James 3:13-18


13 Who is wise and understanding among you?

Let him show it by his good life,

by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.

14But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts,

do not boast about it or deny the truth.

15Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven

but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.

16For where you have envy and selfish ambition,

there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure;

then peace-loving, considerate, submissive,

full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

18Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.


I. Problem

A. Small Group Sharing:

Share in groups a time when your or someone else’s advice caused problems rather than helped.  Pay attention so you can share a story of two for all of us.

B. Earthly Wisdom

James dealt with this very problem.  He says earthly wisdom causes problems rather than helps.  And James seems to think it is the major cause of people problems, even in the church.  This earthly wisdom is selfish and envious.  We could call it “cunning.”  Those with earthly wisdom give advice with ulterior motives.  I know I’ve fallen into this.  A friend at school will ask me advice, say, about what class to take next semester.  I am inclined to get him to sign up for the classes I like or the profs I wish were more popular.  I seldom think “What wisdom will benefit him?”

          We all know how self-seeking wisdom can tear up a church.  So many of us think we are helping when we tell others what to do.  Spouses tell each one another how to fold the laundry the right way.  Parents pressure children to play sports or instruments they like to hear or wish they played when they were young.  Business partners recommend promotions, knowing full well the benefits might come in return.  You know, sometimes we are just meddling for our own ends.  Sometimes we cause disorder with our so-called wisdom.  Sometimes we bring earthly wisdom into Christ’s body.

II. Solution

A. Prayer            1. Transition & Statement

          Who can free us from ourselves?  Who can teach us true wisdom?  James points to the pure wisdom from heaven.  But how do we get it?  He says earlier in chapter 1 verse 17 that “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights.”  But how does he get it to us?  James opens his book with an answer: Ask God.  Just ask God.  James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”  God has revealed his plan for solving people-problems in the church and in your life:  just ask him for wisdom!  He will give it to you.

2. Storied Substantiation

          What Bible story does this remind you of?  Solomon in I Kings 3:4-15

3. Initial Challenge

          So I commend you to begin asking God for wisdom.  You do not have to wait till you’re life is all together.  No.  Ask God for wisdom now, then your life will get straightened out.  Just start asking.  Ask everyday.  Just quickly in the morning.  And believe.  Believe he is giving it to you – not necessarily all at once, but maybe over time like a savings account that slowly accrues interest.  For the verse right before James says to ask for wisdom says, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” [James 1:4].  So persevere in your request for wisdom and be patient with God who is patient with you.

B. Proverbs        1. Transition & Statement

          Of course, God did give a large batch of wisdom to Solomon all at once.  Thankfully, Solomon wrote 31 chapters of heavenly wisdom for us to now learn.  So, as we pray for wisdom, we can enjoy God’s gift of wisdom through Solomon to us.  Turn now with me to the beginning of Proverbs and take a look at how it might help us grow in wisdom.       

2. Read Proverbs 1-2

(1)  1:1-7

(2)  1:8-14

(3)  1:15-19

(4)  1:20-27

(5)  1:28-33

(6)  2:1-5

(7)  2:6-11

(8)  2:12-15

(9)  2:16-19

(10) 2:20-22


3. What are Proverbs?

a. not principles

So what will we find in this book?  How is it going to make us wise and therefore help us with our people problems?  Well, what you won’t necessarily find in this book are principles.  A principle is something that is everywhere and always the case.  The Ten Commandments are a good example of a list of principles.  But Proverbs is not the same kind of thing.  For instance, 27:14 reads: “If a man loudly blessed his neighbor in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.”  Now, does this carry the same weight as “Do not murder”?  Is this always the case?  Will everyone always take it this way?  I am a morning person.  I pop right out of bed ready for my day.  You can bless me all you want in the early AM, and I won’t take it as a curse.  However, most folks are not morning people.   My wife isn’t, and morning is certainly not the best time to loudly sing her praises.  She needs quiet.  So this proverb is certainly wise advice.

b. not promises

          If Proverbs are not principles, then what are they?  Are they promises?  We tend to think so just by the way they are phrased.  For instance, Proverbs 22:6 reads: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”   Now many of you have trained your children well.  Good for you.  But they have nonetheless gone astray.  Now we know that God desires them to walk aright.  I promise you that he is doing so much to lead your son or daughter back to the path.  But we can testify that some never do.  And if they don’t, we start to wonder: “either God failed his promise, or I failed in training my child.”  I want to free you from such anxiety, for the point of God’s Word here is to commend you all to train your children in the Way for their sakes.  That is all you can do, and that is a lot.  Thank God for parents who train their children in the Way!

c. but pro-verbs: “toward-words”

          So if Proverbs aren’t principles, and if they aren’t promises, what are they?  Well, proverbs are proverbs.  Proverbs.  They are in a class of their own.  They are pro-verbs.  “Pro” usually means “to” or “toward.”  “Verb” means “word.”  So Proverbs are “toward-words.”  You can see this evidenced in the introduction to the book we just read, as it makes continuous use of the metaphor of walking.  Sinners say come along with us, and the wicked leave straight paths to go down crooked ones.  But wisdom leads you down the path of good men.  So proverbs give direction toward this path.  These toward-words are the yellow lines that keep you on the right side of the road so you don’t get it a wreck.  So, yes, be careful about the timing of your blessing.  And, yes, train your children in the right way.  These toward-words will guide and protect you and those around you.

