This coming Sunday morning (Oct. 30) at MoSt Church, most of our adult classes will study James 3:13-18. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: discerning the difference in the workings of wisdom. To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty questions with which to wrestle.
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
But 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. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:13-18 CEB)
1. Make two columns, one to list all of the good qualities of pure, heavenly wisdom and another column to list all of the bad qualities of the wisdom that does not have heaven as its source. What particularly strikes you or stands out to you about the differences between these two lists?
2. How do you go about determining “who is wise and understanding among” the Christians with whom you associate? (vs. 13a) That is, what criteria do you use? Is it James’ criteria? (vs. 13b) Why is it important to determine such?
3. It might come as a surprise to us that “humility” was considered by most of the ancient Mediterranean world to be more of an evil vice than a positive value. James’ phrase “humility that comes from wisdom” (vs. 13b) then would have caused most folks to scratch their heads and say, “Nonsense!” How would you say humility is viewed by most Americans today? Why?
4. How is it wisdom comes from humility (vs. 13)? Wouldn’t you think it would be the other way around?
5. Which would you say tends to come first, good actions (“good life” – vs. 13) or a good heart (vs. 14) or can you even determine which? Explain.
6. James speaks of “selfish ambition” (vs. 14). Is all ambition bad? Explain. What makes the ambition mentioned here by James so bad?
7. How and why would a person “harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in” their “hearts?” (vs. 14a) How does the latter half of vs. 14 help you answer these question?
8. Just how bad would something have to get before you would label it as clearly “demonic?” (vs. 15b)
9. Which of the three words describing non-heavenly wisdom (vs. 15b) speaks most powerfully to you? Explain.
10. If you were asked to describe “wisdom” that doesn’t have heaven as its source, what three words would you choose? How do the three words James chose – earthly, unspiritual, and demonic (vs. 15b) – provide something of a comprehensive description of “non-heavenly” wisdom?
11. Closely read and compare the wording and thought of 3:17 with 1:27. What do these two texts have in common?
12. The seven qualities of pure, heavenly wisdom listed in vs. 17 function as something of a definition of the “good life” (vs. 13). In your own words, write out a brief, one sentence definition for each of the seven qualities. allowing these definitions to reprogram your perspective of what truly is “the good life.”
13. The qualities God wants to see in us (vs. 17) reflect who he is in character and action. God is what he expects of us. As a group, try to link a Scripture or Biblical happening that depicts God being/doing each of the seven qualities mentioned in vs. 17.
14. Connect each of the seven components of pure, heavenly wisdom listed in vs. 17 with matters previously discussed in James’ letter (1:1-3:12). Here is one example: “impartial” (vs. 17) certainly speaks directly to the issue of favoritism (2:1,9).
15. Note the seven aspects of pure, heavenly wisdom listed in vs. 17. Assign a score of 0-10 for yourself as to how mature you are in terms of each of these seven components.
16. James points to the seven qualities in vs. 17 as the distinctives of true heavenly wisdom. What does the church today tend to emphasize as distinctives? How does the list you came up with differ from the list here in James?
17. Which of the seven aspects of pure, heavenly wisdom (vs. 17) would you say is most lacking in Christendom in our country today? Why? Which would you say Christianity seems to be doing the best job at of these seven qualities? Why?
18. How is a Christian to come by the qualities of vs. 17? If they are “musts” in a Christian’s life, what “must” you do to acquire them?
19. Peacemakers are to “sow” peace (vs. 18). What does this word choice tell you about how peace happens?
20. What would you say James has in mind when he speaks of peacemakers reaping “a harvest of righteousness?” (vs.18)