Sermon: Wisdom is as wisdom does – James 3:13-18

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.

Talking about the subject of wisdom from the Book of James today. 

This passage today is talking about the subject of wisdom.   

James begins with a rhetorical question in verse 13. Who is wise in understanding among you? 

Who’s wise? 

Wisdom is a significant theme throughout the Book of James. 

So I think it’s helpful to begin by defining wisdom. 

There’s a difference between wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is knowing facts. You can have all sorts of knowledge, but that does not mean one is wise. Knowledge is knowing facts, wisdom is knowing how to live. Wisdom is applying truth to life. 

In the context of the Bible, wisdom begins with a fear of the Lord. 

The book of Proverbs says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. And that fools despise wisdom and instruction.

There are two ways to go. The way of the wise and the way of the foolish.  

Fear of the Lord leads to knowledge, which leads to humility before the Lord. 

Fear of the Lord. Reverence for the Lord, for his power and might. Fear of the Lord, fear of the wrath that can come as a result of rejecting him. Fear of the Lord, the knowledge that we don’t deserve him on our own. That it is only because God is good that we have hope. 

And realizing that is the beginning of wisdom. 

Proverbs 9:10 says 

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,

and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

True wisdom comes from God. And the foundation of wisdom is a fear of the Lord.

So back in our passage. James asks: who is wise and understanding among you?  

 James continues: By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 

So for James, wisdom is meant to be reflected in how you live, which is a result of having a fear of the Lord. A proper reverence for the Lord that he is true, he is good, he is almighty, and he is all wise. 

James talks about how wisdom results in meekness. 

Meek is one of the Bible-ie words, that we never real lay use in everyday conversation. 

No one ever goes in for a performance review: quality of work is good, attitude is good, meekness….well we’ve seen some improvements there. 

Meekness is a quality that Jesus also valued. In the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. 

Meekness is humility, it’s gentleness. It’s humble service to God and gentleness towards people. 

Is meekness a quality that our society views as being virtuous today? 

No, neither was it in the first century. 

But it is important in how we approach the Lord. 

In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis said:

As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”

 Doug Moo says that meekness “meekness, or humility, comes from understanding our position as sinful creatures in relationship to the glorious and majestic God.” 

So we validate our faith by living out our faith.

We show that we are wise by living a life that reflects our wisdom. 

That might seem like it’s stating the obvious. But a lot of people don’t do it! 

A lot of people don’t fear the Lord, reject the wisdom of God. A lot of people aren’t humble and meek.

But it’s what God desires from us. 

We’re to submit to his wisdom and truth. 


We all have differing opinions on a variety of issues. 

We have different opinions on politics. We have opinions on how people should raise their kids. We have opinions on how people raise their dogs. We have opinions on sports, on teams, on decisions coaches should make in games. 

The best doctors, the best restaurants.

And in all of these areas, there’s room for argument. 

My favorite food is pizza, and that’s true for me. Maybe your favorite is something else. That’s fine. That’s simply a matter of opinion and personal taste. 

But I think we sometimes get too far into thinking that different opinions are all valid when it comes to faith. 

Now, certainly we should be loving to all people, regardless of what they believe. Certainly we live in a society where we have to function and coexist with different people who have different view in regards to faith. 

And that’s important for life. 

But that doesn’t mean all views are equally valid. 

Our society likes to treat God’s wisdom and truth as though they’re just opinions, things where we can agree to disagree, take it or leave it. 

But that isn’t reality. It is God who created us. God who created the heavens and the earth. God who rules and reigns. It is God who is sovereign over all creation. And it is we who are ultimately accountable to him alone. It is not the other way around. 

Our society likes to judge God. Likes to say how God should be. 

But all of this shows the vanity of the human heart. It shows the idolatry of the human heart. We try to make ourselves god. We try to make ourselves the judge. Too many people ignore the things that God has said. Too many people ignore the things that Jesus has said “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me.”  

We have an opinion about God that we like, and then we decide that’s just how God is. But sometimes we say things that have no Biblical basis.

People don’t like the idea that God would judge, so they just decide that’s not how God is.

People ignore the Bible and make arguments based on emotion or preference as opposed to what God has revealed about himself.

Is that fear of the Lord? Is that humility with God?

People want the good things with Jesus but they try to undermine that he alone is the way. That his blood alone cleanses sin. That his death alone paid the price. 

