In James 3:13, we are challenged with the idea that wisdom in our hearts is seen in our lives. He continues his challenge by writing,
14But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
James connects verse 14 to verse 13 through our English word “but”. As opposed to the kind of wisdom that is from above (that leads us to a life of holiness), James tells us that if we “harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition” we are living a lie. We claim with our mouths that we are wise, but our actions would be far from it. Ouch.
We don’t have to look too far before we see examples of this. How many times has someone given you counsel that you absolutely KNEW was not Scriptural advice? In our so-called wisdom, have we ever been guilty of giving advice that more serves our own interests than the Kingdom’s?
Humility is the driving force behind true wisdom (see verse 13), so the opposite spirit is at work in the so-called wisdom of the alternative approach. He doesn’t stop there (brace yourself). He calls such “wisdom” earthly, unspiritual, and demonic (verse 15). Self-serving wisdom is not from God but from deceitful hearts. Imagine the ramifications of this. How many people are led astray at the counsel of these “wise” people—those who are only trying to build their own kingdoms?
During the Prohibition Era, there was a California product called a “grape brick.” It was dehydrated juice packaged in the shape of a brick. Just add water and—poof—you had grape juice. No problem there, huh? The package, however, gave a caution: “Warning: If You Add Sugar Fermentation May Take Place.” This product was not designed to give someone a way to make grape juice but wine which was, at that time, illegal. I’m not getting into the morality of drinking—that’s missing the point of the story—the product was designed to allow people to break the law (at that time). It was bad counsel.
James writes that “disorder and every evil practice” results from this “envy and selfish ambition” of these people wise in their own eyes. This is part of what can begin to unravel a society. When everyone does what is “right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6, NLT), only evil will follow. Just look at the first few pages of Genesis and you will see it: if left to our own devices, we will choose “every evil practice”.
James gives us a reminder of what we would be if we reject God’s wisdom which He wants to infuse in our lives. We are still called to be salt to preserve and light to illuminate the world. It is the wisdom of the Creator-King of the Universe we need. The alternative is nothing short of a recipe for disaster.