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Stephen R. Clark

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Delivered August 15, 2010 | Cleveland, OH | MetroAlliance Church

Wise or Un-Wise?

Doing godly wisdom dispels chaos, yields peace and order, and expands righteousness in our lives and our community.

Click here to view the accompanying PowerPoint slides.

The lack of wisdom is evidenced all around us in many different forms. Shown up on the screen are only four, and three are very real.

I think someone Photoshopped the mouse with the helmet. However, the image represents some of the lack of wisdom you might see on America’s Funniest Home Videos or on YouTube. It’s really not a smart thing to fool around with life’s various mousetraps. After all, the point of a mousetrap is to kill the mouse! More on this later.

The passage we’re looking at today is all about how to exercise godly wisdom. We are going to see how godly wisdom dispels chaos, yields peace and order, and expands righteousness in our lives and our community.

Wise and un-wise builders

The author of the book of James was the half-brother of Jesus, and Jesus told a story about a wise builder and an un-wise builder that is a good illustration of the principles covered in this section of James’ letter. The story Jesus told can be found in Matthew 7:24-27.

In the parable, Jesus presents two builders with two very different ideas of the proper foundation for a house. One builds on stone, the other on sand, kind of like the two houses pictured.

For a couple of years right after college, I built houses, and I learned that if the foundation was not firm and stable, then the entire structure would be unstable. The house would settle, causing cracks in the walls, ceilings, and even the foundation.

Jesus said that those who listened to and acted on the words he spoke were like the man who built his house upon the rock. The rain came down, the floods rose up, the winds blew, and the house stood firm.

On the other hand, those who listened to his words but failed to act on them; those people are like the guy who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods rose up, the winds blew, and the house went splat.

In the photos on the screen, both houses are built near water. But, faced with a hurricane or even just a tropical storm, only one of those houses will stand.

Notice that Jesus is illustrating wisdom by saying it is doing the Word, and not just speaking or hearing it.

A few months ago, when we were looking at 1 Peter, we learned that we are called to be who we are in Christ, and not be who we were without Christ. James, who grew up listening to Jesus’ stories, is all about how to “do” the “be.”

James is all about the “do” of the “be

Author Kurt Vonnegut is alleged to have commented that Socrates summed up life saying, “To be is to do.” And that existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Sartre, summed it up saying, “To do is to be.” While crooner, Frank Sinatra, summed up the meaning of life as, “Do be do be do.”

I like that.

We are not called to just be Christians or to just do Christianity; we are called to be and do who we are in Christ. It’s both-and, not either-or.

This little letter of James is the how-to manual of the “doing” of faith.
In today’s passage, James lays out both a standard and structure for doing a critical component of the Christian life: wisdom.

He shows how to do godly wisdom to dispel chaos, yield peace and order, and expand righteousness in our lives and our community.

Let’s dive in and read the entire passage, James 3:13-18, which is on page 1198 in the NIV pew Bibles.

James 3:13-18

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.
We could sum up this passage by saying that it’s all about determining what’s wise or un-wise.

Wise? – or – Un-wise?

I’m borrowing the graphic from the TV game show, Deal or No Deal, hosted by Howie Mandel. The TV show is really all about chance. Contestants don’t invest anything in the game but their time, and if they walk away empty handed at the end, they really haven’t lost anything.

But living wisely or unwisely, and making wise or un-wise choices and decisions, has very real consequences.

Life is not a game show, and how we choose to “be” and “do,” exercising godly wisdom or worldly wisdom, leads to very different outcomes. Only one path gets us to the goal of doing godly wisdom to dispel chaos, yield peace and order, and expand righteousness in our lives and our community.

James 3:13-18 map

In this passage, James states upfront what our goal is and then clearly delineates between what he sarcastically refers to as two different wisdoms. He also offers straightforward checklists to determine what’s wise and what’s not wise.

Up on the screen and on your insert is a map of sorts that color codes the differences James lays out between true wisdom, highlighted in green shading, and un-wisdom, highlighted in the red shading.

Green means go or good! Red means stop or bad! In this map, we have the goal stated at the top and shaded in green. Below are two different paths that lead to two different results. One path and result are shaded in green; the other path and result are shaded in red.
Are you tracking with me on this so far? Got a handle on the meaning of the colors? Okay, good! This will come in handy later.

