Sabbath School Lesson for November 15-21, 2014
Although our lesson appears to be about wisdom, I think it safe to say that humility will be a dominant theme too, because humility is the first and main ingredient needed for this heavenly wisdom. We will see the difference between heavenly and worldly wisdom, and how humility is included in our search to be wise.
As usual, James does more than give us a glowing definition of this attribute he calls heavenly wisdom. He leads us to see how we can acquire it ourselves by being humble. He even leads us to the way to become humble.
Key Text: “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” James 4:10 NASB
It must have required an enormous amount of humility on the part of James to finally accept the gospel message coming from the lips of his little brother Jesus. James, by the time he writes this epistle, had become a prominent figure in the early Christian church. In the book of Acts, we see him delivering major decisions of the Jerusalem council. What a struggle it must have been for him to retain that initial humility that led him to accept Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior.
As we can see, James knows what he’s talking about when he delivers this discourse about humility. He’s lived it. It was something he himself must have struggled with. But he also saw how God always comes through on His promises. Those who are humble will someday, either on this earth or in heaven, be exalted above anything they thought possible.
Sunday: 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
Notice HOW James says we are known as wise and understanding. We usually think of a wise person as SAYING wise things. But James indicates here that words aren’t what count; it’s the conduct and works of an individual that show he is humble.
The phrase “wise and understanding” is used once in the Old Testament. Moses tells the Israelites that if they observe all God’s laws, they will be seen as a “wise and understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:6).
The word “meekness” has a somewhat negative meaning to English speakers. We think of someone who is meek as someone who is weak. Someone who doesn’t stand up for himself, who is soft-spoken and shy. But the term for “meekness” here, according to Strong’s, also means humility. Humility is fortunately a trait that is looked upon with favor. So when we see the word “meek” in the Bible, think instead of being “humble”.
Discussion Questions: Read James 3:13 again. What kind of conduct and works would you expect to see from a wise person?
How does how we treat others show that we are wise?
Of what relevance is having a PhD or high intelligence rating to our being wise? Should these things make us wiser? How can they?
Monday: Two Kinds of Wisdom
James does us a great favor by contrasting two kinds of wisdom: worldly wisdom and heavenly. Read James 3:14-18 and see how these wisdoms differ. One is:
- full of envy, self-seeking, earthly, sensual, demonic, confusing
The other is:
- pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good deeds, without partiality or hypocrisy
It’s not difficult to see which behavior is preferred. In addition to being humble like Jesus, wise people are also forgiving (part of being merciful), willing to overlook the faults of others and not be critical or judgmental of them.
Although James doesn’t mention the Holy Spirit directly, he definitely alludes to it by talking about bearing fruits (which are given by the Spirit–Galatians 5:22-23). All the attributes which he says are needed to be wise are traits that the Spirit has been designated to give.
Besides, by referring to the demonic side of worldly wisdom, James would naturally also recognize the spiritual side of heavenly wisdom. So with all James’ focus on obedience and works, there is still the undercurrent of the Holy Spirit working in and through us in order to achieve this state of heavenly wisdom.
Discussion Questions: How do we keep ourselves from falling into the ways of the world and losing our heavenly wisdom?
Review the characteristics of both wisdoms again. Of what significance is the fact that each description refers to relationships with others? Pride seems to focus on one’s self, but in what sense does it also impact our interactions with those around us?
Tuesday: Cause of Conflict and Quarrels
Continuing on in James chapter 4, we are given the reason why even those in the church experience conflict and struggles, or “wars and fightings” as James puts it. He puts the blame squarely on our sinful desires and lusts, leading to coveting and murder.
Since he’s talking about the early church, murder probably refers to the broader meaning which includes anger. (Remember the Sermon on the Mount.) It also could have meant betrayals among the brethren, which often led to arrests and even death during that time of persecution.
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” James 4:1-3 NKJV
Therefore the spiritual trauma that happens in some churches is nothing more than an extension of the individual Christian’s struggle with sins of the flesh. Paul describes these sinful desires as making war against the higher, spiritual desires of the heart.
The only solution to this problem, according to James earlier in chapter 3, is for the church to acquire that heavenly wisdom that is so precious and necessary in our battle with the world.
