Wise and Otherwise

Series: Preacher: Date: November 17, 2002 Scripture Reference: James 3:13-17

As a faithful Barnes and Noble customer I can tell you for a fact that one of the best selling series of books ever published is the “…for Dummies” series. If I’m not mistaken, the first edition was Windows for Dummies, but now they have dozens of versions. In fact they take up an entire section of Barnes and Noble with titles like, Bird-Watching for Dummies, Desserts for Dummies, Fishing for Dummies, Investing for Dummies, The Internet for Dummies, Parenting for Dummies…On one Barnes and Noble trip Sue and I read through The Bible for Dummies and were surprised to find it to actually be a pretty good book when it comes to understanding the basic message of the Scriptures.Well I don’t know if you’ve been counting-but this “…for dummies…” book series has sold over 35 million copies to date. I wish I was “dumb” enough to write one! Now, why do you think it is that they are they so popular? Why do so many people continue to buy these books?

Well, one satisfied customer explained it this way, “I buy them because they take the intimidation out of the learning process. Whatever the subject matter, they spell it out to me in simple terms. They make the complex understandable, so that even a regular guy like me can ‘get it.'” In other words, millions of people purchase these books every year because they know they contain something we all want and need-PRACTICAL wisdom.

Now, please be sure and hear me correctly. I did not say we need KNOWLEDGE-because we don’t. We have more knowledge than we know what to do with. In fact, since 1955 mankind’s accumulated knowledge has doubled every five years and as a result the shelves of libraries and book stores groan with the weight of new books. Hadden Robinson writes, “Our generation possesses more data about the universe and human personality than all previous generations put together. High school graduates today have been exposed to more information about the world than Plato, Aristotle, Spinoza or Benjamin Franklin. In terms of facts alone, neither Moses nor Paul could pass a college entrance exam today. Yet by everyone’s standards, even with all our knowledge, society today is peopled with a bumper crop of brilliant failures. Men and women educated to earn a living often don’t know anything about handling life itself. Alumni from noted universities have mastered information about a narrow slice of life, but couldn’t make it out of the first grade when it comes to living successfully with family and friends. Let’s face it. Knowledge is not enough to meet life’s problems. We need wisdom, the ability to handle life with skill.”

And Robinson is correct-we all need to know how to DO life correctly. We all yearn for practical wisdom to help us know how life is supposed to work-but the sad thing is most of us look for it in the WRONG place. Instead of consulting God’s Word for guidance in life-Like dummies, we embrace the world’s way of thinking. More and more of us live our lives according to our culture’s definition of wisdom.

Now if you doubt this, then compare the popular television shows of the past to those of the present and you’ll see that the families our society hold up as roll models are now The Osbornes, whereas 40 years ago it was the Cleavers. Times have indeed changed.

The other night we had a rare evening clear in which all four of us could stay home and enjoy time together as a family so Sue made some of her home-made pizzas and we rented a video. I selected the re-make of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town because I have always loved the original Gary Cooper version and thought the girls would benefit by seeing this updated edition. But it was horrible. Today’s Hollywood took a very moral movie-one that espoused the wisdom of Godly virtues…virtues that were esteemed not too many decades ago and in order to make this film appeal to today’s movie-going audiences they polluted it with lewd jokes and crude humor and sexual innuendo. They did this because in our day and age more and more people are entertained by the passing pleasures of sin. More and more of us believe the wisest way to live is to pattern our decisions after the principles of this fallen world.

Well, the Christians in James’ day must have been making similar mistakes because in our text for this morning James addresses this issue by comparing the wisdom of the world to the wisdom of God. Take your Bibles and turn to James 3:13-18.

13 – Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

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, of the devil.

16 – For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

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 raise a harvest of righteousness.

