THE WITNESS FROM HEAVEN – John 3:31-36

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Have you ever been a witness in court?  Have you served on the jury of a court case?  Have you ever been asked to give a report about something that you witnessed – something that you saw or heard?  Did you have to answer questions, and were you told to fill out a written report?  Every detail is important, isn’t it?  Whatever the situation, those involved want enough proof to secure a verdict or to validate a situation or verify a person’s identity.  We pay extra postage to get a return receipt, or we pay extra to have a document or package sent by certified or registered mail for our own protection.  We may also want the assurance that it has been delivered to the right person and has been personally signed for and received.  We may also want the recipient to realize the importance of the document we sent, and the need for an immediate response to it.

What is it that makes a person a good witness?  What is required in a court of law?  The first requirement is that the witness must give firsthand information.  The judge isn’t going to accept hearsay evidence.  Secondly, the witness must be willing to testify.  Thirdly, the witness must be reliable.  His witness must be substantial and consistent enough to be believable.  These three requirements are necessary if a person is to be an excellent witness.  John’s point in this passage of Scripture is that the Lord Jesus Christ is a perfect witness concerning God.  This is one of the major themes in John’s Gospel.   Let’s see how this theme unfolds as we examine the witness of Jesus Christ to the world around Him, and to us today.

First, the following words of Warren Wiersbe, in his commentary on John’s Gospel, will help prepare us for the study of verses 31-36.  He says,”Bible scholars do not agree as to who is speaking in John 3:31-36, John the apostle or John the Baptist. . . There are no quotation marks in early manuscripts, but since all scripture is inspired, it really makes little difference who said the words”.  Personally, I think they are the words of the apostle John as he ties the previous words of John the Baptist into the theme of his Gospel.  But what is of importance to us is an understanding of what those words in John 3:31-36 mean, and what the Spirit of God wants us to learn from them and apply to our lives.

I.  FIRST-HAND KNOWLEDGE AND INFORMATION (verse 31)

When you go to a “second-hand” store, are you expecting to find brand-new items, fresh from the factory?  I hope not.  You may find your visit to be frustrating and a waste of your time.  It’s called “second-hand” because other hands have already made use of it and that person is passing it on for someone else’s use.  We don’t know the whole story about that particular product’s history, nor all the details of its prior use.  In a similar vein, John is about to tell us that everything we know about God is “second-hand”, so to speak.  We receive it from a secondary source:  in this case, the Lord Jesus Christ.  We don’t know every thing He knows about the Father.  We haven’t seen everything He has seen, heard everything He has heard, nor experienced everything He has experienced in His relationship to the Father.

Verse 31 says, “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth.  He who comes from heaven is above all.”   Notice the repetition of words and phrases in this verse:  “from above , . . above all . . . from heaven . . . above all”, as well as the words “of the earth . . . from the earth  . . . of the earth”.  Heavy emphasis is placed on the fact that the Lord Jesus is from heaven.  He is the God-man, and was sent “from heaven” into this world by God the Father.  The Greek word, anothen, was often used to show a comparison or contrast.  Judaism emphasized the contrast between above and below.  Heaven is God’s sphere and the earth is man’s.  In the New Testament, the contrast is made between a holy God and sinful man.  When John uses those words, “above all” and “from heaven”, he means that only Jesus knows the Father perfectly and intimately because He has existed from all eternity with Him in heaven as a member of the triune God.  Therefore He alone can give first-hand evidence of what God is like.  John 1:18 says, No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”  No one can explain what God is like better than Jesus because no other human being is God.

By contrast, everyone else is called “earthly” or “from earth”.  There is more to these words than meets the eye.  John may be making reference to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in 3:12, where He says, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”  I think the words “earthly” and “from earth”  may also have the connotation “fallen”, suffering the effects of Adam’s sin.  We were born with a mind, will, and conscience which are tainted by sin, and this limits our capacity to know about and understand heavenly things.  When James refers to human wisdom, he calls it “earthly, natural, demonic” (James 3:15).  So our capacity to be a perfect witness of heavenly things is negated by the fact that we are not God, and by the fact that we are earthly and sinful human beings.

