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Wise Up! (1): Earthly Wisdom

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Sermon on the characteristics of earthly wisdom as seen from God's perspective.

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Wise Up! (2): Earthly Wisdom (James 3:14-16) July 21, 2019 Read James 3:13-16 – Here’s worldly wisdom in a nutshell. A little girl was writing a bio of Abe Lincoln. It began, “Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809, in a log cabin he built himself.” Pulled up by his own bootstraps. Exactly the impossible task earthly wisdom sets for itself. Earthly wisdom is an oxymoron, like giant shrimp, paid volunteer or original copy – the words contradict each other. True wisdom comes from God. But that doesn’t stop humans from trying. Certainly men have uncovered amazing truths about the universe and human behavior. But putting those facts in a context of eternity to produce Godly behavior? Beyond human ability! But Jas gives an overview of man’s attempt to produce wisdom to help avoid its pitfalls. We’ll see I. Its Essence (Where it comes from); II. Its Expression (What it looks like) and III. Its End (What it produces) Worldly wisdom falls far short. It’s limited bc it’s man-centric and temporally oriented. I. Its Essence (Where does it come from?) By worldly wisdom, we don’t mean legitimate scientific discoveries and human insights. We’re talking about the attempt to live life and answer life’s big questions without reference to God. Jas says earthly wisdom is driven by man’s 3 great enemies – the world, the flesh and the devil. Each contributes to this failed attempt to wisely govern life. It is earthly, sensual and devilish. A. Driven by the World (Earthly) – “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly.” Earthly wisdom takes into account only what we can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Its data is limited to the 5 senses. It subscribes to the naturalists’ view of reality, summarized by Carl Sagan: “The cosmos is all there was, is, or ever will be.” So, there is no reality that can’t be physically discerned and tested. The universe is a closed system – limited to what we can theorize, discover and test by empirical data. So in determining the meaning and extent of life, one may not appeal to any “outside” factors – nothing spiritual. No God and no revelation allowed. This is the view of naturalists and secularists. But it also includes anyone who agrees there is a God, but He has no involvement with mankind – Deists. It also includes adherents of pantheistic Eastern religions. God is all and all is God. There is no personal God “out there”, but only whatever exists in nature. Earthly wisdom is driven by this earthly, closed box view of reality. This is directly counter to Scripture, of course. It by definition denies the virgin birth of Christ, the reality of His miracles, His sinless existence, and His resurrection. Paul says of those who subscribe to earthly wisdom in Phil 3:18) For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19) Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.” Minds set on earthly things – one of the drivers of earthly wisdom. B. Driven by the Flesh (Unspiritual) – It is unspiritual, ψυχικος – soulish – from which we get psyche. The Bible defines man as composed of 3 parts – body, soul and spirit. The body is man’s physical house. The spirit is the immaterial part of man that responds to God. The soul is the immaterial part of man that reacts with this world – that animates the body and seeks to gratify natural appetites. The world drives us from outside. The flesh animates us from the inside – our own thoughts, interests, pursuits and desires. Soulishness, earthliness is defined in I Cor 2:14: “The natural (ψυκικος – soulish) person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” Our psyche is unresponsive to the Spirit of God. So, the soulish person is drive by their own thoughts, instincts and desires -- incapable of responding to God’s Spirit and thus, unspiritual. It operates Godlessly. Every decision excludes God. Is it wise to buy this new car? We decide based on desire and ability. Is it wise to lie about stealing this idea? We decide based on desire and ability to “get away with it.” Is it wise to pursue a career path at the risk of family disintegration? We decide based on internal desire and external possibility. Is it wise to indulge in sexual fantasy or relationship outside marriage? We decide based entirely on internal desire and opportunity. This is the essence of earthly wisdom. It’s life driven by the flesh. C. Driven by the Devil (Demonic) – But Jas adds one last driver. Worldly wisdom is ultimately demonic. Our Enemy uses the impersonal world and flesh to