Dec 28 - The Wisdom That Leads To Peace

The Wisdom That Leads To Peace

December 28, 2014

James 3:13-18

James 3:13-18
December 28th, 2014

13 Which one of you is wise and understanding?  Out of humble wisdom let him produce actions that are consistent with right conduct.  14 But if your hearts are filled with bitter envy and selfish ambition, do not brag about it and do not deny the truth.  15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from above, but is earthly (worldly), self-serving, demonic wisdom.  16 Because wherever envy and selfish ambition rule, there is disorder and evil practices of every kind.  

17 But the wisdom that is from above is, first of all, pure (holy), then peaceable (peace-loving), gentle, flexible, full of mercy, rich in good fruit, impartial and sincere.  18 And in peace a harvest of righteousness (justice) will be sown (by God) for those who make peace. 

The central theme of these verses is wisdom.  And in these verses James contrasts two kinds of wisdom that people can possess.  On the one hand, they could possess wisdom from above, heavenly wisdom, if you will.  This is speaking of how God thinks and how he would like us to think.

On the other hand, they can possess wisdom from below, which is both earthly and demonic.  Earthy wisdom is the “me and mine only” kind of thinking, thinking that is solely focused on the bottom line and the good life.  This earthly wisdom is not only found in sociopaths who are characterized by extreme egocentricity and the inability to empathize or feel guilt, but also in shareholders, directors of big corporations, fund managers, business people, or simply you and me when we buy into this kind of value system.  As James points out, that is the way that demonic forces think and how they would have us think.  

How do both kinds of wisdom manifest themselves in those who have them?  James notes that the heavenly wisdom results in purity, peace (and the desire and ability to deescalate and resolve conflict, in other words, bring about peace), gentleness, flexibility, mercy, good deed, impartiality and sincerity.  In part this reflects how God approaches us.  I don’t know about you, but as a child I thought of God as anything but loving and kind and forgiving.  I did not see him as gentle or flexible or merciful or impartial toward human beings, including myself.  

So these are not only what characterizes God, but they are also the very characteristics that God would like to see in us.  If we have heavenly wisdom, we will see ourselves with gentleness and mercy.  If we have heavenly wisdom, we will see others with gentleness and mercy  and the other attributes that sound very much like the fruit of the Spirit.  

Loving    Full of mercy
Peaceable    Peaceable
Patient    Flexible
Good    Rich in good fruit
Faithful    Sincere
Gentle    Gentle
Self-Controlled    Pure
A person who is gentle, flexible, merciful, and the like, is able to be a peacemaker, that is, someone who is able to bring peace into conflict situations, or able to preserve peace during disagreements.  And such a person will receive from God a harvest of righteousness or justice, which seems to imply blessings or rewards in this life as well as in the life to come.   

The earthly and demonic wisdom results in envy, selfish ambition, and a self-serving nature.  It is the wisdom that is the reverse of heavenly wisdom, that is, impure, prone to conflict, harsh, inflexible, lacking mercy and good deeds – that is of no benefit to others, partial and, insincere – voicing compassion perhaps but in reality not caring at all. 

And James seems to think that the believers he is writing to would have the option which one of the two types of wisdom they would possess and exhibit.  The question that this raises in my mind is what would motivate me to knowingly make a choice of heavenly wisdom rather than the unheavenly kind?  

When it comes to a family of believers, a group of believers, how can they be people who are known for being gentle, peace-loving, merciful, and the like, rather than being envious, bitter, selfish and the like?

As I thought about it, my conclusion was that it depends in large part whether or not a person is genuinely at peace with God and with themselves.  Those who are at peace with God and with themselves, are also those who experience the inner peace necessary to bring peace into their relationships, to be peace-bringers and peace-makers.

While James doesn’t speak directly of being at peace with God, he assumes that it is present in those who possess wisdom from above, heavenly wisdom, godly wisdom.  

Godly wisdom isn’t proud.  Those who are prideful, whose pride is easily offended, who have to think of themselves as always in charge, always able to handle anything that comes their way, always right, always in charge … they have a very hard time admitting that they might not be able to be good enough for God in their own strength.  

