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The Danger of Following False Wisdom

14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and deny the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:14-16)

Yesterday, we read on how we should apply wisdom in our lives, displayed through our good works with gentleness. James shows two possible choices of “wisdom,” with verses 14 to 16 showing false wisdom, contrasting verses 17 and 18 with true godly wisdom. Today, we’ll look at false wisdom.

Verse 14 starts with a demonstration of false wisdom. A proof of one following false wisdom is the desires of their heart, having “bitter envy and selfish ambition.” Envy here is used as one who wants to elevate their idea over others, to the point of pushing others’ ideas away. Selfish ambition paints the picture that this individual will do everything they can to accomplish their objective, even resorting to underhanded tactics. From James’ admonition, it seems that these people were boasting and denying the truth.

With verse 15, the source of the false wisdom is shown: “Such wisdom does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” First, the wisdom that these people followed was not from God, but from the world. Second, the false wisdom was unspiritual, twisted by the ideas of fallen man. Third, the origin of the false wisdom is demonic, from Satan, used to corrupt individuals and ruin relationships.

Finally, verse 16 shows the outcome of false wisdom, “disorder and every evil practice.” Disorder, in the context of the church, means that this selfish ambition and envy fueled by false wisdom will disrupt and cause division among the fellow believers. Second, nothing good can come from it, only evil. As Anders says, “People who cater to selfish ambition need never expect to develop any fruit which is godly, righteous or helpful to others.”

False wisdom leads to an individual who is self-absorbed, which goes against caring for others, especially in the context of the church body. Paul calls for believers to be unified together through Christ and the Holy Spirit in Philippians 2:1-4, “If, then, there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.” May we as believers not pursue “false wisdom,” wisdom that is corrupted and deemed wise by the world, which leads to selfishness, disrupting the unity of believers. May we focus on Christ, seeking out His wisdom and His will for our lives and obey.


Isaac De Guzman


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