James 019 – Heavenly WisdomJames 3:17-18 • Dr. Andy Woods • March 17, 2021 • James
James 019 — A Faith that Works
The book of James 3:17. James, as you know, is writing a book to saved people teaching them how to live righteously. The first part of the book is how to live by faith; we are saved by faith but how do we live by that same principle? The first thing to do is to adopt God’s perspective on trials where we learn to rejoice in the midst of trials. We learn not to charge God foolishly in the midst of trials.
The second way to live by faith as a Christian is to obey His Word. That is in the second part of James 1 where we take in His Word and practice it. This is where we are slow to speech and anger but quick to listen, particularly to His Word. Then we don’t just sit, soak and sour; we practice it.
From there, we moved into the first half of James 2 where we don’t show favoritism in the assembly on the basis of some characteristic that God doesn’t divide His church on, such as wealth or anything of that nature, giving wealthy people privilege that other people in the church don’t have. That is favoritism, and we don’t practice that.
Then we allow our faith which is already inside of us to manifest itself in good works, and at that point our faith doesn’t come into existence, but our faith becomes useful or productive. We spent a lot of time there because that is a misunderstood passage: ‘faith without works is dead’ in the second half of James 2.
Then James 2 flows nicely into James 3 where James says that the ultimate good work you can do as a Christian — in fact, if you can do this, then every other work that you do as a Christian is small potatoes. It is learning to control the tongue. So, I am glad that we don’t need that chapter, so we can move right along. We have mastered that one, right? That is a tough one.
Then, we get to James 3:13 where James is now no longer talking about walking by faith; now he is talking about walking by wisdom. So, he is going to do this at the mid-point or so of James 3, and he will keep that train of thought going until the end of the book. It is hard to walk by wisdom unless we understand what wisdom is. What he does here in James 3:13-18 is to define wisdom.
The Greek word, ‘sofia‘, is wisdom, and is always demonstrated by her actions in 3:13 as we saw last time. You can tell someone who is wise not based on what they say, but on how they live. Wisdom is always knowledge applied. Now he begins to differentiate the two kinds of wisdom. There is a wisdom from above in 3:14-16 and a wisdom from below 3:17-18. There is earthly wisdom in 3:14-16 versus heavenly wisdom 3:17-18. There is wisdom from God and wisdom from satan. The wisdom from satan is a false wisdom, so we should not buy into the idea that everything that sounds wise is from God. That is why the Proverbs will say things like, ‘’There is a way that seems right but the end thereof is death.’ There are a lot of things that look good, right and wise, but they aren’t of God. I am reminded of the King James Version and its translation of 1 Timothy 6:20 where it talks about knowledge falsely called, and I like the King James version because it translates it as science falsely called. So, there are a lot of things that look wise, philosophical, and even scientific, but they aren’t of God. So, before James teaches us how to apply wisdom to daily life, he teaches us how to distinguish between the two kinds of wisdom: wisdom from God versus wisdom from satan. In 3:14-16 he is dealing with mere human, satanic, or earthly wisdom, and we saw these verses last time. This is where he said, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”
So, what he has done in the verses above is to describe the wrong kind of wisdom; the kind of wisdom that we don’t want, as Christians, to embrace. Since James is the first New Testament book, in other words, you don’t have a New Testament at all and the very first book written is James. He isn’t quoting Paul here because Paul hasn’t written anything to date. Most people believe that what James is doing is piecing information together from the book of Proverbs. So, there is an allusion to a proverb in all these pieces or elements of false wisdom. Sometimes it is hard to find the proverb, but this was my best attempt at tracking down which proverb James was referring to.
So, what is human or earthly wisdom? It is jealous per Proverbs 6:34; it involves selfish ambition in Proverbs 16:18; it is arrogant per Proverbs 8:13; it is earthly, natural in Proverbs 14:12; it is demonic per Proverbs 27:20, and it is contentious per Proverbs 11:29. I have been involved in a lot of different churches and leadership type groups within churches, and I can walk into any church and determine what kind of wisdom is governing that church just by observing the characteristics, and if they emulate this kind of thing. They may sound very spiritual at first, but when you start seeing these characteristics rear their ugly heads, you know that you are dealing with a group of people who aren’t being governed by wisdom from above but from wisdom from below. And that is the wrong kind of wisdom that we want to reject as God’s people.
