Faith Tested True
A Study of the Epistle of James
The Tongue - Measure of Trustworthy Faith - James 3
In James chapter two we continued looking at the examples of trustworthy faith being laid out by James. In that chapter James said trustworthy faith is fair and unprejudiced (2:1-13) and evidenced in tangible works (2:14-26). In chapter three James will continue to identify the nature of trustworthy faith by looking at another two areas where trustworthy faith can be practically seen.
If eyes are the windows of the soul then words reveal the walk of the Spirit. In James two we saw that faith without works is dead. While can look directly into the heart of humanity, human beings can only look at the outward fruit of good works to determine the genuineness and trustworthiness of faith. The particular "works" under consideration in James three consists of our words.
It takes wisdom too to determine the trustworthiness of our faith. That is why in the last portion of James three James points out the difference between an earthly, sensual, devilish wisdom versus wisdom that is from above. In chapter one of James we were exhorted to seek the Lord for wisdom in regards to the purpose and meaning of the trials God allows into our lives. In chapter three we will see the product or fruit of making decision and living according to the wisdom that descends from God. Let's dig in.
James 3 (NKJV)
3 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
A trustworthy faith controls its words. A story is told of a young man who once went to Socrates to learn speaking skills. As soon as the young man was introduced to Socrates he poured out a waterfall of words before the philosopher. Socrates responded by informing the young man he would have to charge him double his normal fee. Taken aback the young man asked why he would have to pay double. Socrates stated, "Because I must teach you two sciences: the one how to hold your tongue, the other how to speak." Earlier in our epistle James was inspired to state, "let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, . . ." (James 1:19a). This didn't mean we should literally speak slow. It meant we out to listen more than we talk. We need to measure and think about the things we say. This is especially true for those ministering in the name of Jesus.
James introduces this area of trustworthy faith from the perspective of those in the church who minister particular with words. "Teachers" (Greek didaskalos ) are those who one who teaches concerning the things of God and the duties of people, one fit to teach, one who shows people the way of salvation. Since such things deal with eternal unalterable destinies the teacher "shall receive a stricter judgment" or be held responsible to God for a "stricter" (Greek meizon ) or larger, especially greater, higher degree of "judgment" (Greek krima) or a matter decided by a judge as in a court case. In Hebrews it states, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). The salvation provided by God through Jesus removes that fearful destiny and replaces it with a loving relationship with God (e.g. 1 John 4:17-19). However, it is important that when we share the gospel and teach God's word like a teacher in the church does, we must make sure that what we share and teach is true to God's word. To do anything less is to risk losing our heavenly rewards.
In his second letter to Timothy Paul was inspired to write, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The word "doctrine" (Greek didaskalia ) means teaching or instruction. Those teaching in the church should be teaching God's holy word.
Now you may think this goes without saying, but throughout history and particularly in our day there seems to have developed what the Old Testament prophet Amos predicted, "a famine on the land. . . of hearing the words of the LORD" (Amos 8:11). The reason for this is the loss of respect and reverence for the word of God amongst those teaching in the church. This may be due to the influence of higher education on those in ministry. "Higher" education and a focus on learning often leads to pride and self reliance. "Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies" (1 Corinthians 8:1b). This is not to say that ministers of the gospel should not be educated. It is simply to say that we need to assure that education incorporates a love for the Lord and His word in order to edify or build up the minister's faith not tear it down until he is left with only himself and human strategies and purposes.
There is a famine of hearing the word of God in our land because teachers or ministers in the church rely on all kinds of other things than the word of God. And that is the biggest reason for the weakness and lethargy of the church today. God's word is powerful (Hebrews 4:12). Ministry and the functioning of the church is powerful in proportion to the reliance upon and mention of God's word in it. Psychology and stories and entertaining marketing gimmicks and strategies may all preoccupy people and draw them into the church. But such fluff and cotton candy religion will never edify. And that is exactly what we see. The church is a mile wide and an inch deep and the result is misrepresenting God with an anemic church.
