Wisdom, 14 November 2021

Series—Faith Works: The book of James
James 3:13-18

Series Big Idea:
Jesus’ half brother James offers us timeless instructions for living a God-honoring life.

Big Idea: The truly wise seek heavenly wisdom rather than human understanding.

What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “wisdom?”

I must admit in a world of fake news, I often struggle to deal with knowledge, much less the application of knowledge! Take COVID, for example. The only thing I know for sure about COVID-19 20 months after the lockdown is I don’t know anything for sure about COVID! Social media and conventional media have made things so binary and adversarial that it’s hard to know what’s really true…and then I heard fake news travels six times faster than the truth…or is that statement fake news?!

Am I the only one struggling to know what’s true anymore?! Christians will often jump to, “Jesus is the Truth…” and he is, but how am I supposed to live my life in a way that glorifies God? What does it mean to be not only smart, but wise? I’ll tell you the big idea of today’s message right now:
The truly wise seek heavenly wisdom rather than human understanding.

One of the great tensions for followers of Jesus is we are in the world, but we are not to be of the world. God has placed us here to be salt and light, to seek and save the lost through the power of the Holy Spirit, to restore God’s masterpieces. We’re all on a mission, and although God’s Kingdom is breaking forth now, it is not fully realized (as we can see from the news!).

We’re in the middle of a series called
Faith Works where we’re going verse-by-verse through the book of James, a short work penned by Jesus’ half-brother. James chapter 3 verse 13 begins…

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 3:13)

I could easily preach this two-hour sermon (!) on this verse alone! Who among you is wise? How has understanding?

The wisest man in the world was…Jesus! Other than Jesus, many would regard Solomon as the wisest man in the world. When God essentially said he would grant Solomon one wish, Solomon asked for…a heart of understanding!

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)

I’m still waiting for God to make that offer to me!

But seriously, how would you respond? Solomon replied,

So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours? (1 Kings 3:9)

In a word, Solomon sought wisdom. The next verse says,

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. (1 Kings 3:10)

Wisdom is priceless…and seemingly rare. We all need it, but I believe those in leadership are especially in need of it. I’ve heard people pray for presidents—past and present. Sometimes the intensity of those prayers is dictated by one’s political preferences, but my prayer for all presidents, governors, mayors, judges, and other leaders is simply for them to bow their knee and seek God’s wisdom rather than human understanding.

We’ve all seen ungodly leaders who are arrogant, power-hungry, self-serving, or simply ignorant. We’re all aware of the mixed motives behind decisions that impact the lives of others. In this current moment, I’ve been desperate for God to grant me wisdom to make decisions that impact hundreds of lives here. I can’t imagine being responsible for hundreds of millions of people!

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 3:13)

Humility comes from wisdom. I find this a fascinating truth. The fruit of wisdom is a good life, humble deeds. What does that say about many of our leaders? What does that say about so-called experts who are on perpetual self-promotion tours?
Humility is the hallmark of the wise. It takes a humble person to seek godly wisdom in the first place. The independent, autonomous person has no need for God…or anyone else. Perhaps that’s why scripture says,

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. (Proverbs 11:2)

I’ve often confessed my pride. No, I’m not proud of my pride! But ever since I was a little boy, I’ve found myself crossing over the line between confidence and cockiness. Many trials in life have literally brought me to my knees and revealed my desperate need for God and His wisdom…but I’m frequently tempted to do it my way, to be in control.

Can you relate?

Pride is the original sin, the one that is believed to have gotten satan kicked out of heaven (Isaiah 14:7-15; Luke 10:18; Revelation 9:1
). It’s not wonder James continues,

But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. (James 3:14)

Now James is calling out what it means to follow earthly wisdom. The fruit of the world includes envy, strife, and boasting. False wisdom reveals itself through envy and selfish ambition. Our culture today is all about building a brand, getting a platform, and promoting yourself. That’s the exact oppose of Jesus’ life…and he was worth promoting! The world exalts man and woman while the Kingdom always points to God and His glory.

Strife—a word found in some translations in verse 14—is literally a party spirit, getting people to support you while creating rivalry and division. There’s a lot of strife in our political system today!

Boasting is obviously an expression of pride, and Warren Wiersbe notes, “Nothing is prouder than the wisdom of men.” Have you ever heard an interview with an “expert,” using promoting a new book or film? They boast of their great intellect and knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with intellect and knowledge—Jesus was the greatest genius in human history—but boasting about it is quite another thing.

Many of you have heard the story of
Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest boxers of all time…and probably one of the greatest boasters of all time, too! A flight attendant asked him to buckle his seatbelt on an airplane to which he replied, “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.” The wise flight attendant replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane!”

Boasting is great for TV entertainment, but it’s not an expression of heavenly wisdom. It usually involves lies, too. In fact, James notes,

Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:15-16)

Those are strong words! Pride is satanic! It is demonic! Envy and selfish ambition are not from the LORD! Yet think about how many famous people are wrapped up in themselves, their popularity, their celebrity. Envy. Selfish ambition. Boasting. Deceit. It’s all there! It’s all over social media, mainstream media, marketing and advertising…and it has no place in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ!

