Humility, Wisdom and Church Authority

All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise note. Words in brackets [  ] are provided for clarity.

 

Introduction

There are two areas of pursuit that stand out above the others in my life, and they are humility and wisdom. Years ago when pride was taking over my life, resulting in bad decisions, I became sick and laid up in bed for six weeks. During that time, the Lord got my attention like never before. I had just acquired a book titled “Humility,” by Andrew Murray. I got it free at a church I had visited. With nothing else to do but read, I read that book. I always thought I had a good understanding of humility, but as I was reading this book, it soon became clear that I was way off in my understanding. I was not even close. It was a real eye-opener. I not only learned, but I became deeply convicted about my character and my life, because I discovered I had been living a life of sinful pride. That book changed me. It was a real turning point in my life. It changed the way I live the Christian life. It changed my mindset. It changed my decision making. Most importantly, it changed my walk with Christ. I’ve learned that we cannot have a good relationship with God apart from humility — humility before God and before others. Without out it, our service to Christ is marred and incomplete. Same can be said in our dealings with others.

I ended up reading that book seven times. I can say without hesitation that it has impacted my life more than any book I’ve ever read, next to the Bible — and believe me, I’ve read a lot of books in my life. But let me be clear, I haven’t arrived — nor do I think I’ve arrived. Far from it. I still bumble and tumble as I’m learning along the way. Nevertheless, the pursuit of humility remains a constant in my life.

Another area that has had a life-changing impact on my life, is the realization of the importance and necessity of living according to wisdom — the wisdom of God. To live a life without wisdom is to invite bad decisions and troubles of every sort. A foolish life is characterized by confusion. A foolish life is a wasted life, where goals are never reached and the heart remains unfulfilled.

What’s interesting and significant is that these two attributes are connected in Scripture. There’s a relationship between the two that is inseparable. There’s nothing more Christ-like than to be humble, for He always submitted to the will of His Father. There’s nothing more God-like than to be wise, for He does all things according to wisdom. A Christian who walks in humility and wisdom, is someone who walks with God. A life that is characterized by humility and wisdom, is a life that is successful in carrying out the will of God. It’s an active and productive life that reaches goals and makes a difference in people’s lives. It’s a selfless life that always has the spiritual and physical well-being of others in mind. It’s a life that is Christ-centered, that always seeks to advance His kingdom. It’s a life of honor and respect and right relationships. It’s a life that finds favor with both God and man.

There is no greater pursuit than the pursuit of God and His glory, and those who do, do so rightly in humility and wisdom. With that in mind, I don’t believe enough emphasis is placed on these two attributes in our churches. In the decades that I’ve been a Christian, I’ve heard very little taught on these two subjects. That’s tragic, considering the indispensable role that they have in our lives as followers of Christ.

Both James and Peter provide insight into the relationship between humility and wisdom, and why it’s so important that these should characterize our lives and direct the paths we take in life. Both reveal the blessings of living such a life, as well as the consequences for those who don’t.

 

Humility is Characterized by Wisdom

James 4:6-10

6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

 

1 Peter 5:1-9

1 The elders therefore among you I exhort, who am a fellow-elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, who am also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not of constraint [out of forced duty], but willingly, according to the will of God; nor yet for filthy lucre [shameful gain or profit], but of a ready mind; 3 neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples [examples] to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away. 5 Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder. Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; 7 casting all your anxiety upon him, because he careth for you. 8 Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 whom withstand steadfast in your faith [resist him, firm in your faith], knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world.

 

In this passage, Peter gives us the means for obtaining wisdom. It’s in the context of humility — which echos Proverbs:

(Proverbs 11:2) 2 When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. (ESV)

The granting of humility is in the general context of submission to proper authority — which is the local church, under the authority of its leaders (“elders”):

(Hebrews 13:17) 13 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (ESV)

Throughout the New Testament, the Christian life is seen being lived out within the context of the local assembly of believers. We are all members of the same body, and each of us have an important role within that body (1 Cor 12:1-31; Eph 4:1-16). None of us are to live as “lone wolves” outside the body of Christ (Ro 12:5; Col 1:18).

As followers of Christ, we’re to serve Him in the context of His Church, of whom He is Head (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18; Col 2:18-19). The Church is universal, and Jesus is Head over His Church. However, the mission of the Church is carried out on the local level via the local church. The Elders of each church have been assigned by the Holy Spirit as overseers of His people (Acts 20:28). They’ve been tasked with providing leadership, instruction, guidance, counsel and protection.

