Pray every day – God, show me your ways above my ways.
I run the risk of half of you not knowing what I’m talking about any time I start a sermon illustration from a movie. So, how many of you have ever seen any of the Indiana Jones movies – the old, the original ones? That’s good, that’s good. How many of you have seen the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? See, I chose wisely because you see, when I think about using Star Wars illustrations, I’m afraid that nobody cares about Star Wars but me.
So, Indiana Jones is a good choice. So, there’s a scene at the end of the movie where Indiana Jones has gone through this temple. Going through all these obstacles, they get to this chamber where there’s a Knight’s Templar guarding the multitude of chalices or multitude of cups. And they are faced with this decision to choose the Holy Grail. They have to pick which cup was the one that Jesus used at the Lord’s Supper. Now the bad guy in the movie, you know his motivations were power. He wanted to live forever and his knowledge of this and his mind was that, “Oh man, this is the Holy Grail.” I mean, this is Jesus’ cup. So, it’s got to be made of gold and silver and rubies and diamonds. And so, I remember the movie and the Knight says, “Choose wisely.” And so, the bad guy takes this extravagant-looking cup, puts it in the water, drinks it, and dies.
Now, the comic relief of that is this old, like 400-year old, Knights Templar’s over there and he says, “He chose poorly.” It’s so funny. And so, Indiana Jones has to now choose. But he is motivated by something completely different. His motivation in the moment is to save his dad’s life, who’s been shot, and the water would do that.
But Indiana Jones has knowledge, real knowledge, of what the cup of Jesus would look like. They’re walking around the room, and he says, “That’s the cup of a carpenter,” and it’s this wooden, bland – it’s nothing but a cup. And so, he does the thing and drinks it, and the Knight goes on and says that he chose wisely. That’s what we’re talking about.
Today’s sermon is about living wisely and making wise choices. The Book of James has a lot to say about wisdom. In fact, I would say that the whole book, the way it’s written, is really written much like Old Testament wisdom literature. It flows much like the book of Proverbs, and I know that we covered the topic of wisdom extensively at the beginning of the series, but James decides to revisit it, and if James revisits it, we need to revisit it.
But the context is different. In James chapter 1, his command to the church is to ask God for wisdom. If you lack wisdom, go to the source. Remember, the title of that message was “Call the Man” from the Andy Griffith episode. And so, when we lack wisdom, we’re to call the man, we’re to ask God for it, but the context was in trial. The context of asking for godly wisdom was in challenging life circumstances, where things are not going the way that we had hoped or we had planned, and we can’t see over the huge mountain in front of us, so we go to God, Who can see on the other side of the mountain. We go to God Who knows exactly what He wants us to do to get through the trials.
And we say God, what’s the big picture? God, how am I supposed to navigate the situation that You’ve placed me or that I’ve been placed in? Because remember, trials are never meant to destroy us, they’re meant to develop us. The trials of life develop us into complete Christians lacking nothing, and so that’s the context of James chapter 1.
The context here is different. It’s applied to all of life – every circumstance, everything we go through, good times, bad times, all of it – we’re going to need wisdom. We’re going to need to know what to do, the way God wants us to do it. Very specific to the context is this idea of false teachers or false leaders in the church. Starting at the middle of James Chapter 2, James is confronting some false teaching, some false wisdom, some false leaders. Remember, it’s that faith and works – he gets really angry in the text, saying show me, show me your faith! I will show you my faith by my works. You can’t show me your faith. Remember, I told you that we can’t see a calorie. Remember that, but you can see the results of the calorie, right? That’s faith and fruit. Our faith is to produce fruit.
Then, he goes into this taming of the tongue, where he calls out teachers who are teaching false doctrine and leading people astray. Again, that’s a specific application to teachers – broad application to everybody. He is continuing to approach these leaders, or these teachers who are causing destruction within this community that he’s writing to.
And that’s where James picks up with the idea of wisdom today. He basically says there are two types of wisdom. You got earthly wisdom or heavenly wisdom. Now we’ve defined wisdom as application of knowledge. Really simple. We get all this data. We get all this information. We gather, we gather, we gather, and we ask the question: how do we navigate the data that we’ve gathered and interpreted? I mean, education is good. Gathering data and learning is good. But what do we do with it? Bible study is great. What do we do with it?
