How to Be Right, All the Time
PRACTICE: Assessing Your Motivations
THOUGHT: The Gentleness of Wisdom
Word: James 3:13-18
Who is wise and understanding among you?
Drawing on the perspective of the Old Testament, James defines the wise person as one who knows how to live a righteous life, not one who grasps abstract ideas. In particular, a wise person has chosen humility in contrast to ‘envy and selfish ambition.’ Peace making (helping others get along) is a clear alternative to self aggrandizement. Worldly wisdom is contrasted with that which comes down from heaven. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
Too often we look for worldly credentials—a forceful personality or oratorical skills. Yet we will see that when James answers his own question he is most interested in character. It is critical that we have been altered by what we know; that wisdom has shaped us before we apply it to others.
Do you remember Johnny Appleseed? Johnny Appleseed was an itinerant Bible teacher who was committed to simple living and generous to a fault. He became widely known for planting apple orchards throughout Indiana and Ohio, knowing that they would be of most benefit to a generation of people he would never know, content with the good harvest that would come later. Similarly James’ instruction makes clear that those who sow in peace trust God to bring a righteous harvest at a time of his choosing.
DEED: Carefully re-read James 3:13-18, and summarize it in 25 words or less:
Who is wise with the wisdom that comes from heaven? It is the man or woman who has learned that God can be trusted. His presence allows us to live with both patience and confidence, giving away the life we have received in abundance.
In summary, we find the perfect embodiment of ‘wisdom from above’ in the life of Jesus. Jesus is the answer to the question of James 3:13, that starts off this study. All who would serve God’s people as under-shepherds must learn from him, be formed by obedience to him, be dependent on the power of his Spirit.
Jesus is the peacemaker who sows in peace. He is considerate, pure and peace loving, welcoming, submissive, and full of mercy and good fruit. Let us say yes to his invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
We are surrounded by self help books, and descriptions of how to get ahead in the world. The ‘humility that comes from wisdom’ does not require putting ourselves down (being a doormat). Rather it acts in strength, lifting up someone else. Describe a person you know who displays such humble wisdom.
For you, what are the most seductive voices of worldly wisdom?
Where do you turn to discover the ‘wisdom that comes down from heaven’?
A peacemaker acknowledges real conflict and doesn’t settle for a false pretense of getting along. He or she enters into the hostility—solving problems and helping combatants see the best in each other. What qualities make someone an effective peacemaker?
MEMORIZE: James 3:17, in either version:
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. (NRSV)
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. (The Message)
A Prayer for this week:
Father, we thank you again for the grace that is ours in Christ Jesus. Thank you for your power to deal with the things in the inner man that corrupt and defile our life. Thank you for the wisdom that is from above and for the fact that we may lay hold of your power to be obedient to the truth you have taught us. We pray in Christ's name, Amen.