Lasting Change: Building Below the Surface (Part 5)

Jesus uttered some incredibly profound words in Matthew 7. In fact they may be the most sobering words He spoke while being on this planet. He is finishing one of the most powerful sermons He preached and He ends with these words,  

24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” Matthew 7:24-27 NLT 

These words are profound because in a very simple fashion Jesus gives us the key to life.  He tells us how that we can be successful, stable, and make an impact.  You hear His words, and you put them into practice little by little in your life. 

It’s the key.  It’s wisdom.

They are sobering words because when you think about it the houses look exactly the same.  If you can't see underground they have the same roof, same windows, same porch – until they're tested.  Until the wind, until the storms, until the rain comes, both those houses look identical.  But the one built on sand will be destroyed.  The other built on rock will stand.  He’s basically telling us there's two ways to build your life.

The really thought provoking part is that you can look Christian, sound Christian, go to church, work in ministry, care for the poor, give money, say prayers, even read the Bible, but the fundamental question is are you building your life on the rock, or are you building your life on the sand?

Is your life really changing for the better from the inside out, or is it sort of a religious show. See all that stuff is above the waterline.  Remember our iceberg drawing?

It’s mostly observable, external behavior.  There was a group of people that practiced external behavior that was matchless in Jesus’ day called Pharisees.  And He would say all of them, with few exceptions, were built on sand.  As we finish this series, James is going to open it up, and he’s going to ask and answer the question, how do you know if your life is built on sand or the rock?  How do you know if your life is really changing for the better down underneath where life transformation occurs?

The Test: If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom. James 3:13 NLT  (Who is wise among you?)  

Remember the theme of this book is integrity and does your talk match your walk. Christfollowing is integrating Christ and His word into your life on a daily basis and it is changing from the inside out not from the outside in. If you are really spiritually mature, you’re life is integrated and you're building on the rock, demonstrate it by your daily life and the kind of life that is winsome, Godly, loving and morally pure. We test ourselves by becoming self aware of what is coming out of our mouth when we are put under pressure or when we are really being ourselves.  
That’s all stuff above the waterline or our behavior. 

And so James says you know what the answer to the test question is?  If you really want to know whether you're spiritual, whether you're really mature, building on the rock, you're outward behavior will demonstrate it, but the motives behind your outward behavior will be humility. 

Wisdom = Core Values + Beliefs We Hold About What Makes One “Successful” in Life  

Summary: Lasting change demands we examine the source (core values and beliefs) of our attitudes and actions.  

We are going to see that James says there are two types of wisdom in this life. One is man’s wisdom and the other comes from God.  

In verses 14, 15, and 16, he’s going to describe man’s wisdom.  He’s going to say there are characteristics of it.  There's a source of it.  And there's the fruit of it, or the results.  Then he’s going to shift it in verse 17 and describe God’s wisdom and he gives us about four characteristics and three results.   

Now, there’s a lot of different words.  And what I’m going to try and do is give you the overview of them, and then here and there, I’ll stop so you can just jot down a couple things because the goal is not that we understand all these words, is it?  The goal is that we have the courage to say:  

“Lord, this has been a pretty tough series.  That one on the tongue was really tough a couple of weeks ago.  But I know that you love me so much and You are for me and You care about me.  If there are some core values and attitudes that if they get played out will damage relationships and hurt me and cause me to be less than who I want to be and you want me to be, then I surely would like to hear from you today, even if it hurts because I know you care about me.” 

And so with that attitude, let’s jump in and look at man’s wisdom.  And ask yourself, as I’m talking, ask yourself this question.  If my life is a bucket, am I dipping out of the water of man’s wisdom, or am I dipping out to the water of God’s wisdom?   

Man’s Wisdom: “Me Centered” attempts to achieve and appear righteous to satisfy ego needs and fulfill private agendas.  

Some of you may ask where in the world I came up with that definition so let me show you. We find it in James 3:14-16:  

14 But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. 15 For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. 16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.James 3:14-16 NLT 

Characteristics of Man’s Wisdom (vs. 14)  

He says, “But if you are –” Circle the word “if.”  Grammatically, it’s a conditional clause assumed to be true.  And what he means by that, it’s – literally you could translate it “since” or already going on in the life of this church, James is saying.  Already happening in the life of this church is a couple things.  They're harboring bitter envy and selfish ambition.  Where is it occurring?  What’s it say?  In their heart.   

Can you see what’s in people’s hearts?  No, you can't.  He says, “Well, then don't boast about it and deny the truth.”  See what he’s saying is?  He’s saying there are some people in the church who want to be teachers, who want to be upfront, who have all kind of things that externally look real Godly.  He said, but if you look in their heart, they're really not based on God’s wisdom.  It’s on sand.  It’s man’s wisdom. 