II.  WILLING TO TESTIFY (verse 32)

In verse 32, John tells us that the Lord Jesus was willing to testify about God.  No one had to force Him to testify because that was one of the reasons He came to this earth.  It says in verse 32,  “What He has seen and heard, of that He bears witness, and no one has received His witness.”  The Greek word oudeis, translated “no one” has the connotation of being “very few”.  At the end of Jesus’ life He had very few followers who had committed themselves to Him as their Lord.  John is reiterating what he said in John 1:11, “He came to His own and His own did not receive Him, but . . . “ (there were exceptions),  But that didn’t stop Jesus from being a faithful witness.  He was willing to testify in spite of the response.  The book of Hebrews begins with these words:  “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.”  It was part of God’s plan.  The author of Hebrews also gives Jesus’ qualifications as a witness when he says, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.”  I’ll say it again, no one is more qualified to testify about God the Father than His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is willing and ready to do so, not only by His words but also by His life.  He has also chosen to bear witness to us today by allowing His words and a description of His life, death, and resurrection to be written down for us in the Scriptures.

III.  A CONSISTENT WITNESS (verses 33-35)

The Lord Jesus also fulfilled the third requirement for a perfect witness.  His witness was consistent.  It was complete, and therefore totally reliable.  Verse 33 says, “He who has received His witness has set his seal to this, that God is true.”   Various seals were popular in that day.  The Bible refers to a “signet ring” and a seal that was worn around the neck.  The seal was often pressed into a small amount of wax or clay at the bottom of a document to publicly attest to the truth of it, or to enter into a contract.  Verse 33 is saying that when a person understands the testimony that Jesus makes about Himself, and then commits himself to what he has seen and heard by following Jesus, his words and his changed-life bear witness to the fact that Jesus is truly the Son of God.  One’s life and words are like a seal for everyone to see.  The life of Jesus has made an indelible impression. So each of us who is a genuine follower of Jesus Christ is a witness to the truth of God by our words and our lives.

In verse 34, John gives us another reason why Jesus’ words are true when he says, “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.”  The giver of the Spirit is God the Father; the receiver of the Spirit is the Lord Jesus Christ.  So Jesus is not only our Ambassador, sent to us from God the Father, but He has also been given all power and authority to act in that capacity.  He comes “fully endorsed”.  The Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of Truth”, and the Lord Jesus has been given a “full measure” of Him by the Father.

Not only that, by verse 35 says, “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.”  Not only does the Lord Jesus have all the qualifications of a perfect witness for God to the world, but He has been given all the power to prove it by His actions.  God the Father guarantees the truth and total reliability of Christ’s words.  And all of this was  motivated by love – the love of the Father for His Son and their love for us.

IV.  THE VERDICT (Verse 36)

The testimony has been given and it has been proven to be absolutely true.  Now John gives us the verdict.  We are left with two choices, with eternal consequences which are as different as night and day.  The first consequence:  “He who believes in the Son has eternal life.”  The word “believe” refers to a commitment to the authority and rule of Jesus Christ in your life.  By believing, Jesus Christ is not only Lord, but he is your Lord.  We will begin to taste what heaven is like as He brings joy and peace into our lives.  The Holy Spirit will give us a love for God’s Word and will begin to change our lives as we yield to His control, and we will begin to take on a “family resemblance” as children of God.  And the best is yet to come.  We will spend eternity in heaven enjoying His presence and speaking to God face-to-face, all expenses paid!  It will be so amazing that it is beyond our present imagination.  The apostle Paul quotes from the prophet Isaiah when he writes:  “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (I Corinthians 2:9)

Now John puts all of this into stark contrast at the end of verse 36:  “but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”  People don’t like to hear about the wrath of God.  Many believe that God is good, loving and forgiving,  They can do what they please and He’ll forgive them and let them into heaven.  There are many who believe that all roads lead to heaven, that all religions basically believe the same things.  That’s not what this passage of Scripture has been saying,  The wrath of God abides on all who will not acknowledge Jesus Christ as their only Lord and Savior.  This isn’t “scare tactics”.  I call it “reality therapy”.  We need to face the facts.