So, with that being said, what is the right kind of wisdom? We pick it up here with fresh material in James 3:17,18, “But the wisdom from above … (so now he is giving us the right kind of wisdom in contrast to the wrong kind of wisdom that we saw earlier — that is why the contrast is there in the word, ‘but,’ as he is contrasting heavenly wisdom versus the prior described earthly wisdom)… is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” So, what then is the wisdom from above or of God? Like the wisdom from below, there is a proverb that goes with each of the above elements.
So, God’s wisdom is first of all pure, and I would select Proverbs 15:26 as the one he is alluding to that says, “Evil plans are an abomination to the Lord, But pleasant words are pure.” God is looking for purity, not just in actions, but in motives.
From there, he talks about another element of God’s wisdom; it is peaceable; first pure, then peaceable, then go to 3:18, where it mentions peace twice. It is the Greek word, ‘eirini,’ where you get the name Irene from, and I think he is probably alluding to Proverbs 3:1-2 which says, “My son, do not forget my teaching, But let your heart keep my commandments; For length of days and years of life And peace they will add to you.” So, it isn’t surprising that God’s wisdom involves peace since Jesus is the Prince of Peace, per Isaiah 9:6. There are a lot of people out there who are extremely argumentative and almost every conversation they get into involves a scuffle or borderline ‘food fight.’ You see this kind of thing going on in churches, on social media, and the people who act this way claim to be Christians, so you wonder what kind of wisdom are we dealing with here? If it was Jesus involved, then there would be more of an ‘eirinic,’ peaceful mindset. A verse that I thought of related to peace is Ephesians 2:14, the same word, peace, ‘eirini,’ “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall,”…. So, if the Lord is about anything, He is about peace. He is called the Prince of Peace; He gives us peace with God, He gives us peace in the heart, and He takes groups who were formerly at war with each other such as Jews and Gentiles, and according to Ephesians 2:14, He brings them into harmony with each other. That is the work of Jesus.
So, as we walk out His wisdom, we will find ourselves to be of peaceful, irenic sorts. We are following Matthew 5, in the Sermon on the Mount which says, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” it doesn’t say ‘Blessed are the ones who are able to win every single argument and always get their way.’ “Blessed are the peacemakers.” That is another element of wisdom from above. It is very different than satan’s wisdom, which is contentiousness, as we saw earlier.
Then he gives us a third element of God’s wisdom, and it has to do with gentleness. It says, 17“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle…” I would choose Proverbs 16:32, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.” That is what you call synonymous Hebrew parallelism — in Proverbs 16:32, where the second line repeats what is in the first line, but in different words. So, the two lines rhyme in that sense, but if you are in a situation where your people are provoking you, cutting you off on the freeway, or you aren’t getting a fair shake at work, or someone is slandering you, and rather than retaliating, which is very easy for all of us to do, instead you allow the Lord to subdue your spirit and bear up under the unfair circumstances. Of that, the Bible says that you are just a mighty as a warrior, and as mighty as one who captures a whole city. If you can control your own spirit in that sense, then you are just as powerful as one who can take over or subdue an entire city. So, that may be what he is referring to when he talks about gentleness.
Remember in James 3:13 when he was talking about wisdom in general, he speaks of the gentleness of wisdom. The guy who is the loudest in the room is not necessarily the wisest. The one who has the sharpest wit and can defeat all his opponents in an argument, is not necessarily the wisest. According to the Bible, the wisest is the one who operates in the spirit of gentleness. Now, obviously, I am not talking about self-defense issues and the like, only about personal wrongs, and the Lord, with the resources that He has given to us, wants us to walk in gentleness in the midst of those circumstances. Like Jesus did when He hung on the cross — some of His last words were, “It is finished,” but before that, He said, “Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.” He didn’t hang there on the cross and say, ‘You guys just wait till the Second Coming because I am going to beat everyone of you down; you just wait and see.’ That would be the human way to react that we would tend to do if we were treated that way, but Jesus said, “Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.” That is the gentleness of wisdom that James, the half-brother of Christ, is speaking of.
