“Who Is Wise?”
James 3:13-18

We are living in the information age. Knowledge about what seems to be an unlimited set of topics is available at our fingertips. We no longer have to travel to a library to learn about what interests us, we can simply Google it. Google can take us around the world to learn about other countries, cultures, and ancient civilizations. Google can lead us down the halls of philosophy, history, biology, the great classics of English literature, mathematics, and biblical studies. Because of Google we can even keep up with Kim Kardashian!

We can learn how to do most anything by visiting YouTube. The very first YouTube video was uploaded on April 23, 2005. Now, in 2018, there are 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. Almost 5 billion YouTube videos are watched by people around the world every single day. I’ve learned to install a garbage disposal, remove hard water stains, change out the tail lights on a 2010 Nissan Altima, and use a Canon 70D camera all on YouTube.

New technology has not just brought us more information, but it has also opened up new ways for us to communicate. When I was growing up you either spoke to someone face-to-face, talked on the telephone, which was tied to the wall in your house, or wrote them a note or a letter. Today, cell phone companies will gladly give you unlimited minutes because we don’t talk to one another any more. We send Facebook messages, text messages, iMessages, DM’s, Snaps, Whatsapps, and the list goes on and on.

One study I read this past week said that we spend on average 8 hours a day looking at some kind of screen; a television, computer, tablet, or phone screen. Information is coming at us like a flood from every corner, from people we both know and don’t know, and the amount is increasing each and every year. Wouldn’t you think with all of the new information and new ways to communicate that have come our way during the past 15-20 years that we would be so much wiser than those who have gone before us? You would think, but what we fail to recognize is this: Information does not translate into wisdom. The accumulation of knowledge has not produced the escalation of wisdom in society. T.S. Eliot, the great poet, author, playwright, and social critic in 1934 wrote a poem called, The Rock. In his poem he wrote,

Where is the life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in information? (T.S. Eliot, The Rock.)

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in information?” That is something we desperately need to spend much time thinking about don’t we? We have more information at our disposal than every generation that has gone before us, but wisdom we are sorely lacking.

Wisdom is a huge theme in the Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, what most today call the Old Testament, there are five Wisdom books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. In the Wisdom Books we learn about God, ourselves, and life. In our Scripture for today found in James 3:13-18 we’ll see that James lays out for us two kinds of wisdom. Let’s read our Scripture and then we’ll see what we can learn.

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)

There is so much packed into these six verses. We could spend the next six weeks studying and learning how to apply these six verses to our daily lives. We’re not going to take six weeks, but we will come back to this Scripture again. This morning we’re going to do a flyover, try and gain a solid understanding of what James was sharing with those who first heard his letter, and then we’ll come back and dive in deeper next time. In verse 13, James asks a question and then asks for evidence. He writes,

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. (James 3:13 NIVO)

James asks, “Who is wise and understanding among you?” These two words, “wise” and “understanding” re very important for you and me to understand. The Greek word translated “wise” is “sophos”and it means, “wise, skilled, forming the best plans and using the best means for their execution.” The second word, “understanding” is closely related to “wise,” but I want us to focus on the Greek word for wise because of it’s background in the Hebrew understanding of wisdom.

The Hebrew word, “chokmah,” is used to describe all kinds of skillful work. It is used to describe those who made the garments of the high priest in Exodus 28:3. It is used to describe the fine craftsmanship of the metalworkers in Exodus 31:3,6. In Isaiah 10:13 it is used to describe the execution of a battle plan against the king of Assyria. The same word is used to describe Joshua’s leadership in Deuteronomy 34:9. The same Hebrew word for “wisdom” is used to describe the Messiah’s leadership of His people in Isaiah 11:2-4. Read it with me.

2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD– 3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. (Isaiah 11:2-4 NIVO)

If you understand the biblical definition of wisdom, then, when you read the Gospels, you will clearly recognize that it was wisdom that enabled Jesus to judge not by what He saw or heard, but by righteousness and justice. Wisdom is the ability to understand correctly, to see from God’s viewpoint, and to live skillfully in a way that pleases God. Wisdom is more than intellect. Wisdom is more than knowledge. Wisdom is the acquisition of information, the accumulation of knowledge for the purpose of living skillfully, a life that is pleasing to God. Pastor Spurgeon once said,

Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom. (Charles Spurgeon)

If you lack knowledge then you can go to school or go to Google. If you lack wisdom you need to get on your knees and get into God’s Word. James has already encouraged us to get wisdom. Early in our study we read together from James 1:5-6. Let’s read it again.

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6 NIVO)

Get wisdom! Is there anyone here who is convinced they don’t need wisdom? We need wisdom about how to be a man or woman of God, how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. We need God’s wisdom about how to use our time, how to be good stewards of the finances God brings our way, how He desires for us to use the gifts and abilities He has given us. We need wisdom about all kinds of situations that we face in life. We need wisdom about the trials we face in life, about the temptations that come our way, about how to relate to one another. When you stop to think about it, there is not one area of your life or my life in which we can say, “That’s ok God, I’ve got this one.”

