I want to take you (especially those of you who are among the older members of this congregation) on a trip down memory lane for a minute. Some of you may remember a famous comedian named Flip Wilson. He had a TV show in the 1970s, and on this show he had such famous characters as Geraldine Jones and Brother Leroy. He also had some famous lines, including one that ties in nicely with the reading we heard from the Book of James earlier in today’s service. That line was, “The devil made me do it!” The characters in Flip Wilson’s comedy routines often blamed the devil for leading them into trouble, and they were partially right. The devil can’t make anyone do anything, but he can definitely tempt us and influence our choices.
The devil is part of earthly wisdom, and James contrasts earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. People’s lives reflect the source of their wisdom. There is “earthly, unspiritual, devilish” wisdom that leads to “envy and selfish ambition” in the individual and “disorder and wickedness of every kind” in society. Against this, there is “wisdom from above” that is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits…” Trouble arrives, he tells us, when we act based on earthly wisdom and not out of faithfulness to God.
The Letter of James was controversial for much of Christian history, largely because its emphasis on doing good works seemed to clash with parts of Paul’s writings that emphasized salvation by faith alone and not by works. This passage can help us understand that faith in God and charity towards our neighbor are inseparable. It is our faithful adherence to the “wisdom from above” that spurs us to act gently, justly, and in ways that will yield “good fruits.”
If we have a right relationship with God, we will be understanding people and show concern for others, and therefore we will demonstrate heavenly wisdom. Heavenly wisdom is shown through Jesus, available through the Holy Spirit, written in the Bible and delivered in a steady flow from God to us. Heavenly wisdom is the foundation for our Christian lives. When we draw close to God, he will draw closer to us in response. If we put ourselves under God’s control, we will be open to God’s grace. This will be the ultimate challenge for proud people.
If we trust in God’s wisdom, we will be seen as meek. This is not to be confused with the world’s definition of meekness, which is cowardice and passivity. Earthly wisdom comes from sin and Satan. Earthly wisdom causes chaos, self-ambition and the playing of the “blame game.” Peace is the opposite of selfish ambition. If we bring peace, we will harvest a rich crop of righteousness.
Selfish desires cause people to make war against each other, even in the church. For example, James talks about murder taking place in the church. How could that happen? One possible reason is that the rich were taking the poor to court and basically stripping them of all they owned. Without food or the necessities of life, the result was death. In addition, how many churches have been divided because of selfish desires? Some of us may remember the division in the United Church of Canada several years ago when the Church’s General Council decided to allow the ordination of homosexual clergy. That decision caused several individual churches to leave that denomination.
Another example is people who leave a church because they don’t like the Order of Service or the music or the minister or something else. We don’t come to church because of the Order of Service or the music or the minister. We come to church to worship with both God and fellow believers.
We show earthly, sin-filled wisdom when we are estranged from God. James tells us that if we try to get what we want through our own efforts instead of asking God, we will end up being frustrated. Worldly pleasures never satisfy us. They provide short-term pleasure and long-term pain. External conflict is often a sign of internal conflict, because if we are not at peace with ourselves, we are not likely to be at peace with others, especially within the church.
One of the deepest problems in our world is the problem of the human heart. If there were no greed, jealousy, anger, covetousness or any other sin, the world would be a much better place. If we truly loved one another and treated each other with respect, the world would also be a much better place. Unfortunately, this will be wishful thinking unless and until we put others first instead of ourselves. This will be wishful thinking unless and until we seek God’s will for our lives
Wisdom is more than understanding something intellectually. Wisdom must be demonstrated in our Christian lifestyle. Wisdom must be pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruit, without hypocrisy or partiality, and show true justice. This type of wisdom comes only from God. James is concerned with our ability to understand the truth of God’s Word and live it by faith. We do these things by submitting to God, denying ourselves, taking up our crosses daily and humbling ourselves before God. When we humble ourselves before God, we grow closer to him, and when we grow closer to him, offering forgiveness becomes easier over time, our faith will increase and our concern for the spiritual conditions of others will expand. Heavenly wisdom is full of sacrificial earthly action. We must use our circle of influence or friends to make a difference for God. After all, wisdom is not what we know but what we sow.
The main way we humble ourselves before God is through prayer. God makes us ask for what we want and need, even though he already knows what we need and want. He makes us ask because he wants to have fellowship with us, and the only way he can have fellowship with us is for us to talk to him through prayer. Those who humble themselves before God and trust him to provide for their needs will receive his grace. That grace will give us the desire and ability to obey God and respond in a way that pleases him.
Prayer is the lifeblood of our relationship with God, but sometimes we have questions about its power and effectiveness. We will find the answers to those questions when we take them to God, study the Bible for answers and talk to a trusted spiritual mentor. Some of these answers will cause us to question the motives behind our prayers.
God is very concerned with those motives. He’s interested in the state of our hearts. We need to check our motives from time to time. James points out that there are two problems in prayer lives-lack of prayer and wrong motives. Believers don’t get what they ask for when they do not ask or when they ask with selfish motives. Some of us have promised God that we will walk closely with him or that we will spend time in his word only to find that we became busy or tired and therefore broke those promises. We became disappointed with life’s circumstances, so we gave up on the promises we made.
Resisting the devil means that we have submitted to God, and that means going to his word as written in the Bible to counteract our earthly thoughts, feelings and wants. If we obey his word, he will draw near to us, and when that happens, wars will cease. We will not be at war with God, so we will not be at war with ourselves or with others. Prejudice, bitterness, anger and hatred will be uprooted at the foot of the cross. We as Christians must not have any of these things in our hearts because we are all sinners in need of a Saviour in spite of our differences.
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