by Duane Maust
September 24, 2006
James 3:13-18; 4:3,7-8a
Marvin and Millie had a prelude to this passage last Sunday around a picnic table on the Natchez Trace. The cycle group asked me to lead worship and this passage was on my mind and it was a good chance to hear what some of them heard these verses saying.
This passage today is dealing with two kinds of wisdom. We all pride ourselves for having some wisdom. We can see how Godly wisdom will bring a harvest of righteousness. That righteousness is sown in peace.
You may have noticed that the wisdom in verse 15 has quotations around it. What is the difference between the two wisdoms?
God once asked King Solomon what he most wanted: wealth, prestige, and power. That would have been a neat request to have to answer. What would we choose if we were given that choice? Of all the earthly things he could have had, he chose wisdom.
Read 1 Kings 3: 5-13.
So what is wisdom? Some people think wisdom is knowing a lot of things. Are the people that have their doctorates wise? Does 4 years of college do it? Just fact is not wisdom. The Bible tells us that wisdom is one of the gifts that God gives us.
Read James 1:5.
Dr. Millard Erickson defines wisdom as the “special ability to discern or judge right and wrong.” This makes God’s wisdom different than simply having all the facts. As new Christians, you have a lot of facts that you know about life. But God can help you put that over to the wisdom side. God can grant you wisdom as he did for Solomon.
Let’s look at a problem that Solomon faced, in the case of the two mothers that claimed the same baby. The story goes that there were two mothers who both had a baby. One night one baby died, and the mother took the opportunity and traded the dead baby for the live one of the other lady. The next morning the true mother found the dead baby – imagine the heartache.
It didn’t take long for her to realize that this wasn’t her baby, but that it was switched and her baby was alive. The other mother of course denied the charge, so to settle this they went before Solomon. They told him their stories. The two stories did not fit together. Solomon had an idea. He took the baby by the heel and in the other hand a sword and told the mothers that they could each have a half. The real mother begged for the baby’s life and was willing to give it up, the mother that was lying didn’t care if Solomon would continue to kill the baby. The real mother did not want the baby to get hurt.
From their reaction the King’s wisdom told him who the real mother was and he gave the child back to the real mother. It wasn’t just the facts that saved the baby- it was wisdom. (1Kings 3: 16-28) read verse 28.
Read James 3 13-18.
James tells us about two types of wisdom: a godly wisdom and a human nature kind of wisdom. If a person has the godly wisdom, James says in verse 13, “let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” If a person has the spiritual gift of wisdom, they are not to hide it, but they are to use it to the benefit of the rest of the Church. However, they are not to boast or brag about this gift – they are to use it in humility.
Then James turns to the type of wisdom that is not so good. In verse 14 he says, “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambitions in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.” This is not using what he knows to benefit others or God. He is using it for self-gain. This person has an evil tongue and with it they are set out to destroy people that get in their way. They have a goal and it doesn’t matter how many people they step on so long as they can reach their goal. That person is self-centered and arrogant.
In verse 15 and 16 James continues by saying that “such wisdom does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” It is pretty easy to see that this wisdom is very different from the spiritual gift from God.
In the Greek this earthly wisdom means the way an animal thinks and reacts. It is the kind of wisdom that makes an animal snap, snarl, and only care about survival. We humans also use this animal wisdom for survival by using it and not caring who gets hurt or if we act in ways that hurt others and don’t care that we do hurt them. This type of wisdom is not holy.
Elaine was walking around the farm and it was almost dark. She got real close to a raccoon and they both got a big surprise. That raccoon snarled at her and scared her pretty bad. That raccoon was just trying to protect itself. That was coming natural for it. Elaine does not normally spook too easy.
I saw a flock of geese in a V flying south. They knew to go south or they will freeze this winter. That is a matter of survival for them. But we are expected to do more than survive. We are to be wise.
James goes into more detail about the wisdom we are to follow in verses 17 and 18. “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; them peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peace makers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”
James says that true wisdom is ‘pure’. In the Greek it means pure enough, without flaw, to approach God. This wisdom does not have its hidden agenda that is waiting to come out. It is pure enough that it doesn’t have to hide anything from God.
True wisdom is ‘peaceable.’ This means a right relationship between man and between man and God. This type of wisdom works at creating right relationships.
True wisdom is full of mercy and good fruits. The Greek translation of mercy is ‘pity for the man who is suffering unjustly.’ We Christians must go further – it means mercy for the man who is in trouble, even if the trouble is his own fault. When I reflect on the mercy God has showed to us, that gives me pause. God showed me mercy in a big way. He saved me from my sins.
Christian pity is not an emotion; it is action. We can never say that we have truly pitied anyone until we have helped them.
True wisdom is sincere – without hypocrisy, it does not deal in deception, it is honest, it never pretends to be what it is not and it never acts to gain for its own benefit at the expense of others.
One of the last things that James mentions is this harvest of righteousness… I don’t want to miss out on that.
James says, “peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”
William Barclay says in his commentary, “We are all trying to reap the harvest, which a good life brings. But the seeds which brings the rich harvest can never flourish in any atmosphere other then one of rich relationship between man and man. And the only people who can sow these seeds and reap the rewards are those whose life work it has been to produce such right relationships.” So what is that saying? Wisdom brings peace.
I hear James saying that we can follow two types of wisdom. One that brings dissension, conflict, and bitterness between each other, or the wisdom that wants to bring peace. We can choose to follow such wisdom and we can also choose to teach the godly wisdom by the way we talk and by the way we live our lives. The type of wisdom we follow is very evident by the way we treat others.
Read The Message: “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. 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 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 honor.”