Another element, I think the fourth element of divine wisdom is reasonableness. “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable…” I would choose the proverb to undergird that as Proverbs 14:15, “The naïve believes everything, But the sensible man considers his steps.” So, we are called to be like the Bereans were with Paul; we aren’t called to be so open-minded that our brains leak out of our heads. We are called to be people of judgment in the sense that we are always discerning things. Is this idea consistent with God’s Word or inconsistent with it, and we reject things that are inconsistent with God’s Word.
So, worship is mentally active. God never calls the Christian to check their brain when they go into church. Everything you hear anywhere, including in church, should be screened through God’s Word, that you already know, to see if these things are so. So, that is what the Bereans did with Paul in Acts 17:11, ‘The Bereans were more noble than the Thessalonians for they received the word from Paul with great eagerness; they weren’t closeminded, but they examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.’ Paul didn’t say, ‘How dare you challenge me!’ He was open to being challenged because he wanted his ministry to emulate God’s Word. They weren’t provoking Paul or trying to irritate him; they received his teaching with eagerness, but they just wanted to look at the Scriptures to see if these things were so. It says in Acts 17:11 that they did these things daily, and that is what made them more noble than the Corinthians who did not put this into practice. So, I believe this is what he is getting at when he talks about being reasonable in Proverbs 14:15.
Then he talks about, ‘full of mercy and good fruits.’ The mercy part of it, I think, can be found in Proverbs 11:17, “The merciful man does himself good, But the cruel man does himself harm.” So, we think if we are gracious or merciful to people, that somehow, we are getting behind, because we have to look out for number one, but the Bible actually teaches that the more gracious and merciful you are to people, the more you water yourself. I think it is Proverbs somewhere around chapter 11:24,25, ‘He who waters others himself will be watered.’ So, that is what this proverb is saying, ‘a merciful person does himself good, but the cruel person does himself harm.’ So, that’s what he means by full of mercy, but what does he mean by good fruits? He may have his eye on Proverbs 3:18, “She (wisdom) is a tree of life to those who take hold of her. And happy are all who hold her fast.” A lot of times in the Bible, you will see wisdom analogized to a tree bearing good fruit. That is how we are supposed to be — like a tree — in fact, per Psalm 1 we are to be like a tree, and you see the imagery going back into the Upper Room with the vine and the branches where we are just called upon to draw from the nurturing sap of the vine, and as branches, we are connected to the vine and bear fruit automatically.
One of the things that Dennis Rokser said when he was here at our church, or perhaps at the Chafer Conference, was that ‘the Christian was not called to produce fruit.’ Did anyone hear him say that? Someone said, ‘yes.’ Did he say that?… Either he said it here or at Chafer or maybe somewhere else, and when I heard him first say it, it was sort of revolutionary. He said that a Christian is not called to produce fruit. A Christian is called to bear fruit, and when you study John 15, Jesus never says, ‘Get out there and produce fruit.’ What He says is to ‘bear fruit,’ and there is a big difference between producing fruit and bearing fruit. Amen? Producing fruit is the branch that seeks to do it in his or her own power. Bearing fruit means that the branch stays connected to the vine by way of fellowship, in this case, Jesus Christ, and the fruit comes spontaneously or naturally without even exerting much effort. Then it becomes, not your fruit, but His fruit, which will last, whereas your fruit won’t. So, you start to understand that, and it changes Christianity for you because now you see your job is to just be around Jesus. If Jesus is the focus of your life, then whatever fruit you are supposed to bear, will happen. If going out and producing fruit is your focus, then Jesus gets left out of the equation, and the fruit that you do produce, will be mustered up through the flesh of self-discipline, and it won’t last. That is why wisdom here is analogized quite frequently to good fruits.
So, we have can have mercy on people when we are around Jesus, who is the King of mercy. If you are telling me to exercise mercy in my own power, I don’t think I have the ability to do that, but as I find myself around Christ, and I see His mercy towards people, to the point where He hung out with the prostitutes and the tax gatherers, who were known as the scum of the earth, that is how merciful He was — if He becomes your role model, then exercising mercy towards others actually becomes easier or easy and enjoyable, because it isn’t you doing it, but Jesus, through you.
