J. Gordon Duncan

Culture, Business, Fitness, Etc.

Sermon Notes and Family Devotion – James 3:13ff

Big Idea:  Being wise is much than knowing stuff.  Much, much more.

 James 3: 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.


  • What does it mean to be meek in wisdom?
  • How can you be arrogant in wisdom?

 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

  • What would it look like to have truth but be bitter, jealous, and selfish?
  • Why is wisdom that is bitter, jealous, and selfish unspiritual and demonic?
  • Is it possible to have Biblical wisdom but also be bitter, jealous, and selfish?

16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

  • What does jealously and selfish-ambition produce?
  • What does wisdom from God look like?
  • Describe a community that has that Godly wisdom?

18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

  • How does the church produce a community of righteousness?
  • What does it mean to sow in peace?

Is the church asking the wrong questions?  Maybe a better question is, “Is the church answering the wrong questions?”  Here is what I mean.

I value a deep and correct theology.  In fact, I have given much of life to pursing a deep and correct theology through personal study, elder training, seminary, and preparing for ordination exams.  Every single sentence I say up here is an attempt to communicate God correctly to you – essentially, every sermon is theological.  But to be honest, I fear the church, this church, our denomination, and many others are just trying to further sharpen our theological pencils instead of loving God by engaging hearts and engaging the world as Christ did.

Think about the way Jesus did “ministry”  To the self-righteous religious scholars, Jesus busted up their incorrect theology and subsequent incorrect practices.  But to the world around Him, Jesus presented Himself in word and deed.  Jesus said, “This is who I am,” while demonstrating who He was by healing them, feeding them, and serving them.

Yes, of course Jesus always addressed incorrect thinking, but His point was to point others more to Himself.  For example, when the woman at the well questioned Jesus, he corrected her thinking but even more so presented Himself to her.  She was transformed by the interaction with the person of Jesus and then ran back to everyone in her world about how she had met the man, Jesus.

So, what questions is the church asking?  I know we actively discuss the questions of our part in sanctification, what ultimately is our justification based on, the proper order of worship service.  These are not unimportant questions.  But our denomination, in which I love, has or is arguing such issues as whether women can serve the military, whether intinction is a proper form of partaking the Lord’s Supper and whether the Federal Vision is an accurate portrayal of the Gospel.  While all of those issues are of some merit, I fear the church often strains at gnats while we swallow camels.

I think the questions that need to be answered right now sound like this:

·    How do I keep my family together?
·    How do I help my daughter who hates her body so much?
·    My son is so angry, what do I do?
·    How can my wife and I forgive each other?
·    How do we make a living?
·    How do I live with such poor health?
·    Take all of those questions and tell me how or why God cares.

The church can debate whether our spirit is dichotomous or trichotomous all it wants, but I don’t know if the church is accurately speaking to how the gospel meets practical needs.  Right now, the church needs to address issues like how the Gospel speaks to

·    Families struggling financially
·    Couple fighting and having a hard time forgiving
·    The single who is lonely and the parent struggling to raise their kids.
A deep and rich theology is important.  I believe that and still pursue that.  But that theology should lead to a deep, rich practical theology.  It should also lead the church to getting off their butts.  A deep and rich theology should move a church to an active loving of one another, of serving those in need, and a passionate loving of those who don’t yet know Jesus.  But knowing what to say and knowing how to say it and knowing when to say it is matter of wisdom.  Fortunately, wisdom is the issue that the book of James takes up this week, so with that in mind, let’s pursue this Big Idea:

Big Idea:  Being wise is much than knowing stuff.  Much, much more.

James 3: 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

For just a matter of brief review, let’s remind ourselves what happened just before verse 13.  We have spent the last two weeks looking at James’ warning surrounding the use of our tongue – how we speak.  We have heard such warnings as:

·    The tongue is small but boasts of great things.
·    The tongue is a world of unrighteousness.
·    No one can tame the tongue.
·    The tongue is a restless evil, full of poison.
·    We should not bless God but curse one another with the same tongue.

Along the way we looked at how we redeem the use of our speech by speaking of the mysteries of Christ and the beauty of a reconciled relationship with God.  So now, James decides to pursue other areas in which we do not represent our relationship with God well.

14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.

What we find in verse 14 is a specific command against jealousy and selfish ambition.  Now here is part of the problem surrounding jealousy and selfish ambition:  Very few people will admit to having either which means that a lot folks are blind to the dangers of this sin.  You see, to admit that you are jealous means you have to admit that someone has something you want or you have to admit you want what someone else has achieved or owned.

