MAKING OATHS – James 5:12

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INTRODUCTION:

There are so many ways of making an oath.  You’ve probably heard many of these, and maybe you’ve used a few yourselves.  Oaths that use words such as “I swear”, “I swear to God”,  “I swear on a stack of Bibles”, “as God is my witness”, “may God strike me dead if I don’t”, and the list goes on and on.  As a kid, an oath that I heard quite often was “I swear to God, hope to die, stick a thousand needles in my eye”.  That’s a pretty gross oath!  In the Boy Scouts a favorite oath that was used after making a promise was “scout’s honor”. Is there a particular formula that you have used in order to let people know that you were telling the truth?  Is it necessary to go through that rigmarole so that our word will be trusted?

Here in verse 12, James seems to come from out of the blue to talk about this subject of swearing and oaths.  As we dig into this verse I think we are going to find some connections with what has been said earlier in this letter.  This is a verse of Scripture that is easy to misunderstand and misinterpret if we don’t look at it from the context of the Old Testament Scriptures, the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the historical setting and culture into which these Hebrew Christians had been immersed since childhood.

I.  THE REPROOF (verse 12a)

The first three words are :  “But above all”.   James is changing topics and letting his audience know that this new topic is of the utmost importance.  He uses a familiar address to them, calling them “my brothers” or “my brethren”.  By doing so, he is including himself in the words he is about to say to them.  His command is “do not swear”.  James is not talking about using foul or dirty language.  The original meaning of the Greek word was “to grasp tightly (holy objects)”.  In many places in the Classical Greek writings ( Homer, Xenophon, Aristotle, and others), this Greek word, omnyo, referred to grasping something and raising one’s hand as a way of taking an oath publicly.  However, in this case James is not speaking of the taking of oaths, as in a court situation, but of the making of oaths by people in order to convince others that they are telling the truth, swearing “either by heaven, or by earth, or with any other oath”.  James remembers the words of the Lord Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, because his words are in such close agreement with those of Jesus. It’s as if the Spirit of God brought these words of Jesus to mind, so he wrote them down.  Below is a comparison of parts of the two passages, so that you can see how close in wording they are.

“But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet , , , but let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’, or ‘No, no’; and everything beyond these is of evil.”  Matthew 5:34-37

“. . . do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but let your yes be yes, and your no, no; so that you may not fall under judgment.”  James 5:12

There are many Old Testament scriptures related to the taking of vows, but there is one passage in the book of Numbers that must have come to the minds of both audiences immediately:  Numbers chapter 30, the “law of vows”.  The entire chapter is devoted to vows!

The Jews during the time of Christ and James had turned oath-making into an “art form”.  People made lots of oaths in those days.  It appeared to be a form of bragging, drawing attention to themselves by the frequent and elaborate oaths they made.  They figured that if they didn’t put God’s name into their oath, they wouldn’t be bound by that oath, because God wasn’t being called upon to bear witness to it. So they came up with elaborate ways to make their oaths sound very binding to others, when, in their own estimation, the oaths weren’t binding at all!  This was one of many reasons why Jesus called them “hypocrites” (ones who wore a mask to hide the real identities).

II.  THE CORRECTION (verse 12b)

James corrects their misuse of oaths by saying, “let your yes be yes, and your no, no.”  Our honesty and integrity should be such that we don’t need to say anything more.  That’s all it should take for people to believe you.  Lewis Carroll used the following words in his book, “Alice in Wonderland”:  “Say what you mean, and mean what you say.”

Theodor Seuss Geisel was an American writer and illustrator, best known for authoring children’s books under the pen name Dr. Seuss.  You may have read some of his books yourself.  In 1940 he wrote a book entitled, “Horton Hatches the Egg”.  In this book, a bird named Mayzie (“lazy Mayzie”) asks Horton the elephant to sit on her egg for her, saying that she will be right back.  But she never returns! Horton  made a promise, and he says to himself, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant.  An elephant’s faithful, one-hundred percent.”  In the pouring Spring rain, and in the freezing cold winter, Horton continues to sit on that egg and say those words.  In spite of the laughter and jeering of the other animals, Horton is undaunted.  In the face of death, and a trip over the mountain and across the sea, for fifty-one weeks, Horton continues to sit and say, “I meant what I said and I said what I meant.  An elephant’s faithful, one-hundred percent.”  Would that we could each make such a statement about ourselves, mean it, and verify it by our actions!

