THE RESULTS FROM EXERCISING HEAVENLY WISDOM – James 3:18

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INTRODUCTION:

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

I.  THE ONES WHO SOW

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

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

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

II.  THE PROCESS

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

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

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

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

III.  THE RESULTS

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loving Jesus, gentle Lamb,

In Thy gracious hands I am;

Make me, Savior what Thou art,

Live Thyself within my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    

 

II. A WARNING – James 3:14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

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

 

MAN’S WISDOM VERSUS GOD’S WISDOM – I Corinthians 1:18-25

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INTRODUCTION:

Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”  Proverbs 16:25 says the exact same thing.  Is that significant?  How can something that seems so right be so wrong and have such terrible consequences?

The passage of Scripture I’m sharing today, I Corinthians 1:18-25, gives us an instance in which the reverse principle is also true:  “There is a way that seems wrong to a man, but its end is the way of life.”  In I Corinthians 1:10-17 we read that the Corinthian church was being divided because of quarrels between groups in the Church.  Today we will see that the problem was a reliance on human wisdom.  There is one area where human wisdom plays absolutely no part, and that is the salvation of one’s soul.

I.  THE SUPERIORITY OF GOD’S WISDOM (verse 18)

When man focuses on and glories in his own wisdom, he automatically tries to lower God’s wisdom, which seems like foolishness because it disagrees with his own thinking.  In verse 18, “the word of the cross” includes the whole gospel message and Christ’s saving work.  The thought of God becoming a human being and dying on a piece of wood on a small hill in a remote part of the world, and that this would determine the eternal destiny of every person who has ever lived, sounds foolish or stupid to the natural man.  It leaves no room for man’s wisdom, man’s achievements, and man’s pride.

A Christian was made fun of by an athiest because of his faith in God.  “The idea that the blood of Christ can wash away sin is foolishness”, said the atheist.  “I don’t understand it or believe it.”  The Christian, a student of the Bible, answered, “I think you’re telling the truth.  In fact, you and the apostle Paul agree exactly on one thing.”  “What do you mean?”, asked the atheist.  The believer read I Corinthians 1:18 which says, “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness”.  Then he witnessed to him and told him that Christ could change his life.  But the atheist walked away unmoved.  He was not willing to accept the Lord. The next time you share the Gospel with someone  and the person responds by saying, “that’s’ ridiculous”, you might show that person I Corinthians 1:18 and say, “that’s just how God said you would respond!”

On the other hand, verse 18 goes on to say, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  Another story illustrates the truth that those who believe the Gospel will experience the Lord’s saving power.  A missionary told the story that he went to a western town to pastor a small church.  He didn’t know that many of its members were antagonistic to “old-fashioned preaching”, and that some were practically atheists.  As he spoke about sin and the atoning work of Christ, the irritation of his audience became obvious.  In a few weeks the attendance had dwindled to 10.  But the faithful preacher continued to give out the Word and the Holy Spirit brought sinners under conviction.   At one service three entire families received the Lord, and the downward trend was reversed.  The Gospel is indeed the power of God!

There’s a Chinese tale about a young man who captured a tiger cub, brought it home, and raised it in a cage.  When it was full grown, the man loved to brag about how ferocious and powerful it was.  “That tiger isn’t wild anymore,” scoffed his friends.  “He’s as tame as an old house cat!”  This went on until a wise old man overheard them and said, “There’s only one way to know whether this tiger is ferocious or not.  Open the cage!”  The young man smiled, placed his hand on the latch and challenged his friends, “Want to try out my tiger?”  There was a moment of silence, and then one of the friends said, “We’ll believe you!  Just don’t open that latch!”

A tiger’s strength, of course, is destructive and can bring death, but the power of the Gospel leads to life and freedom.  It destroys guilt and breaks the stranglehold of sinful habits.  If we have experienced this power ourselves, let’s challenge others to “try out our tiger!”

II.  THE PERMANENCE OF GOD’S WISDOM (verses 19-20)

In verse 19, Paul quotes from Isaiah 29:14.  It reads:  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”  Paul’s purpose is to point out that the wisdom of men will be destroyed.  The background of this verse is important to the understanding of it.  In chapter 8 of Isaiah, God tells the people of Judah that Assyria is going to invade them.  Instead of asking the Lord what they should do, they went to witches and sorcerers, and in Isaiah 30, following their advice, they make a treaty with Egypt, thinking that will protect them.  But that treaty gets them into even more trouble!  Their plans fail, but God shows them that He has a better plan.  Judah would be saved completely by God’s power, with no human help.  In Isaiah 37:36 God destroyed 185,000 men of the Assyrian army with just one angel!  The complete account of this is given in II Kings 17.  I encourage you to read it.

