Aim: To identify the manifestations of “sinful” worldly wisdom in our way of being and doing.
Two kinds of wisdom (Jas 3:13-18): Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual and devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
In his typically down-to-earth language, James tells us that, due to our fragile and sinful condition, there are among us two kinds of wisdom:
(1) An “earthly, unspiritual and devilish” wisdom that generates envy, selfish ambition, boastfulness, falsehood, disorder, wickedness, partiality, hypocrisy.
(2) A “wisdom from above” which finds expression in gentleness, mercy, purity, peacefulness, righteousness.
James goes on to say that friendship with the world begets “conflicts” along with consequential behaviours that look “murderous”, “adulterous” or ill-intentioned: “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (4:1-4).
Another characteristic of worldly wisdom is a judgmental attitude toward others. James continues: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbour?” (4:11-12).
The wisdom of the world confuses the human mind and makes it “misty”; yet it pretends to control life with “boastfulness” and “arrogance”. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money’. Yet, you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that’. As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil” (4:13-16).
Personal Reflection and Sharing
In which ways are James’ words challenging my life beliefs and behaviours?
Which standard of worldly wisdom am I particularly called to recognize in myself and to let go of?