Friday, January 20, 2023

Demonic Wisdom (James 3:14-16)


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. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. [James 3:14-16, ESV]

In verse 13, we examined the way that we should demonstrate the wisdom that we have received from God. In this essay, we will examine not only how not to demonstrate wisdom, we will learn about the wisdom that is demonic.

Before we look at the passage, I would like to explain why I believe that there is such a thing as demonic wisdom. If we look up the definition of the word “wisdom”, we read about wisdom being the ability to discern between right and wrong, the ability to make good decisions, or the teachings of wise men and women. While those definitions are true (I am not interested in arguing against the dictionary), there are several reasons why I believe that wisdom can be demonic.

  1. Satan is a deceiver.

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world… [Revelation 12:9, ESV]

While deception includes lying, it also includes subtle manipulation of the truth. Instead of creating a claim that is completely false, the devil will often use something true, which he will twist into something that is false.

For example, let us imagine a situation in which I am walking down a street. You are walking down the same street, and you see me from a distance. You wave to me, but I do not wave back. The truth would be that I am not waving, and that I am not waving because I am distracted, or that I have not seen you (I am nearsighted). I really did not intend to ignore your friendly greeting, I simply did not realize that you were waving at me.

In this example, the devil might skew things so that your reaction to the situation is immediately hostile. “Daniel is ignoring me! Who does he think he is?” In reality, as I have previously stated, I genuinely did not realize that you had been waving at me, but the devil has deceived you into thinking that I am ignoring you, that I hold some form of resentment toward you, or that I am being intentionally rude.

The devil used something that you know to be true, but he has warped your thinking in a way that leads you to sin. You did wave at me, and I did not wave back at you. The deception is that I did see you, that I ignored you, and that I have ignored you out of some kind of pride, resentment, or both.

  1. Your mind is not your own.

It may seem like we have total control over what goes in our heads, but that is simply not the case. Allow me to provide you with an example. Take a moment to shut your eyes, think about something that you remember fondly from your childhood, ponder that memory for a moment, then open your eyes again. I do not know your life story, nor do I know all the people who will read this essay, but I know that if you took a moment to do what I asked you to do, you most likely remembered something from your childhood that you enjoyed.

It does not take much to put a thought in somebody’s mind, and the devil is very well aware of this. The devil is limited to what God has permitted him to work in, and the devil makes use of everything that he has access to. He will pay attention to your emotions, to your responses to things, to your personality, and to the things around you. The devil cannot read minds, he cannot be in more than one place at a time, and he does not know everything. However, the devil is patient, and he is relentless in his opposition to the work of God. It is for this reason that whenever I am doing something for God (especially when God is about to do something very important in my life), I expect that the devil will be there to try and discourage me. I have always made sure to inform other believers of the reality that the devil’s favorite thing is to oppose the work of God, so when we seek the Lord, we should expect the devil to resist us.

When the devil sees an opportunity to influence your thinking, he will take that opportunity. He might put doubt in your mind concerning something God spoke to you, he might seek to discourage you, he might put certain ideas in your mind that could confuse you or lead you to sin (or both), or he could attack the peace that you have received from the Lord.

The devil will use whatever means he can in order to oppose the work of God, and the best way for him to influence believers is to influence their thinking. It is for this reason that we must examine our thoughts, test them against the Word of God, and pray for wisdom to discern what is or is not from God.

  1. We have an inclination to sin, and that inclination can be exploited by the enemy.

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. [Galatians 5:17, ESV]

There are two sources of desire in our hearts: (1) the Holy Spirit, and (2) the flesh. The flesh refers to more than just sexual immorality or lust (though the two are certainly included), it refers to all the sinful desires that we have because of our fallen state. Our sinful desires are directly opposed to the desires of the Holy Spirit, so we must walk in the Spirit, so that we do not seek to gratify the desires of the flesh.

The devil knows that we all have the natural desire to sin, so he will often use those desires to distance us from the Lord. The devil does not need to create new desires in our hearts, he only needs to tempt us to indulge in the sinful desires that we already have.

Having examined why there can be such a thing as demonic wisdom, let us examine James 3:14-16, so that we can learn about the way demonic wisdom affects us, and how we can identify wisdom that is not of God.

