Living Wisely in the New Year

Living Wisely in the New Year

I’m a standing for a prayer and the reading of God’s word. We pray for the reading of God’s word. This is from Psalm 1:19. Let us pray. Father, we long to love your law that it would be our meditation all the day, that your commandments would make us wiser than our enemies, for they would be ever with us, that we would have more understanding than all our teachers, for your testimonies would be our meditations. That we might gain more understanding even than the aged, for we would keep your precepts. That your word would hold back our feet from every evil way. That we might not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught us. Lord, we long for your words to be sweet to our taste, sweeter even than honey to our mouths. Father, we ask that you would use this time in your word to mold us and to make us into the image of your son, our savior. Amen. This morning, we’ll be looking at James 3. I gave the front office the wrong start verse. We’ll actually be starting in verse 13. If you want to follow along in your few Bibles, you can do that.

It’s on page 1,000 and 12. But I’ll read and otherwise, you’ll just catch up as soon as we get to verse 14. James 3:13-18, this is the word of God. Who is wise and understanding among you by his good conduct, let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere, and a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. The word of our Lord. And may it be done. Amen. You may be seated. Let me pray for the preaching. Father, as my words are true to your word, may they be taken to heart. But if my words should stray from yours, may they be quickly forgotten. I pray this in the name and in the power of Jesus Christ.

Amen. So are there any unopened gifts left under the tree? Was there something that you were hoping to get but didn’t receive? I remember as a kid, some Christmases, when the last gifts were given out and opened up, that pause would settle over our family. We would each look at each other with a mixture of contentment and a desire to prolong Christmas. And then my father would say something like, Is that it? Are all the gifts given? Hmm, he would say as he moved over to the tree and bent over and peer under it, Well, looks like they’re all gone. Wait, what’s this? And he would plunge his arm into the tree and pull out some a gift. It might be a little present, maybe jewelry for mom, or a piece of paper that would mention one of us kids by name and say something like, Go look in the shed, or, Search my study, and we’d all scramble to find that new bike or scooter or some other gift. It was always exciting to be the recipient of that last gift. And it highlighted pretty profoundly that we all wanted a little more. So here we gather to worship our Lord in the morning of the Eve of a new year.

Are you hoping for more? Recently, Susan and I were just with gratitude reflecting on the preaching series that we’ve had here this last year, and making the remark and the observation that in so many of the series, the Beatitudes, which was one of our series that Pastor Lloyd let us through, that finds its way into so many of these other passages. Susan remarked that even in her own reading of James 3, which we’ll look at this morning, the Beatitudes are interwoven there as well. So it seemed to me that as we continue to live between the Advents, as we continue to desire to cultivate a hope for the Lord’s return, this would be a fitting passage for the closing out of this year and looking at what wise living might look like in the year to come. And James, throughout his brief epistle, he regularly speaks of wisdom. In our text, he shows us clearly that wisdom is a character trait that reveals or demonstrates itself. It can be seen. James even asks the question, Who is wise among us? Who has understanding? These are the questions that he asks in verse 13, and he answers it for us.

The one whose conduct displays, the one who shows his work or his actions to be wise and further notice who shows them to be wise in meekness. In a few minutes, we’ll notice not to be a surprise how wise living, as described here, as I’ve mentioned, looks so much like the beatitudes of Jesus in Matthew 5. But first, James wants to display a contrasting perspective, that of a life dominated or guided by wisdom from below. Have you ever looked at a plate of cookies and hunted for the biggest one? Might just be me. Maybe the one with the most chocolate chips or a particular shape or baking color that you like. What is that but selfishness? Have you ever come to a church potluck and glanced at the table of assembled dishes to see how your dish compares to those brought by others? Does anyone else’s looker or nicer? Or was it placed in a more prominent position? What is that but jealousy? These and a myriad of other small and similar examples, the quantity and quality of the crayons in your box, they’re just examples of a spirit that flows from one of jealousy or selfish ambition.

