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The Meekness of Wisdom


Sep 18, 2022

by: Jack Lash Series: James | Category: Wisdom | Scripture: James 3:13–18

I. Introduction
A. What are your favorite pieces of literature? What writings touch you most deeply? Which do you treasure the most? Well, this is probably not a passage most of you are familiar with. But I hope that you are interested in this passage. This is God’s word. That means it is distinct from every other piece of literature in the world, which all have human origin. This is God’s word. It’s great to contemplate the meaning of a piece of literature, but it is much more important for us to contemplate the meaning of the word of God, and to listen to the important things it says to us.
B. The theme of the larger context in this part of James is what authentic faith looks like. It’s not just a claim that one has faith, it has a transforming effect on a person’s life.
C. Last week we talked about the tongue. The tongue can be used to curse people made in the image of God. But this is not the way it should be. We ought to be wise and understanding.
D. James 3:13–18 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
II. Explanation
A. 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.
1. He begins by asking them to look around them: Who is wise and understanding among you?
a. Who are the people who really are a blessing to a church? Who are the people who really make a church work, make a church healthy?
2. We can tell he’s talking about the context of the church because he asks, Who AMONG YOU?
a. How do we carry ourselves IN THE CONTEXT of the Christian church?
3. If you think you are one of the wise and understanding ones, or if you want to be, here’s what to do: Show your works by your good conduct in the meekness of wisdom.
4. This is such a poignant phrase: the meekness of wisdom: Wisdom is not theological knowledge, though that may have a role. But an essential ingredient of true wisdom is meekness/humility. True wisdom is always accompanied by humility.
5. Humility, or meekness, was not esteemed by the Greek world – nor is it esteemed in our world today. The world calls us to believe in ourselves and to stand up for ourselves and to assert ourselves. They think meekness shows weakness and a poor self-image.
6. But a very different picture appears in the NT. Jesus called himself “meek” (Matt. 11:29; cf. Matt. 21:5). Jesus blessed those who were meek (Matt. 5:5).
7. This mentality of Christ comes from understanding ourselves as sinful creatures before the glorious and majestic God. In and of ourselves we are completely unable to figure out the meaning of life or find spiritual fulfillment or find the right path to walk in the world.
8. The world wants us to face God with a sneer and grumbling. But according to the Bible, the only psychologically healthy way to face God is with fear and trembling, along with gratitude & love.
9. So, before God we are meek & humble. He’s big; we’re small. He knows all things; we know very little.
10. True, godly wisdom is meek, and that meekness of wisdom manifests itself in good conduct and loving deeds.
B. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.
1. The world has its version of wisdom. But it is not the wisdom of meekness which comes from God.
2. The contrast to godly wisdom which is meek, is the attitude which typifies the world: bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.
a. The attitude which is celebrated in the world is a zeal to get ahead even if it means stepping over people to do so. It is brimming with self-assurance: “I know what I want and I know how to get it!”
b. It is interesting, “selfish ambition” here is one word in the Greek, and it’s a word used nowhere else in the NT. The only use of this word we have before the time of the NT is by Aristotle. You know what Aristotle was describing when he used it? The narrow partisanship of greedy politicians in his day. I think we can understand well what he was talking about, can’t we?
c. Think how contrary this is to the manner of Jesus! Matt.20:26–28 “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
d. And this is the way He lived. And when He lives in a person’s heart, this is the way that person lives. And if a person is filled with bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, that person is not filled with Jesus, even if they say they are.
3. Do not boast
a. These folks are big on themselves, brimming with confidence that they know what needs to be done.
b. In contrast, what does a truly wise person boast in? Jeremiah 9:23–24 tells us: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
4. — Do not be false to the truth
a. Probably what James is getting at here is something like this: Do not be false to true wisdom by boasting in your wisdom and having bitter jealousy and selfish ambition.
C. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.
1. There is a wisdom which comes from God.
a. That’s why James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God.” (Cf. Proverbs 2:6)
b. But true wisdom is meekness/humility, not selfish ambition and bitter jealousy.
