Last Sunday I shared two phrases, phrases most had little trouble answering. So, since they were so simple, let’s review. Like before, I will start the phrase and if you know it, then finish it. (You can even say the words out loud). Okay? Alright, here they are:
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.
Yet, wisdom holds a unique feature. You can refuse to follow wise advice and still complete your tasks. You can wear loose clothing at the table saw; the saw will still power on. You can have greasy burgers, salty French fries, and sugary sodas for every meal; you will succeed eating. You can slice veggies with your fingers on the blade. Your bike still functions without you wearing a helmet. You can ignore wisdom and complete tasks… but(!) the table saw can grab your untucked shirt and pull you into a blade capable of splitting logs. Too much junk food clogs arteries, increases blood pressure, and can shorten life. Knives slice veggies and can slice off your fingertips. You can bike without a helmet, collide with a car, and damage your brain. Ignore wisdom and you put life in danger. Follow words of wisdom and you preserve life.
Each day you are confronted with following wise words or brushing wisdom aside. That truth not only applies to everyday matters, but also to your Christian life. Ignoring wisdom leaves you wandering into spiritual danger. So, God provides his Word of wisdom for you to follow and live. Be Careful to Live Wise. Remember the will of the Lord! Make the most of every opportunity!
In verse 17, God defines wisdom: [U]nderstand what the Lord’s will is. If you want to know what the Lord’s ‘will’ is for your life, then you must read God’s Word and hear what God says. There, in the Bible, God reveals his ‘will’ for you: God wants all [people] to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4). God wants you(!) saved. So, he took the necessary steps to accomplish his desire. He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Those who are wise recognize that life has a beginning and an end. The time you have now (in this life) is the time you have to know that only Jesus makes you right before God. You need to know this truth now because when you die, it will be too late to learn it then.[A.G.E.1]
So, real wisdom (1) knows there is an eternity. Real wisdom (2) knows, trusts, and believes that Jesus paid the price for you to enter heaven. Real wisdom (3) remembers the will of the Lord is for you to spend eternity with him. To those who know this, to you (and me), God expands his will. It is God’s will (his ‘want’ for your life) that you should be sanctified (or, ‘live a holy life’) (1 Thessalonians 4:3).
Wisdom can be lost. That is why God cautions: Be very careful, then, how you live— not as unwise but as wise. Wise people remember— constantly, always, continually. God has saved you and has called you to live a holy life. Only a fool thinks he is so secure, so safe, so certain that nothing will destroy his faith. And that fool grows careless about what his heart believes. Are you a fool?
Well, what’s your response to God’s command (in verse 18): ‘Do not get drunk on wine’? Are you smirking inside? …replaying your drunken escapades? … chuckling about that one time your buddy mouthed off to the cops? Are you rolling your eyes because this sounds so, well… so “prudish?” I mean, this is one of those commands your friend points at: “Oh, Christianity is so strict! It’s no fun; it’s full of rules!” You do not want to be prudish, right? So, ignore God’s wisdom! Brush it aside! Follow whatever decision feels right to you! Let loose! Be excessive! Lose control! Because, after all, getting drunk does not hurt anyone, right?
Do you realize God gives the reason for his command? ‘Do not get drunk on wine.’ Why? [It] leads to debauchery. ‘Debauchery’ is wild, immoral living. Just think about where drunkenness leads. Sexual boundaries are crossed— sometimes against better judgment, at other times, it’s illegal. Drunk drivers crash cars and damage property; they injure others and ruin lives. Children are abused by a drunk parent. Reputations suffer. (It takes longer to erase the title “drunk” than serving a jail sentence.) Those are just the shameful, physical consequences! Drunkenness affects you spiritually! You indulge again… and again… and again. Little by little your conscience dulls. Breaking God’s command no longer bothers you; you do not even give a second thought to the holy life you are meant to live! Little by little you foolishly wander away from your God.
This command highlights the spiritual dangers surrounding you (and me). The devil uses the most innocent of looking objects and whispers the most subtle of lies: “Is it really that bad?” He wants you to leave God’s wise Word— a Word meant to preserve your life!— and to follow the opinions of your faulty human heart!
He can take just one single sin and make it explode exponentially. Yes, maybe you’re not the one getting drunk, but ask yourself this: Does the sight of drunk spouse or a drunk child still bother you? Or, do you tolerate it? Do you laugh? Do you condone it? (Which, by the way, means you stand on the opposite side of God)
And if you condone one behavior God calls ‘wrong,’ why stop there? Live in whatever way feels right to you! Dabble with drugs; say nothing when you catch your kids smoking pot! Never mind that God calls you to be sober-minded (1 Peter 5:8). Who cares if your relationship does not honor marriage as God intends it? Follow your own moral code— even if it means you willingly choose to do the wrong instead. You know you should immerse yourself with Word and sacrament— and you even admit this! But create all sorts of flimsy excuses as to why it is just not possible to worship every Sunday. Ignore wisdom and complete tasks!
