Posted by: mikebackup | September 22, 2012

Everything will work out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, then it isn’t the end yet’

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8

Two kinds of wisdom

13 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. 14 But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 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. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Submit yourselves to God

4 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

I’m loving this extended time we’re having on the book of James, mainly because I’m biased. If asked in a desert Island discs way ‘If you could only have one book of the Bible with you, which would it be’ I would probably choose James (though it would be a close run thing between that and Mark!). It’s not related at all to what I’m about to look at, but that’s a good question to explore – Which book of the Bible is most precious to you?

Back on track, the reason why I love it is because it brings together brilliantly Old Testament teaching and the teaching God gave us in Jesus in a straightforward hard hitting way.

Let’s look for a while at how this works in these verses.  Humility and wisdom are two very important themes in James – in verse 13 it says ‘humility that comes from wisdom’.  From the first paragraph of the letter it emphasises that it is the lowly, those who know they need to ask a generous God for wisdom, who will be raised up by the gift (1.5-9).

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.

This connection between humility and wisdom is now explored more fully.

In contrasting ‘the wisdom from above’ with wisdom that is ‘earthly, unspiritual’, James draws on a well-established Jewish wisdom tradition. Proverbs 9.1-18 contrasts two ways of living as a choice between the invitations of two women, Wisdom and Folly, to their houses. Both are eager to attract the ‘simple’, but while Wisdom offers the receptive God’s righteousness and peace, Folly entices the arrogant with the attractions of selfish ambition. James represents the choice as a conflict both within the individual and within the community, and urges his readers to desire, and to worship, God alone: ‘Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded’ (4.8; words based on Psalm 24.3-4).

3 Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.

In this tradition, wisdom teaches both about the character of God and about the right way of being human.  We read this in the Wisdom of Solomon and verses in 9.9,18 show this.

With you is wisdom, she who knows your works
and was present when you made the world;
she understands what is pleasing in your sight
and what is right according to your commandments.
18And thus the paths of those on earth were set right,
and people were taught what pleases you,
and were saved by wisdom.’

Sadly most Protestants aren’t even aware of the Wisdom of Solomon as it’s part of what’s known as the Apocryphal and Deuterocannonical books. These are books and additions that are in the Roman Catholic, Greek and Slavonic Bibles. If you’ve not read them, get a copy of a full Bible. An NRSV translation with everything will be about £10 from Amazon or you can buy the extra material separately.

James’ words seem to be influenced by the teaching and example of Jesus, by his Beatitudes (Matthew 5.1-11), and by his invitation, echoing that of wisdom in Proverbs 9.4-5 and Matthew 11.28-29

4 “Let all who are simple come to my house!”
To those who have no sense she says,
5 “Come, eat my food
and drink the wine I have mixed.

‘Come to me… and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls’.

As divine wisdom, Jesus reveals God’s character and humanity’s calling, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth’ (Matthew 5.5) and ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God’ (Matthew 5.9).
Divine wisdom isn’t about imparting wise words based on years of reflection on the rights and wrongs of life. Divine wisdom can be understood and exercised from the moment we are old enough to grasp the meaning of being peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. It links back to the other readings we have looked at recently and incorporates that careful use of the tongue and the way to live a perfect life by God.

At a pleasant Sunday morning reflecting on this you can think ‘I get it and I can do it’. The testing comes when something comes along that makes you react strongly.

The murder of the two young women police officers in Manchester this week is a very good example and explores the tension of being meek and being a peacemaker. Remember the true understanding of meek is being angry at the right time and never at the wrong time. Jesus exemplified this, being very angry with the moneychangers in the temple and in his conversations with Jewish leaders. With this week’s horrific events, Lord Tebbit was the first significant figure to offer a robust defence of bringing back capital punishment for those that commit such crimes. Theologically you can bring in an argument that was used in the assisted dying debate. Rowan Williams said in opposition to assisted dying that life always had redemptive potential. Writers like John Harrod turned that around saying that sometimes the redemptive potential is to end the life early. In this debate you can offer the argument that the redemptive potential for someone so disfigured from the image God intented them to be is to give them back to God early.

The significant tension is that approach isn’t peaceful; execution will always be a violent act. Our call to be a peacemaker is there to temper our emotions in situations such as these. It is here we have to exercise our trust in the mystery of God’s mercy and peace. We don’t have all the answers and sometimes we simply need to rest in God. What I thought was the best line in the film ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ gives us something to help us understand this mystery a little more. ‘Everything will work out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out, then it isn’t the end yet’.

We need to draw near to God and we do that in prayer:

Wise and gentle God,
we pray for those who are driven by envy and ambition,
and for those who are the victims of envy and ambition.
We draw them near to God,
for God will draw near to us.

We pray for places where disorder flourishes:
for places where there is battle and conflict;
for camps where there is hunger and sickness;
for centres of deprivation, where there is hopelessness.
We draw them near to God,
for God will draw near to us.

We pray for places where gentleness born of wisdom is evident:
for hospitals, and surgeries;
for places where teaching and learning flourish;
for care centres and nurseries.
We lift to you, gentle God, all who need to know your love.
We draw them near to God,
for God will draw near to us.

Lord, we pray for the world;
for people so wrapped up in their own affairs
that they scarcely notice you.
We pray for all who are borne along on the tides
of the ways of the world,
and particularly for those who are
drowning in the clamour of it all.
We pray for all who swim against the tide;
who bravely stand up and
declare another kind of wisdom to the worldly-wise.
Lord, we bring the world before you.

A personal prayer

Make me a fool, Lord, so that I may be wise.
Let the rat race exhaust me,
so that I may be refreshed by your wisdom.
Let me be beaten by the ways of this world,
so that I may be victorious in the ways of your kingdom.
Let me submit to you, as a child melts into a parent’s arms.

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