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James 3:13-16 by Robert Dean
Series:James (1998)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 56 secs

Destructive Mental and Emotional Sins; James 3:13-16


Verses 13-18 form a paragraph in the original language and it is a transition from the sins of the tongue, which was the subject of verses 3-12, to the mental attitude sins that will be the topic from 4:1ff. We come now to the category of wisdom, that our speech is going to reflect what is going on inside our soul. It reflects whether or not there is true wisdom and understanding in the soul, whether we have doctrine resident in our soul that is the basis for handling tests, or whether we just have a lot of academic knowledge and human viewpoint in our soul. So the point of these next six verses is to give us some understanding of how to evaluate what is really going on in our souls during times of testing. What James is saying here is that wisdom is to be the source of our speech, so we can look at our speech as something of a barometer of what is in our soul.


James 3:13 NASB "Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom." If we are going to have accurate application of doctrine we must first have accurate interpretation of the Scriptures. To have an accurate interpretation we have to have an accurate translation and understand what is being said in the original language. When James asks this question he is telling us that we need to stop for a little self-evaluation. The only basis for objective self-evaluation is the Word of God. The Word of God is the only accurate, objective tool whereby we can evaluate our thinking, evaluate what is going on in our soul and how we are applying it, and everything else ultimately subjective and destructive. The Word of God is to function as a mirror. So James wants us to hold up the mirror of God's Word and take a look in our souls in terms of the categories of this question.


First of all we must determine what exactly it is that James means by wisdom and understanding. Then we must ask how we acquire or develop wisdom and/or understanding in the soul. Once thing is clear from the structure of the question and answer in this verses is that we must first have wisdom and understanding in the soul before we can have the deeds of the gentleness of wisdom. We must always change our thinking before we change our actions. The trouble with most Christianity is they confuse morality with spirituality. They have confused outside, external behaviour with internal transformation, and they have fallen into the same trap as the Pharisees, and Jesus told the Pharisees that they were nothing more than whitewashed sepulchres. The Christina life is a transformation from the inside out and not from the outside in.


The first word here is "wisdom" and it comes from the Greek word SOPHOS [sofoj]. The Greeks had a very pagan or human viewpoint concept of wisdom. This was a wisdom based on intellectual endeavour, on the basis of either rationalism or empiricism. It was what we would call academic or intellectual activity. That is not how the writers of the New Testament utilized the word wisdom. James was a Jew with all the background of the Septuagint and the writers of the New Testament knew the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, and so their understanding of a lot of Greek words had more to do with how the Old Testament Hebrew understood these concepts than how 5th century BC Greek understood the concepts. So this is going to relate to the Old Testament word chokmah, the word found frequently in Proverbs for wisdom. Regarding the Greek word SOPHOS the dictionary says that this means it is a type of knowledge that pertains to specialized knowledge resulting in the skill for accomplishing some purpose. It means someone who is skilful, someone who is an expert in their particular field. In the Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich lexicon, which is the classic lexicon on Greek studies, SOPHOS means to be clever, to be skilful, to be experienced. Therefore it relates to someone who has skill in living the spiritual life. This is not the academic knowledge type of wisdom that the Greeks talked about, this is a Hebrew-based concept. The word chokmah in the Old Testament is often translated "skill." It is the word used back in Exodus when the Spirit of God came upon the goldsmiths and the craftsmen in the building of the tabernacle. This is a Hebrew concept that is very application in its orientation.


The reason for stressing that: What does James emphasize throughout the last half of chapter one and all of chapter two? Application. Don't be simply a hearer in self-delusion but be an applier of the Word. So his concept of wisdom is not just an accumulation of facts and knowledge but it always drives toward application. Always remember that before you can apply something you have to know it. You don't know what you haven't taken the time, the energy and the discipline to learn. Anything in life worth doing is worth doing well. Wisdom is not just a knowledge of doctrine, it is an understanding of doctrine deep in the soul that we have called EPIGNOSIS [e)pignwsij] doctrine.


