Friday, January 23, 2015

Pastoral Ponderings ~ The Selfless Fear of the Wise and Understanding

          As God has been unfolding the theme of, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure,”[1]it has become clear that the only way we can do that is with the transforming experience of the new birth.[2]The only way we can “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,”[3] is if we put off the old self, renew our minds, and put on the new self.[4]
          My consideration of how necessary it is that we rely on God for the working out of his will in or lives led me to this positive exhortation from James, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.”[5]
          It is obvious, throughout the whole of Scripture that God seeks out those who are “wise and understanding.” Proverbs speak of the fear of the LORD as the beginning of wisdom, knowledge and understanding,[6] just as Paul calls us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. There is something about us being wise and understanding that is such a reflection of God that this is his constant work in us.
          It is no wonder that God is so clear to describe what Worldlings are like so that we will stop trying to be like them. He describes them with things like:
·         Futile minds
·         Darkened understanding
·         Alienation from God
·         Ignorance
·         Hardness of heart
·         Callousness
·         Yielding to sensuality
·         Greedy for impurity. [7]
          In other words, one way that the believer in Jesus Christ holds the wisdom and understanding of God in such high regard is to see how ignorant the Worldlings are who are living in bondage to the flesh. By the time we hear God’s word telling us that there is no room in the church for selfish ambition, conceit, or looking out only for our own interests, things that express the ignorance and hardness of Worldlings, we have been so surrounded by the true teaching that the fear of the LORD brings us into the wisdom and understanding and knowledge that enables us to truly live for and with God.
          What we must appreciate is that there is nothing in this wisdom or understanding that comes from the sark, the flesh, the self that wants to dominate our lives with ignorance. In fact, as James shows that the people who are wise and understanding show “the meekness of wisdom,” by their “good conduct,” Paul has shown how the Worldlings show their ignorance and hardness of heart through their bad conduct. This is, in fact, what James is showing in the Scripture at hand, that the kind of wisdom we have will show in the kind of things we do. There is an earthly, unspiritual, demonic wisdom that produces all kinds of “disorder and every vile practice.”[8] There is a heavenly wisdom, “the wisdom from above,”[9]that is, “full of mercy and good fruits.”
          By the time James identifies, “who is wise and understanding among you,” there is no doubt that this is the will and work of God in our lives and churches. God is at work to give us the will for wisdom and understanding, and to give us the work of gaining wisdom and understanding through the fear of Yahweh. He is at work to lead us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, clearly identifying a life that expresses the fear of the LORD that is the beginning of our wisdom and understanding.
          However, we can never limit this fear of the LORD that is the beginning of wisdom and understanding to the picture of a teacher we meet with who teaches us, and then we go off to do the things we are taught. This is not an independent picture. In fact, it is the sark that interprets such Bible teachings as independent and autonomous, while the new heart God has given us seeks out the unity and harmony and togetherness of the body of Christ because that is what God is working into us to will and to work for his good pleasure.[10]        
          What James is telling the church is that, if we have “the meekness of wisdom” at all, and we are the “wise and understanding” of the church, we will show our “works” of wisdom by our “good conduct.” A tree is known by its fruit,[11]and the fruit of wisdom and understanding is “good conduct.”
          When we keep this picture of wisdom, understanding, and good conduct together, we see that the reality of wisdom within us, which has come to us through the fear of Yahweh, is the relational experience described all through Scripture, and very highly exalted in the New Testament. Eternal life is to know God.[12]Working out our salvation with fear and trembling is in this eternal-life relationship with God where we know him as the one who is working in us to will and to work for his good pleasure and our complete joy.
          When Paul was teaching us how to live in fellowship with God, he said that this would mean we must put off all selfish ambition, conceit, and self-interest. James adds to this teaching when he says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.”[13]
          If we have the heart transformation that enables us to live for God, any “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” is contrary to the work of God in our lives. Therefore, we are not to boast that we are handling things in our lives with
bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. To promote such expressions of the sark is to “be false to the truth.” The truth we received in Jesus teaches us to be like Jesus, so any characteristics that are contrary to him come from the sark, not the Spirit.
          James does not leave this with “jealousy” alone, but qualifies it as “bitter” jealousy, because he wants to emphasize the truth of what jealousy in the church is like, and what it does. He does not speak of “ambition” alone, but identifies this ambition as “selfish.” It is not the ambition of a good heart, but the ambition of a bad heart.
          When there is jealousy that others have something we do not have, it will divide us because we are nurturing negative feelings towards those people. When there is selfish ambition, the promoting of self divides the church by nurturing a focus on ourselves to the inclusion of the rest of the church. As each person focuses on themselves, and their own interests, there is such a divided focus that there is invariably a divided church.
          James continues, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”[14] The point is that, if we allow the kind of “wisdom” where everyone looks out for themselves, it creates a “disorder” that is contrary to the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,[15] and it makes a breeding ground for “every vile practice” that is contrary to the righteousness and purity of the nature of Christ within us.
          When I think of this in relation to abused people who are still thinking of what abusive people do to them, the issue here is not being a doormat to abusers, but whether we are operating out of bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. At least in part, we could say that, if we respond to the abusive, unjust things going on around us with the same sarky qualities that cause people to do the things we hate, we are going to destroy ourselves by drinking the same poison that has poisoned their souls.
          God is not calling abused and traumatized people to let other people abuse us with their bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. This is not a tradeoff between whether we are the ones who rule the church with bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, or whether we let other people rule the church with bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. If the church allows anyone to run the church with bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, it will fill the church with discord and vile practices.
          The apostles were working to keep the church from using the fruit of the flesh to run the church. Anything sarky would ruin the church. Even those who come to Christ out of abuse, and need help to get over the trauma they experienced, still have a choice whether they are going to handle these things in the flesh or in the Spirit. There is a way that traumatized people can get healing that leads to joyful fellowship, but it is by the Spirit, never by anything of the flesh.
          What God is clearly driving home to me, and applying to very personal issues of my life, is that there is no excuse whatsoever for the child of God to do anything in the sark. He has poured out his Spirit into the church. He has given us a new nature that is created to be holy and righteous. The sark will keep trying to tell us what we cannot do, or urging us to do things we shouldn’t. The church that bands together to work out our salvation with fear and trembling will always find that God is working in us to will and to work for his good pleasure and our complete joy, so let’s abide in Jesus Christ and join him in his work.

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, Canada, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Philippians 2:12-13
[2] I Peter 1:3-5
[3] Philippians 2:3-4
[5] James 3:13
[6] Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33
[7] Ephesians 4:17-19
[8] James 3:16
[9] James 3:17
[10] Romans 12:16; 15:5; Ephesians 4:13; Colossians 3:14; I Peter 3:8
[11] Matthew 12:33; Luke 6:44
[12] John 17:3
[13] James 3:14
[14] James 3:16
[15] Ephesians 4:3

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