OPERATION RESTORATION – James 5:19-20

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INTRODUCTION:

We’ve come to the final two verses of James’ letter to the Hebrew Christians scattered all over the Roman Empire and beyond.  It’s not the typical conclusion of a letter, such as the ones written by the apostle Paul, or Peter, or John.  There are no parting words of farewell, and there is no closing prayer.  But James has a reason for ending his letter with the words he uses. We will soon see, as we fit these parting words into the context of the rest of the letter.

Having served as a chaplain in a hospital setting for many years, and having been “under the knife” several times myself, I’ve become somewhat familiar with the  procedures that are followed in some operations.  I think that there are some elements of comparison, and I will be pointing them out as we look at James 5:19-20 in the light of what has preceded it.

Here are two translations of this passage of Scripture, James 5:19-20:

“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins.” (NASB)

“My dear friends, if you know people who have wandered off from God’s truth, don’t write them off.  Go after them.  Get them back and you will have rescued precious lives from destruction and prevented an epidemic of wandering from God.” (The Message)

I.  THE UNHAPPY WANDERERS (verse 19a)

James calls them “brethren”, meaning that they are either believers, or at least members of the congregations.  “If anyone strays from the truth”.  The word “if” implies that there are some in these congregations who have strayed, and there are others who haven’t strayed from the truth.  He is saying that straying from the truth can happen and has happened.  The word translated “strays”, or “wanders” is the Greek word “planao”.  We get our English word “planet” from this word.  It was generally believed, in those days, that the planets wandered around in the skies, and appeared in different places and at different times.  They didn’t realize that these planets are in an elliptical obit around the sun, as is the earth.

James has been describing and dealing with these “wanderings” throughout his letter.  Many of his readers and hearers have been guilty of impatience, misuse of their tongues, self-centeredness, greed, or other evidences of failing to practice the truth.  The following saying is so true:  “If truth isn’t applied, we’ve either wandered from it, or never possessed it.”

It’s a scary thing to wander from the truths of God’s Word.  It usually happens slowly, imperceptible at first.  Then we realize that we have not only wandered from the truth, but we have also drifted away from our closeness to the Lord Jesus Christ and to other believers.  Feelings of guilt, fear and embarrassment may keep us from seeking help and turning back.  We may begin to feel that our lives are out of control and that the situation is hopeless.

Have you ever been in a helpless situation because of a physical injury or infection? When I was in my early 20’s I felt pain in my lower abdomen.  Within minutes I was doubled over, and the pain was so intense that all I could do was to cry out for help.  My mother heard my cries and took me immediately to a nearby hospital.  I was given a shot to ease the pain and told that  I was having an acute appendicitis attack.  I would be going into surgery immediately.  My family doctor arrived, and told me that he would be performing the surgery.  I would be sedated and would not be awake or feel any pain during the surgery.  His presence and assurances relieved much of the tension I was experiencing.  When I awoke there was a scar, stitches and minimal pain.   The inflammation was gone and I was feeling much better.  One of my aunts died from a ruptured appendix when she was a teenager, so my fears were real.  I look back at that event as a life-saving experience, thanks in part to the immediate action by my mother and the doctor.

II.  THE RESTORERS (verse 19b)

The end of verse 19 contains five simple words:  “And one turns him back” (NASB).  The Message uses the words, “Go after them.  Bring them back.”  In verse 20 James gives a more detailed description of the wanderer’s condition when he says “turns a sinner from the error of his way.”  James uses the Greek word “hamartolos”, an archer’s term meaning, “missing the mark”.  But the word is also used to describe a traveler who has left the familiar road and is following winding, twisted paths that cause him to lose his way.  He has chosen to go his own way, and this choice has affected his thoughts, words, actions, and attitudes.  We are either walking in God’s truth or in our own way.  Those are the options.  The “turning back” is descriptive of the acknowledgement of one’s sin, confession of it, turning from it, and once again walking in fellowship with God and in obedience to God’s truth.

The apostle Paul, in Galatians 6:1, wanted to make sure that his readers knew what their attitude should be in the restoration process.  He says, “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, lest you too be tempted.”  I have an anonymous poem in my collection of illustrations, and it brings tears of regret to my eyes every time I read it.  I hope it has a similar effect on you.

Pray don’t find fault with the man that limps

Or stumbles along the road,

Unless you have worn the shoes he wears

Or struggled beneath his load.

There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt

Tho’ hidden away from view,

Or the burden he bears placed on your back

Might make you stumble too.

Don’t sneer at the man who’s down today,

Unless you have felt the blow

That caused his fall or felt the shame

That only the fallen know.

You may be strong; but still the blows

That were his, if dealt to you

In the selfsame way at the selfsame time

Might cause you to stagger, too.

Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins,

Or pelt him with word or stone,

Unless you are sure – yes, doubly sure –

That you have no sins of your own.

For you know perhaps if the tempter’s voice

Should whisper as soft to you

As it did to him when he went astray

It might cause you to falter too.

In order to effectively turn another believer back to fellowship with God through gentle reproof and correction, we will need to have that kind of an attitude toward the wanderer and toward ourselves.   The hymn writer, Robert Robinson, expressed his inner struggles when he said:  “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” (Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing).  The wanderer will need love, concern, and encouragement in order to confess the sin which has dragged him down, and redirect his focus toward the God who loves him and wants to forgive him and welcome him back.  You might say that God is calling us to be part of the “welcoming committee”.

III.  THE JOYFUL RESULTS (verse 20)

At the end of verse 20, James describes the results of the restoration process. First, “He . . . will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins”.  These words can be confusing if taken out of their context, and without a grasp of the Hebrew concept of sin and death.  The word “he” refers to the restorer, as he is used by God. The phrase “save his soul from death” is probably referring to physical death, not spiritual death.  As a doctor often saves his patients from the harmful and continuing affects of an infection or an injury, the restorer has the responsibility and privilege of saving a wandering Christian from the continuing effects of his sin.  In the Old Testament scriptures, sin is often associated with physical death.  When Adam and Eve sinned, one of the penalties was eventual physical death.  Moses and a whole generation of the children of Israel spent 40 years wandering in the desert and dying because of their sins.  The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire because of sin, and only Lot and his family were spared.  The recipients of his letter didn’t need an explanation.  They already knew the record of God’s dealings with His people.

The other result of the restorer’s ministry is “the covering of a multitude of sins”.  By his own loving, listening, and forgiving attitude, the restorer mirrors God’s love and forgiveness, and becomes a model of forgiveness and acceptance to other believers in the fellowship.  As it says in Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.”  King David said in Psalm 32:3-6, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me.  My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.  I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide;  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’; and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin.”  As a restorer, God gives us the privilege of sharing in the joy of that forgiveness (covering) of sin and return to fellowship.  They say, “Misery loves company”.  Well, relief-from-misery loves company also, and we’re invited to the celebration!  If you’ve ever had a restoration experience, whether you were the restorer or the one who was restored, you know that it was a joy-filled experience for both parties!

IV.  SUMMARY AND PERSONAL APPLICATION

Pastor and Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe concludes his commentary on the epistle of James by asking a series of questions to help us examine our hearts and evaluate our own spiritual maturity.  Let’s reflect on each question and be honest with ourselves and with God as we answer them.

  1.  Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?
  2. Do I play with temptation, or resist it from the start?
  3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?
  4. Are there any prejudices that saddle me?
  5. Am I able to control my tongue?
  6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker?  Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?
  7. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
  8. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?
  9. Am I selfish when it comes to money?  Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?
  10. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?
  11. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?
  12. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother?  Do I criticize and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?

May the Lord give you diligence as you pursue godliness and divine wisdom.  May He also provide strength and a loving friend if you should begin to stumble or falter.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  (James 1:22)

 

 

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 thiinks 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.

 

 

WORK-IN-PROGRESS  Thanks for visiting.  There has been a lot of consctruction going on at this site over the last three years of its existence.  Hope you’ll take a tour!  If you see any problems with spelling, grammar, or sentence structure, etc., I’ll be back soon to clean up and continue the work.  Hope you will join in the work along with me.  They say that work is good for the soul, especially when we are working in the Word of God!

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”!

 

 

BE PATIENT LIKE THE FARMER – JAMES 5:7-8

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INTRODUCTION:

Are you a patient person – both on the outside and on the inside?  Do you mind standing in long lines?  Are you unperturbed when listening to long commercials on your TV or radio, or long, automated ads on the telephone?  Are you content when put on hold for an undetermined amount of time?  If your honest answer is “yes”, you are, by far, an exception to the rule!

In 2006, a survey of more than 2000 adults revealed that most peope take an average of 17 minutes to lose their patience when waiting in line.  Also, most people lose their patience in only 9 minutes when on hold on the phone. Impatience is a common trait; wouldn’t you agree?

TRANSITION:

James has finished his verbal chastening of the selfish, unrighteous rich people, and is continuing where he left off in his address to the churches.  We see the transition in verse 7, where James now calls his readers and listeners “brethren”. He is writing once again to his brothers and sisters in Christ.

