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True vs. False Wisdom

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James 3:13–18 ESV
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Tonight’s passage is a compare and contrast passage. James brings up the idea of wisdom - which if you remember from our study of back in May - Godly Wisdom is humbly hearing and doing God’s will found in Scripture and applying Scripture to the circumstances of the moment.
So tonight is about True vs. False wisdom. I’ve scoured the webs and it is not easy to find a self-professed foolish person. Honestly, most of us elevate our abilities and think relatively high of ourself. We think we are wise. We think we are relatively learned, relatively skilled, relatively fast, relatively beautiful. Our opinion of ourself is high. So tonight James puts us our wisdom to task - he tests our wisdom. And so my hope would be that throughout our message tonight you would evaluate yourself and our ministry to see if you have and we have true wisdom from God or we have false, earthly wisdom.
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The Test of Wisdom

In (v.13) we see the Test of Wisdom, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom (v13).”
The bottom line of wisdom - how it is evaluated is not based on education, theological prowess, how many Greek verbs you can parse, experience or position - it is based on our day to day action.
So first wisdom is revealed by:
(1) His works - what that means is each and every day does our life - our thoughts, words, feelings and actions - demonstrate a godliness or a Christlikeness.
James isn’t interested and Christ isn’t interested in what we have to say about our wisdom, “hey, buddy I’m really wise, listen to me sing the books of the bible to you.” That’s great and all, but James insisted in I will show you my faith by my works.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

We therefore think that James invites any of his readers who might pride themselves on their wisdom to consider seriously what he is about to say.

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Wisdom - humbly hearing and doing God’s will found in Scripture and applying Scripture to the circumstances of the moment - manifests itself daily. Peter knew this too:
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

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: Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

1 Peter 2:12 ESV
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
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So if our day to day conduct is honorable we prove that we possess wisdom and the opposite is true too.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

The “let him show”26 challenge reminds us of James’s challenge in 2:18 to the “believer” who thinks works and faith can be separated: “Show me your faith without deeds.”

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The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

“Good conduct,” James insists, is the basis on which one can demonstrate wisdom. This phrase, or similar ones, occurs several times in the letters of Peter in a general way to denote a lifestyle that pleases God. See especially 1 Pet. 2:12: “Live such good lives [lit., ‘have good conduct’] among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

And then secondly, wisdom is revealed by:
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(2) Look back at (v.13) “in the meekness of wisdom.” This means that our good works that we are to be living out on the day-to-day should be done in humility. True wisdom produces true humility.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

The idea that “good deeds” are to be shown on the basis of good conduct is a little unusual, but clear enough: it is our acts of obedience to God, performed consistently day after day, that make up the “good conduct” of the wise person.

If I toot my horn and say “look at me I’m helping my neighbors granny across the street, I’m a really good guy” that is not a good deed. That is not a life lived in humility under the grace of Christ.
So after you do something nice for someone in the name of Christ and you feel that itching urge to share it with someone so they will think better of you: remember that’s not wise. Those who truly possess the wisdom of God don’t love others for gain or strategically to be seen and noticed, rather they love others and do good works because they are wise.
Christ said it this way in
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

What James appears to mean, however, is that the good works are to be done in a spirit of humility—a humility that itself is the product, or result, of wisdom (taking the genitive sophias as a genitive of source). James is clearly trying to say two things here: true wisdom produces good works and true wisdom produces humility.

Matthew 5:5 ESV
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
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When we get our position in relation to Christ and we recognize how unable we are to be satisfied without God and that we can’t chart or captain our life without him and then we embrace Christ to do this for us - that’s what humility looks like. So the test for possessing true wisdom is (1) does my life produce good works for Christ? and (2) are those works done in humility? After laying out the true test for wisdom we see a picture of False Wisdom in (v.14-16)
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

Humility, or “meekness” (Gk. praütēs) was not usually prized by the Greeks. They thought it signaled a servility unworthy of a strong and confident person. But a different picture emerges in the NT. Jesus himself claimed to be “meek” (Matt. 11:29; cf. Matt. 21:5) and blessed those who were meek (Matt. 5:5). This Christian meekness, or humility, comes from understanding our position as sinful creatures in relationship to the glorious and majestic God (note James’s elaboration of this point in 4:7). It recognizes how unable we are in and of ourselves to achieve spiritual fulfillment or to chart our own course in the world. And this humility before God should then translate into humility toward others

False Wisdom

James 3:14–16 ESV
14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
Then we see in (v.14-16)
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

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 himself 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.

