The Faith Work Out: "The Confession" – James 3:13-18

I am getting ready for a war – because it is coming! You can feel it all around you. Domestically, we are facing continuous and unrelenting attacks on any who take the Bible seriously. Our nation has shuddered off its foundation and appears sagging in places that once stood firm and secure. Abroad, we are feeling the effects of an ill wind that we cannot seem to harness – no matter how much money we pour on the regions afar. Christians that I know well are incensed, exhausted and feeling marginalized. Many are angry and most are pessimistic. Before you give in to those feelings, I want you to join me in the coming fight. I want you to take all the hurt, all the anger, all the pain – and bring it with you to the recruiting office where we will sign you up to fight. Be patient with me, and you will understand what I am talking about. Listen closely to the Scriptures I read to you, and you will leave with weaponry and a pack that has been significantly lightened of all the weight some of you are carrying.

James is my hero in the call to fight. He understood what it meant to hear the rising call of negativity and anger. His writing tipped his hand that he was neither deaf to the cries of believers nor ready to given in and join them in their whining. He argued very forcefully that believers have a mandate, a manual and a mission – and it all ends well. He lifted broken down people and enlisted the angry and weak to fight back – and I want to do the same. He offered by the power and guidance of the Spirit and incredible truth I want you to consider carefully in the few verses we are looking at in this lesson. He stared straight into the faces of hurting and beleaguered followers of Jesus and told them to stop talking the way they were. He shared this important truth…

Key Principle: God has spoken on a way to settle down people who are stirred, and create peace from chaos.

I want to warn you of something as we share a teaching from God’s Word today. This lesson may feel a bit unusual – different from the norm. In part, this is because I need to include in the instruction a personal confession. I am uncomfortable with sharing the personal side of my own inner life, but I am compelled by God’s Spirit to do so. Because of the nature of the morning, I am asking you to be particularly patient with me, as I work through something in front of you that is both personal and painful – because I believe it will bring out God’s intended direction and truth to us. If you will hear me out, I believe you will fully understand both the problem, and the solutions. I will ask for the prayerful support of my friends as I open up my heart along with opening up the Scriptures…

First, let’s set the passage in the letter from which it is drawn. In the lessons we have already shared in James, we have been paying attention to the way James addressed issues of the tongue, particularly as it was set in the life behaviors of one that desired to follow God.

  • We noted that a careful reading of the beginning of the letter by James forced us to conclude that some of the early believers were complaining about the weight of troubles in their lives, perhaps feeling like God wasn’t sufficiently caring for them in the midst of trials.
  • Still others of that corps, blistered by the harshness of the troubles of their lives, felt God may have even been responsible for dangling temptation in front of them – as if to entrap them. The pains of the time were causing them to slip into a view of God that was incorrect, and James laid the matter to rest – God uses weight of troubles to train us, but not bait of temptations to ensnare us.
  • As he continued, James showed that the preferential treatment of people was a thinly veiled manipulative behavior – verbally trying to “curry favor” with people they believed had the means of adding to things their flesh hungered for – fortune, fame, power and pleasure. Their flesh driven heart showed through in their attitudes and actions offering favor to one, but distance to another – and that just wasn’t right. Poor and rich – people should be cared for because God loves them, not because they can help out our quest or cause.
  • James became even “prickly” to some of us as we kept studying, and he noted growing trend of SPOKEN FAITH that was not backed up by surrendered life – we exposed the fake faith of some. James argued those who decided to speak one way but live another were not authentically part of the Kingdom. Many of us simply said, “Ouch!”
  • By our last study together in the first part of James 3, it became obvious that some people wanted to teach, but they didn’t have control over their tongue – and that is a problem that I personally understand very clearly! When you speak and teach as much as I do in a week – it is a constant feeling of inadequacy and lack of control.

The letter by James systematically exposed a central truth – words weren’t the CAUSE of the problems of the early believers – they illustrated where their hearts already had gone. Over and over we see it illustrated… the mouth is the window to the heart and its condition.

