A few weeks ago I pulled the rototiller out of the shed. Kellen and I began tilling up the ground that will soon be our summer garden. Connie and I have had a vegetable garden in our backyard for many years, until last summer. Truth is, I just got tired of fighting the good fight. The years long battle with bugs and weeds eventually wore me out. Every year, without fail, the bugs would sneak into my garden while I was away at work or asleep at night and gnaw on my vegetables without my permission. And then there’s the weeds. I was totally committed to tending to my garden, but I’m convinced there was someone else, someone even more committed to making sure the weeds took over. I just got tired of fighting the good fight. So, about this time last year I waved the white flag, told the little plot of ground in my backyard, “Peace out!” and walked away.
One year later, just a couple of weeks ago, when Kellen and I went out to till up the ground and reclaim the land, it was full of weeds. The other gardener, the one I had battled each day for years, had not taken even one day off. There was no sign of a tomato plant, not even a shred of evidence there had ever been a green bean or cucumber present, but grass and weeds were everywhere. Grass and weeds were covering every square inch of what had once been a bountiful garden.
My garden is a reflection of my own life. The fruit of the Spirit, the characteristics of a Christ-like life, or, to use the language of James in our Scripture for today, the “harvest of righteousness,” just doesn’t happen on its own. Any follower of Jesus who wants to reap a harvest of righteousness, who wants to experience the abundance of the Christian life, must first understand that there will be much work to be done. We must commit to tending the garden of our heart and mind. If we lose our focus, if we get distracted by other things in life, or get worn down by the the trials of life, then the garden of our heart and mind will become overrun by weeds and bugs. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning and then we’ll talk more. Turn with me to James 3:13-18 and let’s read together.
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. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 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. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:13-18 NIVO)
The last time we were together we did a flyover of these same passages to try and gain a solid understanding of wisdom. Today, I want us to drill down, to draw close, to examine the details of what James was sharing with those early followers of Jesus in order that we might see clearly the difference between the two kinds of wisdom he is describing for us.
James begins by asking a question, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” James doesn’t ask for the results of our IQ test. He doesn’t ask us to show him our degrees earned from the institutions of higher learning. No, he asks for something altogether different. He asks us to show him our “good life,” our “deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” James doesn’t give us a checklist of the things we must do, instead he tells us that what we do must be marked by humility. Dr. J.A. Motyer writes,
James does not tell us anything that we must actually do, any course of conduct to follow. He offers us an ethic not of verbs (do this), nor of nouns (naming this or that item of good conduct), but of adverbs (about the sort of people we are to be whatever we do). Everything (his good life…his works) is to be done in the meekness of wisdom, or, to unwrap the phrase slightly, ‘in a wisdom which always bears the mark of meekness.’ (Motyer, J.A. The Message of James. pg. 131.)
The Greek word translated “meekness, gentleness, or humility” was a word the ancient Greek philosophers understood to be anything but a virtue. They believed that vengeance brought honor, but meekness brought shame and led people to becoming victims. James, on the other hand, sees meekness or humility as the first sign of godly wisdom. How did he come to that conclusion? How did he come up with that idea? That’s a great question and we find our answer in the Word of God. In Matthew 11:29, Jesus used this very word to describe Himself. Read it with me.
29 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. (Matthew 11:29 NIVO)
The followers of Jesus took their clue from their Lord who described Himself as being “gentle and humble in heart.” This is why we find the word used so often in the New Testament. Paul wrote to the churches of Ephesus and Colosse and encouraged them to let humility characterize their relationships with one another. Read along with me from Ephesians 4:2-3 and Colossians 3:12-13.
2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3 NIVO)
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:12-13 NIVO)
William Barclay says of humility or meekness, “It is not a spineless gentleness. It is not a sentimental fondness. It is not a passive quietism. It is a strengthening under control.” Humility is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of control, being under the control of God. If we submit ourselves to God, allow Him to lead us and guide us, then our relationships with one another will be characterized by humility and gentleness. This is the first sign of godly wisdom. In James 3:17-18 we find other characteristics of godly wisdom. Take a look at the Scripture with me.
17 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. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17-18 NIVO)
Notice the characteristics of godly wisdom: pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. People whose lives are shaped by godly wisdom are “peacemakers who sow in peace” and the fruit of their sowing, the result of their living according to godly wisdom is a harvest of righteousness, a harvest of right relationships.
I wish we had time to cover in detail each of the characteristics of godly wisdom James lays out before us, but if we did that I would take up your whole day. Let’s focus on just a couple. First of all, godly wisdom is characterized by purity. James says, “…wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure.” The Greek word James uses is “hagn?” and it is used to describe sincere, moral, Christlike character. It is the opposite of “earthly wisdom” which is characterized by “bitter envy” and “selfish ambition.” John used this same word to urge the followers of Jesus to use the purity of Jesus as their model and aim as they purified themselves. Turn to 1 John 3:1-3 with me and I’ll show you what I’m talking about.
