WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON? James 3:14-16
Dr. Jerry A. Collins
James brings his argument to the subject of wisdom who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom (James 3:13). Instead of boldly (and arrogantly!) verbalizing the wisdom they thought they possessed, James’s readers are challenged to demonstrate it by their lifestyle in that gentle spirit (meekness) which was always a mark of true wisdom. Biblical wisdom will keep you out of a lot of trouble, heartache, deception, misunderstanding, and rivalry. It will also help you live a productive life worth living and enjoying. Its fruit is peace.
God commands us to know wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:1, see also 1:1-7, 8:1-36). But He also tells us there is a human wisdom...of this age (1 Corinthians 2:6-16). The wisdom of this age is wisdom in that it is often a well-thought-out conclusion about how to live life. But James warns us that the origin and expression of this wisdom is fraught with destruction—the kind we see burning across the American landscape today. The wisdom of the world has serious problems.
THE WISDOM OF THE WORLD IS BASED UPON COMPETITIVENESS
James juxtaposes the worlds wisdom with biblical wisdom but if you in contrast to meekness (v 13) which was sorely lacking, it appears, in some of the Christian churches James was addressing (see 4:1–2). James therefore warned them of the outcome if they had bitter envy and self-seeking in their hearts. Jealousy is ‘fierceness of indignation’ exhibited by being contentious due to envy. James adds the description bitter to display a jealousy that is piercing and harsh. Then he includes selfish ambition as motivation for this bitter jealousy. This is not a good concoction.
The motivation of bitter jealousy is a partisan, fractious, self serving demeanor full of intrigue and strife. The origin of such a destructive spirit is in your heart from where comes their thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, and endeavors. It is not just some passing whim. It is a spirit of rivalry conceived on the basis of one’s own self-interest. It is the hearts desire to get ahead of others, to seek a higher status or more prominent role or recognition. Jesus instead taught
PT: Jesus also gave a list of 13 things that defiles human beings in Mark 7:21-22. That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man. There is only so much pie to go around. So to ensure you get some of it requires sinfully elbowing your way in no matter how destructive. Power and control are limited resources. The American landscape bears witness here. So worldly wisdom selfishly competes for prominence—bitter jealousy (zealous jealousy) and selfish ambition (rivalry) in seeking one’s own profit at the expense of another. Understand that this is how unbelievers operate (Romans 1:29-32; 3:9-18; Proverbs 16:25 there is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death; Jeremiah 17:9-10).
Application: What’s significant about the 13 things that proceed out of our hearts is that they are incurable. It’s easy to regulate what we eat (Mark 16:17-19), but impossible to keep from evil thoughts. No monastery, convent, legalistic or conservative system can prevent, contain, or control it. Only the external manifestations can be controlled. The point made, by the whole account of the life and death of Christ throughout the gospels, is that without the cross we have no hope.
By the way, Gods resources are unlimited. We do not compete for Gods love, joy, peace, care, power and grace as if we need to get some at the expense of another. Since Gods resources are unlimited, the competitive wisdom of the world is unnecessary. Christians do not vie for prominence or prestige or power—at least ones who have grown up, ones not corrupted by the worlds instincts. Ones who obediently follow Jesus, know the Scriptures, and pursue their own spiritual net worth by maturing. Believers in tune with God know that rewards are for the other side of the grave, not this one. Gods resources will prove adequate for every follower.
This selfish ambition results in prideful self promotion rather than the truth . James censures this mentality. Lying against the truth is promoting untrue things, things that oppose the truth. Arrogance is the contributing factor to deception. The word translated arrogant connotes the kind of egotism that is expressed by an ambition to get ahead of others. The situation James has in mind has been repeated numberless times in Christian churches. But this kind of mentality is censured severely here by James.
The verb for boast, is the same word used in 2:13 about mercy triumphing over judgment. The one who dares wield the truth of God as an instrument to satisfy his/her own envy and self-seeking is guilty of “triumphing over” the truth. That is, one arrogantly tramples down the truth as if it were a thing subordinate to his/her own personal ambitions. Such conduct is also a lie against the truth, since this conduct only pretends to be in submission to the truth. In fact, such behavior is in itself contrary to the truth one is professing.
