James, The Wisdom From Above
Pentecost 16B James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
Some questions: Why can such smart people do such dumb things? Why are people who are the smartest of all folks, have their PH.Ds, their doctorates, and are the most educated of all people, do some dumb things …
Like being a compulsive smoker who dies of cancer of the lung.
Like being a compulsive worker who dies prematurely of a heart attack.
Like being a compulsive drinker who keeps drinking when his marriage falls apart and his family falls apart and his life falls apart?
Like being a diabetic who still heavily eats sugar?
Like making poor decisions.
Like allowing bad habits to ruin one’s self.
Like allowing feelings from the distant past dominate your inner feelings today.
Why can a person be so smart and highly educated and at the same time, do such un-wise things with his or her own life?
This is true of all of us.
We human beings are the smartest living thing that God ever made. Our brains are bigger, faster and sharper than any living thing on earth, yet at the same time, we human beings are the only mammal in creation which kills our own kind. The history of the human race is the history of war, from the very dawn of time until today and tomorrow and at the end of human history. We, as human beings, may destroy the human race, killing our own kind by the millions.
How can this happen? How can human beings, so smart, so intelligent, so brilliant and at the apex of creation; yet we can destroy our own lives, destroy other nations, and finally destroy the planet itself?
What is wrong with us human beings?
What is wrong me personally that I can do such stupid things in my life which I know are not good for me nor others?
What is wrong with you personally that you can do such stupid things in your life which are not good for you nor for your family and others?
Why is it that we can be so smart and so dumb at the same time?
To address those questions, James, the brother of Jesus and the author of the Book of James, says that we are not following the wisdom from above and the wisdom of Christ.
The Book of James can be entitled, “An Exercise in PRACTICAL Christianity.” James, more than all the other books of the New Testament, deals with the practical issues of our daily lives.
One personal and practical issue is why we as human beings do such dumb things as follow our passions, selfish ambitions, and unhealthy habits.
Let’s do a brief review of the James and the Book of James. See a Greek icon of James.
This above is a Greek icon of James. We don’t have any pictures of Jesus, his disciples and anyone else in the New and Old Testament. This icon was painted centuries later.
It is a picture of James the Just. James of Jerusalem. James, the first patriarch in the church in Jerusalem. James, THE primary leader of the earliest congregation in Jerusalem. James, the younger brother of Jesus. James, the traditional author of the Book of James.
You may recall the list of boys in Jesus’ family, the list that was memorized during confirmation classes here within our church. “Jesus, James, Joses, Judas and Simon, plus two or more girls.” James was the second son in Jesus’ family, right after Jesus himself, the oldest. (Mark 6:3)
Traditionally, James, the brother of Jesus, is thought of as being the author of the Book of James.
James, the brother of Jesus, is REALLY important in the New Testament. Why?
James, the brother of Jesus, saw the RISEN Christ. The Apostle Paul tells us that the Risen Christ appeared to Peter, the 500, to James and all the apostles.
The Apostle Paul also tells us that James, the brother of Jesus, was one of the first three pillars of the early church. James, Peter, and John. James was listed first, BEFORE the names of Peter and John. You have to be MIGHTY important when your name is listed before Peter and John. (Galatians 2:9)
Not only had Jesus’ brother James seen the RISEN Christ.
Not only was James the first pillar of the early church in Jerusalem.
We recall that when Peter miraculously escaped from prison, he specifically wanted James informed as to what happened (Acts 12:17).
We recall that when the first Christians in Jerusalem were having a big conference about whether or not Gentile people needed to be circumcised, it was James who guided the answer (Acts 15:13ff).
We recall when Paul arrived in Jerusalem with a fistful of money to give to the poor in Jerusalem, it is Paul who met him at the door and advised Paul to first go and cleanse himself at the temple (Acts 21:18ff.)
We recall when Paul showed up in Jerusalem after his conversion, he visited Simon Peter for fifteen days and saw none of the apostles other than James, the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:18-19)
In other words, James, the brother of Jesus, was THE primary leader of the earliest church in Jerusalem.
I am simply telling you that James, the brother of Jesus, was a VIP, a very important person, in the Early Church.
The title for this sermon today is “the wisdom from above.” Three times, the word, “wisdom,” is mentioned in our epistle lesson for today. The word, “wise,” is mentioned once.
We are forever asking the wisdom of Christ to affect our daily choices and daily decisions. There are numerous ticklish issues that we forever face and we constantly are asking God to help in our significant choices that we face.
