These small group studies of James contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

James 3:13-4:10 Inductive Bible Study Guide and Questions – Worldly Wisdom Vs. Heavenly Wisdom

Outline

I. Heavenly wisdom vs. worldly wisdom (3:13-18)
II. Worldly behavior (4:1-4)
III. Humble yourselves (5-10)

I. Heavenly wisdom vs. worldly wisdom (3:13-18)

Discussion Questions

  • What key concept does James discuss in verses 13-18?
  • How do you think an unbeliever would define “wisdom”?
  • How would you define “wisdom” based on this passage?
  • How would others know if you are wise since wisdom is an invisible character quality?
  • Explain the phrase “gentleness of wisdom”.
  • Explain verse 14, specifically the phrase “do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”
  • How can their be two different sets of wisdom? Can there be two almost opposite courses action that are both wise? Where does worldly wisdom come from? Is it really wisdom? If not, what is it?
  • What are some of the key tenets of worldly wisdom?
  • What are some of the key tenets of heavenly wisdom?
  • What does this tell us about how understanding/knowledge/wisdom will effect our lives?
  • In what way does verse 17 portray the characteristics of wisdom when it looks like it could just be a list of Christian virtues?

Cross-References

1 Peter 2:12 – Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Ecclesiastes 1:2 – “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 – Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.

Luke 22:25-26 – Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.

Teaching Points

1. Review – James here continues his series of points on practical Christian living, focusing again on action instead of knowledge, doing instead of hearing. To look at it another way, he is speaking out against hypocrisy in the church. This hypocrisy comes in many forms including:

  • Professing faith in Christ but not persevering in trials
  • Showing partiality towards certain people in the church
  • Being a hearer but not a doer
  • Saying one has religion but not looking after orphans and widows
  • Saying one has religion but not controlling his tongue
  • Blessing God and cursing man with the same mouth
  • Professing faith but having no action to back it up

This passage contains two more areas to practically live out your faith:

  • Considering yourself wise but not living it out
  • Loving the world more than God.

2. Who is wise and understanding among you? – James often teaches by asking rhetorical question. Why? Asking rhetorical questions is a way to focus his message more directly on the recipients. It is intended to make people consider whether they are in this category or not. People are forced to consider his message instead of just thinking, “oh he is talking to someone else.” Rhetorical questions are frequently used because James is a book which focuses on practical application, living out one’s faith.

In this case you need to ask yourself the question “do I consider myself wise and understanding?” If you answer “no”, then we obviously need to work on becoming more wise. If you answer “yes”, then he hits us with the phrase “let him show by his behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” In other words, if you are really wise, live it out. And that is the theme in James’ epistle, living out your faith.

Based on his teachings, it is safe to assume that James would have some choice words for people full of head knowledge, but loose living. It seems his mission was to try to reconcile Christian living with Christian doctrine.

4. Earthly wisdom – Starting in verse 14 James begins describing earthly/worldly wisdom. He is giving a test by which we can measure if we are wise or not. We can look at our actions to see if we are living wisely.

So what is worldly wisdom like?

Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition both indicate a competitive and combative spirit. You want what others have. Your desire is to push yourself forward no matter who you step on on the way. You look out for your own interests ahead of others. In conversations, you will probably boast about your worldly successes and talk about how to make more money and get a higher status. Earthly wisdom focuses on earthly riches.

I knew a lady who was very business savvy. She was especially clever with real estate. Buying and selling homes was how she made money. And every time I ever met her she would talk about this, giving tips on how to make money through real estate. Most of her conversation was focused on profiting through real estate. She was earthly wise.

James 3:14 – But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.

The end of verse 14 is saying that if you have this kind of attitude, but think you are wise you are being arrogant and lying against the truth. In other words, if you answered yes to the question “who among you is wise?”, but have this kind of jealousy or ambition, then you are a liar and are not wise in God’s eyes.

5. Two kinds of wisdom – The wisdom which says, “look out for number one” is a selfish mentality that has been spread by Satan from the beginning. It can sound good or reasonable on the surface, but is rotten to the core.

It goes back to the time of Cain and Able. Abel pleased God. His sacrifice pleased God. But Cain’s did not and God was displeased. So Cain was bitterly jealous of Abel had and killed him.

There are two different sets of wisdom because the assumptions about life we base our decisions on are different. Evolutionists believe that there is no God. They will never be judged or held accountable for their decisions. After life there is nothing more. Right and wrong are relative, they say, because there is no absolute standard; it is defined on what is good or bad for you or perhaps for society at large.