I.  THE EXHORTATION (vs. 7a)

He has been telling the wicked rich people what to do before they meet their Maker.  Now he is telling his fellow-believers what their attitude should be in their present circumstances in order to prepare to meet their Lord and Savior.  He reiterates what he said in chapter 1, verse 12:  “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial, for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”  In this letter, James has brought to their minds many passages from the Old Testament, and I believe he is doing so again.  One Old Testament passage of Scripture which closely parallels his words is Psalm 37. In verses 7-9 of Psalm 37, King David writes:  “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret for him who prospers in his way, because of him who carries out wicked schemes.”  Then David says in verse 9, “For evildoers will be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord, they will inherit the land.”

This exhortation is repeated several times in Psalm 37.  I encourage you to read the whole psalm to get the full effect of what David is saying there under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

James also gives this encouragement in verse 7 in order to protect his readers and listeners from their own selfish plans and boastful attitudes (James 4:13-17).  Some of them have been setting up their own timetable for what they want to accomplish for themselves, and have been boasting about it to others.

When James uses the words “until the coming of the Lord”, he may be reminding himself of the Lord Jesus’ words to him and the other disciples:  “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also”  (John 14:1-3). That’s a wonderful promise for us to cling to as well, in these troublesome times! The early church believed that Christ could come at any moment, and that was a source of joy and encouragement in their trials.  Two centuries have passed, but Christ could still come at any moment.  Are you excited about that possibility?  It could become a reality at any moment!

II.  THE EXAMPLE (vs. 7b)

James says, “take a good look at the farmer as an example of patience (long-suffering)”.  The farmer has a lot of work to do, and he also must wait for things to happen in his fields and orchards.  Plants take time to grow and fruit takes time to ripen.  As his readers and listeners know, in Deuteronomy 11:13-14, God made a promise to the nation of Israel before they crossed the Jordan River and entered the promised land.  “And it shall come about, if you listen obediently to my commandments which I am commanding you today, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and all your soul, that He will give the rain for your land in its season, the early and late rain . . . “.  In Israel the early rain, or autumn rain, comes in October and November, after the ground has been prepared and the seed has been sown.  This rain enables the seed to germinate, produce sprouts, and grow to almost full height.  The late rain, or spring rain, comes in March or April, when the buds have formed, and enables the grain to mature for the harvest.  It’s important that the farmer follows this timetable set forth by God if he wants an abundant harvest.  There is a time of patiently waiting for the autumn rain to arrive, for the spring rain to arrive, and for the harvesting to begin, but the farmer is kept busy preparing and repairing the equipment and the barns, and getting the laborers ready for the coming harvest.  The time goes by quickly because the farmer is committed to his tasks and excited about the harvest to come.

III.  THE EXHORTATION (verse 7b)

James encourages his readers and listeners to have the same attitude of perseverance and expectancy as the farmer that he has just described.  There are, and have been, times in our lives that have tested our patience and posed a threat to our devotion to God and service for Him.  There have also been times when we have wanted to get things done in a hurry just to get them over with!  19th-century preacher A.B. Simpson offers this advice:  “Beloved, have you ever thought that someday you will not have anything to try you, or anyone to vex you again?  There will be no opportunity in heaven to learn or to show the spirit of patience, forbearance, and longsuffering.  If you are to practice these things, it must be now.”  Each day offers countless opportunities to learn patience.  Let’s not waste them.

A PERSPECTIVE FROM ABOVE

I’m going to carry this illustration of the farmer a step further because both the Old and New Testaments do so.  It is a clear, powerful, and exciting realization and motivation for us today.  I have already shared scriptures concerning the early and late rains as found in the old testament.  But there is another image that James may be trying to convey, and this image may be coming to the minds of his readers and listeners.  It is the image of God as the patient Farmer, the Cultivator, the Planter, the Nurturer, the Pruner, and the Harvester in the lives of His people.

King David says to God is Psalm 65:9-10:  “Thou dost visit the earth and cause it to overflow; Thou dost greatly enrich it.  The stream of God is full of water. Thou dost prepare their grain, for thus Thou dost prepare the earth.  Thou dost water its furrows abundantly; Thou dost settle its ridges.  Thou dost soften it with showers; Thou dost bless its growth.”  He describes God as doing the whole work of the farmer.

Psalm 121 gets more personal.  “Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is the shade at your right hand.  The sun will not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord will protect you from every evil.  He will keep your soul.”  As the farmer takes good care of his land and crops, so the Lord takes constant care of His people.

A song that I sing to myself almost every day is the hymn, “God Will Take Care Of You”.  Now I’m beginning to realize why this song is so special to me.  The words. “God will take care of you” are repeated over and over again with different melodies.  Singing the song brings a smile to my face and an assurance that those words are really true.  It reminds me that when I was a little child, my mother used a similar method to calm me down and help take away the fear or the pain I was experiencing.  She would hold me close, rock me in her arms, and say, “It’s OK, Tommy . . . It’s alright . . . I love you . . . You’re going to be alright . . .  It’s gonna go away . . . You’re going to be OK.”  Does that bring back memories?  Those repeated words brought comfort to me, and helped take my mind off the problem.  In a similar way, God tells us over and over again in the Scriptures that He loves us and will take care of us.

