Faith Work Out: "Response Time" – James 5:13-20

The words RESPONSE TIME are used in modern life in a number of different ways. Because we live in a technological society, one way to think of it is this: “In a data system, the system response time is the interval between the receipt of the end of transmission of an inquiry message and the beginning of the transmission of a response message to the station originating the inquiry.” About three people in the room really get what I just said, and even they are bored with it! The fact is that we aren’t only about technology – we are also a society “on the move”. For motorsports enthusiasts from Nascar to High Performance Racing, “response time” has to do with the speed and agility of the vehicle to respond to the movements of the driver. Sometimes it is about the time between increasing throttle power and forward velocity. A little closer to the essentials of life, let’s look at other ways it is used. For emergency responders in our society, “response time” has to do with the time lag between the call for help and the arrival of the emergency services. Finally, among some police officers, the term “response time” has a very specific meaning. It refers to the is the first forty-eight hour period from the discovery of the crime (as in someone finds a body) and the following of leads to suspects.

Technology, racing, saving lives and police work all have one thing in common – they require timely responses for success. A dead car remains at the starting line. A response-less computer that “goes out to lunch in cyberspace” has no value in solving a digital query. The unanswered or badly delayed answer to an emergency call can mean death. Each action requires a timely response for the action to have any meaning at all. In a strange way, James argued back in the first century that our faith, when posed in specific situation was also like that – it required a timely and proper response. People in the body of Messiah need care – and that care has a timely action associated with it.

Key Principle: God not only orchestrated and allowed challenges to come into the body of Messiah, He included instructions on our appropriate and timely responses to each challenge.

The basic question behind the passage is this: What are believers commanded to DO for one another? The emphasis of the passage is NOT on the person who is sick or suffering, but rather an instruction to the body of believers on “How to Handle…” in a series of very clear instructions about four kinds of people:

James 5:13 Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit. 19 My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, 20 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.

“Four People that Need our Help Among Jesus’ Followers”

The first step toward the church responding to each person that is a part of the fellowship is this: recognize that not everyone is on the same page. Some are hurting, while others are celebrating. Some are facing illness and physical exhaustion while others are restless and desiring to “sow the wild oats”. All may gather together on a Sunday morning, but they don’t all see things the same way, because they aren’t all in the same place. The response to one another should be underscored by a basic desire to “dwell together in an understanding way”.

Look around you. Many believers in the room where you worship may well be in secret pain. They may be disappointed when they look in the mirror. Some see AGE where they once saw a fresh youth. Others see a body that is slipping from their control. Some are worried about the direction of the country for their children and grandchildren. Some are young and full of life and promise. Some are in love, and the world couldn’t be prettier. Some are thinking about gain, others about loss…Yet we are all together. How should we handle some who are among us that we can see are in need of a timely and specific response?


Our text opens with “people who are in pain”. The term suffering isn’t a simple one – because the experience of suffering isn’t a simple one.

Let’s be clear about what the text truly says:

5:13 Is anyone among you suffering? kakopathéō (from kakós, “bad; of a malicious disposition” and páthos, “pain”) –experiencing a painful hardship or suffering that seems to be a “setback” but really isn’t. (all definitions in this study are adapted from those of Dr. Gary Hill at Discovery Bible).

5:13b “…Then he must pray.” proseúxomai (from prós, “to bow toward or to exchange” and euxomai, “to wish, pray”) – properly, to exchange wishes; literally prayer in the interaction with the Lord by switching human wishes (ideas) for His wishes as He imparts faith (“divine persuasion”).

How should believers handle someone who is facing a disappointing and painful reversal in their lives? (5:13a).

James said: Are some of the believers in your midst facing apparent setbacks? Let them exchange those for God’s perspective on what is happening in their lives. The answer: The person must be aided and instructed to fall before God and exchange the view they have with the perspective of God on the issue.

Look carefully at the text and you will see three things.

First, it is POSSIBLE for a believer to face a setback or reversal. There are those who teach that such things are NOT for the child of God – but that simply isn’t the case. Following God is no guarantee that hardship won’t come. In fact, the Bible record of men and women of God is the very opposite. God does not get the best from untested children – and the Word if filled with stories of men and women that have suffered and been hurt while following God. At the same time, the things we THINK are reversals are often God’s actual plan. Through the complex matrix of detours, the actual intended plan of God unfolds to tell the story of WHO HE IS.

Second, the focus of the text appears to be on how the body must instruct those who suffer. The text isn’t just an individual manual on “what to do in suffering” – it is a corporate manual on “what we should instruct those who are suffering”. This isn’t a semantic issue, it has real implications. This isn’t a heartless response to sufferers– it is REAL HELP. When we instruct people to get before the Lord about their problems – we AREN’T ABDICATING our responsibility, we are FULFILLING it.

Finally, the response of the person in pain wasn’t ALWAYS SUPPOSED TO BE COUNSELING. More often than not the answer was to get alone with God and hash out what He says about what is happening. This is NOT a popular approach in the modern church of the west, where counseling and therapy have largely replaced expository preaching and propositional truth – but it is nevertheless a Biblical idea. There is a time in the Bible to have many counselors in making plans. There is a time to have a shoulder to weep upon – clearly that is in view in the Bible. At the same time, much counseling has been aimed at labeling and diagnosis – and not at final solutions to deal with the problem. Let me offer this – if you take to your Maker the issues of trials of life – He will answer you and give you His perspective. James 1 made that argument about trials, and James 5 makes it again. We need DIVINE perspective in facing our issues. TRUTH comes from the Creator – and TRUTH is the only resolution to all things painful.

I have to admit something that I find a bit painful…I hardly ever have a conversation with any believer, no matter how old, who tells me they are content with their prayer life and excited about how it is working for them. What God designed to rescue us from the pain of disconnection from Him has become a source of guilt for many a follower of Jesus. How can this be? I suspect the problem is due, at least in part, to some misunderstanding of both the nature and purpose of prayer. The secret may be found in the term the New Testament writer chose to reflect prayer.

The Greek term “proseúxomai” is a compound word taken from “prós” – to bow toward or to exchange and the term “euxomai” to express a wish or desire. Added together, one very clear way of thinking about prayer is this: to interact with the Lord and exchange perspective. In prayer I give God my broken view of a situation or perceived need, and He exchanges it with His perspective on the situation. Prayer then, is neither to inform God nor change God – it is primarily focused on the exchange of my poor perspective with His Divine view. I am not suggesting that prayer doesn’t change outcomes. In Scripture, men prayed and God moved. I am suggesting the opposite – the first change that occurs is the one that happens inside the heart of the person praying. Prayer is accomplished when I leave with Heaven’s perspective of my situation.

“The definition of prayer I want to project is this: the deliberate submission of my heart to God for the purpose of exchanging my perspective with His.”

This isn’t its only meaning – but it is perhaps its most neglected meaning in our modern usage…


Not everyone is beat down in the church. Some have just met the future love of their life. Some have just landed the best job they could ever imagine. Some have just seen God break them free from the chains of addiction. Some have just seen God heal their marriage. Look at the text:

5:13b “…Is anyone cheerful? euthyméō (from eú, “good” and thymós, “passion”) – properly, to show positive passion or be of high morale.

5:13b “…He is to sing praises. psállō – properly, pluck a musical instrument (like a harp); used of “singing along with instruments”; “to make music,” or simply sing.

How should we instruct believers to handle times of positive passion and apparent victory? (5:13b).

James said: Are some among you excited about life right now? Let him break out in song and rejoicing. The answer: The person should be aided and instructed to cry out in rejoicing and praise before the Lord! Music is a great expression!

The short way to emphasize this truth is this: SHARE THE JOY OUT LOUD! We must not only be heard when things are somber, or people are hurting – there should be shouts of JOY when God breaks open a new moment of JOY in our midst.

When was the last time you really celebrated God’s goodness to you OUT LOUD? Thanksgiving was supposed to do that – but now it has become largely a celebration of gluttony and extravagance followed by shouts of competition as we watch the football game to follow. The church that is SO VERSED in pointing out SIN and DECAY in society must also learn to rejoice in every moment that God is doing happy work in us. All the work is His work – but some of it is designed to make us SING, SHOUT AND CELEBRATE.

• Prayer meetings need a praise section, not just a shopping list of physical maladies listed before God.

• Worship services need something rich and celebratory – because we serve a GOOD GOD. I want to be a part of a service that focuses me on God’s promises and power – not just sin’s problems and persistence.

A church is only as helpful as its instruction is practical.
It is only as caring as it is communally embracing.
It is only as supportive as it is inspirationally empowering.

Brothers and sisters – if what we preach is true – we are not happy enough. We do not display the faces of souls set free. We do not shine like those who have access to the King above all earthly kings. We have surrendered the sounds of rejoicing to the angry murmuring of a nation sinking. I do not ask you to say that our days ahead will be easy – I ask you to rejoice because the days ahead end with the King again enthroned – sitting exalted over His creation. They end with Jesus exalted high, and His arch enemy forever bound in the soupy Lake of Fire.

  • We may lose our earthly retirement funds – but not our eternal salvation.
  • We may lose our dollar’s worth – but not our true treasures above.
  • We may lose our temporal freedoms – but never our eternal home.

Jesus shall reign on earth – come what may in the short run. Ours is a faith destined to rejoice! Why not practice now, for the Lord God Omnipotent ALREADY reigns!


There is a group that cannot rejoice well, because their body has been broken under the load of the curse of the Garden of Eden. We must remember to deal sensitively with people – because we are ALL FRAGILE BEINGS. The most powerful man or woman in the nation is a few heartbeats from history books and a pine box. With that in mind, look at James 5:14-18. The question is clear:

How should believers handle the sick and physically weakened among them?

Three specifics are given, in accord with the parties involved (5:14-18):

First, there is the response of the sick themselves.

5:14 Is anyone among you sick? asthenéō – from asthenēs – which is a “without” and sthenos, “vigor, strength”) – properly, without vigor, living in a state of weakness (depletion).”

5:14b “…Then he must call …” proskaleó – from toward and to call – to summon. “…for the elders of the church” presbýteros – properly, a mature man having seasoned judgment (experience); an elder. “…and they are to pray over him…” proseúxomai (from prós, “to bow toward or to exchange” and euxomai, “to wish, pray”) – properly, to exchange a broken perspective for God’s view.

5:14b “…anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; literally: “having anointed him” aleíphō – properly, to rub or smear olive oil on the body. The word is the ordinary term used for physically anointing the body with (olive) oil. Anointing brought healing and relief and hence became synonymous with gladness (festivity). It was also the preparation for the contest ahead, in the metaphoric sense it was the renewal for future contest.

James said: Are some of you physically depleted? The one who is in such a state should call on the elders of the congregation to seek the Lord to exchange the heaviness for God’s future ministry for them. Having poured and rubbed oil upon the depleted one, they should seek God for that renewal and clarity. The answer: The one who has been knocked down physically and cannot regain strength should call on the elders to help them see God’s perspective in a time of prayer and symbolic seeking of healing. That is the word to the SICK or DEPLETED ONE.

Second, there is the work of those who care for the flock – the elders.

5:15 “…and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, pisteuo: faith is the perspective of truth always rendered by God when we see from His perspective the events of our world. It is distinct from human confidence, yet engages it. The Lord continuously births faith in the yielded believer so they can know what He prefers, i.e. the persuasion of His will (1 Jn 5:4), as in:

1 John 5:4 “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”

5:15b “…and the Lord will raise him up, egeiró: to awaken or rouse.

5:15b “…and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Pepoikos: if he had manufactured or committed sin (sins of commission). They will be phíēmi (from 575 /apó, “away from” and hiēmi, “send”) – properly, send away; release (discharge).

James said: As the elders pray, that prayer offered in full perspective of God’s view will awaken or rouse the depleted one. If they have been guilty of sinful works, they will be released from any further physical penalty related to that sin. The answer: The elders should seek God for His perspective, and await His Divinely revealed wisdom. If specific sin is at the center – it should be openly confessed and the penalty released. That is the instruction to the elders.

Third, in a preventative way, all believers are to be instructed to stem off such illnesses.

5:16 “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, eksomologéō (from ek, “wholly out from,” intensifying homologéō, “say the same thing about”) – properly, fully agree and to acknowledge that agreement whole-heartedly; hence, to “openly declare” without reservation.

5:16b “…and pray for one another so that you may be healed. Iáomai: healing, particularly Divine healing that draws attention to the Lord Himself as the Great Physician (cf. Is 53:4,5; cp. Lk 17:15: “Now one of them [i.e. the ten lepers], when he saw that he had been healed (iáomai), turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice.” The term iáomai normally includes the notion that in the change attention is drawn to the Lord as the source of the healing – and it is beyond the physical healing itself and its benefits (as with therapeúō).

5:16b “…The effective prayer..” déēsis from dḗ (“really”) which likewise implies a felt need that is personal and urgent – deō is the form “to be in want, lack”; related to déomai, “praying for a specific, felt need”). This is a heart-felt petition, arising out of deep personal need (sense of lack, want). “…of a righteous man…” díkaios from dikē, “right, judicial approval” is properly, “approved by God” “…can accomplish much.” Energéō (from en, “engaged in,” which intensifies érgon, “work”) – properly, energize, like an electrical current energizing a wire, bringing it to a shining light bulb.

Think of the Biblical pattern: Elijah experienced the same feelings as other men of his time, but prayed that it would not rain -and the rain was withheld three and one half years. At a later time he again sought the Lord to open the sky, and the Lord did so, causing the crops to sprout again.

5:17 “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours…” The term “nature” is homiopathes: same feelings. “…and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.

The issue wasn’t the feeling of the praying one – it was the uniqueness of one who was judicially approved and held Divine perspective within him deliberately SEEKING GOD. The so called “prayer of faith” was the same as the prayer of the “righteous man” (5:16). That prayer was is in “middle voice”. As in a prayer GIVEN TO HIM. That is best translated, “the effectual fervent prayer of faith given to him avails much…” It was this kind of prayer God put in the mouths of effective prophets of old (5:17-18).

James said: As a result of the truth that such penalties can be discharged by complete agreement with God about the egregious violations admitted without reservation to one another, do so. When one shares such a confession, seek God to exchange the words for His Divine view – that the Lord may intervene and rescue overtly. The heart-felt petition of one who is approved by God in His judicious standard (sees it from God’s perspective) and who senses an urgent lack energizes the work. The answer: Believers are to intentionally open themselves to confess sin before one another, and seek God’s Divine healing of both the sin and its effects on their lives. The effective prayer will be GIVEN by God, just as the FORGIVENESS is given by God.


We have dealt with hurting, rejoicing and sick people – who else is left?

How should believers deal with straying Christians? (5:19-20)

5:19 “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth planáō – properly, go astray, get off-course; to deviate from the correct path (circuit, course), roaming into error, wandering; (passive) be misled. This is the root of the English term, planet (“wandering body”). This term nearly always conveys the sin of roaming (for an exception – see Heb 11:38). “…and one turns him back…” epistrephó (from epi: back and strepho: return) – puts him back in place.

5:20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death…” psyxḗ (from psyxō, “to breathe, blow” the root of the English words “psyche,” “psychology”) –a person’s distinct identity (unique personhood), i.e. individual personality. This corresponds exactly to the Hebrew term for the direct aftermath of God breathing (blowing) – His gift of life into a person, making them an ensouled being.“…and will cover a multitude of sins.” kalýptō – properly, to cover or conceal pléthos, as in a BUNDLE OF sins.

James said: Brothers, if another from among us roams away from God’s stated truth and one intentionally works to turn him back to God’ standard, acknowledge the deed of the man who deliberately sought his brother’s return and remind him that he has helped preserve the person’s physical life, and put a cover over the growth of a whole bundle of sins. The answer: We shouldn’t let the wandering go without challenge.

Let me ever so clear: If you know Jesus as your Savior and you are a part of Grace – even on a cursory level – expect that we will challenge you to get serious about your faith in your life style. We will never be particularly popular for it – but the Scripture calls us to do so. We won’t make a list bigger than the text we are teaching, but we won’t make it LESS than the text either. It isn’t based on our preferences, or our personal abilities – but solely based on our undying commitment to teach the Word, cover to cover, to anyone who desires to learn it.

Let me finish our time with a simple look at one question: Did God Promise to Heal Every Sick Believer? Let’s draw some important conclusions-

The passage DOESN’T teach:

• God can only heal in this way, and will not heal in other ways.
• All sickness is as a result of the sinful actions or omissions of the sick person.
• God is obligated to heal every sick person that Elders anoint.

The passage DOES teach:

• God can use sickness as His own tool to discipline people (the leprosy of Miriam, the quail sickness in the wilderness).
• God can use death as a tool for discipline in the church (1 Cor. 11; Acts 5).
• Obedience is healthy and sin is dangerous both physically and spiritually (Dt. 6:24).
• God has numerous ways to bring about repentance in our lives, but He does not inflict pain without purpose.
• God is FOR us! He wants us to grow and produce. He wants us to bypass suffering and pain.

God not only orchestrated and allowed challenges to come into the body of Messiah, He included instructions on our appropriate responses to each challenge.

The Faith Work Out: "The Two Tables" – James 5:1-12

I was watching a YouTube of a courtroom the other day – it was fascinating. The professor that posted the split screen presentation was directing the viewer to notice the various facial expressions of the people at both the prosecution table and the defense table as evidence was offered. The faces gave away much, according to the professor. The same idea was heavily used in split screening the facial expressions of both participants in the recent Presidential debate. I think it is a fascinating idea to look at the body language and the facial expressions of people to try to read what is going on in their head and heart. It isn’t terribly reliable, I don’t think, but it is interesting. Watching the two tables – prosecution and defense – I became keenly aware of a truth about every believer I know.

Believers live a divided life – we live in split screen. We are both guilty and declared righteous. We are children of two worlds – Heaven and earth. We walk through life with a call to indulge in every earthly pleasure while that beckoning is restrained by the truth that this is only the beginning for us. We have eternity to taste of God’s goodness, and every pleasure and blessing we have ever heard of was ultimately orchestrated by His good hand.

Think about what is ahead for the follower of Jesus. There is no pleasure like that which brings no guilt. There is no dessert like that which brings no additional pounds. There is no delight like that which will not offend or bring pain to anyone – but rather will build up everyone around you. We live for God’s glory, but also get to anticipate Heaven’s joy! That truth bids us to recognize earth’s temporary nature – or at least it should. Heaven’s peace is God’s answer for earth’s turmoil – and that is why its description is expressed in His Word.

We end up on the guilty side of the screen when we begin when to pay more attention to delight in this world than approval in the next. This world parades a set of values that beckon to the core of the old man within, and we find ourselves tempted to trade what is best for what is immediately satisfying. We call the moral pull downward “temptation” but it is much more powerful than should be able to be expressed in a single word. Some of us have struggled and wrestled with it for years, being wounded by its venom a bit more with each strike of its fangs. When fully infected by its poison, we have staggered from right choices into headlong sin. It is in the moment of temptation we need a sobering reminder that we were not made for this world – and we will not find what we are looking for here. We were made for a perfect world, and that was marred by the catastrophic submission to the rebel prince that now leads men and women all around us. Since the fall of man, God called those who would follow Him to journey through the wasteland of this fallen existence and hold Him tightly until we reach His castle beyond. It is coming, and it has what we need.

What happens when a believer surrenders to the heat and intensity of the journey? What happens when they defect from their first love and move in rebellion to the sin-laden sirens about us? We give in to what some call “the moral short cuts”. They promise fast fulfillment and they pledge to cover over the damage they will bring – but the promise is a lie. When a believer falls into sin – they need the call to return to the priority of living for THEN and THERE, not HERE and NOW. James found it necessary to utter that prophetic call long ago, and it still helps to sober up compromised believers today. The text for this lesson can be easily broken into two – like the two tables at the front of a great courtroom. On one side there is the offender – on the other the offended.

Key Principle: When we walk with this world’s values, we show we do not understand the call God has given us. When we walk with Heaven’s values, we find it challenging not to strike back at those who take advantage of us in this life.

Look around you – you will see believers who fall into one of two categories – and BOTH are struggling in different ways…

Offenders: Call to repentance for believers who are wrong. (James 5:1-6)

Some believers are offenders. They are TAKING ADVANTAGE of this world, while subverting the values of the next. In the case of the early Jewish beleivers addressed by James, he argued that the wealthy followers of Jesus needed to change their view of life! It appear they were celebrating the wrong life. His words to them: “Sober up! Very soon you will see the end of all that you hold dear.” James 5:1 says: “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten.”

Here’s my question: “Why?” Why come down on people who are enjoying their life? Why should Christianity and its values be such a saddening experience? Look more carefully, because James explains:

Their riches are MISTIMED: James argued they suffered from a bad sense of timing. James 5:3 goes on to explain: “Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure!” James remarks they should consider several things:

First, most things of this world won’t last beyond this world, and believers should recognize that. Second, if I tie up the resources on personal pleasures that God actually gave me to reach others and eternally change destinies – I will face greater judgment for my choices. Third, if I fail to recognize the hour is late in God’s economy – I will misread the calendar and feel at ease with wrong choices. Earthly treasures aren’t wrong – they are temporary. Earthly pleasures aren’t wrong – they are simply less important when rescue is the order of the day.

