This passage is about wisdom, selfishness, peace, and fighting. And it is about how all of these things fit into the church. Writing to the church, James asked, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” And then he asked a moment later, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?”
This is about life in the church – and about wisdom, selfishness, peace, and fighting – among us. James seems to toggle back and forth among these things, showing us true wisdom is all about peace, and selfishness only leads to fighting.
True wisdom is meek. That means it is humble. A meek kind of wisdom, I suppose, is not a demanding kind of wisdom. It is wisdom that, perhaps, listens first. It is a wisdom that will pay attention to others. This kind of wisdom doesn’t show off. It is quiet. It reveals itself in good conduct, as James wrote.
And then there is selfishness. James wrote about bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. We know what this is. This is where we say, with the best of the toddlers, “Mine!” Our bitter jealousy drives us to competition. Our selfish ambition pushes us to push others out.
We just endured a week of bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, and it really doesn’t matter which side we take up. From either perspective, red or blue, these things are clear. I’ve read that all 68 million people who voted for one particular candidate are racist and un-American. I’ve also read about election theft and calls to overthrow a government that has yet to take office.
James called it earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”
I don’t think James would have us become doormats. I don’t think James would have us turn a blind eye to injustice. But wisdom “from above” tends to move more slowly than our world wants to move. It is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere.
Wisdom from above isn’t tainted by any of the selfishness of this world. There is something about it that is beyond the reach of this world, and beyond the reach of the people of this world.
This kind of wisdom has something the world never can have in full. It is peaceable. “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” Wisdom from above leads – perhaps mysteriously – to peace.
This is God’s desire for us. This is what Jesus came to do, after all. Jesus told his disciples as he was preparing to go to the cross, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
True wisdom today results in peace. We need this in light of our national unrest. The heart of a Christian is to be a bastion of peace. The landscape of the church is to be marked by peace.
What causes quarrels and fights among us? This is the anti-peace. James here is talking about war, in a sense. One politician, seeing the election results this week, said, “We have won the war.” We understand the tug and pull and competition of politics.
But quarrels and fights aren’t to be “among” us – never in the church. These things emerge from our passions and our desires and our covetousness. They emerge when we long for something we cannot have, and we struggle and complain.
And God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers because our prayers are poorly motivated. Our prayers are about ourselves. There’s that jealousy and selfish ambition again. Our prayers, it seems, ought not to be solely for ourselves – but for others. They ought to be for our church.
Selfishness destroys peace. Wisdom from above creates it. And James wants us to have peace. Jesus wants us to have peace.
What can we take away from this passage? Hopefully, we can take away something “from above,” rather than something that’s “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”
This passage is about wisdom, selfishness, peace, and fighting – in the church. We are a blessed church in that we have many wise people among us. Our church, in my humble opinion, is blessed with peace – with people who have sown “a harvest of righteousness” in peace.
Still, it is good regularly to ask ourselves about ourselves. Inside of us, at various moments, our brothers and sisters in Christ may bother us. It is possible! We will be having an annual congregational meeting next week, and those sometimes are outlets for jealousy and selfish ambition. And over the course of the next year, we will be discussing the leadership structure of our church. There’s no limit to the inroads jealousy and selfish ambition may make.
And so we keep seeking wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). Let us keep asking.