Those with some scriptural training or higher status in the faith community will be tempted to count themselves qualified as “wise.” Those who feel inadequate in spiritual things might hope they won’t be noticed. James’s answer to his own question, though, comes as a surprise. As human beings, we tend to measure wisdom as having all the right answers to the hard questions. Instead, James suggests, wisdom is as wisdom does. He echoes what he wrote about faith and good works in chapter 2: “I will show you my faith by my good works.”
A truly wise person will demonstrate the humility of wisdom by his good works. The true test of God’s kind of wisdom is a life well lived, a life spent doing good works for others. As the wisdom book of Proverbs repeatedly makes clear, humility is an essential component of living wisely (Proverbs 1:5–8). Without setting ourselves aside, we cannot hope to become the wise servants God has called us to be
Jesus Christ is easily the most important figure in the history of mankind. No matter how one may regard Him, he will eventually have to concede this point. Jesus’ life and death and the teachings attributed to Him have influenced the course of human history more than any other man who has ever lived—more than Alexander, any of the Caesars, Charlemagne, Mohammed, Napoleon, Washington, Marx, Freud or Ghandi. More people’s lives are influenced by His doctrines; more books are written concerning Him; more speeches (sermons) are made about Him than all other historical figures combined.
Jesus was the world’s greatest Prophet and Teacher. He was God, yet He took on Himself the nature of mankind. He has been the religious inspiration for the whole of North and South America as well as Europe for almost two thousand years. His religion, Christianity, has dominated and molded the destinies of virtually the entire world culturally, socially, politically, academically, technologically, economically and militarily.
Therefore, we can hardly undertake a more important task than to inquire into what Jesus really stood for. What did He teach? This task goes far beyond the scope of this series, which will delve only into His most basic teachings, as found in the Sermon on the Mount, regarding the nature of those who will be in His Kingdom. Even these basic characteristics present what some have called an impossible standard to attain; there is no doubt they are extremely high. Though they may be impossible for a carnal man to reach, with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26; Mark 10:27). He can enable us to meet and live these admirable attributes.
“It is not the bee’s touching of the flower that gathers honey, but her abiding for a time upon the flower that draws out the sweet. It is not he who reads most, but he who meditates most — who will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.”
(26) And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
Consider how much the lust for power is a major motivating force in this world. It can be seen operating in families, in workplaces, in churches, and in commerce—and possibly, it is most visible in politics. We can see in all of these instances that people are doing whattheycan to obtain power, often by any means available, fair or foul. They are just following the influence
1 John 5:19) of the one who first lusted for power: “I will exalt my throne above the stars ofGod; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High’” (Isaiah 14:13-14).
Whilethe worldis struggling to get power, God promises to give it to us as a byproduct of enduring to the end. In this life, the only power we have to strive for is power over ourselves. In the next,Godwill provide the rest.
Those who seek power in this world miss the fact that our life is but for a moment. Even if they do receive the power they seek, it lasts only for an instant in comparison. Consider how long our power will last if we endure to the end: “The LORDknows the days of the upright, and their inheritance shall be forever” (Psalm 37:18
Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better (Ecclesiastes 7:3).
When sorrow comes under the power of Divine grace, it works out a manifold ministry in our lives. Sorrow reveals unknown depths in the soul, and unknown capabilities of experience and service. Gay, trifling people are always shallow, and never suspect the little meannesses in their nature. Sorrow is God’s plowshare that turns up and subsoils the depths of the soul, that it may yield richer harvests. If we had never fallen, or were in a glorified state, then the strong torrents of Divine joy would be the normal force to open up all our souls’ capacities; but in a fallen world, sorrow, with despair taken out of it, is the chosen power to reveal ourselves to ourselves. Hence it is sorrow that makes us think deeply, long, and soberly.
Sorrow makes us go slower and more considerately, and introspect our motives and dispositions. It is sorrow that opens up within us the capacities of the heavenly life, and it is sorrow that makes us willing to launch our capacities on a boundless sea of service for God and our fellows.
God never uses anybody to a large degree, until after He breaks that one all to pieces. Joseph had more sorrow than all the other sons of Jacob, and it led him out into a ministry of bread for all nations. For this reason, the Holy Spirit said of him, “Joseph is a fruitful bough…by a well, whose branches run over the wall” (Gen. 49:22). It takes sorrow to widen the soul.
Answer: Each of the twelve sons of Israel received a blessing from his father, Jacob, just before Jacob’s death. The twelve sons were the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the blessing contained prophetic information about the future of each tribe. In the case of the tribe of Reuben, Jacob prophesied, “Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it” (Genesis 49:3–4). In addition to referring to the future of the tribe of Reuben, the prophecy contains within it several lessons for all of us.
