Summary: A comparison and contrast of worldly wisdom and wisdom from above.
Sermon for 15 Pent Yr B, 21/09/2003
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
When a dog wags its tail and barks at the same time, what end do you believe? When a sick florist goes to the hospital, what do you send her or him? Why does the old saying “Out of sight, out of mind” not apply when you have kids away at college? Such questions require practical wisdom to be answered appropriately. In today’s second lesson from James, the apostle compares and contrasts wisdom from God with worldly wisdom. And the writer concludes that for people of faith, the wisdom from above is very practical to live by.
Wisdom in the Bible is described not as a body of secret, esoteric, highly specialized technical knowledge, but as a gift of God for the use of the people of God. Wisdom is not something available only to the gifted few, but a gift freely available to all who want it, to all who seek it, to all who pursue it, and to all who recognize it in the variety of its subtle guises and forms—God’s benefit for the bewildered. A wise person is one who accepts that benefit, and proceeds to learn from it and to live by it. 1
In our passage from James today, the apostle begins by saying that God’s wisdom is shown by people who live a good life and who do works with gentleness born of wisdom. He then contrasts this with a description of worldly wisdom by saying it consists of bitter envy and selfish ambition, which lead to being boastful and the telling of lies. “Such wisdom,” says brother James, “does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will be disorder and wickedness of every kind.”
There is an old legend about a demon who was sent to tempt a holy man. He tried all his wiles, but none of them succeeded. At last, an older and more experienced demon said, “Let me try.” He crept up behind the saintly man and whispered, “Your brother has just been made Bishop of Alexandria.” Sad to relate, that did the trick!
Envy (jealousy)! If we can fight successfully against THAT and be content with what we have, sincere in our appreciation of others’ good fortune, then we shall have gone a long way along the road to true happiness. 2
People who are envious and jealous focus more on the negative than the positive; painting everyone and everything in the worst possible light. When people are controlled by such envy it has the potential to bring much harm and destruction to self and others.
Along with envy, James says, is selfish ambition. Selfish ambition can, of course, make one so involved with so many “irons in the fire” that it results in not being able to accomplish much of anything.
The story is told of young Charles Darwin that one day he was eagerly holding one rare beetle in his right fist, another in his left and then suddenly he caught sight of a third beetle that he simply knew he must have for his collection. What to do? In a flash he put one of the beetles in his mouth for safekeeping and reached for the third beetle with his now free hand. But the mouth-imprisoned beetle squirted acid down Darwin’s throat—so that in a fit of coughing he lost all three beetles. 3