The High Life

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, June 2, 2019 0 comments

by Logan Ames

You’ve likely heard the saying, “Knowledge is power." In a world that does not honor God or follow the teachings of His Word, that power is basically limited to money, popularity, and opportunities to display them. You might get a lot of praise for what you know and you might even be able to teach others so that they will know what you know. But ultimately, the value it adds to your life is minimal. However, knowledge the way God sees it and created it within us benefits us in a way that betters our lives now and also prepares us for eternity. Proverbs 1:7 tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction." In other words, it is irrelevant how much head knowledge you possess because you really don’t know anything until you understand that every day you’re given and every breath you take depend on God allowing them to happen. Once you have this established in your heart, then all other knowledge is submitted to that reality and enhances your understanding of God and His ways.

If you follow the television game show Jeopardy!, you’re probably aware that it is currently being dominated by James Holzhauer, who is on the second-longest winning streak of all-time on the show but is already very close to surpassing the mark for the most money won on it. As of the writing of this post, he has won 27 consecutive games and amassed over two million dollars in winnings. He is receiving a lot of praise and making the news cycles on media outlets that normally wouldn’t cover game show contestants. I don’t know whether or not Mr. Holzhauer fears the Lord, but I do know that all of this is a giant waste if he does not. As he has been asked about what he will do with the money, he has shared that he and his wife plan to pick twelve cities in the world and go to a different one each month and live there for an entire month. It is his money and he is free to do what he wants with it. In fact, I’d love such an opportunity. But without a fear of the Lord, how much would that really profit someone? I’ve been to Israel and all over the United States, including Hawaii, yet those trips wouldn’t have mattered much without my realization that the Creator of the universe is unveiling just a portion of it to me.

In James 3:13-16, the writer is still addressing the issue of many in his intended audience apparently wanting to be teachers. We know this because James is talking about those who are “wise and understanding.” The Greek word used there is sophos, which was the technical term the Jews generally used to describe someone who was a teacher or rabbi. What James is asking his audience is, “Who here thinks they have wisdom and understanding that would be on par with that of a scholar?” It’s for those people that James has another very important question: “Does your conduct show it?” Obviously, I’m paraphrasing James’ actual words in this section. Nevertheless, it is clear that he wants prospective teachers to understand what “the high life” they’re after REALLY looks like.

We may all be attracted to the life of a respected teacher and the accolades it seems to bring, but James wants to be clear to the early believers that wisdom only matters if it is shown “by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom” (v. 13). If someone claims to be wise and understanding, it is reasonable to expect to see a living wisdom, in much the same way James discussed faith earlier in his letter. Just as faith without deeds is dead, wisdom without deeds is actually foolishness. It makes one arrogantly think he is better off than he really is. The Apostle Paul even says in 1 Corinthians 8:1 that “we all possess knowledge, but knowledge puffs up while love builds up." The NLT version says that knowledge “makes us feel important," and the CEV translation says that it “makes us proud of ourselves." And in every translation, it is the love in action that results from true, godly wisdom that helps others and grows the church.

True, godly wisdom must include some level of humility. When we think we are smarter and wiser than everyone else, that is when we begin to trust our own minds over God Himself. When we realize that God’s ways and thoughts are so much higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9), we are ready to submit to Him regardless of how much we “know” and we desire to do what pleases Him, namely loving and serving others. In the classic ‘80s hit, “Back in the High Life Again” by Steve Winwood, the subject of the song talks of realizing his past mistakes, being humbled by that realization, and looking forward to his comeback. When knowledge has puffed us up and made us lose sight of reality, we need the Lord to humble us. It is not fun, but it is the only way to understand what true wisdom is.

In verses 14-16, James turns his attention toward the results of someone whose wisdom is pointless to the kingdom of God. When someone has wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic," it results in “bitter envy and selfish ambition." James is saying that if you want to know whether your wisdom or someone else’s wisdom is from God or worldly, all you have to do is pay attention to their conduct. If you see the bitter envy and selfish ambition that James speaks of, it’s indicative of someone who does not fear the Lord, and therefore, is an utter fool rather than a wise teacher. James says in verse 16 that wherever you have these things, “you find disorder and every evil practice." Wisdom that comes from humility leads us away from evil, brings clarity and order to the Christian walk, and puts the needs of others above one’s own desires.

We all must take an inventory of our conduct and then be honest with ourselves about whether we are wise or foolish. The foolishness of the world which James almost sarcastically refers to as “wisdom” is described by those three adjectives in verse 15 - earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. This is not what we want. It is earthly in the sense that it only has this world in its view and not the eternal kingdom of God. It is unspiritual in the sense that it is carnal, only desiring what is pleasing to the flesh. It is demonic in the sense that it is inspired by Satan’s demons, and the influence of demonic forces within a person’s soul is what keeps him chasing after it. If you have found yourself chasing after the things of this world and all that knowledge and power can bring you before you die, I encourage you to drop these senseless pursuits, humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and wait for Him to lift you up (James 4:10). Only then will you truly experience “the high life” that comes through godly wisdom.

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