The book of James is full of practical wisdom for everyday living. Genuine faith will manifest itself in righteous acts that come out of a pure heart. This study will take a close look at how our faith is worked out in everyday life by understanding the principles of godly wisdom.
This is part 1 in a 7-part series on the book of James. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.
We are starting today a study on the book of James. I usually start talking on this and I forget to tell you some important things. We have study guides and they are called, Living What You Believe: Wisdom from the Book of James by Kenneth Boa and William Kruidneir. It’s a NavPress book and those of you that would like to follow along with us this is the book I’ll be using. Now I know I am not good at following a study guide because of course I’ve done many of these before and I often get e-mails from people saying, ”Just exactly where are we? I don’t recognize anything!” But so far I want to tell you I only changed around one thing. I really like the way this book is laid out. It’s got a lot of additional information. It’s really good and I like it. If you would like to do a study along with us this would be a great one to do. It’s basically broken down into five lessons written as a spiritual journey. I don’t know why they didn’t call it Journey With James. That is what I would call it!
The book of James is just rich. There are five lessons but whatever made me think I could get through one of these lessons in one day. It reminded me of when I was in Fort Lauderdale and the pastor preached on the book of James for three years! Now I’m not kidding! Three years! When he said,” This is the last sermon”, I’m not kidding, the entire choir jumped up and sang the alleluiah chorus, not as loud as I wanted to sing it though!
It is written as a trip, a journey to a destination where we want to get somewhere and what is going to take us there. We’ll be looking at the theme of the book and where we want to go with all that.
It has just made me think of summer vacations. Did you go on vacations when you were kids? I’m sure you did and you’ve tried to take your kids on vacations. Is there anything more difficult than a family vacation? It’s supposed to promote family unity and love and you nearly end up killing each other when you’re in the car! I took vacations when I was younger but I really started remembering them when I was 13 or 14 years old. That year we were going to Washington D.C. and our family car was a mint green Rambler station wagon. It was horrible. I remember hearing my parents saying we were going to go to Washington D.C. to show you all that and meet my grandparents up there. I heard one thing and one thing only. We were going to ride there in the mint green Rambler! This was mortifying to me. I remember asking my mother if we could get a new car before the vacation. It was so embarrassing to go in the Rambler. Well, I should’ve known that was a mistake. My father was what I would call the total opposite of a snob. In other words if he knew you didn’t want to ride in the green Rambler because it was embarrassing then it was his greatest joy to make you ride in it. He was very mischievous that way. He had that sense of humor. I tried never to let him know what was not in because he would think it was so hilarious and wonderful to be different and wear something or drive something that was not in to prove my individuality. That of course is a teenager’s worst nightmare. So we went to Washington D.C. in the green Rambler station wagon. That’s all I remember about that trip, being so mortified and being so glad no one I knew would be see me in the mint green Rambler station wagon! The next year I was more prepared when my parents announced we were going to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We had a new car and I was thrilled. But the problem was I didn’t want to be with my family all that time. My best friend Becky said I couldn’t be gone. I had my social life to think of, I couldn’t be gone for two weeks! It would not be possible! So Becky and I started cooking up this idea. How could I stay with her and not go on this summer vacation. My kids did that to me constantly when they were teenagers and of course it didn’t get very far! But I do remember that as mad as I was even though we had a new car, once we got to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, being so stunned by the scenery that I forgot about myself. That was pretty amazing for me to do at age 15! So part of the adventure with a family or trip that you go on is getting there. Sometimes you don’t even remember the trip but the adventure and fun in getting there.
Well, we do have a destination with the book of James but before we really get started I’d like to go over how to study passages and books in the bible. Always, before you begin to dig into the passages to see what it says and what it means to you, is to look at the author who wrote it. Look at the people to whom he wrote it or why did he write it. In this case it’s a letter so who is the audience? You look at the culture of the day and the time. Something that I’ve learned about hermeneutics is the art of interpretation. There are hermeneutical principles when you study the bible and here’s one of them that we are going to be using in this study. When you really want to get the meat or greatest meaning out of a passage go back and see how the original hearers heard it. What did the person who was writing this say originally to those people at that time? That is the deepest and richest meaning you can get. You cannot, it is against the rules, to come up with a meaning in 2004 of a passage that meant something else totally different back in A.D. 60. That doesn’t work. They may say the same thing but you’re going to get a lot more light and understanding of a passage or verse if you understand the context of it’s time. Who wrote it, what they were saying and your understanding will increase.
First of all the author of this book is understood to be the half brother of Jesus named the name of James. Now there are three men named James that are frequently mentioned in the New Testament. One James was the son of Zebedee, the brother of John, you know Peter , James and John, one of the inner three. He was the first apostolic martyr killed by King Herod. That’s in the book of Acts. Secondly there was James the son of Alpheus. He’s mentioned toward the end of the disciples. We don’t know anything about him except that he was a disciple. Then there is James who is the half brother of Jesus. Scholars really don’t have a lot of argument on this. People believe that he was the author of this book.
Now let’s talk about him for a minute this James. We don’t know a lot about him. First of all we do know that Jesus’ brothers originally were non-believers. We talked about this before in previous studies about the account in John 7:5 where Jesus’ brothers and mother come to see Him. I think they were coming to do an intervention! They were worried about Him! It says that His brothers did not believe in Him. That’s how we know. We also know they were not at the cross. At least we have no record of them being present in any part of His ministry in those three years at all. But in I Corinthians 15 as Paul is writing he’s talking about the resurrected Christ, the risen Christ, how He appeared to over 500 people before He had ascended into heaven and he says specifically that He appeared to His brother James. So we can put together an understanding here that James was obviously not a believer, the risen Christ appeared to him and he became a believer. He quickly became a leader in the Jerusalem church and it is generally understood that he was probably one of the main pastors or leaders of the Jerusalem church.
There are a lot of metaphors in this book that you would expect from somebody who was raised in a rural environment. Now Jesus’ family was from Nazareth, a small town in the hills of Galilee, northern Israel. James was raised in a small rural town and not a big city. James uses so many metaphors from nature, the sea, the flower, the grass, the sun, the moon, storms and boats. He uses a lot of metaphorical language to illustrate his spiritual truth. Which is something else you would expect from someone raised in that environment. He probably wrote this book around 50A.D. One of the first New Testament books written. But what is interesting to me about all of this is the way he introduces himself in verse one: This letter is from James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Now really, if you were the half brother of Jesus would you have put in parenthesis and by the way I’m connected to the family or I’m the half brother of Jesus! That in itself is a clue is it not, to the character of this man. He doesn’t introduce himself in this way but as a slave to God.
I’d read something that was really interesting to me. It said that the word slave in our culture does not have a good connotation. Obviously no one would want to describe them selves in that way but so often Paul and other writers refer to themselves as the slave of Christ. In that day they were illustrating a point that He owned them. They belonged to Him. It wasn’t necessarily in the way that we think of suffering and being the slave of someone against your will. But that He owned them. He is saying I am God’s. I am a part of His household. It was a way of speaking in a very not self- depreciating way but a very humble way. I am no better than a slave in the house of God. You may see this term several times in the New Testament and it had a little bit of a different connotation back then as it does now.
He says that this is written to Jewish Christians scattered among the nations. I’m reading from the Living Bible translation. If you read from the New International Version or the New King James version or something it will say to the twelve tribes scattered abroad. James was writing this letter to Jewish Christians who had scattered out of Jerusalem away from the center of persecution at that time. Because of the persecution of Christians you see a lot of talk in James about endurance, patience, wisdom and all of these things. He encourages them to persevere because of the great, great persecution they were in. You see this in many books such as Hebrews where they are written to people who have scattered because of persecution. That’s why you see so many verses such as don’t quit and keep on. We can only imagine what their lives were like; loss of family, loss of jobs, loss of income, physical illness, physical persecution and all of that. It is difficult for us to relate to but that is whom he was writing to. He is explaining to them what it really means to follow Christ.
Now the theme of this book is simply this, genuine faith will result or manifest itself in righteous living. If you’re truly a follower of Christ, true faith will show itself in righteous living.
Now this is the one reason why of course that this book is so timely. We live in a day and time where people say they believe one thing but act another way. If most Christians put their lives in a chart showing what they value or what they say they believe and compare it to here’s what I’ve done. Well, do we not know how that would look? It would often not be related whatsoever because we know we live in a time where most statistics of the world whether it’s from divorce or child abuse to alcoholism would look the same as the church, meaning in Christian’s lives. That’s why this is so challenging and he’s saying that genuine faith will show itself in righteous living.
We could almost look at his little segments in this book as sermons. They are all making the same point. He addresses different subjects but he is making the same point. He talks about the tongue. I am going to try to put that lesson off as long as possible!
Today we are going to talk about trials. He talks about having wisdom, how you’re going to get through trials, tribulations and temptations through godly wisdom. Oh, he talks a lot about the tongue, rumors and gossip. He talks about developing patience, endurance and humility. He has some strong words about favoritism and prejudice that are really, really very potent.
His famous statement in the book of James is faith without works is dead. What he is saying is that if your faith is real it will show itself through your works. Now there are a lot of people who think it says something different than we’re saved by faith. I remember our preacher mentioned that he was going to preach the book of James and this woman came up to him after and said ”Oh, preacher I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” It doesn’t say that if you read it in the correct light. He is simply saying faith without works – how do you even know it is faith? It’s going to show itself as being real through your works and righteous acts. In fact Martin Luther called this book an epistle of straw. He didn’t think it should be in the New Testament canon because there was so much emphasis on works. But here again take the context of time- what was Martin Luther’s message- justification through faith. His whole focus of life in the reformation was against the Catholic Church which he felt and which obviously had done this had made works the way of salvation. His point was “sola scriptura” by grace you are saved through faith. Scripture is the only thing that we need and faith is the only thing we need for salvation. So you could understand how he might not quite understand the message of James as well as someone else. I think he eventually changed his attitude but that was his mission. A lot of people have felt that way. But honest and truly, if you look at the book in it’s context, understand what it is saying and you do not emphasize one part over another you find that James has a very pointed message here to those of us who are believers. That we can all go around talking about how much we love Jesus. That is fine on Sunday but does it not come down to Monday morning when you walk in that office? Yes it does. Or when you walk into a difficult situation or you go through a trial. That’s when you find out what your faith is really made of. True faith will result in outward behavior consistent with scripture.
The theme of James is that genuine faith will always show itself through righteous living. Two passages that we’ll probably talk about next week are that your speech and your actions reflect your faith and that’s what he talks about- being a doer of the word. That is something we’ll hear over and over- being a doer of the word and not just a hearer and then of course faith without works is dead.
Let me start with James 1:2 and 4. Dear brothers and sisters whenever trouble comes your way let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow. For when your endurance or your patience is fully developed you will be strong in character and ready for anything. And in verse five –If you need wisdom –if you want to know what God wants you to do-ask Him and He will gladly tell you. We’ll go onto that in a minute.
Now it’s interesting if you just kind of stand back and look at the book. You see a couple of verses on trials and then he talks about wisdom which tells you how you’re going to get through those trials-with God’s wisdom. Then he spends a lot of time on temptation and this is classic- classic passage on temptation. It’s throughout the bible this whole pattern of temptation. That’s what we’ll talk about next week-what it is. It does not come from God. We are tempted by the evil one. He talks about withstanding temptation and about getting rid of the filth and bad attitudes in your life so that you can have a life of true wisdom and true godliness.
To start off with let’s look at joy in trials. This is a verse that I’m sure many of us have heard quoted many times- Whenever trials come your way my brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials and temptations. Now you know what I’m going to say. Joy? Now really. It’s joy when it’s over with right? Yes and sometimes it’s joy when it’s somebody else and it’s not you. That might be joyful. But I find it interesting that the first thing he addresses to these persecuted believers is don’t be surprised when you find yourself in trials. Suffering is the common thread that unites all of humanity. That’s why these verses that were written so long ago can still have meaning for us as it did for the original hearers. We all go through trials. That’s just a part of the fallen world we live in. We’ve talked about some of the trials that they were suffering. It’s interesting this word in the Greek is used many times in the gospels when it says that people were very sick and had various illnesses. That was used for trials and they would come to Jesus to be healed. Going through discouragement cans also be translated as a trial. The word translated in each particular passage is sometimes different. The context influences exactly how it is translated. So there’s a common theme through the bible that we are all going to suffer trials.
