ARE YOU LEAVING GOD OUT? James 4:13-17

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James began his letter by talking about the present situation of his readers and reflecting on their past.  Now he begins to look at the future.  He begins verse 13 with the words “come now”.  I think he’s trying to regain their attention.  This is a long letter, and as it’s being read aloud at the various congregations, some of his readers are becoming distracted or falling asleep!  It’s time for a “wake-up call”  So James says “come now”.  We might say, “Come on!  You’re doing it again!  Come on!  Think about what you are doing, and what you are saying to each other!”  A popular saying, when I was a child, was:  “Get your head screwed on straight!”  Nowadays you hear the phrase:  “Get your act together!”  His readers had been setting themselves up in the place of God by judging others.  Now they are doing the same thing again by leaving God out of their plans.

In today’s terms, James is saying that they are telling each other:  “I know exactly where I am going, what I’m going to do, how long it is going to take, and how much money I am going to make in the process!  James’ response is “come now”, where does God fit into all of this?  It reminds me of the poem “Invictus”, written by William Earnest Henley.  The closing lines of his poem are written below:

“It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll,        I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

The poet writes about a person whose life is miserable, but who finds some contentment in the fact that he is in charge.  No one is telling him what to do!

Are you leaving God out?  Do you sometimes leave God out of your life?  Do you prefer to control your own destiny, and do you try to impress others by your ability to do so?  Maybe you’ve been doing so today?  Maybe you didn’t even realize it until now?  If you don’t do something about it today, it becomes easier to leave Him out tomorrow, doesn’t it?  What are you saying to God when you make plans without consulting Him?

James isn’t condemning planning.  But he is saying, “As you plan, don’t leave out the Master Planner!”  “He has plans for you also!”  Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  (NKJV)  Like actors and actresses on a stage, we may think that we can play our roles any way we want, but we are of no heavenly good if we don’t obey the instructions of our “Heavenly Director”!  He’s the one in charge of the operation and He knows how to get the job done right!

In verse 14 James asks them a question, and then gives them the answer, recalling to their minds passages of Scripture from the Wisdom Literature (Job thru Song of Solomon).  He asks “What is your life?”  Immediately He answers, “It is a vapor (mist, puff of smoke), that appears for a short time and then vanishes.”

Job says, “my life is but a breath” (7:7); “my days are swifter than a runner” ( 9:15). He also uses such images as a flower, a shadow, and a worm to convey the shortness of life.  Psalm 39 also says that life is a breath, and Psalm 73 speaks of life as “a dream that vanishes when we awake.”  Proverbs 27:1 says, “Don’t boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”  Conclusion:  Life is brief, and life is uncertain.  Can you relate to that?  The older you get, the more you will relate to it!

If you are a “trekkie”, a Star Trek fan, you will like the YouTube film clips of the various phaser settings, the last one being “vaporization”.  I like those special effects!  Here is the site:  (https//www.youtube.com/watch?v=Evl_FYarYlY).  I hope that gets you there!  It is an excellent visual aide for depicting a vapor!

I don’t think that this generation has as clear a concept of the passing of time as my generation and the generation before mine.  My grandfather had a beautiful pocket-watch, and when we came over for a visit, my two brothers and I would take turns sitting on his lap, and he would put his watch against our ears so that we could hear it ticking.  I enjoyed listening to the ticking sound of my first watch whenever I held my left wrist up to my ear.  This action on my part caused me to think for a moment about the passing of time:  tick , . . tick . . . tick!  We now live in a digital age and don’t hear the ticking sound very often anymore.  Nevertheless, time is “ticking away”, one second at a time, whether we can hear it or not!

While I was in college, I attended a Navigator conference and Leroy Eims was the main speaker.  One of his messages was entitled “Investing Your Life”, and this verse, James 4:14, was the primary focus of his message.  After describing what a vapor was, and how long it lasted, he told us that there are only two things in this life that will last forever:  God’s Word and people.  His challenge was:  “What are you going to do with your vapor?  Are you going to invest it in the things that will last forever, or are you going to let it go to waste?  Everything else is going to be burned up!  Don’t wait another moment to commit yourself to God and ask Him to change your attitude, so that the things that matter the most to you are the things that matter the most to Him!”

In verse 15, James corrects their boastful words in verse 13 by telling them what they should be saying.  James says, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, whe shall live and also do this or that” (NASB).  What he is saying to them is not a new revelation.  King David said in Psalm 40:8, “I delight to do Thy will.  Thy Law is in my heart.”  David also said in Psalm 43:10, “Teach me, O Lord, to do Thy will, for Thou art my God.”

Even clearer and more compelling are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  In John 4:14, when food was set before Him and He was encouraged to eat, the Lord Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work”  (John 4:34).  When He taught His disciples to pray, He told them to pray according to the Father’s will, not their own:  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10).  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42).

