SIBLING RIVALRY – John 7:1-9

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INTRODUCTION:

If you weren’t an only-child, or if you’re the mother or father of more than one child, you’ve probably experienced sibling rivalry, or watched it take place.  I was one of three boys, so when the three of us got into arguments or fights, it was usually two against one!  The rivalries don’t necessarily go away when children become adults, as you probably know.  The Old Testament Scriptures contain several rivalries between brothers, sisters, or both.  The first rivalry was between Cain and his brother Abel.  As we move through the Old Testament we also find the stories of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and her sister Leah, and Joseph and his brothers.  There were some serious, negative results in each case.  I’m reminded of a popular TV show in the 1960’s and 1970″s:  “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”.  As part of their comedy routine, Tommy Smothers would say angrily to his brother, Dick, “Mom always liked you best!”, and a funny argument would ensue.  It was funny because the people in the audience could relate to what they were saying to each other.  They may have used similar phrases and had the same arguments with their own brothers or sisters at some point in their lives.

Why do such rivalries exist among family members?  What are some of the causes?  From the research I’ve done so far, I’ve learned that children are sensitive to differences in parental treatment, as well as unequal amounts of attention and discipline.

The passage of Scripture we are studying, John 7:1-9, tells us that the Lord Jesus was not an only-child.  His mother Mary and His step-father Joseph had several children while Jesus was growing up.  This passage of Scripture will mention His brothers (step-brothers), but He had step-sisters as well, and we will be looking into those details as we study this text of Scripture.

TRANSITION:

Before we begin to study the text, I would like you to exercise your imaginations and recall some memories along with me.  Try to imagine yourself as the brother or sister of Jesus Christ, growing up with Him in the same household, interacting with Him and with your other brothers and sisters every day as children, then adolescents, and finally as adults.  What kinds of potential situations, issues, feelings and tensions come to your mind?  Bring back to mind your own childhood experiences and your experiences as an adolescent and as an adult.  Now keep those thoughts in your mind and continue to ponder them.  Those thoughts and memories are going to be useful to us as the scene changes here in chapter 7 of John’s Gospel.

I.  A CHANGE OF LOCATION (verse 1)

Verse one begins with the words “After these things” – the same words the apostle John used at the beginning of the previous chapter (6:1).  John is not only referring to the things Jesus said and did in chapter 6, but also to the response from the crowd, and especially from the rulers of the Jews.  Bible commentator William Barclay aptly described John 6 as the “beginning of the end”.  Chapter 7 of John’s Gospel begins the last six months of Jesus’ life.  The Lord Jesus had already “signed His own death warrant”, so to speak, by claiming to be God (5:18).  Now He has lost many of His potential defense-witnesses, in chapter 6, when He stated that belief in Him was the only way to eternal life.  Hundreds of “followers” walked away and may have become witnesses for the prosecution.  

The rest of verse 1 says, “Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him.”  So Jesus was going around the region of Galilee preaching and teaching the Galileans about the kingdom of God.  He did not go from Judea to Galilee out of fear for His life, but because it wasn’t His Father’s timing for Him to be arrested yet.  His reason was not fear, but obedience to His heavenly Father.

II.  THE FEAST (verse 2)

Verse 2 says, “Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was at hand.”  The Feast of Booths is also called the Feast of Tabernacles.  Bible expositor Warren  Wiersbe gives a brief and concise description of it:

“The Feast of Tabernacles looked back on Israel’s journey through the wilderness,
and looked forward to the promised kingdom of Messiah.  The Jews
lived in booths made of branches to remind them of God’s provision for
nearly forty years (Leviticus 23:33-44). . . . Tabernacles was a festive time
for the people.  The temple area was illuminated by large candlesticks
that reminded the people of the guiding pillar of fire; and each day the priests
would carry water from the Pool of Siloam and pour it out from a golden vessel,
reminding the Jews of the miraculous provision of water from the rock.”

This was one of the three feasts that Jewish males were required to attend.  Great numbers of Jews arrived in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast.  It was a time of joy and fellowship that lasted seven days, with a solemn feast on the eighth day.  Many animals were sacrificed to the Lord, and many free-will offerings were given during that period of time (Numbers 29:7-40; Deuteronomy 16:14-16).

III.  BROTHERLY ADVICE? (verses 3-5)

In verses 3 and 4, the apostle John writes down for us the only words spoken to Jesus by His brothers that are recorded in the Scriptures.  Let’s pay close attention to their words and see if we can gain any insights into their purpose for saying those words, and the manner in which they may have said them to Jesus.  Verse 3 says:

His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here and go into Judea,
that your disciples may behold Your works which You are doing.”

Since all of His brothers are saying these words to Jesus, they probably had been discussing the matter among themselves and had come to an agreement about what they wanted to say.to Him.  Matthew 13:55-56 gives us the names of four brothers:  “James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (Jude)”.  The parentheses are mine.  Matthew also mentions that Jesus had sisters.  We find that same information in Mark 6:3.