By the way, the book does have a happy ending.  You can find several renderings of “Horton Hatches the Egg”, along with pictures, on You-Tube.

III.  THE REASON (verse 12c)

James now ends this warning by giving the reason why personal oath-making is a waste of time in God’s sight.  He says, “so that you may not fall under judgment”. James said the same thing in verse 9:  “Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”  God is all-knowing and all-present (Psalm 139; Jeremiah 23:24).  Therefore, any oath we make, we are making in His presence, and He holds us accountable for every oath we make.

How good is your word?  Can people depend on what you say?  Do friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, classmates believe you and trust you without question?  Dennis DeHaan put those desires into the words of a poem and prayer:

Lord, by Thy Spirit, grant to me

A deep desire for honesty,

So that, when I must give my word,

No one will doubt what he has heard.

A HEAVENLY PERSPECTIVE:

There is Someone whose faithfulness and credibility is unsurpassed.  In Genesis 12:1-3, God made a promise to Abraham, and at the end of verse 3 God said, “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  In Numbers 23:19 God told Balaam to say these words to Balak:  “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it?  Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”  In Deuteronomy 7:9, God gives these words to Moses:  “Know therefore that the Lord your God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments . . . “

Joshua says the following words in Joshua 23:14, “Now behold, today I am going the way of all the earth, and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all of them have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed.”

Can God be trusted to keep His promises?  You know He can!  He’s been proving it over and over again!  He promised to send a Redeemer, His own Son, as a sacrifice for our sins.  Isaiah describes Him in chapter 53.  John the Baptist said of Him, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  When the price had been paid, Jesus cried out on the cross, “Finished!”  The masterpiece of God’s sacrificial love was completed,

God has made you a promise, in case you haven’t claimed it yet.  John 1:12-13 says, “But as many as received Him (Jesus Christ), to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  Faith is taking God at His Word, and acting upon it.  Are you ready to give Him your life in exchange for His?  If you are not a child of God through faith in the finished work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, you don’t know what you’re missing!  You can take His Word and my word for it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

\ There is still more work to be done!

 

PATIENCE APPLIED AND EXEMPLIFIED – James 5:9-11

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INTRODUCTION:

Writer and humorist Mark Twain once said, “Don’t complain and talk about all your problems.  Eighty percent of people don’t care; the other twenty percent will think you deserve them!”  As the saying goes, “those who complain about the way the ball bounces are usually the ones who dropped it!”

i.  PATIENCE APPLIED ( verse 9)

James’ reading and listening audience appears to have problems with complaining.  The Greek word literally means “groaning” or “grumbling”.  I get the feeling that it starts deep down inside a person and increases emotion as it reaches the lips.  How many times have we been in difficult or frustrating situations and felt the desire to express those aches and frustrations in anger to someone else?  As a child, or a teenager, can you ever remember saying these words to your parents: “Aw, do I have to?”  And the usual reply was:  “Yes, you do!”  Complaining didn’t get us very far as children, did it?  And it usually causes more harm than good as adults!

This word James used may also have been intended to remind his audience of a situation in the Old Testament where grumbling and complaining affected a whole generation of people.  In Numbers 14, when the twelve spies returned from spying out the land of Canaan, the people of Israel believed the negative report given by the 10 spies rather than the report given by Joshua and Caleb.  Exodus 14:2 says, “And all the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron . . . ‘would that we had died in the land of Egypt  , , , it’s better for us to return to Egypt.’ ”  God’s punishment upon them affected a whole generation of the nation of Israel.  God said in verse 31, “Your children, however, whom you said would become a prey – I will bring them in, and they shall know the land which you have rejected.  But as for you, your corpses shall fall in this wilderness.”  That was a high price to pay for their “grumbling”, and failure to believe in God’s power and promises.  James might be implying, “That’s what God thinks of grumbling and complaining against Him.  You may want to reconsider your attitudes and actions toward each other”.