There have been times when a person has spent a lot of time and money to lovingly help another person, only to have the intended recipient become angry, refuse the gift and reject the giver.  Sometimes this is referred to as a “slap in the face”.  It hurts very deeply because it is rude, uncalled for, and saddens the giver.  It deprives both people of the joy they could have experienced, and a deeper bond of friendship that could have developed between them.  The intended recipient is also depriving himself of something he really needs and of someone who really cares.

God presents you and I with a gift at the cost of His own Son’s life.  He poured out His wrath for sin upon His Son and watched Him suffer and die in order to save us from the consequences of our own willful sins.  He broke off His fellowship with His Son until the debt was completely paid.  There was no other way to make this gift possible.  There has never been a greater gift and there has never been a higher price to pay for it.  To ignore or refuse such a gift is a “slap in the face” of God.

Let’s take a closer look at God’s wrath and the reasons for it.  Some people believe that wrath is beneath God’s character; that it suggests a lack of self-control or a bad temper on His part.  But God’s wrath is based upon His holiness and justice.  No one stands under God’s wrath except those who have chosen to do so.  God respects people’s freedom of choice, and gives them what they choose with all its implications and consequences.  Every person who chooses to be his own god; to worship another god, to ignore or rebel against the true God and testimony of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, is choosing to face the wrath of God rather than the mercy of God.  Every person who thinks he can earn his way to heaven by his works and is unwilling to recognize his own sinfulness and hopelessness, and seek the only true remedy for his spiritual condition, is placing himself under God’s wrath (Romans 3:20).

An American Indian who was a Christian was once asked the question, “What did Jesus do for you?”  They were outside so he squatted down, gathered some leaves into a pile, and placed a worm that he found under the leaves into the middle of the pile.  Then he lit a match and set the outside edges of the pile on fire.  As the flames closed in on the worm and were about to engulf if, the man quickly picked up  the worm and put it safely on the ground.  Then he looked up and said, “that’s what Jesus did for me.”

We either entrust our lives to Jesus Christ and commit ourselves completely to Him as our only Lord and Savior, or we receive the punishment that our sins deserve in the sight of a holy God.  It is God’s desire, and my desire, that you not ignore or reject the witness of the Lord Jesus Christ, but instead commit yourself to Him who died for you and wants you to be with Him forever in heaven.

For those of us who know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, God wants us to be impressed with His hatred of sin, and not regard sin lightly or make excuses for it in our lives.  Let’s also be continually praising Him for what He did for us, and for the love that motivated it, and praying for the salvation of those who have not yet chosen to follow Him.

There are many other completed sermons on this website and you are welcome to visit them all.  May the testimony of the Lord Jesus give you a sense of inner peace and protection as your trust in Him continues to grow stronger.

     

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 REASONABLE – James 3:17 (Continued)

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Would you consider yourself to be a “reasonable person”?  We use phrases like:  “let’s be reasonable about it” and “that sounds reasonable” to describe a particular frame of mind and approach to problems or decisions.  We generally use the word “reasonable” to mean sensible, fair, open to other opinions or viewpoints.  It is a quality that is admired in others and is, hopefully, an attitude that we try to maintain in our own lives.

The Greek word that the apostle James uses here is used nowhere else in the New Testament.  This is the only time it is used in the Scriptures.  There must be some significance to that fact, wouldn’t you think?  The Greek word is “eupeithes”, and it has a deeper meaning to it.  It means “easily persuaded” or “persuaded in a good way”, in contrast to the stubborn and obstinate people who insist on having their own way.  It also means a willingness to obey God, to pursue the teachings of the Scriptures, and to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.

A reasonable person is willing to give way on minor and unimportant issues. As the old saying goes:  “Don’t sweat the small stuff; keep the big picture in mind.”  Such a person takes the first step to resolve potential issues before they become issues.  He gives preference to the other person before envy and strife can even become an issue.

One who possesses this wisdom from above is considerate, agreeable, and easy to live with.  He is willing and ready to listen to the views of others, to hear both sides of the story, and to change his viewpoint if he is proved to be wrong.  He seeks the good of others over his own good.

Abraham (or Abram) in the Old Testament is a good example of one who acted reasonably.  In Genesis 13 Abram settles a property dispute with his nephew Lot.  Abram suggests a compromise and gives the preference to Lot. That’s being reasonable!

