Summary: 8th message in James series. James has a decidedly different concept of what counts for influence than our secular society does.
On Christmas Eve 1985 this article appeared in Our Daily Bread:
In the early 19th century, a war-weary world was anxiously watching the march of Napoleon. All the while babies were being born. In 1809, midway between the battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo, William E. Gladstone was born in Liverpool; Alfred Lord Tennyson in Summersby, England; Oliver Wendell Holmes in Boston; Felix Mendelssohn in Hamburg, Germany and Abraham Lincoln in Hodgenville, Kentucky. People’s minds were occupied with battles, not babies. Yet 175 years later, is there the slightest doubt about the greater contribution to history — those battles or those babies? (December 24, l985).
No one knew how influential those babies would be in 1809. Who could know that they would influence the course of history? What is it that marks a person of great influence? James is concerned about the power of influence in chapter 3. He began the chapter warning that every person has the power to influence others and we must all be accountable for the kind of impression we leave. Winston Churchill recognized this when he wrote, “One mark of a great man is the power of making lasting impressions upon people he meets.”
I. THE PERSON OF POSITIVE INFLUENCE ... v. 13
James describes the person who can make a positive and lasting impression in v. 13 - ”Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” True wisdom is distinguished from intellectual cleverness. Genuine wisdom leads to a good life demonstrated by good deeds. Here is an individual with spiritual and moral insight. His life is an attraction for God. “His works, not his words, are the acid test of his wisdom” (D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistle of James, Tests of a Living Faith (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), 228].
An old mountaineer from Kentucky once said, “I don’t ask the Lord for faith enough to move mountains. I can probably get hold of enough dynamite to do that. I ask the Lord for enough faith to move me!” Be an influential person by living the life of faith. Be wise with God’s wisdom and show it by a good life. This is not the conventional wisdom of the world today. Joe Bayly, shortly before he died, warned in a newsbrief to the Baptist General Conference, “The church is becoming increasingly more worldly. Parents in church want their kids to make more money than they did or succeed in business, instead of becoming missionaries or ministers” [Joseph Bayly, “Highlights, November 1985 (Monthly Newsbriefs from Baptist General Conference Educational Ministries]. He called for an emphasis on the development of Christian character.
The only credential that James is interested in is the quality of a person’s life. He doesn’t prescribe a course of conduct, or tell us what we must actually do. He describes the kind of people we ought to be no matter what we do. He points out the dominant characteristics of an influential life.
Two wisdoms are contrasted—two ways of living and influencing people. These contrasting lifestyles are relevant to each of us. We all have realms of influence in other’s lives. You are influential at home, in your office, at school, or wherever you spend your time.
One feature of positive influence is mentioned before James quickly turns to negative influences. Humility is the dominant feature of the wisdom from above. The person with this characteristic serves quietly and faithfully, and leaves the results to God. That is the last way the natural man seeks to gain influence. He is described in the next verses.
II. THE PERSON OF NEGATIVE INFLUENCE ... vv. 14-16
Rather than humility the person with a powerful negative influence is driven by the motives of “bitter envy and selfish ambition.” Chuck Swindoll says, “Envy is felt when we mourn empty hands because we don’t have what someone else has. Jealousy is felt when we have full hands and are threatened because we fear someone will take away what we have” [Charles R. Swindoll, James: Bible Study Guide, (Waco: Word Publications, 1983), 56.]. Sadly, churches and church leaders are not immune. We feel strongly about our doctrines and the causes we believe in. Too easily those strong feelings are perverted into personal feelings against a brother.
This sharpness of spirit in our personal relationships causes us to be too concerned for our position or rights. The symbols of status, titles, and positions on organizational charts mean too much to us as we climb to the summit of “Success.”
When we seek to carve out positions of prominence for ourselves we have fallen into the unwise “wisdom of the world.” The truly wise wait for God to open doors and to promote them, but worldly wisdom causes trouble. When you must boast and pervert the truth to promote yourself your thinking is distorted, and wrong thinking produces wrong living. The world is in a mess because people will not accept the wisdom of God. We “deny the truth!” We change our standard to accommodate our own shortcomings. I can cut six inches off a yardstick and tell you I’m six foot tall, but I have only deceived myself.