Faith that Gets Its Hands Dirty part 7
How to Relate Wisely to Others
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
February 17, 2008


Main Passage: James 3:13-18 (NLT)

Every day you encounter many different kinds of people. Some are very delightful. Some are very difficult. Some of them are inspiring. Some of them are irritating. Some are fascinating, some are intimidating. Some build you up, some tear you down. The relationships that are healthy enrich your life, the less-than-healthy ones can devastate it. Because the fact is, a lot of the problems we have in life are due to personality conflicts. We don't get along with people.

And you know what? When your relationships are bad, life stinks. Life is miserable. You may be doing well in your career, you may have lots of money, you may have lots of opportunities… but if your relationships are bad, none of that matters. You're still miserable.

Because that’s what relationships are like. Our interpersonal relationships are very important. And when we don’t get along with other people, it ruins everything. It's very important that we learn how to get along with other people.

This morning, we’re continuing in our message series on Developing a Faith that Gets It’s Hands Dirty –a faith that’s not afraid to get involved in the messiness of life. And through this series, we’ve been working our way through the New Testament book of James. We’re up to chapter three, and in our passage today, James gives us some very practical advice about how to manage our interpersonal relationships. Here’s the key verse, the very last verse of chapter three. Read it aloud with me…

James 3:18 (NLT)
And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.

James recognizes the fact that every day in every relationship, you're planting seeds. Seeds of anger, seeds of jealousy, seeds of peace, seeds of confidence, seeds of insecurity… many different kinds of seeds. And whatever seeds you are planting will ultimately determine what you will reap in your relationships. And he specifically talks about planting seeds of peace that will lead to peaceful relationships. And that’s what we want, isn’t it? Jesus Himself is called the Prince of Peace, He came to bring us peace between ourselves and God and between ourselves and others—He wants us to experience peace. So how can I participate in His plan? How can I plant seeds of peace? How can I be a peacemaker? How can I have peaceful relationships?

James gives us the answer to that. He says the answer is “wisdom.” He says that we need to learn how to be wise in the way we act toward people. Because the truth is, all too often we’re not that wise, are we? Often we treat people in very foolish ways and we provoke the exact opposite behavior of what we would like. And a lot of even smart people are not too wise when it comes to relationships. They may be educated but they don't have wisdom. They may have all kinds of degrees and diplomas but they're a washout with relationships.

This passage in James chapter three is all about how to use wisdom in your relationships. How to act wisely toward others. So let’s start with a definition. What is real wisdom? James tells us that…

What Is Wisdom?

True wisdom is a lifestyle.

It has nothing to do with your intelligence; It has everything to do with your character and how that’s expressed through relationships.

James 3:13 (NLT)
If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom.

Underlines those words, “prove it.” Imagine James coming here to Sunrise and asking, “Who of you is wise? If you are wise, then raise your hand.” And of course you’re all a bunch of wise guys so you’d all raise your hand. And then James would say, “Okay, then prove it! Show it to me. Show me your wisdom by the way you live.” Because wisdom is a lifestyle. It's not a matter of what you say with your lips but a matter of what you live with your life. It’s about how you get along with other people.

“Wisdom has to do with oneself and other people. It does not necessarily have to do with intelligence. It does not have to do with a high IQ or academic achievement. There are many men and women who are highly intellectual but cannot get along well with other people.”
~ Charles Swindoll

True wisdom… a wisdom from above… a wisdom that comes from God… shows in how you interact with others. It’s a lifestyle. It affects the way you live.

But you know what? A lack of wisdom is also a lifestyle. And it leads to all kinds of problems. We’re going to get back to talking about what it means to live a wise lifestyle in a minute, but let’s quickly take a look at the alternative.

James tells us that a lack of wisdom, or a reliance only on defective, human wisdom, shows itself in how we live, too. And it creates all sorts of problems. This is what he says…

James 3:14-16 (NLT)
But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

So James says that a lack of wisdom reveals itself in the form of jealousy and selfishness. It causes people to boast and to lie, it leads to upheaval and disorder and chaos and confusion, and it is ultimately characterized as evil.

Do you have confusion in your home? Do you have chaos at work? Are your relationships frail and broken? Is your life a mess? If you can't get it all together then James says you have a problem – you lack wisdom.

Well, none of us want to be lacking in wisdom. We want to be wise. So how can I know if I'm wise? James tell us in verse 17…

James 3:17 (NLT)
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.

That’s wisdom from above. So how about it? Are you wise? Does that describe the way you live? Let’s talk about some of the more practical ways this kind of wisdom is expressed through your life.