Returning to James 5:9, what James has said in this verse may also fit in with his illustration of the farmer in verse 7.  For the most part, farmers don’t tend to complain to each other and get into arguments with each other.  They are too busy for that sort of thing!  They have more important things to do!  There is a harvest to prepare for, get underway, and finish!  All over the world you will find agricultural cooperatives, also known as farmers’ co-ops, where farmers pool their resources (such as land, machinery, feed, seed, fertilizer, etc.) for the benefit of all.  They know how to “cooperate” with each other!

James ends verse 9 by saying, “Behold, the Judge is standing right at the door”. The Lord Jesus said in Matthew 7:1 and 2, “Do not judge lest you be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by the standard you measure, it will be measured to you.”  God is “standing right at the door” and He hears everything you say and sees everything you do.

II.  PATIENCE EXEMPLIFIED (verses 10-11)

A.  THE PROPHETS (vs. 10)

Here in verse 10, James says, “Take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.” Joseph, the son of Jacob, would be considered a prophet, and one of the great reminders of suffering and patience in the Old Testament is called “The 50:20 Principle” because it is found in Genesis chapter 50 and verse 20.  Here Joseph says to his brothers, “And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”  This was the attitude of the prophets both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament.  They were patient and content, knowing that God was sovereign and would use their sufferings and their deaths to bring glory to Himself and to accomplish His purposes.

Someone asked C.S. Lewis, “Why do the righteous suffer?”  Why not?” He replied.  “They are the only ones who can take it.”

The Scriptures don’t give very much specific mention of what each prophet patiently suffered.  However, we do have general mention in several places. The last book of the Hebrew scriptures is II Chronicles.  Chapter 36, verse 16 says, “but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets.”

The Lord Jesus Christ said in Matthew 5:11-12, “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Near the end of His life, when Jesus laments over the city of Jerusalem, He says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!” (Matthew 23:37)  The Lord Jesus patiently endured His own sufferings and death, as did Steven, the church’s first martyr, because it was God’s will, and they were looking forward to being in the presence of God.  These words and images may have come to the minds of the recipients of his letter as he mentions the prophets as examples of patience.  And, even though the book of Hebrews was probably written after this letter of James, his Hebrew-Christian readers and listeners were familiar with the sufferings of the prophets and others as described in Hebrews 11:37.  “They were  stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death by the sword . . . “

B.  Job (verse 11)

Probably the best-known example of patience in the Old Testament is the patriarch Job.  To correct any misunderstanding, Job was a real person, not a fictitious character.  He lived in a real location, was married and the father of ten children, and was a prosperous businessman.  Forty-two chapters describe the details of his life and sufferings.  The prophet Ezekiel twice includes his name along with the names of Noah and Daniel (Ezek. 14:20,24).

It’s hard to imagine the grief and suffering Job experienced, and the sense of rejection by God and his friends.  He loses all his possessions, all his children, and his health in a matter of moments.  His wife tells him to curse God and die, his friends condemn him, and God is silent.

When James speaks of Job’s endurance, he’s not trying to sanctify Job and put him above the level of humanity.   “Did not Job grumble about his circumstances, self-righteously proclaim his innocence, and generally question God’s way with him? . . . Yet there is still a sense in which the Job of the Old Testament can be seen as a great example of steadfastness.  For although Job did complain bitterly about God’s treatment of him, he never abandoned his faith; in the midst of his incomprehension, he clug to God and continued to hope in him (Job 1:21; 2:10; 16:19-21; 19:25-27)” (Douglas Moo, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, JAMES),  William Barclay says, “Job’s is no grovelling, passive, unquestioning submission.  Job struggled and questioned, and sometimes even defied, but the flame of faith was never extinguished in his heart.”