The Hebrew word for wisdom appears in the book of Proverbs more than any other book in the entire Bible. Proverbs was written as a training manual for the young, but let me assure you, you’ll never outgrow the need for the wisdom found in its pages. Solomon wrote the vast majority of Proverbs. Pay attention to the opening sentences found in Proverbs 1:1-7. Read it with me.

1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: 2 for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; 3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; 4 for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young– 5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance– 6 for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. 7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:1-7 NIVO)

It’s interesting to me that we as parents, when it comes to our kids, emphasize the importance of getting an education from an early age, but we pay little attention to their gaining wisdom. I’m all for getting an education. I’m thankful for the education I received while in school. I’m thankful for the education our kids received. I want my grandchildren to get an education. I want all of our kids to get an education, the best education possible. There’s one thing I want even more for our children and that is for them to get wisdom.

It use to be that gaining wisdom was foundational in gaining an education, but those days are gone. This past week I learned something very interesting. I was reading the webpage of a Christian organization on the campus of Harvard University called, “Harvard GSAS Christian Community.” They describe themselves as “a community of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who meet regularly to explore our faith in Jesus through small groups, prayer meetings, social activities, and more.” They also wrote,

Harvard University was founded in 1636 with the intention of establishing a school to train Christian ministers. In accordance with that vision, Harvard’s “Rules and Precepts,” adopted in 1646, stated (original spelling and Scriptural references retained):

2. Let every Student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and Learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisedome, Let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seeke it of him (Prov. 2:3).

“Christ as the only foundation for all sound knowledge and learning.” Now, that’s a statement that is full of wisdom. The motto of Harvard University, when it was founded, was, “Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae,” a Latin phrase which translates, “Truth for Christ and the Church.” The truth was embedded on the Harvard shield. That’s not the motto any longer. Dr. Larry Summers, the President of Harvard from 2001-2006, in a speech he gave at Harvard Divinity School in 2002, said,

Of all of Harvard’s Schools, I approach Divinity with the greatest trepidation. Not only because of your ‘special connections,’ but also because of my own ignorance. I am part of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. As a policy-oriented economist, I have in due course gained experience with legal, managerial, educational, urban, and healthcare issues. But things divine have been central neither to my professional nor to my personal life. (Dr. Larry Summers, September 18, 2002.)

Times have changed, not just at Harvard, but in our nation as a whole. We’ve turned away from what James calls “wisdom that comes from heaven,” godly wisdom, and we’ve turned to wisdom that is “earthly” and “unspiritual.” You may think I’m being too simplistic, that I’m discounting the great advances that education, knowledge, and technology have brought about, and the benefits we’re enjoying because of them, but I’m really not. I appreciate, I marvel at the advances, but have they made us better people, happier people, more contented people, a more unified people, or a more generous people? When James asked, “Who is wise among you?” He said, “Show me by your beautiful life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” A college degree does not make for a beautiful life. There is not a direct correlation between the accumulation of knowledge and increased humility or peace in the living of life.

There are only two kinds of wisdom. There is wisdom that comes from God and that wisdom will lead to a certain kind of life, a life that is lived with distinctiveness, a life that reflects the heart of Jesus, that is fixed and focused on honoring God at every turn. There is also earthly wisdom that James says comes from the devil, but that’s such a loaded word let’s just say it is wisdom apart from God. This wisdom too will lead to a certain kind of life, a life that is lived with distinctiveness, a life that reflects our own heart, that is fixed and focused on doing what we think is best. James describes some of the characteristics of earthly wisdom in James 3:14-16. Read along 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)

What kind of wisdom do you see most prominent in our society today? Is there any question? Our society is racked with selfish ambition, bitter envy, disorder, and every kind of evil practice. You and I can’t do a thing to change the culture we live in, but we can turn away from our own pursuit of earthly wisdom and turn to God, cry out for God’s wisdom, and then live it, apply it, and refuse to turn back to earthly wisdom.

You may wonder, “How can I acquire godly wisdom?” I’m so glad you asked. God’s Word is very clear about where we begin to acquire wisdom, it is the “fear of the Lord.” In Proverbs 9:10 and Psalms 111:10 we read,

10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10 NIVO)

10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise. (Psalms 111:10 NIVO)

What is the “fear of the Lord?” People have defined the phrase by first of all trying to downplay the word “fear.” Make no mistake about “fear” means “fear,” but it is not the fear of a child who comes face to face with his abusive father. It is more of a fear that stands in awe, a reverential awe, a trembling awe of the power, majesty, sovereignty, mercy, and grace of God. It is a consuming, overwhelming awareness of His glory, righteousness, and holiness. It is a vivid understanding that He is God, and He alone is God. It is best for us to see “fear” in action in God’s Word. In Exodus 20, at Mount Sinai, the people of God were overwhelmed by the display of God’s power. Read along with me from verses 18-20.

