Heavenly Wisdom vs. Earthly Wisdom (James Sermon 7)
February 23, 2020 | Andrew Davis
The Gospel, The Holy Spirit, Works of the Flesh, Fruit of the Spirit, The Doctrine of Scripture, The Purity and Unity of the Church, Humility
Turn in your Bibles, if you would, to James chapter 3, we're going to be looking this morning at verses 13-18, and we're going to be looking at the issue of wisdom and the contrast between earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. There are two kinds of wisdom that James is going to walk through. He's going to make them very clear how different they are. And the question is, which of those two, earthly wisdom or heavenly wisdom, is going to characterize us individually, and which is going to characterize our church? James is writing to a very complex context. He's writing to Jewish believers in Christ, who have been scattered throughout the Greek-speaking world. And so, they have to deal with the Greek idea of wisdom. We'll talk about that. And also there's the backdrop of Hebrew wisdom, of Biblical wisdom, and now the final complete perfect wisdom that's come to us in Christ. And so, James is writing into that situation because he is very eager that the churches of Christ would be characterized by the kind of wisdom that you just heard read about for us so beautifully. And, Ben, that was great. I don't know that there's anything more. That was one of the best prayers I've heard. That was like a mini sermon on the text. I'm not sure what else there is for me to do as we just see how perfectly these characteristics are in our savior, Jesus Christ. Now let's talk about our context.
I. The Timeless Quest for True Wisdom
Our Context: The Highest Concentration of U.S. PhDs
When I first got here, I heard that the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area had the highest concentration of PhDs in the United States. And I was impressed by that, until as I prepared this sermon, I found out it wasn't true. And I was dismayed by that. I found that actually Bethesda, Maryland has the highest concentration of PhDs in the United States, and that there were four cities in Eastern Massachusetts, around my hometown where I grew up, that have a higher concentration of PhDs than the Raleigh, Durham area. As a matter of fact, friends, we're not even in the top 25. So I don't know who it is that told me that. But we are characterized by a high level of intelligence, a high level of academic achievement, academic pursuit. And as I look at how James characterizes earthly wisdom, what is it but natural intelligence combined with ego, combined with energetic ambition to produce certain effects in the world, and it is effective to produce much in the world. But Christ doesn't want to see that in His Church, that's not going to drive the Church to be what it must be.
Now, we human beings, we are enamored with intelligence. You think about how anthropologists imbibing that atheistic evolutionary scheme, talk about the ascent of man. And the final step is to move from, I guess, Homo habilis through Homo erectus up through Homo sapiens, which they tell us is the wise man. The ability to shape our environment by intellectual analysis and by the making of tools and all that. And so, we're so filled with this sense of natural knowledge of wisdom. Now, we Christians know from the Bible how false that lie is. We've not really seen, historically, an ascent of man, but actually quite the opposite. We've seen the descent of the human race from what we were originally intended to be. That our intellectual capabilities came from creation, from the very beginning, in that we were created in the image of God. It says in Genesis 1:26-27, "Then God said, Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. And so God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female, he created them."
A Worldwide Esteem and Quest for Wisdom
Now, all over the world, human beings have an esteem for intelligence, it's one of the things we esteem the highest. along with physical strength, the power of a warrior to win a battle, but we also esteem the power of a king, an empire builder who is intelligent, shrewd, able to make clever arrangements with other kings to plot strategies and all of this by a shrewd application of intelligence to be able to build an empire. You think about Nebuchadnezzar and how he, with the Jewish exiles, was looking for a certain kind of person who could serve with him in his court, and this what it says in Daniel 1:3-4, "Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility," listen to the criteria, “young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well-informed, quick to understand and qualified to serve in the king's palace. And he found Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, and he found that their intellectual abilities far exceeded anyone else. And so, he drafted them into the service of the Babylonian empire.” So every nation on earth esteems the ability to reason, the ability to analyze and to make shrewd plans.