In the writings of John, Paul, Peter, Luke, and the letter to the Hebrews, we find the words, “if the Lord wills“, or “if the Lord permits”, or something equivalent to that.  May those words be a part of our plans and our conversations as well, and may those words be a true expression of our hearts.

With this instruction in mind, James gives them a stern warning:  “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  Do all of his readers know the right thing to do?  Do they know what he is talking about?  They certainly do!  They were taught the commandments from childhood, especially the two great commandments given in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19.   “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deutonomy 6:5).  The verses that follow say:  “These words . . . shall be on your heart .. . teach them diligently to your sons . . . talk of them . . . bind them as a sign on your hand , , ,  frontals on your forehead . . . write them on the doorposts . . . and on your gates.”  And Leviticus 19:18 says, “, , , You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  So James is saying, in effect, “Therefore, since you know what is right to do, you sin every time you fail to do it!”  Planning is important, but life is lived from moment-to-moment, and from situation-to-situation.  .  God has called us and impowered us to love Him and others each step of the way and every moment of the day.  The following saying helps to get the point across:  “All that’s needed for evil to triumph is for Christians to do nothing.”   I can still remember my father’s words to me:   “Don’t just sit there, do something!”

 

Thank you for coming to this “work in progress”.  This is how far I’ve gotten so far, and I will be start digging into James 5 as soon as I add one or two more illustrations to this section.  May the Lord continue to unfold His plans for you, and direct your steps today!  May your thoughts, words, and actions become more closely alligned with the will of the Father as your love for Him grows deeper.

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THE RESULTS FROM EXERCISING HEAVENLY WISDOM – James 3:18

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INTRODUCTION:

Over the past three months we have examined each of the qualities of heavenly wisdom in detail.  I hope that it has been a learning and growing experience for you also.  We have already studied the devastating results that are produced by the exercise of human wisdom.  As verse 16 explains, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (NIV)  Here in verse 18, the apostle James now summarizes the results that occur when heavenly wisdom is exercised.  He describes these results in one short, compact sentence:  “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (NKJV version).

I.  THE ONES WHO SOW

I especially like the NIV translation for this verse of Scripture because it seems to me that it brings out the intent of the writer very clearly.  It reads:  “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”  The ones who sow are the peacemakers.  James uses the word “peace” here to refer to the right relationship between man and man, not between man and God.  But how can we have real outward peace with others if we do not have an inward peace with God?

James wants peace in the church and among the believers in it.  He knows that peace is the only environment in which righteousness can flourish.  The wisdom of this world produces trouble, whereas the wisdom from above produces peace among men.

God hates a troublemaker.  Proverbs 6:16-19 says:  “These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:  A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.”  God opposes church splits and discord among the brethren.  But God loves a peacemaker.  Matthew 5:9 says:  Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”

II.  THE PROCESS

But peacemaking is not easy.  The Revised Standard Version translates James 3:18 in this way:  “And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”  It is the peacemaker who sows the seeds of peace, and that isn’t an easy job.  You have to work hard to cultivate peace.  Do fruit and grain grow up by themselves and take care of themselves?  Do they produce an abundant harvest all by themselves?  No!  Ask any farmer!  There is a lot of work involved.  There’s the cultivation of the ground, adding fertilizer, sowing the seeds or planting seedlings, watering, weeding or spraying weeds, pruning, waiting, hoping, praying.  Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you automatically get along with others and never have conflicts.  As individuals, and as churches, we need to work hard to cultivate peace with one another, listen to one another, express appreciation for one another, show kindness to one another, and settle arguments peaceably.  The following illustration is just one example of the peacemaking process:

The small town of Umbarger, Texas, was an unlikely place for an international work of art. But toward the end of World War II, seven Italian prisoners of war, who were being held at a large camp nearby, were chosen to decorate the church’s plain brick walls.  The prisoners were reluctant to aid their captors, but they agreed on the condition that their efforts be considered a contribution toward Christian brotherhood and understanding.  But as they worked on their paintings and a woodcarving of the Last Supper, one of the POW’s later recalled, “A spontaneous stream of good feelings began almost at once to flow among us.  No one spoke of the war or the past because ‘we were here for a work of peace and love’.”  (Our Daily Bread, Nov. 8, 2011)

In II Timothy 2:24-25, Paul writes to the young pastor Timothy, encouraging him to be gentle and patient when relating to others.  The following are Paul’s words:  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”

I’ve taught each of the evidences of wisdom from above one quality at a time. Now let’s put them all together.  James 3:17 says:  “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere.” (NIV)  A person who possesses these qualities will be a peacemaker.  Wouldn’t you agree?  So if you truly want to be the peacemaker that God wants you to be, focus on these qualities and work at developing them in your life, by God’s enabling and for His glory,

III.  THE RESULTS

As a result of our peacemaking efforts done by the grace of God, we will reap a harvest of God’s blessing in our lives and in the lives of others.  God’s righteousness and justice will also be evident and appeciated.  Let’s ask the Lord to use us as His peacemakers so that He might be glorified, and we might be a source of joy to others.