Now what is the joy about it? I for one am not good at suffering. Are you? That is not my best thing. Other things I can do but suffering? I am not good at that. I’m a wimp. But he tells us here we are to be joyful about it, why? Well let’s read the rest of the verse- because knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience or endurance. Now here’s the joy. When you know that the trial-this difficulty- that you are going through is not for nothing. That if you are following Christ and you really want to follow Him this trial and this tribulation is going to count for something. It’s as if God is giving you an opportunity to exercise your spiritual muscles. If you don’t go through trials you don’t know how to have faith do you? That’s when you learn to pray. That’s when you learn to trust God. He says it right here-the testing of your faith produces endurance, produces patience. It teaches us that God is faithful. It’s one thing to know it off the top of our head and it’s another thing to experience it. Would you not agree? Yes that is a completely different thing. As you go through a trial you find God’s provision and His comfort and His presence with you makes you stronger as a believer. It exercises your spiritual muscle and after you go through that you find you are stronger. You find that when you meet people and hear what they are going through you can minister to them. You know exactly what they are going through. It gives you an opportunity to reach out to the body of Christ-to other people- to encourage them. But you know, no matter how much we know something it’s not the same as experiencing it. I think of Ruth Ann over here who went through breast cancer in 2001. I’ve had several friends who have gone through that and have prayed with them and all that. It is one thing for me to know how hard that must be. It’s something else for Ruth Ann to know. She’s experienced it. Through that trial and experience God has developed her spiritual muscle and that of her family. She’s able to minister and be stronger as a woman of God. That’s just the way God arranged things to be. Trials are the method God uses to provide His provision and His care. Let me tell you something I’m convinced of too. Sometimes it amazes me. There are Christians and people who claim to be Christians who at the first time there are problems or trials they will be whining and crying. They can’t bear it. Why would God let this happen? I have a friend that did that. Her father got sick with cancer-my father hadn’t died too much further before that –and all she could say was this doesn’t happen to us, God wouldn’t do this. This must be a mistake. It was all I could do to say what makes you think you’re going to escape it and the rest of us have to go through it. Come on! Snap out of it! That’s what I wanted to do. On the other hand you have people like Ruth Ann and Dawn who are good examples. They have gone through very difficult circumstances and yet some how even though they get discouraged and they get weary and sometimes they get angry and question God, their spirit will not let them quit. We had dinner last night with a young man who has gone through extremely difficult circumstances in his marriage with five children. If ever there was a person who could’ve said I quit, I give up. God has failed me. Nothing has happened in my life as it should. But he sat there and told us however though everything in his life is a mess there’s something in him. He wants to obey God. He wants to be a godly man. He wants his children to know Christ. I just marvel at that. To me that is proof that someone is truly born again. Something in them will not let go and they will keep hanging on when they’re in a trial. If they will, it will produce great patience and endurance. So if you are in a trial right now and I’m sure every person in this room is in some kind of trial, please listen to the word of God. If you will not let yourself become angry or resentful or self-centered and you let God use that in your life you will bring forth great fruit, the fruit of righteousness. It will help you learn to trust God. It will produce endurance, patience and all those good qualities that we want. Let me tell you that we are not different as Christians as anybody else if you read about the great Christian women and men in history, the missionaries who endured unbelievable sufferings for the sake of the gospel. They were giants in faith because they allowed their suffering to produce this fruit-patience and endurance. God blessed them greatly for it. Trials create maturity and endurance. David said in Psalm 119:11, It is good for me that I have been afflicted. I have learned your word. Now isn’t that true. When I have a problem or something is really bothering me, that’s when I’m suddenly able to find all kinds of time for reading the bible. Are you like that? And prayer, oh yes, I have time for it then. On days that everything is OK I just can’t squeeze it in. There’s something about trials that drive us to the Lord. We’re all like that. It’s for our good and that is the joy in it. In Romans 8:28 it says that God will work it for our spiritual good if we will let Him do so and not become angry, resentful or bitter but let Him work in our life that way.
Now James goes on and says in verse 5 that if you need wisdom, if you want to know what God wants you to do, ask Him and He will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking but when you ask Him be sure that you really expect Him to answer for a doubtful mind is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. People like that should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. They can’t make up their minds. They waver back and forth in everything they do. Now here is what he is saying if you are going through a trial. How are you going to get through it, through wisdom. Godly wisdom will enable you to make the right choices to develop the skill in navigating through this trial by making wise choices and doing what you feel God wants you to do and learn through this trial. I’ve always loved this part of the verse that says He will not resent your asking. In the NKJV it says God gives liberally and without reproach when you need wisdom. I love that. He doesn’t say, “Well look who’s here.”
No, He doesn’t say that like an earthly parent might. No. I love it that He gives liberally. He just throws it out there and keeps throwing it out there on you and without reproach. He doesn’t say- well if you asked last time…. without reproach. When you want it He will give it to you. And yet James said but you have to ask in faith. You can’t ask and believe what this means is Lord, you tell me what you think I should do and then I’ll just kind of see. I’m not sure you know. I’ll just kind of decide then what I’m going to do. No, that’s a double minded person. It literally means a person with two minds. You have to ask in faith. You have to really want it.
This is part 2 in a 7-part series on the book of James. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.
We are in a study in the book of James. How many of you have read The Purpose Driven Life? I was thinking of doing it next if not many of you have. Oh, lots of you have! I got to hear Paul Harvey the other day and as he was going through his news and points of interest he talked about an interesting phenomenon in the state of California. In a penitentiary system where the worst of the worst criminals go, last year they had something like 121 riots, over 100 lockdowns and the majority of inmates in solitary confinement at some point. This year when they did the statistics the lockdowns, the riots and the solitary confinements had been cut by two thirds. Now they still had some of those things but they had dramatically decreased. When they went back to see what had changed, the only thing that was different from the year before was that every inmate had been given a copy of The Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren. Isn’t that something? The other day I was getting my haircut and I was watching Oprah on the television. Wynona Judd was on there talking about losing weight and do you know what she said? She said, I can get through the day, get my thoughts straight if I can just have my reading. That’s how she said it, my reading. Oprah said what reading is that? Wynona responded, I have my reading in The Purpose Driven Life to find out what my purpose is and why God made me. I just marveled. Here is a singing star to inmates in prison and then to FOCUS for women! We’re more like Wynona of course! Everybody wants to know there’s a purpose to life don’t they? There’s something about that book and that message that has really struck a chord with people. If you haven’t read that book and aren’t familiar with it, it’d be an excellent one to get. I was thinking along those lines because in the book of James last week, we talked about trials and today we’re going to talk about temptations. There is a purpose in those trials and temptations. God has something He is working within us when we have to go through those things.
If you remember when we read in verses 2 and 3, the beginning of chapter one, he said- Consider it all joy when you fall into trials and temptations. When you first read that you’re like of course that’s not joy, that’s terrible, that’s a problem or that’s sad or difficult. But he said the reason we could consider it joy is because it is producing something in us that nothing else could do. It produces patience and endurance in us and we are a better person for it. Can you not look at a serious trial or trouble you’ve been through and if you’ve walked through it with the Lord’s help, do you not look back and say, I’m a different person now? I do that in my life. There are so many things that have happened to me or my family and I hate to think that we had to go through that but I’m a different and better person for it. I am. You probably are too. You become a better person through your trials if you will let God lead you through them.
That brings us to our second point. It is wisdom. God’s wisdom gets us through those trials, making the right choices, knowing what advice to take, knowing how to persevere, knowing the right decisions to make and keeping the right attitude. Pray and seek the Lord. Do all of those things. God’s wisdom enables us to get through the trials.
Now in the book of James not everything is in chronological order. He frequently talks about wisdom, the tongue and favoritism. We have to go to different chapters of the book and in chapter 3 he talks about earthly and heavenly wisdom. He contrasts the two. He says, “If you are wise and understand God’s ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don’t brag about the good you do, you will truly be wise! But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your hearts, don’t brag about being wise. That’s the worse kind of lie. For jealousy and selfishness are not God’s kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual and motivated by the devil. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil” (James 3:13-16).
I looked at this verse in one of my older bibles, another translation, and out to side I had written Washington, D.C.!
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It shows no partiality and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness (James 3:17-18). I love that last line- and reap a harvest of goodness. Wouldn’t you love to reap a harvest of goodness in you life? Good things happen to people you love, good things happen at work and good things happen in your family if you will ask God for heavenly wisdom that comes from above. He will give it to you and we will reap a harvest of goodness. Last week, remember, we said that God does not reproach us. He does not hold back. He doesn’t say well you finally decided that you need some help! No. He does not do that. He will not do that to you. You can ask and He will give it to you. So heavenly, godly wisdom enables us to walk through trials and temptations.
Now we come to the second part of chapter one starting in verse 12 where he talks about temptations or testing. Trials and temptations are very closely related because one can lead to the other. If you’re in a trial, you’re very often tempted to get out of it in the wrong way. Do you agree with that? Yes, of course you do! I can answer for you! Trials and temptations are very closely related. In fact they have the same root word. In Greek temptation is used as an adjective and trial is used more as a noun. “God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. And remember, now one who wants to do wrong should never say, ”God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else either. Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires. These evil desires lead to evil actions, and evil actions lead to death. So don’t be deceived my dear brothers and sisters” (James 1:12-16). This passage is so rich and full of truth on how we are to go through temptation.
Let’s look at the whole break down or the whole idea and nature of temptation. First of all in verse 13 he says that God does not tempt us. He says in here- No one should say God is tempting me. God is never tempted to do wrong and He never tempts anyone else to do wrong either (James 1:13). God does not want you to do wrong. God does not tempt you. Who tempts you? Satan, your enemy, tempts you. In Luke 4 you can read the account of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. It says that the Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Now the Spirit may allow you to be in a position or place where temptation occurs. But neither God nor Jesus nor the Holy Spirit ever tempts anyone to do wrong. They want you to obey God and never do anything wrong. I want that to be clear. Satan tempts us.
Secondly, it is important to note here that temptation in itself is not a sin. It is not a sin to be tempted. In Hebrews 4 we are told that Jesus was tempted in all points as we are and yet He did not sin. So when you are tempted to do wrong, maybe at work to cook the books a little bit, to do something deceptive because it would be easier on you or a co-worker, when you’re tempted at home and you’re tempted to do something you know in your heart is not right that in itself is not a sin. That’s not the sin. The sin is when you act on it.
One of the best books, everyone who teaches a bible study should have this in their library, is The Myth of the Greener Grass by Eugene Peterson. He wrote it years ago. He is the same man that wrote The Message. It’s about the dangers couples face in sexual immorality. It’s the myth of the greener grass and why so many people fall for it. They fall into that temptation and that sin and find out it’s just not so great after all. This book is so full of truth and I wanted to read a couple of things because he says it so much better than I could. He says the temptation is one thing and our choice to obey the temptation is where sin comes in. That’s where the problem comes in. He draws the distinction in understanding the nature of temptation. He says you can’t stop temptations from coming but you can decide what you’re going to do with each one. You can’t stop the birds from flying in the sky but you can stop them from nesting in your hair. You can’t stop the devil from singing his bewitching songs in your ear but you don’t have to join him and sing a duet. You can’t stop the devil from displaying his wares in the shop window and urging you to buy but you don’t have to make a purchase. You can’t stop the devil from dropping his brats on your doorstep and beating incessantly on your door but you don’t have to open the door, take them in, warm them, clothe them and feed them. Now I think those illustrations succinctly tell us of the nature of temptation. Yes, we’re all very tempted but we don’t have to give in. That’s why we need the Holy Spirit who gives us the power and the strength to withstand the temptation and to obey God and to do what is right.
Trials and temptations are very closely related. An example of this would be the book of Job in the Old Testament. He was a very wealthy man who had everything. Now we are kind of given a glimpse into heaven where Satan came to God and said, your servant Job of course loves You. He has everything. Let me mess with him and we’ll just see what happens. Well, Job lost everything, his money, his family and wealth. The whole book, 41 chapters, is about Job’s struggles and his trying to make sense of God and why He had done this. Job was tempted in this great trial. Of course Job doesn’t know what is happening in the heavenly courts. He just knows that he was just minding his own business obeying God and then one day he lost everything. We know what’s going on because we’re given a view into heaven. Job was tempted. What was he tempted to do? He was tempted to blame God and give up. His counselors started out good by just sitting by his side and not saying anything. Which is the best way to comfort someone I think. They did very well until they tried to explain to Job why it all happened and how it was really all his fault. Don’t you love people, you know, who try to comfort you in your affliction and tell you that it’s your own fault! The whole book is about these men trying to explain everything and Job trying to reason through it and the famous line by Job’s wife! What if you were a great wife and one day you were in a bad mood and you said something you shouldn’t of said and that got put in the bible?! She could’ve been a great lady and was in a bad mood that day! Maybe she was just mean! You probably won’t hear that anywhere but here! But she said to Job, why don’t you just curse God and die? Just be done with it you know? Your life is so miserable and you’re making me miserable, let’s just finish this whole thing. And yet, Job withstood the temptation to do that. Just think if he had, the victory that would’ve given Satan. Satan could’ve said to God, “See, I told you.” Job didn’t do it and spoke some of the most profound words in scripture, “ I know that my Redeemer liveth. Though He slay me, yet I will still trust Him”(Job 19:25). Some of the great mountaintops of scripture are found in Job who was tempted to give up.
I mentioned to you that James was writing to Christians who had been dispersed throughout the world because of persecution in Jerusalem and all over the Roman Empire. Many of them were tempted to renounce their faith. It was too hard. The Jewish Christians were tempted to move back into Jewish life and not be a part of this new faith, this new walk of following after Christ. It was a huge temptation. We often read of the martyrs but there were many, many what we would call lapsed Christians. Many Christians under persecution renounced their faith. It was a big, big problem after Constantine declared the empire Christian. What do you do with lapsed Christians? Do you take them back or say sorry you rejected Christ, you’re not coming in. It was a big controversy. The church at the time of James’ writing was very tempted to just give up and give in because it was too hard to follow Christ. I think we can say the same thing today.
Secondly, God will provide a way of escape from temptations. If you have not memorized 1st Corinthians 10:13 you need to. If you have teenagers you must write this verse on huge freezer paper and put it on their wall! “Remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience. God is faithful and He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can’t stand up against it. When you are tempted He will show you a way out”(I Corinthians 10:13). God has promised you a way out. Now you need to take Him up on that promise. We all need it. In other words we can’t just say, I’m stuck here, I don’t have anything else I can do. God will provide a way out. Let’s look at a few examples. First, when Jesus was tempted in the Garden of Gethsemane by Satan to not go to the cross. I believe every demon of hell was unleashed against Christ. And when he sweat drops of blood it was literally blood vessels bursting in His head. I believe He was clawing the ground in agony, fighting off the demons of hell, He was tempted and He said if there’s another way, I’d like to take it. Let this cup pass from Me. Then He said, not my will but Thine be done. The book of Luke said that angels came and ministered to Him, to strengthen Him. Wouldn’t you love to know what happened? But God provided a way for Him to withstand temptation. Now I would like an angel to come to me when I’m in temptation. Wouldn’t you love that! But you know, a lot of times God does do that and we don’t even know it. But more often than not, God will provide a way out in a very simple and practical way. We can take another very famous story about temptation in the book of Genesis when Joseph was a handsome young man and had been taken into bondage in Egypt. He had shown his administrative abilities and had become very, very high in the Pharaoh’s court in the house of Potiphar who was like the vice president of Egypt. Joseph was extremely good-looking, wise, smart and powerful and Potiphar’s wife decided she would like to go to bed with him. She came on to him and he kept saying no, no and no. One day she finally threw herself at him and made her desires extremely well known. Joseph was obviously tempted. He was a man and she’s a woman etc… How did he withstand this temptation? God provided a door! There was a door in the room! Joseph ran and fled through the door. He was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and all that, but here is where he made such a classic statement. I could not sin against my Lord or master by doing that. He understood what was at stake here. He did not let his hormones get the best of him. God provided a door. Now listen, sometimes God provides a very practical thing to get you out of temptation especially when it comes to sexual immorality. Paul said to flee sexual immorality and I think that means literally as well as metaphorically! Sometimes God provides a very spiritual way- dreams, sermons, scripture, songs or brilliant bible studies like FOCUS! But so often He provides just a simple way to withstand the temptation right in front of your face if you will just see it.
