Second Reading: James 3:16-4:3

A War For Wisdom?

Popular Translation

16 When you find jealousy and selfishness, you will find a weakness and people doing all kinds of evil. 17 But you will find the wisdom that comes from God is first of all holy. Then, it is full of peace. It wants to find an agreement, not a fight. It wants people to act with mercy and do good things. It is sure. It does not say one thing and do another. 18 When people make peace, they sow the seeds of God's will in their lives.

4:1 Where do your fights and your wars come from? Is it really a fight between your mind and heart? Isn t it really a fight between what you should do and what you want to do? 2 You really want something but you do nothing to go get it. You would kill for it and are jealous of others who have it, but you do not have it in your hand. You pick fights and make wars, but its not yours. Why? Because you don t ask for it. 3 And if you ask for it, you don t receive it because you ask only for yourself, not for the good of others.

Literal Translation

16 For, where (there is) jealously and selfish ambition, there (is) instability and every bad practice. 17 But wisdom from above is first (of all) pure, then peaceful, agreeable, obedient, full of mercy and good fruit, without uncertainty and hypocrisy. 18 The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those making peace.

4:1 From where (are) the wars, and from where (are) the battles among you? (Is it) not from here, from your pleasures, the (ones) making war with your (body) parts? 2 You desire but you do not possess, you murder and are jealous but are not able to obtain, you fight (battles) and make war, you do not possess because the (thing) you do not ask, 3 you ask and do not receive because you ask poorly, so that you might freely spend (your request) in your pleasure.

4:2 "because the (thing) you do not ask" is is actually a prepositional phrase. The verb "ask" is an infinitive used as a noun. The closest translation would be "because the (thing) you not to ask" whi which means "because you do not ask for it."

Why do we have strife in daily living? Why do we battle our "inner demons?" These verses from James tried to answer the questions. Simply put, James pointed to the lack of God's wisdom for these troubles.

In past studies, James created and knocked down straw men to advance his belief. Faith needed works, moral duties of the Law. These works (which James defined in terms of charity) evangelized non-believers and strengthened the community. The person who believed but did not act on these beliefs, James claimed, weakened both Christian witness and the cohesion of the local church.

In James practical logic, the dichotomy between faith and works came down to the use of wisdom: knowing where and when to act. Believers who did not act wisely lived in a sea of desire and unfulfilled cravings. From this unsettled state, people act out in jealous, petty ways. While there was no clear parallel between the faith-only (i.e., libertine) Christian and the desirous believer, there were implicit ties.

Toward the end of the passage, James shifted from the language of war [4:1] to an object of desire [4:2-3]. What was this object? A brief reading seemed to point to material goods or pleasure. But a deeper reading pointed to wisdom itself. Greek culture made wisdom the highest value. Over the centuries before the birth of Christ, Jewish culture was influenced by this ideal. Indeed, several deutero-canonical books (Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon, for example) appealed to wisdom as the virtue most desired. From wisdom came riches and reputation, as well as high moral living. While James may have not implied these outcomes for wisdom, clearly, he saw wisdom from God as greater than human desires or ambitions.

Ironically, while many people desired power, possessions, or cult of personality, these same people were jealous of the wise person. Wisdom was attractive. Many sought it out of selfish motivations only to have it elude them or to have it slip through their fingers because of their self- centered nature. Implicitly they desired to earn what God gave as a gift. A gift that calmed inner turmoil and promoted harmony within the community. The wise person received and exercised the virtue simply because he or she was open to God.

Wisdom, then, is God's gift to the person who opens mind and heart to his will. So, put away selfish pursues and gain God's wisdom.

Have you prayed for God's will? How has that prayer (and your experience) given you wisdom?