THE WORDS OF A HUMBLE MAN – John 3:22-30

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An article in the Discipleship Journal in the mid-1990’s said that we live in an age of self-love.  There is even a popular magazine on the market entitled “Self”.  Words like “narcissism” (the love of self), and “hedonism” (the pursuit of pleasure) are being used more-and-more often to describe our society.  I had never heard of those words when I was growing up.  Focus on the Family magazine had a short article entitled, “Remember What’s Important to a Man”.  Here are a few of the things mentioned in the article:  1)  Men fear nothing more than failure.   2).  Men are motivated by feeling significant.  3)  Men want to manage their own problems and be “Mr. Fix-It”.  The apostle Paul warns us in II Timothy 3:2 that in the last days “people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant . . . “.

A virtue that is fading among men and women in our society, and in our churches today, is humility.  Evangelist Billy Graham made this comment:  “Most of us suffer from spiritual near-sightedness.  Our interests, our loves, and our energies are too often focused upon ourselves.”  A man by the name of John Seldon made this  observation:  “Humility is a virtue that all men preach, but very few practice.”  In the passage of Scripture we are now studying, John 3:22-30, a man is being described by the apostle John, who not only preached humility, but also demonstrated it by his life and by his attitude.  That man is John the Baptist.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 22-24)

Verse 22 says, “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing.”  Actually, according to John 4:2, Jesus wasn’t doing the baptizing Himself, but His disciples were baptizing under His authority and direction.  In that sense Jesus was involved in the baptism proceedings.  It appears that they were baptizing in the wilderness areas rather than near the city, and may have been moving around the area where they had begun to baptize.

Verse 23 says, “And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming and were being baptized.”  For a short time, until John the Baptist was put in prison (verse 24), the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist overlapped.  From the description given of their locations, they probably weren’t very far from each other.  Since they weren’t far from each other, and were doing identical ministries at the time, it’s a natural tendency to make comparisons and “keep score”, as if they were competing with one another.

John the Baptist had a great deal of popularity because of his preaching and his message.  Luke tells us that “multitudes went out to hear John.”  Matthew tells us that people came to him from Jerusalem, and all of Judea, and all the region beyond the Jordan River.  Some of these people were journeying for several days just to hear John the Baptist preach.

II.  THE PROBLEM (verses 25-26)

The problem was that the crowds around Jesus were growing, and John’s disciples were becoming worried about it.  They didn’t want to see their teacher and leader take second place to anyone else.  Verse 25 reads:  “There arose therefore a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification.”  At first I wondered what this verse had to do with the verses that follow, but I think it’s beginning to make sense.  The Greek word, katharismou, refers to cleansing or removal of dirt.  To the Jew, baptism was considered a form of cleansing.  They may have been discussing with this Jew about which baptism made you cleaner.  Which baptism had the greater cleansing effect:  the baptism of John or the baptism of Jesus performed by His disciples?  The comparison about their baptisms would lead to comparisons about the two people, John the Baptist and Jesus.  You know how one thing leads to another when you start making comparisons!

Well, it’s time to pass the bad news on to John the Baptist and help him come up with a new marketing strategy.  Off they go.  It says in verse 26. “And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have born witness, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him’.”  They don’t even mention Jesus by name.  I don’t think they are being derogatory.  I think they still don’t know who Jesus is.  To them He is “the new Preacher on the block” who is taking away their teacher’s business.  They have forgotten, or overlooked the fact that John the Baptist had already encouraged at least two of his disciples to follow Jesus, and they did so (John 1:35-39).

III.  JOHN’S RESPONSE (verses 27-30)

A.  A Perspective (verse 27)

Instead of feeling sorry for himself and seeking their help, John the Baptist rejoiced at the popularity of Jesus, and is going to give them reasons to rejoice along with him.  He begins by looking at earthly abilities and earthly success from a heavenly perspective.  “John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.”  John is saying that all success ultimately comes from the same Source.  If God is the Giver, then we should rejoice, not only over what He gives to us, but also over what He gives to others.  If Jesus and His disciples are being successful, that should bring us joy because God is being glorified through them.

B.  A Reminder (verse 28)

Now John the Baptist reminds them of something he said to them earlier.  “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ’, but ‘I have been sent before Him’.”  Those words were recorded earlier in chapter 1, verses 20 and 23. 

Leonard Bernstein, the great music composer, arranger, and conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for many years, was once asked which instrument was the most difficult to play.  He thought for a moment and then replied, “The second fiddle.  I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem.  And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.” 

