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Lesson 8: The Humility of Heavenly Wisdom *

Introduction: Have you ever said, "That person needs an attitude adjustment?" Have you ever thought that your attitude could use improvement? In our study this week, James has some practical thoughts on wisdom and our attitude. Once again, he suggests some things that seem inconsistent with other Bible texts. We will puzzle out those apparent conflicts. Let's dive into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn about attitudes and wisdom!

  1. Wise and Understanding

    1. Read James 3:13. Look at the question. What do you think James expected? Would some people raise their hands and say, "Yes, that is me. I'm wise and understanding." (I've known people who I think might raise their hand. But, my thought is that James is asking the question to start us thinking: "How can I become wise and understanding?" What does it mean to be wise and understanding?)

    2. Look again at James 3:13, but this time look at James' answer to the question. Is this just more of the same from James: our deeds prove our faith? (Yes it is more of the same, but it is also an opening for a discussion of what it means to be wise and understanding.)

    3. Read James 3:14-15. Are envy and ambition okay if they are not "bitter" and "selfish?" (Envy and ambition motivate us to get up and do something. But, you can cross a line. Bitter sounds like conflict, and the Greek behind the word translated "ambition" has an element of strife.)

      1. Why would someone boast about bitter envy and selfish ambition? (We see this all the time. Essentially the person says "I am going to fight my way to the top.")

        1. James also mentions "denying the truth." What "truth" is being denied? (The truth that we are, indeed, harboring bitter envy and selfish ambition.)

      2. Wait a minute! James calls "bitter envy and selfish ambition" "wisdom." What was James' original question? ("Who is wise and understanding?")

    4. Re-read James 3:13-15. Is James comparing two views of wisdom? (Yes. God's wisdom produces a good life and deeds done with an attitude of humility. Satan's wisdom produces an attitude of bitter envy and selfish ambition.)

      1. Why does James compare the two? (He wants us to choose the right wisdom, the wisdom that comes from God.)

    5. Read James 3:16. What kind of life does Satan's wisdom produce? ("Disorder and every evil practice." This motivates us to seek God's wisdom.)

    6. Read James 3:17. We have the problem of "which comes first?" Are these attitudes the result of heavenly wisdom (much like disorder and evil practice result from Satan's wisdom), or is James describing the kinds of attitudes we need to cultivate to have heaven's wisdom? (How about a third answer: I think it is a test. How can you tell heavenly wisdom? It looks like this: Pure, peaceful, sincere, impartial, mercy, good deeds, submissive and a considerate attitude.)

    7. Read James 3:18. Why do you think James singles out "peacemakers?" "Peace" is just one of the attitudes resulting from God's wisdom, why highlight it? (I'll bet you agree with James: having someone in your life who promotes peace, instead of trouble, is very important. Peace brings a harvest of righteousness.)

  2. Troublemakers

    1. Read James 4:1-2. Look at James' question, "What causes fights?" What do you think about his answer to that question? (It seems right. We get into fights because we think we should have something that we don't have.)

      1. Let's consider this in connection with Satan's wisdom. What tilts people towards Satan's wisdom? (An attitude that they have been deprived of something. This arises from bitter envy and selfish ambition. The result is coveting, quarreling, fighting, and killing.)

      2. What is the solution to this serious problem? (Asking God for those things we covet.)

    2. Read James 4:3. James just suggested that we ask God when we feel deprived of something. Now he limits our ability to ask. What do you think about James' limit?

      1. How many of the things you ask God for involve your own pleasure?

      2. Read Matthew 7:9-11. Do you give your children good gifts that give them pleasure?

        1. Would you want to give your child a gift that did not bring pleasure?

          1. If you say, "No, I want my child to enjoy my gift," what is James talking about? (I suspect this has something to do with what is meant by "good" gifts and what kind of pleasure James means.)

    3. Read James 4:4-5. Has James jumped to a different topic?

      1. If you say, "no," what has this to do with God's wisdom - the wisdom that asks for the right things? (I don't think James has changed topics. Instead, he says that what brings us pleasure turns on who we have as friends. If we have the attitude of the world, we will always covet (envy intensely), which creates unhappiness, quarrels and fights in our life. We should not expect God to fill the hole created by this envy. If God did that He would promote the wrong goal.)

  3. The Cure

    1. Read James 4:6. What is the cure for Satan's wisdom, with its resulting envy and trouble? (Grace. God offers to send His Holy Spirit to convert our hearts. We need to put away our pride, and realize our need of grace.)

    2. Read James 4:7-8. Would you like a more peaceful life? What practical steps does James prescribe? (The attitude of submitting to God, resisting Satan.)

      1. When James tells us to "wash" our hands and "purify" our hearts, is he advocating good hygiene? (Our hands represent what we do, and our hearts represent what we think.)

        1. Is James advocating works? (Notice that James introduces this by saying "come near to God" and God "will come near to you." I'll understand that as grace.)

    3. Read James 4:9. Is this God's wisdom: to grieve, mourn, wail and be gloomy? Those attitudes and practices should make Christianity attractive!

      1. Read John 15:9-11 and Galatians 5:22. Jesus tells us that obedience brings joy. Paul tells us that the Holy Spirit living in us brings joy. Is James off on a tangent? This is a serious question because I have heard so-called Christians advocating an attitude of gloom and mourning. (Look at the context. James is giving advice to those who are coming over from the dark side. These are people who need a change of attitude and a change of actions. Thus, I think James is saying to be serious about our sins. Grieve and mourn our life of sin. Once we bring this sin to God for forgiveness, then joy is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit living in us.)

    4. Read James 4:10. What kind of humility is James calling for? (Look at context again. Humility is submitting to God's desire for your life. If we have that attitude, God will "lift you up.")

      1. Does this look like the advice on gloom and joy? (It is an exact parallel. The sadness over your sins brings joy for the future. Humbling your will before God, brings glory for the future.)

    5. Let's assume that you are counseling young people. How would you lay out the two alternative paths and encourage them to follow the path of God's wisdom? (Ask what kind of life they want to have. Do they want to constantly be envious and bitter about the success of those around them? Do they want to have disorder, quarrels and fights as a regular part of life? If they prefer peace, satisfaction and honor, then they need to decide to choose God's path and God's attitudes.)

    6. Friend, how about you? How is your life? How is your attitude? Look again at James 3:17 and see if the wisdom of your life looks like this. If not, why not ask the Holy Spirit to change your attitudes to give you God's wisdom?

  4. Next week: One Lawgiver and Judge.
* Copr. 2014, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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