And if it’s not that, maybe you try to justify away Biblical teachings. Or we try to ignore Biblical teachings. Or people try to find reasons why God’s word isn’t true, or doesn’t apply.  

There are two ways in the Bible. The way of wisdom and the way of foolishness. When we try to make boxes and explain why God has to fit into that box, we’re keeping ourselves from God. 

We don’t get to invent God. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord. And in fearing the Lord, it is recognizing that God is God, and that God is the almighty creator and King of the Universe.

True wisdom is showing humility. At the foot of the cross, there’s no room for arrogance. In seeing what Jesus has done, in seeing his work, in seeing the death he died for the forgiveness of our sins. To see the tremendous cost of sin, the cost that Jesus paid for us, the death he endured for us. To see the life that he’s invited us to. To see the awesome holiness of God.

To see where God is bringing us, the place he has prepared for us, the new heavens and the new earth he is making. That we are unworthy on our own. And it’s not that we can make ourselves worthy but this infinitely glorious home that God has prepared, that it is entirely because of the love of God, the goodness of God, the grace of God. 

It’s also humility in how we view other people. 

You might know the Bible a little better than someone else. You might have greater victory over a certain sin than someone else, but that none of this puts you above another person. 

How’s your humility before God? Do you fall down on your face in worship and joy and love for what he has done for you? Or do you think that he owes you a good life. That you’re really great and wonderful and that whatever good things that God has, that you deserve that? 

Entitlement and humility cannot coexist. 

The wise way and the foolish way.

So we have seen what wisdom brings. Godly wisdom leads to humility, to meekness. 

In the second part of this section, we begin to get a sense of what Godly wisdom is not. 

Verse 14 begins with “But” showing contrast. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts

He’s talking about a type of person. 

The fool, the person who opposes God, instead of showing meekness and humility to God. 

With jealousy and selfish ambition, James is talking about covetousness, being out for ourselves, lack of concern for others. 

That’s not to say we shouldn’t desire good things. 

But that we shouldn’t be so cut throat and just out for ourselves. 

James is getting at the self-centeredness of the human heart. 

Humility in knowing God’s ways are true and good and trustworthy. That God is a good and loving God. But that’s contrasted by living a life where you’re out for yourself.

Because this type of life. It’s one that doesn’t truly trust in God. You feel like you have to take control otherwise you’re going to wind up with the short end of the stick. 

James says Do not boast and be false to the truth.  

In that, what he’s saying is that a person shouldn’t talk as though they have a relationship with God, as though they’re walking in the wisdom and knowledge of God if they’re really not. 

Having faith and a growing relationship with the Lord is what matters. 

The end of verse 15 says that this is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  

There are two directions to Go. Towards God or away from God. The wise way and the foolish way. 

Something is of God or it isn’t. Something honors God or it doesn’t. 

In saying it’s not the wisdom that comes from above, it’s clearly talking about coming from God. 

In the opening chapter of James. James 1:17, he talks about how Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.  

Again, all wisdom is God’s wisdom. All truth is God’s truth. 

God has established all things and he’s established all things in accordance with his own perfect wisdom and knowledge. 

And that means that the best way to live is to live a life in the light of that wisdom. There’s no other competition. There’s no other opinion that matters. It’s God’s way and everything else is wrong. There’s no “agree to disagree” with an all knowing God.

For the person who is not walking with God, that “wisdom” – or lack thereof – is the opposite: it’s earthly, unspiritual, demonic

There are two roads, two ways: the way of the wise and the way of the fools. The way of God, and the way of the world. The way of life and the way of death.

Which way are you walking? Which way are you living? 

Verse 15 is emphasizing the worldliness of earthly wisdom. Because it is not from above, from God, this wisdom is no wisdom at all. There’s the wise way and the foolish way. 

 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

James is continuing to elaborate and to show the results of living a life in opposition to God. 

I realize that we know people who aren’t walking with God, who by any worldly standard are nice, decent people. 

But we also see how much dysfunction and evil and wickedness there is in the world. Why is that? It’s because the world doesn’t walk in humility to God, society not just here in Cissna Park, but throughout our nation and throughout the world, people do not walk in a fear of the Lord. People do not walk as though the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. 

We act like science is the beginning of wisdom. We act like masters and doctoral degrees are the beginning of wisdom. We act like success or accomplishments are the beginning of wisdom. We act like old age is the beginning of wisdom. We act like tolerance is the beginning of wisdom.