James wants each one of us to follow the Royal Law of Love. James summarizes the most important law of his brother, Jesus, in five words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” To have the wisdom of Christ is to love your neighbor as yourself.
Please turn to the epistle lesson for today as printed in your bulletin. It is so important to look closely at the Word of God, to look closely as the specific words of God.
Today, at the end of the text, we hear that “God draws near to us and we draw near to God.” When does God draw near to us to speak to us? At a beautiful campfire at Bible Camp? When does God draw near? On Puget Sound early in the morning when the sun first rises? When you hold your grandchild in your arms? These are all sacred moments. Within in our religious tradition, we understand that God draws near to us especially in his Word. As we study and listen to God’s Word, God draws near to us. Here in this moment, as we do this Bible study, God is drawing near to us.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Circle the word, “wise.” Notice that the word, “understanding” helps define the word, “wise.”
What is wisdom? To have the mind and heart of Jesus inside of you.
You know the initials that are found on bracelets that kids often wear: WWJD. “What would Jesus do?” That is wisdom. We are asking what Jesus would do in any given situation.
The word, “wise,” comes from the Greek word, “Sophia.” We may recall the Greek goddess called “Sophia.” We may know people named “Sophia.” Sophia means wisdom.
In the New Testament, wisdom or Sophia is always associated with being full of the Spirit of Jesus, and maturity, and understanding how to approach the problem in front of you.
A wise person, wise in the ways of Jesus, wise in the ways of the Spirit, comes to understand how to handle the daily issues that confront each one of us. We are forever asking Christ to give us wisdom and understanding of what to do in complicated issues and choices in our lives.
Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. Circle the word, “wisdom.” The word, “wisdom,” occurs three times in our short text. The word, “wisdom,” occurs fifty times in the New Testament.
James invites us to lead a good life, a life of good works that a done in a spirit of gentleness. That gentleness is born of wisdom. After the words, “your works,” write in the words, “of love.”
“Show by your good life that your works of love are done with gentleness born of wisdom.”
Gentleness comes from wisdom.
Earlier in the Book of James, he suggested that we were to pray for God’s gift of wisdom. James 1:5, “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.”
Ask God for wisdom that you need to face the numerous decisions that are making. We need the wisdom of God to make right decisions and help us to do what is right. We are to pray for God’s wisdom and that wisdom will be granted to us.
Wisdom comes with maturity. Wisdom comes with time. A person doesn’t SUDDENLY get wisdom any more than a person SUDDENLY grows. Wisdom is not like a Christmas present that suddenly appears under a tree. Wisdom takes time to grow, mature and cultivate.
Wisdom comes through pain. Wisdom comes through the Spirit of Christ living in us over the time and toughness of life. Wisdom happens to you and within you.
14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. There is “wisdom from above” and there is “wisdom from below.” Circle the word, “earthly.” There is earthly wisdom, worldly wisdom, unspiritual wisdom, the wisdom of our world, the wisdom of our media, the wisdom of our culture which says that selfish ambition will get you ahead.
The Apostle Paul warned us human wisdom, earthly wisdom, the wisdom of the world. (I Corinthians 1:25, 2:5, 6) Those who follow the wisdom of the world are doomed to perish.
16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.
17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. This is a key verse. This verse defines the wisdom from above, the wisdom of Christ, the wisdom of the Spirit. Let’s focus on this Bible verse.
Circle the words, “the wisdom from above.” That is what we want. That is what we need for daily life, so we don’t ruin ourselves, ruin other people. This wisdom from above is associated with the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of us. This wisdom from above is associated with maturity. With understanding of what choices we are to make.
The wisdom from above. Kings David and Solomon had it. Only two of the forty kings of the Old Testament had it.. King David prayed for it all the time. The Bible said that a good leader needed wisdom to discern good from evil, to discern good decisions from selfish decisions. To be a king, to be a president, to be a statesman who is not simply a political leader, you need wisdom. We want our presidents to have the wisdom from above. Your country can get really messed up if the leader does not have the wisdom from above.
The wisdom from above. Jesus had it. The Bible tells us he was full of the Spirit and wisdom and that he grew in the favor of God. Lu 2:40 - The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Lu 2:52 - And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.
People were amazed at Jesus and asked, “Where did Jesus get all this wisdom?” (Matthew 13:54)
The wisdom from above. The first church leaders like Stephen had it. Ac 6:3 – “Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task.” Which widows were they going to help? Which widows were they not going to help financially? Those first church leaders needed the wisdom from above to make delicate choices.
Let’s move on.
