Broadcast

Phase 4: Social Wisdom

From the series Social Restoration

In this final message, Ryan Ingram reminds us that wisdom is the key to thoughts, and actions, and speech that honors God and brings about social restoration. Wisdom isn't knowledge; it's the skill of applying knowledge in order to reap the benefits of God's designs for life and the universe. Social restoration is cultivated by followers of Jesus sowing peace, demonstrating true social wisdom.

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Message Transcript

Well, this morning we are concluding a series called Social Restoration. Talking about how do we experience social restoration? Isn’t such a timely question for us as we are in the midst of this global pandemic that has upended our reality and we are engaged in racial injustice in our nation and we just see such social anxiety and unrest. It’s like, how do we experience social restoration?

And then I think there’s a better question, or maybe a bigger question for us as followers of Jesus. You see, the Church was never intended to be a social club where we gather and we hang out with our buddies and friends. That’s fantastic, but it was never intended to be just this social club. Instead, we are called to have a social calling to be the light of the world. And we have to ask this question: how do we bring about social restoration?

Well, we have been looking at the book of James, and James, the pastor of the early Church in Jerusalem. Their normal was upended.

And he’s bringing God’s Word to them and truth to help them discover how to once again bring about social restoration. How to navigate these times as followers of Jesus.

I think this is the question, I know this is the question I’m wrestling with and I think this is the question you’re wrestling with, it’s: how do we navigate these culturally complex, emotionally charged, socially intense times? Like, how do we navigate this? Like, when do I post? When don’t I post? What do I say? What don’t I say? How should I feel? How shouldn’t I feel? I mean, we live in incredibly complex times, culturally. Emotionally charged. Everyone, I think part of the reality of shelter-in-place and quarantine is it has got our emotions fried and so everyone is at a ten already, all the time.

And then it’s socially intense with all that we are navigating with racial injustice and the division in our nation. How do we navigate that? And then I think as followers of Jesus, we have to go one step further and ask: How do we navigate it to bring about social restoration?

Remember, I just said earlier, we are not called to be a social club, but to bring about a social calling. How do we help navigate these times or how do we navigate in such a way to bring about social restoration? And James is going to talk about wisdom. And, boy, do we need wisdom here.

In fact, he’s going to go all the way back to the first theme that he set out when we were first talking, introduced to the book of James. He says, “Consider it all joy when you face trials of many kinds” – why? “because you know the testing of your faith will produce endurance. And endurance must finish its work to make you mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

And we are in that enduring season. Like, well, how do I do this? How do I navigate it? And then he says, “If any of you lacks wisdom,” man, I’m there. Do you lack wisdom today? Do you need wisdom from God? He says, “If any of us lacks wisdom, we should ask God who gives generously to all.” And then he’s going to fall back now on this theme as we navigate these culturally complex, socially intense, emotionally charged times of how do we navigate it with wisdom?

We pick it up in James chapter 3, verse 13. And here’s what he says. “Who is wise and understanding among you?” Now, this question is implying that there’s a few in their tribe, if you will, and in their church that think they are wise but they’re not really all that wise. They are touting a lot of things with their mouths.

But they are not actually living wisely. He says, “If you really think you’re wise,” listen to this, “let them show it by their good deeds.” Don’t just claim to be wise, don’t just post it on social media, show it by your life, “by deeds done in humility,” circle that word humility, “that comes down from wisdom.”

This is the word, actually, when Jesus would be talking about in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek,” same word here. Meekness is not weakness as we think about it. Maybe some of your translations say gentleness. He says, “Wisdom is shown by the deeds done in meekness,” Jesus talked about Himself being meek. He was not weak. It’s strength under control. It’s the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance.

That you’re not so focused on yourself, but you are intentionally restrained in certain areas, making a decision to hold back or withhold to bring about life, to navigate wisely. He says, “Let them show it by their good deeds that comes from, out of humility that comes from wisdom.”