Their words are not in the form of a suggestion or a request, but rather a command or a challenge.  The word “therefore” tells us that they must have known about all the followers who had turned away from Him in Capernaum, and assumed that this was the reason why He was now ministering in Galilee.  As you look at their words, do you detect a bit of sarcasm?  Are they making fun of Him and ridiculing Him?  We don’t know the inflection in their voices, but we do see the words “your disciples”.  His brothers are not His followers, at least not at this point in time.  They are excluding themselves by the use of those words.  To put it into today’s vernacular, they were saying to Jesus:  “Leave those lower-class Jews in Galilee and make your pitch before the ‘big wigs’ in Judea, where the action is.  Show your disciples your best miracles.  See if you can convince them, and us, that you’re really who you claim to be.  Give it your best shot!”  That paraphrase seems to fit what they say next in verse 4:

“For no one does anything in secret, when he himself seeks to be
known publicly.  If you do these things, show yourself to the world.”

Notice the little word,“if” in verse 4.  His brothers don’t believe His miracles.  They have probably not seen any of them, and are unwilling to believe the reports they have heard.  In an attempt to put their words into 21st century slang, His brothers are saying, “Come out of hiding; get the word out, and take a world tour.”  But Jesus wasn’t seeking to become a celebrity or a status symbol.  Their “marketing strategy” is similar to Satan’s temptation in Matthew 4:5-7, where Satan tried to make Jesus take action on His own, rather than submit to the will of His heavenly Father.

Even though His brothers don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, how could they treat their older brother in such a way.  What would motivate them to say the things they said to Him in such a cruel way?  Why are they “ganging up on Him” – four against one?

It’s time to bring back to your mind those rivalries between you and your own brothers and sisters, and rivalries between your own children.  Have the memories come back to mind?  Now ask yourself this question:  “What would it be like to grow up with a brother who never sinned; who never did anything wrong, and was never punished?”  Would you be looking for weak spots in his character?  Would you be trying to find a hole or a crack in his armor?  Would you be trying to make one?  Would you be doing everything in your power to get him into trouble just once, to make sure he was human like you?  Would there be times when you would like to get into an argument with him or pick a fight with him?  Would you be calling him names such as “Mr. goody two-sandals”?  You don’t have to answer those questions.  We both know the answers already, don’t we?

This poses another question.  As the children were growing up, did Mary and Joseph tell them about Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth, and all the details surrounding those events.  Did they tell their children that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, the King of heaven and earth?  The Scriptures don’t give us that information, but apparently Mary and Joseph kept that information from them, and for good reasons.  You know how hard it is for little children to keep secrets, especially if they are speaking in a brother’s defense.  For example, if someone were to say to them, “My brother is better than your brother”, they might get the response, “No he’s not, my Brother is the Messiah, the Son of God.”  If that news spread, Jesus and His whole family might be in danger of death from the Romans and the Jews!

Even though Mary and Joseph probably didn’t communicate that information about Jesus, children can detect differences in the way their parents talk to each of them and respond to each of them.  Whether they consciously realized it or not, how could Mary and Joseph hide the sense of awe and wonder they felt inside every time they looked at Jesus, touched Him, and conversed with Him.  As adolescents, His brothers and sisters may have thought to themselves, and commented to one another about their parents:  “It’s almost as if they worshiped Him.”  Such thoughts and observations could easily provoke jealousy and anger among Jesus’ siblings.

John expresses his amazement, in verse 5, by saying, “not even His brothers believed in Him”.  After all they had seen, heard, and experienced, they still refused to acknowledge that their brother was the Messiah.  He’s confirming that their words to Jesus, here in verses 3-5, were not motivated by faith in Him. This is in fulfillment of  prophesy.  Psalm 69:8 says, “I have become estranged from my brothers, and an alien to my mother’s sons.”  Notice that it says “my mother’s sons”.  Jesus was not the natural son of Joseph.

IV.  JESUS’ RESPONSE TO HIS BROTHERS (verses 6-9)

Imagine yourself in this situation.  How would you feel if your four younger brothers, who showed no confidence or trust in you, were all standing around you, making fun of you, and trying to tell you what to do and how to do it?  Have you put yourself in this setting?  Can you feel the anger welling up inside?  Are you getting ready to put them in their place, teach them some manners and demand that they show some respect for their elder brother who had taken on the responsibilities of a father to them after Joseph died?

In verses 6-9, Jesus responds to their unkind and challenging remarks calmly, honestly, and graciously.  He begins, in verse 6, by saying:  “My time is not yet at hand, but your time is always opportune.”  The Greek language has several words for time.  The word “aion” refers to long periods of time.  It’s been going on for ages or eons.  I’ll call it “abstract time”.  It was considered to be “God’s time” (not “God’s timing”, but “God’s time”), and was used to describe a lifetime or an eternity.  It extends beyond a person’s life, and is not limited to it.  The second word, “chronos”is sequential time, measuring minutes and seconds.  Let’s call it “tic-toc (or tick-tock) time”.  When I was growing up, clocks and watches ticked.  You could put your ear against them and hear it.  My grandfather had a railroad watch in his pocket, attached to his belt by a chain.  When we visited our grandparents, my grandfather would get out his watch and my two brothers and I would take turns sitting in his lap and listening to it tick.  We thought that was a wonderful way to pass the time!

