In my previous study on verse 14, James gave a warning to his readers at that time, and the warning applies to us today: “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”
In verse 15, James gives a name to the kind of wisdom he has just described. He calls it “earthly wisdom”. This kind of wisdom does not “come down from above”. In other words, God does not give this kind of wisdom. James also uses two more words to describe this wisdom, and with each word the description seems to become worse and worse. Not only is it “earthly” wisdom (wisdom that does not come from God), but it is also “natural” wisdom. The Greek word suggests that this wisdom has to do with the body and the soul or emotions, but not with the spirit. So this wisdom James speaks of is not only not from God, it has nothing to do with God. When you think it can’t get any worse than that, it does. James goes on to say that this wisdom is demonic. Satan and his demons evidenced this kind of wisdom when they became filled with envy and rebelled against God. Therefore a person with this kind of wisdom is easily influenced by Satan.
Earthly wisdom is an end in itself. People strive for it so that they might boast about it, and so that others might tell them how wise or smart they are, and pass the word on to still others. On the other hand, godly wisdom is not an end in itself but a means to an end. King Solomon in the Old Testament is considered to be one of the wisest men who ever lived. Let’s take a look at how Solomon received that wisdom, and why he received such wisdom from God. In I Kings 3 we read that King Solomon loved the Lord and walked in obedience to Him. And while Solomon was at Gibeon, after he had offered sacrifices there on the altar, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted. That’s quite an offer! In verses seven and eight of I Kings 3 Solomon says, “And now, O Lord my God, Thou hast made Thy servant King in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out and come in. And Thy servant is in the midst of a people which Thou hast chosen, a great people who cannot be numbered or counted for multitude. So give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Thine.” God answered Solomon’s request and gave him far more than he asked for.
In contrast, we see in the Scriptures what human wisdom has acccomplished. It began with Adam and Eve’s removal from the Garden of Eden and the affects of their sin upon our world. Earthly wisdom has also resulted in wars, discrimination, poverty, and pollution of our environment to name a few. In our churches human wisdom has led to church fights, church splits, and churches closing their doors, among other issues.
In verse 16 James sums up the effects of earthly wisdom. He says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” When Christians act in this way it also leaves a bad impression on others. As one Christian put it: “Self is spiritual BO!”
A prime example of jealousy and selfish ambition in the Bible is found in the OId Testament book of Esther. Haman the Agagite, in Esther, chapter 7, constructs a gallows on which he intends to hang Mordecai the Jew in order to satisfy his own selfish desires and demonstrate his power. However, his plan backfires! Queen Esther learns of his plot and intervenes. As a result, the king orders that Haman be hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai the Jew. Not only that but all of Haman’s ten sons are killed also. That’s a very high price to pay for his selfish motives and actions!
As in the case of Haman, pride and selfishness can have harmful or tragic side effects on innocent people. Let me give you another case in point. Other examples may come to your mind.
In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea, causing a tragic loss of life. The news of the disaster was further darkened, however, when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident, which hurled hundreds of passengers into the icy waters. The tragedy was not traced to some major problem like a breakdown in radar or thick fog. The blame was attributed to human stubbornness. Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence. Both could have taken evasive action to avert the collision. But according to news reports, neither wanted to give way to the other. It seems that each was too proud to yield and make the first move. By the time they saw the error of their ways, it was too late.
There’s been a lot of talk about pride, envy, and boasting in this sermon so far. How about you? Does life seem unfair sometimes? Are others better off than yourself? Do others seem to get all the “lucky breaks” in life? Do others seem to get away with things that aren’t right? Are you tired of listening to all the boasting that’s being done by others? We’ve all had those thoughts and feelings before, haven’t we? I have! Even the psalmist expresses those feelings in Psalm 73:3. He says, “I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness”.
When this happens, we’ve lost our perspective and have begun to fall into the habit pattern of using “earthly wisdom”. God wants us to look at life from the perspective of eternity. If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ; if you’ve repented of your sins and invited Him to reign as Lord in your life, then you’re going to spend eternity with Him in heaven and your joy will be unending. It doesn’t get any better than that!
Doesn’t our envy seem to be a waste of time in comparison to what’s already ours for eternity? Shouldn’t it be reminding us to pray for those who have this world’s wisdom and this world’s goods, yet will forfeit their souls? When envious thoughts begin to fill our minds, let’s spend time alone with God in His Word and in prayer, and ask Him to put things back into their proper perspective.
This section is still under construction. Thought you might like to see how it’s coming along. It’s still a “work in progress”, and so am I (and so are you)!