Isaiah 30:18 reflects the patience of a farmer.  “Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you.  And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.”  “For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His delightul plant.”  If God is waiting, that means He is also watching, and with joyful anticipation!

The Lord Jesus echoed the words in the psalms and prophets when He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit.  For apart from Me you can do nothing. . . . by this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:5,8).

We believers in the Lord Jesus are God’s vineyard, God’s field.  We are the fertile ground which God has prepared.  He has planted the seed of His Word in us, watered it, and caused it to germinate and grow.  He has provided for everything, filled us with His Spirit, and taken care of everything in our lives.  Now He is waiting patiently for you and I to cooperate with Him so that we might bear much fruit before He comes again. The seed is in that fruit to bear more fruit.  God wants us to depend upon His enabling, follow His example of working and waiting on Him, and so prove to be His disciples.  You are equal to the task because He is the “Lord of the Harvest”, and He has called you to be His laborers.  The coming of the Lord is very soon!

“For you are God’s fellow-workers: you are God’s field”  (I Corinthians 3:9).  May you experience the Lord’s care for you, and may your lives bear much fruit for the Lord!

I’m moving on to a new construction site:  James 5:9-11.  Hope to see you there once construction begins!  This work-in-progress must go on until He comes!  Or until I go to Him – whichever comes first!  May the Lord of the Harvest bear fruit in your life today as you abide in Him!  (Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control).

 

 

 

 

  

 

THE RICH CAN BE ROTTEN – James 5:1-6

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INTRODUCTION:

As James writes this letter, it seems as though he has a stack of issues and complaints that have been brought to him for consideration and response.  Now he comes to an issue that is “written in bold letters and highlighted in red”!  He uses  some fiery language here in his response to the rich people among his readers and listeners.  If you are a wealthy person yourself, don’t take these words of his personally until you understand the context!  James is disappointed in them and he disapproves of their actions.  He is not condemning wealth, but he is condemning some of the ways that they have gained that wealth, and the ways they have misused it.

In order to understand what is going on, and why it is so wrong, we will have to leave our twenty-first century technology and see things through the minds of his first-century readers.  As we will soon see, technology has changed, but people haven’t!

It’s interesting to note that some Bible commentators skip this passage of Scripture, and some others just make a quick note of it and press on.  The passage doesn’t seem to fit well into the context of what James has said before it and after it.  Let’s proceed and see if we can make any sense out of it!

I.  WASTING THEIR WEALTH (verses 1-3)

In verse one of chapter 5, he addresses the “rich”.  These are the “filthy rich” – they have so many possessions that they can’t possibly use them all.  They had gained those riches unjustly and were using them selfishly.  James tells them to “weep”, “wail” (scream), now, in an attitude of true repentance before they are taken out of this world and will be weeping and wailing for eternity in Hell.  These rich people to whom James is making his appeal are not Christians.  Their actions in disobedience to God’s Word make their spiritual condition obvious.  That’s why the suffering and judgment he is referring to is eternal.  So I do not believe that James is condemning them.  He is condemning their actions and warning them of the eternal consequences.  The word translated “wail” or “howl” in verse one is the Greek word “ololuzontes”.  The word is called an onomatopoeia – a word that sounds like its meaning.  Try saying the word “ololuzontes” outloud yourself a couple of times.  Say it loud enough for a congregation of people to hear it clearly.  If somebody hears you, you may get the response, “What are you whining about?”  This is the only time that this particular word is used in the New Testament.  I believe James chose this word intentionally under the inspiration of God.  He wanted any “filthy rich” person who might be in the congregation, on the Sunday that his letter was read aloud, to hear what it would sound like if he didn’t let the Lord Jesus Christ have control of his life and his wealth.

In verse 2, James says to the rich, “your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten.”  In this country, we measure wealth by dollars and cents, and by holdings that can be converted into dollars and cents.  Here, James is speaking of riches in grain and clothing.  For the poor in those times, food was a matter of life and death.  The prophet Micah said that the withholding of food from the poor was the equivalent of cannibalism (Micah 3:2-3).  For the poor, clothing was also a basic necessity.  However, for the rich it was a way of showing off their wealth.  Some of the rich had so many garments that many of them were never worn and became “food for the moths”.  I guess they didn’t have mothballs or use cedar chests back in those days!  The sad thing was that these rich people didn’t care!  They would rather have their food and clothing go bad than contribute to the needs of the poor!  They turned down the joy and blessing that they would have received from their generosity.  No wonder their lives were so empty and miserable!

