“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” -James (Jacob) 3.13-15
We modern believers are living too often on the horizontal plane. There is so much lying underneath the surface of the Church, and our best Sunday services are insufficient to disclose the reality of our condition. The Lord desires to probe deeper than our sermons, songs, and handshakes. He is after the whole of our hearts, and the truth is, on natural terms we lack understanding even of the depravity of our own ways.
The Lord uses horizontal means- tension in relationships, stretching circumstances, etc.- to remind us of a vertical offense before Him. Who is totally free from envy and selfish ambition? There are underlying issues in all of our lives, and they are the unnoticed causes of our joylessness, prayerlessness, and moral defeat.
The problem is, we are often dealing with these “horizontal means” with earthly (or horizontal) wisdom. We resolve situations, purportedly mend relationships, and deal with selfish tendencies on the surface level only, rather than passing through the fire of intimate communion with God until He brings us out in His own way, white and cleansed on the other side of the test.
We come out religiously respectable, and people may seem to be at peace with us or even to esteem our reputation, but bitter envy and selfish ambition continue to smolder on the inside. Our inward depravity is like a pile of hot embers, waiting for the wind of another “horizontal” situation to bring it to a full flame again, for we have not passed through into a true deliverance from the spirit of this age, and allowed the Lord to fill us with Himself.
Isn’t it remarkable that Jacob (James) equates “earthly wisdom” as that which is “unspiritual, of the devil”? I think we are humanists more than we know, and assume that our earthly wisdom is at least a little better than demonic wisdom. Yet those depraved areas of our lives will not be refined and reformed by our defense of self, our religious performance, or by sweeping our sin under the rug. We need to come into the wisdom of God Himself, which produces true humility and true deeds of righteousness. For that, we need to be unchained from our “horizontal” wisdom, and to see the Lord high and lifted up, in the light of His holy power. From that vision of God’s majesty, our unclean lips and defiled hearts will be purged with Divine fire, and new life will come.
Do not assume that the same dark character traits must always be a part of your experience. If you turn to Him in repentance and faith, He will transform your heart, give you His own nature, and His Spirit will burst forth from the most deserted of places. God Himself will rest upon your life, and the Kingdom of God- righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit- will emanate from you, causing salvation for many.