Which James reminds us are all ways in which we are regularly guided by wisdom from below. This has been a battle since the very beginning. Eve saw something, she desired something that she did not have, and it appealed to her senses. It looked good. And at that moment, there were two competing voices speaking to her. On one side, the serpent was actively and with great craftiness instilling doubt in Eve’s mind. Did God really say? Surely you will not die. And on the other side, Adam was passively present. You should have reinforced God’s command. You should have highlighted God’s beauty and bountiful provision. Instead, he was silent. And at that moment, the wisdom from below spoke louder to Eve than the wisdom from above. And she took and she ate and she gave some to her husband, who was also with her. Without the regular repetition of wisdom from above, without regular training to hear wisdom’s voice, we will regularly fail and fall as well. However, God has equipped us for this battle. He’s equipped us and he’s enabled us. He’s provided all we need. And one of the things that he’s done is there’s a general understanding that he’s given to mankind between right and wrong.

People generally understand between actions that are constructive and destructive. God has written that into our lives. Even outside of Christianity, we see evidence of this awareness. In ancient Greek, for instance, virtue was seen as healthy, vice was seen as sickness. And of the various vices, envy was often considered most loathsome. Socrates is said to have declared envy, quote, the ulcer of the soul, end quote. Aristotle, likewise referred to envy as annoying pain. He called it, quote, a certain sorrow that someone has something we do not. Reflecting on those quotes, New Testament scholar Timothy Luke Johnson asks, Why such sorrow? And in answering it explains that it, quote, derives from the premise that being depends on having. That being depends on having. In other words, the more one has, the more value or worth one has, the less one has, the less they are. And with this mindset to grow, to advance, to develop, one must somehow acquire and possess more. There’s a problem, though, if we live in a closed system, if I want something, that might mean you can’t have it. This tendency to possess more can become especially dangerous. Now, in many instances, the desire for advancement and improvement and expansion has brought about tremendous gifts and blessings in terms of health and vitality of life.

The line between what promotes human flourishing and what detracts from it is not always easily seen. Our houses, for instance, are considerably larger than those of our parents and grandparents, and yet most of us entertain less and have smaller families. And then we find that the big house is expensive, and so we both work and our children are shuttled to preschool and after-school programs. We genuinely want what’s best for them, and we can’t figure out how to have it all. Our neighborhoods are laid out and planned and lawns are manicured and landscaped, and yet many of us have little idea who lives across the street or down the road. The ideas, the realities of neighborhoods and communities are lost. Everything is bigger, brighter, and more accessible. Life is faster, easier, and more convenient. Social media can put you in touch with millions. And yet, depression is on the rise. More people feel lost, disconnected, and more purposesless than ever before. And this is due in large-point part because we listen to the wisdom from below. It’s constantly whispering to us to desire more. It’s constantly telling us that others have more, that you are lacking, that we are incomplete until we get that thing.

In verse 16 of our text reminds us that where that, that spirit of jealousy and selfish ambition, exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. The Christian is an immune to this tendency. There’s a destructive voice that’s calling for me, it’s calling for you to have more. James is admitting this and addressing this in chapter 4, he’s writing to a church and he’s asking the fellow believers, What causes quarls and fights among you? Is it not that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. Murder? In the church, can it escalate that far? Absolutely. We’ve seen this in the children of our first parents. When Cain struck down Abel in a jealous rage. To our present time, when we speak evil of appear to elevate ourselves, or we call a brother a fool or slay someone with a killer glance. But James explains earlier in this epistle how this escalation works. In chapter 1, verse 14, he reminds us that each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire, then desire, when it is conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it brings forth death.

Satan, we know our adversary, prowds about like a lion seeking whom he can destroy. And where we allow envy or selfish ambition to take root, we give him a tremendous foothold to speak all sorts of unspiritual lies into our lives. That even a mature believer will regularly struggle with this earthly and unspiritual voices, evident in verse 14, where James admits, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, in your hearts, do not boast. The if there is recognizing that the eventuality that we will, from time to time, have jealousy and selfish ambitions. But to boast in our wisdom in the midst of our jealous and selfish thoughts is to deny the truth that one true wisdom flows from and is coupled with meekness and humility. In other words, there’s no reason to boast. And secondly, true wisdom is from above. It’s a gift from God. It’s not our own, so there’s no reason to boast. Wisdom is not self-generated. It’s not a self-generated gift or an attribute. It is a gift from the Lord. And so there is no room to boast. James 1:5 directs us to ask of the Lord. If anyone lacks wisdom, ask of the Lord.