The early church that turned the world upside down in credible God glorifying ways was a church baptized with the Holy Spirit in power and which was permeated in its ministry by the word of God. The early church leaders were devoted to prayer and the word of God (Acts 6:4). The testimony of the early church was, "Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly. . . ." (Acts 6:7). In that day the bride of Christ was adorned with the Spirit and the inspired word of God. In that day the bride was glorious adorned in a holy white gown. And in that day the world couldn't join the church fast enough. Souls were being saved and disciples were being made. The world was being changed not through external education, politics, or social services, the world was being changed from the inside out; from the transformation of a saved heart. Today the bride is unkempt, pale and powerless. Today the gown of the bride is being muddied by legitimate accusations of a world that can see the hypocrisy and lukewarmness. The accusations of the secular against the "sacred" are legitimate because without the word of God the "church" is too often nothing like what Jesus gave His blood to be. We need to get back to the word of God
The Word for Today Bible offers these comments by Pastor Church Smith on the importance and accountability of the Pastor-Teacher:
God has a special ministry referred to in the Bible as the pastor-teacher (1 Cor. 12:28). As a teacher of the Word of God, I have a tremendous responsibility before God to teach as accurately as I can what the Scriptures say. I'm not called to offer my own opinions. I'm called to teach what God's Word says. Where the Bible is silent, it's important that I am silent. Where the Bible speaks, it's important that I speak.
One day I'll stand before our Lord Jesus Christ, and I will be judged under a stricter standard for being a teacher. That's why it is vitally important for me to teach verse by verse, chapter by chapter from Genesis to Revelation and to accurately represent God's Word to you.
James warns against just anybody getting up and teaching without recognizing the responsibility they have when they stand before God to give an account. And if you're guilty of teaching people falsely, you will have the stricter judgment. 
Perhaps as a result of persecution pastor-teachers had been targeted and removed. This would have led to the temptation for others to fill in for them who were not as reverent toward God's word and spiritually gifted as pastor-teachers. James word to those who would have a trustworthy faith is, "Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment." The Holy Spirit is able to meet the needs of the church. When teachers are needed they will be supplied by spiritually gifting men to teach the Word of God. Let no one presume such a calling through pride, glory seeking, or a lust for benefits from the position. The pastor-teacher, the person who teaches God's word needs to seek the Lord and have the Lord call them to the position and that calling will be confirmed by the edifying nature of their teaching and the fruit of their labors.
2 For we all stumble in many things.
One of the main reasons why anyone should not enter into teaching the Word of God hastily is that human beings "stumble in many things." "Stumble" (Greek ptaio) means to fall, offend, stumble, to cause one to stumble or fall, to err, make a mistake, to sin. As human beings with sinful natures we are inclined to wander outside the parameters or safe boundaries of God's Word. James points out there are "many things" which lead to our stumbling. There are common sources of stumbling, "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:15-17). The sources of our stumbling are relative and subjective. One person may be stumbled by something another person has no difficulty with and vice versa. But the bottom line is that we all stumble in many things. But there is one thing mentioned here by James that is the most common cause of stumbling and gaining victory of it is a measure of spiritual maturity. That one stumbling block of all stumbling blocks is the tongue.
According to Gary Smalley, it has been estimated that if a man lives 70 years, he'll speak about 308 million words, while a woman will speak 637 million words. Another way of looking at it is, a man would speak enough to fill 1,540 volumes of 500-page books or 16 large books cases. (That’s an average of 400 words per page in a 9” x 6” book.) A woman would speak enough to fill 3,220 volumes of 500-page books or 32 large book cases. It’s a frightening thought that by these words we shall either be “justified” or “condemned,” as Jesus said. Peter wrote, “He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile” (First Peter 3:10)!
If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.