It takes lack of pride, to be in right relationship with God.  When John the baptizer preached in the wilderness, he called those who came to listen to him to repentance and subsequent baptism, he called his listeners to decide to live fully for God and seal that decision with a public baptism in the Jordan River.  

Jesus did much the same during his public ministry.  He called people back into a right relationship with God as they repented of their former lives, sought to live out God’s will in their lives, and then had his disciples baptize them publicly in order to indicate that they had turned over a new leaf and had restored their relationship with God.  This practice continued on in the first church in Jerusalem and has been transmitted down to this very day.

Public baptism was not for those who were prideful, who did not want to see themselves getting wet in front of a bunch of others who are watching.  The Pharisees would never be baptized because it would be admitting that they weren’t perfect in their spiritual devotion.  It was admitting publicly that they were sinful people who needed to turn and repent.  This may have been too much of a knock on their pride.  They did not want to look stupid, vulnerable, in need of forgiveness, they did not want to get wet.

Yet those who are humble have no problem admitting their need to reconnect with God in and through Jesus Christ.

And once in right relationship with God they should then receive this heavenly wisdom, this wisdom from above.  
And I believe that this should allow them to begin to see themselves in a new way … an identity shift can take place.  I often hear people say that they can’t change who they are.  That is only true as long as the picture they have of themselves doesn’t change.  

If they continue to see themselves as a perpetual victim or a perpetual offender, as fatally flawed or flawless, as unlovable or God’s gift to the opposite gender, as always wrong or always right, as a helpless pawn or as capable to tell everyone how to live their lives … then change is in fact impossible.  

But if these persistent self-images can be broken by the power of love, when believers feel loved even if they make mistakes, feel able to change even though they may struggle, forgiven even though they did something horrific, … then change is already happening.  

Let me go back, just for a minute to the victim/offender roles.  

The staggering statistic is that 1 out of every 3 females and 1 out of every 6 males have been sexually abused by the time they are 18.  This is a staggering amount of victims, many of whom have never spoken out publicly about the abuse they have suffered, in part because the offender was uncle fred or grandpa steve or brother joe.  Another statistic is that 75% of mothers are not aware of what is happening to their children.    

Many continue to carry with themselves a picture of themselves that is everything but kind and gentle.  
They are hurt and can harbour bitterness and resentment but, for some reason, self-hate as well.  It negatively affects their marriage, their sex life, their self-esteem.  And it can haunt them unless they can grasp God’s love in such a way that it actually does positively impacts their view of themselves.

But then it also means that there is just as staggering amount of offenders, offenders who have convinced themselves that their victims don’t remember or weren’t deeply damaged, who have never asked their victims for forgiveness, who desperately hope and pray that what they did would never come to light. 

Now, I don’t want to condone sexual abuse in any way, shape or form, but just imagine how many men need to have their conscience, as seared as it may be, cleansed, who need to be forgiven.  I know that Jesus would have hung out with the victims of sexual abuse, but I’m just as certain that he would have hung out with the perpetrators, calling them back to God, encouraging them to be forgiven and to forgive themselves, to become something more, something better than a sexual predator.    
When we embrace our relationship with God, when we truly recognize that we are loved and cared for by the creator of the universe … it can make all the difference in how we see ourselves.

In a nutshell, if we genuinely are at peace with God, we should also be at peace with ourselves.  So let me expand a bit more on what it means to be at peace with ourselves.

James alludes at this inner peace when he speaks of humble wisdom and understanding.  Humility comes from inner strength, from a position where we no longer have to prove ourselves to others.  When our self-image no longer depends on what others think, on our need to feel desired, be considered successful, or a person of worth … when we can feel good about ourselves as we are without having to make ourselves important or more than we are, that is the inner strength of humility.  

Bitter envy and selfish ambition are just two indicators that I may not be at peace with myself.  Bitter envy is that restless dissatisfaction, that embittered hatred that others have more, are more successful, have what I really want, that I am somehow less, results in the need to prove myself by always being right, always being in charge, always having the last word, always domineering others, always telling them where they fall short.  

Unfortunately some people actively embrace these as their stated emotions of choice.

