Welcome to Day 2126 of Wisdom-Trek, and thank you for joining me.
This is Guthrie Chamberlain, Your Guide to Wisdom
James – Wisdom is Faith in Action 8 – Wise, Unwise, and Otherwise – Daily Wisdom
Putnam Church Message – 10/24/2021
James: Wisdom is Faith In Action – Wise, Unwise, and Otherwise
We are continuing our series today on the Proverbs of the New Testament, better known as the letter of James. Last week we focused on “Control Your Tongue” or “zip your lips” in today’s vernacular. So much knowledge today is increasing exponentially, but it seems wisdom is sorely lacking. So today, we will look at persons who are Wise, Unwise, and Otherwise. So join me on page 1884 in the pew bibles as I read the Scripture for today. I would recommend keeping this passage open as we go throughout the message today:
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.
As most of you know, I consider myself quite a lumberjack with my huge chainsaw. An old proverb says, “A tree is best measured when it’s down.” The actual size and quality of a tree’s lumber can best be determined after the tree has been cut down. So, accurately measuring a person’s accomplishments can also be seen at the end of their life. This proverb is especially true of the life of Solomon, son of David. During Solomon’s reign over Israel, he thrived as an author, diplomat, poet, politician, philanthropist, architect, and engineer. At his apex, Solomon was a man unparalleled by any other.
How was Solomon able to accomplish so much during his lifetime? Second, Chronicles 1 provides the answer. When Solomon inherited the kingdom from his father, David, God appeared to him in a vision in 2 Chronicles 1:7. That night God appeared to Solomon and said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!” Can you imagine that offer? What would you ask for if the Lord of heaven and earth offered anything you asked?
Solomon reveals his true character when he answers in 2 Chronicles 1:10, “Give me the wisdom and knowledge to lead them properly, for who could possibly govern this great people of yours?” In essence, he said, “I’ve inherited an overwhelming task! More than anything else, I need wisdom! I need practical insight into the subtleties of life so I can govern Your people well. I ask and nothing more.” Now that’s a response of humility! With open hands, he turned to God to give him what he needed to accomplish what he needed to do.
About a thousand years after Solomon asked for wisdom from God to accomplish his calling, another descendent of David named James wrote 1:5, If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. As I said from the beginning of this series, the book of James is the New Testament book of Proverbs. Like Solomon’s own contrast between Madam Folly and Lady Wisdom in the opening chapters of Proverbs, James 3:13-18 contrasts the unwise and the wise. These six short verses paint two pictures with a palate of colorful words: one portrait lacks God’s wisdom, and the other portrait is of a person who has received wisdom from above.
UNWISE VERSUS WISE (JAMES 3:13-18)
Wisdom From Above
2.Selfish Ambition (3:14)
2.Humble Good Works (3:13)
5.Gentle at All Times
6.Willing to Yield to Others
7.Full of Mercy
8.Fruit of Good Deeds
9.Shows No Favoritism
10.Always Sincere (3:17)
9.Evil of Every Kind (3:16)
|11.Seeds of Peace
12.Harvest of Righteousness (3:18)
James starts with a question: “Who is wise and understanding among you?” James isn’t really looking for a show of hands. Obviously, most of us want to think we are wise and knowledgeable. It’s like that once-popular game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Dumb question. Almost anybody you ask would raise both hands! That game’s real challenge was demonstrating the lengths and depths of your knowledge—how much you know about obscure and trivial things. Very few would measure up. That’s the point of James’s question. “You think you’re wise and understanding? Well, we’ll see about that. Let’s look at a few things that will test the quality of your wisdom.”
James instructs the wise person to prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works. (13). The first refers to the changed lifestyle of a believer. A topic James has already treated in great depth (2:14-26). A wise person’s life changes toward the good, exhibiting ready obedience to God’s Word. This wisdom relates directly to the central theme of James’s letter – Wisdom is Faith in Action. Smarts, wits, and education don’t make a person wise. Instead, the sage person reflects the truth in their lifestyle.
Next, James says our good works must be done with the humility that comes from wisdom. People today view “meekness” and “gentleness” as marks of weak, spineless folks who let others walk all over them. “Gentleness” is a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23, closely tied to “self-control.” It’s a word used to describe a high-spirited horse brought under control. He hasn’t lost his natural strength but carries that strength with gentleness and humility. That’s biblical wisdom.
This concept has profound practical implications. When we look for a good teacher or preacher, we often gravitate toward the most intellectually astute person, preferably seminary trained. But wise leaders and mentors know when to put on the brakes—and when to accelerate. It’s not by accident that in Paul’s profile of church leaders, he says 2 Timothy 2:24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.