James’ Hebrew Context
Now James comes from a Hebrew context. Since we're reading the book of James, we see there's a strong Jewish feel to the book. He's writing to Jewish believers in Christ and he talks about the suffering of the prophets or other examples that would just flow from a Jewish context. And James has that in mind, as well, when he writes about wisdom. There's a strong sense of the superiority of the wisdom of God, flowing through the Jewish nation. Now, before the Jews were born as a nation through Abraham, then Isaac and Jacob, then over centuries in Egypt, and then Moses and the Laws of Moses, before all of that happened, there were intelligent races and nations that were achieving great things. Think about Egypt and the things that they were able to do. It's still a mystery to many how the pyramids were built. The technology is quite remarkable and we only have theories on how they were able to attain it or how they were able to irrigate that whole Nile Delta region with foot pumps, and with irrigation techniques. But it wasn't just the Egyptians. In the orient, the Chinese were able to develop amazing skills with water, with hydrology for example, with dams that they were able to build up and metallurgy, the bronze and the tools they were able to make. So, there's intelligence flowing from the nature of man all over the world.
The Jews however, were called out, and went through a certain experience of being lower than the dust as slaves in Egypt, and then they were brought out by a mighty hand, an outstretched arm, to Mount Sinai. And there, God descended from heaven in fire on Mount Sinai. And he spoke to them, and he gave them wisdom from Heaven, from the mouth of God. And Moses went up on Mount Sinai up into the very presence of God, and received from him the same thing that they had just heard the voice of God speaking. And they were written, inscribed on tablets of stone by the finger of God. You remember that Moses broke those tablets out of anger at the idolatry of the Jewish nation, but then after that, from then on, Moses himself stood in the presence of God and gained wisdom from God and wrote it down so the people would have the very words of God to shape their minds and their hearts. And it says in Deuteronomy 4:6-8, "Observe these laws carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say 'Surely, this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' What other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?'" In other words, what sets the Jewish people apart is the wisdom of God's Word which has come down from Heaven through the prophets into the hearts and minds of the people, that's what set the Jewish nation apart. What other nation is so wise as this nation to have such laws?
Then you remember King Solomon, how when he began as a king, God appeared to him in a vision and spoke to him and said, "What would you have me do for you?" And he said in 1 Kings 3:9, "Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?" And so God was pleased with this request, and told him so. And he lavishly granted this request to King Solomon, He gave him wisdom, He said in 1 Kings 3:12, "I will do what you have asked, I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be." In 1 Kings 4:30, it says Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. And so, Solomon esteemed wisdom above every other human virtue. He said in the book of Proverbs, he wrote, Proverbs 4:7 and 8, "Wisdom is supreme. Therefore, get wisdom, though it cost you all you have, get understanding. Esteem her and she will exalt you, embrace her and she will honor you."
And so from that heritage comes a genre of writing in the Scripture called the wisdom literature. So we have the Book of Job, and we have Psalms and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs, and the focus is living in light of the existence and the holiness of God. That's the essence of the wisdom that comes down from Heaven in the Old Testament, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the holy one is understanding.” That's the essence of Hebrew wisdom. Now, the Book of Proverbs is intensely practical. God cares very much how you live every day of your life, every detail of your life, your use of time, the way you spend your money, what you do with your tongue. The very thing we just covered in the Book of James last week, the way you talk, the way you raise your children, how you deal with your animals, how you deal with your neighbors. The Book of Proverbs covers all of this practical wisdom. So the wisdom that comes down from Heaven flows out into every area of life, but the centerpiece is the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
James’ Greek Context
Now, James is also writing in a Greek context, he's writing in the Greek language. And undoubtedly, even as a Jew, he grew up speaking Greek. It wasn't his mother tongue but it was homebase, he was the half brother of Jesus, and he wrote in polished Greek. And why is that? Well, because of one individual in particular in history, a man you may have heard of: Alexander the Great. Alexander the Great from Macedonia was zealous about everything to do with Greek culture. He thought it was the greatest culture in the world, and in trailing behind his military conquests, he never lost a battle, as he spread Greek military power over that entire region, he also spread a love for Greek culture, Hellenism, a love for Greek philosophy. Now, Alexander had been tutored by a Greek philosopher, Aristotle. And that's just part of the Greek culture, there is a love for philosophy, a love for wisdom.
