Words belong to God, but the Lord has given them to us so that you and I could come to know God, to be in relationship with God and with each other. This means that words do not belong to you and me. Every word we speak has to be up to God’s standard and according to God’s design. Therefore, to speak words aligned with God’s Person and purpose, the speaker must be filled with God’s Spirit.


James wrote about wisdom because it is from the thought life that a person speaks.

Who is wise and knowledgeable among you? Let him show from his good conduct his works done in the gentleness of wisdom. 

James 3:13 (DLNT)

The Jewish concept of wisdom was what a person needed in their heart and mind to live a life of righteousness. Righteousness means just what it sounds like: “Right ‑ ness.” “upright moral conduct.” Something is righteous if it agrees with divine or moral law and is free from guilt or sin.

Righteousness and goodness flow out from the character of God as a part of God’s nature. Nobody can really have righteousness (by this definition) without having God’s nature, to be born anew from above, of the Spirit, by faith in Jesus.

The temptation is to reassure ourselves of our own righteousness by comparing ourselves with someone who seems less mature, less righteous. But if the standard for righteousness is the perfection of God, if it is God’s standard, and not people’s standard, then we must re-examine our comparisons. Measured against God’s standard of righteousness, every person falls short, apart from Jesus Christ—as the Apostle Paul famously affirmed in his treatise on faith.

For all sinned and are coming-short-of the glory of God,

Romans 3:23 (DLNT)

But the Lord understands our failure and has provided God’s own true righteousness, God’s perfect righteousness, in place of the righteousness you and I do not inherently have. It is given to us freely, without contribution on our part, as we have faith in Jesus Christ. This is often referred to as justification, which means that we are now “made right” or “just” before God on the basis of what Jesus did on our behalf—which translates into the supernatural reformation that happens when a person is born anew, from above, by the Holy Spirit.

James referred to two kinds of wisdom: worldly and heavenly, his theme, so far. The old nature and the new nature. The natural person who is limited in capacity for good and glory, and the born-anew-of-the-Spirit person, in whom God has implanted true righteousness, Christ’s righteousness.

Remember from James chapter one that wisdom is not just knowing information. Wisdom is applying what we know to our lives.

So James proceeded to describe aspects of how a wise person lives.

Gentleness of Wisdom

Who is wise and knowledgeable among you? Let him show from his good conduct his works done in the gentleness of wisdom.

James 3:13 (DLNT)

James pointed to the “gentleness of wisdom,” as the source for good conduct. A wise person lives in humility, submitting their life to God, allowing the Holy Spirit to inform and conform their thoughts, their feelings and thereby their words and actions.

Our words, then, spring from a desire to bring God glory, and also to bring God’s grace and goodness into the lives of the people around us.

This does not mean we never process hurt feelings, anger, trauma, and all the other painful, difficult life experiences we all share. It means that we live aware of and leaning into our being in God, and God being in us. Our words will flow from that place.

Know Our Hearts

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish-interest in your heart, do not be vaunting and lying against the truth. 

James 3:14 (DLNT)

You and I are better off admitting what is truly in our hearts, confessing it before God and asking for God’s forgiveness and cleansing. Bitterness, jealousy, and self-interest all bubble up quite naturally, as do so many other painful and difficult emotions. To pretend they do not exist does not make them not exist. We may try to hide them, or rationalize them, or disguise them, minimize them, or blame them on others. But James taught to simply confess them for what they are.

The Apostle John wrote words of encouragement about this very thing, saying

If we claim that we do not have sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we are confessing our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:8-9 (DLNT)

Worldly Wisdom

This wisdom is not coming down from-above, but is earthly, natural, demonic.

For where jealousy and selfish-interest are, in-that-place there is disorder and every bad thing.

James 3:15-16 (DLNT)

Yeah. James pulls no punches, does he.

Worldly wisdom supports ways of promoting selfish ambition, jealously protecting our own interests. Worldly wisdom justifies bitterness “You have every right…!” The world has a way of making all that look normal, and godly righteousness look strange.

Heavenly Wisdom

But the wisdom from-above is first pure, then peaceful, kind, yielding, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, sincere.

James 3:17 (DLNT)

Heavenly wisdom is

  1. Pure, There is nothing unclean about God’s wisdom, nothing wily, or manipulative, or underhanded.
  1. Peaceful. Is not an absence of conflict or strife, but the condition of our hearts: an inner rest, contentment, security and hope. It is a habit of daily rest in Jesus, trusting in His presence, His power, His sovereignty and His grace.
  1. Kind. Kindness, and the gentleness James mentioned earlier, treat people with tenderness, speaking and acting in a way that conveys understanding and considerateness. Gentleness is kind, generous, and warm-hearted. It does not mean compromising with the truth in order not to hurt somebody, but rather keeping the truth from being compromised by harshness and insensitivity.
  1. Yielding: Being open to reason means really listening because you and I are as ready to learn as we are teach.
  1. Full of mercy. Compassion is not only a deep awareness of another’s need; it is a desire to do something about it.
  1. Full of good fruits. James was certainly referring not only to the character traits he was describing, but also the good works God has prepared for each believer.
  1. Impartial. To be impartial suggests having set aside prejudices, biases, and personal agendas. It requires humility a “standing alongside” kind of spirit. Such impartial wisdom is available through the Spirit and through having mature self-awareness as well as other-awareness.
  1. Sincere. Sincerity requires Honesty. Whenever you and I are dishonest or “trim” or shade the truth, we are loving ourselves more than God or others.

[Middle Eastern fruit basket | Dion Hinchcliffe, https://www.flickr.com/photos/dionhinchcliffe/16605004410, flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

2 thoughts on “James: Spiritual Wisdom

  1. Thank you Joanne. Coming to understand these passages helps me to see community in a new and vibrant way. Seeking to live a righteous life is only possible aligned with the truth of God’s Word. Pressing forward and allowing our past mistakes to sharpen our resolve to be more Christlike everyday. Less striving in our own strength but through the boundless power of the cross I live and seek to live everyday. I appreciate your investment in the Word of truth and commitment to teaching it to us all.


    1. Thank you so much for that encouragement, Marsha! And I am also very thankful for the Body of Christ, our community. It’s all part of God’s grace, I think, the Holy Spirit giving each of us God’s transforming life, and also making us together God’s holy habitation. 💜

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