Having introduced the idea of a wise person marked by a good way of life and gentle works, James shifts gears and spends some time describing the signs of an unwise person. He starts at the beginning of verse 14 with two heart-level signs on your bulletin insert: But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart. These dispositions overflow into a person’s life, which James describes in (14-15), with the ultimate results of such actions mentioned in (16).
Those two signs explained are:
“Bitterly jealous” likely refers to jealousy that harbors hard feelings. For example, a jealous person has full hands but feels their belongings or accomplishments are threatened by another’s success. In addition, jealousy is usually linked to selfish ambition. The heart of an unwise person carries an insatiable hunger to push themselves to the top, and they don’t plan on taking anyone with them.
James tells us in verse 15, For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. He proceeds to tell us how this is manifested in five characteristics. (insert)
- Boasting (14). The Greek word means to triumph over others. Thus, it means proudly justifying your sinful actions contrary to God-inspired humility.
- Lying (14). Despite what a lot of philosophers, theologians, and, yes, preachers are saying today, truth is an immovable standard. Forget postmodern concepts of relative truth or the uncertainty of truth. God’s revealed truth corresponds to the way things are. The unwise, however, change their truth standard to match their beliefs or lifestyles.
- Earthly (15). The word means “of the earth,” James contrasts it with wisdom “from above.” It’s a purely horizontal perspective—worldly measures of truth, earthly standards of success, material motives, and temporal priorities.
- Unspiritual (15). This fourth characteristic of the unwise literally means “soulish.” The Greek word is related to our word “psyche,” which applies to the self—the inner human motives. Thus, the source of this wisdom is our thoughts, attitudes, interests, and pursuits, not the Spirit’s wisdom from above.
- Demonic (15). This word doesn’t necessarily mean their worldly wisdom comes straight from demonic beings, though that may sometimes be true. Instead, the emphasis is on wisdom reflecting a philosophy or pattern of thinking so contrary to God’s truth that Satan could endorse it.
So, we see the unwise heart, marked by being bitterly jealous with selfish ambition (14). Such a person is boastful, lying, earthly, unspiritual, and demonic in their character (3:14-15). James ends his portrait of the unwise with a brief description of the result: For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. (16). In the wake of the unwise, we see waves of chaos, confusion, disharmony, antagonism, and pettiness. Look at any newscast; you know how prevalent it is today, and certainly not an example to follow!
Having described earthly wisdom in blunt terms in (14-16), James ends with the stark contrast of “wisdom from above” (17-18). (insert) He already mentioned that the signs of a godly, wise person would prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. (13). James revisits the person with this kind of heart, showing the eight characteristics that mark their life (17) and the following results (18).
- Wisdom from above is “first of all pure.” The word “first” means more than merely first on a list. It indicates rather in order of importance. God-given wisdom produces purity of internal motives as well as external actions. This lifestyle has a built-in promise, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:8: God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. Purity of thought and deed helps us see God working in our circumstances.
- Peace Loving. In contrast to the “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition” of the unwise, God-given wisdom produces peaceful relationships. The natural tendency is to be argumentative, quarrelsome, belligerent, and quick-tempered. God’s supernatural life within us guards against alienating others. Instead, it seeks to remove ill will. Jesus has a promise for those who are peace-loving in Matthew 5:9: God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.
- Gentle. The third characteristic of a wise person is they are gentle at all times. The meaning is “equitable,” “moderate,” and “yielding.” It describes a person who surrenders his rights to a higher ideal. In our day, when people feel their rights have been violated, they strike out with a lawsuit over the most insignificant offenses. That’s the world’s wisdom: petty contentious, selfish, bitter. But with God’s wisdom, we are willing to remain gentle, even if our rights are challenged
- Willing to Yield. It comes from two Greek words, “well” and “persuadable.” Together they mean “easily persuaded.” But don’t get the wrong idea. This yielding doesn’t mean a wise person is a naive pushover! Instead, it has the sense of “teachable,” somebody who puts aside stubbornness and readily yields to the truth. It can refer to a person who is conciliatory, flexible, and open to change. When the Spirit of God captures the heart and does His work deep within, He softens us.
Abraham’s relationship with Lot in Genesis 13 exemplifies this conciliatory attitude. God had blessed these two men with so much livestock that the same fields could no longer sustain their herds. Now, remember, Abraham was the elder of the two and the one to whom God had promised all the land of Canaan. He could have said, “Lot, take your herdsmen and flocks and move on.” But he didn’t. According to Genesis 13:8-9, Finally, Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives! 9 The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” Now that’s a man of wisdom— reasonable, cooperative, flexible.
