“You cannot pray the Lord's prayer, and even once say
‘I’. You cannot pray the Lord's
prayer, and even once say ‘My’. Nor
can you pray the Lord's prayer and not pray for another.
For when you ask for daily bread, you must
include your brother! For others are
included in each and every plea. From the beginning to
the end of it, it never once says ‘me’ ” (Dieleman).
A man said that he was reading through some business
magazines, and he kept running across the letters
“WIIFM” over and over again. Since he didn't understand
what those letters meant, he decided to try the Internet
to see if he could discover their significance. He found
his answer: “What's in it for me?” You
see, the man discovered that “this is a tool ... to
motivate employees and promote sales. ... The underlying
idea is that people are best motivated by self-interest.
Many believe that people are most
cooperative when they understand the personal benefits
that [will] result” (Dieleman). But isn't
there much more to human motivation than just WIIFM?
Aren't we as Christians, to care about the
physical, emotional, and spiritual welfare of our
brothers and sisters in the Lord?
Isn't WIIFM the opposite of the Gospel? “If
Jesus adopted WIIFM, He would have never died upon the
cross. If the apostles adopted WIIFM, they
would have never proclaimed the Gospel.
If the church adopted WIIFM, [it] would have
never engaged in ministry and service” (Ibid). A
wise member knows that there's more to being a disciple
of Jesus than asking, “What's in it for me?” The
wise Christian is often asking: “What's in it for God?
What's in it for the whole congregation?
What's in it for the church's expansion?
What's in it for holiness and eternal
life?” In our lesson today, we want
to look at the idea of being a wise church member, and
our text comes from the book of James.
Let's get just a little background as we approach this
text. James has been called “the Amos of
the New Testament” since his style is direct, and he is
quick to point out when others are being mistreated.
James is also a man of action; there are 54 commands in
this short letter. James is writing to
Jewish Christians around 45 A. D. who are experiencing
some trying times; there is a famine, political
instability, and an economic crises (Acts 11-12).
James writes this letter to encourage these
Jewish brethren to live out their faith. A
good two word summary of this book would be: “Be
Practical!” So James comes up with many
ways to test our faith. In the first part
of chapter 3, his test asks: “How do you manage your
speech?” And this brings us to our text
today which asks the question: “How do you know if you
are wise?” Let's read this challenging
text found in James 3:13-18 again: “Who is wise and
understanding among you? [This question shows us
that James is going to another test].
him show by good conduct that his works are done in the
meekness of wisdom. But if you have
bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not
boast and lie against the truth. This
wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly,
sensual, and demonic. For where envy and
self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are
there. But the wisdom that is from above
is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield,
full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and
without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of
righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
do we know who is wise and understanding? James
provides us with seven indicators to test ourselves to
see if we are truly being wise.
The first indicator of being wise is good behavior.
Verse 13 states: “Let him show
by good conduct”. Psalm 111:10 states:
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
A good understanding have those who do His
commandments. His praise endures
forever.” God's commands and Jesus'
teachings guide this person's ideal conduct. Someone
stated it this way: “He knows that for him and for all
men the will of God is supreme. He has,
therefore, the power and the habit of forming a just
judgment on wealth and poverty, on joy and sorrow, on
ease and pain, on public honor and dishonor, and on all
the incidents of human experience. He has
a clear vision of laws that should regulate conduct and
the principles that form character” (Speaker's Bible).
The wise person isn't all talk, but they
are living examples. Let me get
personal. Dads, are you showing you
sons how to pray by praying with them? Moms,
are you showing the Bible is important to you by reading
it to your children? Parents, are you
showing your family that serving others is important by
working together to do something to help another, that
supporting the church is important by putting more in
the collection than you spend for fast foods and
ballgames, that confessing sins is important by
confessing your own sins and asking family members for
their forgiveness? Are our young people
learning honesty, hard work, care, and holiness by
seeing it lived out among us at home and at church?
What was the theme of James again? Be
practical! Live out your faith!
Can others tell that we are wise by our
The next indicator of being wise is good actions.
Verse 13 continues: “that his works are
done”. James had stressed
earlier that we must be doers of the word and
practitioners of our faith.
“Be doers of the word and not hearers only” (1:22) and
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith
without works is dead also” (2:26).
James knew that Jesus was known for His good works and
His service. Jesus told His disciples: “You know that
the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those
who are great exercise authority over them.
Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to
become great among you, let him be your servant.
And whoever desires to be first among you,
let him be your slave—just as the Son of did not come to
be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom
Jesus trained His disciples to be servants; His
influence and example were so strong that when the
Jewish members of their Supreme Court saw the good works
and the boldness of Peter and John, “they realized
that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). When a
younger generation gets to knows Jesus well and they see
an older generation active in serving others in His
name, then that congregation has a bright future!
Whatever happened to those annual leadership
training programs that we used to have in our churches?
Whatever happened to those Saturday
afternoons where dads and lads got together to re-roof
and paint an elderly saint's home? Whatever
happened to those Timothy and Dorcus clubs that tried to
instill servant hearts within our children? Service
reminds me of our Sister Lucia over in Conegliano, Italy
. She was a leader in the church there,
even though she never occupied the pulpit.