The city of Athens is named after the goddess of wisdom, Athena. Now, you remember what happened when the Apostle Paul went to Athens and preached the heavenly wisdom of the Gospel and then how he went on Mars Hill, the Areopagus, and how there are a bunch of philosophers up there who gathered together and spent their whole time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas. Epicurean and stoic philosophers. And so Paul, they gave him a hearing, and as he began to preach and talk about Christ crucified and resurrected, they said of Paul, "What is this seed picker trying to say?" Sometimes translated, “babbler” in your Bible. I memorized that, by the way, in the Japanese language. When my wife and I were missionaries, I memorized how to say that in Japanese. "What is this babbler trying to say?" I was just entertaining myself as I tried to learn the Japanese language. They never quite got the humor, but I thought it was funny. "What is this babbler trying to say?”
But behind that was a tremendous arrogance. They believed they had the quintessential pristine wisdom, that's the Greek mentality. And so when Paul went just a few miles down the road to Corinth, and preached the Gospel there and then later wrote to the church in Corinth, he had to deal with the issue of human wisdom, Greek philosophy. And he said this in 1 Corinthians 1, "The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" So James in the flow of his Hebrew heritage, but now consummated with the coming of Christ, as Christ comes as the perfection of the wisdom from God that descends from Heaven to earth, he's got to battle that Greek context of human arrogance, being so enamored with human intelligence and human ambition, and he's got to talk about the true wisdom that comes down from Heaven to Earth, and the centerpiece of that wisdom is salvation.
The True Wisdom of God: Salvation Through Faith in Christ
The wisest possible thing you can do is to save your soul by faith in Jesus Christ. Conversely, the most foolish thing you can do is to lose your soul through sin. This is the centerpiece of the heavenly wisdom that comes down from Heaven to earth. Jesus said in Matthew 16, "What would it profit someone if he should gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Or what would you give in exchange for your soul?" The soul. The eternality of the soul, whether you spend eternity in Heaven or Hell. It is the essence of wisdom that you spend eternity in Heaven through faith in Christ. And the most foolish thing you could do is to lose your soul for some earthly thing and spend eternity in torment, in anguish over your foolish choice. Therefore, Christ crucified, the message of the cross and of the empty tomb, is the centerpiece of the heavenly wisdom. It's the centerpiece of everything God has to say to us. In Colossians it says, "In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge." Christ is wisdom from God. As it says in 1 Corinthians 1:23, "We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but for us who are being saved, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."
Are You Wise or Foolish?
Now, Christ in his own teachings often spoke of the wise and the foolish. Remember at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, he goes through all of this magnificent teaching and he says, "Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock, and the rains came down, and the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against that house, but it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand and the rains came down and the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." Are you wise or are you foolish? When you hear the words of Christ, do you take them to heart and put them into practice? Or when you hear the words of Christ, are you foolish and do not put them into practice? Wise or foolish?
Or think also about the wise and foolish virgins. Remember? Talking about the end of the world and the waiting we all have to do, we're waiting for the coming of Christ. Second Coming. We're waiting. It's not here yet. And he likened it to five wise and five foolish virgins. And the wise virgins took oil and jars along with their lamps, but the foolish virgins did not, and their lamps flickered and went out before the second coming of Christ, and then they come later and bang on the door to try to get in the wedding feast. And he says, "I never knew you." Wise and foolish. Or think about that, that man whose crops came in like a bumper crop, and he doesn't know what to do because he doesn't have enough barn space, and he says, "I know what I'll do, I'll raze my barns, and I'll build bigger barns, and then I'll take it easy for the rest of my life. And I'll say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have lots of things stored up. Kick back, relax.’" And then comes the voice, the message from Heaven, "You fool. This very night, your soul will be demanded of you, required of you." You have no choice but to give it back. "Who then will get all the things you've stored up for yourself?"