 None of those lead to wisdom if they’re not grounded in the fear of the Lord.

God will accept you right as you are today. No matter what you’re struggling with. No matter how badly you’ve messed up, God will love you. He offers his grace.

But faith is not a casual thing. The gospel is a glorious, life encompassing, ultimate reality.

Be real with yourself for a moment, what do you believe in? Where is your real trust? Are you trusting in yourself?

James said in verse 13: By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

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.

Wisdom from above is pure. 

That’s the first quality of Godly wisdom. It’s pure. It’s undefiled. It’s untarnished. 

Quoting again from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” 

When you’re in sin, walking in sin, reveling in sin, in that place, God is hard to see. It’s not that he’s abandoned you or forsaken you.

But deliberate and willful sin puts up a wall. The wall isn’t impenetrable. But while you’re in sin, while you’re stained and defiled by sin, it makes it hard to approach God. 

Part of the reason why, during communion, it talks about examining yourself before you take it.

But wisdom out of a meek humility to God, out of a fear of the Lord, the first thing about this wisdom is that it’s pure. 

For the rest of this list, it’s not necessarily that they’re ranked in order of importance.

Wisdom is pure. It’s peaceful. Loving God is loving peace. 

Wisdom from above is gentle. 

You might notice, with all of these qualities, along with any other list of virtues we see in the Bible, the supreme example of all of them is Jesus. 

We see the gentleness of Jesus. The loving nature that he had towards people. When faced with injustice, he was submissive to the will of God. 

When people were in sin, that he showed love.

Next “open to reason” is what the ESV says. It’s translating differently in different translations. It seems to be getting at submissiveness.

Full of mercy. Not holding things against people, forgiving. It’s being generous to others. It’s being generous and loving to people who might not even deserve it.

Wisdom is full of mercy and good fruits. Just like how the Holy Spirit produces fruit in Galatians, in having Godly wisdom, it produces fruit also.

This wisdom is impartial and sincere. In chapter 2 of James, he addressed partiality. We are to show love to people. Showing partiality is putting a person above another which is a failure to love our neighbor as ourselves. Wisdom is sincere or genuine. Again it’s not just going through the motions. It’s a way of life. 

The final verse in the chapter says that a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

This is continuing to get at the ramifications of a life lived out in Godly wisdom. The positive impact that it has.


There’s a sort of joke in preaching that you don’t make the application of every sermon “read your Bible and pray more.” Because of course people should be doing those things.

But if you just say “read the Bible more” in every sermon, from a teaching perspective, that can show laziness, like you’re never looking past the surface.

But when we talk about wisdom, in the importance of wisdom, in growing in wisdom, there is simply no better place to start than with the word of God. And knowing God’s word, and studying God’s word. And putting God’s word in your heart.

 You cannot live a life of wise Biblical decisions if you don’t know the Bible.

I have several friends who are attorneys. And when they are working, for them to know the laws, they have to spend a lot of time reading them.

I mentioned Proverbs earlier. Proverbs has much to say about wisdom in general. Our words, how we spend our money in wise ways, how we work in wise ways, how we approach friendships and marriages in wise ways, raising kids in wise ways. And that’s just one example.

A second application I’d like to make from this last section. Whenever I see a list, and we see a number of lists of virtues in the New Testament. We have the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians. Paul gives one in Colossians 3 that I preached on earlier this fall. And there are other lists in the New Testament.

I think it’s good to run a diagnostic test of your life and really do some soul searching and ask how you’re doing with these qualities.

Now the point isn’t that if there’s an area where you struggle, that there’s just no way you’re walking in faith.

Is your faith pure? Or are you not really walking with God right now because you’re struggling with sin? Are you walking in gentleness? Or is it your way or the highway? Do you show mercy? Or do you hold grudges? Are you sincere about your faith? Or are you, as James says in chapter 1, double minded? Wavering in faith? Just to give some examples.

A life of wisdom, and a life bearing fruit of wisdom is what God desires from us.

Two ways, the way of the wise and the way of the fool.

If that’s not where you are today, like I said earlier, examine your heart. The solution is the gospel. If you’re struggling in these areas, or in a certain area of sin. If you know in your heart of hearts that you don’t live up. If you think about the darkness that can be in your own heart, think about this: how great it is that we have a savior who’s great enough to forgive all of that.

But we come to him in meekness. We come to him in faith and trust. It’s not because we deserve it. It’s because he is gracious, and he is good.