“But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (James 3:14–15, ESV)
After serving in the U.S Army as an officer, I went to work for a Fortune 500 company as an assistant manufacturing department manager. My job was to get the efficiencies of the department to an acceptable level, something that they needed a technical man like myself to do. I was promised the department manager’s job when the current manager was promoted, providing the efficiencies improved. So, in short order the department efficiencies improved. Morale went up. Things looked great. Then the department manager, my boss, was promoted. The guys operating the machinery really wanted me to get the job and they worked hard, setting new production records for two months straight. Everything looked like as if I was a shoe-in for the job. But then the company announced they were assigning a department manager from another part of the plant to take the job.
When the new manager came in, the first thing he said was that he knew nothing about the department or our particular manufacturing process. He wanted me to teach him how to run that type of printing department. I felt this was quite a kick in the pants. My boss needed me to do his job while I trained him to take over. So, I went to the plant superintendent to find out why I did not get the promotion. He stated that I did not sell myself. The man who got the job would ride his bike to the plant manager’s house on the weekends, drink a few beers, and tell him how he deserved to take over the department and how excited he would be to do so. In contrast, I was perceived as lacking self-ambition.
At the time, I was not a believer in Jesus and could not understand this crazy value system where hard work and performance did not matter. What did matter was rubbing elbows with the boss. Yes, just like you see in the movies. What I did not understand at the times, was that this is the way of the world. I discovered, after the Lord saved me, that this was not the wisdom from above, but was in fact earthly.
James is writing about such wisdom to his readers. There is a wisdom from heaven and there is a wisdom from the earth. They are different. Wisdom from the earth is from the Satan’s world system. It is demonic. It is characterized by an evil zeal and selfish ambition. Of primary focus in such a system is one’s self. In this system one only cares about himself. God does not matter and others do not matter. If others matter it is only a means to benefit one’s self.
I wish I would have understood this at the time. If I did, I might have handled the situation better. I may have been able to handle it with grace rather than a downtrodden countenance. You see, we believers should not be caught by surprise with the way things work in this world. There will be injustices. There will be things that happen, which do not make sense. It is only by understanding that the world operates under a different system that we will seek the Lord by faith to endure. Moreover, we must seek His grace to live, not by the wisdom from below, but by the wisdom from above in a world that functions in a chaotic way.