What you have to ask yourself, though, is do I really want to overcome this temptation? Do you really want to overcome it? If you decide you’re on the path to obey God and walk with Him, that decision is already made. It’s like deciding to go on a diet. You don’t decide as you walk into El Phoenix on the special enchilada day. That’s not the time to decide. You know what you’re going to do! The time to decide that you are going to eat right that day is at 6:30 am when you’re standing over your little bowl of Special K. You have to decide beforehand that you are going to be true to God and ask Him to show you the way out of temptation in your life. You have a much better chance to overcome it than just waiting to see if it looks like a decent temptation or not and then decide. Most likely you‘re not going to overcome it that way.
Now James gets a little more specific and talks about the anatomy of temptation. Starting with verse 15- These evil desires lead to evil actions and evil actions lead to death. So don’t be deceived. Now the very thing he is saying here is, do not be deceived by temptations. Temptations deceive us, do they not? It promises us something that it cannot deliver. First of all he says temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires. These evil desires lead to evil actions. The conception of sin , the cause of a temptation, is we are drawn away by our own desires, fleshly nature and appetites. I have heard many times people say they sinned or fell into temptation because Satan really got them. Or Satan set a trap and he won him over or he deceived them. More or less blaming a person’s failure on Satan. Now listen my friends, this is not biblical. This is not biblical. Satan cannot make you do anything. He couldn’t make Job sin. Believe me if anybody had the right and opportunity, it was Job. Satan couldn’t make him do it against his will. We simply cooperate with Satan when we give into temptation. I agree there is warfare. I know he can unleash all kinds of difficulties in our life. God can allow him to do that. But you cannot sin without agreeing to do it. OK. James says it right here. It is our own evil fleshly desires. The bible says in our flesh is no good thing. Right?
I was at a pregnancy center dinner, a pro-life event, when the speaker was asking for an offering. He said, “ People always say just let your heart lead you. I don’t know about you but my heart is deceitfully wicked, the bible tells me. When I ask my heart how much to give, it said I couldn’t afford it, move on. Don’t listen to your heart, listen to God and do what He tells you.” I think that man is right on track. He knows what he is talking about.
Secondly, James says the evil desire leads to evil actions. It leads to the development of sin and that brings the consequence. Sin when it is full grown brings death. That means spiritual death. That means separation from God. Now granted we can ask for forgiveness, we know that. But that’s kind of the way it falls out.
When I was a kid we would go to the lake in the summer. A couple of weeks in the summer we would spend the nights with my grandmother who rented a cabin on Lake Austin. She had a sister named Aunt Lois. She was very athletic. We would get up early in the morning and go out on the dock when the lake was so smooth and we’d fish. We had bamboo poles, little red and white sinkers, the big hook and white bread. We’d sit there real quiet and wait for the perch to come up and bite it. Of course once the perch would bite it, she’d jerk it out of the water. I would never touch something as nasty as a fish and so she would take it off the hook and throw it back in. This was a game. I remember sitting there seeing that perch come up to it and then it’d back off. It’d come up again and maybe take a little nibble. And you’re like come on, come on. You want it to bite the hook. That is the word picture I have in my mind when it comes to our evil desires. Satan lures us just like we used the fishing lures. Sometimes it could be a little perch he wants to catch. Sometimes it could be a big sailfish with a highly technological lure. He puts the bait out there. But he cannot make us bite anymore than I could’ve made that little fish in Lake Austin bite. That is that person or entity’s decision. When that happens there is a consequence. This is expressed, this whole pattern in 1 John 2 by the apostle John when he talks about the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. This whole pattern is seen in Genesis 3. All these passages fall into this same pattern.
This is part 3 in a 7-part series on the book of James. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.
There is so much in this book! We are still in Chapter1 in part three of this series. This is an excellent book on practical Christian living. I will review for just a minute. This book is particularly relevant for us today because it talks about living what you believe. This weekend the emphasis in the news was on our heroes, V-day, WWII heroes, president Reagan, and I thought about what a rich heritage we have due to our American heroes, men and women who have done courageous and tremendous things. It’s because they have principles and believe in acting on them. That’s what makes a true hero. That is what we are talking about in this book. We are taking a trip with James, excursions and stops along the way. Our destination is to understand where true righteous living and true righteousness is found. It is found in the word of God when it is planted in our heart and working out of us affecting our everyday life and decisions.
Back in the 1970’s, I can’t remember the year, there was a very popular book that came out titled, How to be a Christian Without Being Religious. Basically it was a little paperback book that differentiated between the idea of thinking you were a Christian through rituals or a so-called Christian way of life as opposed to being really, really born again and knowing Christ as your savior. I thought it was one of the best titles I’d ever seen. How to be a Christian Without Being Religious- there’s so much truth in that title. Oftentimes people are religious but not necessarily Christian. What I want to do in one sense, as we read this passage in James1, is to redefine the definition of religious. That little book implied that you could be religious and have a form of godliness, so to speak, like go to church and all those things and yet not really be a Christian.
For our purposes today, when James uses the work religion, He is using it in the sense of someone who is truly following Christ. They have given their heart and life to Christ and are doing everything they can to follow Him in obedience. That would be true of evangelicals from just about every denomination that believes it is a personal relationship with Christ that makes you a follower of Him. It’s not just a religion or empty rituals. James is talking about being a doer of the word.
There is an interesting debate going on in this political season because of the concept of being a doer of the word. Your attitudes and actions should reflect the fact that the word of God lives in you. It goes back to the saying of St. Francis of Assisi who said,” Preach the gospel at every opportunity and use words if you have to”. Your life, attitudes, decisions and the things you’re involved in should preach a sermon despite the words because doing and acting go beyond the words. There are some candidates who are privately pro life but publicly pro choice and are professing Catholics. You may have read that there are some Catholic priests who are refusing to give them the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper. The debate is if you’re a Catholic, in this particular case, if you don’t agree with the church’s teaching then you are denied the sacrament. In other words you are going to have to be a doer of the word. If you say you believe in pro life privately you are going to have to support that publicly also. This is a very valid debate for all of us. After I had read the last article in World Magazine, I thought we all certainly have inconsistencies, don’t we? We say we believe one thing and do something else.
James is writing in the culture of his day. He was writing to Christians who were highly persecuted though out the Roman Empire and most had spread out. They left Jerusalem and spread northward particularly to Antioch and up into Asia Minor. He was also speaking to the religious hypocrisy in the culture of his day. Jesus talked so much about that, in particular to the Pharisees. There are a lot of themes from Jesus’ teachings in that way similar in James’ book.
We are starting in chapter 1 verse 19 about listening and being a doer of the word. We’ll talk about three particular points and practical applications that help show us what that means. “Dear friends, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Your anger can never make things right in God’s sight. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the message God has planted in your hearts, for it is strong enough to save your souls. And remember, it is a message to obey, not just listen to. If you don’t obey, you are only fooling yourself. For if you just listen and don’t obey, it is like looking at your face in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you keep looking steadily into God’s perfect law-the law that sets you free- and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless (James 1:19-26).
I know you’re sorry you came today! I can already tell! Well, what if you had to teach it?
Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us (James 1:27).
Now this is a better verse!
There is a lot in that last phrase. The KJV says ”remain unstained by the world”. That is a bold statement. How are we going to do that?
There are three things we are going to talk about; our speech, controlling our tongue, obedience, ministry to the poor, and what it means to remain unstained from sin. These four components fo doing and being we find in this passage.
First of all, James 1:19 is a classic verse and if you don’t have it memorized you need to. Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.
Quite a few years ago our oldest daughter, Wendi, was in middle school. Do any of you have children that can just punch your button like that to make you angry? Oh yeah! She was always a very good girl but she could just make me crazy! I remember one morning she was leaving for school and being difficult. Not me of course! We had a semi-argument and it escalated. When it had ended I was speaking harshly and she left and slammed the door as her carpool ride had arrived. And me, like the biggest phony on the face of the earth, you know, like everything’s great, I leaned out the door and waved and said, “God bless you honey. Have a good day!” I closed the door and was really, really depressed. I was not getting anywhere with this child and by what I did and said I knew I had reacted wrongly. I was really down about that as I went to have my quiet time and I was reading through the book of James. I should’ve known I was in trouble! I opened up my bible as I sat on my couch with my huge cup of coffee with a headache already beginning. I said, “Lord, help me. I’ve got to get a handle on this. I am the adult. She is the child. It is my responsibility to get a handle on our disagreements and learn how to handle these situations because I seriously don’t believe that’s the last one”. The verse I began with was James 1:19. Dear friends, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Well, that’s the only verse I read because I realized I had violated all three of those principles. I was not quick to hear. What does, quick to hear mean? The word literally means as soon as a sound is made you pick it up. Learning to listen and really hear is a skill that you develop. There is a phrase we use, I hear you, what does that mean? It means I not only hear what you’re saying but I know what you mean. I not only hear the words but also the meaning of what you are telling me underneath. That’s what I’m talking about when I say be quick to hear. Have you ever been troubled by something yourself and you see a friend and they ask you how you’re doing? Of course you say what everyone says and you answer, “Fine’. And they believe you! What’s wrong with them? They should’ve known something was wrong by the way I said fine or maybe I should’ve just come out and told them the truth! Sometimes only the Holy Spirit can give you that discernment. Be quick to hear and really listen. I learned that with my daughter Wendi. I needed to learn not to just listen to the surface things but have a deeper conversation with her that night and find out what was really going on in her life. I did that. I’m not saying it solved our problem but it seriously improved our communication and our understanding of one another.
That reminds me of the story in Luke of Mary of Bethany who was sitting at the feet of Jesus. Now one of my pet peeves is people who try to read things into the scriptures that are not there. You don’t have to do that. There’s so much there we can’t even understand it all. Now having said that, that’s what I’m going to do right now! As I’ve read over this passage many times I have thought of the picture this paints of Mary at Martha’s house. Martha is busy and beside herself over all these men who have just dropped in for dinner or lunch. Martha says to Jesus, why don’t you get her to help me? Jesus kindly rebukes her in a sense as He says, but Mary has done the most important thing and that is sitting at My feet. You know it wasn’t long after that in the gospels that Mary anointed the feet of Jesus. Jesus said she was anointing Me for the day of my burial. This happened immediately before the Passover and He would face death on the cross. I have wondered reading that in context of the entire story if Mary was the only one really listening to Jesus. The disciples even up until the last supper were arguing about who was going to be the greatest. I wonder if Jesus was telling Mary about why He was going to die and she was really listening. I don’t know that as a fact but I know this, I need to show that kind of listening and sensitivity to others. I especially need to hear God like that. I need to be quick to hear what He is saying to me as we all do.
Years ago I clipped out one of those pithy sayings they have in Reader’s Digest. They always have wonderful sayings and this one I clipped out and put it in the back of my bible. It says this, “His thoughts were slow. His words were few and never formed to glisten. But he was a joy to all his friends and you should have heard him listen”.
There is an element of discipline in listening and not talking. Most of us want to tell people what they need to do. That’s what I wanted to do with Wendi. I did it and she wouldn’t listen. She was not quick to listen! You cannot truly listen to someone including God if you’re doing all the talking. In the book of Proverbs there are quite a few verses on listening. Proverbs 18:13; He who answers before listening, it is a folly and a shame. If you answer before you have heard what someone has to say, it’s a folly, it’s silly, it may not be applicable to them at all. Proverbs 1:5; Let the wise listen and add to their learning. If you want to be wise and add to your learning then listen. Proverbs 12:15; A wise man listens to advice. John 10:27; My sheep hear my voice; I hear, they listen to my voice. That is why it is very important to control the tongue. My sheep listen. They hear My voice. We cannot do that if we are doing all the talking.
The second part of the verse says slow to speak. What does that mean? That simply means don’t say the first thing that comes into your mind. I’ve done that on many occasions and trust me. It doesn’t work! We are all familiar with the passage in Proverbs 15:1 that says a gentle answer turns away wrath. Haven’t you seen that in people before? They can be angry and upset and you give them a calm and gentle answer and it diffuses their anger. While I was sitting there I could reconstruct the whole scenario with Wendi in my mind. I knew when I should’ve given a gentle answer. It would’ve alleviated the pressure, anger and everything else. This is my personal belief. It is the enlightened person’s responsibility to do that. You can’t say well, they should know better and they should give the gentle answer. No, that’s not an excuse. It is our job to be the one to give the soft answer. There’s an old fashioned method that works for holding your tongue and controlling your temper. I think it’s good and it’s as simple as counting to ten!
