We call someone who’s good at school SMART. What do we call someone who’s good at life? WISE. Biblically speaking, wisdom being good at life as God created it to be. Theologians say it this way:
Wisdom is skillful living.
Wisdom is not just knowing important stuff but it’s knowing how and when and why to apply it to real life. What kind of job should I pursue? How much money should I spend and save? What kind of person should I marry? How should I raise my kids? How should I cast my votes? How should I handle conflict? How should I handle disagreements in my church family?
We’re studying the New Testament book written by James, which is overflowing with wisdom. This is likely the same James who grew up as Jesus’ little brother. Imagine the cloud that would have been over James and Jesus’ family growing up–neighborhood gossip, family tension, sibling rivalry, everyday mess all families, especially blended families, have to work through.
But there was Jesus–growing up right in the middle of it–full of grace and truth. And there was James too, with a front row view of his big brother, God-in-the-flesh working through the mess of real, everyday life. James, while initially skeptical of Jesus, later became a follower and worshipper of his big brother. What an impact Jesus must have had on his little brother. And what an impact James’ letter had on the churches he wrote to–enough of an impact for them to pass on the letter for 2,000 years! For James, real faith is life-changing. In his letter, James emphasizes how real faith in a good God has a big impact in real life.
If you’re going to church but aren’t being changed, something’s off. If you’re going to church but aren’t helping others be changed, something’s off. For James, real faith is also relationally-driven. He calls fellow church members “brothers (and sisters)” fourteen times and writes the entire letter in the second-person plural…“y’all.” It’s life-changing wisdom for a life-changing family. This is relational spiritual formation.
Relational spiritual formation is one of our core vehicles as a church. Core vehicles are those things we do that are key to accomplishing the vision to become a church for the community. Core vehicles are the most important things we do as a church: worship gatherings, missional initiatives, missional neighboring, and relational spiritual formation. Relational spiritual formation is described in our member covenant: “I will be devoted to love for the Body, partnering with other members to be discipled and to disciple one another. I will regularly pray for and with others. I will pursue peace and unity with others by speaking encouraging, uplifting words and shunning gossip and divisive speech.”
Relational spiritual formation is when we gather in smaller groups–like kids ministry, youth ministry, adult LIFEgroups–in order to help each other become more like Jesus in real life. My prayer during this series “Real Faith for Real People” on James’ letter to the churches called “Real Faith for Real People” is that those of you who have discipling relationships would grow wiser and deeper and that those of you who don’t would make finding them a priority (talk to me if you need help!). Because following Jesus together should change our life.
Here’s today’s big idea from James:
Real faith skillfully lives out God’s good rule.
James is a book of wisdom, so, in this passage, he gets right to the heart of wisdom.
James 3:13-18 NIV
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
You know someone is wise not by their claims but by their life. The hallmark of true wisdom is a good life characterized by humble deeds. If you think you’re wise but don’t show it through deeds, something is off. James has been emphasizing this throughout his letter. You can’t have hearing God’s word without doing God’s word. You can’t have faith in God without works for God. So here, you can’t have godly wisdom without godly deeds.
James will take us on a tour of true wisdom and false wisdom in this passage, and we’ll be asking three questions of the text to understand both types of wisdom: Where does it come from? What does it look like? What does it lead to?
14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
Remember three questions: Where does false wisdom come from? What does it look like? What does it lead to? First question…
Where does false wisdom come from?
15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
James lists three sources of false wisdom: “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” “Earthly” refers to the wisdom of the world: news, social media, the buzz, mass opinions. You don’t get wise watching Fox News. You don’t get wise watching CNN. You don’t get wise by scrolling through social media. You don’t get wise off the latest in the coffee shop or the local diner. As Christians, we have a source from wisdom that comes from outside of this world.
“Unspiritual” refers to the wisdom of self. Postmodernism, a common mindset in our day, holds that we each can figure it out on our own, it automatically distrusts any authoritative voice speaking into one’s life. It’s the wisdom I make up on my own. That’s ridiculous. To be sure, critical thinking is important, and thinking “for yourself” is important. But at the end of the day, we must humbly admit that we can’t figure out life on our own. We all have to go somewhere. Moreover, as Christians, we have a source for wisdom that comes from outside of ourselves.
“Demonic” refers to the wisdom of Satan. Satan gets a lot of buzz in terms of demon possession, especially in pop culture, movies, etc. But did you know that the most prominent way evil powers work is to spread lies and temptations that influence people and cultures to rebel against God? He’s not so much interested in making people crawl on ceilings as he is in subtly pitting human beings against God and one another. As Christians, we have a source for wisdom that definitely does not come from hell.
What does false wisdom look like?
14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.
Bitter envy desperately wants what someone else has, and selfish ambition will go after whatever you want at whatever expense to others. This is the wisdom of this world, isn’t it? It’s an every-man-for-himself, free-for-all that begins in dysfunctional families and culminates in world wars. It’s all around us, even in our churches. And Satan loves that we’re following his playbook.
What does false wisdom lead to?
