NOTHING TO FEAR – John 6:16-21

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Have you ever been frightened by the forces unleased in nature?  Can you remember hearing lightning cracking overhead, and then “KA-BOOM!”, the thunder was deafening and the ground vibrated under your feet”?  Did you shake for a moment also?  When Mt. St. Helens exploded and those tons of ash were billowing up into the sky, did you feel a twinge of fear as you watched it from a distance or on your television sets?  I wasn’t in the Pacific Northwest when that event occurred, but I have experienced an earthquake in Southern California, a tornado while going to school in Iowa, and a typhoon while stationed at an Air Force base on Okinawa, and I trembled with fear on all three occasions!  I can imagine that you have some stories that you could tell about instances in your life when the forces of nature caused fear in you also.

In John 6:16-21, the apostles also experienced the forces of nature, but that wasn’t their only source of fear.  Let’s examine the experiences of the disciples that evening, and their responses, in the light of what preceded it.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 16-17)

Jesus had just finished feeding 5000 men, together with their wives and children, with five barley cakes (“tortillas”) and two fish (“dried sardines”), and His disciples gathered twelve baskets full of leftovers (one basket apiece).  They saw the power and the provision that only God could provide in such a miraculous way, and were reminded of God’s faithful provision of the manna to their ancestors in the wilderness for forty years.  Another lesson was taught them by Jesus, and now it was time for another examination to determine whether the lesson was learned and would be put into application.

You might call this a “stress test” or a “distress test”.  I like to think of it as a “practicum” – putting into practice the things they had learned.  Immediately after the disciples came back with the baskets of fragments from the meal, John writes, in verses 14 and 15, that the people were saying that Jesus must be the Messiah.  Jesus realized their intent to take Him by force and make Him king, so He “withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.”   Mark’s gospel fills in a few details that are missing.  Mark 6:45-46 says, “And immediately He made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side to Bethsaida, while He Himself was sending the multitude away.  And  after bidding them farewell, He departed to the mountain to pray.”  The Lord Jesus told His disciples to get in the boat and leave immediately because He didn’t want His disciples to get caught up in the frenzy of the crowd to make Him king.  It still wasn’t clear in their minds that Jesus was the Son of God.

Jesus’ purpose for going up on the mountain was to pray.  Jesus was truly a man of prayer.  As you read through the Gospels you will find that He often spent time communicating with the Father in prayer, sometimes spending the whole night in prayer.  His disciples recognized this and asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray”.

Going back to John’s gospel, verses 16 and 17 tell us, “Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, and after getting into a boat, they started to cross the sea to Capernaum.  And it had already become dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.”  During the time of the Passover celebration in Jerusalem, sunset was at about 7:00 p.m.  So the stage is set:  Jesus is on the mountain, they are in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, and it’s dark.

II.  THE STORM (verses 18-19a)

Verse 18 says, “And the sea began to be stirred up because a strong wind was blowing.”  The Sea of Galilee is situated below sea level in a bowl in the hills.  Winds can travel up the valley of the Jordan River at great speeds.  Not only that, but I’ve read that cold air can suddenly come rushing down from the mountains surrounding the Sea of Galilee and collide with the warm, moist air rising from the surface of the water.  The Sea of Galilee is also relatively shallow, so the waters can become stirred up very quickly.  Add up all those factors and you have “Trouble with a capital T!”  This storm must have taken the disciples by surprise.  Was Jesus surprised by the storm?  Not at all!  Sending them into the storm was their exam.  He was testing their faith to see if they learned the lessons He was teaching them, and had come to a true understanding of Who He was.

Several of Jesus’ disciples were expert sailors and they knew that they had better get the boat to the other side of the lake as soon as possible.  They had been in a similar situation recently, but on that occasion Jesus was with them in the boat, sleeping.  This time He’s on the mountain.  What were they going to do?

Rather than calling upon God and trusting in Him to provide for their need, they keep on rowing.  They’re going to get themselves out of this situation on their own!  This wind and these waves aren’t going to get the best of them!  They are failing the test but they’re not ready to give up yet!  Does Jesus know that there is a storm on the Sea of Galilee?  Yes, He certainly does.  Mark 6:48 begins with the words, “and seeing them straining at the oars, for the wind was against them”.  How can Jesus see them if it’s dark and stormy, and they are in the middle of the lake?  Good question!  It’s the Passover celebration.  The Passover is also called the new moon celebration.  When God sent Moses and the people of Israel out of Egypt, He provided a full-moon to light the way for them.  From His vantage point on the top of the mountain, Jesus could see them by the light of a full-moon.  Then, why doesn’t He do something about it?  He is:  He’s praying for them!  As a wise and caring Teacher, He’s also giving them extra time to complete and pass the test!