And so, that is what we’ve defined as wisdom is application of knowledge. And that definition holds here today, but there are two ways to apply knowledge. There’s a right way, and there’s a wrong way. And so, as we look at James Chapter 3 this morning, and I invite you to turn there, James Chapter 3. We’ll start in verse 13. I want us to see today, and I want us to have a deep desire when we walk out these doors – I want us to have a desire to develop and to pursue heavenly wisdom. That’s my hope. That is my goal because, and this is the main idea of the whole section, because heavenly wisdom guides our actions and our attitudes to be more like Jesus.
If you’re taking notes, you can see that’s the main idea:
Heavenly wisdom guides our actions and attitudes to be more like Jesus.
I want us to pursue heavenly wisdom, not earthly wisdom, because heavenly wisdom guides our actions and our attitudes to be more like Jesus, and that’s what we’re going to see when we read this passage this morning.
So here is the Word of the Lord starting in James Chapter 3, verse 13.
James 3:13-18 – 13 Who among you is wise and understanding? By his good conduct he should show that his works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and deny the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.
Let’s pray together. Father, we thank you for this Word. We thank you that it is authoritative, and it is sufficient to lead us in the direction of the path that You would have us to go. Father, as we study it this morning, may the Spirit reveal to us the truths. And may Your Spirit apply this to our lives so that we can live the way You have called us to live, that we can be the fruit producers that You have asked us and called us to be. We pray that we can have an impact on our world. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
So right out of the gate, James is starting to do this in the last few sections, is start with an almost a rhetorical-type question, although he’s calling people out. He says, who among you is wise? Now I’ve seen this as a pastor. Every now and then, I like to start a sermon with a question, right? You know, a thought-provoking question. Here’s what I usually see, especially if it’s a more humorous question. I’ll see the elbows start to nudge. He’s talking about you. Or, I’ll see somebody going – you need to listen to this one.
So, I can see James saying, who among you is wise and you know, you got the people going, he’s got glasses. We did that. We think that about people with glasses. When I started wearing glasses, my intelligence shot through the roof, right? Then I put on contacts, and all of a sudden, I’m not intelligent anymore. So that’s why if we see glasses, or we look around like that guy’s got gray hair or salt-and-peppered hair. He’s been around, he’s wise. That’s a wise guy. Yeah, or at least look around say, she’s got the PhD. You know she’s wise. So, we see that you can almost picture the congregation looking around like, who’s he talking about? Who’s he talking about? But I promise you, within every congregation, there’s at least one guy who’s going, he’s talking about me. I’m the wise one. You can almost you can almost see him standing up walking forward. Be like, all right guys. He called me out. I’m here.
I mean, and that’s what James is doing. He’s like, this is a tongue twister, will the real wise person please stand up. See, I thought my generation would get it. Graham got that reference, alright. I don’t want to reference who it’s from, but anyway, we got it, we got it. Will the real wise people please stand up? And they do, because they’re egotistical and they think they know it all, and they think they’ve been endowed with super wisdom.
You know, it’s like the comic book characters like Batman and Superman. They’ve got this super knowledge and this super wisdom. And they know what to do all the time. So James says, hey, who among you is wise, step up. Because I, James, the pastor of the Jerusalem Church, the leader, a guy who walked around with Jesus, a guy who saw Jesus, a guy who watched Jesus, I want to see if you really are wise. I want to examine your claim for validity.
James is not examining these people based on doctrinal knowledge or theological understanding. He’s not going to go up to him and say, I would like for you to parse this Greek verb and give me all the different parts of it. And then I want you to translate this Greek sentence in the appropriate way. That’s not how he’s going to assess these people. Much like the challenge he gave before, he’s going to assess them based on their life, how they live. He says by his good works, he should show that his works are done or by his conduct, he should show that his works are done in gentleness that comes from wisdom. The NIV translates it, “Let them show it by their good life by deeds done and the humility that comes from wisdom.” JB Phillips translates it this way: “Then your lives will be an example of the humility that is born of true wisdom.”
And the reason you get some differing ways to construct the sentence is ’cause the Greek is somewhat hard to understand. It literally reads, if you go word for word, let him show on the basis of good conduct his works in the humility of wisdom.