But typically, we have too much pride to admit jealousy.  You see how these sins just get intertwined.  We sin in jealousy because we aren’t content with what God has given us, and then our pride keeps us from admitting our jealousy.

Ask yourself, where are you secretly motivated because you want something others have?  Is your work lifestyle based upon a desired amount of ease and desired comfort at home?  Is that desire of ease and comfort based upon what you have seen others have and so you want it to?  If so, that is jealousy.

Are your desires and efforts to look a certain way based upon a desire to care for your body as the temple of God?  Or are those desires based on wanting to look like someone or better than someone?  If the latter, that is jealousy.

Are you efforts in raising your kids as Godly or raising them to be talented or smart, are those efforts based on making sure your kids don’t grow up to be untalented, dumb, and ungodly kids like your neighbors?  Or are you efforts to raise your kids based on a desire to glorify God?  If the first, that is jealousy.

Let me try this one on for size.  Are my efforts to grow this church based on a desire to have a bigger church than the one next door or the one across the street or the other PCA churches that I think don’t deserve to have as many people sitting in their as they do?  Or are my efforts to build this church based on a desire to glorify God?  If the first, that is jealousy.

And what fuels our jealousy is selfish ambition?  Wanting and working for what you want for your own purposes and your own reasons.  Motivated by self, the satisfaction you get from getting what you want.

Let me tell you a story about perhaps the first adult conversation I ever had.  In my freshman year of college, I had a friend who was a junior.  He was dating a lovely girl, but he didn’t always speak to her gently.  In fact, I think he spoke to her pretty harshly.

So I confronted him.  Now what I was confronting him about was right.  He should have spoken more gently to his girlfriend.  He wasn’t harsh or terrible, just too gruff.  My friend heard me, admitted he should speak more gently to his girlfriend.  But then he said, “Okay, Gordon.  You are right.  But this is not what all of this conversation is about.  You’re jealous aren’t you?”  You know my response.  “Pssh, no I’m not.”  But he was right, and I eventually had to admit it.  I was 19 and figured out that the human heart is pretty complicated.  Rarely are things simple.  And even when it looks like you are doing something good, it can still be mixed with jealousy and selfish ambition.

You know James is telling us we are really doing when motivated that way?  Verse 14 tells us that we are boasting and being false to the truth.  When we act out of jealousy, we are boasting of our skills, our own talents, and our own will.  We are saying, “I will do what I want, when I want, and for whatever reason I want.”  Boasting is idolatry – the worship of self.

If you are a Christian and boast and work out of jealousy and selfish ambition, then what you are also doing is being false to the truth.  As a Christian, you have declared that God alone is worthy of praise.  You have said, “Not my will but thy will be done.”  You have also said, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light for path.”

When you and I are motivated by jealousy and selfish ambition, when you do what you want for what you want or even do what God wants for what you want, you have denied all of those truths.  You are saying, “I am worthy of your praise.”  You are saying, “My will be done.”  You are saying, “My word is a lamp unto my feet.”  When we as followers of Christ deny the truths we know and pursue our efforts or even God’s efforts for our own glory and our own desires, verse 15 tells us what we are doing.

15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

Jealousy and selfish ambition are not motivated or controlled by the wisdom of God.  Jealousy and selfish ambition are demonic, unearthly, and unspiritual.  Does that seem harsh to you?  Maybe a bit melodramatic?  And what does it mean for jealousy and selfish ambition to be demonic?

What do the scriptures were Satan’s motivation for rebelling against God and leading a host of angels from heaven?  Isaiah 14:13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God      I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’  Satan desired greatness apart from God, desired acclaim and praise apart from God.  In fact, he desired the acclaim and praise of God.

Seeking your own fame, fortune, praise, and even leisure apart from God is seeking a wisdom apart from God and it is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.  You see, the difference between wisdom that is from above and wisdom that is from God typically comes down to motivation and always demonstrates itself in a Christ-like fashion.  Let me explain.

Take the truth that we celebrate here – the Gospel – the truth that every single thing necessary for your salvation was secured by Jesus.  Jesus dies for your sins:  John 3:16  Jesus rose again to give you life:  I Corinthians 15:20  Jesus gives you His goodness:  Romans 4:6  Jesus even gifts you with the faith you need to believe:  Ephesians 2:8

Now this is incredible wisdom for us.  These are undying, unchanging truths.  How in the world might this wisdom become earthly and selfish?   Oh, it’s very easy.  In fact, it is the cancer of the church.  This wisdom becomes earthly and selfish in at least two ways.