Submitting to the God-ordained authority of the local church, requires humility. The basic definition of humility is, a sincere submissiveness to the will of God. We can’t be in God’s will if we’re not in a local assembly, serving God and one another. To isolate ourselves from the local church is nothing less than pride. It’s the belief that church involvement and submission to church leaders is something that is not only optional, but also not very important. This is not only pride, but deception.

There is a serious price to pay for not submitting to the authority of the local church:

(1 Peter 5:5) 5 Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder. Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.

When we refuse to join with a local body of believers, when we refuse to place ourselves under the authority of its leaders, the “grace” of God is withheld from us, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (ESV). James says the same exact thing (Ja 4:6). Really consider what this means! When we refuse to submit to the authority that God Himself has assigned, He opposes us! We’re to walk in humility before everyone (“one another”), and that includes church leaders. True humility recognizes our proper place in the local assembly, and that involves submitting to the leaders that God has placed over us for our good, for they “watch over our souls” (He 13:17). This is especially true of those who are “young” in the faith, who need a lot of guidance.

The local assembly of believers, under the instruction and direction of its leaders, is our place of safety. It’s within that environment that we receive the grace and favor of God. If we refuse to submit to the authority that He has placed over us, we leave ourselves wide open to deception, “for the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (ESV). Apart from humility, apart from the guidance of church leaders, apart from God’s grace and favor, we find ourselves outside the place of safety and in the arena where the devil seeks to destroy us — or at least render us unproductive and useless, where we’re not contributing to the well-being of the body of Christ, of whom He is Head. It’s when we’re living our lives within the ministry of the local church, that we learn and grow and serve and make our lives count for Christ. It prepares us for life outside the church in our daily lives. It’s when we’re actively serving in church ministry that we find the will of God for our lives. And again, this is especially true for young believers who need more teaching and guidance than mature Christians who have walked with the Lord for many years.

Lest you misunderstand, the authority of church leaders doesn’t extend to ordering their people around and telling them what to do with their lives. Their authority relates to our spiritual well-being. They lead by “example” and by teaching and wise counsel. They not only teach, but they provide wise direction for their congregation. They lead in submission to Christ and His will as He leads them.

In regard to deception that is found outside the safety of the local church, where we’re subjected to the “schemes of the devil” (Eph 6:11), this pertains to false beliefs, false ideas about God, false ideas about the Christian life, false ideas about how God leads and guides and makes His will known, foolish paths that we take in life, etc. The local church has been given as a means of teaching us and keeping us on the right path of life, as we’re seeking to live for Christ. It’s been given as a means of wisdom, that prevents us from making foolish and tragic mistakes. Therefore, we are protected from these things as we humbly submit to God and to the leaders He has placed over us, and by “resisting the devil, firm in our faith.” We resist the “schemes of the devil” and the “fiery darts of the evil one,” by putting on the “whole armor of God” (Eph 6:11, 13, 16). Part of that armor is humility, as demonstrated by the honor and respect that we give to those to whom it is due — which leads to wisdom.

There is no wisdom in refusing to join with a local church. There is no wisdom in refusing or disrespecting church Elders, who have been assigned by the Holy Spirit as overseers. There is no wisdom in trying to serve God in isolation of the local church. There is no wisdom in trying to learn God’s will for our lives in exclusion of the local church. Wise submission leads to wisdom for our lives. It’s in our interaction and fellowshipping with other believers – especially seasoned believers – that we learn wisdom. God uses other Christians to help provide direction for our lives. When we cut ourselves off from other Christians, we cut ourselves off from a primary means that God uses to direct our lives. An isolationist approach to the Christian life is not only prideful, but very foolish. It’s a life without God’s blessing.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t take personal responsibility for learning the Bible via our own study. We must be diligent students of God’s Word. However, as we’re learning and growing, we can be led astray from the truth, and so we need the sound teaching of wise church leaders and Bible teachers who can help keep us from falling into serious error — away from common understanding of Scripture. To be wise, we must “walk with the wise” (Prov 13:20; 12:15; 13:14). Wisdom is learned, and we can learn a lot from those who are wise. Those who aren’t open to learning from others, especially the leaders that God has brought into our lives, is not only foolish, but it demonstrates a lack of humility. Even very mature Christians often find themselves in situations that require wise counsel and direction from others, especially from the Elders of our churches. Humility allows us to recognize our need for sound advice. Wisdom and humility go hand in hand.