So again, the issue of wise and foolish, it always comes down to salvation through faith in Christ. And that's why the Bible was given. This is the centerpiece of all that the 66 books of the Bible have to say. The scriptures are given to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:15, "All scripture is God-breathed." Its task is the same, to save you from your sins through faith in Christ. So, the issue stands before you, individually, each of you before me. Are you a wise person or are you a fool? That's what's in front of us here with this issue of wisdom, heavenly wisdom, and there are a lot of brilliant people who have done brilliant things and have achieved much. And James would say, and we're going to walk through it in a moment, but he'll say, they're doing it out of ego, out of selfish ambition. But they achieved much. And they invented things, and started companies and built empires, they did many things. Some of the greatest names in science and in human culture have ardently rejected the Gospel. Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire, Thomas Edison. Some of these great individuals, Ben Franklin, achieved great things. Stephen Hawking, who died recently, brilliant, brilliant men. Their names are engraved in stone, literally, in places around the world. But if they didn't know Christ, if they didn't find salvation through faith in Christ, then the Bible would say they're fools. I don't know the final state of any of those, don't know. But if they didn't find salvation through faith in Christ, they're fools. Conversely, the Bible would say the simplest uneducated believer in Jesus Christ, no matter what kind of life they're living economically is wiser than any of those if they didn't know Christ.
II. The Practical Test of True Wisdom (vs. 13)
The Message of the Book of James
Alright, so let's look at the practical test of wisdom. Verse 13, "Who then is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by the deeds done from the humility that comes from wisdom." So this fits the whole Book of James, doesn't it? James is basically, “Show me, it's who he is. You think you're religious? Show me. You hear God's words, do you put them into practice or not? Don't deceive yourself about the state of your soul,” James 1. James 2, "Faith without works is dead." And so now we come to James 3, and he's going to say, "If you think you're wise, if you claim to be wise in the church of Jesus Christ, then you better show it by the deeds you do." That's what he's saying here in verse 13. So he's challenging some who claim to be wise.
The Holy Spirit’s Gospel Work
Now, I think the Gospel, the Holy Spirit through the Gospel cuts through this claim for unregenerate people, whom He is working on to save. So you stop thinking of yourself as wise, you're convicted. As it says in Isaiah 5:21, "Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight." Cuts through all of that and shows you that you're not, and brings you to faith in Christ. So, what he's saying is, If that's happened, if the heavenly wisdom has come down into your soul, it's going to show in the way you live your life, by your good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. So your daily behavior is the final test of wisdom. If you claim to be wise, but you're daily walking in what the Bible calls foolishness, then you're deceiving yourself. He wants you to show it, and not just show it, but it's going to come from a heart state, a demeanor that he's going to walk through, an attitude of soul. So the wise demeanor that he gives here is the humility that comes from wisdom. So the heavenly wisdom makes you humble. Boy, does it humble us, doesn't it? If you've been genuinely saved, you realize how much the theology of the Gospel humbles you to the core of your being.
So the Holy Spirit comes down from God and converts individual sinners. And when he converts someone, He does it first and foremost by convicting that person of his or her sins, that they're corrupted, that they're vile in the sight of God, they need a savior. Without that, you can't be saved, you're not going to repent, you don't need Christ. And so what he's going to do, and Jesus describes it so beautifully in what's known as the beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5, "Blessed are the... Blessed are the... Blessed are... " He just walks through, but look at what he's talking about. The people the Holy Spirit's working salvation in, the people who are saved by the genuine work of God are spiritual beggars, they're the poor in spirit, they have nothing and they know it, he'll give them the Kingdom of Heaven. These are people who are meek, they are humble because they realize who they really are before such a holy God. They have nothing to commend themselves for. They mourn over their sins. In context, it's mourning over your sin, "I know who I am and it grieves me." And James is going to talk about that in the very next section in James 4. We grieve over sin, it breaks us, it hurts us, we mourn. They hunger and thirst for righteousness, they yearn to be righteous, actually righteous in themselves, they want their lives to be righteous, and they want to be with other righteous people, they yearn for a righteous world. And they're pure in heart because the Holy Spirit's worked that supernatural operation, He's taken out the heart of stone and He's given the heart of flesh, and the heart of flesh, the essence of it is that humility, that perspective realizing who you really are before such a holy God. This is what the Holy Spirit does in you when He saves you. This is what it looks like to be made wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. By contrast, James exposes and diagnoses the wicked worldly wisdom that will kill our souls.
