Locations of visitors to this page
When Wisdom isn't Wise
Scripture: James 3:13-18
Track 6 of 12 in the Words to Grow By series
Running time: 26 minutes, 55 seconds.

Click above to listen in this window.
Right-click to download MP3. With one-button mouse, control-click.

Be sure to scroll down to read the transcript.

Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, February 6, 2005
6th sermon in an 11 part series
"When wisdom isn't wise"
"Words to Grow By"
(James 3:13-18)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

The first baseball team ever on TV and that was the New York Yankees and whoever they happened to be playing that day. Which meant that I grew up on Mickey Mantle and Roger Marris and Yogi Berra and became enamored with Yogi Berra's wisdom. You are familiar with some of Yogi's wisdom I'm sure. Things like "a nickel ain't worth a dime anymore"; "if I didn't wake up I'd still be sleeping"; "you can observe a lot by watching"; "it ain't over 'till it's over"; "90% of the game is half mental"; "nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded". And maybe the one that has been kinda most famous for him is "when you come to a fork in the road, take it". Interesting thing about that little piece of wisdom was, that it was true. It was actually directions to his home in Montclair, New Jersey and didn't matter which of those two roads you took, they both circled around to his house. And so when he gave directions to company he would say, "when you come to a fork in the road, take it" and people would get to his house either way.

It is the nature of conventional wisdom, earthly wisdom. Some of it is true. When I came to Lincoln twenty some years ago to teach there was a fella there who was working in the maintenance department. He had sold his farm and he and his wife had moved to Lincoln in their retirement years where he could work on the maintenance crew of the school, which he did for, I think, close to thirty years I suppose before he passed away here a year or so ago. Written in the shop was his wisdom. . . .Use that word "think". .. . .Everybody on the maintenance crew knew that was gonna be his advice. "Think" first. There is something about just real common sense wisdom that, well, we've learned to live with and accept as being genuinely true.

But the question for James is whether or not that's adequate wisdom or is there a wisdom that actually goes beyond the kind of conventional day-to-day wisdom that we pick up in various places along the way. Is there a wisdom that James calls "a wisdom from above" that makes some kind of a significant difference for a follower of Jesus? And of course, the answer to that is YES! In fact, James would suggest to you that it takes godly wisdom in order to be a godly person. And since the vision of our congregation is essentially that we will become a community of people who look like Jesus, in other words we will become a body of people who are, in fact, godly people, we're going to need godly wisdom in order to pull that off.

Our text is James 3 beginning in James 3:13. If you have your Bibles open them. We'll take a look at that passage. James 3:13ff I'm going to read that passage. As I read through that listen for the origin of wisdom, the character of wisdom and the consequence of wisdom. He pretty well lays those things out for you. Listen as I read James 3:13. Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

You can't read through James 3:13ff without coming face-to-face with a series of contrasts between earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. There is an earthly wisdom that finds it source from earth. It's located in James 3:15. It's conventional wisdom.

It's just the wisdom that comes from living life. It's the wisdom that we pick up along the way that you can probably identify in your own life. Things that you have learned somewhere that have made good sense and have been helpful to you.

I still remember listening to the story of Androcles and the lion. You remember! The slave who found the lion with the thorn in his paw and in an act of kindness, pulls the thorn out of the lions paw and later finds himself in the arena ready to be fed to the lions and as only Aesop could tell us of course, the lion that comes in to eat him is the lion that he has helped and instead of eating him, he helps him. The Emperor turns the lion loose in the wild and sets the slave free from his slavery and Aesop wants us to learn that it's a good idea to be nice and treat people well because it will come back to you.

I've thought about that often, in fact. That very story has come up in my memory bank in certain situations when I was making a decision, how I want to respond. Some conventional wisdom is, in fact, just plain ole good advice. It makes sense.

But James language is that there's an awfully lot of earthly wisdom that is, in fact, just that, it is earthly, it is sensual. It appeals to our senses. It is not spiritual wisdom, he says. At its very best, it makes sense and sometimes works but at worst, it is often from the devil and therefore is going to be destructive. The unfortunate thing about the source of our wisdom from earth is where we get it. I trust that you'll take no offense at this but most of my early growing up years, the wisdom that I learned I read in the bathroom in my father's bar. Not particularly good wisdom. But it is what I learned. Unfortunately that's where a lot of people learn their wisdom is from earth, from entertainment, from friends, from what those who have become heroes in our culture teach them in some way or another.

James contrasts that kind of earthly wisdom with heavenly wisdom. He simply says there is a wisdom that comes from heaven, from above. He uses that language consistently and he simply means there is a wisdom from God that literally God reveals to us. It's a wisdom not unlike the wisdom that the team read from Proverbs. It's a revealed wisdom. It's a wisdom that comes to us because God has chosen to tell us that here's the way to live. This will make sense. This will be profitable and helpful to you. Seek me in this kind of wisdom and your life will be good. We learned that kind of wisdom from Scripture. We learned that kind of wisdom from godly friends who have that kind of wisdom.