If I’m Wise…

1.    I Won’t Compromise My Integrity

Verse 17 began with this…

James 3:17 (NLT)
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure.

If you’re pure, that means you’ve got integrity. There’s no deceitfulness about you; nothing hidden; you’re authentic.

If I'm wise, I'm not going to lie to you, I'm not going to cheat you, I'm not going to manipulate you, I'm not going to be deceitful. I'll be a person of integrity. Which is important in all areas of life, including how we relate to each other.

Because all relationships are built on trust and respect. If you don't have honesty—if you don’t have integrity—who's going to trust you? Who's going to respect you? You have to have integrity in your life.

There’s a new show on TV that I haven’t caught yet… actually it sound pretty weird… but it involves a lie detector. People are asked questions often dealing with their relationships, and the lie detector reveals whether they’re telling the truth or not. Well, Dr. Leonard Keeler is the man who invented the lie detector. And one of the things he did was he tested 25,000 people to determine how honest they were. And the conclusion he reached was that people are basically dishonest. They lack integrity.

Proverbs 10:9 (NLT)
People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.

A person with integrity walks safely. He’s not afraid of being caught in a lie because he doesn’t tell lies. He's not afraid of being found out because he doesn't say one thing to one group and something else to another group. If you've got integrity, you can have confidence. You can walk securely in your relationships. You know you're not putting people on. You have integrity, and you’re not going to compromise that for anything.

I don’t know if you’ve heard or not, but Shera and I just had a baby. Really, we did. We had a son, and we named him Nathaniel. We liked the sound of that name and we liked the meaning of that name. It means “gift of God”, and that’s what he is.

But there’s something else I like about the name, too. You see, I pulled out my Bible and turned to the first chapter of John where Jesus talked about his follower Nathanael. And this is what Jesus had to say about Nathanael in verse 47…

John 1:47 (NLT)
As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”

“A man of complete integrity.” I read that and I thought, “I couldn’t ask for anything more for my son.” I want him to be a man of complete integrity. What a great description.

If I am wise, I will not compromise my integrity.

2.    I Won’t Provoke Your Anger

I won’t go looking for a fight. Wise people work at maintaining harmony.

James 3:17 (NLT)
But the wisdom from above is… also peace loving…

Have you ever met someone who is always arguing, always looking for a fight? I heard about one guy who was so argumentative he would only eat food that disagreed with him.

Reminds me of an old Monty Python sketch. Do you know the one I mean. In this sketch, there’s a man who literally goes out to buy an argument. Here, take a look…

VIDEO – Monty Python’s “BUY AN ARGUMENT” sketch

Ridiculous, isn’t it, to think that someone would go out to buy an argument. But in my experience, there really are people who always seem to be looking for an argument. They’re trying to pick a fight. But James says that if you’re wise, you don't antagonize people's anger. You don’t go looking for arguments. Which echoes what it says in the Old Testament book of Proverbs…

Proverbs 20:3 (MSG)
It's a mark of good character to avert quarrels, but fools love to pick fights.

Now, what causes arguments? Do you know? Because if you want to be wise, you need to know so that you can avoid them. Let me give you three things that cause arguments…

What Causes Arguments?

A.    Comparing

“You're just like ...”, “Why can't you be like ...”, “When I was your age...” “My mother used to cook it this way...” When you start to compare, you're just asking for a fight.

2 Corinthians 10:12 (ESV)
But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.

B.    Condemning

“It's all your fault”, “You should be ashamed.” “You always do this”, “You never do that”, “You ought to”, “You should...”, “You shouldn't...” What are you doing when you say things like that? You’re laying on the guilt. And that damages any relationship. But unfortunately, the place you see this the most is within a marriage. You continually and habitually heap guilt upon your spouse. As someone said, “You can bury a marriage with a lot of little digs.”  And as Jesus said…

Luke 6:37 (NLT)
Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.

So stop condemning. Condemning only leads to arguments and damaged relationships. And it inevitably backfires on you.

C.    Criticizing

We just celebrated Valentine’s Day this week. And I’m sure there were a lot of sappy cards and letters going around. But you know, sometimes even well meaning, loving people have difficulty when it comes to criticism. They just can’t help themselves. Take a look at this video of a couple writing love letters to each other…

VIDEO – – How to Write a Love Letter

Criticism hurts. And constant criticism can erode and destroy a relationship.

D.    Overreacting

William James says…

“The secret of wisdom is knowing what to overlook.”
~ William James

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t get all upset over trivial things. That’s why they tell you to count to ten before you react, so you can take that time to evaluate if it’s really worth it. Because some things are just not worth the fight. In fact, most things are not worth the fight. Wisdom is peace loving, and will opt for that rather than overreacting.