Wisdom in the Bible

1)  The starting point for all wisdom is humility: awe and respect for God. Humility is basically authority orientation to God. God in His omniscience prepared a way of revelation so that complete revelation would be given so that the principles necessary to handle all of those difficulties would be available to mankind. God is also omnipotent. This means that God is able to do everything necessary to bring completion His will and plan. So between our understanding of the omniscience of God and the omnipotence of God we know that God was able to tell us everything we need to know to handle every situation. Nothing surprises God and He has revealed how to handle anything in our life. Then starting point, though, is authority orientation. Psalm 11:10 NASB "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do {His commandments;} His praise endures forever." You are never going to get to wisdom un less you straighten up, get your arrogance under  control, say Yes Sir, to God and start committing yourself to the Word of God.

2)  The source of wisdom is God and His revelation. Proverbs 2:6 NASB "For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth {come} knowledge and understanding. [7] He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; {He is} a shield to those who walk in integrity."

3)  The opposite of wisdom is foolishness. The Bible only sees two categories. We are either walking in wisdom or we are walking in foolishness—human or divine viewpoint application to life. Proverbs 1:7 NASB "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction." Why do fools despise wisdom and instruction? No authority orientation, no humility; they think they have all the answers in life.

4)  Without wisdom there is no blessing in this life. Proverbs 3:13 NASB "How blessed is the man who finds wisdom And the man who gains understanding." Wisdom is a source of happiness. Happiness comes by finding wisdom, advancing in the spiritual life and having EPIGNOSIS doctrine rule in the mind. Psalm 51:6 NASB "Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom."

5)  The acquisition of wisdom therefore is to be the believer's highest priority. Nothing in life is more important because when you die and are absent from the body and face to face with the Lord the only thing that you are going to take with you into heaven is the doctrine that you have stored in your soul. Proverbs 8:11 NASB "For wisdom is better than jewels; And all desirable things cannot compare with her." You cannot come up with anything in life that equates to the glory and the wonder of knowing Bible doctrine. Nothing surpasses that, according ti Proverbs. Proverbs 19:8 NASB "He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; He who keeps understanding will find good."

6)  Wisdom is tantamount to EPIGNOSIS doctrine in the soul. It is not merely academic knowledge of the Bible but it is applicational doctrine which is learned under the filling ministry of God the Holy Spirit.

7)  Wisdom will eventually play itself out in the speech of the believer. Transformation comes from the inside out, so the more you learn if you are learning under the filling ministry of the Holy Spirit and walking by means of the Spirit then the result will be the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit will produce this in your life. Proverbs 10:31 NASB "The mouth of the righteous flows with wisdom, But the perverted tongue will be cut out." Psalm 37:30 NASB "The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, And his tongue speaks justice."


"Who among you is wise and understanding?"  This is the Greek word EPISTEMON [e)pisthmwn], a basic word for knowledge. It refers to someone who is an expert, someone who has advanced to the highest level of understanding and skill in his field, and thus has developed insight, understanding, perception and discernment. So when we apply this concept to the spiritual life we are indeed talking about someone who has advance to spiritual maturity, somebody who has taken a tremendous amount of time, exercised a lot of discipline to be in Bible class and to learn the Word of God and then principles of Bible doctrine so that they can grow and advance to spiritual maturity. So James says: "Are you wise? Do you evaluate yourself? Do you have skill with the spiritual life? Do you understand these things? Do you apply them on a consistent basis when you encounter tests and trials in life? Remember the issue is volition. Are you going to be walking by means of the Spirit or walking by means of the flesh? You make the choice b the power comes either through the sin nature or from the Holy Spirit. This tells us that no matter what our vocation may be, no matter what our interests might be, what our talents or pleasures might be, everyone of us is to become an expert in the spiritual life.