Discussion Questions: Consider this quote: “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. How many church conflicts stem basically from seeking the highest place, and how does love of self fit in with this condition?
How can church members be conditioned to disregard self and take personal responsibility for conflicts within the church?
Many times throughout the Gospels we read Jesus’ statement to “ask and it shall be given you” (Matthew 7:7, 21:22, Mark 11:23, Luke 11:9). What does James mean then when he talks about asking “amiss” in James 4:3? Are there actually prayers that God will not answer for us? Or is He answering “no” at these times?
Wednesday: Friendship With the World
After calling the church out on several conditions of the heart which are making them war against each other, committing such sins as murder and coveting, James even goes so far as to call them adulterers and adulteresses. Could the church and we as individuals be breaking the seventh commandment without even realizing it?
Here’s how he put it:
“Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously?” But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud. But gives grace to the humble.’ “ James 4:4-6 NKJV
Have we forgotten texts such as Jeremiah 3:6-10, where backsliding Israel is called a harlot by consorting with foreign gods and worshiping their idols? The Lord was even at the point of considering divorce. Talk about breakdown in a marriage!
James’ reference to being a “friend of the world” should make us pause and remember that our God is a “jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). Even flirtations with these lusts of the flesh are going to affect our relationship with God.
How can we separate ourselves from these worldly influences which pull us away from God? James says clearly that grace is the answer, but grace is given to the humble, not the proud (v. 6). So we are shown that humility is the prerequisite for grace.
Discussion Questions: Read the definition of love in I Corinthians 13:4-7. Where does humility fit in with this description of love? What does love look like in a humble person versus a proud person?
How is our humility affected when the Spirit recognizes it in us?
How does being humble open us up to receive grace? Humility is considers a spiritual grace in itself, so how can God expect us to manifest that grace BEFORE receiving it? [Thursday’s section may help clarify this.]
Thursday: Submission to God
James is clear about the kind of humility that is needed to receive grace. His very next verses reveal the process needed to mend and maintain our relationship with God, to quit playing the “harlot” with God’s affections and repair the damage we have caused by our flirtations with the world.
“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” James 4:7-10
Doesn’t this present the kind of behavior we would expect of one who had committed adultery, when they go to their spouse and seek forgiveness? The hurt spouse wants to feel remorse in the confession, wants to hear true sorrow for what they’ve done, and wants to see sincere resolve to give up the adultery.
Since James is writing this epistle to professed believers in the church, we must assume that most of them have already submitted to God at some point. Therefore his counsel to resist the devil and submit to God must represent actions of an ongoing nature. Satan’s temptations are all around us. We must constantly be on guard and following these steps in order to protect our relationship with God.
Here are the steps of repentance that James has laid out for us:
- Draw near to God.
- Cleanse your hands (our actions) and purify your hearts (our thoughts).
- Lament, mourn, and weep for your shortcomings.
All of this begins and ends with humility. But verse 8 concludes with the promise that He will lift you up. What a loving, forgiving spiritual partner we have in our Lord!
Discussion Questions: Read Psalm 24:3-6 and discuss how it mirrors the same steps of repentance that James laid out for us.
What must we give up in order to serve God with an undivided heart?
Why is humility so important in the life of a Christian? And why is pride so deadly to our Christian experience?
James outlines the steps of repentance that are necessary for us to gain heavenly wisdom, as opposed to worldly wisdom or foolishness.
Humility is required for us to come to God for repentance, but the Spirit causes it to grow profusely as we mature in our Christian walk. We are then given the power to present ourselves as humble, and hence loving, to all those around us.
The two traits mentioned the most are humility and pride, and how they battle for our souls. Humility leads to love and pride leads to hate, so we can see how these traits sum up the struggle between God and Satan.
Wise people not only speak wise, but they live it. It shows in how they treat their fellowman.
Friendship with the world is considered spiritual adultery in the eyes of God. We must keep our eyes on our Savior, in order to remain wise in the Lord.
Do all you can to be true to God this week by:
- Taking more time to study and memorize His word.
- Praying for others, perhaps with a prayer partner or by starting a prayer journal.
- Making an effort to resolve any conflict you may have with a neighbor, family or church member.
Next week: One Lawgiver and Judge
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