James 3:17-18 – Be Wise

The wisdom that comes from heaven is, first, pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (New International Version)

All New Testament epistles are letters written by Apostles to problems and situations within certain churches. When James sat down to pen a letter to the Jewish Christian churches in Gentile dominated countries, it was to address the state of their fellowship, their Christian lives, and an unhealthy church dynamic.

The believers faced lots of adversity as Christians. Sometimes, they responded well, and sometimes, they did not. They wavered between faith in Jesus and relying on other things to deal with their problems. James labeled this kind of inconsistent approach as double-minded or duplicitous. (James 1:5-8).

The church vacillated between knowing God loves them and wondering where God was in all their trouble. They investigated Holy Scripture, but then did not do what it says. (James 1:22-25) The church claimed faith in Christ, then schemed about ways to cozy-up to the wealthy so they could have a healthy budget. (James 2:1-4)

People professed faith, then sat on the fence, straddling the sacred and secular, doing nothing. The church was between two worlds of heavenly wisdom and worldly wisdom. James sought to knock them off the fence, to quit being in two worlds with one foot in each. He wanted them on a path of authentic faith and true wisdom which would support them in a difficult world. 

James provides a way to navigate this troublesome world. He highlights seven characteristics of godly wisdom needed to face adversity and live well….

Pure

Purity is holiness. It’s morality and ethics. The pure person has a singular devotion to Jesus Christ – they pursue God’s will and seek to follow God’s way in everything, without exception. Purity means there are no mixed motives, no hidden agendas, no secret self-serving desires. 

Those who are pure have experienced spiritual cleansing. The pure know this is a foolish messed-up world; living in it means facing envy and selfish ambition. So, they jump the fence into God’s big meadow of grace. They joyously roll in the green grass of forgiveness. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, Jesus said, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8, NIV)

Peace-loving

Someone once asked a gentleman married for fifty years the secret to his marital bliss. He said, “The wife and I had this agreement when we first got married: When she was bothered about something, she would just tell me and get it off her chest. And if I was mad at her about something, I was able to take a long walk. I suppose you could attribute our happy marriage to the fact that I have largely led an outdoor life.”

That’s typically how we think about peace – the absence of conflict. But biblical peace is more than not fighting. Peace is harmony, working well together, and enjoying our relationships. Wise and godly people not only possess peace; they promote peace in all they do and say. Peace-lovers long for a real peace, which is more than keeping people from one another’s throats.

Just because there is no appearance of strife, doesn’t mean there is peace. Avoiding conflict is unhelpful. Jesus said:

“Blessed are the peace-makers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9, NIV) 

To enjoy the green pastures on God’s side of the fence means there are fences which have been mended….

“It is better to correct someone openly than to have love and not show it.” (Proverbs 27:5, NCV)

“Avoid saying anything hurtful,
    and never let a lie come out of your mouth.
Stop doing anything evil, and do good.
    Look for peace, and do all you can to help people live peacefully.” (Psalm 34:13-14, ERV)

“Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near.” (Ephesians 2:14-17, NLT)

Considerate

Consideration of others means to be flexible, open to reason, level-headed in anxious situations, gentle, non-combative, non-retaliatory, and generally understanding of another’s point of view. The considerate person puts themselves in another person’s shoes. It’s the opposite of being judgmental and going-off with partial information and quick interpretations. 

To be considerate is to make allowances for the weaknesses and shortcomings of others. It takes the kindest possible perspective. The considerate person avoids jumping to conclusions. I wonder, do you know how another person thinks to the degree you could state their opinions or positions accurately in a way they would say, “Yes that is exactly what I think!” 

The opposite of being considerate is to have a critical spirit. Constant criticism is a clue that godly wisdom will not be coming from the other side of the fence.

Submissive

Submission is a good thing. It’s a choice. If a person is coerced into submission, that’s slavery, not submission.  To submit is to place oneself under someone else’s authority. The submissive person listens and obeys authority. Submissive people are teachable – not concerned with gaining authority so they can call the shots. They humbly receive correction and do what is right. 