1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3 NIVO)
If you are a follower of Jesus then you are a child of God. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us! We are not children of God because of our love or good deeds, we are children of God because of the love He has lavished on us. When that truth grips us, overwhelms us, then our greatest desire is to worship and serve Him with every ounce of our being. Our chief aim in life is no longer to please and serve ourselves, but to please and serve Him. Every day is an opportunity to allow Him to use us to serve Him by serving those around us and not ourselves. Godly wisdom is pure. We don’t serve Him to get anything from Him. We don’t seek to bless those around us in order to gain favors from them. Let me give you an illustration from another place where this word for purity is used in God’s Word. Turn with me to 1 Peter 3:1-4 and let’s read together.
1 Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2 when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (1 Peter 3:1-4 NIVO)
Peter shares a real life scenario with us doesn’t he? Through the years I’ve know a few men who had a heart for God and a wife who was an unbeliever, but I’ve lost track of the number of women who loved the Lord with all of their heart and had a husband who was an unbeliever. What’s the best way to witness to an unbelieving spouse? Quote Bible passages at them to prove your point? Talk about friends of yours whose husband or wife is such a godly man or woman? Guilt? Manipulation? Peter says there is a better way. Allow them to see the difference Jesus is making in your daily life and do it quietly. Allow them to see the purity and reverence of your life. Don’t commit to living and doing what God calls you to do from a pure heart so they will change. That’s the first sign of impure motives. Serve the Lord as you serve and love your husband or wife with the love, the never-ending love you receive from the Lord.
Let’s take a look at just one more of the characteristics of godly wisdom, it’s found in verse 17. James says godly wisdom is evident in the lives of people who are “full of mercy.” The Greek word for “mercy” is “?????” (eleos) and it means, “kindness or good will towards the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a desire to help them.” One of the characteristics of godly wisdom is to be full of mercy. We might be willing to be merciful to those we like or those we feel sorry for, but the truth is mercy is far from our hearts concerning those who have hurt us or those we feel do not deserve mercy. We are much more like our cousins the Pharisees than we are Jesus when it comes to mercy. Let me explain.
One day Jesus stopped at the tax collector’s booth in Capernaum. The tax collector’s name was Matthew. He was hated and reviled by everyone in his town except his mother because even though he was a Jew, he worked for the Roman government collecting taxes. Tax collectors were also hated because they were notorious for collecting more than people owed so they could line their own pockets. The Pharisees believed tax collectors were so evil that even spending time with them would tarnish a good person’s reputation. Jesus stopped at Matthew’s booth. Jesus didn’t just stop, He said, “Follow me.” Matthew got up, left his job, and became a follower of Jesus.
In Matthew 9 we’re told Jesus went to Matthew’s house to have dinner. Matthew’s friends came to eat with Jesus and Matthew. The Pharisees who saw this asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Evidently Jesus heard what they said because in the very next verse we read,
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13 NIVO)
That, my friend, is mercy. Mercy is not for the deserving. Mercy is for those who have blown it and know they’ve blown it. Mercy is for the miserable, those weighed down by their sin and circumstances, those who are loved by no one, those who have no one to help, and yet those who are full of mercy find the hurting and help them. And that’s just what Jesus did. What really interesting is that Matthew went on to write one of the four Gospels. Even more interesting, he’s the only Gospel writer who recorded his notorious profession before Mercy came calling.
Where does this mercy come from if it’s not from our better nature? That’s a great question and I hope you are recognizing that each and every one of these godly characteristics of wisdom find their source in God alone. In the Hebrew Bible there is a word, “?????” (checed), that is the most beautiful word in all the world. There is really no word in our language to adequately translate this beautiful Hebrew word, but Bible translators have used, “lovingkindness, unfailing love, covenant love.” The word is used over and over again in the Hebrew Bible, in some 245 verses, to describe the love of God for His people. David, in Psalm 31:7, wrote,
7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love, for you saw my affliction and knew the anguish of my soul. (Psalm 31:7 NIVO)
In the book of Lamentations, God’s people were in exile because of their rebellion and sin. Yet, the prophet Jeremiah was able to write,
22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. (Lamentations 3:22 NIVO)
The “chesed” of God is beyond description, words cannot describe it, but once you experience it, once God’s unfailing love rescues you, redeems you, tenderly holds you when everyone else walks away, and looks into your eyes and says, “I have set my love upon you!” you will never be the same again. One of the ways you will never be the same again is that His mercy will mark your relationships with others. We who have received mercy are to be marked by mercy.