Up until this time, John the Baptist was “first fiddle”.  Everyone was coming to listen to him.  But he is reminding his followers that he was called and gifted to be the “forerunner”, the one sent on ahead to get people ready for the “Master Violinist”.  John is saying that it is now his privilege to “change seats” and play alongside Him in harmony and with enthusiasm.  In so doing, the sounds of the Master will be all the more attractive and pleasing to the ears of their listeners as the two of them follow the direction of their Conductor, God the Father in heaven.

C.  An Illustration (verse 29)

John the Baptist now uses the context of marriage to give a very clear and beautiful illustration of his relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The following are his words in verse 29.  “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice.  And so this joy of mine has been made full.”  John the Baptist calls himself the “friend of the bridegroom”.  It is not his wedding.  His function was to serve the bridegroom.  The closest similarity in my culture would be the “best man”.  I’m going to compare the two roles so that you can see the differences and gain a better understanding of what John the Baptist has said.

Have you ever been the “best man” at a wedding?  If you are married, did you have a “best man” at your wedding?  Being a “best man” is quite an honor, isn’t it?   It is questionable these days just what the responsibilities of the “best man” are.  A classmate of mine was asked to be the “best man” at his friend’s wedding and he had no idea of what he was supposed to do.  So he borrowed a book on etiquette from the library.  He looked up the responsibilities of the “best man” and it said, “help seat the family and friends of the bride and groom, give the ring to the groom during the ceremony, protect the groom’s car”, and when he read the last responsibility he started laughing.  It read, “help the groom dress himself”.  Well, the glorious day of the wedding arrived, and as he and the groom were in the dressing room getting ready, he quickly found out why that responsibility was written in the book.  The groom was so nervous and his hands were shaking so much that my classmate had to button all the buttons on his friend’s tuxedo for him!

In the Jewish culture during the time of Christ, the “best man”  was called “the friend of the bridegroom” (the “shoshben“), and he was in charge of everything:  the preparations for the wedding ceremony, the ceremony itself, and the reception afterward.  With the exception of the bride and groom, everyone else in the wedding, as well as everyone making preparations for the wedding, answered to him and took orders from him.  The friend of the bridegroom was the most-trusted friend of the bride and groom, and had the responsibility of protecting them and acting as a liaison between them, delivering messages to them from each other.  He also sent out the wedding invitations or personally delivered them himself.  His objective, as he made preparations, was to make this wedding celebration a memorable time of great joy and rejoicing for the bride and groom, their families, and all who were invited.

The friend of the bridegroom’s last and most important responsibility was to protect the bridal chamber.  After the wedding the friend of the bridegroom would open the door to the bridal chamber for the bride to enter and make herself ready for her husband.  He would then station himself at the door to keep any false lovers from entering.  When it became night he would wait and listen for the sound of the bridegroom’s voice, and when he heard it and recognized it, he would let the bridegroom into the chamber and go on his way rejoicing.  The lovers were now together.  His responsibilities as the friend of the bridegroom were now finished.  He could now go to the wedding banquet and enjoy the feast,

D.  An Explanation (the Old Testament Prophets)

Now that we have a basic understanding of a first-century Jewish wedding, let’s see how it applies to John the Baptist.  If he is the friend of the bridegroom, then who are the bride and groom, and when is the wedding?  John the Baptist doesn’t give any details in answer to those two questions because there is no need to do so.  The prophets have already given those details, and because they are Messianic prophecies, his listeners know them very well.  Let’s take a look at them and you will see what I mean.

John the Baptist had already told his disciples that he was the forerunner, in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy at the very end of his book.  Now He is telling them that the Messiah is no longer coming – He’s already here and He is the One they are complaining about!  I can just see their eyes widen in amazement as he gives them the news!  Now that marriage-illustration he just used is bringing many prophesies to their minds because the long-awaited Messiah is here.  In several places God refers to Israel, or alludes to Israel, as His bride.  For example, in Isaiah 54:5 says, “For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts”.  Isaiah 62:4,5 says, “But you will be called ‘My delight is in her,’ and your land, ‘married’. . . And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you.”  In Hosea, God tells the prophet Hosea to marry a harlot as a visual depiction of what Israel has done to Him.  In Hosea 2:19, God tells the people of Israel, “And I will betroth you to Me forever.  Yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice.”

It’s obvious from the illustration that John the Baptist uses in verses 28-29 that the groom refers to Jesus Christ.  There is debate, however, about whether the bride he refers to is Israel or the Church.  I’m personally convinced that the bride, in this case, is Israel because he is speaking to Jews, his ministry is to the nation of Israel, he is using the Old Testament as his backdrop, his purpose is to introduce the nation of Israel to their Messiah, and the church-age doesn’t begin until Pentecost (Acts 2).