“Submit to each other out of respect for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21, CEB)

Full of Mercy and Good Fruit

Mercy is compassion in action. It empathizes with the needs of other, then, does something about it. Goodness results from mercy. Withholding mercy is a tactic of worldly wisdom, not godly wisdom. To believe we are letting someone off the hook or encouraging their bad behavior by showing mercy is completely foreign to Holy Scripture. Jesus said:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7, NIV)

Merciful people scan the horizon to see whom they can show mercy. King David did this with Saul’s grandson, Mephibosheth. While worldly kings on the other side of the fence were killing their rivals, David did the opposite by being merciful. He gave Mephibosheth a permanent seat at his dinner table (2 Samuel 9). David used his position and power to extend mercy. That’s why David was a man after God’s own heart. 

Impartial

To be impartial is to have no favoritism, to be the same person toward everyone. The impartial person is steady, consistent, and not swayed by the crowd. They don’t act one way with a certain group of people and different with another group. The person who sticks their finger to the wind to see which way it is blowing is unwise.

An impartial person is predictable – you never have to wonder if they are going to blow up at you, or not. Genuine wisdom is equitable in meeting needs. Impartiality doesn’t ask all kinds of qualifying questions to discern whether someone should get their needs met.

Withholding needs from others is unjust. God is just and impartial and expects people to reflect this basic approach to others. 

“The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, powerful, and awe-inspiring God. He never plays favorites and never takes a bribe.” (Deuteronomy 10:17, GW) 

“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Leviticus 19:15, NIV) 

“Judge people fairly and honestly. Don’t twist the law. Don’t play favorites. Don’t take a bribe—a bribe blinds even a wise person; it undermines the intentions of the best of people.” (Deuteronomy 16:19, MSG)

Sincere

Sincerity means to be without hypocrisy. The sincere person is the same both inside and out; what you see is what you get. They are real, vulnerable, and willing to say what is needed – not what they think others want to hear. 

There are no ulterior motives and no skeletons in the closet with the sincere person. That’s because everything they say and do is above board. 

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22, NIV)

Sincerity creates true biblical fellowship, openness, and honesty in the church.

Conclusion

People dwelling with godly wisdom produce a harvest of righteousness. The sure signs of true wisdom are good deeds done from a devoted heart to God. The source is humility. Conversely, the telltale signs of false wisdom are envy and selfishness. They result in disorder and evil practices.

We must go hard after these seven characteristics of being pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. If we desire unity, harmony, and righteousness, then it’s imperative we pursue godly wisdom.

Be wise, my friends, without being wise guys.

Proverbs 9:1-6 – Lady Wisdom’s Invitation

Divine Wisdom by Shiloh Sophia McCloud

Wisdom has built her house
    with its seven columns.
She has prepared the meat
and set out the wine.
    Her feast is ready.

She has sent her servant women
    to announce her invitation
    from the highest hills:
“Everyone who is ignorant
    or foolish is invited!
    All of you are welcome
    to my meat and wine.
If you want to live,
    give up your foolishness
    and let understanding
    guide your steps.” (CEV)

Wisdom is personified as a wise woman calling out to us. Her message is a passionate appeal to take the path of insight through God’s revealed will. She encourages us to leave our simple ways and walk in the way of insight. 

The word “wisdom” in Scripture is the careful application of God’s Word to concrete situations in our lives. During our daily life, paying attention to wisdom and following her instructions is vital to experiencing success in the Christian walk, and in all of life.

Obstructing the ability to listen for wisdom’s call is the fact that too many people are downright impatient. The deliberate ways of wisdom take far too much time for them. They want the bottom-line, the skinny on wisdom. However, to let wisdom teach us her ways, we need to slow down enough to hear, accept, and engraft wise practices of living. Working and living harder and faster when we encounter difficulties only betrays our great need for Lady Wisdom’s instruction.

It is the immature simpleton who refuses to wait on the lessons that wisdom wants to impart. Wisdom cannot be gained quickly. Her teachings are learned slowly with careful application over time. Wisdom is something of a marinade, and if we don’t allow the proper time, we are unable to live well. We will then, at best, be bland and dull, and at worst, be an unsavory presence in the world.

Another foolish obstacle to receiving wisdom is the search for simple solutions to complex problems. Wisdom calls us to leave such ineffective and short-sighted ways and take the high road of consultation, collaboration, and humble learning.

