STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”
At the beginning of chapter 3, James began to address those who wanted to become teachers. Here in our text, James exhorts them to be on guard concerning why they wanted to be teachers. Some, out of bitter envy and self-seeking, chase after the office of teacher because they want to be considered wise by their fellowmen and be followed by them. They think, “Why shouldn’t I be in charge?” This is similar to how Miriam and Aaron challenged Moses’ authority, saying, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” (Numbers 12:1-2), or how the Pharisees were constantly filled with bitter envy toward Jesus because they sought the rule over the people for themselves.
While James may have been particularly addressing those would-be teachers, what he says regarding bitter envy and self-seeking really is true for any sinner. Yes, there is in each one of us that envious, self-seeking rebel who wants to do things “my way” rather than God’s way. James says that this desire is “earthly, sensual, demonic.”
Those who believe that the only way to succeed in the world is to become just as selfish and brutal as worldly people are—grabbing, clawing, and stepping on others in order to advance themselves—are practicing earthly wisdom, which is always and only focused on worldly considerations.
Those who are determined to obtain whatever brings pleasure to their flesh no matter what anybody does, no matter what anybody says, and—here’s the scary part—no matter what God’s Word says and commands, are practicing sensual wisdom, which follows after the unbridled passions of the sinful flesh.
Lastly, James teaches that those who are acting out of their own bitter envy and self-seeking are actually thinking the devil’s thoughts. They are pursuing the very same condemnation the devil has earned in hell.
Those who practice such earthly, sensual, demonic wisdom typically think themselves to be wise, but James warns that “confusion and every evil thing are there” instead of their imagined wisdom. After all, is it really wise to focus on and fight for earthly things only? Is it really wise to feed every impulse of our sinful flesh? Is it really wise to follow in the footsteps of demons? Is it wise to fight against God? To struggle and contend against His Word and will?
No! James says we are to conduct ourselves in the meekness of wisdom because it’s in the meekness of wisdom that we see the foolishness of our pride. It’s in the meekness of wisdom that we understand the foolishness of self-seeking goals, and it’s in the meekness of wisdom that we are able to see the deep, deep darkness that is our own sin.
Just as Jesus healed many who were demon-possessed, so too He provides the cure when we find ourselves chasing after the wisdom that is earthly, sensual, demonic. For as the Holy Spirit brings us to a meekness of wisdom through His Word, then Jesus comes along to lift up our chins and fix our eyes upon His cross and empty tomb—our help, our strength, our salvation!
Chad Seybt is pastor of Morning Star Lutheran Church in Fairchild, Wisconsin, Trinity Lutheran Church in Millston, Wisconsin, and Peace with God Evangelical Lutheran Church in Onalaska, Wisconsin.