And so, here’s what James is saying. If we are going to navigate these culturally complex times, we have to walk in wisdom. It’s a command. Walk in wisdom. Okay, well, what is wisdom? Thank you very much. I’m just going to give you the definition:

It is the skill of living life well in God’s universe. It’s a skill. It’s something to be practiced. It requires coaching and constant application. Wisdom and being smart are different. There are plenty of smart people who do lots of dumb things. Or say lots of dumb things.

Wisdom is a skill that you learn and develop and how to navigate life well in – what? God’s universe. Recognizing it’s His universe and so it operates according to His design. One writer said this, “Wisdom is God’s fixed order for life. An order opposed to chaos and death. So, if we are going to navigate these times, we have to walk in wisdom.

How do we begin? What does that really look like? He’s going to spend the rest of the time unpacking what exactly does walking in wisdom look like? And here’s what he’s going to do. He’s going to tell us what it doesn’t look like, what it does, and really what it produces. What wisdom ultimately produces, because this is what we long for in our lives, in our families, and in our city and nation.

Here’s what wisdom is not. He’s going to say, “Watch out for counterfeit wisdom.” Watch out. Be on guard, be aware for something that is counterfeit. It’s posing. It’s not the real deal. It’s a fraud. It’s made to look like wisdom, but it’s nothing like it.

Notice what 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’ does not come down from heaven but it is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

Walking in wisdom means first that we have to watch out and be aware of counterfeit, pseudo, fraudulent wisdom. What does that look like? He tells us. He says, first, counterfeit wisdom is fueled by negative emotion. Counterfeit wisdom is fueled by powerful, negative emotion. Did you notice that? Bitter envy; selfish ambition. Let’s define those for us.

Bitterness is proceeding from or exhibiting hostility or animosity. There’s something in you that has this hostility or animosity to another person. One writer says, “It regards its opponents as enemies to be annihilated rather than friends to be persuaded.”

That there’s just: I want to take you out, whatever the cost. Envy or, actually, it’s where we get our word zealous, passionate, fanatic. It’s an intense negative feeling over another’s achievements or success.

And then this idea of selfish ambition. A strong drive for personal success with little or no moral inhibition. It’s eager to display itself more than to display the truth. More interested in its own victory than open to what the truth has to say.

Counterfeit wisdom is fueled by these negative emotions. These are powerful. These are things that are easy to see in other people and condemn and it’s easy to justify in ourselves. It’s easy to look at it, because these motives, when I feel bitter toward you, I have a reason I’m bitter toward you. When I have this jealously, I have something in you that I’m condemning or wanting and so, I’m opposing you and these emotions begin to lead me down a path and where I begin to play games and try to make truth fit my own perception.

He says counterfeit wisdom is first fueled by negative emotions and then it sounds good, but its source is bad. Did you notice? He says, “But such ‘wisdom.’” It sounds wise.

But have you stopped to take time and look at the philosophical end of what you’re saying? Where does your presuppositions conclude at? What’s the source? Where does it end? Wisdom, this is wisdom that looks good, but it often says I’m superior to others. It wants to look down on others. It’s where you find these clever but cutting words that put others down or put them in their place.

Maybe twist the truth to make your points or tell half-truths. It seeks to humiliate or dominate the other. Fueled by negative emotions. It sounds good, and that’s the tricky part. It sounds good. But its source, it says it’s unspiritual, it’s earthly, it’s demonic. It’s actually set on fire by hell itself.

And ultimately, you can identify it by its fruit. It produces division, disorder, discord. He said, “Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder.” That’s where we get our word anarchy, or political turmoil. “…and every evil practice.”

It produces division relationally. It produces division ethnically. It produces division politically. Disorder. Discord. Instead of bringing people together, it is driving them apart. Friends, nothing good can grow in an atmosphere of hatred or discord or bitterness. As followers of Jesus, navigating these culturally complex times, we are called to walk in wisdom. And so, we have to be aware of the powerful emotions that are able to take control and taint our lenses that we can substitute counterfeit wisdom.

