Wise Up and Live in Peace!
A sermon based on James 3:13-18
Sunday, September 24, 2017 – Pentecost 16B
High school freshmen are pretty dumb, aren't they? At least that's what the sophomores think. High school sophomores, in contrast, are pretty wise. I mean, they're no longer dumb "frosh," who are so fresh to high school, they don't really know what they're doing. Sophomores have been around the block. They know how things work. Of course, ask the seniors, and they might have a different opinion of the sophomores. They might think they're still little morons.
Actually, that's what the word "sophomore" means. "Sophos" means "wise. And "moros" means… well, "moron." So sophomores are literally wise morons. But… so are all of us.
Let's face it. We all think we're pretty wise and everyone else is pretty dumb, at least, compared to us. At least, that's how we act. Selfishly trying to get what we want, what we think is best, we assume everyone else is a bunch of idiots. If only they'd be as smart and wise as us, just imagine how wonderful this world would be.
But in our text for this morning, God, through James, tells us how dumb that is. He tells us where such "wisdom" really comes from: the devil. And he encourages us to stop being such sophomores (such "wise" morons) and to grow up! Give up such phony wisdom and mature to serve your Savior who first served you. Wise up—with real wisdom—and live in peace!
Our text for this morning is found in James 3:13-18…
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
Some sermons are nice to hear. They lift up your spirits, they fill you with courage, or they teach you some new insight into the Word of God. But other sermons punch you in the gut. They hit home. They make you squirm because they talk about you and your sin what you did this week. Well, I'm hoping this sermon is one of those latter.
I don't need a show of hands here, but answer (in your head) honestly: Did you get into a fight this week? I don't mean all out fisticuffs, but a verbal spar, a shouting match, or a silent treatment? Who was it with? Your spouse? Your kids? Your parents? Your brother or sister? Did you do things you now regret doing? Did you say things you now regret saying? Did your selfishness show itself in the way you treated those closest to you? … Did you live out your faith in the way you acted? Or if you didn't act out, did you think selfish, unloving thoughts about those closest to you, about those in your own home? Did your New Man win every battle so that all you did was Christ-like and kind? Or did your sinful nature rule the moment? And finally, was the thing over which you fought (and if you let your selfishness act up, then you lost – even if you won the argument)… was that thing you fought about something that will matter to anyone 100 years from now?
"[Don't] deny the truth," says James. Admit it. This is you he's talking about. And I know it.
No, I don't have hidden cameras placed throughout your house. I don't have secret microphones. And I didn't have a conversation with your spouse, your kids, your parents, or your siblings this. (Well, okay… not for all of you, I didn't.) But there are two reasons that I'm sure that that previous paragraph describes all of us:
The first reason is because I do mean "us." I struggle with my selfishness every single day. And I often lose those battles. Too often, I find that I serve myself instead of my wife, my kids, my parishioners, and especially, my God. I know the selfishness that results in fights, because, well… I live it… every day.
But the second reason I know that your selfishness rears its ugly head at work and at home is even more convincing: God's Word says that this is true of every person in their sinful nature. We think we're so wise that our way is right and everyone else is wrong. And so we act accordingly, serving ourselves first.
"Who is wise and understanding among you?" James asks. Then he answers sarcastically, "Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
Such "wisdom" is demonic. It's from the devil. That's the one to whom we rightly belong by nature. And we prove it every time we act selfishly as he did. We follow his ways as we bicker and fight to get what we want in our selfish ambition. … What "wise" fools we are! No wonder we have so much disorder and strife. And because we act just like the devil, we deserve the devil's fate: We deserve an eternity of separation from God and his love with the devil in hell.
Thank God then, for the "wisdom that comes from heaven." Now, James is here talking about the way we live in true, godly wisdom. But many believe that in the book of Proverbs, Wisdom personified is a picture of Jesus. He is the Wisdom from heaven that came down as a true peacemaker—as one who brought peace between us and God the Father…
When we lived a selfish, self-centered, life of sin, he lived a perfect life of true wisdom. When James wrote, "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere," he could have very well been describing Jesus. Jesus was pure—sinless in every way. Though he brought a war against sin, death, satan, and hell, he did it all to bring a lasting peace between us and God. So he is peace-loving. He was considerate, considering only what would save us, and never what was in his best interest. He was submissive, humbling himself to become obedient even to death. (Philippians 2:6-8) And by his sacrifice in our place, he has given us mercy—mercy to everyone, no matter who we are or what we've done. He's completely impartial. And this love for us is so sincere that he was willing to endure hell in our place.
And by doing so, he won peace between God and mankind. He is the perfect Peacemaker. And now… We are the harvest of righteousness that he reaps. James wrote, "Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness." We are righteous—right in our thoughts, words, and actions—not by virtue of the fact that we actually are, but by virtue of the fact that God declares us to be righteous for the sake of Jesus' perfect life and innocent death in our place.
As Paul put it in Romans 3:21-24, "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."
The faith that we have in Jesus and in his work for us is true wisdom. This is the wisdom that comes from heaven. And this wisdom brings us peace. We are forgiven by God. The hell we deserve for our selfishness, expressed by the fights and the feuds we have at work and home, is escaped! Our sin is gone! We are sinless and holy in God's sight. And we're at peace with him.
And now, we no longer need to get our way, watch the show we want to watch, play the game we want to play, or get the biggest piece of pie. We no longer want to serve our sinful natures, but our God. And the way we serve our God is by serving others. That, dear friends, is true wisdom. And with that true wisdom, life at home and at work will be different.
We will be pure. We'll do all we can to avoid the impurity of sin and serving the sinful, selfish nature. We will be peace-loving, not looking to pick a fight, but to end one, even if it means giving up our rights. We will be considerate, considering how the other person feels before we act. We will be submissive, giving up our rights and wants to serve others in love. We will be full of mercy, forgiving others when they sin against us, as freely as we've been forgiven. We will be fruitful, looking for ways to serve others to show our love for them, but even more to show our love to God. We will be impartial, showing no favorites, but treating all the same in love. And we will be sincere, not just going through the motions, but genuine in our desire to serve them the way that our Savior first served us.
I know, those are tall orders. But we can do it! We can resist our selfishness. We can subdue our foolishness. We can live in real wisdom—a wisdom that comes from above—as we daily remember the selfless acts of love our Savior did for us.
And can you imagine if everyone at home were this way—looking to serve everyone else before they served themselves? What a wonderful home it would be! It would be like heaven! Well, don't wait for someone else to start serving you in love. Let it start with you. And I think you'll find that showing love can be just as contagious as picking a fight can be.
And as you work for peace with this wisdom from heaven, you will reap a harvest of righteousness too. As you focus on your Savior, as you help others to do the same, others will become like you: righteous and holy in God's sight through faith in Jesus, and eager to live for him in thanks, serving others and sowing more peace. So wise up, dear friends! Stop being sophomores and mature! Grow in your faith and live in peace! In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.