Our words are the measure of our spiritual maturity. It used to be that one of the first things asked of us during a doctor's visit was for us to stick out our tongue. That's because a doctor can tell a lot about our physical health by looking at our tongue. The same could be said of us spiritually. A lot can be revealed about our spiritual health by our tongue or the words we speak.
How important are the words we use? Jesus said the following:
· Matthew 12:33–37 (NKJV) - 33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things. 36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
According to Jesus our words reveal the condition of our heart. The words we speak can expose sin or confirm holiness.
James instructs, " If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.""Perfect" (Greek teleios) means complete, spiritually mature, astute in mental and moral character, a full aged person, completed product of a person, the person needing nothing else to be completed, the consummate person of integrity and virtue. How do we measure such spiritual wholeness or completeness? We measure spiritual maturity based on whether or not we "stumble in word." Spiritual maturity is measured by whether or not our words trip us up or cause us to get into difficult situations.
James says, if we are able to avoid stumbling in the words we use we will be, "able also to bridle the whole body.""Bridle" (Greek chalinagogeo) means to be a bit-leader, to curb, to bridle, to lead or guide with a bridle, to hold in check, restrain. If we can control our words, James says we will be able also to control all the other areas of our being. Let's look at the importance of
3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body.
Our words under control trains us to obey and be useful to the Lord. A horse in the days of James was a useful source of transportation. It was also used to carry or pull loads. Horses were caught in the wild and then had to be broken or trained so that they could be useful to the rider. A bit weighs less than a pound yet it is able to control and steer a horse that weighs on average 750 pounds! A 750 pound beast running wild and out of control could do a lot of harm and damage. The bit was strategically located in the horse's mouth so as to communicate to the horse the direction the rider wants them to go. The bit could cause pain to the horse if it didn't obey it's riders pull. Our words, when bridled, can steer the rest of who we are to go in the right direction or in the wrong direction. When we speak in an unbridled wild way it leads to a lot of damage. We are the Lord's servant's. When we allow the Holy Spirit to put His bit in our mouths we will know the direction He wants us to go. When we receive and obey the bit of the Spirit we are useful to the Lord. We need to walk in the Spirit and following His bit (e.g. Galatians 5).
4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.
Our words under control may seem like a small thing but it has disproportionate effect. The old adage "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me" is a false statement. It's true when hit by a stick or stone thrown our way we may feel an immediate effect and receive and immediate wound. But such injuries are mostly on the surface. Surface wounds heal in a relatively short amount of time. Words may not appear to do much harm, but they can cut deep into our heart and cause wounds that stay with us a lifetime. Thoughts communicated with words are likened to "fiery darts" of the devil that need to be warded off with the shield of faith (Ephesians 6:16).
James illustrates his point by mentioning how a large ship that may weigh thousands of pounds may be turned and steered by a rudder that weighs far less and that is proportionally a much smaller part of a ship. A ship is useful for traveling and carrying resources. A ship can be used in battle to transport troupes or fight enemy ships. The "pilot" steers the ship with the relatively small rudder. If we are a ship in the Lord's fleet we need to let Him control our words like a pilot of a ship steers a ship by its rudder.
Our words have great potential for building people up and serving as soothing salve to the wounded. Paul tells us to speak only words that edify or build up people (Ephesians 4:29). Our words are to be wholesome or whole-making not coarse or abrasive, not perverse but pure. With our words we are to blow in the sails of people and steer them toward Jesus and His word. The tongue can do so much good, if we use it properly in the Spirit.
See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
Our words uncontrolled destroy. Fire is not necessarily a bad thing. Anyone sitting inside by a warm fire place on a cold wintery day will tell you the fire gives soothing warmth. But if an ember from that fireplace gets out and causes the furniture in the room to catch fire that is a big problem. It isn't fire that is the problem. The problem is fire out of control. It isn't words that are the problem but words out of control that are the problem.
Our words can bring healing, but they can also burn people up. Words can bring people down. Too often we use words to cut people down to size. Too often we use words to attack or battle against people. Words used destructively are words that flow from carnal pride and are evidence of the influence of the devil in people's lives. We have to harness our tongues for good and God's glory.
