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This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.

Scripture: James 3:13-18

Sermon prepared by Rev. Derek Bouma, Wellandport, Ontario

Are you wise? That’s really not a fair question is it? A truly wise person would probably say no, yet many of us would like to answer yes. We like that idea of being wise, but it would seem awkward to claim that we are. It’s much easier to talk about someone else being wise.

Wisdom is a strange thing. Just what makes a person wise? There are many different criteria for wisdom. Some people would say political leaders like former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin or former US President Bill Clinton are wise men. But others would argue they are anything but wise. Some people would say that Christian leaders like Billy Graham and Dr. James Dobson are wise. But again, others would have a real problem with this. Can all four of these men be wise? In many ways they all are but the wisdom they are working from is very, very different.

So what makes a person wise? Why would we call one person wise and not someone else? Trying to decide who is wise and who isn’t is a complicated issue. It’s not easy because there are two different kinds of wisdom at work in our lives. There is the wisdom of the world and a wisdom that comes from God. Sometimes these two types of wisdom look similar. More often, though, they have very different characteristics and very different outcomes. What the world thinks is wise and what God thinks is wise are usually very different.

What this means is that there is a battle going on. A battle for our hearts and our minds. There are two camps, two sides, each claiming to have wisdom. Each claiming truth. Each telling us what we need to do to be successful in our lives and in our Christian walk. Ironically, we need wisdom to choose between these two forms of wisdom.

James is a big help in this matter. He identifies and lays out the two types of wisdom that are vying for our attention. As Ralph Martin outlines in his commentary on James, we will deal with each form of wisdom in three parts. # 1 The signs or characteristics of wisdom. # 2 Where the wisdom comes from. # 3 I will explain the outcome or the fruit of following that wisdom.

Let’s begin first with what we will call False Wisdom. # 1. What are the signs of false wisdom? What distinguishes this wisdom from other kinds of wisdom? James explains in verse 14 “If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.” False wisdom is marked by someone who is self-centered. Such people are only out for themselves. It’s seen in people who are after power and fame. They are ultimately only concerned about their own wants and desires. These people are self-absorbed and they are often filled with bitterness.

These are the people that our world reveres. They’re the cut throat business man or the woman who clawed her way to the top. They’re the ones who are driven--driven by their ego, driven by their need for success, driven by their desire to have what their neighbor has. You’ll often see these people on the cover of Forbes magazine and that’s why we’re so interested in this kind of wisdom.

But this is a graceless wisdom. I say graceless because it lacks a real concern for others. It has no time for forgiveness. No patience to help out. It is full of envy and spite. People with this kind of wisdom have little concern for others or the people they trample on to get to the top. This graceless wisdom was displayed by a group of mountain climbers. They were making their way up Mount Everest and they came upon a man dying because he didn’t bring enough oxygen for the climb. In their lust to reach the top they left the man to die. No one wanted to turn back to help for that would mean giving up their goal.

It’s easy to point fingers. It’s easy for us to condemn such obvious sin but we must be careful! We too have embraced this graceless wisdom. We live it out in our refusal to forgive the friend who hurt us. We decide to hold on to our bitterness a little bit longer. We live it out in our refusal to give help, aid, money, or whatever might be needed. We hold on to our time and our possessions a little too tightly. We easily become overly concerned about ourselves, and we forget that the signs of false wisdom are bitterness, envy and selfish ambition.

Now let’s move on to our second question concerning false wisdom. # 2. Where does it come from? James explains, “Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” This is the wisdom of the world. It wants nothing to do with God. In fact it is opposed to God and his work. This, of course, is the type of wisdom that our society encourages. Look out for number one. Get what you can for yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. And we buy into this wisdom from time to time too. What we easily forget, or what we simply choose to ignore, is that this wisdom is not from God--it’s of the devil. It’s harmful to our faith and we shouldn’t want anything to do with it.

Which leads us to the third question; # 3. What is the outcome of this wisdom? What impact does this wisdom have on our lives and on our society? James explains, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” Where there is selfish ambition we find people leaving other people to die on the side of a mountain because the goal of reaching the top is too important. Where there is envy we find people who are willing to fight with their sibling over who gets what money when their parents die. Where there is this kind of wisdom we find families who refuse to talk with each other because of some long standing feud over a simple misunderstanding. We see co-workers who are willing to stab each other in the back to get a promotion. We find brothers and sisters who can’t even be in the same room together. We find disturbing activity and dark family secrets. We find broken marriages and damaged people. We find a refusal to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. We find disorder, pain, and chaos.

What’s even worse, this type of wisdom is passed down from generation to generation. What we’ve learned growing up we take with us into every relationship and every aspect of our lives. We will live it out in our families, our friendships, our work relationships--in everything we do. If we’re taught this wisdom in our youth we will teach it to our children in their youth, and they will teach it to their children. The end result, as James tells us, is disorder and every evil practice. Sin rules everything.

This is a false and destructive wisdom. James contrasts this with True Wisdom. So we begin with the first question; # 1 what are the signs of this wisdom? Verse 17 “This wisdom . . . is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” This wisdom isn’t full of bitterness and envy. This wisdom is pure - it has no sin and no dysfunction. It’s focused on one thing and one thing only. Unlike false wisdom it’s not focused on self but rather focused on God alone. It keeps its eyes on Jesus Christ and him crucified.

This wisdom is peace-loving. It isn’t interested in the feuding of earthly wisdom. It longs for harmony and for people to get along. For people to work through their differences. For people to be considerate. For people to care for each other. This wisdom shows love to everyone. Even to its enemies.