People who are drowning don’t care what the rescuer is wearing – they need help. Christians that are more concerned about gaining acceptance in the world and appealing to the world have forgotten the world is running out of time. They have forgotten that men and women are being swallowed up by Hell’s flames.

Note that James isn’t arguing the hour is late in the time of THEIR LIVES. It wasn’t late as far as nearing their LAST MINUTE of the earth…It was late in the game as far as the planet is concerned. The Church Age is the final age of God’s sowing of salvation to a doomed planet! Their casual attitude toward the souls of men is at the heart of the problem. Would James see the modern church of America differently if he were writing today?

Their riches were UNFAIRLY EARNED: James said: “Your practices are unfair – because you have taken advantage of others to gain in unfair ways! Look carefully at James 5:4 “Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.”

James cried out: “LOOK”. That is the word “behold!” Take a good look! The workers that have made you what you are have been unfairly taken advantage of. The Lord of the Armies of Heaven hears the cries of those we have abused and over whom we have taken advantage.

o The payment of millions to a corporate CEO while pensions are left unfunded and retirees are left adrift is a symptom of a wrong-headed economy.
o A doctor or hospital that charges for a beds and treatments depending on what they can GET from an insurer, rather than on fair cost value plus reasonable markup is a symptom of a people that no longer are sensitive to gouging.
o A church that is content to spend all its money on ever expanding beautiful property while it closes down outreach dollars to missions has forgotten its calling.
o When we contract employment and then renegotiate after the work’s successful and acceptable completion, we show that we are unabashedly open about our greed.

The other night I sat with a man who did a job for a large contractor. The work was quoted at about $45,000.00. On successful completion of the job, the recipient of the work simply settled on $10,000 less than the final price. He was right up front – it would cost my friend that much to retain lawyers to get the rest owed, and that would be costly in time and money. I hope the man who did this is not sitting in a church this Sunday thinking God isn’t paying attention to his cheating. Let me assure you – He was in the first century when James wrote James 5:4 – and He is listening today. If you are cheating – He is watching.

If you are charging what is beyond what you are due – you are cheating, and both you and God know who you are. This is a message from Him: “I saw it. Make it right. No fooling around. I told the Pastor to tell you this… go back and make it right.” God hears the cries of those we take advantage of in our businesses and in our homes.

Their riches were SELF-INDULGENTLY USED: James argued: “Your focus has been self – and the excesses have been exercises in lavish indulgence at the expense of things that are truly important!” James 5:5 You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

Very soon the time to reach your neighbor will be gone. The time to send out another mission couple to the places far away will be finished. The use of every dollar spent on luxury while others perished will bring us a blush of embarrassment before the Savior.

I was watching a war movie not long ago, in which a group of soldiers broke into a liquor store in Germany during WWII. They were found lying around out back of the store, completely inebriated. The people who found them were nurses that had come to get the alcohol as the vital supply for both surgical cleaning and anesthesia for their wounded buddies. While the men lay about drunk, their friends and buddies underwent surgery with dirty utensils and suffered infections because of their indulgence.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if one single church would truly give until it hurt them to reach people. I wonder if we will ever know. We have been trained, all of us, to see ourselves as much more needy than we truly are. I am no exception. I have lived a spoiled life, and so have most of you – I suspect. We have more than we need. We need more than we should. We give less than He wants. And all God’s people said, “Ouch!”

Remember this: Gluttony comes in many forms. Americans have made gluttony acceptable long before they made sexual sin common. We should be, we must be deeply reflective about our selfish sinfulness.

Their riches were UNJUSTLY PROTECTED: James said: “Your judgments are deceptively protected by slanted courts!”! James 5:6: “You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.”

The courts are not the best refuge for the righteous. It is always been true that the rich get offered a different standard of judgment. In our society, when charged, many have the right to buy out temporary freedom with bail – the poor have no such option. In fact, the poor often need to show up at work even more to be able to keep their job. In our system, the highest interest rates are charged to those who own the least. I hear someone thinking: “Because, Pastor, they are a higher risk to us!” Really? Are you arguing that they are a greater risk than say, LARGE BANKS? How about MORTGAGE BROKERAGES?

Do you see my point? I have lived too long to believe that the money is based on real risk – it is based on access and access is based on MONEY. The problem is this: Justice isn’t justice when a rich person can buy a different brand of justice than a poor man. Believers cannot simply point to the fact that we have courts to protect the unprotected – because it isn’t true. We need to help those at the lower end of the economic spectrum because we can see past the dividing of America that is taking place. Christians should help because God called us to be used of Him. Let me ask you this: “Could it be that God gave you a raise so that you can help someone else with their burden instead of just spending it on yourself?” Is that possible? Have you ASKED HIM about why He gave it to you?

Offended: Responses of believers who are cheated by others (James 5:7-12)

Ok, that is enough of the offenders. Now look at the opposite table. Take a good look at the victims. How do I face God and remove a complaining spirit when I have been ABUSED? What do I do if I am being HURT by another? God has some words through James to you…


First, trust God to make it right – because He will! (James 5:7-8).

You may not get to see the way God works in the life of the person who hurts you – but know that He misses NOTHING. James 5:7 says: “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.” Notice five things about these verses:

It is a command of God to patiently wait. This may not be your choice – but it is obedience. God commanded patience and trust, not anger and revenge. You won’t get the right result by trying to do God’s will YOUR WAY. It didn’t work for Moses and the Egyptian taskmaster that was beating a Hebrew, and it won’t work for you.

It has a specific ending time. You will not be called on to wait forever – God will attend to business and fix things in His time. Live like you know that, and let that be enough for you. “Every dog has his day.” It is a truth of Scripture – and it helps when you live in the modern kennel we call America.

It is the pattern of God’s design. You don’t have to look further than your nearby farm to see it – God works on a time schedule. He isn’t an INSTANT God, though increasingly He is the God of the INSTANT CHRISTIAN. We must get back in sync with a God who works through patience and quiet prayer – not just through activism.

It will take inner effort. Waiting isn’t a vacation – it is exhausting. If you are financially being taken advantage of at work, days will seem like months. If someone is telling lies about you, the impulse to hurt them back will be enormous! Use your energy to grow your walk with God and care for others – not to plot to get even!

It will not be forgotten. Practice saying what James said: “The coming of the Lord is NEAR”! When you are beaten down, remember that Jesus knows what it feels like to be abused and taken advantage of, and He will settle the account with that pain in mind.

Second, do not try to fix everyone – God will set what is wrong now right – but He will do it later! (James 5:9).

James kept hammering the use of the mouth through the letter – it is one of his most profound themes. He says in James 5:9: “Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door.”

Use your time in building up others, but not insisting they come under your control. There is a difference between encouragement and manipulation – it is found in the motivation. Truly stop and gauge how much complaining you do – it is an interesting reflective study. How many of our conversations are truly motivated “to get it off my chest”? Maybe we are letting too much inside, and maybe we are directing too little upward toward God. At least we should consider the possibility.

Keep your attitude above being drawn into condemnation. Complaining drains the speaker and the hearer. It is sometimes necessary, but seldom very productive. Correction is complaint with a view to helping. Complaining is griping with a view toward unburdening myself – an entirely selfish motive. Selfish motives beget selfish actions and even more selfish thinking.

Remember all of us work for one Master, and He alone is the Judge. One problem Christians face is enthroning themselves in their own hearts. Another problem we face is wanting to enthrone ourselves in the hearts of OTHERS. We cannot understand why EVERYONE doesn’t see the truth through our eyes. We have to humble ourselves and recognize God is at work in others differently than in our heart. We aren’t the judge, just the messenger of God in a lost world. On my best day, I am a message carrier for a Great King.

Third, look back at the past – God has a track record of caring for His people! (James 5:10-11).

James reminded them that God didn’t just work with others that had patiently endured suffering before; He kept a record and told us how it looked in their lives. James 5:10 adds: “As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful.” The two verses offer four CHOICES we can make to help us endure:

Search the Scriptures for encouragement in the lives of witnesses for God in the past. You aren’t the only one that has faced this kind of trial – the Bible catalogues a host of others that we gain both insight and encouragement from reading and studying their stories.

Remember how their endurance mattered in the outcome. Don’t just focus on the problem they faced, keep a keen eye on how they responded. Some responded impatiently – and that cost them. Others trusted God over the long haul of the story – and that led to their blessing. Remember, they were JUST LIKE YOU when it comes to impatience and temptation. They had all the failings you have. They even had LESS than you – because you have THEIR STORY to help prepare your response to troubles.

Look at the outcomes of faithfulness in each story. Really look at them. There are short term benefits to faithfulness – but most of the benefits are actually LONG TERM. In many cases, it was several generations before the whole benefit was realized. God may be drawing YOU through trouble to bless you great-grandchildren. When you see Him, He will show you that it was worth it all!

Carefully note the attributes of the Lord seen in each story. Don’t study the Bible strictly to watch the MEN and WOMEN – find God’s pattern, God’s work in the story. Real inspiration and encouragement comes from the God of all comfort – and knowing Him up close and personally.

Fourth, don’t make unjust deals – God will judge you by your honest response! (James 5:12).

James warned that a particular temptation presents itself before the victim of another’s abuses. We can try to avoid further pain by moral compromises in our mouths. He said: James 5:12 “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.” There are two specific situations you must be careful to avoid:

Avoid the temptation to lessen the pressures in the wrong way. James warns the early believer not to “swear with his fingers crossed”. He is not to say that he will do something just to lessen the immediate pressure, when those words are meant to deceive. That isn’t God’s way to deal with trouble. Tell the truth! Don’t doubletalk your way out of trouble. Be straight about what you say, and what you mean.

Pastor Chris Appleby (a sermon central contributor) wrote something on this subject I want you to really consider: What images come to mind when you hear the eighth Commandment “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19)? You shall not take what doesn’t belong to you. If you are like me you might have an image of a masked thief in a stripped shirt climbing over a wall with a bag of loot over his shoulder. One writer on the Commandments suggests that from a biblical perspective, stealing means: “the desire to get as much as possible while giving as little as possible” (Colin Smith). …the Bible seeks to reverse this formula: instead give as much as possible while taking as little as possible. … while Jesus “reframes” many of the Commandments in his Sermon on the Mount, he doesn’t make any specific comment on the eighth Commandment. But we find something unusual in Paul’s farewell speech to the elders in the church at Ephesus, in the book of Acts, chapter 20. In Paul’s speech a saying of Jesus that isn’t recorded in the four Gospels. Paul says to the elders: “In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the word of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ’It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). Paul encourages the elders to do what he had done and what Jesus had recommended: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” – in other words, the desire to give as much as possible while taking as little as possible. But we all sense, don’t we, that this is exactly opposite of what much of our society is saying to us? Look after number one! I want it all and I want it now! God’s message in the Bible which we find in the eighth Commandment and in the words of Jesus and of Paul is really “counter-cultural” isn’t it?.. If stealing is the desire to get as much as possible while giving as little as possible, then at work it might include things such as:

o Arriving late
o Stretching lunchtimes
o Taking extra breaks
o Texting friends on company time
o Expanding the work to fill the time available
o Avoiding the parts of our work we are paid to do but don’t like doing, or using work time pursuing our own projects.

The Pastor had a point, didn’t he? Integrity counts in TIME and in WORD. Sometimes it seems as though we have adopted such a worldly mindset that we truly defend that we should be MORE like the world than like Jesus.

Expect to be judged when you break the rule and compromise truth. Don’t rationalize in your mind that you can tell a lie because they are doing it. Don’t try to trick the bank that is trying to trick you. Don’t play games with your promises and your reputation. Speak clearly and honestly. You HATE it when someone lies to you – so don’t do it to someone else. Honesty is God’s platform to blessing.

Truthfully, if you have been in the family of faith very long, you know that many believers don’t thing telling a lie is all that big a deal. Many don’t see the grievous nature of the sin as God describes it. In fact, most believers I know wouldn’t consider attending an overtly sexual film or “adult” movie house, but they will speak dishonestly and deceptively with a studied routine. Many have been trained to mislead others for the sake of their business. I heard a story about that recently: A store manager heard his clerk tell a customer, “No, ma’am, we haven’t had any for a while, and it doesn’t look as if we’ll be getting any soon.” Horrified, the manager came running over to the customer and said, “Of course we’ll have some soon. We placed an order last week.” Then the manager drew the clerk aside. “Never,” he snarled, “Never, never, never say we’re out of anything- say we’ve got it on order and it’s coming. Now, what was it she wanted anyway?” The clerk said, “Rain!” (A-Z Sermon illustrator).

It’s true! When we walk with this world’s values, we show we do not understand the call God has given us. When we walk with Heaven’s values, we find it challenging not to strike back at those who take advantage of us in this life.

Faith Work Out: "Knowing My Place" – James 4:11-17

One of the things that my father wanted to make sure I understood was my place in the working world. One of the jobs I had in my early years was in the labor pool at Mobil Oil’s refinery, then in Paulsboro, New Jersey. The job was exactly what it sounded like…labor. I have to admit that I was very tired by the end of the day, but it was GOOD TIRED. The second summer I worked there I was assigned to my father’s section. Though he was an electrician, he was upgraded to a “boss” and I was one of a few dozen men assigned to do his bidding. Working for dad was not as challenging as I thought it would be, because I understood what he wanted. Some of the bosses I had were not communicators. They knew how to do the work, they just didn’t explain the job very well. My father made sure that I learned early who to address with questions, and who to stand silent before when receiving the work for the day. It was important for me to remember the vast responsibilities of some of the men, and not pick away at small issues when they were facing real problems that needed their leadership energy. I needed to know my place. My issues weren’t the most important ones the man in charge was dealing with, and that was important for me to consider.

In recent generations American education has focused on building up the self-image of students. They have been encouraged to think for themselves, and to see themselves as capable. Some in scholastic circles pressed the case that a healthy self-image was essential to a healthy citizenry. In most ways, the theory has proven to be somewhat helpful – as students can dream bigger and engage hard tasks more adeptly if they don’t defeat themselves before they try. At the same time, it has fed something within the national ego that has reminded us of the battle of deep pride in self within fallen men. It has made the American student consistently rank highest in self-image while sinking in other scores. It has covered over a pride that manifests itself in arrogance of speech and the clear certainty of the uncertain. For many of us, we have come to expect things to be as we plan them, as if we can control wind, sea, weather and outcome. We have become quite excellent judges of one another. All of it shows a heart problem within. All of it echoes a heart filled with its own song of praise.

In the early church, such arrogance already showed itself. Believers are not exempt from the arrogance. In fact, because they have tasted the goodness of God, they may be tempted to think His goodness had something to do with the object of His affection. They may have actually begun to believe that God saved them because of something about them – and they would, of course, have been dead wrong. As they grew in their faith, some would have learned the truth and believed it – while others would have politely kept their judgmental spirit under wraps. Under pressure, sometimes we say the thing we would not say had the day been a bit lighter.

Key Principle: Our mouths sometimes betray the carefully covered arrogance within. We speak of people and plans in ways that demonstrate we do not truly know our place.

In effect, James argued that the early believers were being UPPITY. They didn’t seem to “know their place” in God or in the world. I suspect James would say similar things about modern believers if he were writing today. Some of truly think we are able to mock others because we are better than they are, and many of us speak of our plans ahead as though we are in control of the days ahead – and neither are true and both reflect an arrogant heart. James is on target with another precision strike against the tongue. Take a look at the end of James 4:

James 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? 13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

An overview of James 4 uncovers the notion that people were walking in pride and self-willed pursuits of business, fighting in the flesh with one another! God longed for them to come to Him humbly and tearfully! The chapter can easily be divided into three parts:

• Understanding the source of our striving – pride and self-centered will; These impulses lead us to heartache! (1-6)
• Calling out believers to come close to God in humility; He will bring victory! (7-10)
• Using the mouth as a demonstration of God’s truth in both relationships of the spiritual family and plans for the future; knowing my place before God and others! (11-17)

It is the last one that we will look at today. James demonstrated in two ways that believers quickly forget their place…

The first way our mouths show we have placed ourselves too highly is the way we speak of PEOPLE.

I am going to be very deliberate in taking apart of each of the verses in this text, because they are being used almost daily in our day in a way that misrepresents the author’s intent. In fact, whenever we are in a debate of right and wrong in America today, someone naively whips out these verses, or some popular paraphrase of them to suggest that Christianity only speaks in tolerance terminology, and real Christians make no value judgments about right and wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth, and that ISN’T what the passage truly teaches. James wrote to early believers in Jesus – so the language is intended to be by believers and to believers. The term “brothers” or “brethren” here refers to brothers in Christ, not primarily to physical family members.

When we mock our brother, we show the arrogant thinking of self-importance.

The instruction is as follows:

James 4:11 Do not speak against one another, brethren. (katalaléō from katá, “down, according to,” intensifying laléō, “to prattle on” – properly, speak down to in a hostile, deriding way; to mock (revile), detracting from someone’s reputation by “malice of speech directed against one’s neightbor” in order to defame or slander.

The issue is NOT one that blocks people from having honest disagreements – The issue is intended to remind us that mocking and malicious words are out of bounds. Disagreements about ideas close to us may bruise our ego, but that is not the same as mocking. Polite but firm disagreement may be necessary, and that is NOT UNCHRISTIAN BEHAVIOR.

The issue is NOT about the world – Again we recognize the issue is between believers. We may critique actions and words, but we must keep the discussion both civil and kind. How we say what we say is terribly important.

The text continues. James 4:11b: “He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother…

What does that truly mean, to “speak against” a brother? Properly “he who mocks or derides his brother” or “he who separates out his brother for condemnation before others”…The term judgment or “krino” is used in two ways:

• J. Thayer comments that “the proper meaning of krínō is to pick out (choose) by separating” and refers to making a determination of innocence or guilt, especially on an official (legal) standard.

• The term is used in contemporary literature for “bringing to trial” (the trying of fact) in a court of law. (The problem is that it implies a superior position of authority of the person bringing the defendant).

James was concerned that believers were disagreeing in unbiblical ways. Unfortunately the quote gets lifted out of context to suggest that we cannot be both CRITICAL and CHRISTIAN.

Here is the problem- Our culture has accepted two huge lies… The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle or choices, you must be living in fear of them or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do – or that what they do makes no difference to you. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate. Real caring feels pain from another’s bad choices. The uncaring don’t care what you do, because they don’t really care about you.

Sometimes we are accused of arrogance when the issue is Biblical, not personal judgment – and that isn’t a fair analysis. There are two totally different standards in God’s Word on judgment – one for the believer about the believer, and one for the believer about the unbeliever.

These get blended and confused, but must be kept distinct when studying God’s Word. When a believer is thinking about the actions and ideas of another believer, there is considerable tolerance that must be employed, and there must always be politeness and civility in our tone – especially when we disagree. There is no other choice. We can disagree wholeheartedly, but speak tenderly. We can stand powerfully opposed, but speak thoughtfully.

Let us say it clearly: A brother can disagree with another brother – but they are in no place to condemn them – only the ideas they espouse or deeds they do.

A brother can determine the path of another to be unbiblical as judged by the Scriptures, but they cannot stand as the ultimate judge over another’s heart or destiny – for they do not see the whole picture. God looks at the heart; He alone knows the motives and recognizes the reasoning within. Let’s say I have a friend who is pro-choice. They are a believer, but they are wrong about this issue. I am not unsure about God’s view on caring for the unborn, but they don’t agree. I am to be respectful, not strident and uncaring. Loving words will do more than rebukes. If I am not their Pastor, I need to even MORE careful about my approach, because I have no spiritual charge over them before the Lord.

The case of the believer’s treatment of the unbeliever is somewhat different according to the Word and here is where young believers, in particular, get into confusion. A Christian is STILL (and always) to be kind and respectful in our deportment (speaking the truth in love), but we need not be so uncertain about the position we take on ultimate issues before an unbelieving world. If an unbeliever challenges our right to “judge them” just because they have chosen to publicly hate Jesus and the Gospel, we have recourse – turn them back to the Word. We do not judge, God does. At the same time, when God has been clear, we should not be unclear. We are NOT being judgmental when we declare the LOST as being LOST – we are called to do that!

The point is that you can be both Christian and critical of actions and ideas. You cannot truly be Christian and sit as mocker or judge over another’s eternal destiny unless the Bible itself already CLEARLY does that for you.

I don’t need to hem and haw about the eternal destiny of some people in an effort not to be a judge of an unbeliever. The Bible is clear: if you die rejecting Jesus Christ as Savior, there will be no other chance in the future to turn things around in the afterlife… “It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgment” the Scripture teaches. The conditions of the gift of God for eternal life are carefully marked out in Scripture.

The matter gets even worse when we encounter in Scripture that some lifestyle choices are choices of NON-BELIEVERS – no matter if the person SAYS they know Jesus or not – so says the Scripture.

• 1 Corinthians 6:9 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

• Galatians 5:19 “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

How does this work exactly? We know the Bible believer does not take those verses to suggest that stealing keeps a person from Heaven, or that coveting another somehow “slams the door shut” on future eternal bliss. Some of those listed works of the flesh are part of the ongoing battle with the flesh that we face as believers – so how can they block one from Heaven? That’s a fair question! The issue of both these passages is this: real believers DON’T find living in A LIFESTYLE of opposition to God’s Word comfortable – and if someone IS comfortable in these practices – living as though they make no difference to God – they ARE NOT to be considered a real believer, no matter what decision they think they made at some emotional moment in the past. Real believers know that God is unhappy with things that violate Scripture, and they are actively seeking the Spirit’s work in them to be freed from these practices. I don’t have any magic glasses to know who is IN or who is OUT, but I do have the command to consider people comfortably rooted in those activities as unsaved. It is God’s job to decide who is in and who is not – it is my job to place boundaries around my participation with them as a brother or sister.