A small spark from an untended camp fire or burning cigarette butt can start a fire that destroys thousands of acres of beautiful forest as well as people caught in its flames.
The single worst wild fire in U.S. history, in both size and fatalities, is known as the Great Peshtigo Fire which burned 3.8 million acres (5,938 square miles) and killed at least 1,500 in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the week of October 8-14, 1871. Many sources put the size of the fire at 1.2-1.5 million acres but that included only the area that was completely burned and not the additional 2.3 million acres in surrounding counties that also suffered burn damage (see maps below). Unattended fires at logging camps in the area most likely caused the fire. After a long hot and very dry summer strong warm autumn winds from the southwest fanned the fires out of control. Fire tornadoes were reported at several locations and the fire became so hot that people taking refuge in rivers were boiled to death.
Numerous other fires also broke out in Michigan at the same time, the worst of which burned an additional 1 million acres (1,562 square miles) in Michigan’s thumb region and in the southwestern portion of the state and killed 200 people mostly in and around Port Huron.. . .
Amazingly, the Great Chicago Fire of even greater fame also happened this same week (October 8-10) and remains the worst urban fire in U.S. history with over 300 killed (assuming we treat the deaths in San Francisco in 1906 as earthquake-related). In fact, there is a connection between the wild fires in Wisconsin and Michigan and that in Chicago. An apocryphal story (made up by a newspaper man) blamed the cause of the Chicago fire on a cow knocking a lantern over in a barn. In fact, it is likely the fire was caused by embers from fires burning in the woods west of town being blown by the same strong southwesterly winds (that fanned the flames in Wisconsin) into the city and ignited some of the wooden buildings which were predominate in the city at that time. . . .
All in all, well over 2,000 people died and close to 5 million acres (7,800 square miles) burned during the weeks of October 8-21, 1871 in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois.
In Proverbs it states, "Where there is no wood, the fire goes out; and where there is no talebearer, strife ceases" (Proverbs 26:20). I wonder if James had this verse in mind when he was writing? When we don't control the words we use, like a spark that ignites a damaging forest fire, they lead to a great deal of destruction. But our uncontrolled words don't just do physical harm, they do spiritual harm.
Proverbs is a book of wisdom and it has a lot to say about a wise way to use our words:
Proverbs 6:16–19 (NKJV)
16 These six things the Lord hates,
Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
17 A proud look,
A lying tongue,
Hands that shed innocent blood,
18 A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that are swift in running to evil,
19 A false witness who speaks lies,
And one who sows discord among brethren.
Proverbs 10:11–12 (NKJV)
11 The mouth of the righteous is a well of life,
But violence covers the mouth of the wicked.
12 Hatred stirs up strife,
But love covers all sins.
Proverbs 10:19 (NKJV)
19 In the multitude of words sin is not lacking,
But he who restrains his lips is wise.
Proverbs 18:21 (NKJV)
21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit.
In the New Testament when Paul is writing ministerial instructions to pastor Timothy he warns Timothy about those who are idle saying, "And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not" (1 Timothy 5:13). Those who stir up strife and gossip are usually people who aren't themselves invested in church ministry but instead have too much time on their hands, time of indulgence, time of laziness, and the result is they end up being lured by the enemy into sinful word use.
James explains, " The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature." Our words can inflame the lusts of our flesh and direct our body to indulge in sin. Our words lead our body; our entire person. How many sinful, evil alliances have been entered into by word of mouth? How may have been betrayed by word of mouth? How many affairs have people been lured into by enticing words? (e.g. Samson - Judges 13-16). How many homes and families have been destroyed by uncontrolled words? How many wars have been started with uncontrolled words? How many thefts have been plotted and schemes hatched with words? Our words can be used for good. Our words can be used for evil.