And I would love, I would love to say it’s out there. But I would argue that all of us have this in here. I would argue that I have it in my own life. I can’t say that all my motives are pure. There’s moments of selfish ambition where I long for my success over someone else’s success. There’s a bitterness in my soul when I see different things and an animosity where I just want to put someone in their place.

In fact, I was driving the other day. We were going on vacation down south and I had a guy riding my tail the entire time. And I’m like, this close. And then he pulls out in front of me and then he cuts right back in front of me. And then he flips me the bird. Whoo. Counterfeit wisdom says put him in his place. And there’s a level inside of me that feels justified and a bitterness that began to rise just in that simple silly moment. But it goes out into all these other areas, doesn’t it?

See, friends, if we are going to walk wisely, we first have to realize it’s not out there, it’s in here. We have to own up. That’s not a problem for other people, it’s a problem for me. And I bet you it’s a problem for you.

What exactly does walking in wisdom look like? He tells us what it’s not. “Watch out for counterfeit wisdom.” Then he’s going to tell us what wisdom is. And I love this. And it’s challenging.

And it’s the call for us to be the Church. To bring restoration. To be followers of Jesus who follow the ways of Jesus. And here’s what he says about wisdom or true wisdom. So you have counterfeit wisdom. True wisdom always takes the high road. True wisdom. God’s wisdom. As he would say it, “Heavenly wisdom.” Counterfeit wisdom always takes the low road. It’s earthly. It’s unspiritual.

Counterfeit wisdom produces the type of responses that hell delights in. True wisdom always takes the high road. Notice what he says, verse 17. “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” Wisdom that comes from heaven, wisdom that comes from God – remember that definition I gave a little while ago about wisdom? Wisdom is God’s fixed order for life, an order opposed to chaos and death.

Wisdom that comes from heaven is God’s order for life that is opposed to chaos and death. And what James is saying is what I am unpacking here is for people of God to be opposed to chaos and death. This is what that looks like.

And so, what I want to do for a few minutes here is unpack those words. Because we can read that list and it just stays this arm distance away from us and we don’t fully understand, okay, what does the high road really look like? What does that mean? How do I respond?

He says, first of all, pure. And he writes this first is this is the thing that everything else hangs on. The rest of the descriptives that he’s going to give, it says it hangs on this internal reality of purity or holiness. It’s without moral defect. Originally, it means what awakens awe.

That you’re drawn into something that awakens awe and so when you’re in awe of something, you adjust your life to that which you’re in awe of.

So, let me give you an example. The beach awakens awe in my life. I just can’t get there and go, like, “Oh, wow.” And as you look at the ocean and its power and you recognize, and being in awe of the ocean, I am going to adjust to the ocean’s way of behaving. I’m not asking the ocean to adjust to me. And so, when I hop in and I surf, I recognize the currents and the tide. I wasn’t actually as good at recognizing all the different sea life. I actually got stung by a stingray this last week. Ouch. Why? Because it’s the ocean. And that’s their home. And I’m entering that presence. And I need to adjust to the presence of the ocean. It awakens awe. And, see, what holiness is or purity is a response to the God who awakens awe.

Proverbs says, “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord,” or, “the awe of the Lord.” That we wouldn’t look at God and ask God to adjust to us, but we would look with awe at who God is and we would adjust our lives to who God is. That’s what it means to be holy, pure. You are God. You are great. You are powerful. You are mighty. You are just. You are righteous. There is none like You. And in light of who You are and the magnificence of God Almighty, I can’t continue to live this way. My life, then, is going to be adjusted in response to You. All wisdom begins there.
True wisdom always takes the high road. Notice what he says, verse 17. “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It hangs on this internal reality of purity or holiness. Originally, it means what awakens awe. When you’re in awe of something, you adjust your life to that which you’re in awe of.

