The Epistle of James
Brother Earl Miller’s helpful exposition of the Epistle of James merits close examination. May the practical lessons from these articles find a response in our lives.
Socrates on Wisdom
Socrates, the father of philosophy refused to be called wise, or even a master of wisdom. To him, only God was wise, and for any man to claim wisdom was either presumptuous, or bordering on blasphemy. He considered himself unworthy to be called wise; he preferred to be called a philosopher —a friend of wisdom, Wisdom, in the apocryphal book of Enoch, is pictured as descending from Heaven to earth, but, being rejected by man, returned to Heaven to await the Messianic age, when she will be poured out in her fulness on the elect.
Who Is Wise
Wisdom is a synonym of Christ, for Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). When James asked, “Who is a wise man among you?” He as good as said, “Who among you has Christ living in him?” The mature Christian, can fully comprehend this mystery of Christ who resides in him. We are wise because we have Him, who is wise, dwelling in us. Only in this way can James’ question be answered affirmatively.
Knowledge, on the other hand, is acquired by our contact with others. Knowledge is the sum total of all that man has learned during his stay on earth. The longer time continues, the larger will be man’s store of knowledge. Knowledge is in two realms, the knowledge of this world, and the knowledge of God. The child of God increases in both realms. But his knowledge of God is the guideline or all the knowledge of the world he acquires. The literal meaning of the Greek word translated “knowledge” is not only the acquisition of facts, but also the “know how” to do things. Knowledge without the know-how is of little worth. The question James asks resolves itself into not only, who has Christ living in him, but who has the know-how to use Him? Every Christian has Christ living in him, but not every Christian has Christ acting in him. They do not have the “know-how” to let Him live His life in them. Christ living in a believer is demonstrated by his “good conversation.” The word “conversation” means, “conduct, or manner of life.” And the word “show” means, “to display, to exhibit, to demonstrate.” So the Christian is to exhibit Christ living in him by his manner of life.
Meekness of Wisdom
The Christian, out of his manner of life, is to show his works with the meekness of wisdom. Meekness of wisdom is an interesting phrase. Christ is the personification of wisdom, and He is meek. So the one who is wise and endued with knowledge is to display this fact with the meekness of Christ.
To have Christ living in one is tremendous. To think that the Creator of the universe is pleased to dwell in His creatures is stupendous. The Infinite resides in the finite; the Omnipotent lives in the impotent; and the Omniscient abides in the ignorant. The thought is incomprehensible! A comprehension of this truth may cause one to be lifted up in pride, therefore James warns against this possibility by the use of this phrase the “meekness of wisdom.”
The Tongue Demonstrates Wisdom
This wisdom can easily be demonstrated by the use of the tongue. What we say indicates whether or not we are wise. A missionary once questioned a boy on Matthew 5:5, asking, “Who are the meek?” The boy replied, “Those who give soft answers to rough questions.” What a good answer! Wisdom speaks softly and persuasively, not forcefully and compellingly. Charles Hodge, an outstanding theologian, said, “The doctrine of grace humbles a man without degrading him, and exalts him without inflating him.”
Now, since those who are wise are to display that fact by the meekness of wisdom, James begins in verse 14 to show what happens if wisdom is not expressed in meekness. He says, “But if you have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.” The Greek word “zeelos” is here translated by the word “envying.” But the word really means zeal. Its verb form means, “to boil, to bubble up.” It refers to something within us which heats up our wisdom and knowledge to boiling activity. Zeal can be used either for good purposes, or for evil. Therefore, zeal is both good and bad. The effect it produces on others determines its goodness or badness.
The Greek word for “jealousy” is the very same word as for “zeal.” So when zeal goes off on a tangent and becomes bitter, it is termed jealousy. But zeal kept under the control of the Holy Spirit becomes very useful. The possession of wisdom and knowledge without zeal accomplishes little; they lie stagnant and benefit no one. But if zeal fans wisdom into a flame, it can start a mighty revival. The 14th verse, however, deals only with the undesirable form of zeal, and is modified by the adjective bitter.
The word translated “strife,” comes from a Greek word which is difficult to translate into English with but one word. Words like, “rivalry, selfish ambition, and party spirit” have been used to translate that word. Party spirit comes about as close to the original meaning of the word that we can come to in English.
The word refers to the electioneering spirit such as we see among politicians. They say anything, do anything, or promise anything to be elected. When the wrong kind of zeal, here called bitter zeal, takes over, party spirit flourishes. Christians bind themselves together into circles of fellowship, adhere to certain forms of church polity, and zealously electioneer for the superiority of their particular brand of church polity to gain supporters and adherents. Even within their own denominational circles politiking flourishes when Christians vie with each other for certain positions to which each aspires. All such activity is not for the glory of God. It is not the manifestation of Christ, the wisdom of God, who is in us. The existence of such things is a lie against the truth.