The next part of our verse says slow to anger. Proverbs 29:11; A fool gives full vent to his anger. Proverbs 22:24; Keep away from angry, short-tempered people, or you will learn to be like them and endanger your soul. Proverbs 29:22; A hot- tempered person starts fights and gets into all kinds of sin. Hot tempers, anger and harsh words can stir up the pot and cause dissension. This last week I took a course at Southwestern Seminary on Feminist Theology. I feel like I’ve just been slimed! This kind of stuff is unbelievable! It’s just one of the best things I’ve ever taken. I thought about that verse because do you know how you create dissatisfaction in people? You start talking about how rotten life is, how bad people have been and in this example how men have sometimes treated women in the past. The feminist movement has used this method to try to raise women’s consciousness sometimes. I’m telling you, ten minutes of that stuff and I was ready to march! I was ready to go! It doesn’t take much for an angry person to be on the opposite side of where they really want to be. An angry person can stir up dissension. That’s why we’re warned against it.
James 1:20; The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. This is what I realized about Wendi. I could get angry at her all day. None of my anger would produce what I really want in her, the righteousness of God. Anger will not produce that. Anger directed against somebody else will not produce the righteousness of God. That verse is so helpful to me in any situation where I find anger or dissension. The other verse that sums it up is James 1:26; If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are just fooling yourself and your religion is worthless.
Now James 1:21; So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the message God has planted in your hearts, for it is strong enough to save your souls. Now I love that. It tells us the word of God, when implanted in our spirit, in our soul, that it will change us. You may say I want to be a doer of the word but I don’t know how to. Here’s how you do it. You put God’s word in you and then you obey it. It’s really pretty simple. It’s implanted in your soul. When you come to Christ, His spirit comes to live in you along with the word of God as you continue to feed your spiritual life. It becomes implanted in your soul.
Starting in James 1:22; And remember, it is a message to obey not just to listen to. If you don’t obey, it’s like looking in a mirror but doing nothing to improve your appearance. He’s saying if you come to the word of God and you read about life you need to do something with that. Let’s take for example the verse we read about being slow to speak. If you read that and think, hmm, that’s my verse for today and you just walk off and don’t think anything else about it or try to think how that would apply to you then it is like getting up in the morning looking in the mirror, thinking I’m fine and then just walk away. Do any of you think that in the morning? If you’re like me you’re thinking surely I couldn’t of aged that much in one night! It must be my mirror! When you see how you look in the mirror most people want to improve themselves. They want to do something about it. When we look into the mirror of God’s word it should make us want to improve ourselves in that way and go do something about it. The law of God shows us what we really are. It doesn’t show us what we think we are. That’s why we need to look to it.
There are so many verses that tell us how the word of God can change us. Isaiah 55:10; As the rain and snow come down from the heavens and do not return there without watering the earth and making the barren sprout and furnishing the seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so will My word be which goes forth from my mouth. It will not return to me empty without accomplishing what I desire and succeeding in the name of which I sent it. God’s word when it is sent out to a receptive heart, it will accomplish its purpose. My verse for this year has been in Colossians; Let the word of Christ dwell richly within you. I want the word of God to dwell richly and to overflow in my heart. That’s what James is talking about. You put God’s word into you and have it change you. Hebrews 4:12; For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Dr. David Allen was a professor at Criswell College and he did his dissertation on the book of Hebrews. He has written extensively on it. He says he believes Luke is the author of Hebrews. Luke was a physician. His picture here is that the word sword is better translated a small knife. The word picture is of a surgeon, not a sword slashing something in half, but a surgeon taking a tiny scalpel and piercing between the marrow and the bone and muscle. There are tiny cuts that pierce the two things apart. That’s how exact the word of God is. Even my example of that day with Wendi, it was like a little scalpel that God used to pierce my own heart and show me where I was wrong and what I needed to do. It’s an instrument of change when we let that happen. As stated in 2 Timothy 3:16; All Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Learning to be doers of the word.
I don’t have time to read it this morning but if you like to read web blogs and comments of the day Al Mohler has the most interesting perspective on our culture. He is president of the Southern Seminary. His message to graduates this year was his first. Being doers of the word. When you act on God’s word it becomes even more implanted in your soul. It can be in your spirit and you know what to do but until you act on it, it doesn’t ever really take root. There’s something about obedience and acting on God’s word that makes it become more real.
We as Christian women have an amazing heritage. Women have done phenomenal things because they believed in the word of God. Not just because they wanted to be socially active or had some agenda but they had a deep walk with Christ and worked out their own salvation. There are so many examples I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many. The early century mystics such as Teresa of Avila or Katherine of Sienna would go into these contemplative states. They loved the word of God. You’d think they just would’ve sat in caves all day but they carried on unbelievable ministries caring for the sick and poor. They’d work with people with horrid diseases, changing the bandages on their wounds, loving them, praying with them and staying up all night with them. Women had no political power in the 14th century but socially they had a tremendous impact. They were doers of the word. Jesus said to take care of the poor and they said hmm we’d better go. All throughout the history of the church there have been women who were grounded in the word of God and believed in Christ and the miraculous nature of the gospel. They believed Christ could change someone’s heart. Katherine Booth of the Salvation Army in London was one of these women. She would lead other women into the hellholes where people lived with rampant alcoholism, wife beating, child abuse and abject poverty. They would take the gospel and start bible studies and along with that they would clothe, feed and love them. God blessed this work greatly. Francis Willard was the leader in the temperance movement. All of the social movements that women led of the 19th and 20th centuries can be traced back to their faith in Christ. That’s why so many women became involved in the suffrage movement. They felt the only way laws concerning alcohol were ever going to change was if the women were allowed to vote. The whole Sunday school movement began with two women. They prayed and felt God wanted them to go into the worst slums of London and begin bible classes for these little children. It grew and grew. When two women from America came and saw it, they brought it back home with them. Today every denomination has Sunday school or some form of childhood education. They took to heart Jesus’ teaching about whatever you have done to the least of my brethren, you have done unto Me. They were doers of the word.
This is part 4 in a 7-part series on the book of James. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.
Today we move into lesson two of James 2, the second chapter of James. James begins to talk about some of the problems that were in the early church. Interestingly enough because of human nature, the same problems are in the church today. Let’s remember that James was the half brother of Jesus. He at first did not believe in Jesus but after the resurrection the resurrected Lord appeared to him. This is in 1 Corinthians 15. We don’t know all of the details but he became the pastor of the church at Jerusalem. Now the church in Jerusalem-you’ve heard the term flagship church- oh yeah- the traditional strong base from which all other churches benefited. Because of the persecution of Christians in the 1st century, Christians began to scatter, especially to Antioch. Antioch became one of the main centers of Christianity. They scattered all throughout the Roman Empire. James was writing letters to the Christians to encourage them in their faith. James was probably one of the first books written in New Testament times. The reason we know this is because he was martyred in about 60 or 62 A.D. It obviously had to be written before that but also he doesn’t mention any of the problems that came later on in the early church. For example, the Judaizers believed you had to become a Jew first and then a Christian. It doesn’t mention false teaching or any of those other things that Paul and Peter specifically mention. He also mentions meeting in synagogues so this was before they began meeting in homes. There were no church buildings until the 3rd century. They first started meeting in homes when they were kicked out of the synagogues. They began to be no longer just a minor part of Judaism but a major force.
James is writing this letter as the pastor of the Jerusalem church to encourage these Christians that have been scattered out into Asia Minor and into the world of that day. It was still a transition time for Jewish believers from understanding the law to understanding grace. James is more or less one who bridges that time. He mentions some very specific problems. The one he is specifically famous for is faith versus works. They are not in conflict and there is a very clear way to see that. I think it’s very important that we understand the theme in James. He has some harsh words for the rich later on- he talks about faith without works and how it doesn’t do any good- he talks about our speech. In other words the whole theme of James is this- regardless of our words our actions stand in judgment of our faith. We can have all the right words but our actions and attitudes can be entirely different. There’s got to be harmony between both in order to know that it is true faith.
The theme of this lesson would be James2: 8; “It is good when you truly obey our Lord’s royal command found in Scripture: “Love your neighbor as yourself,”. This is really the essence of everything he’s talking about- love your neighbor as yourself. He begins by introducing the problem of favoritism or discrimination. Was there a teacher’s pet when you were in school? Were any of you the teacher’s pet? You were! I always wanted to be the teacher’s pet! I was one of those children who just blended in. There was always a teacher’s pet. Oh, how nobody likes the teacher’s pet! Why? Because the teacher plays favorites and gives them everything- like running errands, cleaning the chalk board, going to recess early and going to get the ice cream. I know because I never was one of those people! If only it would stay so simple. Unfortunately that attitude grows into very destructive things if it’s not stopped. That is favoritism and discrimination and it really, really sins against the nature of God.
Interestingly enough, favoritism and discrimination were a big problem in the early church in the 1st century. Society was characterized into upper and lower classes back then. We’ve talked quite a bit about Palestine in the Jesus era. You had the Pharisees and the religious leaders in one strata- the wealthy people- and the poor people in the other strata. These classes were very, very distinctive. Jesus was usually challenging those men in the upper classes, the religious men. This was also characteristic of the church in the time of James.
You can tie James to the story in Acts 6 not because he is mentioned but undoubtedly James had observed something happen in the very early days of the early church. When the deacons were chosen-the first committee really- the reason why was to lead out in the daily administration because there was a problem of discrimination. Guess who it was with? The women- the older women! Don’t mess with older women, just don’t! That’s not a good idea! What had happened was that there was dissatisfaction between some of the widows. Now widows generally, when they had no children to support them, would often come to Jerusalem because the church had a large charity there to care for them. There was a large contingency of widows that went into Jerusalem at this time. There were Hellenistic widows-Jewish women who had converted to Christianity- that meant they spoke Greek the common language of the day. Then you had the Hebraic widows. They spoke Aramaic as they did in Palestine proper. You automatically had cultural differences. You had two different nationalities so to speak. The Jews who ran the church in Palestine were Hebraic Jews who spoke Aramaic. The Hellenistic Jews, these women, said when they were passing out the daily distribution of food that they weren’t getting as much as the other women. Can you imagine women saying that? A dispute arose. The men of the church were very, very wise and they prayed. God gave them the plan to pick out seven men from among them full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit. These men would serve as deacons. They would take care of the daily ministration of the food and the apostles would then be free to give themselves to the word and to prayer. There’s one of the first patterns we have of church staff or polity-church running a church. Someone would care for the administrative things and then the pastor or preacher would give themselves fully to the word and prayer. It’s interesting that the men that they chose all had Greek names which tells you something about the wisdom of the apostles. They did this as a concession-as a sign of cooperation- with the Greeks.
Undoubtedly James was already aware that the first major conflict of the early church was discrimination and favoritism. It was a problem in that culture as well as this one.
James then begins to set up his case or argument about favoritism. I am reading from the Living New Testament. James 2: 1-13; “My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim that you have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people more than others? For instance, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in shabby clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”- well, doesn’t this discrimination show that you are guided by wrong motives? Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? And yet, you insult the poor man! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear? Yes, indeed, it is good when you truly obey our Lord’s royal command found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you pay special attention to the rich, you are committing a sin, for you are guilty of breaking that law. And the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as the person who has broken all of God’s laws. For the same God who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” So if you murder someone, you have broken the entire law, even if you do not commit adultery. So whenever you speak, or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law of love, the law that set you free. For there will be no mercy for you if you have not been merciful to others. But if you have been merciful, then God’s mercy toward you will win out over his judgment against you.
How many of you would prefer God’s mercy to win out at our judgment opposed to His judgment? How many? This is good. We should rejoice over this verse. In Christ, God’s mercy triumphed over judgment. We will talk about that in our next lesson in more detail.
James hits them hard about favoritism. He’s setting up his case or argument for faith versus works. His first point in taking on this argument is to say let’s talk about discrimination. We know that God is no respecter of persons. We know we are to love and show mercy and kindness to everyone. Yet he told them that many of them were not doing that. He uses the word that is often translated as the word discrimination or more accurately favoritism. Some of you may wonder why speakers will usually give the meaning in Greek or Hebrew. It’s the original language the New Testament was written in. Often those words are more specific and carry nuances that are a little different than our English language. It often gives us additional insight into the word used. For example, the word for favoritism is a combination of – to accept and face. So favoritism means accepting or rejecting on the basis of someone’s face or appearance. So you look at someone. You don’t bother to know anything about them but you immediately accept or reject them on the basis of their outward appearance, their social status, their race, their ethnicity, their education or whatever it is. You are simply just looking at the outside. Now apparently James had heard some of his church members cotowing down to some of these rich people and giving them preference or preferential treatment. He was saying, as he so often says in other chapters, ‘my brothers these things ought not to be’. This is not consistent with the love of God. Faith and favoritism are inconsistent one with the other.
He gives us a hypothetical situation. Can any of you imagine a hypothetical situation like this? Oh, I can! This is if it came from a church last Sunday. A person who’s dressed nicely, an expensive suit, a nice watch, hair slicked back, a good- looking guy with nice shoes walks into church and behind him is a poorly dressed person. Now let’s be honest. Who is the usher going to give preference to? Well, probably the nicely dressed person as opposed to the poorly dressed person. This is very common. Now in biblical days they were much more obvious about it. The wealthy would be given the front row seats at the synagogue and the poor people would have to stand. James is reminding them here, he’s saying, weren’t you the poor people that used to have to sit on the floor or stand? If you remember, you used to be those people. Now you’re giving preference to the wealthy and doing to others what they had done to you. That is not the right thing to do.
