James 3:13-4:6 I won’t be selfish, I will be humble.
(Music - Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz)
We’ll come back to that
Let us pray
Nobody want to be thought of as selfish do they. We all want to be the kind of people who give to others, and think of others.
We admire people because they give. Think of Mother Teresa. Now did you realise that Mother Teresa died nearly 8 years ago? But still she is remembered. And why is she remembered? Well, she wrote some things- but it is not really those she is remembered for, but for her devotion to serving others, first on the streets of Calcutta, and then around the world.
We want to be the kind of people who act like that don’t we? Mother Teresa saw a problem, and did something about it – we want to be those kind of people.
We want to be the kind of people who do the right thing.
When I was a kid I was always impressed by this story of courage – something that happened on the 6th March 1987:
Another woman told how her husband had made himself into a human bridge so she and her daughter could climb across to safety - but when she called to him to follow he said there were others who needed help getting out. He has not been seen since.
If you are wondering what happened on the 6th March 1987, it’s the day the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized, because the bow doors were left open.
I have always hoped I’d have that kind of courage – to do the right thing.
Do the right thing – make the right choice. We all want to do it. It’s what we spend our lives trying to do – make the right choice for ourselves – make the right choice for our families.
We want to make the right choice. So what are the options? – Look with me at James 3 – it’s on page 1215 of the bibles in the chairs.
We see that there are two wisdoms, two ways to go:
1. Two Wisdoms (3:13-18)
James 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.
If you think you are wise – then live it – do things humbly – do the right thing.
Then, says James, avoid the earthly way – we read about this way in the next three verses.
James 3:14 But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
It doesn’t make pretty reading. The earthly way is the way of envy and selfish ambition – a word which Aristotle used to describe the way the politicians his day worked. Looking out for number one – Looking at what others have – and wanting it for yourself.
Not only is this kind of wisdom earthly, not only is it unspiritual – it is also of the devil.
James says to his readers – and of course, to us – do you want to follow the devil’s way? Do you want to cause disorder and evil? – then you keep working on that envy, you chew yourselves up inside and make yourself as bitter as you can be – and add to that a bit of selfish ambition – whatever you do, make sure you do for yourself. That’s following earthly wisdom, that’s following the devil’s way.
But of course – James doesn’t want us to do that. And as we sit here this morning, I am sure that we don’t want to do that either – we want heavenly wisdom – verses 17 and 18:
James 3:17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.
Surely this is who we want to be isn’t it? This is what we want our lives to look like. We want to be pure.
When we speak to others – we want to be peace loving – we want to be the kind of people who are considerate of others and submissive, not getting involved in pointless arguments, but taking other peiople’s views seriously.
I often walk away from conversations wondered why I worked so hard to make someone else agree with me – and why I worked so hard to show that they were wrong. Now I know I’ll be doing it to my grave – and there are some things that I believe it is right to hold no compromise on – and which I will, I pray, always argue for passionately. But I’ve got to admit – I could just let some things go. I’d love to be more peace loving, I’d love to be more considerate, more submissive – more willing to take on others’ point of view.
And we want to be merciful and fruitful. Isn’t it good when you can manage to let something go – to say ‘It doesn’t matter’ – and mean it? – Don’t you get a good feeling inside? And wouldn’t we like our epitaph to be something like this?
Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness! (Matthew 25:21)
Or perhaps even.
It can truly be said of her: she was a peacemaker. ‘Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:18)
We want to be impartial – we don’t want to favour people unfairly. We want to be sincere – no-one sets out to be two-faced.
Two wisdoms. Earthly and Heavenly. And it’s obvious which one to choose.
So – let’s ask ourselves a question – Why do we follow earthly wisdom?
Because we know that we do. We know that we are touched by selfish ambition, the desire to succeed. We know that we are touched by envy – for what someone else has, that should really be ours.
We know that when James writes to his readers, he could just as well be talking to us – look at the first verse of chapter 4:
James 4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you?
Let’s not pretend we belong to a church where no-one ever argues, where none of us ever quarrel -where nothing that shouldn’t be said is ever said. We know that we are not always peace-loving. I like the fact that I’m always right – I don’t want to have to think you might be right.
We’re in a battle – we’re in a battle with each other sometimes, because we are in a battle within ourselves. Desires – sinful desires – battle within us. And James warns us that those desires - selfish ambition and envy – can come to rule our hearts. As we seek to understand why we follow the wrong wisdom, let’s look at how this happens:
Why do we follow Earthly Wisdom? (4:1-4)
First, James tells us, we use the wrong methods. Look at verse 2:
James 4:2 You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.