When I was a child in Catholic school, my whole class memorized  a prayer by Francis of Assisi.  I imagine that many of you have read this prayer before, but this time let’s read it slowly and make up our minds that, by the grace of God, we will put these words into practice in our relationships with others, whether we like those people or not.  If so, we will begin to reverse the divisive and hurtful effects of man’s wisdom in our communities today.  Here is a portion of that prayer:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me show love;  where there is injury, pardon;  where is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;  where there is darkness, light;  where there is sadness, joy;  O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;  to seek to be understood, as to understand; to seek to be loved, as to love . . . ”

May the Lord bless you, and as a peacemaker, may you be a source of blessing and joy to others!

 

 

 

 

TRUE WISDOM IS WITHOUT HYPOCRISY – James 3:17 (continued)

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I’ve spent a lot of time studying and pondering this next attribute of heavenly wisdom.  It has been a very eye-opening and convicting study for me.  I hope and pray it will have the same effect on you also as you read and consider it.  The apostle James, here in verse 17, states that wisdom from above is “without hypocrisy”.  In order to understand this description we must first have a clear concept of what a hypocrite is.

“Hypocrite” is a Greek word which literally means “under a mask”.  It was used in the Greek culture to describe an actor on a stage.  In the ancient theaters each actor played several parts.  To change identities he would simply wear a different mask.  This was the word that Jesus used to describe the Jewish leaders.  Over and over again in the Gospels, especially Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus called them hypocrites.  No sin was so sternly denounced by Jesus as that of hypocrisy.  In Matthew 23 Jesus called them “blind guides”, “white washed tombs”, and “vipers”.  He used the strongest possible language of condemnation.

William Barclay asked the question:  “What were the things which incurred the anger of Jesus?”  The first thing he mentions is:  “Jesus was angry with anyone who was a hypocrite.”  The following are some further exerpts from William Barclay’s comments.  “A hypocrite is a man who says one thing with his lips, and quite another in his heart , , , . The man who is one thing to your face and quite another behind your back, the man who is ostensibly pious on Sunday and completely worldly on Monday, the man who professes a religion of love and of service, and who lives a life of bitterness and selfishness – that is the man who incurred the anger of Jesus (Day by Day with William  Barclay).

Let’s not forget that the first hypocrite described in the Bible was Satan.  He disguised himself as a serpent when he tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God.  When we act like a hypocrite we are acting like him, following his example.  II Corinthians 11:14 says that he “disguishes himself as an angel of light”, when he’s really the prince of darkness.

Do we sometimes put on a performance in order to win the applause or approval of others?  Most of us like to “look good”, don’t we?  We like to look good on the outside, and we like to give the impression that we “look good” on the inside.  A seminary professor once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Jesus is coming!  Look Busy!”  He later warned his students about the dangers of “faking it” – pretending to be something we are not.

One way Christians wear a mask is by not sharing their weaknesses, thereby giving the impression that they don’t have any weaknesses.  A close look at their lives will soon show that to be untrue.  And even if people don’t see it, God sees it.  We can’t fool Him!

We sometimes give in to the temptation that we have it all together, don’t we? But a person with wisdom from above recognizes that he has imperfections, struggles, fears, and temptations, and is honest before God and before others.  Such people are sincere, transparent, authentic, genuine, open, and reliable.  As the saying goes, “What you see is what you get.”  There are no “unpleasant surprises”.  They can be trusted because they are not motivated by pride but by obedience to God and love for others.  They are more concerned about pleasing God than impressing people.

Are you happy with the way you look on the outside?  What about the inside? Jesus makes it very clear in Matthew 6:16, “Don’t be like the hypocrites”!

Dr. M.R. DeHaan of the Radio Bible Class Ministries says:  “The biggest hypocrite of all, however, is the man or woman who refuses to come to Christ because there are so many hypocrites in the church.  Such a person is being inconsistent.  Business is full of hypocrites, but that does not stop him from doing business.  Society is full of them, but he does not decide to become a hermit.  Hell is full of hypocrites, so if a person doesn”t like hypocrites he had better make sure he’s not going there.”  There’s no bigger hypocrite than the person who pretends that he doesn’t need Jesus.

Our lives are on display, like the ads in the newspaper.  Who is being advertized in your life?  Is the Lord Jesus Christ being advertized on the front page and on every other page of your life?  Jesus wants “top billing”, not  “honorable mention”.

