Worldly Wisdom

This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where jealousy and faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed (James 3:15-16).

James, the Lord’s brother, wrote to exhort his fellow Jewish Christians in the Diaspora regarding their conduct in Christ. Having encouraged them to avoid showing partiality (James 2:1-13), to manifest their faith in their works (James 2:14-26), and to give heed to how they speak and avoid hypocrisy in so doing (James 3:1-12), he then challenged the “wise” among them to demonstrate their wisdom through their lives full of good deeds (James 3:13). Wisdom “from above,” from God, is pure, peaceable, open to reason, full of mercy and good works, and is without partiality and hypocrisy; those who are wise make peace and in so doing sow unto a harvest of righteousness (James 3:17-18). But those who have zelos (jealousy or envy) and eritheia (strife, selfish ambition) in their hearts are not truly wise, and they should not glory and lie against the truth (James 3:14). Such people are motivated by a different kind of “wisdom,” that which is of the earth, of this life, and demonic; such wisdom leads to confusion and wickedness (James 3:15-16).

How can there be two different types of wisdom? Is not wisdom automatically good? By no means; wisdom is simply knowledge that “works.” Wisdom can be good; it can be evil. We may want to believe whatever wisdom that “work” must come from God, but it does not take much investigation to recognize just how terribly correct James is about the different sources of wisdom. In the experience of mankind, “might makes right” or “the ends justify the means” certainly seems to “work”: those with power tend to make the rules to benefit them and marginalize others, and not a few terrible deeds have been justified because of the perceived benefits of the outcome. In fact, most of what passes as wisdom about “getting ahead” in life all derives from the two base impulses identified by James: jealousy/envy and selfish ambition. While we may be able to find some morally exemplary persons among the wealthy and the elite, most of them have obtained their wealth because they were driven by jealousy and selfish ambition. It seems almost axiomatic that every ruler, those who actually rule and those who strongly desire to do so, are almost nakedly ambitious in life. Most give lip service to the moral superiority of love and humility, but when it starts hitting the power base or the pocketbook, it is all about fear and winning.

It is crucial for Christians to recognize the contrast between the wisdom from above and “worldly” wisdom, to not confuse the two, and in every respect to purge ourselves of “worldly” wisdom and pattern our lives on the wisdom from above. Christians are easily tempted to use a bit of the Devil’s ways against him; after all, they “work,” and if they “work,” then what would be the problem? James never denied the efficacy of “worldly wisdom”; instead, he pointed to its ultimate fruit. Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and vile practices (James 3:16). If there is jealousy and selfish ambition in the home, there will be fights, distress, stress, and the children will not be able to be fully raised in the Lord’s discipline and admonition and will have much to overcome as adults. If there is jealousy and selfish ambition in the church, there will be strife, divisions, and all kinds of ungodliness, hurting Christians and giving the Gentiles reason to blaspheme (e.g. 3 John 1:9-10). Our culture, society, and nation are under the control of the god of this world; we should not be surprised to see such terrible partisan bickering and division since there is so much jealousy and selfish ambition (2 Corinthians 4:4). We can understand how all of these situations come about, yet we recognize that none of them are really good or truly healthy.

For good reason did our Lord and Master draw a very strong and solid line between the “ways of the Gentiles” and the way it should be among His people in Matthew 20:25-28: the Gentiles live by the earthly, this life, demonic wisdom of this world. It should not be so among us. Christians must live by the pure, peaceable, reasonable wisdom from above, from God, full of good works and mercy, without partiality and hypocrisy. We will be tempted to use the world’s ways of doing things; after all, they “work,” and we do not want to be fully left behind. We will be tempted to use Satan’s tactics to tell people about Jesus, using manipulation, coercion, judgmentalism, or bait-and-switch tactics; such is not pure and peaceable, but derives from jealousy and selfish ambition, and is condemned. Many wish to judge the effectiveness of the Lord’s people in their efforts based on the metrics of the business world; we do well to remember that the business world is motivated entirely by jealousy and selfish ambition, and be very wary of whatever “wisdom” someone wants to derive from it. Whenever God’s people get involved in the economic and political world, they enter a realm dominated by jealousy and selfish ambition; if they are not careful, God’s people may end up finding themselves commending the unjustifiable and approving the unconscionable so as to obtain power or standing, compromising all that is good and lovely on account of fear and/or a will to power.

