ARE YOU LEAVING GOD OUT? James 4:13-17

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James began his letter by talking about the present situation of his readers and reflecting on their past.  Now he begins to look at the future.  He begins verse 13 with the words “come now”.  I think he’s trying to regain their attention.  This is a long letter, and as it’s being read aloud at the various congregations, some of his readers are becoming distracted or falling asleep!  It’s time for a “wake-up call”  So James says “come now”.  We might say, “Come on!  You’re doing it again!  Come on!  Think about what you are doing, and what you are saying to each other!”  A popular saying, when I was a child, was:  “Get your head screwed on straight!”  Nowadays you hear the phrase:  “Get your act together!”  His readers had been setting themselves up in the place of God by judging others.  Now they are doing the same thing again by leaving God out of their plans.

In today’s terms, James is saying that they are telling each other:  “I know exactly where I am going, what I’m going to do, how long it is going to take, and how much money I am going to make in the process!  James’ response is “come now”, where does God fit into all of this?  It reminds me of the poem “Invictus”, written by William Earnest Henley.  The closing lines of his poem are written below:

“It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll,        I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

The poet writes about a person whose life is miserable, but who finds some contentment in the fact that he is in charge.  No one is telling him what to do!

Are you leaving God out?  Do you sometimes leave God out of your life?  Do you prefer to control your own destiny, and do you try to impress others by your ability to do so?  Maybe you’ve been doing so today?  Maybe you didn’t even realize it until now?  If you don’t do something about it today, it becomes easier to leave Him out tomorrow, doesn’t it?  What are you saying to God when you make plans without consulting Him?

James isn’t condemning planning.  But he is saying, “As you plan, don’t leave out the Master Planner!”  “He has plans for you also!”  Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  (NKJV)  Like actors and actresses on a stage, we may think that we can play our roles any way we want, but we are of no heavenly good if we don’t obey the instructions of our “Heavenly Director”!  He’s the one in charge of the operation and He knows how to get the job done right!

In verse 14 James asks them a question, and then gives them the answer, recalling to their minds passages of Scripture from the Wisdom Literature (Job thru Song of Solomon).  He asks “What is your life?”  Immediately He answers, “It is a vapor (mist, puff of smoke), that appears for a short time and then vanishes.”

Job says, “my life is but a breath” (7:7); “my days are swifter than a runner” ( 9:15). He also uses such images as a flower, a shadow, and a worm to convey the shortness of life.  Psalm 39 also says that life is a breath, and Psalm 73 speaks of life as “a dream that vanishes when we awake.”  Proverbs 27:1 says, “Don’t boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”  Conclusion:  Life is brief, and life is uncertain.  Can you relate to that?  The older you get, the more you will relate to it!

If you are a “trekkie”, a Star Trek fan, you will like the YouTube film clips of the various phaser settings, the last one being “vaporization”.  I like those special effects!  Here is the site:  (https//www.youtube.com/watch?v=Evl_FYarYlY).  I hope that gets you there!  It is an excellent visual aide for depicting a vapor!

I don’t think that this generation has as clear a concept of the passing of time as my generation and the generation before mine.  My grandfather had a beautiful pocket-watch, and when we came over for a visit, my two brothers and I would take turns sitting on his lap, and he would put his watch against our ears so that we could hear it ticking.  I enjoyed listening to the ticking sound of my first watch whenever I held my left wrist up to my ear.  This action on my part caused me to think for a moment about the passing of time:  tick , . . tick . . . tick!  We now live in a digital age and don’t hear the ticking sound very often anymore.  Nevertheless, time is “ticking away”, one second at a time, whether we can hear it or not!

While I was in college, I attended a Navigator conference and Leroy Eims was the main speaker.  One of his messages was entitled “Investing Your Life”, and this verse, James 4:14, was the primary focus of his message.  After describing what a vapor was, and how long it lasted, he told us that there are only two things in this life that will last forever:  God’s Word and people.  His challenge was:  “What are you going to do with your vapor?  Are you going to invest it in the things that will last forever, or are you going to let it go to waste?  Everything else is going to be burned up!  Don’t wait another moment to commit yourself to God and ask Him to change your attitude, so that the things that matter the most to you are the things that matter the most to Him!”

In verse 15, James corrects their boastful words in verse 13 by telling them what they should be saying.  James says, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, whe shall live and also do this or that” (NASB).  What he is saying to them is not a new revelation.  King David said in Psalm 40:8, “I delight to do Thy will.  Thy Law is in my heart.”  David also said in Psalm 43:10, “Teach me, O Lord, to do Thy will, for Thou art my God.”

Even clearer and more compelling are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  In John 4:14, when food was set before Him and He was encouraged to eat, the Lord Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work”  (John 4:34).  When He taught His disciples to pray, He told them to pray according to the Father’s will, not their own:  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10).  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42).

In the writings of John, Paul, Peter, Luke, and the letter to the Hebrews, we find the words, “if the Lord wills“, or “if the Lord permits”, or something equivalent to that.  May those words be a part of our plans and our conversations as well, and may those words be a true expression of our hearts.

With this instruction in mind, James gives them a stern warning:  “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  Do all of his readers know the right thing to do?  Do they know what he is talking about?  They certainly do!  They were taught the commandments from childhood, especially the two great commandments given in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19.   “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deutonomy 6:5).  The verses that follow say:  “These words . . . shall be on your heart .. . teach them diligently to your sons . . . talk of them . . . bind them as a sign on your hand , , ,  frontals on your forehead . . . write them on the doorposts . . . and on your gates.”  And Leviticus 19:18 says, “, , , You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  So James is saying, in effect, “Therefore, since you know what is right to do, you sin every time you fail to do it!”  Planning is important, but life is lived from moment-to-moment, and from situation-to-situation.  .  God has called us and impowered us to love Him and others each step of the way and every moment of the day.  The following saying helps to get the point across:  “All that’s needed for evil to triumph is for Christians to do nothing.”   I can still remember my father’s words to me:   “Don’t just sit there, do something!”

 

Thank you for coming to this “work in progress”.  This is how far I’ve gotten so far, and I will be start digging into James 5 as soon as I add one or two more illustrations to this section.  May the Lord continue to unfold His plans for you, and direct your steps today!  May your thoughts, words, and actions become more closely alligned with the will of the Father as your love for Him grows deeper.

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TRUE WISDOM IS PEACEABLE – James 3:17

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“Peaceable” is not a word that’s used much in our vocabulary.  I don’t use it, other than the phrase, “Let’s get peaceable about it!”  Some other translations use the words “peace-loving”.  The Greek word “eirenike” is only used here and in Hebrews 11:12 in the New Testament.   The word means “composed”, “tranquil”, and speaks of one who is at peace with God and seeks to be at peace with others.  We can’t be at peace with God and at peace with others unless we have a pure heart.  No wonder James says that wisdom is “first pure”.

The apostle Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If possible, on your part, be at peace with all men.”  In Romans 14:19 he says, “So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.”  When you were growing up, did you ever get into an argument with your siblings, or with other children at church, at school, or in the neighborhood?  Sure you did!  And do you still remember the famous words, “he started it” or “she started it”?  Is your mind a little foggy right now?  Mine is!  It’s interesting to note the things we remember from our childhood and things we forget!