Okay, let’s review James’ comparison of these two forms of wisdom so that we’ll see how much sense it really does make to look to God when it comes to deciding how we should live our lives. Now, James begins by describing the world’s way of thinking…and the one of the main things he says is this:

1. The source of the world’s ‘wisdom’ is the DEVIL.

Look at verse 15. “Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” James says that worldly wisdom is a wisdom that ignores God and he is right. It is a foolish way of thinking that says, “I know how life works better than the Creator Who gave me life.” And this prideful attitude began way back in the Garden of Eden. Remember? satan tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God and eat from the fruit of the forbidden tree. He told them the one rule God had given them was nonsense-that the really smart thing to do would be to disregard what God said and enjoy the fruit. satan said that if they ate this fruit they would know important things-their wisdom would increase. So, as it says in Genesis 3:6: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also DESIRABLE FOR GAINING WISDOM, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband and he ate it.”

Well, ever since that horrible day people have continued to live satan’s way-they have believed his lies and ignored God’s truth. Paul writes about people like this in Romans 1 when he says, “…although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the truth of God for a lie.”

Now-let’s be sure we understand this first point. When we ignore God’s Word-when we disobey Him-we are yielding to the same demonic influence that Adam and Eve did, which is why there is so much pain and sadness in the world today. As James says in verse 16, when we snub God’s loving laws, the result is always, “disorder and every evil practice.”

2. A second thing that James says about worldly wisdom is that it is characterized by SELFISH AMBITION.

And wouldn’t you agree that this is the way our world tends to think? We live in a culture that has embraced the “ME-FIRST” mind set. We are willing participants in a society that says,

“Indulge YOURSELF, fulfill YOUR desires, satiate YOUR appetites, pursue PERSONAL pleasure-forget restraints, just do what makes YOU happy.” We run our lives like you would a cafeteria in that we embrace the “self-service only” plan.

Do, you know one place I see this fleshed out?-in the parking lot at Magruder High School. I don’t mean to step on the toes of our teens but it’s true. When I pick Sarah up at 2:15PM and we attempt to drive out of the lot it is every man for himself. Those kids want OUT of there and they will do anything to get that selfish desire satisfied. I mean, forget, letting someone in line in front of you. That does not happen. In fact, they will attempt to jam their car into any inch of space that you leave between your front bumper and the rear bumper of the car in front of you.

They will do all they can to force their way in-so that they get out first. There is no selfLESSness there-because SELF rules that parking lot at 2:15PM. If you doubt this drive in there one day and try to get out. Just be sure your collision insurance is paid up.

And the sad truth is those selfish teens grow up into selfish adults who live by that same SELF service only-ME FIRST-philosophy-and they do that because our world says if you put yourself first, you’ll be happy. Our culture’s wisdom says that the only way to find meaning and fulfilment is to look out for number one. But this is another one of satan’s lies because the truth is when we live this way it leads to nothing but pain and sadness and heartbreak. I mean think of all the fruits of selfishness: STDs, unwanted pregnancies, failed marriages as men and women walk away from commitments to spouses and children, corporation after corporation collapsing because of the selfish greed of executives. It doesn’t take much brain power to see that this is not wisdom but foolishness!

3. …and then James also says that worldly wisdom is known by its BITTER JEALOUSY.

This is a direct result of selfishness because you see when our main focus is on self, we become envious of anyone who gets more attention or achieves a higher level of success than we do and the biblical record shows that this way of thinking can ALSO be incredibly destructive.

God’s Word says that bitter jealousy is what led Cain to kill Able. It’s what made Sarah order Abraham to cast Hagar and her son out into the wilderness. I for one doubt that there would be a Muslim faith today if not for that one jealous act. Bitter jealousy caused Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery. It motivated Saul to try and kill David. Bitter jealousy inspired Haman to develop a plan to kill Mordecai and all the Jewish people. It moved the princes of Babylon to plot against Daniel-and jealousy was what set the Jewish religious leaders against Jesus.

Well, the same kind of bitter jealously causes us to burn with envy when others receive something we feel we deserved-and acting on that envy has disastrous results. But God’s way of living on the other hand-one that allows for no jealousy-has great benefits.