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. (James 3:17)

Here’s another list, this one describing heavenly wisdom. We saw back in verse 13 that godly wisdom is humble.

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 3:13)

Some translations use the word
meekness which is not weakness, but power under control. The original Greek word describes a horse that had been broken. It is the right use of power, and the right use of knowledge is wisdom. They go together.

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. (James 3:17)

Here in verse 17 James says wisdom is first of all
pure. It is holy. God is holy and everything He does is holy, set apart, pure. We will read in the next chapter that we are to purify our hearts. It saddens me that purity is often mocked as being old-fashioned, yet I doubt too many people would want to drink water that is 90% or even 99% pure!

Godly wisdom is also filled with
peace, a peace rooted not in compromise but holiness. If the church is pure, we will experience peace. This is not about turning a blind eye or sweeping sin under the carpet. That’s the way of the world…hide, cover up, mask.

The next element is
gentleness or being considerate. It’s not about being a doormat or simply “nice,” but rather what one man called “sweet reasonableness.” Abraham Lincoln was described by Carl Sandburg as a man of “velvet steel.”

The fruit of the Spirit includes peace and gentleness.

The list in James also includes submissive or compliance. Earthly wisdom makes a person stubborn, but a truly wise person listens to all sides and can disagree without being disagreeable. This is a foreign concept in today’s cancel culture. Obviously one can’t agree with everyone and make everyone happy, but you can be respectful and kind in the process. “Yielding to persuasion” is one translation of the word, which brings to mind Ephesians 5:21

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

This is wise, godly compliance.

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. (James 3:17)

Next, James speaks of
mercy. He actually says heavenly wisdom is full of it! It is controlled by mercy. God does not give us the punishment we deserve, hallelujah! We are to show mercy to others as the Good Samaritan did in Luke chapter ten.

James speaks of
good fruits, the visible result of heavenly wisdom. What kind of fruit is your life bearing? Jesus said in John 15 that he is the vine and we are the branches, and we bear fruit based upon what we’re connected to, what feeds us. Tragically, many so-called Christians spend more time filling their minds with social media and depressing news than they do abiding and remaining with Jesus. Faithful people are fruitful. Is the fruit of the Spirit visible in your life? Here’s the full list:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

James adds that heavenly wisdom is impartial and sincere.

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. (James 3:17)

It is single-minded and
decisive. Wiersbe notes, “Wisdom from above brings strength from above.” When we are seeking God’s wisdom, we can be confident in our decisions, knowing if they are pure and not self-serving, they will be impartial. They are also sincere. The original Greek word for hypocrite is “one who wears a mask” like an actor. That’s the way of the world. It’s phony, flashy, full of hype, and insincere. Heavenly wisdom is filled with love, honesty, and integrity.

James adds one final statement which summarizes much of what we’ve examined.

Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:18)
Is this true? Of course! This is godly wisdom. It might not make you popular in the eyes of the world, but you’ll be a champion in the eyes of the LORD.

Paul described it this way:

Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 5:8)

My question(s) for you today is:

Do you seek wisdom? Where?

When given the choice on Sunday morning between earthly and heavenly wisdom, the answer is obvious. Monday morning is where it counts, though. We have a real enemy who knows our weaknesses and lures us into trouble, envy, strife, confusion, and evil. I wish that could only be said about “those people” who don’t yet know Christ, but if we’re honest, they probably describe all of us at times. Why? Perhaps it’s simply the result of attention, our focus, the things we watch, hear, and experience. This is why we need to be in the Word, reading and listening to scripture, filling our minds with the truth that can set us free…from the lies of the world.

Those lies are nothing new. The Bible is filled with stories of men and women promoting themselves, arguing about who was the greatest, trying to build a tower reaching heaven, putting armor on a young boy, trying to dismiss a hungry crowd on the verge of a miracle, …the list goes on and on. There’s nothing wrong with seeking advice from others, but make sure your wise council is seeking godly wisdom.

Heavenly wisdom produces blessing, good fruit, abundant life, eternal life.

Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding, (Proverbs 3:13)

It begins with seeking wisdom. The truly wise seek heavenly wisdom rather than human understanding. Jesus said,

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

Here’s my paraphrase: seek God and his kingdom and his righteousness and his wisdom…and you will be blessed beyond measure. It doesn’t mean life will be easy, but it will be full and satisfying and a life worth living.

It all begins with surrender. It begins with laying down our agendas and pride and inviting the Holy Spirit to lead us, to guide us, to produce fruit in and through our lives.

Homework: review the lists in this text one by one and see what fruits are being produced by your life

For extra credit, do the assignment my dad gave me once as a punishment: write out by hand every verse in the book of Proverbs that talks about wisdom!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

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