As we finish this series, James is going to open it up and he is going to ask and answer the question: How do you know if your life is built on sand or the rock? How do you know if your life is really changing for the better, down underneath where life transformation occurs?
And James is going to jump right in and he is going to give us a test. It’s a pretty easy test, because there is only one question. Here is his question. Verse 13 of chapter 3, “Who among you is wise in understanding?”
He doesn’t mean wise as in smart or have intellectual capacity. He is using the Old Testament concept of wisdom. “Who is it that understands what God’s will is; has the skill, the discernment to place the Word of God, the knowledge of God, and the person of God in a way where you organize your life in trust and dependency, so how you actually live reveals what God’s will is? A winsome, beautiful, Christ-like life. That’s what he is saying.
Basically, who has got it together? Who has spiritual maturity? It has the idea of an expert. It has the air of superiority. He is basically saying, “Okay, a lot of you stepped forward and you want to be teachers and you want to be visible and you want to be hot-shots in the Church. Who among you are the spiritual giants? Who are the real experts when it comes to authentic walking with God?” That’s the test question.
Then notice he gives us the answer. The very next line, he says, “Let him show it by his good behavior.”
He says, “In other words, if you are really spiritually mature, your life is integrated, you’re building on the rock, demonstrate it by your daily life and the kind of life that is winsome and godly and loving and harmonious relationships and morally pure.”
But notice he goes on. That is above the waterline, isn’t? That’s a behavior. “His deeds done in humility.”
He is saying, if you’re really spiritually mature, if you’re authentically godly, building on the rock, your behavior will be Christ-like, but then now he is going under. Done in, what is the motivation? Humility.
It’s the exact opposite of arrogance and self-assertiveness.
And so James says, “You know what the answer to the test question is? If you really want to know whether you are spiritual, whether you are really mature, building on the rock, your outward behavior will demonstrate it but the motives behind your outward behavior will be humility. You want to honor God and serve people, not just get ego strokes.”
And then notice the final one, “That flow from,” or literally, “come out of wisdom.” Wisdom is a set of core beliefs and values. What, down deep, we believe will make us successful.
And so in summary, lasting change demands that we examine the source, the core values and beliefs of our attitudes and actions, to find out whether we are building on the rock or building on the sand. You need to go down deep.
And James is going to take us on a journey. It’s a pretty cool journey, actually. Really interesting. He is going to use wisdom in a different way than we do. And the functional idea of “wisdom” here, he is going to say, there are two types. And as he grew up, he was Jesus’ brother. And he is going to talk about a life built on sand, a life built on the rock.
He is going to say wisdom, the way he uses it here, is a set of core values and beliefs that both consciously and unconsciously, you believe will make you successful.
And one he is going to call “man’s wisdom,” the other he is going to call “God’s wisdom.” In verses 14, 15, and 16, he is going to describe man’s wisdom. He is going to say there are characteristics of it, there is a source of it, and there is the fruit of it, or the results. Then he is going to shift it in verse 17 and say, “Hey, but by contrast, you can know if your life is building on the rock if you’re living by God’s wisdom,” and he gives us about four characteristics and three results.”
Now, there are a lot of different words and what I am going to try and do is give you the overview of them and then here and there, I will stop so you can just jot down a couple of things, because the goal is not that we understand all these words, is it? The goal is that we have the courage to say, Lord, this has been a pretty tough series. That one on the tongue was a killer last week. But I know that You love me so much, You’re so for me, You so care about me, if there are some core values and attitudes that if they get played out, will damage relationships and hurt me and cause me to be less than who I want to be and You want me to be, then I surely would like to hear from You today, even if it hurts. Because I know You care about me.
And so with that attitude, let’s jump in and look at man’s wisdom. And ask yourself, as I am talking, ask yourself this question: Is my life, if my life is a bucket, am I dipping out of the water of man’s wisdom? Or am I dipping out of the water of God’s wisdom? And the way you will be able to tell is when you see how it gets played out.
Man’s wisdom is a “me-centered” attempt to achieve and appear righteous to satisfy ego needs and fulfill private agendas. And you say, Well, where did you get that? I got that from verses 14, 15, and 16.
Let me read it by way of overview. He says, “But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ doesn’t come from heaven but it is earthly, unspiritual. It’s of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every evil practice.”
Well, let’s walk through it. Characteristics of man’s wisdom, verse 14. He says, “But if you harbor,” circle the word if. Grammatically, it’s a conditional clause, assumed to be true. And what he means by that, literally you could translate it, “Since,” or, “already going on in the life of this church,” James is saying. Already happening in the life of this church are a couple of things. They are harboring bitter envy and selfish ambition. Where is it occurring? What does it say? In their hearts. Can you see what is in people’s hearts? No, you can’t.
He says, “Well, then don’t boast about it and deny the truth.” See, what he is saying is, he is saying, “There are some people in the church who want to be teachers, who want to be up front, who have all kinds of things that externally look really godly.” He said, “But if you look in their hearts, they are really not based on God’s wisdom, it’s on sand. It’s man’s wisdom.”