The Coca-cola company used the following slogan in a song about the quality of their product:  “What the world wants today is the real thing.”  I hope that’s true of our world today – that more and more people are seeking the real thing.  If so, let’s be the “real thing” ourselves, not cheap imitations.  Let’s reflect the character and the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ to our world today.  That’s what the Spirit of God will do in and through us if we’ll get out of His way and allow Him to take control.  Are you ready and willing?

 

 

 

 

 

TRUE WISDOM IS WITHOUT PARTIALITY – James 3:17 (continued)

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The word translated “partiality” is the Greek word adiakritos.  It is a compound word and this is the only place in the New Testament where this word is used.  The Greek word has two distinct meanings, but those meanings complement each other.  I am describing them one at a time and you will see how the two meanings balance each other out.

The first relates to a person’s treatment of others.  A person with wisdom from above makes no distinctions in his or her treatment of others.  This is a wisdom that is free from bias and favoritism.  It is not influenced by another person’s apparel, rank or position, physical or mental condition, age, color or creed, but is fair and just to all.

General Robert E. Lee was a devout follower of Jesus Christ.  It is said that soon after the end of the American Civil War, he visited a church in Washington D.C.  During the communion service he knelt beside a black man.  An onlooker said to him later, “How could you do that?”  Lee responded, “My friend, all ground is level beneath the cross.”

A person who exercises Godly wisdom shows kindness to all, and does not engage in negative criticism of others, or use sarcasm when speaking about others.  In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity.  He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solutions to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.  So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian.  When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people.  Gandhi left the church and never returned.  “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.”  That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior and Lord.

Are there people you look down upon or refuse to associate with?  Are there people you speak evil about or make fun of when they are not around?  What about your thoughts and attitudes toward “certain people”?  We all have our prejudices that we have to be careful about and fight against, don’t we?  The following story appeared in the newsletter “Our America”:   

Dodie Gadient, a schoolteacher for thirteen years, decided to travel across America and see the sights she had taught about.  Traveling alone in a truck with a trailer in tow, she launched out.  One afternoon, rounding a curve on I-5 near Sacramento, California, in rush-hour traffic, the water pump blew on her truck.  She was tired, exasperated, scared, and alone.  In spite of the traffic jam she caused, no one seemed interested in helping.  Leaning up against the trailer, she prayed, “Please, God, send me an angel . . . preferably one with mechanical experience.”

Within four minutes a huge Harley drove up, ridden by an enormous man sporting long, black hair, a beard and tattooed arms.  With an incredible air of confidence, he jumped off and, without even glancing at Dodie, went to work on the truck.  Within another few minutes, he flagged down a larger truck, attached a tow chain to the frame of the disabled Chevy, and whisked the whole 56-foot rig off the freeway onto a side street, where he calmly continued to work on the water pump.

The intimidated schoolteacher was too dumbfounded to talk, especially when she read the paralyzing words on the back of his leather jacket:  “Hell’s Angels – California”.  As he finished the task, she finally got up the courage to say, “Thanks so much”, and carry on a brief conversation.  Noticing her surprise at the whole ordeal, he looked her straight in the eye and mumbled, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.  You may not know who you’re talking to.”      With that, he smiled, closed the hood of the truck, and straddled his Harley.  With a wave, he was gone as fast as he had appeared.

Was this an “angel in disguise?”  We don’t know, but why couldn’t an angel take on such a human form?  Maybe he was just a “good Samaritan”  whose heart God had touched in this desperate situation. Either way, God sent an “angel” in answer to her prayer and he met her need.  One lesson learned was that people shouldn’t always be judged by what they look like on the outside.

The Greek word we’ve been studying, adiakritos, also means “unwavering”.  Wisdom from above is evidenced by an unwavering loyalty to God and His Word.  It does not play politics with the truth, and is undivided in it’s committment to God and to others.  Godly wisdom does not succumb to peer pressure, and is not swayed by selfish interests.

One who possesses wisdom from above is free from ambiguity.  The Lord Jesus Christ says in Matthew 5:37:  “But let your statement be ‘yes,yes’, and ‘no, no’.”  The word “no” is one of the few words in the English language that cannot be misunderstood.  In the Old Testament book of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego demonstrated unswerving obedience to God.  In Daniel 3:17,18 they said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “If so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the image which you have set up.”

Proverbs 24:10 says, “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.”  You can easily determine the caliber of a person by the amount of opposition it takes to discourage him.

In the 1960’s, drug companies were presenting nearly 700 applications a year to the Federal Drug Administration for new medicines.  The New Drug Section had sixty days to review each drug before giving approval or requesting more data.

