Cadillac has a new technology available for their cars called "OnStar." Those purchasing the service have a 24/7 information servant available. OnStar includes a completely hands-free, voice-activated phone — you never have to dial. Through a satellite Global Positioning System (GPS), someone always knows your exact location, so that they can not only tell you that you are in Columbus, but that you are headed south on 315 approaching the Lane Avenue exit. Like a heavenly advisor, they always know where you are and how to get you to where you want to go. You press a button and the OnStar Advisor will give you personalized information on stock quotes, sports scores, weather and road conditions, or news headlines. Like the concierge at a high-end hotel or health club, your virtual Advisor can locate lodging, an ATM, or a spa. They can arrange for tickets to a play or concert, and then make reservations at a restaurant which serves your favorite cuisine. They can tell you what to do in case of an emergency, call the police or an ambulance for you, or locate the closest hospital. If you are having mechanical problems, the onboard computer will diagnose the problem remotely and send it to your OnStar Advisor, who can then either guide you to the nearest mechanic or send a tow truck to your precise location. If your vehicle is stolen, they can track it via satellite and call the police in the area where it has been taken, or give the authorities a running commentary of where your car is being driven.
Modern information technology is overwhelming. The Internet is an exhaustive compendium of knowledge that has no final page. Never has more information been available in the history of the world. In one year you will read more information than most people of the world in times past had available to them in a lifetime. Our news is instant, but generations before us waited weeks or months for important information to arrive. We have information overload. We used to have to try to find enough information, but now we have to try to sort through a staggering amount of information to find what we need to know. In our culture we have so much information but so little wisdom, and yet it is wisdom that makes life fulfilling and rewarding.
The problem with this overload of information is that it becomes confusing. When we are overwhelmed we want someone to come along and tell us what we should do, or even what we should believe. So like the people on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” we ask if we can use our lifelines. First, we try the 50/50. We try to eliminate half the wrong answers, but it still leaves us confused about which is the correct answer among the options that are left. We try a second lifeline and decide to poll the audience. We talk to other people to see what they think. We listen to others talk. We try to decide the ultimate realities of life by taking a poll of popular opinion. People do this because they are afraid to go against the majority and think for themselves. They are afraid that they will be rejected if they don’t go along with what everyone else believes. So they decide to use their third lifeline. They phone a friend. They need someone they can trust. Which brings us to the point of the morning: You have a Friend, and he has the answer you have been looking for.
The first thing we learn from this passage in James is that the difference between godly wisdom and the wisdom of the world is: Godly wisdom has a different source. James talks about the wisdom that comes down from heaven (3:17). The wisdom that we are to strive for is not the wisdom of this world, but the wisdom that comes from heaven. Our thinking is not to be influenced by polling popular opinion or the result of trying to sift through information by ourselves. Our wisdom is to come from God. The Bible speaks of the “mystery of godliness” (1 Timothy 3:16). This mystery was God’s plan for the world which no one would have been able to figure out on their own. It is too complex and wonderful. It was hidden through the ages (Romans 16:25, Ephesians 3:9, Colossians 1:26). The knowledge of this mystery was not available through investigation, it had to be attained through revelation. That is, we could not discover this wisdom through our own effort, but only by asking God to reveal his truth to us. He is the source. That is why James said, “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” (James 1:5). This is also why James says that humility is so important in gaining wisdom. We have to be humble, because we have to come to God admitting that we don’t know how to figure life out and we need his help. We don’t even understand what the ultimate issues of life are. The Bible says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. . . . But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).
Paul spoke of the good news of Jesus Christ which was a “mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him” (Romans 16:25-26). Life is a mystery, and the only way we gain understanding of it is when we come to God humbly asking for the revelation of the mystery of life. We ask for his wisdom to face a confusing world. The source of this wisdom is God. The source of this wisdom is truth. In contrast, the source of the wisdom of this world is a lie.
What happens when people do not look to God for the answers to life? They often go to people as confused, or more confused than they are. They consult mediums and spiritual advisors. They dial up the Psychic Hotline. They look to horoscopes and crystals. I was reading USA Today online and saw an advertisement for goddess ritual candles. I clicked on the ad and read these words: “There are moments in our lives when all of the seven elements of femininity are required. Now you can summon these powers instantly with Illuminations’ new collection of Goddess Ritual Candles. Inspired by mythologies from around the globe, each candle is intended to help celebrate and reaffirm these powerful qualities through ritual and invocation.” Then the goddesses and their powers were listed so that you could pray to one or all of them. This kind of wisdom may be alluring, but it is an illusion. In fact, it is spiritually dangerous, and God warns us against such practices. He said, “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:31). Isaiah wrote: “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living” (Isaiah 8:19). When we turn away from God as the source of wisdom, we turn to foolishness, and spiritually dangerous foolishness at that. We turn away from God’s truth only to embrace a lie.