Let’s explore these two words, see if we can get our arms around it. Bitter envy, the word means jealousy. It’s a fierce desire to promote one’s self, one’s opinion, to the exclusion of others. It is very concerned with one’s image, what other people think. Here, the idea of bitterness has this sense of harshness or resentful thoughts toward other people. It’s jockeying for power and prestige and position.
And notice, by the way, it’s coming out of the heart. You can’t see this. These are the thoughts that people have when they smile at you in a Bible study. But in their heart, they envy what you wear. They envy that you are the leader instead of them. They envy and have bitter resentment towards you and others. James is saying it’s actually happening in that church.
Selfish ambition, the original meaning of this word was meant to hire someone for a job. In later Greek literature, it was used of politicians who bought votes and won elections unethically, and then bragged about it. The basic idea of selfish ambition is to be motivated and driven by ego needs: pride, the desire to be seen and admired, to be in control, to fulfill your personal agenda, my personal agenda. All the while, projecting a love for God and others in the name of Christ. And where it shows up is in divisive relationships, gossip, side-door posturing.
What James is saying is that in the Church of Jesus Christ, there are some characteristics of man’s wisdom. And even if it has a spiritual front to it, he is saying, at the heart is people with “me” in the center, trying to fulfill their own personal agenda, and using the Church and the name of God to get there.
Has anyone ever seen this happen? Like, ever? Has anyone here, you don’t have to raise your hand but if it’s cathartic, I’ll let you. Has anyone here ever been in a church, ever been in a Bible study, ever done business with a group of Christians, ever gotten involved in a ministry, and you got closer to it, and closer to it, and closer to it, and closer to it, and you realized people had all this religious jargon and they went through all these motions, and they were selfish and proud and arrogant and there was gossip going on and they back-bit one another, and they stabbed one another.
Or you got their business card and it has a little fish on it and that reminds you, you don’t know what that fish meant back then, but it reminds you they took you for a hundred thousand dollars in the name of God. Have you ever seen that? Has anyone ever had this experience with these so-called Christians? I have. I grew up in a church like this.
I mean, remember the eighties and all the scandals? I grew up believing anybody on TV, anybody on the radio, all you “born again Evangelicals,” I thought, one: Narrow, bigoted, anti-intellectual, steal people’s money, and they are hypocrites. I’m sorry! That’s how I grew up. You know what? James is saying there are people that use the name of God, not because they honestly want to serve Him, but it’s an ego trip. It’s self-promotion. They serve and they do good things so people will think better of them.
Well, where does this come from? How in the world could this happen in the church of Jesus Christ? Because he is saying, by the conditional clause here, it’s happening here. What is the source of this? Look at verse 15.
He says, “Such wisdom doesn’t come down from heaven but it’s earthly, unspiritual, and of the devil.” Those three words build and they are a climax. Earthly means it views life, success, and goals from a material point of view. Unspiritual, literally, is the word soulless, fleshly, temporal, versus an eternal perspective. And demonic is the ultimate, “Where does this come from?” It comes from the pit of hell.
The enemy is working in the Church of Jesus Christ to get good people to do the right things for the wrong reason, to promote themselves, to destroy God’s testimony. Does that sound familiar? Look at America. Forty plus million people say, “I have had a born again experience with Jesus Christ,” and then when you look at the morals of America, the divorce rate of America, I’ve got news, there is a lot of this going on.
But before we point out there, let me ask you, just between us chickens in here, how much of this has happened in your life? How much of what you do in the name of God, when you’re really honest because you really want God to help you, how much of it is because of what other people will think? How much energy do you spend trying to project that you’re a little more godly, a little more holy, pray a little more, a little more generous than you really are?
You want to know what the results are when this operates? Look at verse 16. It says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition,” those characteristics, “there you will find disorder and every evil practice.”
It’s like a cancer in relationships in a church. Let me give you a little definition on those two words. Disorder is the idea of confusion, antagonism, lack of unity and stability. It’s the concept of disarray, being out of control with regard to one’s personal life and relationships. He says, “That’s what you’ll see once you peel the onion and look below the surface of people’s lives, once you get in their home, once they really begin to talk and you hear what is going on inside.
And not only is there this disorder, there is every evil thing. And that phrase just means all manner of evil springs from pride and jealousy. It impacts lives and families and churches and businesses.
How many of us here? We have all got that picture in our minds, right, of that Christian family or that Christian single person and they had it together. The mom is driving her minivan with all the kids and telling them about Jesus and they have Bibles and they go to Bible studies and they pick up everyone for VBC and the dad is passing out tracts at work and is known in the community as a spiritual giant and he leads a ministry in a church like this and he just looks, they’re just squeaky clean and we all want to be like them someday.
And then you pick up The Sentinel and find out he is indicted. Three months later, they get divorced. And then they go into their home and they found all this perverted material.
We’ve all had situations like that, haven’t you? Haven’t you seen that? And it’s not just with business people. The ones that scare me are all these pastors that it has happened to. And I’m sure they love God more than I do. I told you, it’s sobering words.
