Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 7

Two Kinds of Wisdom

Based on a sermon from 26th June 2022

 James 3:13-18

We’re continuing our journey through the Epistle of St James. 

When you come to a fork in the road, or when you have to make a decision, who or what do you turn to for the answer?  Do you base your choices on what feels good?  Do you ask your friends or family?  Do you use your own logic and reason, or do you follow your heart?

The world says, “Listen to your heart” but God says;

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).  

God doesn’t want us to lean on our own understanding. He wants us to lean on His. God wants us first and foremost to go to Him, and then wait for His answer before we make a move.  Remember what James said at the beginning of his epistle;

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

God doesn’t want us to go on whims and feelings that rely on our logic.  He wants to give us the wisdom that we need in order to make the right decision and to know exactly what to do.  Therefore, there are two types of wisdom, worldly (i.e. of the flesh) and Godly.

Last week we looked at “The Taming of the Tongue”.  A key to right talk is right thought.  The tongue is contained in a cage of teeth and lips and yet it escapes.  Intelligence cannot keep a lock on that cage, but true wisdom can.  A controlled tongue is possible only with cultured thought.  A mouth full of praise results from a mind filled with purity.

So…

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.”

James begins with this question:  Who is wise and has understanding among you?  Do you have wisdom and understanding?  People cannot merely think they have wisdom.  Wisdom must be shown in action.  The evidence of humble wisdom is shown in good conduct.  To state it more precisely, James is saying: we prove which wisdom we have by our actions.  He is asking us to evaluate not only what we know is right but also to practice what is right.  Wisdom is revealed by the way one lives his or her life through good conduct.

Not only are we to have good conduct, but we are to practice this good conduct in humility.  Humility in the Bible means: “The quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance” (see also Proverbs 11:2).

James shows us what wrong wisdom looks like.

But if you harbour 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.

If a person has envy, jealousy, and selfishness in the heart, that person is living a lie.  As we read in v14 such people deny the truth.”  They are claiming to be wise, but they are living in a way that denies the claim.

Where does envy, jealousy, and selfish ambition come from?  They come from having a sense of one’s self-importance.  These attitudes come from believing that we must look out for our own interests.  These attitudes come from seeing others receive what we think we ought to have.  Worldly wisdom says, “I will take care of myself.”  Worldly wisdom says, “I deserve this” and “I demand that.”  “I demand respect.”  This is how the world teaches us to think and act.  But here the Bible condemns such thinking.  Such wisdom is not from above.

James calls this wisdom “unspiritual.”  We are not acting or thinking spiritually, but according to the sinful nature.  Paul used similar language to condemn carnal, worldly thinking:

I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” (1 Corinthians 3:2-3).

James is not one to mince his words.  He states that this worldly wisdom is “demonic.”  What a statement!  He is saying, “You think that you are of God when you act like this!  You are not of God; you are influenced by the demonic”.  We are constantly in a spiritual battle, attacked on every side by demonic forces.   Stop fooling yourself! Stop lying to yourself! This is a very serious warning.

In verse 16 James describes the result of this worldly wisdom.

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

As the world rejects the Gospel, there will be an increase of disorder and every evil practice.  Why is gun-related, and knife-related crime increasing?  Because the gospel is being rejected.  Rejecting God does not make us more civilised, as experts and philosophers supposedly claim.  Rejecting God causes people to be more disorderly and wicked.

We see this in families; many are disorderly and broken.  Relationships are damaged and ruined.  Society and relationships are becoming more destructive as we focus on ourselves and stop focusing on God.  The longer we remain selfish and reject the wisdom from above the greater the mess we are making of our lives and the world around us.

 “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.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (v17)

Here in these verses James describes for us various characteristics that will test us to see if we have the wisdom that comes from above.  The first characteristic above all else is purity.  The pure life is clearly a life that is obedient to godly wisdom, God’s wisdom.

Nothing shows wisdom from below more than a life of impurity. We are lying to ourselves if we think we have wisdom and understanding because too readily we are living an impure life.  Where is our wisdom?  Where is our understanding?  Further, why would we listen to the “wisdom” of people who are leading impure lives?  How foolish to listen to their instructions!  Living a pure life demonstrates godly, spiritual wisdom.

This wisdom from above is not only pure but peace-loving, considerate, and submissive (v17).  These are characteristics that describe the wise person’s disposition.  If we truly have wisdom, the wisdom that comes from above, the wisdom that is not destructive and unspiritual, then we will be peaceable, gentle, and open to reason.  Those with the wisdom from above listen to others.  They are teachable. They are meek.  They are gentle, and humble.

