James continues his discussion of wisdom and how we apply it to our lives as Christians. James begins with a rhetorical question challenging to the reader to take a look inward and ask “Am I wise?” Wisdom goes beyond a simple understanding of what is right. While wisdom includes understanding, it goes beyond that. Wisdom, and thus a wise person, applies what they have learned. Yet, this wisdom is easily contrasted with the wisdom of the world. The world will encourage us to pursue selfish gain over and at the expense of others. The wisdom of Heaven, though, strives for a greater and deeper expression of a life changed and redeemed by an everlasting God.
‘Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
The world and the heavenly realms are at odds with one another and we should never forget this fact. The things the world values and holds dear are not the same that the heaven values. James wastes no time and attacking this same earthly wisdom. Success in our day, and in James’ time as well, defines itself through personal advancement. Thus, people pursue this at any cost. Others are disregarded and ignored all for the sake of personal gain. Furthermore, when applied to its logical conclusion, people boast in this same advancement. Advancement at the sake of others is the exact opposite of the Gospel. Jesus sought the advancement of others at the sake of Himself, choosing to die on the cross. Furthermore, society functions greater when we seek to take care of one another instead of profit off of one another. Earthly wisdom can only lead to death fueled by greed.
Wisdom from Heaven
This earthy wisdom is contrasted with the wisdom of heaven. When compared, the two seem stand in stark contradiction to one another. There is this sense that justice is met through our dealings with one another but also grace is extended to the individual. Peace is made long before it is threatened, seeking to have the difficult conversations instead of avoiding it for a faux peace. The wisdom of heaven seeks to enact the values of heaven in our daily life. Faith is enacted and lived out. This is wisdom. Knowledge starts and leads to opportunities to express itself, but the actually living out of what we believe and hold to deeply is wisdom.