Many years ago F. B. Meyer was the pastor of the Westminster Chapel in London. At the same time G. Campbell Morgan was pastor of nearby Christ Church and Charles Hadden Spurgeon was pastor of the Metropolitan Chapel. Both Morgan and Spurgeon often had much larger audiences than Meyer. Consequently Meyer was often troubled by jealousy and envy. But this wise pastor said he received no peace in his heart until he ignored the world’s way of thinking and began praying for his colleagues. Meyer said, “When I prayed for their success, the result was that God filled their churches so full that the overflow filled mine, and it has been full every since.”

You see, when we transform our focus from an “I-focus” to a “You-focus” then we enter a pathway that leads to fulfillment and joy. But when we allow the deadly duo-jealousy and bitterness-to find a harbor in our hearts, we are headed for trouble-because that is what happens when we are controlled by the wisdom of the world.

4. And then James also says that worldly wisdom focuses on the TEMPORARY instead of the eternal.

The word he uses is “earthly” which means the world’s wisdom says we should center our goals and aspirations around the things of this earth. And you and I foolishly live by this kind of “wisdom”all the time. We rush around at ninety miles a minute hurriedly accumulating things we don’t really need-things that don’t last. For example, we kill ourselves investing in our careers instead of being there when our kids need us. John Ortberg says, “We tell ourselves, when things settle down-then I’ll get my priorities straight.” But you know, the truth is things will never settle down-that is until we DIE. In fact you’ll be amazed how much life slows down then. James’ point here is that it is foolish to live for the temporary things of this world. It makes much more sense to build your life on things of eternal significance.

Moses is a great example of someone who was wise to know this. In Hebrews 11:24-26 it says,

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing to endure ill-treatment with the people of God rather than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.”

Tradition says that when the tomb of Charlemagne was opened centuries after his death it was discovered that his corpse had been placed in a seated position with a New Testament open on his knee. His finger pointed to Mark 8:36 which says: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?” Well, this is the ultimate end of all worldly wisdom, for it focuses on the things of the earth only…things that are here today and gone tomorrow.

Okay, let’s turn our focus from what James has to say about the false wisdom of the world to what he says about true-genuine-WISDOM.

1. First of all, he say’s that the source of this caliber of wisdom is GOD.

This goes along with what James said back in the 15th verse of chapter 1, “If any of you lack wisdom, he should ask God, Who gives generously to all…” Billy Graham once said, “Knowledge is horizontal. Wisdom is vertical. It comes down from above.” And it does-if you want real wisdom-you must abandon worldly pride and humble yourself. You must admit your need for God’s help and guidance.

Prideful people won’t admit this but the truth is that even our greatest wisdom pales in comparison to God’s. 1 Corinthians 1:25 puts it this way: “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” So, truly wise people are those who trust God’s perspective on things. They know that He knows more than they’ll ever know.

As I told you a few weeks ago, I’m a soccer dad. We spend a couple hours each Saturday at Becca’s games. Now we love watching but many times we’re frustrated because from where we stand on the sidelines it looks like a kicked ball is heading right for the goal-and then it sails by.

This is because our perspective is flawed. We are on the same level as the players-if we were up on bleachers we’d be able to see more clearly but we’re not-we’re right on the field. Well, wise people know that God’s perspective on our lives is better than ours. He is above us and sees and knows all-so we ask for His guidance when we face decisions. We are not like the fools who trust in people who see life no better than they do. We trust God’s perspective because we know that He is the only reliable source of wisdom.

2. And then James goes on to say that TRUE wisdom-Godly wisdom-is seen in a life of ACTION.

Look at verse13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”

You see true wisdom is behavioral not intellectual. It is the skill of living righteously. Charles Haddon Spurgeon once put it this way, “Wisdom is the right USE of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal and are all the greater fools for it. To know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.” And Spurgeon is right. Wisdom is a productive thing.

It is seen in a life that is full of mercy and good fruits. Wisdom does not just see needs, analyze them, and condemn the causes that led to them. True WISDOM acts. It issues forth in practical help! It’s like the individual who said, “I wondered why somebody didn’t do something and then I realized I was somebody.”