Rather than always rush to Google for answers to our questions; instead of allowing another person to make decisions for us; in place of implementing sheer pragmatic plans, please allow wisdom to penetrate the mind and heart so that what comes out is thoroughly godly and biblical. 

Where is the place to start? Reverence of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is insight. There is no substitute to committing oneself to the regular and daily regimen of reading God’s Holy Word and seeking to put it into practice.

All-Wise God, the One who is never in a hurry, create in me a wise mind and heart.  Help me to sit still long enough for wisdom to bring biblical and spiritual maturity to my life, through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Psalm 19 – The God We Can Know

The heavens keep telling
    the wonders of God,
    and the skies declare
    what he has done.
Each day informs
    the following day;
    each night announces
    to the next.
They don’t speak a word,
    and there is never
    the sound of a voice.
Yet their message reaches
    all the earth,
    and it travels
    around the world.

In the heavens a tent
    is set up for the sun.
It rises like a bridegroom
    and gets ready like a hero
    eager to run a race.
It travels all the way
across the sky.
    Nothing hides from its heat.

The Law of the Lord is perfect;
    it gives us new life.
His teachings last forever,
    and they give wisdom
    to ordinary people.
The Lord’s instruction is right;
    it makes our hearts glad.
His commands shine brightly,
    and they give us light.

Worshiping the Lord is sacred;
    he will always be worshiped.
All his decisions
    are correct and fair.
They are worth more
    than the finest gold
    and are sweeter than honey
    from a honeycomb.

By your teachings, Lord,
    I am warned;
    by obeying them,
    I am greatly rewarded.
None of us know our faults.
    Forgive me when I sin
    without knowing it.
Don’t let me do wrong
    on purpose, Lord,
    or let sin have control
    over my life.
Then I will be innocent,
    and not guilty
    of some terrible fault.

Let my words and my thoughts
    be pleasing to you, Lord,
    because you are my mighty rock
    and my protector. (CEV)

Today’s psalm is a celebration of God’s self-revelation. Through both nature and law, the Lord has graciously made the divine life known to humanity. What’s more, God’s moral and ethical teachings provide insight for living a good life. This is for the common good of all persons.

The vision of the psalm is of a personal God, not an abstract deity who is aloof from creation. Through both land and law, there is the Lord of life, desiring humanity to know the divinity which infuses it all and has people’s best interests continually at the forefront of providence and goodwill.

The created world witnesses to God. Creation manifests the glory of its Creator. Each creature and every created thing have the capacity to acknowledge and declare their Originator. That which has no mouth can speak. Those with no vocal cords have a voice. We can hear them, that is, if our ears are open to listen. The creation is not God. Yet the created world and order knows the Lord so intimately that it sometimes seems as if the sun, the trees, the mountains, and the meadows are divine. The divine stamp is there, testifying with mysterious words to a glorious God who desires to be known.

So, the Lord graciously gave us law. God’s righteous and good law flows seamlessly from God’s good character. Law is the divine medium for humanity, a guide for human life toward thriving and flourishing on God’s good earth. We were put on this planet with instructions on how to get along on it. It is when we throw out the rulebook and improvise that we tend to get into all kinds of trouble.

“Knowing God is more important than knowing about God.”

karl rahner

Even when we as people dig our own graves and fall into them, God is there. Grace is available for the asking, redeeming the wayward life. Deliverance is a real possibility, to set us aright again, and restore us to our full luster as people created in the image of God. Law and land converge to guide into grateful living, into the wisdom of dealing rightly in all things.

Wisdom in the Old Testament is the combination of knowledge and practice. It is the application of God’s self-revelation to concrete situations in life. We live wisely when we get to know the sovereign God of creation and use the Lord’s revealed mores and ethos as our guide in daily experiences.

We need God’s gracious revealed law. It’s not just for theology nerds or spiritual eggheads; God’s law is for everyone – the learned and the unlearned. Every one of us needs the guidance and direction of God’s Holy Word, and the careful application of it to all our circumstances. That’s wisdom.

You and I are shaped and formed as godly people as we allow God’s Word to awash us and seep into our souls.  Reading this psalm out loud slowly and contemplatively more than once is an opportunity to let our common ordinary experiences transform into divine appointments.

Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid and idiotic sins, from thinking I can take over your work. Then I can start each day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of sin’s awful grime. Let me not be found in the dominion of darkness but bask in the glorious light of your glory. Accept both my words and my life when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Rock, my Deliverer, my Redeemer, my All. Amen.

Proverbs 8:1-21 – How to Get Rich

With great understanding,
    Wisdom is calling out
    as she stands at the crossroads
    and on every hill.
She stands by the city gate
    where everyone enters the city,
    and she shouts:
“I am calling out
    to each one of you!
Good sense and sound judgment
    can be yours.
    Listen, because what I say
    is worthwhile and right.
I always speak the truth
    and refuse to tell a lie.
Every word I speak is honest,
    not one is misleading
    or deceptive.

“If you have understanding,
    you will see that my words
    are just what you need.
Let instruction and knowledge
mean more to you
    than silver
    or the finest gold.
Wisdom is worth much more
than precious jewels
    or anything else you desire.”

I am Wisdom—Common Sense
    is my closest friend;
    I possess knowledge
    and sound judgment.
If you respect the Lord,
    you will hate evil.
    I hate pride and conceit
    and deceitful lies.
I am strong,
    and I offer
sensible advice
    and sound judgment.
By my power kings govern,
    and rulers make laws
    that are fair.
Every honest leader rules
    with help from me.

I love everyone who loves me,
    and I will be found by all
    who honestly search.
I can make you rich and famous,
    important and successful.
What you receive from me
    is more valuable
    than even the finest gold
    or the purest silver.
I always do what is right,
    and I give great riches
    to everyone who loves me. (CEV)

Maybe you, like me, are wary of get-rich-quick schemes. Those types of marketing strategies typically involve some path to becoming a millionaire in a short amount of time. Sometimes it works. Yet, if you look more closely to the success stories, you will almost always find a person who had a laser focus to acquire wealth, and a dogged commitment to seeing it happen. 

There is a get-rich plan in the Bible. It is called the book of “Proverbs” and it has something a whole lot more valuable than earthly riches. Proverbs makes the audacious claim of fame and wealth greater than any billionaire. And it is no scam.

So, who can have this? How does that even happen? 

Wisdom is the genuine path to a wealth transcending dollars and cents, stocks and bonds, cash and credit, gold, or silver. 

The Law of the Lord is perfect;
    it gives us new life.
His teachings last forever,
    and they give wisdom
    to ordinary people. (Psalms 19:7, CEV)

Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, and throughout Holy Scripture, is the ability to take truth about God and the world and apply it to actual concrete life situations. Just stop and think about that for a moment… Have you ever wondered what in the heck you are going to do? Do you have times when you just do not know what your life is supposed to be about?  Are you ever uncertain about how to deal with someone, or a group of people? Wisdom has the answers.

Be a friend to yourself; do all you can to be wise. Try hard to understand, and you will be rewarded. (Proverbs 19:8, ERV)

How do I obtain this biblical wisdom?  Lady Wisdom speaks to that question. Wisdom, personified as a sage woman, says that she gives great riches to everyone who loves her.

Highly esteem her, and she will exalt you.
    She will honor you if you embrace her.

proverbs 4:8, ceb

Sit and ponder Lady Wisdom for a minute… When we love someone, we desire to spend time with them, to have an intimate relationship, to do anything for that person. We honor them enough to listen and do what is best.

Respect and obey the Lord!
    This is the beginning
    of wisdom.
To have understanding,
    you must know the Holy God. (Proverbs 9:10, CEV)

There are thirty-one chapters in the book of Proverbs. One way of carefully moving through this book of Wisdom is to read one chapter a day for a month. I do this exercise in reading at least once a year. I typically pick out one or two verses a day to meditate upon and contemplate. The goal is to simply let Wisdom have her way with us – into our heart, mind, and soul – so that she is with us always. When that happens, you will discover the kind of wealth and riches which are far beyond what you could ever dream.

Ever-Wise God, you call out at every crossroad and on every hill.  Yours is not a secret wisdom – it is for all to hear and learn from. May Wisdom fill me to the full, so that I might live wisely, knowing how to respond well and rightly to any and every situation in life, to the glory of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.