October 9, 2011

Wise Down To Godliness - Part One

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: James Scripture: James 3:13–16


Wise Down To Godliness-Part One

James 3:13-16
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Pastor Randy Smith

The Scriptures are fairly good at placing people into clear classifications. Either you are in the church or in the world. Either God is your Father or Satan is your father. Either you are walking in the Spirit or walking in the flesh. Yet if you specifically read through Proverbs, you come to understand two new classes of people. Either you are wise or you are a fool.

Now there are times when wise people can act foolish and there are also times when foolish people can appear wise. For example, Proverbs 17:28, "Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise." Yet the general theme through Proverbs is to value wisdom and seek with all your heart to attain it. Proverbs 4:7, "The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; and with all your acquiring, get understanding." 16:16, "How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver."

Solomon as you know is a prime example. When asked of the Lord what he desired (1 Ki. 3:5), he bypassed the things that would have first come to the minds of most. Of all that he could have requested, Solomon asked God for wisdom (1 Ki. 3:9). The next verse says, "It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing" (1 Ki. 3:10). As parents our goal is to raise wise children. Proverbs 10:1 says, "A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother." Godly people are known as wise people. I am sure most if not all of us in this room would be offended if we were thought of as a fool! Are you sure you are wise? How do you know?

Throughout this epistle James has been showing us the marks of genuine faith. In other words, what true believers look like. He says they will persevere through trials. They will overcome temptation. They will be quick to receive the Scriptures. They will be doers of the Word. They will not show favoritism. They will have good deeds. They will control their speech. And now, a true believer will display wisdom. So what does wisdom look like? How can I obtain wisdom? What are wisdom's benefits? Today we will answer these questions as we look at one of the clearest passages on wisdom found in the entire Bible.


We begin the first point, which I have entitled, "The Wisdom From God."

James starts in verse 13 by asking a rhetorical question: "Who among you is wise and understanding?" As James was asking the church he wrote to, I ask you Grace Tabernacle Bible Church, "Who among you is wise and understanding?" Since wisdom is the mark of a believer and I trust there are few self-professing fools, I assume all of you would answer the question in the affirmative.

Here comes the next question: "How do you know it?" "How do you identify someone who is wise? Is it academic degrees? Four PhD's and you can still be a fool! Is it the accumulation of knowledge? Fools can excel in jeopardy. Is it natural intelligence? Is it lessons learned from life experience? Is it hours spent with a psychologist? Biblically speaking, it is none of these. As a matter of fact, James does not even use the traditional biblical definition that wisdom is the application of knowledge. James goes in another direction. Wisdom, he says, is verified in how we conduct our lives, in our behavior.

Look at the middle of verse 13: "Let him show by his good behavior." True wisdom is seen in the way we act. If we are wise it should be evident based upon our character. James says we should show it through our "good behavior." Throughout this epistle James has been calling for a faith that is alive and visible. Remember 2:18? "Show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." And here he is saying that true faith will produce wisdom, and wisdom will be and should be seen by others ("show [it]" - verse 13) in the way we conduct our lives in "good behavior" (cf. 1 Pet. 1:15; 2:12; 3:1-2, 16); righteous, biblical living that glorifies God. Therefore the pursuit of wisdom is in a sense the pursuit of godliness.

But James narrows it down. I suppose there are many elements of godliness that he could have chosen, but the one he identifies in particular is "gentleness." Let's finish verse 13, "[In] his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom." "Gentleness" or as NIV puts it, "humility."

Back in the Greek and Roman first century this trait of gentleness was not viewed as a virtue. I am sure many were shocked when they first heard this letter. The chief mark of wisdom is gentleness??? You have got to be kidding me!!! No doubt people feel the same today. Gentle people are presumed to be weak individuals, people who don't always fight for their opinion, pushovers, wimps, girly-men. I mean, wise people are able to connive, walk over others, intimidate, dominate, overpower, kick and claw their way to the top. How far in life can a gentle person go? Nice guys finish last, right? A timeless truth according to the world: Gentleness is the epitome of foolishness.

The Bible teaches the opposite. Jesus was the most successful man that ever lived. Didn't He say, "I am gentle and humble in heart" (Mt. 11:29). He called His followers to imitate Him. He gave them who are gentle great promises. "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth" (Mt. 5:5). If we are in the Spirit, the Bible teaches the Holy Spirit will produce in us the fruit of gentleness (Gal. 5:23). Moses was a powerful leader yet how do the Scriptures define him? "Very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth" (Num. 12:3).

