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James 3.13-4.3 Above and Below

November 22, 2009 Series: James | Retro-Faith

Topic: New Testament Passage: James 3:14–4:3

James 3.13-4.3 Above and Below

November 22, 2009

Sam Ford

 

James 3.13-4.3  13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

 

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive,

because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

 

The Tongue and Talkers

Last week, James taught us about bridling the tongue.  It is noteworthy that in our church we read and sing Psalm 34 (Gloria) in which David wrote, “Oh, taste and See that the Lord is Good.”  The tongue is central; not only in experiencing the goodness, but in fact of actively directing what we experience.  James bluntly warned us warned us what can happen to the life of an individual who does keep their tongue under control. 

 

As James continues in his letter, the question of verse 14 appears to be disconnected with his tongue tirade.  He appears to go onto a new topic discussing the nature of WISDOM.  As I said last week, whether someone is a fool or someone is wise (according to the Bible) was often revealed by how they used their mouth.  Proverbs 10.19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”  In other words, when someone TALKS A LOT…there is a problem.  The fool babbles on and on and on, gossiping, lying, speaking perversely, boasting, and ultimately brining nothing but confusion, chaos, and ruin.  This is the nature of James’ audience—they are TALKERS.   Throughout his entire letter, James has been concerned with people who confess and claim a great many things about themselves, about God, and about others.  In fact, his letter is written to believers who seem to have a problem with DOING everything BUT talking. 

 

Finding Wisdom

The fact is we all need wisdom.  We all have a thousand questions we need answered.  Who should we marry?  How can I love this person?  What job should I take?  How can I parent here?  What should I say in this moment?  How can I get through this trial?  Where do I go next?  And for every question you have, there are a HUNDRED gurus waiting to tell you their answer or opinion.  But wisdom is something we are supposed to find and pursue because it doesn’t just give us answer, but contentment.  

 

Proverbs 3.13-18       

  13  Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,

and the one who gets understanding,

     14     for the gain from her is better than gain from silver

and her profit better than gold.

     15     She is more precious than jewels,

and nothing you desire can compare with her.

     16     Long life is in her right hand;

in her left hand are riches and honor.

     17     Her ways are ways of pleasantness,

and all her paths are peace.

     18     She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;

those who hold her fast are called blessed.

 

 

v. 13  WHO IS WISE13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

 

Who is Wise…look at their life

How do we find it?  We look to someone who is wise.  The scary thing is that we often assume that the people that talk first, the most, or the loudest are in fact WISE.  The loudest, best looking, most convenient, most familiar, or even most creative voice often wins because we are a people easily swayed by clever talkers, effective communicators, or people we trust.  We don’t ask enough questions before getting answers to our questions. The fall of man resulted from a temptation to accept wisdom from a serpent.  Satan himself is a talker, he’s a fallen angel a word that means “messenger”, called the accuser of men and father of lies.  Our perfect parents in the perfect environment with everything they could every want fell for it…why wouldn’t we?  James asks a simple question of, “WHO IS WISE”?  I’ve been thinking of what makes someone wise in our culture today? 

  • Some would argue that wisdom comes from knowledge
  • Some would argue that wisdom comes from age
  • Some would argue that wisdom comes from experiences (failures/good decisions)
  • Some would argue that wisdom comes from being an owl, living on a mountain, or existing as a small green frog who talks backwards and has a mitichlorian count through the roof.

 

The Meekness of Wisdom

James says the wise will prove themselves with more than words.   In essence, James says stop TELLING me you’re wise—show me.  Someone who PURSUES, FINDS, and SHARES genuine wisdom is characterized by a meekness that true wisdom brings.  What is meekness?  Meekness is not weakness; meekness is characterized by humility and gentleness.  Earlier in his letter (1.21), James charged his audience to, “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”  Meekness, humility, is at the heart of the gospel—it is the heart of Jesus himself.  Ironically, the one who is “wise” is the one who has accepted the foolishness of the cross.  Proverbs 9.10  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.   The cross helps us understand what this means.  The Fear of the Lord is not ALL of wisdom, but it is where we must start.  Many commentators have gone to great lengths to make sure we don’t walk around scared of God that, instead, we focus on a fear of reverence and awe.   But on the cross, we see a God who doesn’t pull punches—he uncompromising in his standard of perfect obedience and yet unwilling to let those he loves die. The cross is not the humiliation of Jesus as much as it is the humiliation of me.   As singer Michael Card wrote, “We in our foolishness thought we were wise, he played the fool and he opened our eyes, we in our weakness believed we were strong, he became helpless to show we were wrong.”