Now if you live with this set of assumptions the wise course of action would be to pursue your own pleasure and your own selfish ambitions. Whatever makes you happy, do it.

But the Christian has a completely different foundation we live in. We believe there is a God. We will be judged for how we live our lives. There is life after death. There is an absolute standard. Truth is absolute, not relative. Right is not about what is pleasant for us, but about what pleases God. Our actions are eternally significant. We are commanded to be unselfish and to put others first.

Different beliefs lead to radically different conclusions.

Wise for unbelievers is to do whatever brings you happiness. The wisest course of action possible, they think, is to please the one who sits on the throne (yourself) because there is no one else you will be finally accountable to.

Wise for us is to do whatever God tells us to do. The wisest course of action possible is to obey the one who sits on the throne and to whom we will be accountable for everything we do in our lives.

We need to understand the HUGE differences between heavenly wisdom and worldly wisdom when making choices.

Application:

Do you want to make decisions with earthly, natural, demonic wisdom? Who is going to say “yes” to this question? Who is going to say, “yes, I want to follow demons.”

No one will say this, but the one who follows worldly wisdom is doing exactly that.

You must not simply follow the majority or go along with culture. We must instead critically evaluate every decision we make and most importantly evaluate our lives to see if they are in line with our beliefs.

You want to go to college and get a degree. Ask yourself why. Ask yourself if God wants you to do that. Don’t just do it because everyone else does.

You want to take the first promotion that is offered in your career? Ask yourself why? Ask yourself if God wants you to do that? Don’t just do it because everyone else does.

You want to get wait till late in life to get married? Ask yourself why. Ask yourself if God wants you to do that. Don’t just do it because everyone else does.

You want to buy a house. Ask yourself why. Ask yourself if God wants you to do that. Don’t just do it because everyone else does.

The list goes on and on. Culture is powerful. But worldly culture is against God’s kingdom culture. It is earthly and many times demonic.

Exodus 23:2 – You shall not fall in with the many to do evil.

Culture is getting further and further from God. Powerful forces are at work which stir people up to reject and twist God’s good designs. Satan is tricky. He will not walk up to you and say, “Hi, I am Satan. I have some demonic wisdom for you. Reject God’s good standards and follow me!” No, he will be much more subtle. He will instead use positive sounding buzz words to cover the truly sinister teachings inside.

We need God’s wisdom to discern the truth and to stand up for it in a world growing ever more devoid of it.

If you only learn one thing from this passage on heavenly/worldly wisdom I hope it is to be a Christian who lives out your beliefs in the world, not a Christian who lives like the world and also has your beliefs.

Ask God for wisdom and He will give it to you (James 1:5).

6. More on the wisdom from above – Verse seventeen looks like a list of Christian virtues. What does it have to do with wisdom? A Christian wisely living out his faith will be doing these things.

  • Pure – Similar to without hypocrisy. Full of integrity, sincere. Proper motivation.
  • Peaceable and gentle – The opposite of aggressive and assertive. Jesus is the prime example.
  • Reasonable – Bible teacher John MacArthur says “The original term described someone who was teachable, compliant, easily persuaded, and who willingly submitted to military discipline or moral and legal standards. For believers, it defines obedience to God’s standards.”
  • Full of mercy – James already discussed that those with true religion will look after orphans and widows in their distress.
  • Good fruits- The faithful person will bear fruit.
  • Unwavering – We won’t give in when we face trials.
  • Without hypocrisy – Being a hearer but not a doer or, blessing God and cursing man with the same mouth.

Application: In what area do you need more wisdom from above? How will you get that wisdom?

II. Worldly behavior (4:1-4)

Discussion Questions

  • What is the main point of these verses?
  • Why do you think James’ often uses the rhetorical question/self answer method to teach?
  • Explain what James is referring to by “pleasures” or “hedonism”?
  • What group of people do you think James is describing in verses 1-4?
  • If you had one word to describe them, what would it be?
  • If he is talking to worldly people, unbelievers, then what can we as believers get from it?
  • Explain the phrase “friendship with the world is hostility toward God.”
  • Why are friends of the world enemies of God?
  • Does this mean we should hate the world?
  • What is normally meant in the Bible by “world” or “worldly”?
  • Do you love the world? Are you overly attached to it? Do you find yourself full of selfish ambition? Do you love the pleasures of the world?
  • Can you think of some other verses in Scripture that talk about worldliness or the dangers of loving the world?