PT: A recent article in Christianity Today was about a controversy in John Ortberg’s megachurch. He was forced to resign and CT went on to describe how his son was involved in the controversy. However, the son, was really his daughter who identified as transgender and is married to a man who identifies as a woman. Is CT’s reference to his son instead of his daughter consistent with truth? Or is it a form of lying against the truth. Colossians 3:9 says do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds. There are so many attacks on biblical truth from within the church.
THE WISDOM OF THE WORLD IS SPIRITUALLY CORRUPT
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing (James 3:15-16). This wisdom, says James, is not of heavenly origin . This skill for living life does not descend from heaven. This is not at all how they think or reason in heaven. So, we can conclude that the essence of the worlds wisdom, that skill for living life, perceiving reality, and knowledge of the truth is absent.
Instead it is earthly, natural (sensual), demonic. This withering indictment was just what such behavior deserved. The “wisdom” of the self-promoting was precisely the kind found among unsaved men who shrewdly plotted their own advancement. The self-promotion and ambitious advancement was merely a product of human desire. Thus, it was earthly. Then, too, it was totally unspiritual and the mere product of human desire. Thus it was sensual (“soulish”). Finally, since it was inspired and encouraged by the spirits which served Satan, it was demonic, with all the spiritual damage implied by that tragic fact. It is demon-like in its deception, hypocrisy, and evil. This is an unholy trinity.
So James concludes that basically wherever envy and self-seeking were at work in the Christian Church, there were always two inescapable consequences for where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing v 16. Worldly wisdom is destructive by nature. Characteristically the church where this occurs is thrown into turmoil, and factionalism and evil things are said and done which have no place in the Christian fellowship. Thus the work of Satan becomes unmistakable.
Application: We see this spirit at work in our society today. We can look, observe, and watch how this wisdom advocates for itself, swoops down and swallows people, controls and manipulates, and eventually tears down and destroys in the name of advancement. Based in a selfishly competitive spirit, it wreaks havoc by reckless ambitious pursuits to grasp its share of limited pie. Then it requires others to comply and conform so as to exert power and control based on whatever justification. We see this in the the political use of the coronavirus, the contrasting narratives about Hydroxychloroquine, the anarchists rioting, the knees bending to black lives matter, and fracas squabbles in DC.
· Godly wisdom teaches that you get your profit from God. Earthly wisdom says you get it from others. This is why the worlds wisdom brings along jealousy and selfish ambition. And along with rivalry comes disorder—confusion and turmoil—and then makes possible what before you thought unthinkable—every evil thing. WW passionately pursues its own self-interest period.
So what do we?
· One of the most significant biblical passages relating to yoking between believers and unbelievers is 2 Corinthians 6:14-16a, which says,
Do not [negative command] be [generally timeless fact] unequally yoked [in association] with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? [rhetorical questions requiring “none’ for the answer].
This passage begins with a negative command to either stop an action in progress or prohibit a habitual action from taking place. That action is being unequally yoked with unbelievers.
The reason for the command is based in five rhetorical questions, each building on one another, to emphasize why believers must not be yoked to unbelievers. These contrasts illustrate the incongruity between believers and unbelievers coordinating their lives in the same direction.
· The first, what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness? None! There is no collaboration or teamwork between the concept of right living or justice versus lawlessness, the absence of justice.
· The second, or what fellowship has light with darkness? None! There is no shared interest or mutual aim between the concept of light so as to see clearly, versus darkness, to not see at all.
· The third, or what harmony has Christ with Belial? None! There is no agreement or harmony between Christ and Satan, who is opposed to Christ.
· The fourth, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? None! There is no shared quality or standard between a believer and an unbeliever. Both parties are guided by conflicting priorities and ambitions.
· The fifth, or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? None! Since believers are the church today indwelt by the Holy Spirit, anything brought into one’s life that defiles it is incompatible with who we are.