A few months after Dr. Frances Kelsey joined the FDA, an established pharmaceutical firm in Ohio applied for a license to market a new drug, Kevadon.  In liquid form the drug seemed to relieve nausea in early pregnancy.  It was given to millions of expectant women, mostly in Europe, Asia, an Africa.  Although scientific studies revealed harmful side effects, the pharmaceutical firm printed 66,957 leaflets declaring its safety.  The company exerted great pressure on Dr. Kelsey to give permission for labels to be printed, in anticipation of the drug’s approval.

Dr. Kelsey reviewed the data and said no.  Through several rounds of applications, she continued to find the data “unsatisfactory”.  After a fourteen-month struggle, the company humbly withdrew its application.  “Kevadon” was thalidomide, and by that time, the horror of thalidomide deformities and missing limbs on newborn babies was becoming well publicized!  One firm “no” decision by Dr. Kelsey spared untold agony in the United States.  (taken from God’s Little Devotional Book)

An illustration of the word “unwavering” that just came to my mind is the description of a Christian that the apostle Paul gives in Ephesians 6:13-17.  In this passage of Scripture, the Christian is described as a soldier, clothed in the armor of God.  The command is to “stand firm” and resist the devil.  It is interesting and significant to note that there is no armor for the soldier’s back. The soldier was not to retreat in the battle against Satan, or in the defense of the Gospel of Christ.

May God give us the grace and the wisdom to be impartial in our treatment of others and unwavering in our committment to do what is true and right in the sight of God.  The manifestation of these qualities in our lives is further evidence that we are exercising Godly wisdom, the “wisdom from above”.

 

 

TRUE WISDOM IS REASONABLE – James 3:17 (Continued)

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Would you consider yourself to be a “reasonable person”?  We use phrases like:  “let’s be reasonable about it” and “that sounds reasonable” to describe a particular frame of mind and approach to problems or decisions.  We generally use the word “reasonable” to mean sensible, fair, open to other opinions or viewpoints.  It is a quality that is admired in others and is, hopefully, an attitude that we try to maintain in our own lives.

The Greek word that the apostle James uses here is used nowhere else in the New Testament.  This is the only time it is used in the Scriptures.  There must be some significance to that fact, wouldn’t you think?  The Greek word is “eupeithes”, and it has a deeper meaning to it.  It means “easily persuaded” or “persuaded in a good way”, in contrast to the stubborn and obstinate people who insist on having their own way.  It also means a willingness to obey God, to pursue the teachings of the Scriptures, and to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A reasonable person is willing to give way on minor and unimportant issues. As the old saying goes:  “Don’t sweat the small stuff; keep the big picture in mind.”  Such a person takes the first step to resolve potential issues before they become issues.  He gives preference to the other person before envy and strife can even become an issue.

One who possesses this wisdom from above is considerate, agreeable, and easy to live with.  He is willing and ready to listen to the views of others, to hear both sides of the story, and to change his viewpoint if he is proved to be wrong.  He seeks the good of others over his own good.

Abraham (or Abram) in the Old Testament is a good example of one who acted reasonably.  In Genesis 13 Abram settles a property dispute with his nephew Lot.  Abram suggests a compromise and gives the preference to Lot. That’s being reasonable!

Another example comes from American history, involving a man by the same name.  President Abraham Lincoln, after the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War, knew that General Robert E. Lee was open to attack from the rear as he was retreating to Virginia.  He sent word to General George Meade, the newly appointed commander of the Potomac, to attack.  Aware that the General was under heavy pressure to succeed, Lincoln also enclosed this personal note:  “The order I enclose is not on record.  You need not publish it.  Then, if you succeed, you will have all the credit of the movement. If not, I’ll take the responsibility.”

May we have the kind of unselfish concern for others that was displayed by these two Abraham’s.  May we be reminded of the ultimate example of unselfishness:  the Lord Jesus Christ, who left His throne in heaven to become a human being so that He might understand our weaknesses, and so that He might pay the price for our sins in our place.  When issues and decisions face us in our daily lives, “let’s be reasonable about it” in a Scriptural way.  Does that sound reasonable to you?

 

TRUE WISDOM IS PEACEABLE James 3:17

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“Peaceable” is not a word that’s used much in our vocabulary.  I don’t use it, other than the phrase, “Let’s get peaceable about it!”  Some other translations use the words “peace-loving”.  The Greek word “eirenike” is only used here and in Hebrews 11:12 in the New Testament.   The word means “composed”, “tranquil”, and speaks of one who is at peace with God and seeks to be at peace with others.  We can’t be at peace with God and at peace with others unless we have a pure heart.  No wonder James says that wisdom is “first pure”.

The apostle Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If possible, on your part, be at peace with all men.”  In Romans 14:19 he says, “So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.”  When you were growing up, did you ever get into an argument with your siblings, or with other children at church, at school, or in the neighborhood?  Sure you did!  And do you still remember the famous words, “he started it” or “she started it”?  Is your mind a little foggy right now?  Mine is!  It’s interesting to note the things we remember from our childhood and things we forget!