Another example comes from American history, involving a man by the same name.  President Abraham Lincoln, after the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War, knew that General Robert E. Lee was open to attack from the rear as he was retreating to Virginia.  He sent word to General George Meade, the newly appointed commander of the Potomac, to attack.  Aware that the General was under heavy pressure to succeed, Lincoln also enclosed this personal note:  “The order I enclose is not on record.  You need not publish it.  Then, if you succeed, you will have all the credit of the movement. If not, I’ll take the responsibility.”

May we have the kind of unselfish concern for others that was displayed by these two Abraham’s.  May we be reminded of the ultimate example of unselfishness:  the Lord Jesus Christ, who left His throne in heaven to become a human being so that He might understand our weaknesses, and so that He might pay the price for our sins in our place.  When issues and decisions face us in our daily lives, “let’s be reasonable about it” in a Scriptural way.  Does that sound reasonable to you?

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

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.

 

II TIMOTHY – Background and Survey

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I.  INTRODUCTION:

John Calvin, the great theologian and preacher of the Protestant Reformation, had this to say about I and II Timothy:  he said, “What I owe to these two epistles to TImothy can never be told.”  In other words, he couldn’t say enough about them and their effect on his life.  II Timothy is one of the great heart-warming letters of the Scriptures.  It has been called Paul’s last will and testament to Timothy, and through him to the church.

Try to imagine how Timothy must have felt when he received this letter from his friend and spiritual father who had recently been taken away from him forcibly by Nero’s soldiers.  Timothy probably thought that Paul had already been put to death by the Roman emperor, Nero.  What joy and encouragement must have filled Timothy’s heart as he read about Paul’s affection for him, and about Paul’s appeals to him and promises to Him from the Lord Jesus Christ!  Tears must have filled Timothy’s eyes as he read this letter, realizing the sufferings Paul was experiencing and the death he faced because of his committment to Jesus Christ.

II.  BACKGROUND:

The apostle Paul wrote this second letter to Timothy in 67 or 68 A.D., just five years after his first letter to Timothy.  Paul experienced two imprisonments in Rome.  The first was more like a house arrest.  Paul lived in his own rented house and was given a great deal of freedom.  After this first imprisonment at the end of Acts 28, Paul made some more missionary journeys.  Then there developed a dramatic change in attitude toward Christianity on the part of the Roman government.  Just a few years  before the writing of this epistle, in July of 64 A.D., a great fire destroyed a large part of the city of Rome.  There was evidence that the fire had been ordered by Nero himself, and those rumors spread.  In a desperate effort to clear himself and get the focus of attention away from himself, Nero blamed the fire on the Christians.  The result was that many of the enemies of Christianity took sides with Nero and started persecuting and killing Christians.  This perseccution spread to all the Roman provinces.  It was not known for sure where the apostle Paul was when he was again arrested, but it may have been at Troas because Paul’s cloak and his precious books and parchments were left there.

The aged apostle Paul was now in chains in the dungeon of a Roman prison, locked in his cell and chained to a Roman guard day and night.  This epistle to Timothy must have been written only a few months before Paul’s death.  Whether or not Timothy arrived at Paul’s side before his execution is not known.

Timothy had been Paul’s faithful missionary companion for over 15 years.  He had travelled with Paul throughout most of his second and third missionary journeys.  He also went with Paul to Jerusalem in Acts 20 and may have been with him on his voyage to Rome.  Paul mentions Timothy’s name along with his own when he writes to Philemon and to the Philippian and Colossian churches.  In I Corinthians 4:17 Paul calls Timothy his “beloved and faithful child in the Lord.”  He also calls Timothy his “brother and God’s faithful servant in the gospel of Christ” in I Thessalonians 3:2.  Because of Timothy’s genuine concern for the welfare of the churches, and because of the loyalty with which he served with Paul “as a son with his father”, in Philippians 2:20-22 Paul went so far as to say, “I have no one like him.”  Among all of Paul’s associates, Timothy was unique.

