Faith That Works-The Results of Worldly Wisdom-James 3:14-16

Originally posted by me on Truth in Palmyra

faith that works

James 3:14-16

But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

Read all of James Chapter 3 here

Worldly Wisdom Is Motivated by Jealousy

We, as humans, prefer the wisdom of the world over the wisdom given by God. We prefer it because, in our natural states, we have our own goals in mind instead of God’s goals. Once again, we only have to take a trip back to the Garden of Eden to see that we started this process very early in our human careers.

James tells us that there are two primary motivations for our preference of worldly wisdom over Godly wisdom: “bitter envying,” and “strife.” One translation words these as bitter jealousy, and “selfish ambition.”

Bitter envying and jealousy. “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” is a phrase we have all heard. We humans seem to have a tendency to want what we do not have; unfortunately that often means wanting what someone else has. We become envious and jealous of it. The wisdom of God tells us to be happy with what He has provided; the wisdom of the world tells us to covet what our neighbor has. “Keeping up with the Jones,” so to speak.

We can all succumb to the wisdom offered by the world and slip into jealousy and envy. Even those closest to Jesus were found guilty of that offense. In Luke 9:46 we can see how Jesus’ Disciples argued about who would be the greatest among them. In Matthew 20:21 we even see the mother of James and John asking for a special place for her sons in Heaven.

How about us? What are some times we allow the wisdom of the world to drive us to jealousies and envy? Are we worried about the message contained in a song sung at church, or are we worrying about who is singing it? Are we listening to the Sunday School lesson being taught or are we worried about why “that person” is teaching it and not us? What wisdom are we relying on, God’s or man’s?

Worldly Wisdom Is Motivated By Strife

We previously discussed what motivates us to choose worldly wisdom over the wisdom of God. Our previous devotional covered how we allow jealousy and envy to cause us to make this choice.

The KJV translation uses the word “strife” to discuss our next topic. Other translations use the words, “selfish ambition” to relay the thought. Not only are we jealous of what others have which we do not have, but we are strongly motivated by our own ambition to choose worldly wisdom.

We want what we want, we want it how we want it, and we want it now. That sums up our sinful natures and drives us to gain our wisdom from the wrong sources. The world tells us how to get what we want, God tells us how to get what He wants, which if we had any sense we would realize is, in fact, best for us.

Many writings on the word strife here give it the meaning of having a “party spirit.” This was often used to refer to a person who was beating the streets to gain a political job. That really sums up the image quite well of what James is saying. This would be us manipulating; this is us operating with a hidden agenda to accomplish our own goals; this is us either trying to manipulate people to obtain our own position or ingratiate ourselves with the person who does have a position.

Paul was inspired to write something on this topic as well(There Paul is again, with James.) :

Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

James is teaching us that our own agendas and needs are secondary. First and foremost, our goals should be God’s goals. Actually, reverse works better on that phrase; God’s goals should be our goals.

Worldly Wisdom Is Arrogant

he choosing of worldly wisdom over the wisdom of God is motivated by proud arrogance and boasting. James’ use of the words, glory not” is no more than a warning to us to avoid proud arrogance and boasting.

Arrogance and boasting is clearly and simply the hallmark of a man who is concentrated on self rather than God. “Look what I did!” screams the boastful person, or the person operating under the wisdom offered by the world. “Look what God did!” screams the person operating under the wisdom offered by God. After all, none of what we accomplish is our own; James already told us that once back in Chapter 1 of his epistle.

James 1:17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.

Again, Paul reinforces what James is teaching us here.(I just love that!)

2 Corinthians 10:12 For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

To close, here is nice poem by a lady named Glenda Palmer, quoted by David Jeremiah in his book, What to do when you don’t know what to do. It’s pretty sarcastic, but makes the point well.


I thank you, Lord, for giving me

terrific looks, a brilliant mind

and  sparkling personality

that’s spiritually inclined.

I love my kinds and Christian mate,

our friendly church and Sunday School,

our ranch -style home with patio

and solar-heated swimming pool

I know my talents come from you;

I’m praised for my angelic voice

that sings and teaches weaker ones

the way to make a Godly choice.

And thanks for my prestigious job

and giving me an added gift-

that anything my pen jots down

becomes indeed, inspired script.

You ought to bless every Christian;

some lives seem ready to crumble,

but I am so proud that You blessed me-

I guess it’s just that I’m so humble.

Jealousy and Ambition Cause Confusion

Jealousy and strife may be what motivates us to rely on worldly wisdom, but these two have effects. They are not just things we feel; they cause things to happen.

One of the thing jealousy and selfish ambition cause is confusion. Here, confusion is not used in the sense of people not knowing what they are doing, but in the sense disorder or lack or harmony. It can be used to express the thought, “to disturb,” and is even used to describe a state of anarchy.

We see this same word used previously in James’ Epistle and it describes the same sort of situation there as well.

James 1:8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. Here, unstable, is the same word as unstable used in our text today.

James 3:8 But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Here, the word unruly is the same original word.

So, we can see here that our jealousy and ambition creates situations of confusion, instability, and unruliness in the body of believers. John McArthur in his commentary series gives a good list of many of the things caused by our jealousy and ambition: anger,;bitterness; resentment;  lawsuits, divorce; racial, ethnic and social disorders. He says they include the absence of some things as well: love, intimacy, trust, fellowship and harmony.

In case we are unclear on how God truly feels about this situation in His churches and among His people, let us look again at something The Apostle Paul said; this time Paul was writing to a very confused Church in the city of Corinth.

1 Corinthians 14:33 For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.

God, and His wisdom, do not produce confusion and disorder. That is the product of or own man-made, worldly wisdom.

Jealousy and Envy Cause Every Bad Thing You Can Imagine

Today is the last day we will spend on James 3:16, as we have covered it fairly in depth. The category of “every evil thing” basically provides a catch all for anything not specifically mentioned as coming from a reliance on worldly wisdom.

In this usage, the word “evil”  doesn’t really refer to evil in the sense of the evil produced by sin. It actually refers to a possible range of things caused by worldly wisdom. The most common usage seems to be describing something that is worthless, or of no account or value. The word “thing” also carries a particular meaning; here it refers to work, deed, event or occurrence. We could paraphrase, then, by saying that every single worthless event, deed or work is caused by the reliance on the wisdom of the world rather than the wisdom from God.

Again, the Apostle Paul made some references to things that are the product of worldly wisdom:

1 Corinthians 3:12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;

The foundation, of course, is Jesus Christ. But what we choose to build on that foundation is up to us. Worldly wisdom will produce wood, hay and stubble; wisdom from God will produce gold, silver and precious stones.

I hope and pray that each person reading this is laying your life’s works on the foundation of Jesus Christ. The question is: what are you laying ON the foundation and what is it based on?

Categories: Christianity, Contributors

1 reply


  1. Faith That Works-The Results of Worldly Wisdom-James 3:14-16 – Truth in Palmyra

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