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Exodus 20:18-20 NIVO)

The people were overwhelmed weren’t they? They were overwhelmed by God, by His display of power, His holiness, the fact that He was altogether different than every one of them, and they trembled at His sight. We see the same thing happen on the Sea of Galilee where the disciples were on a boat when a “furious squall” came up. Let’s pick up the story in Mark 4:37.

37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:37-41 NIVO)

What happened in this instance was very different from the scene on Mount Sinai. There, on the mountain, God caused the thunder, lightning, trumpet blast, and smoke. Here, on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus quieted the raging storm, there was utter silence, except for the shaking knees of everyone who witnessed it. The commonality of both scenes is the observation made by all of the witnesses that One is among us who is not like us. The fear of the Lord moves us to live with this same recognition and honor Him in obedience. The fear of the Lord makes God’s Word and God’s will of greatest importance in our lives. Charles Bridges writes,

But what is this fear of the Lord? It is that affectionate reverence, by which the child of God bends himself humbly and carefully to his Father’s law. (Charles Bridges)

The fear of the Lord, when we recognize who God truly is, not what we think about God, not what we would like for God to be like, but when we understand who He is, what is like, and what He requires and desires of you and me, then we are prepared to enroll in the school of godly wisdom. We are out of time for today, but before we go I’d like to share a story with you. James has made it very clear to you and me that there are two paths of wisdom that are before us this morning. Will we recognize who God is, submit our lives to Him, and seek to live this life He has given us by His wisdom? Or, will we turn our back on God, walk away from God, and live the rest of our life however we desire?

Oscar Wilde was a man who stood at the crossroads of that decision and decided to go his own way. Oscar was born October 16, 1854 in Dublin. Oscar and his family attended St. Mark’s Church. Oscar attended Trinity College in Dublin and Magdalen College at Oxford where he excelled in his academic studies. In both universities he was surrounded by people who were followers of Jesus. One of his best friends at Oxford was a student named William Ward. Oscar wrote William a letter in which he stated, “Since [the birth of] Christ the dead world has woke up from sleep. Since him we have lived.”

Oscar moved on from Oxford and became a poet, essayist, playwright, novelist, and was one of the shining stars of the arts world in the nineteenth century. Oscar’s fame skyrocketed after he published The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1891. A large part of Oscar’s newfound attention came because of the immoral nature of Oscar’s characters in the book. Truth is, the characters were an expression of Oscar himself. He was full of himself. He once said, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” On January 3, 1882, Oscar traveled from England to New York. When he exited the ship he was asked by a Custom’s agent if he had anything to declare? Oscar said, “I have nothing to declare except my genius.”

Oscar had forgotten about what it meant to truly live because of Chris. He lived according to his own rules, he took advantage of people willfully and often, he was a wreck sexually, and then the day came when he was arrested. His arrest came at the height of his fame. Oscar was exposed. The flair, genius, and flamboyance were shrouded by the darkness of the reality of Oscar’s life. He was sentenced to two years of hard labor at Reading Gaol in London. While in prison, doing hard labor each and every day, having time to think about who he was and what he had become, Oscar came to his senses, and wrote a letter called, “De Profundis,” which translates, “From the Depths.” In his confession he wrote,

The gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. I amused myself with being a FLANEUR, a dandy, a man of fashion. I surrounded myself with the smaller natures and the meaner minds. I became the spendthrift of my own genius, and to waste an eternal youth gave me a curious joy. Tired of being on the heights, I deliberately went to the depths in the search for new sensation. What the paradox was to me in the sphere of thought, perversity became to me in the sphere of passion. Desire, at the end, was a malady, or a madness, or both. I grew careless of the lives of others. I took pleasure where it pleased me, and passed on. I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character, and that therefore what one has done in the secret chamber one has some day to cry aloud on the housetop. I ceased to be lord over myself. I was no longer the captain of my soul, and did not know it. I allowed pleasure to dominate me. I ended in horrible disgrace. There is only one thing for me now, absolute humility. (De Profundis. Oscar Wilde)

Oscar was brilliant. He was intelligent. He chose to live his life according to earthly wisdom, turning his back on God, he sought to do what he wanted in life, and he died one year after having been released from prison, a broken man. I could just as easily have told you a story about someone who died filthy rich, someone like J. Paul Getty, who lived his life for himself, according to his rules, and met the same end as Oscar. These men, like you and me, had a choice. Would they live their life in the fear of God, seeking godly wisdom, or would they turn their backs on God’s wisdom and do as they please? It’s too late for Oscar Wilde and for J. Paul Getty, but it’s not too late for you and me. Will you recognize your great need for the saving grace that is available through Jesus today? Will you turn from your ways and seek His wisdom with all of your heart? I pray you will.

Mike Hays

Britton Christian Church

922 NW 91st

OKC, OK. 73114