AN APPLICATION:

Now we come to one of my favorite verses in the Bible:  John 3:30.  After I turned my life over to Jesus Christ, and was reading the whole New Testament once a week, this verse, John 3:30 was the first verse that I wrote down on the inside cover of my Bible.  To me, it described the essence of living the Christian life, and I wanted Christ to become more and more evident in my life.  John the Baptist gave that response in Aramaic, and we don’t know what Aramaic words he used.  But I believe that he said those words with a smile on his lips and his face beaming with joy!

In verse 30, John uses a particular word twice.  It’s the English word “must”.  We often think of that word as being negative and unbending.  As you were growing up, do you remember times when your parents used that term when speaking to you?  Was it used when telling you to do something you didn’t like to do or didn’t want to do?  Was the conversation something like this:  “Do I have to? . . . Yes you must!”  Was it one of those “end of conversation” conversations?  In order to keep from getting a wrong understanding of the apostle John’s reasons for using that word, we need to take a close look at the Greek word that has been translated “must”.

The Greek word that is used in verse 30 is dei.  Remember that John is writing these words to a Greek-speaking audience who are influenced by the Greek culture.  In the classical Greek writings the word dei was often associated with fate – an inner compulsion or calling that spurs a person on and brings personal fulfillment.  The word is sometimes used to describe the fulfillment of one’s destiny.  These descriptions may be closer to the meaning of John’s words.  In that case, it would not only be motivated by joy but produce greater personal joy as a result.

There is no clear Hebrew equivalent to this Greek word – no word or phrase that matches it exactly.  So what is the Christian equivalent of the Greek word dei, and the Greek concept of fate?  How do you translate it into Christian terms that we might understand?  Because the God of the Hebrews is an infinite, personal God who is sovereign over all, there was no need for such a thing as fate.  The word “dei” meant the divine plan of God in a person’s life –  “That’s my calling from God”; “That’s the fulfillment of God’s plan for my life”.  God’s plan for John the Baptist was very clear and specific.  It was written in the Old Testament scriptures and it was described to his parents before his birth.  So it was very clear to him that he had now fulfilled his God-given privileges and responsibilities, and that brought him great joy.

We don’t get much of a look at John the Baptist.  There aren’t many words written about Him, but what is written gives us a clear picture of his role in God’s plan of salvation, and his enthusiasm in fulfilling that role.  As the result of studying the person of John the Baptist, I believe that a truly humble person is not a person who tries hard to be humble.  He is not a person who makes it a point to be humble by wearing humble facial expressions, saying humble words and doing humble deeds.   A truly humble person is definitely not a person who considers himself to be humble!

I sincerely believe that a truly humble person doesn’t even think about humility.  The focus of his thoughts and attention is on God and others.  John the Baptist would never admit it, but by his words and his actions he has demonstrated that he is a remarkably humble man.  No wonder the Lord Jesus praised him so highly!

May we find rest for our souls from the One who is “meek and humble in heart” – the Lord Jesus Christ.  May we also learn from the example of the man whom the Lord Jesus praised above every other man:  John the Baptist.

Please visit other sermons on this site if this message has been of instruction and encouragement to you.  The next construction site, John 3:31-36 will be underway soon.  I hope to see you there.

ON THE WARPATH AGAINST CONFLICTS – James 4:1-10 (Continued)

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Welcome back to James 4:1-10!  I am continuing where I left off in the previous sermon section.  We are now studying verses 5-10.  Verse 5 is one of the most difficult passages in the whole Bible to interpret.  No one knows for sure exactly what it means except God, James, and his original readers.  Rather than boring you by listing all the possible meanings and the reasons for them, I am going to show you the verse in several of the most popular translations.  Then I will give you my opinion as a diligent student of God’s Word.

Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? (NIV)

Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose:  “He jealously desires the Spirit which he has made to dwell in us”? (NASB)

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The Spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?  (KJV)

Or do you suppose it is in vain that the scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?  (RSV)

As you can see, there are some obvious differences between these translations. Remember that the epistle of James is considered to be the first New Testament writing, even before the Gospels.  Remember also that James is writing to Hebrew Christians, and in this verse he is still in the process of scolding them for their broken fellowship with God and with one another.

That being said, James is not quoting a passage of Scripture here in verse 5.  There is no such Scripture verse in the Old Testament, or in the New Testament, for that matter.  There is not even a verse that comes reasonably close to saying those words.  This being so, we can eliminate any quotation marks.