Can you remember your father or mother stopping a quarrel between siblings and saying, “We’re family!”  “That’s your brother, (or sister, or cousin).”  I want you to apologize to one another and say you’re sorry.”  There would be tearful apologies and hugs, and things would be better for a while.   It wouldn’t get so far out of hand again because as you looked at each other, those words would come back to your mind:  “You’re family”.

Fighting is not something we naturally outgrow when we become adults, is it?  As adults and as Christians, we probably don’t punch, kick, shove, bite, or pull hair anymore, but we still have our own arenas and tactics.  Dr. M.R. DeHaan of the Radio Bible Class ministries wrote a devotional on this subject in Our Daily Bread.  The following is part of what he shared.  “How many times has it happened?  You walk away from an argument on the subject of holiness, realizing that you’ve been sinning like crazy.  As you think back, you wonder what it must have looked like to God.  Remember the way it started?  You were sitting around the coffee pot with your Christian friends.  The discussion moved from cars, to churches, to the sovereignty of God.  You love a good lively challenge, so when your doctrinal sparring partner let down his guard, or punched a little too hard, you jumped in for the friendly kill.  For some reason the Scripture you used to support your argument just bounced off his head.  A few more verses were tossed back from his direction.  You claimed they were thrown so badly you didn’t even feel their impact.  Then you began to get a little uneasy.  It soon became apparent that you were no longer testing ideas.  The friendly difference of opinion had turned into a struggle that was now being waged with voice tones, inflections, and gestures.”  He concludes by saying, “When will we learn that knowledge must be accompanied by wisdom?  When will we stop using the doctrines of God as ammunition for our own egos?  When will we allow His Word to make us pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated?”

On a positive note, Proverbs 17:27 says, in the New American Standard Bible, “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”  I like the word “cool” there.  It brings these words to my mind:  “refreshing”, “soothing”, “pleasant”, “a welcome relief”.  Are there people you like to be around because they make you feel at ease?  They are interested in you and like to listen to you and interact with you.  They accept you the way you are and aren’t trying to impress you?  Do you walk away from the conversation refreshed and renewed?  I hope you have people like that in your life.  I also hope that you are that kind of a person yourself, or you are taking steps to become more of a source of refreshment and encouragement to others.  The Lord Jesus called those “blessed”(happy, joyful) who are peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

My next message is about the word “gentle” in verse 17.  “Be cool!”  Please come again soon!

III. HEAVENLY WISDOM – James 3:17

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There is so much to learn and apply from each of the qualities of heavenly wisdom that James gives in this verse.  I’ve decided to publish them one quality at a time.  I don’t want you to miss anything that I am learning!

Here in verse 17, James lists seven qualities that describe the “wisdom from above”.  We also find these qualities mentioned by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-12.  He calls those “blessed” (happy, joyful) who possess these qualities,  As we study each of these descriptions, consider how they were evident in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Also consider whether or not they are evident in your life.

These descriptions of the “wisdom from above” are also closely related to the fruit of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, just as the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 are closely related to earthly wisdom.  At each moment we are either being controlled by the Spirit of God or by our own sinful flesh.  At each moment we are either exercising godly wisdom or earthly wisdom.  I think that deep down inside we know this to be true.  As we study each of these qualities we will hopefully know more clearly.

  1.  TRUE WISDOM IS PURE (verse 17)

We use the word “pure” in expressions and descriptions quite often.  Let me give you a few examples.  “Pure water” – water that is free from dirt, pollutants, and other unwanted or infectious elements.   There is “pure gold” that is genuine, without flaws, imperfections or other alloys.  We use the term “pure breed” or “pure bred”  to refer to an unmixed ancestry.  A “pure tone” in music has a single frequency and is without discord.  The expressions “pure as a newborn baby” and “pure as the driven snow” imply innocence, faultlessness.  Finally the phrase “pure coincidence” intensifies the word by implying “nothing but” or “nothing else”.

The Greek word translated “pure” carries with it these shades of meaning.  Notice in verse 17 that James writes:  “First pure”.  He obviously wants this quality to be at the top of his list.  Does the previous passage of Scripture dealing with “worldly wisdom” have something to do with it?  I think so.  Wisdom from above, Godly wisdom, comes from a pure heart.  It is free from jealousy and selfish motives.  Evangelist Billy Graham said, “The secret of purity is God.  Get a pure heart from God.”  Without a pure devotion to God, none of the other characteristics of Godly wisdom would be possible.

King David prayed in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Psalm 24:3-4 speaks of “clean hands and a pure heart”.  God is not going to empower us and use us if our hearts aren’t cleansed from sin, and our lives aren’t consecrated to Him.

