In Part 1, we learned there is a “heavenly wisdom” that comes from God and a “man-made wisdom” that comes from the world. In Part 2, we saw the contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the operation of the world’s wisdom. Today, we will look at the result of God’s wisdom versus the result of the world’s wisdom.
Contrast in Outcomes (James 3:16, 18)
For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find confusion and every evil practice… Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
Origin determines outcome. Worldly wisdom will produce worldly results; spiritual wisdom will give spiritual results.
Worldly wisdom produces trouble (v. 16). “Envy, selfish ambition [strife], confusion, and evil works.” It does not appear God was at work in that assembly (in chapter 4, James would deal with the “wars and fighting” among the believers). Wrong thinking produces wrong living. One reason the world is in such a mess is because men have refused to accept the wisdom of God.
The word translated “confusion” means “disorder that comes from instability.” It is related to “unstable” in James 1:8 and “unruly” in James 3:8. Read 2 Corinthians 12:20 and you will get a description of a church that is confused. Jesus used this word to describe the convulsions of the world in the last days (Luke 21:9).
Jealousy, competition, selfish ambition—all of these contribute to confusion. The Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is a good illustration of this fact. From man’s point of view the building of the tower was a wise thing, but from God’s viewpoint the project was stupid and sinful. The result? Confusion. Even today, we use the word “babel” to mean “confusion.”
Confusion sets the stage for “every evil work” (3:16). Evil here means “worthless, of no account.” It reminds us of the “wood, hay, and stubble” of 1 Corinthians 3:12. A ministry operating in the wisdom of this world may appear to be great and successful, but in the Day of Judgment it will burn up. The church at Smyrna thought it was poor, but the Lord said it was rich; while the “rich church” at Laodicea was declared to be poor (Rev. 2:9; 3:14–22).
The most important thing we can do in our local churches is measure our ministries by the Word of God, not by the wisdom of men. The many battles among Christians, the church splits, the absence of purity and peace, all suggest that something is wrong. Perhaps that “something” is the absence of the wisdom of God.
God’s wisdom produces blessing (v. 18). There is a vast difference between man-made results and God-given fruit. Fruit is the product of life and fruit has in it the seeds for more fruit. We usually speak of the seed that is sown, but here it is the fruit that is sown. As we share the fruit of God with others, they are fed and satisfied, and they in turn bear fruit.
The Christian life is a life of sowing and reaping. For that matter, every life is a life of sowing and reaping, and we reap just what we sow. The Christian who obeys God’s wisdom sows righteousness, not sin; he sows peace, not war. The life we live enables the Lord to bring righteousness and peace into the lives of others.
What we are is what we live and what we live is what we sow. What we sow determines what we reap. If we live in God’s wisdom, we sow righteousness and peace, and we reap God’s blessing. If we live in man’s worldly wisdom, we sow sin and war, and we reap “confusion and every evil work.”
It is a serious thing to be a troublemaker in God’s family. One of the sins God hates is that of sowing “discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:16–19). Lot followed the world’s wisdom and brought trouble to the camp of Abraham, but Abraham followed God’s wisdom and brought peace. Lot’s decision led to “good-for-nothing works,” and everything he lived for went up in smoke at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s decision, in the wisdom of God, led to blessings for his own household and ultimately for the whole world (Gen. 13). “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding” (Prov. 3:13).