And so, Scripture elevates older, wiser people to be our mentors, to be people to whom we look for advice and care. People who have experienced God in their life in various situations and says appeal to them. This kind of wisdom comes from above. There is a wisdom that God reveals through his Spirit in our soul that is different than earthly wisdom. It is why, without any reservation, we would encourage you, for example, to make sure you study Scripture. If you lack wisdom, read Proverbs. You can read a chapter of Proverbs a day and get through it in every month that has 31 days. It would be wise for you to do that.

Billy Graham used to say that his daily habit was to read five Psalms and one chapter of Proverbs every day. Five Psalms so he could be right with God and one chapter of Proverbs so he could be right with man. Not bad advice.

Well, there is this contrast between the origin of wisdom. There is a wisdom that is earthly and there is a wisdom that is godly. There is also the contrast between the characteristics of wisdom. Do you notice in James 3:14 the kind of wisdom that is from earth? It has a particular appearance. James 3:14 says this kind of wisdom is characterized by bitter envy, selfish ambition, boasting, lying, denying the truth. It's a kind of earthly wisdom that simply is self-centered and fundamentally looks out for me. If you think about the kinds of things that you hear in the way of good advice. That's the kind of advice most people give you. Look out for #1. Take care of yourself.

In fact, there's an almost tragic story of that, that came out of the 2004 baseball season back in June down in Arlington, Texas. A 28-year-old former youth minister went after a foul ball that was hit in his direction. He climbed over the top of, knocked down a 4-year-old and refused to give him the ball.

The mother admits later to calling him a jerk, and several other names and all this kid could say was, "Oh, well." The ball players saw it. They witnessed it. In fact, one of the Cardinal players gave him a signed bat. Several of the Rangers players, including Nolan Ryan gave him autographed memorabilia (the 4-year-old, not the youth minister). He made it on national TV, not as a positive statement, but as a negative. And a few days later he finally did decide that he would give the little boy the ball because he had demonstrated such utterly selfish attitude.

Earthly wisdom that has that kind of self-centeredness to it is contrasted in James 3:17. with the wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure (the word is holy). It's a godly kind of wisdom. It's a wisdom that loves peace. It's a wisdom that is considerate. That, at least, is the New International versions translation. This is the word that is used to talk about meekness which in American culture is so often described at weakness and it is anything but that. Meekness is a horse under bridle. Absolute strength that is in control. It's the work that is used to describe Jesus. He is a meek person. Certainly not a weak person. But wisdom is meek. It knows how to control its strength. It is, well, again, the NIV says submissive. What it means is this is a wisdom that is open-minded. It doesn't have its mind made up before it enters the situation. It has the ability to learn and to be always learning and as openness and ability to be taught. It is a wisdom that is full of mercy and full of good fruit.

It's a wisdom that's impartial. That indicates that it doesn't waver. It isn't full of doubts. It's not this and this, this or this. It is somewhere solidly founded in godliness. It is a wisdom that is without hypocrisy. It is God- honoring and others focused. He contrasts the wisdom in its origin and its character and especially in its consequences.

He says in James 3:14. there is this bitter, selfish wisdom. In James 3:16. he says, what it ends up with is "disorder and every evil practice". Earthly wisdom ultimately always ends up in chaos and sometimes in the most ironic kinds of things that can happen.

I was reading yesterday an article that came out in February's Christianity Today Magazine. It's a play off of Martin Luther's '95 Theses. It's called 9.5 Theses. It's about worship and the story that he ends this article with was just amusing to me in a very bad sort of way.

Here is a church that has gone to war over styles of worship. They have, in fact, fought to the place that they're ready to disband the congregation and people are going to go find other churches in which to worship because they just cannot get along. So at their last formal meeting as a congregation they come together; they have their worship service. In a closing act of separation they surround the auditorium. They hold hands together in order to say their goodbyes and the song that they sing at the end of the service is, "We are One in the Bonds of Love".

There is an earthly wisdom which always ends up in chaos and disorder. It is divisive and harsh. On the other hand there is a wisdom that produces deeds that are done in humility in a harvest of righteousness, he says, in the last verse of this text, that produces righteous behavior.

At the risk of only choosing illustrations that fit my own thinking, I tried to make a brief list of conventional wisdom that I have heard recently that contrasted with some godly wisdom.

Conventional wisdom says give you children freedom; don't inhibit them, don't restrict them; they won't grow. Godly wisdom says give them boundaries.

A number of years ago James Dobson came out with a book that has this story in it of a test done on an elementary school where they put the children on the playground and the playground has no fences. And they said there observation over several weeks was that the children all played up near the school or in the center of the field, but nobody would use the space that was available to them. They came in over the weekend when school was out. They put up a chain-link fence out near the edge of the property and within days the whole field was being used by the children.. His point was very simple. You give children boundaries, they know where they can go and what they can do and how they can play. If you don't; if you restrict them, you in fact, if you don't restrict them you, in fact, restrict them.