Genuine humility before God, is revealed in our humility before others. Listen to what Andrew Murray says about this in his book “Humility”:

 

Quote:

Humility before God is nothing if not proved in humility before men…..It is in our relation to one another, in our treatment of one another, that the true lowliness of mind and the heart of humility are to be seen. Our humility before God has no value, but as it prepares us to reveal the humility of Jesus to our fellow-men.

Unquote

 

Those who believe that they’re walking in humility before God, but refuse to place themselves under the authority of the local church and its overseers, are only deceiving themselves. We’re to demonstrate the humility of Christ among all people that we come in contact with, and that includes our fellow-believers in the local assembly. To isolate ourselves from this learning environment, is to leave ourselves outside the grace of God and His direction for our lives. Humility allows us to recognize the importance of wisdom in living for Christ. Humility seeks out wisdom from those who are wise, who are able to apply sound wisdom from the Word of God.

 

Wisdom is Characterized by Humility

James 3:13-18

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good life his works in meekness [humility, gentleness] of wisdom. 14 But if ye have bitter jealousy and faction [selfish ambition] in your heart, glory not [boast not] and lie not against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual [unspiritual, natural], devilish [demonic]. 16 For where jealousy and faction [selfish ambition] are, there is confusion and every vile deed. 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated [reasonable, open to reason], full of mercy and good fruits, without variance [impartial], without hypocrisy [sincere]. 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace.

 

I recently listened to a good message by a pastor I know, who was teaching on verses 17 & 18. It was very instructive and coincided with what I have been thinking a lot about lately, the very thing I just wrote about in our 1 Peter passage (1 Pe 5:1-9) — which led to this message.

 

We’ll take this verse by verse:

(James 3:13) 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by his good life his works in meekness [humility and gentleness] of wisdom.

The overall trait of wisdom is humility — the “humility of wisdom.” Wisdom is characterized by humility, which is demonstrated in the ways that this passage highlights.

The first thing we must recognize is the premium God places on wisdom. A Christian who doesn’t place the same value on wisdom that God does, will not live a “good life” — a life that is lived within the will of God, which is characteristic of Christ. A good life in the eyes of God, is a life that is lived according to wisdom. So important is wisdom in the life of the believer, that God devoted an entire book to it in the Old Testament, which of course is, the book of Proverbs. Christians who minimize the value of wisdom, will never live a life that is in harmony with God, for He Himself does all things according to wisdom. Those who desire to know and live according to God’s will, those who desire to make right decisions in life, must do so according to the wisdom that He provides.

Christians who don’t value wisdom, but instead, seek to know the will of God via some other way, are outside the will of God already — for even their method of seeking God’s will is not according to God’s will. If we’re not seeking God’s will according to the method of God’s will, then we will never know God’s will.

Seeking God’s will is not to be done with the expectation of receiving it via dreams, visions, angels or via any other miraculous revelation or sign. We’re to seek God’s will with the view of receiving it via the wisdom that He provides, which is characterized by humility. True humility doesn’t place demands on God. It doesn’t require God to reveal His will to us via the particular ways we would like Him to. True humility seeks to know God’s will according to the method that He has given to us, which is according to wisdom. Beyond that, if God wants to reveal His will in some miraculous way, that’s up to Him, but we’re not to seek it and we’re not to wait for it. We’re to be actively living our lives according to the wisdom of God. There is no idleness in the will of God.

Those who have a proper understanding of God’s Word, those who have a proper understanding of how we’re to live the Christian life, will seek to live their lives according to the wisdom of God, which is characterized by the humility of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3 – ESV)

 

(James 3:14) 14 But if ye have bitter jealousy and faction [selfish ambition] in your heart, glory not [boast not] and lie not against the truth.

There is no wisdom or humility in “bitter jealousy” or “selfish ambition.” Humility of wisdom isn’t concerned about the status of other people. It’s not concerned about how God is using other people or how God has used people in the past. As Jesus said to Peter, so He says to us (Jn 21:22). We’re not to be concerned how God uses other Christians, we’re only to be concerned about the will of God for ourselves. We’re not to be envious of others. God’s glory is to be our only concern. Jealousy and selfish ambition seek to draw attention to ourselves, which is what “boasting” does. In order to receive recognition from others, one typically boasts about their gifts, knowledge and accomplishments. This is not humility, and it’s not wisdom. Rather, it’s a “lie against the truth.”

