Year B; Trinity 14/Proper 20 : James 3:13-4:12.
About now many churches will be celebrating harvest, the gathering in of food. Our Epistle speaks of another kind of harvest, although one that is linked. What we produce in our lives. The fruit, if you like. It also looks at what produces or inspires the fruit. The growing conditions, we might say.
British Gas had a very famous, and very expensive advertising campaign built around the words "Don't you just love being in control ?" A question that was never answered because the answer was assumed. A "Yes" !
It is painted as an ideal picture of being in control. A hope that many wish would come true. Free from the influence of an employer, financial worries, the influence of certain family members, and the list goes on.
If we are honest we are never really in control, even of ourselves sometimes. Sometimes we find ourselves doing something that we know to be risky, impulsive, a bit stupid. That could hurt ourselves or other people.
Jesus incensed some of the Jews who professed belief in Him. He said that only he could set them free. Free to be members of God's family. He accused them of being slaves to sin and that they belonged to the devil. Sin is selfishness. Wanting to be in control. Wanting to do what we like, rather than what God would like us to do. Only Jesus can set us free. Free to obey God. Free to live a life in fellowship with God and with people. You see the devil wants to destroy our relationship with God, and our relationship with people.
Once Graham LeSaux and another Blackburn Rovers player were involved in an altercation during a football match with one another. When they did this I am sure that the opposition, which I think was a European club side, rubbed their hands together in glee and thought "We've already got this match won." I used to have that though myself when I played football and saw members of the opposing side arguing with one another.
James is writing to people who profess to be Christians but are disunited. He speaks of "bitter envy and selfish ambition" 3:14, "fights and quarrels" 4:1"killing and coveting" 4:2, ignoring God 4:2, or asking Him with wrong motives 4:3, slandering and judging others 4:11.
In the Christian community the devil will try to divide Christians. Zeal for God and His Kingdom can become perverted when someone comes along who does not do things exactly as we like. Jealousy and rivalry fool us into thinking that we know what is right. They are different so we judge them to be wrong. Faults, real or imaginary, are perceived in this person which can lead to a personal dislike.
If Christians let the devil divide them in this kind of way they are half way to losing the battle. The spiritual battle for our and other people's souls.
Our conduct, our fruit is rooted in what we grow in. Growing in God's grace 4:6. Or in things that are "earthly, unspiritual, of the devil." 3:16 These different growing conditions produce two kinds of wisdom. The Greeks associated wisdom with cleverness. An ability to discuss with insight any current item. Yet the wisdom that James is talking about is knowing what is morally right in a given situation. Spiritual discernment. This is rooted in the O.T. Proverbs 1:7 "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline." Fear of God, not a finely tuned intellect, is important in following God. Not that we are to despise people who are more clever than we are. But we need to understand that it is more important to know what is right before God, than to be able to impress people by being clever.
As we look at the fruit that comes from Godly wisdom we will see some of the contrasts with the produce of worldly wisdom. There are some similarities here with the "fruit of the Spirit" listed by Paul in Galatians 5:22f. This is because our good qualities are brought about by the work of God the Holy Spirit, through God's love, through his gift of wisdom. These make us more like Jesus.
Verse 17 :-
"pure" is talking about conduct that is free from self-interest and selfish ambition. In this context it means that the one who claims to be serving God is not doing it with mixed motives. Not seeking to further their own interests. To receive praise, popularity, power, or whatever.
"peace-loving". This contrasts with the worldly wisdom which leads to fights and quarrels. Dividing and alienating people. Peace-loving refers to peace-loving and peace making. An active way of resolving differences after they have happened, and trying to avoid them happening in the first place. This is rooted in the peace that Jesus brings through his death for us on the cross. We have received peace. we are to pursue peace. Not necessarily at all costs. For example if it means compromising the essentials of the Christian faith. Yet even this should not be pursued in an antagonistic way.
"considerate". This word is difficult to translate from the Greek and refers to someone who does not stand upon his own rights, but is forgiving and merciful. Like the way God is merciful and forgiving to us. God could justly banish us from his presence because of all that we have done that is wrong. But he doesn't. He forgives us through Jesus death for us on the cross.
"submissive" is talking of someone who is ready to listen to others. This is the opposite of those with the worldly wisdom. They are stubborn, self-opinionated and unwilling to listen to another point of view.
"full of mercy" means compassionate to those in trouble. Even if it is of their own making. Not saying "Let them stew in their own juice, it is their own fault." God has been merciful to us. Even though we do not deserve it. And God expects we who have received mercy to be merciful. "... forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us..." we pray in the Lord's Prayer. This attitude contrasts with the slander and passing of judgment that James refers to in 4:11.
"and good fruit". When I used to live in Leicester I would regularly buy fruit from a stall on Leicester market. The prices were competitive, the fruit was good quality, and because I used to shop their regularly they would sometimes round my bill down. I used to sometimes try other stalls when they did not have exactly what I wanted, but I ended up going back to the same stall. Which, incidentally was next to the stall run by the Lineker family. It is by the quality of the fruit that we judge a tree, or even a fruiterer. So our discipleship of Jesus can be judged by the fruit of our character. How much we are like Jesus. This list, like the one in Galatians 5:22f is a good check-list to see how we are going on. And to make us humble ! If we need to !
"impartial" is talking about making no distinctions. Perhaps James is underlining the point he made in Chapter 2 when he pointed out that favouritism to the rich is wrong.
"sincere" translates the Greek "anhypokritos". Literally it means "without hypocrisy". The word "hypocrite" in the Greek derived from the word for an actor. Someone who pretended to be something, or someone they are not. This, then is talking about being genuine. Those who passed judgement on others were setting themselves up as superior, more knowledgable. Forgetting that before God we are all sinners and we all need God's grace, and one another to overcome the world.
There are two types of wisdom that James is talking about. One that is not from God. It involves self-interest, conflict, and division amongst God people. The other type is from God and involves the qualities we have looked at in some detail. James talks of "desires that battle within you" 4:1. Talking of conflict among Christians, but also within Christians. Wanting to do what is right but seeming unable to do it. Paul speaks of this in Romans 7, before writing about life lived by and in God's Holy Spirit.
How do we rely on God's wisdom ? How do we produce the fruit that God requires ? Verse 6-10 tell us. We let God be Lord of our lives. Continuing the harvest and agricultural theme, we use D.D.T.
D - we deny the devil. Resist him v7. Consciously push against his ways.
D - draw near to God. God and the devil are opposite. So as we push away from the devil we get closer to God. The two actions are synonymous.
T - turn from sin. The attitude that puts ourselves before God.
We can only do this in an attitude of complete humility and trust in God. In contrast to the boastful wisdom that relies upon human endeavour. Verse 6 says that God opposes the proud, but gives his undeserved favour to the humble. Verse 10 says that we are to humble ourselves before God and he will exalt us.
As a community of God's people we should display the fruit of Godly wisdom. And when there are times that there is disunity, hatred, slander and judgement we are to come to God in humility. Aware of the basis upon which he has accepted us. Not that we are perfect, or nice people. But because Jesus has died for us, even though we did not deserve it.