So, let me give you an example. The beach awakens awe in my life. I just can’t get there and go, like, “Oh, wow.” And as you look at the ocean and its power and you recognize, and being in awe of the ocean, I am going to adjust to the ocean’s way of behaving. I’m not asking the ocean to adjust to me. And so, when I hop in and I surf, I recognize the currents and the tide. I wasn’t actually as good at recognizing all the different sea life. I actually got stung by a stingray this last week. Ouch. Why? Because it’s the ocean. And that’s their home. And I’m entering that presence. And I need to adjust to the presence of the ocean. It awakens awe. And, see, what holiness is or purity is a response to the God who awakens awe.

Proverbs says, “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord,” or, “the awe of the Lord.” That we wouldn’t look at God and ask God to adjust to us, but we would look with awe at who God is and we would adjust our lives to who God is. That’s what it means to be holy, pure. Whoa. I’m in Your territory. You are God. You are great. You are powerful. You are mighty. You are just. You are righteous. There is none like You. And in light of who You are and the magnificence of God Almighty, I can’t continue to live this way. My life, then, is going to be adjusted in response to You. All wisdom begins there.

And everything flows from there when our hearts are awakened in awe to the greatness of God. He says, first of all, this internal quality of purity or moral excellence.

And then he goes on to give us six different things that are flowing out from that. He says, “Then it’s peace-loving. This is characterized by or prompting a state of wholeness or wellbeing.

It’s right relationships between individuals and between individuals and God. That is there is this desire that wisdom is bringing peace between one another. It’s peace-loving. It’s agents of peace and trying to bring peace with others and God.

Then it says, “Considerate,” and actually our English word here doesn’t help us understand, because it’s such a rich and actually very difficult Greek word to translate. This word means not insisting on the right to enforce the strict letter of the law or custom. It’s being merciful or lenient.

In fact, as you read if you go back in the Hebrew Scripture translated into Greek, it’s called the Septuagint, this word “consider it” is used most often of God’s response to humanity. As the King and the righteous King, He doesn’t enforce His rights, but He does give us leniency and mercy and grace.

It’s the word that you want every judge, if you ever did anything wrong, the way you want them to respond to you. Though they have the right to maybe execute this judgment on you, they give you grace and mercy. That’s what this word is. It says, “Wise people don’t execute according to the law, but they respond with love’s leniency.” They give mercy and grace to the other person.

Taking the high road means not insisting on my right, but extending the leniency of grace and love to the other person in the way we would want it to be extended to us. Then he goes on and says, “Submissive.” This idea is willing and open to adopting another’s position, belief, or course of action with sufficient reason or evidence. It’s literally being open to reason, willing to listen.

In fact, you could just write in your Bible, “Not being stubborn.” That’s what this is. Don’t be stubborn. See, he says true wisdom is first of all pure, then it’s peace-loving. It’s about restoration of relationships. It’s considering, it’s a grace, mercy-giving moment. That’s what wisdom engages in the midst of hurt and pain.

And then it sits down and it’s willing to listen. Willing to learn. Willing to go, “Okay, what – what’s going on?” And seek to understand and hear and not necessarily just always try to be heard and have your voice said. So this is submissive. It’s not stubborn.

And then it goes on and says, “Full of mercy and good fruit.” This is compassion moved to action. Now, in the ancient Greek culture, it was pity for the one who is suffering unjustly. Yet, in Christianity, this word began to take on new meaning and new depth, because it wasn’t just pity for the one who suffered unjustly. We can all feel pity for the one who suffered unjustly, right?

He went, now, it began for Christians was pity for the one whose suffering was brought on by themselves. Wow. Do you see how this brings about social restoration when you lay down your rights, when you’re willing to listen, when instead of judging the person who because of all they have done deserve to be judged, you have pity and you engage?

This idea of mercy isn’t complete until it takes action. It’s not just about feeling bad, it’s feeling pity or bad for them to doing good. That is what wisdom does. It takes the high road. And it says, “impartial,” not tending to cause factions or divisions within a group, not being judgmental or divisive. Free from prejudice.

It’s saying I’m not going to play one side or the other. I’m going to engage in this moment with you. I’m going to sit and listen and hear and learn and I’m not going to play favorites.