So, James is saying, if you are going to step forward, show me your attitude. Is it one of humility? And show me your actions. That’s how I’ll know you are wise. Our actions and our attitudes demonstrate our obedience to God – day after day after day.
James isn’t just saying that I’m going to test you today. He says, I’m going to look at the life before, the life now, the life after. How are you living day after day after day? Are you consistently making wise, godly decisions in your life? And so, that’s the question I want to ask you this morning.
Does your life day after day after day represent the life that you have been called to live?
To answer that question, we see 3 truths, 3 insights. The first one is this:
1 – Do not seek earthly wisdom.
This kind of wisdom does not come from God, but it comes from this world. And we know when you read Ephesians, or Philippians, it talks about the ruler of this world, the ruler of the air. So, when we’re following the wisdom of this world, we’re really following the wisdom of Satan. We are following the wisdom of the serpent in the garden that got Adam and Eve to sin for the first time.
The wisdom of this Earth does not come from God. It comes from here. It comes from the devil. It is described as unspiritual and demonic. Basically, it comes from hell. But oftentimes in our life, when we try to do it our way, the world’s way, it seems like a good idea, doesn’t it? You ever been there where you had a really good idea and you thought, hey? This is what we got to do. Well, how did it work for you in the long run?
In Genesis 3, the serpent tempted Eve to trust in her own wisdom or in the wisdom of the serpent instead of God’s wisdom. We talked about this briefly in Sunday school this morning. How did it work out for us to trust our own wisdom or the serpent’s wisdom?
The Tower of Babel – that seemed like a great idea at the time. Let’s build this thing. Let’s get to the heavens. Let’s show how good we are as humans. It led to failure and confusion. Abraham left Canaan to go to Egypt because there was a famine. It seemed like a great idea, but proved to be a disaster. The disciples thought it would be a great idea to send the crowds home to get their own food. Yet, Jesus took a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, and fed 5000 people.
Earthly wisdom has a very limited view of things. Earthly wisdom has a view that is really self-centered and me first, and that’s exactly what James says. He uses the word envy and selfish ambition to describe the kind of the results or the attitude and the actions that come from earthly wisdom. Envy, or you could call it jealousy, is a desire to possess something that is not yours to possess. It is something that you don’t have, that you want, and you’ll do just about anything to get it. And when you don’t get it, you get bitter, right?
Pastors are in danger of this because we can look at the mega church, can’t we? We can look at a church that’s got 1000 people, and we can become jealous, and we can want that, and we can lose focus that we need to minister to the people that God has given us.
Right, so there’s a temptation there. It’s earthly wisdom. There’s an earthly wisdom that says, I want that job. And when you don’t get it, you can’t even celebrate your buddy who did get it. That’s the bitter envy and jealousy that takes place. It robs you of your joy. It prevents you from really loving others because you want what they have and in a lot of cases, you’ll do the unthinkable to get it.
Commentator Kent Hughes tells a story of two men who lived in a particular city – one was envious. The other was covetous. The ruler of the city called both together and wanted to give each of them one wish. But there was a stipulation. The rule was that the one who chose first, the one who got the first wish, would get exactly what he asked for. The second man would get two times what that man asked for.
The envious person was ordered to choose first, but he immediately found himself in a quandary. The envious man wanted to choose something great for himself but realized that the other man would get twice as much if he did so. And so, he thought for a while. And here’s what the envious man chose. He says, I want you to poke out one of my eyes. Because the second guy got both his eyes poked out.
You see it. This man was so jealous, so envious that he would rather have nothing than see his counterpart get twice as much. In your life, that’s an attitude that we can fight against. It’s prominent in church life as well. We would rather pray, Lord, I don’t want to see any work done at all because I don’t get the credit for it.
They’re people in this world like that isn’t there? They would rather nothing be accomplished at all than see somebody else do something great. That’s a problem in this church. There are people who want to take all the credit for it, and that’s earthly wisdom. That’s demonic and unspiritual.
Maybe you’re a parent. We can relate to this. Your child does not sit quite still. Anybody relate? Your child doesn’t seem to be as well behaved as the Jones’s child, and you can find yourself saying, I wish I had that kid. Nobody would do that right because we love our children.