The Bible clearly says that people who live comfortably in violation of the Scriptures and argue for the right to do so are probably not believers at all – no matter whether they were raised in church and know all the “God words” or not. We are not being judgmental when we deem them outside the Kingdom, we are being Biblical. We can’t know if they are or aren’t one of the Lord’s people – because they are acting badly.

• Parents aren’t wrong for limiting access of some other young people in your life, teenager, if they deem them harmful to your moral growth. That isn’t intolerant – it is responsible parenting.

• Churches aren’t being mean when people who want to continue in a pattern of sinful practices feel uncomfortable in the pew – unless they are treating people with disrespect in the way they are sharing truth. It isn’t our job to raise your self-image at the expense of your obedience. We can be nice about making the standard clear, but we don’t get to make the standards – that is God’s job. Ours is to pronounce them with a broken heart to those who forsake God.

Here is our problem today: People will drift out of a Christian family or Bible teaching church (or both) because they are in conflict with Biblical morality. Maybe they want to live with someone outside of wedlock, or abuse a substance that causes the family or church to get involved and attempt to redirect their behavior, and they resent that as an intrusion. They don’t want the constraints and they walk away. Soon after, they go shopping for affirmation and acceptance. They may find a church without Biblical standards, or perhaps find themselves surrounded by some of the most “forgiving and accepting” people in the world – others who are continuing to make life choices contrary to God’s Word. Because their new friends don’t want to be judged, they don’t judge others. They don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable so our wanderer then begins to feel as though THAT is real righteous behavior – and their parents or their church were just JUDGMENTAL people.

Our prodigal finds others who have equally misshapen values and begin to rail against God’s standards as MEAN and unnecessarily restrictive. They see Biblical Christians as judges and godless pagans as good people. They have made the whole transformation into the darkened logic of the fallen world, and they feel empowered and licensed to do so. Wrong is now right and right is now wrong. They become incensed when those harsh and judgmental Christians try to uphold truth and see them as somehow more hypocritical than all others – even when those followers of Christ espouse truth that has been a part of their faith since the first century. Any attempt to say any behavior is wrong, brings out deep anger and stirred hateful speech in their mouths. The difference now is they think they are actually right for being verbally hateful and defending tolerance by their intolerance toward Christian thinking. They will bully believers and call it forbearance – when it is nothing of the kind.

Remember: Our passage is not about unbelievers, only how we handle one another in the kingdom of God. In that regard, let’s be careful. We need to be careful about thinking it is our job to pronounce judgment on people and NEVER mock them. There are times that leaders were called on to “mark out” an individual to the community – Paul did it and it was the right thing to do. Yet, our propensity to judge can also be a sign of our arrogance inside – and that is the tragedy of it. We may not see all there is to see in regard to the person in question.

Remember that in human laws, there is little or no separation between the person and their actions. In our faith, because we are all guilty of holy infraction – there is. We can be utterly against one’s idea (because we believe it to be morally wrong or Biblically flawed) but absolutely for them (because they are another person for whom our Savior died). Ours is a people centered faith. It was PEOPLE Jesus came to save – not just a vague morality or judicial right. He loves people, and He is the judge – how can I not love people and make myself out to be a judge?

When we mock our brother, we display that we don’t know our true place in God’s Kingdom.

We are acting like we are better than our brother, or have more authority over him… James continues with a complicated sentence structure. James 4:11b “He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother… speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.

The complication of the end of this sentence sounds like legal jargon! When we draw a brother into the sights of our condemnation, we are playing a role we were not given. The police officer is not the judge and the messenger is not the Master. If we place ourselves in the position of ultimate judge over a brother, we are taking a place above the law as a final arbiter of it – and not a fellow citizen bound by it. There is POWER in the place of judgment that we do not possess, because we have not been granted it. We do NOT decide the value of one Scriptural rule over another – that is above our station as a spiritual citizen of the Kingdom. That is the work of the Judge above all of us. We must know our place and live within it in our relationships with our brothers.

When we mock our brother, we show that we think our faith is about US, and not about our Master.

James goes on (James 4:12) “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?

God gave the Law and God judges man – because He is in the position to do so – we are not. He can create and He can destroy and I have neither power. I am not above my brother, I am one of the flock created by and for God –and judged by God. I must demote myself in my heart before I speak about a brother – careful to critique only action while ever being gracious to his person.

Our mouths can so easily betray a heart that is not right. We can so quickly take on a role in the lives of others that neither God nor they have offered to us. Because we are Facebook friends, does that mean I have earned the right to speak about everything they post? Probably not.

The second way we place ourselves too highly is seen in the way we speak about our PLANS.

James 4:13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. 17 Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Again there is sufficient reason to be careful with this simple teaching, since we can take what James is saying in a completely WRONG WAY. It is not wrong to PLAN for the FUTURE. There are dozens of Proverbs that urge planning ahead. Here are just a few:

• “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.” (Proverbs 4:26).
• “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22).
• “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.” (Proverbs 21:5).

James 4:15 clarifies the issue before us. The issue is PRESUMPTION not PLANNING. The objective of the passage is not just to get us to say “Lord willing” in our mouths, but to believe it in our hearts.

James was concerned about their presumptive living, and I believe he would be SHOCKED at ours. We don’t even HIDE our presumption involved in much of our lives. We have come to believe, not only that things WILL work, but that things SHOULD work out well for us. We seem DERAILED by sickness and setbacks – as though God was somehow not doing His job, because life was supposed to go well for me!

In Catholicism there is a “sin of presumption” that is sometimes explained as deciding to sin because one can always go to confession and receive a remedy. In Protestant circles, our way of living presumptuously is probably easier explained as the mistaken sense that we were made for peace and prosperity – and all that hinders this is somehow wrong. That isn’t really true when you take into account that we live in a fallen world, surrounded by a groaning creation that longs for ultimate redemption.

James 2:16 calls living with such presumption “BOASTING” – because we do not demonstrate in our thinking that we are ever subject to God’s plan. The Proverb writer says: “The mind of the man plans his way, but the Lord directs His steps.” At the center of surrender is the notion that “He is in control, and I am not!” Living as a believer that is in control of his own life and destiny is not living as a believer at all. It is a hard lesson to learn and learn and learn – but He is God and any attempt I make to seize the throne of my life is met with failures that grow from my arrogant heart. Maybe an illustration will help…

Two hunters got a pilot to fly them into the far north for deer hunting. They were quite successful in their venture and bagged six big bucks. The pilot came back, as arranged, to pick them up. They started loading their gear into the plane, including the six deer. But the pilot objected and he said, “The plane can only take four of your deer; you will have to leave two behind.” They argued with him; the year before they had shot six and the pilot had allowed them to put all aboard. The plane was the same model and capacity. Reluctantly, the pilot finally permitted them to put all six aboard. But when the attempted to take off and leave the valley, the little plane could not make it and they crashed into the wilderness. Climbing out of the wreckage, one hunter said to the other, “Do you know where we are?” “I think so,” replied the other hunter. “This is just about the same place where we crashed last year.” As a man I recognize that there are times in my life where I have had a hard time learning from my mistakes. Too often as men we are rely on our own strength and our self dependence gets us in trouble. (sermon central illustrations).

Our mouths betray the carefully covered arrogance within. We speak of people and plans in ways that show we do not truly know our place.

Faith Work Out: "Life Sifted" – James 4:1-10

I began telling my students this week something that brought up a strong feeling from my past – so I have to cleanse my soul of a bit of bad feeling… You see, I don’t really like camels all that much. It isn’t that I haven’t tried, I have spent significant amounts of time in the heat, traipsing through the southern deserts of Israel, and the eastern deserts of Egypt in the Sinai peninsula. I just don’t like them that much. I can’t say that I enjoy their smell very much, and their temperament is worse than their smell!

We had a camel when the children were younger – his name was Fred. He lived beside the Wilderness Tabernacle, and his job was giving rides to the tourists. It wasn’t much of a life, but Fred didn’t seem to mind. Fred was simple – and he lived life with simple objectives. You know, camels will eat virtually anything – right down to the leather straps of your sandals if you leave them outside the tent – ask me, I know! They aren’t fussy about food. With three stomachs, they can digest anything by sheer endurance of acids – if they don’t get it on the first one, they will on the next two! Fred had a particularly bad habit when it came to his drinking… Fred loved beer. He would sing, he would bellow, and I believe he would tap dance for a beer. There was something about the taste of beer that evidently reminded him of digestive juices. That alone should put you off of the taste! As much as I tried to tell him about his weight gain and heightened cholesterol, he liked dark beer – the kind that really packs on the pounds. So it was that Fred lived life going around a circle with tourist on his back, and waiting for the sun to go down and Abdullah to bring the feed bag, and on some nights of the week, a few beers. That was his life. Sunrise, sunset…sunrise, sunset.

Fred was separated from a herd because he didn’t play well, or should I say “work well” with others. Camel caravans have a specific pecking order, and camels know where they “line up” in that order. They know which camel they are stronger than, and which camel has greater power than they do. If a camel driver mistakenly puts them in the wrong order on the line – it will not take five minutes on the trail before the caravan is disrupted and the problem is addressed. Camels want their place in line – and they won’t tolerate not getting what they want.

While I understand that may be the life of a working camel in Judea, what truly saddens me is when I see Fred’s life played out in some of the PEOPLE. They live life, one day at a time, between work, a little relaxation, and an occasional refreshment. They don’t seem to have much more going on, and when I ask them about goals, they seem to think that a new car or a new TV is the high water mark for the coming year. I get sad around people that remind me of Fred.

You know the type. They don’t dream about much more than the next thing they want to buy, eat, consume or enjoy. They are in a world filled with needs, but they seem to feel they didn’t get a fair share, so they are exempt from caring about other people’s issues too much. Their relationships are poisoned with problems, strife and anger. Life around them is both simple and tumultuous – dull and disturbing. They don’t seem to have enough and they sometimes get mad about those who seem to have more. They have in their wake damaged people and relationships – but they don’t really focus on that much, since they can’t figure out why life has treated them the way it has. That condition would be fine, but far too many of them call themselves, Sunday after Sunday – Christians. They are an awkward combination of eternal hope and temporal dissatisfaction. They know they will be in Heaven, but live like God isn’t very kind of good or very good at management when it comes to life on earth. Their goals seem mostly about THIS WORLD, their theology about THE NEXT. They are often filled with worry, yet sing “Trust and Obey”. They are unhappy now, but speak lofty words about “the sweet by and by”. They look forward to an eternity with the very ones they can’t seem to get along with in this life! Sadly, stirred up and troubled believers have always been a part of the church. James dealt with them all the way back in the first century.

Key Principle: There is a conflict resolution toolbox provided to believers, but resolution requires knowing how to use the tools inside.

He asked some of them to reflect on why they were constantly so stirred up, and that opens our passage for this lesson in James 4:1-10.

James 4:1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? 6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” 7 Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

There is a reason believers fight with one another.

“Why are believers fighting?” That seems like a fair opening question. James is quick to supply the God-given answer. The primary source of interpersonal conflicts between believers is selfish and sensual desires that have been strengthened in the sin strongholds within the hearts of believers.

James 4:1 What is the source of quarrels (from pelomai: to bustle– battle, fight, war.) and conflicts (from machai: strife, contention; quarrel) among you? Is not the source your pleasures (hedones: pleasures of a sensual nature) that wage war (strateúomai – properly, to contend, fighting like a soldier in war; from stratos: a army encampment) in your members (melos: a bodily organ, limb, member within)?

If you peel the answer James offered by the prompting of the Spirit, it comes down to this: Struggles happen between us because of the struggle that goes on INSIDE of each of us. There is not supposed to be any “i” in the spelling of “we”, yet in the concept of relationships it is unavoidable – there ARE at least two individuals there. Each is fighting a war within – between our old man (who was positionally removed – crucified at our salvation), and the tentacles of his remaining control that still haunt us (practically). It should become clear to us that peace will come between us only when we submit to the Spirit’s work of dominating the old man’s voice inside us.

When struggles, contentions and strife are evident among believers, we can put a stop to them. God has provided in the Scripture a tool box of specially made gear to fix what’s broke. I want to painfully clear on each point – because time spent here will save time in the battle zone:

• First, when troubles arise, we must identify those involved in the struggle. We dare not include more than need be involved – for the troubles spread as more are brought into the issue. Remember the rule: If they are not part of the problem when you find it, and they cannot bring about a solution – they should not be included in the issue. If you are talking to people about things they have no business knowing – you are the source of more strife – even if you don’t see it. Even if they promise not to tell anyone, and not to let it bother them. You are feeding the ego as one “in the know” and they are feeding theirs as well. Egos don’t need feeding, they need quelling. The Spirit is at work to quell the very thing you are busy building in both you and the hearer. Remember: gossip fans the flame of discord, just at the time when we most need it to calm. Identify the parties and keep the circle closed – as much as possible.

• Second, when the parties are identified, each must be carefully encouraged to look within BEFORE trying to solve problems WITHOUT. James 4:1 is clear that is, at the very least, part of the source of the trouble. One party or both of the contentious ones are reacting rather than responding. Let’s be clear: reactions are about PROTECTION of self, responses are about HONEST ASSISTANCE to another. When I react – it is because you hit a nerve that I feel I must instinctively cover that nerve to protect myself from further disruption. When I respond, I think about how what I am going to say will HELP you, without being caustic to you. Even parents struggle to do this well. If our adult children say something unwise, we must consider carefully our response to them, and not react because we took personally their foolishness. Response is about the other person and real help. Each party must be honest and quietly evaluate inside their role in the strife. Remember that we will need to apply intense prayer to introspection – because we are not simply wrestling against FLESHH, but against those that want to see the flesh win in the spiritual world.

• Third, in our self evaluation, we must be willing to identify the encampments we have constructed within, and what improper pleasures they are nurturing. Look for the things that have dominated your mind… the things that keep popping up. If you keep replaying something in your heart, it is probably the key to the stronghold you are protecting. Inside the strong place you are protecting a lie.

Let me give you an example: John and Sue were really at odds. For months, they were both working on the outreach project, but there was always tension. Each had friends that subconsciously “sided” with them – and each had “opposition” – though it was never spoken out loud. The other night the whole thing blew up at a committee meeting. They exchanged words and their faces clearly showed they were really disgusted with one another. The committee chair wanted to keep peace and move ahead, but this wasn’t going away without some kind of intervention and resolution.

If it follows the pattern of most conflicts, when you address John or Sue – both believe the other person is at fault. A certain number of Christians on the committee are willing to deny that they think the dissention is even a problem – because they are peace keepers and don’t want a problem to exist. Denial is never a good strategy in conflict – it often emboldens the strife stirrers. If real intervention is to be successful, the leader must prayerfully and carefully get each of them to do a careful self examination. They must understand why they are reacting the way they are. Very likely EACH are partly responsible, and neither are fully mature. Mature people resolve conflict, immature live in conflict. They haven’t the will, or they haven’t the tools to defeat it.

Light must be shined exposing the lies within – like one that is harboring fugitive thoughts that must be found and confined. What do I GET from this struggle? What energy am I adding to my life through the ANGER underlying it, and why do I want that in my life? At the heart level, we must recognize that there is an inner yearning of an unbridled lust or feeling that keeps leading to painful disharmony and disputes. Each of the parties must honestly evaluate: “Am I harboring ungodly and selfish desires that are driving the conflict with another?”

Notice that in handling our conflict resolution with James 4:1 in mind – most was handled by each party dealing with themselves. If this can be done effectively, each will take responsibility for their part, and most of the strife will ease without interaction between them. This isn’t all there is to resolving the conflicts –but it is the largest part. When I understand and confess my role in strife – I react less to another and things settle down in my heart. When my heart is calm within – tensions drop on the outside.

There is a reason some of us are at the source of the conflicts.

The strongholds were formed by a believer allowing his or her focus to remain intensely and increasingly on jealous yearnings while they observed what other brothers and sisters had been given by the Master.

2 You lust (epí, “focused on” intensifying thymós, “passionate desire”) – properly, to show focused passion as it aptly builds on (Gk epi, “upon”) what a person truly yearns for) and do not have (echete: to possess); so you commit murder (phoneuo: kill). You are envious (dzaylo:become jealous or hunger over) and cannot obtain (or acquire); so you fight (machesthe as in v. 1) and quarrel (polemeite as in verse 1).

Before even investigating how the sin camps take up position in our minds, it is necessary to connect the notion of envy and murder. Jesus said the command “Thou shalt not kill” was intended to be something much greater than what it presents on the face of the command. He said:

Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. 23 “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. 25 “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge and the judge to the officer, and you are thrown into prison. 26 “Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

The issue was that Jesus saw contemporary Jews as limiting the Scriptures to their WORDS and not their broader PRINCIPLES. He argued:

1) It is about a PRINCIPLE. The law forbade murder, making it punishable (21) but the restriction was actually intended to make men aware of their responsibility to maintain and grow relationships (22).

2) It is about a PRIORITY. The relationships were so important to God, that He would prefer right relationships over Temple presentations (23-24).

3) It is about PEACE. Reconciliation should be very important to a believer, making every effort to contain the problem and resolve it before it grows to a larger court of judgment (25-26).

James defined the violation of the MURDER statute in the same way as his Master did – to divide, denigrate or demean another was a form of killing. Proper relationships are a key to reflecting godliness, and are part of the standards of obedience. We are SUPPOSED to care about the feelings of others, and about the welfare of others.

James 4:2 makes the case that once it is clear I am in the struggle with fellow believer, I need to be willing to examine my heart for an encampment or stronghold of desire that I have allowed to build there. I must identify any area that may have become a camp of selfish longing. What is the heart of this conflict for me? Is it an unbridled mind? I should be able, with the help of the Spirit’s conviction, to recognize that ambition for what it is – an enticement that has become so dear that I am willing to sacrifice a good relationship with others for it.

Most often, the desires of our hearts are NATURAL and INBORN. It is a work of the enemy to torque those desires and warp them into something fallen and base. For instance, a desire for companionship is natural, but a desire to hold someone back from growth that would move them from a close place to us is warped. In another case, a hunger for physical intimacy is natural and God-given, with the purpose of sharing life with another. When the enemy grabs that hunger and warps it, the expressions of intimacy become SELFISH and SELF GRATIFYING – no longer about relationship but rather about entertainment. The issue is not the original root need, but the replacement of the original God-given purpose of that need with a self-focus that changes the essential nature of the responses to the need.

When I take the throne of my life, my needs become the most essential thing. All else becomes less significant. I no longer truly see the needs of others- except through my own cravings. In time, I will no longer even truly distinguish between needs and desires – all hungers must be equally met for my impatient sense of happiness. In this state I will allow any feeling of lack to dominate my mind, and grow into an insatiable hunger – becoming greater than its natural place of importance in life. My will to resist any tug toward pleasure is substantially weakened. With each passing day, the need dominates more of my thinking – for sin is a seed that is watered by the flesh and fed by the fallen world.

As I think more about the need – It grows in strength. As I nurture it, the lack grows and becomes a powerful stronghold of the mind. I begin to judge others through the window of a darkened mind, and any who challenge my imbalance are judged harshly and found wanting. From this self-dominated mind I argue and complain, because others seem to be in the way of my satisfaction. If they experience some good, I experience misery and jealousy. If they experience some misfortune, I find myself less and less caring – for the troubles are their problem. This is the life of self, and it never gets enough to be truly happy. It cannot be reformed…like a cancer it must be scraped away and thoroughly removed by a skillful surgeon. Fortunately for me, such a Healer stands ready in the person of my Savior.

There is a reason some of us don’t seem to be heard by God.

We want things for the wrong reason. Though the inflicted believer hungers for what they do not have, they don’t ask God, Even if they did, they would not get their desire, for the whole focus is on something they will consume on selfish desires.

2b “…You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

They left purity for personal indulgence. They have left their cause to join the enemy, reveling in self-filled moments on earth in exchange for eternal honor to their Father in Heaven.

4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

We act like our problem is a mystery. The burning desire should not have taken them by surprise – because God warned us concerning this in the past.

5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”?

This verse is tough to discern from a scholarly standpoint, and there is much disagreement about its intention.

• First, we are not certain what scripture James references – though there are many opinions in various sources. Among them, some have suggested places like Genesis 6:5 : “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

• Second, we must look without further word from James as to his point, for he moves on to another quote that is known immediately after, but does not follow the same line of thinking.

Though we may not know what the specific reference, however, the truth that in our fallen state man is prone to envy, is clear in the Word. Consider the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 4:4, “I have seen that every labor and every skill which is done is the result of rivalry between a man and his neighbor. This too is vanity and striving after wind.” Proverbs 14:30, “envy is the rottenness of the bones” and Proverbs 27:4, “who is able to stand before envy?” offer a tone from wisdom literature. There is, Biblically speaking, a strong pull in the fallen heart to yearn with envy. Such yearning exists as to draw from deep within a hatred of the prosperity of others, and a burning jealousy of their fortunes that we may even feel entitled to ridicule, or even worse – to take it from them if such an advantage should arise.

