This text focuses on two characters: wisdom and simple ones. Wisdom is personified as one calling out and warning that she needs to be heeded. She is calling to “simple ones,” those who reject her and fail to acknowledge her warning.
What kind of wisdom is being rejected here? Verse 29 demonstrates that simple ones, mockers, and fools hated her knowledge in their refusal to fear the Lord. “Fear of the Lord” is the theme of the book of Proverbs (cf. 1:7) and is the content of wisdom’s message. This is not the fear of the abused toward the abusers, but a loving reverence submitting to the Lordship of God.
I. Wisdom’s Attempt to Call (vv. 20-21)
The call of wisdom is not for some elite few who have achieved academically to master a philosophy of God. On the contrary, her call is public and for anyone willing to heed. She does not call out in the theology classroom alone but in the street and in public squares for common folk to hear her important message. She does not limit her work to quiet halls of academia but cries out in the midst of the noise of the streets and in the gates of cities.
Wisdom shouts loudly amidst all the other voices that claim truth, but she has the only answer that will remedy humanity’s ailments: “Fear the Lord.”
II. Simple Ones Rejection (vv. 22-25)
Simple ones do not want to complicate their lives with truth and the harsh reality that a change or reordering of their lives might be needed to remedy their ailment. They love simple ways, burying their heads in trivial matters and avoiding the truth at any cost. If they cannot hide from reality, their “plan B” is to mock the truth and maintain an arrogant false superiority toward the truth, which is by New Testament terms “foolishness” to them. Their ultimate problem is that they hate such knowledge.
Wisdom was always ready to aid and assist them, but they refuse to hear her rebuke. Human nature never likes to hear rebuke or reproof. Human nature tends to seek out voices that confirm our own thoughts and do not challenge us to make changes in our comfort zones. Wisdom calls out even in nature so the Psalms tell us, but moving along on our own course is the most comfortable path to take.
III. Wisdom’s Response (vv. 26-28)
Initially, one may read these verses and think, “How cruel!” However, wisdom attempted to alert simple humanity to the truth, but in rebellion they fall into disaster and calamity. Now wisdom mocks and laughs at the arrogant yet ignorant who failed to heed her call.
So many of humanity’s worst problems are because we have failed to listen to a simple truth and move in obedience. To look for wisdom to lead the way after such disaster was forewarned is meaningless. More is at stake here than wisdom saying, “I told you so!” There are principles and cycles set from the foundation of time.
We have no choice but to live by the biblical principle of reaping and sowing. To fail to heed means we face the consequence of disaster. We brought such disasters upon ourselves by failing to “fear the Lord.” (Joseph Byrd)
THE TYRANT, THE TONGUE
Out of the heart come all kinds of evil (Mark 7:20-23), and the first place they go is the tongue (v. 6). How many of us have wished we had not said that careless word or made that too quick response? Of course, we all have. Whoever invented the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” never had a parent scold him, a fiance‚ break an engagement, or a doctor give him a cancer diagnosis.
James considers the tongue, the instrument of words, a tyrant that is managed by an even greater power, the human heart. The words we say reflect much of what we are inside.
I. The Tongue: A Teacher’s Instrument
Verse 1 warns those who would be teachers of their greater responsibility and accountability in comparison to others. The New Testament held teachers in high esteem. First Corinthians and Ephesians list the teachers immediately following the apostles and prophets.
As carriers of the truth of the gospel, they are warned to be especially careful. The very clarity and purity of the gospel was theirs to explain and exemplify. The Bible does teach a double standard. The standard for the ordinary Christian is very high. Jesus said, “Be perfect.” James adds that teachers will be judged by that standard even more strictly than the ordinary believer. And what instrument do teachers use more than their own tongues?
II. The Tongue: A Universal Instrument
Verse 2 broadens the importance of careful consideration of the tongue to all. A mature person, James says, is easily recognized if he/she can control his/her tongue. Because the whole body follows what the tongue says, verses 3-8 graphically illustrate the power of the tongue.
