Daily Devotion: Living Unselfishly

A wise person lives for God and others, not for self.

Having characterized spiritual wisdom in the preceding verse, James begins to analyze worldly wisdom in verse 14. Worldly wisdom is not of God. It has no relationship to Him, is not obedient to Him, and has no knowledge of His truth.

What is the motive of someone who lives according to worldly wisdom? “Bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.” The Greek word translated “bitter” also means “harsh” and is used of bitter, undrinkable water. “Bitter jealousy” carries the idea of a harsh, bitter self-centeredness that produces a resentful attitude toward others. People with bitter jealousy live in a world that focuses on themselves. They react in a jealous manner toward anyone who threatens their territory, accomplishments, or reputation. They resent anyone who threatens to crowd their slice of this world. They consider people who differ from them as implacable enemies. And they are bitterly jealous of anyone who is successful.

The Greek term translated “selfish ambition” refers to a personal ambition that creates rivalry, antagonism, or a party spirit. That’s another way of pointing to self. The person who follows human wisdom begins with a “bitter jealousy” that creates an attitude of competition and conflict. Then “selfish ambition” generates a party spirit and bitterness toward others. James is saying that ungodly wisdom is self-centered, and its goal is personal gratification at any cost.

What about you? Are you motivated by jealousy and selfish ambition? Be honest in your evaluation. Take a serious inventory of your heart and ask yourself, Am I serving others instead of fulfilling my own desires at the expense of others?

Suggestions for Prayer

• Ask God to convict you when you put yourself before Him and others.

• Repent of any present situations in which you are doing that very thing.

For Further Study

Read the following verses: Genesis 37:4; 1 Samuel 18:8; Luke 15:25-30; 22:24.

• What was the sin in each example?

• Read and study 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 to learn how the qualities of love are opposite to human wisdom.

From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Daily Devotion: Knowing The Right Answers

Knowing Christ makes the believer wiser than the world.

Lawrence Toombs, in his 1955 article “O.T. Theology and the Wisdom Literature,” said, “Wisdom is to be found with God and nowhere else. And unless the quest for wisdom brings a man to his knees in awe and reverence, knowing his own helplessness to make himself wise, wisdom remains for him a closed book” (The Journal of Bible and Religion, 23:3 [July 1955], 195). It’s wonderful to have the book of God’s wisdom opened to us as believers.

Through God’s book of wisdom it’s easy for any believer to analyze the world. People who have no biblical background find it difficult to resolve controversial issues like capital punishment, abortion, or homosexuality. But the Bible has clear answers for those seemingly complex issues: If you take a life, you should die (Gen. 9:6); the life within the womb is a person made by God (Ps. 139:13); and homosexuality is not an alternate lifestyle but a damning sexual sin like adultery or fornication (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rom. 1:26-27).

As a Bible-believing Christian you may not be considered “noble” or “mighty” by the world’s standards (1 Cor. 1:26) and may be seen as the refuse of the world (1 Cor. 4:13); but you have the answers to the important questions. Because of God’s sovereign, gracious work, you’ve been ushered into the wisdom of God through fear of the Lord. The apostle Paul said, “You are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30). Once you fear God, His wisdom continually flows to you. Paul told the Colossians that in Christ dwells “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (2:3). Since Christ dwells in you, you possess the very wisdom of God!

Suggestions for Prayer

• Praise the Lord for the privilege of knowing Him and His will through His Word and His Spirit.

• Pray that you might manifest the wisdom of the living God so that the world sees Christ in you.

For Further Study

Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. How does the apostle Paul contrast God’s wisdom with the world’s?

From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Daily Devotion: Submitting To Wisdom

Saving faith is obedient faith.

The wisdom of God resulting from the fear of the Lord leads to obedience. When we fear the Lord, we submit to His wisdom and commit ourselves to keeping His commandments. In the New Testament Jesus said the same thing: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). We aren’t always as obedient as we ought to be, but the pattern of our lives turns from disobedience to a submissive heart of obedience. First John 2:3 says, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” A person’s claim to be a Christian is meaningless if he’s not obedient.

