September 23, 2012 (DC)

Proverbs 31:10-31 – A capable wife who can find? She is more precious than jewels.
OR
Wisdom of Solomon 1:16 – 2:1, 12-22 – Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.
OR
Jeremiah 11:18-20 — But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. And I did not know it was against me that they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name will no longer be remembered!”

Psalm 1 – How blessed is the one who walks not in the counsel of the wicked… he will be like a tree planted by streams of water.
OR
Psalm 54 – God is my helper; it is the LORD who sustains my life. (Ps. 54:4)

James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a – Why do conflicts arise among you?

Mark 9:30-37 – Who is the greatest? Be a servant.

Conflict

We are in week four of a five-week series on James.

  1. Listening: James 1:17-27
  2. Works: James 2:1-17
  3. Tame the tongue: James 3:1-12
  4. Conflict: James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a
  5. Healing: James 5:13-20

Here is this week’s text (James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a) in its entirety:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 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. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. 

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 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. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

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. 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”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Wisdom

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why they omitted a section out of this. Why omit verses four through six? I have included them above, but put them in gray, so you can see the section left out. I know James is organized chaotically, but it is his letter after all. Shouldn’t we just let it speak?

In the first section, wisdom is mentioned several times. You will recall from your Old Testament studies that wisdom is very important in Hebrew literature. It is even personified; she is even feminine. Some equate it with the later New Testament understanding of the Holy Spirit.

Wisdom surfaces four times in this short letter.

James 1:5 says, “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.”

James 3:13: “Who is wise among you?”

James 3:15: “If you are envious, that kind of wisdom does not come from above, but from below.”

James 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.”

Note, however, the characteristic of James’ concept of wisdom. It’s not cunning, cleverness, or intellectual/academic acumen. The wisdom of God is peace, gentleness, a willingness to yield (bend?), mercy, and good fruits without partiality or hypocrisy. Can this wisdom equate to Paul’s fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22? This wisdom from above is being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1). James is painting a picture for us of the Christian life, from his viewpoint. Can you hear it? Let those with ears hear.

Fighting and Quarreling

James does a little digging now. Where do fighting and quarreling come from? Before going on, invite your folks to ask themselves the question. What is the root of most quarreling?

James would have us believe they come from our cravings, the war within us. We want, we crave, we must have, and so we go out into the world and demand. Our greed is at the heart of every quarrel. We want to win, so we can get what we want. He can’t be wrong. He’s pointing to our pride, our hubris, and our avarice.

In every argument, big or small, it often ceases to become what it’s about and instead becomes about winning, not losing face. Every little win tells us we are winning in life. Every loss makes us feel like we are losing in the game of life. We can’t afford to give an inch of ground. James is pointing to this reality, whatever we want to call it, as the root of the problem. First Timothy points to something different, but similar also in some ways, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10) This also points to greed. But, at the end of the day, greed and money are also about winning.

What is the Good News?

The good news is we have a diagnosis for some, if not all the little problems in our lives and the big problems in our world. If we can take an honest look at things, we can actually identify the source of the problem.

The good news is we confess our sin; God who is faithful and just will forgive our sin and cleanse us from unrighteousness. Do you believe that God can actually clean up some of this greed problem?

The good news is God has provided an antidote to all of this. Putting our faith in Christ, putting all of our trust and hope in God (not progress, power, success, or money), frees us from worrying too much about money, winning, or even death. Jesus offers us an alternative focus. Grabbing on to Christ, allows us to let go of winning all the time. Knowing the big game is in the bag, we can even feel good about losing a few. We can apologize, fall on our swords and maybe, just maybe, let our spouses win an argument.

Faith brings with it a sense of joy because we are no longer carrying around our need to win. Drinking from this well, eating from this bread, envy begins to melt away, selfish ambitions wane and are replaced with peace, gentleness, and other gifts of the Spirit, or wisdom from above as James puts it.

So what?

What congregation has not had conflict?

“We have never had any fighting or quarreling over anything,” said no congregation ever.

This lesson is for every person, every congregation, and every nation. Even our wars grow out of fear of not having enough: safety, oil, and prosperity. We want to win, don’t we?

Invite people to write down a word or draw a picture that represents a conflict they had. What caused the conflict? Where were their own insecurities at play? Who won? What apologies needed to be made? If I dwelled constantly in the peace and joy that comes with the confidence of faith, how might I have gone about this differently? How will I go about it differently in the future?

Consider for yourself, as preacher, the conflicts in your own congregation? How are you involved? What investment do you have in the outcome? Why? What’s at stake for you? What’s the worst-case scenario? What’s the best-case scenario? How can you be open about your opinions and yet also be open to others’ opinions? How are you creating a culture of cultivating creative conflict at your church? How can you encourage your leaders to share openly and courageously their ideas, and learn to speak the truth in love when necessary?

The thing is, to live in the wisdom from above and to let go of our need to win, we need to return to this faith well often. We need to confess weekly, maybe daily. Greed and envy resurface belligerently. Hearing the word of hope that grounds us in something bigger than ourselves is critical. Daily prayer to strengthen our faith gives us the joy to be at peace.

Are you willing to dive into the deep waters of faith and trust?