So You Wanna Be Wise?

Text:  James 3:13-4:10

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

Phony faith in Christ typically leads to foolish and stupid sin.  An out-of-control mouth can also be traced back to a wicked heart.  This has been the themes of the last couple Sundays, as we have heard from James’ epistle.  Indeed, James has been hammering on phony and flippant tongues, which are sourced in a sham faith and a wicked heart.  He does not hold back, but calls it as it is.  This is not who the Christian is!     

Well, in today’s epistle reading we encounter the same kind of direct talk, as James directs our attention to the subject of wisdom.  Yes, wisdom.

When it comes to wisdom, we typically define wisdom as the ability to think and act by using knowledge, experience, common sense, and insights.  We classify wise people as those who have gone to a lot of school, lived a long life, and learned a bit about life through the school of hard knocks.  Furthermore, it seems that everyone wants this rich commodity of wisdom, but only a few have it.  For those who apparently have it, they will give it away for a price.  All one has to do is scan the New York Times Best Seller List or turn on the television to the day-time interview shows to see who the latest ‘wise’ and ‘learned’ person is.  To glean a bit of their valuable wisdom you can buy their latest book, subscribe to their newest gimmick, or purchase their most recent invention…. and shazam, you have added wisdom to your arsenal. 

So, with that said, I ask you this,

“Are you wise? Do you possess wisdom?  Who among you is truly wise?”

You see, James is addressing in our epistle reading some of the people in the ancient church who were setting themselves up as ‘wise’ and ‘learned.’  Up on a pedestal they sat with their so-called wisdom.  Now, let it be said that this is indeed needed in the church.  Older men and women should be temperate, serious, prudent, and sound in the faith, so that they may encourage younger Christians.  However, this is not James’ main concern.  He is not confronting the honoring of Godly wisdom, but is directing his concerns to those who were setting themselves up as wise, while simultaneously holding to a phony wisdom, a demonic wisdom—which is no wisdom at all.

Dear friends, it is good to talk about wisdom, it is good to look to wise people, and it is good to desire wisdom; however, if we do all of this and fail to recognize what the wisdom is sourced in or where it comes from, we are not wise but foolish at best.  This is the Apostle James’ concern.  Otherwise stated, James is showing us that there are two kinds of wisdom: there is wisdom from God and there is a wisdom that is earthly, unspiritual, and downright demonic.  The question at hand for us is this, what wisdom do we subscribe to and embrace?   

First let us consider the wisdom of God.  The wisdom of God is from above.  It is revealed to you and me from heaven, which means that it does not come from the human heart.  The Holy Spirit through the Word is the one that teaches and give you this wisdom.  This happens as you and I are faithing in Christ and His work on our behalf.  We are given this wisdom as we are shaped by the Word of God, as our sinful nature is killed and as we are daily resurrected in the Gospel.  This Godly wisdom is neither from the world nor from our personal experiences or classroom studies.  It does not come by your effort and it does it come by your age.  Rather this wisdom that James is referencing is from ‘above.’ 

More specifically, this wisdom of God is pure; there is nothing fishy added to it.  It seeks the welfare of others.  This wisdom is not concerned with the unholy trinity of ‘me, myself and I,’ but focuses on the need to serve one another.  For example: this wisdom teaches that we ‘give in’ for the sake of another person.  This wisdom teaches that when we are driving that we don’t have to cuss out the other driver when we are cut off.  This wisdom teaches that an employee can carry out his boss’ demands without sputtering under his breath or talking behind his back.  This wisdom teaches that student don’t have to put down a loner classmate in order to stay in the popular opinion of friends.  This wisdom teaches that siblings don’t have to argue about whose turn it is to pick up the living room or clear off the table.  This wisdom is real, not some abstract idea. 

I think it is safe to say that when we think about wisdom from God, we can all agree that this is the way that it simply should be.  There is a sense of peace which causes us to say,

“That wisdom is good.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have this?  It would be like heaven on earth.” 

So, why aren’t things peaceable?  Why do the world, the church, and families not live in this blissful state of wisdom that is selfless and all serving?  The reason being, we follow empty wisdom. 

Do not be deceived my friends, James is addressing the original readers and us by showing that we have been given wisdom from above—divine wisdom—but we then so easily become ensnared in empty wisdom.  Yes, you and I are easily seduced into this empty wisdom—that is to say, sham wisdom—that is of the world, of our sinful nature, and of the devil. 

Practically speaking though, how do we know when we are drinking the Kool-Aid of empty wisdom?  We can be assured that we following the ways of empty wisdom when the wisdom is Christless or Godless.  You see, empty wisdom is earthy; it points you and me to what is observable in the world, while giving no acknowledgement to the living awareness of God.  It is near-sided, only recognizing mankind and nothing more.   

This empty wisdom is also unspiritual.  It directs us to the unholy trinity of, “me, myself and I.”  It points us to ‘self.’  It promotes our wants, our desire, and our discernment over everything and anything.  It says, “It is all about you, have it your way, because you are worth it.”