Let’s explore these two words and see if we can get our arms around them.  Bitter jealousy is a fierce desire to promote one’s self, one’s opinion to the exclusion of others.  It’s very concerned with one’s image and what other people think.  Here the idea of bitterness has the sense of harshness or resentful thoughts toward other people.  It’s jockeying for power and prestige and position.  And notice, by the way, it’s coming out of a heart.  You can't see this.   

This is the thoughts that people have when they smile at you in a Bible study or church.  But in their heart, they envy what you wear.  They envy that you're the leader instead of them.  They envy and have bitter resentment towards you and others.  James is saying it’s actually happening in that church. 

Selfish ambition:  The original meaning of this word was meant to hire someone for a job.  In later Greek literature, it was used of politicians who vote and won elections unethically, and then bragged about it.  The basic idea of selfish ambition is to be motivated and driven by ego needs, pride, the desire to be seen and admired, to be in control, to fulfill your personal agenda or my personal agenda all the while projecting a love for God and others in the name of Christ.  And where it show up is in divisive relationships, gossip and side-door posturing.  What James is saying is in the Church of Jesus Christ, there are some characteristics of man’s wisdom.   

Source of Man’s Wisdom (vs. 15)  

What’s the source of this?  Look at verse 15.  He says, “Such wisdom doesn’t come down from heaven.  But it’s earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.”  Those three words kind of build in their climax.  Earthly means it views life, success, and goals from a material point of view.  Unspiritual means fleshly or temporal versus an eternal perspective.  And demonic is just kind of the ultimate.  Where does this come from?  It comes from the pit of hell.  The enemy is working in the Church of Jesus Christ to get good people to do the right things for the wrong reason, to promote themselves to destroy God’s testimony.  Does that sound familiar? 

Look at America.  Forty-plus million people say I have had a born again experience with Jesus Christ.  And then when you look at the morals of America, the divorce rate of America and the sin that is tolerated in the church I’ve got news for you.  There's a lot of this going on.   

But before we, you know, kind of point out there, let me ask you. How much of what you do in the name of God – you know, when you're real honest because you really want God to help you, how much of it is because of what other people will think?  How much energy do you spend trying to project that you're a little more Godly, little more holy, pray a little more, a little more generous than you really are.  (I am still blown away by how many professing Christians don’t practice tithing or the people that like to make you think they really support this church but when the records are checked nothing could be further from the truth or some of you are living on a couple thousand dollars a year salary.) It’s projecting one thing but doing something else in your life.   

You want to know the results when this operates? 

Results of Man’s Wisdom (vs. 16)   16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind 

It’s like a cancer in relationships in a church. 

Let me give you a little definition on those two words.  Disorder is the idea of confusion, antagonism, lack of unity and stability.  It’s the concept of disarray, being out of control with regard to one’s personal life and relationships. He says that’s what you’ll see once you peel the onion and look below the surface of people’s lives.  Once you get in their home or once they really begin to talk, and you hear what’s going on inside.  And not only is there this disorder, there’s every evil thing.  And that phrase just means all manner of evil springs from pride and jealousy.  It impacts lives and families and churches and businesses. 

So let me ask you. Is life built on the rock?  Do you find yourself doing outward things to get other people’s attention?  Is it about ego, or is it really about honoring and serving God?  

Now let’s look at the contrast.  James now turns the corner, and what he says is there’s a different kind of wisdom.  He’s saying to this group, hey, you can know whether you're on the rock or whether you're on the sand.  You can know whether below the waterline you're building the kind of life that’s changing for the better from the inside out.  He says there’s God’s wisdom. 

God’s wisdom is Christ-centered dependency that seeks to obey God and serve others to fulfill God’s agenda.  That’s what God’s wisdom is.  Notice it’s Christ-centered.  Man’s wisdom is me-centered.   

God’s Wisdom: “Christ Centered” dependency that seeks to obey God and serve others to fulfill God’s agenda.   

17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. James 3:17 NLT 

Characteristics of God’s Wisdom  

   Pure – If I’m wise, I won’t compromise my integrity.  

What’s pure mean?  It means clean.  It’s translated in other parts of the Bible for the word “holy.”  It means free in your thoughts from ulterior motives.  Moral cleanliness, without contamination and it’s the opposite of jealousy, envy, and bitterness.  It’s certainly includes sexual purity, but it’s not just isolated to that.  The wisdom that comes from God is first pure.  Not perfect, but pure.  

God, I want to honor you.  God, I want to serve you.  God, I want to do this not for what other people think of me, but I want to do it unto you, and to serve them so your agenda gets done.  And God, when it’s not there, you show me.  

You can summarize this by the little phrase; if I’m wise I won’t compromise my integrity.  That’s how you can remember it.  When you know what’s right to do, you don't allow your behavior, your relationships, your finances, or your speech to tell a different story than what you know is right. 

    Peaceable – If I’m wise, I won’t antagonize your anger.  