Circle crucial, individual words e.g. pure. Also the word, first. First things first. Purity is first on the list of the characteristics of a wise person. Purity means to be wholesome, good, clean inside. Jesus is always concerned about cleanliness in the heart verses dirtiness in the heart.
Gentle. Circle the word, gentle. That is the way that Christ wants us to live. With gentleness. There is to be a calmness, a kindness, a peacefulness to our way of living with ourselves and others.
Willing to yield. Circle that. That is, not to insist on your own way. Especially in marriage. Especially at work. Especially when negotiating with people whose value and belief system is very different than your own. Wow, a whole bunch of us have problems with that one, a willingness to yield. Most of us have a willingness to make a stand, to draw a line, and tell people how it should be done.
Full of mercy. Circle the word, “full.” Full of forgiveness. Full of compassion. Full of kindness.
The word, “full,” comes from the Greek word, “pleroma.” It is a shipping word. Like the ships out on Puget Sound, the hulls of those ships are full.
Wise hearts are full of mercy.
Full of good fruits. Do you remember a sermon I preached earlier in the year when we look at pictures of beautiful fruit. I loved that sermon just became of the grand pictures of glorious, sumptuous and colorful fruit. The fruit looked so good that a person could almost taste them. Christians who are mature are like bearing mature fruit. Right now, the blackberries are so full, so mature, so ripe, so sweet. That is the way our lives to be.
Without a trace of partiality. Write in the word, “favoritism.” In the Book of James, that means favoritism to the rich in church? Those with money and bigger offerings? (Do you remember the sermon from James two weeks ago, how people in James’ congregation were showing partially or favoritism towards the richer members of their congregation?)
Or hypocrisy. Nobody likes a phony, especially a religious phony, who pretends and acts religious but is not really. A hypocrite talks the good talk but does not walk the good walk.
18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. What is the fruit of righteous living? Peace.
Those conflicts and disputes (the opposite of peace) among you, where do they come from? Add the word, “wars.” When we find conflicts in the family? In the city? In our nation? Between nations? Where do these conflicts, disputes, disagreements, differences, and quarrels come from?
Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? The conflicts that we have with others, our spouses, our children, our friends, our work associates, our neighbors? Do not most of these conflicts arise from inner cravings for things you do not have? Or think you do not have? Don’t these cravings contribute to war within, and to war between nations?
2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. Near the word, “murder,” write in the word, “war.” I sometimes think we should add the “war” after the word, “murder.” That is, nations want something and do not have it, and engage in war to get it. It seems that thesis has been true for centuries.
And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. Underline. Highlight. Emphasize. When I read this, I again add the word, “war.” The sentence then reads, “You covet something and cannot obtain it, so you engage in disputes, conflicts and war.”
Insightfully, James traces the cause of conflicts and wars to coveting something that you do not have and cannot obtain without engaging in conflicts and war to obtain it.
It seems to me that the history of almost all offensive wars and military invasions have been that some nation wanted something another nation had. More land. More territory. More slaves. More spices. More gold. More uranium. More power. To be “the number one power” for a moment in time on this Planet Earth.
Sometimes, I think the new coveted commodity in the world is now oil. We go to war for more oil. Tomorrow, it may be fresh water. Nations will go to war for more water.
Why are the Chinese now so suddenly interested in the Sudan and helping the Sudanese to build their country? Are the Chinese doing this out of benevolence? No. Obviously, the Chinese need oil to run their economy.
In my pea brain, knowing the situation in the Mid East is enormously complicated and detesting the terrorists and their practices, I still am deeply suspicious that we want OIL from that region. OIL to run our economy. OIL to run our cars and boats. They got it; we don’t; we want it and need it.
In my mind, James’ statement in chapter 2, verse two, rings true, as true as can be. You covet something and cannot have it, so you engage in conflicts and disputes to get it.
For me, the “you,” in that sentence is not only individuals but nations as well. Throughout the history of the world.
You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. James, the brother of Jesus, is really suspicious what we ask for are our material wants so that we can spend that money on our own material pleasures.
What we really need to ask for is wisdom, the wisdom from above, the wisdom of Christ living inside of us. James 1:5, “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.”
-Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
-Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. When do you and God draw near to each other? At a special campfire at a Bible Camp? On Puget Sound at the morning sunrise? When a baby is in your arms. It is my understanding that we draw near to God and God draws near to us when we study God’s Word, live in his Word, and this Word speaks to us.
As the years have gone by, I am now older. The older I get, the more I realize that I personally need the wisdom of God, the wisdom from above, living inside of me as a I face numerous choices and decisions daily.
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