You may have heard this illustration, but it may be useful to hear it again.  One day a certain old, rich man of a miserable disposition visited a rabbi, who took the rich man by the hand and led him to a window.  “Look out there.  What do you see?”, asked the rabbi.  “I see men, women, and children”, answered the rich man.  Again the rabbi took him by the hand and this time led him to a mirror.  “Now what do you see?”  “Now I see myself”, the rich man replied.  Then the rabbi said, “Behold, in the window there is glass, and in the mirror there is glass.  But the glass of the mirror is covered with a little silver, and no sooner is the silver added, than you cease to see others, but you see only yourself.”  The Lord Jesus called this phenomenon “the deceitfulness of riches” (Mark 4:19)

Citicorp Bank ran a series of billboards about money.  One said:  “Money changes hands – just don’t let it change the rest of you!  (DB August 2010)

Verse 3 reflects the words of Jesus in His Semon on the Mount:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  (Matthew 6:19-21)

In verse 3, James says to his readers:  “Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire.  It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure.”  The  word translated “rusted” here, means “to rust down” or “to corrode”.  Gold and silver, wealth that we may consider to be indestructable, is going to be destroyed, and those who trust in them will be destroyed also.  Like rust or corrosion, your lust for riches will eat away at your souls!

I beiieve that James is not only giving them a graphic description of their riches, but he is also making an urgent plea to them.  “Take a good look at your possessions!  Observe the rotting grain in your storehouses; make note of the moth holes on the clothes in your closets; observe the rust or corrosion on your gold and silver!  It’s all plain to see!  They are a witness before your eyes, and they are a witness against you before the eyes of God also!  Take heed and repent of your selfishness and greed, and give the Lord Jesus Christ His rightful place as Ruler of your lives before it’s too late!  You can’t take it with you beyond the grave, but you will suffer for it throughout eternity because God is your witness, and it has all been written down!

“And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne,and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. . . . And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  (Revelation 20:12,15)

ii.  DEPRIVING LABORORS OF HARD-EARNED WAGES (verse 4)

 In verse 4, James gives further proof of their selfishness, this time in their dealings with the laborers who worked in their grain fields.  These were called “day laborers”.  They received their pay at the end of each day, and their pay was barely enough to meet their basic needs.  The wealthy landlords had the money to pay them.  Yet they knowingly and willfully disobeyed God’s Law, which says, “You shall not oppress the hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your countrymen or one of your aliens who is in your land in your towns.”  (Deuteronomy 24:14-15 NASB)

This next passage of Scripture is even more specific about paying the laborers:  “The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning.”  (Leviticus 19:13 NASB).  In other words, they were to pay their laborers when the day’s work was done, and before those laborers went home for the day.

Have you ever been a “day laborer” – harvesting a crop?  If so, I’ll bet you have some stories to tell!  My brother and I got a taste of it, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience!  We were looking for work and saw a newspaper ad saying, “Grape-pickers wanted”.  We arrived at the address at daybreak, and saw an old bus pulling out and a large group of men standing around.  While we were walking over to them, another old bus arrived, full of men.  These were migrant farm-workers, brought in from tenement houses nearby, and the only one who spoke English was the foreman!  Large buckets were handed out and the work began!  These were wine grapes on high trellises, and there were miles of them . . . the dust, the heat, the flies, bees, wasps, and, worst of all, the spider webs and spiders!  At lunch-break my brother said “I’ve had enough!”, and I was quick to agree.  We talked to the foreman and he told us what time to return at the end of the day and pick up our pay.  We could afford to do that, but all those migrant workers needed the money to survive and feed their families.  They were paid by the bucket, not by the hour, so they had to work hard and fast to fill as many bucket-fulls of grapes as possible by the end of the day.  It was no “picnic”, believe me!  If you’ve ever read John Steinbeck’s book, “The Grapes of Wrath”, you would have an image of what it must have been like to be a “day laborer” moving from field to field during harvest season.

Here in verse 4, in order to get the grain harvested and put away, the laborers had to work from dawn til dusk.  The rich land-owners promised to pay their laborers a certain amount at the end of the day.  The tense of the verb “withheld” indicates that those laborers would probably never get their hard-earned wages.  There is a clear application for each of us in this verse.  We ought to pay our bills, and pay them on time!

James has more to say to these wealthy Jewish land-owners.  They think that they are going to get away with this unfairness, but James warns them that their day is going to come.  He uses a very familiar passage in the book of Genesis to get his point across to them.  When James says, “the pay . . . which has been withheld by you, cries out against you”, he is reminding them of God’s words to Cain after he had killed his brother Abel and then buried his body.  He must have thought that he had committed the “perfect crime”.  But God said to Cain:  “Where’s Abel your brother? . . . What have you done?  The voice of your brother’s blood cries to Me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:9-10)  Then God pronounced a curse on Cain.