Cross-References

1 John 3:22 – And receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.

1 John 5:14-15 – This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

Psalms 37:4-5 – Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this:

John 15:19 – If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.

Teaching Points

1. James once again uses the question/answer method to teach – His questions generally highlight the main point that he is going to focus on. He often brings up an issue with a question and then methodically answers it. The question implies that there were quarrels and conflicts among them. He was going to tell them why they had this problem. It was an external manifestation of an internal problem.

So what was the internal problem they had?

2. The quarreled because they were worldly – We just looked at one type of person who is not living out his faith. He claimed to be wise, but followed the world’s wisdom.

In this passage we see another type of of person who is not living out his faith, a person who claims to love God, but actually loves the world. They are the apostate within the church, the goats that think they are sheep.

We’ve seen a number of tests to check if we are real believers including:

  • Test of trials (1:1-12)
  • Pure religion (1:26-27)
  • Faith/works (2:14-26)
  • Heavenly vs. worldly wisdom (3:13-18)

And now James talks about a worldly lifestyle. The key problem is seen in verse 1. The source of all of these external problems is their pleasures. This doesn’t refer to having fun, but a loving of worldly pleasures rather than God.

The English word “hedonism” comes from this Greek word. Some philosophers have used this word to depict their worldview for the meaning of life. The hedonist is a person that lives for pleasure.

Solomon tests this philosophy in Ecclesiastes 2:1-2:

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?”

The love of pleasure is taking over many countries in the world. It is a large reason why the Roman empire fell. At the beginning, the people were hard working, but once the nation became rich people became lazy and wasted away their days. A similar phenomenon is happening in many Western countries now.

You have movie theaters, amusement parks, leisure spas, a TV in every home, personal computers with more TV on them, and hand held smart phones with even more entertainment options a click away. And these are just a few of the more normal forms of entertainment and there are much worse.

The United States used to be very hard working and goal driven. Now people are getting lazier and lazier the more they love entertainment. For unbelievers this love of pleasure wages war in their bodies. They know they should work, but they cannot control their desires. These desires sometimes start off innocent, but left uncontrolled they grow and can lead to fighting, quarreling, and even murder.

3. What is the proper outlet for our desires? The proper thing to do instead of trying to fill them ourselves is go to God. Desire what He wants and you will be fulfilled and joyful.

Psalm 37:4 – Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Pray for Him to give you the desires of your heart. An example would be a desire to get married. Instead of letting this desire grow uncontrolled and trying to fill it by yourself by having a physical relationship outside of marriage or just marrying based on your own desire, you should take this desire to God. You say, “I have, but he didn’t answer.”

James says that maybe the problem is you asked with wrong motives. Maybe you are approaching marriage by what you can get out of it rather than what you can give. Maybe you have a selfish mentality. Maybe your motivation is pressure from others or a financial motivation.

Or maybe you want money so you ask God and when He doesn’t make you rich you are surprised. Well, maybe you have wrong motives. Perhaps you want to use the money for yourself rather than for God. You want to buy a bigger house, a large flat screen TV, or go on a dream vacation. Some of our motivations are purely self-centered.

Of course this does not mean that every time God does not answer our prayers our motivations are at fault. But sometimes they are. We should be aware of that and learn to evaluate our hearts.

4. Friendship with the world is hostility towards God (4) – Loving the world is hostility towards God. A friend of the world is an enemy of God.

Questions for thought and discussion:

  • Explain the phrase “friendship with the world is hostility toward God.”
  • Why are friends of the world enemies of God?
  • Does this mean we should hate the world?
  • What is normally meant in the Bible by “world” or “worldly”?
  • What is an example of a worldly pleasure you love too much?

The world’s system of thought is contrary to the Bible and righteous living. Some examples include such nuggets as “look out for number 1,” and “live and let live,” and “hakuna matata,” and “no tomorrow”. Materialism, superstition, loose morals, and selfishness are all examples.

The world is ruled by Satan and manipulated by him. Therefore friendship with the world is hostility towards God. We must choose one or the other.