It’s a submissive wisdom. Now that doesn’t mean it bows down to what everyone else says. But it does say self isn’t so important. A person who is following this wisdom is concerned about serving others and submitting to God’s will. This is a wisdom that is full of mercy and good fruit. It’s a wisdom that shares the grace of God. A wisdom that knows Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that knows God’s forgiveness. That knows I’m really no better than the next guy. It knows God wants us to share his love with everyone.

It’s a wisdom that is impartial. A wisdom that is sincere. This wisdom doesn’t need to make sure everything is in our favor. Instead it’s focused on making sure everything is right and just even if it means admitting we’re wrong. Even if that means the scales are weighed against us from time to time. It is a wisdom that seeks to know God’s will and longs to do God’s will regardless of the situation. It is a wisdom full of grace. God’s grace.

And so you already know the answer to # 2; This wisdom comes from the Lord. It is a wisdom from heaven that comes to us through Jesus Christ. In this way James is right in line with the Old Testament prophets who taught that the fear of the Lord was true wisdom. True wisdom is to look to God, to worship him with our whole being, to let him rule and guide our lives. To let him and his teaching be the central focus of all we do. This is true wisdom.

This leads us to question # 3; where does this wisdom get us? The outcome of false wisdom, the wisdom of the world, is “disorder and every evil practice,” says James. So what is the outcome of God’s wisdom? James explains, “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” There is a benefit to following the Lord and doing his will. There is a benefit to doing what is right in God’s eyes. There is a benefit to following the wisdom from above rather than the wisdom of the world. The benefit is a blessing from God. The benefit is a harvest of righteousness.

This is an exciting harvest to see. In the Ten Commandments the Lord says “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” God has promised that those who follow him, who obey him, who fear him, who find their salvation in him, those who follow the wisdom from above will be blessed. They will sow a harvest of righteousness.

We’ve seen this harvest in different people’s lives, haven’t we? We see it in their actions. We see it in their families. We see generation after generation serving the Lord. We see whole families; grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren all worshiping the Lord together. This is the harvest of God’s blessing. This is the harvest of sowing the seeds of God’s wisdom.

We see it in families who live in harmony. Who are able to express their love for each other and who are able to disagree with each other in healthy ways. Families and relationships that can survive through difficulties, and not just survive but thrive. We see co-workers who can sort out their differences. We see people who have a gift of bringing harmony and unity in a tense and possibly explosive situation. We see God’s grace lived out in their lives and in their interactions. We see this because these people are following a wisdom that is pure, considerate, and full of mercy, instead of a wisdom that is full of envy, bitterness, and selfish ambition.

Listen again to some of the beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Blessed are those who follow the wisdom from above, for they will raise a harvest of righteousness. For they will be saved. For they will know God and know his love and his mercy.

But where do we get this wisdom? How do we keep from sowing a harvest of disorder and evil? How do we receive this blessing from God? For starters # 1 we ask for it. James tells us in 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” If we want this wisdom all we have to do is ask. God wants to bless us. He longs for us to raise a harvest of righteousness. He wants us to make him and his Son the central focus of our lives. He longs to give us his wisdom. All we need to do is ask.

# 2 We must follow his word and put his teaching into actions. In the parable of the wise and foolish builder Jesus said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” We must seek to live in the fear of the Lord. We must seek to make his teachings and his Word the guiding force of our lives. We must seek to live lives of grace, mercy and love. Lives that exemplify who God is and his love for all people. That is God’s wisdom lived out.

Every day of our lives we must make a choice. A choice to follow the wisdom of the world or the wisdom of heaven. It’s an important choice because it will impact not just us, not just our eternal situation, but it will also impact the generations to follow. It will impact whether we harvest a crop of disorder and evil or a harvest of righteousness. Essentially every day we must ask ourselves, “What kind of wisdom will I follow?”

May we seek to live our lives in the fear of the Lord. May we seek the grace of Jesus so that we may live in His wisdom and reap His blessing.



Order of Worship

* = Congregation Standing (if able)

Welcome & Announcements
Call to Worship
The eternal Father,
who loved us and set us free from our sins,
who loves us still with that love that will not let us go,
and who will love us forever,
calls us to worship him today.
The Lord stoops to receive the love of our poor hearts
He calls us to remember the depth of his love for us in Christ.
God, our father, seeks our love!
Silent Prayer closed with: #420 ‘Breathe on Me, Breath of God’
*God's Greeting:
Pastor: Our help is in the name of the Lord.
People: Who made heaven and earth.
Pastor: Grace to us and peace, from God our Father through Jesus Christ our Lord in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
People: Amen.
* Opening Hymn: #238 ‘We Come, O Christ to You’
Call to Confession: Isaiah 1:18
Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord.
Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
Prayer of Confession: #51:3 ‘Create in me, O God…’
OR ‘Change My Heart O God’
Assurance of Pardon: Psalm 103:8-13
Praise for Pardon: #475 ‘Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven’
God’s Will for Our Lives: Exodus 20:1-17
Children’s Hymn: ‘The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock’
Congregational Prayer / Prayer of Illumination
Scripture Reading: James 3:13-18
Message: ‘Two Kinds of Wisdom’
Prayer of Application
* In Song: #278 ‘Holy Spirit, Mighty God’
In Gifts/Offerings:
* Doxology: #627 ‘Bless His Holy Name’
* With God’s Blessing closed with #641 ‘Three-Fold Amen ’

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