Proverbs 14:29 (NLT)
People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness.

3.    I Won’t Minimize Your Feelings

James 3:17 (NLT)
But the wisdom from above is … gentle at all times…

That’s in the New Living Translation. The New International Version says that wisdom is “considerate”. It’s means mindful of the feelings of others.

But you understand, don’t you, that if you don’t feel the same way I do then you must be wrong. You’re feelings are invalid, they’re illogical, they’re irrational, they’re just plain old silly… if they’re not the same as mine.

Okay, maybe that’s not true. But people who are unwise in their relationships act as if it is. They dismiss the feelings of others. They minimize them. They ignore them.

But if I'm wise, I will not minimize your feelings. I don't have to accept them, but I can understand them.

Proverbs 15:4 (MSG)
Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.

When we are kind and gentle, when we respect the feelings of others, we will not typically say things that hurt. We won’t put people down. We won’t belittle them. We’ll be considerate. We’ll be gentle.

4.    I Won’t Become Defensive

James 3:17 (NLT)
But the wisdom from above is… willing to yield to others.

The English Standard Version puts it this way…

James 3:17 (ESV)
But the wisdom from above is… open to reason…

A wise person can learn from anybody. He's not defensive. He's open to reason, even willing to yield to others. He's not stubborn. He's willing to listen and learn.

But someone who’s unwise says, “Don't confuse me with the facts; I've made up my mind. When I want your opinion, I'll give it to you.”

So which are you? Wise or unwise? Are you a reasonable person? Can your spouse reason with you? Can your kids reason with you? Can your friends reason with you? Can your employees reason with you? The Bible says if you're wise, you're reasonable. You’re not oversensitive; you're open to suggestions. You realize others have valid opinions and you can learn from anybody.

So be open to suggestions. Don't criticize. Don't get defensive. Listen.

Proverbs 12:15 (NLT)
Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.

So if what someone says to you is true, listen and learn from it. If it's false, ignore it and forget it. But if I'm wise I'll be open to reason. I won't criticize your suggestions. I'll listen to them.

5.    I Won’t Dwell On Your Mistakes

James 3:17 (NLT)
It (wisdom) is full of mercy and good deeds.

How do you behave when someone else makes a mistake? Do you take advantage of the opportunity to go on the offensive? Do you attack them? Do you jump all over them? Do you humiliate them every time they blunder? Do you use them as the butt of your jokes? Do you even do that to your family? There’s a word to describe that kind of behaviour – dumb. Oh, James says it’s unwise, but you and I both know he means dumb.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is full of mercy. Mercy says, “I won't emphasize your mistake. Oh, we’ll deal with it if we have to, but I’m not going to use your mistake against you. I won’t use your mistake as a weapon.”

When someone makes a mistake against you, do you extend forgiveness? Or do you prefer to bring it up at every opportunity? Maybe even years later, do you find yourself saying, “Remember the time you did...” That's dumb. If I'm wise, I won't emphasize your mistake. I’ll let it go. I'll be full of mercy.

Proverbs 17:9 (NLT)
Love prospers when a fault is forgiven, but dwelling on it separates close friends.

If you're wise you don't rub it in, you rub it out. You don't hold it over their heads. You forget it. When somebody stumbles, you don't judge them. You encourage them. You heop them back up. What are you like in your relationships? What are you like to work with? What are you like to live with?

Going back to James 3:17…

James 3:17 (NLT)
It (wisdom) is full of mercy and good deeds.

You’ll see that mercy is pair up with good deeds. This means that mrcy is more than just saying, “there, there.” Mercy is expressed in action. It's something you do. You don't just show sympathy. You don't just say, “I feel for you”, you do something about it. You take action. You show kindness. You offer a hand. You get involved in a positive way.

Okay, so James says, “If I'm wise I won't dwell on your mistakes, I won't be defensive and criticize your suggestions, I won't ignore or minimize your feelings, I won't push your buttons and try to provoke you to anger, I’m not going to do any of that. And number six…

6.    I Won’t Pretend to Be Something I’m Not

James 3:17 (NIV)
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is… impartial and sincere.

The mark of a wise person is they don't try to hide and disguise their own weaknesses. You’re sincere. There’s no hypocrisy about you.

Do you remember where that word “hypocrite” comes from? I’ve told you about this before, but just to refresh your memory, it comes from ancient Greece. In ancient Greek society, the theatre was extremely important. And they would put on these huge plays in large amphitheatres. The actors didn’t have microphones to make their voices heard, and they didn’t have cameras to magnify their images onto screens, so they invented their own system. They developed big masks that you could see from a long ways away.

