19 September 2021

“Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.” James 3:13

“Jason wailed as his parents handed him over to Amy.  It was the two-year-old’s first time in the nursery while Mom and Dad attended the service – and he was not happy.  Amy assured them he’d be fine.  She tried to soothe him with toys and books, by rocking in a chair, walking around, standing still, and talking about what fun he could have.  But everything was met with bigger tears and louder cries.  Then she whispered five simple words in his ear: “I will stay with you.”  Peace and comfort quickly came” (Our Daily Bread 4.20.21).  God says the same thing to us as we cry and remain not happy.  When God tells us that God will stay with us, we are finally able to be comforted.  Jesus offered the disciples similar comfort.  In John 14:16-17 He is recorded saying, “The Father… will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.”  Further, before he left the disciples on earth, he promised them, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).  Friends, we are still in that age.  While we are stressed and worried here on earth, we have forgotten that Jesus has stayed with us in the nursery.  God will never leave our side.

What do you desire?  Have your desires changed over time?  Early on, it may have been just for someone to be with you.  You may still have a similar desire today.  Perhaps it comes and goes.  Some of my desires have been to visit all fifty states, and perhaps all thirty Major League Baseball stadiums.  Yet on a deeper level, I desire to be as close as I can to God’s call for my life.  I want to do my best to grow closer to God and to experience God more often.  Mark Batterson, in his book Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God, emphasizes the importance of allowing ourselves to have desires.  Yet he notes that anything you desire more than God is an idol unless that thing helps you to desire God (88).  If we do not find ourselves desiring God, we can ask ourselves why that may be so, but we cannot be expecting God to give us the rewards of the kingdom without putting any effort in on our part to seek God.  We want the best to happen to us, but we have not made the commitment to seek God in everything that we do.  We may expect that God is there when we need God.  But as last week’s scripture on Wisdom told us, we need to seek God and answer God even when we are not in a time of trial.  We need to do the job of building up our faith now.  We can’t expect God to do it.  God uses our faith to make wonderful things happen, but it is up to us to make that commitment to build our faith.  One thing that I desire is to never stop building my faith in God.  I will never reach perfection on this side of eternity, but I know that I will continue having the opportunity to learn and grow.  As we said last week, if we settle for where we are comfortable, our relationship with God will suffer.

Jasper and Maisie are my two cats, and they are usually well behaved when I am in the room.  It is when I am not that they are more troublesome.  Sometimes I have walked into a room to find Maisie on the counter and she, immediately upon seeing me, jumps off and runs down to the basement.  She knows she is not supposed to do that and that she could get into trouble for that, and she also knows that it is hard to catch her in the basement.  Her reaction shows me that she knows that what she is doing is wrong.

The disciples wanted to be more like Jesus, but when Jesus confronted them about what they were talking about, they fell silent.  They knew that they should not be arguing about who was the greatest among them.  Even before this, when Jesus had been telling about the betrayal that was to happen to him, the disciples fell into silence because “they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him” (Mark 9:32).  Are you ever afraid to ask questions?  What were they afraid Jesus would say to them?  What are you afraid your brother will say to you if you ask him why he does some odd thing?  What has prevented you from asking someone a question that you wanted to know the answer to?  What has prevented you from asking God that question?  Proverbs 1:33 tells us, “Those who listen to me will be secure, and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”  What fear could you have that God will retaliate at you for speaking your mind to God, so long as you are actively receiving and seeking God?  If we are doing it right, we are always seeking God.  We are always seeking new ways to grow closer to God and expand out of our comfort zone.  Perhaps it is through spiritual disciplines like scripture reading, prayer, journaling, daily examen, fasting, or others.  Those disciples then turn into delights once you have done them for God for a period of time.  The question that we will keep coming back to is, “What do you desire?”  Do you desire to get into trouble and get away with it?  Do you desire to appear as a law-abiding Christian but you don’t actually care?  Do you actually desire a close relationship with God?  Is God your strongest desire?  After all, you are God’s strongest desire.  God wants to be close to you; God longs this.  But you and I often pay more attention to other things.  Don’t be asking yourselves who is the greatest among you – who is the best Christian here; who has scored the most points in heaven? – Instead, ask yourself who is the greatest in your heart.  We do not get to where we want to be by desiring to be the greatest.  We get to where we want to be by desiring God.  For then our desire leads to action.  We can desire God to the extent that we cry unless we are reassured that God will stay with us.  We desire God to the extent that we long to be closer than we are right now.  We desire God to the extent that we leave our comfort zone to work on that.