One way is you hear that Jesus has secured everything for you and you respond in a slovenly, lazy fashion assuming that since Jesus secured everything for you, you will not pursue worship, scripture, prayer, service or any other acts of obedience.  This is exactly the type of faith that James has been preaching against when he told us that “faith without works is dead”   The human heart can take the wonderful truths of the gospel and make it earthly and unspiritual by not being transformed by it.

The second way however is probably the one that is the largest temptation for SK Church.  As we celebrate the Gospel here at SK, celebrating all that Christ has secured for us in His life, death, and resurrection, we will be tempted to make our entire Christian nothing more than a selfish pursuit…of ourselves.  We take the truths of the Gospel and just make sure we and our families are more Godly, but don’t care about anyone else.  Oh we judge, mock, and make fun of those other folks wow we get more Godly, but we don’t do any more than give lip service to serving others and sharing the Gospel with others.

Now you might say, “Gordon, that’s not us.  We’re SK.  We create and engage community.”  And pastorally, I will say that God has blessed us with a better than average desire and effort to love folks beyond ourselves.  But we aren’t ready to start patting ourselves on the back yet.

Ask yourself:  How many of your relationships outside of your family are designed for selfless service?  How many non-Christians are you presently befriending?  How many people are serving as Christ has served you?  How many people are you comforting with the comfort of Christ, and I’m not just talking about other Christians?  Who are you comforting?  Godly wisdom should move you to spend more time w/ people who need Jesus, not less.  If we struggle to answer these questions in any way that demonstrates that your wisdom has benefit outside of your household, you need ask yourself if your wisdom is heavenly or earthly?  If we pursue wisdom, even scriptural wisdom only for our sake, making it earthly and not heavenly, there is a consequence that is inevitable.  Listen to verse 16.

16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

James reiterates that knowledge for personal gain and even a selfish holiness ultimately leads to jealousy, selfish ambition.  Without relentlessly pursuing knowledge of our own jealousy and selfish ambition in our hearts, we will ultimately be tripped up by own desires and we will walk into the conflict of disorder and every other vile practice.  Before I go into this any further, I will say this is one of the things I like about SK.  Not that we have every vile practice.

Your elders do this well.  When we see these verses, these warnings, we don’t immediately start talking about how all of those people out there are so evil and vile.  We challenge you to look at your own heart.  That is one of the reasons we have a time of repentance – so we can confess our sin.  You can tell a lot about a church by the way we talk.  When talking about sin, do we talk about “us” and “we” or do we talk about “them” and those” – dangerous territory to  spend more time talking about “them” and “those” because that type of language implies we are worrying about every else’s sin more than ours and that is evil and vile in and of itself.  So let’s hear these commands and warnings from James.

If we pursue anything, even personal holiness and obedience, out of jealousy or selfish ambition, it will lead to every vile practice you can imagine and ultimately to disorder and conflict among us right here.  That means we need God’s help to show us our motivations and aspirations.  Just why do you want to make the amount of money you make?  Just why do we work so hard to raise Godly children?  Hey, Gordon why do you work so hard to try to build this church?  Gang, ask God to fearlessly examine your heart in every area asking the Holy Spirit to show you why you do or don’t do what you do or don’t do.

If we pursue wisdom and godliness for selfish ambition, for our own purposes and our own glory and our own satisfaction and not the glory of God, then we are just going to fall into great sin and great conflict.  Oh we might find a way to keep it quiet and look Godly but if we don’t ask God to show us our motives, we might outwardly pursue the most Godly of actions for the most selfish of reasons.  That’s why churches have conflict, anger, splits, and every other manner of disorder.

But there is great hope here.  We can hear this warning and walk in hope.  God can work in us to forgive us and transform us.  Look at verse 17.

17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

If we are enjoying, pursuing, bathing in and walking in Godly wisdom, which is the knowledge of God for His glory and not ours, then there is wonderful promise for us in the scriptures.  What God gives us when we pursue His wisdom for His glory instead whatever other motivation we have is this glorious list.  When we pursue God for His glory, He gives us Godly wisdom.  That wisdom about what we know and how we should live is pure.  It leads to peace for yourself and peace with others.  It’s gentle which means we learn the ability to communicate even difficult truths gently without provoking hostility.