She did more preaching six days a week than I
ever did on Sundays, and her sermons were often offered
with very few words. Can others tell that
we are wise by our good actions?
The next indicator of being wise is a good attitude.
Note how our text continues:
“his works are done in meekness of wisdom.” Solomon
told us long ago in Proverbs 16:32: “He that is slow
to anger is better than the mighty; and he that rules
his spirit, than he that takes a city.”
is often seen as a negative attitude in our culture, but
this is not the case in God's eyes. Commentators
had some interesting ideas with regards to this
attitude. One said that the meek person is
not an attacking person (Davids). Another
said that meekness means gentleness, humility, courtesy,
and consideration towards others (Roberts). Another
observed that noisy, boisterous, and stormy denouncers
may accomplish some good for their bold eloquence, but
those needed for long-haul leadership are those who are
usually mild, gentle, and thoughtful (Barnes). Moses
demonstrated this attitude. In his life,
he repeatedly heard the complaints of the children of
Israel , a few priests openly challenged his leadership,
and his closest family relatives also rebuked him.
In all these instances of attack, Moses would
take the matter to God and then let God work in His way
to settle the issue. The meek person is not one who
parades their attainments or exalts themselves as being
smarter than others.
Those who have a meek attitude have learned the meaning
of Isaiah 30:15: “In quietness and in confidence will
be your strength.” Can others
tell we are wise by our good attitude of meekness?
The next indicator of being wise is good motivation.
Look at our text again in verses 14-16: “But if you
have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not
boast and lie against the truth.
wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly,
sensual, and demonic. For where envy and self-seeking
exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.”
motivations should not be bitter envy and haughty
self-seeking. Notice that James says if
these are our motivations, then we are really liars who
are putting into practice a kind of wisdom that is
earthly, sensual, and actually demonic!
James tells us the fruits or results of such
motives will be confusion and all kinds of evils.
In another recent lesson, we saw how envy was
deadly—it led to the killing of Abel, Jesus, and
Stephen—and we saw how it was damning—those who are
envious will not inherit eternal life (Gal. 5:21).
This envy often causes a prideful spirit of
competition for favors and honors which often ends up
disturbing churches (Moo). Haughty self-seeking sure
sounds a lot like WIIFM, doesn't it? The
word James uses here was often associated with politics
and those who were pushing a certain political party.
It's the motivation to exalt your group's way of
thinking over another group. One
commentator rightly noted, “Jesus never acted out of
envy and self-ambition” (Davids).
Where these motivations rules, you'll soon see a
congregation where harmony is banished, all joy
disappears, all the momentum for good suddenly comes to
an abrupt end, all kinds of wicked practices take
over—like petitions, special meetings, calling
lawyers—and it gets pretty ugly and nasty. It's
exactly what Satan desires for every congregation.
With wrong motivations, he can turn the war
against him into a war against ourselves.
Can others tell we are wise by our good
The next indicator of being wise is a good Source.
Look at verse 17: “But the wisdom that is
from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentile,
willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without
partiality, and without hypocrisy.”
What does come from above mean? James
answers that for us earlier in 1:17: “Every good gift
and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down
from the Father of lights, with whom there is no shadow
or variation of turning.”
So wisdom from above is wisdom from God. Then
James gives us that marvelous description of godly
wisdom. Let's look at each feature
very quickly. This wisdom is pure—it's a
person who is sincere in obeying God, has no twisted
motives in their desire for holiness, and has confessed
all their secret sins. Then it is
peaceable—it's a person who strives to produce peace in
the church, who desires orderliness, who isn't always
picking fights and delighting in endless controversies.
Then it is gentile—it's a person who is
not combative, who practices forbearance by not
insisting on their own rights and the letter of the law,
who leans towards listening to reason and forgiveness.
Then it is willing to yield—it's the
person who is approachable, who is willing to learn and
to be corrected, who is not stubborn. Then
it is full of mercy and good fruit—it's the person who
is compassionate, who is sympathetic, and who wants to
help to do good things to further Christ's kingdom. Then
it's impartiality—it's the person who has consistent
behavior, who does not practice favoritism, who tries to
see both sides of an issue. Then there's sincerity—it's
the person who has no hypocrisy, who has no pretense,
who wears no disguises. One commentator
made this good lengthy remark: “Christ is our wisdom and
since Christ is the embodiment of all those
characteristics, when Christ takes His residence up in
your life, those characteristics become yours and mine.
... So, when a person claims true wisdom and has pure
motives and behavior that reveals a love for making
peace, an humble, patient, non-retaliatory spirit, a
sweet reasonableness, a willingness to yield in
obedience, a habit of merciful compassionate acts toward
others, a variety of righteous deeds that minister
spiritual good and benefit to others, an undivided
commitment to God's truth without partiality toward
anyone, and all of this is sincere and genuine, James
says that person shows that they have the true wisdom” (McAuthur).
