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About this series
How to Change for the Better
Are you tired of self-help programs that never bring results? Have you tried diets and work-out programs that only bring frustration? How does lasting change occur? This series from James 3 deals with how God changes us, from the inside out, and how this change can be lasting, fruitful, and significant in the deepest areas of our lives.More from this series
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.
The second one is this idea of peaceable. It means to be at peace in one’s relationships with others. Harmony. Issues are resolved and forgiven, both with other people, and with God. It’s a desire to foster peace by, listen to this, restraining discord and pacifying turbulent elements around it.
It’s this idea of when people lash out at you. What is the natural tendency when people are angry or there is discord? What do we want to do? Yeah, I want to lash back! Why? Because I have to protect me! Why? Because me is what is important! Starting to make sense? If I am wise, I’ll be peaceable. And that means I won’t antagonize your anger.
A gentle answer turns away wrath. It doesn’t mean you don’t stand up for things when it’s true. But you’re not going to go there. You’re complete in Christ.
And you actually find yourself, prompted by the Spirit of God, to pray for that person. One, that he won’t kill someone else. And two, for whatever perverted way of thinking that puts other people’s lives in danger. Do you see the characteristics of God’s wisdom? How it comes out, relationally?
The third characteristic is gentle. Consider it forbearing. It means to be really kind. Have you ever been around someone who is just kind? I mean, they are just nice. It’s a good indication.
And they are nice for the right reasons. It’s respect for the thoughts and feelings of others. It’s being willing to look beyond the letter of the law. It’s the willingness to forego one’s rights and justice – why? To care for others, to make sure it’s fair for everyone.
One commentator calls this word: sweet reasonableness. One of the characteristics of God’s wisdom is gentleness. If you want to fill this one in: If I’m wise, I won’t minimize others’ feelings.
It doesn’t mean their feelings are right, doesn’t mean they’re wrong, but you won’t minimize them. Do you find people that, when you start to share your feelings they cut you off? Why? Because they can’t be important because they have an agenda. It’s one of the most damaging things we do in close relationships, especially in marriage.
It’s okay, God’s wisdom, you can feel whatever you want. I can listen to those. This gentleness will always take a stand for the truth. But aren’t there times where you say, “You know, that’s the letter of the law. Isn’t there more to this?
And someone stops and says, “You know, why don’t you tell your side of the story? Let us hear what’s going on and why. I’m not going to minimize your feelings. If I was in your moccasins or your shoes, I don’t know all the history and I don’t know where you’ve been and I don’t know what your baggage is, but I want to hear how you really feel without being threatened or intimidated.”
And then it’s the kind of person with sweet reasonableness that says, “Now, can you see why he or she may have responded that way to you?” It’s not about your rights, it’s not about me, it’s about harmony in relationships and doing things God’s way. That’s the characteristic of a person whose life is built on the rock.
The fourth one here is the idea of reasonableness. It literally means to be easily persuaded, open to argument or reason, to be teachable, willing to hear another person’s perspective that is different from your own opinion.
It’s the idea of people that are approachable. It’s the opposite of stubborn, hardheaded, unyielding, or rigid. Ooh, that’s convicting, isn’t it?
Literally, the idea of people that are easy to work with, easy to get along with. Does that describe you? Is that how you do relationships? Easy to work with. You have convictions, but easy to get along with. Approachable. Teachable. You don’t power up, intimidate people, or you don’t withdraw in silence and say, I’ll make them pay.
Let me summarize, he says there, “If I am wise, I won’t criticize others’ suggestions.” You don’t have to agree with them but you don’t criticize their suggestions.
See, if it’s not about you, if it’s not about me, if it’s not about my rights, if it’s not about, “I’ve got to have my way, my agenda, and I’ve got to be the star!” And, by the way, we do this with such amazing subtlety, don’t we? If it’s not about that, it’s really about God’s agenda, then someone has a suggestion, what if it’s better than mine? What if we use it instead of mine? And what if they get all the credit? And what if God uses it for His glory? You say, Yay, God! Because that’s what it’s about.
Because success isn’t me getting my way and me being the center of attention and everyone thinking something of me. Success is God is obeyed and honored, people are served, God’s agenda is going down the road. Do you get it? Do you see what he’s saying?
Let me summarize it for you, because those four words, you’re saying, Okay, now, what am I supposed to do with this in my life? Those four characteristics, I think, can be summarized in this way: God’s wisdom will be revealed in our lives, in lives characterized by personal holiness and relational oneness.