This empowering applies not only to the public part of our lives, but also to our private lives, to the little things, the unseen things, the thoughts and attitudes that we ignore or take for granted.  Like the old Ivory Soap commercial, God doesn’t want us to be “99 and 44/100ths percent pure”, but 100 percent pure. The Daily Bread devotional in 2007 contained a reading entitled “Only A Rivet”.  It brings the point across very clearly and powerfully.

Scientists have determined that faulty rivets may have caused the rapid sinking of the “unsinkable” HMS Titanic.  According to researchers who recently examined parts recovered from the wreck, impure rivets made of wrought iron rather than steel caused the ship’s hull to open like a zipper.  The Titanic proves the foolishness of spending resources on fancy equipment and public promotion while neglecting the “ordinary” parts.  Although rivets seem insignificant, they are essential for holding the ship together and keeping it afloat.  So too, we Christians, by the grace of God, must be free from defect even in the “little things” in order to stand firm against the pressures of this world’s selfishness and corruption.

I’m concluding this section with the words of the apostle Peter to Christians scattered because of their committment to Christ.  Peter says in I Peter 2:1-3, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy, and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

I hope that you are a true child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and that this relationship to Him is evidenced by a love for, and desire for, the pure Word of God as your true source of heavenly wisdom.  I hope that you are also putting aside the wisdom of this world as you grow in the knowledge of Him.  Peter concludes this letter by saying:  “Peace be to you all who are  in Christ”.

With the Lord Jesus as the Master Builder, and the Holy Spirit providing the inspiration, the blueprint and the tools, the work progresses.  Please stop by again.

 

 

 

MAN’S WISDOM VERSUS GOD’S WISDOM – I Corinthians 1:18-25

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INTRODUCTION:

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Proverbs 16:25 says the exact same thing.  Is that significant?  How can something that seems so right be so wrong and have such terrible consequences?

The passage of Scripture I’m sharing today, I Corinthians 1:18-25, gives us an instance in which the reverse principle is also true:  “There is a way that seems wrong to a man, but its end is the way of life.”  In I Corinthians 1:10-17 we read that the Corinthian church was being divided because of quarrels between groups in the Church.  Today we will see that the problem was a reliance on human wisdom.  There is one area where human wisdom plays absolutely no part, and that is the salvation of one’s soul.

I.  THE SUPERIORITY OF GOD’S WISDOM (verse 18)

When man focuses on and glories in his own wisdom, he automatically tries to lower God’s wisdom, which seems like foolishness because it disagrees with his own thinking.  In verse 18, “the word of the cross” includes the whole gospel message and Christ’s saving work.  The thought of God becoming a human being and dying on a piece of wood on a small hill in a remote part of the world, and that this would determine the eternal destiny of every person who has ever lived, sounds foolish or stupid to the natural man.  It leaves no room for man’s wisdom, man’s achievements, and man’s pride.

A Christian was made fun of by an athiest because of his faith in God.  “The idea that the blood of Christ can wash away sin is foolishness”, said the atheist.  “I don’t understand it or believe it.”  The Christian, a student of the Bible, answered, “I think you’re telling the truth.  In fact, you and the apostle Paul agree exactly on one thing.”  “What do you mean?”, asked the atheist.  The believer read I Corinthians 1:18 which says, “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness”.  Then he witnessed to him and told him that Christ could change his life.  But the atheist walked away unmoved.  He was not willing to accept the Lord. The next time you share the Gospel with someone  and the person responds by saying, “that’s’ ridiculous”, you might show that person I Corinthians 1:18 and say, “that’s just how God said you would respond!”

On the other hand, verse 18 goes on to say, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Another story illustrates the truth that those who believe the Gospel will experience the Lord’s saving power.  A missionary told the story that he went to a western town to pastor a small church.  He didn’t know that many of its members were antagonistic to “old-fashioned preaching”, and that some were practically atheists.  As he spoke about sin and the atoning work of Christ, the irritation of his audience became obvious.  In a few weeks the attendance had dwindled to 10.  But the faithful preacher continued to give out the Word and the Holy Spirit brought sinners under conviction.   At one service three entire families received the Lord, and the downward trend was reversed.  The Gospel is indeed the power of God!

There’s a Chinese tale about a young man who captured a tiger cub, brought it home, and raised it in a cage.  When it was full grown, the man loved to brag about how ferocious and powerful it was.  “That tiger isn’t wild anymore,” scoffed his friends.  “He’s as tame as an old house cat!”  This went on until a wise old man overheard them and said, “There’s only one way to know whether this tiger is ferocious or not.  Open the cage!”  The young man smiled, placed his hand on the latch and challenged his friends, “Want to try out my tiger?”  There was a moment of silence, and then one of the friends said, “We’ll believe you!  Just don’t open that latch!”