Can you remember your father or mother stopping a quarrel between siblings and saying, “We’re family!”  “That’s your brother, (or sister, or cousin).”  I want you to apologize to one another and say you’re sorry.”  There would be tearful apologies and hugs, and things would be better for a while.   It wouldn’t get so far out of hand again because as you looked at each other, those words would come back to your mind:  “You’re family”.

Fighting is not something we naturally outgrow when we become adults, is it?  As adults and as Christians, we probably don’t punch, kick, shove, bite, or pull hair anymore, but we still have our own arenas and tactics.  Dr. M.R. DeHaan of the Radio Bible Class ministries wrote a devotional on this subject in Our Daily Bread.  The following is part of what he shared.  “How many times has it happened?  You walk away from an argument on the subject of holiness, realizing that you’ve been sinning like crazy.  As you think back, you wonder what it must have looked like to God. Remember the way it started?  You were sitting around the coffee pot with your Christian friends.  The discussion moved from cars, to churches, to the sovereignty of God.  You love a good lively challenge, so when your doctrinal sparring partner let down his guard, or punched a little too hard, you jumped in for the friendly kill.  For some reason the Scripture you used to support your argument just bounced off his head.  A few more verses were tossed back from his direction.  You claimed they were thrown so badly you didn’t even feel their impact.  Then you began to get a little uneasy.  It soon became apparent that you were no longer testing ideas.  The friendly difference of opinion had turned into a struggle that was now being waged with voice tones, inflections, and gestures.”  He concludes by saying, “When will we learn that knowledge must be accompanied by wisdom?  When will we stop using the doctrines of God as ammunition for our own egos?  When will we allow His Word to make us pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated?”

On a positive note, Proverbs 17:27 says, in the New American Standard Bible, “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”  I like the word “cool” there.  It brings these words to my mind:  “refreshing”, “soothing”, “pleasant”, “a welcome relief”.  Are there people you like to be around because they make you feel at ease?  They are interested in you and like to listen to you and interact with you.  They accept you the way you are and aren’t trying to impress you?  Do you walk away from the conversation refreshed and renewed?  I hope you have people like that in your life.  I also hope that you are that kind of a person yourself, or you are taking steps to become more of a source of refreshment and encouragement to others.  The Lord Jesus called those “blessed” (happy, joyful) who are peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).

My next message is about the word “gentle” in verse 17.  “Be cool!”  Please come again soon!

EXERCISE GODLY WISDOM – James 3:13

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INTRODUCTION:

Do you consider yourself to be a wise person?  Do others consider you to be wise?  What is wisdom?  Is there more than one kind of wisdom?  These questions are addressed in this passage of Scripture.  Remember that this is a letter, written by the apostle James to Christian Jews who have been scattered throughout Asia because of the persecution by the Jews and by the Roman Emperor Nero.  They have been separated from their Hebrew culture and the values of their forefathers,  and are now being exposed to, and immersed in the Greek culture of their new environment. Because of this, one of the issues that James is addressing is the wrong understanding of, and application of wisdom.

According to the Scriptures, wisdom is one of the most desirable things in life. Proverbs 8:11 says, “For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it.”  King Solomon wrote those words, and of all the people in the Old Testament, he ought to know!

Mankind has always wanted wisdom, hasn’t it?  Right from the beginning, in Genesis chapter 1, man has wanted to be as wise as God.  The apostle James even says, at the beginning of his letter, that wisdom is something that is available to all.  Let me read James 1:5, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach.”  The word “ask” in James 1:5 means to “beg”. Though wisdom is available to all, it is only received by those who recognize their own inadequacy and realize that only God can provide it in answer to earnest prayer.

There are many words in Chapter 3, verses 13-18, that James has used to describe wisdom.  This passage is opening up for me a whole new meaning of the concept.  I hope this will be as eye-opening and profitable a lesson for you as it has been for me so far on the topic of wisdom.

I  A Challenge (verse 13)

James begins this verse with a question:  “Who is wise and understanding among you?”  He is not being sarcastic here.  He is being honest and forthright.  Many of his readers are well-educated people:  teachers, businessmen, and experienced craftsman.  His question is more than just a question.  It is a challenge.  James is saying, “If you claim to be wise and understanding (and many of you are), show it, or demonstrate it in the ways that true wisdom should be demonstrated.  The word translated “show” is the Greek word “deiknuo”.  It literally means “a turning to and fro”. Life is considered to be a quick motion to and fro.  We sometimes use the phrase “the ups and downs of life”.  True wisdom and understanding are demonstrated regardless of the changing circumstances of life. James used the same word in chapter 2, verse 18 where he says, “I will show you my faith by my works.”  Here James is saying, “show me your wisdom by your conduct (or good behavior).”

Verse 13 ends with an attitude of the heart that accompanies true wisdom:  “gentleness”.  Other translations say:  “meekness”, or “humility”.  It is a word that has lost most of its original meaning, and is considered a sign of weakness today.  Yet Jesus used that word to describe Himself.  He also pronounced a blessing on those who are meek in His Sermon on the Mount. In ancient Greece, the term was often used to refer to a strong and high-spirited horse which was brought under control.  It’s strength and spirit were now harnessed and put to good use.  Gentleness or meekness is one of the marks of true wisdom.

Greetings!  There is so much to study and learn in the next five verses, especially the qualities of heavenly wisdom, so I am going to give you an outline of the rest of the paragraph, and will continue at verse 14 in my next message.   The rest of the outline is given below.

II.  A Warning (verse 14)

III.  A Contrast (verses 15-17)

A.  Earthly Wisdom (verses 15-16)

B.  Heavenly Wisdom (verse 17)

IV.  A Conclusion (verse 18)

Summary and Application

 

THE POWER OF THE TONGUE – James 3:1-12

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I’m going to describe a particular part of our bodies in the first person, as if I’m that part of our bodies.  Here goes:

I may be the strongest muscle in your body.  I am considered to be the strongest muscle for my size.  I have been known to lift over 80 times my weight, but don’t put me to the test!  I am busy during the day and all through the night, and I never get tired.  I may be kind of rough on the surface, but I’m smooth underneath.  I’m about 4 inches long and I am the only muscle in your body that is only connected to your body at one end.  I can heal myself faster than any other part of your body. Thanks to your nose and my buds,  I’m learning to develop a taste for things.   I used to come out of my den more often for people to see me,   but now I only come out when you need help eating an ice cream cone, or when the doctor says, “open your mouth, stick out your ‘tongue’ and say ahhhh”!  As you’ve  probably guessed, I’m the muscle that would be speaking this message aloud to you right now.

As strong as our tongues are physically, they boast of even greater power for good and for evil both emotionally, socially, and spiritually.  I think it’s significant that, right after the apostle James writes about evidences of genuine, saving faith, he talks about the tongue.

James has already explained two characteristics of the true, maturing Christian. First, in chapter 1, James says that the true Christian is patient in times of trouble. Secondly, in chapter two, James says that the true Christian practices the truth. Here in chapter 3, James says that the third characteristic of a true believer is that he has power over his tongue.

James now goes for the jugular vein of the Christian life – the problem of the tongue. No other section of the Bible speaks with greater authority and impact on this subject than does James.