So why does James use the words “the scripture says”, when it doesn’t say it?  I believe that James is talking about scripture as a whole.  He’s talking about a principle that is contained in the Old Testament scriptures, rather than quoting a specific scripture.  Let’s take a look at the literal Greek text of verse 5 before I venture further:

Or do you think that vainly the scripture says:  to envy yearns the spirit which dwelt in you?  (Greek Interlinear New Testament)

I propose that James may be saying something like this:

Do you think that scripture is saying empty words when it says that our inner spirit is prone to jealousy?

James knows that his readers have a high regard for the Scriptures, at least in their minds.  That was part of their upbringing.  But there is no evidence of that regard for the Scriptures in their lives.  So he is saying, in effect, “Think back to the very beginning of the Scriptures and work your way forward in your minds . . . Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the tower of Babel, the Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, and the history of the people of Israel.  Isn’t it obvious that pride, jealousy and envy have been the temptation and fall of man from the very beginning, and ever since”?  James wants them to be ashamed of their behavior because the Scriptures have condemned it from the very beginning!

A psalm of David comes to mind.  At the end of his song, David says,

“Search me, God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxious thoughts, See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

That’s the kind of a response that James is seeking from his readers.  They can’t hide their attitude and behavior from an all-knowing and all-present God!

In verse 6, James gives some welcome words of relief and encouragement:  “But he gives more grace” (NIV).  The word translated “more”  actually means “greater”.  As sinful as we may be, God’s grace is “greater” than our sinfulness.  As the hymnwriter wrote so eloquently:

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,  Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured, There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.  Grace, Grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within, Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin.

James then quotes from Proverbs 3:34, which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (NIV).  I think it’s a common tendency to focus our attention on the second half of that verse, sometimes to the exclusion of the first half.  But have you experienced the opposition and resistance of God when you’ve been filled with pride?  A British pastor mentioned seeing this warning over an unusually low church doorway:

“The height of this door is somewhat less than the average height of the human person; if therefore you are up to average, or above, in height, be especially careful how you approach and pass through, lest an accident occur.”  Someone had placed beneath the warning a welcome summary:  “BEND OR BUMP!”

I am six-foot, four-inches tall, and for over three years I lived in a house that had two door-frames which were lower than my height.  One of them was the back door, and the other was the bathroom door.  I lost track of how many times I bumped my head against one or both of those door-frames.  Sometimes I didn’t duck far enough and I would scrape the top of my head.  I was tempted to wear a helmet!  Finally I learned how far I needed to tilt my head in order to avoid meeting resistance.  Then a wonderful thing happened!  I didn’t have to think about it any longer.  Ducking under doorways, whether I needed to or not, had become a habit, by the grace of God!  However, after we moved to another house, and other circumstances changed, I found out the hard way that I had to learn the lesson all over again!

We are never humble enough, are we?  Humility is something we are to ask for from God.  But we are never to thank Him that we have attained it!

Herb Vander Lugt, in a Daily Bread devotional, offers three tests of humility. First, how do you rate in the precedence test?  Do you feel low when others are honored because they outshine you?  Are you filled with envy and dominated by a competitive spirit?  Are you like Jesus’ disciples who disputed among themselves about who was the greatest?

Second, can you pass the sincerity test?  A man once said, “I thank God that whatever faults I might have, I’m not proud!”  Someone jokingly replied, “You shouldn’t be.  You have nothing to be proud of!”  At this the fellow became indignant and retorted, “I haven’t?  Well, I’ve got as much to be proud of as you have!”  This immediately revealed that he was not genuinely humble.

Third, how would you score in the criticism test?  Do you react unfavorably when someone points out your failings?  What if someone rebukes you?  Do you become hostile and defensive, trying in some way to justify yourself?  Do you retaliate by finding fault with others?  Or do you remain meek and unruffled?

Those aren’t easy tests to pass, are they?  And God doesn’t “grade on a curve”, if you know what I mean.  His standard is perfection, not “above average”.

In verses 7-10, James tells his readers, in no uncertain terms, how to put this quotation from Proverbs into effect in their lives.  James must have been a very godly man, and greatly loved and respected by these scattered churches, in order for him to be able to reprimand them in such ways, as a father reprimands his children.  James was also the half-brother of Jesus Christ.  I can imagine that every time they saw him or heard from him, they were reminded, not only of his close spiritual relationship to Christ, but also of his physical relationship as Christ’s brother.  The two of them may even have had some physical resemblance.  We don’t know.  But once again James is chiding these believers as a father would chide his misbehaving children.  He and the Spirit of God know that this is what they need to hear.

In verse 7 James says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  There are two parts to this command, and the second is dependent upon the first.  The Greek word translated “submit” is actually a military term.  It means to “place oneself under the proper rank”.  God is the Commander-In-Chief, and therefore deserves our undivided allegiance and obedience.