You’re on the soccer field, basketball court, football field. You work your tail off week in, week out, day in, day out and never get to play. While the athletic kid steps on the field without ever lifting a weight or running a Sprint. And it just clicks. You can become envious of that.
Got a friend who makes lots of money and barely works while you work tooth and nail 24-hour days and make hardly a penny.
Here’s one, someone looks better than you. As a youth pastor, I see this one. There are people who can eat whatever they want to, right? And they don’t gain a pound. I can eat a bite of a cheeseburger and gain 20 pounds.
Right, so we look in the mirror like I wish I could do that. That’s envy. That’s jealousy, and it’s detrimental to our life. It creates hostility. It creates anger. It creates fighting. It creates backstabbing because we want to make ourselves look better.
And then we have selfish ambition. This means that we’re motivated to do something because it’s in our best interest. God forbid we look out for the interests of anybody else. In the world we live in, it is seen every single day. It’s me first, me first. How can I advance myself? How can I make myself look better? When you have that attitude, people around you are going to suffer because you don’t care what the results are for them. You just want what’s best for you. That’s earthly wisdom, because that’s the world we live in. YouTubers, Emailers, bloggers, Twitter people, Facebook people. They just want to promote themselves, themselves, themselves, and themselves.
You know, Billy Graham may be one of the most famous Christians to ever live in our lifetime. For sure, right? Everybody knows Billy Graham. I heard this week. Another pastor was talking about this, and he said that Billy Graham’s funeral broke the Internet. So many people around the world streamed that funeral that you were unable to upload anything. It broke the Internet, and yet Billy Graham never, ever wanted to be famous. He never wanted the attention to be on him because his goal in life was to make Jesus famous. I don’t know if Billy Graham would have enjoyed all those people watching his funeral. What he would really desire is for people to make much of Jesus, for people to focus on what really matters, and that is the Gospel.
James says that this earthly wisdom creates disorder, division, and every evil practice. And if you’ve been in church long enough, you’ve seen this, or you’ve heard about it. If you’ve had a family long enough, you’ve seen this, you’ve experienced it. You’ve heard about it. Earthly wisdom leads to disorder, division, distraction from the mission, and we are not to do it.
James says to not boast about this earthly wisdom because you are denying the Gospel itself. You know what Jesus says about this? Take up your cross and follow me. Deny yourself, deny yourself, deny yourself. Take up your cross and follow me.
So earthly wisdom is the complete opposite, and we are not to seek it. Instead, we are to
2 – Seek heavenly wisdom.
Heavenly wisdom – this goes back to James, chapter 1. Now, if anyone lacks wisdom, then he should ask God, Who gives generously without criticizing, and it will be given to him. Listen, heavenly wisdom does not come from intellectual effort or practical experiences as much as it comes from spending time with God.
You got to spend time with God. How’s your Bible study life? How’s your prayer life? We must go to Him consistently and continuously in prayer, receiving the Word, constantly and continuously receiving the Word, crying out to Him to receive wisdom, both individually and corporately. As a church, we have to pray for wisdom.
We need to be like Solomon in First Kings, chapter 3 – the young king who was asked by God, what can I give you? What do you need? God would have given him riches. God would have given anything he asked for. Solomon says, what I really need to govern your people is wisdom. That’s who we need to be like.
What do you need in this life? I need wisdom. Yeah, we need money to pay the bills. We need all that, but you know how we need wisdom more than anything, not earthly wisdom, godly wisdom.
We need to adopt the same attitude of Christ. We read in Philippians, chapter 2- there Paul says to adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, Who existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God to be something to be exploited. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a servant taking on the likeness of humanity, and when He had come as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.
That’s Jesus. Jesus didn’t come as a king. He came as a servant. Now He is the King of kings. He came as a humble servant. Jesus says, I didn’t come to condemn. I came to serve and to save. He came for the very purpose of going to the cross as a sacrifice for all of our sins. In verse 10 in Philippians 2 – so that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow in heaven on Earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.
That’s the attitude that we have to have – the attitude of a humble servant, putting the interests of others above our own. Jesus lived this and He taught this. We see the words that James uses when he says our heavenly wisdom is pure. True wisdom is not tainted by evil. Jesus says the pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God. Heavenly wisdom is peace loving. True wisdom does not go around looking for trouble. Anybody know people like that? They’re only happy if they’re stirring the pot.
