The following sermon is taken from James 3:13 – 4:3 and 4:7-8
One of the programmes that my wife and I watch on TV is Mastermind. I normally find that in the first round (the specialist one) that I barely get one question right out of all the questions that are asked to the 5 candidates. Unless someone selects a sports subject or maybe a pop music/ rock music subject or history and then I might get a couple of questions right. I normally fare slightly better in the general knowledge round but even then I don’t score many points.
I often find myself amazed at how the contestants know the answers to such obscure questions. I expect most people think that whoever wins Mastermind is a wise person full of wisdom. This morning we are looking at the two types of wisdom James describes and they are not the same as the type that is needed to win Mastermind or any other quiz show.
As we will have noticed by now James has a very blunt way of writing! He doesn’t sugar coat his message or pussy foot around but comes straight to the point. He is like an annoying friend who tells you things you do not want to hear!
It would appear from some of the commentaries that I have looked at this week that some writers feel that today’s passage is continuing in the theme of addressing “teachers” (3:1) from last week. Whilst James 3:1-12 is speaking about the taming of the tongue in relations to teachers and today’s passage at wisdom, I believe though there is scope to throw this out to the whole church and not just leaders and therefore will use that as my basis of exploring today’s reading.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom” (v13 NRSV)
“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” (v13 NIV)
James is emphatic in his view that wisdom should show itself in the way that we live our life. He believes that wisdom is practical. Wisdom is not how intelligent we are. It is more practical than this. One could be very wise but exhibiting unspiritual wisdom. It’s not your academic qualifications that count but how you live.
Matthew Henry said “These verses show the difference between men’s pretending to be wise, and their being really so. He who thinks well, or he who talks well, is not wise in the sense of the Scripture, if he does not live and act well. True wisdom may be known by the meekness of the spirit and temper. ”
Wisdom brings humility and not arrogance. It brings gentleness and not brashness. Humility and gentleness are often missing from today’s society.
James then goes on to address another type of “wisdom” in verses 14-16:
“But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.”
I don’t know about you but it slightly surprised me initially to be told that “where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” I mean surely there are worse sins than these? Are envy and selfish ambition all that bad?
However as I thought about this I remembered some examples from scripture which supports this statement made by James:
1, In Genesis 4 we see Cain murdering his brother Abel because he was angry (envy) of the fact that God preferred Abel’s sacrifice.
2. In 1 Samuel 18 after returning from battle, King Saul was jealous because the crowds credited David with killing more people than him.
The women in the crowd were singing:
Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”
This led to him trying to kill David. If you think about it what does it matter who kills the most enemy soldiers as long as your side wins.
3. In Genesis 37 we read about Joseph and how his brothers hated him and were jealous of him as a result of his dreams. They then plotted to kill him.
So we see that in all three examples from the OT that what started as envy or being jealous led to murder or attempted murder.
It seems to be that “bitter” envy and selfish ambition is the area in which the sin takes initial root and then goes onto something worse. We need to stop this sin from growing into something worse. It is “false to the truth”.
Envy can also be of someone’s else’s possessions too. We envy the new car / phone / house / insert what is appropriate!
Selfish ambition can destroy relationships as people tread on and destroy each other to get the new promotion at work. It can lead us to have inexplicable grudges and jealousies towards others for no apparent or logical reason. We need to ask God to help us to look to the greater good and not our own advancement.
We move onto verses 17 and 18 where we read about a better type of wisdom:
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”
The wisdom James describes here contains many different elements;
- Pure – properly clean, innocent, modest. Burdick says “…. to the absence of any sinful attitude or motive.” The Message says “Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life”. God’s wisdom should lead to an increase in holiness. “Without holiness no-one will see the Lord” Hebrews 12:14. It will not be easy and may often be a struggle but that is the direction we should be heading in.
- Peaceable – We should be people who seek peace with one another. Don’t delight in maintaining grudges between you and others. Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (NIV). Hold out the hand of peace. It’s not your fault if it gets rejected.
- Gentle – patient, mild. The NIV uses the word “considerate”. We should treat others how we want to be treated. Don’t speak harshly to each other.
- Willing to yield – Compliant. The NIV uses the word “submissive”. Ephesians 5:21 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Don’t insist on always getting your own way. Laying down your life for your friend.
- Full of mercy – showing compassion to one another. If we want God to be merciful to us then we need to show mercy to others (Matthew 7:2)
- Full of good fruits – Jesus reminds us in the sermon on the mount that “by their fruit you will recognise them.” (Matthew 7:20). We want the fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5 to shine through us.
- Without a trace of partiality – We heard two weeks ago spoke about how James speaks out against favouritism.
- Without a trace of hypocrisy – sincere (genuine) people. Live out our faith. Real Christian faith is not just for one hour on a Sunday morning! Don’t say one thing and live another! (If we are being honest we all fall short in this area). Live for God’s glory and not our own!
“And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” (v18)
“And the principle productive of this righteousness is sown, like good seed, in the peace of a believer’s mind, and brings forth a plentiful harvest of happiness, (which is the proper fruit of righteousness,) for them that make peace – That labour to promote this pure and holy peace among all men.” (John Wesley). We reap what we sow.
Jesus exhibited all of the above and would want us to exhibit them too. Do we not want our lives to exhibit these qualities too? Someone with these qualities would be a very attractive advert for the gospel. You may not agree with everything I say but you cannot argue with the above in someone’s life.
Likewise someone who exhibits the other type of wisdom (envy, selfish ambition) that we previously looked at is exhibiting destructive qualities. They are unattractive and we should not want them in our lives. Whilst the wisdom from above is a very attractive advert for the gospel then this type of wisdom is a negative unattractive advert for the gospel.
James in chapter 4 then looks at the internal battles that often wage within us. We want things but often for the wrong reason. It is easy to kid ourselves that we ask for the right reason. Motives can be difficult for us to judge.
Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
We constantly need to be aware of the dangers of wrong motives and would do well to make the Psalmist prayer our own regularly:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Today’s passage concludes with James instructing us to follow four steps:
- Submit ourselves to God. We need to obey God and to be under His Lordship. Our desires must be submitted to Him so that they are under Christ’s control. Jesus prayed before He was crucified “not my will but your will be done.” So very easy to say but not always easy to do. We need to allow God to direct us. He knows best.
- Resist the devil. This involves action. If we submit to God and resist the devil then he will flee from us. It might involve a lengthy battle but ultimately the devil will flee not because of anything special we might be but because of the strength of Christ in us.
- Draw near to God. If we draw near to God then He promises to draw near to us. Sometimes when we upset someone we might be scared or reluctant to approach them thinking they will reject us. The way that the Father accepted the prodigal son back is an indication of how God will accept us when we draw near to Him.
- Confess our sins to God. Ask Him to cleanse our hands and to purify our hearts and not be double minded. Just as we might wash our hands before eating to get the dirt off us we need to do the same before God.
To conclude I want to read James 3:13-18 in The Message;
13-16 Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.
17-18 Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honour.
I would like to close by asking “which one of these two types of wisdom do you want in your life and in the life of this church?