Wisdom from Above
Topic: Wisdom Scripture: James 3:13–3:18
Wisdom from Above
Rev. Stuart Strachan Jr
Well good morning again. We are continuing in our sermon series in the letter of James. Just a reminder that this was in all likelihood a letter written by James the brother of Jesus who would become the leader of the church in Jerusalem after Jesus’ earthly ministry has come to an end.
James, as I’ve said many times, is a letter that is filled with advice, on a range of topics. And I think James, like many pastors was a busy guy, and so he moves from one topic to another very quickly, and so we are just trying to catch up and digest what it is he’s trying to teach us.
And so there is a swing that is happening from last week to this week. Last week, James’ primary critique or advice was against people we might call “antinomians” that is, those who believe that once you decide to have faith in Jesus, that’s the end of the line…now we just do whatever we want.
This week, James is moving in a different direction and he’s dealing with a problem that often shows up in faith communities. And I think I’d like James himself to introduce the topic for this morning’s discussion.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 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.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
You know wisdom, is one of those things that we talk about from time to time, but it’s somewhat difficult to define. It’s also nowhere near as valued by our culture as it was by both the ancient Greeks or the Jewish and later Christian community.
It reminds me of a story I once heard:
An angel appears at a faculty meeting and tells the dean that in return for his unselfish and exemplary behavior the Lord will reward him with his choice of infinite wealth, wisdom or beauty.
Without hesitating, the dean selects infinite wisdom. “Done!” says the angel, and disappears in a cloud of smoke and a bolt of lightning. Now, all heads turn toward the dean, who sits surrounded by a faint halo of light. At length, one of his colleagues whispers, “Say something.” The dean looks at them and says, “I should have taken the money."
Wisdom told him he should have taken the money…now I think James would have called that false wisdom right?
And truthfully, that is the core of our scripture text this morning. There is a form of wisdom, what I will call false wisdom in our world, and then there is Godly wisdom, wisdom James describes as “coming from above”.
And so what I would like to do with the rest of our time this morning, is I would like to share a little of what this false wisdom often looks like when it finds its way into the church, and then I’m going to share with you what I think James is saying about Godly wisdom. Okay?
And my hope, my prayer is that when you walk out of this church building this morning, you will have a better grasp of how God is calling you to become wise in the Lord.
Now there is a scenario out there that most of us are accustomed to where we find ourselves in a faith community, maybe it’s a church or a Bible study and things are going along normally, and then all of a sudden you start interacting with someone…
a fellow Christian, and there behavior is just a bit odd. (has this ever happened to you). They claim to be a faithful, Jesus-loving Christian. But their words, their actions are hurtful, judgmental, even offensive.
And perhaps they even have this tone as though, because you are not them, that you are missing something.
Now the beauty of our passage this morning is that it deals with just such an issue. Someone or some ones in the church James is writing to have created a spirit of division and they are using their quote unquote “wisdom” to both puff themselves up and to try and assert control over the rest of the group.
And so James has some very simple, very straightforward advice for these people:
He says in verse 13:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
In other words, wisdom, true Godly wisdom ought to lead to humility not pride. It will lead to peace and not division.
The folks that are creating the hostility themselves are trying to argue that they are better than the rest of the group because of their wisdom, and that everyone else ought to follow their lead.
But James says that true wisdom will not lead to pride, but to humility.
So here’s the good news, if you ever find yourself in a situation where a quote unquote “religious person”, a Christian, tries to make you feel “less than “because you are not “with it”, than this is the text to hold on to.
Because true Christian maturity, true Christian wisdom should not lead to people humiliating you for not living up to their standard. It should not leave you with feelings of inadequacy.
A mature Christian, a wise Christian, ought to be like a good coach, encouraging you and yes occasionally pointing out areas of growth, but never to shame you or to disrespect you, but to help you grow into a richer life of faith.
Now before we go any further, I want to point out that as we hear the scenario mentioned above, about “religious people” putting others down when they should be building them up…
I think, if we are honest, we probably start to think about someone in particular, right? Certain people pop in our head and we’re thinking to ourselves, “I know someone who really needs to hear this sermon.”
But truth be told, I think most of us struggle with this. I struggle with this. So here’s what I want you to do, I want you to turn to someone near you, and this is what I want you to say, “this sermon is for me too”
All right, thank you…some of you just woke up again, welcome to the service…
Now, I will acknowledge that yes, this problem is how should I put this, more clear in some folks than in others.
But I imagine, if we all looked into our own heart of hearts, we might see that we too think to ourselves, “if they could just get it, than this church would grow tenfold” or “if they could just get over themselves, they’d see how self-righteous they are”
And that includes yours truly. Because we all believe what we believe for some reason.
