James 3:13-17 New International Version (NIV)
Two Kinds of Wisdom
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 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.
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.
We live in a world full of knowledge but deeply lacking in real wisdom. I loved someone put this up the other day, “common sense has become so rare today it is almost a superpower.”
James identifies that not all who claim to be wise, who claim to have understanding actually are wise. James pushes us back to the realisation that wisdom (true wisdom) is only found in God. This church is the application of the proverb “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”
And here is the point of this morning; wisdom is from the Lord, so how do we identify that?
There are many philosophies in the world, many ideas that claim to be the key to life and happiness and security and wisdom. So, how do we know what is truly wise and what is simply earthy and as James puts it; demonic.
Well, let us start with looking at what James calls…
1. The wisdom of earth and what it leads to
Wisdom that is expressed from a place of bitter envy and selfish ambition is earthly, unspiritual and demonic as James puts it. That seems harsh. However, when we see what James is communicating it is really practical. You see there is a kind of wisdom in the world and it has always been there, that say, that the way to life, happiness success and fulfilment is to take what you want, push hard, get ahead and be the best! It is the motivational talk language that has been coming up in the world of late. It is essentially a “wisdom” that is focused on us and the material world.
Generally we lap this up, we love the idea of someone taking on the world and coming out on top. I mean who doesn’t love an underdog story? I want to capitulate that there is a sense of truth in what they say. You will get no-where in life unless you take life on; unless you get a backbone and work hard, push yourself and do something with your life.
As I heard one man say, envy is not bad as long as you don’t want to take your neighbours stuff, but if you want to have the similar lifestyle that is a good thing because it will drive you to success. The problem with this wisdom is where do you draw the line? How do you separate a life that is all about dog eat dog, get what you can and push yourself to the next level, with a life of deep character, deep humility, deep contentment. Because church a life of eternal pushing, striving, getting is incompatible with humility peace and contentment.
You see this is a wisdom that honours material (it is of the earth), it focuses on human things and it reaps human things it in spades you get if you strive for it, the question is do you want it when you have it. James say at the end of this wisdom is disorder and every evil practice.
This is the “wisdom” we see pushed in our world today; humanity at the centre, material success as its goal, and any desire to curb sensuality and desire as the great enemy. The problem is that this always leads to chaos.
These things sound good at first but end in death, for example follow your bliss – do whatever makes you happy; well what if my bliss is murdering people? What if my bliss is to get black-out stoned on opiates like in Aldous Huxley A Brave New World. These ideas, these philosophies do not make good people, they make shallow, selfish, evil people. As William Durant said, “A nation is born a stoic and dies an epicurean” or in other words, those who are willing to deny their bliss who are willing to push past themselves builds nations; those who only desire is the pursuit of happiness will end a nation.
And this is the warning that James is giving us; these people are knowledgeable, they come across as convincing as learned. Their arguments are persuasive, James says look at their lives. Real wisdom has impact on the lives of the teacher for good.
In other words wisdom and a good humble life are linked, you cannot say you are wise, or that you have the answer if you cannot control yourself and your pride etc.
Which leads us to our second point
2. The wisdom of heaven and what it leads to
So, James contrasts earthly, world wisdom with what he calls wisdom that comes from heaven. This is such an interesting phrase and it gives us a description of James’ and the bibles idea of wisdom.
Where is the wisdom from? From heaven. This links back to the Proverbs where it says, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” And in psalms, “Only the fool says in his heart there is no God.” You see church real wisdom has at its end and its focus is God.
This makes sense logically and practically, you see, as soon as you take God out of the picture, then man is the focal point and therefore the interpreter of what is good and what is not in the world. This is one of the Apologetic answers for the reason for God.
Every single one of our intrinsic (inalienable) rights, that we enjoy today; the rights of the individual the inherent value of the individual, these are based on an idea that God made man in His image. As soon as you take God out of the picture, there is no logical reason for these rights to remain.