III. The Origin, Motive, Nature, and Fruit of Earthly Wisdom (vs. 14-16)
The Origin of Earthly Wisdom
So look at verses 14-16, the origin and the motive, and the nature and the fruit of earthly wisdom. Look at verse 15, the origin of earthly wisdom, "Such wisdom does not come down from heaven, but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil," or demonic. So it comes from below, James calls it earthly, epigeios, coming from the earth. It has its origin in the earth, the world system, its goals, its prosperity, its power, its methods, that's what earthly means. It is unspiritual, it is natural, it is sense oriented, it's tied to your five senses, the earthly wisdom is. It's not tied to the redeemed nature. Remember what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 2:14, "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit because they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." That's a natural man or woman, They don't get the spiritual things, can't discern them. So that's what this wisdom is like. And he calls it demonic or of the devil. At its root, it's motivated and taught by, as Jesus said to his enemies, "your father, the devil." So if you're unregenerate, you're imitating the satanic mindset or demonic mindset. What does that mean? Well you know from Isaiah 14, the Lucifer passage in the KJV, where Satan was enamored with how God made him. He was very impressed with himself and his own beauty, and his own intelligence. And he thought, "You know, I've got what it takes to rise up and topple God from His throne. I know I can do it. I'm a very smart being." Oh, did he underestimate God. The gap between Creator and creature, friends, is infinite. And yet that's the demonic or satanic arrogance and ambition, that's where it comes from.
The Motive and Character of False Wisdom: Self-Worship
Well, look at the motive and character of false wisdom, it ultimately comes down to self-worship, verse 14, "If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth." Motivation is why you do what you do. And at the root of earthly wisdom is self-worship. You want people to think well of you to feed your ego, to feed your ambition. James mentions bitter envy or jealousy. The Greek word for bitter is pikrós. Pikrós. I get the picture of a cactus, this prickly cactus. And so this bitter envy or jealousy, it's something pointed, it's sharp, it's pungent, it's acrid, prickly. And so envy, jealousy, cuts and prickles and rankles. A person may hear of someone else being honored or someone else getting the promotion and they seethe with resentment. It comes from pride. And he said, "If that's what characterizes you, do not be arrogant and deny the truth," deny the Gospel, because that's not what a converted person looks like. Worldly wisdom is motivated then and characterized by selfish ambition, whatever advances self-interest, whatever stokes the ego, whatever elevates the person up to the level of worship, being worshipped, adored, honored. Earthly wisdom is about self-gratification, self-fulfillment, what Maslow called Self-Actualization at the top of the pyramid. As you go higher and higher, it's all about you. Selfishness. By the way, I love what Ben did just walking through. How different is Jesus? Amen? Instead of the upward journey, when he found himself in appearance as a man, “he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Very different journeys.
The Fruit of Earthly Wisdom
Well, the fruit of earthly wisdom is frequently spectacular, it really does achieve much in this present age. Empires actually are built, Nebuchadnezzar really can walk over the palace roof and say, "Is this not the great Babylon I have built by my own greatness?" And so inventions are made, 1% inspiration 99% perspiration, Thomas Edison. Companies can be built, battles can be fought between those companies, empires can rise, others come later and topple them. This is what the history of the world is. Isn't it amazing how Nebuchadnezzar's dream with the statue, in the end the whole thing ends up chaff on the threshing floor And the wind comes. It blows it all the way without leaving a trace. So all of that achievement ends up dust in the wind.
Verse 16, "Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice." Disorder means instability, confusion. God is a very orderly being, He sets things up in a clear order, and so He's at the top, the triune God at the top, and then created beings that He puts in positions of authority, archangels rule over regular angels, all authority comes from God, and so He establishes people in positions of authority. Parents, husbands and wives, parents and children, all of that, that whole structure. There's an order. But selfish ambition seeks to topple that whole thing and you find disorder and every evil practice. And every evil thing is just a broad category for all the bad stuff. All of the bad things that happen in life, all the bad things that happen in local churches, all the bad things that happen in denominations, and in nations happen because of this. “Disorder and every evil practice.”