The words of the Lord Jesus Christ put this problem of the tongue into perspective. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 15:11, 18-19: “Not what enters into the mouth defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man. . . . the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man”. We need to realize that the heart and the tongue are directly associated with each other. Through its every word, the tongue broadcasts the condition of the heart.

In order to impress on us the importance of controlled speech, and the great consequences of our words, James gives us six pictures of the tongue: the bit, the rudder, fire, a dangerous animal, a fountain and a fig tree. You can put these six pictures into three categories that reveal the three powers of the tongue.

I. THE POWER TO DIRECT: THE BIT AND THE RUDDER (3:1-4)

James begins chapter 3 by saying, “Let not many of you become teachers.” The Greek word “didaskaloi” is used in the New Testament epistles to refer to teachers of God’s Word, rather than the alternate meaning of “masters” or “rulers” when referring to the Jewish rabbi’s. James is not discouraging Christians from using their gifts and abilities to benefit the local congregations. He is warning against the misuse of that privilege to gain power and prestige. Those motives and desires are not the marks of a true teacher of God’s Word. A teacher’s words are not to be used to exalt himself but to accurately explain the Word of God and exalt the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In verses 3-5 James uses the examples of the bit and rudder because each of them, like the tongue, is small yet powerful. The bit is a very small item that goes into the horse’s mouth in order to overcome the power and the wild nature of the horse. However, it is not the bit that controls the entire horse. It is the experienced rider, using the bit and bridle in the proper ways, that controls the horse. In the same way, the rudder on a ship is a very small item in comparison to the ship, and it has to overcome the forces of the wind and the waves and currents. However, it is not the rudder that controls the entire ship. It is the experienced pilot or helmsman, who operates the rudder in the correct ways, that controls the ship.

Unless the Lord Jesus Christ is the Savior and Lord of our lives, we are not going to be able to keep our tongues from evil, nor will we always be able to say the right thing at the right time. There are evil forces inside us and in the world around us that are fighting for control of our hearts and our speech. King David had a temper, as we all do, and he prays in Psalm 141, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not incline my heart to do any evil thing.”

II.  THE POWER TO DESTROY:  THE FIRE AND THE DANGEROUS ANIMAL  (3:5-8)

In verses 5-8, James compares the tongue to a fire and to a dangerous animal.  A fire spreads very quickly and is very destructive, causing damage that can’t be easily repaired, if it can be repaired at all.  In one town where I pastored, a neighbor came to the door yelling, “Help, my kitchen is on fire!”  I grabbed the portable fire extinguisher out of my car and ran to her house, where I saw smoke coming out of the back door.  As I entered, I had to duck down because of the smoke.  I could see the fire on the wall above the stove and sprayed it with fire-retardent powder until the extinguisher was empty.  When I went outside to get some fresh air I could hear the fire truck coming.  The firemen went inside, sprayed the wall area and checked the ceiling and attic.  Afterward, they asked us to come inside to see the damage.  The wooden spice rack above the stove had caught on fire and the fire chief pointed to a couple of places where the flames had burned through the drywall and had charred the wood.  He said that if I hadn’t been there and put the fire out when I did, it would have gone up the two-by-fours and into the attic and roof by the time they arrived just moments later.  It would have become a house fire rather than just a kitchen fire, and the house would probably have been damaged beyond repair.  That was a scary lesson about the swiftness and destructiveness of fire!

James tells us that the tongue can have a similar effect when we use it to gossip about or slander others.  Evangelist Billy Graham used the following illustration to point out the destructive and lasting effect that our words can have:  There is a story of a woman in England who came to her vicar with a troubled conscience.  The vicar knew her to be an habitual gossip – she had maligned nearly everyone in the village.  “How can I make amends?” she pleaded.  The vicar said “If you want to make peace with your conscience, take a bag of goose feathers and drop one on the porch of each one you have slandered.”  When she had done so, she came back to the vicar and said, “Is that all?”  “No,” said the wise old minister, “you must go now and gather up every feather and bring them all back to me.”  After a long time, the woman returned without a single feather.  “The wind has blown them all away,” she said.  “My good woman,” said the vicar, “so it is with gossip.  Unkind words are easily dropped, but we can never take them back again.”  (Day-By-Day with Billy Graham, Sept. 17)

Fire spreads, and the more fuel you add to that fire, the faster it will spread and the farther it will spread.   Time does not erase or correct the effects of the sins of the tongue.   God wants us to confess these sins and let Him take control of our speech, but the fires we have already kindled and fueled will continue to spread, just like the goose feathers being blown away by the wind.  Realize also that those fires we kindle will also burn us.  People who have been hurt by us will no longer trust us, and the word gets around, and our credibility is gone.  There are many lonely people today who are suffering the consequences of their false and malicious words, and yet refuse to change or admit their guilt.

A dangerous animal also has the power to destroy.  Some are dangerous because of their strong, swift and powerful bodies, many of them equipped with claws and sharp teeth or tusks.  If you’ve ever been to Lion Country or to a Wildlife Safari, you know what I am saying.  Yet  James states that man has been able to tame some of these animals from every species. But, he adds in verse 8:  “No one can tame the tongue”.  Sounds discouraging, doesn’t it?     Don’t lose hope!  I believe that what the Lord Jesus said about riches and salvation in Matthew 19:26 is also true about the tongue:  “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Other animals are dangerous because they are poisonous.  My first overseas duty in the Air Force was at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base in northern Thailand.  A group of us new arrivals were in an orientation briefing.  One of the warnings we were given was to beware of a particular snake called the krait snake.  The bite of a krait snake has little or no pain, and can cause a false reassurance to the victim.  It feels like the bite of an ant or a mosquito.  The person may not even realize that he’s been bitten.  There is very minimum evidence of local swelling.  Symptoms include a tightening of the facial muscles within one to two hours, inability of the person to see or talk, and death from respiratory failure (or suffocation) within 4-5 hours.  The krait was called the “two-step snake” because its venom was so powerful and acted so quickly.

Our tongues can also have a poisoning effect on others, and on ourselves as well.  Have you ever injected a malicious remark or comment into a conversation in the hope that it might spread to the person you wanted to hurt?  Have you ever yelled at someone in a moment of anger, or shouted profanity?   Maybe you were on the receiving end of those kinds of outbursts,  How did it make you feel?   A.T. Robinson, in his book, “Studies in the Epistle of James”, makes this observation about the defiling effect of our words:  “It is now known that angry words cause the glands of the body to discharge a dangerous poison that affects the stomach, the heart, the brain.”  King David, in Psalm 140:3, had these words to say about evil and wicked men:  “They sharpen their tongues as a serpent;  poison of a viper is under their lips.”

III.  THE POWER TO DELIGHT:  THE FOUNTAIN AND THE FIG TREE (James 3:9-12)

In verse 9 James recognizes that the tongue is good at times.  It is not altogether evil.  But it is inconsistent.  He uses the illustrations of the fountain, the fig tree, and salt water to get his point across.

Have you ever had your mouth washed out with soap?  It isn’t a pleasant experience!  An older kid in our neighborhood was accustomed to using filthy language, and whenever my younger brother and I were around him we tried to imitate him.  One day my mother overheard our conversation.  Since I was the older son, and should have been a good example to my brother, I received the cleansing treatment first.  I could hear my younger brother snickering as I was going through the ordeal.  Then it was his turn!  He didn’t think it was funny anymore!  The soap she used had a pleasant smell to it but it did not taste good!  As you probably aready know, it wasn’t my mouth and tongue that were the real source of the problem.  It was my heart.  But having my mouth washed out with soap gave me a change of heart!