Another element of wisdom from above is being unwavering. I was hoping and praying that we would get to this today, because this is the In and Out Burger proverb. Have any of you ever eaten at In and Out Burger? They have a new one here in Houston…. that was like the New Jerusalem, when that came. It is kind of cool when you look at their cup — inside it says, John 3:16, and then you order some fries, and at the bottom, it says Proverbs 24:16, so as your spiritual exercise tonight, you need to go to In and Out Burger to see if this is so. I got really interested in Proverbs 24:16 because that is akin to the French fries verse. It says, “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in time of calamity.” I think this is what he is talking about when he uses the term, ‘unwavering.’ I don’t know if it was Abraham Lincoln or someone else, who said that it isn’t the fact that you get knocked down that is the issue. The issue is that after you get knocked down, because everyone gets knocked down, it is how fast you can get back up that is the issue. So, as you walk with the Lord, you will find that you have a resilience; you aren’t as thrown off your game as you are when you aren’t walking with Jesus, because you have a reservoir of unwaveringness about you.
Finally, is without hypocrisy, the wisdom form God is without hypocrisy. What is hypocrisy? Hypocrisy is basically a double life which all of us as Christians are capable of living. If you notice, your sin nature did not just disappear when you got saved? Am I talking to the right crowd here? You all look very spiritual with your Bibles and taking notes, but you still have a sin nature as a Christian. You also have a new nature, but you still have a sin nature, and we have the ability to overcome the old nature that we didn’t have before because we have resources inside of us now that didn’t exist before. So, you have the ability to tell the sin nature, ‘no,’ whereas prior to your conversion to Christianity, you had no ability to tell your sin nature, ‘no,’ — you were a slave to it. The sin nature is always going to be there to go back to if I choose to do so as a Christian. Therefore, the Christian is completely capable of a double life. I am completely capable of looking one way on Sunday and acting in a totally different way on Monday. In fact, when you run into people like that who are at your church — this happened to me in a work situation in California where I ran into a guy who I went to church with, and he was out of his church environment, and the profanity flowed like you wouldn’t believe from him. I am thinking to myself, ‘Is this the same guy who I was with at church singing praises unto the Lord?’ It is rather eye opening when you see that in someone, and then the Lord says, ‘That’s what you are like too — you have the same ability to go right back to the sin nature.’ When I saw that in that person, I said, ‘Lord, I just don’t want to be that way. Whatever you have to do to change me or get me in line so that I don’t have this double life, please help me with that.’ And that is wisdom from above; wisdom without hypocrisy. I would pick Proverbs 28:13 as the one he is referring to here, “He who conceals his wrong transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.”
As long as we are living the double life and pretending to be one thing in public and different in private, or act one way on Sunday and another way on Monday, the proverb says that you will not prosper as long as you are doing that. The ability to do it still exists inside of us and will until the day we die, or until the rapture, whichever comes first. As long as we are in these bodies and not in a state of glorification, the old nature is there to return to. A lot of Christians do that, and I don’t know what we think, maybe that God doesn’t see, or that we are getting ahead? Proverbs 28:13 says that the person who does that will not prosper.
So, that is a bird’s eye view of wisdom from above. Wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering (they eat at In and Out Burger a lot as it is the spiritual thing to do), and without hypocrisy. That is very different from the wisdom from below which we studied earlier.
Now, what James has done is to define wisdom because he is changing subjects; he is no longer talking about the walk of faith, but about wisdom which is demonstrated by her actions per James 3:13; false wisdom 3:14-16, in contrast to the true wisdom per 3:17-18.
Now what James does is to take that wisdom which he has defined for us, and he begins to apply it to every area of life. That is how the book ends — with application of wisdom, because that is what wisdom is — it is always application. It isn’t knowledge, ‘gnosis,’ it is ‘sofia‘.’ What is the difference between ‘gnosis’ and ‘sofia’ — knowledge applied, that is wisdom. In the book of Proverbs, it is ‘chokhmâh’ or taking knowledge and applying it.
