EARTHLY WISDOM – James 3:15-16

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In my previous study on verse 14, James gave a warning to his readers at that time, and the warning applies to us today:  “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”

In verse 15, James gives a name to the kind of wisdom he has just described.  He calls it “earthly wisdom”.  This kind of wisdom does not “come down from above”.  In other words, God does not give this kind of wisdom.  James also uses two more words to describe this wisdom, and with each word the description seems to become worse and worse. Not only is it “earthly” wisdom (wisdom that does not come from God), but it is also “natural” wisdom.  The Greek word suggests that this wisdom has to do with the body and the soul or emotions, but not with the spirit.  So this wisdom James speaks of is not only not from God, it has nothing to do with God.    When you think it can’t get any worse than that, it does.  James goes on to say that this wisdom is demonic.  Satan and his demons evidenced this kind of wisdom when they became filled with envy and rebelled against God.  Therefore a person with this kind of wisdom is easily influenced by Satan.

Earthly wisdom is an end in itself.  People strive for it so that they might boast about it, and so that others might tell them how wise or smart they are, and pass the word on to still others.  On the other hand, godly wisdom is not an end in itself but a means to an end.  King Solomon in the Old Testament is considered to be one of the wisest men who ever lived.  Let’s take a look at how Solomon received that wisdom, and why he received such wisdom from God.  In I Kings 3 we read that King Solomon loved the Lord and walked in obedience to Him.  And while Solomon was at Gibeon, after he had offered sacrifices there on the altar, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted.  That’s quite an offer!  In verses seven and eight of I Kings 3 Solomon says, “And now, O Lord my God, Thou hast made Thy servant King in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child;  I do not know how to go out and come in.  And Thy servant is in the midst of a people which Thou hast chosen, a great people who cannot be numbered or counted for multitude.  So give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil.  For who is able to judge this great people of Thine.”  God answered Solomon’s request and gave him far more than he asked for.

In contrast, we see in the Scriptures what human wisdom has acccomplished.  It began with Adam and Eve’s removal from the Garden of Eden and the affects of their sin upon our world.  Earthly wisdom has also resulted in wars, discrimination, poverty, and pollution of our environment to name a few.  In our churches human wisdom has led to church fights, church splits, and churches closing their doors, among other issues.

In verse 16 James sums up the effects of earthly wisdom.  He says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”  When Christians act in this way it also leaves a bad impression on others.  As one Christian put it:  “Self is spiritual BO!”

A prime example of jealousy and selfish ambition in the Bible is found in the OId Testament book of Esther.  Haman the Agagite, in Esther, chapter 7, constructs a gallows on which he intends to hang Mordecai the Jew in order to satisfy his own selfish desires and demonstrate his power.  However, his plan backfires!  Queen Esther learns of his plot and intervenes.  As a result, the king orders that Haman be hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai the Jew.  Not only that but all of Haman’s ten sons are killed also.  That’s a very high price to pay for his selfish motives and actions!

As in the case of Haman, pride and selfishness can have harmful or tragic side effects on innocent people.  Let me give you another case in point.  Other examples may come to your mind.

In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea, causing a tragic loss of life.  The news of the disaster was further darkened, however, when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident, which hurled hundreds of passengers into the icy waters.  The tragedy was not traced to some major problem like a breakdown in radar or thick fog.  The blame was attributed to human stubbornness.  Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence.  Both could have taken evasive action to avert the collision.  But according to news reports, neither wanted to give way to the other.  It seems that each was too proud to yield and make the first move.  By the time they saw the error of their ways, it was too late.

There’s been a lot of talk about pride, envy, and boasting in this sermon so far.  How about you?  Does life seem unfair sometimes?  Are others better off than yourself?  Do others seem to get all the “lucky breaks” in life?  Do others seem to get away with things that aren’t right?  Are you tired of listening to all the boasting that’s being done by others?  We’ve all had those thoughts and feelings before, haven’t we?  I have!  Even the psalmist expresses those feelings in Psalm 73:3.  He says, “I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness”.

When this happens, we’ve lost our perspective and have begun to fall into the habit pattern of using “earthly wisdom”.  God wants us to look at life from the perspective of eternity.  If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ;  if you’ve repented of your sins and invited Him to reign as Lord in your life, then you’re going to spend eternity with Him in heaven and your joy will be unending.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Doesn’t our envy seem to be a waste of time in comparison to what’s already ours for eternity?  Shouldn’t it be reminding us to pray for those who have this world’s wisdom and this world’s goods, yet will forfeit their souls?  When envious thoughts begin to fill our minds, let’s spend time alone with God in His Word and in prayer, and ask Him to put things back into their proper perspective.

This section is still under construction.  Thought you might like to see how it’s coming along.  It’s still a “work in progress”, and so am I (and so are you)!