Does that describe you? Personal holiness and relational oneness. Does that describe me? That’s the characteristics of building your life on the rock.
I’m in a small group. I have shared with them things that I hope they never share with anybody in the whole world, for sure. We talk very candidly about temptation, about where we struggle, about our thought life, about our marriages. On multiple occasions, we will just say, “Where is God specifically speaking to you?” And that’s the question. And then people will open their Bible and share it, and then we will interact at a very significant level.
We confront one another, we confess our sin to one another, we gather around each other, we have often stopped in meetings and have just prayed for someone who is going through a hard time. I don’t lead it. But it’s the group I’m in.
There are men there that are twenty years my senior and some, eight or ten, and a few about my age. But here’s what I will tell you. Their lives are characterized by personal holiness. Do they have it together? Absolutely not. Do they never blow it? Are you kidding? Of course they blow it. It’s how they respond when they blow it.
They have a yearning and a seeking to be pleasing to God, to obey Him, and to serve others for God’s agenda.
God has His hand on this body and on ministries where He finds people who are building on the rock. Personal holiness and relational oneness.
What did Jesus say about unity? Jesus prayed for unity. Jesus, right now, is praying for unity. Authentic relationships that are unified, that are pure. Not perfect. Pure.
How are you doing? Does that characterize you? God wants to help you. He wants you to build on that. Because are the storms going to come in your life? Yeah! Are you going to have marriage problems? Of course! Unless you have, just like a totally blasé marriage. Every marriage has seasons. There’s one the first five years, second five, next five, next five. And they are all different, they all require tremendous grace, lots of conflict, and you grow in Christ because of it.
If you’re having a really hard time, welcome to the marriage NFL. And God will use that person to make you holy. This idea that it’s going to be great and wonderful and like all that jazz on TV? That’s jazz on TV. Go behind the TV, all those people playing all those parts have been married multiple times, in multiple situations, have lived with three or four different people, and then I’m going to stop. I could go off on that, but I won’t.
I want you to know. Those are the characteristics that God honors.
The results of God’s wisdom are these three phrases: “Full of mercy and good fruit.” And “full of mercy” means, feeling merciful and compassionate for someone in trouble, are you ready for this? Even if they got themselves in trouble. Like, it’s their fault. But it’s not stopping at the feeling level, it’s not seeing someone in pain and saying, Oh, that’s really too bad. That’s empathy. Mercy is seeing their pain and their hurt to the point that you act, to relieve the pain. And that’s the idea of this good fruit.
In multiple ways, specific acts of kindness, you reach into the lives of people who don’t deserve to get help and because you are like Christ, we are probably never more like God than when we give people what they don’t deserve.
I have found a pattern in my life. I want justice! If I get ripped off, I want the right deal! If people use me, relationally, I want them to get what their due is. I want justice for everybody but me. It’s just how I have learned to live. It’s wrong. Have you found yourself doing that? Man, that is wrong! I can’t believe my supervisor did that! Oh, justice over here! Well, you did this and you did this and you did this so I am going to bring up the past. Justice right here. Well, what about this? I did this, this, this, and justice right here.
And then we really blow it and what do we say? Oh, God, forgive me. Be merciful to me, a sinner. You know? Right? People who are built on the rock have the Spirit of God flowing through them in such a way that if I am wise, I won’t emphasize others’ mistakes.
It doesn’t mean you don’t deal with them, it doesn’t mean there’s not consequences. You don’t emphasize them. Your goal is to help them through them.
The next word here is interesting. Unwavering. It means not to be double-minded. It’s the opposite of duplicity. It’s the idea of a person who lives by principles. Undivided, not vacillating. This is a person who knows what is right to do, and no matter how the lay of the land comes, he doesn’t act this way with this group and this way with that group.
The idea of unwavering, literally, is without partiality.
People who are built on the rock see people through the eyes of Jesus, and the ground is level and they don’t play games. And they don’t play to the crowds. And they don’t sense the momentum is shifting. They don’t take polls to find out where to go. They base their lives on truth and without partiality, they live out their lives.
That means lots of people will often disagree with you and everyone will respect you. And that’s really what you need from people. Unwavering, if I’m wise, I won’t disguise, I won’t show partiality.
And the final one here is right where we started in the whole series. A person who is living their life in the growth of God’s wisdom is without hypocrisy. The word hypocrisy comes from the ancient Greek plays and it was a word for the actors. And what they had, they had a mask with a stick on it.