Last week I failed to submit to God and resist Satan.  I wanted things done my way and according to my timetable.  The result was an outburst of anger on my part.  There was no excuse for it.  Is there an area of your life that has not been submitted to God?  Do you still maintain control over areas of your life?  The Lord Jesus lived and died in submission to His Father.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done”.  (Luke 22:42)  You might want to commit this little rhyme by D.L. Moody to memory, as I have, and it may come to your mind often:  “Be humble or you’ll stumble!”

The second half of verse 7 is dependent on the first half.  It says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  Ephesians 4:27 says:  “Do not give the devil a foothold.”  Here in verse 7, the word translated “resist” or “oppose” literally means “stand against”.  Evangelist Billy Graham said, “Many jokes are made about the devil, but the devil is no joke.”  Demonic activity and Satan worship are on the increase in all parts of the world.  The Bible says that because Satan realizes that his time is short, his activity has increased more than at any other time in history.  The Lord Jesus overcame the devil, not by argument, but by simply quoting Scriptures.  That’s’ why it is so important to learn and memorize Scripture passages.

Peter goes on to talk more about this in his letter.  He says of the devil, “resist him, steadfast in the faith” (I Peter 5:7-8).  The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 to “stand firm” once we have been clothed with the armor of God.  When I returned to my barracks after receiving Christ as my Savior and Lord at an Overseas Christian Servicemen’s Center in Thailand, I started having doubts about my salvation.  So I opened my Bible and looked up the five verses on assurance of salvation that I was given, and i read them over and over again.  Then I went to sleep.  In the morning I had all five of those verses memorized and had no doubts about my salvation.

Our Daily Bread devotional once shared a story about a boy who had a similar experience.  A school boy was brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through that wonderful verse in John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life.”  However, when the lad arrived home and was sitting on the davenport by himself, the devil began to disturb him and tried to make him think that Jesus had not really saved him at all.  At length the struggle in his heart became so fierce it seemed as though the adversary of his soul was actually under the couch talking to him.  For a while he did not know how to answer Satan and his taunting charges; but finally the Holy Spirit reminded him of James 4:7 about resisting the devil.  Opening his pocket Testament, he placed his finger on John 5:24 and then, reaching his arm under the davenport, he said aloud, “There you are, Satan, read it for yourself!”  In that moment victory was won, assurance of salvation was gained, and the evil one left him.

Has the devil been troubling you?  If so, resist him with prayer and the Word of God.  Put on the “full armor of God”.  Submit to the will of God and depend on the power of God.

Verse 8 sounds like a pious platitude or a godly principle that James is giving the churches, but I don’t think that was his intent.  Based upon what James says before it and after it, I think it should be written:  “Draw near to God!”  “And He will draw near to you!”  Are you getting a different perspective on this passage of Scripture?  I sure am!

I hope you have someone who can be “brutally honest” with you, and you accept it, repent, and grow as a result.  I also hope you have someone  with whom you can be brutally honest.  It works both ways, doesn’t it?

The words “draw near” were used in the Old Testament to refer to the priests as they brought the sacrifice before God.  In Exodus 19:22  Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke saying:  ‘By those who come near Me, I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.”  God wants us to see Him as holy, and to treat Him as holy.

In the rest of verse 8, James explains in more detail what he said previously in that verse.  James says, “Wash your hands, you sinners!”  When you were a child, can you remember being taken to the bathroom by your mother or father because, even though you washed your hands before dinner, as you were told, they still weren’t clean?  Can you remember being shown how to do it properly?  I can remember being told to get my hands wet, get enough soap off the soap bar to wash my hands, my fingers, between the fingers, as well as my fingernails and wrists.  Then I was shown how to rinse my hands so that all of the soap and dirt went down the drain, not on the towel.  The dirt wasn’t supposed to be seen anymore, not on my hands, not on the towel, not in the sink, but down the drain.  We couldn’t enjoy the time together as a family and the evening meal until our hands were washed and clean.  In the same way, we can’t enjoy the closeness of fellowship with God unless we recognize our sins, repent of them, and are cleansed through His forgiveness.

James brings out their failure to do this by saying, “you sinners”!  If somebody said those words to you, would you be tempted to say, “It takes one to know one!”