6 But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”

The proud resists God; in his understanding he resists the truths of God; in his will he resists the truths of God; in his will he resists the laws of God; in his passions he resists the providence of God; and therefore no wonder that God sets himself against the proud. Let proud spirits hear this and tremble-God resists them. Who can describe the wretched state of those who make God their enemy? He will certainly fill with same (sooner or later) the faces of such as have filled their hearts with pride. We should therefore resist pride in our hearts, if we would not have God to resist us. 2. The honour and help God gives to the humble. Grace, as opposed to disgrace, is honour; this God gives to the humble; and, where God gives grace to be humble, there he will give all other graces, and, as in the beginning of this sixth verse, he will give more grace. Wherever God gives true grace, he will give more; for to him that hath, and useth what he hath aright, more shall be given. He will especially give more grace to the humble, because they see their need of it, will pray for it and be thankful for it; and such shall have it. For this reason,

There is a path back to peace.

How can I gain God’s grace in the face of my inclination to rebel? How can I experience the GRACE of God and the PEACE of God in the world of struggles and contentions?

1. Take second place.

Place myself – my desires, my yearnings, my hungers – beneath in importance the pleasing of my Heavenly Father. The term “submit” is hupotasso – to place beneath. Some translators say “in God’s arrangement” which is the SAME as saying: “I am second, He is first”.

James 4:7 “Submit therefore to God…

2. Take your stand.

The idea of resist is found in the Greek word “anthístēmi” (from antí: opposed or against” and hístēmi, “to stand”) – properly, take a complete stand against. Do not be surprised if each time you back away from truth and God’s way in your life, the enemy gains strength over you.

James 4:7b “…Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

3. Take hold of Him.

The term “draw near” is from the word “eggízō” (from eggýs: “near”) – it is properly, has drawn close (come near). In the fourteen times it is used in the NT it expresses “extreme closeness, immediate imminence.

James 4:8 “…Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.”

4. Get cleaned up.

The term for “cleanse” is the one from which we get catharsis – the term “katharízō” – to make pure and clean by removing all filth. The last part of the verse communicates the same idea with “purify your hearts” – from ‘agnos; to make clean or sanctify (ceremonially or morally). There are two senses to this truth – an active one, where you are ridding yourself of impurity, and a passive one – where “He is faithful and just to cleanse us”. Not ot overthink the intent – it appears James is focusing on actively pursuing the former expecting God to do a work in the latter.

James 4:8b “…Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

Don’t be so quick to point out that God alone can cleanse you – because it is often a subtle way of removing responsibility from changing our behavior. Grace is not a safe harbor for continual rebellion – it is the expression of God’s goodness in the life surrendered…the lavish gift after God is welcomed within. We have no right to ask God to pour out His grace where we intend to use it as a license to mutiny.

5. See clearly your heart.

James uses terms like “Be miserable” is talaipōréō –afflict yourself and show a wretched condition – like callouses or scars from sustained beating or wear (used only here in the NT) and “mourn” is penthéō (“the deep grief expressed over a death ” and “weep” is klaíō – cry aloud inconsolably. The second half of the verse expresses the same idea: Face how serious your deep allegiance is to the wrong world and wrong king!

James 4:9 “…Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.”

You cannot help but hear the echo of Jesus’ voice in Matthew 5 as He first called out the desired heart of a disciple: Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

6. Don’t end looking in – move to looking UP!

The answer is NOT fully solved WITHIN – that is preparatory to bowing down and looking up to God. Real surrender is not just about getting off the throne of my life, it is about asking Him to be ON the throne of my life.

James 4:10 “…Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

There is a conflict resolution toolbox provided to believers, but resolution requires knowing how to use the tools inside. Even on days when things aren’t going well, you need to remember something else… It is true that we live today in conflicts – both within and between us. It is true that on many days recently it has appeared that evil in coming over the walls and we are under siege. In the short term, we may have set backs that are real and deep – but the longer view tells a different story:

Imagine a city under siege. The enemy that surrounds the city will not let anyone or anything leave. Supplies are running low, and the citizens are fearful. But in the dark of the night, a spy sneaks through the enemy lines. He has rushed to the city to tell the people that in another place the main enemy force has been defeated; the leaders have already surrendered. The people do not need to be afraid. It is only a matter of time until the besieging troops receive the news and lay down their weapons. Similarly, we may seem now to be surrounded by the forces of evil, disease, injustice, oppression, death. But the enemy has actually been defeated at Calvary. Things are not the way they seem to be. It is only a matter of time until it becomes clear to all that the battle is really over. – Richard J. Mouw, Uncommon Decency, pp. 149-150.

The Faith Work Out: "The Confession" – James 3:13-18

I am getting ready for a war – because it is coming! You can feel it all around you. Domestically, we are facing continuous and unrelenting attacks on any who take the Bible seriously. Our nation has shuddered off its foundation and appears sagging in places that once stood firm and secure. Abroad, we are feeling the effects of an ill wind that we cannot seem to harness – no matter how much money we pour on the regions afar. Christians that I know well are incensed, exhausted and feeling marginalized. Many are angry and most are pessimistic. Before you give in to those feelings, I want you to join me in the coming fight. I want you to take all the hurt, all the anger, all the pain – and bring it with you to the recruiting office where we will sign you up to fight. Be patient with me, and you will understand what I am talking about. Listen closely to the Scriptures I read to you, and you will leave with weaponry and a pack that has been significantly lightened of all the weight some of you are carrying.

James is my hero in the call to fight. He understood what it meant to hear the rising call of negativity and anger. His writing tipped his hand that he was neither deaf to the cries of believers nor ready to given in and join them in their whining. He argued very forcefully that believers have a mandate, a manual and a mission – and it all ends well. He lifted broken down people and enlisted the angry and weak to fight back – and I want to do the same. He offered by the power and guidance of the Spirit and incredible truth I want you to consider carefully in the few verses we are looking at in this lesson. He stared straight into the faces of hurting and beleaguered followers of Jesus and told them to stop talking the way they were. He shared this important truth…

Key Principle: God has spoken on a way to settle down people who are stirred, and create peace from chaos.

I want to warn you of something as we share a teaching from God’s Word today. This lesson may feel a bit unusual – different from the norm. In part, this is because I need to include in the instruction a personal confession. I am uncomfortable with sharing the personal side of my own inner life, but I am compelled by God’s Spirit to do so. Because of the nature of the morning, I am asking you to be particularly patient with me, as I work through something in front of you that is both personal and painful – because I believe it will bring out God’s intended direction and truth to us. If you will hear me out, I believe you will fully understand both the problem, and the solutions. I will ask for the prayerful support of my friends as I open up my heart along with opening up the Scriptures…

First, let’s set the passage in the letter from which it is drawn. In the lessons we have already shared in James, we have been paying attention to the way James addressed issues of the tongue, particularly as it was set in the life behaviors of one that desired to follow God.

  • We noted that a careful reading of the beginning of the letter by James forced us to conclude that some of the early believers were complaining about the weight of troubles in their lives, perhaps feeling like God wasn’t sufficiently caring for them in the midst of trials.
  • Still others of that corps, blistered by the harshness of the troubles of their lives, felt God may have even been responsible for dangling temptation in front of them – as if to entrap them. The pains of the time were causing them to slip into a view of God that was incorrect, and James laid the matter to rest – God uses weight of troubles to train us, but not bait of temptations to ensnare us.
  • As he continued, James showed that the preferential treatment of people was a thinly veiled manipulative behavior – verbally trying to “curry favor” with people they believed had the means of adding to things their flesh hungered for – fortune, fame, power and pleasure. Their flesh driven heart showed through in their attitudes and actions offering favor to one, but distance to another – and that just wasn’t right. Poor and rich – people should be cared for because God loves them, not because they can help out our quest or cause.
  • James became even “prickly” to some of us as we kept studying, and he noted growing trend of SPOKEN FAITH that was not backed up by surrendered life – we exposed the fake faith of some. James argued those who decided to speak one way but live another were not authentically part of the Kingdom. Many of us simply said, “Ouch!”
  • By our last study together in the first part of James 3, it became obvious that some people wanted to teach, but they didn’t have control over their tongue – and that is a problem that I personally understand very clearly! When you speak and teach as much as I do in a week – it is a constant feeling of inadequacy and lack of control.

The letter by James systematically exposed a central truth – words weren’t the CAUSE of the problems of the early believers – they illustrated where their hearts already had gone. Over and over we see it illustrated… the mouth is the window to the heart and its condition.

Then my eyes fall on the words from the end of James 3, and they hit me like a hammer. I confess that I was not happy reading these words this week, because they came at a time of intense, personal struggle for me. Let’s first look at the text, then I will explain the struggle a bit more:

James 3:13 “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

As I read the words of James about real wisdom, peaceable wisdom, productive wisdom…I was not at all happy with this passage of Scripture, set in the week we have just experienced as a nation. Let me explain:

Reading from the New York Times published on September 12, 2012: “Islamist militants armed with antiaircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades stormed a lightly defended United States diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, late Tuesday, killing the American ambassador and three members of his staff and raising questions about the radicalization of countries swept up in the Arab Spring. The ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, was missing almost immediately after the start of an intense, four-hour firefight for control of the mission, and his body was not located until Wednesday morning at dawn, when he was found dead at a Benghazi hospital, American and Libyan officials said. It was the first time since 1979 that an American ambassador had died in a violent assault.”

The next day, Politico published this on September 13, 2012: “TIME magazine switched from a science cover to “THE AGENTS OF OUTRAGE: An embassy attacked. Diplomats murdered. The new calculus of violence against America … A chain of violence from Cairo to Benghazi raises the question, Did the Arab Spring make the Middle East more dangerous?” (The writer Bobby Ghosh continued): “As the Obama Administration struggles to contain the fallout of the ­killings-and even to piece together exactly what happened-there’s an increasing apprehension that this attack may herald a new genre of Middle East crisis. The Arab Spring replaced the harsh order of hated dictators with a flowering of neophyte democracies. But these governments-with weak mandates, ever shifting loyalties and poor security forces-have made the region a more chaotic and unstable place, a place more susceptible than ever to rogue provocateurs fomenting violent upheavals, usually in the name of faith. [T]hese hatemongers form a global industry of outrage, working feverishly to give and take offense, frequently over religion, and to ignite the combustible mix of ignorance and suspicion that exists almost as much in the U.S. as in the Arab world. Add to this combination the presence of opportunistic jihadist groups seeking to capitalize on any mayhem, and you can begin to connect the dots between a tawdry little film and the deaths of four American diplomats. … The new normal in Egypt and Libya is not as perilous as in Pakistan. … But as the fledgling democracies of the Middle East struggle to cope with the genies unleashed by the Arab Spring, you can count on the industry of outrage to work overtime to drag the Middle East in that direction.”

Maybe you are just beginning to catch a glimpse of my problem, and hear the faint beginning echo of my confession. Brothers and sisters, I get worn out in the face of the coming darkness.

  • I get angry when I see a mob mentality descend on people as they ignorantly pummel innocents in the name of their religion. I get angry inside at them, and I want to find someone to blame for it all.
  • I get angry at my fellow Americans, that seem more intent on justifying the hatred against my country then addressing the unjust and outrageous behaviors perpetrated against it.
  • I am disgusted when I see a photo of a dying young man, who served his country and then became a simple political football for the current news cycle.
  • I hurt for his family, and I am sickened by the parade of happy barbarians that took pleasure in his death – and I don’t care why they did. Their hollow religion never looked more hollow than when they were happy killing someone.
  • I become incensed when the argument shifts from the policies of the country to which candidate said what about events and when did they say it – because minutiae of a process story quickly overtook a sincere discussion about why we have sent men and women into harm’s way and poured out their blood and what we hope to achieve in all the blood and dollars poured into the region.

We haven’t even moved to the domestic side of the street, where a Christian science professor in a state university is removed from his position for “admitting in response to a question raised by a student that he believes in the Bible and Jesus” though he offered no further details to his students at all, and specifically did nothing to try and make them believe what he did. Simple belief in the very things that Senators and Presidents get elected saying they believe now gets one summarily tossed into a review board as our freedom of speech is reduced to ashes when it includes anything Christian.

  • I could rant all morning and many I suspect that many of you would not only agree with the feelings, you may volunteer to chant beside me. I know you feel it, and I know you are disgusted by it all.
  • I want to blame Islam, because I cannot accept any statement of defense of a religion that is defended by violence.
  • I want to blame my government, because they are borrowing money, spending my children’s America into oblivion over blind greed. They claim to want to help me, but take the equity of all that I have worked hard to build and squander it on Wall Street and helping banks to recover – those same banks that jack up our interest rates when we are most vulnerable and try their best to empty our personal prosperity into their stock portfolios.
  • I want to blame my President, because he has replaced by executive order a proud military tradition, reducing the United States Marine Corps to a gay pride parade.

If I tried, I think I could get a political rally going here. I think I could get some of you to believe that we accomplished something together by ranting and yelling and anger and outrage.

But then I recognize the problems:

First, we don’t all see the political world through the same lens–  and this isn’t a political forum – it is a church where we study God’s Word.

Second, ranting won’t help. It will stir us up, but it won’t actually change anything! What’s more, it won’t yield what we WANT or NEED from the future.

Thirdly, and here is the part that made me struggle so – it isn’t Biblical. It isn’t wisdom from above. It isn’t reasonable. It is fleshly, and angry and wrong. I will show you this in Scripture should you doubt that.

Before I do, let me say that the enemy has DIGITALLY DUPED US. He has sapped our strength and halted our progress by a trick so slick that most believers are infected, but few are aware of the symptoms.

  • To the younger generation – they have been “digitally duped” into setting aside enormous numbers of hours of real life interaction and accomplishment by believing they are accomplishing something in a fake digital world. Instead of learning honor and standing for their country, they are shooting at digital enemies in a game that lacks any moral concept upon which such violence can be understood. Instead of training their bodies to grow strong and be disciplined, they are making “Madden” passes on a digital screen and feeling like they are “playing football”. The inborn God-given desire to accomplish and work is fast being replaced in this passive generation by people that think their score in a game online is an actual sign of achievement. They have satisfied a need to accomplish within, but fill it without accomplishing anything in the real world.
  • I know parents and grandparents reading this that will agree with me. They see it. They are worried about it. At the same time, they have also, many of them, been DIGITALLY DUPED. The older generation may not be wasting effort and energy on DIGITAL GAMES but they ARE burning up many hours on DIGITAL SPARRING. Instead of helping in a shelter, they are raging about the inequity of society on Facebook, acting like saying more about it, posting more about it, finding cute pictures about it – are the same as DOING something about it. They will chide their grandchildren  for lack of activity as they sit in a chair for hours on end blaming Islam for world instability, blaming the government, blaming Hollywood, and anyone else that MSNBC, CNN or FOX will help them blame. They will feel justified posting angry rhetoric because they feel that writing about it so much is tantamount to real change.

Here’s the truth – It isn’t. Posting about Roe vs. Wade isn’t the same thing as the young woman that spent yesterday outside the abortion clinic sitting quietly praying for the girls that were going in. Four babies were saved as they spent their own money to have an ultrasound van sitting across the street, and they quietly counseled young women and provided real and tangible help to them. Most Christians yelled at them on Facebook or tried to preach at them on T-shirts. These ladies, armed with real wisdom, went out and made a difference. They fought the war, and they saved four children.

I have talked around the text a lot. It is time to look straight into the text and see if we can understand what James was saying about real, productive and godly wisdom. James opened with a simple and profound question:

James 3:13 “Who among you is wise and understanding? There are two words that are related in the question – wise (Sophia) from which we get words like sophistry and philosophy from, and understanding (epistimos) from which we get words like epistemology – the term for that branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and limitations of human knowledge.

After telling them that:

  • God is training them but not baiting them (James 1),
  • That currying favor with their mouths is wrong (James 2),
  • That speaking one way but living another is WRONG (James 2),
  • That controlling the tongue was nearly impossible, and too many people wanted to teach but hadn’t nearly mastered it…(James 3):

They were probably pretty beat down. Then James said, “Who ACTUALLY is valuable as a teacher? Who has truth that can change our understanding of the problems around us and the Spirit within us?

Then came the answer it two segments. On the one hand, James shared what wisdom IS in James 3:12. On the other hand, James showed what real wisdom IS NOT in James 3:14-16. Finally He drew a picture of wisdom in eight characteristics – lighting the room of the wise with eight windows.

What Wisdom Is (James 3:13b)

James wrote: 3 :13b “…Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.”

  • Wisdom is practical – it is behavior and work not simple theory and word. It is something people can SEE in action, not just hear in word or read in print.
  • Wisdom is persuasive because it is invested. The term “behavior” (anastrophe) is actually two words combined – the word UPWARD and the word CHANGE. The idea of good behavior in the passage is behavior that pulls others upward toward positive change. It isn’t ranting – it is acting.
  • Wisdom is polite because it is informed. The term “gentleness” is the term for consideration. To consider is to look carefully at. It is not to send out the email that has our political bias without checking the facts contained in it. That isn’t wise and it isn’t right. The world has PLENTY of propaganda, and we need to be careful not to pass it on. Be informed, and you may seek to inform –  but let the information be handled with great consideration to others.

What Wisdom Is NOT (James 3:14-16)

James went on to make sure that the reader completely understood what wisdom was NOT.  James 3:14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.

Wisdom from God is not SHARP TONGUED (the term bitter is both sharp and bitter – but has the same idea). In consideration, we dare not ‘fire back’ and think we are doing God’s work. We can hold the line on truth, and we are called to ever be diligent to show what is RIGHT in God’s teaching before men – even refusing to get revenge (cp. Romans 12:17).

Wisdom from God is not SELF TOUTED (the term selfish ambition is two words that mean “self promoting strife”. The purpose of sharing godly wisdom isn’t to win the argument and look better than the other – that is just an EGO exercise. The purpose of godly wisdom is to bring God’s truth into the situation and settle the people with it. It doesn’t mean that men in darkness won’t oppose God – it means that you are not trying to get the to agree with you – you are striving to offer them the real hope that comes with TRUTH. It is for that reason the text goes on to say that when we hide our ego in the argument, we are being arrogant and lying (the actual word is pseudomai) – impersonating godliness.

Wisdom from above is not SOULISH THINKING (the word earthly in verse 15 is “physical”; the word “natural” is (pseuchikos) physical world minded. The idea is that godly wisdom comes from the spiritual realm of truth, and that sees BROADER than just the physical world. The values of a believer are NOT rooted in what is BEST on earth for him or her. Think of the sacrifices our mission partners make to be far from home and family. They do it because they are not thinking about pleasing themselves in this life, but in living for Jesus and celebrating in the next life. SOULISH THINKING chooses a career based on salary and perks. Godly thinking chooses a career based on where God can best use you for Himself. It can be a janitor or a greeter, a doctor or a gardener – it only matters WHY the choice was made – not WHAT the choice became.

Wisdom from above is not SATAN TREATED (the term “demonic” is from the underworld beneath. Pass the anger on. Don’t try to be considerate – just say the thing that cuts back. Even if your cause is just, a caustic deportment and an angry tongue provides the demonic world with a delight. Yell about Islam – it is a lot easier than spending time praying for that part of the world, and trying to support those who are reaching into it with the Gospel. Yell. You will feel better. So will the enemy beneath your feet.

Wisdom from above is not SENSELESS TANTRUM (the terms “disorder” and “every evil thing” are actually “instability” and “worthless deeds”. The enemy is using literally millions of Christians to spend their energy in arguments, draining and distracting them from PRAYER. Do you want to see people changed? Gather for prayer. Don’t just chat and throw a prayer on the end – PRAY. Spend time asking God for the right information to become an informed prayer partner. Adopt a missionary to the unborn, or to some part of the world. Take an issue and become its advocate before the Father. Don’t take them all – you will burn out and give up. Take one, maybe two. Invest your time, talent and treasure in making a difference in ONE AREA – you will get more done than the news media can inform you of after five continuous hours of nonstop noise.

Let me say it clearly: We can take one hour of prayer for our public schools and our dedicated Christian teachers and accomplish what we cannot do in ten hours of raging about the curriculum and its faults. We can sit with a young pregnant girl and offer real help to her – and that may save a life.

  • We can visit an elderly person and take them a flower or a card, and that will do more for them than getting mad at the latest thing AARP supported that you don’t agree with.

Go to war with me. Pick up the armor and the sword. Call the Master to direct you from anger to accomplishment, from posting rants to praying relentlessly. Those deeds won’t be fruitless. They won’t be empty. They’ll change your perspective. The war always looks different when you are actually in it.

Don’t be duped into thinking your helping when you cannot see any real work you are accomplishing. You aren’t! You are just getting “crusty for a cause” or “grumpy for God”.

What Wisdom LOOKS LIKE (James 3:17-18)

Here is a picture of godly and productive wisdom: James 3:17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

It is PURE –which means untainted, innocent, free of stains. You don’t go to the clinic to serve Jesus and also get a date. You find a cause that is on God’s heart, and you follow through without SELF as a primary concern.

It is PEACEABLE – that is the word for seeking resolution. Don’t just kick up dust about a problem – do something about it that will help. If you can labor – do it. If you can’t – sit in a chair, learn about the issue, and pour over it in prayer.

It is PROPER – that is the word “gentle”, but it really means EQUITABLE. Handle all that God lays on your heart in a balanced and loving way. “Fair and balanced” shouldn’t be a news slogan – it should be your deportment, your behavior.

