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Wisdom
James 3:13-18 

 

Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. [14] But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. [15] This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. [16] For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. [17] But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. [18] And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. 

In the conclusion to his speech to the joint houses of Congress on September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush said:

"I will not forget this wound to our country, or those who inflicted it. I will not yield -- I will not rest -- I will not relent in waging this struggle for the freedom and security of the American people. 

The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them. 

Fellow citizens, we will meet violence with patient justice -- assured of the rightness of our cause, and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America." (Fresh Illustrations http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

Two things strike me about the President's comments. First, it is clear that our President is not exclusively depending upon on military might to win this war on terrorism. He said that God is not neutral between justice and cruelty and freedom and fear. I'm encouraged that our President understands that military might cannot thwart the purposes of God, but that it can be used by God to administer His justice.

The second thing that impresses me about our President's conclusion to his speech is that he ended it with a prayer. He said, "may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America." And to that prayer I say Amen.

Certainly we all would pray for God to watch over us, and we'd also join our President in praying that God will give our leaders wisdom. Not a worldly wisdom, but godly wisdom.

In a letter to the editor of the Detroit News, Cassandra George Sturges of Ypsilanti, Michigan wrote:

"On Sept. 11, I acknowledged George W. Bush as my President and knelt in prayer to ask God to lead him with wisdom, courage and compassion. A part of me felt responsible for what happened because I wondered how things might have been if I had prayed for him sooner." (Fresh Illustrations http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

Regardless of our political agendas, we need to pray for our leaders, especially during times of crisis. 1 Tim. 2:2 NLT says, "Pray this way for kings and all others who are in authority, so that we can live in peace and quietness, in godliness and dignity." Since we want to live in peace, quietness, godliness and dignity, we need to pray for our leaders. And I can't think of a more appropriate prayer right now than the one President Bush and Cassandra Sturges prayed-that our leaders will have wisdom.

Not a human wisdom, but a godly wisdom. Paul wrote, "Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a 'fool' so that he may become wise. [19] For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight." (1 Cor. 3:18-19 NIV) Our text today says that human wisdom is born of bitterness, envy and strife and that it results in confusion and evil practices. Who would want that kind of wisdom?

Human wisdom is foolishness, Paul wrote. His assessment is accurate. Consider the product of Eve 's quest for human wisdom. "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. [7] Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves." Genesis 3:6-7 NIV

Eve noticed three things about the fruit: It was good food, appealing to the eye and that it would help her gain wisdom. God did not withhold anything from Adam and Eve in the entire garden except the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He said, enjoy my creation, do anything you'd like except eat from this tree.

Eve thought the tree would provide good food, but weren't there other trees in the garden that would provide her good food? Eve thought it was an attractive fruit, appealing to look at, but wasn't there other fruit in the garden that was good to look at? So why did she give in to the temptation? This tree didn't offer anything the other trees didn't have, except, it promised wisdom as an enticing byproduct. 

So Eve ate, and so did Adam. And, as a result of their sin, they harvested confusion and every evil practice, just as James 3:16 promised. 

Human wisdom has its limits. In Eccles. 8:16-17, Solomon wrote: "When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man's labor on earth--his eyes not seeing sleep day or night-- [17] then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it."

If anyone was in a position to evaluate the limits of human wisdom, Solomon was. Today, thousands of years after his death, his name is still synonymous with wisdom. And he said that even a wise man cannot comprehend what is happening around him. It is too vast.

Then what kind of wisdom do we pray for?

The kind Solomon prayed for. He prayed, "Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?" 2 Chron. 1:10 NIV

The kind James advised we pray for in James 1:5 "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." (NIV)

The kind Paul prayed for in Col. 1:9-10. He wrote, "For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. [10] And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God," (NIV)

Not just a wisdom that understands current events and their future ramifications, but a wisdom that leads to a fear of the Lord. Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:7 "Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil." (KJV)

Real wisdom is knowing that it is God that exercises judgement, not the commander in chief. That is what our President knows, and that is what Jeremiah knew when the wrote:

"This is what the Lord says: 'Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, [24] but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,' declares the Lord." Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV

In our text, James uses words like pure, peaceable, gentle, considerate, submissive, mercy, good fruit, impartial, unwavering and sincere to describe a person who possesses Godly wisdom. Those are the traits I'd love to see in our leaders. Some would want them to be intelligent, articulate, persuasive and charismatic, and really there's nothing wrong with any of those things. Except that they can easily be used to describe a man like Hitler. What we need in these days are men and women in authority who have godly wisdom, not political savy.

And like Cassandra Sturges, I understand it is my responsibility to pray that God gives it to them. And that he gives it to me. Because the result of godly wisdom, according to verse 18 is righteousness.

According to Paul, the kingdom of God consists of righteousness, peace and joy. Romans 14:17 says, "for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit." As we pray for our leaders to exercise wisdom, we are praying for the reign of God's kingdom on earth.
 

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that what we say doesn't matter. It does. The tongue may be small, but it is powerful. And what we do with it does matter.

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