Now, I said James is being sarcastic in labeling both of these paths as wisdom. The reality is that if we are not exercising godly wisdom, we are not being wise. Just as truth is not relative – something is either true or it isn’t – wisdom is not relative either – it’s either wise or it isn’t.

All truth is God’s truth, and all wisdom is God’s wisdom.

James is jabbing at people who are calling themselves “wise” when, in fact, they are being foolish by aligning themselves with the standards of the world and then boasting about their false “wisdom.” Which, as we’ve seen in earlier verses, is really creating anything but a peaceful, orderly, righteous situation. He’s already given them tips on how to improve their behavior and speech, and now is going to equip them to make better choices.

Let’s take a look at the opening verse.

James 3:13: The goal of wisdom living

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.

This verse states the goal of living wisely: Wisdom life will result in a good life full of humility and good deeds. Doing godly wisdom will dispel chaos, yield peace and order, and expand righteousness in our lives and our community.

Perhaps you’ve seen cartoons or shows where a character is trying to make a decision when an angel appears on one shoulder and a little devil appears on the other.

Note: The angel is green and the devil is red.

This is a good representation of what James lays out in this passage. Either we are being influenced by the “angel” that represents heavenly wisdom, or we are being influenced by the “devil” that represents godless un-wisdom.

The word wisdom here carries the meanings of being skilled, expert, and prudent. The word understanding implies being intelligent and having the knowledge of an expert. Wisdom is about being intelligent and skilled at life.

So, James, with a slight sarcastic bent, is saying, “So, you think you’re so smart, eh? Then show it! Show how smart you are by what you do, and make sure what you do is godly and humble!”

He’s already called them to task for playing favorites and not watching their tongues. Now he’s going to give them simple checklists for how to apply godly wisdom to their doing and speaking so that it comes out right.

Let’s read the next section which reveals the un-wisdom they are actually doing.

James 3:14-16: The path of un-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.

Note the quotation marks around the word “wisdom” in the NIV. This is the same thing as putting air quotes around something, like telling someone, “Boy, you’re just so “smart” aren’t you?” What you’re saying is, not really! And that’s exactly what James is doing here.

Because our decisions are influenced by what we desire in our hearts, James warns that if we harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition, we are going to make unwise decisions. Our decisions are going to be all about us and no one else, not even God.

Further, James warns against boasting about this false wisdom and spinning it as something that it isn’t. But isn’t that exactly what we do?

For example, have you ever heard someone say, “I decided I’d had enough from so-and-so, and I really let them have a piece of my mind. I know I was right, too, because I just told them the truth! And I feel so much better now. I did it my way!”

What’s wrong with that? Well, it denies the truth of any responsibility you may have had in creating the situation you’d had enough of. It denies the other person the opportunity to share their view of the situation and your role. It is totally focused on making you feel better at whatever cost. And the cost could be emotional damage to the other person, like Juri talked about last week.

There is nothing humble or godly going on. It tends to create chaos, yield disorder, removes peace, and shrinks righteousness. Yet, I’m sure most of us have been on the giving and receiving end of this kind of un-wisdom.

What’s truly shocking is where James says this un-wisdom comes from. It’s straight from hell! It is demonic in nature. It is completely ungodly and un-Christ-like. There is nothing good or redeemable about it at all. It is a false wisdom rooted in an unholy trinity of an earthly, worldly, unspiritual point of view. The world calls this, simply, “common sense.” Which is not all that common and rarely makes sense.

Let that sink in.

We try hard to spin our un-wise words and behavior as being justified and reasonable, yet James says it’s all from the devil. Period.

What is the outcome of implementing choices and decisions based on this un-wisdom? It’s pretty messy.

The evidence and result is disorder and evil. Every kind of evil! Why? Because doing evil yields more, ever-increasing evil.

For example, we know what happens when we lie about something. We often have to tell many other lies to cover the first lie and subsequent lies, and so on.

Often, someone who is living a life of crime started out by doing small crimes that emboldened them to do the more serious crimes. They moved from misdemeanor to felony in intentional baby steps.

And in any relationship or situation where someone is bringing un-wisdom to bear, there will always be a sense of disorder and uneasiness, which will give evil a foothold.