Jesus puts it like this. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God. We need to be gentle. We need to be looking to be helpful to others, not harming others.
Jesus puts it like this. The gentle are blessed for they will inherit the earth.
We need to be compliant or submissive. True wisdom does not try to start arguments or get our way, but it tries to be reasonable and submissive. Jesus puts it like this – the poor in spirit are blessed for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs.
We need to be full of mercy. True wisdom leads people to be people of mercy. We are quick to forgive, quick to overlook an offense. When somebody has wronged you or done something wrong, are you quick to get angry or are you quick to forgive? Jesus says forgive 70 times 7.
We need to be full of good fruits. True wisdom produces godliness in our hearts. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, and they will be filled. That’s what Jesus says.
We need to be unwavering. True wisdom sticks to the truth, and the correct way is without wavering. We hold up this Book as our standard, and we never waver from it, ever.
We have to be without pretense. True wisdom does not put on a false front, but it is genuine and real all the time.
We know these people. They act like Christians on Sundays. It’s a false pretense because on Mondays they’re not.
Heavenly wisdom Is described in those seven or eight words. And, when we pursue godly wisdom, God will transform our actions and our attitudes to look more like Jesus and we will experience peace.
3 – The results of heavenly wisdom are peace and righteousness.
In contrast to disorder, confusion, chaos, and evil that results from selfish ambition and envy, James says in verse 18, that wisdom, godly wisdom, results in peace and righteousness.
What does God desire? Peace. First, He desires peace with you. From the moment we’re born, we’re enemies with God because of our sin. It is God’s unending desire to be at peace with you. That peace is found when you decide to follow Jesus. Jesus is the way to peace with God. Jesus bridges that gap.
But then He not only desires this peace, but He desires peace with other people. How do we get it? By following what Jesus told us to do – heavenly wisdom. When we seek godly peace or godly wisdom, we will have peace with God and peace with other people.
Now I want you to think about James for a minute. Let’s think about this. How does this play out in your house? How does it play out at home? How does this play out with your husband or your wife? Maybe the root of our marital problems is we’re seeking earthly wisdom and not godly wisdom.
Maybe the issues we have with our children are related more towards us seeking our own selfish ambition and envy than God’s ways.
How does this look? What does this look like? How can it change your family? How can it change your workplace? Are you struggling with people you work with or your relationships at work? Are they weak? Are you combative? How does seeking wisdom from God change your work? And how does it change our church?
I will tell you something. When as a church, when the body of Christ collectively seeks godly wisdom, God will give it. He generously gives it. You want to see a revival. You want to see an outpouring of the Spirit in this community. We will collectively, as a church with one heart, one mind, one voice, one prayer – God, show us the way. Give us the courage to do what You have called us to do. We pray that You take away my personal ambition, take away my personal agenda and show me Your agenda. Show me what You have called me to do to be a part of this church.
When men and women are humbly coming before God, leaving self-centered ambition behind, pursuing wisdom that is pure, it produces peace and righteousness in the church.
And listen. It doesn’t mean we’re going to agree on everything. I’ve said this a lot. We’re diverse people. God made us that way. We celebrate our diversity. But that’s the beauty of the Gospel – that all the diverse opinions come together and move in one direction. That’s the beauty of godly wisdom. And that’s what we are to strive for as a church.
Why is this important? Because next week, James is going to let this church have it. And this really sets the stage for him to get very pointed in why there is conflict in the church. And so we set the stage today, and my challenge, my walking point for you this week – everyday, pray for godly wisdom. Pray every day – God, show me your ways above my ways.
Let’s pray that now. Father, thank you so much. We know that true wisdom, pure wisdom, righteous wisdom, comes from You, and only You. The enemy tries to attack us. The enemy tries to pull us in all different directions, but help us to be faithful to Your word and to Your will. Father, if we want to hear from You, we need to read the Bible. We need to let the Bible penetrate our hearts, and as we do, give us the wisdom to apply it, unify this church, unify our families, unify our places of business. Help us to receive peace as we receive wisdom, Father. We love You and we thank You. We pray all these things in Jesus’ Name, Amen.