Christianity For Dummies: The Wise and The Otherwise
A. Have you ever stopped to consider some of the profound questions in the Bible? Pontius Pilate - "What is truth?" Jesus - "Who do men say that I the Son of Man am?" God to Solomon in a dream - "What do you want? Ask and I will give it to you!"
B. Kids, teens, twentysomethings - imagine just as He did with Solomon, God came to you in a dream tonight and said, "Christmas is in 52 days. What do you want? Ask and I will give it to you!" What would you say? Adults, grown kids - I want to pose that same profound question to you this AM - what would you ask for if the Lord of heaven and earth offered you anything you asked for?
C. As we reflect on our answer, we would do well to reflect on Scripture. How did Solomon answer? Read 1 Kings 3:7-13. Wisdom?! Anything at all and he wants Wisdom?! Proverbs 3:13-17 (NLT) says: "Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. For wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold. Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. She offers you long life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left. She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying." Having gained the world's riches throughout his life, Solomon understood the value of wisdom. Do we? How much would a wheelbarrow full of wisdom go for on Ebay? Would we even bid on it or do we think we are already wise enough?
D. 1000 years after the Son of David asked for wisdom from God to accomplish his calling, another descendant of David named James wrote an entire epistle on Wisdom, first saying this - read James 1:5. You see we don't have to place a bid on Ebay for wisdom, all we have to do is ask our Heavenly Father! My fear is we don't see the value of wisdom or we are fooling ourselves - we think we are plenty wise and yet are operating on man's wisdom, False Wisdom, not on God's wisdom, True Wisdom. James straight out of the gate in 3:13 challenges this mentality and asks another profound question - "Who is wise and understanding among you?" He's going to paint two pictures with a palate of colorful words. As he does, we will see a contrast between The Wise, someone who has received the wisdom from above, and the Otherwise, someone who lacks God's wisdom. In each case, James outlines the Roots, Attributes and Fruits of The Wise and the Otherwise. Our goal is going to be to allow God's Word to convict us which picture represents you, represents me; and then as James has done the whole time, to challenge us to do something about it (transform us) - to be doers not just hearers!
II. Scripture Reading & Prayer
A. Read James 3:13-18.
B. Pray - Father, help us like Solomon to see the true value of wisdom. We praise you for your free offer of wisdom and that all we have to do to claim it is to ask. Convict us now through your Word if we are The Wise or The Otherwise and then empower us to do something about it that we may live a life that glorifies you.
III. James' Challenge: Who Is Wise?
A. James first order of business as I have already alluded to is to challenge this mentality that we've got it all together and are plenty smart! Read and explain James 3:13a.
- This word wise in the Greek is "sophos"; it does not necessarily mean brilliant, high IQ or book smarts but rather the ability to apply with skill what one knows. In the NT, it means applying spiritual truth in one's life. Likewise, the word understanding, used only here in the NT, means a professional who could skillfully apply his expertise to practical situations. James is asking who is truly skilled in the art of living. Are you smart? Are you WISE?
- Illustration: A minister, a Boy Scout, and a computer expert were the only passengers on a small plane. The pilot came back to the cabin and said that the plane was going down but there were only three parachutes and four people. The pilot added, “I should have one of the parachutes because I have a wife and three small children.” So he took one and jumped.The computer whiz said, “I should have one of the parachutes because I am the smartest man in the world and everyone needs me.” So he took one and jumped.The minister turned to the Boy Scout and with a sad smile said, “You are young and I have lived a rich life, so you take the remaining parachute, and I’ll go down with the plane.”The boy Scout said, “Relax, Reverend, the smartest man in the world just picked up my knapsack and jumped out."
- The Bible contains MANY examples of the folly of man's wisdom. Tower of Babel - seemed wise, ended in failure & confusion. Abraham to go to Egypt when famine hit Canaan - lies about Sarai and Lord afflicts Pharoah. King Saul to put his armor on David - David went instead with a sling, 5 smooth stones and God! Disciples thought it wise to dismiss 5000 to find their own food - Jesus fed them with a few loaves and fishes. These are just a few.
