EQUAL WITH GOD – John 5:15-18

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“Tattletale! . . . Tattletale!”

Can you remember hearing those words as a child?  Were those words directed at you because of something you did?  Have you ever spoken those words to others because of what they did to you?  In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, a tattletale is a child who goes to an adult (parent, teacher, etc.) and tells the adult that you are doing something that you are not supposed to be doing.  It’s called “tattling” and the person who does it is a “tattletale”.  (Other similar words include a “blabber”, “rat”, “fink”, “stoolie”, “snitch”, and the list goes on).

In the previous passage of Scripture, John 5:1-13, Jesus healed a man at the pool of Bethesda,  This man had been sick and weak for 38 years.   He didn’t know who Jesus was, and couldn’t give an answer to the Jewish leaders when they asked.  Jesus later, in verse 14,  found him in the temple and admonished him not to sin anymore or something worse might happen to him.  Now this man knows that the One who healed him is Jesus.

I.  THE HEALER IS REVEALED (verse 15)

The narrative continues in verse 15.  “The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.”  The first words that came to my mind after I read that verse were, “Tattletale, tattletale”!  After all that Jesus did for him by healing him, and now he’s going to “rat on Him”, getting Him into trouble with the Jews.   What’s the matter with this guy?  Is that any way to treat your Healer?

Actually, that was not the man’s intent at all.  The leaders of his people had asked him a question that he couldn’t answer:  the identity of his Healer.  Once he found out, he told the leaders the answer to their question out of respect for them, thinking that they would want to rejoice and give praise to Jesus also.   Jesus had not warned this man not to say anything to them because it was the time for the Lord Jesus to reveal Himself more fully to the Jews.  The tension is going to be growing.

II.  THIER ANGER IS REDIRECTED (verse 16)

In response to the healed man’s words, verse 16 says, “And for this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.”  Now they have the real culprit to deal with.  I find it significant that the healed man tried to direct their focus away from their Sabbath laws and onto his miraculous healing and the one who healed him.  However, they direct their attention away from the amazing miracle Jesus performed and back to the violation of their Sabbath laws.  It’s as the saying goes, “Don’t confuse us with facts; our minds are made up!”.  The healed man’s “reality check” was unsuccessful.  We don’t find them objecting to the healing itself – just the day on which it was done.  The Jewish leaders were living in a world of their own:  a world darkened by their own laws.  It says that they were “persecuting” Jesus.  This persecution involved making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors in order to attack His character and ruin His popularity.  I guess you could call that a form of tattling also:  they were spreading gossip about Him.  That’s just the beginning of their attacks.  In their minds, no one was going to get in the way of their laws and their control over the social and spiritual traditions of their people.  At this point the leaders of the Jews don’t appear to have a clear knowledge of Jesus’ claims, but after Jesus responds to them, their understanding becomes clearer and their hatred of Him increases.

III.  JESUS’ REPLY (verse 17)

The Lord Jesus replies to them, in verse 17, with a simple statement that is packed with meaning.  But He answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.”   God only rested once, and that was from His work of creation only.  You might say that He stepped back for a short time to enjoy it, while at the same time keeping everything else going, so to speak.  God gave us the Sabbath as a day of rest for us, not for Him.  God is always working.  The Scriptures give us many examples of the work that God does on a continuing basis.  In Deuteronomy 11:12, speaking about the promised land, Moses says, “a land for which the Lord your God cares;  the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.”  Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning. . . “.  Add to those verses Zephaniah 3:5, Romans 8:34 and many others.  God is always there.  He always sees, always hears, always knows, and always cares.  It’s a 24/7 responsibility.  God never sleeps (Ps. 121:4)

The Jews would have to agree with the first half of Jesus’ statement:  “God is always working”.  Can you imagine what it would be like if God took a day off every week?  Everyone and everything would fall apart or disappear.  He would have to create all over again!