Then my eyes fall on the words from the end of James 3, and they hit me like a hammer. I confess that I was not happy reading these words this week, because they came at a time of intense, personal struggle for me. Let’s first look at the text, then I will explain the struggle a bit more:

James 3:13 “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

As I read the words of James about real wisdom, peaceable wisdom, productive wisdom…I was not at all happy with this passage of Scripture, set in the week we have just experienced as a nation. Let me explain:

Reading from the New York Times published on September 12, 2012: “Islamist militants armed with antiaircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades stormed a lightly defended United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, late Tuesday, killing the American ambassador and three members of his staff and raising questions about the radicalization of countries swept up in the Arab Spring. The ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, was missing almost immediately after the start of an intense, four-hour firefight for control of the mission, and his body was not located until Wednesday morning at dawn, when he was found dead at a Benghazi hospital, American and Libyan officials said. It was the first time since 1979 that an American ambassador had died in a violent assault.”

The next day, Politico published this on September 13, 2012: “TIME magazine switched from a science cover to “THE AGENTS OF OUTRAGE: An embassy attacked. Diplomats murdered. The new calculus of violence against America … A chain of violence from Cairo to Benghazi raises the question, Did the Arab Spring make the Middle East more dangerous?” (The writer Bobby Ghosh continued): “As the Obama Administration struggles to contain the fallout of the ­killings-and even to piece together exactly what happened-there’s an increasing apprehension that this attack may herald a new genre of Middle East crisis. The Arab Spring replaced the harsh order of hated dictators with a flowering of neophyte democracies. But these governments-with weak mandates, ever shifting loyalties and poor security forces-have made the region a more chaotic and unstable place, a place more susceptible than ever to rogue provocateurs fomenting violent upheavals, usually in the name of faith. [T]hese hatemongers form a global industry of outrage, working feverishly to give and take offense, frequently over religion, and to ignite the combustible mix of ignorance and suspicion that exists almost as much in the U.S. as in the Arab world. Add to this combination the presence of opportunistic jihadist groups seeking to capitalize on any mayhem, and you can begin to connect the dots between a tawdry little film and the deaths of four American diplomats. … The new normal in Egypt and Libya is not as perilous as in Pakistan. … But as the fledgling democracies of the Middle East struggle to cope with the genies unleashed by the Arab Spring, you can count on the industry of outrage to work overtime to drag the Middle East in that direction.”

Maybe you are just beginning to catch a glimpse of my problem, and hear the faint beginning echo of my confession. Brothers and sisters, I get worn out in the face of the coming darkness.

  • I get angry when I see a mob mentality descend on people as they ignorantly pummel innocents in the name of their religion. I get angry inside at them, and I want to find someone to blame for it all.
  • I get angry at my fellow Americans, that seem more intent on justifying the hatred against my country then addressing the unjust and outrageous behaviors perpetrated against it.
  • I am disgusted when I see a photo of a dying young man, who served his country and then became a simple political football for the current news cycle.
  • I hurt for his family, and I am sickened by the parade of happy barbarians that took pleasure in his death – and I don’t care why they did. Their hollow religion never looked more hollow than when they were happy killing someone.
  • I become incensed when the argument shifts from the policies of the country to which candidate said what about events and when did they say it – because minutiae of a process story quickly overtook a sincere discussion about why we have sent men and women into harm’s way and poured out their blood and what we hope to achieve in all the blood and dollars poured into the region.

We haven’t even moved to the domestic side of the street, where a Christian science professor in a state university is removed from his position for “admitting in response to a question raised by a student that he believes in the Bible and Jesus” though he offered no further details to his students at all, and specifically did nothing to try and make them believe what he did. Simple belief in the very things that Senators and Presidents get elected saying they believe now gets one summarily tossed into a review board as our freedom of speech is reduced to ashes when it includes anything Christian.