Logically you can argue for the rights of your tribe, because you are ensure the survival of your genes, or you can argue for the rights of my family on the same basis; but what makes me fight for the rights of those unlike me? God; those people however unlike me are made in the image of God. We have forgotten this in the 21Century.
A Wisdom from heaven church, one orientate in God and formulated by the gospel, gives man a way to actually live beautifully in the world.
Which leads me to my next point;
3. The gospel as the wisdom of God
James argues in verse 17 that “… 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.”
And I want to argue that essentially church, it is not enough to simply say I believe in God and that is the start of my wisdom, the wisdom that actually changes us, that has an impact of peace, consideration, mercy, impartiality and sincerity is a wisdom only found when we engage the gospel of Jesus Christ fully.
You see church, the gospel creates within us the attitude of true wisdom a pure peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful wisdom. Why because of what the gospel does to our hearts.
The gospel both humbles you and honours you, it says that you are a sinner, and yet at the same time it says you are infinitely loved by God. This gives you the humility to actually see others as better than yourself, but also gives you the confidence to stand on the truth, because it is God who saved you!
This creates in us an attitude that can actually listen to others, and learn from them as you don’t see yourself as superior. An example of this is my Hindu neighbour, who is probably the nicest man I have ever met, he is constantly making time to talk to me and find out about my family. Now, I don’t have to have a crisis of faith, because grace teaches me that I don’t have it all together, so rather than reject him just because he is a different faith than me, I can see his noble character and learn. But at the same time, I know where my peace comes from. It comes from the fact that Christ died for me. That He alone is my salvation. This gives me a confidence to not shy away from the truth when I need to speak it; but I speak it in love.
It is in the Apology of Socrates, that Socrates goes to the oracle and says to him that no-one who is of woman born is more wise than Socrates, he was perplexed by this statement, as there was so much that he did not understand in the world, so he went to the Artisans and ask them to teach him their knowledge and they did. So he ask them to teach them everything; but to them the arts where everything and so he concluded that he was wiser than they were, this goes on with the politicians, the financers etc. And at the end Socrates concludes that although he still lacks knowledge it is his knowledge of the lack of his knowledge that leads to learning and greater wisdom.
Christianity and the gospel does this on every level; it on one hand shows us our weaknesses without destroying us; therefore it should make us a servant to all, it should, if we get it, make us peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful etc. Our identity is in Christ; so we don’t have to be right – because Christ is and we are not! We don’t have to be in charge, we don’t have to win.
I am amazed at how the gospel gives me an even keel to cope with everything that life throws at me without making me detached – now I am not saying I am perfect – It is the gospel that helps me. The knowledge of what Christ has done and His love for me, helps me not to focus too much on the things of this world so that they own me.
This means that when fearful news comes I can approach it with this is not my home. But I do not detach so much so that I become indifferent to the world, because I know that God is at work in the world and that one day he will recreate the world in the resurrection and so I can actually enjoy life, I can love my family and can revel in good friendships, but these things are not my meaning.
It is the gospel that holds me, it is the gospel that forms me and upholds my strength. Does this mean that I go through life with blissful indifference. No, but I have the gospel as a point of reference to bring me back.
I’ll give you this example; recently I had an old friend slander me on social media, it was hidden he never used my name but I knew he was talking about me, and when I messaged him privately he only further mocked me on his social media. I was hurt, because I thought this was a friend. Well, through grace I forgave him and move on. This was one of the last things that showed me how toxic social media was, but the way I overcame this was not by telling myself to forget it; I couldn’t I was hurt, my healing, my ability to actually forgive came when I reflected on the cross, I remembered how I have hurt Christ, how, I have spent my life slandering Him, and it was when I saw this that I could actually see that friend and love them.
Church this is true wisdom! The gospel is the wisdom of God! It is the very power to engage the world and be changed. And So I leave you with this question; what wisdom are you basing your life on, earthly wisdom which leads to chaos; or the wisdom of heaven (the gospel) which leads to peace, love, understanding, and good fruit?