ARE YOU LEAVING GOD OUT? James 4:13-17

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James began his letter by talking about the present situation of his readers and reflecting on their past.  Now he begins to look at the future.  He begins verse 13 with the words “come now”.  I think he’s trying to regain their attention.  This is a long letter, and as it’s being read aloud at the various congregations, some of his readers are becoming distracted or falling asleep!  It’s time for a “wake-up call”  So James says “come now”.  We might say, “Come on!  You’re doing it again!  Come on!  Think about what you are doing, and what you are saying to each other!”  A popular saying, when I was a child, was:  “Get your head screwed on straight!”  Nowadays you hear the phrase:  “Get your act together!”  His readers had been setting themselves up in the place of God by judging others.  Now they are doing the same thing again by leaving God out of their plans.

In today’s terms, James is saying that they are telling each other:  “I know exactly where I am going, what I’m going to do, how long it is going to take, and how much money I am going to make in the process!  James’ response is “come now”, where does God fit into all of this?  It reminds me of the poem “Invictus”, written by William Earnest Henley.  The closing lines of his poem are written below:

“It matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll,        I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

The poet writes about a person whose life is miserable, but who finds some contentment in the fact that he is in charge.  No one is telling him what to do!

Are you leaving God out?  Do you sometimes leave God out of your life?  Do you prefer to control your own destiny, and do you try to impress others by your ability to do so?  Maybe you’ve been doing so today?  Maybe you didn’t even realize it until now?  If you don’t do something about it today, it becomes easier to leave Him out tomorrow, doesn’t it?  What are you saying to God when you make plans without consulting Him?

James isn’t condemning planning.  But he is saying, “As you plan, don’t leave out the Master Planner!”  “He has plans for you also!”  Proverbs 16:9 says, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  (NKJV)  Like actors and actresses on a stage, we may think that we can play our roles any way we want, but we are of no heavenly good if we don’t obey the instructions of our “Heavenly Director”!  He’s the one in charge of the operation and He knows how to get the job done right!

In verse 14 James asks them a question, and then gives them the answer, recalling to their minds passages of Scripture from the Wisdom Literature (Job thru Song of Solomon).  He asks “What is your life?”  Immediately He answers, “It is a vapor (mist, puff of smoke), that appears for a short time and then vanishes.”

Job says, “my life is but a breath” (7:7); “my days are swifter than a runner” ( 9:15). He also uses such images as a flower, a shadow, and a worm to convey the shortness of life.  Psalm 39 also says that life is a breath, and Psalm 73 speaks of life as “a dream that vanishes when we awake.”  Proverbs 27:1 says, “Don’t boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”  Conclusion:  Life is brief, and life is uncertain.  Can you relate to that?  The older you get, the more you will relate to it!

If you are a “trekkie”, a Star Trek fan, you will like the YouTube film clips of the various phaser settings, the last one being “vaporization”.  I like those special effects!  Here is the site:  (https//www.youtube.com/watch?v=Evl_FYarYlY).  I hope that gets you there!  It is an excellent visual aide for depicting a vapor!

I don’t think that this generation has as clear a concept of the passing of time as my generation and the generation before mine.  My grandfather had a beautiful pocket-watch, and when we came over for a visit, my two brothers and I would take turns sitting on his lap, and he would put his watch against our ears so that we could hear it ticking.  I enjoyed listening to the ticking sound of my first watch whenever I held my left wrist up to my ear.  This action on my part caused me to think for a moment about the passing of time:  tick , . . tick . . . tick!  We now live in a digital age and don’t hear the ticking sound very often anymore.  Nevertheless, time is “ticking away”, one second at a time, whether we can hear it or not!