- Full of Mercy. The fifth character trait of those who exhibit wisdom from above is mercy. If grace is giving a person a blessing they don’t deserve, mercy is withholding a just punishment a person does Mercy implies looking at somebody with compassion when they probably deserve punishment. While worldly wisdom would heap on ridicule or judgment, mercy shows kindness and benevolence.
- Fruit of Good Deeds. Wise people are filled with “good fruits.” James ties this closely with the previous quality, “mercy.” It probably refers to the outward actions that accompany the attitude of pity for others. A person full of mercy will be bountiful in his blessings toward others. Godly wisdom, on the other hand, puts mercy to work, abounding in fruitful deeds.
- Shows No Favoritism. This term suggests a person with fixed principles, who will never violate biblical standards regardless of the situation. Yet, this steadfast person is never willing to compromise on the truth of Scripture. Never! A wise person does not favor extreme legalism, nor do they take flexibility to the extreme of compromising on absolute truth. That kind of balance takes true wisdom, which comes only from above.
- Sincere. Finally, James describes wisdom from above as “always sincere” The related word comes from a term used to describe an actor playing multiple parts. (hold up mask) In Greek plays, one actor often switched masks, costumes, or props, taking on different roles. When the actor played a comedic role, he would wear a mask with a big smile. For a tragic character, the mask would change to sorrow. He would then run off the stage and come out with an angry face for the villain. That’s the essence of hypocrisy —shiftiness, instability, unpredictability. But believers endowed with the Spirit of wisdom will live a life of sincerity. All the masks come off and follow the WYSIWYG principle: “What You See Is What You Get.”
Following the eight characteristics of a wise person, we see the results in (18): And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. The word “peace” refers to relational harmony, peace with one another. But, on the other hand, remember the outcome of false “wisdom” in James 3:16— there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.
James makes his point crystal clear: If you claim to have wisdom like you should, why do you live like you shouldn’t?
APPLICATION: JAMES 3:13-18
Trapped Between Two Portraits
Imagine yourself sitting in the center of a small art gallery. The brightly lit room is empty except for two contrasting portraits on opposite walls. On the one side hangs the portrait of an arrogant, worldly, devilish fellow on a dark backdrop that stirs emotions of anger and envy. A scraggly beard and mustache veil his features, and cast a shadow over his shifty eyes. He leaves chaos and destruction in his wake as he advances, unflinching toward pursuing his goals, driven by jealousy and ambition. The caption beneath the portrait reads: “The Unwise” painted by “Self.”
The portrait on the facing wall couldn’t be more different. That man bears a gentle demeanor, his posture relaxed and expression serene. His eyes are inviting, and his hands appear ready for service. His life is exemplified by people eager to hear his words and mimic his life. Children celebrate his arrival, delighted to see what words of truth he brings. So respected, he shows no signs of pride, and in his path are joy, peace, and prosperity. Below this portrait, the caption says: “The Wise” painted by “The Spirit of God.”
In light of the two contrasting pictures of the wise and unwise in James 3:13-18, which portrait do you identify? Do you struggle with jealousy of others’ successes? Is your life motivated by personal pursuits at the cost of peace? How have these inward feelings and outward actions affected those around you? Do disorder and pettiness mark your life? Do you pursue the things of the world rather than the things of God?
Or is your life characterized by gentleness and humility? Do people know you as a person of mercy, authenticity, and peace? Do you act the same way at home as at work, church, or public? Do you build others up, rejoice at their successes, and place the needs and interests of others ahead of your own? Do you leave harmony and joy in your wake?
As you think through these questions, avoid answering how you wish things were. Instead, answer the way things are. Try to defend your answer with actual evidence from examples that come to mind. Ask yourself whether your closest family members or friends would answer these questions for you the same way.
After identifying with either the portrait of the wise or the unwise, it’s time to consider your response. For the wise, respond to God with thanksgiving, praising Him for molding you through the unfolding years of your life. You’re not wise by your own making but by the inner working of God’s Spirit. Ask God for His wisdom for the unwise, then determine which character problems you need to address explicitly with God’s help. Do you need to mend a particular relationship? Do it. Need to forsake a specific selfish pursuit? Please stop it. Need to start a neglected spiritual exercise like prayer, worship, or Scripture reading? Get started now. It’s never too late to start doing what’s right. Don’t let the effects of folly spiral out of control. Allow God to begin repainting your portrait with life-transforming colors. You’ll begin to reflect not your frail character but the character of His Son.
Next week our topic brings us back to wisdom as we will learn How Fights Are Started and Stopped from James 4:1-10. Would you please read it this week?