You don’t see it much anymore, but in cartoons, TV, and movies there would be a scene where someone was trying to decide about a particular situation. Suddenly a little angel and devil would appear one on each shoulder. Both would weigh in on the decision this individual in the scene was trying to make. Of course, the little angel would be encouraging this person to make a good decision while his counterpart, the little devil wanted them to make the opposite, bad, or evil decision. I understand that not all decisions are moral or ethical, but in these scenes the choices were either good/evil or naughty/nice. These scenes were purely for the sake of entertainment or comedy, but in reality, there is nothing funny about temptation and evil.
Throughout the scriptures we discover two basic realities, good and evil. According to James 1:17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” So, God is good, unchanging, and gives perfect gifts to us. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 6:17 that God provides us with everything for our enjoyment. “Everything for our enjoyment” has limitations, but God is not the cosmic party pooper or killjoy that the world makes Him out to be.
God created all things and said it was good. The first humans were created in a paradise or “garden of Eden”. They had everything they needed. God provided it. He wants us to have life and have it more abundantly because of and in accordance with His will. God and His will are the antithesis of evil. God’s will seeks peace, harmony, love, goodness, patience, faithfulness, kindness, selflessness, humility, etc., These are the “first fruits” of a godly spirit or godliness. However, God’s will also requires obedience and discipline in accordance with God’s commands or His word. Since we are created in His image, we are expected to reflect that image through our behavior, actions, or spiritual fruit. The book of James like other books in the Bible give us practical instruction on how to “do” what God says or live out His will.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 5:12 that “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned”. Of course, we know from Genesis that this one man was Adam. Eve sinned too, but Paul refers to Adam a few verses later as the first sinner. Adam was deceived and tempted by the serpent or the devil, the ultimate representation of evil, but the devil didn’t make Adam sin. Adam, like the rest of humanity, chose sin over the will and goodness of God. James helps us understand this in James 1:13-18.
13When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 16Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created. (James 1:13-18 NIV)
In order to set things up for this week’s installment of the “Just Do It” series, we needed to recall some of the important details that I’ve just mentioned to navigate these two realities of good and evil. Our greatest tool for navigating good and evil is wisdom, and according to James there are two types. So, let’s dive into James 3:13-18.
13Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 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. 17But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. James 3:13-18 NIV
So according to James, there is “godly” wisdom or “wisdom that comes from heaven” that we received when we were created, and then there is “earthly” wisdom. “Godly” wisdom or “godliness” is demonstrated by living a “good life”, actions, or deeds that are performed with humility and in accordance with God’s will. “Earthly” wisdom or ungodliness does not come down from heaven or from God. It is earthly in origin. It comes from our thoughts apart from God and includes our “own evil desires” (James 1:14), human desires that James calls “unspiritual” and “
However, this doesn’t mean that everything, every thought, or desire that exists in the world is evil. Remember 1 Timothy 6:17 says that God has created “everything for our enjoyment”, but Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 10:23 that while it may be permissible to do anything or everything, it’s not always beneficial or constructive. So, there are certain things that we weren’t created by God to do or not to do in a way that is beyond God’s original design.
The Bible gives us a comprehensive list of things that we are commanded to avoid. Like the 10 commandments for example. They aren’t the 10 suggestions. There are reasons why we’re not supposed to steal, kill, commit adultery, covet our neighbors’ possessions, worship other God’s, dishonor our parents, lie, etc. James says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” There is nothing wrong with wanting something or having ambition, but if it becomes envy, jealousy, or selfish ambition then it leads to “disorder and every evil practice”. The Greek word for “disorder” in James 3:16 is ἀκαταστασία (akatastasia). It means terror, disturbance, tumultuous, confusion, riots, violence, etc. Earthy wisdom according to James leads to disorder and is in direction opposition to the “good fruits” that he mentions in verses 17 and 18 which are pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial and sincere.
We don’t have to look very far to find disorder or evil practices in our world.. Our human existence is drenched in it. Humanity has a hard time recognizing the difference between what is good and what is evil, but God’s word and the book of James are crystal clear about what evil practices look like. In 1 Thessalonians 5:22 Paul tells us to “reject every kind of evil”. The Greek word for “kind” in this verse is εἴδους (eidous). It refers to sight or what we can see with our eyes. Other Biblical translations use the words “form” or “appearance” i
Sometimes there can be a fine line between what is evil and what is good, or we wouldn’t have such a hard time with it. Sure, some things are obvious and easy to detect, see, or recognize, but others fall into what we like to call a “grey area”. That “grey area” is where we should be even more cautious, attentive, and sober as the apostle Paul likes to say. The devil loves the grey areas, the foggy hazy areas where he can create confusion and uncertainty that causes poor decision making. He used this strategy to perfection in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve, and it still works today.
James closes out this chapter with a clear definition of godly wisdom or the “wisdom that comes from heaven” in verse 17-18. Next week we move on to chapter 4 where James gives us more godly wisdom to absorb and apply to our lives.
I hope you are enjoying this study. I’m having a ball with it. Doing these devotionals or studies are a constant reminder of how important comprehensive Bible study really is. When I was at Precept Ministries in Chattanooga, Kay Arthur talked about “inductive” Bible study. It is similar to electrical induction where electricity is induced or taken in by a conductor so that energy can be harnessed and utilized. So, inductive Bible study is “taking it all in” or completely absorbing rather than just reading, hearing, or tasting. Just like electricity or food is taken in, absorbed, and used to create energy, God’s word is meant to be totally absorbed in order to create godly energy in the form of good deeds-good fruits or godliness. This is what God through James and other Biblical writers is encouraging us to do. He doesn’t want us to just hear the word, read it, or skim over it. He wants us to take it all in, digest it, let God do His work inside our hearts, and then apply it or “do what it says”.
Have a great weekend! Love y’all!
Director of Family Ministry and Facility Coordinator – Andrews UMC