Summary: A sermon on wisdom. James says that God gave us our bodies to receive gifts from Him, and wisdom is just one of those things. This sermon also describes and applies the wisdom from above
As a kid, did your parents ever put soap in your mouth? I can admit that it once happened to me. It is one of the earliest memories that I have. I can still remember sitting on the bathroom counter of our apartment, with a bitter, unpleasant, ivory colored bar of soap in my mouth that completely filled my mouth. My Mom was “cleaning” my mouth from the bad thing that I must have said. The sad part is that I cannot remember what I said, but it certainly must not have been good. Mom wanted me to use my mouth better.
God has plans and uses for our bodies and members other than what we may choose. He has given us our reason, senses, eyes, ears, minds, and all our members, mouths included. As we heard last week, God didn’t give us a mouth to have both blessings and curses to flow from it. In fact, God gives us our eyes, ears, mouths, minds, and members to receive gifts from Him. In James 1:17, the Apostle says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” As James finishes his teachings on the tongue, he tells us about a gift that comes from above, wisdom. Wisdom is what proceeds from the tongue and the heart. God’s wisdom produces right speaking. But what is the wisdom from above, this gift of God, that James tells us about?
James starts by telling us what it is not. One of the things that I like doing is to check out bookstores. When I see one, I stop my car, duck in, look around, and of course, check the theology section. At one of these stores, I noticed a strange arrangement. Next to the theology books and Bibles was the…self help section. It was an interesting interpretation and placement. In the mind of the organizer, it seemed to be a logical placement. They thought they went hand-in-hand, and were not that different. But this couldn’t be any farther from the truth.
The wisdom that James is going to tell us about is not some sort of self-help advice. It isn’t wisdom about how Christians should behave or act. It is not a wisdom about how to make friends and keep them, or how to get ahead at business and to make some money. It is a wisdom completely different from the self-centered wisdom of the world.
What James means by wisdom is the understanding of the Gospel, made possible only by the Holy Spirit. But wisdom doesn’t just involve the acknowledgment that the Gospel is true, but also the expression of that Gospel in the life of a Christian. It is putting that truth into action.
To help teach this point, he shows us what the wisdom from above is not. He contrasts it with a worldly wisdom, and tells us what it is marked by. “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above.” James says that the wisdom of the world is marked by jealousy and selfish ambition, and that can be seen in its actions and behaviors.
At Seminary, they had five internships every year given to students who wanted to continue their education. The only kicker? You had to be chosen for it. One student, Jim, wanted one from day one, and made it well-known. He was going to do whatever it took to get that spot. In class, he would try to answer every question, interrupting students and professors alike, to make sure he was heard. Once I made a thought about a text, and the professor told me to elaborate on it. As I took my breath, another voice filled the place of mine. It was Jim’s. His actions in class became quite destructive and self-serving. It certainly advanced him, but at what cost?
Worldly wisdom, according to James, is often marked by jealousy and selfish ambition. It is not meek or humble. It goes against the truth. It is thoughts and actions that focus on me, and what is best for me. It is self seeking and self serving. It focuses on how to increase my influence and standing, even at the cost of others. It is about how to exert my will and influence to get what I want. The world calls this wise.
James describes and calls this wisdom for what it really is, though. He says it is earthly, that is, having no living awareness of God and lets its thoughts and behaviors be governed by the world. We hear it with phrases, “This is the new norm” or “everybody does that now.” He calls it unspiritual, that is, it directs all concerns of one’s soul and life to things this side of Heaven. It is an obsession with the self that has no regard for the spiritual. James also calls it demonic, that is, under Satan’s control and influence. We can see this with the great deception of our age: “It doesn’t matter what you do or who you are, what matters is that you are happy! Do what makes you happy!” It is often the logic to do whatever you want!