 

v. 14 – 16 BUT IF YOU HAVE14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

 

Demonic Wisdom

James goes on to contrast MEEK GOD-FEARING WISDOM with the wisdom from demons.  In other words, we can find wisdom elsewhere.  Though true wisdom originates with God, false wisdom comes from the world, from our flesh, and from Satan himself.  And we all have to ask ourselves, how we make decisions?  Where do we turn to get answers?  To whom do we turn?

 

Bitter jealousy & Selfish Ambition

If, in our pursuit for answers, find wisdom that is NOT from God, or counsel with someone who is submitted to the Lordship of Jesus, our life will end up in disorder and sin.  And those who receive the wisdom of THIS WORLD into their hearts, will be driven by the values of this world—namely, bitter jealousy (ENVY) and Selfish ambition both UNLOVING toward others.

  • Decision making is driven by wanting what others have and HATING them that they have it.  It is a constant life of despair where you are dissatisfied with everything you have been given or not.  I wish I was……Look what they have…..they don’t understand…I want YOUR SITUATION and I WANT OUT OF MY SITUATION.  It is a life characterized by disillusionment and disappointment. 

 

  • Decision making is rooted in getting ahead, getting your own way, regardless of WHO is IN IT.  It is about assuming a position of superiority.  Word used by Aristotle to describe people selfishly seeking political office.  In other words, they don’t actual care about the community, they care about having power, influence, and position.  They are, at the core, self-seeking.  They are about their party, their faction, their agenda. 

 

DO NOT BOAST and thus be false to THE GOSPEL

James warns those TALKERS, if this is how you feel, if this is how you’re living and thus teaching, YOU’RE NOT WISE…and its best for you not to say anything.  If you spend your time wanting to look better than others OR to get something from you’re denying the gospel that says consider others as more important than yourself. 

 

v. 17 – 18 WISDOM FROM ABOVE17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 Anda harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace 

 

Where does TRUE wisdom come from? 

James then tells us that WISDOM originates with God.  It does not come from below, from men, from our hearts (guts), or from Satan.  True life-giving wisdom comes from God.  You can tell the difference between Jesus Wisdom and Demon Wisdom, Wisdom from above and Wisdom from below.  I would argue that many people, confessing in the name of Jesus, do not possess the wisdom of Jesus.  James describes it:

 

1.  Pure (vs. impure) –someone interested in truth even if it makes us uncomfortable

2.  Peaceable (vs. hostile) – someone who seeks forgiveness even when wronged

3.  Gentle (vs. loud) – someone who is sensitive to the needs of others, before their own

4.  Open to Reason (vs. unteachable) – someone who is willing to listen not just argue

5.  Full of Mercy and good fruits (vs. unmerciful) – someone who loves before they are loved

6.  Impartial (vs. judgmental) – someone who is unbiased, who sees the heart

7.  Sincere (vs. hypocritical) – someone who loves in response, not out of duty    

 

A Harvest of Righteousness

James says that a harvest of righteousness comes with those who seek for peace, who avoid the ‘us against them mentality’, in this case Rome.  Specifically, James speaks to a group of Zealots who were revolutionaries of the day trying to overthrow the rich Romans.  They had riled up the oppressed, especially the poor, in hopes of persuading them to revolt.  Eventually, they did in the mid 60’s which led to the destruction of the temple in AD70. James challenges their “wisdom” to fight and calls them to pursue peace in their captivity.  Jeremiah 29.7-9  7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. 8 For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream, 9 for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.

4. 1-3  Why don’t we have wisdom?

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive,

because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

 

James ends this section of Scripture by asking a question to prove a point.  The solution to our problem is not a matter of choice.  In reality, we cannot simply CHOOSE the way of wisdom.  We are unable to choose the right path and follow it every time, not because of external temptations, but because of our internal brokenness.  But we live with hearts waged in a civil war; a war that spills out of our hearts and into our communities creating disunity.  James says that this happens, not because we didn’t choose wisely, but because we didn’t appeal to God’s wisdom in prayer.  Even if we do pray, we often do so selfishly as if God is a vending machine in the sky—WE WANT WHAT LOOKS GOOD…not what IS GOOD.  Jesus teaches us to ask for things in line with God’s name, kingdom, and will (Matt. 6.9-10).  Prayer is more for us than it is for God.  At times he will answer prayer by giving us the desires of our heart; other times he will give us new desires and a changed heart. Consider how Paul prayed:

 

Where do we get wisdom?

Ephesians 1.15-22  15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

 

Philippians 1.8-11  8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

 

Colossians 1.9-14  9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 

When should we pray…ALWAYS

1Thessalonians 5.16-25  Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. 

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

25 Brothers, pray for us.

 

21 DAY CHALLENGE

More in James | Retro-Faith

January 17, 2010

James 5.19-20: Wandering and Finding

January 10, 2010

James 5.13-18 Praying and Healing

January 3, 2010

James 5.12 Oaths and Vows