From a positive perspective, fearing the Lord involves obeying His commandments; from a negative perspective, it involves turning away from evil. Job 28:28 says, “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” Equal to wisdom is understanding, and equal to fearing the Lord is departing from evil. Proverbs 8:13 says, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” Obeying the Lord’s commandments and shunning evil are dynamics that work in the soul of one who truly fears God. The fear of the Lord is not some feeling you try to generate within yourself; it’s the result of believing in the true God and living a life of love and obedience to Him. What about you? Does obedience to God’s Word characterize your life?

Suggestions for Prayer

Jesus Christ paid the price for your sin and ushered you into a relationship with God. Honor His work by obeying His Word, and ask Him to help you see evil from His perspective.

For Further Study

Read the following verses: Deuteronomy 6:1-2, 13-15, 24; 8:6; 10:12-13; 13:4; 17:19; 28:58-59; 31:12. What characterizes the life of a person who fears the Lord?

From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Daily Devotion: Knowing God

Being wise begins with knowing God.

The fear of the Lord is the most basic idea related to wisdom and is the key to understanding it. The Book of Proverbs especially teaches us that the fear of the Lord is inextricably linked to wisdom: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). Knowledge, wisdom, instruction, and understanding are often used as synonyms in Proverbs. The link between fear of the Lord and wisdom is also evident in Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Since wisdom and understanding are parallel, so are the fear of the Lord and knowledge of the Holy One. To know God and to fear God are one and the same.

What does it mean to fear God? It’s a reverential trust, or simply another way of describing saving faith. We begin to be wise when we revere God and trust in Him. When an Old Testament saint wanted to evangelize, he might have said, “Fear God!”

When you read in the Bible of people fearing God or that fearing God is linked to wisdom, that means a person can’t even begin to be wise until he is first converted. Fearing God is the initiation of a life of faith. As long as a person has only human wisdom, he can’t know God or true wisdom.

The fear of the Lord is your entrance to wisdom. It will prolong your life, fulfill your life, enrich your life—it is your life (cf. Prov. 10:27; 14:27). It will open the continual flow of God’s wisdom to you. The significance of everything is tied to the wisdom of God, which alone will give you proper values, guidance, instruction, and perspective in life. Apply His wisdom to your life daily, and enjoy all the benefits that wisdom has to offer.

Suggestions for Prayer

Praise God for His wisdom by which you are so abundantly blessed.

For Further Study

God’s wisdom enriches our life and gives us proper values and instruction. Read Proverbs 10:1-12, and notice how that is so.

From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.

Daily Devotion

Searching For Wisdom

Wisdom is found in a Person, not a place.

In ancient days men would drill a shaft deep into a mountain or the ground, suspend themselves with a rope, and hang in the shaft while they tried to find some metal or precious stone to mine. In the Old Testament Job described the process this way: “He [man] sinks a shaft far from habitation, forgotten by the foot; they hang and swing to and fro far from men” (Job 28:4). The miner searched far below the earth’s surface for “anything precious” (v. 10).

Man goes to great efforts to search for precious metals. “But,” Job says, “where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its value, nor is it found in the land of the living. . . . Pure gold cannot be given in exchange for it, nor can silver be weighed as its price” (vv. 12-13, 15). Nothing in the world can buy wisdom, and it can’t be found in the things of the world.

So where does wisdom come from? Job says, “It is hidden from the eyes of all living. . . . Abaddon [Destruction] and Death say, ‘With our ears we have heard a report of it.’ God understands its way; and He knows its place” (vv. 2123). If you are searching for wisdom, go to God. He knows where wisdom is because “He looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens. . . . And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding’” (vv. 24, 28).

What is true wisdom? To fear God and depart from evil. Wisdom isn’t a question of how much you know, but of whether you love the Lord your God and depart from sin. Only when you pursue God will you know true wisdom.

Suggestions for Prayer

Ask God to help you adorn your life with the ornaments of His true wisdom and have a winsome testimony that attracts others to Christ.

For Further Study

Read the following verses, noting how both the Old and New Testaments tell us that God is the source of true wisdom: Job 9:4; Psalm 104:24; Proverbs 3:19-20; Romans 11:33; Ephesians 3:10; 1 Timothy 1:17 (NKJV).

From Strength for Today by John MacArthur Copyright © 1997.