The masks made them look like the characters they portrayed. And built into the masks were megaphones to amplify their voices. So the actors got on stage, got behind their masks and they became somebody else… someone different than they really were. And using this method, one actor could actually play several different characters.

In Greek, this play-acting was called hypocrisis, from which we get our word hypocrisy. Those actors were not what they appeared to be. They claimed to be one thing but in reality were another. They were hypocrites.

James says if you're smart and wise, you’re not going to be a hypocrite. You're not a phony. You’re going to be real and sincere. You don't wear masks and try to be something you're not.

We’ve talked about this several times here at Sunrise. We want this to be a church where people can be themselves. We don’t want people to come here thinking that they have to pretend to be something else. Be honest with who you are, and let God work in your life on that basis.

Hey, listen, if you want to pretend you’re perfect, then this is not the church for you. If you're going to wear masks, this isn't the church for you. Sunrise is for real people, with real sins, real hang ups, real faults, real emotional problems, real family problems.

Does anyone here remember Geraldine? You know, a character played by Flip Wilson back in the 70s? What was her catchphrase?

“What you see is what you get.”

Well, a wise person says, “What you see is what you get”. They don't pretend to be something else. If I'm wise, I’m not going to change who I am depending on what crowd I’m with. If I’m wise, I’m not going to make promises I can’t keep. If I’m wise, I'm not going to disguise my weaknesses.

Proverbs 28:13 (GN)
You will never succeed in life if you try to hide your sins.

You know what? This might shock you – When you start telling people what your weaknesses are, no one’s going to be surprised. They already know. Everybody knows your weakness. You're the only one who won't admit it. I mean, we see each other's weaknesses all the time. It's obvious to everybody. We just don't want to admit it. But if you are wise, you will not pretend to be something you’re not.

Okay, so that’s a description of how a wise person operates within the context of relationships. What if you look at that list of six things and say, “That’s not me. I’m not that wise. I don’t even know how to get wise.” What do you do then? Well, James already gave the answer to that earlier in this book. Way back in chapter one, James said…

James 1:5 (NLT)
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.

Wisdom is a gift from God. And He invites us to ask for it. Personally, I’m constantly asking God for wisdom. I want to be wise in the way I live, in the way I relate, in the way I make decisions. If I want wisdom, and if you want wisdom, then we need to ask God.

And ultimately, the answer is in Jesus.

Colossians 2:3 (NLT)
In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

If you want wisdom, then you need to get Jesus in your life. If you haven’t already done that, you can do it today. You can invite Him into you life and say, “Jesus, think Your thoughts through my mind and say Your words through my mouth. Help people through my hands. Love people with my heart. And put Your wisdom in my mind.” The wisest thing I ever did was give my life to Jesus Christ and accept His leadership for my life. And it’s the wisest thing you could ever do, too.

Let’s pray. Just quietly where you are, you can pray something like this…

“Jesus, I need Your wisdom in my relationships. Please give me Your wisdom. I'm asking in faith, as best as I know how. Lord, help me not to compromise my integrity in relationships. Help me to keep my life pure in an impure world. Help me not to give up my convictions just for convenience.”
You can pray “Lord, help me not to provoke anger in other people. You know when I do it to get even or just for spite. Help me not to do that anymore. Help to guard my mouth. Help me to be wise.”
How about praying, “God, help me not to minimize other people's feelings. I may not always agree with them, but I can still respect them. I can still be sensitive to them.”
How about this. Are you defensive? Then pray, “God, help me not be defensive and not criticize other people's suggestions but to be open to learn from them. Lord, You've said that's a characteristic of being wise and I want to be that way.”
Pray this. Pray, “God, teach me to be merciful. I don’t want to hold people’s mistakes against them. That’s not a wise thing to do, and I want to be wise. So help me instead to be forgiving. Help me to encourage and lift others up.”
“And God, help me not to disguise my own weaknesses. How me how to be open and honest. God, I’ve got to admit, that scares me but I want to be wise and You've said I can never succeed in life if I try to hide my sins. Give me your wisdom, I pray.”

Father, I thank You for Your word. I thank You that through it we become wise people in relating to others. I know there are a lot of smart, intelligent and educated people in the world that are really dumb in relationships. Yet You say that's where wisdom shows itself. Give us Your wisdom. In Jesus' name. Amen.

[Note: This message series uses a variety of source materials, primarily "A Faith that Worls" by Rick Warren, "Faith for Pedestrians" by Laurence Croswell, and "James: Hands-On Christianity" by Charles Swindoll.]



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