The following poem from an unknown source beautifully and clearly depicts for the Christian, the relationship between suffering and the sovereignty of God:

My life is but a weaving between my Lord and me

I cannot choose the colors He worketh steadily

Oft times He weaveth sorrow and I in foolish pride

Forget He sees the upper and I the underside

Not til the loom is silent and the shuttle ceases to fly

Shall God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why.

The prophets were willing to die for their faith, and counted it a privilege to suffer for God’s sake.  Job was able to trust God and cling to God in the midst of all that he suffered.  Can’t you and I, by the grace of God, accept our circumstances without complaining or holding a grudge?  You know that the answer is “yes”, don’t you?  And I believe that this is what James is trying to communicate to his brethren in Christ then and now.

May the grace of the Lord be with you, in all patience and long-suffering.

I don’t know if you remember these initials which were popular back in the 70’s:  PBPGIFWMY (Please Be Patient, God Isn’t Finished With Me Yet).  Those words are true for all of us, so be patient and “hang in there”!

 

 

THE RESULTS FROM EXERCISING HEAVENLY WISDOM – James 3:18

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INTRODUCTION:

Over the past three months we have examined each of the qualities of heavenly wisdom in detail.  I hope that it has been a learning and growing experience for you also.  We have already studied the devastating results that are produced by the exercise of human wisdom.  As verse 16 explains, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (NIV)  Here in verse 18, the apostle James now summarizes the results that occur when heavenly wisdom is exercised.  He describes these results in one short, compact sentence:  “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (NKJV version).

I.  THE ONES WHO SOW

I especially like the NIV translation for this verse of Scripture because it seems to me that it brings out the intent of the writer very clearly.  It reads:  “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”  The ones who sow are the peacemakers.  James uses the word “peace” here to refer to the right relationship between man and man, not between man and God.  But how can we have real outward peace with others if we do not have an inward peace with God?

James wants peace in the church and among the believers in it.  He knows that peace is the only environment in which righteousness can flourish.  The wisdom of this world produces trouble, whereas the wisdom from above produces peace among men.

God hates a troublemaker.  Proverbs 6:16-19 says:  “These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:  A proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.”  God opposes church splits and discord among the brethren.  But God loves a peacemaker.  Matthew 5:9 says:  Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.”

II.  THE PROCESS

But peacemaking is not easy.  The Revised Standard Version translates James 3:18 in this way:  “And the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”  It is the peacemaker who sows the seeds of peace, and that isn’t an easy job.  You have to work hard to cultivate peace.  Do fruit and grain grow up by themselves and take care of themselves?  Do they produce an abundant harvest all by themselves?  No!  Ask any farmer!  There is a lot of work involved.  There’s the cultivation of the ground, adding fertilizer, sowing the seeds or planting seedlings, watering, weeding or spraying weeds, pruning, waiting, hoping, praying.  Just because you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you automatically get along with others and never have conflicts.  As individuals, and as churches, we need to work hard to cultivate peace with one another, listen to one another, express appreciation for one another, show kindness to one another, and settle arguments peaceably.  The following illustration is just one example of the peacemaking process:

The small town of Umbarger, Texas, was an unlikely place for an international work of art. But toward the end of World War II, seven Italian prisoners of war, who were being held at a large camp nearby, were chosen to decorate the church’s plain brick walls.  The prisoners were reluctant to aid their captors, but they agreed on the condition that their efforts be considered a contribution toward Christian brotherhood and understanding.  But as they worked on their paintings and a woodcarving of the Last Supper, one of the POW’s later recalled, “A spontaneous stream of good feelings began almost at once to flow among us.  No one spoke of the war or the past because ‘we were here for a work of peace and love’.”  (Our Daily Bread, Nov. 8, 2011)

In II Timothy 2:24-25, Paul writes to the young pastor Timothy, encouraging him to be gentle and patient when relating to others.  The following are Paul’s words:  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.”

