Sermon for Sunday September 20th, 2015, the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Proverbs 31:10-31, Psalm 1, James 3:13 – 4:8, St. Mark 9:30-37
Text: James 3:13 – 3:18
Theme: Living by heavenly wisdom
The young couple invited their aged pastor for Sunday dinner. While they were in the kitchen preparing the meal, the minister asked their son what they were having. “Goat,” the little boy replied. Finding this a bit unusual, the pastor replied, “Goat? Are you sure about that?”
“Sure,” said the child confidently. “I heard Pas say to Ma, ‘Might as well have the old goat for dinner today as any other day.’”
(p. 44, The Big Book of Church Jokes)
This is an example of how things we ought not to say but do say in private easily become public.
In last week’s sermon one of the themes was the control of our speech, a theme of the third chapter of the Epistle of St. James. Our Epistle Lesson today points to the kind of wisdom that is from God and is revealed in the speech and works of a wise man. Interestingly, our Old Testament Lesson shows a portrait of the wise and virtuous wife, while the Gospel Lesson depicts the wisdom of greatness and spiritual leadership through service.
All of our lives intersect with the lives of others in various ways and at various times. We are all given opportunities to share the Christian faith with those whom we encounter in daily life, such as friends, family members and colleagues. What these people don’t want to find in us is a behavior pattern that clashes with our profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They don’t want to find the fountain that yields salt water and fresh (James 3:12).
JAMES 3:13-18: HEAVENLY WISDOM IS OPPOSED TO EARTHLY WISDOM
St. James asks, “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you?” (James 3:13a, KJV) Such a man will show from his good behavior his deeds with the humility that is a part of wisdom (James 3:13b). Whoever teaches the Christian faith in any capacity must be wise, and his life must show that, but not with pride.
If Christians have envy and strife in their hearts, they must not boast of a righteousness they do not have. To do this is to be a hypocrite, pretending to be good and righteous when you are not. Thy hypocrisy by which Christians try to hide their sins and weaknesses is not heavenly wisdom which comes from above (James 3:15). It is instead earthly, sensual and demonic wisdom. Envy and strife are associated with confusion and “every evil work” (James 3:16).
Since all Christians are required to share their faith in some capacity, they have a responsibility to let heavenly wisdom rather than earthly wisdom infuse their lives. Since we have this call and responsibility, we have a call also to purify ourselves from envy, strife, selfish ambition, deception, lying, anger, pride and hypocrisy.
Too often Christians think they are wise, but if they begin talking about how wise they are, then pride has already crept in. Earthly wisdom has room for strife, envy, pride, lies, confusion and everything evil, whereas heavenly wisdom has no room for any of these.
THE CHARACTER OF HEAVENLY WISDOM
In the Book of Proverbs, we often find wisdom contrasted to folly, whereas here in the Epistle of St. James, “the wisdom that is from above” is contrasted to “earthly, sensual and demonic wisdom”.
In St. James’s day, some Christian teachers of the faith claimed to be wise. Like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, they felt they should be respected by the people. Even today there are Christians and Christian leaders and pastors like this. They vie for popularity, and some distort the word of God for personal gain, while others, for the sake of their own ambition and out of envy, destroy the reputations of other leaders and pastors.
We see earthly wisdom and its effects in the political arena as well. If one were running as a candidate for the office of President, would it be possible, I wonder, to conduct one’s campaign according to James 3:17? Or would the temptation to dig up dirt on other candidates be too strong?
What is the nature, or character of this wisdom from above, wisdom given by God?
“It is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy” (James 3:17, KJV).
The picture of divine wisdom in this verse is one of innocence, peace, gentleness, openness to reason, mercy, impartiality and sincerity. All of us have to study these qualities and apply them to our thinking, speech and behavior. If we reveal these virtues by our behavior, we shall indeed sow in the lives of those who cross our paths the seeds of righteousness which will at length bear fruit. Those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ yet should be able to look into our lives and long for the love, purity, peace and gentleness they find there, and ask the Lord to take control of their lives and produce this same good fruit by His indwelling presence.
Will you see to it daily that your thoughts, words and deeds reflect the wisdom that comes from above, whose virtues are described in James 3:17?