 

(James 3:15) 15 This wisdom is not a wisdom that cometh down from above, but is earthly, sensual [unspiritual, natural], devilish [demonic].

The displays of a “jealous” and “self-centered” heart, is not wisdom from “above.” That is, it’s not the wisdom of God. Rather, it’s “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” It’s significant that in James 4:6-10 and 1 Peter 5:1-9, in the context of humility, the activity of the devil is talked about. That’s because wisdom that is not from “above,” lacks humility, and where there is a lack of humility, there is pride — which “God “opposes.” God only extends grace to the humble. If we’re not experiencing God’s grace, then that leaves us open to the schemes and deceptions of the devil. The only safe place to be is in the will of God, which is via the “humility of wisdom.”

Also, false wisdom being described as “demonic,” is a reference to the “jealous” and “self-seeking” sin of Satan, who rebelled against God and was cast out of Heaven. Thus, being jealous and self-seeking is following the pattern of Satan. There was no wisdom in what he did. He had it made in Heaven, serving the God of the universe, but he gave it all up through pride and foolishness. That’s very instructive for us as Christians. What wonderful plans God may have for us, if we would only remain faithful, where our only concern is to honor Christ in our lives. That means we’re not seeking to bring honor to ourselves, as Satan did.

 

(James 3:16) 16 For where jealousy and faction [selfish ambition] are, there is confusion and every vile deed.

As Christians, we’re to live organized and orderly lives, where our lives are in harmony with the Word of God and the life of Christ. This is done in the context of the “humility of wisdom.” Where there is pride – as displayed through “jealousy” and “selfish ambition” – there is nothing but “confusion.” Look at the world. It’s full of confusion and “every vile deed.” It’s all because of Jealousy and self-ambition. If everyone was aligned with Christ and the will of God, concerned only about others, then we would not have the evil in the world that we do. Therefore, the point is, as followers of Christ we don’t want to be a part of any of that! Our lives are to be in stark contrast with the rest of the world.

 

(James 3:17) 17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated [reasonable, open to reason], full of mercy and good fruits, without variance [impartial], without hypocrisy.

True wisdom, “wisdom that is from above,” is first and foremost “pure” — uncorrupted. Jesus Himself is pure, without sin. He is our standard. The written Word of God is pure. Thus, true followers of Christ seek to live lives that are pure — uncorrupted, “unstained by the world” (Ja 1:27; 1 Jn 2:15-16).

True wisdom is also “peaceable.” As children of God, we’re to be peacemakers. We’re to be easy to get along with. We’re to be approachable. We’re to be a unifying agent among others. Those who are “peaceable,” are “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1-3; Col 3:12-15). This is the opposite of “confusion” and discord.

True wisdom is “gentle.” Wisdom is characterized by humility. Humility is characterized by gentleness.

 

“reasonable, open to reason”

Christians who are characterized by the “humility of wisdom,” are “reasonable, open to reason.” This is the person who can be reasoned with. They’re persuadable. They listen to others. They graciously consider other people’s viewpoints and ideas. In other words, they’re not headstrong or obstinate. This attribute applies to our relationships with others, to group situations where choices are being discussed and decisions are being made, as well as to doctrinal matters. That’s what humility and wisdom looks like. It doesn’t think so much of ourselves or so much of our particular viewpoint, that we’re not open to other viewpoints.

As it relates to doctrinal matters, wise is the person who doesn’t have the attitude that they have it all figured out. Humility leads us to realize that we could be wrong, especially if what we believe goes against the common understanding of the Christian community. Wisdom and humility puts us in a place where we’re willing to sincerely consider other viewpoints. Pride prevents us from learning beyond what we already understand. Humility and wisdom recognize that what we believe may not be according to truth. It doesn’t take the attitude that we are right and everyone else is wrong. It allows us to be open to correction. It opens the door for the light of truth to expose the errors of understanding. Pride insists on its own way, on its own belief system, but the “humility of wisdom” is always open to learning truth, recognizing that learning the Bible is a growing process. That means that we must respect those whom God has gifted for teaching His Word.

 

“full of mercy and good fruits”

Christians who live according to the “wisdom that is from above,” are characterized by “mercy.” In fact, they are “full of mercy.” This leaves no room to be hard or uncaring or uncompassionate toward others. Rather, they have a tender heart that is always moved by the hurts and difficulties and suffering of others.