Consider for a moment the Christian's status: The living God dwells within the believer. We possess resurrection power. We have the "mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16). We know the teaching of Scripture and the folly of worldliness. We understand that we have been accepted by God. We have confidence in our eternal destination. All this greatness can go to our heads! Therefore opportunities tempt us to be overconfident and overbearing and overdemanding.

Yet by God's grace, we who have the most are able to restrain the best. Gentleness is best defined as "power under control." We have self-control (Gal. 5:23). We know the true battle is the Lord's, not ours. We know He will in the end vindicate us. We can step aside. We know there is more power in prayer than arguing. We know there is more dignity in swallowing our pride than always needing to have the last word. We know there is more blessing in seeing the success of another than always having to be number one ourselves. We know it is better to promote God than our lives. We know God's approval is all that matters. We know that nothing beneficial comes from harsh words, intimidation, loud voices or physical abuse (cf. Pr. 15:1; 15:18; 25:15). We know gentleness is not spinelessness or timidity or indecisiveness or lack of confidence. We know meekness is not synonymous with weakness. We simply know God is in control and therefore we can be gentle. And gentleness is a prime mark of godliness, true wisdom.

Based upon that definition we are surrounded by a world of fools. You cannot avoid it. You see it on the street, in homes, at the workplace and through the media. We live in a world and especially a culture in the Northeast that is permeated by strife and harshness and contentions and yelling and overtalking and bitter disputes and belittling comments and frustration and aggravation. People are even entertained by it on the television shows they watch or the movies they rent. I have even met people who cannot imagine life apart from it. Unfortunately all of it stems from pride and selfishness. All of it is the opposite of gentleness. It shows nothing of God's influence. And therefore all of it is foolishness.

We should expect this from the world that is alienated from God. It is a tragedy when it enters the homes of Christian families. It is a tragedy when it enters the home of God's church. This was a problem back then. Look at 4:1, "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?" Remember the church in Corinth? Paul had to say, "God is not a God of confusion but of peace" (1 Cor. 14:33).

And it is still a problem today. Few things are more painful and disturbing than some of the divisive arguments and bitter splits that many churches have experienced. The horror stories I have heard, some from dear people now sitting right here in this sanctuary. Plain and simple, it is the absence of godliness. Jump down to 3:16, "For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing." Foolishness will always be evident by the effects it displays. Factious, divisive churches are only a nest of fools! Our standard? Ephesians 4:2, "With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love." That is God's desire for us. That is the wisdom that comes from God!


So as we move to the second point, let's look at "The Wisdom that Comes from the World."

Verse 14, "But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth." As you can see, James now establishes the contrast to true wisdom. He lists some traits that were being displayed in the church leading to their problems. These traits are obviously the opposite of gentleness and humility.

The first one he mentions is "bitter jealously." Jealously (or "envy"-NIV) is a self-centered attitude that despises the success of others. Rather than being happy for another's achievements, jealously is grieved that someone else is getting the recognition, praise, blessings of something personally desired. Jealously is evidence that a person values himself more than he values others. It is evidence he is unthankful for God's provisions. James even prefaces the word "jealousy" with the word "bitter." This is the person who is outright mad or resentful that someone has what he wants. Obviously "bitter jealously" is in total contrast with gentleness: One foolish, one wise; one a deed of the flesh (Gal. 5:21, 26), one a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23).

The Bible chronicles the painful results of jealousy. In Acts we read that religious leaders were "filled with jealousy" (Ac. 5:17) putting the apostles in jail. Acts 13 says the Jews were "filled with jealousy" (Ac. 13:45) when they observed the positive reception to Paul's preaching. Paul called the Corinthian church carnal because there was "jealousy and strife among [them]" (1 Cor. 3:3). In Philippians it says some were even preaching Christ out of jealousy (Phil. 1:15). Satan fell because of jealousy. Cain killed Abel because of jealousy. Absalom attempted to overthrow his father, David, because of jealousy. Haman sought to hang Mordecai because of jealousy. And the religious leaders turned Jesus over to be crucified because of jealousy.