To give you an inkling of how terrifying this would be, imagine that all medical personnel and all medical facilities and pharmacies took the Sabbath day off  every week.  No ambulances, no emergency rooms, no urgent care, nothing.  Wouldn’t that be frightening?  I wouldn’t want to leave my house on that day!  Now imagine if everyone everywhere took the Sabbath day off and did no work.  There would be no stores open, no public transportation, no gas, no electricity, no food, nothing.  Thank God their laws weren’t carried out to the fullest extent then or now!

I don’t think the Jewish leaders could put up an argument about the fact that God is always working.  but when the Lord Jesus says, “And I Myself am working”, they became enraged. The Tehillim should have come to their minds when Jesus said those words.  The Tehillim is the Book of Praises (The Psalms).  When Jesus said those words, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working”, I think there was a pause in the middle.  “My Father is working until now . . . and I Myself am working.”   If His accusers would have given thought to the first half of Jesus reply, the Book of Journeys should have come to their minds (Psalm 121).  It speaks of the journey of the nation of Israel to the Promised Land, and the journey of each individual through life.  It is a psalm of David and is called “A Song of Ascents”.  Here are the first four verses to that Psalm        

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From whence shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep
.

The Psalm goes on to say that God is their Keeper, their Shade, their Protector and their Guard.  God the Father was always there with them, 24/7, working constantly for their good; and Jesus was there right along with Him!  In their pride and legalism, the Jews completely overlooked the love and concern that prompted Jesus’ answer to them.  They’ve been reciting and singing that psalm for a thousand years, yet sadly, they refused to honor the One who fits the description.  The author of that Psalm, King David, would probably have fallen with his face to the ground after hearing those words from the mouth of the Lord Jesus.

IV.  FROM PERSECUTION TO EXECUTION (verse 18)

In verse 18 we see that the Jews are turning up the heat on the Lord Jesus.  “For this cause therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He was not only breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.”  Now the intent of the Jews is not just a “smear campaign”; it has also become a “death warrant”.  Not only has the Lord Jesus broken their Sabbath laws, but He has dared to claim that He is their Messiah!  In their minds, that is a death sentence.

Let’s look at this situation from a logical point of view.  At the pool of Bethesda, Jesus had performed a miracle that only God could accomplish.  A man who was helpless and without strength for 38 years had his condition reversed instantly by the command of Jesus.  When the leaders of the Jews met this man at the temple, they didn’t even question the miracle because they couldn’t refute it.  Doesn’t it seem logical to you that they should have given Jesus the benefit of the doubt concerning HIs claim until they could find proof that would undeniably refute it?  Just a few minutes earlier they were looking at proof that undeniably affirmed it!

In the late 1800’s a man by the name of Lew Wallace wrote a book that became a best seller, and many years later it was made into a movie which is considered to be one of the best movies of all time.  The book’s name is “Ben Hur”.  Maybe you’ve read the book or seen the movie.  It weaves the true story of Jesus Christ with that of a fictional young Jewish nobleman named Judah Ben-Hur.   As Wallace did his research, studying the Bible and the history and customs of the Jewish people at that time, he came to believe in Jesus Christ.  Wallace said, “I have seen the Nazarene , . . I saw him perform works which no mere man could perform.”  (Our Daily Bread, 4/9/17)

What is your estimate of Jesus Christ?  Have you studied His life and His claims, and have you reviewed the evidence that supports those claims?  Please don’t let personal pride or indifference get in the way of the only relationship that lasts forever, and the only joy that is beyond comparison.

CONCLUSION;

This passage of Scripture demonstrates what legalism can do to people.  Three important principles we can all learn from this incident in the life of Jesus have to do with a proper understanding of legalism and what is needed on our parts in order to avoid legalism in our own lives.  First, my standards, if they go beyond the teachings of the Scriptures, should not go any further than myself.  Secondly, legalism consists, not of having standards which exceed the bounds of Scripture, but of considering those personal standards as being equal to Scripture, and trying to impose them on others.  Thirdly, we’ll avoid legalism if we stay in God’s Word and make it our only guide for living.  You and others around you will be glad you did!

