Oh, yeah... THIS is a surprise!

You are Cyclops!

You are attractive and strong, in a boy scout
republican sort of way. You are set firm in
your beliefs, which is not necessarily a bad
thing. But often when faced with a conflicting
opinion you become defensive and angry and
prone to conflict. You like to be a leader,
but you must acknowledge that there are some
situations which others are better fit to deal
with than yourself.

Which X-Men character are you most like?
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So, back to discourses from the monk!

To simplify things for me, I'm posting a sermon I preached (my first ever!) at my church this summer. Hope you enjoy! I won't be insulted if you get bored and don't finish.

What is it that always causes us to look at results? Why do we tend to care more about the tangible things that happen than about the thoughts and motivations that produced those things?

So often we think that the actions a person does are more important than where their heart was when they did it. Today, though, I’d like to look at a passage in James that suggests we should be looking at things the other way around.

James 3:13-4:3

The book of James was written by James the brother of Jesus, not the apostle. It was written for Jewish Christians who had been scattering because of persecution by Herod Agrippa. They believed in Christ, but were unsure as to how they ought to be living. To help this problem, James wrote the letter that bears his name. John MacArthur calls it, “a hands-on, practical manual of the Christian faith.”

Most commentaries agree that this section is part of a larger passage that James has written mostly for those who would teach, as the issues he outlines are especially relevant to them. However, I think you’ll find as we go through that this is something most of us can relate to, and most of us have a need for.

James begins by asking, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” Immediately you can see all the intellectuals and leaders in the church perk up. “I’m wise and understanding!” they say to themselves.

James then issues a challenge; “Let him show it by his good life.” This may seem a bit strange to some. “What do deeds have to do with wisdom?” they might say. However, they can handle it. “I lead a pretty good life. Who could argue with that? Doesn’t everyone see that I attend church regularly, that I lead a Sunday school class, and that I give 10% of my income every week?”

But then James adds one more component to his challenge. He suggests that a person’s good deeds must be done, “in the humility that comes from wisdom.” What does that mean? I’m humble, right? What’s the link between humility and wisdom?

To be certain that he has made the conditions for being the possessor of true wisdom clear, James tells us what the opposite of true wisdom is. Look at vs. 14. “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.” So now, we find that it ISN’T our deeds or our knowledge that show whether we have wisdom… it’s the attitude of our hearts while we do things for God that shows our wisdom. Let’s look now at the two kinds of wisdom, and figure out how to get the kind of wisdom that James seems to find so important.

The first kind of wisdom that we’ll talk about comes from harboring, “bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart.” Now, all of us should stop right there and consider that question. Am I doing that? James says that the two biggest things that result in right actions with the wrong motives are; wanting what someone else has and wanting to look good in the eyes of others.

How does that look in your life? Do you find yourself wanting to look good in front of other people, so you make sure you help serve the church or visibly do good things? Or do you wish that you could be like someone, or have the prestige and appreciation that they get? These are things to be very careful about, because James says they lead to having the wrong kind of wisdom, which I’ll call earthly wisdom.

In my own life, I need to be especially careful about this. It can be so easy for me to want to be like my dad, or like the leaders of campus organizations. “I could do that,” I say in my head. I also, as many of you know, like to have my own way. I’ve got very definite opinions about how things should be run, and have no problem being in charge so that I can be certain they’ll be done my way. If I want to glorify God in my life, I need to make sure those impulses don’t control me and direct my actions.

Continuing on, we read that earthly wisdom is, first of all, “not from heaven, but earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” What does that mean? Does it mean that when we act out of ambition or jealousy, we can say, “The Devil made me do it!”? Certainly not! Rather, James would have us recognize here that earthly wisdom is something that comes not from God, but from ourselves. It is taking him off the throne of our lives, and putting ourselves in his place. Heaven does not look kindly upon those things that are done to make an individual look good in the eyes of others.

Further, because it is “earthly and unspiritual,” it is not something that will help us in our spiritual growth. Doing good things out of a desire to gain power or prestige here on earth will not help us grow, or help us know God better, or bring us any closer to righteousness. If we desire to glorify God, doing good acts to improve our station in life is not the way.

So what about the “results” of this kind of wisdom? At the very least, people with this kind of thinking ARE doing good things, right? Isn’t that important? Many feel as though they’re willing to deal with some inflated egos if it means the church will get a new air-conditioning system, or a better website, or more professional teaching. But setting aside what WE can see, let’s ask what results GOD sees when He looks at good acts done with the wrong motives.

