Who Are Wise and Understanding among Us?
O Lord God, we come before You this day and humbly confess our many sins. You have wisely revealed Your will for us in Your Word, yet we in foolish pride have so often turned away from Your Word and followed our own sinful desires. Cleanse our hearts, O Lord, through the blood of Jesus and fill them with true wisdom and godly desires. Lead us to say and to do only those things which serve to glorify Your name. Amen.
Miriam and Aaron once foolishly rebelled against Moses in the wilderness. Using their own worldly wisdom, they opposed his marriage to an Ethiopian woman. God demonstrated His displeasure with their rebellion by causing Miriam to become leprous for seven days. Let us not foolishly rebel against our God, but rather pray for heavenly wisdom to guide our ways!
The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day followed worldly wisdom when they taught people that they were saved by doing the works of the law. Blinded by their own errors, they foolishly opposed Jesus, God’s Son and their only hope of salvation. May we ever look to Jesus alone for guidance in life and for the hope of eternal salvation!
Text: James 3:13-18
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 will be 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 with-out hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
In Christ Jesus, the source of true wisdom for our lives, dear fellow redeemed:
Summer is over and students are heading back to school. For some students that is not a happy thought. No doubt, many parents have been asked, "Why do I have to go to school anyway?" A standard response is, "You go to school to learn." But what do they learn? Our age is often called the "information age," because there is simply so much information available. None of us, for instance, could ever read all the books in our public libraries, or digest all the information published each month in magazines. If you throw in the inter-net, it is easy to see how anyone could suffer information overload! That is why futurists speak of the need for moving from the "information age" to the "knowledge age." In the "knowledge age" people would be taught methods of filtering all of the information out there, discarding most of it and keeping only that which is useful. Yet futurists admit there will still be problems, for not everyone will use their knowledge properly. For instance, Ted Kaczinski, better known as the "Uni-bomber," was very knowledgeable in areas of technology, but misused his knowledge and sent bombs through the mail. Consequently, some futurists suggest that we must move from information, to knowledge, and then finally to wisdom! The question, of course, is, "Who is to say wherein true wisdom lies?"
Our God has much to say about wisdom in His Word. As we heard earlier in our Gradual Solomon points out, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). In the opening verses of his epistle James states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (1:5). James was writing his epistle to Christians who were not living very wisely at the time. He had to admonish them for their seeming lack of faith, for their prejudices, for their cruel tongues, and for their lax attitudes towards Christian living. As our text opens he poses a question, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” James’ purpose was to encourage his readers to examine their own hearts and lives, as well as the lives of those around them. Those who were living wisely were to become models for others to follow. Let us ask the same question and do the same thing today: WHO ARE WISE AND UNDERSTANDING AMONG US?
We will see, first of all, that those are not wise and understanding who embrace worldly wisdom! What is "worldly wisdom"? James describes it when he writes, “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 things will be there.” Notice that James uses three words to describe worldly wisdom in contrast to heavenly wisdom. He calls it “earthly, sensual, (and) demonic.” What does he mean? "Earthly" describes a wisdom that focuses on this world and the physical things in this world. God and the spiritual really play no role in this wisdom. It is governed by what man can see—the material universe—and nothing else. Solid matter is real and what counts. God is ignored! A good example of this would be someone for whom worldly success is his only goal. "Sensual" means relating to our senses. If it feels good; if it brings me pleasure; if it makes me happy—then it is all right, irrespective of what God may or may not have to say. An example would be someone whose attitude is, "If it suits my purposes and my ends, then I will do it." "Demonic" does not necessarily mean tied to black magic, but rather a wisdom promoted by Satan in direct conflict with the will and revealed wisdom of God. It may have the appearance of something very good on the outside, but the bottom line is that it leads us away from God and places us in opposition to His will. An example of this would be the teachings of the Dalai Lama. Perhaps you saw the article in Friday’s Free Press which quoted the Dalai Lama as saying that, "Religious belief is not a precondition either of ethical conduct or of happiness." While such thinking humanly speaking is true to a certain extent if only this life is considered, it leads inevitably to eternal death and so is demonic!
Such "worldly wisdom" is quite often rooted in two sins identified by James—"envy" and "self-seeking." Both of these sins originate in a heart filled with discontent. If I am envious of others, it is because I am not content with what God has given me. Consequently, I begin to look around myself making comparisons and harboring anger and resentment when I see others to whom God has given more. If I am self-seeking, my heart is likewise not content. I have forgotten that my God has promised to take care of me and will provide for my needs. I have forgotten that my God wants me to focus on loving and serving others rather than on myself. I have come to think even if I don’t admit it that God has not been fair to me and has not done a very good job on my behalf. Consequently, I must now take it upon myself to make sure I get my fair share of whatever it is that I happen to want.