Reuben, the firstborn of the twelve sons, was to Jacob his “might, the first sign of my strength” (Genesis 49:3), indicating that to him were all the rights and prerogatives of a firstborn son. At first, he excelled in honor and power, as is fitting the firstborn son, but Jacob declares that Reuben “will no longer excel” (verse 4) due to his sin of incest with Bilhah, his father’s concubine wife (Genesis 35:22). Although that sin was committed forty years prior, there was left an indelible spot on Reuben’s character and that of his posterity. By committing this uncleanness with his father’s wife, there would be reproach upon his tribe and the family, to whom he ought to have been an example and a blessing. He forfeited the prerogatives of the birthright, and his dying father demoted him, although he did not disown or disinherit him. He would still have all the privileges of a son, but not of the firstborn.
Jacob’s sad prophecy for Reuben certainly came true. No judge, prophet, ruler, or prince came from that tribe, nor any person of renown except Dathan and Abiram, who were noted for their rebellion against Moses. Reuben’s tribe chose a settlement on the other side Jordan, a further indication of the loss of godly influence on his brothers to which his birthright entitled him. Although Reuben was the firstborn, the kingdom was given to Judah and the priesthood to Levi, leaving Reuben’s tribe to be small and non-influential.
Further, Reuben was “unstable as water” (some versions translate it “turbulent as water”), and in this phrase we find several lessons for all Christians. For one thing, Reuben’s virtue was unstable; he did not have control of himself and his own appetites. The charge of instability could refer to his being sometimes very regular and orderly, while at other times wild and undisciplined. As Christians, we are to be in control of our flesh and its appetites and desires at all times. Most importantly, we are to be steadfast in our faith and not “tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).
We also learn from Reuben that those who dabble in sin must not expect to save their reputation or maintain a positive influence upon others. Although we know our sins were nailed to the cross and we are forever forgiven for past sins, we still have to suffer the consequences of those sins, which include remorse and a loss of reputation and influence. Reuben’s sin left an indelible mark upon him and his family. As Christians, we must understand that dishonor is a wound that will not be healed without a scar.
Luther was once found at a moment of peril and fear, when he had need to grasp unseen strength, sitting in an abstracted mood tracing on the table with his finger the words, “Vivit! vivit!” (“He lives! He lives!”). It is our hope for ourselves, and for His truth, and for mankind. Men come and go; leaders, teachers, thinkers speak and work for a season, and then fall silent and impotent. He abides. They die, but He lives. They are lights kindled, and, therefore, sooner or later quenched; but He is the true light from which they draw all their brightness, and He shines for evermore
WITHIN THE CENTER of my ring / I found myself, and that was everything,” the poem says. Whatever my twenty-year-old self was, it was the pivot on which the circle of my life revolved. I do not think that I was a more selfish person than most. Through such unhappiness as I had known myself, I had a feeling for the unhappiness of others, and at least to those I liked I had it in me to be a good friend. But I was, as I have said, centered on myself. The tree, the cloud, the sun I knew there was a wider world beyond myself and my small circle: the world that Saint Francis praised God for, the world that had marked with such sadness and pity and weariness the face of Jesus in Da Vinci’s study. And I knew that somewhere out there, or deep beneath, there might well be God for all I knew. But all of that seemed very remote, mysterious and unreal compared with the immediate and absorbing reality of myself. And though I think I knew even then that finding that self and being that self and protecting and nurturing and enjoying that self was not the “everything” I called it in the poem, by and large it was everything that, to me, really mattered. That, in any event, was the surface I floated on and in many ways float on still as to one degree or another we all of us both do and must lest otherwise we get lost or drown in the depths. But to lose track of those depths to the extent that I was inclined to—to lose track of the deep needs beyond our own needs and those of our closest friends; to lose track of the deep mystery beyond or at the heart of the mystery of our separate selves—is to lose track also of what our journey is a journey toward and of the sacredness and high adventure of our journey. Nor, if we have our eyes, ears, hearts open at all, does life allow us to lose track of the depths for long
If God has given His Son to die for us, let us beware of doubting His kindness and love in any painful providence of our daily life. Let us never suppose that He can give us anything that is not really for our good.
Let us remember the words of Paul, “He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all—how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things.” (Rom. 8:32.)
Let us see in every sorrow and trouble of our earthly pilgrimage, the hand of Him who gave Christ to die for our sins. That hand can never smite us except in love. He who gave us His only begotten Son, will never withhold anything from us that is really for our good. Let us lean back on this thought and be content. Let us say to ourselves in the darkest hour of trial, “This also is ordered by Him who gave Christ to die for my sins. It cannot be wrong. It is done in love. It must be well.”
~ J.C. Ryle