A few weeks ago I was given the privilege of preparing a short message on James 3:13-18 for our series on the book of James, which is the small section at the end of James 3 on wisdom as it pertains to the taming of the tongue. The entire message is available on PDF at Heavenly Wisdom vs Earthly Wisdom :: James 3:13-18 or you can go to my writing section and find it there as well.
After reading this little section on James over and over and over again, and studying it as best I could, I have really come to love the words of wisdom found in James 3:13-18. At the end of James 3, in a chapter almost entirely dedicated to taming the tongue, we come across this small section, which almost appears to be thrown in by James as an afterthought on wisdom. While it may seem out of place at first, James knew it was not intelligence, or great knowledge, which could tame the tongue, but wisdom, a heavenly wisdom found in “humility, grace and peace” (BKC, 828). There is just no other way to control the tongue than with a heavenly wisdom from above.
James 3:13-18 is a story of wisdom presented as two completely different sides of the same coin, one that we still see played out in our world today. On one side of the wisdom coin, we have a heavenly wisdom from above, which is full of mercy and peace. On the other side, we have an earthly wisdom, which is characterized by jealousy, envy, pride, and selfish ambition. James says seeking after a heavenly wisdom results in an abundance of God’s peace in our lives, while seeking after earthly wisdom, leads to disorder, and “every vile practice” we could possibly conceive.
Our own culture thrives on this earthly wisdom to fulfill the “American Dream” by “looking out for number one,” or “climbing that corporate latter,” and in using our abilities and knowledge to gain an advantage over someone else. Obtaining more earthly wisdom, whether it comes from our latest smart phone, music, movies, or from the most esteemed pastor we know, doesn’t help to control the tongue. Earthly wisdom might temporarily satisfy our desire to outdo our brother, but rarely will this show God’s love. We probably all know people who have accumulated vast sums of knowledge, which can impress us with fancy arguments, competition, or rivalry. But I can still find this in myself as well, buried deep in my heart where many sins can reside without ever seeing the light of day.
So what is the difference between heavenly wisdom and earthly wisdom? James gives us a great way to test ourselves for Heavenly wisdom, and it sounds unlike what we normally hear in many other parts of Scripture, it comes from our behavior. At some point, knowledge can turn into heavenly wisdom through proper application of living out our lives manifested in our actions. What this means is heavenly wisdom will be seen by our conduct through humility, and meekness, not by gaining vast sums of knowledge, or in our ability to outdo one another. We can ask ourselves, are we gaining in the wisdom of God? Apart from a true desire to walk in a manner pleasing to God, no one really has true wisdom, and without true wisdom, we have little hope of taming our tongue.
I sometimes have a tendency to argue my point with just about anyone who will listen. This only solidifies my understanding of how difficult it is for a tamed tongue to coincide with an earthly wisdom, which James even calls demonic. If heavenly wisdom is applying knowledge properly, according to God’s will, how do we really know we have achieved wisdom from above at all? We know we have the wise answer, the response of wisdom, because it won’t be argumentative, contentious, or self-seeking. It will be gentle and peacemaking, and clearly seen by others through our actions in Godly behavior.