Sermon from 19th Sep 2021 (Pentecost 17)

James 3:13-4:8a (ESV)

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

41 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. 

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that whenever we experience quarrels and fights, we may be led by the wisdom which comes from above through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Think back to a time you were involved in an argument with someone.

It’s quite possible, as a result of your frustration, you might have yelled or raised your voice at them. You may have used colourful language or strong words. You may have sought to force them to agree with you. It could also be that you did none of the above, at least, not there and then.

Instead, you may have blurted all your frustrations about the other person to someone else who was willing (or maybe not so willing) to listen to your cries for justice. It could also be you were the only one who heard all your complaints and arguments as you went back and forth over the situation in your own mind, again and again. You may have come up with all types of bold internal responses you’d like to say to them!

It’s also possible you didn’t argue with them. Instead, they may have argued with you. As a result of their tirade, you might have felt victimised and belittled. You may have felt they questioned you and devalued your opinion or worth. As a result, you may have wanted to hide, run away, or crawl up into a ball and cry. It’s possible all those internal voices are continually echoing around in your mind as you go over and over their words and what their words mean to you. As a result, the internal voices only accentuate your feelings of pain, isolation, heartache and disgust.

In any case you’re probably thinking about yourself and your own sense of well-being. You’re thinking about your own safety and peace. You desire something to happen which would make you feel justified, in control, happy, serene, or content. Unfortunately, the other person is in the way of you getting these things. If only they would do what you want or leave you alone!

But, as you attempted to respond and deal with this situation, what was the source of wisdom you went to in order to handle the situation?

Did you rely on your own wisdom as you responded verbally or internally?

Did you attempt to manipulate or bully them in order to get what you want?

Did you seek to run away and avoid them?

Did you go to someone else and seek their advice or assistance, hoping they knew how to help you win the argument and put the other person in their place?

Did you go to a self-help book which might give you some tips and resources on how to handle difficult people or difficult situations?

Did you hope the whole issue would go away so that you could just ‘move on’?

On the other hand, did you go to Scripture to seek God’s advice on your particular situation?

For most people, the last place we’ll look is in Scripture, if we go there at all! This is despite the fact that, as members of the Lutheran Church of Australia, we all ascribe to one of the unalterable articles of our church, which states that we accept ‘without reservation the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as a whole and in all their parts, as the divinely inspired, written and inerrant Word of God, and as the only infallible source and norm for all matters of faith, doctrine and life Constitution, Article II: Confession

This means the only place we agree to seek wisdom in handling any issues relating to what we believe, what we teach and practice in the church, and any issues we encounter in our life (including times of conflict and disagreement), is in Holy Scripture. But this isn’t what we do!

St James argues that we humans don’t seek the wisdom which comes from above, but we instead mostly rely on earthly, unspiritual and even demonic wisdom as we take matters into our own hands. We want to rely on ourselves as if we know better than God. We place our trust in our own patterns of selfish behaviour, which only shows our distrust in God and his word. We show we don’t have a biblical faith, but we have faith in the ways of the world. The result of our all responses which don’t seek the wisdom which comes from above, is division, disunity, jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder, and falsehood.

Now, even though we might be hesitant to admit our common responses to fights and conflicts isn’t godly, we may reluctantly agree our responses are earthly or even unspiritual. But none of us would like to admit our responses are demonic!

Yet St James argues that if we’re not submitting to God and the wisdom he imparts through his Spirit-inspired word, then we’re a friend of the world. If we’re a friend of the world, we’re an enemy of God. If we’re an enemy of God who can’t and won’t act in a healthy spiritual way to conflict, then we’re sowing harmful works which seeks to divide and bring disharmony to the people of God, which would be evil.

In other words, we either respond to conflict using the well-practiced and natural ways of the world which is selfish, harms relationships, and breeds disorder and chaos (which is evil), or we submit to God by seeking his wisdom, which means, as we’re led by the Holy Spirit, we bear the fruit of humility, gentleness, mercy, peace, and righteousness. There’s no in-between.

Yet how many times do we respond in these evil ways? How many times have we neglected to obey God’s word which tells us to love as we’ve been loved by God and to forgive as we’ve been forgiven by God? How many times have we responded by straining or ending relationships instead of showing mercy and grace to our enemies? How many times have we trusted in the world’s answers to our problems when we really needed to rely on God’s answers?