 CONSTRUCTION SITE COMPLETED

The apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 3:10-11, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation and another is building upon it.  But let each man be careful how he builds upon it.  For no one can lay a foundation other than the which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  May your work and your life continue to stand firm on His foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL (Part II): LIVING WATER – John 4:10-15

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INTRODUCTION:

Jesus broke several Jewish traditions by asking the Samaritan woman for a drink of water.  In response the Samaritan woman broke several Samaritan traditions by giving Him a drink and by speaking to Him.  Now an open conversation between them is ready to begin.

I. THE TRANSITION TO “LIVING WATER”.  (verse 10)

Jesus responds to her question by appealing to her curiosity rather than answering  her question directly.  She asked Him:  “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?  Jesus responds by saying, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”  The Lord Jesus is saying, in effect, “I’m not really who you think I am” and “I have something to give you that you don’t really comprehend.”  Jesus used this very same approach with Nicodemus when He said to him, “You must be born again.”  We will find that these two conversations follow a similar pattern throughout.

I.  JESUS APPEALS TO HER CURIOSITY (verses 10-12)

So here in verse 10 Jesus is telling her that, before she can receive the gift that God wants to give her, she must first have a correct understanding of the gift, as well the identity of the One who is speaking to her and offering it to her.   Only then will she understand that He alone is capable of giving her this gift if she asks for it.

The woman’s response , in verse 11, demonstrates that she misunderstands what Jesus is saying.  “She said to Him, ‘Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water’?”  She thinks Jesus is speaking about physical water, and there is a logical reason for this misunderstanding.  The words “living water” were sometimes used to describe moving water, such as a river or stream, or gushing water, such as a spring or geyser.  However, this well did not fit either of those two descriptions.  This well had what is called “percolating” water.  The word literally means “filters through”, or “seeps through”.  The water in this well gradually seeped upward through the rock or stone at the bottom of the well, providing a steady supply of water.  If you’ve ever used a percolator coffee-maker, you know what I mean.  The hot water at the bottom of the pot rises up the tube, splashes down on the coarse-ground coffee beans and the result is boiling-hot coffee.  Drinking it is an art-form.  I call it the “blow and slurp method”!  My dad used to do it loudly, but to perfection!  Once you got below “slurp level”, the coffee had cooled slightly so that you could start sipping it without the danger of blistering your lips!  Do you remember those days?

Getting back to the conversation, the woman is trying to figure out how Jesus is going to get this “living water” out of the well without a bucket and a rope.  You don’t walk through the desert for three days without bringing a bucket and a rope to draw water from wells along the way.  I’m sure the disciples brought them along and had them as they went to town to buy groceries.  I think she sincerely wants to believe what He is saying, but from her perspective it still doesn’t make any sense.  She thinks He is talking about physical water.  This is all part of Jesus’ plan, just as it was with Nicodemus.  He is adding information for her to consider in order for her to come to the conclusion that what He is saying is physically impossible, so that He can, step-by-step, direct their conversation to spiritual realities as the only explanation.

In verse 12 the woman becomes defensive because she thinks that Jesus is comparing His water to the water in Jacob’s well.  This leads her to question whether or not He is comparing Himself to Jacob.  “You are not greater than our father Jacob, are you, who gave us this well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?”  Her understanding of Jesus is growing.  First, she called Him “a Jew”; now she is comparing Him with the patriarch Jacob, who dug this well.

II.  JESUS APPEALS TO HER DESIRE (verses 13-15)

In response to this woman’s frustration and defensiveness, Jesus carries the conversation a step further, in verse 13, by appealing to her desire.  She doesn’t like having to walk all the way to Jacob’s well in the heat of the day to draw water and carry it home, but she can’t survive without water and there is no other way for her to get it.  So Jesus says in verses 13 and 14, “Everyone who drinks of this water (in Jacob’s well) shall thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; for the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  The Lord Jesus is making it clearer to her that this water is spiritual water by using the words ‘shall never thirst again” and “water springing up to eternal life”.  He is also saying that this water is a gift.  She can’t work to obtain it.  She must only ask Him for it in faith.