James ends verse 4 by saying, “the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the Lord of Sabaoth.”  God is watching, and God is listening to the prayers of these laborers.  The phrase “Lord of Sabaoth” or “Lord of Hosts” pictures God as powerful, invincible, and the Leader of a great army.  Ladies  and gentlemen, there are no “perfect crimes”, at least not in God’s sight, and He will bring judgment in His time!

III.  THERE WILL BE CONSEQUENCES, AND YOU KNOW IT! (verse 5)

As James brings this rebuke and warning to the unrighteous rich people to a close in verses 5 and 6, I detect a note of sadness and sorrow in his words.  Do you?These wealthy land-owners know how to over-feed their chickens in order to get more breast-meat.  They know how to feed their cattle with the best grains, as much as they will eat, in order to get more steaks.  They are “preparing those animals for slaughter”!  James is saying, “Can’t you see that you are doing to yourselves the same thing that you are doing to your livestock?”

James wants them to take a good look at themselves.  They are living a life of luxury, satisfying their own desires and lusts.  They fit Ezekiel’s description of the city of Sodom in Ezekiel 16:49.  “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.”

IV.  YOUR ONLY HOPE (verse 6)

In verse 6 James brings his rebuke and warning to these wealthy, selfish, unbelieving Jews to a conclusion.  Throughout his epistle the apostle James has phrased his words in such a way as to bring to mind Old Testament passages of Scripture that would be familiar to his readers and listeners.  Remember that these rich Jews had also been taught the Scriptures by their parents when they were little children.  They faithfully attended the synagogues with their families, hearing the Scriptures being taught by the rabbis and other teachers of the Law.  Many of these sons of the wealthy may also have attended rabbinical schools for further training. Their parents wanted them to have the best education available at that time.

I can imagine that there were many rich Jews of all ages who hated the Lord Jesus Christ because He spoke many times publicly against the misuse of riches (eg. Mt. 19; Luke 6, 16).  His parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus must have set the hearts of many wealthy Jews against him.  It makes me wonder whether some of his rich listeners were also among those in Pilate’s courtyard yelling “Crucify, crucify Him” (Luke 23:21).  Here is the literal translation of James 5:6 from the Greek:  “You condemned, you murdered the righteous man.  He does not resist you.”  These words immediately bring to my mind the words of the prophet Isaiah:  “Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7).  These wealthy Jews knew this passage of Scripture.  They heard it at home, in the synagogue, and at the temple worship services, and they had studied it in school.  They also knew the last words of that chapter, which reads, “Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.”  I believe that many, if not all, of these selfish, wealthy Jews were standing at a distance, watching the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross.  They wouldn’t want to miss this event!  If so, they probably heard, or were told about, this prayer that Jesus uttered on the cross:  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

We don’t know for sure if this was James’ intent when he wrote the words of verse 6, but we do know that God always forgives those who truly repent of their sins, recognize that those sins were paid for by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, and let Him reign as Lord of their lives.  Whether rich, poor, or in-between, that is what brings meaning, purpose, and joy to one’s life.  Can you attest to the truth of those words in your own life?  I sincerely hope so!

 

 

 

 

 

UNDER CONSTRUCTION!   PROCEED WITH ENTHUSIASM!

Thanks for coming to this “construction site!  This particular site is almost complete.  The foundation, walls and roof are in place, The finishing work is almost over, and a couple of illustrations have been nailed to the inside walls.  It’s time to begin a new construction project at “the vacant lot next door”!   I’m  getting ready to study James 5, beginning at verse 7.  You and I are also a “work in progress”, and until we leave this earth, there will always be work to be done.  More will be added to this study piece-by-piece very soon.  I hope you will be studying along with me in James, Chapter 5.    If this is your first visit, please also read my post entitled “A WORK IN PROGRESS” to gain a better understanding of my reasons for using this approach.  Please also check out my ABOUT PAGE to find out more about me.  If you would like to leave a comment or ask a question, I would enjoy hearing from you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I propose that James may be saying something like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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INTRODUCTION:

Can you remember a time, or times, when your parents were really upset about something you did or said?  Can you remember words being said to you in anger?  Words like:  “How could you do such a thing?”;  “What’s the matter with you?”;  “You know better than that!”;  “Now listen to me!”;  “I want you to say you’re sorry!”;  “Don’t you ever do that again!”.  Do those words bring back memories?  Didn’t those words make you hang your head in shame?  Didn’t you want to go to your room or find a corner somewhere and cry?  The fact that you remember those words is evidence that they made a lasting impression on you, and that’s what they were intended to do.  We often call that “scolding”.  If you can’t ever remember hearing those words, or words similar to that, you must have been a much more well-behaved child than myself!