Now, chaos and disorder happen as part of life, like when you move. I’m living that right now. However, a situation or relationship that remains chaotic is unproductive and unhealthy. A person who remains in a chaotic emotional state cannot act wisely. Chaos that does not become organized and settled reaps havoc, not peace; it leads to more evil.

For example, I’ve been dealing with a heart condition referred to as afib, which is short for atrial fibrillation. Essentially, it’s a rapid and irregular heartbeat. Instead of beating normally with steady, full beats, the heart flutters chaotically in rapid incomplete beats. It becomes disorganized.

What this means is that blood is not getting pumped the way it’s supposed to out of the heart and throughout the rest of the body. In fact, blood can pool at the bottom of the heart which creates a risk of clotting.

Let me tell you, it’s not fun to be in afib, especially when it goes on for hours. Because my body, from head to toe, is being deprived of blood, which means being deprived of oxygen and nutrients. If the afib lasts for only a few minutes, it’s no big deal. But when it goes on for hours, like it did last week for about 20 hours from Wednesday afternoon until Thursday afternoon, I reach a point where all I can do is lay down. I will feel faint and have difficulty breathing. It really messes up my body.

What I need to have happen is for my heart to become organized in a sinus rhythm in regular, steady, full beats. When this happens, it’s called conversion. I’ve converted from afib to sinus, and boy does that feel good.

Right now, some of you are in a spiritual afib. Just as I need to physically convert from afib to sinus, you need to convert from unsaved to righteous. When I’m in afib, I can’t make myself convert. So you have the advantage. All you need to do is ask Jesus to forgive you right there where you’re sitting, and you can receive the order and peace that comes with accepting Christ’s free gift of forgiveness and eternal life.

By the way, I’m having a procedure done called an ablation on August 23rd that should correct the problem and eliminate the afib.

When Christian brothers and sisters are exercising un-wisdom, it’s like afib happening to the body of Christ. Un-wisdom unleashes the havoc of hell into people’s lives. If it continues un-checked, great damage will be done.

1 Corinthians 14:33 states clearly, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace….”

But the un-wise life is lived from a heart of darkness influenced by hell. It yields rotten fruit. And not just rotten fruit, but fruit that can and will come back to bite us.

So, the marks of un-wisdom, according to James, are:

  • Bitter envy

  • Selfish ambition

  • Boasting

  • Denying the truth

  • Disorder

  • Evil practices

Any decision or choice that is tainted with any one of these negatives means we are headed for trouble and need to re-align our thinking with godly wisdom.

And James shows us exactly how to do this in the next section which lays out the path of wisdom.

James 3:17-18: The path of wisdom

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.

Paul stated this another way in 1 Corinthians 16:14 where he says simply, "Do everything in love." We could paraphrase that verse by saying. “Decide everything in love.”

The source of true wisdom is God, who is love as personified in Christ. Godly wisdom will mirror Christ-likeness. It is based in WWJD – what would Jesus do.

There’s nothing two-faced, deceitful, or selfish in godly wisdom. It embodies the royal law as James pointed out earlier in 2:8 to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

James says that wisdom living is

  • Pure

  • Peace-loving

  • Considerate

  • Submissive

  • Merciful

  • Fruitful

  • Impartial

Godly wisdom cuts off the influence of the devil. However, because we are sinful people and because Satan never leaves us alone, his representative will always be sitting on our shoulder, figuratively speaking, ready to try to persuade us the wrong way. But we have more power to resist.

Godly wisdom springs from a pure heart cleansed by the blood of Christ, and is influenced by the Holy Spirit. It yields good, positive, non-toxic fruit; fruit that doesn’t come back to bite us.

Godly wisdom dispels chaos, yields peace and order, and expands righteousness in our lives and our community. The evidence and result of doing godly wisdom is peace and righteousness.

It’s pretty straightforward.

And I could stop here, but that would make this an unusually short sermon for MetroAlliance, which means the service would end unusually early, which could result in confusion and chaos, and that wouldn’t be wise.

So, for your sakes, I’ve got a little bit more.

Let’s take a closer look at what the Bible tells us wisdom is, its value, how we can get it, and how we can increase our wisdom.

I’ll also share a couple of examples.

Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

David wrote in Psalms 111:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” This is echoed in Proverbs 1:7 which is the thesis for the entire book of Proverbs that provides even more insight into wisdom and un-wisdom.

These verses underscore what I said earlier, that true wisdom is from God, and if it’s not from God, it isn’t really wisdom.

Very simply, to live in true wisdom requires a relationship with God. Salvation changes our hearts and enables us to put off the old man and the world’s un-wisdom while putting on the new man and making intelligent, considerate, godly choices.

Wisdom is worth everything

Proverbs 4:7 states, “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.”

Exercising godly wisdom is essential to living out an effective Christian life. Without wisdom, our lives will be chaotic, messy, and full of unrighteousness.

Wisdom is yours for the asking

James 1:5 states, “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.”

I love this verse and have turned to it many times when faced with a difficult decision. We are to show evidence of God’s wisdom at work through us by our deeds, and the beauty of it is that He will equip us to make good decisions. An active relationship with God will yield good choices in life.

Wisdom looks ahead to the end result

In Luke 14:28-30, Jesus said, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”

This is a key piece of wisdom: looking ahead to the end result. Wisdom counts the cost before taking action. Godly wisdom considers the consequences of a decision or course of action to determine if it will yield good fruit or bad fruit.

Wisdom is fed by the Word of God

2 Timothy 3:14-17 states, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

As I mentioned earlier, the devil will always be sitting on our shoulders just waiting for a chance to trip us up. The only way to fend him off is to feed daily on the Word of God.

How did Jesus defeat Satan when the devil tempted him in the desert? Jesus countered every temptation with the only viable antidote: God’s Word.

The source does make a difference

A few weeks ago when we were looking at James 1:13-18, we learned that considering the source of what we encounter in life protects us from being deceived.

I have specifically tried to avoid talking about two different types of wisdom, that would imply that either is an okay option. True wisdom is only sourced from God. True wisdom is enhanced and nurtured in a pure heart sprinkled with the blood of Christ, through exposure to God’s Word, coupled with the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.

In the world, you will encounter a lot of tips, tricks, and methods for doing wisdom that sound pretty good. An example is the Four-Way Test up on the screen:

Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

This is not a bad test, and generally can yield a wise outcome when applied. However, anything that is not sourced from God or connected to biblical knowledge is suspect because it could leave us open to a bad choice.

For example, someone in dire need may try to apply “common sense” by using the Four-Way Test to justify robbing a bank. They could rationalize their choice by saying the truth is that they really needed the money for their family. Taking the money from an insured bank was fair because banks have messed over a lot of people. Having the money to pay bills and buy things for friends and family would build good will, and would be beneficial to all concerned.

You may chuckle at this example, but it isn’t too farfetched from the kind of “worldly wisdom” – which is really un-wisdom – people apply every day to justify wrong behaviors. It happens between friends, in marriages, in corporations, and, sadly, even in churches.

Keeping our wisdom sourced from God and using tools like the checklists James gives us will expose our sinful intentions so that we can make choices based on pure motives.

Being green is good!

The recipients of James’ letter were exhibiting “red” behavior that revealed that their choices were self-serving and divisive. James wanted to re-focus them on living in “green” godly community by not just being who they were in Christ, but also prodding them to do who they were in Christ.

He did this by exposing their wrong “red” behaviors that were yielding bad results. He then provided them a gold standard and a structure for making “green” godly choices as well as discerning against “red” ungodly choices.

In light of James’ instruction we need to daily examine the attitudes and motives of our choices in light of who we are in Christ. We are to live a “green” good life, exhibit godly wisdom, sow and reap peace.

Kermit would say, “It’s not easy being green.” But, easy or not, “green” godly wisdom is the only way to dispel chaos, yield peace and order, and expand righteousness in our lives and our community.
Let’s quickly look at an example of wisdom and an example of un-wisdom in action.

Example of wisdom

An excellent story that reveals both wisdom and un-wisdom in action is the book of Esther. It’s a great read, full of romance, intrigue, plot twists, and all the stuff that makes up a good story. And it’s all true.

In a nutshell, Esther is an orphaned Jew in the care of her uncle Mordecai. Through a series of fortunate and unfortunate events, she becomes queen to a gentile king. In the king’s employ is a snake of a man named Haman. Haman hates the Jews, wants to see them destroyed, and longs for a position of power and prestige. He will do anything to get what he wants.