- Application: So, are you smart or are you WISE? There IS a difference. Discuss myself. "If you lack knowledge, go to school. If you lack wisdom, get on your knees! Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is the proper use of knowledge." (Vance Havner) "Do not confuse the world's knowledge and the world's wisdom. Certainly there is a great deal of knowledge in this world, and we all benefit from it, but there is not much wisdom. Man unlocks the secrets of the universe, but he does not know what to do with them." (Wiersbe)
- Think about the quantum leaps being made in all areas of knowledge. Quarks. New Diabetes meds. Internet and computers. It's estimated that medical knowledge, for example, doubles every seven years, and scientific knowledge doubles every twenty years. The total written knowledge in the world is said to have doubled between 1450 and 1750, and then to have doubled again between 1750 and 1900. Between 1900 and 1950, human knowledge doubled once more, and then again from 1950 to 1975. Now, it is believed to double every 900 days. By the year 2020, global knowledge is predicted to double every 72 days!
- What would Paul say about ALL this knowledge - read 1 Cor. 1:17-25 (MSG)
B. Read and explain James 3:13b. James answers his question of challenge with an imperative - SHOW it! He's NOT interested in a SAY-so Wisdom (M.D., M.B.A., B.S., B.A., H.S. diploma, GED, A.C.T.); he's interested in a SHOW-so Wisdom. "Who is wise and understanding among you? SHOW it!" How?
#1 Good conduct - KJV = "good conversation," which in A.D. 1611 meant "lifestyle." Good example of why our English translations need continual upgrades! NKJV & ESV = "good conduct." Greek word good, "kalos," means beautiful, external form or appearance. Does that describe your conduct?Philippians 1:27 = "Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." 1 Timothy 4:12 = "Let no one look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in your speech, conduct, love, faithfulness, and purity." 1 Peter 2:12 = "Maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears." 2 Peter 3:11 = "Since all these things are to melt away in this manner, what sort of people must we be, conducting our lives in holiness and godliness."
#2 Works - Why do you come to church? Give some examples. Many of us love to quote Hebrews 10:25 but what does 10:24 say? Read or quote.
#3 Meekness - Greek = "prautes" was hardly a virtue to be sought after in the minds of most Greeks; same as in the minds of many Americans - weak! Yet in non-Biblical literature it described a horse that someone had broken and had trained to submit to a bridle. It pictures strength under control. THAT'S biblical wisdom! Meekness was and is a uniquely Christian virtue. It typified the life of Christ (cf. Matt. 11:29, 2 Cor. 10:1, Phil. 2:8) and Scripture says should also typify our lives (fruit of the Spirit, Gal. 5:22-23), such a spirit is precious in God's sight (1 Peter 3:4); further Christ pronounced a blessing on those who are meek (Matt. 5:5).
C. Application: "James' exhortation to the 'wise person' reads awkwardly, because he has combined two ideas in it: wisdom is to produce works and wisdom is to be characterized by humility." (Moo) Does that describe us? Do we have a healthy understanding of our own unworthiness before God and a corresponding humility or are we smart-aleks?! Discuss Vicky and I being unworthy to be pastor, 1st Lady.
D. "Who is wise and understanding among you?" Don't SAY-so, SHOW-so! James now starts to paint two picturses, those who SAY-so (False Wisdom, The Otherwise) and those who SHOW-so (True Wisdom, The Wise).
IV. The Otherwise: False Wisdom (It's Roots, Attributes and Fruits)
A. It's Roots (Read and explain James 3:14a)
- #1 Bitter Jealousy. Jealousy, Greek "zelos, English zeal, means heat and comes from a root meaning liquids to boil and solids to glow. In Scripture it is not always a bad thing. Phinehas in Numbers 25:11-13 is commended for his zeal for the Lord's cause. Jesus himself was consumed with a similar zeal when he cleansed the temple (cf. John 2:17). Yet there is a jealousy or zeal that Paul condemns (Romans 13:13, 2 Cor. 12:20, Gal. 5:20) and James speaks of here. It is selfishly motivated, harsh, critical of others. It is bitter, Greek "pikros," meaning sharp, pungent and used to describe brackish, undrinkable water. Ephesians 4:31 says "Let all bitterness...be put away from you" and Hebrews 12:15 says "See to it...that no 'root of bitterness' springs up and causes trouble" amongst us.