And in ancient Greece, all the actors were male. And so, they would learn to throw their voices. And so, you might play one part and they would have a costume on and they would put this mask up and go, “Oooooh!” You know? And then they would play another part, take this mask, and put another mask. That mask, those different fronts, that’s the idea behind hypocrisy.
Why do we do that? Why do we do that? Can I tell you why I do it? I want you to think better of me than is true. When I blow it, spiritually; when I blow it, financially; when I blow it in my marriage; when I blow it as a pastor; when I blow it with my kids; when I lose my temper, what I want you to do is think better than me.
So what I do is I hide my weaknesses and the only way you can hide your weaknesses is you pretend. So people ask you a penetrating question, you know the right answer, and so you lie. But you don’t call it lying because you’re a Christian, and Christians don’t lie. You exaggerate. You reformat. And so, you learn all the little jargon and you operate in a way so you cast an image that is better than who you really are and the whole goal is – what? To hide your weakness.
In fact, the wisdom that is from God, if I’m wise, I won’t disguise my weaknesses. Can I tell you an interesting discovery I have had? The people that appear to have it all together don’t. And the people that others are attracted to aren’t people that have it all together.
It’s people who admit they have weaknesses because when they admit you have weaknesses, guess what, I can identify with them. I identify with other people who struggle in their marriage and don’t always tell the truth and have a problem with time management and do all the other things and blow it with their kids. I can really identify with them. And what happens is authentic relationships are born out of being real, being authentic.
And, by the way, you spend a lot of energy, do you realize how much energy it takes to be a hypocrite? That’s when I’m sort of a pragmatist in some ways. I just thought, I’m putting in so much energy just to pretend I’m something I’m not and I can’t remember what I told them. You know what? Hey, God, maybe it’s just easier to be myself. Fallen, making progress, empowered by the Spirit. When I blow it, just own it.
You know my friend who called me?
Well, he went and got some high-powered, very effective Christian counseling. He started telling himself the truth. He faced deep issues there and in his marriage and in ministry. And he had been working on it.
And we sat across the table, I’m telling you, and I just, you know, curly fries over here and, [crying] “Can I get some more napkins here?” And he’s just bearing his heart. I mean, whoo! “This is where I blew it, this is how I thought, this is where it came from. I used money to project this. I controlled people like this. I always wanted to appear this way. Chip, it was sin. I was in such denial.”
And then he began to share the freedom that he had in Christ. Then he began to share how coming clean with God and what it had done and, man, I’ll tell you what, I just sat across from him and I thought, Whoa. I didn’t think less of him. I thought, God, I want to be like him. I want to have the kind of courage that he has to look into my heart and my life the way he is looking into his heart and his life.
And so, if you want to summarize the results, if you want to know whether God’s wisdom, you’re building on the rock, the little summary statement is: God’s wisdom will result in compassionate, authentic, vulnerable relationships.
Do you have compassionate, authentic, vulnerable relationships? If you do, it’s an evidence of God’s wisdom.
This is not about you thinking, Okay, I really want to be authentic. I want to have integrity! I’m really going to work hard. I’m going to pull up my bootstraps! I’m going to try, try, try, try, try! See me in six weeks and you will be flat on your face and discouraged. God never intended you or me or anyone else to live a life of integrity and Christ-likeness and holiness on your own. It always happens in community.
But now, I think the question you ought to ask, I’m sure you are. I can’t imagine anybody with one and a half brain cells working, going, Okay, that opening thought was: Do I want to build on the sand or build on the rock? Okay. If I build on the sand, hard times are going to come, the waves, the storms, the pressures of life. My life is going to be destroyed, I’m going to embarrass God, maybe lose my family. Yeah, that’s where I want to…
No one is there. Everyone is over here going, God, what would it look like to build on the rock? God, I have been really open. I asked the Holy Spirit to show me and you know the little red light on my conscious is going, “Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!” And I need to address some things.
Let me tell you how. Turn to the back page and let me give you a quick to-go package to simplify this. How do you get God’s wisdom? If that’s what you want and that’s what God wants, well, how do you get it?
The action step is very simple. “In this way,” Colossians 2:2 and 3 says, “you will know God’s secret, which is Christ Himself. He,” speaking of Jesus, “is the key that opens the hidden treasures of God’s wisdom and knowledge.” You want God’s wisdom? You don’t get it in a formula, you don’t get it through trying hard, you get it in a relationship. You get it in a relationship with Christ.
Look at what it says. “You’ll know God’s secret, which is Christ Himself. He is the key to the hidden treasure, God’s wisdom and knowledge.” And you say, Well, how do you take that key and open some things? Where do you begin?