Now we have established that the first three qualities describe the wise person’s disposition, let’s turn to the second set of qualities.  The second set of qualities reveals the wise person’s actions.  James says that those with godly wisdom are full of mercy and good fruits (v17).  These qualities describe the wise person’s actions.  We do not have the wisdom of God and cannot claim to have godly understanding when our lives are not full of mercy and good fruits.  Can your life be described as “full of mercy and full of good fruits?”  Remember how James began this teaching in v13.  Your good conduct shows the meekness of wisdom in your life.  So where is the good conduct?  Where are the merciful acts?  Where are the good fruits?  When we rise tomorrow, Lord willing, we must think about what good works and merciful acts we can do.  This will show that God’s wisdom is at work in our lives.

To stand for the wisdom of God is increasingly counter-cultural in our world full of selfish ambition.  There is no question that it takes faith to pursue the wisdom of God.  Thankfully, James points to some of the “good fruit” that will come as we trust and believe that the wisdom of God truly is best:

“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18)

The world around us is desperately longing for peace.  Despite the work of the devil through his minions and demons we can attain the peace God has for us because the wisdom of God brings that peace in the midst of disorder to all who are searching for peace.  While we are all surrounded by a cacophony of hatred, fighting, hostility and contempt, ask God for His wisdom to give you faith and the courage to stand as an example of His peace.

Which wisdom leads your life?  Are you following the wisdom from above or the wisdom from below?  It is easy to know which one you are following.  Look at your life; your actions and conduct.  Look at your character and attitude.  If you have jealousy, envy, and selfish ambition, then you are lying to yourself if you think you are following God.  You are following the wisdom of the world.  Those who follow God show it by their good conduct that is full of purity, peace, gentleness, and mercy. Live the righteous life that God demands from you.

Living thoughts

This is an opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Re-read the Bible passages, James 3:13-18 & Matthew 7:21-29.

Digging into God’s Word

Start by taking a moment to allow God to call to your mind the times when you have acted out of worldly wisdom and not Godly wisdom.  What impact did that have on your life and on the relationships with those around you? 

As you confess your sins, do so in penitence and faith, firmly resolved to keep God’s commandments and to live in love and peace with all.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we have sinned against you and against our neighbour in thought and word and deed, through negligence, through weakness, through our own deliberate fault.  We are truly sorry and repent of all our sins.  For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us, forgive us all that is past and grant that we may serve you in newness of life to the glory of your name. Amen.

Declaration that you are Pardoned

Our God fulfils His promises and is true to His word.  Having confessed my sins, I declare that God has forgiven me.  I declare that God willingly pours out His wisdom on me.  I receive it as the good gift that it is because Christ died for me. Amen.

Digging Deeper into God’s word

  1. Why are people quick to follow someone who claims wisdom and knowledge?
  2. What are practical examples of true religion today?
  3. In a world overflowing with knowledge, why is wisdom of critical importance today?
  4. How can we discern the type of wisdom people are using in the world?

Prayer Response

Lord, we praise you for your straightforwardness.  You make it plain to hearts that want to know what you are saying and foolish to those who just want to fight you.

We thank you for the power in Christ we have to choose peace even when peace is not offered from others.  We always have the choice of how we will react, whether we choose to sow peace or harshness.  May we believe your truth and put it into practice:  “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word provokes anger.”

Give us the strength, wisdom, and courage to sow in peace so we can reap a harvest of righteousness.

In the One who was tortured for our sins, yet still asked for us all to be forgiven, realising we didn’t know what we were doing – Amen.

Wisdom…it seems so elusive, Lord!  But then I realise it is only elusive because I am holding on to pride.  When I humble myself before you and seek your truth with my whole heart, you give it freely.

Oh, Lord, may I stop trying to make your words fit my agenda.  Instead let me read your word without my preconceived ideas and ask what it is you are actually saying.  Give me wisdom and courage to apply your truth to my life even when it is uncomfortable for me to do so.

May I have a reverent fear for you so I will not twist your words to fit what I want.  Let me study more and share my opinions less.  May I let your Word talk to my heart and change me so that I may humbly live and serve in a way that glorifies you.  To the One who is the Word and my Saviour.  Amen.

Lord, help us to discern the difference between the wisdom that you give and the counterfeit wisdom that is of the devil.  When we get anxious over our desires, plans or ideas and need them desperately to work out for us in order to be happy, that’s when we lose humility and scheme on how to get our way.  We get angry with anyone in our way and envious of those who win support for their ideas over ours.  But the wisdom and ideas you give. Lord, make us more peaceful, content and focussed on building unity and oneness around us.  Oh, make us a wise people that reaps a harvest of goodness for everyone who works beside us.  Amen.