There are also many people whose only motto is, “what’s in it for me,” who never give to anyone outside the immediate family unless there is a return, who are just interested in getting more, enjoying more, having more.  Whatever problems, suffering, pain, and financial stress others may experience, regardless of where they live, it is their problem.  I will only help out my own.  

Bitter envy and selfish ambition robs us of compassion, of empathy, of mercy, of kindness, of generosity of forgiveness.  It robs us of the ability to be thankful and to act with love.  

But there are other reasons why I may be filled with restlessness, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, anger or anxiety.  Maybe it’s because I’m at odds with myself, in conflict with myself, I don’t like myself, I don’t know who I am, or I am so bogged down making a living that I miss life, or I don’t see myself accomplishing anything of lasting value.  

So, we are at peace within when …

•    We are secure within ourselves that we don’t have to compare ourselves with others
•    we are content with who we are – neither thinking too highly nor too lowly of ourselves
•    We are so thankful with what we have so we can be generous with our time and resources
•    we are not always thrilled with our choices but generally see them follow our conscience  
•    we like ourselves, not in a narcissistic or self-absorbed way, but by looking at ourselves with grace and kindness
•    we forgive ourselves
•    we are positive about our ability to change for the better
•    we see ourselves doing something or accomplishing something of lasting value

And as a result, we no longer are no longer unhappy about ourselves and our lives.  We are no longer angry with ourselves.  We are in right relationship with ourselves.

After he had told his followers about the future events of his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus said to them: 

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.    John 16:33

Peace within does not mean a lack of what Jesus called “trouble.”  No matter who we are, we are not immune from the human condition, from the hurts others inflict upon us, from disappointments and struggles, from sickness and death.

We may think that we can only be at peace when things are perfect.  And things are only perfect when we’re on holidays.  

That seems to be the only time we can be at peace, or is it?  Jesus seems to be saying that when we are in right relationship with God (remaining in Christ), then we can be in right relationship with ourselves despite the everyday, difficult circumstances of life.  

As a result, Jesus tells us we are not to worry, not to be anxious, not to be nervous about the future.  

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  ... Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? … But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.                    Matthew 6:25,27,33

By the way, I don’t think that Jesus is speaking out against saving or making plans for old age.  He is speaking out about allowing fear and anxiety for the future to kill our desire to live out God’s will on a daily basis … to postpone being at peace with God until our deathbeds.  

Now, if we are honest, then we will admit that not worrying is a huge challenge for most of us, given the uncertainty of life, the pressure to meet our own expectations, the expectations of our families, our peers, our employers or employees, and our culture.  

Add to that, the fast-paced tempo that is part of our society, the constant availability through cell phone and email, and the overcommitted nature of our lives, and it is understandable why depression and anxiety attacks are on the increase, even among children.

Many of us may carry burdens that we feel are too heavy to bear, we may simply feel overwhelmed.  We are not experiencing that inner peace, that peace with ourselves, that is to be ours in Christ.

What benefits come from being anxious about tomorrow?  None Jesus said, it doesn’t prolong our lifespans by even one hour.  I would add that anxiety negatively affects our emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.  For example, it can give us indigestion and ulcers, it can weaken our immune system and increase our blood pressure.

This inner turmoil affects us negatively also with regard to our spirituality.  Our minds will be preoccupied with ourselves and our circumstances that we will be distracted from focusing on God and living out the purposes for which we were created.  Worry and the focus on self can become so powerful that when we leave church after the Sunday service, we jump right back into ignoring God.

In contrast, if we have humble wisdom, then we will in fact be able to reset our lives, our thinking, and reverse our preoccupation with self, which will bring about tranquility even during trying times, this peace of which Jesus says:

My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.             John 14:27

Jesus is speaking of a divine peace.  I don't know whether you are at peace with yourself or whether you are in inner turmoil, conflicted about your image, your health, your finances, your standing, or your future, but I genuinely hope and pray that the King of peace will bring about that inner peace that is to be ours in Christ Jesus.

How do we get to a point of inner peace, of being at peace with ourselves?  People try yoga, chanting, meditation, burning aromatic candles or incense, taking medication, and eating healthy.  While those may be helpful, they do not radically alter the way that we view our lives.  For that inward tranquility to come, God has to be involved.  It has to come from above.  We have to seek him first.

