Wednesday, 2 October 2013
Enticed By Good. James 3:1-18
Have you ever noticed how fascinating the bad guy (or girl) can be?
And how bland the good?
In movies and books evil entices us. The villain’s motives seem conflicted, her humor ironic, her appearance mysterious, her powers multi-faceted. Set-backs leave her unperturbed. Her next move is brilliant and utterly surprising.
By contrast the good guy (or girl) is, well, good. Period.
It’s as if the director took the colorful canvas of the villain and simply painted over it with a thick coat of white.
Destroying Our Fascination
James has painted two canvases for us in this portion of his letter. First he wants to help us see evil for what it is.
In 3:1-12 he cautions us about our words. Our tongue is powerful, with potential for great good and terrible evil. With broad strokes he paints three vignettes of the good:
- the Word taught
- the horse trained
- the ship guided
The canvas in front of us begins to fill with scenes of constructive action. The Word goes forth to bear fruit. The horse goes forth to plow the field or win the race. The ship goes forth to complete its mission of trade and travel. But…
But the destructive potential of our words is even greater. A spark at the corner of the canvas grows into a flame. Within minutes all the good that took hours to paint and months to accomplish is reduced to ashes.
Evil is not interesting–it’s nothing. It is a negation of all that is good. It’s as bland as a bully. James uses vivid images to destroy our fascination with evil.
He wants us to want the good.
Painting the Good Man
Now that he has our attention, James pulls out a new canvas, asking as he paints:
“Who is wise and understanding among you?
By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” James 3:13
Around the borders he begins painting scenes of good works in all their endless variety of time, place, action, and outcome. Meals brought, sick helped, counsel given, conflict ended, riddles solved, mercy extended.
But. He turns to us, suspending his paintbrush, to make it very clear that these works, this wisdom doesn’t come from the world around us.
But. He returns to the canvas, and begins painting a portrait in the center. The wisdom from above isn’t bland or colorless. It’s a 7-fold, 360 degree portrait of the good man.
“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” James 3:17
It is Jesus we see before us. The good man sent down from above, not just to show us goodness in his unceasing good works, but to die for our badness.
His goodness makes us gasp. We want it. We want him.
But how do we get him and his goodness? There’s really only one action step. James has been pointing to it all along:
- Ask (if you lack wisdom) 1:5
- Ask (believing God is good) 1:6
- Ask (because every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father) 1:17
The “wisdom from above” that James describes is not just a virtue, it’s a person. It’s his own Son, sent from above so he could become “to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30). Now that the Son has ascended, he has asked the Father, too, and the Father has sent the Spirit.
Ask. Ask. Keep asking. As often and as loudly as you recognize the need for that wisdom from above which has captured your heart.
Father, Son, and Spirit stand ready to help.