************ Sermon on James 3:13-18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 14, 2007
"Two Kinds of Wisdom"
Topic: UnselfishnessThis poem, using the words of James, expresses "wisdom that comes from heaven" (James 3:17) rather than wisdom that is "earthly, unspiritual, of the devil" (James 3:15).
Title: Neither I, Nor My, Nor Me!
You cannot pray the Lord's prayer,
and even once say "I".
You cannot pray the Lord's prayer,
and even once say "My".
Nor can you pray the Lord's prayer
and not pray for another.
For when you ask for daily bread,
you must include your brother!
For others are included in each and every plea.
From the beginning to the end of it,
it does not once say "me".
If you are wise, filled with wisdom from above, then your life is not focused on yourself. If you are wise, filled with wisdom from above, then your life is focused on serving others and serving God.
We need to remind ourselves that James is writing to servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1). James insists that if we have real faith, we will show it by living and acting like Christians. Our faith, says James, needs to have an impact on our lives. If we truly believe in Jesus Who suffered and died – as we were reminded of in the Lord's Supper – then it make a difference in the way we live. James' letter is a powerful call to conversion of the whole life. James' letter is a call to live out the "royal law" (James 2:8) of God by not only hearing the Word but also by showing that the Word has taken hold of our lives through acts of obedience.
We need to realize that if our faith does not make a difference in the way we talk and live and act, then we have to question whether we have a saving faith. Then we have to question whether we can or should take the Lord's Supper.
On this Lord's Supper Sunday James reminds us that servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ live out their faith when they have wisdom that comes from heaven. Our good works and obedient life demonstrate that we are "wise and understanding" (James 3:13).
I Earthly Wisdom
A Are you "wise and understanding"? Are you known as a wise guy (no pun intended)? Do you want to be known as a wise guy?
We looked at wisdom earlier in our study of James (James 1:5). We said at that time that wisdom shows us how to live as Christians in any given situation. Wisdom makes us "street smart." Wisdom starts in heaven but works at the street level, where we bump shoulders with others and apply our faith. Wisdom is knowing how to put the Word of God into practice in day-to-day life.
We also said that wisdom starts with the "fear of the Lord." You need to believe in God and in His almighty power before you can have the wisdom that James talks about. You need to have faith in Jesus Christ before this wisdom is yours.
B The pursuit of wisdom has been a universal concern of mankind. For centuries the greatest philosophers have sought wisdom. They have tried to figure out the best and most honorable ways of living. Don't forget, that is the purpose of wisdom – to show us how to live.
Unfortunately, the people of this world have tried to find wisdom without finding God. They have looked in many different places for wisdom: horoscopes, newspaper columns, science, psychology, Transcendental Meditation, Reiki, drugs, the latest guru, and so on.
Have you noticed our society's infatuation with celebrities? Newspapers and TV stations are quick to report on the positions and opinions of famous people, even if these people have no discernible expertise on the matter. All too often our society equates fame with knowledge and celebrity with wisdom.
Wisdom does not come from a movie star or sports hero. Wisdom does not come from a book or a course. Wisdom comes from God and from God alone.
James condemns the wisdom of this world that is "earthly, unspiritual, of the devil" (James 3:15). It is not James' intent to put down all things that arise from the physical order. But he does put down a mind-set that does not consider God or His Word. It is such wisdom that is "earthly, unspiritual, of the devil." Paul states that those who live according to this earthly wisdom despise and reject Christ (1 Cor 1:18-31).
C Notice what this kind of worldly wisdom does. Those with it "harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition" (James 3:14). At the time of James, just like today, people strived to get ahead and they strived for things or positions that others had. The focus of this worldly wisdom is the self. You are guided by self-interest and self-gratification.
Let's think about how this applies to our modern Western culture, especially our modern Western business culture. The predominant motivation in the business world is "selfish ambition." The goal is higher and higher profits for owners and stockholders. You accomplish this goal by ruthlessly lowering expenses, increasing sales, and eliminating competition.
Envy also plays a role in the modern business world. Those who run a company or dairy can easily envy the successes of those that are larger. Those lower down the corporate ladder envy those above them. This envy can drive people to a jealous striving.
A number of months I was reading over something and kept coming across the acronym "WIIFM." I had no idea what it meant so I googled it. It stands for "What's In It For Me".
This is a tool, a tactic, first used by business to motivate employees and promote sales. In any and every situation you need to keep yourself in mind. You need to keep asking yourself, "What In It For Me". If there is no clear advantage or gain for you in the situation, then you don't do it.
The underlying idea is that people are best motivated by self-interest. Many believe that people are most cooperative when they understand the personal benefits that result.
