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The World, the Flesh, and the Devil [3-26-23]


March 26, 2023

James 3:13-18

“The World, the Flesh, and the Devil”


At different points in our study of James, we’ve looked at the ways he helps us understand the trajectory of our Christian faith. Are we growing in our relationship with Jesus Christ? How can we know if our faith is genuine? How do I know the certainty of my salvation? He helps us understand what kinds of people we are.


Here are two things you might want to write down. One flows into the other:

  • WISDOM IS HOW I LIVE, NOT WHAT I KNOW.

  • HOW I LIVE IS THE MEASURE OF MY SPIRITUAL CONDITION.

In other words, wisdom is knowing God in a life-changing way.


Let’s now look at James 3:13-18:

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


I love, love, love verse thirteen. It is a wonderful literary device. Instead of a question, it’s really a challenge. If you claim to be wise, demonstrate your wisdom in the works that true wisdom produces. And then, a few verses later, James is going to sketch out for us what a good and faithful life produces. In his God-inspired worldview, James embraces wisdom as a way of life…as an attitude and conduct found in a godly person. Our deeds reveal our faith. As he repeatedly says, faith without works is dead.


Now, lest we think all of this culminates in perfection, remember, nothing is perfect this side of heaven. As we saw three weeks ago, in the conclusion to the March 5 message:

“True, saving faith by definition means that the Spirit enters a person’s life to begin conforming them to the likeness of Christ. This transformation cannot be quantified, may be different for every person in detail, and regularly involves many fits and starts or forward and backward steps; but, over time, it does result in changed living.”


I hope that makes sense to you. Two of the worse things we can do is, first, beat ourselves up over the fact that we’re not perfect, and second, not care about perfecting our lives and faith. Clement, bishop of Rome in the last of the first century, wrote:

“WHEN THE HEATHEN HEAR THE WORDS OF GOD FROM OUR

LIPS, THEY MARVEL AT THEM AS SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL AND GREAT. HOWEVER, WHEN THEY FIND OUT OUR DEEDS ARE UNWORTHY OF THE WORDS WE SPEAK, THEY TURN FROM THIS TO BLASPHEMY. THEY SAY IT IS A MYTH AND A DELUSION.”


How we live and how we treat others is really important. As we’ll see, Jesus made this perfectly clear in his Sermon on the Mount. James heard his older brother share that teaching, and incorporated it into his letter. Also, as we’ve seen, Paul’s Fruit of the Spirit, and James’ manifestation of wisdom, both have roots in the Sermon on the Mount. They are complimentary to each other. They are complimentary, not equivalent.


To get a sense of the connection between James 3 and Jesus, here’s a sample from The Sermon on the Mount:

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”


Paul and James are built on the foundation of Jesus’ teachings. We’re going to spend the rest of our time looking at James’ version of beatitudes/fruit of the spirit. As we’ll see, these are God’s healthy ways for us to live and thrive in a sin-sick world. It’s His way for us to be in the world, yet not of the world. If we wanted to, we could go on and on about the wickedness of our culture. But instead of doing that, we’re going to embrace the Biblical way of pushing back against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

The first thing James brings up is purity. Purity. Purity is the overarching attribute, under which all the others rest. It simply means moral blamelessness. Not moral perfection. Remember, not possible in this life. But we are fleeing from evil. We don’t want any evil stain or blemish on us. That’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “And lead us not into temptation.” We want to steer clear of all that garbage. We are focused on God.


What do you see when you look at the world? Did you know that there are people who rarely watch the news or read the news? There’s so much wickedness in the world, it’s hard to blame them. You look around and wonder, “How can things keep getting worse and worse?” Will the madness ever end? And the only answer is purity. We strive for the loveliness we want to see in the world. Our loyalty is to the wisdom from above. That’s what I love so much about the people of Covenant Church. Most of us, most of the time are loving God with genuine worship, loving each other with support and encouragement, loving our community in tangible ways, and financially supporting the work God has given to us. That is purity.

