Proverbs 31:10-31 – A capable wife who can find? She is more precious than jewels.
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.’
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.
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.
EPISTLE OF STRAW: A 5-week Series on James
- LISTENING – September 2, 2018: James 1:17-27– Be quick to listen, slow to speak. Giving. Slow to anger. Be doers of the word, not just hearers. Pure religion: Care for orphans and widows.
- WORKS – September 9, 2018: James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17 – Don’t show favoritism to the rich. Faith without works is dead.
- TAME THE TONGUE – September 16, 2018: James 3:1-12 – Not many of you should become teachers. Tame the tongue.
- CONFLICT – September 23, 2018: James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a – Why do conflicts arise among you?
- HEALING – September 30, 2018: James 5:13-20 – Healing text. Are any of you sick? Elders should pray and lay hands on you.
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. 14But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17But 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. 18And 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? 2You 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. 3You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.
4Adulterers! 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. 5Or 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”? 6But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the framers of the lectionary omitted a section out of this. Why omit verses 4-6? I have included them above, but put them in blue, so you can see the section left out. I know the Epistle of 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.
I’ll also remind you that Robert Gundry calls James a “manual of Christian conduct that assumes a foundation of faith” In his Commentary on James, in Baker Academic’s Commentary on the New Testament Books, copyright 2010. The Kindle version of this commentary is only $1.99.
Wisdom surfaces quite a few 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.”
Paul also speaks of wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, 2:1 and 2:7-8. Wisdom in the Greco-Roman world is the wit to conquer, be powerful and wealthy. For Paul, the wisdom of God is Christ crucified. It is revealed in a mystery: us sharing the likeness of the image of God’s Son. God’s wisdom is foolishness to the world. Following the despised and executed Christ leads to glorification. This is the wisdom of God. If we suffer with him, we will share in his glory.
James also sees wisdom as something other than the world’s definition of power and success. Note, however, James’ concept of wisdom is different than Paul’s. It’s not cunning, cleverness or intellectual/academic acumen of the world. It’s not Paul’s concept of mystery (a word that James does not use in his letter). For James, the wisdom of God is peace, gentleness, a willingness to yield (bend?), mercy and good fruits without partiality or hypocrisy. It is egalitarian. It values rich and poor. And this kind of wisdom comes from God, free for the asking. This wisdom from above is being quick to listen, slow to speak, 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 quarrelling
James does a little digging now. Where do fighting and quarrelling come from? Before going on, invite your folks to ask themselves this question: What is the root of most quarreling?
You’ll likely hear a lot of different answers:
We are never so much disposed to quarrel with others
as when we are dissatisfied with ourselves.
– William Hazlitt
This is very relevant topic. Everyone quarrels. Every couple. Every parent with multiple kids will have to be a referee. Pointing out the humor and quirkiness of our family fights will bring everyone along with you. Share a personal story of a stupid fight you have had.
The irony is, our fights usually make things worse. We take a frustrating situation and then we add to the frustration by creating even more conflict, and saying hurtful things we don’t mean, or sometimes we do.
James would have us believe they come from our ego (the Greek word for “I”). It is self-centeredness that leads to such. Quarreling, according to James, comes 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, our avarice. So, life in Christ, is letting go of the ego, our self-centeredness.
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 feel 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. 1 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 many of 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: our self-centeredness.
The good news is if 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 alleviate 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 having to win (beat the other) all the time. Knowing that life is not a zero-sum game, where others must lose for me to win… 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, kids or coworders 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 are revealed as futile, and are replaced with peace, gentleness and other gifts of the Spirit, or wisdom from above as James puts it.
What congregation has not had conflict?
“We have never had any fighting or quarrelling over anything,” said no congregation ever.
This lesson is for every person, every congregation, every nation. Even our wars grow out of fear of not having enough: safety, oil, prosperity. We want to win, don’t we?
What family has not had conflict? What workplace? Do we believe that dying to ourselves and becoming Christ-centered might change things on the ground?
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 need 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?
Conflict is inevitable. What matters is how we handle it. Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. He acknowledges there will be conflict, and invites people to engage it in creative ways that disrupt the cycle of violence, physical or verbal.
Consider for yourself, 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 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?
To live in the wisdom from above, 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?