The Greek word that James uses is the word “hamartoloi”, which speaks of an habitual sinner, a hardened sinner.  Their sins were obvious, resulting in a bad testimony, both to believers and unbelievers.  No wonder James is so upset!  They profess to be godly but their actions deny it.  He also calls them “double-minded”, their minds and hearts being divided between the things of God and the lusts of this world.  So their sinfulness includes, not only outward actions but also inner thoughts and attitudes.  Therefore James says “cleanse your hands . . . and purify your hearts.”  King David also brings this point across in Psalm 24:3,4 when he says, “Who may ascend to the hill of the Lord?  Or who may stand in His holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart . . . “. (NKJV)

Do you sometimes go into the presence of the Lord as you read God’s Word, pray, or fellowship with other believers, without first examining your conscience and your actions, and then admitting and repenting of those sins before God? Is there someone whom you have offended, who hasn’t yet received an apology from you?  You may be familiar with this accrostic:  ACTS.  It stands for:  adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication.  It serves as a reminder of what should be included in our prayers.  Maybe it might help if we re-arranged the letters so that it said CATS:  CONFESSION, adoration, thanksgiving, and supplication.  You cat-lovers might like that!  And it might help us to remember the importance of confession before coming into the pesence of God.

When the Lord Jesus was asked, “Which is the greatest commandment?”, He added five important words to the command given by God in Deuteronomy chapter 6.  Jesus says, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:39).  God wants us to be single-minded in our love for Him and in our devotion to Him.

Are you double-minded or single-minded?  An examination of your thoughts, words, and actions will give you the answer if you are willing to be honest with yourself and with God.  Our behavior, both publicly and privately, demonstrates who is truly first in our lives.

Do you find it hard to be single-minded in your devotion to God?  Be honest!  God’s grace is sufficient, but the battle is never over, is it?  It goes on from moment to moment (Ephesians 4:29).  So purification is often necessary, just as the priests had to go through the purification process every time they prepared to go into the presence of God.

The words used in verse 9 may sound depressing: “grieve”, “mourn”, “wail”, “gloom”.  But James is reminding them of God’s words to the people of Israel through the prophet Joel:  “…return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning”.  (Joel 2:12).  Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  A principle that can be drawn from these Scripture passages is:  “Don’t take sin lightly”.  Don’t take your sin lightly because all sin grieves the heart of God.

James is really stirring up some dust, isn’t he?  There has been a lot of scolding going on, and it’s not over yet!  It reminds me of what David and his men went through when Shimei, a member of Saul’s family, starts hurling curses at him.  But that’s not all he hurled at him!  Let me read sections of this confrontation as given in II Samuel 16.  “He pelted David and all the king’s officials with stones . . . Shimei said, ‘Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel!

When Abishai asked for permission to cut off his head, David answered . . . ‘Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to.  It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me His covenant blessing instead of His curse today.”  (II Samuel 16:5-14).  David’s response was to submit to God and accept his punishment humbly.  Accepting that harsh a rebuke wouldn’t be easy, would it?  Especially for a king and his army!  But rather than complain, give excuses. or retaliate, David admits his sinfulness and asks God for mercy.

In verse 10, James gives a short summary of what he has been chiding them about, especially in the previous nine verses.  He says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”   How do you respond to your prideful attitude? Has your pride ever caused you to become angry with yourself?  Aren’t you then responding to your pride in a prideful way?  “I can do better than that!”  “I’m capable of a better attitude than that!”  James has been saying, “You should be mourning and weeping because you have not been letting God have HIS WAY in your life.  We can’t “do better than that” apart from the power of God, and our humble dependence on Him from moment to moment.

The first commandment that God gave to Moses was this:  “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before me.”  Self is a god, isn’t it?  And it’s a god that’s worshipped by more people than any other god in our world today.  How can we possess any other godly, character quality if we are proud?  Are people going to see Christ in us if we have not been humbled?  The answer is a resounding NO, because Jesus describes Himself as “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29).

Some of the greatest men had to find humility before God used them.  Preacher and evangelist Dwight L. Moody often pointed to the example of Moses.  Moody said:  “Moses spent 40 years thinking he was somebody; then he spent 40 years on the back side of the desert realizing he was nobody; finallyhe spent the last 40 years of his life learning what God could do with a nobody!”

In Matthew 23:12 Jesus said, “he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  And no one has humbled Himself more than the Lord Jesus Christ, and no one has been exalted higher than He.  Philippians 2:3-1l is a long passage of Scripture but it’s worth quoting so that we may read it again and think it over, and make it personal.

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look, not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (NKJV)

True humility is such a rare commodity in this world today that people notice it, are entrigued by it, are amazed by it, and hopefully will be drawn to the only One who can produce it in the life a Christian who is yielded. to Him.  Wouldn’t you agree that the greatest exaltation we could ever receive in this life is for Christ to be exalted in us?

We live in an “instant society”.  There’s instant coffee, instant breakfast, instant messaging, and instant almost-everything.  But there’s no such thing as instant humility.  There is no seminar, no “crash course”, and no pill or pie  that can make you humble.  And humility is a necessary ingredient for godliness.  As the apostle Peter says in I Peter 5:6, “Humble youirselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. (NIV)  But the best things in life are worth the wait, aren’t they?

