09 James 3:13-4:6 The Cause of Strife

by | Mar 7, 2012 | 01 Podcasts, James

Operating with earthly wisdom comes easy and naturally to us. We have to seek God to gain godly wisdom. How, then, do we gain it?


  • Chapter 1  – James told us to consider it joy when we face trials because trials test our faith and the process of testing our faith brings us to maturity and makes us into the kind of people we should be.
  • Chapter 2 – James argued that if we have saving faith and genuinely believe the gospel, it will change the way we think, the way we live, what we value and who we are.
  • Chapter 3 begins the middle section which runs from 3:1-4:6. James focuses on strife within the community. 
  • The first area where that strife is on display is in the teachers.  James warns against becoming a teachers for the wrong motives.


This section divides into 2 paragraphs, each one beginning with a question. The first paragraph 3:13-18 contrasts having a sinful attitude with wisdom from above.  He tells us what wisdom from above is not in vs 13-16 and the results of wisdom from above in 17-18.

13Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. – James 3:13-18

  • Having just warned not to become teachers for the wrong motives, he then asks the question, who is it that is wise and how do we recognize them? 
  • The teacher ought to be a reasonably wise person who has demonstrated a tested faith in his life which has changed his conduct. This is not necessarily the smartest person in the room. 
  • James is talking about wisdom and maturity, not book learning.  Wisdom is having a godly perspective on life.
  • To lack wisdom is to be a fool.  If I lack wisdom, I am immature and foolish.  I do not understand life the way God does. 
  • We are all susceptible to the lure of power and glory.  Teachers who minimize or ignore the pull of that temptation are acting foolishly.
  • As a teacher or leader, it is very easy is to be motivated by bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. I am jealous that someone else has the authority that I want. I am selfish in wanting to be the one up front and the one everyone looks to. 
  • James sees this kind of jealously and ambition at work in the churches he’s writing to.
  • James: 3:17: What characterizes the wisdom that results from a mature faith: 1) a growing single-minded pursuit of the gospel of Jesus Christ and 2) a humble merciful attitude toward others.
  • The picture he’s painting is: I (James) see too many immature selfish, jealous people in your midst, so let not many of you become teachers.  Consider the responsibility before you seek the gift. Consider your motives. I (James) see too much bitter jealousy and selfish ambition motivating those who want to be leaders in your churches. By contrast, you should be motivated by godly wisdom.
  • A faith that has grown and matured under trials brings believers to a place of wisdom.
  • James pictures the wise teacher as a sower who sows seeds of truth and promotes righteousness as his crop. 
  • The other teachers are jealous, selfishly ambitious, promoting themselves and seeking power.  The result of that is strife, quarrels and discord. 
  • James is NOT promising if you have a mature teacher you will have a perfect flock. 
  • It is more important to the wise teacher that the word of God be taught than that he/she is the one who teaches it.

1What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:1-6 ESV

  • The second paragraph (4:1-6) gives the results of earthly wisdom and sinful attitudes.
  • James connects the lack of peace, quarreling and fighting in the churches he’s writing to with selfish desire.  The hostilities have roots in our conflicting desires.
  • Desire in and of itself is not a bad thing. The question is: how we handle our desires and are we willing to listen to what God says about them. 
  • I may want something, but know that I am called to love God and my neighbor as myself.  That should put my desire in perspective. 
  • This is some of the strongest language in the book.  Spiritual adultery is the opposite of faith.  There is a kind of quarreling among you that results from unbelief (spiritual adultery). 
  • Either you want God to be your friend or the world to be your friend. To make the world your friend it to believe I have no other hope than the things of this world. 
  • James asking: what governs you?  When all is said and done, who are you counting on to save you?  What is your hope?  Where are you seeking to find fulfillment? God or the world?

Please listen to the podcast for more detail and explanation.

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