A tiger’s strength, of course, is destructive and can bring death, but the power of the Gospel leads to life and freedom.  It destroys guilt and breaks the stranglehold of sinful habits.  If we have experienced this power ourselves, let’s challenge others to “try out our tiger!”

II.  THE PERMANENCE OF GOD’S WISDOM (verses 19-20)

In verse 19, Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14.  It reads:  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”  Paul’s purpose is to point out that the wisdom of men will be destroyed.  The background of this verse is important to the understanding of it.  In chapter 8 of Isaiah, God tells the people of Judah that Assyria is going to invade them.  Instead of asking the Lord what they should do, they went to witches and sorcerers, and in Isaiah 30, following their advice, they make a treaty with Egypt, thinking that will protect them.  But that treaty gets them into even more trouble!  Their plans fail, but God shows them that He has a better plan.  Judah would be saved completely by God’s power, with no human help.  In Isaiah 37:36 God destroyed 185,000 men of the Assyrian army with just one angel!  The complete account of this is given in II Kings 17.  I encourage you to read it.

The apostle Paul teaches here in verse 20 that human wisdom is not only unreliable, it is also not permanent.  Paul asks several questions.  Each question is asking, “Where are all the smart people today that have all the answers?”  How much closer to peace, in the world and in the heart, is man today than he was a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago?

Paul asks:  “Where is the wise man?”  He is paraphrasing Isaiah’s words, and the prophet Isaiah was referring to the wise men of Egypt – the sorcerers and magicians who made promises but gave bad advice that led Egypt astray.  “Where are the scribes?”  Paul is probably referring to the Assyrian scribes who went along with the soldiers to record the plunder that was taken in battle.  But God saw to it, in this case, that they had nothing to record, and nothing to count or to weigh.  What was left of the Assyrian army ran away empty-handed.

“Where is the debater of this age?”  Paul is probably referring to the Greek philosophers of his day who spent most of their time arguing with each other!  Throughout history human wisdom has never solved the basic problems of man.  And nothing has really changed over the years, has it?  Life has the same problems.  People have the same struggles.

III.  THE POWER OF GOD’S WISDOM (verses 21-25)

Verse 21 says that God planned it that way.  Man cannot come to know Him by the wisdom of the world.  In Acts 17, when Paul came to Athens, he noticed a shrine on which were written these words:  “To an unknown God.”  With all their learning and philosophies they made for themselves many gods, but the God who had made them, they did not know.

God does not expect people to come to Him through their own wisdom.  He knows they cannot.  But they can come to Him through His wisdom.  And that wisdom has been given to us in the simple message of the Gospel.  It is not through philosophy or human wisdom that salvation comes, but through believing God’s’ Word and His plan of salvation.  God saves only those who believe.  People cannot figure out salvation, they can only accept it in faith.

Unbelief is always the basic reason for not accepting God’s will and God’s way, but unbelief can be expressed in various ways.  In verses 22 and 23, the Jews wanted supernatural signs before they would believe the Gospel.  The Gentiles, represented by the Greeks, wanted proof through human wisdom, through ideas they could consider and debate over.

These two groups that Paul mentions here, the Jews and Greeks, are representative of all unbelieving mankind.  Whether, like the typical Jew, they demand proof by a supernatural sign, or like the typical Greek, they want proof by natural wisdom, unbelievers will find an excuse for rejecting the Gospel.  But God has called out a people for Himself from among the Jews and the Gentiles.  These will believe and find that Jesus Christ is both the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Paul closes this portion of his letter by saying that, even if God could possess any sort of foolishness, it would be wiser than man’s greatest wisdom.  And if God were able to have any weakness, it would be stronger than the greatest strength that man could muster.  Jesus may have appeared to be foolish and weak as one imagines Him hanging on a Roman cross, suffering and dying.  But by doing so, Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of the world and opened the gates of heaven for all who would believe in Him.  Christ’s death and His resurrection were actually His greatest demonstrations of His infinite wisdom and power.

CONCLUSION:

I would like to give two different applications of what Paul has taught us in this passage of Scripture.  First, God’s wisdom is opposed to man’s’ wisdom.  We Christians make a great mistake when we water down the Gospel message to make it acceptable to people, and reasonable to them.  The Gospel isn’t an argument, but an announcement.  And this announcement is meant by God to be proclaimed clearly and accurately.

Secondly, if you still have your own personal philosophy about God and about life, and it doesn’t agree with the Bible, the wisest and most needful statement I can make to you is that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died on the cross for your sins in your place, and shed His blood so that you could be acceptable to a holy God.  And the wisest decision you could ever make in your life would be to believe that announcement, repent of your sins, and accept Jesus Christ into your life and your personal Savior and Lord.  If God is calling you to make that decision, don’t delay or look for excuses, but respond to His call by receiving Him into your life;  and let other Christians know what you have done so that they can rejoice with you and help you grow in your knowledge of Him.