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The Book of James

Lesson 8 November 15-21

The Humility of Heavenly Wisdom

Sabbath Afternoon

Read for This Week's Study: James 3:13-4:10; Deut. 4:6; Gal. 5:17; Jer. 3:6-10, 20; Acts 19:13-16; Ps. 24:3-6.

Memory Text: Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you (James 4:10, NASB 1995).

In many midsize and larger companies, a middle-manager mentality exists. This attitude happens when workers feel entitled to something they do not yet have: more respect, a higher salary, a more advanced position, and so on. This unhealthy attitude develops over time as the person strives to get ahead. Symptoms may include flattering remarks served up to decision makers and uncomplimentary revelations made about coworkers, all seasoned with a spirit of selfish rivalry. When one major television news anchor advanced to the top without destroying others to get there, a colleague admiringly observed: There were no dead bodies.

It would be nice to think that selfish rivalry is confined to secular organizations and that the church operates quite differently. Unfortunately, Scripture indicates that all too often worldly wisdom also operates among believers.

This week let's see what the Word of God has to say about this unfortunate reality.

*Study this week's lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 22.

Sunday November 16

The Meekness of Wisdom

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom (James 3:13, ESV). The meekness of wisdom? What might that mean?

Some commentators think that the entire third chapter of James has to do with what qualifies (or disqualifies) people to be teachers. Naturally, the wise and understanding would seem to be good candidates, but the scope seems to be broader, encompassing the whole congregation. The wisdom James describes here and throughout the epistle is not primarily the intellectual variety so esteemed by the ancient Greeks and many Western countries today. Rather, wisdom is seen in one's conduct and lifestyle, as indicated by the Greek word for it, anastrophe, translated conduct (used also in 1 Tim. 4:12, Heb. 13:7, 1 Pet. 1:15, 2:12). Our actions and conduct testify as to how wise we are. Jesus taught the same, saying that wisdom is justified by her children (Matt. 11:19, NKJV).

Interestingly, the only place in the Old Testament where the phrase translated wise and understanding is found is in Moses' admonition to Israel to observe all the laws that God had commanded: Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people' (Deut. 4:6, ESV).

In contrast, the bitter water spring referred to in James 3:11 produces envy and selfish ambition (v. 14, NIV) in the church. The latter translates from the Greek word eritheia, which refers to the exclusive pursuit of one's own interests.-Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament (Hendrickson Publishers), vol. 2, p. 70. That's an attitude that sounds more like Satan in heaven than like what Christians should be on earth. Unless we make a conscious choice to die to self and surrender our will to the Lord, all of us could be in danger of displaying precisely the attitudes here that James warns about.

Dwell more on the phrase the meekness of wisdom. What are some of the situations in which, right now, some of this wisdom on your part would be very helpful?

Monday November 17

Two Kinds of Wisdom

Read James 3:15-16. What is his description of worldly wisdom? What are the common ways we see this wisdom manifested in the world, or even in the church?

The wisdom that we have naturally is earthly, even demonic or devilish, and devoid of the Spirit. This should not be too surprising. Long ago, Solomon spoke about the way that seems right as being the way of death (Prov. 14:12, 16:25, NKJV). This wisdom is destructive to its core. If jealousy and selfish ambition are cultivated and expressed, the natural result will be disorder and dissension, similar to the situation in Corinth (see 2 Cor. 12:20, where several of the same words are used).

Read James 3:17-18; John 3:3-7; Colossians 3:1-2. Together, what are these texts telling us about heavenly wisdom?

While James never refers to the Holy Spirit directly, the idea of the new birth is clearly present. The apostle seems to prefer, instead, the agricultural metaphor of sowing and bearing fruit, perhaps based on Jesus' parables that refer to the word being sown in people's hearts as they hear the gospel message (see Matt. 13:3-9, 18-23). Heavenly wisdom is full of mercy, as well as good fruits. As we have seen, despite the emphasis in James on obedience and good works as the fruit of faith, mercy triumphs even in the judgment (James 2:13). In other words, the truly wise will not only be meek and humble like Jesus, but also peaceable, gentle, merciful, and forgiving, willing to overlook the faults of others, not critical or judgmental of them.

It's so easy to fall into the ways of the world, isn't it? Examine yourself: how much does worldly wisdom, in contrast to wisdom from heaven, influence how you live?

Tuesday November 18

Cause of Conflict and Quarrels

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? (James 4:1, NKJV; compare Gal. 5:17.) What basic conflict do both of these passages describe?