Conventional wisdom says it's okay to live together before you get married. Godly wisdom says you commit yourself to one person for the rest of your life. Every recent study that has been done has proven that godly wisdom is accurate. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia has produced these figures recently. After 5 years there is an end to 20% of first marriages through divorce but 49% of those relationships where they are cohabiting separate. At the end of 10 years you can expect one out of three first marriages to fall apart. But out of those relationships where they are cohabiting, you can expect six out of ten to fall apart. Godly wisdom says follow what Scripture teaches about relationships with other people and you will succeed. In fact, it is why we have the statement that we have among us about our own marriage proposals here. If you want to get married in our building; if you want our staff to perform a wedding for you, there are certain things which you have to do which include not living together. We recognize that some people who come here find that to be terribly restrictive and old fashioned. They choose not to get married here and we're sorry for that because we really believe that we have something to offer to them as a congregation and in their pre-marital preparation for getting married. But it is a solid, standing rule because we believe in godly wisdom.

Conventional wisdom might say to abort an unwanted baby. I mean, after all, you do have to take care of yourself. It is one of the story lines in the new movie Coach Carter. I'll not tell you how it turns out. You might not have seen it yet but it is one of the probing questions that the movie tries to resolve. On the other hand, godly wisdom would say that your best bet is just be abstinent. You don't have to worry about it that way. But, secondly, would say to you that there may be better choices. That choice would be life. Unfortunately for about 40 million people, that hasn't been the case.

It's interesting. Patricia Heaton, not someone that I would have expected from Everyone Loves Raymond has taken a profound pro-life stand, not because particularly she's Christian, she is, but she is also a feminist and considers abortion to be one of the greatest attacks on feminism that humanity has ever hoisted. She's even documented that Hugh Heffner and Playboy Magazine financially supported the pro-abortion side in the Roe Vs. Wade decision. You can understand why he would because he wants to have women as his playthings and not have to take responsibility for the consequences.

Conventional wisdom would say he who dies with the most toys, wins. Godly wisdom says, he who dies, still dies and we all face God.

Conventional wisdom says you have to be like the world to win the world and so we do the things of the world and we dress like the world. And there's just enough truth to that to make it difficult to argue. Godly wisdom would say I think, however, there is a balance between coming out from among them and being separate which is a Biblical statement and being all things to all men in order to win some.

And, while I would be an advocate that we invade our society and we create relationships in every way that we know how, we cannot do that at the sacrifice of our witness. And it's troublesome to me that at least one new church planter is using Texas holdum and going to the casinos as an opportunity for witness and taking church people there where they gamble. What I haven't heard is that they've done any witnessing while they've been doing it. And there is the balance that we try to seek.

Well, we could multiply those examples over and over again. You know that. That there are just lots and lots of conventional wisdom statements. I just happened to have pulled a few that are kind of close to me.

What I want to recommend to you is that there are things we need to do in order to become the godly people that God desires us to be. There is a godly wisdom that we need to begin to invest ourselves in. I would suggest at least these two or three things.

1. Take a look at the consequences of the choice. The consequences of your choices when they are governed by godly wisdom will be positive, productive. According to James they will produce good fruit. If the consequence of that particular decision is destructive, divisive, hurtful, it is not God's wisdom. I don't care where you think it came from. It didn't come from God.

2. Surround yourself with godly people you can trust. When you have decisions to make; when there are questions that you're wrestling with, don't always try to make those decisions yourself. Go to those who've been there before. Let those who are older and wiser and experienced with the ways of God provide you with some kind of input and guidance. Seek out those in whom God has invested great wisdom. You know them. You can tell by their life. It bears fruit.

3. Know and read your Bible. There is a godly wisdom that exists in this text and it seems awfully simplistic to stand up here and say, go back and read your Bible. But if you want to know the wisdom of God, it is revealed for you in Scripture. If you read it and follow it, it will produce good fruit in your life.

And what James ultimately ends up saying is that when we do practice godly wisdom, we end up demonstrating that godly wisdom through our lifestyle that is godly. And people are attracted to it. James is so practical. He doesn't pull many punches. He doesn't beat around the bush. He just simply says, there is a wisdom that is from earth and it is devilish (demonic) and there is a wisdom that comes from God that is holy. Devilish wisdom produces division and bad stuff. Godly wisdom produces peace and righteousness. And we're simply encouraging you to practice godly wisdom. To seek a word from God and measure your decision about what you're doing against that. And ask if it fits in with what God has already said.

Of course you know that the best piece of wisdom we could ever give you is this wisdom; that there is one who came from heaven to earth and then was exalted. In the Old Testament he is personified as wisdom. In the New Testament he has a name. His name is Jesus and that journey from heaven to earth and back was for a simple reason . . . . . so we could have a living relationship with him. That's the best wisdom I know that we can offer you. Trust him. Let him guide you and your life will bear good fruit.

Let's stand together and sing, shall we?