It means to be at peace in one’s relationships with others.  Issues are resolved and forgiven, both with other people and with God.  It’s a desire to foster peace by restraining discord and pacifying turbulent elements around it.  It’s this idea when people lash out at you – what’s the natural tendency when people are angry or there's discord?  What do we want to do?  Yeah, I want to lash back.  Why?  Because I have to protect me.  Why?  Because me is what’s important. 

Starting to make sense?  If I’m wise, I’ll be peaceable.  And that means I won't antagonize your anger.  You always know where you're at on this one by driving on 16, right?  Now, here’s the deal, you’ll live with temptation.  Someone zooms by, cuts through, almost kills you and whoever you're with, then goes by.

And you say, “What in the world is He doing?”  And then they flash you a gesture that you know doesn’t mean it’s directions of where to go.  And then you're heart rate goes up, and you're thinking, “I’m going to kill that person.”  And you are tempted to speed up and ride their bumper.  Tempted to gesture.  Tempted to get out of control.  And if you were, it would be to protect your own insecure ego, your rights, and demonstrate your control.  Or the Spirit of God could take over in that instant, and you would say, “If I’m wise, I won’t antagonize his anger.”  A gentle answer turns away wrath.  It doesn’t mean you don't stand for things when it’s true, but you're not going to go there.  You're complete in Christ.  And you actually find yourself, prompted by the Spirit of God, to pray for that person.   

    Gentle – If I’m wise, I won’t minimize other’s feelings.  

It means to be really kind.  It’s respect for the thoughts and feelings of others.  It doesn’t mean compromising the truth but it is about being kind. One commentator calls this word “sweet reasonableness.”  One of the characteristics of God’s wisdom is gentleness. 

    Reasonable – If I’m wise, I won’t criticize other’s suggestions.  

It literally means to be easily persuaded, open to argument and reason.  To be teachable and willing to hear another person’s perspective that’s different from your own opinion.  It’s the idea of people that are approachable. 

Let me summarize.  He says there, “If I’m wise I won’t criticize other’s suggestions.”  Don’t have to agree with them, but you don't criticize their suggestions.  See, if it’s not about you, if it’s not about me, if it’s not about my rights, if it’s not about I’ve got to have my way, my agenda, and I’ve got to be the star. If it’s not about that, it’s really about God’s agenda, then someone has a suggestion, what if it’s better than mine?  What if we use it instead of mine?  And what if they get all the credit?  And what if God uses it for his glory?  You say, “Yea God.” 

That’s what it’s about because success isn’t me getting my way, and me being the center of attention, and everyone thinking something of me.  Success is that God is obeyed and honored.  People are served.  God’s agenda is moving down the road.  Do you get it?  Do you see what he’s saying?  Let me summarize it for you.

Those four characteristics, I think, can be summarized in this way.  

Summary: God’s wisdom will be revealed in lives characterized by personal holiness and relational oneness.  

Does that describe you?  Personal holiness and relational oneness, does that describe me?  That’s the characteristics of building your life on the rock.  

17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. James 3:17 NLT 

Results of God’s Wisdom  

Full of mercy and good fruit – If I’m wise, I won’t emphasize other’s mistakes.  

Unwavering “It shows no favoritism” – If I’m wise, I won’t show partiality. I won’t be double minded or living a life of duplicity. I will love all people regardless of my differences with them.  

Without hypocrisy of with sincerity – If I’m wise, I won’t disguise my weaknesses.  

Summary: God’s wisdom will result in compassionate, authentic, and vulnerable relationships.  

Application: How Do You Get God’s Wisdom?  

Action Step – In this way they will know God’s secret, which is Christ himself. He is the key that opens all the hidden treasures of God’s wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3 GN)  

1. Receive the Son – “ 11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. 1 John 5:11-12

2. Pray – Ask God for Wisdom“ 5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.James 1:5  

3. Dig for God’s Wisdom Daily  

“ 1 My child,[a] listen to what I say, 
      and treasure my commands. 
2 Tune your ears to wisdom, 
      and concentrate on understanding. 
3 Cry out for insight, 
      and ask for understanding. 
4 Search for them as you would for silver; 
      seek them like hidden treasures. 
5 Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord
      and you will gain knowledge of God.
Proverbs 2:1-5

4. Get Around Wise People – “Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble.  Proverbs 13:20

God loves you.  He has a plan for your life.  And you can have the Son by inviting him into your life.  It means that you willfully turn from your sin.  That means repentance.  And you receive the Son.  And if that’s where you're at, and that’s what you want to do, I’m going to pray a prayer.  And if you say, “Boy, if that’s how you do, that’s what I want, God.”  Then in your mind and your heart, you can pray along with me, okay? 

Dear God, I come today in need of you.  I admit that I have sinned, and I ask you to forgive me of all my sin.  I believe Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay for my sin.  I trust that He rose from the dead to prove that all He said was true.  Right now, come into my life, Lord Jesus.  And make me the person you want me to be.