The opening verses of James 4 describe believers torn asunder by internal, bitter strife. There is an inward cause of the outward quarrels in the church: the cravings for pleasure (the word in Greek gives us our word hedonism). These sinful desires, which Paul metaphorically refers to as the flesh, are actively making war against our higher, spiritual motivations. The Christian life involves a protracted battle which, if not governed by the wisdom from above (James 3:17), spills out to the church itself and causes spiritual trauma among believers.

Read James 4:2-3. What specific sinful desires are mentioned, and how are they affecting the church?

These verses contain direct references to the Ten Commandments: You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain (James 4:2, NKJV). The repeated references to the problem of envy, coveting, and cravings or passions (compare James 3:14, 16) reflect a perspective similar to the one expressed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, in which the inner motivations, not just outward actions, are in view. Therefore, the reference to murder is probably meant, in this broader sense, to include anger. The earliest congregations probably did not have members killing each other. On the other hand, as we learn from the book of Acts, there were times, particularly in Jerusalem where James was based, when betrayal could easily have led to the arrest and putting to death of church members.

It is the love of self that brings unrest. When we are born from above, the same mind will be in us that was in Jesus, the mind that led Him to humble Himself that we might be saved. Then we shall not be seeking the highest place. We shall desire to sit at the feet of Jesus, and learn of Him.-Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, pp. 330, 331.

Wednesday November 19

Friendship With the World

Read James 4:2-4. Why does James call his readers adulterers and adulteresses? See Jer. 3:6-10, 20; Isa. 54:5; Jer. 2:2; Luke 16:13.

Alluding to the biblical concept of Israel as God's bride, James likens believers' going along with worldly customs and being influenced by worldly attitudes as spiritual adultery. In reality, they are choosing a different master and lord.

The next verse, James 4:5, is not easy to understand. Some have called it the most difficult verse in the New Testament. The ambiguity of the Greek text is reflected in the major translations. Some consider the spirit to be the Holy Spirit (the Spirit . . . in us yearns jealously, NKJV, HCSB; He jealously desires the Spirit . . . , NASB). Others consider it to be the human spirit (God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us, NRSV; he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us, NIV). The latter rendering by the NIV fits the grammar and context best, but regardless of the translation, the meaning of the verse is not very clear. Based on a careful study of the verse's syntax and the immediate context, verses 5 and 6 could be translated as follows: Or do you think that the Scripture speaks in vain against envy? The spirit which He has caused to dwell in us yearns, but He gives more grace. Therefore He says, God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:5-6, author's translation).

As verses 1-4 make clear, the human spirit (or heart) is permeated with desires that, while not originally or in themselves evil, have been twisted by sin into wicked pathways. Grace is the only real solution to our plight. The proud, however, have placed themselves in a position where they can't easily receive that grace. Someone wrote that we get grace as do beggars holding out a tin cup before a waterfall. Only a person humble, meek, and aware of his or her utter need and dependency is open to grace, to the unmerited favor bestowed upon those who are, in every way, unworthy. As Ellen G. White wrote, Our great need is our only claim on God's mercy.-The Desire of Ages, p. 317.

Look at yourself. What in you makes you worthy of salvation? How does your answer help you realize the great need of grace in your own life? How does the Cross, and the Cross alone, answer that need?

Thursday November 20

Submission to God

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7, NRSV). Notice the order of the commands here. If we try to resist the devil in our own strength, what chance of success do we have? When seven Jewish exorcists tried to get a demon out of a possessed man by using the names of Jesus and Paul as a kind of magic formula, the demon-possessed man so overpowered the exorcists that they ran away naked and bleeding (Acts 19:13-16). Thus, we need to submit to God and His will in order to resist the devil. In fact, by taking that very step, we are resisting the devil.

At the same time, we should not suppose that the first readers of James's letter had never submitted themselves to God before. James is clearly writing to professed believers. So, perhaps we need to think more in terms of submitting ourselves to God daily and resisting the devil whenever his temptations assert themselves.

Read James 4:8-10. What commands does James give, and how are they inter-related? How are they connected with submission to God, as well?

The appeal to change in these verses is the culmination of all that James has been saying since 3:13. In the passage we have been studying this week, there are contrasts between heavenly wisdom and devilish wisdom, and between the proud who exalt themselves as the devil did (see Isa. 14:12-14) and the lowly who submit to God and humble themselves. There is also a charge of infidelity to the covenant with God (James 4:4), and the charge of being double-minded is repeated (James 4:8, compare 1:8). Therefore, the call to submit to God goes beyond moralistic admonition; it is calling sinners to repentance, as Jesus did (Luke 5:32).

How should one repent? James supplies the steps (based on Psalm 24:3-6): (1) draw near to God, and He will draw near to you; (2) cleanse your hands and purify your hearts (that is, actions as well as thoughts); (3) lament, mourn, and weep for your shortcomings, realizing again that your need is your only claim to God's grace.

Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:10, NKJV). What does that mean? How do you learn to humble yourself? How can we learn to emulate the humility that Jesus revealed?

Friday November 21

Further Study: There are many whose hearts are aching under a load of care because they seek to reach the world's standard. They have chosen its service, accepted its perplexities, adopted its customs. Thus their character is marred, and their life made a weariness. In order to gratify ambition and worldly desires, they wound the conscience, and bring upon themselves an additional burden of remorse. The continual worry is wearing out the life forces. Our Lord desires them to lay aside this yoke of bondage. . . . He bids them seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and His promise is that all things needful to them for this life shall be added.-Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 330.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Think more about the two kinds of wisdom discussed in Monday's lesson and make a list of the thoughts associated with each. Now think about times during this week where you made important decisions or took important actions. Which kind of wisdom was involved?
  2. As we saw on Sunday, God promised Israel that, as a result of their observing His laws, surrounding nations would come to admire them as a wise and understanding people. But did this not lead Israel to become proud? This is, of course, contrary to heavenly wisdom, which leads to humility. What happened to them, and how can we learn to avoid their mistakes? How could a proper understanding of the true meaning of the sanctuary service have been their best defense against pride? How should the Cross, for us today, be the ultimate defense against pride?
  3. Read again the Ellen G. White statement above. How many of the world's standards do we strive for? Are those standards always, of necessity, wrong? So often, too, we can read of people who, by the world's standards, seem to have everything; and yet, their lives turn out to be wrecks. What should that tell us about just how deceptive so much of what the world offers really is? Most important, though, how can we learn to resist the world and help our young people, who can be easily caught up by the false promises of the world, not to fall into this trap?
  4. Dwell more on this idea of humility. Why is that so important in the life of a Christian? Why is pride so deadly for anyone who wants to follow Jesus?

The Disobedient Son, Part 2

Vitaliano Marrero

Vitaliano hated having a house church next door. He decided that when the songs of the saints floated up to his window, he would turn his radio full volume to rock music. That will teach them, he thought. If I disturb their meetings, they'll find another place to meet, and I won't have to deal with them in my neighborhood! He played loud music for several months, but the group continued meeting. No one complained. In fact, the few members of the church who knew Vitaliano were kinder than ever to him.

Alexey's attendance at the Bible club awakened in Migdalia's heart her lifelong desire to know God. She began reading the Bible and accepted Bible studies from Rosabel. Sometimes Migdalia read the Bible so much that she ignored her housework. When Vitaliano returned home and found the house a mess, he asked his mother what happened. Her response surprised him. "Your wife spends all day reading the Bible and doesn't have time to clean the house." Another time Vitaliano's mother told him, "I think Migdalia is going to the house church on Saturday mornings."

Vitaliano had suspected that his wife was attending church. "Are you going to become a Christian?" he demanded. "I do not want you to go to that church anymore!"

One day Vitaliano found Migdalia studying the Bible. Grabbing the Bible, he threatened to throw it into the fire. But when he opened the stove door to throw the Bible into the flames, fear gripped him. Will God punish me for burning the Bible? he wondered. He closed the door and threw the Bible into the bedroom.

A few days later he saw the Bible on a shelf. Opening it, his eyes fell on Malachi 3:17: "'They will be mine,' says the Lord Almighty, 'in the day when I make up my treasured possession.'" Vitaliano closed the Bible. He knew that God was telling him that his wife and son belonged to God. He became afraid to forbid them to attend the church.

A few days later the pastor's son came to visit Vitaliano. The two had been friends for many years, even though Vitaliano hated God. "My friend," the man said, "we are having a program this evening, and I'd like you to come."

Vitaliano was putting in larger speakers for his stereo so he could disturb the religious meetings better. "Look, I'm wearing work clothes, I'm dirty." But his friend offered to go with him, and Vitaliano reluctantly agreed.

The program contained a lot of music, and Vitaliano enjoyed it, so when his friend invited him again, Vitaliano went. Little by little, Vitaliano's heart softened.

A few weeks later his friend invited him to study the Bible. Vitaliano agreed. He began attending worship services in the house church he had so often condemned and tried to disrupt.

Soon Vitaliano's mother began attending the church, too. Now the whole family was attending church and studying the Bible together. A few months later Vitaliano, Migdalia, and Vitaliano's mother were baptized.

At his baptism, Vitaliano testified, "It was my son whose example brought our family to the feet of Jesus."

Vitaliano Marrero and his wife, Migdalia, are active lay workers in their home church in Holguín, Cuba.

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