September 23, 2018: Which Widsom?

Pastor Steve Mechem

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James 3:13-18
Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

I am trying to get a handle on what the word “wisdom” means? In practical terms.

By show of hands, do you know somebody that you would describe as wise?

What is it about them that makes them wise?

Emotionally stable
Generosity in spirit

I was reading an article in Psychology Today about Wisdom and one paragraph read,
“Wisdom is one of those qualities difficult to define—because it encompasses so much—but which people generally recognize when they encounter it.”

Wikipedia defines,
“Wisdom, sapience, or sagacious, (as) the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight. Wisdom is associated with attributes such as compassion, experiential self-knowledge, non-attachment and virtues such as ethics and benevolence.”

The bible writer James, deals with the subject of wisdom and lays out a practical definition with which we can work:

First, what wisdom is not.

verses 13-16 from the Message Bible:

“Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats.”

Lots of folks claim to possess wisdom. They may be many things, but they are not, by James’ definition, wise.

One is not wise because one says he is wise, In fact, those who claim wisdom for themselves are usually suspect.

Wisdom is not to be confused with knowledge. People can know all sorts of things, but not be wise. You know people who know lots of information about any number of things, but can’t manage to get their shoes on the right feet. I may know a lot of book stuff, but my decision making would never place me in presence of wisdom.

Wisdom is not to be confused with success. Wise people can be successful, but so can liars, and cheats and narcissists.

Wisdom is not to be confused with the accumulation of wealth. Rich people can be wise, but they might also be manipulators of the system, or lucky, or inherit well.

Wisdom is not to be confused with power. It would be wonderful if powerful people were wise, but as we see evidence all around us, that is not always, or often, the case.

Wisdom is not to be confused with shrewdness. Just because you can manipulate a situation, does not make you wise.

None of that equals wisdom.

And now, James defines wisdom,

verses 17-18, again, the Message Bible
“Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.

Wisdom begins in holy living and is characterized by getting along with others. I find the combination of holy living and getting along with each other in the same sentence fascinating. For many religious folks, being holy means standing against people, not getting along with them.

Holy Living, by some definitions, mandates that you reject, repel, and hate people who are different than you,
who believe differently than you,

who love people you don’t think they should love,

who act differently than you.

But holy living, according to James leads to getting along with people. Huh, go figure.

Holy living leads to kindness and respect and agreeable attitudes. This kind of living leads to real wisdom.

Wisdom, rather leading to arrogance, actually creates humbly. Perhaps because the truly wise person recognizes their need for God’s grace.

Our window reads, Blessed are those who recognize their spiritual need.

Wisdom grows out of a gentle spirit. The word “gentle” means a lot of different things to people but the New Testement word refers the bit that is placed in a horse’s mouth to keep the horse under control. To be gentle is to be in control of your emotions, you attitude and your behavior.

To be wise is to be reasonable. Wisdom isn’t rash or irrational. Wisdom looks at the situation and responds in grace and mercy.

To be wise is to be gracious to the point of being a blessing to those you encounter. So, what do you think, after you have encounters with people, do they feel blessed or bashed. A wise person seeks to bless.

To be wise is to be consistent. There is no place in wisdom for irratic deviation from the path which God sets before us.

Consistent in our actions,
Consistent in our words,
Consistent in our faith.

To be wise is to be respectful. After all, we are taught to respect others as we ourselves would want to be respected.

To be wise is to be integrated into a community. From the beginning, Jesus taught us to be together,
To pray together,
To serve together,
To seek together,
To be together.

The community serves as a well of wisdom wherein we are able to drink, to be refreshed, to grow.

There is an old preacher’s story. I have shared it before, probably several times, but it is really good.

A wise woman is talking to her granddaughter about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” she says to the girl.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. But he is also sly and cunning and claims to be good. And it is easy to be confused sometimes.”

She continues, “The other wolf is good, really good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This wolf is fierce in his desire to do what is right and good.

The wolves that fight in me also fight in you and inside every other person, too.”

The granddaughter thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandmother: “Which wolf will win?”

The grandmother simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Feed wisdom!