Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
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Godly Wisdom

Mark 9:30-37 and James 3:13-4:3

James is drawing a comparison between two kinds of wisdom. He calls one “wisdom from above,” which was a Jewish circumlocution for saying “wisdom from God” or godly wisdom. He doesn’t name the other, but we could say it’s “worldly wisdom,” or we could even call it “wisdom from below,” since James sees a demonic influence in this other kind of wisdom.

Each brand of wisdom has its own character, and we can recognize the character of those who live by each, for good or bad.

A person of godly wisdom lives a life “full of good deeds.” It’s easy to be good from time to time, but not so easy to live a life “full of good.” But a person guided by worldly wisdom produces “every kind of evil.”

A person of godly wisdom is humble, thinking less of self than of others. I think of the disciples arguing on the road in our Gospel text this morning about which of them is the greatest. When Jesus asks, “What were you all talking about?” they don’t want to answer. They knew their pride was at odds with the spirit of Jesus. And yet, they couldn’t help themselves.

Godly wisdom produces contentment. A person who has contentment is satisfied, as long as their needs are met. But worldly wisdom is defined by jealousy, a lack of contentment as long as others have more. And pretty much no matter who you are, there will always be someone who has more.

The Greek word translated here as “jealous” can also be translated as “zealous.” It’s the word used to describe the revolutionary element in 1st century Judea. James is not hiding who he’s thinking of here. We’ll talk more about the Zealots later.

A person of godly wisdom lives a life of submission. They accept God’s will. They accept God’s will if it is easy and pleasing to their own interests. And they accept God’s will if it is difficult and contrary to their own interests. But a person of worldly wisdom lives a life of ambition, seeking personal gain. That gain might be wealth or power or pleasure or success or any number of things. But worldly wisdom follows the line of thinking that if you want happiness in life, then you have to get more.

A person of godly wisdom brings peace. Peace is especially defined as right relationships. Peace happens when people are right with God and right with each other. A person of godly wisdom brings people closer to God and closer to each other. But worldly

wisdom brings disorder. It divides people and pits them against each other. Satan wants us to spend our lives comparing ourselves against others, seeing how we don’t have as much and convincing us we should. That leads to greed and destructive competition. But godly wisdom brings about cooperation between people.

Godly wisdom is pure. The word pure basically means unadulterated, uncontaminated. The Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.” That is purity.

On the other hand, worldly wisdom is “contaminated” with demonic influence. It is “motivated by the Devil.” The systems of this world are contaminated with evil. We talk about systemic evil, the evil that exists in the systems of the world: Racism, oppression, all manners of injustice. Systemic evil is real, but its origins are the diseased condition of the human heart. If our hearts were pure, systemic evil would not exist. And behind it all, there are spiritual influences. We looked at Ephesians 6 about a month ago, and there Paul talks about how we are at war with the “powers and authorities in the unseen world.” That was the Hebrew understanding of the world. There are human agencies of evil. But there are also demonic influences in the midst of human agencies.

Godly wisdom is gentle and yielding. It seeks the good of others. But worldly wisdom is full of bitterness and resentment at the good of others.

Godly wisdom is merciful. A godly person seeks justice, but more than that, they recognize that there is principle of mercy that is greater than justice. Justice is us dying for our sins. Mercy is Jesus dying for our sins on the cross. But worldly wisdom turns to violence and murder, sometimes in the name of “justice.”

Godly wisdom is impartial, treating others equally. But worldly wisdom shows favoritism and discrimination. Some are favored because they can further our ambition. Others are discriminated against so that we can hold ourselves above them.

Godly wisdom is sincere, telling the truth in all circumstances. Worldly wisdom is duplicitous: Spinning the truth or lying when it suits our ambition.

Godly wisdom is expressed through faith that God will provide for our needs. But worldly wisdom turns to quarreling and fighting for resources. There is a mentality of scarcity in worldly wisdom. A mentality of scarcity is the thinking that there is only so much pie. If you have a bigger piece than me, then I have to get some of yours. If you have and I have not, then you have “stolen” from me. But a person of godly wisdom trusts God will provide our needs. Not our wants, but he will supply our needs.

Both of these ways of thinking influence us. It’s not a question of just one or the other. James was writing to a Christian audience, not a bunch of pagans, but a Christian audience that was tempted to think like the Zealots.

The Zealots, these revolutionaries of the mid-first century, especially appealed to the poor and the oppressed, which was most people in first century Judea and Galilee. They said, “Those rich Jews got rich by betraying God and serving the Romans. You deserve what they have. We’ll take it back in the name of justice.” They rationalized murder in the name of justice.

Those same voices are out there today. There are still those who say revolution and violence are justified when done in the cause of justice.

And we still live in a culture that lacks contentment. I read once and it stuck with me that “Our culture is built on the logic of envy. The way of thinking that says, ‘To have more is to be more.’” That’s basically the message of advertising: “You would be happy if you just had more.”

One of the things I’ve seen in the last 5-10 years is a reaction against that predominant way of thinking. But it’s not really a reaction against it. My wife and I used to like the television shows about people looking for homes. It’s a catharsis for pastors who live in parsonages. Starting a few years ago, there was a movement about “tiny houses.” People didn’t want the 4000 square foot McMansions; they wanted a 400 square foot tiny house. And often times the rationale was “We want less stuff so that we can have more experiences.” Often it was more travel. It seems to me that is just a different kind of greed. Instead of greed for things, there was a greed for experiences. “I would be happy if I just had more experiences. If I just got to travel more, then I would be happy.”

The thing we need to bear in mind is that we are also tempted by this worldly wisdom. We are tempted by jealousy, pride, ambition, and so on. Those things tempt us, too. If we pretend we are not influenced by them, then we become blind to them. They’re even more dangerous if we imagine they’re not there. They are there. We have to acknowledge that yes, the world’s way of thinking does influence us. We are tempted to think in these ways. Only when we acknowledge the temptation to think in a way contrary to God are we able to seek God’s grace to resist these ways of thinking. Only when we need God’s help to resist temptations can we receive God’s help.

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