The Motivation

So what motivates this false wisdom?
Well, we know it comes from the heart - where all motives come from.
And from the heart James says here that two things motivate false wisdom:
(1) Bitter Jealousy
If you live your life on human, worldly wisdom you will inevitably be self-centered. You will live in a fantasy world in which your own ideas, desires and judgments or standards are the measure of everything.
If someone serves to help along your idea of the “good life” well they are a friend and whoever threatens that, well they are an enemy.
Application: Sports - let’s say you have spent a few years starting at a particular position, but one day your coach comes to you and says “hey I’d like to move you to another position, because so-and-so would do better here and it would be better for the team.” How would you respond? It would be better for the team for that switch to happen, but now instead of playing PG or QB you are playing SG or wide-out. How would you take it? Would you become bitter and jealousy or more directly would you have bitter jealousy toward that person?
Worldly, false wisdom is marked by a bitter jealousy of others. And it is marked by:
(2) Selfish Ambition - this is actually the motive upon which bitter jealousy is based. Selfish-Ambition is the pursuit of personal gain or fulfillment at any cost.
Selfish - ambition is the antithesis of humility. It is the Bane to Batman, the Giants to the Patriots, the aliens to the cowboys, or the Russian to our Rocky. You can’t have selfish ambition and meekness or humility at the same time because selfish ambition can’t share. It pushes out humility. So false wisdom is motivated by bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.
And we are not to “boast and be false to the truth.”
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

To boast about wisdom when one is displaying jealousy and selfish ambition is, in effect, to give the lie to the truth about what wisdom is and does. For wisdom must always be accompanied by humility.

Transition: then in (v.15) we see what characterizes or marks false wisdom.

The Characteristics

James 3:15 ESV
15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
So, here James distinguishes between wisdom from above and from below. Wisdom from God and wisdom from man or the world. Wisdom from heaven or wisdom from the earth.
See, false wisdom is characterized here by three things:
(1) It is earthly. It is of man. True wisdom comes from God. That’s what we saw in
James 1:5 ESV
5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
And we know also according to
James 1:17 ESV
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
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But the “wisdom” of those who are selfish and jealousy that does not come down from God, but it is of the earth. It’s origin is not of God, but of sinful, distorted, bent toward evil man.
(2) Secondly, this false wisdom is unspiritual. So, this type of wisdom does not come from the spirit and it is of no spiritual benefit. It is unspiritual. It characterized as being from the place “where human feeling and reason reign supreme.” This wisdom is evil and has no eternal benefit.
(3) And finally, and most dramatically it is demonic. Both in nature and origin this type of wisdom that seeks to get ahead, no matter who it steps on - that is filled with bitter jealousy - that type of wisdom comes from the demons. It is false and it does not lead to a life of true wisdom that is marked by glorifying works and humility.
False wisdom is earthly, unspiritual, and from the demons. And look at what comes of it.

The Results of False Wisdom

The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

The qualification “bitter” (pikros; used in v. 11 of water) makes clear that James has the bad kind of “jealousy” in mind here. Particularly, as the context suggests, he is thinking of the kind of jealousy or envy that people display when other people challenge their own ideas and gain some hearing for them (this sense is evident in the NT in Acts 5:17 and 13:45).

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James 3:16 ESV
16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

Some who pride themselves on their wisdom and understanding are displaying a jealous, bitter partisanship that is the antithesis of the humility produced by true wisdom.

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The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

The simple form of this verb is also translated “boast”—probably the best translation of a word that usually has the dual sense “take pride in” and “put confidence in.”

Here is where this false wisdom takes the church - disorder and every sort of vile practice.
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The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

To boast about wisdom when one is displaying jealousy and selfish ambition is, in effect, to give the lie to the truth about what wisdom is and does. For wisdom must always be accompanied by humility.

The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

To be sure, James now goes on to note, people such as those he has described in v. 14 do possess “wisdom”—but it is not biblical wisdom. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven.

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James 1:17 ESV
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
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The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

James has used the same word in 1:17 to identify the realm from which all good gifts come. This is God’s realm, who delights to give his children what they ask for—especially wisdom (see 1:5). True wisdom comes not (or, at least, not only) through intellectual effort or study; it is the gift of God (cf. Prov. 2:6).