Let me give you a mental picture of the examination scene at this time.  The apostles are in the boat rowing with their backs to the wind and their faces pointed in the direction of the dock where they had embarked for their cruise across the lake.  Little do they know that Jesus is looking at their faces and watching them as He continues to pray for them.

Have you ever run on a treadmill or an elliptical machine?  If you have, I imagine that you’ve thought about the fact that you’re running hard and are becoming exhausted, but you aren’t going anywhere.  You’re still in the same place where you started!  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’ve talked to people who have those machines but still like to run outdoors in good weather.   They do so not only because they like the change in scenery, but also because of a greater sense of accomplishment that comes from arriving at a destination rather than reaching a time limit or going the distance based on the odometer reading.  If you compare this illustration with the situation of the disciples, it’s as if they’re on a rowing machine, rowing hard and steadily, but going nowhere!  The boat they were in was probably one of the boats used for carrying passengers across the Sea of Galilee.  If so, it would normally be large enough to hold 12 passengers and had oars rather than a sail.  The Greek word refers to a “small boat”  These boats could easily become swamped in a storm because they were not as high above the water and as sturdy as many of the fishing boats.

From Matthew, Mark, and John’s gospels we learn that they are in the middle of the lake and it’s now the fourth watch of the night.  The fourth watch begins at 3:00 in the morning.  They started crossing the lake at about 7:00 the previous evening, so they’ve been rowing for eight hours or more!  Mark 6:48 states that Jesus “saw them straining at the oars”.  They must have been completely exhausted but they hadn’t learned the lesson from the feeding of the 5000.  They failed another test because they failed to bring their need to God in prayer and trust Him to meet that need.  They failed to follow the teaching and the example of the Lord Jesus Christ.

This brings back to my mind a course I took in college as a Business major.  The course was Business Communications, and it was taught by a professor who had been a journalist.  As he gave us our first business letter to compose, he told us his grading system.  Then he said, “There is no excuse for misspelled words or wrong punctuation.  A misspelled word is an automatic F (a failing grade).  Each punctuation error would reduce the grade for the paper by one letter-grade.”  Most of the students, including myself, didn’t pay heed to his words, and over half the class failed the first assignment because of misspelled words and wrong punctuation.  Needless to say, we students got out our dictionaries and brushed up on our English grammar for the remaining assignments!  We learned the hard way to heed his warning, follow his advice, and not be overly confident in our own abilities!

III.  THE RESCUE (verses 19b-22)

The examination is now over.  When I was in high school, several of my teachers were in the habit of leaving their desks when the bell rang, walking down the aisles in the classroom, collecting the tests, and then taking them back to their desks.  In this case, Jesus was going to collect His disciples and bring them to the other side of the lake, but in a very unusual and miraculous way.

The second half of verse 19 says, “they beheld Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened.”  Mark’s gospel gives more details:  “He came to them, walking on the sea; and He intended to pass by them.  But when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were frightened.”  Jesus’ timing is perfect, as always.  He comes to them at the moment when they have finally given up hope.  They were in the middle of the lake and all their efforts were getting them nowhere.  They were physically exhausted, emotionally drained, and spiritually unreceptive.  They weren’t prepared for what was going to happen next.   Suddenly, they see something that their minds refuse to believe.  Jesus is walking toward them against the wind as if there were no wind at all, and walking on top of the water as if the water was dry ground!  The wind and the waves are having no effect on Him.  Their response was to cry out in terror, imagining that Jesus was a ghost.  The Greek word is “phantasma”.  We get our English word “phantom” from that word.

Why did they respond in such a way to Jesus?  For one, they weren’t expecting Him because they failed to pray to God and trust in the power and authority of His Son to meet their need and rescue them.  The second reason is given in Mark 6:52, which says, “their hearts were hardened”. They hadn’t learned the lesson from the loaves and fishes.  They tried to overcome the storm their way, and now they concluded that it was an impossible and hopeless situation.  It was impossible alright, humanly speaking, but it wasn’t hopeless!