The mandate then comes up: "Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom." This to get us to understand what our responsibilities are as believers. James is assuming that you are going to want to do this. Writers of Scripture do not assume that you just want to be saved and then sit on your hands. They, and the Lord Jesus Christ, always assumed that if you were a believer you would want to advance to spiritual maturity. How do we get there? The issue in the spiritual life is not your IQ, it is not your culture; the issue is your relationship to God the Holy Spirit. God the Father designed an incredible way of learning for every single believer in the church age, so that no matter who you are, you too can understand all the principles of Scripture. The Holy Spirit makes the doctrine we hear usable, but He doesn't use it for you. That is your volition. When the test comes you have to apply it. The test is the opportunity to exercise our spiritual muscles and to respond positively by applying doctrine. That is where application comes in: "let him show." This is the Greek word DEIXATO [deicatw], and aorist active imperative from DEIKNUMI [deiknumi] which means to demonstrate. It means to show something, to make known something, to make known the character or significance of something through visual, auditory, gestural or linguistic means. For us that means we are going to demonstrate by our lifestyle, i.e. good behaviour—the Greek word ANASTROPHES [a)nastrofhj] which means your character, your good behaviour, your lifestyle—by the decisions you make, by the things you say, the things you do, your works.


That is way down the line, but what precedes works? The filling of the Holy Spirit, the discipline, comprehension and understanding of the Word of God, transferred through the mechanics of the filling of the Holy Spirit into EPIGNOSIS, and then as your soul is edified and built up by means of doctrine, then you begin to apply. It is not activity, it is obedience to God and the outworking of those principles in the soul. James recognises that before you start putting a lot of people out on the street or on the mission field or teaching Sunday school or any other kind of Christian service, that first of all they have to have some knowledge. The development of your priesthood precedes the development of your ambassadorship. You have to understand what it mans to have a relationship with God and that learning the Word precedes applying the Word.


DEIXATO here, translated "show," is an aorist active imperative, third person singular. We have seen that James uses the present active imperative, second person plural to indicate the basic principles of the spiritual life that apply to everybody. He will give a present active imperative and then that is usually followed by a series of aorist active imperatives in the third person singular which give specific mandates for the fulfilment of the general principle. These specific mandates, then, are to be priorities. That is the thrust grammatically and syntactically of an aorist imperative. The basic idea of an aorist imperative is that it is a command in which the action is viewed as a whole without regard for the internal makeup of the action. The ingressive means to begin an action with a stress on the urgency of the action. So urgency indicates priority. He is saying once again, as he has said throughout this epistle, that application is the priority, but you can't apply what you don't know and you can't know something until you learn it and learn it and learn it—discipline in the classroom. So first you learn doctrine, then you apply doctrine, and this produces works. Deeds or works is the Greek word ERGA [e)rga] and is tantamount to the fruit of the Spirit. Notice it is the fruit of the Spirit, not the fruit of your volition, not the fruit of your own energy; it is the fruit of the Spirit because you have been walking by means of the Spirit. In Galatians 5:22 ff we have a list of the production of the Holy Spirit. The production of the Holy Spirit is going to be tantamount to the kind of works that James is talking about. 


How is he going to show his works? "In the gentleness of wisdom." That is a bad translation, PRAUTES [prauthj] does not mean gentleness, it means humility. It is the same word that is used back in 1:19 where he says that we are to receive the Word with humility. Humility has to do with authority orientation to God, a lack of arrogance.


Galatians 5:22 NASB "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." Notice the last two: gentleness and self-control. Gentleness is authority orientation to God, humility towards God. When we are humble towards God then self-absorption is not the issue. When self is not the issue and God is the issue and our obedience to God and walk with the Lord is the issue, then it is easy to relax in the midst of a situation and not start reacting emotionally. When you start acting emotionally you quit thinking. Thinking precedes action. You have to learn to think biblically and then you will respond correctly, and the result is that you will have incredible joy, peace and stability in your life and you won't cave in to horrible mental attitude sins of bitterness and jealousy and selfishness and arrogance.