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Wisdom----with meekness

This morning we have our fourth message from the book of James.  Today we finish chapter 3, which addresses,  “Wisdom from Above”.

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James 3:13-18, NIV

James points out here that  are two wisdoms—one from God and one from below. The the one from God is true wisdom, while the wisdom of the world has more to do with “street smarts” and being wise in the ways of the world and looking out for “number one”.   Which do you have?  The answer is made evident by what  follows in your behavior. Being wise will make you popular with all people, nor will it probably get you elected to public office or even cause others to respect you.  But wise choices and actions, the kind that God gives us, is witnessed by meekness.  Not weakness,  but meekness.  Christian meekness is an attitude of  the heart whereby a person is willing to accept and submit without resistance to the will and desire of someone else to keep the peace. Meekness never says, “do it my way or I will take my toys away and go home.”   Meekness seeks the good of the other—not the self. A meek person is willing to share the sand box with new players that are selfish and not so meek.

But if you are a Christian, it does mean that you will naturally and always be wise;  and being old does not mean you’re wise, any more than being young means you’re foolish.  The Bible tells us that wisdom is a gift from God that He gives to all who ask.   Have you asked for that gift?  When you’re troubled in spirit, do you respond with a sharp tongue or hardened heart, or do humbly ask God for wisdom. And what is the evidence of your wisdom, regardless of your years?  Again, it’s meekness.  That being the proof, I confess that sometimes I might be smart in how I protect and defend myself or my loved one, but there are times I am not wise.  Meekness is not always present in some of my choices—the flesh is.  Friends, are you wise?  We need wise leaders in our church, as examples to our youth, to serve on committees, as care-givers to the informed and dying.  We lack this so much in our national discourse today.  Meekness does not mean you don’t stand up to a bully, or that you hide your face from confronting obvious sin. You can be meek and still punish your child or serve on a jury that sends a man to death row!  But meekness is doing the righteous thing gently, removed of pride, hate and revenge.  It might mean making a hard choice, but not from a position of superiority, but of lowliness of heart and mind.

When you consider someone else’s life that was the epitome of pleasing to God, we’re always drawn to Job. Why was Job so respected and one in whom God was so proud?  Two things: He feared God and shunned evil.  (Job 1:1b).  That’s pretty wise, isn’t it?  And it’s such a consistent description of what God requires of us—-and something that is inexcusably absent in the way we often live.  Do you fear God and persistently avoid evil??

Within every human us is desire to do what is good, but also the desire of the rebellious and fallen self to do what is self serving.  The devil tempts us to be in charge—-of our own lives…. then the lives of our family….and then the lives of others.  It’s not what God wants.  God has planted deep within us a desire for Him and for what is right.  But Christians can become deaf   and find out one day that they can no longer hear Him when He speaks. Micah says that God has planted this the conscience’s of all men and women: “To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.”  None of us have any excuses!  But we may have chosen to  hardened our own hearts,—but blame God for a hard heart—it’s not God’s doing.

Without God’s wisdom—without meekness—without a fear of God and a love for mercy —bad things follow.  James says it: “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”  We have to gently remind each other—and humbly ask God to remind us—of trusting Him to give us wisdom and discernment and remove deceit, dishonesty and selfishness from our hearts.  What happens when Christians, believers in Jesus Christ—-a part of the true church—-act in deceit, dishonesty  and arrogance?  God takes action.  Luke told of this event in the early church:  “Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.  With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?  Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.”  Acts 5:1-6, NIV.

What was sin of Ananias and Saphira?  They tried to deceive and cheat the church for personal attention and gain!  They did not commit some sexual sin, or burn the sanctuary down, or come to church high or drunk—-and all those things are bad!  But they lied about the money they gave to the church—the did not have a holy fear of God. They did what something  deceptive—they acted like they were giving the church a generous and selfless gift, but in reality they were doing it for their own purposes and to get the approval, attention and praise of others. And then they dishonestly kept some of what they said they were giving to God. God struck them both dead for this.  Now you think about that and what God expects of church members when it comes to integrity.