The wisdom of God makes you open to reason – your mind hears and process logic and reason reasonably.  You become full of mercy.  This might be the real test of whether we have the wisdom of God.  Hey church, if you possess the wisdom of God, then you will be full of mercy to each other and to others outside these doors.  Full of mercy to those with whom you disagree and even full of mercy to those who have made every mistake but stand in great need.  Godly wisdom leads to being full of mercy to those who are actively sinning and making every mistake possible.  We will be impartial and sincere.

Gang, this is how we can see God working within our hearts, our families, at SK and even our community.  Are we becoming more like this?  You see here a clear difference between knowledge and wisdom right?

We can become incredibly theologically astute.  We can quote the church fathers.  We can quote the Westminster Confession of Faith.  We can quote the catechisms.  We can even quote the Bible.

But those things can just be knowledge if we aren’t careful.  For them to be wisdom, to be Godly wisdom, this has to be happening.  You, me, your family, my family, SK, our denomination and any that claim Jesus as Christ, this will be evidence of Godly wisdom.  We will be described then as peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  If you are pursuing wisdom for God’s glory and not just knowledge for your own sake, these things will become who you and I are.

Peaceable, full of mercy, man those sound like wonderful qualities for a church.  I want that so bad for us.  If we aren’t seeing it, if we aren’t seeing ourselves grow in gentleness and peace, and mercy, we might just very well need to repent of even how we pursue God.  Praying, dear God help me to serve you and know you for your glory.

St Augustine used to talk about this.  He would talk about the different types of loves.  He said, “You know some folks love themselves for their own sake.  Some work, eat, rest, and play all for their own sake.  Eventually some see a good and gracious God, and what happens is that we begin to love God, but often at the very beginning, we love God for our own sake.  We think, “Jesus died for me?  Okay, well I love you Jesus for all you have done for me.  It is a love of God but it is a selfish love.  But we are intended to grow in that love.  Maturity is moving towards loving God for God’s sake.  Oh,God, you are beautiful and good and loving.  Yes, Jesus died for me, but I love you for who you are no matter what benefits I receive.

That is Godly wisdom and the transformation of knowledge.  And James lets us know, as we grow in that Godly wisdom, you know what happens?  God does another amazing work among us.  Listen to verse 18.

18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

I can barely understand, much less contemplate that verse.  When we seek God for God’s sake and His glory seeking to know Him so that our knowledge becomes real wisdom, this is what God does among us.  A harvest of righteousness is God producing more and more obedience and goodness among us.  Seeking Godly wisdom produces Godliness and righteousness.

We make peace by sowing in peace.  What does that mean?  I’ll tell you, it is the very commissioning that Jesus gave the disciples and us.  You see, we often miss this, but let’s not miss it now.  When Jesus returned at His resurrection, He appeared to Mary, the disciples and other followers, and this is what He said.

John 20:19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.

Gang, this is how we pursue Godly wisdom.  Jesus, our Savior, has not only lived for us and died for us, but He rose to new life so that we might live.  As He returned, He gathered His followers together and declared, “Peace be with you.”  This is a real pace earned by Jesus so that you will be at peace with God.  Apart from this blessing, you and I and everyone else is at war with God.  Jesus earns our peace with God.

And then Jesus commissions His church to go out in the same way that God sent Jesus out.  As Jesus was sent to bring about peace between God and man, we the church are sent out in the same way.  Go declaring that there is now peace possible between sinful men and women and God.

Sew in peace James says.  Go pursue the wisdom of God found in the scriptures.  The wisdom will lead you to know that Jesus has made peace between you and God.  In fact, Jesus was sent by God to bring you back to God.

So now lead others to make peace with God by sewing the peaceful work of Jesus and what will happen is God will produce a harvest of righteousness or a harvest of goodness.  You yourself will grow in Godliness and righteousness.  And God will use you to grow others in Godliness and righteousness.

Gang, let’s just not be that church that cares so much about theological knowledge but yet we don’t grow in mercy, wisdom, and gentleness.  Because if we theologically correct but we aren’t growing in mercy, wisdom, and gentleness, James says we are seeking those out of selfish ambition.  If we need to repent, let’s repent, but let’s pursue God for God’s sake.  Let’s walk in the peace that Jesus  has earned for us so that we can sew peace among each other and any that God gives us audience with so that there might a great harvest of goodness and righteousness brought about by what God is doing among us.

May 13, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,

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