Have any of you ever been to Williamsburg, Virginia? I went to Williamsburg as a child with my parents. My mother loved it. Poor thing though, we made her life miserable! All we wanted to do was to go on the rides. There are no rides at Williamsburg! My poor mother just wanted to do whatever you did there and I always felt so guilty about that- later not then! We were in Williamsburg and I bought her several nice gifts there because I felt so guilty as and adult for what I did to her as a child! While we were there we visited one of the oldest colonial churches in Williamsburg. I think it was built in the 1600”s. I was amazed. I wish you could’ve seen it, the altar, the pulpit and then in the congregational area there were these pews built for families that were like box seats! They had a compartment with a little door where they would walk in and a little thing built up in the middle where your servants would bring hot bricks wrapped in clothes and lay them there during the sermon. They could put their feet on the hot bricks because obviously there was no electricity. All right, these were for the rich people who gave the most money! Yes! Everybody else had to sit in the back on benches with nobody warming their feet! The people would buy the pew as a family and the closer they got to the front - it meant the more money they had given. Did they never read the book of James? I don’t know! It’s just unbelievable for us today to fathom that that’s the way they did church. Obviously it’s part of human nature to do that. He gives us this hypothetical situation where if you give special attention to the rich person but you say to the poor one you can sit on the floor doesn’t this show you are guided by wrong motives. He is saying your motives are wrong. There’s something wrong in your heart. You are discriminating or showing favoritism to someone else. He’s not saying don’t honor the wealthy person- the bible says give honor to whom honor is due. He’s just saying don’t treat them differently. Don’t treat them discriminately.
In verse 9 he adds to your paying special attention to the rich. You’re committing a sin- you are guilty of breaking that law. What law? The law of love is showing consideration and love and thoughtfulness toward every human being. Treat everyone the same and don’t give preferential treatment to those who have money or who have position. Now why do people do that? There’s something in our nature, is there not, that looks at money rather than to depend on God. Oftentimes a community leader comes into the church and we think maybe they’ll help our church or maybe that wealthy person will make a really big offering. I think that plays a big part of it- to look at money and not God. This is what Jesus was saying when he called the Pharisees hypocrites. You say you live by one thing and yet you act another way. That was exactly what was happening with the early church with James. God is no respecter of persons.
We recently went to a Dallas summer musical, Fiddler on the Roof. I loved that show and I’m reminded that discrimination is not politically correct today in our world even though people still do it. In just a few lines this Tevi, who lived in Russia with his family as part of the Jewish minority, was told by the Russian police officer that their village was going to be burned. He calls him nothing but a Jewish dog. I know it’s just a stage play but just to hear those words. Have you had that experience? What is it like to be regarded as a dog? This is a big problem for the church in other parts of the world because of these deep, deep- seated hatreds and discriminations toward other people. It was like that in Jesus’ day too. It is good to be reminded that God is no respecter of persons.
Now verse 5 tells us that God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith. Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the kingdom God promised to those who love Him? And yet you insult them. Let’s talk about the poor for a minute. Jesus said in Matthew 4 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’, right? It is those who realize they are spiritually bankrupt on their own. They have nothing to offer God. Those are the ones God can bless. Those are the ones God can use. Those are the ones God can fill. If you don’t have any need for God, then you are on your own. But blessed are the poor in spirit. There is a biblical admonition to remember the poor all through the Old Testament in the giving of the law. There were specific things the Jews were to do in caring for orphans, widows the poor and oppressed. Remember the story of Ruth and Boaz? She and her mother-in-law, Naomi, were destitute and so there was a provision for her to go to a field and collect the grain that was left from collection time. Remember John the Baptist when he wondered- he sent word to Jesus- are you the Christ or shall we look for another? Jesus sent back the word to him and said, ’the poor have the gospel being preached to them’. When Paul left Ephesus the people were crying and hanging on to him as he had said, ‘I’ll never see you again”, you know what he said out of all the things he could’ve said? Remember the poor. There is something about the poor and not showing favoritism that is close to the heart of God. That’s why I think if you want to want to give credibility to a church or ministry, you have to find some way to give to the poor. Nothing gives you credibility like that one. When we moved to Dallas, O.S. and I were blown away by the ministry of Dallas Life Foundation. The way they minister to the poor and homeless is unbelievable. It gives them such credibility because that is what Jesus said to do. In fact when Jesus was preaching His first sermon in Nazareth, He quoted from the scroll Isaiah 61. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to anoint Me to preach the good news to the poor. So there’s something about the poor- those who have nothing- I think that gives them a certain empathy perhaps or inclination toward hearing from God. They don’t have anything else.
James was very, very strong on this point. He also said when you discriminate or show favoritism you are also dishonoring them. You take away their dignity. When you treat them differently and push them to the back of the room, you dishonor them. He was accusing them of taking away their dignity. If you look at the life of Jesus you can see He treated everyone the same. He could go into Jerusalem and minister to the invalid- the poor cripple man at the pool of Bethesda, the bottom of the bottom- and yet He could spend time with Nicodemus who was a ruler of the Jews. On the way to Jericho He could stop and talk to Zacchaeus who was in the top of a sycamore tree watching Him. He was the wealthiest man in Jericho. And yet He could also stop and heal blind Bartimaeus rattling a tin cup. He is our example. He could bring the gospel, the good news, to the rich and to the poor as well. We need to be sure we don’t discriminate against the rich in that way. Everyone has the same opportunity.
This is part 5 in a 7-part series on the book of James. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.
Let me just back up and review for a few minutes what we have done. The theme if you remember of the book of James is to be a doer of the word. That real faith will result in real actions. In other words we won’t be phonies. We won’t be hypocrites. We will live what we proclaim or profess to believe. The James who wrote this was the half brother of Jesus. He wrote this early on in Christian history. It was probably one of the first books written in the New Testament. He wrote this book to persecuted Christians throughout the Roman Empire. Remember the Roman Empire was not originally friendly to Christians. They were under a great deal of persecution as they scattered from Jerusalem out. James wrote this letter to them. That’s why this letter is so intense. It’s a very intense book and has some things in it that are hard to hear because it was written in a hard time.
I think there are a lot of parallels today. Do you not? We live in a hard time. Whenever is it not a hard time? You know life is always full of difficulties and we live in a culture and time that challenges us when it comes to living out our faith. Not just saying we’re Christians and we’re followers of Christ but living it out, walking it out. Showing by the choices and the things that we do that we are truly believers and followers of Christ.
The first week we talked about trials and temptations in James 1. James talks about when you go through various trials and temptation to count it all joy. We talked about what that meant. We know that as we go through things in life that are difficult that if we turn to God and ask Him to give us the wisdom to walk through those trials and temptations He will produce endurance, patience and character in us that is pleasing to Him.
We talked about real faith showing up in our actions.
Last time we talked about the sin of favoritism and prejudice. That it is wrong. James came on so strong about the sin of showing favoritism, of being biased toward certain people as opposed to others, rich opposed to poor, racial prejudices, all of this and how totally unacceptable that is in God’s kingdom.
Now he turns a corner in chapter 2 starting with verse 14 and this is where we are going to be. Because he leaves the subject of favoritism which is really about unconditional love, learning to love and accept others unconditionally, and he turns it into a related subject which is really broader than that and it is the subject of faith versus works. Now a lot of people have felt that the book of James contradicts the whole bible! In our first little church, my husband, O.S., mentioned that he was going to be preaching on James. This woman came up to him and I’d just met her, her name was George, and I remember her shaking his hand and saying, “ Oh preacher, are you sure you want to do that?” People think this because of this passage but if you look at it closely you find, as is usual, the bible is in complete harmony. Nothing is said in this book that doesn’t fit and harmonize with the rest of scripture. Now remember this, as we talked about in here frequently, when you look at a passage of scripture, you have to look at the context of the times. What were things like when this was written? What was the setting? What was the historical condition? The Jews up until this time had lived by the law. The law was written and these were the things they were supposed to do to carry out the law. Now God gave His law and remember the Jewish leaders had added numerous other laws to it. This is what Jesus and the Pharisees had so much disagreement over. The law was given and the Jews, the followers of the Lord Jehovah, were to follow the law. Now when Jesus came, He said I am now instituting a new covenant and it’s the covenant of grace. The law, Paul said, came to show us we can never be good enough for God. Anyone in here ever obey just say all of the Ten Commandments? Of course not! If so, you will get up here and teach immediately and I will sit down because I certainly haven’t! None of us, none of us can obey all of the Ten Commandments. It’s not possible to obey the law and not have broken any of the commandments throughout our lives. The law was given to show us that we can never be good enough for God. Christ came and said now He is giving a new covenant. That’s what He said at the last supper, the Passover. He said the old covenant is gone. It doesn’t mean the law isn’t to be obeyed anymore. It means that it was for a time past and now the new covenant, which is grace, is here. It means believing in Christ, giving your heart and life to Him and receiving God’s grace. It’s interesting that when your heart changes you suddenly want to obey the law. Obeying, following and living in obedience to God is no longer a burden but it’s something you want to do.
The idea about the conflict between faith and works is very old. I think it’s important to understand it especially since more than half of a chapter in this short little book is given to understanding the difference. Today there is kind of a theological discussion on this. Some people say all you have to do to be a Christian is pray the sinner’s prayer. You know the sinner’s prayer where you pray to ask Christ to come into your heart and believe and that’s it. Others will say, no, that’s not it. You have to pray the prayer and invite Christ into your heart and all of that but there has to be works that follow to show that your salvation is real. Easy believism is what one is called and works salvation is what the other is called.
In biblical days, keeping the historical context in mind, people often assume that James disagrees with Paul who talks a lot about salvation by grace. Let’s remember this, James was speaking to people who had just discovered the grace of God. They, as so often happens, had swung to one side and they felt because they were saved and going to heaven, they no longer had to obey the law. You might call them Libertines. They wanted to be free from the constraints of the law. Paul on the other hand was speaking about this issue of salvation and grace to primarily the Judaizers. We talked about them before. These were Jewish Christians who believed that before a Gentile could become a Christian they had to become an observer of the Jewish law. So yes, you could become a Christian but you also had to be circumcised, eat kosher food and follow all of the Jewish laws. This then meant that you were a follower of Christ. Of course Paul’s whole message was that’s crazy. You don’t have a bunch of other works to do.
This has been for a long time a kind of conflict but for our purpose today I want to stick to one thing and it is this. We want our lives, as followers of Jesus, to exhibit fruit or works that show that our faith is genuine. Right? I am sure everyone in this room can think of some body in your life that has been a screaming hypocrite. Right? Any of you, if you’re in a church, I bet you know a few of those! I certainly have and I thought of them this week getting ready for this! I wish them well! If they weren’t in church and didn’t profess to be Christians, I sure would’ve been fooled! The world is full of those kinds of people. It’s very easy to become judgmental and point to them and say what about them? But you know our focus, as usual, as we try to do in here, is not worry about those people today. God has to take care of them. I cannot see a person’s heart nor can you. I better spend a little time looking at my own heart. How about you? I want to make sure my faith is genuine, true and real and that I am willing to let God work through my life in the same way. It’s interesting and depressing that the statistics in the church are the same as the world when it comes to divorce, child abuse, alcoholism, and all of these various negative things in our society. This is very depressing. This is very sad that there’s not that much difference. That tells us that there is a problem. Right? Maybe a lot of these people who profess to be Christians aren’t or there’s a breakdown between what we say we believe and what we do. I remember a few years ago Christianity Today, a leading magazine on current trends in Christianity, had a whole issue on Dallas, Texas. They called it the headquarters for the new evangelical world. They went through all the schools and seminaries that were here and the large worldwide ministries and the interaction between them. I was not the only person that was thinking when I read the editorials, if this is true and we have such a huge Christian population here and we have all these ministries, why do we have just as many problems as anybody else? Why do we have a huge rate of divorce? Why do we have poverty? Why do we have racism? Why do we have all these things everybody else has if we have so many Christians here? The answer is I have no idea! I don’t know! All I can surmise is to go back to our original statement that somewhere there is a breakdown between what we say we believe and how we act.
Let’s talk first of all about the nature of our salvation. Just a few more points as we move into this. Let’s talk about what James is saying here as we think about our own salvation, when Christ comes into our lives, changes our heart and we become a new creature and give our lives to Him. Now first of all, salvation is an act by which we give our hearts and lives to Christ. Sometimes it is through prayer. You may have been led in what they call the sinner’s prayer and you genuinely and sincerely meant it. I believe there are plenty of people who have prayed a prayer and had no idea what they were saying and never meant it and never thought about it again. So just saying some kind of prayer isn’t going to do it. It has to be a change of heart. Salvation is not a process. It’s not a journey. It’s not an I’ll do this and this and this and then some day I’ll get there. No. It’s an instantaneous act. Jesus said if you’re going to enter the kingdom of heaven and receive eternal life you must be born again. Just like a physical birth is an instantaneous act, so is the second birth or our salvation. It’s not a process where you do so many good works and then you reach a certain level where you can say, whew, I made it! It is not like that. It is not a process or a journey. Our Christian walk is a journey and that begins once we get on the road. We get on the road by accepting Christ into our life and giving our heart to Him. Now some how in our world Christianity has sent out the opposite message hasn’t it? If you were to ask most people on the street or in your case a person in the tunnel, I’m sure most of you came here today through the tunnel, what do you have to do to get to heaven? What would most people say? Well, if my good works outweigh my bad works, you know, if I’m a good person and all of that then I will get to heaven. Now some how we have not been very clear about the message because the bible tells us that if God wants to see good works in us we must first come to Christ and then we do these good works. They are an outflow of our faith and that is what James is going to talk about. Now let’s just explain this a bit further. Let’s say you do get to heaven by works. How are you going to know when you have enough? How are you going to know when your good ones outweigh your bad ones? In fact, do you think a person’s good works can outweigh their bad ones? Where are these scales? This is often what the Muslims believe. Allah weighs the good works and the bad works. It puts a heavy burden on a person.