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Illustration - dating with bumps and bruises along the way. Don’t you love not being on the same page? Don’t you love drama? Don’t you love disunity? Of course not!
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

But the “wisdom” that people who are selfish and partisan have has just the opposite nature and origin. It is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. The word “earthly” has as its opposite “heaven” (see esp. John 3:12; 1 Cor. 15:40; 2 Cor. 5:1; Phil. 2:10).

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The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

But the word always has a negative sense in the NT, in all five of its occurrences being placed in explicit opposition to “spirit” or “spiritual” (see also 1 Cor. 2:14; 15:44, 46; Jude 19). It has to do with that part of man “where human feeling and human reason reign supreme.”31 This consistent contrast between “soulish” and “spiritual” justifies the NIV rendering “unspiritual” see also NRSV; TEV; NLT).

In the church, when you are looking out for #1 guess what - this false wisdom will lead you and possibly the church straight to disorder.
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The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

It may mean that the wisdom is demonic either in nature or, more probably, in origin. For such a nuance would make a neat opposition with what James has said earlier in the verse. The false wisdom that some in the community are boasting about is not “from above”; it is “from the demons.” In sum, then, this false wisdom, which does not lead to good works and humility (v. 13), is characterized by “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” In each of these ways, it is the direct antithesis of “the wisdom that comes from above”—heavenly in nature, spiritual in essence, and divine in origin.

(v.16)
So let me start small and work up:
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

The earthbound, unspiritual, and even demonic character of this wisdom is evident from the effects it has in the life of the church.

(a) you come on Wednesday night and you begin existing and living from a place of false wisdom. Maybe, you want to run the kitchen or lead the games or be in the band or speak on Wednesday night. And so you are jealousy. You can talk better than Kaitlyn and you most certainly are a better guitarist than Jarrod. And so you create turmoil. You gossip. You fester this place. It could hurt a few - most though would see you as worldly, unspiritual and evil.
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(b) Now imagine you have a place of leadership - such as, Emcee or band or you speak on occasion here, maybe you are an adult leader. Then you begin to feel the sinful strain of bitter jealousy and selfish-ambition. Maybe you don’t like the vision of our student ministry or maybe you don’t like how I teach. Maybe you can’t stand your SS teachers or one of the pastors. So you gossip and slander and live out this false wisdom. The impact to the unity and organization of our church is larger. Maybe large enough to get a small following. And so factions happen.
(c) Finally, imagine if I or Trent or Jennifer got hold of this false wisdom and wanted things that God does not have for us. And we begin to stir the pot and slander.
How great would the impact be?
It could potentially be devastating.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

In order to make this point, James reiterates the two character traits displayed in the lives of those who are (wrongly) claiming to be “wise” (v. 14): envy and selfish ambition. When people hold such attitudes, the result can only be disorder and every evil practice.

But not only does this type of living create disunity in the body, but it also causes you to do “whatever it takes to get what you want.” There will be no line you are not willing to cross in order to satisfy your evil ambition.
Transition: Thankfully, James doesn’t end with False Wisdom, but in the next two verses he describes True Wisdom.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

While what James says here applies to any Christian who prides himself or herself on being “wise and understanding,” he may especially have in mind the leaders of the community.32 For envy and selfish ambition among the leaders have tremendous potential to damage the unity and order of the church as a whole. When those who are being looked to for direction and wise counsel act on the basis of a personal agenda or in a spirit of “one-upmanship” toward one another, great damage to the church ensues

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True Wisdom

The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

The wrong kind of wisdom brings about just about every kind of evil practice that one could name.

James 3:17–18 ESV
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
So, James just spent a bunch of time telling us what True Wisdom isn’t, but now he turns to say this is what it is.

True Wisdom

The Motivation

The motivation for True Wisdom is purity or holiness. It’s the idea of being free from contamination. It’s like moral innocence. See like authentic faith, authentic wisdom or true wisdom is identified by the quality of life it produces. Purity is not another one of the list James creates here, but it is the controlling idea it is the boundary by which all the others would be judged and fit. The next 7 characteristics of wisdom work to clarify and explain this motivation of holiness or purity.

The Characteristics

And these characteristics of True Wisdom are broken into three categories in the Greek:
(1) Peaceable, gentle and open to reason. That’s the first characteristic group of true wisdom. Peaceable could be better understood by “peace-loving”. True wisdom loves not war, but peace. True wisdom is also gentle - like our Lord. That’s how Jesus was remember what he said - my burden is light and my yoke is easy, so are you tired, well come to me. Or Paul said it this way in :
2 Corinthians 10:1 ESV
1 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!—
And then finally in this group True Wisdom is open to reason. That doesn’t mean the wise person is a doormat that says “Please, walk on me.” Rather, it is the person who is agreeable, the one who can see past his or her wants and wishes. It’s the one who holds tightly to non-negotiables (like the deity of Christ, the innerancy of Scripture, the virgin birth, the meeting of the saints, etc.) but in terms of practical methods of doing ministry is willing to bend on.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

For the believer who is characterized by these three traits—peace loving, considerate, submissive—is the exact opposite of the envious, selfish, and ambitious person who is driven by demonic wisdom (vv. 15–16).

(2) The second group is “full of mercy and good fruits”. So this was something that Jesus highlighted often. Mercy is not giving someone what they deserve.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)
Jesus said it this way in :
Matthew 5:7 ESV
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
For the believer who is characterized by these three traits—peace loving, considerate, submissive—is the exact opposite of the envious, selfish, and ambitious person who is driven by demonic wisdom (vv. 15–16).
And, it makes sense that authentic wisdom would bear good fruits. Since at its heart it does good works in humility - it makes sense that it would also bear good fruit.
(3) And the final characteristic group is “impartial and sincere.” So true wisdom is loyal - that’s what impartial means here - loyal to God and sincere - authentic.
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

James has told us what the “wisdom that comes from above [NIV heaven]” is not (v. 15); now he tells us what it is. Or, more accurately, he lets us know what the wisdom that comes from heaven does.

The Results of True Wisdom

The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

Like true faith (2:14–26), true wisdom is identified by the quality of life that it produces.33

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Galatians 5:22–23 ESV
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
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The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

In a general sense, what Paul claims that the Spirit produces, James claims true wisdom produces.

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Purity - innoncence and moral blamelessness
The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

The seven qualities that follow in the list are specific dimensions of this overall purity.

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The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

James has arranged them into three groups. The first three words all begin with the same letter and have similar endings as well: eirēnikē (“peace loving”), epieikēs (“considerate”), eupeithēs (“submissive”). James sets off the middle two character traits (“mercy” and “good fruit”) by subordinating them to the word “full of.” Alliteration is again used to group the last two words, each beginning with an “a” sound. Moreover, the two have an almost rhyming, metrical similarity: adiakritos (“impartial”), anypokritos (“sincere”).

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The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

For the believer who is characterized by these three traits—peace loving, considerate, submissive—is the exact opposite of the envious, selfish, and ambitious person who is driven by demonic wisdom (vv. 15–16).

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The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

“Considerate” (epieikēs) indicates a willingness to yield to others and a corresponding unwillingness “to exact strict claims” (Hort). With such an attitude, the believer, motivated and empowered by wisdom, will follow in the footsteps of his or her Lord, who also was characterized by “meekness and gentleness [epieikeia]” (2 Cor. 10:1).

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The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

The word (eupeithēs; its only NT occurrence) means, literally, “easily persuaded.” What is meant is not a weak, credulous gullibility, but a willing deference to others when unalterable theological or moral principles are not involved.

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The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

In the second group of virtues, James now notes that wisdom from heaven is also full of mercy and good fruit. Jesus frequently highlighted mercy (eleos) as a key indicator of the godly person (Matt. 5:7; 18:21–35; 23:23; Luke 10:37). James provides his own definition of “mercy”: love for the neighbor that shows itself in action (2:8–13). It is not surprising, then, that James couples mercy so closely with good fruit—acts of mercy are those “fruits” that genuine wisdom, like genuine faith, must produce.

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The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Letter of James B. True Wisdom Brings Peace (3:13–4:3)

The person characterized by wisdom from heaven will be stable, trustworthy, transparent—the kind of person consistently displaying the virtues of wisdom and on whom one can rely for advice and counsel.

Transition: so let’s see how James concludes about the good of having this True Wisdom.

The Results of True Wisdom

And the result of having True Wisdom, godly wisdom is that we live righteously and living righteously produces
James 3:18 ESV
18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
A promise of a harvest of righteousness awaits those who sow in peace.
And the result of having True Wisdom, godly wisdom is that we live righteously and living righteously produces peace. Harmony between God’s people and Harmony with God. That’s the promise.
So, how’d you do?
Are you displaying godly, true wisdom?
Are you living a double-life and actually claiming to be wise but your wisdom is false and from the demons?
Pray
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