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 from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

Verses 14 and 15 describe the foundation of wisdom that does not come from God. Demonic wisdom, at its core, produces jealousy and selfish ambition. Godly wisdom produces humility, grace, love, kindness, longsuffering, and other godly things. Demonic wisdom reflects the same type of thinking that got the devil thrown out of Heaven in the first place. Remember that the devil does not want to look evil, he does not want to look like the devil, he wants to look like God. The devil knows that his chance of successfully deceiving people would decrease significantly if his approach gave away that he was the evil one, and that sin leads to death.

Understanding the way that the devil deceives people into believing that he is good, or that he is God, Paul describes the way the devil disguises himself as an “angel of light”.

And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. [2 Corinthians 11:12-15, ESV]

As Paul describes, the devil disguises himself as an angel of light, and that disguise is also given to the people who serve the devil. False apostles do not claim to be false apostles, they claim to be servants of Christ. Therefore, we must prepare our hearts and minds for the attacks that will surely come to those who seek the Lord. In Ephesians 6, Paul tells us how we are to equip the full armor of God, so that we “may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” [Ephesians 6:11, ESV]. We must understand the Word of God, we must walk by the Spirit, and we must remain vigilant as we guard our hearts from the work of the enemy.

As I mentioned before, it was selfish ambition and jealousy that led to the devil being cast out of Heaven.

“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. [Isaiah 14:12-15, ESV]

The devil wanted to make himself equal to God, he wanted to be above the other angels in Heaven, and he wanted to increase his power. It was this rebellion that led to the devil being cast out of Heaven, and it is the same spirit of envy and pride that the devil uses to influence the minds of men and women. Demonic wisdom is real, and it is clearly demonstrated by the jealousy and selfish ambition that it produces.

It is also worth pointing out that ambition is not the problem here, the problem is selfish ambition. It is not sinful to have ambition, to want to improve, to want to make the world a better place, or to want to do bigger and better things for God. I have been blessed with this ministry, and God has given me an audience that has grown with each passing day. I look toward the future, I am excited to see what God will do in and through me, and I have several ideas for projects that I want to work on later on in my life. My ambition is limited by the will of God, however. I do not seek to outdo other men and women of God, I do not think of myself as being more important than others in the Church, and I do not seek to glorify myself. I do all that I do out of my love for Christ, my devotion to Him, and out of the calling that He has for me. My ambition is not selfish, but that does not mean that the devil will not try to influence my thinking, nor does it mean that he has not already tried to do so. It is very difficult to see something I published do incredibly well and restrain myself from doing anything else until God tells me to. As we have previously discussed, human beings have inherent desires that are sinful, and are diametrically opposed to the desires of the Spirit. Just as the devil will use times of sadness and loneliness to try and deceive us, he will also use times of success. Why do some great men and women of God end up having affairs, being involved in crime, or preaching theology that is inconsistent with the Bible? There is an allure to all good things, and that should not be surprising to anybody. After all, we have already read about how all good things come from God.

God provides us with something good, and the devil will use our sinful desires to take what is good and turn it into something sinful. God created sex, but the devil created lust. God created money, but the devil created greed. God created food and drink, but the devil created gluttony and drunkenness. The devil cannot create anything, so he must make use of what has already been created.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. [John 1:1-3, ESV]

We read that all things were made by God. Therefore, we know that the devil cannot create new things. The only exception is that God did not create sin. John 8:44 describes the devil as “the father of lies”, and we know that God is sinless, so we know that God could not have created sin. Sin is born out of what was once good.

If our wisdom leads us to have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, we are told to refrain from boasting about our wisdom, as such wisdom is not from God. God only does good, so anything that is bad cannot be from God. Such wisdom is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. It is such wisdom is daimoniōdēs (δαιμονιώδης), “of the devil”, demonic.

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

James 3:16 gives us an excellent explanation of the “fruit” of demonic wisdom. We know that any wisdom that causes jealousy and selfish ambition is demonic, and James tells us now how that demonic wisdom will create “disorder and every vile practice”.

Just as anything that is not good is not of God, disorder is not of God.

For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. [1 Corinthians 14:33, ESV]

God is not the author of confusion, nor is He a God of disorder, but a God of peace. If our wisdom leads to disorder, to jealousy, to selfish ambition, and to pursuit of fleshly desires, then we know that our wisdom is not from God, but from the devil.

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