After Paul’s first imprisonment, Paul left Timothy in Ephesis as the accepted leader of that church.  But though he was in leadership, Timothy still had some things that weren’t in his favor.  Timothy was still young.  He was probably in his mid-thirties, but at that time a person of that age was still considered a youth in the Greek and Roman cultures.  He was also a frail person with several physical ailments, and he was apparently a shy person.

III.  PURPOSE AND CONTENT OF THE LETTER

Imagine for a moment the aged apostle Paul in a dungeon in Rome with no escape but death.  His apostolic work is over.  But now he must make sure that the work of Christ is carried on to future generations.  As Paul wrote this second letter to Timothy, Paul must have been thinking, “Who is going to continue the battle for the truth of the Gospel after I’m dead?”

Paul’ purpose in writing is to remind Timothy again that the precious Gospel is now committed to him, and now it’s his turn to assume responsibility for it, to preach it, to teach it, to defend it, and to preserve it for future generations.  In II Timothy 2:1,2 Paul says, “My son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  And the things that you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who may be able to teach others also.”

Paul’s main purpose in this letter is to focus on the character of the Christian, and he gives several images or portraits of the ideal Christian minister.  He is to be like his Master, the “suffering servant” described by the prophet Isaiah:  patient, gentle, hopeful, and praying for his enemies.  He is to be like a soldier who is single-minded and ready to obey his commanding officer.  Thirdly, he is to be like an athlete, running the race according to the rules of the contest, and fourthly, he is to be like a farmer, working hard and earning his reward.  Paul also gives an image or portrait of himself.  In II Timothy 4:7-8, in the face of death, Paul is unafraid, and gives his own eulogy.  He says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”

It is significant that the last time Timothy’s name is mentioned in the New Testament is in Hebrews 13:23 where it is reported that Timothy was recently released from prison.  He too is keeping the faith in Christ regardless of the consequences to himself.

IV.  AN OUTLINE OF II TIMOTHY:

There are many outlines of the second letter of Paul to TImothy, but my favorite is taken from John Stott’s book entitled, “Guard the Gospel”.  I like this outline because it is simple and easy to remember;  and also because it views Paul’s letter as a series of challenges to Timothy.  Here is his outline:

Chapter 1 – The Charge to Guard the Gospel

Chapter 2 – The Charge to Suffer for the Gospel

Chapter 3   The Charge to Continue in the Gospel

Chapter 4 – The Charge to Proclaim the Gospel

V.  THE SIGNIFICANCE AND APPLICATION TO US:

This church, and every church of true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, needs to heed the message in this second letter of Paul to Timothy because many churches and many Christians are relaxing their grip on the Gospel, and in danger of letting it slip from their hands.  They are no longer determined to proclaim it;  they are unprepared to suffer for it;  and they are are unwilling to pass it on pure and uncorrupted to the next generation of Christians who will rise up after them.

In II TImothy we see that even though the aged apostle Paul faces death in prison, his passion for fulfilling Christ’s Great Commission by making disciples  is as strong as ever.  What does the Lord require of us?  He requires faithfulness to Him and His work, not only on Sundays but throughout every day of every week for the rest of our lives.  God wants us to finish the race He has entered us in, looking forward to the day when we shall see Christ face-to-face in heaven.  Paul’s final charge to Timothy is “Guard what has been entrusted to you”, and his final words are “Grace be with you.”

DIVISIONS IN THE CHURCH – I Corinthians 1:10-17

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INTRODUCTION:

How important is it that there be unity within the Church?  How important is it that there  be unity in the Church where you fellowship?  How important was unity to the apostle Paul, and to the Holy Spirit who moved Him to write this letter to the Church in Corinth?

This issue was so important that Paul devotes the first four chapters of I Corinthians to divisions in the church.  In verses 10-17 of Chapter 1, Paul establishes the fact that there are divisions and begins to deal with them.