2. These two different ways of viewing things are not just two differing opinions. One is from God and the other is not from God but from man.
3. This false wisdom is man’s wisdom, wisdom man is led to by satanic deception.
a. It is the wisdom the serpent whispered in the ears of our first parents in the garden of Eden.
b. It is the wisdom which man comes up with himself, incited by Satan.
4. The world thinks it’s wise. And it thinks that godly wisdom is the epitome of foolishness.
a. And if we are going to live as Christians in this world, we have to be willing to be thought of as foolish – even to the point of being harmful.
D. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.
1. The earthly, unspiritual, and demonic character of this wisdom can be seen from the effects it has in the life of the church.: it results in disorder and every vile practice.
2. Same word is in 2Cor.12:20 I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish....that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.
3. “A congregation in turmoil”
4. This kind of disorder and “every evil practice” is bound to occur in churches where people pursue their own selfish agenda rather than pursuing the welfare of the body as a whole.
E. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
1. When we began going through the epistle of James, we said that it is probably the first NT book written. So, it gives us a glimpse into a very early form of Christianity. We tend to glamorize early Christianity: “Oh! if we could just go back to the way it was at first!”
2. But the fact is, it’s ALWAYS been a struggle. Human nature has always raised its ugly head in the history of the church. The beautiful has always been mixed with the ugly.
3. James is deeply troubled by the things he had heard about the condition of the churches to which he is writing. You can see that in the verses we will cover next week: “What causes quarrels and fights among you? ...2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” James 4:1–2
4. But that’s not the way it should be! That’s not the way things should be in the church!
5. You see, James has an advantage! He was the brother of Jesus! That means that he grew up watching someone live a live of perfect wisdom, perfect humility, perfect love.
6. And so here in v.17 James gives us a glimpse of what this looks like:
a. First, it’s pure: single-minded, wholehearted
(1) Jesus said no man can serve two masters. But that doesn’t stop us from trying.
(2) We serve Christ AND our own popularity, or Christ AND our creature comforts, or Christ AND financial security.
(3) The people James is talking about are the people who serve Christ PERIOD.
(4) Their allegiance is not divided.
b. then peaceable: peace-loving
(1) Peaceable is just what is needed in a church which struggles with bitter jealousy and selfish ambition and the disorder which it brings.
(2) Of course, there is a time to fight. But for warriors, it’s always time to fight. They will always find something to fight about – even if they have to invent it.
(3) But God calls us to “live in harmony with one another.” And, “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:16, 18
c. gentle:
(1) Jesus said he was gentle (Matt.11:29; 2Cor.10:1).
(2) It’s a fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:23).
(3) Elders are called to be gentle (1Tim.3:3).
(4) When people are at odds with each other, when there’s tension in the air, it only takes a spark to get a fire going. What is needed is gentleness.
(5) Remember that Paul had some pretty severe things to say to the Corinthians as he anticipated his next visit. But what does he say? “I entreat you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.” 2Corinthians 10:1
d. open to reason
(1) Hard to translate this word, but I think ESV has done a good job.
(2) The word here is the only NT occurrence. It means, literally, “easily persuaded.”
(3) Open to reason implies really listening. It implies being willing to question one’s own opinions
(4) Now, obviously, there is a kind of being easily persuaded which is not good at all. But James is talking about the context of quarreling and fighting. And, most of the time, in that context, it is hard to find a person on either side who is willing to really listen, to sit down and hear the other person out. That’s what James is talking about.
e. full of mercy and good fruits,
(1) Most conflicts are saying “He is the bad guy, I’m the good guy!” But mercy says, “We are all sinners! We all need forgiveness! We are all blind! I’m no better than you.”
(2) FULL of mercy, FULL of good fruits
f. impartial and
(1) CMR committee coming in from outside: impartial
(2) Often there isn’t a right side and a wrong side to a dispute.
(3) Let’s find a way to address everyone’s fears and appease everyone’s anger.
g. sincere: no hidden agenda, no manipulation, no need to come across as the winner
(1) The sincere person is stable, trustworthy, and transparent.
