(Summary of the sermon:14 Feb 2016)
BE WISE AS SERPENTS – 2
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James explains that there are two kinds of wisdom – heavenly wisdom and earthly wisdom. Today, we are going to briefly look at both their characteristics.
CHARACTERISTICS OF HEAVENLY AND EARTHLY WISDOM
Earthly wisdom comes from the world. It is sensual and appeals to our emotions and passions. It is this wisdom that makes a person want to do whatever pleases him because he ‘feels good’ about it. The Bible says that it is selfish and demonic. This wisdom is foolishness in the sight of God.
Heavenly wisdom on the other hand is from God and we receive it through prayer. Even when all odds are against us, heavenly wisdom declares that we have been washed by the blood of Jesus.
Earthly wisdom brings fear and discouragement in its wake. It looks at our circumstances and opines accordingly. Heavenly wisdom leads us to look to God as our provider and to trust in Him.
Earthly wisdom is full of bitterness and envy. As part of my ministry, I have seen church members buy things for their house based on another member’s household goods. Those purchases were all motivated by jealousy! Also, earthly wisdom is self seeking in its heart. It causes us to be concerned only about ‘I, me, myself’! This wisdom looks for power, position, honor and privilege, and causes much confusion.
Heavenly wisdom on the other hand is pure, transparent, true to the Gospel, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield and not stubborn. It is impartial and is not-hypocritical. It yields peace instead of confusion.
Having differentiated between the two, the truth of the matter is that we all struggle with these two kinds of wisdom. We need God’s power and strength to help us depend on heavenly wisdom every day.
Let’s now look at a prophet of God who struggled with these two kinds of wisdom.
BALAM AND BALAK
Then the children of Israel moved, and camped in the plains of Moab on the side of the Jordan across from Jericho.
Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel. So Moab said to the elders of Midian, “Now this company will lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass of the field.” And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time. Then he sent messengers to Balaam the son of Beor at Pethor, which is near the River in the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying: “Look, a people has come from Egypt. See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me! Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”
So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the diviner’s fee in their hand, and they came to Balaam and spoke to him the words of Balak. And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam.
Then God came to Balaam and said, “Who are these men with you?”
So Balaam said to God, “Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, has sent to me, saying, ‘Look, a people has come out of Egypt, and they cover the face of the earth. Come now, curse them for me; perhaps I shall be able to overpower them and drive them out.’”
On their way to the Promised Land, the Israelites set camp near the Moabites. Balak, the Moab king, had heard of their reputation. He knew that God was with them and he was worried that they may attack his kingdom. So he hatched a plot to defeat them in the spiritual arena.
There was an anointed prophet of God called Balam in the area. Whoever he blessed would be blessed and whoever he cursed would be cursed. Balak sends men to Balam with silver and gold to see if he could hire him to curse the Israelites. On hearing the request, Balam asked God for counsel. God told him to stay out of it because the Israelites were His chosen people. Balam told the men that God had refused him permission to do so. But Balak figured that Balam was quite taken in by the money. So he upped the scale and offered a higher amount. Balam should have known by now what was on God’s heart. But he went back to God asking him for permission to curse the Israelites. God was angry with him and told him to go ahead. But when Balam built altars to God on seven mountains so that he could curse the Israelites, God did not let him do that.
Often we think that we can bend God’s will by persistently asking Him to grant us our wish. Sometimes, God lets us go ahead because he has given us the free will to choose what we want. But when calamity befalls us because of our choices, we happily place the blame at God’s feet! God is not responsible for the messes that we create in life. Moreover, God does not change His will according to our desires.
IMPACT OF EARTHLY WISDOM
Numbers 31 says that Balam counseled Balak saying that he can’t curse the Israelites whom God has blessed. But then he offered a terrible piece of earthly wisdom. He suggested that Balak send Moabite women into the Israeli camp so that the Israeli men would defile themselves and arouse God’s judgement and anger. True enough, it happened to the letter. What a terrible idea! All for his lust of money, he gave a foolish idea to Balak and caused Israelites to sin against God!
When we don’t allow heavenly wisdom to be lived out in our lives, from the outside we may look right, but we may become a threat in allowing the works of the enemy into the kingdom of God.
Let me conclude with two stories.
One night, there was some repair work going on at the train tracks. Meanwhile a train approached the station. The guard quickly got up and raised the lantern to indicate that the train must stop. But the train went past him and derailed at the place where the repair work was going on. Many died in the accident. An investigation was started to find out the cause of the accident. The guard was brought before the judges. When asked if he had raised the lantern to signal that they train must stop, he admitted that he had. The judges kept questioning him. Finally he broke down and said, ‘Yes, I did raise the lantern but I had forgotten to light the lantern!’
Are the lights of our lives burning bright? Do we look like spirit-filled Christians? Or do we reflect a bad testimony to this world? Once when Gandhiji was asked by Stanley Jones, a missionary about Christians, Gandhiji replied that he loved Christ but not Christians! Is that our testimony today?
Here is another story to explain my point. One day, a grain of salt in a salt shaker said that he was very happy to be with the brethren enjoying the fellowship. He liked the ambience in the salt shaker. Another grain grimly said that it may look very nice now but when they are shaken over the soup bowl, they would slip out and be devoured by the vegetables in the soup bowl. A third wise grain of salt said that both of them were right but it also added that their purpose in life was to add to the taste of the soup!
As Christians we are meant to be salt of the earth, adding flavor! Let us be catalysts in this world and offer hope and joy. Instead of focusing on our problems, let us remember that we are meant to build lives around us by Godly wisdom.
Please feel free to share your thoughts on this message in the comments section below.