  • I could rant all morning and many I suspect that many of you would not only agree with the feelings, you may volunteer to chant beside me. I know you feel it, and I know you are disgusted by it all.
  • I want to blame Islam, because I cannot accept any statement of defense of a religion that is defended by violence.
  • I want to blame my government, because they are borrowing money, spending my children’s America into oblivion over blind greed. They claim to want to help me, but take the equity of all that I have worked hard to build and squander it on Wall Street and helping banks to recover – those same banks that jack up our interest rates when we are most vulnerable and try their best to empty our personal prosperity into their stock portfolios.
  • I want to blame my President, because he has replaced by executive order a proud military tradition, reducing the United States Marine Corps to a gay pride parade.

If I tried, I think I could get a political rally going here. I think I could get some of you to believe that we accomplished something together by ranting and yelling and anger and outrage.

But then I recognize the problems:

First, we don’t all see the political world through the same lens–  and this isn’t a political forum – it is a church where we study God’s Word.

Second, ranting won’t help. It will stir us up, but it won’t actually change anything! What’s more, it won’t yield what we WANT or NEED from the future.

Thirdly, and here is the part that made me struggle so – it isn’t Biblical. It isn’t wisdom from above. It isn’t reasonable. It is fleshly, and angry and wrong. I will show you this in Scripture should you doubt that.

Before I do, let me say that the enemy has DIGITALLY DUPED US. He has sapped our strength and halted our progress by a trick so slick that most believers are infected, but few are aware of the symptoms.

  • To the younger generation – they have been “digitally duped” into setting aside enormous numbers of hours of real life interaction and accomplishment by believing they are accomplishing something in a fake digital world. Instead of learning honor and standing for their country, they are shooting at digital enemies in a game that lacks any moral concept upon which such violence can be understood. Instead of training their bodies to grow strong and be disciplined, they are making “Madden” passes on a digital screen and feeling like they are “playing football”. The inborn God-given desire to accomplish and work is fast being replaced in this passive generation by people that think their score in a game online is an actual sign of achievement. They have satisfied a need to accomplish within, but fill it without accomplishing anything in the real world.
  • I know parents and grandparents reading this that will agree with me. They see it. They are worried about it. At the same time, they have also, many of them, been DIGITALLY DUPED. The older generation may not be wasting effort and energy on DIGITAL GAMES but they ARE burning up many hours on DIGITAL SPARRING. Instead of helping in a shelter, they are raging about the inequity of society on Facebook, acting like saying more about it, posting more about it, finding cute pictures about it – are the same as DOING something about it. They will chide their grandchildren  for lack of activity as they sit in a chair for hours on end blaming Islam for world instability, blaming the government, blaming Hollywood, and anyone else that MSNBC, CNN or FOX will help them blame. They will feel justified posting angry rhetoric because they feel that writing about it so much is tantamount to real change.

Here’s the truth – It isn’t. Posting about Roe vs. Wade isn’t the same thing as the young woman that spent yesterday outside the abortion clinic sitting quietly praying for the girls that were going in. Four babies were saved as they spent their own money to have an ultrasound van sitting across the street, and they quietly counseled young women and provided real and tangible help to them. Most Christians yelled at them on Facebook or tried to preach at them on T-shirts. These ladies, armed with real wisdom, went out and made a difference. They fought the war, and they saved four children.

I have talked around the text a lot. It is time to look straight into the text and see if we can understand what James was saying about real, productive and godly wisdom. James opened with a simple and profound question:

James 3:13 “Who among you is wise and understanding? There are two words that are related in the question – wise (Sophia) from which we get words like sophistry and philosophy from, and understanding (epistimos) from which we get words like epistemology – the term for that branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and limitations of human knowledge.

After telling them that:

  • God is training them but not baiting them (James 1),
  • That currying favor with their mouths is wrong (James 2),
  • That speaking one way but living another is WRONG (James 2),
  • That controlling the tongue was nearly impossible, and too many people wanted to teach but hadn’t nearly mastered it…(James 3):

They were probably pretty beat down. Then James said, “Who ACTUALLY is valuable as a teacher? Who has truth that can change our understanding of the problems around us and the Spirit within us?