A certain railroad agent in Africa had been bawled out for doing things without orders from headquarters. He was chastened to DO nothing without proper authorization. Shortly after that his boss received the following telegram, “Lion on platform eating conductor. Wire instructions.” Well, real wisdom is not idle. It acts. Wisdom is wise LIVING-it is a life of WORKING faith. And it’s not just ACTION. It’s GODLY action. As James says it is PURE-it manifests itself in holy living.

3. And then finally, James says that true wisdom is also SELF-LESS.

Contrary to the current way of thinking, wisdom that is from God is considerate and submissive. It is a quality that is found in the life of all peace makers because they put the needs of the others first. In his book, Letters to My Children, Daniel Taylor describes an experience he had in the sixth grade. Back then school kids were taught how to dance in school. Remember? The teacher would line the boys up on one side of the classroom and the girls on the other and then one by one the boys would have to choose their partner. Imagine what it would have been like to be one of the girls waiting to be chosen, wondering if they were going to be chosen, wondering if they would be chosen by someone they didn’t like. Well, one girl, Mary, was always chosen last. You see, thanks to a childhood illness, one of her arms was drawn up and she had a bad leg. She wasn’t pretty; she wasn’t smart; and she was very overweight. Now, the assistant teacher of Dan’s class happened to attend his church. One day, she pulled Dan aside and said, “Dan, next time we have dancing, I want you to choose Mary.” Dan couldn’t believe it. Why would anyone pick Mary when there was Linda, Shelley, or even Doreen? Dan’s teacher must have read the question that appeared on his face because she told him that is what Jesus would have done, and deep inside, he knew she was right, which didn’t make it any easier. All Dan could hope for was that he would be last in line. That way, he could choose Mary, do the right thing, and no one would be the wiser. Instead Dan ended up FIRST in line. Here’s an excerpt from the book where Dan describes what took place in the next moment. “The faces of the girls were turned toward me, some smiling. I looked at Mary and saw that she was only half-turned to the back of the room. She knew no one would pick her first. Mr. Jenkins said, ‘Okay, Dan, choose your partner!’ I remember feeling very far away. I heard my voice say, ‘I choose Mary.’ Never has reluctant virtue been so rewarded. I still see her face undimmed in my memory. She lifted her head and on her face, reddened with pleasure and surprise and embarrassment all at once, was the most genuine look of delight and even pride that I have ever seen, before or since. It was so pure that I had to look away because I knew I didn’t deserve it. Mary came and took my arm, as we had been instructed, and she walked beside me, bad leg and all, just like a princess. Mary is my age now. I never saw her after that year. I don’t know what her life’s been like or what she’s been doing. But I’d like to think she has a fond memory of at least one day in sixth grade. I know I do.'”

That is Godly wisdom-a realization that the best way to live life-the most fulfilling way to live life is to be not selfish-but selfless-considerate of the needs of others.

Now-as anyone who has met Jesus Christ knows, He is the perfect example of Godly wisdom because He chose all of us-in spite of the ugliness of our sin. And the world does not understand this. It makes no sense to them. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “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.” We come now to remember and celebrate the foolishness of God, Who loved us so much that He acted-He considered our need for a Savior and He sent His only Son to die in our place. We remember this blessed foolishness through the observance of communion. And as we come now to do so, I invite all Christians present to partake with us. Even if you are not a member of this church…because, if you are a Christian-if you are His, this is Yours.


You know, one of the reasons our world thinks the preaching of the cross is foolishness is because many people buy into the lie that says we don’t need Jesus. They say we can EARN our way to God by living a good life. In fact, that is the basic message of every religion on earth except for Biblical Christianity. And this is the height of foolishness, for as Paul said, even our best attempts at GOOD WORKS are as filthy rags. The only way to heaven-the only way to know God-is through faith in Jesus Christ. If you are here this morning and are not a Christian, then I urge you to humbly admit your need for God. Pray to Him and ask Him to forgive you of your sin. Invite Jesus into your heart and life. Commit right now to live your life according to His wisdom.And if you make that decision come and share it with me. As we stand and sing, we invite all who wish to make public decisions to walk forward and share them with me. Whether it is to profess your faith in Jesus Christ or to ask to join our church family, won’t you come now as God leads?

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