Ignore wisdom and you put life in eternal danger. You see, the more you (and I) ignore God’s commands, the more you dull your conscience. The more you dull your conscience, the less you care about the wrongs you commit. The less you care about the wrongs you commit, the less you care about a Savior. Because, if you do not think your lifestyles are wrong, then what is there to confess? Nothing! And if there’s nothing to confess, then you don’t need a Savior. That, my friends, is the very definition of ‘foolishness.’
You need a Savior. You (and I) cannot save yourself. So, God provides his Word of wisdom to preserve your life. The Holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation [eternal life] (2 Timothy 3:15). The Bible points you to Jesus, the only One who desires to obey God’s will, the only One who desires to obey every single command (Psalm 40:7-8; Hebrews 10:5-7).
Just like you (and me), the devil trots up to Jesus (Matthew 4:1-10). “Jesus, make bread out of stones; it doesn’t look like your Father cares.” “Jesus, jump down from the building. Let’s see if God will keep his promise of protection.” “Jesus, worship me— just this once— and gain wealth.” Each seductive whisper wants Jesus to wander away from God’s commands. Following the devil’s lies, would lead Jesus into sin. Following the devil’s lies, would fail you (and me). Yet, Jesus wisely stands on the Word. Yes, ‘wise’ because Jesus’ obedience brings eternal life in heaven!
God chose to love the world, to send his only Son, to stand in your (and my) place, to suffer separation from God, which is where your foolish wandering leads—separation. Jesus has brought you back to God. Jesus has removed your foolishness. In its place, he fills you with wisdom. The wisdom to know that you are indeed forgiven. The wisdom to know eternal life is yours. The wisdom to know life leads to heaven.
God has made you wise to know, to trust, to believe this. So, he urges you, Be Careful to Live Wise! Remember the will of the Lord. Remember you are walking to heaven. Since this walk continues your entire life, make the most of every opportunity.
That is how you live wise. Mak[e] the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Non-Christians in the world— friends and family, co-workers and neighbors— will invite you to participate in the things God calls ‘wrong.’ Your sinful heart will continue pushing you to make your own choices. The devil will whisper foolish lies. Every day you will confront countless opportunities to wander into foolish behavior that only harms you.
So, make the most of your personal time. Instead of filling your heart up with earthly pleasures, be filled with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit already lives in you. At your baptism, when water was poured on your head and God’s Word was spoken, he entered your heart. He continues working in you as you remain in God’s Word. When you are unsure of a decision, turn to the Bible first for guidance. Reflect if your words are pleasing to God or not. Consider if you can still control yourself as you head out with friends. Deflate your pride by relying on the fact God saved you. If you are defending and justifying lifestyles you know are wrong, the time to return is now! Separate yourself from that which tempts you. Do not put yourself into a position of pressure. Make the most of every opportunity, that is, make the most of your time on earth by keeping your heart and thoughts close to God.
Make the most of every opportunity with others. You have family and friends, co-workers and acquaintances, those you are friendly with and those you know struggle. Some are walking the wide road to hell and may not even know it. The worst thing you can do is to condone the evil you know is wrong. It does not mean that you wag a finger, present a lecture that only rips people to pieces. Rather, speak the truth in love. The friend (young or old) who shrugs off God’s beautiful gift of marriage, simply say, “But marriage is God’s gift of blessings.” The kids smoking bowls when you’re gone; you, as a parent tell them: “I want you in heaven. Follow what is right.” The child greedily craving status, remind: “Status has an end. Your life does not.” God has handed you words of wisdom meant to preserve life! Make the most of every opportunity, fighting to dig deeper into the Word, fighting to sing it with others, fighting to share it now before the Savior returns. Be Careful to Live Wise, making the most of every opportunity to be close to God.
You can refuse to follow wise advice and still complete your tasks… but(!) ignore wisdom and you put life in danger. Follow words of wisdom and you preserve life.
Each day you are confronted with following wise words or brushing wisdom aside. That truth not only applies to everyday matters, but also to your Christian life. Ignoring wisdom leaves you wandering into spiritual danger. So, God provides his Word of wisdom for you to follow and live. Remember the will of the Lord! Make the most of every opportunity! Be Careful to Live Wise.