Then came the answer it two segments. On the one hand, James shared what wisdom IS in James 3:12. On the other hand, James showed what real wisdom IS NOT in James 3:14-16. Finally He drew a picture of wisdom in eight characteristics – lighting the room of the wise with eight windows.

What Wisdom Is (James 3:13b)

James wrote: 3 :13b “…Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.”

  • Wisdom is practical – it is behavior and work not simple theory and word. It is something people can SEE in action, not just hear in word or read in print.
  • Wisdom is persuasive because it is invested. The term “behavior” (anastrophe) is actually two words combined – the word UPWARD and the word CHANGE. The idea of good behavior in the passage is behavior that pulls others upward toward positive change. It isn’t ranting – it is acting.
  • Wisdom is polite because it is informed. The term “gentleness” is the term for consideration. To consider is to look carefully at. It is not to send out the email that has our political bias without checking the facts contained in it. That isn’t wise and it isn’t right. The world has PLENTY of propaganda, and we need to be careful not to pass it on. Be informed, and you may seek to inform –  but let the information be handled with great consideration to others.

What Wisdom Is NOT (James 3:14-16)

James went on to make sure that the reader completely understood what wisdom was NOT.  James 3:14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

Wisdom from God is not SHARP TONGUED (the term bitter is both sharp and bitter – but has the same idea). In consideration, we dare not ‘fire back’ and think we are doing God’s work. We can hold the line on truth, and we are called to ever be diligent to show what is RIGHT in God’s teaching before men – even refusing to get revenge (cp. Romans 12:17).

Wisdom from God is not SELF TOUTED (the term selfish ambition is two words that mean “self promoting strife”. The purpose of sharing godly wisdom isn’t to win the argument and look better than the other – that is just an EGO exercise. The purpose of godly wisdom is to bring God’s truth into the situation and settle the people with it. It doesn’t mean that men in darkness won’t oppose God – it means that you are not trying to get the to agree with you – you are striving to offer them the real hope that comes with TRUTH. It is for that reason the text goes on to say that when we hide our ego in the argument, we are being arrogant and lying (the actual word is pseudomai) – impersonating godliness.

Wisdom from above is not SOULISH THINKING (the word earthly in verse 15 is “physical”; the word “natural” is (pseuchikos) physical world minded. The idea is that godly wisdom comes from the spiritual realm of truth, and that sees BROADER than just the physical world. The values of a believer are NOT rooted in what is BEST on earth for him or her. Think of the sacrifices our mission partners make to be far from home and family. They do it because they are not thinking about pleasing themselves in this life, but in living for Jesus and celebrating in the next life. SOULISH THINKING chooses a career based on salary and perks. Godly thinking chooses a career based on where God can best use you for Himself. It can be a janitor or a greeter, a doctor or a gardener – it only matters WHY the choice was made – not WHAT the choice became.

Wisdom from above is not SATAN TREATED (the term “demonic” is from the underworld beneath. Pass the anger on. Don’t try to be considerate – just say the thing that cuts back. Even if your cause is just, a caustic deportment and an angry tongue provides the demonic world with a delight. Yell about Islam – it is a lot easier than spending time praying for that part of the world, and trying to support those who are reaching into it with the Gospel. Yell. You will feel better. So will the enemy beneath your feet.

Wisdom from above is not SENSELESS TANTRUM (the terms “disorder” and “every evil thing” are actually “instability” and “worthless deeds”. The enemy is using literally millions of Christians to spend their energy in arguments, draining and distracting them from PRAYER. Do you want to see people changed? Gather for prayer. Don’t just chat and throw a prayer on the end – PRAY. Spend time asking God for the right information to become an informed prayer partner. Adopt a missionary to the unborn, or to some part of the world. Take an issue and become its advocate before the Father. Don’t take them all – you will burn out and give up. Take one, maybe two. Invest your time, talent and treasure in making a difference in ONE AREA – you will get more done than the news media can inform you of after five continuous hours of nonstop noise.