(2) He’s not worried about what others think of him. He just wants others to see Christ, and His love for them.
7. Like true faith produces a life of doing good (2:14–26), here James tells us that true wisdom produces a certain quality of life.
8. There are a number of descriptions in the Bible of what a godly person looks like. And they all have a lot in common.
a. The Beatitudes in Matt.5
b. The fruits of the Spirit in Gal.5
c. Romans 12
d. James 3:13-18 – Godly wisdom is meek, peaceable, gentle, full of mercy and sincere. This is what true Christianity looks like.
9. This is how we show Christ to one another!
F. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
1. He ends with what seems his chief concern: in the face of quarrels & conflicts he calls Christians to be peacemakers. This will produce the good fruit of righteousness & peace in the church.
2. The false wisdom of the world produces disorder and every evil practice. True, godly wisdom produces a harvest of righteousness and peace.
3. Over the years, I’ve made the point many times that, if you are a Christian, it is important that you are in the church. But James says it’s not enough to be in the church. God calls us to be the kind of person who serves, who helps, who strives to be a blessing,
a. Remember, the word peace in the Bible is much deeper and richer than our word peace or even the Greek word for peace used here. The NT writers used the best Greek word they could to depict the OT concept, and so to understand what they meant by it we have to look to the Hebrew word SHALOM. SHALOM refers not merely to an absence of conflict. It refers to a rich sense of total well-being.
b. So, to be a peacemaker in the sense of what Jesus means in the beatitudes and here in James, means to care about and work toward the welfare of others.
c. It was said of Jesus, “Zeal for Your house will consume Me.” God wants us to be the same. He was us to have a zeal for His house. He wants us to have a passion to bless God’s people.
III. Application
A. There are two things which are called wisdom.
1. The world has an earthly, unspiritual, demonic kind of wisdom which is full of selfish ambition, bitter jealousy, and boastfulness, and which yields disorder and every vile practice.
2. But there is also a wisdom which comes from God. And James is anxious that we understand the difference between the two, because when push comes to shove many believers fall back on their old pre-Christian wisdom to try to handle the situation.
3. So, we’ve got to be alert to the fact that the world has its wisdom, its way of looking at things, its view of what is true, its philosophy about how life ought to be lived. And that this foolish wisdom is not just out there in the world; it’s right here inside of us.
4. But Christians aren’t supposed to conform to the world’s way of thinking (Romans 12:2), but to the mind of Christ (1Cor.2:16).
5. Jesus lived this out perfectly. He was gentle and lowly. He was pure and sincere. He was full of mercy and good fruits. He was the prince of peace. And the more we’re filled with Him, the more earnestly we seek Him, the more these qualities will be displayed in us.
6. But never perfectly, not in THIS life. We will always fall short. We will always need forgiveness. We will always need to look to Christ, not only as our example to follow, but as our Savior, as our substitute who purchased our forgiveness with His precious blood.
B. A number of scholars think that though James is talking about all Christians in his epistle, he seems to be thinking of church leaders in particular.
1. This is why, they suggest, James starts his section on the tongue with a warning that not many should desire to be teachers in the church (James 3:1).
2. James 3:13-18 could also be seen as directed toward leaders, though not explicitly or exclusively.
3. Who ought to rise to a position of leadership? The one who has the meekness of wisdom
4. In the church there is an attraction toward the kind of leader who is strong , bold, confident, knowledgeable, eloquent, entertaining, sharp-witted, ambitious, opinionated.
a. And there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those things. But I think there is something wrong when those things are the important things to us.
b. It’s possible for someone to have those qualities but also have very little meekness, humility, tenderness, kindness, compassion, gentleness, mercy, etc.
c. We want our leaders to be big speakers. But shouldn’t they also be big listeners?
5. This is why it’s dangerous to evaluate a pastor purely on the basis of his preaching. Strong preaching is not enough. He needs the meekness of wisdom. He needs pure devotion to the Lord. He needs to be peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. He needs to be filled with Christ, not with himself.