The story is told of two men who lived in a certain city. One was Envious and the other Covetous. The ruler of the city sent for them and said he wanted to grant them one wish each - with this proviso, that the one who chose first would get exactly what he asked for, while the other man would get exactly twice what the first had asked for himself. Envious was ordered to choose first, but immediately found himself in a quandary. He wanted to choose something great for himself, but realized that if he did so the other would get twice as much. He thought for a while, and then asked that one of his eyes be put out. In the church this type of person could honestly pray, "Lord, I would sooner your work was not done at all than done by someone better than I can do it" (Hughes, James,p. 151-152)

The second description of ungodly wisdom is "selfish ambition." Selfish ambition is the carnal drive to succeed to gain recognition for yourself apart from God and regardless of the cost to others. We can even appear to do godly things (e.g. teach children, pursue leadership, host a fellowship, attend prayer meeting, etc.), but pursue them out of "selfish ambition."

So how do I know if I am serving God in the Spirit or out selfish ambition? It is having an understanding that we deserve nothing from God. Any opportunity to serve Him is a privilege. Our goal in serving is His glory. We are motivated and then conduct ourselves in such a way that all the credit goes to Him. His kingdom work takes higher priority than our preferences. Therefore we rejoice when sinners are converted, people are participating in the church and others are recognized. We may end up doing more work than others. We may even be persecuted by those we are trying to serve. We may even receive less human praise in the process, but as long as God is honored we find total contentment knowing He does not need us, but has chosen to use us in His eternal work. That is humility. That is the mark of wisdom we should be seeing in each other.

Verse 14 again, "But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth."

Yet if we profess to be wise and live with "bitter jealousy" and "selfish ambition," we are dominated not by God but by self. According to James we are living a lie. We are conducting ourselves in direct contradiction to the Gospel. You can boast all you want about your godliness, but the wisdom you profess, verse 15, "is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic."

In ascending order of negative strength:

Earthly - It is not the wisdom from above, but the wisdom of this fallen world (cf. Phil. 3:19). It is following the lead of people who are enemies of the cross. It is motivated by self-interest. It is all around us, in our schools and government. It is in philosophy and modern psychology. It is closed to God and wide open to humanism. Worldliness!

Natural - It is the wisdom that seems right to our base instincts. Apart from God it is our natural feelings, standards, impulses and desires. It is based on human reasoning not Scripture. Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 2:14: "But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."

Demonic - This wisdom in the world is not from above, but from below. It originates in the pit of hell. It is the wisdom of Satan and his demonic forces that seek to lead people away from God by appealing to their earthly and fleshly instincts. "Oh Adam and Eve, one bite is no big deal. After all God is holding something big back from you (Gen. 3:4-5)." Oh Judas, are you really convinced that Jesus is who He says He is? I'm sure a little money can persuade you to do otherwise (Mt. 26:15; Jn. 13:27)." Oh Jesus, if you worship me, I'll give you all the kingdoms of the world and their glory" (Mt. 4:8-9; cf. 1 Cor. 7:5; 2 Cor. 11:2-3; 1 Thes. 3:5).

The sources of worldly wisdom according to James 3:15: Earthly, natural and demonic. Interestingly, the same triad of forces that oppose the believer: the world, the flesh and the devil. It is earthly as opposed to heavenly. It is natural as opposed to spiritual. And it is demonic as opposed to divine.

Pretty scary! So how can I get the wisdom from above? Simple, you need first and foremost to trust Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. When He comes into your life and you walk by the Spirit, you have produced within you spiritual fruit contributing to wisdom.

Here is the spiritual fruit are as they contribute to wisdom: One is the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) who in Jesus "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3; cf. 1 Cor. 1:30). Two, we have the Holy Spirit that is producing the fruit of gentleness (Gal. 5:23). Three, we have prayer where we can ask God for wisdom as we learned in James 1:5 (cf. Col. 1:9). Four, we have the Scriptures and the ability to understand the Scriptures that unfold to us the wisdom of God. And fifth, we rightly approach the Lord with awe and reverence. And we know the teaching of Proverbs 9:10 that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (cf. Job 28:28; Psm. 111:10; Pr. 1:7).

So how do I know if I am operating with the wisdom that comes from above or the wisdom that comes from below? As we have learned this morning examine your character. And better than simply asking yourself the question, ask others who know you best: Do you see me as bitterly jealous or selfishly ambitious? Or am I a person of gentleness and humility? That test alone will best determine if you are a fool, following the wisdom from below, or wise following the wisdom from above. May each of us contribute to a home and a church that is marked by biblical wisdom.

other sermons in this series

Feb 5


Sheep Shepherding Sheep

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:19 Series: James

Jan 29


Let's Close With Prayer

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:13–18 Series: James

Jan 15


To Tell You The Truth

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: James 5:12 Series: James