So, what’s stopping us from living the ways of humility, peace and harmony that God intends for us?

Well, St James reveals the problem we have, but it’s not what we’ve been taught, it’s not what we practice, and it’s not what we expect.

You see, we’re nearly always being taught it’s not our fault. The world teaches us that we can shift the blame onto someone or something else. We can blame our upbringing, our society, our genetic dispositions, our mental health, our emotional hang-ups, our lapse of judgment, and so on.

We think we can blame our enemies for making us respond like we do. This means, as long as we’re not at fault, we never have to take responsibility for our actions. If we never have to take responsibility for our actions, then we never have to repent. If we don’t need to repent, then we don’t need Jesus and what he offers us.

But St James stuns us with an honesty and truth which shocks us all and drives us to our knees in shame!

He asks the question as to what’s the cause of all our fights and arguments and conflicts and quarrels. His answer is that it’s not the other person! They’re not at fault for the way we respond to all our trouble and strife. Instead, we’re to take responsibility for our own reactions to them because you and I are responding the way we do because of our own passions and desires. We don’t have problems with other people, but we have problems with our own hearts which are ruled by our own desires. We’ve found the enemy, and the enemy is us!

So, why do we get so upset at the other person? Because they’re getting in the way of what we want!

In all our fights and arguments, we normally attempt to elevate ourselves to be the one who should be obeyed (as if we’re the god who everyone needs to answer to), and we use all the tricks of our own selfish flesh, the ambitious and self-sufficient ways of the world, and the deceptions of the devil to get what we want.

This always results in division and disunity. And the reason we don’t want to go to the wisdom of Scripture is because it won’t just reveal the other person’s evil, but it will also reveal our own evil. We don’t want to go to Scripture because it will call us to repent of our own sinful ways.

This is also despite the fact there’s no divine mercy or grace in the ways of the world. There’s no divine mercy or grace where the Spirit isn’t present. There’s no divine mercy or grace in the devil’s deceptions.

Yet we’re told the source of the divine mercy and grace of God and his ways of reconciliation, healing and peace for all our relationships, including our relationship with God, are in Scripture!

The wisdom of God which comes from above are revealed to us in the words of Scripture. It doesn’t just reveal the fact we’re the true enemy, but it also reveals the mercy and grace of God for you and me through faith in the suffering and death of our dear Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!

The wisdom of God is that he knows just how depraved and sinful we are and that we can’t save ourselves. The wisdom of God is that God knows this inborn virus of sin affects everything we do and everyone we come into contact with, which all too often results in division and strained relationships. The wisdom of God is that he knows we need an antidote for our selfish ways, and he sent his own dearly beloved Son into this troubled world to pay the full price for our rebellion through his own death.

Jesus is the wisdom of God who came from above into our own conflicted world in human flesh. Jesus lived among us as pure, peaceable, obedient, full of mercy, impartial and gracious. He welcomed sinners, healed sinners, forgave sinners, suffered at the hands of sinners, was abandoned by sinners, was crucified for sinners, and was raised from the dead for sinners.

By his wounds we sinners are healed, by his death we’ve been made right with God, by faith in Jesus we continue to receive grace upon grace and are justified.

Through his gift of baptism, we’re cleansed of sin, adopted as dearly loved children of God, and joined to our Lord Jesus Christ and his grace. Through our participation at the Lord’s Supper, we receive the body and blood of Jesus for our forgiveness, life and salvation. And by grace he’ll take us home to be with him in his eternal kingdom.

Despite the way we respond to those around us when we’re in conflict, there’s always more grace! And by grace we seek out the wisdom of God which comes from above which leads us to repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace with God and each other.

Instead of submitting ourselves to earthly, unspiritual or demonic wisdom, we submit ourselves to the wisdom of God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We seek the wisdom which comes from above as he seeks to restore us in peace and love. We draw near to the God who draws near to us so that we may experience his grace.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there’s grace for every hurtful moment. There’s grace for every strained relationship. There’s grace for every time you’ve sinned against those around you. There’s grace for those who have sinned against you. There’s grace for all those times you didn’t seek God’s wisdom. There’s grace for your struggles in faith. There’s grace for you which you can share with those around you as you learn to seek the wisdom of God. There’s enough grace for you to love, forgive, and persevere in faith during all your troubles.

This is because…

…the peace and grace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.