God is the source of this beautiful and unique
wisdom. Can others tell we are wise by our good Source
The next indicator of being wise is a good goal. Let's
look at verse 18: “Now the fruit of righteousness is
sown in peace.”
The results of earthly wisdom were confusion and all
kinds of evils, but the goal or result of godly wisdom
is righteousness. Righteousness, of
course, is conduct and actions that are pleasing to God.
We've come full circle, haven't we?
James started by saying being wise means having
a good conduct. In other words, we see
righteousness eventually producing more righteousness if
the climate of its nourishment is peace. One
commentator thought that the expression: “Peacemakers
who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” might
have been a proverb that James learned from Jesus (Davids).
“What is the goal of the church?”
To that question we often respond: “Saving the
lost. More numerical and spiritual
growth. Spreading the Gospel.”
Now all those are good answers, but James gives
one more: “It's to help every person to be more
righteous!” Have you ever thought
about the church in that way? Why have our
elders determined that we meet three times per week?
Why do we have gospel meetings? Why
do we have Bible and special classes? Why
do we work on special projects together? Aren't
all of these things designed to some extent to help us
to be more righteous? Now let me tell a
story: Dr. Samuel Weinstein, the chief of pediatric
cardio-thoracic surgery at Montefiore Medical Center in
NY, went to El Salvador in 2006 with Heart Care
International to provide life-saving operations for poor
children. After 12 hours of surgery on 8
year old Francisco Fernandez, the boy began to bleed out
of control. The hospital lacked medicines
to stop the bleeding and blood to give the boy a
transfusion. Francisco's blood type
was B-, which about only 2% of the population has.
Dr. Wienstein had this blood type, so he set
aside his scalpel, took off his gloves, washed up, and
then sat down to have his blood drawn. After
giving a pint, he drank some bottled water and ate a
Pop-Tart. Twenty minutes after leaving the
operating table, he rejoined his colleagues, who watched
as his blood started flowing into the boy's veins.
Dr. Weinstein then completed the operation that
saved Franciso's life” (Larson-Elshof). What's
the point? Now let me be a little more
personal: “What are you doing and how are you
contributing to help another member here become more
righteous?” I'm not asking you to
give your blood, but I am asking you to consider what
you can give—maybe it's your time, maybe it's your
energy, maybe it's your heart, maybe it's some skill.
Dr. Wienstein knew that he had to give his blood to save
Francisco. James is asking: “What
will you give to help another member become more
righteous? Can others tell we are wise by
our good goal?
The final indicator of being righteous is good character
or good disposition. Look at the last part
of verse 18: “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown
in peace by those who make peace.”
Righteousness flourishes in an atmosphere of peace where
the disposition of all members is peaceable (Roberts).
are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of
God” (Matthew 5:9).
“And the bottom line with peacemakers is they are not
concerned with what? They are not
concerned with self” (McAuthur). Any
parent can tell you that keeping peace in a family is
sometimes a real challenge, and any elder can tell you
that keeping peace in a congregation can be just as
challenging. “Brother Smith and
Brother Jones were ‘on the outs’ over a very trivial
matter. This deeply concerned elder White
so he prayed that God would help him to be a peacemaker.
He called on Bro. Smith and asked, 'What
you think of Bro. Jones?' 'He's the
meanest crank in the neighborhood!' 'But,' said Bro.
White, 'you have to admit that he's very kind to his
family.' 'Oh sure, he's kind to his family
alright; no one can deny that.' The next
day Bro. White went to see Bro. Jones and inquired: 'Do
you know what Bro. Smith said about you?' 'No, but I can
imagine how that scamp would lie about me!'
'This may surprise you, but he said that you were
very kind to your family.'
‘What ? Did Bro. Smith say that?'
'Yes, he did!' 'Well, if you hadn't have
told me, I wouldn't believe it.'
'What do you think of Bro. Smith?' 'Well, truthfully, I
think he's a lowdown scalawag.' 'But
you have to admit that he's very honest in business.'
'Yes, there's no getting around that; in
business, he's a man you can trust.' The
next day Bro. White visited Bro. Smith again. 'You
know what Jones said about you? He
claims that you're a fellow who can really be trusted in
business, and that you're scrupulously honest.'
'You mean it?' Yes, I do!'
'Well, of all things,' replied Bro. Smith with a
happy smile. The next Sunday the former
'enemies' nodded to each other cordially. And
with a few more exchanges with Bro. White, they both
came forward one Sunday and asked for prayers of
reconciliation ( Griffith —http://www.thecorner-stone.org/zPb-Pez.aspx).
Can others tell we are wise by our good character
or disposition of peace?
“I [hope] that I shall
[one day] see a church that's all it ought to be;
Let's be truly wise by showing our good behavior, with
good actions and the good attitude of meekness! Let's
be sure that our motivations are right and that our
wisdom is coming from God.
Where members toil and never stray beyond the straight
and narrow way.
A church that has no empty pews whose preacher never has
Where elders “eld” and deacons “deac”--none are
proud; all are meek.
Where members never peddle lies, nor make complaints,
Where all are always sweet and kind, and all
to other's faults are blind”.
( Layton ).