And I’m going to – impartiality – stand in the middle and hurt and grieve and love. And it’s harder that way. In fact, you get more people angry at you that way, because you’re in the middle of both sides.

And where you say, “No, no, no, I’m going to simply do my best to love the way Jesus loved without distinction.

And then, finally, he says it’s sincere. Without hypocrisy. It never pretends to be what it’s not. It never acts apart to gain its own end. What you see is what you get. There’s not a secret agenda with wisdom when it takes the high road. There’s not an ulterior motive. You don’t have to question or guess what is going on and what are they up to, really?

See, James is saying wisdom that comes from heaven starts and originates from inside here where our hearts are so in awe of who God is, we adjust our lives to God and then it flows out and when we are peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, it’s saying: you know what? I’m going to recognize the counterfeit wisdom where it’s fueled by these negative emotions. They are powerful.

And then I’m going to choose. I’m going to choose to take the high road. Man, the low road, hell celebrates in. I’m going to take the high road. I mean, you can just start there and just go, okay, in this moment, in this post, in my response to my wife or my kids or my co-workers – what does the high road require of me? What does it look to take the high road?

And then he’s going to say this, “True wisdom sows seeds of reconciliation.” You want to know what true wisdom does? It sows seeds of reconciliation, not retaliation. It sows seeds of reconciliation, not retribution. It sows seeds of reconciliation, not revenge.

Notice what he says. “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” Memorize that verse. It’s very short. You can do it. You can do it. “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” Man, we look around at the world and we see in the brokenness, the heartache, the pain, the dysfunction, the injustice and go, “What in the world is going to change this?” Jesus followers. Jesus followers who stop playing games, pretending like, “Oh, this is just a social club for my personal benefit,” but realize you have been placed on this planet for a purpose. You were redeemed for a purpose. You have been given the ministry of reconciliation to bring hope and life and peace. You are called, I am called by how we talk, how we walk, how we act to be peacemakers in every situation. Peacemakers.

Well, what is reconciliation? It’s the process by which enemies are brought into friendship. And you’re like, “That can’t happen.” That’s what God did for us in Christ Jesus. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this while we were yet sinners, He was a peacemaker. Christ died for our behalf.

See, see, it’s what God has done for us when we were enemies with Him in Christ Jesus. And as a result, He has then entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation to bring peace and hope to those around us.

Peacemakers who sow seeds of peace reap a harvest of righteousness. Reap a harvest of justice.

When you sow seeds of peace, the harvest that you reap is right relationships between God and others. Living according to God’s design. See, nothing good grows in an atmosphere, in a culture of hostility and anger and vitriol.

But when you sow seeds of peace, righteousness can grow out of it. Restoration comes. See, social restoration is cultivated by followers of Jesus sowing peace as true social wisdom. Now, I want you to notice something and we’ll close here. Social restoration is cultivated.

Did you notice that it said, “Peacemakers who sow peace”? We understand when you’re reaping and working with agriculture that you sow a seed and you plant and you water it and you wait on it and you take care of it and over time, it grows.

And what we want in our instant culture is for everything to happen overnight. Here’s what he’s saying. There’s a process and there’s a cultivation. How do we navigate these culturally complex, emotionally charged, socially intense times to bring about social restoration? We have to cultivate being peacemakers. We have to cultivate peace in our relationships with one another. We have to cultivate peace in the way we engage on social media. We have to cultivate peace in the way we respond to one another.

And he says it’s not overnight. It’s consistency, not intensity that produces long-term change or impact. It’s when Jesus’ followers cultivate peace.

And the question: am I a person of peace? I would love to say every time I’m a person of peace, but back to that person that flipped me off driving, my first response was not to be a person of peace. Let’s just be honest. My first response was to ride their tail and make sure they knew I was right there and how wrong they were. No, no, no. I was just convicted. Am I a person of peace?

Is my goal reconciliation or retaliation? Will you, will I take the high road to bring about social restoration? This is what it means for us to follow in the ways of Jesus.