Spiritual grown and maturity is not measured by how much data you know — that’s one of the mistakes made frequently in circles like our own which are very strong on Bible teaching. People will take notes and have an electronic catalogue of things they’ve learned, and their Bibles will be marked up — all of that is fantastic, by the way, but God never designed that to be the last step. He designed that as the first step. Once you have learned all of that, then the Holy Spirit says, ‘It is time to live it out.’ As you start making daily and moment-by-moment decisions, based on what you have learned, you aren’t merely walking in knowledge but in wisdom. You are not just walking in ‘gnosis,’ but in ‘sofia’ or in ‘chokhmâh’. The knowledge that you are learning applies to every area of life, so James first applies it to spirituality in James 4:1-12, then to business decisions, 4:13-17, and then to the use of wealth in 5:1-6. If someone is claiming to be wise, I might say, ‘Well, can I look at your checkbook?’ How we use our money as in 4:13-17 and in 5:1-6, is evidence of whether or not we are walking in wisdom. He applies it to waiting for the Lord’s return in 5:7-12, to prayer in 5:13-18, and to restoring the erring brother in 5:19-20. If someone has wandered off the path, how do you restore them? Jesus analogized it to taking a splinter out of someone’s eye in Matthew 7. Think of how delicate of an operation that is, and the surgical precision necessary to remove a splinter out of someone’s eye. That is the wisdom necessary to take a wayward spouse, child or grandchild, church member, friend and to turn them back to the things of God. If you get involved in this, you will need some real wisdom and that is why James concludes his book by dealing with the restoration of the erring brother.
That is the direction the book of James is moving in, so let’s try to get into the first things James talks about in James 4, our spiritual life. We know what wisdom is, now how do we apply it to our spiritual life? James says that we must avoid two things: Wrangling in 4:1-3 and worldliness in 4:4-6. One of the things I love about the Bible is that it is not a book of ‘don’ts’ as in ‘don’t do this, don’t do that.’ What the Bible does is to say, ‘Don’t do this, but allow God to replace that activity with something better.’ The Bible is not a no-book; it is a better book. So, he tells us to avoid wrangling and worldliness, but then he says that instead of that, here is something better that you can pursue in its place — that is the essence of spiritual wisdom per 4:7-12. I don’t know if we do a very good job of communicating that to the world. The world looks at Christians who say not to be a homosexual; don’t get an abortion; don’t look at pornography, don’t do this, don’t do that as though we are a bunch of don’ts. That is not Christianity; Christianity is ‘Those things are evil, and you should stay away from them, but God has something so much better for you than the pursuit of those empty things.’ So, he tells us what to pursue in those last verses of James 4:7-12.
So, starting with the first one thing to avoid: wrangling. He describes a problem in James 4:1, then he describes the source of the problem. So, what is the problem that James has his finger on? You will see it there in 4:1, He says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” He is telling us here to avoid wrangling. Notice what it says here: “among you.” So, he is talking about conflicts among Christians. It is like, ‘Gee, James, I wish you would talk about something more relevant.’ I am being facetious here because it is very relevant. Christians get out of sorts with one another constantly, and James says that if it is within your power to do that, you should avoid it.
As you probably know, most church splits, and churches do split all the time, and when you study church splits — I was in a Presbyterial pastor’s office, and he had a chart where he had every church split in his denomination going back to the Civil War. This group split from this group and from this group, they split from that group. Literally, looking at that chart, was like a maze, and I hadn’t ever seen anything like that. But it does show you how fast churches split and how fast Christians can get upset with each other. The sad thing about it is that when church splits happen, I would say that over 90% of the time, it has nothing to do with some great doctrinal issue. You might think that it might be over the virgin birth or the deity of Christ — sometimes that is the issue, but not typically. Many times, things like that are used as the issue. But the issue is not the issue; it is the attitude as far as God is concerned. Generally, when church splits happen, it has to do with personality issues; ‘Sister so and so gets more time on the piano than I get, I don’t like the pastor because he didn’t allow me to start this ministry,’ etc., the silliest of things — related to the color of the carpet. So, to be honest, we elders, were a little nervous when we were putting in new carpet — ‘Good grief, are we going to start a war here?’ But that is human nature, people are like that, they get mad because ‘That pastor parts his hair on the wrong side of the head so I am going down the street and find a pastor who combs his hair the way I think it should be,’ if the pastor has hair to comb, which is sometimes not the case.
So, James basically is saying to avoid those kinds of things. He says, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” Now what James does is to tell us where those things come from. Why is it that Christians have such a difficult time getting along with each other? What is the root of the problem? James’ analysis here is completely and totally different than secular psychology. A secular psychologist, or even a Christian drawing from secular psychology, at this point, will start going on and on about temperaments. Have you ever seen that teaching on temperaments with the different personality types and temperaments? There are animal names for each of them, so a lot of churches will get you to become embroiled in these temperament or personality tests. The name of the game is to get the right personality types working together. On a church staff you must get the right personality types to work with each other. The idea is that if we get all that figured out from a personality type/temperament level, then conflicts within the Church will cease. When people analyze it from that standpoint, they’re not analyzing it from the lens of God’s Word. They’re analyzing it from what secular psychology has to offer. Notice that James doesn’t even talk about personality types or temperaments here. He gets into a source; he tells you where the source of these things is — these conflicts that have nothing to do with the findings of modern-day psychology.