Now the woman wants this water – she really wants it!  In verse 15 I can sense excitement in her voice as she replies to Jesus’ words. “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw.”  She has taken another step in the right direction.  She still thinks that Jesus is speaking of physical water, but now she wants it, and she asks Him for it.  Even if a bit of humor could be detected in her voice, the inner desire was real. 

This woman apparently was not very knowledgeable of the Old Testament scriptures because there are many scripture passages in the Old Testament where the words “living water” and “thirst” are used in a spiritual sense.  And yet, none of those passages of scripture came to her mind.  For example, in Psalm 42:2 the psalmist says, “My soul thirsts for the living God”.  Psalm 39:9 says, “For with Thee is the fountain of life.”  The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah used those terms several times.  They are also used by Ezekiel and Zechariah.

CONCLUSION:

Like the woman at the well, each of us is composed of body (physical make-up), soul (intellect, emotions, will), and spirit (a capacity for fellowship with God).  It is usually obvious to us when our bodies are thirsty.  Normally, when our bodies get low on fluids, our brains sense this and give us a thirst – a desire or impulse to satisfy that need by getting something to drink.  We may also have physical symptoms such a dry mouth or throat, or a feeling of weariness.  Our souls also get thirsty.  Just as each of us is different physically, we also differ emotionally and intellectually. We have mental and emotional thirsts for knowledge, for meaning, for stability and for peace in our daily lives.  When these thirsts of ours aren’t being satisfied, we may feel drained, stifled, discouraged or depressed.  You might say that the soul is the essence of who we are, whereas the spirit is our connection to God.

Each of us also has a spiritual thirst, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.  God put it there.  He created us in His image so that we might have fellowship with Him.  King David, as well as the sons of Korah, speak of their thirst and yearning for God.  (Psalm 42:2; 63:1; 143:6).

Are you personally unsatisfied with life?  Are you longing for something more, something that earthly things, earthly endeavors, earthly relationships and earthly pleasures have failed to provide?  It’s probably because Someone is missing from your life.  Don’t you think it’s time to reach for the living water that only Jesus provides.  If you repent of your sins, release the control of your life to Him, then He will fill your life with the living waters.  Your dissatisfaction with life will end, you will be filled with new life, new peace, new purpose, and refreshment that never ends.  Why waste another “percolated” moment when it can be “spring-time” in your life forever?

If you are a true, born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, your life will be evidenced by joy and satisfaction.   But witness by life is not enough.  Have you been offering anyone a drink?  There’s more than enough “living water” to go around.  It’s our God-given responsibility to share it, and it should also be our delight to quench someone else’s spiritual thirst.  Don’t you want to hear the words, or see the expression on people’s faces that says, “Ahhhhh , , , that satisfies like nothing else can!”

May you find in God’s Word, and in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the answer to your emotional and spiritual thirsts.  Then may you come to Him in faith, drink deeply, and satisfy those thirsts forever.

You might enjoy the songs I found on YouTube that relate to this passage of scripture.  The first song is “Living Water” and shows slides along with the song.  Clicking the following link should take you there.  https://youtube.com/watch?v=D1Xs3Kdur7E.  When you get to the site, if you click the full-screen icon at the bottom of the screen on the far right, you will get the full, visual effect.

The second song is “Fill My Cup, Lord”, sung by Wanda Jackson along with a video.  I was unable to set up a clickable link, but if you type into your web browser:  fill my cup lord-wanda jackson-video, you’ll see a list of her songs, and the version with the video is the second one.  Both of these songs are beautiful renditions and have very good visual effects.

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)

 

 

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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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!