I.  PAUL’S APPEAL FOR UNITY (verses 10-12)

In verses 10-12, Paul begins by giving an appeal for unity.  In verse 10 we see both Paul’s affection for the Corinthian church, and his authority as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He addresses them as “brethren”.  They are his family in  Christ.  And he speaks “in the name of” or by the authority of, our Lord Jesus Christ.  There are several important terms in this passage.  Paul exhorts them to “agree”.  The Greek word used here literally means “to say the same thing”.   This doesn’t mean that they have to agree on the minutest points in areas where there is no clear teaching in Scripture.  In these cases there should be freedom to “agree to disagree”.  But when it comes to the clear teachings of God’s Word, there cannot be two conflicting views that are both right.  God is not confused, and He does not contradict Himself.  His Word does not disagree with itself.  So Paul is insisting that the Corinthians, and all believers, have doctrinal unity that is clearly based on God’s Word.  He appeals to them “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  In other words, there must be agreement with Christ, with His will, and with His Word.  For a local church to be spiritually healthy and effective, and for there to be harmony in the local church, there must be doctrinal unity.

Paul continues in verse 10 by saying that “there be no divisions among you”.  The word “divisions” comes from the Greek word “schismata”, from which we get our English word “schism”.  This word was normally used to refer to a tear in a garment.  What happens when you get a tear in a piece of clothing and you keep washing and wearing that piece of clothing with the tear in it?  Unless it’s mended, the tear gets bigger and bigger, doesn’t it?  The church in Corinth was a group of people who were tearing themselves apart!

Paul doesn’t want these divisions to continue, so he offers them an alternative.  Instead of tearing themselves apart, he urges them to be “made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment”.  The words  “made complete” mean “to be perfectly joined together”, like a jigsaw puzzle.  How many of you have ever put together a jigsaw puzzle?  Every piece of that jigsaw puzzle is different, isn’t it?  But when each piece is fitted together into its proper place in the puzzle, you have a beautiful and complete picture.  Have you ever tried to put a jigsaw puzzle together with the pieces turned upside down so that they are all blank?  Try it some time.  It’s a lot harder!  On a large jigsaw puzzle of a thousand pieces or more, it’s almost impossible to put it together upside down!  That’s not the way a jigsaw puzzle was meant to be put together.  In the same way, that’s not the way the Church was meant to be fitted together.  God wants the local church congregation and the local community to see the beauty of a church that is unified and “fitted together” in love.

Unity in the chuch is something that requires cooperation with each other and with the Spirit of God.  We need to be “perfectly joined together” in the love of Christ.  One day in Africa, a small boy was lost.  The news went out but no one had seen the little fellow.  The search went on until nightfall, but no answer came to their urgent calls.  The anxiety of the child’s mother contined to grow, for she knew that her boy was somewhere out in the darkness where wild animals were constantly on the prowl.  When daylight again appeared, they looked for him with renewed energy but still without success.  In desperation they returned and held a meeting.  Perhaps, in their individual efforts, they had missed some spots;  so the suggestion was made, “Let’s all join hands and go through the long grass again.”  Finally the child was found, but it was too late.  When the lifeless body of the little one was carried back to the anxious mother, she cried aloud, “Oh why didn’t’ you join hands before?”

When it comes to seeking the spiritually lost for Christ, we can be much more effective if we are “perfectly joined together” in an unfailing zeal for God’s glory, not our own.  Believers who are joined in heart should not find it difficult to be joined in hand, working together for the common good and for the glory of Christ.  This applies also to the leadership in the church.  The elders should make their decisions with “the same mind and the same judgment.  There should be unanimous agreement.  Not even a three-fourths vote should carry a motion.  There should be oneness of mind, no matter how long it takes.  Because the Holy Spirit has but one will, and because a church must be in complete harmony with His will, the leaders must be in complete harmony with each other in that will.  The congregation then is to submit to the elders because it has confidence that their decisions were made under the Holy Spirit’s direction and power.

The words “made complete” in verse 10 are translated from a Greek word which was used to speak of mending such things as nets, bones, dislocated joints, broken utensils, and torn garments.  The basic meaning is to put back together and make one again something that was broken or separated.  Paul wants the Corinthian church to mend the broken relationships that have been caused by the divisions among its members.

In her book, “The Key to a Loving Heart”, Karen Mains includes a parable about the church entitled “The Brawling Bride”.  It tells about the most climactic moment in a wedding ceremony.  The families have been seated.  The groom and his attendants are in their places.  The minister is waiting, Bible in hand.  The bridesmaids have come down the aisle.  The organ begins the bridal march, and everyone stands.  A gasp bursts from the guests!  The bride is limping!  Her gown is ripped and covered with mud!  Bruises show on her arm!  Her nose is bloody!  One eye is purple and swollen!  Her hair is messed up!

