This wisdom descends not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.…
There are two characteristics here specified which we shall find are given as the infallible signs of the heavenly wisdom; and their opposites as signs of the other. The heavenly wisdom is fruitful of good deeds, and inspires those who possess it with gentleness. The other wisdom is productive of nothing really valuable, and inspires those who possess it with contentiousness. This test is a very practical one, and we can apply it to ourselves as well as to others. How do we bear ourselves in argument and in controversy? Are we serene about the result, in full confidence that truth and right should prevail? Are we desirous that truth should prevail, even if that should involve our being proved to be in the wrong? Are we meek and gentle towards those who differ from us? or are we apt to lose our tempers and become heated against our opponents? If the last is the case we have reason to doubt whether our wisdom is of the best sort. "In meekness of wisdom." On this St. James lays great stress. The Christian grace of meekness is a good deal more than the rather second-rate virtue which Aristotle makes to be the mean between passionateness and impassionateness, and to consist in a due regulation of one's angry feelings (Eth. Nic. IV. 5.). It includes submissiveness towards God, as well as gentleness towards men; and it exhibits itself in a special way in giving and receiving instruction, and in administering and accepting rebuke. It was, therefore, just the grace which the many would-be teachers, with their loud professions of correct faith and superior knowledge, specially needed to acquire. "But if," instead of this meekness, "ye have bitter jealousy and faction in your heart, glory not, and lie not against the truth." With a gentle severity St. James status as a mere supposition what he probably knew to be a fact. There was plenty of bitter zealousness and party spirit among them; and from this fact they could draw their own conclusions. It was an evil from which the Jews greatly suffered; and a few years later it hastened, if it did not cause, the overthrow of Jerusalem. This "jealousy" or zeal (ζῆλος) itself became a party name in the fanatical sect of the Zealots. It was an evil from which the primitive Church greatly suffered, as passages in the New Testament and in the sub-Apostolic writers prove; and can we say that it has ever become extinct? Jealousy or zeal may be a good or a bad thing, according to the motive which inspires it. To make it quite plain that it is to be understood in a bad sense here, St. James adds the epithet "bitter" to it, and perhaps thereby recalls what he has just said about a mouth that utters both curses and blessings being as monstrous as a fountain spouting forth both bitter water and sweet. Moreover, he couples it with "faction" (ἐριθεία), a word which originally meant "working for hire," and especially "weaving for hire" (Isaiah 38:12), and thence any ignoble pursuit, especially political canvassing, intrigue, or factionsness. What St. James seems to refer to in these two words is hitter religious animosity; a hatred of error (or what is supposed to be such), manifesting itself, not in loving attempts to win over those who are at fault, but in bitter thoughts and words and party combinations. "Glory not, and lie not against the truth." To glory with their tongues of their superior wisdom, while they cherished jealousy and faction in their hearts, was a manifest lie, a contradiction of what; they must know to be the truth. In their fanatical zeal for the truth, they were really lying against the truth, and ruining the cause which they professed to serve. Of how many a controversialist would that be true; and not only of those who have entered the lists against heresy and infidelity, but of those who are preaching crusade against vice!" This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish." The wisdom which is exhibited in such a thoroughly un-christian disposition is of no heavenly origin. It may be a proof of intellectual advantages of some kind, but it is not such as those" who lack it need. pray for (James 1:5), nor such as God bestows liberally on all who ask in faith. And then, having stated what it is not, St. James tells in three words, which form a climax, what the wisdom on which they plume themselves, in its nature, and sphere, and origin, really is. It belongs to this world, and has no connection with heavenly things. Its activity is in the lower part of man's nature, his passions, and his human intelligence, but it never touches his spirit. And in its origin and manner of working it is demoniacal. Not the gentleness of God's Holy Spirit, but the fierce recklessness of Satan's emissaries, inspires it. Does this seem to be an exaggeration? St. James is ready to justify his strong language. "For where jealousy and faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed." And who are the authors of confusion and vile deeds? Are they to be found in heaven, or in hell? Is confusion, or order, the mark of God's work? Jealousy and faction mean anarchy; and anarchy means a moral chaos in which every vile deed finds an opportunity. We know, therefore, what to think of the superior wisdom which is claimed by those in whose hearts jealousy and faction reign supreme. The professed desire to offer service to God is really only a craving to obtain advancement for self. Self-seeking of this kind is always ruinous. It both betrays and aggravates the rottenness that lurks within. It was immediately after there had been a contention among the apostles, "which of them was accounted to be greatest" (Luke 22:24), that they "all forsook Him and fled."
(A. Plummer, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.