While I was in college, I attended a Navigator conference and Leroy Eims was the main speaker.  One of his messages was entitled “Investing Your Life”, and this verse, James 4:14, was the primary focus of his message.  After describing what a vapor was, and how long it lasted, he told us that there are only two things in this life that will last forever:  God’s Word and people.  His challenge was:  “What are you going to do with your vapor?  Are you going to invest it in the things that will last forever, or are you going to let it go to waste?  Everything else is going to be burned up!  Don’t wait another moment to commit yourself to God and ask Him to change your attitude, so that the things that matter the most to you are the things that matter the most to Him!”

In verse 15, James corrects their boastful words in verse 13 by telling them what they should be saying.  James says, “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, whe shall live and also do this or that” (NASB).  What he is saying to them is not a new revelation.  King David said in Psalm 40:8, “I delight to do Thy will.  Thy Law is in my heart.”  David also said in Psalm 43:10, “Teach me, O Lord, to do Thy will, for Thou art my God.”

Even clearer and more compelling are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.  In John 4:14, when food was set before Him and He was encouraged to eat, the Lord Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to accomplish His work”  (John 4:34).  When He taught His disciples to pray, He told them to pray according to the Father’s will, not their own:  “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” (Matthew 6:10).  In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus said, “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but Thine be done.” (Luke 22:42).

In the writings of John, Paul, Peter, Luke, and the letter to the Hebrews, we find the words, “if the Lord wills“, or “if the Lord permits”, or something equivalent to that.  May those words be a part of our plans and our conversations as well, and may those words be a true expression of our hearts.

With this instruction in mind, James gives them a stern warning:  “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.”  Do all of his readers know the right thing to do?  Do they know what he is talking about?  They certainly do!  They were taught the commandments from childhood, especially the two great commandments given in Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19.   “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deutonomy 6:5).  The verses that follow say:  “These words . . . shall be on your heart .. . teach them diligently to your sons . . . talk of them . . . bind them as a sign on your hand , , ,  frontals on your forehead . . . write them on the doorposts . . . and on your gates.”  And Leviticus 19:18 says, “, , , You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  So James is saying, in effect, “Therefore, since you know what is right to do, you sin every time you fail to do it!”  Planning is important, but life is lived from moment-to-moment, and from situation-to-situation.  .  God has called us and impowered us to love Him and others each step of the way and every moment of the day.  The following saying helps to get the point across:  “All that’s needed for evil to triumph is for Christians to do nothing.”   I can still remember my father’s words to me:   “Don’t just sit there, do something!”

 

Thank you for coming to this “work in progress”.  This is how far I’ve gotten so far, and I will be start digging into James 5 as soon as I add one or two more illustrations to this section.  May the Lord continue to unfold His plans for you, and direct your steps today!  May your thoughts, words, and actions become more closely alligned with the will of the Father as your love for Him grows deeper.

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THE RESULTS FROM EXERCISING HEAVENLY WISDOM – James 3:18

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INTRODUCTION:

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

I.  THE ONES WHO SOW

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

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

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

II.  THE PROCESS

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

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

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

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

III.  THE RESULTS

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

TRUE WISDOM IS REASONABLE – James 3:17 (Continued)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

EARTHLY WISDOM – James 3:15-16

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In my previous study on verse 14, James gave a warning to his readers at that time, and the warning applies to us today:  “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.”

In verse 15, James gives a name to the kind of wisdom he has just described.  He calls it “earthly wisdom”.  This kind of wisdom does not “come down from above”.  In other words, God does not give this kind of wisdom.  James also uses two more words to describe this wisdom, and with each word the description seems to become worse and worse. Not only is it “earthly” wisdom (wisdom that does not come from God), but it is also “natural” wisdom.  The Greek word suggests that this wisdom has to do with the body and the soul or emotions, but not with the spirit.  So this wisdom James speaks of is not only not from God, it has nothing to do with God.    When you think it can’t get any worse than that, it does.  James goes on to say that this wisdom is demonic.  Satan and his demons evidenced this kind of wisdom when they became filled with envy and rebelled against God.  Therefore a person with this kind of wisdom is easily influenced by Satan.

