- If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, talks like a duck, then it must be a… what? A duck, right?
- If you can’t walk the walk, then don’t… what? Talk the talk. (Remember them?)
Both phrases present two realities: (1) Actions reveal appropriate character and (2) Words reveal appropriate actions. Ducks have feathers, waddle around, and quack. Put those sights and sounds together and you can determine this creature must be a duck. Actions reveal appropriate character; the actions of this duck reveal it to be a duck. Or, a football player brags that he can outrun and out-jump any defender. He must prove the truthfulness of his words with actions because words reveal appropriate actions. What is inside must agree with outside actions.
That is why James said [last week]: Faith without works is dead (2:17). Christianity is more than just having knowledge of Bible teachings; Christianity is a lifestyle. Christians learn the Bible’s teachings and then put those teachings into practice. Faith inside is revealed with outside actions.
Today, you gain proper perspective for Christian living. You Sow peace and reap righteousness from the Real Wisdom that Comes from Above.
That’s where James directs our attentions this morning. Up. “Who is wise and understanding among you?” he asks. We often hear those words in the Bible: ‘wisdom’ and ‘understanding.’ Yet, “wisdom” and “understanding” is more than having good advice or being smart. “Wisdom” is knowing by personal experience (or from the experience of others) what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ “Understanding” means putting knowledge to work. So, for example, experience teaches that touching a hot stovetop is dangerous. You prove yourself wise if you know this truth. You demonstrate understanding when you take this knowledge [stovetops are hot] and properly apply it [do not touch hot stovetops].
So, James asks, “Are you wise in knowing what behavior pleases God? Do you put that proper knowledge into action?” By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness [or, humility] of wisdom. There it is again! Your faith reveals itself with actions. Usually we boast about what we know with diplomas and certificates, with success and experience. Yet, Christians do not boast about behavior, they prove wisdom with actions. Those who know God’s Word, know God’s command to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (James 2:8). That command is applied by laying aside self-importance and humbly serving the needs of others.
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. Just let those words sink in for a moment. This is how the world tends to operate. A wife exaggerates her emotions in order to manipulate her husband into satisfying her demands. If someone gets cut off on the road, blast the horn and flip the finger. Shred reputations so that you can promote yourself. Bitter jealousy treats others with anger and resentment. Selfish ambition does not consider the needs of friends, family, or strangers. Instead, jealous selfishness fights for personal advancement.
Compare that worldly behavior to the Godly wisdom described in verse 13 and you realize selfish jealousy is the opposite of humility! This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. God does not equip you with gifts of jealousy and selfishness. Jealousy and selfishness comes from the devil!
And you realize which wisdom you adopt when you compare your actions to God’s Word. You (and I) live in the world. That means, you (and I) will constantly encounter this attitude of self-promotion. That means, you (and I) will face constant temptations to adopt that attitude of self-promotion.
Little-by-little the devil curls you onto yourself, and he begins inflating this effort to protect your pride. The first step to protecting pride starts by creating a list of expectations. You crave (1) kindness and respect. You demand (2) unquestioned obedience to your wants. You expect (3) your plans to always happen! Your chief goal becomes getting your way. So, step two controls others in order to fulfill your demands. If you want your daughter’s attention, then call her. Gripe. Complain. Selfishly promote your desire for attention by questioning her commitment to you. If you’re jealous of your neighbor’s wealth, then attack him. Criticize his character. Label him ‘greedy,’ a ‘cheat,’ ‘uncaring.’ Take away his reputation so that you appear mightier in the eyes of the world. If your sibling attacks you, then hold a grudge. Stop talking— no— do not even try to make an effort to talk. Ignore her; pretend he does not exist. Selfishly refuse the need to admit your fault. Instead, force them to come to you!
You see, the devil tempts you (and me) to look inward. The sinful nature elevates itself. The world preaches to guard for your needs above anything else! That earthly sermon has been preached so long that eventually you (and I) get used to it. But God sounds the alarm: “This earthly wisdom is not from me!” If you care only about your needs, then you are embracing a wisdom that comes from the devil. You embrace a wisdom that rejects the words of others and only cares about the words of you. Left unchecked, you will eventually ignore God’s Word. Try to cover up your intentions if you want. Yet, your actions will prove if you lie and go against the truth— that in reality selfish jealousy rules the heart.
James draws a clear distinction between two kinds of wisdom. (1) One lines up with God and his Word by serving others. (2) The other partners with the devil by serving the all-important demands of self. Look up, and you will find the Real Wisdom that Comes from Above.