We do well to remember that God did not save us through economic prosperity or through the power games of the political realm; God has saved us through His Son Jesus who lived, suffered, died, and whom God raised from the dead because He proved willing to bear the shame and the scorn and proved obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2:5-11). We must have the mind of Christ, the wisdom from above; we must love where there is fear, we must remain humble where there is arrogance, we must show mercy where there is judgmentalism, we must remain content where there is jealousy, and we must seek the best interest of the other where there is selfish ambition. This world’s wisdom has not brought lasting peace; it is incapable of doing so. Christians, however, have access to peace toward God through Jesus who Himself killed the hostility by suffering on the cross (Ephesians 2:11-18). Peace does not come through any form of the wisdom of this world; it does not come through fear or projections of strength; it comes from humility, purity, a willingness to show no partiality, and righteous living under the Messiah. If we really believe Jesus is who He says He is, then we shall willingly give up our jealousy and envy, finding contentment in Him, and renounce all selfish ambition, and live for Him (Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 2:20, Philippians 4:10-13, 1 Timothy 6:5-10).

We live in a world saturated with demonic earthly wisdom. We must recognize it for what it is, but as Christians we must not capitulate before it. We cannot advance the Lord’s purposes with the Devil’s wisdom; we cannot will ourselves to power through the wisdom of demons, but must in every respect become the slave of Jesus so His reign can be seen through us. May we seek to purge ourselves of all jealousy and selfish ambition, the wisdom of this world, and find contentment and true life and identity in Jesus the Christ, and obtain the resurrection in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Worldly Wisdom

Thou Shalt Not Steal

Thou shalt not steal (Exodus 20:15).

Throughout time there has been a “social contract” that exists among people within societies. They may not call it a “social contract,” but every society has to have some rules, codified or otherwise, that govern how members of that society interact. One of the pillars of such a “social contract” has always been, is, and always will be a prohibition of stealing. If one cannot have some level of security that one’s possessions will remain one’s own, there can be no trust among members of a society, and where there is no trust, there is chaos. Wherever stealing is pervasive and rampant there is chaos and disorder, a breakdown of society.

Stealing, along with murder and adultery at the least, are elements of the “moral law” that seems to be rather “built-in” to humans. Even if we could somehow justify to ourselves why we could take something from someone else, what happens if somebody takes something of ours? We feel wronged– violated! Such goes to show that morality is not really as relative as some have imagined!

It is therefore unsurprising that a prohibition of stealing is part of the Ten Commandments which God gives to Israel. The command remains in force to this day (Romans 13:9, Ephesians 4:28)!

We are most familiar with stealing in terms of possessions– someone who seizes some form of property to which he or she is not entitled. Petty thieves might shoplift, break into homes and take things, or engage in burglary. Unscrupulous rulers may seize the property of their constituents without sufficient cause or compensation (e.g. 1 Kings 21), or sell off various assets from their nations to benefit themselves and not their people. Most people understand how these forms of stealing are quite wrong.

Yet there are many more examples of stealing than just these. When the time comes to pay taxes, if we claim more deductions than to which we are entitled, or neglect to report some forms of income, we are not only lying but also stealing from the government (Romans 13:7). If we walk off with office supplies, or if we claim to work more hours than we really worked, or spend time idly at work, we are stealing from the company.

We must recognize that there can be different forms of “legal” stealing as well. A company that imposes excessive demands on an employee’s time without sufficient compensation is, in a sense, stealing– taking advantage of the employee’s abilities and times without providing proper compensation. Predatory lenders may exact immoral and unethical amounts of interest from borrowers, or deceive people into borrowing when it is not to their best advantage. Most people understand how Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme was a form of stealing, but there were plenty of other characters, all working within the confines of what was “legal,” but still acting in unethical ways in seeking profits without concern for the benefit of those from whom money was made.