- #2 Selfish Ambition. Greek "eritheia" is a rare word. Extra-Biblical literature it was used to describe partisan politicians, especially those who sought to achieve their agenda at any cost. Sound like the kind of "wisdom" in Congress and at 1600 Penn. Avenue?! Scripture says its causes are hate (Prov. 10:12), pride (Prov. 13:10), contentious spirit (Prov. 26:21), and anger (Prov. 29:22). Scripture also forbids it - "You grab a mad dog by the ears when you butt into a quarrel that's none of your business." (Prov. 26:17)
- In your hearts. Ultimately where does this bitter jealousy & selfish ambition come from? Jesus said what comes out of the mouth proceedeth from where? The heart! False wisdom is not a brain problem but a heart problem!
B. It's Attributes (Read and explain James 3:14b-15)
- Having told us the ROOTS of this False Wisdom that The Otherwise possess, James now outlines its ATTRIBUTES...five in fact.
- #1 Arrogance: Do not boast Does someone who's heart is full of bitter jealousy and selfish ambition sound like someone who should boast about their wisdom? Yet our world is full of such people - politicians, atheists, business men, Sunday school teachers, pastors. The result of this unjustified boasting?
- #2 Self-deception: Be false to the truth GNB = "Don't sin against the truth by boasting of your wisdom." To boast about wisdom when one is displaying jealousy and selfish ambition is, in effect, to give lie to the truth that wisdom must be associated with humility.
- #3 Earthly: Opposite of heavenly & that coming down from above.
- #4 Unspiritual: Opposite of spiritual. Greek "psychikos" comes from root "psyche," soul, and always has a negative connotation in the NT. As Knowling points out, it has to do with that part of man "where human feeling and human reason reign supreme."
- #5 Demonic: Opposite of godly. It has its origins from Satan's minions.
- The Otherwise possess a False Wisdom, one that does not produce a good lifestyle and is, in summary, characterized by "the world, the flesh and the devil." In every way it is opposite of the wisdom that comes down from above - heavenly in nature, spiritual in essence and divine in origin.
C. It's Fruits (Read and explain James 3:16)
- Why is James so harsh in his verdict on such wisdom? Well, he justifies his seemingly harsh verdict on False Wisdom by pointing out its FRUITS.
#1 Disorder: Greek word = "akatastasia," noun form of adjective James uses in 1:8 and 3:8 to describe the "double-minded" man and the "double-speaking" tongue. It describes a restless, unsettled state. Luke uses it to describe the "tumults," the uprisings and revolutions, that will typify the period preceeding the 2nd Coming (cf. 21:9). Paul, pleading with the Corinthians to refrain from a wild, unorganized display of spiritual gifts during worship, reminds them "God is not a God of confusion (akatastasia) but of peace."
Application: "Confusion, disorder and tumults will inevitably break out in the church where Christians, especially leaders, are more interested in pursuing their own ambitions or partisan causes than the edification of the body as a whole." (Moo) Discuss how I have seen this play out in churches - asking pastors to resign, visitors never coming back, families leaving, whole churches dying!
#2 Every vile practice NEB = "evil of every kind" Where the hearts of individual Christians are wrong, a smorgasbord of sins will be present.
V. The Wise: True Wisdom (It's Roots, Attributes and Fruits)
A. It's Roots (Read and explain James 3:17a)
- James simply says this wisdom, True Wisdom, has its ROOTS from above. What does the rest of Scripture say about the roots of this True Wisdom: (Read and discuss each of these verses):
Fear of God: Prov. 9:10 = "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom"; Prov. 3:7 = "Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord"
Experience Augments: Job 32:7 = "Those who are older should speak, for wisdom comes with age."
Supreme Acquisition: Prov. 4:7 = "The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding."
Immoveable Foundation: Read Matthew 7:24-27.
Scripture, Source Of: 2 Tim. 3:15 = "How from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
B. It's Attributes (Read and explain James 3:17b)
- Having told us the ROOTS of this True Wisdom that The Wise possess, James now outlines its ATTRIBUTES...seven in fact.
#1 First pure: The first, and overarching, attribute is purity! Greek, "hagnos," has the same Greek root as "holy." 1 Peter 1:16 = "Be holy, because I am holy."
The next six attributes James has arranged in a way to be music to our ears - first four (peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy) all begin with 'e' sound - eirenike, epieikes, eupeithes, eleous - and combine to form an alliteration. The last two also involve an alliteration - this time with 'a' sound - in addition they are almost metric, rhyming - adiakritos, anypokritos.
#2 Then peaceable: Why does James begin with peaceable? He's just criticized those who falsely claim to be wise for their contentious spirit and the fights/disputes they generate! Prov. 3:17 says that true wisdom produces peace and Paul lists "peace" as a fruit of the Spirit. Why is wisdom peacable?
#3 Gentle #4 Open to reason Gentle = Literally - "sweet reasonableness"; kind, willing to yield, not pushy, listens to others, respects others. Reasonable = Literally - "easily persuaded"; not weak or gullible but "in the sense of a willing deference to others when unalterable theological or moral principles are not involved." Discuss 1st, 2nd, 3rd level doctrines.
#5 Full of mercy and good fruits. Showing concern for those suffering pain and hardship, ability and willingness to forgive quickly. Not only mental action but physical action - loving our neighbor through acts of mercy.
#6 Impartial Implies free from prejudice or divided loyalties.
#7 And sincere Theatrical term used of one who never played a part for personal gain. Paul uses it in Romans 12:9, 2 Cor. 6:6, 1 Tim. 1:5, 2 Tim. 1:5 to refer to genuineness.
C. It's Fruits (Read and explain James 3:18)
- What are the FRUITS of such True Wisdom?
A harvest of righteousness How do you get a harvest? Good climate and reap what you sow. #1 Good climate - notice how awesome the beans looked this year (lots of rain, cooler temps). "To 'raise a harvest of righteousness' demands a certain kind of climate. A crop of righteousness cannot be produced in the climate of bitterness and self-seeking. Righteousness will grow only in a climate of peace." (Burdick) What climate are you, am I, is Crossway nurturing? #2 Reap what you sow - we all are sowing some kind of seed. What kind are you, am I, is Crossway sowing?
VI. Conclusion - Life Application
A. Imagine yourself standing in an art gallery - dimly lit with two contrasting pictures on opposite walls, each brightly illuminated with overhead light.
- On the one wall hangs the portait of an arrogant, worldly, devilish fellow on a dark backdrop that stirs emotions of anger and envy. A scraggly beard and mustache hide his true features and a tall hat casts shadows over shifty eyes. He leaves chaos and destruction in his wake as he aggressively pursues his own goals, driven by jealousy and ambition. The caption beneath the portrait - "The Unwise," painted by "Self."
- On the other wall hangs a portrait that couldn't be more different. That man sports a gentle demeanor with a relaxed posture and calm expression. His eyes are warm and inviting, his arms open and waiting and his hands appear ready for service. The backdrop behind him is bright and draped with people eager to follow him, hear his words and mimic his actions. Clearly respected, he is humble, showing no signs of pride, and in his path are joy, peace, and righteousness. The caption beneath the portait - "The Wise," painted by "The Spirit of God."
B. Application: In light of the two contrasting pictures of The Wise and The Otherwise here in James 3:13-18, with which portrait do you align? Recall to whom James is writing - Christians! This is NOT a picture of Wise (saved) and Otherwise (unsaved). This is a picture of Wise, Christians operating on Spirit, True Wisdom and Otherwise, Christians operating on Self, False Wisdom. Discuss The Wise and The Otherwise Portrait Handout.
- Now that you've identified with either the portrait of The Wise or The Otherwise, how are you going to respond? Wise = thanksgiving to God, praise Him for molding you (you're not wise by your own making but by the Spirit!). Otherwise = ask God for wisdom, then determine which character problems you need to address specifically by God's help. Allow God to begin repainting your portrait with life-transforming colors - as He does you'll begin to reflect the character of His Son!
- Speaking of life-transforming colors, maybe this AM you're not a Christian and you've never experienced the life tranformation of Christ coming into your heart and life. You would have to say Dr. B I'm not even on the wall of that art gallery because I've never been saved! Quote Romans 10:9. 2 Cor. 5:17 says anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! Will you allow God to paint you a new man, a new woman this AM by accepting His Son, Jesus Christ into your life?
- Maybe the portrait God is wanting to paint in your life this AM is rededication, baptism, church membership, just need me to pray for your personally. God is calling, the altar is open, will you respond?