Our words uncontrolled are potentially one of Satan's most effective tools for evil. James says uncontrolled words are a "world of iniquity." "Iniquity" (Greek adikia) means injustice, moral wrongfulness, wickedness. James use of the noun "world" emphasizes the scope of what uncontrolled words unleash. Uncontrolled words unleash the devilish worldview on people. And that's why James comments, "it is set on fire by hell." "Hell" (Greek gehenna) refers to the Valley of Hinnom located on the west side of the City of Jerusalem. It was the location of where the kings of Israel entered into sinful pagan idolatry which included offering up their infants children to the fires of pagan gods (2 Kings 23:10). Later when revival occurred and the idols were destroyed the Valley was converted into a garbage dump for the City with fires that burned perpetually. It therefore became an image used to describe the eternal fires of hell (e.g. Jeremiah 19). Our uncontrolled words have the potential to unlock and release the disgusting sinful hellish types of things associated with this fiery garbage dump reserved for the devil and his followers for eternity (Revelation 20). Is this something you want to risk with your untamed tongue?
7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
Our words cannot be controlled in our own strength. God gave humanity the responsibility and ability to tame and rule over animals (Genesis 2). But the tongue is another animal altogether. IN our own strength no person can control their tongue. One commentator states:
Phillips in his paraphrase suggests an uncontrolled tongue makes "a blazing hell" of life. . . .
Man who has the power to control the wild nature of animals, apart from God, cannot control his own tongue. "No man" is a strong expression and might be translated "no one of men."
The tongue is an "unruly evil," literally, an evil which cannot be held back. It is like a wild animal restlessly wanting to make an attack. It is like an enemy that cannot be contained by military force. Phillips translates it, "It is an evil always liable to break out."
The tongue is "full of deadly poison." In describing the activities of his enemies, David wrote, "Adders' poison is under their lips" (Psalm 140:3). The untamed tongue prefers speaking evil rather than good (Psalm 52:2-4). It prefers destroying rather than helping (Psalm 64:2-5). It seeks to destroy reputation and morale through slanderous gossip.
Have you ever tried to say something harmless that was received the wrong way? Have you ever tried to control your words only to have them end up being destructive? That may be because of the person you are speaking too has a problem, it may be part of a devilish delusions, but it may also be because of self-effort.
James states the tongue is, " It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison." Like the serpent in the Garden of Eden the tongue can speak deception and temptation. Like a snake in the grass is lies in hiding waiting for its prey to unwittingly wander its way and succumb to its strike. The tongue is "unruly" (Greek akataschetos) or unrestrainable, something that can't be restrained. It is "evil" (Greek kakos) or rotten, wicked, worthless, depraved. If left unattended or allowed to run wild the words of your tongue will rot you and those around you.
This seems to be a pretty hopeless situation. Are we doomed to the unruliness and evil speaking of our tongues? I believe when James speaks of the "law of liberty" (James 2:12) he is not speaking of liberty to sin but liberty to not have to sin. And that would apply to our tongues as well. There is a way for us to control our tongues and James will tell us how.
But you say, "Wait a minute. James says, ' But no man can tame the tongue.' Doesn't that mean it's impossible for anyone to tame the tongue?" James is not pointlessly noting a condition we are helpless to avoid. He provides the answer in his following inspired words. The only way we can control our tongue is in the power of the Holy Spirit.
9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.
Our words can be controlled in the Spirit. James points out the inappropriate truth that people at times use their words to bless God but then curse people. People are made in God's image (Genesis 1:26-28) and therefore should not be cursed with our words. Then James comments and exhorts - " Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so." The mere fact that James states such behavior is unacceptable and shouldn't be is evidence that it is possible that they wouldn't be. James would not have stated wrong use of our words should not happen if it weren't possible for us to control in some way our words. How can we control our words? By the power of the Holy Spirit!