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This work-in-progress is progressing.  I hope your study of God’s Word is progressing also.  There is much more work to be done!  I hope we can get any obstacles out of the way.  Keep your hard hats on!  If you see punctuation, grammar, or spelling errors, please be patient.  I will get to them in the “finishing work” if not before.   The Master Designer will show us how to fit everything into place as we progress.  He has His blueprints in hand!  Thank you for visiting this construction site.  Please come back soon!

 

EARTHLY WISDOM – James 3:15-16

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In my previous study on verse 14, James gave a warning to his readers at that time, and the warning applies to us today:  “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”

In verse 15, James gives a name to the kind of wisdom he has just described.  He calls it “earthly wisdom”.  This kind of wisdom does not “come down from above”.  In other words, God does not give this kind of wisdom.  James also uses two more words to describe this wisdom, and with each word the description seems to become worse and worse. Not only is it “earthly” wisdom (wisdom that does not come from God), but it is also “natural” wisdom.  The Greek word suggests that this wisdom has to do with the body and the soul or emotions, but not with the spirit.  So this wisdom James speaks of is not only not from God, it has nothing to do with God.    When you think it can’t get any worse than that, it does.  James goes on to say that this wisdom is demonic.  Satan and his demons evidenced this kind of wisdom when they became filled with envy and rebelled against God.  Therefore a person with this kind of wisdom is easily influenced by Satan.

Earthly wisdom is an end in itself.  People strive for it so that they might boast about it, and so that others might tell them how wise or smart they are, and pass the word on to still others.  On the other hand, godly wisdom is not an end in itself but a means to an end.  King Solomon in the Old Testament is considered to be one of the wisest men who ever lived.  Let’s take a look at how Solomon received that wisdom, and why he received such wisdom from God.  In I Kings 3 we read that King Solomon loved the Lord and walked in obedience to Him.  And while Solomon was at Gibeon, after he had offered sacrifices there on the altar, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted.  That’s quite an offer!  In verses seven and eight of I Kings 3 Solomon says, “And now, O Lord my God, Thou hast made Thy servant King in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child;  I do not know how to go out and come in.  And Thy servant is in the midst of a people which Thou hast chosen, a great people who cannot be numbered or counted for multitude.  So give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil.  For who is able to judge this great people of Thine.”  God answered Solomon’s request and gave him far more than he asked for.

In contrast, we see in the Scriptures what human wisdom has acccomplished.  It began with Adam and Eve’s removal from the Garden of Eden and the affects of their sin upon our world.  Earthly wisdom has also resulted in wars, discrimination, poverty, and pollution of our environment to name a few.  In our churches human wisdom has led to church fights, church splits, and churches closing their doors, among other issues.

In verse 16 James sums up the effects of earthly wisdom.  He says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”  When Christians act in this way it also leaves a bad impression on others.  As one Christian put it:  “Self is spiritual BO!”

A prime example of jealousy and selfish ambition in the Bible is found in the OId Testament book of Esther.  Haman the Agagite, in Esther, chapter 7, constructs a gallows on which he intends to hang Mordecai the Jew in order to satisfy his own selfish desires and demonstrate his power.  However, his plan backfires!  Queen Esther learns of his plot and intervenes.  As a result, the king orders that Haman be hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai the Jew.  Not only that but all of Haman’s ten sons are killed also.  That’s a very high price to pay for his selfish motives and actions!

As in the case of Haman, pride and selfishness can have harmful or tragic side effects on innocent people.  Let me give you another case in point.  Other examples may come to your mind.

In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea, causing a tragic loss of life.  The news of the disaster was further darkened, however, when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident, which hurled hundreds of passengers into the icy waters.  The tragedy was not traced to some major problem like a breakdown in radar or thick fog.  The blame was attributed to human stubbornness.  Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence.  Both could have taken evasive action to avert the collision.  But according to news reports, neither wanted to give way to the other.  It seems that each was too proud to yield and make the first move.  By the time they saw the error of their ways, it was too late.

There’s been a lot of talk about pride, envy, and boasting in this sermon so far.  How about you?  Does life seem unfair sometimes?  Are others better off than yourself?  Do others seem to get all the “lucky breaks” in life?  Do others seem to get away with things that aren’t right?  Are you tired of listening to all the boasting that’s being done by others?  We’ve all had those thoughts and feelings before, haven’t we?  I have!  Even the psalmist expresses those feelings in Psalm 73:3.  He says, “I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness”.

