Summary of the Text
James, the brother of Jesus, the leader of the earliest Christian church in Jerusalem, writes this letter to scattered Jewish believers who were going through very difficult times. To understand James’ intent please read my previous summary at James 1:16-27 (Forth Sunday after Pentecost). The writer comes across as a tough, brutally honest, no-nonsense pastor/teacher. He reminds me of a marine drill instructor trying to whip a group of young, raw, immature recruits into an effective, courageous fighting force. They will face very difficult times ahead but if they rely on their training and their faith in God they will win the fight.
v.13 Our passage today is a continuation of James’ whole message. He grabs their attention with the tantalizing question, (3:13) “Who is wise and understanding among your?” Probably every hand shot up. We all want to see ourselves in this light. “But I’m a good person, I’m not stupid.” Then prove it. Actions speak louder than words. Make your faith visible by doing good deeds. Don’t talk but walk. This flows from wisdom and leads to humility.
v.14-16 The wisdom of an active, vital, engaging faith, which proves itself in good deeds, stands in contrast to worldly “wisdom”. Such “wisdom” comes from envy and ambition and leads only to disorder and all kinds of evil. Christians must be able to distinguish between the two wisdoms, and chose to practice the heavenly one.
v.17-18. Here is what the heavenly wisdom looks like, it is:
full of mercy
produces good fruit
All these qualities combined produce a righteous harvest. When faced with such a list, of which there are several in scripture, eg. The Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17) and the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22ff.), it is indeed wise to place our own lives next to them. How am I doing? Where has God blessed me? What do I need his Spirit to guide and improve in me? What do I need to confess?
v.4:1-3. James, like any good teacher, reiterates and underlines his lesson with another look from a different angle. He expands on the “disorder and every evil practice” of verse 16 and concludes that “fights, quarrels, hatred” arise from their prayer lives. Who saw this coming?
They pray with bad motives and intentions. Seeing God only as a beneficent Santa Claus, they pray only for their own desires and wants. No wonder they are frustrated and lash out in quarrels
and hatred. (James uses the hyperbole of “kill”.)
v.4:7-8a. The solution to such disgraceful behavior, practiced by any believer, is simple and profound: A. Submit; B. Resist; C. Draw near. Proper, holy, God-honoring behavior comes from a right relationship with the Father. As our trust in the Lord deepens so do our actions reflect His desires for our lives. As we grow closer to Him, his Spirit grows deeper in us and reflects out into the world. Be close to God and his wisdom will flow through our actions.
Ideas and themes to be explored
- Do a word study on Sofia/Wisdom
Link James’ admonishment to the wisdom expressed in Ecclesiastes.
- Build on the distinction between “earthly” and “heavenly” wisdom.
- Develop on Augustine’s City Of God in contrast to Rome.
- Challenge the congregation to engage the list of eight characteristics of heavenly wisdom. Where are they strong, where are they weak?
- Discuss the subtleness of the listed sins, ambition, disorder, quarrels, killing (hatred), coveting. How do these show up in a mature Christian’s life?
- Expand on practical steps to submit and draw near to God and resist Satan.
- Reflect on Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge/wisdom.
- Compare Psalm 37:4 to James 4:3.
Contemporary angles to preaching
- Denominational disputes that arise out of envy and ambition which display the hypocrisy of the church, contrast to Phil. 2:1-5.
- The extreme materialism of the world which has crept into the life of the church, through “prosperity gospel” and compliance to modern advertising.
Bud Thoreen was raised in Southern California and has a BA from Wheaton College and an Mdiv. from Fuller Seminary. He spent nearly 10 years as an Area Director for Young Life. Retired after 37 years as a remodeling contractor, he now works for FaithQuest Missions, engaging believers in what God is doing around the world. He spent 40+ years as an elder, teacher, part-time preacher at Irvine Presbyterian Church. You can contact Bud at [email protected]
“For there are two things inside me competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far neared to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity;
“The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
“He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
“When I was growing up my dad was a farmer and not Christian. He had little interest in faith because his dad had taught him the Bible was a fairy tale. However, a local pastor took interest in him and asked if he could help till the fields on Saturdays.
That one act of service spoke louder than any sermon. The pastor’s actions made my dad feel loved. Dad didn’t need convincing about theological correctness, he needed to sense God’s love and care for him. The pastor met the need in a practical way, and that is evangelism.”
Dawn Pick Benson
The wisdom that comes from heaven has eight traits which all require interaction with other people. Faith must be expressed through action. Billy Graham described this need for an outlet to the Dead Sea. It has several streams that feed it but it doesn’t flow anywhere. It has no outlet. It has become stagnant and “dead”. The same is t rue with us, If we keep our faith to ourselves, if we never allow it to flow through us to enrich others then we will bind ourselves lifeless and spiritually dead.
Peace For Each Day, Thomas Nelson 2020