My mother got the point across and the lesson was learned.  As I think of my mother, I cannot remember her ever cursing, swearing or using filthy language.  I’m thankful to God and to her that the use of such language has never become a habit for me.  However, there are other kinds of language that we all have been guilty of and struggle with.  Evangelist Billy Graham says,  “You can use your tongue to slander, to gripe, to scold, to nag, and to quarrel, or you can bring it under the control of God’s Spirit and make it an instrument of blessing and praise.”

In verses 10-12, James uses three illustrations:  the fountain, the fig and olive trees, and salt water,  to show the nature of things.  Water is not sweet and bitter at the same time from the same fountain, is it?  A fig tree cannot produce olives, can it?  Nor can an olive tree produce figs.  And salt water cannot, of itself, produce fresh water, can it?  Nature is consistent because God made it that way.

Man was also created to reflect the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  James says earlier in his letter:  “No one can tame the tongue”;   no one, that is, except God.  You may remember in Exodus 15:23-26 that the people of Israel came to Marah on their journey to the Promised Land.  The word “Marah” means “bitter”, and the waters there were bitter.  They couldn’t drink the waters, and they couldn’t change the condition of the waters, but God did.  When God told them to cast a particular tree into the water, the waters became sweet and drinkable.

If your speech is not reflecting the character of God, and other areas of your life are contrary to God’s will, you may want to make sure that your relationship to God is genuine, and that the Lord Jesus Christ is truly the Lord of your life.  The theme of the book of James is:  “genuine faith produces genuine works”.  If there is any question in your mind, God wants to enter your life if you will turn from your sinful ways and let Him come in and take control of your mind, emotions and will.  Then your words will become words of praise and thanksgiving to God and to others; words that heal, comfort and encourage; words that are beautiful to hear; words that give glory to God.

THE RIGHT KIND OF FAITH – James 2:14-26

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INTRODUCTION:

Someone has said that faith is not “believing in spite of the evidence, but obeying in spite of the consequences”.  When we read Hebrews 11, we meet men and women who acted upon God’s Word, no matter what the price they had to pay.  Faith is not some kind of feeling that we work up, but a confidence that God’s Word is true, and that obeying it will bring God’s blessing.  What kind of faith really saves a person?  Is it necessary to perform good works in order to be saved?  How can a person tell whether or not he is exercising true saving faith?  James answers these questions by explaining to us that there are three kinds of faith, and only one of them is true saving faith.

I.  DEAD FAITH (verses 14-17)

In verses 14-17, James talks about dead faith.  People with dead faith substitute words for actions.  They know all the right words to say during times of prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible, but their actions do not measure up to their talk.

James gives a simple illustration:  a poor believer came into a fellowship without proper clothing and in need of food.  The person with dead faith noticed the visitor and saw his needs, but he did not do anything to meet those needs.  All he did was say a few pious words:  “Go in peace, be warm and be filled.”  But the visitor went out just as hungry and unclothed as he came in!

In verse 14, James is saying, “Can that kind of faith save him?”  What kind?  The kind of faith that is never seen in practical works.  The answer is “No”!  Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration.  What kind of faith is dead faith?  In verse 17, James says “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”  True saving faith can never be by itself.  It always brings life, and life produces good works.

In a Decision Magazine article, missionary Patrick Harris tells of his son David, who was brain-damaged.  When David was very young and his family was home on furlough, many people told them, “We are praying for David.”  Patrick and his wife were grateful.  But one woman said, “I have Wednesday off.  Give me the privilege of taking David out that day to relieve you.”  Harris said, “That was what was needed – not only prayer but practical help!”  An important part of praying is a willingness to be part of the answer.

II.  DEMONIC FAITH (verses 18-19)

Only God can see “faith” in the heart of a person.  People see our faith only by our works. Faith is like a seed planted in the ground.  It is hidden from view, but if it is a living seed it will soon manifest itself by pushing its stalk up through the soil for all to see.  Out of the war comes a story of faith in action.  A godly chaplain in the army found a dying soldier on the battlefield, and being anxious about his salvation, he took out his Bible and said, “Shall I read a portion of Scripture for you?”  But the soldier replied, “No sir, I am thirsty and need a drink of water.”  At the risk of his own life, amid bursting shells, the chaplain went in search of water, and having found some, gave it to the wounded man.  Then he asked again, “Shall I read some Scripture to you?”  But the man replied, “No thank you, I am so cold.  I am almost freezing,”  The chaplain removed his own coat and wrapped it around about him, and once more asked with shivering and chattering teeth, “Now may I read to you?”  Again the reply was, “No sir, I am too uncomfortable on this rough ground.”  The chaplain gently lifted him up and placed him across his knees with his head in his arms and once more asked the same question.  “Yes sir”, he replied, “for if what you are going to read can make a man willing to risk his own life like this to ease a dying stranger, I want to hear about it!”  And there on the battlefield he was told about Jesus who died that he might live.  This is the gospel in action!  This is what the world is looking for today!

Then James says in verse 19, “the demons also believe and shudder.”  It comes as a shock to many people that demons have faith!  What do they believe?  For one thing, they believe in the existence of God.  They are not atheists.  They also believe in the deity of Christ.  Whenever they met Christ when He was on this earth, they bore witness that He was the Son of God.  They also believe in the existence of a place of punishment.  They live there!  Not only that, but they also recognize Jesus Christ as the Judge, and they submit to the power of His Word.  Yet, knowing all that, they still rebelled against God and were condemned to hell.

In verse 19, the word “shudder” or “tremble” meant to be “rough on the surface”, “to bristle”.  It has the idea of making your hair stand on end and goose bumps to appear. That’s the way the demons respond to God and to His Son, Jesus Christ!

III.  GENUINE FAITH (verses 20-26)

Dead faith touches only the mind; demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions; but genuine faith also involves the will.  The whole person plays a part in true saving faith. The mind understands the truth, the emotions desire the truth, and the will acts upon the truth.  Faith and works go together.

Pastor John MacArthur says it very clearly in his sermon entitled “Living Faith” (www.gty.org/resources/sermons/59-16/living-faith).  Preaching about James 2:21-26, Pastor MacArthur says:  “There is a faith in God, there is a faith in Christ, there is a belief of Scripture, there is a belief of the gospel that does not save from hell. . . . It is possible to believe in God, to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to even believe that what Christ did He actually did, to affirm the cross and the resurrection and never be delivered from sin and never be given eternal life.  This is what James would call ‘dead faith’.”  That’s what he called it in verse 17, and now he says it again in verse 20 and again in verse 26.

In verse 20, James responds to the unwillingness of his readers to recognize the connection between faith and works.  He says:  “You foolish fellow”.  The Greek word can be translated “empty” in the sense that they are “without spiritual life”.  James goes on to say, “Can’t you see that faith without works is useless”?  The Greek word “arge” means “barren”, “unproductive”.  Faith that fails to produce genuine works motivated by willing obedience from the heart is a dead faith.  It demonstrates that it has never been alive because there has been no external evidence sufficient to remove any doubt.  Righteous behavior is an inevitable result of genuine faith.

