Lord, we live in a world that is marked by brokenness. Sin is not only tolerated, but celebrated, even among your followers. We have been so steeped in brokenness and sin that we often cannot even discern what is pure and righteous from what is perverted and broken. We pray that you will fill us with wisdom that is from above. We pray that in our gathering and worship, and in our times of private prayer and searching, that you will fill us and form us through your word. And as we continue being made whole, may we be ambassadors for wholeness. May we invite others into healing and wholeness as well, that the world may see your glory as you make all things new. AMEN.
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:13-18 ESV)
We do not start out whole. From the time we exit the birth canal, we are broken. We are born into brokenness because humankind is a fallen race, and then we live through experiences that contribute to further brokenness—abuse, abandonment, rejection, disappointment, unmet expectations, hope deferred. We all start out broken, but the good news for us today is that it is the ministry of the gospel that we be made whole.
In fact, that is the lifelong journey of the Christian. Jesus said in John 10 that there is a thief that comes only to rob, kill, and destroy, but that He, Jesus, has come that we may have life and life abundantly. Peter wrote that we who are in Christ are called out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV). And Paul wrote to the Ephesians that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless (WHOLE) before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace.”
Jesus came so that we who are born again, we who say “yes” to the invitation of grace, may walk out of darkness and into Christ’s glorious light, may be made whole, and in that wholeness, may bring praise and glory to God.
James gives us a clue as to how we can walk in the fullness of God’s grace and find wholeness. His chief goal in this letter seems to be to challenge and equip Christians to live authentic, Christ-exalting lives. Through prayer and communion with the Holy Spirit, through fellowship with other believers and studying the word of God, through worship, our lives become steeped in what James calls “the wisdom from above.” And as we are steeped in that wisdom from above, we are transformed from being signposts of the brokenness of this world to being signposts that point to the kingdom of heaven. We become infused with wisdom and understanding, and our good conduct, born of that wisdom from above, becomes a signpost pointing to Christ and reaping a harvest of righteousness.
That said, our actions are way downstream of our words, and our words are way downstream of our thoughts. Have you thought about that? The things we think inform the things we say. And the things we say inform the things we do. I think that’s why James emphasizes the importance of pursuing wisdom. James knew that if we are going to be made whole, if we are going to fully live into what it means to be in Christ—if the old has gone and the new has come—we need to start with transformed minds. What forms and shapes our way of thinking?
In the very beginning of this letter, James talks about the pursuit of wholeness, and then, in the very same breath, in your pursuit of wholeness, start by seeking wisdom. “Count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete [WHOLE!], lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom [‘CAUSE THAT’S WHERE IT ALL BEGINS!!], let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:2-5 ESV)
If you are pursuing wholeness, seek wisdom. Because when a person’s mind is shaped by the wisdom that is from above, that wisdom will flow downstream to that person’s words and actions, and a harvest of righteousness will spring up all over their life and probably into the lives of those around them.
Of course, this means that when we follow Christ, we are willingly entering into a fierce battle. Namely, the battle for our thoughts. I don’t know what happens in your head, but I know that my biggest battle for righteousness starts in my mind. And if I am not intentional about doing the discipleship work of forming my thoughts according to God’s word, I may as well forget about achieving wholeness in other areas of my life.
I think that’s why Paul told to the Corinthian believers that “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6 ESV)
God has called each and every one of us to leave the brokenness behind and live into the wholeness of Christ—perfect peace, shalom, beautiful comprehensive flourishing through faith in Christ. And this wholeness flows from being filled and formed by the wisdom of God: pure, peaceable, gentle, reasonable, merciful, fruitful, impartial and sincere, flowing down into our speech: always gracious, seasoned with salt, flowing down into our actions: loving God, serving our neighbors, forgiving our enemies, fighting for justice, defending the weak, caring for orphans and widows and all of our society’s most vulnerable.
And you want to know something I’ve learned about being made whole? It’s contagious.
In the same way someone who is toxic and broken can spread that toxicity to others, through gossip and jealousy and back-biting, someone who is being made whole can spread hope and kindness and mercy to others. When we are surrendered to being made whole through the renewing of our minds, words, and actions, we become ambassadors of shalom, inviting others into Christ’s wholeness as well.
This is an incredible gift we can offer, because when we are being made whole by God, it is not only for our good, but it is also, always for the good of others. That we may shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the word of life to others, offering a contagious, life-giving example of love, joy, and peace. When we are coming from a place of wholeness, we want to help others become whole, too. That’s very different from how people coming from a place of brokenness operate. Have you heard the saying, “Hurt people hurt people?” Well, I’ve found that healed people heal people. People who are being made whole through the goodness of God’s mercy long to invite others into that wholeness as well.
Even though I have just done my best to lay out a biblical case for leaving brokenness behind and pursuing wholeness, there is a paradox for Christians when it comes to brokenness. I do believe that Jesus invites us into a lifelong pursuit of healing as we walk closely with him. But I also believe that part of being in Christ also means staying broken—broken by others’ pain, broken for those who suffer, broken for our own sin. That brokenness keeps us humble, empathetic, and yearning for the perfect shalom of God, which can be glimpsed in this life, but only known fully in the new heaven and the new earth:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…” (Revelation 21:1-5 ESV)
Even as we are called to pursue the wisdom that is from above, which can lead us further up and further in to wholeness in Christ, we are also called to stay broken for the things that break God’s heart, spreading the hope of God’s perfect peace, until Christ returns.