So what can we do?  We can get close to God and tap into the power of the Holy Spirit.  This is how the apostle Paul put it when he wrote out of his imprisonment:

Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! 
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer & petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus.                    Philippians 4:4-7

Here we have prayer, which includes petitioning for ourselves and others, and, even more importantly, rejoicing or giving thanks in all circumstances.

And this also means changing the way we think.  As Paul continues …

Whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.        Philippians 4:8-9

We have to refocus from all that worries us to all that is good and right in our lives and with ourselves.  And that will mean making a difference in the lives of others just as Paul had made a difference in the lives of the Philippians.

When we are at peace with God and at peace with ourselves, then we will have the ability to be pure, peaceable, gentle, flexible, full of mercy, rich in good fruit, impartial and sincere toward others!

In other words, the way that we interact with others will be changed drastically from one of competition, frustration, defensiveness, challenge, dominance, and possibly abuse and violence, to one that displays this heavenly wisdom.

What causes us to be in conflict with others?  The need to be right, to get more, to take advantage, to have our own priorities trump the priorities of others, to win the argument, to show the other person up, to lash out because the other person was unkind, our expectations aren’t met, we want to dominate and hurt, we are afraid of looking weak, we need to stand up for ourselves or others, we’re frustrated at our circumstances, we have to respond to a challenge, defend ourselves from physical or verbal attack, … whatever it may be, much of it grows out of a lack of peace with ourselves.

And of course we know that when we are tired or hungry our ability to use heavenly wisdom is reduced.  

These are likely some of the most difficult things to be … but also some of the strongest indicators that I am at peace with myself.

When I am at peace with God and myself, I can become a peacemaker:
someone who initiates peace,
who remains calm and composed when things get hot,
who doesn’t have to prove myself.

If we are at peace with God and ourselves, we are able, to follow the admonition of the apostle Paul to the believers in Rome:

Live in harmony with one another.  Do not be proud … or conceited.  Do not repay anyone evil for evil.  Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.  If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.  
Romans 12:16-17

While this does not set aside the fact that we may disagree with others, nor does I set aside the need to set healthy boundaries within our relationships.  But it does mean that we treat our children, our spouses, our parents, other family members, coworkers, and others we encounter with respect and compassion.  If we don’t have to prove ourselves then we can live in harmony and peace with others.

When we are at peace with God and ourselves, we do not have to gripe, argue, complain, fight, and dominate, in order to feel good about ourselves or get ahead in life  – and so we can be in right relationship with others, more than that – we can become those who bring peace to the circumstances and conflicts we encounter.

So in just a few days we will begin the year 2015.  What would you wish for yourself in this coming year?

Maybe your greatest hope is to be at greater peace with others?  To have that wisdom that is from above that will make you pure, peaceable, gentle, flexible, full of mercy, rich in good deeds, … all of which would transform your relationships.  All of which would set aside the hate and conflict with others.  

If you do, it would be so much easier if you were at peace with yourself.  Imagine laying to rest the inner anxiety, fear, anger, hurt.  How much more would you be the peace-makers in your relationships? 

So maybe your greatest hope for 2015 is that you were at greater peace with yourself?  More content in your skin?  Less harsh and more gentle and kind and forgiving with yourself?  To have your mind at rest.  To be thankful for who are you.  To value yourself without having to make yourself into a person of importance in the eyes of others.  Well, this would be so much easier if you were genuinely at peace with God.

Do you wish that you were at greater peace with God?  Maybe you need to set aside your own pride and self-sufficiency that is keeping you from coming to God.  Maybe you will need to admit that the wisdom that is guiding you is primarily this earthly and demonic wisdom of only looking out after # 1, of living a self-absorbed life … and you need to repent of it if you’re going to be right with God.  

Maybe you have held out when it came to baptism because you think it’s not something that will enhance your image in the eyes of others.  Or maybe there is another reason that you’re holding out?  You may need to deal with this?

Whatever is most necessary in the New Year, let us determine not to allow ourselves to stand in the way of our better selves, our kinder selves, our forgiven selves, so that we can display the wisdom of above.