James comments, " Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh." Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have give you living water.' . . . Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:10 and 14). Later Jesus also said, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water" (John 7:37-38). The writer John clarifies that what Jesus was talking about was the indwelling and empowering of the Holy Spirit (John 7:39). Paul spoke of one of the aspects of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives as "self control" (Galatians 5:23). The tongue and our words can be kept under control, as long as we walk in the Spirit.
To have any hope of controlling our tongue and the words that it produces we must first turn from our sins to God in Christ and ask God's forgiveness for our sins. When by faith we receive Jesus as Savior we become children of God and born again (John 1:12; John 3). To be born again means the Holy Spirit comes into our heart and dwells in us (Romans 8:9-10). Once inside us the Holy Spirit produces holy fruit (Galatians 5:22-24). God's love is poured into our heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). We need to be baptized or immersed in the Spirit (Acts 1:8). And when that happens we'll speak HIs truth in His love (Ephesians 4:15).
It's no accident that James uses the imagery of a spring and water to teach not only the in appropriateness of a believer's words being contradictorily filled with praises and curses. James, the half brother of Jesus, uses this imagery of spring water to bring up to remembrance the words of Jesus about His living water. Living water does not fill us with salty worded water. The living water of the Spirit purifies our words so that we speak in ways that draw people to Jesus and build them up spiritually (e.g. Ephesians 4:29). Our words can be controlled in the Spirit. And our words will go far in exposing the genuineness of our faith; the trustworthiness of our faith.
When I was a boy a popular TV commercial was made with a character named Smokey the Bear. Smokey the Bear was a forest ranger and his motto for those camping was, "Only you can prevent forest fires." People, only we can put out the destructive fires of division and character assassination perpetrated by the hellish uncontrolled tongue. The choice is up to us. Someone has written:
A careless word may kindle strife.
A cruel word may wreck a life.
A bitter word may hate instill.
A brutal word may smite and kill.
A gracious word may smooth the way.
A joyous word may light the day.
A timely word may lessen stress.
A loving word may heal and bless.
Let's speak words of life to others in the power of the Holy Spirit. That's what a person with trustworthy faith does.
To speak the right words at the right time we need wisdom, not earthly carnal wisdom but wisdom from above, wisdom from God. That is probably the reason James is moved by the Spirit to speak now about wisdom.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Trustworthy faith relies on heavenly wisdom. It's a logical next step to go from speaking about choosing our words wisely to what determines if something is wise or not. James therefore continues his letter by asking, "Who is wise and understanding among you?" "Wise" (Greek sophos) means wise, skilled, expert, cultivated, learned in speech, forming the best plans and using the best means for executing those plans. "Understanding" (Greek epistemon) means intelligent, endued with knowledge, experienced, having expert knowledge. Earlier in the opening lines of his letter James advised the person going through trials to ask God for wisdom regarding the trials (James 1:5). Here, based on context, James is introducing guidelines for wise words and wise ways toward others. What does James tell us about wisdom?
First, wisdom and understanding are shown in "good conduct that his works are done in meekness of wisdom." A wise person is a person who is known for their good conduct. "Good" (Greek kalos) means proper, beautiful, good, valuable, virtuous, honest, useful, suitable, commendable, admirable, excellent in nature, genuine, approved."Conduct" (Greek anastrophe) is a manner of life, behavior. James is saying that a person who is wise and understands what he's teaching and what it means to have a genuine trustworthy faith will act or live in a way that is commendable and admirable as a Christian.
Second, there are two kinds of wisdom; wisdom from above and wisdom from below. James speaks of two kinds of wisdom to discern. One is "from above" or from God and the other "does not descend from above," or is from below from the devil. How can we discern between the two?
Third, the wisdom that is not from God is characterized by:
· "Bitter envy" - "Bitter" (Greek pikros) means sharp, pungent, acrid, bitter, harsh, virulent. "Envy" (Greek zelos) means heat or passion for what others have or their positions, jealousy, indignation.
· "Self-seeking" - (Greek eritheia) or given to forming factions, contention, contentious, electioneering, pushing for higher office, a desire to put oneself forward even at the expense of others, partisanship, pursuing political office by unfair or unjust means, being selfish.