Getting back to verse 6, the Greek word translated “time” is neither of those two words.  Instead, it is the word “kairos”, which refers to a point in time.  It is used to describe the precise time, the right moment, the opportune time, the proper time, and timeliness.  Let’s call it “stop-watch time” and the stop-watch, or timer, is in the hand of Jesus’ Heavenly Father.  This is the only instance where Jesus used this particular word.  In other instances, Jesus said “My hour has not yet come.”  Why did Jesus use “kairos” here, when speaking to His brothers?  Is there a difference in meaning?  Yes, there is.  When Jesus said, “My hour has not yet come”, He’s referring to a specific time of a particular event in the future, that is, the hour of His betrayal and arrest.  This event has already been set and cannot be changed.  When Jesus told His brothers, “My time is not yet at hand”, He is saying something like “I hope (or plan) to come, but this is not the best time for me.”  It’s somewhat similar to the phrases, “I’ll take a rain check on that”, and “I’ll catch up with you later.”  His Heavenly Father would be clicking the stopwatch or setting the timer for that event very soon.

The rest of verse 6 reads, “but your time is always opportune”.  His brothers can come and go whenever they want.  Their words and actions have not aroused the hostility of the Jewish leaders.  Even though they are Jesus’ family, the Jews have nothing against them at this time.  Let’s combine those words of Jesus with the words that follow in verse 7:  “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify to it, that it’s deeds are evil.”  One could easily get the impression that Jesus is getting even with His brothers for what they were saying to Him earlier; that He is being sarcastic and rebuking them for their worldliness and lack of faith in Him.  I disagree with that conclusion.  That doesn’t align with Jesus’ character.  The Lord Jesus has been protecting His family from the hostility and persecution He is experiencing.  The very things that they have been telling Jesus to do would put their own lives in danger.  They didn’t realize it, but Jesus did.  I think Jesus is saying, “The world cannot hate you because I am protecting you from that hatred at this time.”  He is doing so by not involving them in His ministry, by not mentioning them in His conversations with the Jews, and by keeping the focus of attention and hostility on Himself alone.  He doesn’t want His brothers to be identified as His followers and persecuted by the Jewish authorities when they don’t believe in Him yet.  At this dangerous point in His ministry, if Jesus went with His brothers to the feast, they would be considered as identified with Him.  Whereas, if they went by themselves, they would be identified with the world around them.  Those words of Jesus to His brothers may well have been spoken as words of reassurance from a loving and protective older-brother.  We find no negative reaction on their part.

Verse 9 concludes this interaction with the words, And having said these things to them, He stayed in Galilee.”  His brothers were satisfied with His response to them, and verse 10 tells us that His brothers went to the feast without Him.  I believe that part of the Father’s will for Jesus to remain in Galilee was not only for His own protection at this particular time, but also for the protection of His family.

CONCLUSION:

What can we learn and apply from this particular episode in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ?  Once again we observe Jesus’ absolute obedience and submission to the will of His Heavenly Father.  He’s on the Father’s timetable each moment of every day, and He’s content to wait until the Father reveals His will, and the proper time to execute it.  He waits for the opportune time, the best time, because that’s His Father’s time, and the Father knows best.  No one, and nothing, is going to get in the way of doing His Father’s will, on schedule.  Not even His own brothers could deter Him from doing the will of His Heavenly Father.  Oswald Chambers shared this observation from his study of the Scriptures:  “There never was a more inconsistent Being on this earth than Our Lord, but He was never inconsistent to His Father.”

What about us?  Whose timetable do we follow?  Who holds the stopwatch in our lives?  Are we willing to wait on the Lord in prayer when the situation isn’t clear, or when the timing doesn’t seem right?

We can also learn a lesson from the way the Lord Jesus treated people – in this case, His own brothers.  Jesus’ love for His Heavenly Father did not exclude His love for His earthly family.  He didn’t interrupt His brothers, but calmly listened to their advice.  They didn’t understand the potential consequences of their advice, but Jesus did.  He understood their motives and their frustrations, and showed respect for their feelings.  The Lord Jesus was fulfilling the second Great Commandment by treating His brothers the way He would like to be treated.  What have you learned from His example?  By God’s grace, are you ready and willing to put those lessons into practice in your relationships with your own family members?  The Scriptures tell us the results of that loving treatment being given to His brothers by Jesus.  After His resurrection from the dead, in Acts 1:14, we find that His brothers are included among His followers.  Two of Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, became leaders in the early church and wrote epistles that bear their names.

If you are a committed follower of Jesus Christ, the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:48-50, where He asked a question, and then answered it for the sake of those who are listening to Him, are meant for us as well.  He said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?  For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”  We are “blood-relatives” of Jesus Christ and “blood-relatives” with every other believer in Jesus Christ.  We became children of God through the shed blood of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, on our behalf.  Are you treating your fellow-Christians the way you would treat Jesus?  Are you treating them the way Jesus treated His own brothers?  I hope so, and He wants it to be so.  Let’s renew our commitment to follow the Lord consistently and love one another unconditionally.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:  COMPLETED

 

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!