I’ve taught each of the evidences of wisdom from above one quality at a time. Now let’s put them all together.  James 3:17 says:  “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere.” (NIV)  A person who possesses these qualities will be a peacemaker.  Wouldn’t you agree?  So if you truly want to be the peacemaker that God wants you to be, focus on these qualities and work at developing them in your life, by God’s enabling and for His glory,

III.  THE RESULTS

As a result of our peacemaking efforts done by the grace of God, we will reap a harvest of God’s blessing in our lives and in the lives of others.  God’s righteousness and justice will also be evident and appeciated.  Let’s ask the Lord to use us as His peacemakers so that He might be glorified, and we might be a source of joy to others.

When I was a child in Catholic school, my whole class memorized  a prayer by Francis of Assisi.  I imagine that many of you have read this prayer before, but this time let’s read it slowly and make up our minds that, by the grace of God, we will put these words into practice in our relationships with others, whether we like those people or not.  If so, we will begin to reverse the divisive and hurtful effects of man’s wisdom in our communities today.  Here is a portion of that prayer:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me show love;  where there is injury, pardon;  where is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope;  where there is darkness, light;  where there is sadness, joy;  O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;  to seek to be understood, as to understand; to seek to be loved, as to love . . . ”

May the Lord bless you, and as a peacemaker, may you be a source of blessing and joy to others!

 

 

 

 

TRUE WISDOM IS GENTLE — James 3:17 (continued)

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Are you a “gentle” person?  In our culture and society, that is not a word that is often used to describe people, is it?  The adjective “gentle” is often used in the following phrases:  a gentle breeze, a gentle rain, a gentle animal, a gentle push, a gentle voice, a gentle massage, a gentle grip, a gentle detergent, a gentle reminder, gentle to the skin.  Most of the time we use the word to refer to things rather than people.

I searched the internet for pictures that described or captured the meaning of the word “gentle” and found some precious pictures.  There was the picture of a newborn baby’s tiny hand grasping the thumb of its mother.  There was the picture of a young child hugging a horse’s face. There were pictures of powerful and ferocious animals playing with their young.

The Greek word translated “gentle” is the word epieikes, and it is a different word from the one translated “gentle” in James 3:13.  The term was often used in the ancient world to describe a fine aged wine.  It was not harsh or bitter, but mellow, fragrant, and very pleasing to the taste buds.  The apostle James uses this word here in verse 17 as part of his description of wisdom from above.  In contrast to the harsh, critical, strict, and self-centered wisdom of the world, this wisdom was kind, willing to yield, thoughtful, considerate and patient with others.  The words “chill out” and “mellow out” are ofen said to people who are easily irritated and often judgmental of others.  You would never have a reason to say these words to a gentle person.

The following definition is so true, and always brings a smile to my face:  “Gentleness is the oil that reduces the friction in life”.  Warren Wiersbe said:  “A gentle person does not deliberately cause fights, but neither does he compromise the truth in order to keep peace.”   Carl Sandburg described Abraham Lincoln as a man of “velvet steel”. That’s a good description of gentleness!  In II Corinthians 10:1 the apostle Paul says, “Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ . . .”  The Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect example of gentleness.

In the “One Year Book of Hymns” I found the following story:

The story is told of a little girl named Becca who lived in an institution for troubled children.  She had never spoken, and her behavior was quite violent. She terrorized the other children, hitting them and stomping on their toys.

This was in the 1800’s when treatment for emotional problems was still quite primitive. But there was a nurse who showed love to this little girl.  And slowly Becca calmed down.  She began to show affection for the nurse, and she would even sit quietly with the other children as they learned to sing.  Still, she wouldn’t speak.  One summer evening, the nurse put Becca to bed early.  The sun had just gone down, and some birds were singing outside.  Then the nurse heard another voice along with the birds. It was Becca.  Alone in her room she was singing a song she had heard the other children sing:  “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, look upon a little child; pity my simplicity; suffer me to come to Thee.”

Let me ask the question again:  Are you a gentle person?

Charles Wesley wrote that hymn, and the last stanza goes like this:

Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,

In Thy gracious hands I am;

Make me, Savior what Thou art,

Live Thyself within my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

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!

