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.
If something interests you, you will try to find out all you can about it. If you are into hunting, you might read books or subscribe to magazines to learn how to do it better. If you have an interest in computers, you might take a class to learn even more. If you enjoy sports, you might watch all the pre-game and post-game shows to get all the information you can. If you want to enjoy all of the bells and whistles from your DVD player or your Smart TV, you read the instruction manual. In one way, form or fashion, we are always seeking knowledge. Today, as we study this part of God’s Word, we are encouraged to SEEK THE WISDOM THAT COMES FROM ABOVE. We will see 1. Worldly Wisdom Produces Selfish Living, but 2. God’s Wisdom Produces Spiritual Living.
As we begin our study of the text, James asks a question of his readers, a question by which they might examine themselves. He writes, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (Verse 13) With this question, James forces his readers to take a look at themselves. We also note that James uses both “wise” and “understanding.” There is a difference between these two words. “Wise” has the idea of knowing the facts. “Understanding” has the idea of being able to put the facts and concepts together, to put them to work. You might teach a three year old multiplication tables, but they would just be reciting the facts back to you. Later, however, they gain experience and know how to put those facts into practical usage. Then, they would be both wise and understanding. James is asking, by this question, if a person is there who both knows that facts of Christianity and understands how they relate to his life.
After James asks the question, he adds, “Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (Verse 13) ‘If you claim to be wise and understanding, prove it. Put your money where your mouth is. Show it in deeds that are done in the humility that comes from wisdom.’ How is this done? How is wisdom shown? James continues by contrasting worldly wisdom with God’s wisdom.
In verse 16, James writes, “Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” James points to disorder and evil actions and says that both can be traced back to an individual’s seeking their own interests. If a person is only concerned about themselves, about what’s in it for them, you will naturally find disorder or trouble and every sort of evil. If I am envious of someone else because of what they have or have been given, it’s only going to lead to trouble. There will be the temptation to speak poorly about them. It might lead me to take what belongs to them or destroy what they have. It might make me question God’s love for me, because someone always seems to have it better. Being envious of others will only lead to trouble, whether it is in the government, business, church or home. How many times haven’t we heard people say, “It’s not fair!”? Doesn’t that usually mean that they feel they have been slighted?
This is showing the wisdom of the world. This is the wisdom that is pushed upon us by advertising and other areas. Listen to what James says about this self-centered thinking, “Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” (Verse 15) I find it interesting and quite correct that the NIV puts the word “wisdom” in quotation marks. In other words, it is so-called wisdom, or what passes itself off for wisdom, but really is not. Also note that James says that this type of self-centered, so-called wisdom is not from heaven. It doesn’t have its origins from God. Rather, James says, it is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” This sort of wisdom is earthly — not from heaven. It is the sort of wisdom possessed by minds that only look out for themselves and their own. This wisdom is unspiritual. It is from the sinful nature, which seeks to serve self first. It is “demonic.” The devil loves it when we are selfish and greedy, because that leaves the door open for other sins. This sort of self-seeking wisdom succeeds only in bringing about such conditions that are pleasing only to the devil. Selfishness can only lead to trouble in the government, business, church or home. Worldly wisdom can only produce selfish living.
As we look at ourselves, we, too, must admit that we haven’t always been wise in God’s sight. If I’ve been selfish, self-seeking, I have sinned. We are all, by nature, selfish. That’s not something that you have to teach children. If you would put two three-year-olds in a room full of toys, it won’t be long before both are grabbing the same toy and screaming ‘MINE!’. Are we, as we grow older, really all that different? Being selfish is not pleasing to God and for it, we deserve God’s eternal punishment.
However, Jesus came to be our Savior. He came to rescue us from all of our sins. He did so, first of all, by keeping all of God’s law. Jesus was never selfish or self-seeking. He put the needs of others ahead of his own. Jesus lived for us and he also died for us. He also rose again, so that we might be saved. In addition to that, he sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts to make us truly wise. God has shown you that way of salvation. He has created true faith and true wisdom in your heart.
Now, how can we show this wisdom in our daily lives? How do we show that we are wise and understanding? James tells us in verse 17, “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.” Let us look at each of these words that describe God’s kind of wisdom. First of all, it is “pure.” We might use the word “holy.” This is wisdom that can only be exhibited by one who has been made holy or pure. This would be a Christian. This wisdom, since it is from above, is pure and holy.
James goes on to describe this wisdom as “peace-loving.” This heavenly wisdom both loves and promotes peace. It wants nothing more than to live with others in peace and quiet and will do all it can to promote that peace. James tells us that this wisdom is “considerate.” It is gentle with others. It is a humble patience which is able to submit to injustice and disgrace without hatred or malice. This heavenly wisdom is “submissive.” It submits to the authorities that God has established, such as parents, church and government. This also has the idea of being able to yield. This means that it doesn’t always have to be your way. It means a realization that other people’s viewpoints, even if they are different from our own, might have merit, as well. It doesn’t get all bent out of shape when someone does things a little differently than we are used to.
James goes on to describe this wisdom as being, “full of mercy and good fruit.” When we see someone in need, whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual, we see an opportunity to help, rather than a bother and taking up of our precious time. This heavenly wisdom is “impartial.” It doesn’t just show itself to a select, chosen few. Rather, it is exhibited to all, even those who don’t deserve it. Finally, James says, that this wisdom is “sincere.” It isn’t a facade or an act. True wisdom will come from the Christian’s heart. It’s just the natural thing to do. This is the wisdom that comes from above.
Now, let’s give some concrete examples of how this wisdom might be put into use in our daily lives. The Christian employee can carry out the demands of his employer to the best of his ability, without muttering under his breath or talking behind his back. The Christian driver doesn’t need to curse the driver who cut him off. The Christian student doesn’t need to grumble about the homework assignment that they have been given or talk about a fellow student behind their back, especially to stay in good graces with their peers. Christian brothers and sisters don’t have to argue about whose turn it is to pick up the living room or do the dishes. In other words, Christian wisdom exhibits itself in seeking the welfare of others and not worrying about being left out in the cold. It’s ready and willing to give in for the sake of others.
This type of wisdom is not a natural wisdom. It only comes from God. It is motivated by God’s love for us and is empowered by God. God makes us want to live as a wise and understanding person. He provides the wisdom and the way in which wisdom can grow, namely in his Word and in the Lord’s Supper. God makes us wise.
The story is told of two brothers who were arguing at the breakfast table as to who should get the first waffle. The mother, wanting to each them an important lesson, said to her sons, ‘If Jesus and his brother were here, Jesus would let his brother have the first waffle.’ After a moment of silence, one of the boys spoke to his brother and said, ‘You be Jesus.’ While we might smile at that story, we can also see that, if we live according to the world’s wisdom, it will only produce selfish living. But if, motivated by God’s love, we live according to his wisdom, it will produce spiritual living. May we, then, seek the wisdom which comes from above, for only then will we be truly wise and understanding. Amen.
St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches ©2023 All rights reserved.