The 16th Sunday After Pentecost September 16, 2007
541, 414, 235(3-6), 366(5)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self‑seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self‑seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ:
Recently there have been many recalls of products from China. Lead paint has been found on toys, anti-freeze was found in toothpaste, and dog food has been tainted. Because of this people are being much more curious about a product’s country of origin. The same thing happens when there is a case of mad cow disease. Meat packers very closely scrutinize the origin of every single cow. For many reasons it is good to be informed about the source of what you buy.
If only we paid that much attention to the source of the wisdom that we have and use. Every day we make decisions based on what we think is the best thing to do. At other times we make decisions based on what we think might be harmful or harmless. Yet if the source of our wisdom is tainted, then our decisions will be flawed. We need to know what the source of our wisdom is. The Lord gives us a checklist in the letter of James. He directs us to examine the content of what we think is wisdom and see what characteristics it has and that will tell us the source. We also can step back and look at the results and by those results determine the origin of our wisdom. Today, we ask that the Holy Spirit will give us that wisdom that comes from above as we study His Word.
In this letter from James we see a fight against phoniness. In the first two chapters there is a warning against phony faith. Faith is not just something to be spoken by the mouth. It is to be lived with all the body. James concludes that faith without works is dead. Faith requires walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
We learn in this third chapter that there is such a thing as fake wisdom. There are religious teachers and other supposed Christians who have this fake wisdom. Someone may have the appearance of being pious and having sound advice, but under closer examination we find that nothing is further from the truth. The Lord tells us to take Him at His Word, not doubting what He says to us in the Scripture. However, every human being that is offering up wisdom should be subject to very close scrutiny to see whether the advice and wisdom are truly from God or from Satan.
There are just those two choices. We are told in our text that there is wisdom that comes from above and “wisdom” that is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. The Lord desires us to be wise. In fact, He says that He wants us to be wise unto salvation. He desires that in this life we walk on His paths and follow His ways because that will be far, far better for our souls. He desires for all of our decisions to reflect faith and love. The bottom line is that He loves us to death and wants us to be in heaven with Him.
On the other hand, the Devil wants us to be destroyed. He wants to see us in Hell. It’s not because it benefits him. It’s just the way that he is. Of course, he’s so very subtle that what he offers doesn’t appear bent on destruction. In fact, it may appear to be very wise. That’s what makes this all so very difficult. We think that we’re doing the smart thing. So, first of all, as we test the source of wisdom, we have to recognize that there are choices out there. Every day you are presented with wisdom that is true and that which is false. There is advice that is truly good for our souls and there is fake wisdom that just sounds good. That’s pretty basic stuff, and yet how many times do we do spiritually dumb and destructive things while at the same time think that we’re so awfully smart? How often do we think that demonic wisdom is at the worst neutral? We can see it in each other’s lives, but we need to see it in our own lives.
The Lord helps us out. He gives us some standards that we can apply to wisdom to see whether it is from above or from below. We are to look beyond the person giving us the advice and look at the content of the advice itself. So often when we want advice we seek out people who will tell us what we want to hear. We want somebody to validate our decisions rather than telling us, “No. That is wrong.” We have to dig in deeper than that. We need to step back and evaluate what is being said.
Fake wisdom is described in our text as envious and self-seeking. How many decisions that you make are based on those factors? We tend to think in terms of trying to get what someone else has rather than being content in what we have. We tend to think in terms of making ourselves happy first and foremost. These characteristics are earthly, unspiritual, and from the Devil.
Trying to please yourself first is the most natural thing in the world and that’s the whole problem. You are then thinking in an earthly way rather than spiritually. Such a thought pattern can be found when people fall into sin—Eve, David, Judas, Peter. Most sin is based on selfishness. that morphs quite quickly into bitterness in which we hope that someone else gets penalized even if it doesn’t help us. Look very carefully into your thought patterns and work to weed out whatever is based on envy and selfishness. Examine very carefully any “wisdom” that is given to you, and toss out that which is based on envy and selfishness.
You can also hold wisdom up to the standard that is given in verse 17 of the text: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” This is not natural. Such attributes can only come from above. Just think how much trouble would be avoided in our lives if instead of trying to get our way all the time and being selfish, we would be peaceable, gentle, and willing to yield. Such thinking does not come from within us. It has to come from God. To have such wisdom we need to be changed from the inside out.
The only way in which we can be changed and have such wisdom is through the love of God. The love of God is so very powerful. We learn of it as we study His plan of salvation. There was no greater sacrificial love than Christ on the cross. Jesus knew that in order to save us He would have to walk a road that no one else could. He would have to walk a road of perfection every single day and every single hour. He would have to walk the road of suffering. He did both. He obeyed His Father’s will out of love and went the distance in love.
Jesus is more than an example and model when it comes to love. He is the source. Such love is the basis of heavenly wisdom. Such love moves us to think in a way that is spiritual and selfless, not earthly and selfish. If you want to have more wisdom, then your connection to Jesus needs to be strengthened. As good as that sounds, it is something that we are loathe to do. But as you are filled up with God’s love and moved by the Holy Spirit, your thought process will change.
We all need to take a good hard look at our motives and actions to see whether they are selfish or selfless, peaceable or envious, merciful or bitter. We need to evaluate whether we’re getting ahead or behind—not by the scale and system that the world uses, but according to God’s standards of what He wants.
This brings us to another checkpoint of what kind of wisdom we are using. We simply can look at the results. “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there.” [v.16] If you have disorder and strife in your life somewhere along the line there has been Satan’s smarts rather than heavenly wisdom. I’m not talking about having to go through surgery or experiencing grief in the death of a loved one. I’m talking about relationships that have been spoiled by envy and self-seeking. If you find such chaos in your marriage or in your family or in your workplace, or in your congregation, then somewhere along the line the devil’s wisdom has been embraced. This is not to say that there is necessarily unbelief, but Satan has had a modicum of success is planting seeds.
It is foolish to keep doing the same things and expecting different results. It is a fact that “where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there.” This is not hypothetical or some sort of guesswork. There has to be a change in your source of wisdom if you want different results. Usually we do the opposite. If there’s a problem in our lives that’s somebody else’s fault and we engage more in envy and selfishness. Naturally, the bad results will increase even more. It is a vicious nasty cycle.
You don’t have to stay on the merry-go-round of spiritual dysfunction. We read in verse 18, “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” When God’s wisdom of selflessness and love is followed there will be peace and good results. Instead of vying for our self-interests we can look out for the needs of others. This goes against every instinct that we have to get the last word in. It feels good at times to be disagreeable and unyielding. But there is a better way.
Look into your heart. Look at the changes that God has made by His love and peace and know that by His power you can sow peace. There is a better way that He is presenting. You can not only listen to wisdom from above, but the Lord wants you to also show that better way. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.” [v.13]
Track the source of your wisdom so that you know that what you are ingesting is the right stuff. God gives you the tools right here. Compare the contents and results to what He has laid before you in James chapter 3, and by His grace follow the wisdom that is from above. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.