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James 3:13-18 NIV

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbour 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, demonic. 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 reap a harvest of righteousness.

Where does your wisdom come from? On what basis do you make decisions? Is it by reading your preferred newspaper so that your present views are simply affirmed? Is it by slavishly following the manifesto of a political party or simply drawing on your own life experience? All of these things can be surprisingly deceptive when it comes to wisdom. 

In this passage James is clearly trying to resolve some major problems which have started with what people thought was right or wise, it then clearly led them to say certain things with their tongues all of which was followed by actions that were hurtful to others. It’s a familiar pattern in homes, at work and yes even in church. James tries to address this by saying we must be careful where we get our wisdom from. He powerfully asserts that there is a wisdom that comes from walking closely with God and that it has certain characteristics. 

Steeped in his understanding of the Jewish scriptures, James knew that God often raised up prophets who spoke uncomfortable truths to their generation. Despite their wisdom coming from above they were always challenged by false prophets who represented the ruling powers. Today is a small but important milestone for me and our Baptist family, for sometime along with others I have tried to  speak, persuade, agitate for the Baptist family to take our care for God’s creation much more seriously and to see it as integral to the good news of the Gospel.

Wisdom is pure. By which I think James means it has a holiness or truthfulness about it. Getting to the truth of anything in a multi media age is difficult but we must begin to see the vast majority of the science around Climate Change as a prophetic word of wisdom from God. It is a matter of justice, those who will die first or suffer the worst consequences will be those in the poorest parts of the world who had little to do with changing our climate. Equally if we value the lives of our children we must take action. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world it leaves to its children”.

Wisdom is peaceable. Notice now how James equates this wisdom with peace or the Shalom of God. 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. Shalom (peace) is a word we have considered before, it’s a word which celebrates human well-being and flourishing at all levels of life, it occurs when we are in a right relationship with our Creator and a right relationship with creation. 

Listening recently to a young millennial Christian on the topic of Climate change I was brought up short by her reminder to my generation that they want help and advice about about how to live well for Christ now, not just to hear that everything will be alright when they die.

Wisdom sows for the future. James say “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness”. Many of you will have visited the seed bank at Wakehurst Place. One in five plant species is the world are threatened with extinction, here they are preserved for a potential future. Some of the small steps we make to change our lifestyles are often looked down upon even by conservationists, often they say it makes no difference because of the global scale of the problem. God’s wisdom is different, keep making those small adjustments to your life, keep developing a Shalom like faith in which your words match your actions, don’t get too guilty when you fail, everyone does, just try again. This kind of wisdom produces its own harvest of righteousness that confounds the wisdom of this world.

Finally will you join me in praying for the future success of BUEN,  that,  over time it will impact our Colleges, Regions and Churches. Pray that future generations will see the wholeness or shalom of the gospel, that Jesus is good news for every aspect of our lives, He is good news for now and good news for eternity. The theologian Karl Barth said “to clasps the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of this world”. I think James would have agreed with him.

First published on: 12th September 2020
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