In verses 21-25 James proves his point by giving two examples of true living faith from the Old Testament:  Abraham and Rahab, described as “our father” and “the harlot”.  The evidence for Abraham’s genuine faith was his willing obedience to God’s command to offer up his own son, Isaac, on the altar.  Because of his obedience, Galatians, chapter 3, teaches that Abraham is the spiritual father of all true believers..

James 2:22 reads, “You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected.”  The Berkeley version says it this way:  “You see how his faith cooperated with his works and how faith reached its supreme expression through his works.”  Abraham’s works made his faith complete.  In verse 23 Abraham  is called “the friend of God”

On the opposite end of the social and moral spectrum, James now chooses Rahab as an example of true living faith.  Even though Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute, James says “Likewise also”, telling us that the illustration of Rahab teaches the same lesson about faith as the illustration of Abraham:  “God saves, not because of one’s righteousness, but because of one’s faith.”  Remember:  only God can actually see our faith.  We see genuine saving faith only by works.   Rahab demonstrated her saving faith by her words to the spies in Joshua 2 saying, “… the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth below”, and by her willingness to hide the spies at the risk of her own life and the lives of her family members.  Joshua 6:25 and Matthew 1:5  tell us how God blessed Rahab.  She was grafted into the nation of Israel, became the wife of Salmon, and was an ancestor in the line of David and the Lord Jesus Christ.  She is also mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a woman of faith.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

In verse 25, the apostle James states his conclusion one more time:  “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead”  Do you have living faith? Do you have saving faith?  Is it evident to those around you?  Is it evident to you?  You may have been baptized, you may have made a public or private profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  You may be attending a church at the present time.  You may be in the choir or teaching a Sunday School Class.  You may be on the deacon or elder board.  You could even be a pastor and not have a saving faith that manifests itself in a deepening walk with Jesus Christ and increasing joy in serving Him and obeying his Word.  I’m not saying this to point the finger at anyone or embarrass anyone.   I just want you to be sure if there might be any doubt.  Good works are the proof that Jesus Christ is living and reigning in your life.  As Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “And why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

May our faith be genuine and evident to the world around us, and may we enjoy the privilege of being children of God through faith evidenced by works (Ephesians 2:8-10).

 

 

 

 

 

OVERCOMING PREJUDICE – James 2:1-13

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INTRODUCTION:

It is impossible to judge another person’s motives.  And yet we have a tendency to do just that.  We also cannot determine the heart of a person in a first-time encounter.  Initial impressions may not always be right because we all have some built-in prejudices.

I.  THE PRINCIPLE (Verse 1)

In James 2:1,  James is saying, “Faith in God and partiality are incompatible.”  They don”t go together.  The term “favoritism”‘ in verse 1 comes from two Greek words, combined to mean “to receive by face”, and has the thought of accepting or welcoming someone by face value alone.  The term, “favoritism”, is found in only three other New Testament passages, and in each instance it is made clear that God does not respect faces.  He judges by the heart. The Lord Jesus wasn’t prejudiced.  In Luke 14:12 it says of Jesus, “And He went on to say to the one who had invited Him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you.  But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you;  for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ ”  Even Jesus’ enemies knew that Jesus was not prejudiced.  In Matthew 22:16 the Herodians said to Jesus, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one, for you are not partial to any.” Prejudice can run so deep that it sometimes takes a tragedy to make one see how wrong it is to discriminate on the basis of physical differences.  An article in the newspaper several years ago told of a truck driver who learned the hard way how bigoted he was.  He had no use for blacks – until one saved his life.  It was shortly after l a.m. when his tanker truck flipped over and burst into flames.  A week later he lay in his hospital bed crying openly, for he was looking into the face of a black man who had used his own coat and his bare hands to smother the flames of what had been a human torch.  Needless to say, this was one white man who, with tears of appreciation, learned to see through skin color.

II.  THE PRINCIPLE ILLUSTRATED (verses 2-4)

In verse 2, James is talking about two people:  one rich and the other poor.  The words “gold ring” literally mean “gold-fingered”, suggesting that this man was wearing many gold rings.  Also his clothes were made of the finest materials.  The usher was faced with a choice:  where should he seat these two people.  Matthew 23:6 helps us better understand this situation by telling us that there were “chief seats” in the synagogues,  The Pharisees loved these chief seats which must have been located down in front because they  could enter the synagogue in their elegant robes and march toward the front, calling attention to themselves.  Faced with this decision, the usher based his decision on externals only. James says in verse 4 that this is discrimination, and their motives are evil.  If there is one place where class distinctions should break down, it is in a place of worship.  Distinctions such as age, color, money, status, rank, size, and clothing should mean nothing.  Jesus said to the multitude in John 7:24, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

III.  THE PRINCIPLE EXPLAINED (verses 5-11)

In verses 5-11, James gives three arguments why prejudice is wrong.  First, prejudice is not true of God.  He says in verse 5, “Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?”  Whether we are physically rich or poor, unless we recognize our spiritual poverty and our need for a Savior, we will never experience the riches of faith in Christ, and receive an eternal inheritance from God.  Secondly, God isn’t concerned about wealth or poverty, but about the condition of a person’s soul.  The people James is writing to were exalting the rich, and yet it was these rich people who were the very ones who were causing their pain and injury.  Thirdly, in verses 8-11, James is saying that prejudice is sinful because it is against the Scriptures.  One of the laws God gave to Moses was, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Showing partiality is a violation of that law.

Children in England used to play a game called “Saints and Sinners”.  A hoop was set up at a certain distance, and the children were given ten arrows each.  The object of the game was to aim them at the hoop.  If anyone shot ALL of the arrows through  the hoop, he was proclaimed a “saint”.  If he missed just once, he was called a “sinner”.  If he missed with all ten arrows, he was no greater sinner than if he missed with only one!  One error was as bad as ten!  That was the rule of the game.  The same is true spiritually.  The Lord Jesus never “missed the mark”, but kept God’s law perfectly.  All others have sinned and come short of God’s standard.  Therefore there is no excuse for prejudice because we are all equally sinners.

Let me share with you two stories about what has happened in the lives of two people as a result of the prejudice they experienced from Christians.  A little boy named Joseph had polio.  Someone finally took him to Sunday school, but the teacher neglected him.  Later the young people ridiculed him and then avoided him because of his crippled condition.  As a result, he dropped out of the class with a hatred for the church and the Lord Jesus Christ.  He did, however, continue his studies in school.  When he finally earned his doctorate from Heidelberg University, a man slipped his arm around him, saying, “Joseph, I think a lot of you;  you and I could do much together.  The young man responded warmly to this attention and encouragement, and in time Joseph Goebbels became the propaganda minister for that man:  Adolf Hitler!  Many wondered afterward what would have happened if that Sunday school teacher had shown love to this apparently unwanted individual, and had led him to the Lord.  If the young people had befriended this needy person instead of ridiculing him, he might have become a minister for Christ instead of the Nazis.