However, Mordecai, an astutely wise man, guides Esther in helping to thwart Haman, impress the king, and save the Jews. He encourages her to take action that could cost her her life by wisely observing, “…who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

Through the godly wisdom exhibited by Mordecai, chaos was dispelled, peace and order resulted, and righteousness was expanded throughout an entire nation. His advice and actions were marked with all of the characteristics James gives us to discern godly wisdom in action.
I encourage you to go through the book of Esther on your own and pay attention to who embodies the principles of wisdom and un-wisdom that James has given us.

Example of un-wisdom

Now, ripped from today’s headlines, we’ll turn to an example of un-wisdom.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve probably heard about the antics of JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater. To some, he’s become a hero because of his un-wisdom. This is an excellent example of the huge chasm between what the world considers wise as contrasted against godly wisdom.

The short version of the story is that, early last week, a passenger on a JetBlue flight was being rude and quibbling about the overhead bin space at the beginning of a flight. At the end of the flight, while the plane was moving on the runway toward the gate, this woman stood up and began getting her luggage down. Anyone who has flown knows this is a no-no; you don’t stand up until the plane stops.

Slater apparently asked the woman to sit down and it got ugly real fast from there. She bopped him on the head with her luggage or the bin door. They exchanged foul words. And then Slater lost it.

He is reported to have engaged in a foul-mouthed rant over the intercom. Then, while the plane was still moving, grabbed a couple of beers from the beverage cart, opened a door and deployed an emergency chute, slid down the chute, walked to his car, and drove home, where he was later arrested.

As reported in the Chicago Tribune, “A groundswell of support grew online and at office water coolers across America on Tuesday for a JetBlue flight attendant who pulled off one of the most dramatic ‘take this job and shove it’ acts in recent memory.”

As a result, the term “sliding the chute” is the new phrase meaning to quit one’s job in a dramatic fashion.

I’m sorry, but I fail to see how this guy is a hero. Yes, the passenger was at fault for being a jerk. But, that does not justify or excuse Slater’s behavior.

His behavior then and now is marked by selfish ambition, boasting, denying the truth, disorderliness, and a variety of evil practices. There’s nothing peaceful or righteous about what happened. He clearly did not control his tongue. And while his actions may have felt good at the time, his career as a flight attendant on any airline is probably over.

Once his fifteen minutes of fame passes, the damage done will hit home.

What’s your mousetrap?

While we can identify with the venting of people like Slater, we must not let ourselves be tempted into un-wisdom.

Bad choices are like the mousetrap in this picture. We really want that cheese. Getting it would be such an adrenalin rush. Overcoming the obstacle of the trap could make us look like heroes. Just think how all the other mice would view us!

Or, we could be killed, maimed, or mangled. Those who love us would be both embarrassed by our bad choice as well as sad for our injuries. The cheese could also be poisoned. Children, foolishly impressed by our behavior, could try to mimic it and be hurt. Our community could be disrupted by the resulting chaos of copycat behavior.

Un-wisdom and the world would say, “Go for it! What have you got to lose? You only live once!”

Godly wisdom and those who love you would say, “We know better and safer ways to get cheese.”

Sometimes the wise thing to do is to just walk away from the mousetrap.

Are you being wise or unwise?

How do things feel in your life right now? Reasonably settled and peaceful? Or are you surrounded by chaos and filled with anxiety? Is your life marked with good deeds and positive outcomes, or trashed dreams and widespread messiness? Are you filling your mind and heart with God’s Word or with the un-wisdom of the world?

If you’re life’s a mess, and you’re a Christian, all you need to do is begin exercising godly wisdom as James has outlined, and, little by little your life will begin to settle down. This doesn’t mean that your life will be perfectly calm and peaceful all the time. But, you will experience much less chaos, far more peace, and an increasing sense of righteousness.

You’ll also want to attend the upcoming Jam sessions which are excellent resources to help you experience increased wisdom in your life.

If you aren’t a believer, that can change right now by quietly confessing your sin to Christ, asking Him to come into and take control of your heart, and accepting Him as your Lord and Savior.

Let’s pray.

Go; be wise and be blessed, for if you are in Christ, you are, indeed, truly blessed, and truly wise.










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