It is PERSUASIVE – that is the word translated “reasonable” but the term is two Greek words that together are “good” plus “persuade or have confidence”. It is reasoned, reasonable and draws people into understanding.

It is PASSIONATE – in the sense of the word “COMPASSION”. The term “full of mercy” applies to our desire to go out of the way to be fair to people. We can call wrong what it is, but we should not be unduly harsh. Calling names is not compassionate. Slamming someone’s intentions is out of bounds – since you cannot read their heart. You may disagree, but not denigrate.

It is PRODUCTIVE – it focuses on positive outcomes. The term “full of good fruits” means focused on actually offering productive insight and practical help.

It is POSITIVE – in the sense of certainty and surety. The term “unwavering” is a building term, and includes the idea of being settled and sure, but also RIGHTLY SETTLED. Our focus must be on offering HELP, not just WINNING AN ARGUMENT.

It is PURPOSIVE – it serves a PURPOSE. It is a marker of your authenticity and genuine caring. The term “without hypocrisy” carries the idea of sincere. It isn’t just a passing whim or irritation that causes us to “weigh in” – it is because we are invested deeply in that problem and its solution.

As James ends his tutoring on godly wisdom, he offers a PROVERB of how wisdom should be injected into the world: James 3: 18 And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

There it is: God said that real implanting of His wisdom that will produce JUSTICE and RIGHT is placed by people who have PEACE reigning within and desire to see PEACE triumph without.

There is no place for stirring up trouble to get things settled – that is fleshly thinking. We have seen that God’s wisdom comes a different way – and pushes us to prayer. It leads us to care. It beckons us to share. It brings CHANGE because it comes on the back of authentic personal investment. It can’t be sending money from afar – that won’t do. You cannot simply pay for missions in dollars, it must be paid for on the back of a vibrant seeking of God for the people in prayer. Programs can’t do it – prayer can. Shouting won’t do it – care can. Theory won’t cut it – sharing can.

 I can’t just yell about the Muslim world, I must be informed about them, pray for them, and if I can – find a way to show God’s love to them. I don’t have to agree with their behavior, as they don’t have to agree with mine – but I will win more hearts and minds with loving care then fiery posts about distant problems and anonymous faces. God has spoken on a way to settle down people who are stirred, and create peace from chaos.

I am ready to fight on my knees. I am calling on you to cry out to God for the people of Libya, and the pagans next door. I am pleading with you to spend more time helping than hearing, caring than cursing, loving then lashing out. There is a war on – and I am excited about where it is going.

The Faith Work Out: "Leading Role" – James 3:1-12

Every actor wants one – the leading role in the movie. It is a time when their talent as an actor will be showcased. They will be the hero or heroine of the show – and all eyes will watch them. It is heady stuff. We understand, because we all grew up in a fame hungry world. Most of us, at least at one point, played “air guitar” in front of the mirror, and imagined ourselves playing before thousands of adoring and applauding fans. We know WHY people want to be up front, and what part of their ego fame feeds.

Before we know the Lord, many of us had our favorite music group, and perhaps even our favorite actors in posters on the wall. When we came to Christ, we may have left the world of lost celebrities– because they lost their appeal. We took down our old posters, put away our old CDs, and deleted some of our favs off the iPod music directory. Sadly, in a short time, we probably found that Christians had celebrities too. They had their own posters; their own heroes. If we were gifted to be “up front” people – teachers, leaders and the like – we probably started to want to be ONE of them – the noticed Christian famed leaders. We may have become enamored with the idea of leading people. Among youth, they often express the desire to lead a ministry among young people – perhaps as a Youth Pastor or Worship leader

There is no problem with wanting to use our gifts – that is as it should be. The problem comes when we misunderstand the nature of the gifts, and misplace the value of certain kinds of service to the Lord. An immature believer can easily end up thinking that what we SAY is the most important part of our testimony… when it is NOT. Speaking that isn’t backed up by living detracts from the clarity of the Gospel message to a lost world.

Key Principle: Serving Jesus is about how we discipline our lives- especially in the area of the tongue. The grand mark of maturity is the consistent ability to control the use of their tongue. Since the old man is ever within, mature believers limit the old man’s access to the microphone of the mouth.

Taming the tongue has always been a struggle, and James is clear to express it is a necessary one for maturity and testimony. We dare not think that our appetite for fame and affirmation will not creep up at a moment’s notice to grab control of our words – it will. How many of us were already embarrassed as we heard the words leaving our mouths on more than one occasion?

James has been addressing “thing people say” all the way through his letter – and this page will be no different. This short book has merely five short chapters but offers powerful and practical wisdom for life in “sound bite” style. As we have seen up to this point in our study of this letter, James was a man on a mission. God directed him to deal with loose lips of early believers. Reports were brought to his attention of the types of problems that came up in the early church, and God used his simple candor to communicate both the issues and the principles that would answer the problems caused, at least in part, by the tongue.

  • Reading through the first part of the Epistle, it appeared that there may have been some bitter complaining about the troubles that surrounded the early Jewish believers scattered in the Roman world. Reading even further, some in the congregations were apparently beaten down to the point that they even blamed God for enticement in the intense temptations they experienced – as though He was willing to test them to the point of entrapping them. They were beat, and their mouths bore evidence of the pain. James pressed the believers to understand that trouble was not an enemy, nor was it always sent from one. Trouble could have been a sculpting tool of God to prepare and condition them for the future He planned for them. On the other hand, not a word of blame, said James, could rightly be aimed at God for the issue of succumbing to temptation – that was surrendering to the old man, or the flesh inside. God didn’t tempt them – He never does that.
  • By what we now call chapter two, James showed another way their mouths were a window to their needy and fallen hearts. He exposed the inner root of preferential treatment of people. Privileged treatment of people was a thinly veiled manipulative behavior – verbally trying to “curry favor” with people they believed had the means of adding to things their flesh hungered for – fortune, fame, power and pleasure. (James 2:1-13). Because of that inner fleshly hunger, their mouth offered favor to one, but distance to another – and that just wasn’t right.
  • In our last lesson we concluded the mouth also exposed the fake faith of some. James argued those who decided to speak one way but live another were not authentically part of the Kingdom. As in so many cases – the words didn’t CAUSE the problem – they illustrated where the heart already was.  Over and over we see it illustrated… the mouth is the window to the heart and its condition.

As we open James 3, we find another example of the things people were saying that exposed a heart problem. In fact, on quick inspection, it sounds in James 3:1, like the author was somehow discouraging people from being teachers of the faith because there was something wrong. James wrote: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.”

When we look carefully at the letter, we can easily see that James was not ANTI-TEACHER. He wasn’t trying to stop the exercise of the teaching gift that God gave to some believers as a byproduct of the Spirit’s indwelling. Teaching God’s truth is a deep privilege – but it is also a definite responsibility. It is paired with a discipline that is very hard to master, which is what James emphasized. Perhaps a clearer reading of the text would be something like this:

Do not be so quick to desire to be teachers, for they will be judged under more stringent rules. The more you say to others, the more possibility you offer to cause them error – and that can be devastating. The one who is able to harness every word that they utter is completely mature, since the hardest discipline of the body is the tongue.”

James highlighted is a critical truth: we must be careful about the way we consistently communicate so that we converse in a Christ-like way. In his world, that was PRIMARILY VERBAL. In our world, words are more often shared in writing. In either case, we must take full responsibility for our words.

When we say things like, “I only said that because I was under pressure” or “You made me so mad, that is why I yelled that!” we betray our own lack of discipline, and perhaps even our own desire to relieve personal responsibility. We are ALWAYS responsible for the words that come from our mouths. When the flesh tugs downward at the heart to share some bit of dirt about someone else – we are responsible. When outbursts of anger flare up within the flesh and we blurt out some hurtful sentence – we are responsible. The tongue is the window to the heart – and the heart shares the voices of both the Spirit of God and the old man within.

Let me apply this idea even further: Only recently did I begin to understand that some in the next-gen culture view words on a page in an entirely different way than the generations that preceded them. As I was growing up, we placed much more emphasis on anything you WROTE, even to the point that we avoided signing papers that were not thoroughly a representation of what we believed to be true. Yet, I am discovering that for some that sense has been badly eroded and is no longer a given. I confronted someone about a post they put on their Facebook page that did not represent what I thought they truly wanted to show to the world. They replied: I ONLY wrote that – it isn’t like I SAID it. I was stunned. You WROTE it but you thought that was LESS WEIGHTY than your words. “Of course” they replied.

When I thought more carefully about it, I think I began to understand where they could get that mistaken behavior. You see, my wife and I get a periodic updates to our credit cards in no less than eight pages, sometimes greater than sixteen pages – usually drafted in a number five font (small writing) to describe the routine changes my bank or lender is making to the terms of our agreement. Every software I install gives me  an “I agree” checkbox to pages of legal agreements as if I had any idea of what they may be truly saying. I sign my name entering a hospital claiming I will take ‘FULL RESPONSIBILITY’ when I don’t have a clue whether the bill will be $1000 or $1,000,000,000. We regularly are forced to sign things that are beyond our comprehension just to keep vital services in our lives. The written word has been diminished in its importance, and the younger people of our time have noticed.

Let me say this clearly: Whether in writing of in speech – your words are, as best as you are possibly able – to reflect a heart surrendered to Jesus Christ. To the extent that is NOT happening – there is a submission issue that must be dealt with before God. James illustrated the need carefully as he shared examples of one truth found in James 3:5a: “So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things.

James offered three mistakes we make about our tongue that are perhaps more clearly seen through visual examples. He wants to focus on underlying mistakes of judgment that keep us from dealing with discipline of the tongue:

Example #1: The bridled horse (James 3:3)

James 3:3 Now if we put the bits into the horses’ mouths so that they will obey us, we direct their entire body as well.

Misunderstanding of destructive power: When we don’t discipline our tongue we demonstrate that we don’t understand how powerful a weapon it can be in the old man’s control.

The sheer size and strength of the weapon is aptly illustrated in the HORSE. Many people in the ancient world were familiar with few machines, but they knew of the damage a frightened runaway horse could cause in a marketplace. We can easily forget what a damaging effect our words can have on the heart of another – and it comes from an unbridled tongue. Controlling the outcome is made possible by controlling the tongue.

Example #2: The ship’s rudder (James 3:4)

Jame 3:4 Look at the ships also, though they are so great and are driven by strong winds, are still directed by a very small rudder wherever the inclination of the pilot desires.

Miscalculation of directive power: When we don’t discipline our tongue we demonstrate that we don’t really understand the significant effect our tongue can be on changing the direction of our lives or other’s lives.

The effectiveness of a tiny rudder against what seemed a limitless sea was highlighted in this argument. We can be duped into thinking that our words, because they are so small and come from one who is not so important, don’t matter much. We don’t take seriously their power to direct our thinking, other’s thinking and our collective direction. Future direction can often be charted by present speech.

Example #3: The forest fire (James 3:5b)

5b “…See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.

Misjudgment of distinct purpose: We don’t discipline our tongue because we don’t truly recognize what it was made for and how its usefulness is also its greatest danger.

The tongue is in its nature a match. It was designed not only to express our thoughts, but to illicit assistance, evoke response, and even gain a reaction. It is the verbal equivalent to a lighter or match.

James completed the essay on the tongue with two ideals that form the goal of every believer:

Principle #1: The tongue requires…Absolute Control:

We seem to be able to subdue the earth and its animal kingdom, but not the tongue. The tongue requires complete control because it can do enormous destructive damage.

James 3:7 For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. 8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

It is clear in these verses that the tongue can be terribly destructive, and that it is incredibly hard to get control over. How can we get control of our tongue? Are there any truths from the Word that will help us? Fortunately there are:

First, fear a loose lip – respect the power of your words.

I don’t mean one should fear that in speaking something it will come true – you don’t have the power to create reality with your voice. If you said a harsh word to a friend, only to have harmed in an accident, you didn’t cause the accident by your words. You cannot do that, and you musn’t walk around with that guilt in your heart. At the same time, you do have the power to create a perception in someone’s mind with your words. Your tongue is but three inches long, yet it can reduce to tears a man more than six feet tall.

Whoever taught us, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me?” was an idiot! It is a statement disconnected from reality – what the word “idiot” originally meant in Greek. Words can break our hearts. Broken bones can heal with time, but a broken spirit caused by words of death, is not quickly repaired. David never had a stone more deadly than the sling some people have for a tongue – don’t forget that.

A child can be built up or torn down with your words. A struggling friend can be lifted with a few simple and honest encouragements. A room of strangers can be cleared quickly with the shout of “Fire!” People DO respond to our words, and we need to remember that. We must learn to have a healthy respect for the damage we can cause will we be careful about what we say, how we say it, and who we say it to.

Proverbs 18:21 reminds: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Don’t simply fixate on the negative – the statement concerning death – because the author is trying to say something positive. He argues: “People who love the power of the word will use it to create positive fruit and enjoy that!” Words don’t only KILL… they also BUILD.

The tongue can express or repress; release or restrain; enlighten or obscure; adore or abhor; offend or befriend; affirm or alienate; build or belittle; comfort or criticize; delight or destroy; be sincere or sinister. The tongue can Xerox the good or X-ray the bad. (sermon central illustrations).

You have the power to encourage someone today with your words. You can keep someone from making a wrong decision that will scar them forever with a confident and loving word to them.

After Karen Carpenter died of heart failure at the age of 32 brought on by years of fighting an eating disorder, it came out that her fatal obsession with her weight was triggered by a single reviewer’s comment. When referring to Karen, this man called her “Richard’s chubby sister.” While I’m sure there were other factors attributing to Karen Carpenter’s struggles, this one comment unleashed a flurry of self-doubt, which led to her eventual disease and death. (sermon central illustrations).

In fact, I wonder if you ever considered that your words can make you guilty of MURDER. Jesus made that point in Matthew 5:21

You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. 23 “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

Jesus was on a mountain north of the Sea of Galilee, early one morning. I know it was early, because you can fry an egg on a rock in midday out there, so if people sat down, it was early in the day. He argued that an disciple of His would need to recognize His call back to the Law in its original context. He did not desire to uproot the Law of Moses (since He wrote it 1400 years before), but rather to set it back in context with His original design. The passage above shows that WORDS were part of the formula for keeping that law. He argued: You would like to think you avoid violating the design standard of murder, but you cannot make that claim if you assassinate others with our mouth and leave destruction in your wake.” What we say matters in life and death – just as Proverbs reminds us.

Jesus said it many ways in His teaching: Matthew 12:34 and 15:19: “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks…for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, lies and slander.” The tongue is no friend when not monitored constantly and carefully.

Here is a practical tip I got from a Sunday school teacher and wrote down years ago: THINK before you speak by asking these five questions in an acrostic before you speak.

  • Is it Truth? Especially in this political season – don’t pass it on if you are not sure.

A bus load of politicians were driving down a country road when the bus suddenly ran off the road and crashed into an old farmer’s field. The old farmer heard the tragic crash so he rushed over to investigate. He then began digging a large grave to bury the politicians. A few hours later, the local sheriff was driving past the farmer’s field and noticed the bus wreck. He approached the old farmer and asked where all the politicians had gone. The old farmer explained that he’d gone ahead and buried all of them. “Were they ALL dead?” asked the puzzled sheriff. “Well, some of them said they weren’t,” said the old farmer, “but you know how them politicians lie.” (Sermon central illustrations).

A little girl asked her father, “Daddy? Do all Fairy Tales begin with ’Once Upon A Time’?” He replied, “No, there is a whole series of Fairy Tales that begin with ’If elected I promise’.” (Sermon central illustrations).

  • Is it Helpful? Will your words offer a solution to their problem?
  • Is it Inspirational? Will your words lift someone to think in a new way?
  • Is it Necessary? Do we have to respond?
  • Is it Kind? Is it based on a desire to genuinely help?

Second, limit your words.

Talk less than you do now in the future. Mature believers know that our chances of misusing the tongue are directly proportional to the amount of time we keep our mouths open. Former presidents have recognized the need to limit their words:

  • Abe Lincoln said, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
  • Calvin Coolidge said, “I have never been hurt by anything I did not say.”

Proverbs 10:19 puts it this way: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”

One Pastor wrote a simple story that helped me:

A woman had a very serious throat condition. The doctor told her that her vocal cords needed total rest ­ she was forbidden to talk for 6 months! With a husband and 6 kids, this seemed impossible, but she did what she was told. When she needed the kids she blew a whistle. Whenever she needed to communicate she wrote things on pads of paper. After six months, her voice came back. When asked what it was like to communicate only in writing, she said this: “You’d be surprised how many notes I crumpled up and threw into the trash before I gave them to anyone. Seeing my words before anyone heard them had an effect that I don’t think I can ever forget.

Remember, “If you don’t say it — they can’t repeat it.”

Third, choose your words.

I loved this story:

Pianist Arthur Rubenstein, who could speak in eight languages, once told this story on himself: Some years ago he had a stubborn case of hoarseness. The newspapers were full of reports about smoking and cancer; so he decided to consult a throat specialist. “I searched his face for a clue during the 30 minute examination,” Rubenstein said, “but it was expressionless. He told me to come back the next day. I went home full of fears, and I didn’t sleep that night.” The next day there was another long examination and again an ominous silence. “Tell me,” the pianist exclaimed. “I can stand the truth. I’ve lived a full, rich life. What’s wrong with me?” The physician said, “You talk too much.”

Sometimes we MUST speak. The mouth was a GIFT of God that we share to move hearts. It can be beneficial, and we should actively seek to use it that way! James 1:19, 26: “…Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry…if anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” He couldn’t be clearer – our faith’s power hangs on our ability to control our tongue- and we are on the planet to share our faith with others.

Proverbs 12:18 says: “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Who can I heal with words today – because I want to do it! The world is wounded and hurting people. They have been wounded by the verbal arrows shot from the bow of angry hearts. The pliers of truth can remove the arrows of harm. The salve of encouragement can ease the sting of past wounds. The bandage of loving and inspiring comment can cover the scars and keep them from becoming scabs. I want my breath to heal, my words to comfort, my verse to inspire.

Remember that it is not simply the words you choose, but the relationship you have had that gives the words power. If you know someone well, the words of encouragement root more deeply. Your richest appreciation should be liberally poured into the heart of the people closest to you. Don’t let someone else tell your parent how much you love them – YOU tell them. Don’t let someone else share how much your spouse means to you based on the things you say about them when they aren’t around – YOU say them direct to the person that you love. If they aren’t near, get a phone. Buy a card. Send a text. Tell them. Everyone needs sincere cheerleading in life. Encouragement is being drowned out by loud voices of blame, guilt, doom and despair. YOU have the power to help someone by verbalizing encouragement.

Years ago I heard Chuck Swindoll preaching on the tongue. He told a story that I am sure I will not get all the details perfect on – but it was a powerful story to me. He spoke of a friend he had who had a son with a large birth mark that was embedded across his face. It was an unmistakable mark that made Mikhail Gorbachev’s purple mark look tiny. There was no hiding it, and the boy didn’t seem to mind a bit. One day Pastor Chuck spoke to the young man about the mark, and asked him directly why it seemed to have so little negative effect on his self-esteem – although it was different than everyone in school. The boy told him that ever since he could remember, his father told him: “Son, that birthmark is where an angel kissed your face. You have it so that I can always pick you out of the crowd.” The young man surprised him as he continued, “You know, I almost feel sorry for those who don’t have a birthmark.” There was a dad who breathed life into a situation that could have devastated his son. Acceptance is powerful. Affirmation is securing. Love verbalized is empowering.

Fourth, improve your thinking – since that is where the words come from.

I once heard someone say “the first screw that gets loose in a person’s head is the one that controls the tongue” – and he longer I live, the more I am beginning to believe it. It is sad, in my view, that some who have known the Lord for many years still regularly lose to a wagging tongue. We can try to keep quiet, but for some of us, that probably won’t happen. Maybe a better strategy is to fill our minds with greater vision. Maybe by learning and growing, we will be more apt to speak words of positive encouragement.

Someone has said that “great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.” I want to be known as an IDEA GUY. I want to lift those who listen to greater aspirations of following God and walking in truth. I want to pull people up – not push them down.

William A. Ward wrote: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” That has surely been true of the best of my teachers. They inspired me because they helped me to see from a higher plane. They helped me recognize areas of danger in my choices without robbing me of the choices themselves. They offered positive reinforcement but were not warm and fuzzy –they were crisp thinking and they wanted me to be as well.

The best way to grow others around us is to keep growing ourselves. Don’t get stale. Read things that are hard for you to grasp at first. Flex the mind muscles. Learn… Dr. Howard Hendricks told of a professor who made an impact on his life. He passed his home many times, early in the morning and late at night, and often saw him pouring over his books. One day, Hendricks asked him, “Doctor, I’d like to know, what is it that keeps you studying? You never cease to learn.” His answer: “Son, I would rather have my students drink from a running stream than from a stagnant pool.”

The plain fact is this: We do what we do because we think what we think. If we want to change what we do, we should change how, and about what, we are thinking. When pressure comes upon us, the inner well of thoughts springs forth – for better or worse. What are you reading? What are you studying? What are you watching? A lazy mind will lead to a barren life.

James closed the passage with another important principle that we are all sure to agree is essential in relation to our mouths…

Principle #2: The tongue requires…Absolute Consistency:

We seem to be able to use it well at times, but not consistently. The tongue requires complete consistency because God didn’t make it for both good and evil.

