Pursue God’s Wisdom
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their 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, demonic. 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 reap a harvest of righteousness.
We talked last week about two attitudes considered as wisdom by some in the world. Selfish ambition and jealousy. They are attitudes that drive human behavior, but are not healthy and James calls them unspiritual and demonic. God does not want us to act out of selfish ambition or jealousy at all!
In today’s passage, we see several different attitudes that God does consider to be worthy of motivating our behavior. And they are especially applicable in conflict, because that is the broader context as we will see in the next chapter.
Let’s begin our study of this passage by thinking about attitudes and actions. Remember, wisdom is knowing what to do and when to do it. Wisdom is demonstrated in action.
- Wisdom and the Beatitudes
- Attitudes that create actions
There are several places in Scripture where there are lists of attitudes that are meant to drive our behavior. For example…
Blessed are the…
The fruit of the Holy Spirit is…
Attitudes that reflect Godly wisdom v.17
So, because of the connection between our actions and attitudes, what should we do to cultivate attitudes that lead us to following Jesus?
Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all of your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.
There are reasons that we do things, we call them motives. Like motors, they move things. We need to have healthy motives or else we will be moved away from God!
- Pursue Godly attitudes first
If we don’t work on our own desires, motives, pursuits etc. then we are only putting a bandage on a cancer.
To have a feeling is not sin, to encourage a feeling and response that is not healthy is sin. We can and are called upon by God to manage our hearts.
Dallas Willard: Renovation of the Heart. 13 videos directly address this issue. Willard is a former pastor who taught philosophy at USC and who has written books on spiritual disciplines.
The mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart.
- We are changed from the inside out
The will is primary. You can act regardless of the way that you feel. And we should be acting in faith believing that God is at work.
- Be transformed by the renewing of your minds
- Set your hearts and minds on things above.
- Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly
- Be filled by the Holy Spirit
- Put off the old man, be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and then put on the new man
- Work out your salvation because God is at work within you both to will and to do His good pleasure!
- So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Ok, so there is this direct connection between our heart attitudes and our behavior. Let’s think about the things we are told are Godly wisdom in this passage.
- Character in Contrast to Jealousy and Selfishness
Think of all of these as one thing: Godly wisdom. Just as the fruit of being with the Holy Spirit is one thing.
And as we think about these different character traits:
- Notice parallels to the beatitudes taught by Jesus and
- Notice the natural contrast with how people act who are taken by jealousy and selfish ambition.
- Godly wisdom is pure (blessed are the pure in heart)
In this case, I think we should think of pure as unmixed motivationally. Example: Am I am really for you? Or am I for what you can do for me.
I have known people who were agitated by leaders who were not interested in them personally, but who were interested in what those people could do for the leader.
Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. I am to serve you and work to help you to have life, and you are to do the same for me. This makes for a balanced relationship we are free to give instead of having things taken from us.
- Godly wisdom pursues peace (blessed are the peacemakers)
Peace is mentioned twice in this passage, and it is used as the summary statement. In the next passage, James is going to address conflict. “Why are their conflicts among you?”
If we are peacemakers who sow peace, then we are harvesters of righteousness. Righteousness is right living. The contrast is folks operating out of jealousy and selfish ambition which produces disorder and evil practices.
- Godly wisdom is considerate
To be considerate is perhaps the opposite of selfishness! My favorite verse about this is Phil 2:3-4
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Verse 4 here is a classic definition of being considerate. We are told to be considerate of the needs of others, not the feelings of others. There are times when it is good for people to have their feelings hurt. It is a sign of maturity to have thick skin, to not be easily offended.
- Godly wisdom is willing to yield
The word in the NIV is submissive. The NASB says “Willing to yield.” The next time you are in a conflict, consider whether or not you are willing to yield. Are you able to allow the other person to have their own way?
It is no mistake that this is the basic instruction for married partners. Eph 5:21
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Notice is gives a reason to submit to one another. Because of our respect and honor for Jesus Christ, we are willing to yield to our spouse.
Biblical story of Abigail. Submission found in disobedience.
My first confrontation with this was during a church fight. No one was willing to yield. There can be not peaceful way forward!
We would have been wiser to allow the other side to win!
- Godly wisdom is merciful
The call to give mercy is rooted in our having received mercy. This is consistent from Jesus:
Luke 6: 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
How could we ever be involved in conflict if we are considerate and merciful at the same time? Well, sometimes we are in conflict and it isn’t our fault.
Evaluate the conflict with the people at the disc golf course. What were the attitudes that caused me to react the way that I did?
- Godly wisdom is impartial
James has already dealt with this issue on the section of treating people differently because of how much money or status that they have. That is sin. The reason that it is sin is that we are all created in the image of God and worthy of great respect in God’s eyes. Do we believe that God is partial or impartial in His dealings with people? Does God have a different standard for some and not others?
- Godly wisdom is honest
The word in our list is sincere. The contrast is with those who would seek to manipulate or use you for some reason of another. This is directly connected to pure, the first characteristic.
It is possible that this is meant to be a chiasm.
Pure and sincere.
Peace loving and impartial
Considerate and merciful
Which leads submissive as the central characteristic of Godly wisdom.
There is a warning here to the Jewish people and their desire for rebellion against the Roman Empire. The destruction of Jerusalem and terrible suffering of the Jewish people is a direct result of their lack of submission to the Romans.
And all of these character qualities are pursued because one has faith in God, that God is at work. That we do not have to make all of these things work ourselves! I submit to the Romans because I believe that God is at work.
All of these characteristics can be seen as an antidote for jealousy and selfish ambition! If you want to be confident that you are not operating in jealousy and selfish ambition, then concentrate on being pure of heart, pursuing peace, be considerate, be willing to yield to others,