Why did Jesus choose to walk to them on the water?  He could have saved Himself a lot of time and effort if He had just appeared in their boat, or called out to the wind and waves in a voice loud enough for them to hear, telling the wind and waves to quiet down.  That’s what He did in the previous storm (see Mark 5:39).  Jesus walked to them on top of the water in order to give them a visual demonstration that the things they now feared, (the wind and the waves), were completely under His control.  Jesus was showing them something that only God could do; and in response to their terror, He said, in John 6:20, “It is I, do not be afraid.”  Jesus spoke those words to them in Hebrew, and He was literally saying to them, I AMdo not be afraid”.  The Lord Jesus was using God’s covenant name, pronounced “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”, and was applying it to Himself.

In Exodus 3:13, Moses asked God, “What is your name that the people may know that you are the true God, and that you have sent me to them?”  God answered Moses with these words:  “Say to the people of Israel, ‘I AM (Yahweh), the God of your fathers . . . has sent me to you.”   The name Yahweh suggests, first of all, that there is no cause for God’s existence outside Himself; but the name had a much more personal meaning than that.  Yahweh is the God who is near to His people, close to them and available to them in time of need.  He controlled the forces of nature for them when He parted the Red Sea, provided manna for them to eat, and stopped the Jordan River so that they could enter the promised land.

During the previous storm, when Jesus was in the boat with them, He rebuked the wind and the waves, telling them to become calm, and they immediately obeyed His voice.  In response, His disciples asked the question, “What kind of man is this that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” (Matthew 8:27)  Now, after seeing Jesus walking on water and hearing those words from His mouth, the disciples answer their own question when they say, “You are certainly God’s Son!”, and they worshipped Him. (Matthew 14:33).  This is the first time Jesus is called the Son of God by His disciples.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to walk on water?  Other than Jesus, Peter is the only one who knows, and his experience didn’t last very long (Matthew 14:29-31)!  When the two of them got into the boat, it was apparently close to the shore – another amazing occurrence!  The rescue was now over.

LESSONS TO LEARN AND APPLY:

Before we consider the fear of the disciples, and our own fears as well, I think we should all thank God for giving us the emotion of fear.  He has given us, as well as  many of the animals He created, a built-in alarm system to warn us of danger.  It was designed by Him for the purpose of protection and preservation.  It’s natural for us to be afraid in times of danger, and there are times when we, as human beings, should choose to follow our fears.  There are also times when we should choose to overcome our fears by the power of God.  A question we need to ask ourselves honestly is “What do I fear, and why do I fear it?”  Then write those fears and the reasons for them on a sheet of paper so that we can sort them out and think about them.  Only then can we ask the question, “How should I respond to those fears, in the light of God’s Word?”

The first lesson given in this passage of Scripture is one on prayer.  Jesus was up on the mountain praying.  I think His first request to the Father was that the apostles would realize their helplessness and turn to the Father in faith, asking Him to rescue them.  When they failed to do so and they were about to drown, I believe that Jesus’ second request to the Father was that the Father might use Him to rescue them and show them that He was truly the Son of God.  His request might have been something like this:  “Father, give me the power and authority to walk on the water to rescue them so that You and I might be glorified.”  Or maybe He just asked for their deliverance and the Father told Him what to do in answer to that prayer.  We don’t know for sure, but we do know that God answered His prayers.  Jesus’ prayers “held a lot of weight” in the eyes of His Father because of the close relationship and deep trust between them.

What’s the value of our prayers to God?  How much weight do our believing prayers have in God’s sight?    Many years ago Henry Bosch shared the following true story which he entitled “Weighing A Prayer”.

Soon after World War II, a tired-looking woman entered a store and asked the owner for enough food to make a Christmas dinner for her children.  When he inquired how much money she could afford, she answered, “My husband was killed in the war.  Truthfully, I have nothing to offer but a little prayer.”  The man was not very sentimental, for a grocery store cannot be run like a breadline.  So he said, “Write your prayer on a paper.”  To his surprise she plucked a little folded note out of her pocket and handed it to him, saying, “I already did that during the night while I was watching over my sick baby.”  As the manager took the paper, an idea struck him.  Without even reading the prayer, he put it on the weigh side of his old-fashioned scales, saying, “We shall see how much food this is worth.”  To his surprise, it would not go down when he put a loaf of bread on the other side.  To his even greater astonishment, it would not balance though he added many more items.  Finally he blurted out, “Well, that’s all the scales will hold anyway.  Here’s a bag.  You’ll have to put them in yourself.  I’m busy.”  With a tearful “thank you,”  the lady went happily on her way.  The grocer later found out that the balance was out of order.  As the years passed, however, he wondered if that really was the solution.  Why did the woman have the prayer already written to satisfy his premeditated demands?  Why did she come in at exactly the time the mechanism was broken?  Frequently he looks at that slip of paper upon which the prayer was written, for amazingly enough, it reads, “Please, dear Lord, give us this day our daily bread!”