The second thing we learn from this passage in James is that the difference between godly wisdom and the wisdom of the world is: Godly wisdom has a different goal. I had fun making a chart of all the things that James lists as characteristic of godly wisdom, and contrasting them with the things he mentions in relation to earthly wisdom. James says that godly wisdom is associated with a good life. It is humble, pure, peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. Then he says that earthly wisdom brings with it bitter envy, selfish ambition, boasting, and denying the truth. It is earthly, unspiritual and of the devil. He says it creates disorder and results in every evil practice. The goal of godly wisdom is to make us participants in the mind and life of God. Through this wisdom we embrace eternal life. Paul wrote, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). He said, “We make it our goal to please him. . . .” (2 Corinthians 5:9).
The goal of the wisdom of this world is success marked by selfish ambition and envy. There is boasting and lying. But in today’s culture we have gone beyond wanting success and simply settling for fame. It used to be that people became famous for accomplishing something — flying across the Atlantic ocean, or discovering a cure for a major disease. Today becoming famous has taken on a life of its own. A recent article in USA Today talked about the pseudo-celebrities of our culture. As the article says, “Fame can be had for accomplishing the historical equivalent of nothing.” Take Kato Kaelin, O.J. Simpson’s former houseguest. He says, “Never has a man done so little to be recognized by so many.” He did nothing, but he is famous, and because of that he is on talk shows, sitcoms, endorses products and is making a whole lot of money. Consider Darva Conger who became a celebrity overnight by marrying “multimillionaire” Rick Rockwell on TV. Or how about Susan Hawk, the truck-driving, plain-talking finalist from CBS’ first Survivor show. Then there is always DotComGuy, the guy who broadcast his every moment to the world with a Webcam, while he spent one year indoors ordering everything online. After listing these pseudo-celebs, the article asks, “But is this the best we can do? Fame is no longer about accomplishing some heroic act. . . . It’s more about feeding a relentless media beast that’s always starved for news.”
The Bible asks the same question, “Is this the best we can do?” Are we living our lives just to get attention or notoriety, or is there some greater purpose and goal to our lives? The goal of godly wisdom is to glorify God and to contribute something to the world. It comes from a desire to make our lives count for something — something bigger than ourselves and our own fame or pleasure. Godly wisdom gives us the desire to make our lives count for God.
The third thing we learn from this passage in James is that the difference between godly wisdom and the wisdom of the world is: Godly wisdom has a different result. The instant gratification that earthly wisdom touts ultimately leads to no satisfaction at all. The wisdom it professes results in foolishness. Instead of being fulfilling, it leads people toward self-destructive acts. The Bible says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:18-22).
Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). Jesus Christ gives us true wisdom that results in life — life abundant and free here, and life eternal in heaven. To spend our time living for ourselves and seeking the wisdom of this world is to misspend our lives, and the end result is disaster.
Emmanuel Ninger was arrested for passing counterfeit $20 bills. When they searched his home they found a $20 bill in the process of being made. They also found three paintings he had done. Ninger, as it turned out, was an excellent artist. Almost too good. He had hand painted the $20 bills individually. He was a master, meticulously applying every tiny stroke so skillfully that no one would have guessed it wasn’t the real thing. That is, until a clerk with wet hands happened to take one of the bills from him and saw the ink smear. After his arrest, his paintings were sold at public auction for $16,000. They brought in over $5,000 each. The irony, of course, is that it had taken Emmanuel Ninger the same amount of time to paint a $20 bill as it took him to paint a $5,000 portrait. God had given him great talent and he used it foolishly. He really stole from himself, because he could have used what God had given him to contribute something to the world. But when he tried to use what God had given him to take something from the world, the result was self-destruction. He could have been smart and brought joy to others and become a wealthy man in the process, but he wasted what he had been given and became a fool, living in a prison of his own making.
The wisdom of God has a different source — it comes down from heaven as a gift from God and is based in his truth. It has a different goal — it desires to glorify God and make a contribution to the world. It has a different result — it leads to life and joy. It is the path to eternal life. This is the wisdom we seek as the people of God.
Rodney J. Buchanan
April 1, 2001
Mulberry Street United Methodist Church
Mt. Vernon, OH
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).
The difference between godly wisdom and the wisdom of the world is:
1. Godly wisdom has a different ____________________ .
2. Godly wisdom has a different ____________________ .
3. Godly wisdom has a different ___________________ .
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION (Apr 1, 2001)
1. Why does the world resist the wisdom of God?
2. What were some of the ways that you relied on the wisdom of the world before becoming a Christian?
3. Read James 3:13-18. List the qualities of godly wisdom. List the characteristics of earthly wisdom.
4. Read 1 Corinthians 2:14-16. According to these verses, what must take place before we gain true wisdom?
5. Read James 1:5. From where does wisdom come? How do we get it?
6. Read Ephesians 3:16-19. What is it that we are to grasp? How does a person get this knowledge?
7. Read Colossians 1:9-10. What is it that Paul prays for the Colossians to be filled? What will this produce in their lives?
8. Read 1 Corinthians 2:6-10. What is the difference between investigation and revelation? Why do we need revelation?
9. Read Romans 1:18-22. What are the important truths found in this passage?
10. Read 2 Peter 1:2-9. What is the purpose and what are the results of godly wisdom according to this passage?