Sermon: Two Kinds of Wisdom
Today we have at our disposal today more knowledge than at any time in history. More information has been produced in the last thirty years than in the previous five thousand. We also know that there has also been a steep rise in mis-information.
Our world has plenty of knowledge and education, but it has not always translated into being wiser people. With so much information one has the difficult job of knowing which info is good and which harmful.
We used to talk about this thing called “common sense,” or the common ability to choose the right over wrong and to make wise choices based on God’s wisdom. But more and more what we see in our world is a rejection of God’s wisdom in favor of one’s own person wisdom based on one’s knowledge and experience.
What we use to call “Common Sense” is now “Uncommon Sense.”
James’ whole letter is an explanation about the about how to live wisely and faithfully in difficult times.
In chapter one, James’ advice to us who are struggling to live faithfully and wisely is this…
“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” (James 1:5).
James tells us to know our human limits of understanding and application of knowledge. He encourages us to humbly ask God for help. Asking for help is one of the wisest things we can ever do.
Having shared how a Christian’s loving, merciful and positive actions and words reveal their faith in Christ, James asks this question in verse 13,
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” (Jas 3:13).
Google may provide us with tons of information, but it doesn’t always help us to know how to apply that knowledge in specific situations.
You can read everything there is to know about car, its history, how it works, how even drive one, but you only learn to drive a car by getting the wheel and driving. Hopefully with a good teacher.
Wisdom is gained through applying what we know in real situations.
James makes the important observation in verse 13 that wise individuals will demonstrate their wisdom in the choices they make, the insights they share, how they live and by positive influence they have on those around them.
I thought of four people: C. S. Lewis (English Author) Mother Teresa, an elder from a previous congregation, and Billy Graham. All known for their love of Christ, their wisdom, and for the fruits of their lives.
I am sure we could name others.
We follow the wisdom of people who walk their talk. No one is perfect in the practice of all their beliefs, and no walks their talk all the time, but on the whole, a truly wise person’s life will back up who they follow and whose wisdom they live by.
James then goes on to tell us in our passage that there are two kinds of wisdom. There is the Wisdom that comes from God and the wisdom that comes from the humans.
How can you tell the difference? The same way James tells us that we can discern a faithful and wise person from the unfaithful foolish person. We tell by the fruit of character that is evidenced.
Earthly OR Human Wisdom (James 3:14-16)
First, there is human wisdom, which James says in verse 15
“Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.” (Jas 3:15).
Earthly wisdom is based on the wisdom and knowledge of creatures and not of the Creator. Earthly wisdom measures success by human standards: wealth, achievement, popularity, etc. Its goals are self-serving.
According to James this type of wisdom is also unspiritual because the wisdom does not have any connection with God. It is unspiritual because it comes from those who close themselves off from God and rely on their own wisdom instead.
Any wisdom that opposes or rejects God’s love, distorts God’s truth, and encourages destruction and division can rightly be described as devilish.
In calling the wisdom of this world as earthly, unspiritual, and devilish, James is asking us to evaluate the source of the wisdom that comes to us before we embrace and follow it.
We sadly live in a time where we need to double check or fact check the information that comes to us through various means because there is so much mis-information floating around these days.
In verse 14, James gives us several criteria for determining if the wisdom we encounter is earthly wisdom.
“But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.” (Jas 3:14).
This false wisdom is characterized by selfish motivations and actions. What is the motivation of the person sharing the wisdom?
Earthly wisdom reveals itself in Bitter envy or the attitude where one becomes upset or angry because another prospers or has more or has advantages that you don’t’ have.
Earthly wisdom has an angry edge to it and not a loving or joyous one.
Earthly wisdom is also characterized by Selfish Ambition. Who ultimately benefits from the wisdom, the giver or the receiver of the wisdom? What and who gains from the wisdom?
Earthly wisdom Boasts and is False to the Truth. If the wisdom we have encountered boasts first and foremost about the author of the wisdom and not God, then question it. If the wisdom intentionally opposes God’s revealed truth in Christ, then question it.
The Spirit always leads us to truth of what God has revealed in the Bible, while the evil one leads us to oppose the truth—even in our boasting.
In verse 16 James declares what the ultimate consequence or fruit of earthly wisdom.
“For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.” (Jas 3:16).
Following earthly and human wisdom divides, creates barriers between people, promotes the prosperity of a few at the expense of the many, and it promotes beliefs and behaviours that move people away from God
James provides us with a very strong standards for identifying, questioning and avoiding earthly wisdom.
God’s Wisdom (James 3:17-18)
Having identified the kind of wisdom to be avoided, James shares the kind of wisdom to be embraced and followed. In verse 17, James gives us a comprehensive and helpful description of God’s wisdom that he encourages us to continually embrace as we put our faith into action.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” (Jas 3:17).
The definition includes the following descriptions of God’s wisdom.
Pure. It is a wisdom that honors God first and foremost compared to self-focused and self-promoting wisdom of our age.
God’s wisdom is Peaceable. It is wisdom that brings peace, wholeness, and well-being to people. God’s wisdom brings people together and builds up the community.
God’s wisdom is Gentle. To be gentle is have soft touch. It is considerate of others. Paul writes to Titus “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.” (Titus 3:2). The current political Attack adds don’t meet this criteria.
God’s wisdom is Willing to yield. This has the sense of being open to God’s teachings. The wise person is open to being taught, willing to admit their mistakes, willing to see another’s perspective, and is willing to learn from those wiser than they.
A characteristic of the wise is they listen first and then speak.
God’s wisdom is Full of mercy. Jesus’ parables of the Lost or Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan reflect the wisdom God’s mercy demonstrated in forgiveness and generosity to others. All that Christ taught and did was reflection of God’s mercy toward us and all people.
God’s wisdom is recognized in the good fruit of character it produces. Jesus declared that people would identify us as his followers by the good fruit we produce by abiding in him. The fruit of God’s wisdom within us is summaries by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 as
“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
God’s wisdom shows no hint partiality toward anyone because it recognizes that all have fallen short of God’s intentions and we all need God’s help no matter who we are. We all stand on equal footing before God both in receiving both judgment and in receiving God’s mercy.
Godly wisdom is without hypocrisy. God’s wisdom is the real deal. God clearly reveals His motives, intentions and goals through what God says and does. In Christ, God’s grace and truth are clearly revealed for all to see clearly and plainly.
James reveals in verse 18 that end result of embracing God’s wisdom.
“And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” (Jas 3:18).
The Goal of God’s wisdom is always to move us closer to Him and closer to one another. Those who live by God’s wisdom have a positive role to play in pulling people together and not apart as so many are doing these days
In an age and time where so many people embrace so much foolishness that harms and destroys individuals and communities, it is imperative that we be wise students and practitioners of God’s wisdom.
As James asks, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” (James 3:13)
Let our answer be
“It is us, for we listen and follow the wisdom that God teaches us through Christ
and those are inspired by Him.”
To God who is all wise be honored, praised and followed.