James 3:9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; 10 from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. 11 Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Nor can salt water produce fresh.

God created trees and plants to bear singular fruits. An apple tree was not designed to produce an orange. Grafting aside, the natural process is clear – God made things distinct from one another. Just as there are olives from an olive tree, grapes from a grape vine, figs from a fig tree, fresh water from a fresh spring – MIXED is not God’s way. The same truth should be applied to our mouths.

When a child is raised in an environment that is inconsistent – one day encouragement, the next day biting sarcasm and hurtful slander – they are misshapen by the sheer duplicity of it all. They don’t know what to expect when the parent begins to speak. Reliability is about predictability.

What do they hear us say? Do we bless people to their faces and bad mouth them at their backs? What should our child believe about us when that is what they see and hear?

Years ago I was at a party for a man retiring from a long time teaching in a Bible school. I did not know the man well, but I was impressed with his humility, especially in light of the way his teaching had dramatically impacted so many people I knew. He was teary and quite during tributes of his colleagues. It wasn’t until his son spoke that I saw him truly begin to cry. His son got up and simply offered this tribute to his dad:

You all know a man that wears a public face. He teaches with authority and humility. I am here to tell you of another man – the one at home. He sounds, in every moment that I can recall – exactly the same. There is no guile in him. He is a man of integrity at home and authenticity outside – and I have never met another man like him. When I was young, I was proud of him. Now, I am a man that must begin to measure up to the standard he has lived before me.” I remember the room went quiet. We were all touched. We were all probably also a bit challenged. “Is that what my children would say of me?” I thought.

Serving Jesus is about how we discipline our lives- especially in the area of the tongue. The grand mark of maturity is the consistent ability to control the use of their tongue. Since the old man is ever within, mature believers limit the old man’s access to the microphone of the mouth.

The Faith Work Out: "Faking Faith" – James 2:14-26

The longer I live, the more I become skeptical of “imitation” products. The breakfast cereal box claims it tastes like a berry – but had to get that flavor from a chemically created imitation. The desk I sit at is made from “imitation oak”. What exactly IS imitation oak? Is it pine, dressed up in an oak design? I don’t know. What I do know is that we often buy “imitation” because the price of the real seems too high. In more recent days I have begun to wonder about what sounds like imitation faith from the mouths of some popular “Christian” personalities. They SAY the speak God’s Word, but the lifestyle choices suggest something entirely different. It occurs to me that a purely theological Christianity has always been susceptible to fakery. People can SAY they believe anything, but that may not align with what they do in the daily practice of their life. In fact, ask the political pollsters for either campaign right now, and you will be informed that polls can be wildly inaccurate, and exit polls are wholly unreliable. In our country, the majority of people would like to keep the lever they pull in the ballot box a private affair – and so they tell a story different than reality. There are vocal exceptions, but most prefer to be left un-harassed by opponents, and keep their actual opinions to themselves. There is significant evidence that what happens in our political life has spilled over into our religious life as well. Shockingly, there are not only people that want to keep their beliefs private, but also some who are saying the exact opposite of what they believe inside.

I want to read an unsettling clip from the news team at the blog “Cloudblazer” who wrote an article, based on NPR and Time Magazine’s article:

What do you do when you find yourself preaching a message you don’t believe in? Besides the credibility gap that may be obvious to those closest to you, there is the question of lying to yourself. How do you rationalize living a double life?  For ministers who have professed Christianity but have become atheists, the challenges are numerous. Explaining matters to family, friends and others can make the transition so prohibitive, many who are atheists continue to live a lie in front of others, pretending to be ministers of the gospel. Not so anymore for Jerry DeWitt. “If you don’t believe, then you will be like me – you’ll suddenly find yourself where you only have two choices,” the preacher-turned-atheist said, as reported by Time magazine. “You can either be honest that you don’t believe … or you can pretend that you do”. He is now preaching against the faith he once professed to belief in. DeWitt now heads an organization “Recovering from Religion”, founded 2009 and committed to helping people get out of religion. The work of his organization reflects what may be a growing trend featuring multiple groups and organizations that are reportedly working to provide a community for atheists. One such effort focuses on ministers… “The program’s ultimate goal: to help unbelieving preachers to “come out” in real life”. DeWitt’s story contrasts interestingly with that of another minister-turned-atheist. “I’m currently an active pastor and I’m also an atheist,” Teresa MacBain told NPR, in an April 30, 2012 story. “I live a double life. I feel pretty good on Monday, but by Thursday — when Sunday’s right around the corner — I start having stomachaches, headaches, just knowing that I got to stand up and say things that I no longer believe in and portray myself in a way that’s totally false.”

The fact that some people are Speaking “Christian-eze” but are not Christians is not new – it is as old as the movement itself.

The Book of Acts demonstrates there have always been fakers. As American follows the path of the European Union – from Christian Heritage to Post-Christian and even Anti-Christian public stands, the church is shaking off the fakers of faith. They aren’t leaving because we got better at spotting them, but because they have founded their own communities to feel secure in their unbelief. I think it would be great for them to have a community and feel better, if there weren’t any ultimate judge at the end of their lives. There should be little consolation in the warm huddle of the perishing, especially when they bolster one another’s sense of security in a false look ahead.

When we take into account that some will be faking it, and that both the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter warned about the increase of such an attack on truth in the last days, we are forced to raise a question: “How can we tell the difference between real faith and fake faith?” That is the question posed in our text for this lesson.

The Context of the Question

As we have looked at the Epistle of James, perhaps the earliest of the Epistles of a church leader sent to fledgling group of first century believers, we have seen ample evidence that the writer was a direct and confrontational type of man. He didn’t pull his punches, but landed them in power and precision.

  • He opened the letter and told first century Jewish believers that God may choose to use the tool of trouble as a weight to build up our endurance for the future plan He has for us. Even though that is true, he reminded, God will never tempt us to do wrong. God uses WEIGHT, but never BAIT. Temptation is the work of the old man or “flesh” within us (James 1), applauded by the fallen world and enticed by the enemy of God.
  • James exposed one way the “flesh” that baits us by grabbing our hearts beneath the surface of our lives – by showing in our preferential treatment of people. Privileged treatment of people is a thinly veiled manipulative behavior – trying to “curry favor” with people we believe have the means of adding to things our flesh hungers for – fortune, fame, power and pleasure. (James 2:1-13).

When we pick up our reading in the next section of the letter, it should come as no surprise that James is equally stiff and vocal concerning the subject of FAKE FAITH – where he opened with a direct assault on those who decide to speak one way but live another. He wrote:

James 2:14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?

What a great question! Is there any eternal value to a theoretical faith that isn’t backed up by life choices? Obviously, James sought in his rhetorical question a hearty “No!” from his audience. Verses like this help us understand the popular statement: “Talk is cheap!”

Key Principle: Real faith changes not only our speech, but our behavior. Belief that doesn’t guide our action isn’t real belief – it is a half-hearted mental exercise with little or no value.

James tried to make the case clear – real faith produces change. Real faith surrenders old ideas, old habits, and old desires to the will of the Master. When the Bible uses the term FAITH, that is the intended meaning – truth that changes behavior by surrender of the will to God’s perspective and purpose. With the truth, James offers three examples to guide our understanding of both the NEED and the LOOK of faith:

Example #1: Hungry believers

James 2:15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.

The point is very simple: eloquent words don’t fill up empty bellies.

  • The example begins with an observable need – a brother or sister is hungry.
  • The example includes a behavior – speak instead of acting to meet a need.
  • The example poses a question – were your words without food of any value?
  • The example ends with a proverb – faith without practical outworking is dead theory.

In this example, James focused the attention of the readers to brothers and sisters in Christ. This wasn’t a late night TV commercial about giving money for starving children on another continent – it was a live example of real deprivation played out right in front of a believer. That believer took the time to respond VERBALLY, but offered no practical help. They were like the people who slow down to shout advice about your stalled car on the side of the road. Even if shouted insights are correct, they feel unwelcome and uncaring. The example lead to the question – “Were the words to the starving of any real help?” Finally, James offers the proverbial point: Real faith MUST change behavior. Real faith is ACTION FOCUSED, not cerebral theory.

What does that mean? It means that if you KNOW ABOUT Jesus – that doesn’t make you a believer. If you ABSOLUTELY BELIEVE that Jesus is the Messiah, sent to save men and women – that doesn’t change your hell bound destiny. If you TOTALLY ACCEPT that Jesus came as God in human skin to die for the sins of the world and give us access to Heaven – that doesn’t mean you are going there. There is only ONE CONDITION in which you are saved: When you surrender your life in practical terms to follow the commands of Jesus. Knowledge without submission is NOT salvation – because your faith changed NOTHING about your life and your choices.

Because of the emphasis of Paul on making sure that we understand that we CANNOT WORK FOR SALVATION, men like Martin Luther didn’t like James. He didn’t think it equal to the lofty work of Ephesians – and he was WRONG. Paul wasn’t saying something DIFFERENT than James, he was saying something based on the understanding James made clear. The Holy Spirit, the author of BOTH James and Ephesians was not in conflict.

The words of Ephesians 2, may seem in conflict, but a closer look will answer the problem:

Ephesians 2:1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

The salvation you have came by God’s direction, and God’s work – since you were dead spiritually and needed His work to be made alive. Your spiritual death, the domination of the enemy, and the lust filled selfish life made your initiating a walk with God IMPOSSIBLE –so God started it.

James 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

When God initiated your salvation experience, He did it with LOVE and ETERNAL PURPOSE, and did all things necessary to make the way for us.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

The whole point of the passage is not to suggest that someone can live like they want to call themselves Christian because of a prayer they prayed or an idea they embraced. Paul nowhere argues that God’s intent was anything less than our change – and there is simply no way Ephesians 2 can be stripped of that context. Would anything less than real faith tear us away from the flesh pursuits that dominated us before salvation (2:3)? Would anything less than real surrender make us an example of His workmanship? (2:10). The notion that God wanted to stamp us SAVED while leaving us SELF WILLED doesn’t square with God’s purposes in Ephesians, and is UTTERLY ELIMINATED BY James’ clear statements about working faith.

If faith without works is dead – there is no such thing as salvation without surrender. If faith without works is dead – my salvation must not be measured simply by my words, but rather by my lifestyle.

Woe to the church that convinces men and women that God has truly saved them and they can be secure – yet walk in disobedience and defiance of the Spirit and the Word. I am not saying that any disobedience disqualifies you from a walk with God – since the Bible is replete with examples of people who KNEW GOD and made terrible sinful choices. I am saying that you need to examine your CHOICES to see that you know God – not just inventory the STATEMENTS of your doctrine. That is why Paul told the Philippians:

Philippians 2:12 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Let me continue that idea, but head to the second example of James’ lesson in James 2:18ff:

Example #2: A theoretical theologian

James 2:18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?

Again the point is very simple: Believing requires more than a cognitive change. Real belief shows in the hands and feet, not just the recesses of the mind.

  • The example began with a claim –faith can be solely inside requiring no external action.
  • The example continues with an exclamation – “My faith can be seen in what I do!”
  • The example offers an encouragement – It is valuable to believe correctly.
  • The example bids a warning – even demons recognize some truths.
  • The example ends with a question – “Is your internal thought of any practical value to the Kingdom?”

Though one must know the facts of the Gospel to surrender to the truth of it – knowing the Gospel is not what is REQUIRED; surrender to Jesus is what is required. In every presentation of the Gospel the notion of REPENTANCE was not simply feeling badly about sin – but about having a change of heart concerning the WILL. Perhaps the third example will make that even clearer…

Example #3: Father Abraham

James 2:21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.

The point is unmistakable: a proper world view isn’t enough – we need to act on it for real completion!

  • The example began with a picture – Abraham holding a knife over Isaac in the land of Moriah.
  • The example continued with an observation – faith that worked out in behavior was completed or authenticated faith.
  • The example offered Scriptural support – that Abraham’s belief was accepted when he ACTED on that belief.
  • The example was finished with a declaration – justification is by working faith that changes behavior, not theoretical mental ascent that accepts the plausibility of the Word as the truth

Not long ago a man left the church where I teach after about a year in the local body. He did so because he truly believed that the Gospel that required surrender was a Gospel of works. He tried on a number of occasions to pose that Paul taught pagans that they only needed to know that Jesus died for them. I disagreed. I traced the movement of Paul in the Book of Acts, and showed that the Apostles bound the followers of Jesus to behaviors in Acts 15 – or WOULD NOT LET THEM BE A PART of the movement. I do not know what goes on in the human heart – but I do know that real submission in the heart can be seen in one’s life. I am not naïve enough to believe that a specific act of sin holds one out of heaven – but I fully believe that the Bible teaches that failing to submit practically to Jesus as Master of their choices DOES hold one out of Heaven. If I can believe theoretically but not live practically –then please explain what James is truly saying here. He left calling my Associate Pastor a heretic – which is better, I suppose, than being called one myself. (Just kidding!). Seriously, there are whole schools of theology dedicated to theoretical faith and the salvation of the self-willed. I just cannot grasp it. Spurgeon said it this way in a commentary on the story of Joab hiding by the horns of the altar in 1 Kings 2:

OUTWARD ORDINANCES AVAIL NOT. The laying hold upon the literal horns of an altar, which can be handled, availed not Joab. There are many—oh, how many still!—that are hoping to be saved, because they lay hold, as they think, upon the horns of the sacraments. Men of unhallowed life, nevertheless, come to the sacramental table, looking for a blessing. Do they not know that they pollute it? Do they not know that they are committing a high sin, and a great misdemeanour against God, by coming amongst his people, where they have no right to be? And yet they think that by committing this atrocity they are securing to themselves safety. How common it is to find in this city, when an irreligious man is dying, that someone will say, “Oh, he is all right; for a clergyman has been, and given him the sacrament.” I often marvel how men calling themselves the servants of God can dare thus to profane the ordinance of the Lord. Did he ever intend the blessed memorial of the Lord’s supper to be a kind of superstitious vialicum, a something upon which ungodly men may depend in their last hour, as if it could put away sin. I do not one half so much blame the poor ignorant and superstitious persons who seek after the sacrament in their dying hours, as I do the men who ought to know better…. Do they conceive that grace comes to men by bits of bread and drops of wine? These things are meant to put us in memory of the Lord Jesus Christ, and, as far as they do that, and quicken our thoughts of him, they are useful to us; but there is no wizardry or witchcraft linked with these two emblems, so they convey as form of grace…

You cannot decide to choose to have Jesus and be your own Master – the two choices are in opposite directions. Lapses of judgment and failure to the flesh aside – there is simply no argument to be made for the “self-willed” follower. It is the act of surrender played out in the choices of life that shows the validity of real faith. The last example shows that well…

Example #4: Rahab

James 2:25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

  • The example focused on another story – the Canaanite woman at Jericho hid the spies to her own peril.
  • The example asserted a truth – that she was justified before God only when she responded with the actions she took on behalf of God’s people.
  • The example ended with a final proverb – a Biblical world view without the accompanying lifestyle choices is as useless as a body devoid of life.

In the end, we need to recognize that God needs no army of lawyers to parse our words and argue for the reality of your belief in your heart and mind. He requires, rather, that real belief show itself in the actions of one’s hands and feet. There are times when that action is quite limited – the thief on the cross had only his words of belief and defense of the Savior – for he was a cross-bound and dying convert. Yet this is the exception. Too much has been made of his death-moment confession to Christ – as if it somehow became a standard of the normal Christian. James argued that normal believers need BOTH a Biblical world view (using the term “faith”) AND the actions that show one has truly adopted such a view.

Biblical belief requires a change of mind, but does not allow for the reality of such a mind change without a change in life choices.

With the coming of the Spirit into the new believer, new desires fill them. Old hungers are not destroyed – a point that James made in the last chapter – but new desires are noticed and begin to assert themselves.

Submission IS required for salvation – and that is NOT considered a WORK in Paul’s Epistles, but should not be ignored in Paul’s intent. It is WRONG to believe that one can simply ‘believe’ in the mind without ‘surrender’ in one’s life. If “faith without works is DEAD” means anything, it means that one must bear the actions of a surrendered heart to show the truth of inner ownership change. Jesus cannot be simply a Savior – He must be the new owner of my heart. I must be actively making effort to remove every obstacle to full service to Him! The tension that exists between heart and hands is a false distinction, since James argued that without the outworking – the theory was ineffective, unhelpful and altogether dead.

Real faith changes not only our speech, but our behavior. Belief that doesn’t guide our action isn’t real belief – it is a half hearted mental exercise with little or no value.

The Faith Work Out: "The Masks we Wear" – James 2:1-13

Some of the most elegant masks I have ever seen are in storefront windows in the alleyways between the “Piazza San Marco” and the “Canal Grande” in the island city of Venice. They are wildly colorful and complex designs – because they have been making sophisticated party masks for centuries. Historians believe it began all the way back in the year 1162, following a loss in war that caused the island city its dominance over several other small maritime city states. The famed “Republica della Serenisima” or “Serene Republic” was displaced in a war by a rival city, and the response of the Venetian masses was extreme overreaction – inaugurating the annual practice of “Carnivale” –a sort of street party like the “Festival of Fools” held each Spring in Paris. The masks for the festival were outrageous, and the behaviors often worse – but the idea was simple: hide behind ornate masks while behaving badly – the masks would conceal the real identity of the wearer anyway. It was about as anonymous as some mistaken moderns considered their rude comments in an internet chat room, hidden under the cloak of a made up “avatar”. Finding someone’s real identity has never been that hard, but people love an illusion of anonymity. The interesting truth of that historical setting is this: we often act differently outside than we are inside. We act differently when people will hold us accountable for our actions than when we think they cannot find out the actions were ours. For some, it is a stark difference. For others, it is a much more slight one. Read the internet. Anonymous comments are seldom the deeply encouraging ones.

It is true that etiquette sometimes demands that mature people don’t say or do what they are thinking. That often isn’t as much hypocrisy, as it is simple tact and decency. At the same time, in some cases it can be a sign of a subtle form of manipulation. We may be trying to GET something from someone else – be it favor, or material reward. This is one example of the grasp of the flesh’s tentacles in our daily life. Our lesson today is about that grip.

Key Principle: When believers treat people better based on their ability to help us or our cause, we show ourselves to be fleshly and manipulative.

Our partiality comes from our immoral and base nature, and is rooted in greed…

When James faced the scattered flock of Jewish believers of the diaspora (dispersion), he knew some of them were deeply confused and badly shaken at the level of conflict they were facing both within and without. He took the time to explain that God DID in fact use WEIGHT TRAINING to build them up – in the form of daily troubles, but never used BAIT TRAINING in the form of dangling temptations to entice lustful responses. The confusion came because the pounding of troubles takes its toll, so he clarified that the TEMPTATIONS we face were NEVER part of God’s training, but rather the enticement of the flesh WITHIN – the old man. He warned the beleaguered believers that temptation grabs hold by highlighting the benefits of sinful behaviors while masking the devastating effects of evil choices in our lives. The truth of the first chapter was this: God uses WEIGHTS to build us up – but never BAIT to pull us down. Temptation is from the flesh, whereas pressure and trouble MAY BE from God. The two must be seen differently, and addressed differently. As he continued writing his letter, James identified another problem that believers face that is an offshoot of the flesh – the problem of manipulative behavior in relationships. The line between our actions and our motivations is often not straight, it is curved. Sometimes it is opaque even to us – we aren’t conscious of WHY we do what we do. Yet, on closer inspection, the motivation to care for some people over others may be more about selfishness than anything else.

Let me explain: deep within us, in our natural fallen state, we are drawn to favor people that we believe will help us accumulate more of the things of the flesh that we have learned to treasure – fortune, fame, power or pleasure. Anyone we assess to have no ability to add to these desired treasures of the flesh can be treated in a less delicate way by us, because our behavior is the outworking of something much more sinister – our manipulative flesh within. We aren’t simply nicer to people who HAVE MORE, but rather people who we assess on some level may be able and willing to ADD MORE TO US… if we can somehow manage to get them to do it. At its base, our treatment of others is often a reflection of our inner greed to have more of someone else’s things or to be lauded more by others.

It is the truth: we hunger for greater public affirmation. We pine for more material goods. We thirst for more sensually delighting pleasures. We long for impact producing power. In the process, we may be tempted to feed the urges of the flesh as we make friends and find new acquaintances. This happens in the business world, in the political world, in the local country club, and sadly – in the local church. When James saw the tendency in the early congregations of Jewish believers, he wrote this by the direction of the Spirit:

James 2:1 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? 8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

An instruction to observe

The passage opens with an instruction – because James is not a “beat around the bush” type of guy. He is a Galilean Jew – and they have been noted as both direct and confrontational. The disciples were not chosen because of their politeness and tact, but because the message of salvation was to be passed to the world from the children of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. It was their destiny. At the same time, they were not the most TACTFUL of vessels when it came to interpersonal relationships. A careful look at the Gospels show some lack of eloquence and subtlety when it came to getting along with each other.

James put it out there in 2:1: “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.” He instructed those who held the truth of the Gospel and the submission to the Glorious Savior in their hearts to intentionally SHUT DOWN any inner attitude that was connected to the behavior of favoritism. He didn’t tell them to simply stop acting is out – like a MASK CHANGE. He told them to kill the attitude beneath it!