Vs. 16 says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” Could it be any more clear? When God looks at acts done with the wrong motives, he doesn’t see a good act and a bad motive. He sees a breeding ground for sin, a situation that destroys instead of builds. He sees relationships being ripped apart because of evil desires. He sees disorder, and he hates it! Good things done with a selfish or jealous heart are ugly in his eyes!

Thankfully, this isn’t the only kind of wisdom. James speaks of a second kind of wisdom, a kind of wisdom that isn’t born of our sinful desires. Right away, he identifies it as “the wisdom that comes from Heaven” in vs. 17. It is a wisdom that is not of ourselves, but of God. WE CAN’T COME UP WITH THIS ON OUR OWN. Instead, we need to recognize that only God is the source of true wisdom.

What does this wisdom look like? James says in vs. 17 that it is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. How’s that for a high calling? If we can get this wisdom from heaven, we will be the kind of people that BUILD relationships instead of tear them down. We’ll bring people together instead of separating them. We’ll lead lives that make Christianity and the church attractive… and bring glory to God!

Most importantly, leading our lives by heavenly wisdom instead of earthly wisdom will cultivate righteousness in those around us. Look at vs. 18. “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” I especially like the way the New American Standard Version puts it; “And the seed whose fruit is righteousness will be sown in peace by those who make peace.”

What is this telling us? It’s saying that heavenly wisdom fosters order in the church. This peace and order facilitates the growth of righteousness among the body of believers! James is saying here that YOU can help this church become more righteous and godly by leading your life and by relating to others with wisdom and humility, a wisdom and humility that comes not from your own earthly desires, but from God!

So, James has shown us a stark contrast. Earthly wisdom vs. Heavenly wisdom. Our way vs. God’s way. Sinful desires and disorder vs. peace and order. We have been presented with a very clear choice. The only question left is this: How do we GET the heavenly wisdom that James promotes?

James recognizes that this is the next step. He starts by reviewing the problem in chapter 4 vs. 1, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.” He then makes it very clear what the root of the problem is; “You do not have, BECAUSE YOU DO NOT ASK GOD.”

When you think about it, it’s kinda ridiculous. Why am I unable to find God’s wisdom? BECAUSE I DON’T ASK FOR IT! Let me ask this… how many times in your life have you made decisions that would have been better if you’d let God make the decision? Lots, right? The thing is, God CAN and WILL give us the wisdom to make right choices… if we’re just willing to ask for it!

James then elaborates on what they ought to be doing. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” Can you see why this whole concept is so radical? Similar to our salvation, gaining heavenly wisdom is NOT something we attain with hard work, or knowledge. If we desire to do good works for God that are motivated by HEAVENLY wisdom, then our only hope is to prayerfully and with the right heart ASK God for that wisdom.

You can see why this kind of wisdom breeds humility. It forces us to focus on God instead of ourselves. It forces us to rely on his providence and on his generosity. It forces us to be weak. It forces us to trust. It forces us; to have faith.

See, a lot of critics will say that James is focused on works. They look at James 2:17, which says that faith without works is dead, and they say, “Aha! One of the church leaders DOES believe that works are needed to get to heaven.” Looking at this passage, though, we see that it just isn’t so. James makes it very clear to us that to fulfill our need for humble, godly wisdom, we need to depend completely on God.

What does your life look like? I stated at the beginning that this passage is especially for those who would teach. What does your life teach to your kids? What does your life teach to your co-workers, or your friends, or your fellow church members? Does it display a humble wisdom whose only possible source is God? Or is it a flashy, show off kind of life, the kind that is always seeking to have what others have and to gain prestige for itself?

Let’s talk about application. How do I apply the lessons of this passage?

First, teach and do good deeds with the right motivation. Whether it be helping the church, your neighbors, your family and friends… serve God any way you can with your heart in the right place.

Second, be humble about your station in life, your skills and abilities, and the good things you do. Don’t allow yourself to become puffed up about things that were given to you by God in the first place.

Third, pray continually for God’s wisdom in your life. Seek his will in all things, study scripture, and learn from wiser Christians. Don’t allow yourself to rely on yourself.

Again, those three things we can learn are:
-Do good deeds with right motives
-Be humble
-Ask God for wisdom

It sounds simple, and perhaps it is, but it’s something I’d say we rarely do. Folks, we ought to continually be asking God for his wisdom in our lives, so that he can give us the ability to, as James says, “sow the seed whose FRUIT… is RIGHTEOUSNESS.” Let’s seek God together, so that we can relate to one another with wisdom, in a way that glorifies God in our church.