 

II. A WARNING – James 3:14

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Here in verse 14 of James, chapter 3, James says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition . . . “.  Pay close attention to the first four words:  “But if you have”.  James isn’t saying that it’s a possibility.  He’s implying that it is a reality.  James has observed this attitude among believers and he is telling them not to glory in it.

Notice three more words in this verse that need to be kept in mind.  Those three words are:  “in your heart”.  That’s where it begins, isn’t it?  And that’s where it needs to be dealt with.

James is accusing them of “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition”.  The word “jealousy” is not necessarily a bad word.  We get our English word “zeal” from the Greek word “zelon” that’s used in this verse.  That same word was used of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 2 when He cleansed the Temple of the corruption that was going on inside.  It’s a question of motives.  Jesus’ motive was to glorify the Father.  The jealousy that James is referring to is a “bitter jealousy”.  The word “bitter” is the Greek word “pikron”  which means “sharp”, “piercing”.  The sound of the Greek word, “pikron” brings to my mind the image of an ice pick.  The jealous person is pictured as jabbing his rival with it and enjoying the pain and agony that he is inflicting.

Such a jealous person is excessively concerned about himself and resents the good fortune of others.  We all have problems with envy at times, don’t we?  Even if it’s not obvious on the outside, it’s happening on the inside.  We may even envy the success of others when we are successful ourselves.

There’s a legend about a successful Burmese potter who had become envious of the prosperity of a washerman (a laundryman or cleaner).  Determined to put this man out of business, the potter convinced the king to issue an order requiring the man to wash one of the king’s black elephants and make it white.

The washerman replied that according to the rules of his vocation he would need a vessel large enough to hold the elephant, whereupon the king commanded the potter to provide one.  So the potter constructed a giant bowl and had it carefully delivered to the washerman.  But when the elephant stepped into it, it crumbled to pieces beneath the weight of the enormous beast.

More vessels were made, but each was crushed in the same way.  Eventually it was the potter who was put out of business by the very scheme he had devised to ruin the man he envied.

This is a very abbreviated version of the story.  There are many versions of the full story.  My favorite is the one written by Pam Hopper and illustrated by Allan Eitzen. Type “The Potter and the Washerman” into your web browzer and you will see it.  It is a very amusing story with a good moral lesson to it.  You can even find it acted out on UTube.  Enjoy!

So “bitter jealousy” is an excessive concern for oneself, and a resentment for the good fortune of another.  Bible expositor and theologian, William Barclay, had this to say about “bitter jealousy” or envy:  “As long as we think of our own prestige, our own importance, our own reputation, and our own rights, we will always be envious.”

James also accused his readers of “selfish ambition”.  The Greek word is actually a political term.  It can also be translated “party spirit”, “rivalry”, or “faction”.  It was used to refer to rival schools of thought in the political arena who were heaping abuse on each other.  You’ve probably heard the term “mud slinging” used to refer to these kinds of tactics.  We are getting very close to an election year here in America, and potential candidates are already canvassing for votes.  Have you received any such mail lately?  You will very soon!

James’ admonition to those with jealousy and selfish ambition is to “stop being arrogant and so lie against the truth”.  Verse 14 is a sequence of events.  Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary of James, calls it a “chain of events”.  He says:  “First there is selfish ambition, which leads to a party spirit and rivalry.  In order to ‘win the election’ we must resort to boasting, and boasting usually involves lies.”

If you should find yourself at the first “link” of envy, or you’re aleady adding links to it, stop now, confess your sin to God and ask for His wisdom and strength before you get wrapped up in those chains and drag others down along with you!

UNDER CONSTRUCTION!  A WORK IN PROGRESS!

Please come back and visit again soon.  I don’t want to be the only one having fun!  There is much more to learn!  You are welcome to visit the other sermons on this site.  Thank you for visiting!  I would enjoy hearing from you.

 

EXERCISE GODLY WISDOM – James 3:13

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INTRODUCTION:

Do you consider yourself to be a wise person?  Do others consider you to be wise?  What is wisdom?  Is there more than one kind of wisdom?  These questions are addressed in this passage of Scripture.  Remember that this is a letter, written by the apostle James to Christian Jews who have been scattered throughout Asia because of the persecution by the Jews and by the Roman Emperor Nero.  They have been separated from their Hebrew culture and the values of their forefathers,  and are now being exposed to, and immersed in the Greek culture of their new environment.  Because of this, one of the issues that James is addressing is the wrong understanding of, and application of wisdom.

According to the Scriptures, wisdom is one of the most desirable things in life.  Proverbs 8:11 says, “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.”  King Solomon wrote those words, and of all the people in the Old Testament, he ought to know!