d. by character description

How does the book of Proverbs give direction?  How can it keep me going the right way?  They guide us by describing two characters: the wise person and the fool.  Many Proverbs will have two lines, contrasting the wise person and the fool.  Even when they are not named, these two characters are hiding behind almost every verse in Proverbs.  As we read Proverbs, a picture is painted of a wise person.  We are to shape our own life toward that picture.  Then we too will become wise.  If you are like me and certainly not a visual person, then it may be hard to imagine such a wise person.  If so, use these descriptions to identify wise persons in your life.  Then follow their example.  Aim your life toward the path they follow.

e. through communal exemplification

It is this sort of leading by example that makes Solomon’s Proverbs so effective for people-problem-solving.  You see, we can’t wait for everyone around us to be wise first.  No.  Each of us must begin a journey of wisdom, and pray that God will use our example to inspire others.  This is why the proverbs are written in a family setting.  Note how often the introduction says “My son.”  We all know that “do what I say and not what I do” doesn’t work around the home.  Rather, we lead by example.  We must therefore each ask for heavenly wisdom for the sake of everyone around us.


Final Challenge

          My challenge to you tonight is twofold.  First, begin praying for wisdom.  Just ask.  And believe he is doing it even if you can’t see it.  Start praying this simple short prayer every morning: “God, give me wisdom.”

          Second, I want to commend you to read the book of proverbs.  God may answer your prayer through it.  It is exactly 31 chapters and each is pretty even in size.  Each chapter only takes about five minutes to read.  So if you read a chapter a day for a month, you will have read the whole book.  We already read the first two chapters tonight, so on Monday you can pick up at chapter three.  I know it’s February, so you might have to pick those extra three chapters up sometime in March.  Actually, if it goes well you could start back up in March and do it every month, like some folks I know.  But you do not need to commit to something like that now.  Rather, just give it a shot, for although I said each proverb is not necessarily a promise, there is a divine promise for the whole book: you will be changed and will be a blessing to others if you read it.  God’s wisdom will shape you if you make room for it in your life!  So take Chapter-a-day Proverbs challenge with me this February.


(1) Proverbs 1:1-7


1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
2 for attaining wisdom and discipline;
for understanding words of insight;
3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
doing what is right and just and fair;
4 for giving prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young-
5 let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance-
6 for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.

7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline.


(2) Proverbs 1:8-14


8 Listen, my son, to your father's instruction

and do not forsake your mother's teaching.

 9 They will be a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck.
10 My son, if sinners entice you,
do not give in to them.
11 If they say, "Come along with us;
let's lie in wait for someone's blood,
let's waylay some harmless soul;
12 let's swallow them alive, like the grave,
and whole, like those who go down to the pit;
13 we will get all sorts of valuable things
and fill our houses with plunder;
14 throw in your lot with us,
and we will share a common purse"-

(3) Proverbs 1:15-19


15 my son, do not go along with them,
do not set foot on their paths;
16 for their feet rush into sin,
they are swift to shed blood.
17 How useless to spread a net
in full view of all the birds!
18 These men lie in wait for their own blood;
they waylay only themselves!
19 Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain;
it takes away the lives of those who get it.

(4) Proverbs 1:20-27


20 Wisdom calls aloud in the street,
she raises her voice in the public squares;
21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out,
in the gateways of the city she makes her speech:
22 "How long will you simple ones love your simple ways?
How long will mockers delight in mockery
and fools hate knowledge?
23 If you had responded to my rebuke,
I would have poured out my heart to you
and made my thoughts known to you.
24 But since you rejected me when I called
and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand,
25 since you ignored all my advice
and would not accept my rebuke,
26 I in turn will laugh at your disaster;
I will mock when calamity overtakes you-
27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm,
when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind,
when distress and trouble overwhelm you.

(5) Proverbs 1:28-33


28 "Then they will call to me but I will not answer;
they will look for me but will not find me.

29 Since they hated knowledge
and did not choose to fear the LORD ,
30 since they would not accept my advice
and spurned my rebuke,
31 they will eat the fruit of their ways
and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them;
33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety
be at ease, without fear of harm."


(6) Proverbs 2:1-5


1 My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
2 turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
3 and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
4 and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
5 then you will understand the fear of the LORD
and find the knowledge of God.

(7) Proverbs 2:6-11


6 For the LORD gives wisdom,
and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
7 He holds victory in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
8 for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.
9 Then you will understand what is right and just
and fair-every good path.
10 For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
11 Discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you.

(8) Proverbs 2:12-15


12 Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men,
from men whose words are perverse,
13 who leave the straight paths
to walk in dark ways,
14 who delight in doing wrong
and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,
15 whose paths are crooked
and who are devious in their ways.


(9) Proverbs 2:16-19

16 It will save you also from the adulteress,
from the wayward wife with her seductive words,
17 who has left the partner of her youth
and ignored the covenant she made before God. [1]
18 For her house leads down to death
and her paths to the spirits of the dead.
19 None who go to her return
or attain the paths of life.

(10) Proverbs 2:20-22


20 Thus you will walk in the ways of good men
and keep to the paths of the righteous.
21 For the upright will live in the land,
and the blameless will remain in it;
but the wicked will be cut off from the land,
and the unfaithful will be torn from it.