Another case is a terrible incident that occurred in the life of Mahatma Gandhi.  This man, who later gained world attention, says in his autobiography that in his student days he was truly interested in the Bible.  Deeply touched by reading the gospels, he seriously considered becoming a convert.  Christianity seemed to offer the real solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.  One Sunday he went to a nearby church to attend services.  He decided to see the minister and ask for instruction in the way of salvation, and enlightenment on other doctrines.  But when he entered the sanctuary, the ushers refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go and worship with his own people.  He left and never came back.  “If Christians have cast differences also”, he said to himself, “I might as well remain a Hindu”.  He became one of the most famous people in the history of India and was a champion for the civil rights movement there, but he was never given  the opportunity to experience the freedom of becoming a child of God because of the prejudice of a man who claimed to be a minister of Christ.

IV.  THE PRINCIPLE APPLIED (verses 12-13)

One of the tests of the genuineness of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is how we treat other people.  Can we pass the test?  We all show prejudice at times, don’t we?  Are there people you won’t talk to, or even acknowledge their presence, because of racial, social, economic, or educational factors?  Are there others who treat you that way, and you are following their example?

Are we obeying the Scriptures and following the example of the Lord Jesus Christ in our treatment of others?  I’m closing with a short prayer that Billy Graham offers in one of his devotionals:  “Heavenly Father, fill me with that supernatural love of Jesus that enables me to reach out to the myriads of people who, in and of myself, would be impossible to love.”

 

 

PRACTICING THE TRUTH – James 1:19-27

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INTRODUCTION: James now comes to the basic theme of his letter:  the importance of behaving like we believe.  In these verses James states that we have three responsibilities toward God’s Word;  and if we fulfill these responsibilities, we will have an honest relationship with God and with others.

I.  PREPARE OURSELVES TO RECEIVE THE WORD (verses 19-21)

Our first responsibility toward God’s Word is to prepare ourselves to receive it.  James says that we can do this by: 1)  Being quick to hear.   To prepare ourselves for the truth, we must be ready to listen to God and to others.  Romans 10:17 says, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing  by the Word of God.”  Just as a servant is quick to hear his master’s voice, and a mother is quick to hear her baby’s smallest cry, so the believer should be quick to hear what God has to say.  Listening is a part of loving.  It involves giving of ourselves and our attention wholeheartedly to another person.  And this involves really caring;  setting aside our own concerns and focusing on God or on others.  It’s much easier to find a good speaker than a good listener. 2)  Being slow to speak.  Proverbs 17:27 says, “He who has knowledge spares his words.”  God gave us two ears and one mouth,  which ought to remind us to listen more than we speak.  An anonymous poem goes like this:

A wise old bird sat on an oak. 
                     The more he saw the less he spoke.                        
The less he spoke the more he heard.  
Lord, make me like that wise old bird.

We learn while listening, not while talking.  Those who want to learn the truth must silence their tongues in order to hear God speak. 3)  Being slow to anger.  Don’t get angry at God or His Word.  A pastor once said:  “Temper is such a valuable thing, it is a shame to lose it!”  It is temper that helps to give steel its strength.  The person who cannot get angry at sin does not have much strength to fight it.  But James warns us against getting angry at God’s Word because it reveals our sins to us.  Like the man who broke the mirror because he didn’t like the image he saw in it, people rebel against God’s Word because it tells the truth about them and their sinfulness.  The story is told that when Leonardo da Vinci was about to paint his masterpiece “The Lord’s Supper”, he had a serious quarrel with another man.  A spirit of revenge began to grow in his heart.  It occurred to him that when he painted the picture of Judas, the one who betrayed the Savior, he could easily make Judas’s face look like the face of his enemy.  And that’s just what Leonardo did.  At last he came to the figure of Jesus.  His attempts to paint his impression of Jesus were a complete failure.  He tried again and again, but still no success.  In his heart he knew why he was having such difficulty.  He finally took his brush and painted out the face of Judas.  Then, going to his enemy, he confessed the ill-will he had been feeling toward him.  With a cleansed mind, he returned to his work and painted the figure of our Lord with the freedom and genius that resulted in a masterpiece.  Leonardo found that when he had evil and revenge in his heart, he was not able to reproduce the likeness of the Master, neither in his own personal life, nor on his canvas.  Anger makes a mess of our lives and blocks God’s truth from coming in. 4)  Having a prepared heart  (verse 21)  James saw the human heart as a garden.  If left to itself the soil would produce nothing but weeds. James urges us to pull out the weeds and prepare the soil for the implanted Word of God.  How?  First, by confessing our sins and asking God to forgive us.  Then by meditating on God’s grace and asking Him to “plow up” any hardness in our hearts.  Finally, we must have an attitude of “meekness”, which is the opposite of wrath.  “Setting aside filthiness” means demonstrating that we appreciate the blessings of God by eliminating the sins and bad habits in our lives that destroy our witness for Christ. One day a preacher visited a coal-mining town and noticed how dingy it was.  The coal dust seemed to blacken the buildings, the trees, the shrubs and everything else.  As he was walking down the street with the foreman of the mine, his attention was focused on a beautiful, white flower.  He said, “The owner of this flower surely must take good care of it.  There’s no dust and dirt on it at all.”  The foreman threw a handful of dust on the flower.  It immediately fell off and left the flower as stainless as before.  “It has a natural enamel which prevents any dust from clinging to it”, the foreman explained.  “I think it must have been created especially for such a place as this.”  This is the way Christians are to be in this world, which is filthy because of the dust and dirt of sin.  God gives a spiritual enamel to those who yield themselves completely to the leadership of the Holy Spirit,  and who  seek to make Jesus Christ the Lord of their lives.

II.  PRACTICE THE WORD (verses 22-25)

It is not enough to hear God’s Word.  James says, in verses 22-25, that our second responsibility toward God’s Word is to practice it.  Many Christians have the mistaken idea that hearing a good sermon or Bible study makes them grow and get God’s blessing.  It’s not the hearing, but the doing, that brings God’s blessing. In verses 23-25, James compares the forgetful hearer with the doer.  The forgetful hearer is like the person who looks at himself in the mirror, notices his uncombed hair, dirty face, and unbrushed teeth, and instead of taking care of himself, he goes on his way, forgetting all about the problems and presenting a very unattractive appearance to others.  In the same way, a Christian who hears God’s Word without doing anything about it,  turns other people away from the Savior, rather than drawing them to Him. A bus driver became annoyed with his job because he had to wait seven minutes after every run near an open field which “litterbugs” had made into an “unofficial dump”.  He often thought that someone ought to do something about that unsightly mess.  One day he himself decided to get out and pick up some of the tin cans and other debris which were lying all around.  This improved things so much that he soon was eager to complete his route and spend all his free moments in cleaning up the area.  When spring came, he was so enthusiastic about his project that he decided to plant some flower seeds.  By the end of the summer many people were riding to the end of the line just to see what the bus driver had accomplished by “doing” what he and others had only “talked about” before.  Are you brightening the corner where you are? In verse 25, the words “looks intently” come from the Greek word which means “to stoop down”.  It refers to the Christian who humbles himself before the Word of God and lets God’s Word become a part of him, so that he becomes more like Christ in his attitudes and actions.  I have been reading from a daily devotional by Billy Graham, and in yesterday’s devotion on becoming like Christ, he said a few words that convicted me so much that I wrote them on a piece of paper so that I could put it in my wallet as a reminder.  Speaking to Christians, he said these words:  “You should be closer to God today in heart, soul, and body, than at any other time in your life.”