Mankind has always wanted wisdom, hasn’t it?  Right from the beginning, in Genesis chapter 1, man has wanted to be as wise as God.  The apostle James even says, at the beginning of his letter, that wisdom is something that is available to all.  Let me read James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach.”  The word “ask” in James 1:5 means to “beg”. Though wisdom is available to all, it is only received by those who recognize their own inadequacy and realize that only God can provide it in answer to earnest prayer.

There are many words in Chapter 3, verses 13-18, that James has used to describe wisdom.  This passage is opening up for me a whole new meaning of the concept.  I hope this will be as eye-opening and profitable a lesson for you as it has been for me so far on the topic of wisdom.

I  A Challenge (verse 13)

James begins this verse with a question:  “Who is wise and understanding among you?”  He is not being sarcastic here.  He is being honest and forthright.  Many of his readers are well-educated people:  teachers, businessmen, and experienced craftsman.  His question is more than just a question.  It is a challenge.  James is saying, “If you claim to be wise and understanding (and many of you are), show it, or demonstrate it in the ways that true wisdom should be demonstrated.  The word translated “show” is the Greek word “deiknuo”.  It literally means “a turning to and fro”. Life is considered to be a quick motion to and fro.  We sometimes use the phrase “the ups and downs of life”.  True wisdom and understanding are demonstrated regardless of the changing circumstances of life. James used the same word in chapter 2, verse 18 where he says, “I will show you my faith by my works.”  Here James is saying, “show me your wisdom by your conduct (or good behavior).”

Verse 13 ends with an attitude of the heart that accompanies true wisdom:  “gentleness”.  Other translations say:  “meekness”, or “humility”.  It is a word that has lost most of its original meaning, and is considered a sign of weakness today.  Yet Jesus used that word to describe Himself.  He also pronounced a blessing on those who are meek in His Sermon on the Mount. In ancient Greece, the term was often used to refer to a strong and high-spirited horse which was brought under control.  It’s strength and spirit were now harnessed and put to good use.  Gentleness or meekness is one of the marks of true wisdom.

Greetings!  There is so much to study and learn in the next five verses, especially the qualities of heavenly wisdom, so I am going to give you an outline of the rest of the paragraph, and will continue at verse 14 in my next message.   The rest of the outline is given below.

II.  A Warning (verse 14)

III.  A Contrast (verses 15-17)

A.  Earthly Wisdom (verses 15-16

B.  Heavenly Wisdom (verse 17)

IV.  A Conclusion (verse 18)

Summary and Application

 

A WORK IN PROGRESS

Adam and Eve

My title is not the topic of a sermon but an explanation about what I am now going to be doing on this blog site.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve always enjoyed watching a work in progress – such as a building being constructed, or a road being built.  I watched in wonder as the different machinery and equipment were coming in and out of the construction site, and as the skilled workers were doing their jobs.  As a kid I enjoyed watching the construction project more than I did the finished product.  We used to go out of our way, as kids, to visit a construction site and just stand and  watch the work that was going on.  Sometimes the workers would greet us when they saw how interested we were in what they were doing.

One day the person in charge of the construction project said:  “I’ve got a few left-over nails and pieces of wood.  If you would like them, ask your parents if it’s alright for me to give them to you.”  We received our parents’ permission, and with the nails and boards we started a building project of our own, and kept the construction workers informed about our progress!

Do you like watching a work in progress, even when it means delays, lanes being closed and traffic re-routed?  I don’t really mind.  It gives me more time to watch what’s going on!  The greatest enjoyment for me is the anticipation of what was going to happen next, and what I would see the next day, or the next time I would pass by that construction site.

I’m sharing this with you because, now that I have more time to study God’s Word, I’m going to be showing you my work in progress by publishing my sermons a section at a time as I put them together.  My hope is that you’ll enjoy what I’m  enjoying working on, and watch the building process going on as I put each sermon together.  I hope you’ll stop by more often to see what’s happening.  Begin your own work in progress by doing your own study of this passage along with me and share what you have learned.  The Master Builder would like that, and so would I.

I used this method on this blog site recently when I was studying James 3:1-12.   I didn’t receive any feedback, so I’ll take it that there are no complaints about this method.

I’m presently studying James 3:13-18.  It has been a difficult passage to study at first, but now it’s as if the Lord has put the blueprints in my hands and this passage is beginning to come together in written form.  I would love to have the opportunity to preach the finished sermon to you in person so that you might experience my excitement about what I’ve learned, but the power is in God’s Word and I hope that God will speak to you in the power of the Holy Spirit as you read it.  To Him be the glory!

I hope that you are also a “work in progress”, willingly allowing God to build on the foundation of a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, using the blueprint of His Word, under the supervision of the Holy Spirit, employing the workmen He has gifted and entrusted to do the work.  ( I Corinthians 3:9; Ephesians 4:11-13; II Timothy 2:15).

The work must go on!  This site is presently under construction!  Please come again and see what’s been happening!  Grace and peace be with you!

Tom Drenoske