create tailored temptations. God allows such temptations as tests to point us to himself while Satan intends it to ruin us. But the ultimate driver of earthly wisdom is the devil. If this sounds scary, it should; it’s meant to. It was Satanically inspired earthly wisdom that led to the Fall in Eden that crushed man. Earthly wisdom nailed the only sinless man who ever lived to a cruel cross. Earthly wisdom has led to the persecution of thousands of innocent Xns throughout history. It led to the gas chambers of Auschwitz, to the killing of 60 million innocent unborn lives in our country since 1973 and to the genocide of over 100 million people in the 20th century alone. It has destroyed the faith of millions of ill-prepared college students faced with false evolutionary theories, and diabolical faith-destroying profs in our colleges. If you don’t think it is all demonically driven – you’ve bought the lie as well. Main point: The essence of earthly wisdom is it ignores God, whether by denying Him completely or declaring Him irrelevant – a fatal error. There is no wisdom apart from God; earthly wisdom is only wisdom in disguise. It’s a lie perpetrated by Satan who disguises himself as an “angel of light” (II Cor 11:14), then destroys the unsuspecting. It’s all a big fraud. True north – eternal truth – comes from outside the system, from above, by revelation. Discount that, and, however, smart you are, you divorce yourself from reality. People buy this for one reason: It removes accountability. Jeremy Rifkin states this eloquently: "We no longer feel ourselves to be guests in someone else's home and therefore feel obliged to make our behavior conform with a set of pre-existing cosmic rules. It is our creation now. We make the rules. We establish the parameters of reality. We create the world [so] we no longer feel beholden to outside forces. We no longer have to justify our behavior, for we are now the architects of the universe. We are responsible to nothing outside ourselves, for we are the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever." That’s the essence of earthly wisdom. II. Its Expression (What does it look like?) A. It is Bitterly Jealous – (v. 14, 16). Earthly wisdom expresses itself in jealousy. It has to be bc there’s no one else there to have its back! Is jealousy always bad? No! After Jesus cleansed the temple, in Jn 2:17: “And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal [same word, ζηλος] of thine house hath eaten me up.” Jesus was jealous for God to get His due. That drove Him. That’s true wisdom. But earthly wisdom is jealous for itself. The worldly-wise man is out to advance his own interests. He is ruthless in dealing with competitors. He is proud of the wisdom that has brought success, and jealous of anyone who gets ahead of him. You can spot earthly wisdom by its “me-first” attitude. It is driven to be ahead of the pack. But such jealousy is self-destructive. Like the city ruler who wished to reward 2 men who were jealous enemies. He offered to grant each a wish. The first to choose would get exactly what he asked; the other would get twice that. That put the 1st man in a quandary. If he asked $2M the other guy would get $4M. So after much thought, he asked that one of his eyes be put out! That’s worldly wisdom. It can never rejoice with others – must always be one step ahead. So we ask – are we jealous for the reputation and glory of God – or are we driven to advance our own interests? Worldly wise, or heavenly wise? B. It is Selfishly Ambitious – It’s one Greek word (ἐριθεία). It is the desire to get ahead by any means necessary. It is the default setting of our hearts, and it is easy to slip back into that mode, even as a believer. Prime example. Paul in jail in Rome. Should find support from local Xns, right? Instead, “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry” (Phil 1:15a). They were jealous of Paul’s reputation and the attention paid him. So they sought to outdo him – better stories, funnier jokes, more conversions. But they were motivated by earthly wisdom – seeking their own advancement, not God’s. Paul, by contrast, says in Phil 1:18: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.” You couldn’t get a better contrast between earthly wisdom and divine wisdom. C. It is Boastfully Untruthful – Another way to spot worldly wisdom: It promotes its own ideology above God’s revelation. Boastfully! “I’ve discovered a new truth here. Listen up!” That’s its message. Always beware of people with new theological truth. Most likely it’s worldly wisdom. For example, Robt Schuller, in Self-Esteem: The New Reformation (even the title is boastful) says, attacking the Protestant Reformation: “It is precisely at this point that classical theology has erred in its insistence that theology be ‘God-centered’ and not ‘man-centered.’ ” Really? So the Bible is primarily about men and not about God? Really? He goes on: “Success is to be defined as the gift of self-esteem that God gives us as a reward for our sacrificial service in building self-esteem in others. Win or lose: If we follow God’s plan as faithfully as we can, we will feel good about ourselves. That is success!” So do your best. Build self-esteem in yourselves and in others, and you are a winner! No repentance; no atonement; no finding our value “in Christ”; no truth – just boastful untruth. This is where earthly wisdom leads. Main point: It promotes self. In Num 11 Moses took 70 men to his tent outside the camp of Israel to appoint them as helpers. The Spirit fell on them and they prophesied. But Num 11:26: “Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27) And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28) And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” 29) But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” Joshua will be a great leader – but here, he’s operating by worldly wisdom. Jealous for himself and Moses. But Moses is operating by divine wisdom – jealous for God’s will no matter who it comes thru. Joshua is learning – a leader must never confuse himself with God, but rather surrender to God. Robert Murray McCheyne was wise. In 1839 he went on an preaching tour of Scotland. Meanwhile revival broke out in his own church under the ministry of Wm. C. Burns. How would you react. A little jealous? Not McCheyne. He wrote Burns: “You remember it was the prayer of my heart when we parted that you might be a thousand fold more blessed to the people than every my ministry had been.” Operating by divine wisdom seeking God’s glory. III. Its End (What does it produce?) V. 16b: “there will be disorder and every vile practice.” Earthly wisdom often looks good at the start. But in the end, it inevitably brings chaos and every kind of evil you can think of. People don’t do wicked things because they think they are stupid; they do them bc they think they’re smart; they’re not. Main point: It produces alienation. When Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit, it seemed wise. Gen 3:6: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.” It looked good. But it was worldly wisdom, that led to alienation everywhere. Broken relationships between God and man, man and woman, man and nature and man within himself. What a mess. Soon there was bitter jealousy between brothers leading to the first murder. And every human evil followed – all from worldly wisdom putting self above God. Victor Frankl, a Jewish boy taken to the Nazi concentration camps at the age of 15 later wrote: “The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of this theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment – or, as the Nazis liked to say, "Of Blood and Soil." [no God] I'm absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz and Treblinka were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.” Proponents of earthly wisdom. And he’s right. It always leads to alienation – whether big or small. It alienates from God and from others. Conc -- So what’s the answer? Divine wisdom. Seeking God’s interests above our own. Mt 10:39: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Seek to live for self, and you will inevitably fall short. Seek His glory, and wonder of wonders, you get your own thrown in for free. Actor and essayist Ben Stein says it this way: “We are not responsible for the operation of the universe…. God is real, not a fiction, and when we turn over our lives to Him, he takes far better care of us than we could ever do for ourselves. In a word, we make ourselves sane when we fire ourselves as the directors of the movie of our lives and turn the power over to Him.” A modern parable: The lion, filled with jealousy and selfish ambition gathered all the animals of the jungle one day. Bypassing the small ones, he went straight to the bear: “Who’s the king of the jungle?” Bear replied, “Why you are, of course.” Next he went to the tiger, “Who is the king of the jungle?” Tiger replied, “Everyone knows it is you, mighty lion.” Next was the elephant. He asked, “Who is the king of the jungle?” In reply, the elephant grabbed him in in his trunk, whirled him around, slammed him into a tree, pounded him on the ground, dragged him thru a lake and dumped him on the shore. Bruised and battered, the lion struggled to his feet and said, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer is no reason to get mean about it!” The moral: Seeking your own will kill you. Earthly wisdom. Surrender to God instead, and you get your own thrown in. Divine wisdom. Let’s pray.
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