III.  SHARE THE WORD (verses 26,27)

In verses 26 and 27, James tells us that our third responsibility to God’s Word is to share it.  James gives us three tests to enable us to find out if we are taking God’s Word seriously.  The first test is self-control.  Are we able to control our speech so that we’re not lying, gossiping, or using filthy language.  The second test is compassion.  Are we concerned about the needs of others, and are we demonstrating that concern.  The third test is  holiness of life. Noah sent out two birds from the ark.  One was a raven – a ceremonially unclean animal;  the other was a dove, which was a clean animal and became the symbol of the Holy Spirit and holiness.  The raven did not return to the ark, even though the waters were still upon the earth.  No doubt it found a place to rest upon the floating body of some animal.  The second bird, however,  a ceremonial clean creature, returned to Noah for she could find “no rest for the sole of her foot.”  The dove would not land on an unclean thing like a corpse!  Someone has said, “In a world of sin we too have the choice of being a raven or a dove, unclean or clean, spotted or unspotted.  By the power of God’s grace, let’s keep ourselves uncontaminated by the things of the world.  While the Christian must live in the world, he should not let the world live in him..

CONCLUSION:  No sermon is done until we have done something about it.  As the apostle James said:  “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only”.  May our prayer be that of the hymn writer, Ira Wilson:  “O Savior, I pray, Make me a blessing to someone today.”

HOW TO OBTAIN WISDOM – James 1:5-8

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INTRODUCTION: Someone has said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together and make sense of them.  The people to whom James wrote this letter had problems with their praying.  When we are going through difficulties, what should we pray about?  James gives the answer:  ask God for wisdom.

I.  ASK FOR WISDOM (verse 5)

Why do we need wisdom when we are going through trials?  Why not ask for strength, or grace, or even deliverance?  We should pray for wisdom for this reason:  we need wisdom so that we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature in our Christian lives.  Wisdom helps us understand how to use these difficult circumstances for our good and for God’s glory.  This kind of wisdom comes from God.  It is a gift from God.  God’s wisdom enables a person to make decisions as God would make them, and solve problems the way God would solve them. In his search of the source of true wisdom, Job cries out, “But where can wisdom be found?”  His answer is that wisdom is not found among the living on this earth;  it is not found in the depths of the sea;  and it cannot be purchased with precious stones.  Finally Job declares, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.”  True wisdom has its source in the true and living God. We all have a natural tendency to be selfish in our prayers.  Some of us recall how we were tempted to ask God for special help when facing a difficult examination during our school days, but in our hearts we knew He would not bring to our minds material which we had not studied.  Prayer is not a magical formula enabling believers to escape self-discipline and hard work.  However, it isn’t selfish to pray for spiritual wisdom – the ability to meet life’s problems and to make decisions that will please God.  King Solomon, with all his knowledge, realized that unless the Lord gave him spiritual wisdom to direct his actions, all his human skill and learning would be of littlevalue. President Abraham Lincoln was impressed with this truth during America’s Civil War.  A personal friend of his once wrote, “I had been spending three weeks at the White House as the guest of the President.  One night – it was just before the Battle of Bull Run, I was restless and could not sleep.  From Lincoln’s bedroom I heard the low tones of his voice.  Looking in the door that was slightly ajar, I saw a sight which I have never forgotten.  The tall Chief Executive was kneeling before an open Bible.  He did not know that I could overhear his agonizing prayers as he pleaded, ‘O Thou great God that heard Solomon in the night when he prayed and cried for wisdom, hear me.  I cannot lead these people.  I cannot guide the affairs of this country without Thy help.  O Lord, hear me and save this nation.’ ”  The answer he received is now history, for the Union was preserved.  Lincoln found that James 1:5 was not an idle promise.

II.  ASK IN FAITH (verses 6-8)

James not only explained what to ask for, but he also described how to ask.  We are to ask in faith.  The greatest enemy to answered prayer is unbelief.  The story is told of a small town in which there were no liquor stores.  Eventually, however, a nightclub was built right on Main Street.  Members of one of the churches in the area were so disturbed that they conducted several all-night prayer meetings, and asked the Lord to burn down that den of iniquity.  Lightning struck the tavern a short time later, and it was completely destroyed by fire.  The owner, knowing how the church people had prayed, sued them for the damages.  His attorney claimed that their prayers had caused the loss.  The congregation, on the other hand, hired a lawyer and fought the charges.  After much deliberation, the judge declared, “It’s the opinion of this court that wherever the guilt may lie, the tavern keeper is the one who really believes in prayer, while the church members do not!”  We smile at this story, but it suggests how faithless we sometimes are when we offer our prayers to God. Even the first-century Christians were guilty of such unbelief.  Acts 12 tells us that after Peter escaped from prison, he went to the house of Mary, where many were praying for his release.  When he knocked, Rhoda came to the door.  Hearing his voice, she ran back to the “prayer meeting crowd” and announced that the apostle Peter was outside.  “You are out of you mind!”, they said.  But when she insisted, they kept saying, “It is his angel”.  Well, Peter kept on knocking at the door, and when they finally let him in, “they were astonished” at the way God had answered their request. May our attitude be different when we pray!  Let’s believe God and expect the answer!  God loves to honor the prayers of those who earnestly seek His wisdom and want His will for their lives. Verse 8 talks about a double-minded person.  A double-minded person is a person who has a civil war going on inside him continually.  Two heads may be better than one, but a double-minded person is no good at all.  There is a smooth, shiny lizard called a skink.  This little animal wouldn’t attract any crowds at a zoo, but if one of these lizards showed up with two heads, one on each end of its body, that would be quite a spectacle.  A newspaper had a picture and a story about the two-headed skink I just described to you.  It was found by a homeowner in Jacksonville, Florida, and it was an illustration of absolute frustration.  When it tried to run, its two legs moved in opposite directions.  It was running like mad but going nowhere!  That’s the fate of a Christian who is trying to go his own way, and trying to serve the Lord at the same time. This is also true of the Christian who is more concerned about pleasing others than he is about standing up for the truth.  There was once a preacher who was approached by some members of his congregation concerning a disagreement in the church.  After stating their grievances, they said some vicious things about the people they disagreed with.  Responding to their complaints, the preacher said, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!”  The next day, the other group came to his home and told their side of the story.  The preacher listened quietly, and when they had finished, said, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!”  His wife, working in the kitchen, overheard everything.  As soon as the parishioners left, she rushed into the living room and said, “You’re just about the most wishy-washy individual I’ve ever seen.”  To that he immediately replied, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!” There are so many Christians who are unwilling to take a stand on issues.  Some are afraid;  others just don’t like to make decisions.  But God wants us to know His Word, to pray for His wisdom, and to take a stand for what we believe.  Then we’ll feel secure in the Lord’s strength, and then our prayers will not be hindered.  But when we do take a stand for what we believe, let’s do it with the wisdom and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

REJOICING IN TROUBLES – James 1:1-4

character, Circumstances, Epistle of James, Joy, trials, Uncategorized

INTRODUCTION:

Did you know that in the early days of baseball, the batter signaled the pitcher where to throw the ball?  That’s right, he actually told him where he wanted it! He held out his bat  and showed him.  As the sport of baseball progressed, however, the batter had more and more obstacles to overcome – for example, the curve ball!  As pitching the ball became more complicated, hitting the ball became more difficult.  This illustration points us to a modern-day problem. Many people believe that they can determine what they want life to give them. But the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who expects his or her Christian life to be easy is in for a shock!