Why am I bringing those words back to your minds?  Because the apostle James, the writer of this letter, has some “scolding” to do!  You are going to find some similar questions and statements in this passage of Scripture because he is very angry.  And this won’t be the last time he does some scolding to the churches addressed in this letter, and for good reasons!  When I was a kid we used to say that a person was “on the warpath” when they were really angry about something, and were venting their anger at others.

I encourage you to read James chapter 4 several times slowly.  Read it as if you were the apostle James, and you were scolding the churches for their sinful behavior.  Then read it slowly again, as if you were a member of one of the churches, and you just received a copy of this letter from James.  You might even want to read it outloud, as if you were the parent, scolding your children!  Put some feeling and emotion into it!  If you have children, don’t say it within ear-shot of them.  They might think you’re talking to them!

You’re probably familiar with this verse of Scripture:  “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brethren dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).  And how bad and unpleasant it is when they don’t!  Wouldn’t’ you agree?

Remember that this letter was written by James to groups of Christians who were scattered throughout the surrounding nations because of the persecution.  He knows that this letter will be read aloud at the church gathering.  Then it will be copied and sent to other scattered groups of believers, where it will also be read aloud.  The Spirit of God is not only telling James what to say, but also how to say it.  So James isn’t just writing a letter.   He’s preaching a sermon!  You may want to take notes as James continues to reprove and correct.

I.  CONFLICTS WITH OTHERS:  THEIR SOURCE AND REMEDY (verses 1-3)

James begins by asking a question:  “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” (NIV)  He wants his readers to think about it for a second.  Then he answers his question with a rhetorical question:  “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”(NIV)  James is saying, “doesn’t that make sense?”, or “wouldn’t you agree”?  He wants them to think it over and be honest with themselves.  He wants them to be true to the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, in Matthew 5, that sin begins in the heart, and He exhorted people to love one another, be reconciled to one another, and serve one another unselfishly.  The recipients of this letter know these things!  That’s why James is reminding them so strongly!

James is saying, in verse one, “the desires that battle within you”.  That’s where it starts, isn’t it?  Our selfish desires are battling inside us, seeking a way to express themselves outwardly to the world around us.  If those desires aren’t met the way we want them to be met, others are going to hear about it and suffer for it!  James uses words of warfare here; words like:  “quarrel”, “fight”, “kill”, “battle”.   But in the context of his letter, it’s obvious that James isn’t talking about punching and stabbing people, or putting them to death.  He’s talking about the way we use our words to destroy people’s reputations or get even with them.  If you don’t believe that words can kill, you’ve probably never been in a heated argument that has lasted for hours, and has had lasting results for days, weeks, months, and even years.

Here in the United States we have a sharp increase in such activity every four years.  It’s called an “election year”!  And we’re in one right now!  Turn on the news on your TV or radio and you’ll see and hear what I mean!  This activity also goes on in workplaces, schools, public places, and homes where people are trying to promote the “candidate of their choice”.  Sorry, my purpose is not to “get political”, but to give a “down to earth” illustration that we can relate to.

James now gives the solution to this belligerant activity.   At the end of verse 2, he says,  “You do not have because you do not ask God.” (NIV)  But don’t stop there!  The rest of the solution is found in verse 3:  “When you ask,you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”(NIV)

Irving Jensen, in his “Self-Study Guide on James”, asks us to think about the logic of James’ words in 4:1-3:

a.  What you really need, you may have.

b.  You may have what you need by asking for it aright (or rightly).

c.  Wars and fightings, waged in order to get, are therefore unnecessary.

The Epistle of James is closely related to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  When Jesus’ disciples asked Him:  “Teach us to pray”, He gave them principles of prayer in Matthew 6:9-13.  It is often referred to as “The Lord’s Prayer”.  I often wondered why Jesus didn’t include prayer for others when He gave these instructions.  Now I realize that this focus on others was there all along.  Jesus  begins by saying, ” Our Father”.  I’m not an “only child”, and neither are you!  Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are all members of God’s family.  We are brothers and sisters in Christ.  When we approach “our” Father, let’s be reminded of “the rest of the family”, and include them in our prayers.

The Lord Jesus also said “give us this day our daily bread”, not “give me this day my every desire“.  Bible scholar, William Barclay, in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, had these words to say about this verse;  “The problem of the world is not that there is not enough to go around; there is enough and to spare.  The problem is not the supply of life’s essentials; it is the distribution of them.  This prayer teaches us never to be selfish in our prayers. It is a prayer which we can help God to answer by giving to others who are less fortunate than ourselves.  This prayer is not only a prayer that we may receive our daily bread; it is also a prayer that we may share our daily bread with others.”