Earthly wisdom is an end in itself.  People strive for it so that they might boast about it, and so that others might tell them how wise or smart they are, and pass the word on to still others.  On the other hand, godly wisdom is not an end in itself but a means to an end.  King Solomon in the Old Testament is considered to be one of the wisest men who ever lived.  Let’s take a look at how Solomon received that wisdom, and why he received such wisdom from God.  In I Kings 3 we read that King Solomon loved the Lord and walked in obedience to Him.  And while Solomon was at Gibeon, after he had offered sacrifices there on the altar, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted.  That’s quite an offer!  In verses seven and eight of I Kings 3 Solomon says, “And now, O Lord my God, Thou hast made Thy servant King in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child;  I do not know how to go out and come in.  And Thy servant is in the midst of a people which Thou hast chosen, a great people who cannot be numbered or counted for multitude.  So give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil.  For who is able to judge this great people of Thine.”  God answered Solomon’s request and gave him far more than he asked for.

In contrast, we see in the Scriptures what human wisdom has acccomplished.  It began with Adam and Eve’s removal from the Garden of Eden and the affects of their sin upon our world.  Earthly wisdom has also resulted in wars, discrimination, poverty, and pollution of our environment to name a few.  In our churches human wisdom has led to church fights, church splits, and churches closing their doors, among other issues.

In verse 16 James sums up the effects of earthly wisdom.  He says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”  When Christians act in this way it also leaves a bad impression on others.  As one Christian put it:  “Self is spiritual BO!”

A prime example of jealousy and selfish ambition in the Bible is found in the OId Testament book of Esther.  Haman the Agagite, in Esther, chapter 7, constructs a gallows on which he intends to hang Mordecai the Jew in order to satisfy his own selfish desires and demonstrate his power.  However, his plan backfires!  Queen Esther learns of his plot and intervenes.  As a result, the king orders that Haman be hanged on the gallows he had built for Mordecai the Jew.  Not only that but all of Haman’s ten sons are killed also.  That’s a very high price to pay for his selfish motives and actions!

As in the case of Haman, pride and selfishness can have harmful or tragic side effects on innocent people.  Let me give you another case in point.  Other examples may come to your mind.

In the summer of 1986, two ships collided in the Black Sea, causing a tragic loss of life.  The news of the disaster was further darkened, however, when an investigation revealed the cause of the accident, which hurled hundreds of passengers into the icy waters.  The tragedy was not traced to some major problem like a breakdown in radar or thick fog.  The blame was attributed to human stubbornness.  Each captain was aware of the other ship’s presence.  Both could have taken evasive action to avert the collision.  But according to news reports, neither wanted to give way to the other.  It seems that each was too proud to yield and make the first move.  By the time they saw the error of their ways, it was too late.

There’s been a lot of talk about pride, envy, and boasting in this sermon so far.  How about you?  Does life seem unfair sometimes?  Are others better off than yourself?  Do others seem to get all the “lucky breaks” in life?  Do others seem to get away with things that aren’t right?  Are you tired of listening to all the boasting that’s being done by others?  We’ve all had those thoughts and feelings before, haven’t we?  I have!  Even the psalmist expresses those feelings in Psalm 73:3.  He says, “I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness”.

When this happens, we’ve lost our perspective and have begun to fall into the habit pattern of using “earthly wisdom”.  God wants us to look at life from the perspective of eternity.  If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ;  if you’ve repented of your sins and invited Him to reign as Lord in your life, then you’re going to spend eternity with Him in heaven and your joy will be unending.  It doesn’t get any better than that!

Doesn’t our envy seem to be a waste of time in comparison to what’s already ours for eternity?  Shouldn’t it be reminding us to pray for those who have this world’s wisdom and this world’s goods, yet will forfeit their souls?  When envious thoughts begin to fill our minds, let’s spend time alone with God in His Word and in prayer, and ask Him to put things back into their proper perspective.

This section is still under construction.  Thought you might like to see how it’s coming along.  It’s still a “work in progress”, and so am I (and so are you)!