My uncle told me a long time that if I wanted to go anywhere in the world, becoming anyone of importance, that I would need to learn the art of self-promotion. He humorously put it this way – “He that tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted.” It would seem to be ‘wisdom’ widely accepted given the polished resumes, the carefully chosen schools, the positioning for ‘success,’ the not so subtle shoves of others in the race for the top of the heap.
Conventional wisdom teaches us to make sure we take care of ourselves, never letting self-interest slip away. God, the Spirit, speaks to us through Pastor James, of Jerusalem, challenging us to consider a ‘heavenly wisdom’ that points in an entirely different direction.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:13-18, NIV)
Those who seek the insight of God about life will come to the necessity that they must die to Self! They will reject the power games, the office politics, the careful image building that are so common in the world, choosing a genuinely good life fueled by humility. Humility? Ugh. Who likes that word? Who is coached in the art of being humble, of becoming self-effacing? But there it is. When we hang onto envy of those we perceive as ‘successful,’ when we give ambition a place to grow in the secret place from which our life is shaped, we cannot claim to be like our Savior, nor can we say we are insightful in a godly way!
James goes beyond just saying that pushing our own agenda, being full of concern for Self, is undesirable. In brutally direct language, he tells us that the ‘wisdom’ that shapes that kind of life is demonic, reducing us to behaviors of animals who live by tooth and claw. Those consumed with reputation and power ultimately tear apart the world they live in dividing others into ‘for me’ and ‘against me,’ friend and foe.
There is a beautiful shift in his pastoral instruction as he outlines the qualities found in the life of that person who has learned about life and success from Jesus.
- He is pure, an innocent. Yes, the sophisticates of this world mock the pure, pouring contempt on their goodness. But, “the ‘pure in heart’ will see God,” Jesus said.
- He is a person who works to create networks of cooperation, unconcerned with his own resume, working for the best of the community. Is that something we really do, or just an ideal to which we give lip service?
- He is able to understand how others are feeling, able to perceive their reactions, their needs, because he is ‘considerate.’
- He understands the proper role of authority and chooses to readily accepts direction.
- He is merciful, knowing full well his own weaknesses, he does not condemn without grace.
- Where correction is necessary, he does it with the desire to restore wherever possible.
- He does not pick and choose between people based on beauty, wealth, or social status. He is impartial.
- And, he is the same ‘all the way to the core,’ refusing to play image games that do not match his core values.
Yes, James says that this is the kind of person who has come to know the wisdom of God! My prayer is that He would write His Word on my heart and, leading me through life’s experiences, teach me to be wise in His Ways. Will you say “amen” in agreement?
Here are words from the Word.
“Wisdom makes one wise man more powerful than ten rulers in a city.” (Ecclesiastes 7:19, NIV)
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7, NIV)
Are you merely smart or truly wise?
Be Thou my vision,
O Lord of my Heart.
Naught be all else to me
Save that Thou art
Thou my best thought
By day or by night
Waking or sleeping
Thy Presence, my Light.