I.  THE GREETING (verse 1)

James addresses his letter to the Jews who are living outside the Promised Land because of the persecution of Christians.  He was writing to Christian Jews.  The word “scattered” in verse l is the Greek word “diaspora”, and it carries the idea of “scattering seed”.  When the Jewish believers were scattered at the beginning of the persecution, it was really the sowing of seed in many places;  and much of that seed bore fruit as many gentiles heard the Gospel message and received the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.

II.  A JOYFUL ATTITUDE (verse 2)

James tells us in verse 2 to expect trials.  He does not say, “if you fall into various trials”, but “when you encounter various trials”.  We can’t always expect everything to go our way.  Some trials come simply because we are human. For example, sickness, accidents, disappointments, even tragedies are the lot of the human race.  Other trials come because we are Christians.  Satan fights against us and the world opposes us, and this makes for a life of battles.  The trials of life are not all alike.  They are like the multicolored yarn that a weaver uses to make a beautiful oriental rug.  God arranges the colors and experiences of life. The final product is a beautiful thing for His glory.  Have you ever looked at the underside of an oriental rug?  The patterns are unclear and there are loose ends of yarn dangling.  We are looking at the wrong side of life!  Only God sees the finished pattern!  Let’s not judge God or His work based on what we see today.  His work isn’t finished yet!

We are to “consider it all joy”, knowing that God is doing what is best for us. Just before the Second World War, two refugees from Germany had just arrived in the United States by ship.  Though they were  Christians by faith, they were Jewish by birth.  They arrived  here without friends, without money, and without the youth and the strength to start a new life.  One of them said to an American pastor, “We sometimes think we ought to thank God for Hitler.” “Why?”, the pastor asked in amazement.  And the answer came:  “Because he has taught us that we need nothing but God.  Hitler has taken from us everything else, and now we know that God is enough.”  In the Old Testament scriptures, Job demonstrated his confidence in God when he said in Job 23:10, “But He knoweth the way that I take;  when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold”.

A lady named Ida Clark was overcome with grief as she approached the church on the Sunday morning after her mother had died.  Just outside the church a 7-year-old boy met her.  He stopped, planted his feet solidly on the path in front of her, and with tearful eyes looked up at her.  “I prayed for your mother”, he said, “but she died.”  For a moment the  sorrowing woman wanted to scoop him up in her arms and cry with him, but she could see he was seriously disturbed because he thought his prayers had not been answered.  So she quickly and quietly lifted her heart to God in a silent prayer.  “O Lord, give me the right answer!”  Then she said to the boy very solemnly, “You wanted God to do His best for my mother, didn’t you?”  He nodded slowly.  “Son, He answered your prayer.  His best for her was to take her home to live with Him.”  The lad’s eyes lighted up as he replied, “That’s right, He did.”  Then off he ran to meet his friends, content that God had taken her to heaven.

Do the events in your life go against everything you think is good?  Is it hard to understand why circumstances haven’t fallen into place like you prayed they would?  Don’t be dismayed.  Trust God and ask Him to help you learn the difficult but rewarding lesson of being satisfied with His best.  There is a poem that goes like this:

He knows why we must suffer;
He knows why we must grieve;
He knows why days are lonely;
He says only “Believe!
Believe that I your Father
Send each and every test;
Dear child, there is a reason,
For I know what is best.”

III.  AN UNDERSTANDING MIND (verse 3)

What is it that Christians know that makes it easier to face trials and benefit from them?  They know that God always tests us to bring out the best in us. Peter says in I Peter 1:6-7, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, that the proof of your faith being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ”.

A gold prospector brings his ore sample into the inspector’s office to be tested. The sample itself may not be worth more than a few dollars, but the approval, the official statement about the ore, may be worth millions!  It assures the prospector that he has a gold mine.  God’s approval of our faith is also precious because it assures us that our faith is genuine.

Verse 3 tells us that the testing of our faith produces endurance or patience. God wants to make us patient because that is the key to every other blessing. The person who does not learn patience will not learn much of anything else. We live in an “instant society” today.  We have instant cash, instant food and drink.  We have the ten-minute oil change, one-hour photo processing, and same-day dry cleaning.  You would think that waiting must be one of life’s most trying experiences.  We’ve created for ourselves instant lifestyles.  If things don’t happen right now, we tend to explode inside ourselves, and often we explode on the outside also.  As Christians we tend to direct our impatience toward God, especially when we are undergoing a trial.  If God can create something out of nothing in an instant, why doesn’t He act?  Yet He seems to take His time. Look how long He delayed before sending Jesus into the world.  Yet in Galatians 4:4 it says, “In the fullness of time God sent His Son.”  And there is a “right time” for God to bring us to maturity and a strong faith.

When the believer in Jesus Christ learns to wait on the Lord, then God can do great things for him or her.  Immature people are always impatient;  mature people are patient and persistent.  A nurse in a servicemen’s hospital complained to the chaplain that she had been rudely treated by some of the patients.  He answered, “Thank God for that!”  “What do you mean”, she asked in astonishment.  “Well”, he explained, “if you are holding a glass and someone knocks against you, you can only spill out what is inside!”  When people misjudge and persecute us, we soon reveal what is in our hearts.  If we are Christ-filled and controlled by the Holy Spirit, we will manifest the gentleness and patience of our Savior.  In fact, God often allows us to be pushed around and mistreated so that unsaved men and women around us might be amazed by God’s grace as we overflow with love and patience.  People who have studied the life of John Bunyan, the author of the book, “Pilgrim’s Progress”, tell us that he was such a devoted Christian that he actually asked the Lord to send severe trials into his life so that he might have new occasions to show his love for Jesus.

The only way the Lord can develop patience and character in our lives is through trials.  Knowing this, we can face trials joyfully.  We know what trials will do in us and for us, and we know that the end result will bring glory to God.  Just like the athlete disciplines himself, and goes through the agony of training, in order to win.

IV.  THE RESULT (verse 4)

The result, in verse 4, is “that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  In this age of “instant lifestyles”, we need to continually remind ourselves that God has a right time for everything.  Dr. Niles tells about a service being held in a cathedral in Norway.  Worshipers had noticed that the ceiling was low in proportion to the rest of the building.  During the sermon, Bishop Bergraav told the congregation that the ceiling which they see was not the true ceiling.  It was a working floor built for the artists who were painting the life of our Lord on the true ceiling.  Some day the working floor would be taken down, and they would see what the artists had been doing.

As we look up and try to see what God is doing in the world, we are tempted to feel disappointed.  We are looking for soaring arches and a high ceiling that reminds us of infinity and of heaven.  But one day our working floor will be taken away, and then we will see what the Great Artist has been doing in our lives.

How are you handling your difficulties?  Self-pity, murmuring, and rebellion will hinder your growth; but praise, submission to God and a deep faith in God’s loving purpose will produce in you a growing likeness to Jesus Christ.  God is never in a hurry.  Are we?