 

III. HEAVENLY WISDOM – James 3:17

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There is so much to learn and apply from each of the qualities of heavenly wisdom that James gives in this verse.  I’ve decided to publish them one quality at a time.  I don’t want you to miss anything that I am learning!

Here in verse 17, James lists seven qualities that describe the “wisdom from above”.  We also find these qualities mentioned by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3-12.  He calls those “blessed” (happy, joyful) who possess these qualities,  As we study each of these descriptions, consider how they were evident in the life of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Also consider whether or not they are evident in your life.

These descriptions of the “wisdom from above” are also closely related to the fruit of the Spirit listed by the apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, just as the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21 are closely related to earthly wisdom.  At each moment we are either being controlled by the Spirit of God or by our own sinful flesh.  At each moment we are either exercising godly wisdom or earthly wisdom.  I think that deep down inside we know this to be true.  As we study each of these qualities we will hopefully know more clearly.

  1.  TRUE WISDOM IS PURE (verse 17)

We use the word “pure” in expressions and descriptions quite often.  Let me give you a few examples.  “Pure water” – water that is free from dirt, pollutants, and other unwanted or infectious elements.   There is “pure gold” that is genuine, without flaws, imperfections or other alloys.  We use the term “pure breed” or “pure bred”  to refer to an unmixed ancestry.  A “pure tone” in music has a single frequency and is without discord.  The expressions “pure as a newborn baby” and “pure as the driven snow” imply innocence, faultlessness.  Finally the phrase “pure coincidence” intensifies the word by implying “nothing but” or “nothing else”.

The Greek word translated “pure” carries with it these shades of meaning.  Notice in verse 17 that James writes:  “First pure”.  He obviously wants this quality to be at the top of his list.  Does the previous passage of Scripture dealing with “worldly wisdom” have something to do with it?  I think so.  Wisdom from above, Godly wisdom, comes from a pure heart.  It is free from jealousy and selfish motives.  Evangelist Billy Graham said, “The secret of purity is God.  Get a pure heart from God.”  Without a pure devotion to God, none of the other characteristics of Godly wisdom would be possible.

King David prayed in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”  Psalm 24:3-4 speaks of “clean hands and a pure heart”.  God is not going to empower us and use us if our hearts aren’t cleansed from sin, and our lives aren’t consecrated to Him.

This empowering applies not only to the public part of our lives, but also to our private lives, to the little things, the unseen things, the thoughts and attitudes that we ignore or take for granted.  Like the old Ivory Soap commercial, God doesn’t want us to be “99 and 44/100ths percent pure”, but 100 percent pure. The Daily Bread devotional in 2007 contained a reading entitled “Only A Rivet”.  It brings the point across very clearly and powerfully.

Scientists have determined that faulty rivets may have caused the rapid sinking of the “unsinkable” HMS Titanic.  According to researchers who recently examined parts recovered from the wreck, impure rivets made of wrought iron rather than steel caused the ship’s hull to open like a zipper.  The Titanic proves the foolishness of spending resources on fancy equipment and public promotion while neglecting the “ordinary” parts.  Although rivets seem insignificant, they are essential for holding the ship together and keeping it afloat.  So too, we Christians, by the grace of God, must be free from defect even in the “little things” in order to stand firm against the pressures of this world’s selfishness and corruption.

I’m concluding this section with the words of the apostle Peter to Christians scattered because of their committment to Christ.  Peter says in I Peter 2:1-3, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy, and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”

I hope that you are a true child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, and that this relationship to Him is evidenced by a love for, and desire for, the pure Word of God as your true source of heavenly wisdom.  I hope that you are also putting aside the wisdom of this world as you grow in the knowledge of Him.  Peter concludes this letter by saying:  “Peace be to you all who are  in Christ”.

With the Lord Jesus as the Master Builder, and the Holy Spirit providing the inspiration, the blueprint and the tools, the work progresses.  Please stop by again.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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