Letter of James 6

Wisdom in action, James 3, 13-18
As I explained in the introduction to this series of Bible studies, although James is a letter in form, it nevertheless fits better within the wisdom genre. Since this letter can be considered a New Testament wisdom document, it seems legitimate to ask what James has to say specifically about wisdom. And he addresses this topic in two passages, the first one we saw in chapter 1,2-8 and the second one is the one we are about to reflect on now 3,13-18. Throughout this passage, James presents this topic on a more detailed level. But, before going on to analyze these verses, I would like to point out a previous question that, in addition, will allow us to understand with greater clarity the ethical dimension of the epistle as well as its own internal coherence regarding the way in which the author relates the spiritual dimension to that of the believer's daily life.

Who among you is wise and intelligent? Let him by his good conduct show his [good] deeds with the gentleness and humility of true wisdom. [3,13]

Again, here is Santiago putting in relation our behavior, our deeds, with interior, intimate virtues, which without this exterior manifestation are really non-existent or inoperative at least; that is, dead. If you remember, he did the same with faith, which is only real when it is shown in the good works we do; and, in the same way, our words eloquently expose what is hidden in our heart. This idea is the thread that sews the different sections of the letter together. What we do, how we behave, is what we really believe and ultimately are. So, on this idea James also builds what he is going to teach us about wisdom.

1. True Wisdom Produces Good deeds (3:13)
2. True Wisdom Produces Right Attitudes (3:13, 17)
3. True Wisdom Produces Peaceful Relationships (3:16, 18)
4. True Wisdom Is God’s Gift (3:17)

James 3, 13: James begins this section with a rhetoric question, characteristic of the diatribe form he likes so well: "Who is wise and understanding among you?" Who is, indeed, a wise person? And his response may take us by surprise today. Perhaps we were expecting a more intellectual or more "spiritual" response, in any case something within a more theoretical framework, but his response is totally attached to the earth, to the believer's daily life. Who is wise? and the answer, if we have followed with attention the flow of thought of this letter, is only logical, he who behaves [acts] wisely [with wisdom]. So, there can be no wise person but that who behaves and works with wisdom. Good works and behavior are the essential external of true wisdom. An as works and behavior which flows from wisdom, they are humble and gentle in nature, because wisdom is gentle and humble.

After that, he goes on to remind his readers and listeners of the two different kinds of wisdom that believers have to choose from. Two kinds of wisdom that are in mortal dispute with each other and that lead to two radically different ends. These two kinds
of wisdom cannot coexist, just as light and darkness cannot coexist, or a fountain cannot give fresh and salt water. We, the human beings, all must choose which of them we are going to follow.

This type of dichotomy that leads the believer to have to choose between two radically opposed options was frequent in ancient wisdom literature and not only in the Jewish tradition, we can also find it in Greek or Egyptian literature , and of course, in the Christian tradition beyond the New Testament [for example in the Didache]. The most frequent form is that of the two paths, that of life and death, that of good and justice or that of evil and perversion of the right. We can also see this in the form of two doors or as the tree that bears fruit or that does not bear fruit, or as the spring from which fresh and salt water cannot flow at the same time.

James 3:14-16: In these verses, James tells us clearly and directly what the wisdom that harms human beings consists of and where it comes from. This is earthly wisdom, which does not consist only in being wrong, misled or confused. The author reminds us that this earthly wisdom is demonic, by its origin and nature. Origin and nature that can be easily traced since it comes from envy and jealousy and leads to all kinds of disorder and evil within the Church. This kind of wisdom is divisive, splits the People of God and brings believers into conflict with each other.

James 3,17: The contrast appears in verse 17, where James makes a description of the alternative to the wisdom of this world: heavenly wisdom. This wisdom has its origin in God, produces a pure life, loves peace, is kind, humble, does not seek wealth, power, or fame. This wisdom brings peace, love and unity in the Church.[We can compare what James tells us about wisdom with the fruit of the Spirit that Paul describes in his epistle to the Galatians 5, 22-23, in this same chapter verses 19-21 we can find how Paul describes those who do not live according to the Spirit of God, we will see similarities with the description that James makes of earthly wisdom].
True disciples of Christ display that authentic wisdom in their attitudes and works towards others, both within the Church and outside it. They do not show favoritism towards the powerful or the wealthy, they do not seek after what is foreign, nor power or wealth, they respect their neighbors, they do not judge, they are merciful and peacemakers. Their life produces fruit and good fruit. In other words, their life is a reflection of the life of the One whom they call Master and Lord.

James 3,18: Finally, in verse 18, James cites what seems to be a well-known saying [according to all specialists]: "The seed whose fruit is righteousness (spiritual maturity) is sown in peace by those who make peace". Here, surely, we see a reflection of Matthew 5:9 where Jesus calls the peacemakers blessed. James urges, through this proverb, the believers to maintain the bond of peace within the Church.

Questions to think about
1. How do you distinguish heavenly wisdom from earthly wisdom?
2. There is a wide chasm between the wisdom of the world and wisdom from God. What most tempts you to give in to the wisdom of this world? How does James’ epistle teach us to focus on heavenly wisdom? How can you demonstrate godly wisdom?
3. How do you think wisdom produces humility? What do you think true humility looks like?
4. We might not be guilty of “aggressive selfishness,” but what evidence is there in our lives of “envy and selfish ambition” (v. 16)? How can we overcome it?
5. How can you bring peace to a conflict in church?

For further prayer and reflection
James tells us how individuals and communities can reflect in their daily lives qualities that show, in their behavior and works, that their wisdom comes from God. Think about each of the words in the list below and reflect on what you need to show those qualities more fully. Then, pray and ask God to help you show those virtues more fully in your life.
▪ gentleness
▪ humility
▪ purity
▪ peace-loving/peacemaker
▪ merciful
▪ impartial
▪ sincere
▪ reasonable

A footnote
The structure of the passage in which James compares earthly wisdom with divine wisdom finds its sources in a long tradition of wisdom literature which, with different images [the two ways, the two gates, etc], had taken root in Judaism through a passage in Deuteronomy:

“Listen closely, I have set before you today life and prosperity (good), and death and adversity (evil)". [Deuteronomy 30,15]

Jeremiah 21:8 also contributed significantly to the consolidation of this allegory:

"Thus says the Lord, “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death." [Jeremiah 21,8]

This same allegory is also used in other Old Testament texts. Sometimes in a direct manner other in a more indirect mode. We can find it, for example, in a more extensive and elaborate fashion in Proverbs 4, 10-19, Proverbs 119,27-32, or Psalm 1,6:

“For the Lord knows and fully approves the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked shall perish.” [Psalm 1,6]

Such allegories can also be found in the deuterocanonical literature, e.g. in the Book of Sirach 15:14-17.

Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. [Sirach 15,17].

In the New Testament we find that same allegory in the words of Jesus, Matthew 7:13-14:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad and easy to travel is the path that leads the way to destruction and eternal loss, and there are many who enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow and difficult to travel is the path that leads the way to [everlasting] life, and there are few who find it.

The two paths as well as the two doors represent the opportunity offered to all human beings to choose between good and evil. An opportunity to choose because we have been given a free will so that we are not puppets in God's hands but beings responsible before Him because of our freedom.

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