So, James, where do these things come from? These conflicts arise because of our hearts. Look at the second part of 4:1 into 4:2: He says, “Is not the source… [in other words, the conflicts that he has just talked about, he is now giving us the source of where these things come from]. … “Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?” In the Bible, you will see ‘members’ is a reference to the body many times. Then in the first part of 4:2 he says, “You lust … (What is lust? It is desiring what God has forbidden, and we think of it often sexually, but it doesn’t just have to relate to just that, because you could desire someone else’s talent that God didn’t give to you; someone else’s prestige, someone else’s reputation, and James says that is really the source of conflicts among Christians). He says, “You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.” So, where in the world do all these conflicts among Christians come from? They come from the heart, which is sinful, and they come from sinful desires and Christians moving into lust. Rather than surrendering them to the Lord, saying, ‘Well, I really wish I was as good a singer as so and so, but Lord, You didn’t make me a singer,’ so rather than being jealous of the person where your jealousy leads you to take shots at them behind their back, etc, rather than being jealous of them, “Lord, help me to overcome my jealousy and to be who You want me to be rather than who I lustfully desire to be.’ But we don’t do that by taking it to the Lord, rather we tend to move off into envy and jealousy; we start taking shots at others behind their backs, and James is saying that this is where these conflicts come from.
One of the things to understand about the Bible is that it teaches that the human heart is wicked. I never had to sit my daughter down, well, let’s not pick on my daughter. My parents never had to sit me down and say, ‘Okay, we are going to teach you how to be selfish today. Ready? Oh, by the way, when you don’t get your way, we will teach you how to throw a tantrum; this is how you do it.’ So, all of those things — being selfish, hoarding my toys and not sharing them with my friends — I never had to be taught any of that. In fact, I had to be taught by my parents the opposite: How to control my anger, selfishness, how to be a giver rather than a taker because I am selfish by nature. That is what James is saying here — where the conflicts among Christians, most of them, where they come from.
Jesus made this same point in Mark 7:20-23, “And He was saying, ‘That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. [In other words, they were criticizing him here because He allowed His disciples to eat on the Sabbath. What a terrible thing, and He was acting as though He was involved in some kind of unspiritual enterprise. Jesus, here, makes a tremendous anthropological point, meaning a point relating to the doctrine of man: ‘It isn’t what man takes in that corrupts him; it isn’t eating on the Sabbath that’s the problem; it is what spills out of his heart which is wicked in original sin’]… 23 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders [now, didn’t James here say that you commit murder? Was his audience physically committing murder? No, you can commit murder as a Christian by simply hating somebody according to the teachings on the Sermon on the Mount. ‘Well, why would I hate somebody? Because they’re better at something than I am, or they’re more talented than I am, or they live in a nicer area than I do, or they drive a better car than I drive, so I am jealous.’ So rather than going to the Lord, asking Him to help us with our jealousy, we start to attack each other], adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy [that’s a big one], slander [that is what James is talking about here — Christians slandering each other], pride and foolishness. And if all of that is not clear enough, Jesus circles back to His main point: 23 All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”’
Paul, the apostle, in the book of Galatians 5:19-21, is going to make the same point. Paul is going to call these things the works of the flesh. These are the ways that the sin nature manifests itself in observable ways. You always know as a Christian that you are moving off into the sin nature when these things become habitual in your life. Paul says, “Now the deeds of the flesh [the sin nature, the Greek word is the ‘sarx’]…are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, indecent behavior, 20idolatry, witchcraft, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, [those are relational sins — what James is dealing with. Christians arguing and contending with each other. Where does it come from? It doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that you are working with the wrong personality type. It has everything to do with the sin nature which is not in subjection because you are allowing it to reign]… selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, [and it is almost as if Paul gets tired of mentioning things. He says, ‘I can go on and on giving other manifestations of the flesh, but you get my point’]… and things like these, of which I forewarned you, that those [see the shift from you to those; how he just went from second person to third person? When he talks about those he is talking about unbelievers] … those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”
I bring this up because many will use a passage like this to teach the insecurity of salvation. If you move off into these things, then you aren’t going to heaven, but that is resolved when you see the shifts in pronouns from the second to the third person — from you to those. Paul’s point is that you as a Christian have the potential to act just like an unbeliever through these works of the flesh. This is what unbelievers are like all the time, and since you, as a Christian, are dual natured, you have the propensity to go right back to the flesh and act just like an unbeliever. Paul’s point was: ‘Why would you do that? That isn’t who you are; it isn’t your identity, not your destiny. Why would you act like an unbeliever when the unbeliever, those, are going to a completely different destiny than where you are.’ That is why he mentions that those who practice such things will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Notice that these works of the flesh come from within. Why? Because the human heart is corrupted and wicked; that is why Genesis 8:21 says that “the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
Marilyn, I think I heard you a couple of minutes ago quote Jeremiah 17:9, right?