Evidence to recognize

In order to be effective at addressing a bad attitude, he had to PROVE its existence – because people with behavior masks don’t always realize they are wearing one. He offered a situation as a symptomatic sample in James 2:2: “For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,”…

The proof of their fleshly attitude was this: they treated congregational visitors differently based on their apparent ability to bring greater wealth and standing to the beaten down community of Jewish believers. When a person of both means and potential generosity visited, they offered them a more prominent seat. When a person with little material means arrived, he was set aside. The issue wasn’t just how they treated people – but WHY they treated them differently. The Spirit of God wanted them to draw a line back to their attitude and its roots in the fallen flesh.

A motivation to expose

The fourth verse draws out in written form the whole of the line between attitude and action in this case: “…have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? It is important that you read the verse carefully to understand the problem properly. In English, it looks like they may have conspired together to treat people partially – but that is not the case. The phrase “distinctions among yourselves” should better be translated: “divided judgments inside yourselves”. The issue wasn’t collusion, it was inner personal attitude. Individuals in the congregation behaved this way because of the power of the flesh playing out within them – and James called them on the behavior.

In order to address both attitude and action, James first argued they had not been well served by their instincts to act in this way. In fact, the flesh was leading them on a path away from God’s way fo doing things. God used the poor to spread the Gospel much more than those of means in the time James was writing. He said: “5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? Because God had been using the poor to add such strength and reliability to the foundation of the early Messianic community, it only made sense that they should respond by recognizing the potential SPIRITUAL TREASURE found in the person with little MATERIAL TREASURE.

When believers see their work on earth in fleshly terms, they measure the work of a congregation by the number of “people of means”. They rate the effectiveness to reach out by the size and beauty of their physical properties. They use a physical scale for a spiritual dynamic – and that is wholly unreliable. It doesn’t work in congregations, and it doesn’t even work in individuals. God may be doing His mightiest work in the most unassuming packages! Hasn’t God repeatedly surprised us by using people men would not have chosen? Even the most cursory look at Scripture reminds us not to look at the outward appearance to see what God sees and to evaluate what God is doing.

  • You would not have chosen a single family to build a huge boat and wait for rain – but God did.
  • You would not have chosen an eighty year old ex-con to lead your people out of slavery to redemption – but God did.
  • You would not have chosen an unwed young woman to bring forth the Messiah – but God did.

You see, God enjoys choosing the “foolish” things of the world to show the clear working of His power. He delights in using weak physical materials while making them effective by spiritual means. What does that mean? Be careful about the judgments you make about the people around you. Some of the people you meet that appear weakest in flesh around may be the mightiest in spirit. Those in ministry who shy away from the aged believers in favor of the younger and more physically energetic crowd are missing something. For most young people, the flesh is still very strong the things of the spirit are still quite faint. They will grow in time, but youth has both inexperience and distraction to contend with. While the body is still strong and the energy level of the physique seems unlimited – the young find it hard to peer through the veil of the physical world and maintain concentration on the spiritual world. Few are the young ones that can see life clearly: that we are not primarily flesh – but only on the earth for a brief moment in this vestibule of eternity. For more seasoned believers, the flesh has shown itself to be fickle and its power fleeting. They know control is an illusion, and hope cannot be placed in the body. They learn of God in the quiet of the midnight hours. God has drawn close as others have drifted away. It is not always so – but it can be so. Be careful not to judge the might of the heart by the sound of the voice – one is flesh and the other spirit.

Underlying challenges to overcome

When we judge one’s importance based on flesh standards, we dishonor God’s work inside them. We discount their worth to both Him and us – in exchange for another who may not be helpful at all! James continued in 2:6 “But you have dishonored the poor man…” He argues, the man is WORSE OFF because of the engagement with us. Why do we continue to act in such a way? Good question! James outlines three problems that may account for our behavior.

Problem #1: Repetition of failed strategies

Not content with the convicting argument that they harmed the poor man in some way, James continued to assail their choice by noting that it lacked the logic of their own past experiences with wealthy people. In short, people of means had not been good to them in the past. Note James 2:6b: “Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?” This may not be true of wealthy people in YOUR life, but it was true of the people in theirs. When we seek the principle behind such a statement should consider a broader perspective. If our choice in some area of attitude and action has produced bad results in our past, but we keep limping back to that choice – it is a marker that the choice is rooted in the beckoning of the flesh. One of the ways to expose the flesh’s hold on us is to mark carefully the way it drags us back to failed strategies time and again.

Think of some besetting sin. Maybe you are often tempted to lose your temper. Based on the “works of the flesh” list we noted in our last study from Galatians 5, this is a siren temptation of the flesh. The Devil may use anger to get a foothold in our lives (as the letter to the Ephesians notes), but the outbursts of anger are a work of the flesh. Think back: the last time you burst out in anger it left a hole in the wall and a broken place in the heart of your loved one. You felt terribly guilty and had to go back and both confess your sin, and fix your wall. Yet, that same powerful wave of desire will come back. It will promise release of all the pent up frustration (a good feeling) while hiding all the problems that result from that wrong choice. James simply applies the logic to the situation of caring for the wealthy with greater zeal. He asks them to look back. In first century diaspora experience, has that really worked? One good test of whether something is the beckoning of the flesh or the direction of the Spirit is this: Has this produced God honoring results in the past? It is not the ONLY test, but it is A TEST that should be consulted. When something fails that test – stop repeating the behavior or attitude and re-measure the outcome.

Problem #2: The sin rating game

In addition to looking back at the track record of past choices, James introduced the idea that we must not be blinded by minimizing the size of some sinful choices. When we get drawn into “rating” sin in SMALL SINS and BIG SINS, it is another form of justification for flesh pandering. We aren’t thinking the way God thinks. God’s standards are not mottled in a haze of complexity – they are straightforward. We are to treat people as we desire to be treated, just as Jesus taught. In James 2:8 he reminds: “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” That is clear enough – treat people impartially or be guilty of SIN. Yet, he continues: 2:10 “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” James argues that when we allow the sins we think are not as IMPORTANT as other sins – we “rate” sin, and that isn’t God’s plan for us at all.

Before I address the principle involved in SIN RATING, I want to take a moment to correct a commonly held view that I believe is unbiblical. I have heard this verse quoted in any number of settings to suggest that God doesn’t distinguish between types of sin, but has only two classifications – guilty and innocent. The emphasis of that teaching is to make all sin heinous – and that is a good thing. However, that isn’t James’ point in this context. James isn’t arguing that ALL SIN IS EQUAL in weight, but rather that ALL SIN IS SIGNIFICANT TO GOD.

It simply isn’t true to suggest that all sin is equal in its weight before God. There are clear differences in punishments – both temporal and eternal in Scripture. Lost men will all spend eternity – time without time – in Hell. The Bible purports it to be a literal, terrible and cataclysmic reality of those who do not accept the sin payment made on their behalf by the Savior. At the same time, there are degrees of punishment in hell. Jesus told Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum that it will be “better for Sodom and Gomorrah” than for those who rejected Him face to face. The suggestion that Hitler will spend eternity in hell beside the lost little boy that’s major crime was stealing a cookie from the jar is ludicrous and unbiblical. They may both be in hell as an eternal banishment for unpaid sin, but their experience will be quite different from one another. Neither is good, but one is much worse.

James is arguing that all sin is significant to God, and nothing that violates His holiness should be passed over as a slight infraction. There are no “white lies” – only lies. We are people of the TRUTH standing against the Father of Lies. There isn’t room for gray in such exchanges. In the specific context, it is important that we recognize this idea: God LOVES people. God often chooses to USE people mightily in the spiritual realm that are not physically successful in appearance. Because God is doing this, any harm we bring to those people is SIN, and should be taken very seriously. SIN RATING is the sin of minimizing wrong on our part by softening the heinous nature of our wrong choice. It is the reason we have adapted our language to words like “fib” and “affair” from the more startling Biblical terms of LIE and ADULTERY. Believers must soften their heart toward people, but harden their resolve against tolerating sin in their lives. We must remember that one tear on a precious piece of artwork diminishes its value significantly. Our intrinsic value doesn’t change – but our usefulness to God’s holy purpose changes drastically with tolerated sinful practices left to roam freely in our life.

Problem #3: Living the wrong life

James completed the passage with an instruction on treating others well with these words in 2:12 “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.”

He closed in on a problem that still besets believers to this day – the problem of living like a slave to sin, when they are no longer bound to do so. Look closely as James reminds us of a very important rule of the believer’s life – what is sometimes called the “Law of Liberty”. We have seen this phrase before in the book, in James 1:25 “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” Don’t miss that James made note that we would be soon judged on this basis.

Here’s my question: If I am going to be judged soon based on the “Law of Liberty”, what exactly is the “Law of Liberty”? In the time James lived, there were two laws from which he could draw imagery easily. First, the legal system was controlled by Rome – and the manumission laws – standards of setting people free from slavery were ultimately under their control. But beyond Roman law, remember James grew up as a Galilean Jew. When he used the term “The Law” he more often than not was referring to the Mosaic Law of Hebrew life, the familiar Torah lifestyle, and its rabbinic emendations of daily life. They also contained manumission laws – laws to set slaves free.

The slavery we are referring to in the image MUST BE in relation to conduct. Remember the context of the “Law of Liberty” in James is that of DELIBERATE BEHAVIOR CHANGE. In chapter 1 it is a change of behavior when identified, like a man who looks in the mirror and makes changes. In chapter 2 it is a change of behavior regarding partiality. James picked up on a theme from the teaching of Jesus not long before, during His earth mission. It was a major point of contention with Jewish leadership during His ministry, and it was still a point that needed clarification in the Jewish community.

Jesus spoke about the freeing slaves in John 8. The writer records in John 8:31 “So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” The Master taught that continuous following in His teaching would set free those previously enslaved. Such a statement was deeply offensive to Jerusalemite Jews who thought themselves FREE AGENTS (as opposed to the Essene community with their determinism) and the reaction of His audience was swift: 8:33 “They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” How odd. Had they forgotten about BOTH the Egyptian and Babylonian bondages? No! To a Jew, they remained free in their heart to behave as Jews, because their practical distinctives were not broken by their captors – they remained Jews even in captivity. That resistance was one reason that so many LOVED the tales of Daniel and his friends!

Jesus replied with the truth He wanted them to recognize in 8:34 “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.”

Jesus argued that a life of sinful behavior is an enslaved life. In addition, he argued they were temporarily enslaved while a son – an heir of the household – had the power to set a slave free permanently from their bondage. He came to do just that very work. Often in the period, slaves were released with the reading of a will, and the action of releasing of slaves was performed by a son. It was a familiar scene to the hearer. Jesus went on to explain that ONLY those who took His word as a Son seriously would recognize His right to set slaves of the household free. The argument for the rest of John 8 is essentially this – “Will you believe I am Who I say I am? If you do, you will hear the call to freedom and walk after My teaching. If not, you will remain enslaved and follow your family head – the Devil.” It is no surprise the end of the passage zooms in to stones held in the hands of Jewish reactionaries, as they angrily looked for a way to eliminate Jesus.

The point is that Jesus’ law of manumission – of setting slaves free – is rooted in His position as a SON. He read God’s Holy will and disclosed this: The Son’s followers are FREE to please God. They are FREE AGENTS in their behavior, and have been released from the “Adamic bondage” that locked the lost into acts and attitudes that fall short of pleasing God. I am not saying that lost people cannot try to be good. I am saying that every attempt will still fall short. They may make some good choices, but like the Olympic athlete that fails to qualify, they will spend their eternity looking back on the ONE DECISION that kept them from the gold – all other “good” decisions will be forgotten.

We have the JOY of God’s Manumission provision – but saying it that way doesn’t sound very exciting, except for those who have a legal expertise. Here is the exciting truth: we are SET FREE from the bondage of failure before God. We can, and SHOULD be attempting to please HIM! The COMPLETE LAW OF FREEDOM (the term “telion” translated “PERFECT” also means purposed and complete) is a finished a work of God to deliver us from the servitude of enslaving passions and lusts. We don’t have to serve SIN anymore – we can freely CHOOSE behaviors that please God.

Christians are the only ones that are able to behave in a manner pleasing to the Lord. Before I was saved, I had no ability to please God, because I was like a criminal in jail trying to impress a judge that would not even consider my behavior. My classification as a convict forbade consideration of daily acceptable behavior. By the release of the Savior, I am not a convict now – I have been released from the prison of sin, and I am in full view of the Righteous Judge – with the honor of pleasing Him with my choices. Paul said it eloquently in Romans 12:2. He remarked that surrendering my body with its fallen fleshly desires, and being transformed by different thinking than the world around me allows me to seek ways to put a smile on my Father’s face, and please Him. My life can be gratifying to my Creator, a delight to my Savior, a song to His Holy Spirit. I am free to change, and I am free to please Him! What freedom is mine!

Let’s be extremely practical. The transformation of my behavior will take two steps. First, I must recognize the change in my status – simple acknowledgement that this is what the Word of God teaches what we have seen in this lesson. Following that it will take a CHANGE IN GOAL.  I have to deliberately, consciously change the goal of my decision making process. In the flesh, the goal is always the same: what will PLEASE ME MORE in the end. Now, my goal is changed to this singular one: what will PLEASE MY HEAVENLY FATHER.

Is your marriage not working out? Thinking that someone else might suit you better? Here is the question: Is that what the Word of God says will please a Father who HATES DIVORCE?

Is your family not making enough money to do the things you dream of? Thinking of changing to another position? Ask yourself this: Will I have greater opportunity to minister eternal values with a different job? Can I please my Father more if I serve Him in a different office or occupation? Think eternally, this month will be over before you know it.

We need to treat people as God sees them, in order to please Him. When believers treat people better based on their ability to help us or our cause, we show ourselves to be fleshly and manipulative. It is time for us to live on the outside, and seek on the inside the pleasing smile of our Father.

The Faith Work Out: "The Voices Within" – James 1:13-27

If you walk into a psychiatrist’s office today and say, “I am hearing voices in my head!” They will likely lock you in a rubber room. Yet, after a careful study of the scriptures, I have a message for you. I don’t know how to break the news to you, so I will just be blunt. By their definition – You are a sick person. You may look and feel well, but you have a severe illness that is increasingly showing itself in your behavior. It is not a physical illness – it is a mental one. I know, this is hard to hear, but it is true. When you came to know Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you surrendered your life to Him, you joined the ranks of the millions that carry within them a second personality. You have, what psychologists have termed, a “dissociative identity disorder” – also popularly known as “multiple personality disorder”.  Before you leave in a panic – I should tell you that it is not fatal. In fact, the lack of it is fatal.

You see, in your case, this is both NORMAL and EXPECTED in everyday life. A multiple personality disorder is characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring identities that alternately control one’s behavior, while (at times) omitting important information to the other personality not completely explained by ordinary forgetfulness. I don’t know if you have been made aware of this disorder – but knowing about it is essential to your long term success as a believer. Failure to understand that you have multiple voices within you can lead you to fail in following Christ.

What am I talking about? Let me pose it this way:

The first voice: the fallen conscience

Before you came to know Jesus, the Bible says that you were physically alive, but spiritually dead. Ephesians 2 recalls that believers were dead in sin, but God made them alive to Him when they surrendered to Jesus. The Bible defines “spiritual death” as disconnection from God – a state that happened when Adam and Eve severed the spiritual umbilical cord of constant spiritual living giving sustenance to God at the Fall in the Garden. Physical death occurred in them because spiritual death already too place in them. Their children, as a result of their sin, filled the world with many spiritually dead people (the human default position) that are walking about us every day – with no living connection to God as their Lord and Master – yet! They still have the chance to submit, but they have not yet done so. Yet, those people still have a voice within them called a “conscience”.

The “conscience” is that echo within of both the latent memory of a long ago relationship with God through Adam – kind of an impression stamp of right and wrong on a subliminal level , and the faint voice of those influenced by a real walk with God in more recent times (the faint echo of a grandma that walked with Jesus). That conscience is not wholly formed, and often can be seared into believing wrong assumptions of an ever-changing world view. It is therefore wholly unreliable and often superstitious and naïve. It was probably best pictured in my youth by two little men that hung out on the shoulders of the cartoon character Fred Flintstone, when he was trying to make a decision. One work a red suit and held a pitchfork – like the classic devil image. Another possessed a halo. In any case, the cartoon underscored that inside a man are several voices – a call to do “right” and a call to do “wrong” as seen through a fallen world view, disconnected from God in spiritual death.

The second voice: the Spirit of God

When you and I came to Christ, we invited the voice of God to re-establish Himself within us. We asked God to re-connect the umbilical cord of life, pictured by Jesus in His “vine and branches” saying of John 15:

John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.

In that short selection of Jesus’ words from the night in which He was betrayed and faced the Cross, we see a simple truth. We are re-connected to God by our choice to serve and submit to Him. Later Christians would learn that the voice of God inside was accomplished by the provision of the Spirit sent after the Ascension of Jesus. Believers draw our spiritual vitality and sustenance from the Spirit, and cannot live a godly life apart from His Divine connection. We need our life to come from His life connected like an electric cord powers a device. Unplugged, we become spiritually useless. Plugged in, we have power as a conduit for whatever purpose our maker intends. Yet, here is the startling truth: That connection adds an entirely new personality to the mix of our being. The voice of the Spirit of God is not the voice of our fallen man, nor the echo of the conscience – though the Spirit can prompt the conscience at will.

The third voice: The old man of flesh

Adding to the confusion within us as the Spirit cleans up the rooms of our life and encourages us to walk vigorously in our faith, a third voice emerges within us. This voice is indelibly linked to the conscience, but is much, much more. It is the voice the Bible refers to in various ways. Sometimes it is called the “flesh”. Other times is it referred to as the “old man” within each believer. This voice is the inner part of us, left over from our days in the fallen state, and still in the process of becoming like Christ through a lifelong battle. Believers identify the process as “sanctification” – the process of truly becoming practically what the Bible says I already have become positionally in Christ. Through the whole of that process, the third voice shouts to be heard, and is a constant distraction. Paul fought this, in spite of his strengths and triumphs in Christ. He wrote about it Romans 7:

Romans 7:14 “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.

Here I stand, with the voice of a fallen conscience, the voice of an inner fleshly and debased sinner, and the beckoning and sustaining words of the Spirit. Add to the inner cacophony the outer wooing of the fallen world to do what dead men are doing in their current reveling, and the shouts of the Devil and his fallen angels in their insidious deceiving words – and you will see why walking with God is not as simple of reading the Bible and believing it.  What can I do? James was addressing that very distress in the second half of his Epistle to scattered Jewish believers in the first century Roman world. He offered them a three problems believers needed to confront (and still do), and then solutions to deal with each.

Key Principle: You cannot subdue a foe you do not identify. Identifying the voices within is essential to developing both a defense and a counter-attack that will lead to godly living.

James was carefully instructing the early followers of Jesus that they were incorrect if they thought that following God would be easy. In fact, he argued, God uses “weight training” in the form of troubles to build up a follower and add to them greater endurance for an even greater future work. Troubles are one of the tools of God’s toolbox. They are not always caused by our sin, and not necessarily a reflection that God is unhappy with us. They can be a deliberate weight, placed by a training God, to prepare us for an exciting future.

The problem with trouble is that all the voices within are responding at the same time – and they aren’t all beckoning the same directions. Have you ever been driving in a city you were not familiar with? As you concentrate on both the traffic zipping past you and the road ahead, you are confused by the signs while several friends are urging you to listen to their directions – even when they don’t seem to agree with the signage, or each other. Your frustration builds quickly. In the face of constant troubles and mixed signals, we are tempted to gripe, complain, snap and become very agitated. Troubles exhaust our defenses and leave us in a weakened and vulnerable state. The early believer cried out: “Is God responsible for dangling fleshly desires and enticing our lusts in that hour?” James addresses that in the end of the first chapter. He argued that our misreading of the situation came from a lack of understanding of three critical areas of our spiritual life:

James 1:13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

When you look very carefully at the short passage, you will not that James breaks down the siren call to sin and explains our misunderstanding about God, our nature and the process.

First, James said we don’t understand God’s nature– so we thing that God is entrapping us to see us fail. James made the case that God trains us by WEIGHT, but now makes clear that He does not train us by BAIT. God doesn’t dangle the fleshly temptations in front of us to test us – that isn’t His way of TRAINING us, and He has no interest in TRAPPING us. James says in 1:13: Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.

Second, James explained we don’t recognize our OWN nature– so we don’t respond properly to temptation’s enticement. In 1:14: “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust”, James makes clear the problem isn’t God’s dangling of temptation, but a strong magnetic pull within toward the wrong. We hunger to do wrong – even as believers. The Devil need not speak, the world need not call – I WANT to do wrong. The old man, the flesh within is still tugging on the rope to pull me toward what I must refuse.

Third, James suggested that we are unconscious of the PROCESS of temptation – so we allow a thought to grow and give birth to an action. In 1:15: “Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” This short sentence offers words of process. Temptation begins as a thought. It can be encouraged by the world or the Devil, but it need not be. It can be a leftover of the fallen thought life. It is nothing more than an appeal in seed form. Here is where we go wrong. We nurture the thought. We allow it to develop and grow. We let it keep us transfixed and attentive to the wrong. As we let it grow, its power over us seems invincible. Yet, if we were to snap away our attention – say by a ringtone of our phone – its power over us would seem to dissipate. Here is the key: Temptation saps from us the will to resist by deceiving us with the promise of pleasure while hiding adverse results that will come from our action. It is a rouse, and that is why James completes the sentences with: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren”.