Let me give you four quick steps, depending on where you are. First, receive the Son. If Jesus is the key to wisdom, if you don’t know Him, if you’re here and have never repented of your sin – I don’t mean you’re religious, I don’t mean you’re moral, I don’t mean you give to the United Way – I mean, 1 John 5:11 and 12. “This is the testimony, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that has the Son has life; he that does not have the Son does not have life.”
Question: Do you have the Son? Not, “Do you go to church?” Do you have the Son? Does the Son of God dwell in your heart, in your life? Answer: Yes, Eternal life. Answer: No. Eternal separation. Don’t leave here until you receive the Son. He is the beginning of all wisdom.
Second thing, for those of you that have received the Son and you are a believer, pray. Ask God for wisdom. This is amazing. James 1:5, “If any man, any woman, if you lack wisdom, if you lack the skill and the ability to live life God’s way, let him ask of God who gives generously and without reproach, and He will give it to you.”
Now, here’s the deal. Verses 6, 7, and 8 of James says God guarantees He will give it one hundred percent of the time if, when He gives it, you say, “I’ll do it.” What I find is I pray for wisdom and God gives it and He says, “Do this,” and I think, Oh, that looks scary! He said, “The question wasn’t scary. Do you want wisdom? Do you want to do it my way?” Yeah.
And so I risk and sometimes I don’t. But when I do, bang, wisdom. God works. Obviously, Him, He gets the credit.
Third, wisdom isn’t laying on top of the ground. Dig for it daily. One of the greatest passages in Scripture is Proverbs 2. 1 to 5 is at the core of it. Take the first ten or eleven verses. He talks about, “My son, treasure My commandments. Don’t let them depart from you. You want to get wisdom? Search for it as for hidden treasure. Dig for it. Go for it. Cry out for discernment. Then you will discern the fear of the Lord and then you will discover the knowledge of God and then wisdom will be yours. It’ll guide your steps. It’ll help you with decisions. It will show you how to live. It will guard you.”
See, Christ is the key and He is revealed in this, His Word. We read it. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God. The Word became flesh.” This Book ought to be your passion. God, show me, show me, show me.
He will show you how to do relationships, He’ll show you how to do business, He’ll show you how to be holy. Dig in. It’s not on top of the ground. It’s for those who dig.
And then, finally, Proverbs 13:20, “He who dwells with wise men will be wise.” Go after this, people! Let’s see, sand over here, rock over here, long-term future, long-term future. Which do you want?
I find people that are wise in leadership and I hang around them. I find people whose marriages that I think, Man, that’s what I want in another ten years. I hang around them. Buy them breakfast. Buy them lunch.
Knock at their door and say, “Hey, would you hang out with me?” And you know what? I’ll guarantee they are busy. They are busy! They will say, “No, I really can’t.” “How about next quarter?” “Well, I don’t know, I’m looking at my calendar.” “Well, how about the quarter after that?” You just keep bugging them until they will hang out with you!
I bugged Howard Hendricks for almost two and a half, three years. And finally he said, “Chip, you’re making me crazy!” I said, “Prof, I’m listening to your tapes. Do you hang out with people, or not? Someday you ought to hang out with me!” He said, “All right…” And then he shaped my life. Who are you going to hang out with? He who dwells with wise people, you will be wise.
I was really concerned that some of you were going to go, Oh, God, oh, God, I want to do what You want me to do. But some of you are clueless, okay? You don’t know where, it’s like, Get in the Word? Man…ooh hoo. I’ve never seen one of these! You know?
And so, if you’re taking first steps, there is a book, very easy to read, called The Fight, by John White. And it will start you from the beginning how to walk with God and get wisdom.
There are others here. You’re thinking, I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried, I’ve tried. I’m scared to do this again because I’ll fall flat on my face. I’m tired of trying to measure up. That’s the name of the book. Jeffrey VanVonderen. He’ll teach you in practical ways how to understand your position in Christ and how to live it out.
Or there are others here that, you’re thinking you look good on the outside and you’re thinking, when I was talking about motives, little lights went on. Ooh, gosh. Ooh, gosh. Larry Crabb, a couple of books, Inside Out and Finding God. Excellent on motives.
And the last one is just for you who are kind of mature and you want to take the next step, J.I. Packer’s book, The Knowledge of the Holy. No, that’s Tozer. Read the notes, Chip. Knowing God, all right? Fantastic book. You guys have the idea?
Build your life on the rock. It’ll take effort, energy, focus, priorities, discipline, community and you’ll be glad every day that you did.