In this parable, the groom in Christ.  “Doesn’t He deserve better than this?” the author asks.  “His bride, the Church, has been fighting again!”

Ridiculous?  Not when we hear of churches with factions or cliques of people who sit on opposite sides of the aisle.  Not when one part of the congregation meets in one part of the building, and the other part of the congregation meets in another spot.  Not when some people in the congregation won’t look at, speak to, or even acknowledge the existence of certain other people in the congregation.  These kinds of things happen when there are divisions in a church.

In verse 11, Paul gives the reason for his appeal for unity in the church at Corinth.  He had received a report from the household of Cloe that there were quarrels among the members of the Corinthian church.  We do not know who the people were who belonged to “the house of Cloe”, but we must commend them for their courage and devotion.  They did not try to hide the problems.  They were burdened about them, and they went to the right person with them.  They were also not afraid to be mentioned in Paul’s letter to the church.

Verse 12 tells us the source of this problem.  Four groups had formed in the Corinthan church.  There were:  the followers of Paul, the followers of Apollos, the followers of Cephas or Peter, and the followers of Christ.  The content of their messages were in agreement, but the followers of these men probably focused on personality differences and distorted their teachings.  Paul was the apostle to the gentiles.  They may have carried Paul’s teachings of justification by faith and freedom from the Law to an extreme and felt free to do whatever they wanted.  Apollos was an intellectual.  Acts 18:24 says that Apollos was “an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man”.  Alexandria was a center for learning and philosophy.  His followers in the Corinthian church may have viewed Christianity as a philosophy rather than a relationship with a Person – Jesus Christ.  Peter was an uneducated, common man and may have appealed to that group of people in Corinth.  The followers of Jesus may have believed in Jesus’ words only, and did not believe that the writings of Peter, Paul, and the other apostles were really Scripture.  We have “Jesus only” groups even today.

II.  PAUL’S CONDEMNATION (verse 13)

Paul condemns their behavior in verse 13 by saying, “Has Christ been divided?”  In other words, have different amounts of Christ been given to different people?  In Matthew 12:25 the Lord Jesus says, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”

Only the Lord Jesus Christ could pay the penalty for our sins because only He is the Son of God.  Luke says in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name  under heaven given among men, by which we must be saved.”  The ground is level at the cross.  We are all equally undeserving of salvation and a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Anyone who claims that he or she has an exclusive part in Christ is wrong.  Christ belongs fully to every believer in His spiritual body, the Church.  I Corinthians 12:12,13 says, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, and whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”  You and I can’t have more of the Lord Jesus Christ, but we can give Him more of ourselves, and experience more fully what is already ours as children of God.

III.  PAUL’S EXAMPLE (verses 14-16)

In verrses 14 to 16, Paul uses himself as an example.  In this passage of Scripture, Paul is very careful to focus the attention on Christ and not on himself.  There was nothing wrong with Paul baptizing people, but Paul didn’t want people to boast in the fact that he baptized them.  In Philippians 2:9 Paul said of Christ, “Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.”  No Christian, no Christian minister, is to put himself in Christ’s place, or allow himself to be put in Christ’s place, and take the authority and honor that is due to Christ alone.

IV.  PAUL’S CALLING (verse 17)

In verse 17, Paul says that his calling of God was to “preach the Gospel”, and the focus of the Gospel is the cross of Christ.  Paul says that he does not preach “in cleverness of speech” because the power of the gospel lies in the facts of the gospel, nnd not in any man’s presentation of them.

CONCLUSION:

We’ve seen how important unity was to the apostle Paul.  How important was unity to our Lord Jesus Christ?  If you will turn in your Bibles with me to John 17:20-23, I will read the passage to you.  The Lord Jesus is praying to the Father, and this is part of His prayer for us:

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one; even as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that You sent Me.  And the glory which You gave Me I have given them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (NKJV)

Having listened to Paul’s words and the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, how important is unity to each of us today?  Are we willing and ready to pray for unity in His Church, and work at building a stronger unity among fellow-members of the congregations where we fellowship and serve?  Will we do so by the strength which God alone can and will supply?  Are we willing to love each other as Christ loved us?  If we are, all our differences and difficulties would soon come to an end.  Remember, a believer who is at war with his brother or sister in Christ cannot be at peace with our heavenly Father.

