NOW ON SALE: “The Three Things We Need for a Good Life.”
I have always resisted “formulas.” Whether it be for things like exercise and health, or our lives of following Jesus. I always react with skepticism when I hear a book title like “The 10 Ways to Be Happy,” or “The 5 Things Missing in Your Prayers.” Yet I read the opening part of James 3:13-14 and it sure seems like a type of formula. “Three Things for a Good Life.” Read those verses again. Who is wise? Wisdom is shown by a good life, which is shown by good deeds, which comes from humility, which is born out of wisdom. Sound a bit circular? When I write it like that, it does. Perhaps the thought here could be rephrased like this: Wisdom brings humility, which is our source of good works, which is evidence of a good life. It is interesting to notice that James will not let us get away with a definition of wisdom that doesn’t include action. True wisdom is reflected in how we act toward others. And, at the heart of our action must be humility.
We first learned of this word humility in James when he was talking about anger (James 1:19-21). The Greek word for humility is the word praǘtēs. It is defined as: “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance. praǘtēs is getting angry at the right time, in the right measure, and for the right reason… it is a condition of mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness, not in weakness, but in power. It is a balance born in strength of character.” (Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich: Greek English Lexicon, 3rd edition).
Here is the twist. We are all inundated with promises from books, magazines, products, and experiences, promising “the good life.” And we are drawn to them because of our own self-interest. What Jesus offers, and what James is calling us to, is a good life that doesn’t have our ambition or self-interest at the heart. It is a great life, but one in which our own self-importance is not king or queen. It is a life of submitting to God, seeking the best for others. As I’ve said before, we cannot do this without following Jesus, our model and example. And we must rely on His Spirit, who corrects, comforts, and calls us to this great life.
Questions for reflection: Where has your ambition and self-interest led to “disorder” (James 3:16)? Where do you need Jesus to “reorder” your ambitions?