16th Pentecost Sunday
September 24, 2017
Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Sioux Falls, SD
Rev. Norman F. Seeger
James 3:13-18 (CSB)
Who among you is wise and understanding? By his good conduct he should show that his works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your heart, don’t boast and deny the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.
“Are You Wise? Look in the Mirror! What Do You See?”
1) Selfish Ambition Flows From the Devil
2) Godly Humility Wisely Produces Peace
Dear disciples of Christ,
Are you wise? How would we know? IQ tests can measure intelligence. Scholastic Aptitute Tests qualify high school seniors for college scholarships based on an ability to learn. Tests teachers give in school evaluate knowledge I acquire; also reveal a certain level of understanding. But the question our Lord poses is not, ‘Are you intelligent?’ James leads us to ask, ‘Am I wise?’
Knowledge? Wisdom? What is the difference? Knowledge can spell the homonym ‘two’ three different ways: ‘t-o, t-w-o, t-o-o.’ Wisdom, stringing sentences into a story put on paper, will write (w-r-i-t-e) the right (r-i-g-h-t) spelling of the word ‘two’ at the proper time. Knowledge can identify different types of nails. Wisdom uses the right nail, or possibly a screw, at the right time for whatever we might be building. Wisdom properly applies my accumulated knowledge, experience, understanding & common sense in the life I live today.
Ask again, ‘Are you wise?’ Where will we look to measure my wisdom? Look in the mirror! Look at the life you are living! ‘Who among you is wise & understanding?’ James asks & answers, ‘By his good conduct he should show that his works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom.’ Do not begin to try drilling down inside your head seeking wisdom for, James stresses, wisdom is not hidden inside our head. Similarly James emphasizes the fact faith, a matter of the heart – an eternally critical trust in Jesus’ death redeeming me from my sin by paying sin’s penalty as my Substitute on his cross Good Friday, while Jesus’ life covers us with his holiness as God judges us ‘forgiven’ & ‘acceptable in his sight’ — faith never hides unseen inside our heart. Faith produces faithfulness. So wisdom is evident in our actions.
Look in the mirror. Look at your own life’s actions. What do you see? ‘Envy? Selfish ambition? James’ first options are natural, but not desirable. Every individual is selfish by birth. Original sin all inherit tells me I am ‘Number One,’ I am all-important; no one else really matters. James’ advice diametrically contradicts our inherited attitude: ‘If you have bitter envy & selfish ambition in your heart, do not boast… Such wisdom does not come down from above but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.’
What do you see when you look in the mirror? Envy? Do you see Cain, killing his brother Abel when God is pleased with Abel’s sacrifice but does not smile on Cain’s sacrifice? Do you resent your brother’s brains? Do you despise good grades a sister gets because yours pale in comparison? Do you mock them for studying too hard; make fun of a friend for listening to a teacher attentively? Do you envy a friend’s athletic ability or a person’s popularity? Do you try convincing classmates to only play with you at recess? Do you divide teams so your side will always win whatever game you may play?
What do we see when we look in the mirror? Envy? Selfish ambition? Do you resent a co-worker’s promotion? Do you despise somebody being paid more than you receive although your work appears superior? Do you work to undermine a co-worker’s accomplishments, as if you could possibly lift yourself up by putting other people down? Looking into your mirror, doyou see Jewish leaders who resent Jesus’ popularity opposing, condemning & ultimately killing our Savior? Do you see twelve disciples (in our gospel reading) arguing about which of them is most important?
