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Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1279

November 13, 2016 James 3:13-4:10

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)



“Wisdom and Humility”



  • A Word to the Church and the World


When we read scripture we might assume that the words we read are directed to us, to believers, and that assumption would be correct. But there is certainly a portion of the Word that is also directed to the world. Of course, the message of the gospel is for the world for it is our task to take that message to unrepentant sinners, to the world. The scripture that tells us that Jesus came to save sinners is a message to the world. But we might also make that argument for all of scripture because we believe that within this word is the wisdom and truth that provides the best means for the good of a society, families, and individuals. So, for instance, we tell the world that the best definition, the only definition of marriage is between and man and a woman, because that is what God has ordained. So, scripture does indeed speak first to us, to the church of Jesus Christ, but secondly it also speaks to the world, to bring light to the world. And yet we know that much of the world does not receive it. John 1 is a case in point, He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10-11). Even his own people did not receive Christ so it is no surprise when the world rejects Jesus. What I want to do is share a part of the word that speaks to the church and to the world.


I know you are probably tired of campaigns and elections, but last Tuesday I was watching the election progress and like some of you I followed all the way to the end, about 3:30am after Trump gave his speech. I was also thinking and reflecting on various biblical passages that might speak to our context as a nation and as a church. It was something of a struggle to see things unfold on the voting maps and having scripture come to mind. But after it was all said and done I thought about the hypothetical situation that if I were given the chance to advise the President elect, what would I tell him? I also thought that this is what I would advise every President and every leader at any level if given the opportunity.



  • Wisdom from Above


The first bit of advice is from James 3:13-18,


13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.


Do not be false to the truth. This is what we look for in any leader and in any person for that matter. Disorder comes through selfish ambition and jealousy. What is needed more than anything is wisdom that is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. The problem in the world is that wisdom that is biblical is not even considered as wisdom. Let's just pick out one of the characteristics of wisdom, open to reason. When I look at people marching and rioting on the news when their candidate loss the election, I can't imagine them ever being open to reason. Good leadership sticks to wisdom that is from above and when opponents are not open, I guess you just have to move on. My advise to our leaders, newly elected or otherwise, is to stick to the wisdom from above and give no ground to those who think only of their own selfish ambitions.



  • Problems for the Church and the World


Selfish ambitions lead to what we have seen in those who protest everything when they do not get their way. As we see it because we believe how the Bible sees it, the problem is friendship with the world. James says that friendship with the world makes one an enemy of God. People grow restless when they are apart from God and God's wisdom. St. Augustine once wrote that we were created for God and our hearts are restless until they rest in God. This restlessness might even be more prevalent in our time. Of course the world is restless; people without Christ are restless. But all of us struggle with that to some degree. We grow restless when we do not rely on wisdom from above and instead try to go about our lives on our own. Then we get distracted by busyness, falsehoods, over burdened by news, whatever the cause of our restlessness, Christians are not immune to that restlessness. The world seeks to fill their restless lives with the things of the world and the wisdom of the world. They just grow more restless. Christians seek another way, God's way that is opposed to the way of the world. It is why we find ourselves in conflict more and more with the world and the views of those who do not rely on God. But we must seek God's wisdom in order to find rest and hope.

We hope that new leadership might stem the tide of worldliness, but if we are honest we know that positions of power often lead people to make decisions that stray from God's wisdom. James was dealing with a church in the same boat. James gave them some insights into how to act with godliness and not with worldliness and not out of restlessness. Apparently the Christians James addressed were quarreling with one another. They were selfish and willing to break commandments to get what they wanted. They became friends of the world rather than friends of God. If they did not have what they wanted, they would go to whatever extremes necessary to get it. That does not sound any different than the world.

The problems revealed in James are problems faced by both the church and the world. Of course, a major difference is in knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and seeking forgiveness when we stray toward the world instead of to God's wisdom. If I could advise the president elect I would advise to stick close to the wisdom from above and stay as far away as possible from the ideologies of the world.


What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 




  • Grace and Humility



6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.


To confront the problems in the church (and in the world), James does not mess around but gets straight to the point. His words are good for all Christians because we share in the problems of the church of his day, problems that have plagued the church throughout its history. But as I have said they are also words of wisdom for the world.


James gives us several imperatives that may lead us to follow God’s ways and I want to lift them all but highlight three of them.


  • Submit yourself to God.

  • Resist the devil.

  • Draw near to God.

  • Cleanse your hands and purify your hearts.

  • Be wretched, mourn, and weep – that is, repent.

  • Humble yourselves.



I might advise new leaders to submit themselves to God or anything else on that list, but if I had to pick one I might go with humility. Humble yourself before the Lord. All of them are tied together in one way or another, but if leadership needs one characteristic it is humility. That is especially true of the POTUS. When we humble ourselves we are able to submit to God's way, to let God work in and through us. We must avoid thinking that we can do things on our own. I’ve found that the times when God was able to work best through me was when I was least aware myself. That is to say that I was not getting in the way of God working through me by thinking of my own way or my own self. Maybe that is something of what it means to be humble. Our President elect may have great difficulty with humility.



  • The Call Continues


No matter what happens in our country with every election, the church always has a call to wisdom and grace through humility. We might consider too the connection with the first reading this morning from John's gospel (1:14).


And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.


Wisdom and grace is grace and truth. Jesus came full of grace and truth. We are always called to wisdom and grace in humility because we are always called to follow grace and truth in Jesus Christ. I began this message by considering if I had the opportunity to advise political leaders and while I probably won’t have that opportunity, I do have one way to advise and that is through prayer. We can all pray for our country and our leaders praying that they will seek God’s wisdom and grace as they lead the nation. May we pray for all nations and all people in the same light. And may we each seek God’s wisdom and grace as we seek to follow Jesus Christ. Amen.