Has God ever answered your prayers in unusual or unexpected ways?  God delights in answering believing prayer for the supply of our needs.  The apostle Paul reminds us of this in Philippians 4:19, which says, “And my God shall supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”  Our God is very rich and very generous!  Don’t let a need go by without asking Him to supply!

The second lesson comes in answer to the question, “Why didn’t the disciples pray to God when the storm began?”  “Pride” is the answer to that question.  Two popular sayings probably describe their attitude:  “I’ll do it my way”, and “I’d rather do it myself”.  I could understand if they kept rowing for 15 minutes in the hope that the storm might die down, but not for eight hours!  That’s ridiculous!  Are you filled with pride in yourself and would rather be independent of God?  Are you drowning in your own sins, but unwilling to lift a hand in prayer to the only One who can reach down and pull you out of the dark waters of separation from God for eternity?  I hope and pray that you will reconsider your attitude and your situation, and choose to put your life in His hands and under His control.

The third and last lesson applies to fear.  I’m sure that we would all agree that fears come in many different forms, and can affect us in many different ways.  Do you find yourself controlled, or hindered by various forms of fear, such as fear of death, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of change, or fear of what others may think?  Fears can be tied to the past, the present, or the future.  Worry is also a form of fear.  Worry has been defined as “a small trickle of fear that meanders through the mind until it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”  Worry is like a rocking chair.  It will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.  The apostle Peter tells us in I Peter 5:7 to “cast all our anxieties on Him (the Lord Jesus Christ), for He cares for you.”

Proverbs 29:25 tells us that “the fear of man will prove to be a snare.”  It can drain us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  This incident of the storm, in John 6, tells us that we can banish our fears by recognizing and relying upon the faithful presence, power, and providence of God.  Let me close by sharing a few other Scripture passages with you that tell us how to respond to fear in our lives.  Psalm 16:8 says, “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  In Psalm 23:4 king David says, “I fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”  Psalm 34:4 reads, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. You may also want to read and memorize Isaiah 41:10.

It may also encourage you to know that the Lord Jesus Christ is praying for you right now (Hebrews 7:25).  Some day, the Lord Jesus will come for us, take us to His heavenly haven of rest, and the storms of life will be over forever.  I hope that I’ll see you there!   

OPERATION RESTORATION – James 5:19-20

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INTRODUCTION:

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

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

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

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

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

I.  THE UNHAPPY WANDERERS (verse 19a)

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

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

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

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

II.  THE RESTORERS (verse 19b)

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

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

Pray don’t find fault with the man that limps

Or stumbles along the road,

Unless you have worn the shoes he wears

Or struggled beneath his load.

There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt

Tho’ hidden away from view,

Or the burden he bears placed on your back

Might make you stumble too.

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

Unless you have felt the blow

That caused his fall or felt the shame

That only the fallen know.

You may be strong; but still the blows

That were his, if dealt to you

In the selfsame way at the selfsame time

Might cause you to stagger, too.

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

Or pelt him with word or stone,

Unless you are sure – yes, doubly sure –

That you have no sins of your own.

For you know perhaps if the tempter’s voice

Should whisper as soft to you

As it did to him when he went astray

It might cause you to falter too.

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

III.  THE JOYFUL RESULTS (verse 20)

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

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

IV.  SUMMARY AND PERSONAL APPLICATION

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

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

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

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

 

 

HOW TO OBTAIN WISDOM – James 1:5-8

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INTRODUCTION: Someone has said that knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together and make sense of them.  The people to whom James wrote this letter had problems with their praying.  When we are going through difficulties, what should we pray about?  James gives the answer:  ask God for wisdom.

