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.
James now enters into a little section that appears to be a summation of what he has covered so far, sort of a “here’s the point” kind of section. What does all of his moral instruction thus far come down to? Wisdom.
Here, he will show wisdom of two varieties, that of this world and that which comes from God. If you stop and think about it, we’ve seen this in each section of the letter so far. If anyone in our midst is truly wise, then he or she must demonstrate their wisdom and understanding by living lives full of deeds that put their wisdom into practice; it isn’t adequate for us to simply talk a good game, we must live the right way. In this, James mentions that our wisdom should result in humility, rather than envy and selfish ambition. Another way of saying this might be humility comes from wisdom, and selfishness does not.
Behaviors that come from selfish motives and attitudes are not from God, they are “earthly, unspiritual” and “demonic.” Selfishness results in disorder and evil practices, and I doubt that any further elaboration of my part is necessary here…
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.
There are few passages in the New Testament that show love in action more clearly than this one, in which James says we will reap a “harvest of righteousness.” What is righteous? It is a life that is lived putting our love for one another into action; it fulfills all of the requirements God has ever placed on us, and it is exactly what it means to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. What is left to say, other than to ask what each of us will do today to put our love into action?