Too many times my mirror, my life – in various ways — shows me selfish ambition trying to put myself on top of everyone else, creating conflict because other people keep trying to put themselves over me. Sinful actions creeping into our daily activities is no surprise, for James notes, “Where you have envy & selfish ambition, there you find disorder & every evil practice.’ Seeing our undeniable sin, what can we do? How can we correct our life; replace evil with righteousness? James, turning us toward our only effective answer, explains, ‘such wisdom – bitter envy, selfish ambition; disorder — does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.’ Lifting eyes to the heavens, James reminds us, as he stated earlier, ‘Every good & perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. By his own choice, the Father gave us birth by the word of truth so we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.’[JAM 1]
God chose to bring us life – eternal life — using his true Word to create faith in Jesus Christ in our hearts. Rejoicing, Paul urges us to ‘continue in what you have learned & firmly believed… the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.’[2 TIM 3] Asking again, ‘Am I wise?’ we at the same time ask, ‘Am I saved?’ Never desiring to die an eternal death earthly, unspiritual, demonic wisdom ultimately delivers, our ears eagerly hear Paul promise a jailor in Philippi who asks, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, you will be saved!’[ACTS 16] Like this jailor bringing Paul into his house; listening as the apostle teaches Jesus’ saving truth; then having his whole household baptized in Christ, we bring our babies (as Matt & Hannah Bruns bring Maverick this morning) we bring our self to be baptized in Christ, we keep on listening to be learning God’s gospel truth which the Holy Spirit uses to increase our trust in Jesus’ life & death delivering our righteousness, our redemption & we wisely let Jesus shine his life-giving light into the world through our life.
‘Who among you is wise & understanding?’ James asks & immediately answers, ‘By his good conduct he should show his works are done in the gentleness that comes from wisdom.’ Look in the mirror. Do you notice something different as Christians wisely rely upon Jesus to give us life & to guide our life? In place of envy & selfish ambition Satan promotes, God-given ‘wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy & good fruits, unwavering, without pretense.’ Rather than see myself as all-important, Jesus’ faithful follower looks up to the Lord & looks out for every other individual in my life. Instead of being a self-promoter, instead of serving as my own top priority, I apply Jesus’ explanation for disciples arguing which one was most important, ‘Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant; whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man (Jesus himself) did not come to be served, but to serve; to give his life as a ransom for many.”[MK 10]
Looking in your mirror, do you see Jesus in an upper room the Maundy Thursday night before he would sacrifice himself on our cross – do you see Jesus lowering himself to wash his disciples’ feet? Can you hear Jesus instruct his faithful followers, ‘Now that I, your Lord & Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet?’ ‘I have set you an example,’ our Savior declares too clearly to be misunderstood, ‘that you should do as I have done for you.’ Jesus concludes, ‘Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.’[JN 13]
Knowing & doing… Like James, Jesus references faith in action. Jesus encourages; Jesus expects faith found in our heart to become evident in our faithfulness, in faithful works all are able to see – in faithful words all are able to hear. What a difference a day makes … the day of our redemption! Now we faithful, believing souls, possessing ‘wisdom for salvation,’ see in life’s mirror peace-loving people who, instead of selfishly promoting my own interests, are conscientiously protecting a friend’s property; always building up a neighbor’s reputation.
‘Pure, without pretense,’ wisdom has no ulterior motive. I never serve you in some way so you will feel obligated to do something for me tomorrow. ‘Gentle, compliant,’ wisdom is ready to listen rather than insist my opinion must rule the day. Not the proverbial bull in a china shop, wisdom will imitate a Lord Jesus who will ‘not break a bruised reed; not snuff out a smoldering wick’[MT 12] (not harm a most fragile faith) until Jesus’ eternal-peace-producing justice triumphs on his atoning cross; at his empty tomb, where God the Father declares his innocent Son’s sacrifice for our sins ‘accepted’ – God declares us sinners ‘forgiven’ – God declares himself ‘at peace’ with every one of us freely redeemed individuals.
‘Peace-loving, unwavering, full of mercy,’ wisdom always promotes the ‘peace of God which surpasses all understanding’ by showing people their sin only so we can then show them their Savior from sin, Jesus the Christ. Calling for repentance from a fellow believer, wisdom first repents of my own sin – wisdom ‘first takes the plank out of my own eye so I can see clearly to remove a speck from my brother’s eye.’[MT 7]
What do you see in your life? Are you ‘pure, peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy & good fruits, unwavering, without pretense? Do you cultivate peace?’. Are you wise? Are you eternally wise? May God give you wisdom from above, wisdom from his Word, wisdom for salvation!