I.  ASK FOR WISDOM (verse 5)

Why do we need wisdom when we are going through trials?  Why not ask for strength, or grace, or even deliverance?  We should pray for wisdom for this reason:  we need wisdom so that we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature in our Christian lives.  Wisdom helps us understand how to use these difficult circumstances for our good and for God’s glory.  This kind of wisdom comes from God.  It is a gift from God.  God’s wisdom enables a person to make decisions as God would make them, and solve problems the way God would solve them. In his search of the source of true wisdom, Job cries out, “But where can wisdom be found?”  His answer is that wisdom is not found among the living on this earth;  it is not found in the depths of the sea;  and it cannot be purchased with precious stones.  Finally Job declares, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom.”  True wisdom has its source in the true and living God. We all have a natural tendency to be selfish in our prayers.  Some of us recall how we were tempted to ask God for special help when facing a difficult examination during our school days, but in our hearts we knew He would not bring to our minds material which we had not studied.  Prayer is not a magical formula enabling believers to escape self-discipline and hard work.  However, it isn’t selfish to pray for spiritual wisdom – the ability to meet life’s problems and to make decisions that will please God.  King Solomon, with all his knowledge, realized that unless the Lord gave him spiritual wisdom to direct his actions, all his human skill and learning would be of littlevalue. President Abraham Lincoln was impressed with this truth during America’s Civil War.  A personal friend of his once wrote, “I had been spending three weeks at the White House as the guest of the President.  One night – it was just before the Battle of Bull Run, I was restless and could not sleep.  From Lincoln’s bedroom I heard the low tones of his voice.  Looking in the door that was slightly ajar, I saw a sight which I have never forgotten.  The tall Chief Executive was kneeling before an open Bible.  He did not know that I could overhear his agonizing prayers as he pleaded, ‘O Thou great God that heard Solomon in the night when he prayed and cried for wisdom, hear me.  I cannot lead these people.  I cannot guide the affairs of this country without Thy help.  O Lord, hear me and save this nation.’ ”  The answer he received is now history, for the Union was preserved.  Lincoln found that James 1:5 was not an idle promise.

II.  ASK IN FAITH (verses 6-8)

James not only explained what to ask for, but he also described how to ask.  We are to ask in faith.  The greatest enemy to answered prayer is unbelief.  The story is told of a small town in which there were no liquor stores.  Eventually, however, a nightclub was built right on Main Street.  Members of one of the churches in the area were so disturbed that they conducted several all-night prayer meetings, and asked the Lord to burn down that den of iniquity.  Lightning struck the tavern a short time later, and it was completely destroyed by fire.  The owner, knowing how the church people had prayed, sued them for the damages.  His attorney claimed that their prayers had caused the loss.  The congregation, on the other hand, hired a lawyer and fought the charges.  After much deliberation, the judge declared, “It’s the opinion of this court that wherever the guilt may lie, the tavern keeper is the one who really believes in prayer, while the church members do not!”  We smile at this story, but it suggests how faithless we sometimes are when we offer our prayers to God. Even the first-century Christians were guilty of such unbelief.  Acts 12 tells us that after Peter escaped from prison, he went to the house of Mary, where many were praying for his release.  When he knocked, Rhoda came to the door.  Hearing his voice, she ran back to the “prayer meeting crowd” and announced that the apostle Peter was outside.  “You are out of you mind!”, they said.  But when she insisted, they kept saying, “It is his angel”.  Well, Peter kept on knocking at the door, and when they finally let him in, “they were astonished” at the way God had answered their request. May our attitude be different when we pray!  Let’s believe God and expect the answer!  God loves to honor the prayers of those who earnestly seek His wisdom and want His will for their lives. Verse 8 talks about a double-minded person.  A double-minded person is a person who has a civil war going on inside him continually.  Two heads may be better than one, but a double-minded person is no good at all.  There is a smooth, shiny lizard called a skink.  This little animal wouldn’t attract any crowds at a zoo, but if one of these lizards showed up with two heads, one on each end of its body, that would be quite a spectacle.  A newspaper had a picture and a story about the two-headed skink I just described to you.  It was found by a homeowner in Jacksonville, Florida, and it was an illustration of absolute frustration.  When it tried to run, its two legs moved in opposite directions.  It was running like mad but going nowhere!  That’s the fate of a Christian who is trying to go his own way, and trying to serve the Lord at the same time. This is also true of the Christian who is more concerned about pleasing others than he is about standing up for the truth.  There was once a preacher who was approached by some members of his congregation concerning a disagreement in the church.  After stating their grievances, they said some vicious things about the people they disagreed with.  Responding to their complaints, the preacher said, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!”  The next day, the other group came to his home and told their side of the story.  The preacher listened quietly, and when they had finished, said, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!”  His wife, working in the kitchen, overheard everything.  As soon as the parishioners left, she rushed into the living room and said, “You’re just about the most wishy-washy individual I’ve ever seen.”  To that he immediately replied, “You’re right;  you’re absolutely right!” There are so many Christians who are unwilling to take a stand on issues.  Some are afraid;  others just don’t like to make decisions.  But God wants us to know His Word, to pray for His wisdom, and to take a stand for what we believe.  Then we’ll feel secure in the Lord’s strength, and then our prayers will not be hindered.  But when we do take a stand for what we believe, let’s do it with the wisdom and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.