The Epistle of James - Godly Values
Part 22 - Wisdom has nothing to do with envy or ambition
28th September 2018
We've spent some time considering:
Following on from that really important idea, James writes:
(The words "about it", found in the NIV, are not in the Greek).
If your Christianity is still fundamentally all about you, how you look, and what you do, and what people say about you, and what role you fulfil in the church, or how eloquent you are when you're preaching or praying, you haven't begun to grasp the wisdom of God.
Proverbs 9v10 says, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." I think that, if you know God at all, if you know yourself at all, if you read the Scriptures at all, one thing you know is that you're a sinner. Somehow, God had enough grace and love and sacrificial giving-ness of Himself to die on the cross so that you could become his child. If we understand that's who we are, then we should always be humble, especially in church, when we're a gathering of sinful people saved through the blood of Jesus.
I occasionally hear people, even Christian people, ask "why does God allow that person to suffer? That's a nice person. That's a good person. God shouldn't let him suffer". I say this with a heaviness of heart because some of my friends are suffering profoundly right now. I don't want to make light of some of the emotional and physical pain some of us are going through, but if you're living in the fear of God, you know this: every one of us has a much better deal than we deserve.
The astonishing thing is not that God allows us to suffer; it's that God allows us to live at all. I deserve to burn in hell for all eternity. So when my life isn't quite how I'd like it, I should remember that my sins have been forgiven. I have eternal life. I am indwelling by the Holy Spirit. I have the grace of God. I have the Scriptures. I have the church to love me, and care for me, and occasionally correct me. I'm safe in the love of God. I'm all right. I have infinitely more then I deserve, because I'm a sinner who deserves to burn in the pit of hell for ever.
So what exactly have I got to get uppity about? How is it for me to criticise anybody about anything? Surely the incredible grace of God shown to me should motivate me to show grace to others. I think if we judge people - by which I mean we treat people worse because they're sinners - then we've forgotten that we're sinners too. And we're denying the Gospel, because the Gospel is that God loves us and totally forgives us for all our sin. If I believe that, I must forgive others of all their sin. There's no space left for judgementalism or criticism or ostracism or pride. I have nothing to be proud about, except Jesus.
Paul says, "let him who boasts boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1v31). Here's our boast: Jesus loves me anyway. That's all we've got, and it's more than enough. It's absolutely glorious! But if you harbour bitter envy: "Why haven't I got as much as that other Christian? His car's shinier than mine. His house is bigger than mine. He's got more friends than me" or if we harbour selfish ambition: "What about my ministry? What about my well-being? What about my esteem in the church?" we haven't begun to grasp any of this stuff.
Paul also wrote, "I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly - merely infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and pride among you, are you not worldly?" (1 Corinthians 3:1-3). Until selfish ambition and bitter envy are repented of, we're not ready to grow into the things of God. We're not ready to grow into maturity as Christians, and the first thing we need to do is let go of worldly wisdom and accept godly wisdom.
Humility includes submitting myself to scripture, not to my own ideas. So when, as we read last time in Luke 6, Jesus tells us to give to the wicked and ungrateful because God does, then we should do the same. I did that recently. I went out and found someone who was wicked and ungrateful and gave him some money. It wasn't easy. I plan to do it again because I want to get the discipline of doing it. If it's good enough for God, it's good enough for me. I want to repent of my worldly values: "He didn't earn it. He didn't say thank you". God causes the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous, and so should we (as it were).
Now I know there are limits to this, that if someone comes into church and starts smashing up the audio equipment, and breaking the windows, and spray painting the carpet, we might want to restrain him, but surely our hearts should never condemn, never criticise or ostracize. Instead, we should always include, always esteem, always celebrate, as far as possible, because that's what God does for us.
Do you know that no matter what we did last week, God is thrilled that you're His disciple? He's thrilled that you believe in His redeeming sacrifice. He's delighted that you go to church, because He loves you and he wants you to have a happy, fulfilled and godly life, and there's more chance of that if you go to church than if you don't. And He wants us to have the same attitude to each other - a desire to sacrifice ourselves for the wellbeing of others, never to be envious, never to be ambitious for ourselves, never to care about how we're doing, but to care about the kingdom of God and how others are doing.
C.S. Lewis once said, "Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less". That is to say, humility is not about going around saying "I'm hopeless, me. I'll never amount to anything. I'm useless." That's not humility. That's false humility. That's Uriah Heap humility. Real humility is putting your brother and sister first. Real humility is wanting to build up the church rather stand up for my rights. Real humility is wanting to reach the lost rather than look after my comfort.