"Worldly wisdom" has a way of helping us justify our own selfish and sinful attitudes, but at what cost to ourselves and to others? James tells us that such attitudes place us in direct opposition to the truth. That is a dangerous place to be, for when we fall into such traps it does not take long before we cannot distinguish between truth and error. Such attitudes cause “confusion” which James says leads to situations filled with “every evil thing.” Think of all of the sorrow that the envy and self-seeking of Joseph’s brothers caused him to suffer when he was sold into slavery. Think of the complex problems that arose when David was not content, but insisted on sleeping with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Think of the senseless bickering that went on among Jesus’ disciples as they debated about, “Who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Mt. 18:1) My dear friends, WHO ARE WISE AND UNDERSTANDING AMONG US? Certainly not those who embrace worldly wisdom which focuses on self and fulfilling personal desires!
Rather we see that those are wise and understanding who embrace heavenly wisdom! James writes, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom….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.” Notice the words that James associates with "heavenly wisdom"--good conduct, meekness, purity, peace-able, gentle, willing to yield, merciful. All of these are identified elsewhere in Scripture with the Spirit of God and are described as fruits of faith.
Dear Friends, true wisdom, therefore, begins with genuine faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. It is only when we by the grace of God come to understand our sins and repent of them that we can truly appreciate the work of our Savior and embrace Him by faith. The Bible clearly tells us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But listen to what Paul then says, “Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:24). We, who by nature are sinful, are justified freely by God’s grace in Christ Jesus. He takes us from certain death in hell to the absolute certainty of eternal life in heaven! This is true wisdom, for it reveals the solution to mankind’s greatest need!
For those who come to such faith in Christ, it only follows that, “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Therefore, those who are truly wise will live their lives in accordance with God’s will as expressed in His Word. Those who are truly wise will live lives of good conduct doing what is right and good for others as God’s law dictates. James says that “the wisdom from above is first pure.” Something that is "pure" is clean and uncontaminated. Friends, is our thinking, are the word which proceed from our mouths, are the things that we are doing clean and uncontaminated? Who are our models in these matters? Is Jesus our model? Are our godly peers our models, or do we look to the world? Yesterday my wife and I tuned in to a movie on network television and decided after about sixty seconds to change the channel because the language was anything but clean and uncontaminated. Dear friends, let us examine what we are watching, what we are listening to, and what we are emulating in our lives, because the world is far from pure. We are called to purity and those who are truly wise heed that call! We at time seem to think that we can surround ourselves with the filth of the world without be touched by it, but that is ridiculous! You cannot stand in a pig sty and stay free of manure! The Bible urges us to “flee youthful lusts” and to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, (and) peace” (2 Tim. 2:22). Let us take God seriously!
James describes the attitude of those who are truly wise when he calls them “peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, (and) full of mercy.” The believing and wise child of God, who knows who he is and where he is going, has the confidence necessary to place his future in God’s hands. He doesn’t have to be defensive or demanding. He doesn’t have to be a bully, but rather, trusting that the Lord will provide, can concentrate on how best to help others. Abraham was truly wise when he allowed his nephew Lot to choose which land he wanted first, for even though Lot chose what according to worldly wisdom was the better land, he suffered no end of trouble. Abraham, on the other hand, having left the matter in God’s hands, experienced God’s richest blessing. So often people today, even Christians, spend so much time making sure that they get their fair share, focusing on their own wants and desires and insisting on their rights, that they deprive themselves of the greater blessings of God’s love and mercy.
Dear friends, truly wise people seek to live in peace with others. Recognizing their own failures and understanding that everyone else shares their frail humanity, they forgive as they themselves have been forgiven (cf. Ephesians 4:32) and seek to end disputes in ways which will be mutually beneficial. Louis IX, King of France during the Middle Ages, was given the name Louis the Pious by his peers. He was so widely respected that he was chosen to arbitrate disputes among the other rulers of Europe. In fact, he was so fair, that frequently people who had personal disputes with him, simply left the matter in his hands, for they knew he would do what was right, good, and God-pleasing. Louis IX was a God-fearing and wise man!
My dear friends, in our day—an age that has been designated as "post-Christian" in view of the rejection of Christianity and widespread ungodliness we need to walk wisely. WHO AMONG US ARE WISE AND UNDERSTANDING? Examine yourselves and look for positive examples among your peers. May we all by God’s grace embrace the heavenly wisdom revealed by God in His Word! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting