Summary: The wisdom of the world or the wisdom of God - and the wisdom choice of the Christian
James 3:13 – 4: 12
Two kinds of wisdom
As some of you will know, I have quite a large garden, and at the moment it is something of a blank canvas. I have grand plans for it is development! And as part of these grand plans, last weekend, we planted some trees. Now, I didn’t do much in the way the work, but I tried to help my children as they did it. As you will know, there is a right way to plant a tree, and there is a wrong way to plant a tree. Even more fundamentally, there is a right way to dig a hole and a wrong way to dig a hole. Given that they were my children, they naturally talk no notice at all of what I said. The conversation goes something like this:I will teach you the right way, you will go away and do the wrong way and then you will realise that I’m right after all.
And just as there is a right way and a wrong way to plant trees or dig holes, there is a right and wrong way in life. And that’s what James’s teaching is all about. The right and wrong way in life and Christian living.
You see, what James is on about is consistency. I talked about this a fortnight ago, when we looked at chapter two. And what James’s is saying is that there is a right way of living that is consistent with your faith, which has integrity, and which shows that faith has value. Or there is a wrong way of living, which is inconsistent, which lacks integrity, and which suggests that actually our faith is worthless.
And in our reading today, James takes that idea of right and wrong ways of doing things as he talks about wisdom.
The wisdom of the world
Now, when we talk about wisdom, we mean a mature understanding about what is the right thing to do. In today’s world, conventional wisdom says among other things that you should look out only for yourself, it says that accumulation of wealth is essential, because money is the ultimate determiner of personal value, and it says that fame and celebrity are important. Now I have nothing against ambition, wealth, or being well known. These things are themselves are not in anyway necessarily harmful. But the consequences of the world’s wisdom mean that these concerns are taken far beyond any benign value. The consequence of looking out only for yourself is such a self-centred world, that it doesn’t matter who gets hurt on the way. The consequence of looking out only for yourself is that we have a mindset in which people do only what is right in their own eyes and for themselves. The consequence of looking out only if yourself is that people discard relationships as if they unimportant if they do not serve personal ambition. The consequence of celebrity culture is that people will do anything to be famous. The consequence of the celebrity culture is the degradation of people that goes on in the name of entertainment in such programmes as Big Brother. The consequence of a world in which money is so important is that people will kill for it. And the consequence of all these values together is a world of chaos, of family breakdown, and evil on every side.
And you see that the funny thing is that none of this is particularly new. The details may be different, but the principles are the same. Just look at the list that James puts together. In v14, James talks about bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, about being boastful and false to the truth.
In v2 Ch4, James talks about the extreme desires that lead literally to murder. James knew about the desires that lead to cravings that lead to insatiable lust. He puts it well – in verse 16 he says that where ‘jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.’
So what James is saying is that the wisdom of the world is the wrong kind of wisdom. If that’s what the world says is the right thing to do, then it clearly leads to all the wrong kinds of results. The wisdom of the world is the wrong kind of wisdom.
The wisdom of God
Now by contrast, James compares this worldly wisdom with God’s wisdom. He puts it like this in v17, where he describes God’s wisdom as ’first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.’
What a contrast. God’s wisdom is pure, not corrupted, not corruptible, not one where corruption is a means to an end. God’s wisdom is peace loving, not aggressive, not pushy, not where might is right. God’s wisdom is considerate and submissive, it puts other people first, it takes account of other people’s needs. God’s wisdom is full of mercy, tolerant and warm-hearted. God’s wisdom is impartial, it takes no account of the differences between people, it is not prejudiced. God’s wisdom is sincere -- it’s true, it is genuine, it is the real thing.