This may seem like a side-track, but I think you’re beginning to see how this information relates to what James has to say in verses 2 and 3 of chapter 4.  On this subject of prayer, there is much to be learned from little children because their prayers are often so honest and free from hypocrisy.  The following is one example.  A little boy had the habit of sucking his thumb and was told he must stop.  One evening in his bedtime prayer he was heard to say, “O God, help me to stop sucking my thumb.”  After a pause, he continued, “Never mind, God, because I don’t want to stop sucking my thumb!”  How’s that for being honest to God in prayer?  How often have we prayed to God for something, but we didn’t really want God to answer our prayer, at least not the way we prayed it.  That can be especially true when we  are praying outloud in the presence of others.  God is not going to answer our prayers if we don’t mean them, or if we are trying to impress others by our prayers.

Little children can also have a very simple and keen sense of logic when dealing with problems.  A farmer whose barns were full of grain which he was holding for a rise in prices, was accustomed to pray for the poor and needy, and constantly repeated his petition, “Oh God, remember the poor and needy and supply their wants and needs.”  But he never offered them any help himself.  He expected God to do it all.  One day, after hearing his father pray, his little son said to him, “Daddy, may I have half of your corn in the barns?”  Astonished, the father replied, “Why my son, what would YOU do with all that corn?”  The boy replied, “I would answer your prayers!”  (Our Daily Bread 12/20/1958)

II.  AT WAR AGAINST GOD (verses 4-6)

Here comes the scolding again in verse 4!  “Adultresses!  Don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God!”  That’s the literal translation!  If somebody called you an adultress, wouldn’t  you feel like smacking that person for saying it?  James is writing to men and women, so why does he use the feminine form of the word?  His readers know the reason!  This isn’t the first time this word has been used, and several Hebrew words and phrases came to their minds immediately.  Most of the readers or hearers of this letter were Jews that had become Christians.  They were educated in the Law of Moses and the Prophets ever since childhood, and the words of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea came to mind (specifically, Isaiah 54, Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 16, and Hosea 2).  In Isaiah 54:5-7, Isaiah says to the nation of Israel:  “Your maker is your husband, the Lord Almighty is his name . . . “.  In Ezekiel 16 God says to Jerusalem:  “You adulterous wife . . . you prostitute!”

In spite of these prophesies, God’s people continued to worship and serve other gods.  Finally, in Hosea, God gives them a visual aid!  He tells Hosea, in chapter 1, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children by her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”  So you can see why the Hebrew Christians addressed in James’ letter knew exactly what James meant when he said, “You adultresses!”  Not only that, but the apostle Paul in Ephesians 5, and the apostle John in Revelation 19 and 21, declare that the Church is the bride of Christ.  Therefore, to pursue the world’s sinful pleasures is to commit adultery against our Husband, the Lord Jesus Christ

Let me write the rest of verse four again in “scolding-mode”:  “You know that friendship with the world means enmity against God, don’t you?”  James is saying:  “You know better than that!”

I asked myself this question, and you should ask yourself the same question also:  “What does it mean to be a ‘friend of the world’?”  When we determine the answer to that question, there is a second question you and I need to ask ourselves:  “Am I a friend of the world”?

In attempting to answer the first question, the word translated “friendship”, in verse 4, is the Greek word “philos”.  The word acturally means “love”.  It is the love you would have for a close friend, someone you enjoy being around, and with whom you share much in common.  The word translated “world” is the Greek word “kosmos”.  We often use that word to speak of the universe.  However, James uses “kosmos” to refer to the human world system that is self-seeking and in rebellion against God.  And who is the “lord” of this world?  It is Satan, the devil!  And his goal and efforts are directed toward getting people to exalt themselves and become jealous of others (John 8:44; II Corinthians 4:4).  Bingo!  Now we see all the elements involved in these conflicts!  James is going to address that in verse 7.  So to be a friend of the world, the “kosmos”, is also to be a friend of Satan, helping him to accomplish his objectives in your life and in the world!

More will be coming soon!  Are you becoming convicted by God’s Word?  I am! James gives some remedies to this situation.  They are just a few verses away!

This “work in progress” is progressing slowly but surely!  I’m showing you each step of the construction process in the hope that it might encourage you to work on your own right along with me.  I’m noticing that this sermon is really getting long, and I’m only on verse 4!  So I’m going to start a James 4:1-10 (Continued) sermon, and I’ll see you there next time.  Same sermon, different page!

The foundation for this passage of Scripture has been laid and some of the structure has been built.  Keep your hard hats on because there could be some more dust falling from above!  More reproof and correction are still on the way!

 

 

 

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 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.