All relationships that humans enjoy are based on trust– stealing is one of those things that entirely erodes trust, whether that stealing is reckoned as legal or illegal by a government. This is why God expects believers to work with one another and with those in the world in fairness. Thieves are to stop stealing and work honest labor to have something for the needy (Ephesians 4:28). Employees are to work as to the Lord to the best of their abilities; employers are to treat their employees fairly and justly, remembering that they have a Master in Heaven (Ephesians 6:4-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1).

Paul speaks rightly in Romans 13:8-10: all of our interactions with our fellow man must be dictated by the principle of loving our neighbors as ourselves. We would not want to have anyone steal from us; we would not want to be cheated out of income or the fruit of our efforts. Therefore, we do well to honor our commitments and responsibilities toward the government and our fellow man, not attempting to cheat or steal in any way. Let us love our neighbor as ourselves and seek his benefit!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Thou Shalt Not Steal

Victory!

But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. So much of what takes place in life involves “winners” and “losers.” We see it most clearly in sports games or in armed conflicts. It is also present in competitions in business, school, and in life in general. Everyone wants to win and be part of the winning team. No one wants to lose, and few have patience with constant loss.

Winning is sweet. Far too often, winning goes unquestioned. Everyone is happy when there is victory. But when people begin to lose, everything is questioned. Flaws and challenges come to the surface. Discord often rears its ugly head.

Losing, however, is not always such a bad thing. Humans tend to learn only by making mistakes. Losing tests endurance and resolve. Losing forces people to confront the difficult questions, and either continue to lose or to find a way to win.

So much of victory and defeat is mental and emotional– or, as it is said in sports so many times, games are most often won or lost before the players take the field. Some teams win because of talent and skill– others just have a stronger desire to win. Yes, many teams lose because of a lack of skill or poor execution, but far too often, such teams lack the will to win. It is not as if there is ever a perfect team or a perfect situation– challenges, flaws, and discord can always exist. Somehow, in some way, people find ways to be successful and victorious despite those flaws. And yet there are also times when people with so much talent, opportunity, and ability fail to achieve the victory that would seem to come to them, either through indolence or someone else just wanting it more!

These matters are profitable for Christians to consider, for the Christian life is compared to sporting competitions (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:1-2), spiritual conflict (Ephesians 6:10-18, 2 Timothy 2:4-5), and even in terms of business success (Matthew 25:14-30, Luke 19:11-27). We run the most important race there is; we fight the most important battle in history; we earn the most valuable profits. If we ever must pursue victory with everything we have, it must be in the spiritual arena!

When things go well in our lives as Christians, we do not question a lot of things. We are happy. It is when our lives begin to fall apart and/or we begin to fail that we begin to question. Our flaws, challenges, and discord are made evident. And yet those flaws and challenges were always there. Discord is always just around the corner. We must endure difficulties and struggles in our faith in order to be refined and to be made ready for the ultimate victory (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6-9). These are not pleasant, and we always wonder why we are not always successful in God. Character does not develop and mature through complete success– it is only when we are forced to confront our difficulties that we prove our mettle and whether we will shrink away and fail or endure and overcome (cf. Revelation 2:7, 12:11).

Victory and success is also an important mindset. It is too easy for us to expect failure so as to never be disappointed. This is precisely what losers do, and such losers, while rarely disappointed, do not amount to much. Instead, we must believe that we can and must win, trusting in God’s firm Word to us that we shall have the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord. That victory may not seem very possible at times, and the situations we find ourselves in may be bleak. This is when we must have the most fervent resolve to win no matter the circumstances, and trust in God’s power that we shall win.

A day is coming when the results of the ultimate contest will be made evident. Those who have failed through their ignorance, desire to lose, or failure to serve God will obtain eternal condemnation (Romans 2:5-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). Those who trusted in Jesus for victory, who wanted that victory more than anything else, and devoted everything in their power to obtain that victory will share in that victory (Matthew 6:33, Romans 8:17-18, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 15:54-58)– and the taste of victory will never have been sweeter (cf. Revelation 21:1-22:6). How much do we desire to win it all? Let us trust in God through Christ and devote all of our energies to His cause so as to gain the ultimate victory!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Victory!