The apostle Paul teaches here in verse 20 that human wisdom is not only unreliable, it is also not permanent.  Paul asks several questions.  Each question is asking, “Where are all the smart people today that have all the answers?”  How much closer to peace, in the world and in the heart, is man today than he was a hundred years ago, or a thousand years ago?

Paul asks:  “Where is the wise man?”  He is paraphrasing Isaiah’s words, and the prophet Isaiah was referring to the wise men of Egypt – the sorcerers and magicians who made promises but gave bad advice that led Egypt astray.  “Where are the scribes?”  Paul is probably referring to the Assyrian scribes who went along with the soldiers to record the plunder that was taken in battle.  But God saw to it, in this case, that they had nothing to record, and nothing to count or to weigh.  What was left of the Assyrian army ran away empty-handed.

“Where is the debater of this age?”  Paul is probably referring to the Greek philosophers of his day who spent most of their time arguing with each other!  Throughout history human wisdom has never solved the basic problems of man.  And nothing has really changed over the years, has it?  Life has the same problems.  People have the same struggles.

III.  THE POWER OF GOD’S WISDOM (verses 21-25)

Verse 21 says that God planned it that way.  Man cannot come to know Him by the wisdom of the world.  In Acts 17, when Paul came to Athens, he noticed a shrine on which were written these words:  “To an unknown God.”  With all their learning and philosophies they made for themselves many gods, but the God who had made them, they did not know.

God does not expect people to come to Him through their own wisdom.  He knows they cannot.  But they can come to Him through His wisdom.  And that wisdom has been given to us in the simple message of the Gospel.  It is not through philosophy or human wisdom that salvation comes, but through believing God’s’ Word and His plan of salvation.  God saves only those who believe.  People cannot figure out salvation, they can only accept it in faith.

Unbelief is always the basic reason for not accepting God’s will and God’s way, but unbelief can be expressed in various ways.  In verses 22 and 23, the Jews wanted supernatural signs before they would believe the Gospel.  The Gentiles, represented by the Greeks, wanted proof through human wisdom, through ideas they could consider and debate over.

These two groups that Paul mentions here, the Jews and Greeks, are representative of all unbelieving mankind.  Whether, like the typical Jew, they demand proof by a supernatural sign, or like the typical Greek, they want proof by natural wisdom, unbelievers will find an excuse for rejecting the Gospel.  But God has called out a people for Himself from among the Jews and the Gentiles.  These will believe and find that Jesus Christ is both the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Paul closes this portion of his letter by saying that, even if God could possess any sort of foolishness, it would be wiser than man’s greatest wisdom.  And if God were able to have any weakness, it would be stronger than the greatest strength that man could muster.  Jesus may have appeared to be foolish and weak as one imagines Him hanging on a Roman cross, suffering and dying.  But by doing so, Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of the world and opened the gates of heaven for all who would believe in Him.  Christ’s death and His resurrection were actually His greatest demonstrations of His infinite wisdom and power.

CONCLUSION:

I would like to give two different applications of what Paul has taught us in this passage of Scripture.  First, God’s wisdom is opposed to man’s’ wisdom.  We Christians make a great mistake when we water down the Gospel message to make it acceptable to people, and reasonable to them.  The Gospel isn’t an argument, but an announcement.  And this announcement is meant by God to be proclaimed clearly and accurately.

Secondly, if you still have your own personal philosophy about God and about life, and it doesn’t agree with the Bible, the wisest and most needful statement I can make to you is that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, died on the cross for your sins in your place, and shed His blood so that you could be acceptable to a holy God.  And the wisest decision you could ever make in your life would be to believe that announcement, repent of your sins, and accept Jesus Christ into your life and your personal Savior and Lord.  If God is calling you to make that decision, don’t delay or look for excuses, but respond to His call by receiving Him into your life;  and let other Christians know what you have done so that they can rejoice with you and help you grow in your knowledge of Him.

THE WORD BECAME FLESH – John 1:14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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INTRODUCTION:

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

I.  DEAD FAITH (verses 14-17)

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

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

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

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

II.  DEMONIC FAITH (verses 18-19)

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

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

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

III.  GENUINE FAITH (verses 20-26)

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION:

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

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