14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
James says that the wise will do good deeds but here he clarifies that this kind of wisdom is not from God. Earthly wisdom is looking for ways to get ahead and get recognition. If you want good publicity, do good deeds. Now, I know that there are people in Hollywood and big name athletes who really care about the people in Africa and helping inner city schools but every time I hear about someone donating a million dollars to something, I can’t help but think that this is a publicity stunt. You don’t have to trumpet the fact that you did something great unless you are openly calling for other people to step up to help the cause as well.
However, just because you want to get recognition for something doesn’t mean that you don’t truly care about the cause but using your contribution for recognition is what earthly wisdom says to do. Truly generous people are the ones that you never hear about because no one knows that they are doing it.
It’s great when we hear about wealthy people supporting an important cause but when we hear it, we should really wonder why we’re hearing about it. Is it because a person wants the recognition for their good deeds, or did someone uncover a person’s good deeds that were done mostly in secret? Most often it is the first situation.
Jesus encountered people like this and His response would be that those who want the recognition for their good deeds will have received all of their reward for their deeds from that recognition. Those who made loud public prayers or went around with ashes on their face in an attempt to show how righteous they were, the only reward they received was the praise of men. This is what earthly wisdom says to do and this is the reward for earthly wisdom.
Contrasted to earthly wisdom is what James discusses next in the following verses.