IV. The Origin, Motive, Nature, and Fruit of Heavenly Wisdom (vs. 17-18)
A Breath of Fresh Air
Now what about the origin, motive, nature and fruit of heavenly wisdom? Verse 17-18, "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." Verse 18, "Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness." Oh wow. What a breath of fresh air these verses are. What a breath of fresh air. After all of that nastiness when we look around the world, then this comes, it comes down from Heaven. I can't help but think about the day that Jesus was baptized and he just quietly submitted to the will of the Father, submitted to John the Baptist's baptism. Remember John didn't want Him to, "I need to be baptized by You, and You come to me?, “Let it be so. It is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness.” And as He was coming up out of the water, the heavens were torn open, what a great image in Mark's Gospel, and the Holy Spirit descended like what? Like a dove, comes down on Him. So peaceful. And this voice comes down from Heaven, "This is my Son whom I love. With Him I am well pleased." Every good and perfect gift comes down from God. And so this heavenly wisdom has its origin in the heart of God, in the heart of God. And look at its nature.
Motive and Nature of True Wisdom
First of all, he said, James says, "It is first of all pure. Above all things, it's pure." It's like if you don't learn anything else about this wisdom, know that it's pure, That is so beautiful, isn't it? Reminds me of 1 John 1:5, "God is light, and in Him, there's no darkness at all." That's what this heavenly wisdom is like, it is a pure light. This heavenly wisdom. It's not got any corruption in it at all, there's no defilement, there's no poison in it, there's no bitterness, there's nothing twisted or disgusting. This wisdom is first of all pure. That makes it intensely because it's intensely God-centered, it's all about knowing God. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the holy. A.W. Tozer had a book, The Knowledge of the Holy, the knowledge of the holy God. That's what this wisdom is all about. And it's so pure, it's so beautiful. And it says it's peace-loving. It doesn't create conflicts, it ends them. I love to think about our heavenly future, and how peaceful that world is going to be. What's it going to be like to be with a multitude greater than anyone could count from every tribe, language, people, and nation, of people who are totally at peace with God vertically, and God's at peace with them, and they are totally at peace horizontally with each other. What is that even going to be like? And so, this heavenly wisdom is like that, it's peace-loving. These people don't create conflicts in their families, they don't create conflicts in churches, they don't create conflicts where they go, they're peace-loving.
The Harvest of True, Heavenly Wisdom
And then the third word is “gentle.” What one scholar William Barkley says is the hardest single word to translate in the New Testament. So let's skip it and move on to the next one. John MacArthur gives these options: equitable, seemly, fitting, moderate, forbearing, courteous, considerate. I guess I just think of it as it fits the situation perfectly, like Jesus every moment said exactly what was the right thing to say. So there's that sense it perfectly fits, like someone who's been laboring hard on a hot August day out in the field, comes in, and a friend meets them with a hot fudge sundae. A steaming hot dog. No, no, no, no, a big beautiful cold glass of water. It just fits. And so the wisdom comes and just it's seemly, it works, it fits every situation. It is therefore reasonable. These people are characterized by a reasonableness. There's that humility to this, but also a willingness to be moved by biblical reasoning. So therefore these people are readily persuaded from Scripture, they're not stubborn, hard-hearted faction builders. They don't argue and dispute. They're reasonable. And they're full of mercy. They are merciful to others because God has been merciful to them. And so, like in James chapter 2, suppose your brother or sister without clothes or daily food, they don't say "Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed." They show them mercy. It's actual good works that flow from this disposition. And it says full of good fruit. It's a rich harvest of fruitfulness. And it's unwavering, it doesn't flicker like a candle.
James seemed to have no patience for double-minded people who are unstable. Be who you are, be a Christian, it's stable and strong, this heavenly wisdom. It doesn't flicker like a candle, it's just a strong wise way to live your life. And it's without hypocrisy, it's sincere, it is what it appears to be, There's not a double life, it's not a white-washed tomb, wisdom. It is what it appears to be. Look what he says in verse 18, one of the more fascinating verses, okay? "Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness." That's the translation that I use that smooths out all difficulties. Alright, let's not smooth them out. What does it actually say? It talks about a sowing. A sowing happens. What is sowing? That's where you put seeds into the ground, but if you look at the verse, what's actually sown? Fruit. That's weird, you don't sow fruit, you sow seeds. Ah, yes. But where do the seeds come from? For example, for the next generation of apple trees, where do those seeds come from? Well, they come from inside the fruit. So, I perceive a kind of a cycle that goes on here with this heavenly wisdom. So there's already a harvest in your life, you reinvest it, and you do it as a peacemaker, and the more you take the fruit you've already learned, the fruit that this heavenly wisdom is working in, you sow it back, and a bigger, bigger harvest comes. Jesus talked about thirty, sixty, a hundred-fold. Hundred times what was sown.
