Phil Cox Phil Cox

Recent Columns


Home page
Recent Columns
Previous Series
Phil's background
Preaching engagements
Creation and science
Miscellaneous
Contact Phil

Links
Stubbington Baptist Church
Acorn Christian Healing Foundation
Evangelical Alliance Basis of Faith

The Epistle of James - Godly Values

Part 20 - Common Sense is not Godly Wisdom

James 3v13

14th September 2018

James 3:13
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.

We have come to what I think of as the central part of James's message to us. James wants to teach us about wisdom. In Chapter 1, he said, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God". But the Bible is packed full of wisdom, isn't it? So if we ask God for wisdom, and we search the Scriptures, we will find wisdom.

The passage that begins with this verse shows us that the wisdom that comes down from above is utterly unlike the wisdom that we learn from the world. But before we begin to look at James's teaching on wisdom, let me ask you a question: Is common sense a good thing or a bad thing?

The answer to that question, as is the answer to many vague questions, is: it depends what you mean. Common sense that says "if it's raining, take your umbrella", is surely a good thing. I'm a great fan of that sort of common sense, partly because I haven't got much. I'll tell you a story.

I was asked to cook the men's prayer breakfast at my church. When I arrived early that morning, I realised that I didn't know how to turn the oven on. Common sense would have told me to ask somebody the day before. I had to phone a church member, wake him up, and ask for instructions. He was very gracious but the absence of common sense can cause stress to our brothers and sisters. The breakfast itself was all right, but while cooking it I managed to leave a plastic spatula in a saucepan that was on the hob. It melted, and some of the plastic was stuck to the saucepan. I took the saucepan home and tried to fix it. I asked my wife, who has some common sense - more than me anyway - how to do it. She said told me to heat the saucepan and then scrape the plastic off. I did as she suggested, but I burnt my hands in several places. Some of the plastic came off but some of it didn't, so I scraped a bit harder and I damaged our ceramic hob.

With a bit of common sense I wouldn't have made any of these mistakes. So in that sense, common sense is a wonderful gift to those who have it. But many of us use the expression 'common sense' to describe worldly wisdom. And worldly wisdom is so opposite to God's wisdom that it's not a good thing at all. For example, consider this saying of Jesus:

Luke 6v27-35
"But I tell you who hear me, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. if someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic" Give to anyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you'd have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. If you lend to those who lend to you and expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked."

Every sentence of that wonderful passage is godly wisdom, and absolutely different from worldly wisdom. Worldly wisdom, that some call common sense, might say:

"Don't trust your enemies. Avoid them when you can. Teach them a lesson if you get the chance. Take them down a peg or two. Don't waste time on those who hate you. Ignore those who curse you or ill-treat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, strike him back or walk away. And learn how to defend yourself. If someone takes your cloak, try to get it back. Give to anyone who deserves it, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, try to get it back. Do to others according to how they treat you.
Love those who love you. Do good to those who do good to you. That's fair and reasonable. Lend to those who lend to you, and expect repayment. Don't waste your money. Tolerate your enemies, don't persecute them, but don't trust them with anything. Then your common sense will be great, and you will be sensible people who look after themselves
"

But "Even sinners do that!"

Jesus tells us that if we live according to godly wisdom, "your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.". He's saying we should be generous and kind to ungrateful and wicked people because God is generous and kind to ungrateful and wicked people. It must be godly wisdom to emulate God, to follow our leader, but it's the opposite of the worldly wisdom, which we like to call common sense. And many Christians are so infected with this worldly wisdom that we find godly wisdom really difficult to live out.

So often in church, we can live according to worldly wisdom and say it's just common sense, but sometimes it's really bad, ungodly common sense, not our Father's wisdom.

More on wisdom next time.