When Muhammad Ali was heavyweight boxing champion of the world, he was supposedly a passenger on a commercial flight that developed some problems. As you know, Ali never appeared to lack confidence. He called himself, "the greatest." The airline attendant announced that because of some turbulence, all passengers needed to fasten their seat belts. “Superman don’t need no seat belt,” Ali is supposed to have told the flight attendant. “That’s true,” she replied, “But Superman don’t need no airplane either. Fasten your seat belt.”
He reminds us too, that this me-first, pseudo-wisdom of the world has horrible consequences. James says, starting in verse 13: “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.“
We know, too, that Christ gives to all who turn from sin and follow Him, all who grasp God’s grace, the unshakable approval of God.
We know that we have God in our corners forever, helping us to become our best selves.
And when you’re confident of your identity as a child of God, you don’t need to resort to the pathetic crutch of arrogance. Like Martin Luther, when dogged by temptations or doubts about our value, we can say, “But I am baptized!” We belong to the crucified and risen Jesus Christ!
Why is that?
Why do we Christians refuse to allow the wisdom that God willingly gives to all followers of Christ, just for the asking, to guide our lives?
Some psychologists tell us that we tend to live out of certain stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves.
Sometimes, we live out of stories of arrogance.
Often, our self-told stories cause us to sell ourselves short, believing that we’re not enough.
Both are equally destructive.
James and the rest of the Bible would say that all these stories come from the devil.
But because we often believe those stories, we can make shambles of our lives, often compensating for our perceived inadequacies by adopting attitudes of arrogance.
Whether the stories we tell ourselves lead us to feelings of arrogance or inadequacy though, the result is always that we fail to tap into the power, love, and goodness of God to feel confident about who we are as children of God.
The consequences of believing false stories about ourselves can be seen not only in the lives of individual Christians, but also in the lives of many Christian congregations.
The superintendent told the leaders that the members of that church needed to learn what it is to be the church, a fellowship where imperfect people can share the strength and the power to live which the resurrected Jesus gives to all who believe in Him.
The congregational leaders didn’t like that answer. And so, the president of the congregation pulled the new pastor aside and said, “Well, I guess we’re stuck with you. But don’t you ever mention the death of your son or any pain you may be going through. We hired you to make us feel good, not to join you in your family’s difficulties.”
He violated the false story they were telling about themselves and they didn’t want him messing the story up by telling the truth that this world isn’t always perfect even for Christians and that while followers of Christ aren’t always strong, we have a God to Whom we can go to be strengthened together.
The Church is called to be the practical, real-life laboratory where Jesus Christ gives us new eternal identities born not of looking out for number one, but of letting Number One look out for us, where God’s children look out for each other and our neighbors.
That’s when we quit having to prove ourselves, can bask in God’s approval, and can look beyond ourselves.
Sometimes, it should be said, we do ask God for His help, after a fashion. James writes, starting in the middle of 4:2: “...You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
It’s only when we utterly submit to God, taking responsibility for our sins and seeking His forgiveness for the sake of Jesus Who died for imperfect people like you and me that we have true wisdom, as well experience God’s forgiveness and new life.
The woman’s first stop was a palace. Sure that everything would be joyful there, she knocked on the door, explaining that she was looking for a home without sorrow. “You’ve come to the wrong place,” she was told. And then the owner of that palace recounted all the sorrows that he and his family had experienced in spite of their wealth. The woman thought to herself, “Who is better able to help these people than I, who have had such misfortune of my own?” So, she stayed to comfort them.
The wisdom of God, the wisdom that comes when we follow Jesus Christ, leads to peace in our souls and peace with others.
Which wisdom will you choose? Which story will you believe, your own story about you or the story Jesus Christ has created just for you? On whose wisdom will you build your life, your own or that of God?