Look at Yourself
Alright, so applications. Begin by evaluating yourself, look at yourself. Look at yourself in light of the wisdom of Christ crucified and resurrected. Are you born again? Have you received the gift of salvation? If you have received it, there is a wisdom that comes in and just levels you, it humbles you, it makes you realize you needed Jesus to die a bloody death on the cross for your sins. If He hadn't died, you would rightly be condemned to Hell. That's the humility that the Holy Spirit works in you. Has that happened? And then you've seen the beauty of Christ crucified and resurrected, and you're yearning for that, and you want it. So like the thief on the cross, you can say, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom, there's nothing I want more than to spend eternity with Christ in Heaven." Has that happened to you?
You've heard right now in this message, even in the last few minutes, everything you need. You're a sinner. The law stands against you. Christ came in your place, died and rose again, trust in Him for the salvation of your soul. So has that happened? But then beyond that, you say, "Well, I've been a Christian for a lot of years." James is only beginning to get busy with you. You know how James is. He's not going to say, "Oh, you're a Christian? Great! Have a great day." That's not who he is. He's going to say, "What's going on in your life? Show it by your good deeds. Do you see more of the earthly selfish ambition, faction, fighting kind of thing, or more of the fruit of the Spirit, heavenly wisdom, peaceable harvest of righteousness? What's actually happening in your life?”
We have to especially look as leaders of the church. I'm speaking now to all you leaders because it's like he says at the beginning of the teaching on the tongue, "Let not many of you presume to be teachers." Here, he's like, "If any of you claims to be wise, I have something to say to you." So it seems like he's talking to leaders.What kind of leaders will you be? Are you going to be ego-driven dominator tyrant type leaders, or are you going to be characterized by this kind of humble wisdom? And you might not even be a positional leader, an elder, or a deacon or be a fall teacher, you just might be a leader. You might be an influencer. Yes, but which of these two is characterizing you? And so for us as elders we have to look at ourselves.. I have to look as a senior pastor, I have to look at this and say, "Which of these two is how I'm leading?"
Jonathan Leeman wrote a book on church membership, and he's talking about when you should leave a church, especially in reference to its leadership. And so he draws out what I would call a list of toxic leadership style. And I'll close with that. I don't ever want this in my life, I don't want this here in this church and I want you wise enough for whenever you replace me and the other elders to make certain you replace us with men that are characterized by this heavenly wisdom. So he's saying that these toxic leaders make dogmatic prescriptions in places where Scripture is silent. They bind people's consciences on those things. They rely on intelligence, humor, charm, guilt, emotions or threats, rather than in God's word in prayer. That sounds exactly like the earthly wisdom I've been describing. They play favorites. They punish those who disagree. They employ extreme forms of communication, they use their temper or silent treatment. They recommend courses of action that always somehow improve the leader's own situation, even at the expense of others. They speak often and quickly, they seldom do good deeds in secret, they seldom encourage, they seldom give the benefit of the doubt. They emphasize outward conformity rather than repentance of heart. They preach, counsel, disciple and oversee the church with lips that fail to ground everything in what Christ has done in the Gospel; and they fail to give glory to God. So pray, pray that our leaders would not be that kind of toxic leader. Conversely, pray that we would be characterized by this beautiful, attractive, heavenly wisdom that comes down from God through Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Close with me in prayer. Lord, thank you for the time that we've had in your word, thank you for what it does to us how it really exposes us, how I cannot preach a single passage in James without feeling deeply convicted to the core. Oh God, I pray, drive away from me and from my brother elders and from all leaders in the church, men and women alike, anyone that you raise up to a position of influence, help us to be characterized by the humility and the peacefulness and the purity that this heavenly wisdom is characterized by and produces. Lord, do this for your praise and your glory. In Jesus' name, amen.