1 John 2:15-17 – Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

III. Humble yourselves (5-10)

Discussion Questions

  • In what way is God jealous?
  • Isn’t jealousy bad?
  • What is the difference between good and bad jealousy?
  • What does God’s jealousy tell us about His character?
  • What will God do to the proud people?
  • Can you give some examples from the Bible of God humbling/judging the proud?
  • Is there any middle ground that we can take on the whole world or heaven issue?
  • What is the opposite of resisting?
  • Is verse 8 directed towards believers? Why or why not?
  • What is the main teaching in verses 8-10?
  • What does it mean to “be miserable and mourn and weep?”
  • Does this mean that since a believer is to hate the world and not give their lives to worldly pleasures, we will live in gloom and doom?
  • In what way will God exalt us if we humble ourselves in His presence?

Cross-References

2 Timothy 2:22 – Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

1 Peter 5:5-6 – In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

Teaching Points

1. He is jealous over our spirit –

Deuteronomy 4:24 – For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.

The Bible often states that God is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14, Exodus 20:5.)

And yet people are also warned against the dangers of jealousy.

James 3:16 – For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

Job 5:2 – Surely resentment destroys the fool, and jealousy kills the simple.

Is there a double standard? How can it be that God is jealous and that is right, but people are not supposed to be jealous?

The answer is that there are different kinds of jealous, righteous jealousy and unrighteous jealousy. They could also be described as rightful jealousy and unrightful jealousy.

Let us think of it in this way. A husband and wife make marriage vows to one another. But later another guy comes in and starts flirting with and spending time with the wife. He takes her to romantic dinners and gives her gifts. Should the husband feel jealous? Indeed he should! If the husband is apathetic and says, “meh, whatever” it is a sign that he does not love his wife.

He should zealously protect her honor. He should zealously commit himself to preserving the marriage. It is not only not good for him for his wife to be unfaithful. It is detrimental to her and her relationship with God. He should seek to protect her from sin. And any man that tries to woo his wife away from him is bad news and will destroy her.

In like manner, God is jealous when we pursue idols. An idol can be anything which you set your heart on rather than God. God is our creator. He has the rights to our affection. But at the same time, when we rebel against him and go astray, it is bad news for us. His jealousy is also others-centered in that He has our best interests at heart.

Would you want to be married to a spouse who doesn’t care if you go out with others? Would you want to follow a God who doesn’t care if you rebel against Him and face eternity in hell?

Righteous jealousy is a good thing because it protects purity and holiness.

On the other hand, not all jealousy is righteous. In chapter 3 James describes jealousy and selfish ambition together. Unrighteous jealousy is basically the same as envy. It is selfishly desiring what does not belong to you. In the above example, if a man is jealous for another’s wife, that is sinful jealousy.

2. God is opposed to the proud and gives grace to the humble – Because God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble, we should humble ourselves. Simple logic. We don’t want to find ourselves being opposed by God. That is the worst possible situation we could be in. God is the King, the Creator. We should humble ourselves under Him.

Psalms 2:2-4 – The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.

Proverbs 16:18 – Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

God has established certain spiritual laws. One of these is that pride goes before the fall. If a person exalts themself, God will humble them. If person humbles Himself, God will exalt him.

And yet many do not learn this lesson. Many people are like the proud ones in Psalms 2:2-4. They refuse to submit themselves to God. They want their own way. They think they know better than God. Seeking after pleasure, they refuse to submit themselves to any authority which limits their freedom to indulge themselves.

Here are 10 marks of a prideful person:

  • A lack of gratitude – Prideful people think they deserve what they get.
  • Talking a lot – Prideful people have a lofty view of their own opinion so they often like to share it.
  • Talking about themselves – Prideful people focus on themselves in conversation because because they view themselves as more important than others. Therefore they don’t often ask questions of others.
  • Anger – Pride and anger go hand in hand. The angry person is upset that his so called rights are violated.
  • Having a high view of your gifts and skills – Prideful people have a very high view of themselves.
  • Boasting – Prideful people find ways to exalt themselves in their speech.
  • Belittling and criticizing others – One to exalt themselves is to belittle others. By making others look small they can feel big.
  • Unteachable – Prideful people do not listen to instruction or reproof because they aren’t wrong.
  • Lack of asking for forgiveness – Prideful people seldom admit their mistakes.
  • Lack of Biblical prayer – Prideful people rely on themselves so seldom pray.

Some of these marks come from the wonderful pamphlet “From Pride to Humility” by Stuart Scott.