I often go back to my favorite musical, Les Miserables, where Jean Valjean, the protagonist, stole a loaf of bread, broke the law, to feed his starving sister’s child. Now he was punished and sent to prison for breaking the law. Well, in God’s eyes which was more important? Was it to follow the law, which he did break, or to feed a starving child? Well now we would say of course to feed a starving child. But how would you know? That’s the dilemma. You’re thinking that’s what I would do so surely God would do the same thing. That’s not a good way to think! No, don’t do that! Rarely does that happen! I’ve been on that road and it does not work! Works salvation is very nebulous. It’s very vague. You know, maybe you’ll make it and maybe you won’t.
The bible is very clear and it tells us that good works are the result of a changed heart. No matter how much we do it can never be good enough when it comes to God’s standard of righteousness. We have all failed and fallen short of the glory of God. Good works are the result of a changed heart and when that happens we come to Christ, give our life to Him and then we begin to obey Him. We find our desires have changed. We want to read the bible. I look at all of you who left a desk probably in chaos in your office to come here on a Monday morning to hear a word of scripture and to have some Christian fellowship. This is a good work. You chose to be here. There’s something in you that said I want to hear something from God’s word. That’s the Holy Spirit working in you- working out good works.
This is what Jesus went round and round about with the Pharisees. We don’t have time to read all the verses on that but one of the illustrations Jesus uses is of a cup. Remember the Pharisees were the religious rulers of that day and they were filled with pride and arrogance about their righteousness. They obeyed every little tiny thing of the law. But Jesus said they were like a beautiful china cup. They looked so pretty and shiny and fine on the outside but when you looked at the inside it was a different story. The cup was filmy, gross and moldy (OK, Jesus didn’t say moldy but that’s what he meant!). Have you ever had a coffee cup that you had forgotten about and then after two weeks you find it? It’s contents look pretty disgusting! That’s what this word picture reminds me of. He told them inside their hearts were dirty. That’s what Jesus meant when the Pharisees were accusing the disciples of not keeping all of the laws and He told them, don’t you know it’s not the outward things that defile a man. It’s the inward things that defile- the condition of the heart. That is where sin originates. It’s very clear through scripture that our heart is the seat of everything. Everything flows from there.
The bible tells us that we have been made right with God be cause of what Christ has done for us. Galatians 3:26- “You are all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ’. Ephesians 2:8-9 says it perfectly- “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God not of works so that no one can boast”. Who would receive the glory if we went to heaven because of our good works? We would. For we are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works. So God first works in our hearts to change them and to make us new creatures and then our works flow out of that.
Now James is asking a question in chapter 2:14-29 “ My dear brothers and sisters, what is the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone. Suppose you see a brother or a sister who needs food or clothing, and you say, “Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat well”- but don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
So you see, it isn’t enough just to have faith. Faith that doesn’t show its self by good deeds is no faith at all-it is dead and useless.
Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith: others have good deeds.” I say “I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.”
Do you think it’s enough just to believe that there is one God? Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror! Fool! When will you ever learn that faith that does not result in good deeds is useless?
Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was declared right with God because of what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, he was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to do. His faith was made complete by what he did-by his actions. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, so God declared him to be righteous.” He was even called “the friend of God.” So you see, we are made right with God by what we do, not faith alone.
Rahab the prostitute is another example of this. She was made right with God by her actions- when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without a spirit, so also faith is dead without good deeds.” He is asking the question concerning what is the use of saying you have faith and you don’t prove it by your actions. That kind of faith can’t save anyone. He’s not saying faith doesn’t save. He’s saying that kind of faith, the kind of faith that says, “Oh, I’m a Christian but there’s nothing in my life that shows it. I don’t care about the things of God. I don’t do anything to work out my salvation as Paul talks about.” Nothing shows your faith. He is saying is that kind of faith really saving faith? That’s his question. That’s his challenge to his readers.
He gives a practical example of the person who is poor on the street. I just saw this happen the other day. We were with somebody and there was poor guy standing by a tree and he looked like he was about to fall over and our friend asked him if he was okay. The man said, “Yes”. My friend asked if he was hungry and did he need some money. The man said, “ No. I just left California Pizza Kitchen. Do I look like a bum?” I wanted to say, “Excuse me! Yes you do! At least wear a clean shirt to California Pizza Kitchen!” But I thought that was so nice of our friend to do that. What was I going to do? I was going to walk by and say, what a poor looking guy, he looks pitiful. The real Christian in our group stopped and asked if he could help. He wasn’t appreciated for that but that’s the point – to do something about it.
James is saying if you are really a follower of Christ you will want to do something that shows and proves and justifies your faith. It’s interesting here, he says in James 3:19-“Do you think it’s enough just to believe that there is one God? Well, even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror!” This is a very succinct statement. He is saying it is not just an intellectual assent. Most people believe in God, some don’t but most do. That’s the starting point. You have to believe in God to walk down the path to eventually follow Christ. But he’s saying even the demons believe. Remember the gospels when Jesus would cast out a demon and the demon would speak to Him and say, I know You, You’re the Son of God. I just read through the book of Acts, some followers of Paul were trying to cast out demons and the demons said they knew Jesus and they knew Paul but who are you? So yes, they ‘re very involved in what is going on in this world but obviously they haven’t turned their life over to Christ. Here we see also the difference between just believing, giving intellectual assent to something, and turning your heart and life over to Christ as we have done.
Now two examples that James uses and it’s very, very interesting that he uses these when he talks about being justified by faith and turning our hearts and our lives over to Christ. I like the way Oswald Chambers says it in My Utmost For His Highest a great devotional book that I am sure many of you have read. He talks about when you come to Christ and you give your life over to Him, he says what you’re really doing is giving up your right to yourself. I love that. I think that says it so good. That yes, when we are born, God gives us the choice to chose Him or reject Him. We have the right to chose ourselves and go our own way just like Adam and Eve did in the garden, the very same thing. We can do that if we want to. But by turning our lives over to Christ means we give up our right to ourselves and we say, “Lord, it’s no longer what I want to do and what I want for my life but I want it to be what You want from me. I want to give my life to You and to do what You want”. James uses an example of two people whose faith was justified or shown by their actions. He uses Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, and Rahab who was a prostitute. Could you pick two more different people? I don’t know! I think it’s kind of funny that he chose Rahab because when I was studying this, I wondered if he did that in reference to his little lesson he’d given them before on favoritism and not showing prejudice. He was talking to the Jews of the Jews and to them he uses the example of a Gentile prostitute! Well, welcome to the family of God! Everyone is on equal ground there.
We don’t have time to read all of Genesis 15 where God is speaking to Abraham but you may want to read it on your own. God tells Abraham that if he will follow Him, He would make him the father of many nations. God put His call on Abraham’s life and Abraham, the bible says, believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now that means he came to Christ in salvation. Old Testament people were saved the same as we are. They looked forward to Christ. We look back. They came by believing the same way we do. That simply means, some of these words sound really theological and complicated like justified and all that, but it’s really very simple. Justification means just as if I never sinned. In Genesis 15 where it says that it was credited to Abraham, God credited- it’s an accounting word. Let’s say you and I have a bank account and it’s totally deleted. Can anyone relate to that? Totally depleted! Suddenly we find out that someone has credited our account with this money. It was a gift to us. We didn’t earn it. We didn’t deserve it. Somebody just gave it to us. It’s the same way. Imagine or pretend I have a Macy’s bill that’s really high from buying outfits for babies. I dread opening the bill and seeing how much it is and I saw that someone had paid for all of that. Lord, send me that person! I didn’t ask them to. They just did it. It was credited to me. That’s what this word means. God’s righteousness was credited to Abraham. You know why? Because Abraham believed God and he said he would follow Him.
Now James goes on to the next part of the story that’s in Genesis 22. This is the story when God told Abraham to take his only son Isaac up on Mt. Mariah and sacrifice him. There’s all kind of symbolism in this story. We know it’s a type of Christ. God would provide the sacrifice as the story says and they went to the mountain. Abraham truly believed that God wanted him to sacrifice his own son. If you remember, he was prepared to do that. He turned around and there was a ram in the thicket. God provided the sacrifice, a picture of Christ, so that Isaac would not have to die. As you know there are multiple sermons and bible studies, lessons on that story. The bible tells us that Abraham was willing to do that. The book of Hebrews tells us that because he believed God’s promises are so true that if Isaac did die on the altar, God would raise him up. God uses Abraham’s faith. Abraham was declared right with God when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. He was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to do. His faith was made complete by what he did- by his actions. Abraham believed God and so God declared him to be righteous.
This is part 6 in a 7-part series on the book of James. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.
Today we are going to talk about the words that we use and how to use our speech and our words to please God. I’m sure many of you have seen all these e-mails that go around. Some are cheesy and corny and some are so funny I fall off my chair laughing! I’m sure many of you have seen this one. Actually my husband sent it to me and said, “I understand this but I thought you might need to see it.” It’s Words Women use:
The first word is “fine” and if you read the definition it should be pronounced “FINE!” This is the word women use to end and argument when they feel they are right and you need to be quiet! Never use fine to describe how a woman looks. This will cause you to have one of those arguments!
Only five minutes. This means half an hour. It is the equivalent to the five minutes that your football game is going to last before you take out the trash so it’s an even trade.
Nothing- after reading the definition this should be pronounced as “NOTHING”. This means something and you should be on your toes! Nothing is usually used to describe the feeling a woman has of wanting to turn you inside out, upside down and backwards. NOTHING usually signifies an argument that will last five minutes and end with FINE!
Go ahead- with raised eyebrows and/or up raised arms. This is a dare. One that will result in a woman getting upset over NOTHING and will end up with the word FINE!
Go ahead- normal eyebrows. This means I give up, do what you want because I don’t care. You will get a raised eyebrow and go ahead in just a few minutes followed by NOTHING and FINE! She will talk to you in about five minutes.
Go ahead. At some point in the near future you are going to be in big, big trouble! Go ahead, just go ahead! Oh, dear!
The list goes on with loud sigh, soft sigh, that’s okay etc.
The last one is thanks a lot. If you just read that it sounds nice but you know how a tone can make such a difference. This is much different from just thanks. A woman will say thanks a lot when she is really ticked off at you. It signifies that you have offended her in some way and it will be followed by a loud sigh. Be careful to not ask what is wrong after the loud sigh because she will tell you NOTHING!
Well, I think that this e-mail and others that go around illustrate that words have amazing power to communicate. Not only the words communicate but the tone of voice, the body language and the message that is sent.
The bible has so much to say about the words of our mouth. We have often pointed out or talked about in our study of James that this book is closely tied to the book of Proverbs, the book of wisdom in the Old Testament. There are many correlations between these two books. It’s a good thing to read through the book of Proverbs. There are 31 proverbs so you can read one a day and complete the book in a month. You will notice how many of them have to do with our words: whether it’s with lying and telling the truth, whether its with cursing, words of pride and arrogance, words of bragging, gossip, rumors, saying things we shouldn’t say. It covers every aspect of speech.
James follows his theme through just like the book of Proverbs. If you remember his whole thesis, the whole underlying theme of James’ book is that we would live what we believe. Right? Wisdom in living what we believe or say we believe.
The last time we talked about faith and works and how you can connect your faith with your works. Your actions in your life should show that you have faith in God. Really a lot of this book is about not being a phony or hypocrite and being and saying in reality what you say and believe in your heart.
James’ main thought, his thesis, is that our speech is an indicator of the condition of our heart. Our speech shows our heart. You know, it’s funny, if a child says bad words, what is the thing that you’ve heard parents say they’ll do? My parents never did this to me but it is to wash their mouth out with soap. But you know washing your mouth out with soap does not solve the problem because it isn’t your mouth that needs to be cleansed. It’s your heart that needs cleansing. I want us to start in James 3 and read most of this chapter today. We touched on this a bit in James 1:19 when he is speaking about the tongue and wisdom and coming through trials and temptations. “Let everyone be swift to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger because the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. I told the story of the Lord showing me this verse when I had not been swift to hear nor slow to speak with my 8th grade daughter. Can’t 8th grade girls push you to the limit so quickly? Boys too, I’m sure! This verse was brought to my attention and I’ve remembered it ever since. Not that I’ve done it ever since but I have remembered it! It’s almost as if James takes a lot of principles and scatters them out and he comes back and addresses them in more detail.
