Unselfish Wisdom by Christopher Harbin

Unselfish Wisdom
Christopher B. Harbin
James 3:16-4:8

Rarely have I heard the terms selfishness and wisdom used together. They refer to vastly different categories. The two concepts seem so foreign to each other, that I have no cultural or social peg on which to hang them together. Wisdom is a concept regarding the application of knowledge to life, while selfishness has to do with an attitude toward material goods. We don't generally join those concepts. They don't seem to fit together in any readily perceptible pattern, and yet that is precisely what James proceeds to do. He calls us to do the same. He links jealousy and selfishness with wisdom and fairness. So what does wisdom have to do with selfishness or greed?

James has been writing about the practical applications of faith to daily living and human interaction. His focus has often been on the poor and marginalized, as they tend to be the ones in greatest need of attention by society and the church in particular. Here at the midpoint of his book, he deals with what seems to be the heart of the issue facing the church as a whole in its relationship with the marginalized. We are selfish and jealous of others. That is not an indictment restricted to the church, it is a general indictment of human nature. It is just that as the church we should know better. Society should also know better, but as disciples of Jesus Christ, we follow a Lord who specifically taught us to meet the needs of the underprivileged around us.

That is not necessarily the message that the majority in our society want to hear. It is a message that may be of great comfort to the underprivileged, but it is an affront to those in positions of power and privilege. For a nation that has achieved a measure of wealth and power, it is distressing to hear that the poor are our responsibility. We do not really want to consider ourselves selfish and jealous, and yet that seems to be exactly what James' words indicate.

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