Being Wise
By Paul Robison

“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].  Let 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.”  How 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 excellent conduct? 

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 for many.”  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.”  Meekness 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.  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.”  Our 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 motivation? 

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 of wisdom? 

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).  Blessed 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;
Where members toil and never stray beyond the straight and narrow way.
A church that has no empty pews whose preacher never has the blues.
Where  elders “eld” and deacons “deac”--none are proud; all are meek.
Where members never peddle lies, nor make complaints, nor criticize.
Where all are always sweet and kind, and all to other's faults are blind”.
                                                                            ( Layton ).

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.