We’ve just scratched the surface of what James calls “heavenly wisdom,” or godly wisdom. There is another type of wisdom that James writes about in James 3:14-16. James calls this other kind of wisdom, “earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” Read it with me.
14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:14-16 NIVO)
Just as heavenly or godly wisdom is characterized by certain traits, so is earthly wisdom characterized by certain traits as well. Earthly wisdom is manifest in “bitter envy” and “selfish ambition.” I find it super interesting that James points out for us the fruit of heavenly wisdom as a “harvest of righteousness” while the fruit of earthly wisdom he describes as “disorder and every evil practice.” Godly wisdom is not concerned with self while earthly wisdom is obsessed with self. Earthly wisdom is characterized by “bitter envy.” Bitter envy is jealous for self above all others. It is resentful of others, it wants the spotlight to shine on self at all times, and anyone who threatens the spotlight is an enemy.
Earthly wisdom is also characterized by “selfish ambition.” The Greek word translated, “selfish ambition,” according to Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, comes from a root word originally meaning “working for hire, a hireling.” Later, the root meant “a spinner or weaver, a worker in wool.” This Greek word, “Eritheia,” was used in secular Greek of “those who run for office, courting popular applause by trickery and low arts,” thus it meant “electioneering or intriguing for office” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). Selfish ambition places the advancement of self above all else and will use any means to get what one wants.
When we become people who are bitterly jealous of any good coming to those around us and we work feverishly, by-any-means-necessary, to promote ourselves above all else, is it any wonder that disorder and every evil practice consume our hearts and minds, as well as our relationships? Paul wrote to the people of Philippi and urged them to never allow earthly wisdom to take root in their church. Listen to how he phrases his plea.
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4 NIVO)
Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Missouri is legendary. The school was begun in 1910 and the first class of 42 male students was taught by four Jesuit faculty members. The vision of the school is based on the vision of St. Ignatius of Loyola. St. Ignatius believed God had placed him with Jesus as his companion to work in the task of helping souls. The founders believed, and still believe that God the Father has partnered them with Jesus in the same work. Their website states, “We are guided in all things by the Jesuit motto, “Ad majorem Dei gloriam,” or “For the greater glory of God.” The goal then, and the goal that remains to this day, is to train young men to succeed in any profession with an equal emphasis on moral formation and religious instruction. Every young man who goes through Rockhurst High School knows they are being trained to be “men for others.” This sounds like godly wisdom doesn’t it? And it is.
I was familiar with Rockhurst High School. It is an outstanding high school. I was not familiar with one of Rockhurst most notorious alumni, Scott Tucker. Scott graduated from Rockhurst High School. Scott attended daily mass five days a week with the other young men at Rockhurst. Scott sat in theology classes five days a week throughout his four years at Rockhurst. He was taught and taught well by the Jesuits about godly wisdom, about what it means to be a “man for others,” and partnering with Jesus to help souls. Scott Tucker performed community service while at Rockhurst, yet Mr. Tucker is a sad example of how you can know the truth, you can know all about godly wisdom, and yet succumb to living life according to earthly wisdom. Scott Tucker set out to become rich, as rich as he could possibly be, and he amassed his fortune by preying on the poor who found themselves in a fix, people like Eliot Clark.
Eliot Clark’s wife slipped and fell on the ice in Kansas City and broke her ankle. She had to have surgery to repair it and the doctor bills piled up. Her husband, Eliot, short of money and unable to get a loan at a bank turned to one of Scott Tucker’s payday loan businesses. Eliot took out five $500 dollar loans and by the time he paid them off, five years later, Eliot had paid $50,000 in interest on a $2,500.00 note.
Just last year, after scheming and scamming millions of people out of their money through his payday loan operation, Scott Tucker was convicted on 14 felony charges stemming from his $2 billion lending operation. The court stated that he had exploited 4.5 million people by charging them exorbitant interest rates and deceiving his victims about the loan terms. Scott Tucker knew what he was doing. He became rich off of the poor. He bought his $8 million dollar home in Aspen with the money of poor people in a jam. He bought his Learjet, $1.3 million Ferrari, along with 5 other Ferrari’s and 4 Porsches with the money of poor people who were in a fix. Scott Tucker was found guilty and is now serving a 16 year and 8 month sentence and has been fined $1.26 billion dollars.
Scott Tucker was a genius. The way he orchestrated the scheme was brilliant, but it was founded upon earthly wisdom, selfish ambition, and in time it was all shown to be a house of cards. How about you? How are you living your life this very morning? Do you desire to live by godly wisdom? Then you must come to God, confess your need to Him, surrender your selfish ambition and bitter envy, and receive Jesus as Lord and Savior of your life. Won’t you do that this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 4, 2018
This post is also available in Spanish