Wisdom is not the same as intelligence. Wisdom, biblical wisdom, is practical application of the truth of God's salvation into the work of touching others for the sake of Jesus. Kenton just did that yesterday with lunches for those on the streets. But we're not alone. Five families in Brandon Florida became convinced that they needed to lessen their consumer profile and use the money to help others. Living nearby they pooled resources like washing machines, lawn mowers and even cars. Childcare is a group activity as is sharing toys and recycling everything they can.
In an inner city a group of Christ followers became convicted that the empty lots could better serve the community so they started small gardens which were taken over by those living nearby. They offer fresh food to the neighborhood, cleaned up eyesores and even helped deal with some of the problems in the area.
These are only a couple of examples of what James would call wisdom at work. There are many such examples from World Vision, to Mission Aviation Fellowship, from Portland Organizing Project to Angel Tree, from Gideons International to Young Life. Each flowed from a person or group of people asking God what they should do about an issue.
Wisdom is one of the first themes we ran across in James. In James 1:5, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him". Likewise this wisdom allows us to see everyone as Christ sees them and to take the work of faith as seriously as the beliefs about faith.
James asks the rhetorical question about who is wise. After all we'd all like to think we have at least a bit of wisdom in us. The question we have to ask is what the source of our wisdom is for there is an earthly wisdom as well as a wisdom that comes from God. One leads us into a place of blessing and hope and the other puts us at war with God.
Earthly wisdom is marked by a concern for us. It is a wound in which the ego has become an infected sore of pus and evil. Two phrases describe earthly wisdom. It is bitter envy and strife producing. Here's the truth about us as people, we suck. Human wisdom is based on what we want, when we want it. It is human wisdom that sent Adam and Eve scrambling for clothes when they heard God walking in the garden. It was earthly wisdom that caused them to desire "to be like God" in the first place. It hasn't changed a heck of a lot in the generations since. I had an interesting discussion on line about this same thing when it comes to worship. A big name in music apparently made the comment, "What I really don't like is a lifeless ceremony. I've seen a lot of that." The poster explained that within the context of the whole interview, it seems like he just really doesn't like things that don't connect him with God and are ceremonial.
That was what brought out the rant in me. I couldn't help but wonder at the people, like me, who think worship should be about what I want, what I like, and what I need. As I typed to him it dawned on me that I'm not even sure scripture cares if we "like" worship. Selfishness sees all of life like this.
James is the only writer in the New Testament to use this next word. Aristotle, a few centuries before Christ used it to describe those who "sought political office by unfair means". Strive happens when the issue, whether it's abortion, federal health programs, a version of bible used in church, the time of worship, or anything else becomes the dividing line for right and wrong, God's people or those outside of God's love.
James then shows us the progressive picture of the source of this wisdom. It is earthly, sensual and demonic. It moves from the least to the most destructive nature. It starts out with the harmless, "it's just common sense that we do this or that." You know the common sense that really isn't that common. The next step is that which is devoid of the Holy Spirit. This happens when people do what they think is wise and hope it's God's will, instead of waiting for God to communicate His will. It is based on what we want. Then we see the very root uncovered which is Satan's plan to separate us from God for eternity. When human wisdom is in charge there is no sense of fellowship, koiniea, or trust. Instead of the Body of Christ being built up it is torn apart.
The positive side of the coin is that God's wisdom looks a lot like His Son, our Lord. Listen to these words "But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere."
Undefiled is a stark contrast to the "jealousy" which marks earthly wisdom. The wise follower of Jesus doesn't have to see their names in lights to know they are valuable. Purity indicates a person who is living life certain of God's presence and provision. It is also peaceful or peace loving. It doesn't look for reasons to divide but for common ground. It doesn't get angry or picks a fight for the sake of fighting. Instead it seeks avenues to love and bless others. Part of this process is seen when Paul writes, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves" Doesn't mean we don't take stand but it does mean we work harder to build up the Body of Christ than to tear it down.
Above all, this divine wisdom is practical, "full of mercy and good fruit" James writes in verse 17. James' letter is being read to churches in which there is off based teaching, gossip, and hurtful accusations being made about one's sisters and brothers. It is being spread around a church that is as diverse as any today: rich, poor, slaves, free, women and men.
God's wisdom impacts each of these areas in the first century as well as the areas of our lives in the 21st century. Divine wisdom is merciful. Those hearing this couldn't help but recall James description of "true religion" of caring for orphans and widows. There is a practicality to our wisdom that leads us into deeds of goodness and mercy.
There is no such thing as a "spectator Christian". No matter your life circumstances we can and are expected to be living for Christ 100%. I recall a lady who was bed-ridden whose ministry moved from actively teaching in VBS and being in worship to praying for the members of the church. No matter what your age, financial situation, available time, health restrictions or the like God's wisdom puts us in the thick of things. There's a spoof ad for "Worship ½" which has rewritten praise song into songs like "Seek Ye Second" and "Some of My Heart"*
God's wisdom also brings about righteousness. It gives to others when meeting those needs is uncomfortable and costly. It is giving and caring for those who have no way to pay back the goodness and who wouldn't if they could. God's wisdom brings about a change in our attitude so that the needs of others take precedence over our own desires. Kenton has a great history of putting our faith to work and we're going to continue that process. Yes we'll probably have to make some changes in order to, literally, keep a roof over our heads but it won't change the opportunities we have to live peaceful, caring, attuned lives among those in need within our community. So I'll encourage two responses to God's word today.
1. If it's all about you deal with it and let God change your heart today
2. If you're sold out to Christ thank him for the chance you have to serve Him and look out for the next opportunity which is right around the corner.
*http://www.tangle.com/view_video?viewkey=865a66ea0cab71aca007 accessed August 12, 2009