III. HEAVENLY WISDOM – James 3:17

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There is so much to learn and apply from each of the qualities of heavenly wisdom that James gives in this verse.  I’ve decided to publish them one quality at a time.  I don’t want you to miss anything that I am learning!

Here in verse 17, James lists seven qualities that describe the “wisdom from above”.  We also find these qualities mentioned by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-12.  He calls those “blessed” (happy, joyful) who possess these qualities,  As we study each of these descriptions, consider how they were evident in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Also, consider whether or not they are evident in your life.

These descriptions of the “wisdom from above” are also closely related to the fruit of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, just as the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 are closely related to earthly wisdom.  At each moment we are either being controlled by the Spirit of God or by our own sinful flesh.  At each moment we are either exercising godly wisdom or earthly wisdom.  I think that deep down inside we know this to be true.  As we study each of these qualities of godly wisdom we will, hopefully, understand the inter-relationship between these two passages more clearly.

James 3:17 begins with the words, “But the wisdom from above is first pure.”  We use the word “pure” in expressions and descriptions quite often.  Let me give you a few examples.  “Pure water” – water that is free from dirt, pollutants, and other unwanted or infectious elements.   There is “pure gold” that is genuine, without flaws, imperfections or other alloys.  We use the term “pure breed” or “pure bred”  to refer to an unmixed ancestry.  A “pure tone” in music has a single frequency and is without discord.  The expressions “pure as a newborn baby” and “pure as the driven snow” imply innocence, faultlessness.  Finally the phrase “pure coincidence” intensifies the word by implying “nothing but” or “nothing else”.

The Greek word translated “pure” carries with it these shades of meaning.  Notice in verse 17 that James writes:  “First pure”.  He obviously wants this quality to be at the top of his list.  Does the previous passage of Scripture dealing with “worldly wisdom” have something to do with it?  I think so.  Wisdom from above, Godly wisdom, comes from a pure heart.  It is free from jealousy and selfish motives.  Evangelist Billy Graham said, “The secret of purity is God.  Get a pure heart from God.”  Without a pure devotion to God, none of the other characteristics of Godly wisdom would be possible.

King David prayed in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Psalm 24:3-4 speaks of “clean hands and a pure heart”.  God is not going to empower us and use us if our hearts aren’t cleansed from sin, and our lives aren’t consecrated to Him.

This empowering applies not only to the public part of our lives, but also to our private lives, to the little things, the unseen things, the thoughts and attitudes that we ignore or take for granted.  Like the old Ivory Soap commercial, God doesn’t want us to be “99 and 44/100ths percent pure”, but 100 percent pure. The Daily Bread devotional in 2007 contained a reading entitled “Only A Rivet”.  It brings the point across very clearly and powerfully.

Scientists have determined that faulty rivets may have caused the rapid sinking of the “unsinkable” HMS Titanic.  According to researchers who recently examined parts recovered from the wreck, impure rivets made of wrought iron rather than steel caused the ship’s hull to open like a zipper.  The Titanic proves the foolishness of spending resources on fancy equipment and public promotion while neglecting the “ordinary” parts.  Although rivets seem insignificant, they are essential for holding the ship together and keeping it afloat.  So too, we Christians, by the grace of God, must be free from defect even in the “little things” in order to stand firm against the pressures of this world’s selfishness and corruption.

I’m concluding this section with the words of the apostle Peter to Christians scattered because of their committment to Christ.  Peter says in I Peter 2:1-3, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy, and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

I hope that you are a true child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and that this relationship to Him is evidenced by a love for, and desire for, the pure Word of God as your true source of heavenly wisdom.  I hope that you are also putting aside the wisdom of this world as you grow in the knowledge of Him.  Peter concludes this letter by saying:  “Peace be to you all who are  in Christ”.

With the Lord Jesus as the Master Builder, and the Holy Spirit providing the inspiration, the blueprint and the tools, the work progresses.  Please stop by again.

 

 

 

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 browser 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 YouTube.  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 already 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!

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

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.

 

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.”