And he reminds us to do so that as we ask, we are to do so with sure faith without any doubting, knowing that the Lord gives generously and without reproach. That is our God. He is a generous God. He is our father. He completes us. He has given us our identity as his beloved children. As a parent or as a supervisor, as even a true friend, we’re often trying to think about, How do I speak painful truth? Or, How do I speak to try to bring about a wiser response to an action without causing that person that I’m speaking to to be so ashamed that they would refuse to come to me for guidance or wisdom? This is a dilemma that many of us feel or ought to feel and face. And here in considering the right response, we are wise to remember how much the Father has forgiven us, how Christ has born our sin, the sin of arrogance and pride, the sin of self-righteousness on the cross. And he has given us his righteousness. It’s all a gift. Forgiveness and salvation in Christ is a gift. And therefore, our wisdom, held humbly, can go a long way in helping us to understand how do we speak what might be painful truth in a loving manner.

And we ought to hold wisdom with humility, remembering that it too is a gift from God. James speaks of this wisdom as that from above in verse 17, and he goes on to explain, or rather list, these seven adjectives that describe this, quote, wisdom from above. Or to quote New Testament scholar, Douglas Mu, he tells us what effects divine wisdom should produce. Mu notes that James doesn’t view wisdom as, quote, a series of correct, propositional statements, but as a quality that motivates certain kinds of behavior. Behaviors. I thought that wisdom of definition could have easily fit into a false series on the beatitudes. It’s not just correct, propositional statements, but qualities that motivate certain kinds of behaviors. Yet before we look at the effects that wisdom render, it’s important, again, to be reminded that wisdom from above is yours for the asking. I’ve already mentioned James 1:5, where we’re exhorted to ask for the wisdom if we lack it. But the language here also supports the accessibility of this wisdom. It’s not just reserved to a few Greek philosophers or whoever else may be the sharpest tax in the faith covenant box. All of us are children of God.

And you do not have because you do not ask. Luke Johnson puts it this way. He says, Friendship with God occurs when we believe that we are placed in an open system where we are drenched by gifts from above. That’s beautiful language, describing the lavishness of our generous God. He drenches us from above with wisdom if we would but ask. And first notice in verse 17 that wisdom is pure. God’s word is always true. It is always pure. It is always right. Now, this sets the baseline where Satan needs to bait his lies with a little bit of truth to make them palatable, that is, mix in a portion of truth with his heir to achieve a malicious goal God never can nor will. This is important truth to remember as we’re living between the Advents, wondering what will happen next year. No for certainty that neither you nor I even know what will happen tomorrow, but we can trust in the one who does and whose words are pure. I was also thinking of this when Pastor Lloyd read the last verse of Zephaniah 3:3. Zephaniah 3:20 reads like this. At that time, I will bring you in.

At the time when I gather you together, for I will make you renewed and praised among the peoples of earth. When I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord. This is a promise that the Prophet Zephaniah gave to a people in turmoil. They had seen the Northern tribes taken in captivity. Were they next? Would this prophecy only be fulfilled when they were conquered and then delivered? Was it fulfilled in Christ’s first advent? Still, in another sense, it won’t be fulfilled in its fullness until Christ returns and makes all things right, all things renewed, all things restored. The Old Testament scholar, David Baker, he remarks, The blessings are sure and the promise can and will be fulfilled because Yahwey himself, the covenant keeping God, is the one who’s delivered them. Because God’s words are always true and right, because he himself is a covenant keeping God, then regardless of what happens in the future, we can have confident hope that he will bring about his intended plan. Not only can this give us a confident hope for the future, but it can give us peace right now. Indeed, we see this in verse 17, The next effect of pursuing wisdom, of desiring, wise living is its first pure then peaceable because it brings us peace.

This occurs when we remember that God always has the best intentions of His children in mind. James is also helping us realize that we need not always aggressively fight or argue. There’s a time for spirited debate, to be sure. But chapter 4, verses 1 and 2, he points out that within the church, many are causing division and dissension by their excessive quarreling and arguing. I hope you know that all parties involved in a quarrel are pretty sure they’re right. James states their passions are at war. Sometimes we can get pretty wrapped up in the battles that we feel we need to fight for. What effects we need to attain, what corals we can win. If that becomes our identity, we ought to take heed. If our identity, if our worth begins to be connected with what we think we can achieve, I appreciated Luke Johnson’s warning and reminder. He says, quote, Our identity is not tied up in what we can control, but by simply receiving in meekness what God has accomplished. This receiving in meekness, this wisdom from above evokes again the language from the beatitudes. Wisdom from above is gentle. That’s gentleness, this meekness.