There it is, “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” it is very interesting to me that when you get saved, God makes no attempt to reform the old nature. He doesn’t slap a coat of fresh paint over the old nature. Why doesn’t He do that? Because the old nature is unredeemable. It is unfixable. Putting lipstick on a pig is still a pig, right? What God does is to give you a new nature, and you become dual natured now with the ability to please the new nature. You have new desires, and the goal of your Christian life from that point on is to live according to the desires of the new nature, and to reckon dead, ‘logizomai’ where we get the word, logic, which is an accounting term, ‘reckon’ dead, the deeds of the flesh. In other words, you do not have to go back to the flesh as a Christian because the deeds of the flesh have been crucified. The desire to return to the old nature is there and always will be, but you can do what Nancy Reagan said, ‘Just say no!’
Now before you were saved, you could not just say ‘no;’ you were a slave to it, but now that you have new resources inside of you, you have the capacity to ‘just say no.’ Why would I want to go back to that old nature? It is ‘deceitful, sick, who can even understand it?’ When God sizes up humanity, this is His assessment, because we are corrupted by the old nature; deceitful by nature, sick, and we don’t even understand how wicked we are a lot of the time. By the way, you inherited that old nature from the point of conception. Psalm 51:5, David says, “Behold, I was brought forth in guilt, And in sin my mother conceived me.” In other words, at the point when life begins, which is at conception, what is transferred to every single human being is the nature that is at war with their Creator. God never tries to correct that old nature in the sense that He tries to fix it or rehabilitate it. God is all powerful, and not even He tries to fix it. What God does is to give you a brand new nature, and that happens not at the point of physical conception but at the point of spiritual birth. The moment you trust in Christ as your Savior, boom! You are born spiritually, and you have a new nature. Now, you must be taught the principles of discipleship and part of those principles involve ‘reckoning’ ‘logizomai,’ considering dead, Romans 6, that old nature and live according to the desires of the new nature.
So, you walk into a church where is bickering and conflict and hostility and antagonism, and all the secular psychologists want to use that situation to showcase their personality profiles and inventories. James says that the reason that the church is in that condition is because there are a lot of believers in that church who aren’t living according to the desires of the new nature. They went right back to the desires of the old nature and got involved in the relational sins: jealousy, envy, outbursts of anger, desiring something that someone else has — you move into envy at that point and don’t get what it is that you think you deserve, so you begin to slander others behind their backs. Usually, it comes across as spiritual somewhat; you might be able to dress it up in a little spiritual language, but just because you throw a Bible verse in here or there, it could still be from the old, corrupted nature, and that becomes the source of conflicts. This is why we are to avoid wrangling.
Rather than being envious of something that someone else has within the church and moving into relational sins, what should I do instead? I should take that situation in prayer to the Lord, and he will talk about that in the second half of James 4:2b, and James at that point, says, “You have not because you ask not.” Maybe it is that you don’t have the status, wealth or talent because you never took time to ask God for those things. But in 4:3, he says to ‘Be careful, because when you ask God in prayer, make sure that you are asking for the right reasons. ‘ Don’t ask God to bless you so you can win a popularity contest. You want to be blessed by God so you can be a blessing to other people, and he will deal with that in 4:3.
We will stop here. We will pick it up with James 4:2 next time.