 

 

THE WORD BECAME FLESH – John 1:14

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GOD BECAME A MAN. Major Ian Thomas, in a message given at a Moody Bible Institute Conference, described Jesus’ coming as a man with these words: “Jesus had to come as He came (born of a virgin) in order to be what He was (a perfect man inhabited by God). He had to be what He was in order to do what He did (die to redeem us). He had to do what He did so that we might have what He has (His life; all that we lost when Adam sinned). We have to have what He has in order to be what He was (a person inhabited by God).”

In John 1:14, John describes Christ’s incarnation in three words, in contrast to the 2500 words used by Luke. He “dwelt among us”. The Greek word for “dwelt” is “eskenosen”, which means “to pitch a tent”. “He tabernacled among us” is another way to say it. The tabernacle in the Old Testament was made of plain white linen. The glory of the tabernacle was hidden inside. There was no beauty in its outward appearance. So too, the glory of the Lord Jesus was a hidden glory. When He came to pitch His tent among us, He did not lay aside His deity, but He did veil his glory.

The tabernacle in the Old Testament was only a temporary dwelling place. It was used while the people of Israel were journeying in the wilderness, and until the temple of Solomon was built. It’s’ interesting that Israel used the tabernacle in the wilderness for a little less than 35 years, the approximate lifetime of the Lord Jesus on this earth.

The apostle John then says, “we beheld His glory”. Our thoughts may go back to the Shekinah glory that filled the tabernacle in the wilderness when the pillar of cloud, which guided them by day, came to rest over the tabernacle and then filled the inside of the tabernacle with the glory of God. It was this inner glory that John, the one who knew the Lord so intimately, saw in Jesus Christ. He describes Jesus as being “full of grace and truth”. “Grace” reveals God as love; “truth” reveals God as light.

The God who “tabernacled” with the people of Israel for about 35 years, as they journeyed through the wilderness, and who “tabernacled” among us in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth for about 35 years, wants to “tabernacle” in each of us for the rest of our lives, and then face to face for eternity if we have repented of our sins and invited the Lord Jesus Christ to come in and reign as Lord in our Lives. Once again He wants to display His glory to us and to others around us through our actions, words, and attitude. Will you invite Him to do so this Christmas season?

GOD BECAME A MAN. Those words brought a song to my mind that is very appropriate for the Christmas season. Think with me about these lyrics:

Love was when God became a man, locked in time and space without rank or place.
Love was God born of Jewish kin, just a carpenter with some fishermen.
Love was when Jesus walked in history. Lovingly He brought a new life that’s free.
Love was God nailed to bleed and die to reach and love one such as I.

Love was when God became a man, down where I could see; love that reached to me.
Love was God dying for my sin, and so trapped was I, my whole world caved in.
Love was when Jesus rose to walk with me. Lovingly he brought a new life that’s free.
Love was God, only He would try to reach and love one such as I.
(John E. Walvoord/Don Wyrtzen)

For those of you who have never heard this song before, or for those who would like to hear it sung again, you can click this web site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OK96FOXOclU, or type: John and Trini Pendleton sing “Love Was When” in your web browser. Trini sings and John accompanies her on the guitar. I think it’s a beautiful rendition.

As you celebrate this Christmas season, please remember that Christmas is just the introduction to His story. There are many chapters which follow, covering His life, death, resurrection, appearances, and ascension into heaven. And His story isn’t over yet. Any moment now He will be coming in the clouds to suddenly snatch His children out of this world in an instant. Then, after the seven years of tribulation, Christ will establish His kingdom on earth and reign for a thousand years. Finally, the Lord Jesus will return to heaven and all believers will enjoy His presence forever. I love happy endings!

That’s a lot to remember this Christmas season! May those memories bring you joy and expectation, and may you know and experience the real joy of Christmas!

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.”