When this happens, we’ve lost our perspective and have begun to fall into the habit pattern of using “earthly wisdom”.  God wants us to look at life from the perspective of eternity.  If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ;  if you’ve repented of your sins and invited Him to reign as Lord in your life, then you’re going to spend eternity with Him in heaven and your joy will be unending.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Doesn’t our envy seem to be a waste of time in comparison to what’s already ours for eternity?  Shouldn’t it be reminding us to pray for those who have this world’s wisdom and this world’s goods, yet will forfeit their souls?  When envious thoughts begin to fill our minds, let’s spend time alone with God in His Word and in prayer, and ask Him to put things back into their proper perspective.

This section is still under construction.  Thought you might like to see how it’s coming along.  It’s still a “work in progress”, and so am I (and so are you)!

 

II. A WARNING – James 3:14

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Here in verse 14 of James, chapter 3, James says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition . . . “.  Pay close attention to the first four words:  “But if you have”.  James isn’t saying that it’s a possibility.  He’s implying that it is a reality.  James has observed this attitude among believers and he is telling them not to glory in it.

Notice three more words in this verse that need to be kept in mind.  Those three words are:  “in your heart”.  That’s where it begins, isn’t it?  And that’s where it needs to be dealt with.

James is accusing them of “bitter jealousy” and “selfish ambition”.  The word “jealousy” is not necessarily a bad word.  We get our English word “zeal” from the Greek word “zelon” that’s used in this verse.  That same word was used of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 2 when He cleansed the Temple of the corruption that was going on inside.  It’s a question of motives.  Jesus’ motive was to glorify the Father.  The jealousy that James is referring to is a “bitter jealousy”.  The word “bitter” is the Greek word “pikron”  which means “sharp”, “piercing”.  The sound of the Greek word, “pikron” brings to my mind the image of an ice pick.  The jealous person is pictured as jabbing his rival with it and enjoying the pain and agony that he is inflicting.

Such a jealous person is excessively concerned about himself and resents the good fortune of others.  We all have problems with envy at times, don’t we?  Even if it’s not obvious on the outside, it’s happening on the inside.  We may even envy the success of others when we are successful ourselves.

There’s a legend about a successful Burmese potter who had become envious of the prosperity of a washerman (a laundryman or cleaner).  Determined to put this man out of business, the potter convinced the king to issue an order requiring the man to wash one of the king’s black elephants and make it white.

The washerman replied that according to the rules of his vocation he would need a vessel large enough to hold the elephant, whereupon the king commanded the potter to provide one.  So the potter constructed a giant bowl and had it carefully delivered to the washerman.  But when the elephant stepped into it, it crumbled to pieces beneath the weight of the enormous beast.

More vessels were made, but each was crushed in the same way.  Eventually it was the potter who was put out of business by the very scheme he had devised to ruin the man he envied.

This is a very abbreviated version of the story.  There are many versions of the full story.  My favorite is the one written by Pam Hopper and illustrated by Allan Eitzen. Type “The Potter and the Washerman” into your web browzer and you will see it.  It is a very amusing story with a good moral lesson to it.  You can even find it acted out on UTube.  Enjoy!

So “bitter jealousy” is an excessive concern for oneself, and a resentment for the good fortune of another.  Bible expositor and theologian, William Barclay, had this to say about “bitter jealousy” or envy:  “As long as we think of our own prestige, our own importance, our own reputation, and our own rights, we will always be envious.”

James also accused his readers of “selfish ambition”.  The Greek word is actually a political term.  It can also be translated “party spirit”, “rivalry”, or “faction”.  It was used to refer to rival schools of thought in the political arena who were heaping abuse on each other.  You’ve probably heard the term “mud slinging” used to refer to these kinds of tactics.  We are getting very close to an election year here in America, and potential candidates are already canvassing for votes.  Have you received any such mail lately?  You will very soon!

James’ admonition to those with jealousy and selfish ambition is to “stop being arrogant and so lie against the truth”.  Verse 14 is a sequence of events.  Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary of James, calls it a “chain of events”.  He says:  “First there is selfish ambition, which leads to a party spirit and rivalry.  In order to ‘win the election’ we must resort to boasting, and boasting usually involves lies.”

If you should find yourself at the first “link” of envy, or you’re aleady adding links to it, stop now, confess your sin to God and ask for His wisdom and strength before you get wrapped up in those chains and drag others down along with you!

UNDER CONSTRUCTION!  A WORK IN PROGRESS!

Please come back and visit again soon.  I don’t want to be the only one having fun!  There is much more to learn!  You are welcome to visit the other sermons on this site.  Thank you for visiting!  I would enjoy hearing from you.