James 3:13-16 (NKJV)13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
On one occasion the disciples were debating among themselves who was greatest in the kingdom of God and how to become the greatest. They were concerned to get ahead of their brothers; to be known as those who really served the Lord. And so they came to Jesus on one occasion and asked him, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Jesus responded by calling a little child to himself and seating the child in their midst. He urged them, “Unless you are converted and become like little children, you won’t enter the kingdom. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” In essence, Jesus reversed their paradigm. To get ahead, Jesus told them, you must get behind. The greatest among you will be least of all, he will be the servant of all.
James’ question in our text today is intended to press forward this same point. “Who is wise and understanding among you?” Whether or not any hands were raised, we can imagine that the response of James’ audience is similar to our own. We may not reckon ourselves wise and understanding, but we certainly want to be so. And so James follows his question with an exhortation – manifest your wisdom in works of humility. Get ahead by getting behind. Serve. Look out for the interests of your brothers and sisters more than for your own.
James contrasts this type of wisdom with earthly, sensual, demonic wisdom. Wisdom from below says – “Hey, you’ve got to look out for yourself. You’ve got to pursue what’s best for yourself. The only way to get ahead is by pushing that fellow out of the way.” This type of wisdom, James tells us, is based on self-seekng and envy – it looks out for oneself and when anyone else has something good it endeavors to grab it for oneself.
Contrast this with the character of our Lord and Savior. Jesus came, not seeking His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him. Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. Jesus came, not to take from others what was rightfully theirs but to give to others what was rightfully His. This is our Savior – and it is this conduct that James calls us to imitate in our own lives.
Why? Because if we don’t, if we persist in pursuing our own ideas of what is wise and enlightened, then confusion and wickedness will follow in the wake of our folly. Rather than witness righteousness and peace in our midst, we will observe warfare and sin. Not exactly a recipe for the happy life.
So what of us? How are we doing? You children, are you imitating Jesus in your relationships with your family and friends? When you play a game, are you determined to win at any cost or do you compete honestly according to the rules and with grace toward your competitors? You adults, what of you? When you associate with others, are you consumed with worry about what so and so thinks about you or do you consider instead how you can be a blessing to them no matter what they think? Because if we are all looking out for others, considering them more highly than ourselves, then we will have the fruit of that in joy and peace and righteousness.
Reminded of our propensity to be selfish and envious, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.