(James 3:13 - 4:10)

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Do you remember Highlights magazine? I remember reading it as a child in the dentist’s or doctor’s waiting room. Perfect material for passing the time with puzzles and picture stories. Some of the features in Highlights have been standard. One of those is “Goofus and Gallant,” a comic strip that shows two boys and how each boy would respond to the same situation. Goofus always chooses to behave rudely or irresponsibly, while Gallant always responds with kindness and generosity.

Goofus bosses his friends around. Gallant asks his friends what they want to do next.
Goofus takes the last apple. Gallant shares his orange.

Goofus is always more interesting – admittedly it is fun watching what blunder he is going to commit, but Gallant is the guy you can really count on.
I always wondered if Goofus and Gallant lived in the same town. Did they know each other? Did they go to the same school? Maybe they were even friends.

Goofus is jealous because Gallant received an award for perfect attendance. Gallant changes the subject.
Goofus tries to make Gallant feel guilty for studying and making high grades. Gallant offers to help him study.
Goofus refuses to study and speaks harshly to Gallant. Gallant later forgives Goofus – for the 100th time.

It’s hard to imagine that they had much of a friendship. We can all guess who was carrying the friendship. I’m sure even Gallant could have had a hard time maintaining the friendship. It might have been very tempting for him to look down on Goofus or get stressed trying to rescue Goofus or make excuses for him. It would be difficult for these two to remain friends if one of them doesn’t change.

The ancient definition of friends is people having the same outlook, the same view of reality, the same mind, and above all to share. (And by now we know that Goofus doesn’t share much of anything except for germs.) Long before Goofus and Gallant, James described contrasting views of reality ...

Two Kinds of Wisdom – Two Kinds of Friendship

James describes two perspectives; one is called the wisdom from below. It is a way of behavior and thought ordered by the logic of rivalry, competition, resentment, self-preservation, unrestrained desire and hatred. It is the seed of murder and war.

Opposite of this is the way of life that James’ calls the wisdom from above. It is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. It is actually a rather simple view of the world and less complicated because there is no burden of worrying about others – what they think, what they may do. Those with the wisdom from above are friends of God and they share an outlook and perspective with God. They share God’s values. They begin to see the world as God does. Worth does not come from what we have or what we can control or how much respect we can earn. Worth comes from God. He has sown the seed of his spirit in us and we are the soil that yields God’s good and abundant gifts to be shared with all.

But the wisdom from below is friendship with the world. The world isn’t a good friend. Loyalty to the worldly way of seeing things leads to envy, resentment, anger, selfishness. The turmoil and evil that follow are a corruption and contagion that hurts us and hurts others.

Goofus and Gallant are sort of cute for kids. We can excuse Goofus for taking the last cookie. It’s sort of cute when he stomps in the mud. He’s just a kid. But what happens when Goofus grows up and he lives out his basic philosophy in more sophisticated and complicated situations ...

Goofus is stressed and unhappy because of his work environment, so he vents his anger at his family.
Goofus has had too much to drink at the game, but he drives home anyway and is involved in a three car accident.
Goofus uses his influence to give a job to a family member and it costs another person a promotion.
Goofus persuades his bookkeepers to lie about company profits so that his shareholders will be pleased, but when his schemes are revealed, employees lose their retirement savings.
Goofus finds a way to save money in his business by dumping waste product in the river, hundreds of people downriver develop cancer.

Goofus, especially at the adult level, is typical of the wisdom from below. James describes it as envy and selfish ambition. And where you have envy and selfish ambition you will also have disorder and every evil practice. The wisdom from below is a cynical and uninspiring wisdom. No wonder it leads to chaos.

The wisdom from below erodes our better nature. Because it is so common, it can be worth a joke at first, like the “Demotivators” series that takes a jab at pretentious, generic inspirational slogans ...

Achievment: You can do anything you set your mind to when you have vision, determination and an endless supply of expendable labor.
Arrogance: The best leaders inspire by example. When that’s not an option, brute intimidation works pretty well too.

It’s funny because it’s true, but is this really the world we want to live in? Is that how we want to relate to others, to the world, and to God?
If the wisdom from below is corrosive and corrupting, then the wisdom from above is fruitful. It yields a harvest of righteousness.

When we see true examples of humble people living out good deeds, then we are inspired to believe that the wisdom from above can truly be lived out in our world below.

Friend of God vs. Friend of the World

Now right here is where we have to pay attention, because one or the other of the wisdoms is at work in us. The wisdom from below is saying “Well, that could never be me. I’m just not that kind of person.” We might think that the wisdom from above is gallantry – and we just aren’t sure if gallantry is possible. And the weeds of envy, resentment, cynicism choke out the fruit that God is ready to harvest in you.

But the wisdom from above is more than gallantry. It is humility – humility before God that expresses itself in good deeds. We turn to God and let him purify our hearts. I want you to hear the truth and the good news. It is coming from above and from one who created the world, but is greater than the world; one who is greater that our hearts that sometime condemn us. God is calling us to be different and act differently if he didn’t think we could? Think about that. (Read 4:7-10)
Purify your heart. Ask for the Wisdom from Above. God will give it to you – free! He wants you to be His friend.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 31 August 2008

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