This empty wisdom is also demonic.  It calls evil good and good evil.  It denies the Lord, hates the gospel, exalts sin, condemns goodness, and brings hell.    

This empty wisdom is the reason for the divisions, conflicts, and disputes in the world, the government, the community, the church, the home, and within you—and me too.  This empty wisdom goes the way of the sinful nature.  In other words, anytime that there are divisions in the church it is due empty wisdom wanting to have its way or empty wisdom colliding with Godly wisdom.  Anytime there are divisions and conflict in the family, in the government, in the work place, and in your life it is due to empty wisdom that spews forth lies and deceit. 

Tragically though, instead of pointing to empty wisdom as the culprit and our foolishness for following it, the temptation for all of us is to point to anything but ourselves for the reason why conflict and disputes exist.  We want to blame others.  We blame our spouses.  We blame the culture.  We blame our history.  We blame others.  We try to shift everything away from ourselves.  This is the way of empty wisdom.  Empty wisdom teaches us that the problem is outside of us and that the solution lies within us.  Whereas the scriptures show us that the problem is within and the solution is outside of us in Christ. 

Frankly, empty wisdom only yields a life full of bitterness, envy and selfish ambitions.  It is not heavenbound but earthbound.  This empty wisdom is not of God but it is of Satan.  It is not of the Spirit but it is unspiritual.  This empty wisdom springs forth not from faith, but from evil.  This empty wisdom brings about disorder, wickedness, disunity, and chaos. 

At this point in the sermon, I am sure that you are recognizing the malady of empty wisdom and the blessedness of Godly wisdom.  You might also be saying to yourself,

“I better reject empty wisdom and I better work harder at demonstrating Godly wisdom in my thoughts, words, and deeds!” 


What has just happened here?  Without even knowing it, we just reverted back to empty wisdom!  We are looking to ourselves again!  Wisdom is not sourced in us!  No, may this never be my friends.  James says that God opposes the proud.  Believing that you can stop going the way of empty wisdom and go the way of God’s wisdom is spiritual pride!  You can’t do wisdom.  God opposes this arrogance. 

What needs to happen is that our sinful nature that curves us inward towards empty wisdom needs to be crucified.  Empty wisdom needs to be exposed and our sinful nature that clings to empty wisdom needs to die.  Our selfish desires, our self-centered ideas, the worldly ideology, and the satanic lies, need to be put to death.  That old sinful nature needs to die today, tomorrow, and every single day.  We need to be brought to repentance and humility confessing,

“Lord God have mercy on me a self-centered person who drinks the Kool-Aid and buys into the ideology of empty wisdom.” 

Yes, repent!

. . .

In the midst of the repentant rubble of empty wisdom that lay before you and me, hear the good news: God has mercy on you in Christ Jesus.  Surely, God opposes the proud, but you and I humbled by our mess of sin caused by empty wisdom are given forgiveness and grace and wisdom from above. 

Yes, hear!  God in His great wisdom forgives you and me of our empty wisdom. As His children there is an avalanche of undeserved grace and forgiveness. 

Furthermore, God wants you not bound in the deception of empty wisdom, but rather, as His children He binds you to Him and His Word, so that you can be constantly led by the Holy Spirit.  He gives to you Godly wisdom, because He Himself is wise.

It comes down to this, to know Christ and Him crucified is to know God’s wisdom.  You have Christ, thus you have Godly wisdom.    

Indeed, do not be fear; you have been given every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm in Christ Jesus.  You are in Christ, which means you have everything!  You have forgiveness, life, salvation, ‘and’ wisdom.  You have Christ, and through the Savior you become truly wise, being gifted the very highest and the most blessed wisdom. 

This wisdom teaches you that you have been delivered from the condemnation of sin, death, and the devil. Do not fear!

This wisdom shows you that you have been ravished by the forgiveness of sin in Christ.  Pardoned!

This wisdom reveals to you that you are adopted as God’s sons and daughters.  You are accepted! 

This wisdom makes it know to you that the Lord God has done absolutely everything that is necessary for your salvation.  Received by faith!

This wisdom teaches you to freely and joyfully—with all of our heart and with an eager will—to serve your neighbor, because you have been served in Christ! 

This wisdom teaches you that you don’t have to worry whether a person is a friend or an enemy or worry if they are going to be thankful or not.  Rather you are allowed to spend yourself and all that you have without strings attached, because Christ spent His blood for you!

This wisdom tells you not to worry about whether you squander your love towards those that are ungrateful, for you have and are loved! 

This wisdom shares that God has taken care of your salvation for you, thus you can rest in His sure promises. 

This wisdom shows you that you are completely free of everything; that you are a servant of all, completely attentive to the needs of all… because of Christ! 

You my friends have been given Christ: wisdom from above.  All of this is yours.  All of this is gift. 

In the name of Jesus, who was made wisdom to us from God, Amen.

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