What is true humility? Well, a humble person is exactly the opposite of the above list. A humble person looks at himself through God’s eyes. It means we consider others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4). It is realizing that we are the created, that we are limited in knowledge and power, and that we are sinners in need of a Savior. It is not overvaluing ourselves or our own opinions.

At the same time, humility doesn’t mean that we go around with a “woe is me” attitude or act pitiful all the time. Why? Because a humble person is not focused on himself at all. He is not thinking about himself. He is focused on others.

Neither does it mean that we go around slumped over with bad posture and our eyes staring at the ground all the time without any confidence. Humility doesn’t mean weakness. Jesus was humble, but He was not at all weak.

Application: Look at the above list on pride. Identify which of these characteristics are manifested in your own life. Confess your pride to God and ask Him to help you grow in these areas. Then confess to anyone starting with your family you have acted pridefully toward.

3. Resist the devil and he will flee from you – Satan wants a weak target. He is not interested in going head to head with an emboldened saint depending on God.

My children and I sometimes watch nature documentaries. We have watched one BBC series called “The Hunt.” In this series different predators are filmed going after their prayer. You know what they all have in common? Predators always try to sneak up on their pray. They attack the young, the weak, the sick. Surprise is a common method. And whenever possible they attack from the back. You will seldom see a lion straight on attacking a giraffe, rhino, hippo, or elephant that is fully prepared.

So James advice for believers is simple, resist! Do not give in to temptation. You must identify those temptations which are the most enticing to you. Satan will attack in the areas you are weak. And then you must resist. Do not simply give in and say “I always fall. There is no use.” God will empower you if you turn to Him for help (1 Corinthians 10:13).

When temptation comes, flee. Quote Scripture. Pray. Call your accountability partner. Read the Bible. Sing a praise song. Tell somebody. If you develop a plan of resistance and call on God for help then Satan is going to run.

1 John 4:4 – Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

Our victory is not in ourselves. We are little children. Our victory is in God!

4. Draw near to God in confession – A lack of confession is one of the marks of pride mentioned above. God is opposed to the proud. Therefore He is opposed to the person who refused to humble himself by confessing his sin.

Many of the mighty men and women of God in the Bible prayed amazing prayers of confession, even when they themselves were not the most guilty (Daniel 9, Ezra 9.) And God is always faithful to honor those prayer. He promises to forgive those who humbly come to Him and ask for it.

5. Mourn over sin – One of the marks of true confession is a mourning over sin. Sin should cause grief. It is not to be ignored, tolerated, or covered up. The strong emotion of sorrow motivates a person to genuinely repent and also make restitution where possible.

Ezra demonstrated this mourning in Ezra 9. When Ezra heard the news that the people sinned by intermarriage with idol worshipers, he ripped out his hair and collapsed on the ground. For an entire day he wept on the ground because of the sin and finally he prayed an amazing prayer of confession.

Does your sin cause you grief? Too often we take God’s forgiveness for granted and mumble some quick “I am sorry” before continuing with our lives.

Question for discussion: What does real grief over sin look like?

6. Humble yourselves and He will exalt you – If we humble ourselves, God will exalt us. For some this happens on earth (Joseph, Daniel, David). For others it may occur in heaven (Jonathan). Regardless, we know that God is watching us. We know that God is pleased if we humble ourselves. We know that sooner or later He will reward us for that.

God is the only one who truly has the power to exalt people because He is the one with the highest position and with the authority to say who is exalted. For example, on this earth people may exalt someone (such as Darwin, or Marx, or Steve Jobs). But God has the final say. And He may put those whom the world exalts to the highest place in the lowest, worst parts of hell.

Jesus blamed the Pharisees because they loved to exalt themselves. One way they did this was that when they entered a banquet they would immediately go to sit at the head table. Jesus told them that instead they should sit at the lowest table and then the waiter would come and ask them to move up, exalting them.

Jesus is our ultimate example. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross and therefore God exalted Him. One day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord (Philippians 2).

Application: Write down one way that you will humble yourself in the coming week.

James E-book Bible Study Guide – If this study is helpful for you, you can get the whole study in one convenient E-book.

Study James 4:11-17

View Our Recent Posts

We want to help you study the Bible, obey the Bible, and teach the Bible to others. We have therefore created a library of almost one thousand (and growing) inductive Bible studies, which are available for free. This takes a lot of time and hard work.

Help us continue to create Bible study resources by supporting Study and Obey for as little as $1.

Support