doctrine do they know, how many Greek verbs can they parse—but in practical terms. And the terms laid out is good behavior. And this good behavior is to be done in the gentleness of wisdom.
Then in the next two verses he lays out why gentleness is important. “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.” James 3:14-15. These verses are the antithesis to James’ challenge in verse 13b. If a person harbors bitter envy and selfish ambition in the heart, that person is, in effect, living a lie: claiming to be wise but conducting themself in a way that denies that claim. The reason that James can draw this conclusion is that bitter envy and selfish ambition are contrary to humility.
If then, humility marks the wise person, these negative qualities exclude a person from being considered wise. He then explains his statement in the next verse, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” James 3:16. In this verse, James justifies his harsh verdict on false wisdom by showing what these attitudes produce. He points out how egocentric, selfish attitudes inevitably lead to disorder and every vile practice. This sentence denotes a restless and unsettled state of mind. And James ends this verse by saying, “there is disorder and every evil thing.” James 3:16b. And based on the transition to verse 17, this is not wisdom for where jealousy and selfishness exist, wisdom is not found. “When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2.
Now, looking at our focus verse, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” James 3:17, we see an interesting point. Wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, and gentle. It is reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits. It is also unwavering and non-hypocritical. These things are in total opposition to verses 14-16. If these attributes exist, then the wisdom you may claim cannot be wisdom from God, it must be the wisdom of this world. Paul questions this wisdom when he wrote, “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” 1 Corinthians 1:20. He in essence calls the wisdom of this world foolishness, which is counter to true wisdom from above. Thus, the wisdom of this world is not wisdom at all, but actually anti-wisdom.
In closing, true wisdom is actually the attributes of God exhibited in our lives. Paul referred to these attributes as the fruit of the Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23. Let us walk in this way to exhibit true wisdom. And the last two verses of this chapter clearly match what James said in our focus verse. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:24-25.
William Funkhouser MDiv, ThD, Founder and President of True Devotion Ministries.