The tongue is compared to a rudder for a ship, a small fire to a forest fire, and a bit for a horse. These small things do control their larger complements. So the tongue manages one’s life. In verse 8, James declares it evil. He is referring to all the misuses of the tongue, such as gossip, backbiting, slander, and rumors.
III. The Tongue: Indicator of the Heart
Echoing the teaching of Jesus, James reminds his readers that the tongue may be a tyrant, but it takes its power and direction from the heart. James refers to the fact that bitter and sweet water cannot flow from the same source. Fig trees cannot bear olives, and those who praise God cannot curse their fellow men.
James recognizes that apparently such contradictions do happen. He reminds us that we have failed and have praised God in one breath while cursing our brothers with the next. But, he shouts, “This should not be.”
Even Paul struggled with this apparently universal predicament. He, too, declared a dualism in his inner self when he spoke of doing things he wished he had not done and leaving things undone he had done. If so great a saint had such difficulty, is it not to be expected that all of us need to be alert? (Carolyn Volentine)
THE BURDEN OF THE CROSS
During a battle a soldier was frantically digging in as shells fell all around him. Suddenly his hand felt something metal and he grabbed it. It was a silver cross. Another shell exploded and he buried his head in his arms. He felt someone jump in with him and looked over and saw an army chaplain. The soldier thrust the cross in the chaplain’s face and said, “I sure am glad to see you. How do you work this thing?”
When Jesus talks about bearing our cross, we want to know, “How do you work this thing?”
I. Peter Started with the Right Idea
Poor magnificent, blundering Peter. Someone said the only time Peter took his foot out of his mouth was to switch feet. He did it again. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” In a flash of insight Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
When Jesus explains how that will translate into everyday life, however, Peter reprimands Jesus. A suffering Messiah can’t be right; it didn’t fit any of Peter’s preconceptions about Messiah. Jesus, in turn, reprimands Peter.
The cross is essential to Mark’s understanding of Jesus purpose and mission as Messiah.
II. What Bearing the Cross Isn’t
The cross is central to our faith but, like Peter, we cringe at cross- bearing. What does Jesus mean? People say, “I guess that’s a cross I have to bear,” generally with a poor-pitiful-me tone of voice. Is that really cross-bearing? No!
Cross-bearing doesn’t refer to meaningless or even involuntary suffering that has to be endured. Suffering terminal cancer or AIDS is a horrible misfortune, but it’s not bearing a cross. To offer your cancer- or AIDS-weakened self by reaching out to others and helping them, that’s taking up your cross.
III. What Bearing the Cross Is
Bearing our cross is a choice. It is a voluntary form of sacrificial obedience that identifies us completely with Christ. Bearing our cross is not making the best of a situation or circumstance. It is something we deliberately take up and bear.
We don’t like that. We would rather wear a cross than bear a cross. The cross is all about discipline, hard work, obedience, and commitment. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. It draws us closer to Christ and makes us more Christlike.
Some women who live near Washington D.C. wanted to show God’s love to a special group of people. They heard about a group of babies who were rarely held and destined to live and die in hospitals because they had AIDS. The babies didn’t get much attention, so they began to cry silently. No one had responded to their crying out loud so they stopped doing it. But they still shed tears.
Even though these children would die by their second birthdays, the women took a number of the AIDS babies home. The women would respond to the silent tears by holding and rocking the babies. Soon these unloved, cast-off AIDS babies began to cry out loud again. They had been spoken to in the only way they could understand. They had been spoken to in the language of love by women willing to deny themselves and take up their cross.
To experience life in Christ requires feeling the weight of his cross in our daily discipleship. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible. When we say yes to the cross, we don’t have to bear the load alone. The burden of the cross is no burden at all—not when we’re yoked with Christ. Deny yourself by giving yourself for others in Christ’s name. Take up your cross and follow him. (Billy D. Strayhorn)