Next, there’s peace. This character trait promotes peace. It is not contentious. It is considerate of others. Have you ever known someone who was argumentative, even over trivial matters? Have you ever known someone who insisted on his or her own way? As narcissism increases in our culture, we’re seeing a decline in peaceableness. People argue over who was first to the parking space or who was next in line or who cut-off whom in traffic. It's crazy. These things wouldn’t happen if more people were peaceable.


Then there’s gentleness. Someone has called it sweet reasonableness. Gentleness is willing to yield to the needs of another. In fact, as long as there is no threat of bodily harm or economic distress, gentleness doesn’t strike back or retaliate or exact revenge. To put it another way, gentleness simply walks away. That is easier to do when you know who you are and whose you are in Christ. Instead of confrontation, gentleness is a shoulder shrug. Here’s something worth considering:

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD.


After gentleness, wisdom from above is open to reason. Do you have a teachable spirit? This has nothing to do with being gullible. Are you able to hear other points of view? When presented with new information, can you change course in your thinking? We all know people who dig in their heels, refusing to budge, even when presented with new evidence or information. Are you teachable? As long as there are no moral, legal, or biblical violations in play, can you back down, not insisting on your own rights? That is what it means to be open to reason.


Followers of Jesus Christ are peaceable, gentle, open to reason, and then full of mercy and good fruits. We help meet the needs of those who are hurting. We reach out to people. That’s why we partner with Celebrate Recovery. People are being helped, under sound biblical teaching and principles, with their hurts, habits, and hang-ups. We help children improve their reading skills through The Learning Cove. Care Pregnancy Center is essential to our identity and mission as a Right-to-Life church. Every year, we meet and exceed expectations for Operation Christmas Child and our Back-Pack Blowout. You set a new record in your support of hunger programs here in Lenawee County through our Souper Bowl special offering. And there’s so much more. We are a small church mighty in mercy and good fruits. That is a powerful reflection of our faith in Jesus Christ.


After this, James finishes with a doublet of impartiality and sincerity. Here he has in mind things like nonjudgmentalism and the single-minded purpose of showing mercy and kindness to all people, equally. The Greek word for impartiality is best translated as “not of two minds.” In other words, hypocrisy. Be genuine. You are who you say you are and you do what you say you do. There is no greater threat to genuineness than peer pressure. Young people, especially, know this all too well. Be who you are. That’s why Jesus said, “Let your ‘yes,’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no,’ be ‘no’.” Be real. Why would any of us care about what other people think about us and say about us? Break from the pack. Stay away from uncritical conformity. This is also known as the hive mind. Instead, guided by God’s Word, think for yourself. Live your life without pretense.


Here's how Jesus commends wisdom from above to us:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise person who built a house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish person who built a house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

That is so beautifully put. Look at the lives God’s Word is producing in us. We are making such a positive impact on our little corner of God’s world. These are all signs of a vital and living, life-giving faith. Amen?


Finally, let’s close with this observation by the Venerable Bede. {By the way, I love his name.} He was an English monk who lived from 672-735. He was considered the most important scholar of his era. Here’s his simple observation on James:

“SOMEONE WHO LIVES IN A HUMBLE AND WISE WAY WILL GIVE

MORE EVIDENCE OF HIS STANDING BEFORE GOD THAN ANY NUMBER OF WORDS COULD EVER DO.”


Let’s Pray:

HEAVENLY FATHER, WE THANK YOU FOR THE SONGS WE SING. WE THANK YOU FOR THIS TIME OF WORSHIP. AND WE THANK YOU THAT WHEN WE’RE DONE, WE WILL GO OUT INTO OUR COMMUNITY, GUIDED BY YOUR WORD, TO LIVE IN A HUMBLE AND WISE WAY. YOU HAVE TAKEN THOSE OF US WHO ARE SINFUL AND UNWORTHY AND MADE US WISE. HELP US TO BE AS WISE AS WE CAN BE, TO THE FULLNESS OF WISDOM GIVEN US IN CHRIST JESUS. IT IS IN HIS NAME WE PRAY. AMEN.






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