In context, those who are moved with mercy and compassion toward others, will seek to help those in need as the opportunities present themselves. These are the “good fruits” of those who are “full of mercy.”

 

Impartial”

True wisdom is without favoritism. It doesn’t favor one person above another, or one group above another. Nor does it place oneself above others. It never regards self as better or more important than others. To do so is the very opposite of humility. To deal with people with that kind of attitude, is not wisdom. As followers of Christ, we’re to serve others, we’re to share the gospel message with others. But if we come across as arrogant, we’re not going to get very far with people. We deal with people wisely when we deal with them with sincere humility and love and concern.

 

“Sincere”

True wisdom is sincere, not hypocritical. People know when we’re just putting on an act. People can see through imposters. To influence people for Christ, whether it be the unsaved or our fellow-believers, we’re to be genuine representatives of Christ — those who demonstrate the very character of Christ.

 

(James 3:18) 18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for them that make peace.

Christians who are peacemakers, are those who sow seeds of peace, which produces a harvest of righteousness. In the midst of peace, in the midst of peaceful relationships, families, churches, etc., there is the absence of discord and confusion. They provide the right kind of atmosphere where truth may be welcomed and righteousness produced because of it. If we’re not peace-loving people, if we approach people with an arrogant attitude, insincerity, harshness, a lack of love and concern, an attitude of jealousy and self-interest, then people will see right through us, and the result will not be good. We must be humble and wise representatives for Christ if we’re going to establish peaceful situations. We must be Christ-like if we’re going to have a positive influence on people and make a difference in people’s lives.

To make a difference in people’s lives, we must be active in both our local churches and in our daily lives. Living the Christian life, serving Christ, serving others, sharing our faith, is done both inside and outside of our homes. Idleness and isolation from the world, doesn’t accomplish what God has called us to do in the world. The Christian life is an active life. Of all people of the world, Christians should be the hardest workers and making the biggest difference in people’s lives — for we represent the One who died for them and who desires to give them purpose and meaning in life, as well as eternity in His presence to look forward to.

 

Conclusion

There is no true wisdom apart from humility. There is no true humility apart from wisdom. Each must characterize the other to be genuine.

Notice where our James passage leads into. It leads directly into the passage where humility and the devil are talked about (Ja 4:1-10). Just like with our 1 Peter passage, there is a direct connection between pride and the schemes and deceptions of Satan. If we’re to grow spiritually, if God is going to fulfill His plan and purpose in our lives, then we must be involved in the local assembly of believers. It’s our place of safety, to help keep us on the right path.

God has ordained the local church and its leaders, not only for our spiritual good, but also for the purpose of carrying out His plan for the world. It’s through the local church that He accomplishes His will for the world in the gospel era of the New Covenant. Therefore, the local assembly is to be central in the lives of every Christian. The tenor of the whole New Testament is life lived within the context of the body of Christ, which is His Church, of whom He is Head.

Within the local assembly of believers, we must be ever aware of how important it is to represent Christ well, and that means walking with Him in the genuine “humility of wisdom.” We must carry that same “humility of wisdom” outside the church, as well, for it is outside the church where we live our lives. It’s outside the church where we represent Christ to the world. We must be an accurate reflection of Jesus if we’re going to make an eternal difference in people’s lives.

Corporately we gain proper instruction and guidance within the church, so that individually we may be prepared to go outside the church to reach others for Christ in our daily living.

However, I need to be clear that all the responsibility for our spiritual growth and wellbeing do not rest solely on the shoulders of our churches and its leaders. We must take personal responsibility for learning the Bible on our own, and pursuing a close relationship with Christ on our own. There must be a proper balance between the two. Or more accurately, the two must work together.

As Christians, we must never seek to live for Christ to the exclusion of the local body of believers. We need each other, for God has designed His followers to work together, to build each other up (Eph 4:15-16; Eph 2:18-22; 1 Cor 12:4-7) — never in isolation of each other. Together we are strong. Individually, we are not. Therefore, the “humility of wisdom” recognizes our need for one another.

If we choose to leave church out of our lives, or if we choose to reject the authority of our church leaders, then I don’t believe the will of God for our lives will ever be revealed. For if we choose to disobey His plainly stated and known will of God (as specified in His Word), then we cannot expect God to reveal His will beyond that. So if we’re seeking to learn God’s will to the exclusion of the local assembly of believers, then I don’t believe the will of God will ever be revealed.

The walk of humility and wisdom is an obedient walk, which begins with obedience to the plainly stated, written will of God.