This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on November 11, 2012. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – James 3B.
James was writing to the early churches where there was conflict about who was wise enough to teach and lead. We saw, last time, that their arguing and conflict led to conversations that were harmful to the church and its reputation – and that their words, as James puts it, were set on fire by hell. Obviously, though they were claiming to be wise, they were actually doing harm. This morning we want to talk about God’s wisdom in conflict and how this different sort of wisdom is what we are called to practice as followers of Jesus.
God Has Called Us to Be Wise in Conflict.
Wisdom from Above: “17 But the wisdom from above is first pure (innocent) …” Let’s begin by saying that the wisdom from above – God’s wisdom – is unique. This does not mean, as is sometimes heard in the church, that God gives secret wisdom, mystical and inexplicable, to the spiritually initiated but, rather, that the wisdom of God produces innocence and peace and leads to freedom and good/ healing or redemptive results.
The Source of God’s Wisdom: The primary source of God’s wisdom is God’s word – the Bible. But, of course, the word of God in some hands has led to tremendous foolishness and has been used to justify evil, to promote arrogance and falsehood, to promote hatred and political ends.
So we need to say this: While the word of God is our source of wisdom, we also need the community of believers. We need wise people around us in order to be able to have thoughtful conversation, so that we can read the word more carefully. The word of God is deep waters, and our minds and hearts are liable to be confused. We tend to have areas of self-deception and ignorance when it comes to God’s word. Wisdom from God ends up being a thoughtful conversation with the word and with other believers.
The Primary Goal of God’s Wisdom: And this conversation, if it is true to the purposes of the wisdom of God, must lead us first towards innocence – that is, towards actions and words that are not selfish, deceitful or malicious – but rather upright, loving, merciful and true.
God Is Calling Us to Pursue Peace in Conflict.
Pursue Peace: “… then peace loving …” God’s wisdom calls us to be lovers of peace. We need to be clear – the pursuit of peace does not mean rolling over in conflict or avoiding conflict. Indeed, often there cannot be peace without conflict and confrontation. What often passes for peace in our lives is nothing more than avoidance and the suppression of annoyance. But the wisdom of God redefines the nature of conflict – away from the power-playing and hostility and hiding that we are used to and towards a way of true reconciliation.
~ Pursue Peace Through Gentleness: “… gentle (considerate) …” The wisdom of God calls us to Gentleness – to put aside our impatience and annoyance and to speak gently. How are we to do this?
We saw, in James 3:5-6, how our words can start a fire. We can speak in anger, using emotionally loaded words – we can speak using accusations – or we can speak the truth with gentleness (another good translation for that word is “considerate”.
It may be very satisfying to accuse the person you are angry with and to use emotionally loaded statements, but it will only serve to cause the other to dig in their heels and resist what you are saying – and it only serves to make us more angry, less able to see what is true about my own attitude. However, if we are willing to consider our words and the effect they will have on the one we are speaking to, and if we are willing to choose our words thoughtfully and to speak gently – then we may be able to speak the truth in a way that can be received.
God interacts with us in this same kind of gentleness. God calls us gently to repent, patiently and with the offer of his love and forgiveness. The practice of gentleness is the practice of the character of God.
~ Pursue Peace in Submission to God: “… submissive …” The wisdom of God calls us to be in submission to God. In other words, if we are going to be wise in our conversations and conflicts, then we should be thinking about, not what we want or what would please us, but how our conflicts and conversations might lead to what is pleasing to God. The wisdom of God calls us to put the interests of God above our own personal interests in order to bring about true peace.
We all have desires that drive our conversations. Your desire may be to appear competent and intelligent, or to be impressive, or to justify your actions. These desires keep us thinking about ourselves and guide our conversations especially in conflict.
Submitting ourselves to God means that (1) we recognize the desire(s) that normally guide our conversations, (2) we think instead about what God would want to say about the conflict or in the conversation, (3) we perhaps even bring Scripture into the conversation – in a way that speaks truth both to ourselves and the one with whom we are talking.
~ The Pursuit of Peace Should Lead to Mercy and Good Fruit: ”… bulging with mercy and good fruit …” The end game – the result of God’s wisdom practiced towards others should be that it produces mercy and good results in our lives and the lives of others. These things are connected.
Wisdom from above – being truly wise with the wisdom of God – should make us merciful people. One cannot truly attempt to be gentle without seeing how ill-fit we are to gentleness – without seeing how much we love revenge, anger, avoidance/judgment, fear. We cannot truly attempt to submit ourselves to God’s will and wisdom without seeing how difficult it is to give up our own interests and desires. If we truly are attempting to live by God’s wisdom, then we must see how unwise we ourselves truly are. And yet God has been merciful to us and offers to teach us his wisdom.
James tells these churches in conflict that they should be bulging with mercy – and with good fruits (acts of kindness, graciousness, generosity, sacrificial love). Wisdom that is from above sets its sights on these types of goals and results. These are the litmus test of our practice of wisdom over time.
~ Pursue Peace With Humility: “… unwavering, without hypocrisy.” – The Greek words here are interesting – they mean, “not to judge” and “not to act / pretend”. The wisdom that God calls us to is not judgmental, nor does it pretend innocence – even though we are being called to be innocent.
Humility in conflict means two things. First, it means that we are not to set ourselves up as the judge. This is extremely difficult since at the heart of most conflict is the conviction that we are right and that the other is wrong. Having the wisdom to look at conflict with enough humility not to demand that we must be right is a grace – and requires a work of God in our hearts.
Secondly, humility in conflict means that we are not to pretend innocence. This also is very difficult because human tendency is either to act as though a situation were all our own fault and to wallow in guilt or to act as though a situation were all someone else’s fault and to accuse. However, most, if not all conflict is two-sided. The truth in conflict is usually that both sides are at fault.
The pursuit of peace with humility means that we are willing to make an accurate and honest assessment in our conflicts – neither to set ourselves up as the judge and put all the weight of conflict on another – nor to take all the blame of conflict on ourselves.
~ Pursue Peace As God Pursues Peace: God’s final portrait of the pursuit of peace is Jesus, who was willing to offer peace and speak truth with humility and gentleness and mercy – and who was put to death for it. Godly pursuit of peace places reconciliation and the offer of peace above having our way and above being proved right. Jesus suffered death to make peace – was wrongly convicted at his trial – and seemingly lost to the Pharisees.
And yet God raised him from the dead. This willingness to be wronged, to suffer for the sake of peace – for things not to work out as we want them to – after having done all to speak the truth and pursue peace – has to be part of our pursuit of peace. We have to be willing to lose. The pursuit of peace is not merely the pursuit of getting people to agree with us – it is the sacrificial pursuit of what is right and the trust that God will bring good out of that.
God Will Use Those Who Pursue Peace to Spread His Peace.
Those Who Make Peace Will Spread Peace: “18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” James is saying here that the seed of God’s work and word that grows and produces righteousness is spread through peaceable means by those who are making peace. In other words, James connects the spread of the Gospel to our willingness to make peace – to practice peace towards others. As we practice the grace of peace with others – we become practitioners of the Gospel. Because God has practiced peace with us and is calling us to spread his peace.