Think about what Zechariah the prophet said about people that ignore God.  God’s people, the Israelites, were told time and time again this: “….show mercy and compassion to one another….do not plot evil against each other.” (Zechariah 7:16, NIV).   But what did the people of God, His favored ones do?    “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.”  (Zechariah 7:11-12, NIV).  As you all know, at this time in history, the Spirit of God spoke through a prophet—God’s mouthpiece—through one like Zechariah.  But since Pentecost the Holy Spirit has descended all Christians and speaks to us directly, straight from God, just as He did to Zechariah.  You might not like what the Holy Spirit told Zechariah to do, you might not appreciate what the Holy Spirit told  James to write 2000 years ago, but what about the Holy Spirit told you to do—or not do—-this past week?  Hard-heartedness follows when we stubbornly refuse to listen to Him!  Friends, I do not want Him angry with me!   I do not want a hard heart!

As a church, when we have new folks visiting us in two weeks for our bring-a-friend-lunch, what should they experience when they walk into this sanctuary?  Well, not what some folks have complained about.  Some who visit here regularly continue to tell me that they are not always greeted or made to feel appreciated.  If that makes you mad at me for saying it from the pulpit—-good.  I’m glad you’re listening. You’re probably one of the ones that’s not nice to visitors.  It’s the job of every Christian,  regardless of the “mood” we’re in, to be gracious and welcoming to strangers, church members, children and youth.   We’re told in Philippians 4:5, “Let your gentleness be known to all!”  A growing church is warm, kind, embracing and encouraging.  Do you take time to tell new people that you are glad they’re here?    I had a sign on my door several years ago when I first opened my summer camp for kids. It was meant to be read by every person that came into our office, regardless of their business with us. It read, “Children are not a problem in our office, they are the reason we exist.”   

As long as I am your pastor, Children and youth will not be a problem, even when they make noises during worship, wear out the grass, break something or occasionally litter. I hope you feel the same way.   Visitors are not an annoyance for me when they come to see us for worship—they’re God’s gift and our hope for continuing as a our church.

Since the fall of the human race, men and women have surrendered, far too often, to Satan’s attempt to get us to focus on petty rivalries (as with Cain towards Abel),  or jealousy (as with Rachel and Leah)  or to hold onto offenses and insults when, instead,  we’re admonished to do this: “….whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”. Philippians 4:9, NIV

Why don’t we talk about the “fear” of God more.  “What do some people mean when they say, 'I am not afraid of God because I know He is good'? Have they never even been to a dentist?” (C.S. Lewis).  A dentist, a surgeon, a personal trainer might all be good people, but if we’re not taking care of our teeth, or our body we might find that these good people are the source of pain!

And we sometimes forget that fear, along with occasional pain,  is not altogether a bad thing. Fear of being mangled keeps you away from walking in front of a Mac truck or putting your hand in an alligators mouth, and it reminds you fasten your seatbelt.  But as people who have experienced re-birth, we should all recall: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,  and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 10:9, NIV).   A fear of God’s hand is appropriate, and as a nation, as a church, and as sons and daughters of God, perhaps we have forgotten this.  The only opinion that counts on any matter is God’s.  That’s why we must pray for wisdom, discretion, direction and inspiration!  That’s why we carefully read His Word to find that we are not living inappropriately.  That’s why we implore God to examine our hearts and to show us where we are in error!

“There is a proper fear of God that leads us to Him, not away from Him in submission because of his authority, his power, and his transcendence. God is not small. God does not fit inside our pocket. God is supreme over all things. He created the world, He created us, and He does what Hw wants, when He wants, why He wants!”

Bonhoeffer spoke to pastors when he said, “Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men.”

 There are four things to consider my friends:

1- Do you fear God.  You should.  If you do,  it should cause you to shut your mouth at times, to refrain from revenge, to keep a bridle on your anger, and recall that things done in secret will be brought out into the open by God Himself.

2- You should shun, or turn away from evil.  It’s a choice we make every time we turn on the TV,  surf the Internet, or listen to the impish whispers of the demons or allow our imagination to run wild.

3- Seek wisdom from God every day in every thing we do.  He promises to give it. Are you asking Him?

4- Put on the meekness of Jesus Christ,  that the same gentleness that  James, Paul and John plead for followers of Jesus to embrace!

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