I’m going to say that again because I think it bears repeating. We all believe what we believe for some reason.
And when other people disagree with us, our natural inclination is to say, “what is wrong with them!”
How could they think that way.
And here again is where James’ advice can be so helpful.
Because he points us to a wisdom that ultimately builds bridges rather than walls.
And if we look into our own hearts and we find this kind of behavior and we deal with it, than both you and the body are going to be healthier. And more wise.
So…we’ve covered this truth: wisdom ought not to lead to pride and division. But what should it lead to?
Let’s pick up James in verse 17:
Wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
Now lucky for you I don’t have time to go into all of these, but I’d like to focus on just three traits James describes as being part and parcel of Godly wisdom. First, wisdom is pure, second, wisdom is submissive, and third, wisdom is peace-loving.
Wisdom is Pure
So let’s start with purity. What does James mean when he says that wisdom is pure?
Well, the root idea here is what you might call a “moral blamelessness” another way of putting it is that you behave in a manner that is “above reproach”.
But I think it goes deeper than that, that wisdom from God is a wisdom that is not tainted not corrupted by selfish, or self-centered behavior.
In verse 14, James says, “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”
In other words, as you approach your life there ought to be a singularity of purpose, that is, you make the most important thing the most important thing.
You don’t vacillate back and forth between seeking the kingdom of God and the kingdom of me, myself, and I.
One Biblical scholar put it this way: Wisdom is the power to see and the inclination to choose the best and highest goal, together with the surest means of attaining it.
My life is at its best when it is reduced down to one goal, not two goals, three goals, etc…
But the problem is, our hearts tend to be pulled in a hundred different directions, and often we don’t have the widom to know where to focus.
And so we find ourselves bouncing back and forth between competing desires. The desire to follow God, but also the desire to satisfy self.
This is how one pastor described this tendency of the human heart to be pulled in different directions, he said:
“I want God’s will, and I want the throne” You get it? I want God’s will, but I kind of want to be in charge of my own life.
“I want generosity and I want my money”
“I want to be peaceable, and I want the last word”
“I want purity and I love lust”
So what is needed is the ability to remove the corruption and be left with the one thing…that is purity…and that is what leads to wisdom in our lives…and let’s be clear, this is only accomplishable by God.
And that’s not to say that true wisdom simply means sitting in Bible studies all day, or in prayer groups, but what it does mean, is that when we look at all the things in our lives, our jobs, our families, our hobbies, our retirement accounts, that each of them is viewed through the singular goal of loving God and loving our neighbor.
But it also must be stated, that we could never do this on our own, we could never really achieve this purity of will on our own, but it can only come when we and here is the second quality of Godly wisdom, when we submit our will to His will…
Wisdom involves Submission
When we recognize that there is something bigger, or should I say, someone bigger than our own wants and desires. And this submission, which I think is not simply to God, but also to one another, grounds us and enables us to experience true Godly wisdom.
And that is kind of surprising isn’t it? Sometimes we think the wise person is the one who has all the answers right? You are wise so I am going to come to you for advice, but one of the keys to Biblical wisdom is that you recognize the need to listen to other voices, and sometimes, even submit to them, even if you initially disagreed.
Remember what James said earlier, wisdom leads to humble acts, and when we listen to others, when we even change our minds, than we are on the path of Godly wisdom.
Wisdom is peace loving
The third and final quality of Godly wisdom is to be peace-loving. Can you just imagine what this world would be like if peace-loving was one of our greatest values? Unfortunately, we live in a world where “getting my way” seems much more likely the highest priority.
But insisting on getting things my way may work fine at Burger King, it doesn’t work so well in communities where everyone has different needs and wants. And when each of us insist on getting what I want, than we end up just talking louder and louder to the point where everyone in the room is yelling.
But Godly wisdom makes seeks peace even in a sea of different wants and desires. And it does this by staying grounded in the one thing that matters most of all, and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ being central in all that we say and do.
But the truth is, its not easy. We stumble and we fall. We encounter someone we disagree with and we find ourselves losing our tempers and fighting fire with fire.
And the good news is God’s grace is always there to brace our fall. But, hear me out, how much stronger, how much greater could our influence be for the gospel of Jesus Christ, if each of us sought out this kind of divine wisdom?
How much could each of us grow in our faith, in our church, if we truly took this call to divine wisdom seriously? If we became known for our purity, our submissiveness, and our love of peace.
God only knows. So will you this week take some time to consider, where God might be calling you to practice this wisdom from above in your own life. Where are your loyalties divided? Where do you struggle with the desire for power and control? Give them to God, and see what He will do with them.
Will you pray with me?