Beginning with James 3 he puts an interesting verse before he goes into the topic of our speech. James 3:1- Dear brothers and sisters (remember he’s writing to the persecuted church scattered all across Asia and Asia Minor because of the persecution Christians were receiving at this time) not many of you should be teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged by God with greater strictness.” Now he just has this little verse about teaching. I want to acknowledge this verse and talk about it for a few minutes because I think it’s very interesting and there aren’t many other verses like this. There are a few others that tie into it. James addresses teachers, people that teach the bible, in his section on the tongue. I would be curious to know how many of you have some kind of responsibility in your church or organization, maybe an office, where you teach a bible study or you teach Sunday school? I don’t care if it’s 2-3 year olds or someone 95- years old anybody teach in here? Okay. I thought we would have several and we do. It’s important that those of us who do teach understand the responsibility, the seriousness of this that James is talking about. In the workbook that we’re using there’s some interesting words that Ken Boa has written. He reminds the reader about studying the background of scripture and explaining it. He reminds us that during the Babylonian exile the Jews were taken into captivity around 500 B.C. The Jews because of their rebellion against God were punished. The Babylonians, modern Iraq today, came and took them into captivity. They plundered and destroyed the temple and took most of the Jews back into captivity for 70 years. Now while they were there many of them forgot the teachings of God. They didn’t have the temple. Many of the younger generation were not taught the things of God. They became acclimated to the land and culture there. In fact when they were given the freedom to come back with King Darius (you can read about this in the book of Nehemiah and Ezra) some of them didn’t come back. Esther was one of those for example. She was from a Jewish family that stayed there because they had become at home there. While they were there many did not learn the word of God. Secondly, that’s when synagogues popped up. They didn’t have the temple or temple worship but they could have local quorums, ten Jewish men, and form a synagogue. So some of the religious Jews would meet weekly and there the Levites, the tribe that were the priests, would stand and take a scripture, a text, and explain it. It’s interesting we have so many traditions from Old Testament Judaism in the church and this is one of them. If you go to a church or bible study where the teacher or preacher stands up and takes a verse and reads it, explains it and gives it some application, that’s really in the tradition of the Jewish priests, the Levites. This is what was happening when they came back from captivity. They continued to meet in local assemblies, synagogues, and stand and teach and preach and explain the word of God. It is in that tradition that we still do that today. So there is a strong tradition of teaching. There are individuals teaching, not only preachers or high priests, who have been called or gifted in some way. He says there is a warning. When I read this verse I think of when I first began to teach, of course I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve never had any idea of what I was doing! I remember I was in a bible study with a woman named Grace who was an excellent teacher. I lived near her and got to know her pretty well and I noticed something about Grace. She never walked up to that podium that she was not prayed up and studied up. She had about 300 young women in her group. One of the many things I learned from her was to study. If God calls you to teach then I don’t care if it’s a Sunday school class of four 8th grade girls, you need to study! You need to be prepared. You need to take that seriously. She used to say to us in our prayer time that you never know when there is someone that needs so much to hear a word from God, needs to be comforted, needs to hear a verse, needs to be reminded of a truth. She would say she wanted to be very sensitive to that. I so appreciate her example of being prepared and of studying and of realizing that what you teach is very important. This verse implies that there is a degree of judgment. James says you will be judged by a stricter standard if you teach. So those who teach false doctrine, those who teach wrong, don’t take time to really study the word of God and know what it means and explain it, will be held responsible for it. We’ll be judged by God with greater strictness. It’s very interesting in Luke 12:48 Jesus said; People who are not aware that they are doing wrong will be punished only lightly. Much is required from those to whom much is given, and much more is required from those to whom much more is given.” There’s an implication here that those who teach have a very serious responsibility. I want to tell you I always remember that. I don’t think I’ve ever taught or spoken anywhere where I did not think as I was getting out of the car that I wish I had one more hour or half hour to look up a few more verses. I don’t know if you ever feel like you’re finished! But I do remember this example and thank God for it. We want to be faithful to what God has called us to do whether it is in a small group setting or a large group setting. Scripture says someday we will be judged on that so take it seriously.
Secondly, he not only talks about the responsibility of teaching but also about the power of speech. This is found in James 3:2-12; “ We all make many mistakes, but those who control their tongues can also control themselves in every way. We can make a large horse turn around and go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a tiny rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot wants it to go, even though the winds are strong. So also, the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness that can ruin your whole life. It can turn the entire course of your life into a blazing flame of destruction, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
People can tame all kinds of animals and birds and reptiles and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it breaks out into curses against those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh and bitter water? Can you pick olives from a fig tree or figs from a grapevine? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty pool.” Now he is saying when there is inconsistent speech something is wrong. There’s a lack of integrity, a lack of consistency. He talks about the power of the tongue and the power of speech and uses analogies of proportion. Words have power. When Patrick Henry stood and declared, ‘Give me liberty or give me death,” those words inspired a new nation to fight for liberty. I believe when our former president Ronald Reagan stood before the Berlin Wall and said, “Mr. Gorbichev, tear this wall down!” Those words had such power and they resonated into people’s hearts and that’s exactly what happened. There are so many examples. Words have power. They mean something. They make us want to respond in some way. I remember a few months ago on the show 20/20, there was a story of a little girl from Afghanistan that was in a bombing. She was dreadfully burned. Literally it looked like her neck and skin had just melted. A plastic surgeon from California, a very wealthy man and his wife, decided to adopt her, not legally, but to be her guardians rather and bring her to California. She was to have extensive surgeries that could help her have a normal life and restore her to some degree of normalcy. It was a beautiful story of this couple and how they fell so in love with this little girl. She was so burned and marred and scarred but she always had this little twinkle in her eye. I remember they showed her after one of the most extensive surgeries. Her whole face and neck were bandaged. Her face was swollen. Her tongue was swollen. They were waiting for her to say something. She’d been watching TV with the remote. All the doctors and nurses as they undid some of the bandages, asked her if she could say anything. She looked up at them with this little sparkle in those little black eyes and she said, “Who let the dogs out?” They all collapsed in laughter and tears. Those words said that her spirit was alive and well. Her body was swollen and marred and distressed but her little spirit was strong. It’s an amazing story. I love that story. I thought those words, that response, shows that she is well. Do you know what that did for those people? It have them such encouragement. They are determined to do anything to help that little girl get well. So words have power. I don’t think anyone ever wrote about this passage that didn’t use the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Is that true? There’s nothing more untrue than that because I bet that if we had time we could go around every table and everyone of you could remember something someone said to you when you were a child that hurt you. Either you’re fat, you’re skinny, you have freckles, you have big ears, you have a big nose, you’re tall, you’re short, whatever it is they are always words that hurt us. Sometimes they’re unintentional and sometimes they are.
Emotional wounds are different from physical wounds. Physical wounds can heal but very often, emotional wounds by unkind words are not things we forget. Years ago, we were with some friends during the PTL days, Tammy Faye and all those people, and we were talking about their hair and make up. This woman turned to my husband, O.S., and said, “ You should thank God every day that you have such a plain wife.” He has never let me forget that! He said, “I’ll take plain. It could be worse you know!” But believe me, I remember she said that! There’s a lot worse things that could be said, I know, still isn’t it funny how you remember those words? I can remember what I had on and I didn’t think it was so plain! But I guess she did! That’s when I started wearing big earrings!
Proverbs 18:21; “ Death and life are in the power of the tongue and you can give life or you can give death.” Remember, I think it was last year, when I used the example of the book called, Summer of my German Soldier. It’s a story about a young girl and the way her father and mother talked so harshly and so mean to her. They had a woman who cooked in their home and she would gather her in her arms and say, “Honey, they don’t know what they’re talking about. You’re one of God’s precious children. You’re smart. You’re bright. You’re worthwhile.” The whole story, one of the many themes of that book is the contrast and comparison and conflict between one message that she heard of negativity- you’ll never amount to anything, you’re just like you’re grandmother, etc.- and in the other ear she heard- you’re valuable, God loves you, you’re worthwhile, you have dignity, you have worth you’re smart, you’re good. It’s really such a story of strife in a 12-year-old girl trying to determine which message to believe. I can’t think of any other book I’ve read that had such a distinct message of words that give life or words that give death. And the rest of that verse goes on to say, “And those who love it will eat its fruit.” Meaning, those who use their speech and tongue in a negative way will someday bear the consequences of it. Proverbs 12:18; “There is one who speaks like the piercing of the sword but the tongue of the wise promotes health.” David in the Psalms often talked about things people were saying about him. He uses many times the analogy of the sword. Words are like a knife that is thrust into him and the pain, the immediate pain of that. I think that’s a very good picture of speech. It shows us the pain that we feel when someone criticizes or hurts us and how deeply those wounds can go. So we have the point that words have great power.
We have also in this passage an analogy of proportion, small things that are influenced by big things. You have in verse 3 an example of a bit in a horse’s mouth. What is he saying? One picture is of an uncontrolled horse running with great strength and power but it is running wild. On the other hand you have a horse with a small bit in its mouth that can carry, transport cargo and people and be of great use in this world. A small bit in the horse’s mouth can make an enormous difference. Then he goes on to talk about the rudder on a ship. A ship without a rudder is just out to sea and sails wherever the waves take it. That’s where it will go. But a rudder works with the currents in the water to direct the ship to a certain place, wherever the crew wants it to go. He compares the tongue to a rudder and a horse’s bit. These are small things but they can control and direct large things. Then he says in the same way the tongue is a small thing but it can do enormous damage. He goes on to talk about a spark and how it can set a great forest on fire. The tongue is a flame of fire full of wickedness that can ruin your life. It can turn the entire course of your life into a blazing flame of destruction for it is set on fire by hell itself. Now we don’t know much about James’ life in any details but I just have to wonder if he had been the victim or if his church had been the victim of vicious rumors and gossip and evil speaking. It sounds like it because he is saying here, (and don’t you know it is true), that rumors and gossip that is unchecked can literally destroy someone’s life. I don’t even want to say these words out loud but truth compels me to do it. I don’t know of any worse place than in the church. It’s true. I cannot even begin to tell stories on this. Churches have split and people have had to leave the ministry because of this. There are wounds that can never be healed by unthoughtful, unkind, unchristian words said to or about others. This passage in no way says that you should not tell the truth or that you shouldn’t be willing to say some hard things sometimes but there is a way to say those things in love. Paul says, speak the truth in love. So I’m not saying don’t say hard things. You have to sometimes but everything we say is to be in a way to edify others and to build them up, to be kind and thoughtful. So you have the analogy of proportion and potential, the fire and the poison. He’s on a roll here using these analogies! The tongue is like a fire. I think of those pictures on the television of the wild fire in California. The fire is just racing down hills. He says it is a fire or it is a deadly poison. Now both of these things are good if they’re controlled. Fire that is controlled is good. It’s a fireplace that warms you or it cooks your food. Poison that is in controlled amounts can accomplish great things. It can be a vaccine and it can get rid of roaches in your house. Poison has some good things about it! But when it is unchecked and thrown out into the world and not controlled it is deadly. James is making the point here that our tongue, our mouth, our speech is a very small thing but it has enormous potential.
When I was studying for this on Saturday a friend of mine called me and she has a son-in-law and daughter on staff at another church in the deep South. It’s a hard place to serve sometimes. She was telling me this church had called this couple because they liked his ideas about the church staff, his area and what he wanted to do. Some of the women, imagine that, had started to not like some of the things he was doing. These rumors started about how he was going to change this and he was going to change that. My friend said it was almost hilarious, these things that were going around the church that her son-in-law was going to change. He had never even thought of that. He never even mentioned it. But the rumors were out and so they were really trying to deal with all the criticism and setting the record straight. She said she didn’t know after what had happened yesterday if they’d be able to make it or not. I asked her what had happened. She said, “Well, this little group of women came to her son-in-law and said, ‘We just want to tell you something in love’.” You know how people do that! “The Lord has told me to tell you that you need to get over Texas.” Hmmm, I don’t know but that crossed the line! Get over Texas! I don’t think so! She said it’s been very, very hard. There have been a lot of meetings and just pray for them. He’s meeting with people and trying to talk to them but once the rumors and gossip go out, it is like a wildfire. (The taped session ends half way through a story that Susie’s mentor had told her group. It is about a woman who had spread evil gossip about a local minister. The damage had been done and she realized her mistake and went for forgiveness from the pastor she had hurt. I think he likens gossip to trying to pick up and take back all the feathers released from a down pillow that is shaken from a hill on a windy night. It is impossible. The damage is done and can’t be taken back.)
This is part 7 in a 7-part series on the book of James. Below is a modified transcript of the audio lesson.
We finish up our lesson today on the book of James. There are 5 chapters in James and honestly it’s almost funny to me that anyone would try to do the book of James in as short of time as we have done it because there is so much in it. I’m skipping a few things that I hate to skip but this could literally take us a year to go through. There are so many things that are practical. But today we are going to finish up by talking about three aspects of being a Christian that are so important in our Christian life. We’ve talked about how to get through trials and temptations. We talked about what a temptation looks like and how to get wisdom in our temptations. We talked about the sin of discrimination, showing favoritism, and that is one of James’ soapbox issues. He’s very, very strong on that. We talked about controlling our speech and how the words of our mouth can bring death or life, the power of the tongue. We talked about how we can influence others by our words. Today we are going to finish up by talking about three aspects or characteristics of a strong Christian life that are so important. They are humility, patience and prayer. Now if you think of all of the scriptures we’ve been talking about, all these principles, they all have to do with relationships. Now we know that principles are truth. They can work inside or outside of a church. Principles are truisms that can be applied in any culture at any stage of life and in any situation.
James is writing, if you remember when we first began this study, to Christians who were scattered throughout Asia and Asia Minor because of the persecution that came to them after Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D. This is probably the first book written in the New Testament. They were greatly persecuted by the Romans who believed that Christians had brought bad luck upon the Roman Empire because they just believed in and worshiped only one God instead of all these other gods. They were not well received either by the Jews and persecuted by them also. Christianity was no longer just a small little sect of strange people but had become a real force to deal with. James is writing to people to encourage them to stay strong in their faith and to endure. We talked about that too. James talks about endurance, patience and being a doer of the word. That’s another one of his themes. Don’t just say you’re a Christian, don’t just talk it you’re going to have to walk it! He called it being a doer of the word. We talked about faith and works. Your actions show your commitment to Christ is real and not just words from your mouth. He’s really talking about the word what we would call today community. Are you familiar with that word? That is such a popular word now inside and outside the church. Community means the people you are closest to, the people you live with more or less, not just your family but your friends, co-workers, neighbors and the like. This is your community. I know a lot of small groups in churches are called community groups. These are people that know you well that you work and serve with. Your community may include family members. Some people may say no family in my community, thank you! I’d rather not! But I remember reading an article in the paper that said in the past your community, your close circle of friends, was your neighbors. Well now we don’t know our neighbors, right? Very few of us know our neighbors. Now your community or your neighbors are your co-workers, the person in the cubicle next to you or on the floor above you, who ever you work with. That is your community more or less. James is writing about all these principles within the community of believers. He’s exhorting us, telling us what we need to do and what we need to watch out for and attitudes that we need to have.
