Meditations in James: 34 : Earthly Wisdom
Jas 3:14-16 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
Deception is a strange thing. Here, for instance, is a ‘wise’ man. He is a business man. He spends all hours at work. He makes phone calls and he talks with his employees and he plans and schemes and makes profit. He is an ambitious man and he pushes out the boundaries of his company and takes over some smaller companies. He builds a new head office and people marvel at his business acumen. He builds bigger and bigger. He has a veritable empire. Along the way he sees his competitors and is envious of their activities. He plots and plans and schemes and takes them over, takes what he wants from their businesses (strips their assets) and then casts them aside. He holds big parties, he meets with the media, and he boasts of his great accomplishments. He laughs at the thought of God. He has three houses, a large yacht, a Lear jet, and homes abroad. He has everything, and then he dies. In death he finds himself standing before God and realises he is standing in tattered rags and that he has nothing. When asked what right has he to be there, he realises before the openness of God, that he has no answer, he has nothing. This story is exactly what Jesus described in his parable of the rich fool (Lk 12:15-21). He starts it with the words, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (v.15) and finishes it with, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God” (v.21).
We might have thought the man in the story was a wise man, storing up material prosperity, but James thinks otherwise. Note each of the characteristics of this man as described: if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. These are the characteristics of the world. These are what the world accepts and even applauds. These are thing things the world expects from the great and the glorious. Listen next time when a great entrepreneur, or a pop star, or great politician is on TV. Listen to their words and observe the characteristics of them. They think they are wise because, after all, they have arrived haven’t they? But arrived where? At a place of spiritual poverty!
Observe James’ description of this sort of ‘wisdom’ that the world applauds: Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. This is not wisdom or the way that comes from God. This is actually not wisdom at all. True wisdom only comes from God. This ‘wisdom’ (which is no wisdom!) is earthly; it has its origins in the selfish, self-centred, godless minds of people who care nothing for God and are only concerned for themselves. They are unspiritual; there is a complete absence of anything spiritual in their lives. Their spirit is dead; there is no movement in respect of God. They are deaf to His words to them and their heart has no concern for Him. They are in fact energized and motivated by the devil. Now that is strong language you may think, but that is what James says – and so does John: “We know that …. the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19). If you do not surrender your life to God, then you are left in the hands of the Lord’s chastising angel, Satan, and he plays on the sinful desires in each unregenerate person, driving them onwards to bigger and better things with their ‘worldly wisdom’, and towards destruction. The richer they get, the poorer they get, but of course they don’t realize it until they stand before God with nothing.
Note also what James says accompanies this sort of ‘wisdom’: For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. Envy and selfish ambition are the driving forces of this so-called wisdom and wherever it is, when you look into what is going on, you find ‘disorder’. Disorder is confusion and upset like you have when there is anarchy. Here is this man working out his schemes and causing upset in other people’s lives and businesses. He is a law unto himself and he ploughs through other people’s lives and activities like a bulldozer, leaving havoc and mayhem in his wake. He causes upheaval on the earth. Moreover James speaks of every evil practice. The way this man thinks and works is evil. Evil just means it is utterly wrong.
Now you may have been reading all these descriptions and my story above, and have thought, “Well I’m glad I’m not like that!” Well perhaps you aren’t as big a person as the man of my illustration but, in all honesty, is your way of thinking somewhat similar to his? What genuinely motivates your life? Is it a genuine desire to please God, and to do things God’s way, or do you struggle and strive, thinking, planning, reasoning and working all hours to achieve material prosperity? Are you sometimes a little careless about moral integrity when you cut corners or don’t entirely speak the truth in business? You see you may not do it to the extent of the man above, but if you do it even a little bit, there are adjustments to be made according to James. Check it out. Be honest. What is your life like? Can you honestly stand before God and say you never operate with the ‘worldly wisdom’ we have been considering today? Ensure that you can!