· "Boast and lie against the truth" - To "boast" (Greek katakauchaomai) is to glory in or against, to exult over, and "lie" (Greek pseudomai) or speak untruth, deceive, speak falsehoods or falsely, to speak deliberate falsehoods and all of this against the "truth" of God's word and those teaching His truth (cf. John 17:17).
· "Earthly"- (Greek epigeios) - worldly, earthly, with only earth in view, with only the horizontal plane of the earth and its possessions in view.
· "Sensual" - (Greek psychikos) - unspiritual, lower beastly oriented, feeding only fleshly appetites and passions.
· "Demonic" - (Greek daimoniodes) - devilish, from an evil spirit, demon-like.
· Producing "confusion and every evil thing" - "Confusion" (Greek akatastasia) is commotion, confusion, tumult, absence of order, instability, a state of disorder, disturbance. Every "evil" (Greek phaulos) is foul, flawed, wicked, evil, that which is easy, slight, ordinary as opposed to holy, worthless, of no account, ethically bad and debased.
This is what wisdom that is not from God will produce. This is what words based on worldly devilish wisdom produce. This is exactly what we see in the world today, self-seeking pride, self-promotion, confusion and disorder. We see these things everywhere in the world today and it indicates a world and too often segments of the church relying on wisdom from below instead of wisdom from above.
Fourth, wisdom from God is characterized by:
· "Meekness" - (Greek prautes) mildness, meekness, strength under control.
· "first Pure" - (Greek hagnos) proper, clean, innocent, modest, perfect, chaste, exciting reverence, sacred oriented, James says this is the "first" (Greek proton)or first thing in identifying the wisdom from above.
· "Peaceable" - (Greek eirenikos) pacifying, promoting peace, loving peace, brings peace with it.
· "Gentle" - (Greek epieikes) appropriate, mild, gentle, moderate, patient, equitable, fair.
· "Willing to yield" - (Greek eupeithes) good for persuasion, willing to listen and be persuaded honestly, easy to be entreated, easily obeying the things or truth of God.
· "Full of mercy" - (Greek eleos) compassion, merciful, kindness, good will toward those who are miserable and afflicted, a desire to help those in need. "Full" (Greek mestos) means replete, full, thoughts filled with. Therefore heavenly wisdom will fill our thoughts with compassion for others.
· "Good fruits" - "Good" (Greek agathos) - good, beneficial, well, good things. "Fruits" (Greek karpos) is fruit, produce, progeny, that which originates or comes from something. That done by heavenly wisdom will produce heavenly blessed things.
· "Without partiality"- (Greek adiakritos) undistinguished, without partiality or favoritism, without dubiousness, without uncertainty.
· "Without hypocrisy" - (Greek anypokritos) sincere, without dissimulation, unfeigned, without hypocrisy. In other words, truthful.
· "Now the fruit of righteousness" - "Righteousness" (Greek dikaiosyne) refers to Christian justification, state of him as he ought to be, acceptable to God. Will produce an outcome pleasing to God. "Fruit" speaks of the presence and work of the Spirit in us to produce this (e.g. Galatians 5:22-24).
· "is sown in peace by those who make peace" - "Peace" (Greek eirene) - peace, prosperity, quietness, rest, at one again. It is conduct that begins or is sown in a peaceful attitude and leads to more of a peaceful situation.
This is what our words will promote and build people up in if we rely on God's wisdom. This is what we can look forward to if we seek to act in a heavenly wisdom. This is what we will miss out on if we deviate from God's plans. Trustworthy faith chooses the wisdom from above; God's wise ways.
 Chuck Smith, The Word for Today Bible, (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 2012) p. 1600
 James and the Tongue, Tony E. Denton, March 1994. ASiteForTheLord.com
 Complete Biblical Library Commentary - The Complete Biblical Library – Hebrews-Jude.