16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
Wisdom from hell makes life a little like hell. When we embrace demonic wisdom and harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition, we leave a trail of broken relationships with God and others in our wake.
In a world full of demonic, deceptive, destructive “wisdom,” I want wisdom that is true and good, don’t you? Thanks be to God, James tells us about it…
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
Now for those three questions again: Where does true wisdom come from? What does it look like? What does it lead to? First question…
Where does true wisdom come from?
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven…
We had a conversation like this in LIFEgroup last week. Nobody just wakes up one day wise. Nobody faces one of the biggest decisions of their life and suddenly gets wise for it. If we don’t work to acquire wisdom from God, we will end up with the false kind of “wisdom.” True wisdom is from heaven, from God! Proverbs 9:10 says…
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)
This is real faith. Real faith gets enough of who God is to live in awe and fear of Him. So what are you doing in order to know and fear this God? Coming to worship gatherings like this one is a great start. Well done! Do you read or listen to your Bible every day? Do you stop and pray throughout the day to embrace the greatness and goodness of God? Do you make yourself available and accountable to Christians, maybe in a LIFegroup?
Gimme that true wisdom! I love how the Old Testament book of Proverbs compare wisdom to money and candy. Every kid wants candy. Every adult wants money. Kids and adults, go after wisdom like you go after candy and money!
What does true wisdom look like?
17 …first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere…
James lists eight characteristics of a wise person…
- A pure person is the opposite of a hypocrite, which James has been railing at (hearing without doing, being merciless while expecting mercy, having faith without works, praising God while bad-mouthing people made in God’s image). A pure person can draw a straight line from what they think and feel to what they say and do. Are you pure? If so, you might be wise!
- A peace-loving person is always pursuing biblical reconciliation. We did a teaching series called “Enemies No More” on biblical reconciliation last spring, which you can check out at calvarymuskegon.com, but the process goes like this: “confront, repent, forgive, restore, and when all else fails, love your enemy.” A peace-loving person is always pursuing biblical reconciliation. Are you peace-loving? If so, you might be wise!
- A considerate person is gentle–not–rough–with people. Tim George, one of our missionary partners, once counseled me, “Keith, it is a terrible thing to be right only.” Right AND loving is the goal. A considerate person speaks and acts with grace toward others, even when rebuking. Are you considerate? If so, you might be wise!
- A submissive person is not someone who makes themselves a doormat for others to walk on. Other translations use “reasonable” or “open to reason.” Being a submissive person then is being approachable, willing to admit that you could be wrong, willing to look at things from another perspective. Are you submissive? If so, you might be wise!
- A merciful person assumes the best–not the worst–in others and is quick to forgive. Are you merciful? If so, you might be wise!
- A fruitful person could, if they wanted to, point to concrete examples of their faith-in-action. In fact, other people would be noticing the fruit too! Would others say they see the fruit of God’s work in your life? Are you fruitful? If so, you might be wise!
- An impartial person treats everyone with equal respect regardless of what they look like, how much money they make, etc. Are you impartial? If so, you might be wise!
- A sincere person is someone with integrity. If every secret a sincere person had was suddenly published on Mlive, they wouldn’t be worried, and it wouldn’t damage their reputation. Are you sincere? If so, you might be wise!
Now, what do you think: is anyone wise and understanding among us? Frankly, this list doesn’t remind me of anyone except Jesus. Colossians 2:3 says that “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Isn’t that delicious? Want to be wise? Want to skillfully live out God’s rule? Look at Jesus.
I really hope wise people like this to step up and lead as elders and deacons and deaconesses here at Calvary. And, maybe if you can think of someone like this, you can encourage them and even mention their name to the elder team (email@example.com).
What does true wisdom lead to?
18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.
If wisdom from hell makes life a little like hell, then wisdom from heaven makes life a little like heaven. A harvest of righteousness is a beautiful description of people having right relationships with God and others. Men and women, young and old, physical families, church families, neighborhoods and nations, becoming reconciled to God and one another, loving God and one another. What a beautiful picture. And it all began with wisdom from heaven.
What kind of legacy will you leave the people in your life? Disorder, chaos, evil practices…or a harvest of righteousness. What kind of legacy will Calvary leave the Muskegon area? Disorder, chaos, evil practices…or a harvest of righteousness.
Real faith skillfully lives out God’s good rule.
Simply put, true wisdom comes from Jesus, looks like Jesus, and leads to Jesus.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Based on the 10.13.2019 message “The True Wisdom of Real Faith (James 3:13-18).” If you missed it, you can watch, listen, or read it at calvarymuskegon.com/learn-from-jesus.
Big Idea: Wisdom is skillful living, and real faith skillfully lives out God’s good rule.
- James 3:13 – How do wise people show their wisdom in the real world?
- James 3:14-18 – Contrast “wisdom from below” with “wisdom from above.” How are their sources, nature, and results differ?
- What advice would you give someone who wants to acquire “wisdom from above”?
- Which aspects of “wisdom from above” are most needed in your life? How will you get that wisdom?