“This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (James 3:15, ESV)
Talk about an oxymoron! Like “big shrimp,” “demonic wisdom” presents a contradiction. Wisdom, after all, is associated with the fear of the Lord. If any word would be connected to demons it would be “folly” or “foolishness.”
James, however, speaks of wisdom that is demonic because it has the appearance of wisdom. It presents the way that seems right but is in fact the way of death. Just like in the Garden of Eden when what the serpent reasoned with Eve about the motive of God and the merits of eating the forbidden fruit made sense to her, so demonic wisdom may make sense and seem the way to go.
James exposes the rotten core of such wisdom when he describes it as “earthly and unspiritual.” The origin of demonic counsel is this fallen world, of the flesh not of the Spirit. It may have an appearance of godliness but is empty of power. Rather this wisdom (I imagine James would have used air quotes if he were reading out loud) is corrosive to a godly life, counterfeit to the truth, and counterproductive to Christlikeness.
This alleged wisdom is sandwiched between its divisive, disorderly, destructive effects. “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).
We may breathe a sigh of relief and thank God we are not like that. The thing is if we are honest with ourselves we often see bitter jealousy and selfish ambition at work in us. Rather than humility, we boast in ourselves. We engage in practices that are vile to our calling in Christ, more in keeping with Satan than our Savior. In our relationships, we become troublemakers rather than peacemakers.
When we see such ungodliness in our lives, it’s time to remove the virus of vileness from our minds and defragment our hearts that allow room for teaching and wisdom contrary to that of our God. Where have bought into the lies of our enemy the devil? Where have we given the members of our body (including our tongue; James 3:6) over as instruments of unrighteousness?
1. What are the telltale signs of demonic wisdom?
2. What can we expect when we follow such wisdom?
“Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my heart. Show me what is offensive and lead me in the way of life.”