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

James 4:1-10 Video Bible Study

For the video Bible study on James 3:13-18 visit:

James 3:13-4:10 – Podcast Bible Studies


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 there 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 affect 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?


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.

Verse by Verse Commentary

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 questions. Why? Asking rhetorical questions is a way to focus his message more directly on the recipients. It is intended to make people evaluate whether or not they are in this category. 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 that focuses on practical application, the living out of 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 wiser. 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. You desire 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 discuss 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 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

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 Satan has spread 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 Abel. Abel pleased God. His sacrifice pleased God. But Cain’s did not, and God was displeased. So, Cain was bitterly jealous of Abel and killed him.

There are two different sets of wisdom because the assumptions about life we base our decisions on differ. 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 as 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 for living. 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 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 them 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 accountable to in the end.

Wise for us, as believers, 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.


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 precisely that.

You must not simply follow the majority or go along with culture. We must instead critically check every decision we make and, most importantly, evaluate our lives to see if they align 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 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 that 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 buzzwords to cover the truly sinister teachings inside.

We need God’s wisdom to discern the truth and 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 17 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?


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.

Verse by Verse Commentary

1. James once again uses the question/answer method to teach – His questions generally highlight the main point he will focus on. James 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 person who is not living out his faith, one 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 several tests to check if we are genuine 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 rather the issue of loving worldly pleasures instead of God.

The English word “hedonism” comes from the Greek word “hedone,” which means pleasure. Some philosophers have used this word to depict their worldview on the meaning of life. Thus, a 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. In the beginning, the people were hard-working but once the nation became rich, they 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 handheld smartphones with even more entertainment options a click away. And these are just a few of the more ordinary 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 to go to God. Desire what He wants, and you will be fulfilled and joyful.

Psalm 37:4 Verse

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 yourself by having a physical relationship outside of marriage or just marrying based on your own desire, you should take it to God. You say, “I have, but He didn’t answer.”

James says that maybe the problem is you asked with the 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 the 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,” “live and let live,” “hakuna matata,” and “no tomorrow.” Materialism, superstition, loose morals, and selfishness are all examples of worldly living.

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 it