James has strong words for us here. He describes the destructive consequences of sin in our lives.
We have a desire for something. A strong desire – a desire so strong, that we would even contemplate killing someone to get the object of our desire – the thing – or person we covet. Think that’s far fetched? Think about King David. He must be in the top five of all time faithful people in the bible – but what did he do? Let me read to you:
2 Samuel 11:2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, "Isn't this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her.
David wants Bathsheba – and he has her – but unfortunately she’s married – and when she gets pregnant, David has a problem – to cut a long story short:
2 Samuel 11:14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, "Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so that he will be struck down and die."
A sober warning. We plot the downfall of others – but by God’s grace we are not able to do it. But we still go about things the wrong way. We look to achieve everything ourselves.
Our method is wrong. If we want to stop being selfish, we need to stop relying on ourselves. Because if I think only I can get what I need – then I’m not going to help others – they’re just a hindrance – I’ll focus on number one. Our method is wrong.
And then we have the wrong motive. Look on to verse 3:
James 4:3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
And here we’re back where we started – back to Janis Joplin.
Oh lord, won’t
you buy me a mercedes benz ?
My friends all drive porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So lord, won’t you buy me a mercedes benz ?
James warns his readers that their motives are wrong. When they ask the Lord, they are asking for themselves, they are asking from selfish motives. Now I’m sure we’ve never been as obvious as Janis – but I’m sure we have prayed in the same way – asked the Lord because we want to have everything for ourselves – we want to devote ourselves to our own pleasures.
Now there is nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy life. But there is a problem if we do that by ignoring what God wants, and simply following our own desires and directions, and expecting God to deliver like some cosmic prayer powered slot machine. We can have the wrong motive.
And then third, and finally, we can have the wrong mindset.
James 4:4 You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
James wants to shock his readers into understanding his message. You adulterous people. You bunch of whores. Stop thinking you can have a bit on the side with the world, and still remain faithful to God. Stop thinking that you can stay friends with the world – and do what the world wants - and still by a friend of God. If you love the world, you are an enemy of God.
James says – get your facts right – get your mindset right. If you follow the way of the world – and that means following any set of values that are not from God – then you are making an enemy of God, because you are opposing him and his way.
I think our problem here is that we just don’t take this kind of language seriously. We look at this verse – and straight away, we want to say how it doesn’t quite apply.
We want to say that the world is a basically good place – that people are basically decent – rather than the sinners that God’s word tells us they, and we, are.
We want to say that there are many good things about the world. We want to say that James is overstating things. We want to say – we want to say that we know best.
Do you know what the biggest ever sin was?
Genesis 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Adam and Eve say to God – look, I know that you expressed your view that to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil would be unwise – and you are entitled to that view – but we’ve got a second opinion, and we know better. And the rest is, as they say, history.
We want to say that we know best.
But we need to recognise that if we have the wrong methods, the wrong motive, and the wrong mindset, we will end up in the wrong place – and we will end up following earthly wisdom.
But our passage doesn’t end with verse 4.
How can we follow Heavenly Wisdom? (4:5-6)
We have a problem, but God has a solution.
Look at verses 5 and 6:
James 4:5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
James’ readers might be acting like an adulterous wife – but God’s word reminds us that God cares intensely about his people. God longs for us to follow his wisdom. And he doesn’t just desire it – he also gives us his grace.
God, who graciously saved us through the death of his son Jesus Christ on the cross.
God, who sent his spirit into our hearts when we became Christians to enable us to live as his people
God, who has given us his word, so that, as verse 6 makes clear, we can know what is right and what is wrong – so that we can know to be humble and not proud.
God is gracious. He has given us everything we need so that we can live for him
So that we can change wrong methods for wrong ones. Instead of following our own ambitions, we pray, as we will later in the service – Your will be done – and we mean it
So that we can change wrong motives for right ones. Instead of working for our won sakes, we work for the glory of God – seeking to do his will, not our own.
So that we can change a wrong mindset for a right one. So that we can rightly understand the challenges our world gives to us – and sek to be friends not with the world, but with God.
So let’s commit ourselves to recognising the problem we have with following the right way.
Let’s commit ourselves to seeking to understand the right way from God’s word, and following it.
And let us pray.
Dear Heavenly father,
Change my methods – may I trust in you, may your will be done
Change my motives – may I live and work for your glory
Change my mindset – may I see this world as it truly is, and commit myself to loving you.
Teach me your heavenly wisdom Lord, and make me pure.
James Hughes 15th May 2005