But there's much more to human motivation than WIIFM. We as humans also care about the well-being of others, and of the groups we belong to. In part, that's why parents shield their children from danger with their own bodies, why soldiers willingly die for their countries, and why firemen who don't even know us run into burning buildings to save our lives.
WIIFM is the antithesis of the Gospel. If Jesus adopted WIIFM He never would have died upon the cross. If the apostles adopted WIIFM they never would have proclaimed the Gospel. If the church adopted WIIFM she would not engage in ministry and service. If the Lord's Prayer adopted WIIFM it would be filled with "I", "my", and "me". If elders and deacons and pastors adopted WIIFM they would be totally unsuited for office.
What is your goal in your work, your dairy, your farm, your business? What motivates you to seek office in the church or school or city or county or service organization? Is it a craving for power and wealth or is it a desire for service?
On this Lord's Supper Sunday, as servants of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, I need to tell you that your philosophy is not and can never be WIIFM. Your motivation is not and can never be "envy and selfish ambition". This attitude comes from wisdom that is "earthly, unspiritual, of the devil".
D James must have seen this worldly wisdom in the church. Why else would he talk about it? He saw church members who boasted about or were proud of their accomplishments, their position, their wealth. And, he saw church members who denied their selfish ambition and bitter envy – even though it was obvious to others their lives were filled with this.
Neither boasting nor pride nor denial are proper ways of dealing with these vices.
When I think of this I think of Donald Trump. Here is someone filled with earthly wisdom. Here is someone focused on self. Here is someone who harbors envy and selfish ambition. Of course, his is not the only name we can add to the list. And, in his circles this is totally acceptable. But, for those who are servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ this is totally unacceptable. Those who take the Lord's Supper and say they believe Jesus suffered and died for them do not have lives of envy and selfish ambition. Their first thought is NOT "What's In It For Me!"
II Heavenly Wisdom
A Are you "wise and understanding"? Are you known as a wise guy? Do you want to be known as a wise guy? If your answer is "yes" then you seek "wisdom that comes from heaven" (James 3:17) – at least if you are a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is wisdom that comes from God. It arises from true faith. It is wisdom that God gives to us when we ask Him for it (James 1:5-8).
Notice what this wisdom does. Those with it lead a "good life" and are filled with "humility" (James 3:13).
B Those with godly wisdom are humble. Humility was not highly esteemed at the time of James. It was considered essential for those at the lower levels of society – after all, you had to be humble before those who were richer and higher than you. But people of wealth and position did not need humility.
I can't help but observe that humility is not very popular in our culture either. Consider the election campaign we just underwent for Congress and state-wide offices. Politicians don't get elected by being humble about themselves, their gifts, and their accomplishments. They are expected to brag and boast. We find the same attitude among many sports heroes and movie stars.
Servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ are humble. Those who take the Lord's Supper are to be like Jesus. Jesus is the best example of humility, as we learn in Philippians 2. What did Jesus do? He humbled Himself in order to save us. What did Jesus do? He put aside, for a while, the glory and splendor of the triune Godhead that was and is His from eternity to eternity. He took the nature of a servant, a slave (think of Him washing His disciples' feet). He was born of a woman. He lived a life of perfect obedience, even to the point of death. He died under the curse of God. Christ was not focused on Himself. His motto was not "What's In It For Me"! His life was focused on serving God and others. All of this makes Jesus the greatest example of humility ever.
This pattern of Christ is the model for you and me to follow. This pattern of Christ is the wise pattern and it causes us to be humble rather than proud and arrogant and self-serving and self-centered.
C Those with godly wisdom also lead what James calls the "good life" (James 3:13).
What is the "good life"? The world and worldly wisdom has its definition. The good life, according to the world, is lots of money, being at the top of the heap, Carribean vacations, fifth wheels and motor homes, tummy tucks, face lifts, flat panel TVs, IPods, Blackberry cell-phones, a yacht, a trophy wife, your own home, a big retirement package, and so on. And it makes no difference if you have to trample over people, divorce your wife, underpay your workers, take advantage of situations, or drive competitors out of business in order to attain the good life.
Notice how James defines the good life. It is not defined by things. It is not defined by position. It is not defined by self-interest or envy or selfish ambition. Wisdom from above says the good life
(James 3:17) ... is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
On this Lord's Supper Sunday I want to tell you that you have to choose between earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. You have to choose between living for self and living for God. You have to choose between selfish ambition and godly service.
Servants of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, those who take the Lord's Supper and imitate Jesus, they seek wisdom from above and strive to grow and increase in this wisdom.
So tell me, is yours wisdom from above or is yours the wisdom of the devil?
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