That ‘wisdom’ is knowing what pleases God. As you look up, you naturally stop looking at your own needs. You look up at the Son of Man who did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). He sees selfishness reign among his disciples, selfishness that only seeks self-promotion. Instead of reminding each one of his title as the Almighty, Eternal Son of God, he wears a crown of thorns. He allows nails to be pounded through his hands. He hangs from a cross while crowds turn their noses up and shake their heads, thinking themselves so much more moral than Jesus. Yet, Jesus’ perfectly moral life spills over our immorally self-seeking lives. Jesus looks so lowly on the cross, but rises in authority. He has the authority to give you a pretty powerful title as well: ‘Heir of the kingdom.’
Real Wisdom Comes from Above. Jesus has the knowledge to (1) know God’s commands. He has the understanding to (2) put those commands into perfect practice. Then he serves you. With his life, he satisfies God’s anger. With his life, he removes any need for self-promotion.
[T]he wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. From where does this wisdom come? From above. Look up and realize you own the most priceless object of all. Heaven is something you could never earn. You are not entitled to eternal life. This is a gift— won and handed to you from the most significant Person of all time. That wisdom comes down into your life from the Word, that is, the Bible. When our attentions drift from the Word, our hearts will begin drifting into worldly wisdom that only divides and destroys. Remain in the Word and gain the proper perspective for Christian living. Sow peace, reap righteousness.
And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. Take that verse piece-by-piece. First, you see the results: a harvest of righteousness. Imagine riding on your tractor, cutting hay, but instead of hay, you harvest righteousness (that which is ‘right’). You will gather up all this good stuff and it will benefit you. How did this “righteousness” get there? People of peace planted seeds of peace. Those who carry the peace and patience of God in their individual lives, reflect it to the world. They Sow peace with their words and actions; they reap righteousness.
Sow peace among your relationships and reap righteousness. Yes, some of you have been wronged. Relationships within your family are strained. Conversations are awkward. You feel forgotten. Thinking about your sibling makes your blood pressure rise. What do you do? Remember: Sow peace, reap righteousness.
Begin with you: identify if the anger is really valid. Are you holding grudges because your friend took something away from you, and so now you will take something away from her? “She crashed my car, so I will never forgive her!” “He called me names, I will never forget that!” “They gave me no inheritance, I will sue for something!” The world says, “Get revenge!” Your sinful nature screeches, “Make them suffer!” The devil hisses, “Get even!” That is not wisdom, that is foolishness. Holding onto grudges only sows anger; you will deal in anger and people will respond in anger. That will only make life more miserable, more lonely, more empty— and more importantly, it tarnishes the patience with which God deals with you.
So, if a grudge festers in your heart, reflect on it. If you are simply defending your pride or wrestling for control, then look up and find wisdom from above. See how God does not defend his pride, but humbles himself to die for you. See how God does not wave guilt over your head, but forgives freely. You know that wisdom. Loved by God, you love others. Sow peace in your relationships, and reap peace in relationships.
Yes, sometimes you must address a painful issue. You may have to address verbal attacks and hurtful actions. If so, remember: sow peace. You are not trying to win an argument, you are trying to win a person. Be gentle with words. Sometimes well-meaning things come out wrong. Be gentle and patient. Be wise to know some issues are better addressed another day with better opportunities.
Damage done will never be undone. Yet, your sowing of peace seeks to repair the brokenness of that damage. Sometimes hurt is put in the past— and if it is, then good! Keep it in the past! Nothing good comes from dredging up past wrongs. The only reason it will be brought up is to stoke selfish ambition. Sow peace to reap peace. Sometimes hurt festers. The other person does not listen and you recognize that. Deal with each other in peace. If anger starts simmering, then move yourself out of that situation. Keep peace by not letting anger get a foothold in you. Real Wisdom Comes from Above. Look up, and you gain motivation to sow peace and reap righteousness.
Christianity is more than just having knowledge of Bible teachings; Christianity is a lifestyle. You put Bible’s teachings into practice. Your faith inside is revealed with outside actions.
It’s not always easy to do, is it? Honestly, it’s difficult. Humility is difficult if our eyes remained locked on self-seeking interests. That’s why God gives you his Word. So that you can look up. Look up and you see what you have gained. Forgiveness and freedom from hellish consequences. Forgiveness and the freedom to live for God today. Forgiveness and freedom for eternal life. Look up and Gain proper perspective for Christian living. Motivated by God’s love for you, Sow peace, reap righteousness. You know this. You are understanding. Look up and find that Real Wisdom Comes from Above.