We’ll start with humility. Now humility, you’ve probably heard this saying, is the one virtue that once you think you have it, you’ve lost it. Right? You can’t say, oh, I love my humility! I’m so humble! It doesn’t work that way. No. Watch those people that brag about their humility! James begins to address this in chapter 4:1-5, “ What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can’t possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong- you want only what will give you pleasure.” James is saying what is the reason for so many of you quarreling and fighting? Now obviously there must’ve been people that had disagreements at this time in the church. I’m so glad we’re over that! He’s pointing out that obviously there was dissension within some of these groups as there always is, thank you to our human nature. He saying could it be that we all want our own way? Now have you ever been in a group like that? Somebody wants their way, somebody else wants their way and pretty soon it isn’t long until you have a conflict. Of course in church everyone feels like God told then that was the way to do it! Now that gets more complicated! Then you think what was God thinking when He told that person one thing and me something else and somebody else something different! Well, maybe God didn’t tell anybody anything! That might be the conclusion you have to come to! But James points out that the problem was the selfish desires. He’s saying you’re not thinking about the good of the body. You’re not thinking about the good of the whole. You’re thinking about your own selfish desires. You want your own way and that is why you are fighting and contending with each other. Now isn’t that usually the principle with any disagreement? We always want our own way. When we can’t have it or someone refuses to agree with us that our way is so incredibly brilliant it leads to disappointment or conflict. Then he says it’s not only that you want your own way and you can’t get it but that you don’t even think about praying. You don’t think about asking God for example to show you what to do about this situation. And when you do pray and you don’t get it, it makes you more angry and upset. But the reason you don’t get it is you don’t have pure motives. What is your motive? Your motive is that you will continue to get what you want. God is not a vending machine or a computer (that is a better example) where you put data in, you enter all this data, and you get a print out of exactly what you wanted. It’s not that way. He is a real living person. He is God and we have a relationship with Him. Your can’t just tag on some little phrase to a prayer and say it at a certain time of the day or do something like that and think that is particularly going to get God’s ear. You know what gets God’s ear? It is when our hearts and our motives are pure when we pray and we genuinely and truly want His will and way in our life.
It all goes back to wanting our own way. In Genesis 3, the creation account, when Satan came to Eve in the garden and he tempted her with the fruit, he said to her if you eat this fruit you can be like God. You will know evil from good and your eyes will be open. Well of course we all know that part of that came true. This is typical of a statement that is false, part of it is true and part of it is false. She did have her eyes opened. She did know at that time when she ate of the fruit, disobeyed God, the difference between good and evil but was she like God? No! No! She was not like God. In the bible it says Satan is a deceiver and Eve was deceived. In other words, she didn’t know better and was deceived. Adam himself knew the difference between right and wrong and intentionally ate the apple. Okay, we’ll talk about that at another time! Yes! But she was deceived. What did Satan say to her? Don’t you want to eat it? You mean there’s something you can’t have? Is this not human nature? The one thing you can’t have is the one thing you want. Anyone ever been around a toddler? They can do almost anything they want but the one thing they can’t touch is what they want. It’s our human nature now. Eve said but I want that and she wanted her own way and she got it. This is in essence our rebellion against God. I want my own way. When God pronounced judgment at the end of Genesis 3 on Adam and Eve, He did not curse them. He cursed the ground and He cursed the serpent. He did not curse them. But He made more or less a proclamation about the way things would be from now on. It’s interesting He didn’t go back and change anything in creation because remember what He had said? It is good. He said this is very good. He didn’t go back and change it just because Adam and Eve had messed it up. He left it the way it was but He said to Adam you would have to work the ground from now on. It will not cooperate with you and there will thorns and thistles. He said to Eve you will have pain in child bearing and your desire will be to rule over your husband. A lot of commentators will say that began the marital problems! Suddenly the whole idea of Adam and Eve living one for one and submitting one to another and living for the other wasn’t so pure any more. Adam decided he needed his own way and Eve decided she’d be getting her own way and let the games begin! There you go! From that time on we have all wanted our own way and choosing against God’s way. That is our human nature. Now that is interesting that it didn’t just come from nowhere.
It’s a mystery though of where evil first began. We will not be covering that in FOCUS. It’s not something we can figure out. But you know there is an insight in Isaiah 14. Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, is speaking about the king of Babylon or the king of Tyre and this is a type, a picture more or less, a figurative language or picture of Satan. Many people have talked about how in fact Jesus quoted this scripture in the New Testament when He talks about Satan. Isaiah says this in chapter 14:12-14, “How you have fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to the earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world. For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High’.” Now most people believe and because of the passage Jesus speaks about in the New Testament that parallels this that there was a time in heaven when there was war and one of God’s chief angels, Satan, rebelled against God. He said I would be like the Most High. I will get my own way. Of course he was cast out of heaven and that was when evil and the forces of evil began. It all goes back to us wanting our own way.
The pride of life is what the bible talks about and James connects that with fighting and quarreling and he also connects it to unanswered prayer. I think it’s interesting that he says when you want something the reason you don’t have is you don’t even ask God for it. Sometimes we don’t even think about praying. Have you ever done that? I have. I’m ashamed to admit it. Something will happen and I won’t even think about praying until it gets real bad and I’m personally uncomfortable about something in some way. Then I’m on my face rolling around on the ground praying! You know! It’s amazing how many times as Christians it takes us time before we realize we need to pray. Paul said in Corinthians, pray about everything. Lift everything up to God no matter how insignificant it may be. I have often thought, you know, I just hate to pray about seemingly small insignificant things that I know God has given me enough sense to handle but then I always go back to that verse. He said to pray about everything. So I do. I try to and I ask God to help me remember for that to be my first inclination when something happens good or bad, to pray, my first reaction. I think the more you grow as a Christian and the stronger your prayer life becomes, the more you are inclined to do that. But these people were so far from Him and so filled with their own selfishness that they didn’t even think to pray. That’s something to check about your own heart. That’s the problem. What’s the solution?
Starting in James 4:6-10, “God gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, ‘God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.’ So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts you hypocrites. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.” What James is saying here is that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. God is drawn toward those who will admit their own selfish desires and their own need for Him. This passage is a classic in the New Testament because a few imperatives tell us what we want to do. Do we want to know God? Do you want to get close to Him? Do you not want to be tormented by your own will, wanting your own way, conflicts, problems, unanswered prayer, and frustration in your Christian walk? What are you going to do? If you go to this passage you will find wonderful directions. The first thing that James is saying here is that God shows favor or is attracted to those who are humble. He’s drawn to those who have humility and a humble spirit. In Luke 18, I won’t take time to read it, but Jesus tells the story of a poor man and the Pharisees that were praying. Do you remember that story? He tells of the Pharisee, a religious leader, who stood on the platform and raved, raised his hands and prayed in a loud voice, thank you God that I’m not like these other sinners. The traditional Jewish prayer was thanks that I’m a man; I’m not a sinner and all of this. Then Jesus contrasts him with a poor man, a sinner, who was on his knees and was bowing toward God and he was saying over and over, God be merciful to me a sinner. Jesus was using this as a teaching tool to his disciples and He said, “ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored” (Luke 18:14). The poor man was justified not the Pharisee who raised his hands in his pride so proud of who he was and just amazed that God would be so lucky to have him. There are so many verses throughout Scripture that support this whole idea that God is drawn to those who humble themselves before Him. I want to tell you, you know this to be true, no matter how many situations you get into, confusion or not knowing what is right to do, knowing the will of God, let me tell you this, the safest place you can be is on your knees, humbling yourself before God. You’ll be saying, Lord I know nothing. I know nothing. I don’t know of anything that is more of a detriment to a person’s spiritual life than spiritual pride. Have you ever known anybody with spiritual pride? Hmmmm! They’re usually the ones as I talked about before that will tell you how humble they are. I have a friend who has a woman she’s mentoring. My friend was telling me that she really doesn’t know what to tell her as she is alarmed by some of the things she is telling her. She’s telling her that spiritually she’s right where she needs to be; I wish my husband would follow my example in reading the bible, God is answering my prayers, I’m so fine where I am. I am doing just fabulous! My friend is as old as I am and has been a Christian forever and we had to laugh because you know the older you get you know you don’t know anything. I know nothing! In fact that’s in the Psalms. The writer said, I know nothing. I know that feeling. It’s so interesting. I really believe the closer you come to Christ in your Christian walk the less you feel like you know. The more you feel like you need Him the more dependent on Him you’ll be. It’s interesting that those people who seem to think they have it all together and they’re right where they need to be, well I’m happy for them! But you know what? We’re in pretty good company if we feel like we know nothing. My friend and I started going through Scripture as we usually do. Paul said that he was the chief of all sinners. He said that at the end of his ministry. He started out in his letters about how he was the Hebrew of Hebrews, how he was so educated and he had so much of a pedigree and in the last book, I can’t remember which one, he said he was the worse blasphemer and sinner on the face of the earth. He said I am the chief of sinners. No one is a worse sinner than I am. Paul said that. Think of David, king David, who is admired as one of the greatest men in Scriptures. Read through the Psalms and talk about how he sees himself as so needy and so poor and so desperate for God to show up in his life. He’s so grateful and appreciative of God’s love and mercy. The great people in Scripture, you will see, the closer and the more used they are by God, the more they need Him and the more humble they become. That’s not an accident. Humility is part of a growing Christian’s make up and it is also a primary characteristic of somebody that God can use. So first James says to submit to God. That would be the first big hurtle. Submit to God and recognize you need for Him. That means going against desiring your own way. Submit yourselves to God. Then he says to resist evil. Now think of all these things that James has told us in this book which we should not do. We need to watch our speech. We need to not show favoritism. We need to watch the way we talk about people. We need not to be hypocrites. All these things he’s talked about in the previous chapters. He’s saying resist those things. Put them away, get rid of them if you want to submit yourself to God and you want to draw close to Him. I love that. Draw near to Him. When we become a Christian God is seeking us out. He takes the initiative doesn’t He? His Holy Spirit comes to us and draws us to Him. But I’m convinced that there are points along the way in your Christian life, latter on in life, when it is your move. You’re a believer, you’re a child of God, you’re His daughter, you’re in His family but I believe there are times when He challenges us. Do you want to go further? Do you want to go deeper? Will you seek Me? Will you come after Me? I’m convinced many Christians maybe don’t want to do that and say I’m fine where I am. And God in His mercy and love and care for you let’s you stay there. But there are others I’m convinced that He calls to move up, to draw near to Him, to make the extra effort to come after Him, to pursue Him, to want Him and to find Him. Bruce Wilkerson in his book, Secrets of the Vine, talks about that very thing. That step of drawing near to God. It’s excellent. That’s what James is talking about here and then he says to cleanse your hands. Do you know what that means? It means to make restitution. Remember the story of Zacchaeus and Jesus? Zacchaeus was a tax collector who came to Christ. He not only received God’s forgiveness but he repaid those that he had robbed back four-fold what he had taken from them. That’s what cleanse your hands means, restitution. Don’t only ask for forgiveness but apologize. Make restitution in some way. Go to that person and take the initiative to that situation and fix as much as you can. Then he says to purify your hearts. In 1 Peter 1:22 he says, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” You purify your soul by obeying the truth. How do you purify your soul? By obeying the truth that God has put before you. You purify your heart by obedience. Then he says lament and be sorry. If you took that verse out of context, you would wonder what he was talking about! But you need to take this seriously and connect it to the verses before about quarreling, fighting and not getting your own way. He says you need to take your own sins seriously and lament them. It reminds me of Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus said blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled. He’s talking about those who are humble. Those who are spiritually needy. Those who are not afraid to say they are dependent on God for everything that they have and everything they need. They recognize their own sinful state.
Then verse 10 summarizes this whole thing, “ When you humble yourself before the Lord, He will lift you up and give you honor.” I don’t know of a better example than this but Chuck Colson back in 1973, I think, was convicted in Watergate. I’m sure some of you have read about that in your history books, you’re so young you don’t remember! But I do! He was convicted of breaking the law of the land and he tells about it in his book, Born Again, written in the late 1970’s. He tells of his conversion experience. He was out on the driveway; sitting in a car after being in a bible study and suddenly the magnitude of his sin came upon him. He was sitting in that car weeping and weeping realizing that not only had he broken the law and had sinned against the American people but he had also sinned against God. He was a broken man. God began to make something of him. He went to prison. He served his time. It was in prison that he began to grow as a Christian. He began to understand what the word of God really meant. He wanted to totally conform his mind to God’s word and to His ways. We know that out of that prison experience he developed the most powerful and influential ministry toward prisoners in the world, Prison Fellowship. All this began when one man humbled himself before God. That’s what I think about when I read this verse. You humble yourself in a car, on a cold winter night, sit there and weep and weep and you mean it and begin to change, there’s no telling what God can do with you. That’s exactly what happened to him.
All right, we’ve run out of time but aren’t you glad because the next point is patience! Well, very quickly, God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. The next few verses talk about being patient in chapter 5:7-11, “Dear brothers and sisters, you must be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who eagerly look for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They patiently wait for the precious harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. And take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near. Don’t grumble about each other, my brothers and sisters, or God will judge you. For look! The great Judge is coming. He is standing at the door! For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. Job is an example of a man who endured patiently. From his experience we see how the Lord’s plan finally ended in good, for he is full of tenderness and mercy.” You know how we talked about the verse, James1: 12, in the first week when we looked at this book. God blesses the people who patiently endure testing. They will receive the crown of life. There are five crowns that will be given at the final judgment of believers and the crown of life is one of those. When I was here before, I shared the story about how when I went to China, three Chinese girls that our group prayed for came to Christ. Because they became believers, they were kicked out of their homes. One girl had a 5-year-old little boy that she was forbidden to see any more. There was a translator as we were praying and as they began to tell their story, what had happened to them, the translator began weeping, tears just dropping off her jaw onto her shirt and of course the rest of us were just sitting on the edge of our seat wanting to know what was happening. The translator began to tell us the story of these girls and how their husbands had kicked them out. Yet these girls had said, this is the path that God has called us to walk and we will walk it. They made a pact among themselves that they would visit village to village and teach, share and evangelize. They had won something like 65 women to Christ in the mountainous villages.