It recalls a picture from Zephaniah twice in the midst of that prophet, he speaks that in the midst of the judgment on the larger nation, God declares that he uses his children. For instance, in Zephaniah 2:3, humbly seek the Lord to do his just commands and seek righteousness and seek humility. Or in chapter three, verse 12, Zephaniah reminds us that the Lord says, I will leave in your midst a people humble and lowly. They shall do no injustice and speak no lies. None shall make them afraid. This gentleness, the Lord often uses to draw others to himself because it’s in great contrast to the world around us, as is the next trait mentioned, given in which we are living wisely and we are next open to reason. Now, of course, this is not to suggest that a believer should be gullible. It’s hardly fit for wise living. But it is the charge to be not to be so stubborn in all the details of our views, positions, and postures that we’re unable to hear others, or we won’t even attempt to appreciate their differences. Douglas Mu sees here, quote, A sense of willing deference to others when unalterable theological or moral principles are not involved.

So many of our arguments don’t involve un alterable theological or moral principles. He’s capturing the important truth that wisdom is primarily outward facing, it certainly includes a right alignment of the mind, but wise living always seeks to connect the truth and the purity of God’s word, the gospel, the good news of his word to the world around us. And so then we are peaceable in the midst of the turmoil in the world. We are gentle when others are hostile, and we are open to reason when it seems like most of the rest of the world cover their ears and chant, La la la la la la la, I can’t hear you. Okay, that feels really weird to do. How’s weird this service than the last service? All right, make a note. Don’t do that again. But that’s the way it seems. It seems like no one in the world listens to one another. Christ can use us if we are open to reason to be a dramatic contrast to a dying world. We may have to infer that outward focus in these previous traits, but the next trait expressly states them that wisdom, that wise living is full of mercy and good fruits.

Again, there’s a reference to the beatitudes in mercy… Of mercy in the beatitudes. I hope you can see a lot of similarities here. But there’s a wise living that in verse 18 now brings and ultimately brings a harvest of righteousness. The last portion of this text is curious, sown in peace by those who make peace. There’s some debate on how to understand that last phrase, but I appreciate the reference that several scholars make to the Hebrew idea of peace or shalom. In our modern cultures, we generally think of peace as the absence of things that disturb it. Less noise. I have a couple of grandson in my house right now, and it’s noisy. And my wife and I think that peace might be less noise. Less noise, a less busy schedule, a lack of turmoil. This is how our culture normally sees peace, is a lack of something that hinders it. But in the Hebrew mindset, that notion of peace is that a fullness of completion, of wholenness. James captures this in the phrase a harvest of righteousness. We’re recognizing that we are completed as children of God, that God has accomplished all the work in our lives, that he has called us to seek his righteousness, not to gain his approval, but to live out his gifts and his wisdom.

We seek first his righteousness, and then we turn that living towards our friends and family with purity, with gentleness, with openness in a sincere and impartial way. And as we do that, we can experience the fullness of the peace that God gives us both here and now and fully one day when he comes again. Until then, let us live wisely, seeking that gift which comes from above, that wisdom which comes from above, which he so lavishly gives and bestows to us his children. Only in him will we enjoy the true peace of his righteousness. Let’s pray. Father, we thank you again and praise you for your word. It is pure. And we thank you and praise you that it is also living and active. Father, you know the conditions of our souls this day. And I pray that you might help us to recognize where we have allowed ourselves to be swayed by the wisdom from below that speaks to our selfish ambition, that speaks to our jealousy, and that moves us in a way that ultimately brings destruction. Father, instead, continue to mold us and to make us, to continue to give us that gift of wisdom.

Father, we ask then that our wisdom would be evidence to those around us, that our lives would be lived in this coming year to your glory, Lord, we pray all this in Jesus name and for his sake, Amen. Amen.

Discaimer: This sermon text was generated by an automated transcription service.