The 16th Sunday after Pentecost September 24, 2017
Text: James 3:13-18 3 year series B – Revised 17:2031
Theme: Let’s See What You Know.
“Let’s See What You Know.” When I was in school and heard those words spoken by the teacher, I would just cringe. Why? Because they were words that he always used right before he gave the class a pop quiz. “Let’s see what you know.”
At the time, I didn’t like it. I didn’t want a test, especially if I knew that I was not prepared for it. So, from my point of view as a student, that phrase had a negative effect on me. But now that the roles are reversed and I am the teacher at times, it’s not such a bad phrase to me anymore. Why not? It has to do with knowledge, which is the thing that teachers are trying to give their students.
Because knowledge in and of itself cannot be seen, since it’s up here in the head, how can a teacher measure if the students have it? Unless they put down on paper or show by some other visible means what’s up here (head), the teacher doesn’t know if they got it? He has to see what they know in order to make sure. If they can’t put it down on paper or express it some way, it’s pretty safe to say that they don’t have it.
The greatest thing that Christians have is the priceless privilege of knowing the God of grace. To know Him as He has revealed Himself through Christ Jesus the Savior is to have life. The Bible says, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (Jn.17:3). To know God is to have life in Him now and forever.
But to know God means more than merely to know about Him. It means being able to translate knowledge “onto paper,” so to speak. Knowledge has to be seen for it to be true and useful. That is why James asks in our text, “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him by his good way of living show that he does things in wise humility.” In other words, Let’s See What You Know.
I. If you are wise, show it in humility and good living.
Earlier James had been hammering at the idea of phony faith when he wrote, “Faith, if it is alone and has no works, is dead.”
You see, Christians believe in Christ Jesus on the inside. But faith within can’t just sit there like a duck on water and do nothing. That’s phony faith. Faith responds; it reveals itself outwardly in the way one conducts himself, trusting the Lord Jesus for everything. Real faith believes; real faith acts. If not, it might be a phony faith.
And just as bad as having a phony faith is having phony wisdom. Maybe that’s even worse, because phony wisdom misleads one into thinking he has something when he doesn’t. In this lesson James directs his thoughts to that – phony wisdom.
Here’s the setting. It seems that James had heard things about the members of his scattered congregation that weren’t good. Apparently, some proudly set themselves up as “wise” and “learned,” expecting others to adore them. How might that happen?
Maybe these “learned ones” just knew a lot of historical facts from the Bible. Maybe they could quote Bible passage after Bible passage perfectly – not one word out of order. Maybe they had a lot of books or theories on faith that they read. Whatever it was, they seemed to have been doing a lot of talking about themselves and their superior understanding. Today we might say, “They talked the talk” of Christianity. They had it up here (head), but it sure wasn’t coming out in their attitudes and in what they did. In fact, they were setting themselves up against one another.
A similar thing happened to the disciples in the Gospel Lesson today. While they were traveling with Jesus, what were the disciples talking about on the road? They were arguing about which one was the greatest. What were they saying? We are not told, but perhaps it had to do with things like this. Of the Twelve, only Peter, James, and John had been picked to be eyewitnesses of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Only Peter, James, and John saw Jesus raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead. Maybe that led them to think they were superior to the others. Or maybe some of the more educated ones, like Matthew or Judas looked down on those who were uneducated fishermen. We don’t know what they were saying. But whatever it was, they argued among themselves who was greater.
Think of the Old Testament lesson, Miriam, it seems, felt like she wasn’t getting as much attention as she should get. And she started speaking against the leadership of her brother Moses. Her envy and selfish ambition was punished by God. Know that such attitudes are not right before God. And when they came out in what she said and did, the Lord punished her for her phony knowledge.
Of such wrangling James warns, “If you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and lie, contrary to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above.” That’s not from heaven; that’s worldly; that’s of the devil.
If all that head-wisdom is yielding is a pride-filled life full of bitterness, envy, selfish ambition, and arguing, it’s not from God.
You know, our sinful flesh does have those times when it is afraid to be humble; afraid that if we don’t sing our own praises, the song won’t be heard; afraid that others are getting the better of us and we’ll lose out. So we try to dominate, or, at least, as people in my hometown used to say, “If you don’t toot your own horn, no one will.” But truly wise Christians show their wisdom not in superiority, but in humility by being submissive rather than insistent – by being concerned about others rather than stuck on themselves. As James reminds us, true wisdom is closely connected with humility and both, in the end will be seen not in boasting but in good living with kindly deeds.
Look at Christ, our Savior. He was true God. Yet He willingly
humbled Himself as a servant unto death, even death on the cross that we might be saved (Phlp.2:5f). What a humble act to save us from the truly superior One, the One who knows all things. If you know that Savior for what He humbly sacrificed for you, you will follow Him in the same. That’s what faith does; that’s where true knowledge leads.
So, dear friends, Let’s See What You Know. If you are truly wise, it will show in humility and good living. And…
II. If you are truly wise, it will show in your love for peace.
James writes, “But the wisdom that comes from above is first pure, then also peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere.”
“Peace-loving” seems to be the key idea here from which all the rest proceed out of a knowledge that is pure. Peace-loving describes an attitude within that readily expresses itself on the outside. Where there is a love for peace, there is no bitterness, envy, selfish ambition, or boasting, or lying, but there is consideration, mercy, and sincerity towards others.
I could think of no better way to illustrate this then in the words of a simple children’s devotion that I read the other day. It is very simple, yet speaks directly to the point that James raised in our text.
The devotion began with a story about a young boy and a friend who called him a name, but didn’t realize how cruel that nickname was. The boy who was called the name could have been upset and become bitter and angry, but he didn’t. The story goes like this:
“Hi there, Lanky-legs,” yelled a boy from across the street. He wasn’t trying to be mean. He just didn’t now how cruel it can be to call people names they don’t like. But it didn’t seem to bother his friend. He just grinned and yelled back, “Lanky-legs will beat you in a race any time.”
That boy didn’t get angry when someone called him a name. “You can’t ever pick a fight with him,” his parents said. One day another friend asked him, “How come you’re so easy to get along with?” “I learned a secret from my mother,” the body answered. “When I was 4 years old, someone called me a dog. I cried and wanted my father to hit him. But my mother said, ‘People called our Savior many bad names, and Christ Jesus never hurt them back.’ Then she taught me a verse from the Bible. It said, ‘The wisdom that comes from heaven is….peace-loving.’ If we’re really wise, as wise as God can make us, then nobody can make us angry
or make us argue and fight.”
That is reminiscent of Jesus’ own words from the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the Sons of God” (Mt.5:8f).
For all its talk about peace, the world looks at peacemakers with scorn. If you have ever been at odds with someone, or rather, in their selfish ambition and pride, they are at odds with you, you have experienced the pain and bitter scorn they can throw at you. Such people can make your life miserable as they consider only themselves. And if you try to smooth things over in a God-pleasing way, they may react violently. Many look at peacemakers with scorn because the world, when it is without Christ, is out for itself.
But Christians know better and humbly place every issue into God’s hands. They want nothing more than to show their hope in the Savior who has given them peace with God and peace within through sins forgiven. It’s a peace they love. And they want nothing more than to live in it and express the happiness and contentment it brings to their own lives. They show it through acts of kindness and mercy, even to their enemies.
So, dear friends in Christ, Let’s See What You Know. If you are truly wise, it will show in humility and good living. And if you are truly wise, it will show in your love for peace. God grant it….