I’ll never forget a phone call I got about five years ago. Close, close friend. Business man in the community, we got together and started doing Bible study, very eager. He went back and picked up a seminary degree on the side. Owned his own business, worked out, good looking, the best sales person I have ever been around. I sat in rooms where I’m thinking, I work for him and I want to buy what he’s selling.
And this guy had people skills, a leader in his church, leading a ministry, going overseas at times. And when we got really open and really honest, there were always little areas around finances that were a little bit shady and he was one of those shuck and jive type guys and the end justifies the means and, you know, it’ll all work out in the end. “Don’t be so legalistic.”
And I said, “Yeah, but that seems like this verse is pretty black and white.” “Ah, come on. You know, Ingram, lighten up.”
Five years ago, I got a call and I hadn’t heard from him in a long time, and we were close friends. I said, “Hey, how have you been?” You ever had someone answer that with, “Not good, not good at all”? I could feel his voice was about to break.
And he said, “I haven’t talked to you in a long time and it’s for a reason.” I said, “Why?” He said, “I’m ashamed.” He said, “I am deeply, deeply, deeply ashamed.” I said, “Well, what are you ashamed about?” He said, “Well, you know that stuff that you used to poke around on?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I always thought I had a little financial problem.”
I’m talking about above the waterline. This guy is the kind of person we all want to become. He said, “I just realized, recently, I didn’t have financial problems,” he said, “Chip, I’ve got a character problem. I’ve got a character flaw. And the finances are only the symptom. I want to tell you right now, I owe multiple people hundreds of thousands of dollars and I am about a half an inch away from being thrown into jail. And I’m ashamed.”
Here’s a guy leading ministries and doing all this stuff. And then when you peel it back, you see some chaos and disorder in his family, in his marriage, with his kids. So let me ask you. Is your life built on the rock? Do you find yourself doing outward things to get other people’s attention? Is it about ego or is it really about honoring God? Serving God? God says that, not to put you down. He says it to reveal, to love you.
Think on that one. Now let’s look at the contrast. James now turns the corner and what he says is, “There is a different kind of wisdom.” He is going to say to this group, “Hey, you can know whether you’re on the rock or whether you are on the sand. You can know whether below the waterline, you can know for sure whether you are building the kind of life that is changing for the better, from the inside out.”
He says, there is God’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is Christ-centered dependency that seeks to obey God and serve others to fulfill God’s agenda. That’s what God’s wisdom is.
Notice it’s Christ-centered. Man’s wisdom is me-centered! What does everyone think of me and my ministry and my knowledge and my marriage and my singleness and my job? What does everybody think of me? How did I come off? What are thinking of me? What are people saying about me? Me, me, me, me, me!
And we will go to unbelievable lengths to image cast and project and protect and be hypocrites to get people to think – what? Better of us than we really are. That’s man’s wisdom.
He says, by contrast, God’s wisdom is Christ-centered. Dependency. Dependency. The idea, you go four steps and three steps backward. It’s hard, it’s in a fallen world, but it’s Christ-centered dependency that seeks to – what? Obey God in every area, without dichotomy. And to serve others, not so that my agenda gets done or your agenda gets done. So that God’s agenda – His divine, sovereign purposes that He has for you in His great love – it gets done.
When those are your core values and beliefs, he says, your life will be characterized by these things. Look at verse 17, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” Four characteristics and then when he shifts there, “Full of mercy and good fruit,” he starts thinking of this idea of the results of a life built on the rock.
So here is what I want to do. I did a word study on all seven of those little words and phrases. I want to give you a quick description and so, lean back. Every obsessive-compulsive person here is going, You’re going too fast, you’re going too fast, you’re going too fast, you’re making me crazy!
I don’t think God wants you to get all the notes in your little handout. I think He wants you to get the truth in your heart. And then I will summarize it with one statement that won’t catch it all, but will give you enough to focus on, okay?
So what I want you to begin to say is, Lord, does this reflect, is this the kind of life I have? Notice this first phrase, “But the wisdom from above is first pure.” It means of primary importance. In other words, it’s the number one domino. If it doesn’t fall, you don’t get any of the other dominos. First and foremost, the wisdom from God is pure.
And you say, Well, what does that mean? What does “pure” mean? It means, clean. It’s translated in other parts of the Bible for the word holy. In ancient Greek, it was pure enough to approach the gods. It means, free in your thought from ulterior motives. Moral cleanliness, without contamination. It’s the opposite of jealously, envy, and bitterness.
It certainly includes sexual purity, but it’s not just isolated to that. The wisdom that comes from God is, first, pure. Not perfect, but pure. God, I want to honor You. God, I want to serve you. God, I want to do this, not for what other people think of me, but I want to do it unto You and to serve them so Your agenda gets done. And, God, when it’s not there, You show me and I’ll, you know, we’ll correct. Lots of mid-course changes. But it’s first pure.
You can summarize this by the little phrase, “If I am wise, I won’t compromise my integrity.” That’s how you can remember it. If you’re going to be built on the rock, the wisdom from God, you don’t compromise your integrity. When you know what is right to do, you don’t allow your behavior, your relationships, your finances, or your speech to tell a different story than what you know is right. That’s the first condition of a life built on the rock, God’s wisdom.