Let me say it clearly: We can take one hour of prayer for our public schools and our dedicated Christian teachers and accomplish what we cannot do in ten hours of raging about the curriculum and its faults. We can sit with a young pregnant girl and offer real help to her – and that may save a life.

  • We can visit an elderly person and take them a flower or a card, and that will do more for them than getting mad at the latest thing AARP supported that you don’t agree with.

Go to war with me. Pick up the armor and the sword. Call the Master to direct you from anger to accomplishment, from posting rants to praying relentlessly. Those deeds won’t be fruitless. They won’t be empty. They’ll change your perspective. The war always looks different when you are actually in it.

Don’t be duped into thinking your helping when you cannot see any real work you are accomplishing. You aren’t! You are just getting “crusty for a cause” or “grumpy for God”.

What Wisdom LOOKS LIKE (James 3:17-18)

Here is a picture of godly and productive wisdom: James 3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

It is PURE –which means untainted, innocent, free of stains. You don’t go to the clinic to serve Jesus and also get a date. You find a cause that is on God’s heart, and you follow through without SELF as a primary concern.

It is PEACEABLE – that is the word for seeking resolution. Don’t just kick up dust about a problem – do something about it that will help. If you can labor – do it. If you can’t – sit in a chair, learn about the issue, and pour over it in prayer.

It is PROPER – that is the word “gentle”, but it really means EQUITABLE. Handle all that God lays on your heart in a balanced and loving way. “Fair and balanced” shouldn’t be a news slogan – it should be your deportment, your behavior.

It is PERSUASIVE – that is the word translated “reasonable” but the term is two Greek words that together are “good” plus “persuade or have confidence”. It is reasoned, reasonable and draws people into understanding.

It is PASSIONATE – in the sense of the word “COMPASSION”. The term “full of mercy” applies to our desire to go out of the way to be fair to people. We can call wrong what it is, but we should not be unduly harsh. Calling names is not compassionate. Slamming someone’s intentions is out of bounds – since you cannot read their heart. You may disagree, but not denigrate.

It is PRODUCTIVE – it focuses on positive outcomes. The term “full of good fruits” means focused on actually offering productive insight and practical help.

It is POSITIVE – in the sense of certainty and surety. The term “unwavering” is a building term, and includes the idea of being settled and sure, but also RIGHTLY SETTLED. Our focus must be on offering HELP, not just WINNING AN ARGUMENT.

It is PURPOSIVE – it serves a PURPOSE. It is a marker of your authenticity and genuine caring. The term “without hypocrisy” carries the idea of sincere. It isn’t just a passing whim or irritation that causes us to “weigh in” – it is because we are invested deeply in that problem and its solution.

As James ends his tutoring on godly wisdom, he offers a PROVERB of how wisdom should be injected into the world: James 3: 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

There it is: God said that real implanting of His wisdom that will produce JUSTICE and RIGHT is placed by people who have PEACE reigning within and desire to see PEACE triumph without.

There is no place for stirring up trouble to get things settled – that is fleshly thinking. We have seen that God’s wisdom comes a different way – and pushes us to prayer. It leads us to care. It beckons us to share. It brings CHANGE because it comes on the back of authentic personal investment. It can’t be sending money from afar – that won’t do. You cannot simply pay for missions in dollars, it must be paid for on the back of a vibrant seeking of God for the people in prayer. Programs can’t do it – prayer can. Shouting won’t do it – care can. Theory won’t cut it – sharing can.

 I can’t just yell about the Muslim world, I must be informed about them, pray for them, and if I can – find a way to show God’s love to them. I don’t have to agree with their behavior, as they don’t have to agree with mine – but I will win more hearts and minds with loving care then fiery posts about distant problems and anonymous faces. God has spoken on a way to settle down people who are stirred, and create peace from chaos.

I am ready to fight on my knees. I am calling on you to cry out to God for the people of Libya, and the pagans next door. I am pleading with you to spend more time helping than hearing, caring than cursing, loving then lashing out. There is a war on – and I am excited about where it is going.