It is important to realize that we will not, nor are we expected to, achieve a perfect faith in this lifetime.  Proverbs 31:10-31 indicate that it is near impossible to find the perfect person who does everything in a godly way.  The question asks, “A capable wife, who can find?”  (Prov. 31:10).  The picture that is painted of a woman is a very busy one.  Not only does she take care of everything at home, but she sews garments and sells them, she plants vineyards, brings home food, always speaks kindness and fears the Lord.  Have you ever read the entire book of Proverbs?  Do you think that you can meet every challenge of a good and righteous person that is in this book?  Probably not.  Now, that does not mean that you should forget about it, but recognize progress in yourself and in others through it.  It gives you something to strive for.  It helps you strive for perfection.  But know that you cannot do any of it in your comfort zone.  You cannot do any of it if you are not willing to change.

The epistle of James examines three primary questions.  First, in 3:13, “Who is wise and understanding among you?”  We can determine who is wise and understanding by determining who is gentle or humble, peaceable, willing to yield, full of mercy, and without a trace of partiality (3:17).  When we recognize who is wise and understanding among us, it shows us what is possible and it gives us an attainable goal to strive for.  We will never – and should never – be exactly like someone else, but we can learn a lot from our neighbors who seem to have it together.  These are people who focus on godly qualities and not earthly desires such as power, greed, envy, and selfish ambition (3:14).  The second question is, “From what do conflicts and disputes arise?” (4:1).  They come from the cravings – or desires – that we have that are not of God.  We covet something that we do not have, and there is always something that we want that we do not yet have.  It could be the desire to be right and prove oneself.  It could be something material.  Whatever it is, conflicts on earth arise from desires that only make a difference on this earth.  The third question of the passage “asks us who will be our authority.  God is yearning and searching for the human spirit that mirrors God’s own image.  Therefore, in choosing to draw near to God, we are throwing off the power that earthly wisdom has over us” (FW B.4.90).

There is plenty of earthly wisdom to go around.  But where do you find it?  Do you find it from those who are all about themselves?  Or do you find it from those who are seeking to contribute as best they can to God’s kingdom?  The series that we are in now is all about creating a good name for ourselves.  Ha, that may sound selfish.  But it is creating a good name for ourselves in Heaven.  The way that we create a good name for ourselves is by not focusing on our name, and our reputation, but on the legacy of God.  Again, we are called to leave a legacy for God’s glory.  When we do this, our own legacy will follow.  We were discussing pride in book group this week.  One noted how children sometimes say that they are smart.  Her reply to her grandchild who said this was, “That may be true, but you do not have to go around telling everyone that.  You live it and show it through your actions.”  That is what we should do too (except when you are applying for college or for a job – there are always exceptions!).  First, get your advice from the right place.  Focus on the wisdom from above.  Second, ask yourself what you desire most.  If it is not God, ask yourself why.  Then, how can you change that?  God desires – God yearns – to be with us.  Do you yearn to be with God?

Kathy L. Dawson is an Associate Professor of Christian Education at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia.  She suggests some practical applications for how we throw earthly wisdom away as we draw near to God.  In the church, she writes, living by God’s wisdom means that “church officers are chosen on the criteria of godly wisdom, rather than on how much money they give to the church, that worship leadership is not just handled by the paid staff, but is shared among the church membership of all ages and stations, and that disputes are handled with mercy and love, seeking peace above selfish ambition” (FW B.4.90).  What godly impact do you desire to have on the church?

Do not be afraid to approach God because you know that you have done something wrong.  God already knows if you have been walking on all the countertops.  Cats may try to hide that from me, but we certainly can’t hide it from God.  So, fear does not need to be a reason to hold back.  What do you have to lose?  When the Bible tells us to fear God, scholars usually view fear as a synonym of awe.  We sing, “How Great Thou Art” and so many other praise songs because God is worthy of praise.  And what’s more, God has stayed with us through all this time, to the end of the age.  God is not letting up on God’s desire to be with us now.  God is with you.  Who are you with?  Remember that when you draw near to God, God will draw near to you (Jas. 4:8). 

Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Proverbs 31:10-31
31:10 A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
31:11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.
31:12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
31:13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
31:14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away.
31:15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant girls.
31:16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
31:17 She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong.
31:18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night.
31:19 She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.
31:20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.
31:21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson.
31:22 She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
31:23 Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land.
31:24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes.
31:25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
31:26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
31:27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
31:28 Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her:
31:29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
31:30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
31:31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.

James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.
3:14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth.
3:15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.
3:16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind.
3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.
3:18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.
4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?
4:2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask.
4:3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.
4:4 Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
4:5 Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
4:6 But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
4:8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Mark 9:30-37
9:30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;
9:31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”
9:32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
9:33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”
9:34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.
9:35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
9:36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,
9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

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