There it is. I am ignorant of God’s real nature – so I blame Him when He isn’t doing it. I am unaware of my own inner nature – so I don’t properly identify the voice I am hearing. I am ignorant of the process of temptation, so I allow myself to be tricked instead of putting up a proper defense.

Let’s get very practical with these three problems:

In Galatians 5, Paul offered early believers an abbreviated list of the fifteen works of the flesh or the old man within. He explained the kinds of things we STILL WANT TO DO in spite of the fact that we are indwelt with God’s spirit.

Galatians 5:19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

  • Impurity (akatharsia) uncleanness in a spiritual sense
  • Sensuality (aselgia) license to indulge
  • Idolatry (eidolatoria) worship of other than God
  • Sorcery (pharmakia) drug use for pleasure
  • Enmities (echthra) hostility
  • Strife (eris) quarreling
  • Jealousy (zelos) heated rage
  • Outbursts of anger (thumos) passionate boiling over
  • Disputes (erithea) from a day laborer meaning ‘overly ambitious’
  • Dissension (dichostasia) standing apart
  • Factions (heiresis) creating parties or sects
  • Envying (phthonos) burning desire for another’s property
  • Drunkeness (methe) desire to dull mind to refuse pains
  • Carousing (komos) hunger to party and revel

Here is James’ point: The world may beckon to you to do the things on that list. Satan may dangle the supposed benefits of participating in some of these deeds – but the central problem in the believer’s life as it regards these things is NEVER GOD baiting you, and is MOST OFTEN your own INNER FLESH.

James answers the three problems with three answers.

If we think God is BAITING us, we need only recognize the Bible’s revelation of God’s true nature in James 1:17 “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” God’s nature is always GOOD, never changing, ever offering us gifts that will COMPLETE us – not harm us.

If we fail to recognize the voice within us beckoning us to do wrong, we let temptation grow to produce sin – and that kills the good things in our future. We need only remember that God has answered that tempting siren with the implanted TRUTH of His Spirit. James 1:18 says: “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.” God began a new birth process in us with the words of truth He has planted deep within us. As we nurture the truth by careful study of His Word, truth will grow in strength inside us. God deliberately responded to the growth of lust and powerful temptation within us by planting the seed of yet another growth process to overtake the first one. He has planted truth to shout down temptation’s lies. Within us is the beginning of God’s retaking of His lost creation. The first paint touches within us bear the changing tints toward perfection that God will one day use to repaint the whole of creation. Within us, the Great Artist has begun His final masterpiece – and it is one of TRUTH. God BEGAN in us – but will recolor His entire world, covering over every stain of the deceivers foul colors.”

James doesn’t just leave us with facts, he leaves this essential subject with the process of victory over temptation.

He lays out steps and warnings that will help us face tomorrow with more effectiveness than we had yesterday. Look at his words:

First, to overcome temptation, I must slow down my response so that I can hear God’s truth voice, and not default to my flesh. He says: James 1:19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

Second, to overcome temptation, I must change what I surround my life with on the outside, and deliberately starve out the flesh within. I must go on an internal witch hunt for evil – routing all lies and deceptions, and turning the light on to the shadows of my heart. James 1:21 says it this way: “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness…”

Third, to overcome temptation, I must recognize the answer isn’t within me naturally, but it is a spiritual growth process of truth that was seeded in me by God Himself at my salvation. I must nurture truth while cutting back lies. I must listen to words of truth, study words of truth, and allow the word of God to grow in me.  James 1:21b says it this way: “…in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.

Let me be very clear: Believers that starve themselves from the Word, that eat only the “pre-chewed” words of our favorite preacher, or revel in the pabulum of popular sentiment will not stand up to the powerful pull toward temptation. The world is beckoning your lusts within. The enemy is fanning the flames of the fallen system. The flesh hungers to have the old feelings back and ignores the damage old practices had in your life. The word implanted in you is your defense. It is a God-given shield to repulse temptation’s power. Yet, if it is starved, it will become ineffective. Feed the Word within, or suffer the walk without.

Fourth, to overcome temptation, I must demand in myself the need to ACT on the truth, not just ascribe to the theory of it. I must challenge the temptation to be satisfied by a mind change that doesn’t lead to a change in behavior. James 1:22 But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; 24 for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.

It is important that our walk with God be more than just a theory. At the close of the chapter James included some tests to make sure this wasn’t happening. He wrote: James 1:26 “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Look at those words carefully and three practices emerge that will help you evaluate if you are living out the truth.

  • First, my mouth must change if temptation is being mastered. Loose lips sink lives. If I am gaining victory in my heart by allowing the Word of Truth to overcome the deception default settings, it will sound out on my lips.
  • Second, my hands will get busy to help those who are in need if temptation is being marginalized. I will show a change of heart by a change of priorities. I will desire to be other person centered and not self-centered. The flesh champions SELF – the surrendered to God champion the WEAK.
  • Third, my clothing will be unstained if temptation is being routed. I will show that God’s truth is cleaning me, displacing the errors, by the lack of enduring stains I walk around displaying. God has a way of cleaning us up that shows to anyone who will take the time to truly observe. The best way to avoid getting more stains on ourselves is to be particularly careful about where we are and what we are doing. If I am in a place that is terribly dirty – I must walk all the more carefully, paying attention not to move to closely to the surfaces of things that will stain. If I am handling people who are dirty, as sometimes God calls me to, I must be careful how I handle them. The desire to help must not cause us to drop our guard from the possibility to be disqualified. Many a man or woman in ministry has made that terrible mistake.

Finally, to overcome temptation, I must study carefully the Word of God and daily walk in it. Nothing will displace deception like truth. I cannot clean out deception; I can only fill my heart with truth and allow the deception to be displaced by the filling process. In truth terms, ignorant Christians are easily defeated Christians.  James 1:25 says:  But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

Here is the painful truth. I am called to walk with God and be His emissary in a fallen world. On the outside I will confront the enemy and gird on my armor. Around me, I will face a constant onslaught of spiritual zombies – dead men and women walking toward me. If that isn’t enough to cause me to want to quit, I must face these foes with multiple personality disorder. I will hear the powerful voice of the flesh – the old man within – beckoning me to my past life. I will trip over a confused and seared conscience that has been badly warped by the ungodly world view I was brought up inside. Should I quit? Well, if left to myself – yes, definitely.

But then, I have not been left to myself. I have been impregnated with the word of truth. It is growing inside me. God’s Spirit has entered my being. I have His Word in my hands, and I can have it in my heart. I have fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that are willing to lock arms and struggle in the fight with me. I have two thousand years of history of family that was doing just what I am doing. I have the active participation of the angelic world blocking for me, and moving in support of God’s work. I have the promises of God’s Holy and unchanging Word – which cannot be nullified or blunted. I have the King of all creation – the Lord above all power – the Supreme Master above all authority pulling for me. Should I quit? No, not at all.

It is true: You cannot subdue a foe you do not identify. But I have spotted the foe. I have heard his voice both within and without. I know where truth is found – and so do you.

  • Need we fear an enemy that has far less power than our Father?
  • Need we despair at a foe that can be washed from our heart by the steady and deliberate pouring in of truth?
  • Need we feel overwhelmed by inner beckoning when we know it is a deceiving voice?
  • Need we fall helplessly to old sinful patterns when we have been granted a way to escape into the truth?

It is time for believers to make the choice to stop pandering themselves. We will not become what God desires while shifted into “spiritual neutral”, living out our lives like the time for obedience has not yet arrived. We must immediately, actively and passionately to pursue holiness. It is nothing more or less than separation from defiling things. We must remember that God is watching – not just in church – but on the job, in the living room, and through our computer screen.

The world is hell bent on destroying all fibers of morality in short order. What was obviously wrong yesterday is questionable today and on its way to being hailed as an inalienable right tomorrow. We all see the dark clouds forming, but I know something the lost world does not know! The clouds of darkness have a pure and beautiful SUN above them. They are not the final future – they are another marker that man has no answers apart from His Creator. They will all see His face soon enough.

Though there are significant voices that would disagree with me, I am forced to conclude that, practically speaking, we have as much of God as we choose to have. I am obliged to conclude that God is able to do anything in us that we will allow Him to do. In our limited earthly terms, He appears to have limited Himself to only one restriction in working inside us – our will. If we choose not to allow Him to work – He will respect our desire and allow us to flounder and fail. His work in us is, in effect, our choice. It is not that He is not able to do it all, it is that He is not willing to force our submission. He has left that part up to us. No amount of theological posturing can make God responsible for my submission to Him. I must take responsibility for my decision in taking up His Cross and following Him. Every lesson I learn that weakens that resolve serves to build in me the sense of victimization – but does nothing to make me more like Christ. I am called to choose because I can choose. I am called to follow because I must follow. I am called to submit because I can submit. The bottom line is not His willingness or His ability – it is mine.

If you don’t think you have what it takes to overcome sin – you are wrong. God is within you. Truth has been embedded within you. If you are a Christ follower, you KNOW it is there. Water the seed with the Word. Prop it up with the stakes of spiritually encouraging examples. Ask God for the continued nutrients of affirmation and guidance of wise counselors. He has not begun a good work in you to cut it off and let it wither. He will perform it in you if you will not stubbornly block the work of His Word and the power of His Spirit.

The Faith Work Out: "The Trouble with Troubles" – James 1:1-12

As I write this study, the city of London is flooded with people as the teams assemble for the 2012 Olympic Games. Much talk has been about security, and in light of the terrible carnage of recent days, it is obvious to most of us that keeping both the competitors and the audiences safe is of primary importance. I doubt sincerely, however, that security is on the minds of those who are about to compete. To enter the games and to qualify requires a vast and relentless commitment. Hundreds of thousands of hours of preparation are the norm for this level of competition. The smell of sweat, the cries of agony and the smells of Ben Gay are the common cocktail of preparation.

Take, for instance, a gymnast. From the time a young girl is identified as particularly gifted by a trainer until the time of her grand competition is normally a minimum of five years. In those intervening years, the child is subjected to extreme diet conditions, extensive workouts and painful stretches. They are poked, prodded, tested and pushed by people who are tremendously driven to bring them to success. In the first part of the training, it is NORMAL for them to dislike deeply both the trainer, and the parents that put them in the training. As a result, the training includes – not just a strengthening of the body and stretching of the skills – but training of the mind. The competitor has to be made to understand that those who are causing her pain are doing it for her own coming victory. There truly can be no gain without pain.

Athletes get it. They know to build up the body, we tear into its abilities and create short term pain – but the result is the sculpting of the body’s muscles, the greater efficiency of the body’s systems, and the great ability of the body’s accomplishments. What is true in the physical realm, often highlights a spiritual truth. Trouble, like a weight-loaded exercise, can fall into our lives in a very painful and unwelcome way. When it does, it may cause us to pull back and doubt God’s goodness – just as the young athlete doubts the trainer’s intent. Deeply rooted inside us is the desire to gain pleasure and shun pain. Our society, even in the modern Christian world, has come to see pleasure and ease as blessing, and pain as the Devil’s hindrance… but that is not the Biblical view. The Bible doesn’t explain away all pain as an attack of the evil one.

Key Principle: God is often behind the weight of my troubles, teaching me endurance and offering me an opportunity to grow, excel and accomplish things I didn’t know I could.

He is training me for a better future by challenging me in the present – and it is not done in vengeance. It is His way of preparing us in love. Look at the way James instructs us about TROUBLE.

I want to look at the short reading twice in this study – first in Peterson’s paraphrase called The Message, then in the NASB I normally teach from. The first reading is for general flavor, the second is to try and taste each ingredient as we take the revealed truths apart.

The Message (James 1:1-12):

1:1 I, James, am a slave of God and the Master Jesus, writing to the twelve tribes scattered to Kingdom Come: Hello! 2-4 Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. 5-8 If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open. 9-11 When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing. 12 Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.

What a fascinating way to paraphrase this little portion! It is earthy, simple and straight. I love the challenge at the heart of the message of the text – “Don’t shrink from trouble!” While the flavor is still being spiritually savored, let’s take a closer look at each verse, in hopes to really take apart the ingredients. Why? Because troubles come. They are a constant companion. Some of us go through seasons of trouble in our lives, and others, like “Pig-Pen” (the old Peanuts character) seem to be surrounded by clouds of dusty struggles. Let’s turn back to verse 1, this time in the New American Standard Version which is noted for its accuracy in noun and verb translation, because that accuracy will be critical to our understanding.

A Word about the Writer and Original Readers

1:1 James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ – To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: Greetings.

To open the letter of James, we peer into someone else’s mail. Understanding a bit about the writer and the people whose letter we just cut open may help us grasp why the letter was so CRUCIAL to these early believers, and may even offer us a clue or two as to why the letter’s principles are critical to us as well. The letter opens with a short and pointed greeting that identifies both the author and the recipient.

First, who is this James?

The name James in Hebrew is Ya’acov or Jacob – and it was terribly common in the period of the New Testament. Jesus had two disciples that carried the name – the brother of John and one called “James the Less”. I always felt bad about the second one… I mean, do you really want to be known by having less than someone else? (For those boasting at Weight Watchers – perhaps the answer is YES!). In addition, Jesus had a half-brother named James – and I think this is the one who wrote the letter, though the Epistle doesn’t really say it is him. Why?

  • First, the brother of John died a martyr in Acts 12, and that was so soon after the beginnings of the church, that it seems unlikely there was already a circular letter to send out to the Jewish world in the diaspora – or dispersion. He was a disciple, and therefore important, but his life span puts him in the suspect category for me.
  • Some scholars muddy the waters even further by suggesting it wasn’t someone actually named James, but someone using the well-established practice of a pseudonym – a “pen name”. I find that argument really weak – since the writer left WHICH James ambiguous at best. The lack of any real follow up on the authority beyond the first line of the Epistle makes that really far-fetched in my view.

We have another alternative found in James, the half-brother of Jesus.

  • If you read about the early church, you will find that Jesus’ brother was the most prominent leader in Jerusalem by the time of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Clearly, as the Bishop of the church at Jerusalem (the speaking elder) his Jewish flavor would permeate the early writing from a time before the rise of the Gentile movement. The epistle of James is full of Jewish flavor written in “clear and elegant Koine Greek.”
  • He saw the resurrected Jesus in a special appearance, and became prominent among the disciples.
  • James other brother was also an Epistle writer – the one named Jude (likely a shortened form of Yehudah or Judah). Look at the beginning of the two letters and there is a distinct similarity. The Epistle of James identifies the writer as “a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,”. Jude, introduced the letter of Jude by calling himself “a slave of Jesus Christ, but a brother of James.” (Jas 1:1; Jude 1).
  • Furthermore, if you look closely at the letter that was circulated on Paul’s second missionary journey in Acts (following the council of Acts 15) the salutation of James’ letter (the author of the circulated letter) includes the term “Greetings!” in the same way as did the letter concerning circumcision that was sent to the congregations.

It looks to me like the evidence upholds an old tradition that James was the legal “half-brother” of Jesus, probably from the union of Joseph before his first wife died (if the fragmentary Protoevangelium is to be believed). He was a respected teaching elder at Jerusalem. And the default voice of the Apostle’s meeting in Jerusalem at the Council of Acts 15. His words were eloquent, and seriously understood. He needed to offer little more than his name to the document to make it authoritative in the minds of the first hearers.

Who were the recipients of the original letter?

They were first century dispersed Jews that were increasingly coming to Jesus as Messiah and Lord. They were not in the land of Israel when Jesus walked there, and heard about His coming from the testimony of others. They were under pressure that would only increase as the century waned, and James was trying to encourage them. It was early in the movement, and they were still meeting in “synagogues” (James 2:2 the word “assembly” is synagogue in the Greek text).

Why does that matter? Some in church history have had difficulty with the letter because the flavor of this text sounds very JEWISH. It presumes that what you BELIEVE is what you ACT UPON. It is written to people who cannot separate the THEORY from the PRACTICE. The honorable sixteenth century scholar Dr. Martin Luther didn’t like it – because his rich understanding of “salvation by grace through faith” sometimes approached a theoretical belief. You have all met them – people who SPEAK CHRISTIANEZE but live STREET LIFE. James didn’t accept the premise that your faith was real if you didn’t live it, any more than your spouse would accept that your live ws real if they caught you in bed with another. I am being graphic to help you understand the extremity of the problem. Many people think they can SAY they belong to Jesus – and that erases their daily life.

The gospel is about surrender, not simply about word games and theological posturing.

Deep in the heart of the Jewish tradition is the notion that you really believe what you DO, not what you SAY. That is very thoroughly reflected in this Epistle. The first issue James tackled, under the guiding hand of the Spirit was the constant companion of troubles that flooded the life of a Jewish follower of Jesus. His first subject was – “THE TROUBLE WITH TROUBLES”.

Trouble 1: When troubles come, my heart sours – because I don’t see the point (1:2-3).

James 1:2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

A painfully literal reading of this text from its original language may help push our understanding beyond what we read in the English. James says something like this:

Lead the way in moving your mind toward delight my dear family, particularly at the time when an array of proving tests are dropped into your life. When you rejoice in these things, you show that you have grown in certainty and prove you have gained a truly Biblical world view. It demonstrates that you have come to understand what God is doing to you is FOR YOU. The heavy weight of trouble is God’s way of building up your ability to remain under great stress.

James called on believers to SEE THE POINT of their troubles. People can endure incredible pain and suffering – if they see the point. Discomfort for a purpose is somehow less crushing. The believer must unmask underlying attitudes about life that are both unhealthy and ungodly:

  • Myth: If I am walking with God, my life will be easier. If that is true, then the Bible is filled with inaccurate accounts. From David to Moses, from John the Baptizer to Paul – the book is filled with accounts of people that had tough times WHEN THEY FOLLOWED GOD. I am not arguing that God will not be there for you – you know better than that. I am deliberately and forcefully opposing the highly circulated view that Jesus is about making my life easier. If you came to Him because you want LESS, you came for the wrong reason. Satan never knew your name until you became obedient to Christ. You were no threat until your heart possessed the Gospel and your lips were committed to share its truth. God does not want to hurt you, but the byproduct of walking with Him is the need for armor you didn’t even know existed before. Akin to this myth are a host of others like:

God is interested in making my life easier.

Easier is better.

If God is in the plan, it will work easier.

Let me stretch this a bit further. Many of us have the “mommy myth” about God. We think that it is only logical that since our mom loved us and her love was profoundly shown in her keeping us from pain and discomfort – that care is shown only in tenderness, providing comfort, and guarding against or clearing away pain. The Biblical truth is this: God is your Heavenly Father, not your Heavenly Mother.

Most dads have a different way about them. When a little guy falls down, most don’t take their boo-boo to be kissed to their dad. Why? He is a parent. Isn’t he? Yes, but he is not mom. He is not all about comfort. He has a different view of life than mom. He may feel that to prepare for big problems, a boy must overcome little problems. He may truly want to see the boy suck it up and take the pain. It isn’t that dad doesn’t care – it is that his care isn’t shown in automatically trying to remove pain and trouble.

Does God comfort? Sure He does. I am not a little boy, and my pain is not from some little scrape. At the same time, we must face a truth: God is highly interested in preparing you for greater use by Him in the future – and that may be best served by letting the pain and weight of trouble do a work inside us. Escape from all pain is not His chief goal – preparation and transformation are.

James wrote – first, deal with your attitude about trouble. If you don’t, nothing else will help.

Trouble 2: When trouble comes, I seek escape – not strengthening (1:4).

James 1:4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Once I believe that God is preparing me for something, I have the ability to look at strains and troubles like the training athlete. If I avoid the workout, I rob myself of the eventual gold medal. If I cheat on repetitions with the weights, it will show up later in the performance of my sport. I don’t want to press the image, because my life and your life is NO GAME – it is much more serious. At the same time, the idea of FLEEING the workout is natural.

I don’t like what hurts, no matter why it hurts. I know when I NEED a NEEDLE – but I don’t go looking for reasons to NEED one. I avoid people who give them! Escape from pain is a natural reflex. Only people numbed by serious delusion need pain to motivate them. At the same time, pain can be a GOAD to do something. The constant load can build me up!

Some years ago I found that I was getting sluggish (read: FAT). I wanted to trim a few pounds and get some endurance. The way I did that was strap on weights to my arms and legs and keep doing what I was already doing in my daily routine. The extra pressure built up muscles and increased endurance in my body. It works in the spirit as well. Running from the weight, fleeing the pressure will only rob your future usefulness to God.

James argues that I must deal with my patience about trouble if I want to be ready to be used by God for greater things.

Trouble 3: When trouble comes, I run from God – because I don’t understand why He let it happen (1:5).

James 1:5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

It is one thing to RUN from PAIN, it is another thing to RUN FROM GOD. I am not sure why this is the case, but I have observed that in our fallen state – when we are hurt deeply, we often turn away from God rather than seek His face. We may cry “WHY?” but often our tears seem to block our ears from listening – if God chooses to tell us.

James says something worth remembering: When you are getting pummeled by life and you don’t understand why – God is the right Person to ask about it.

We live in a time when people don’t understand the boundaries of privacy very well. I have noticed that among the younger set in particular, things that were once considered inappropriate to share in mixed company are no longer considered that way. We are a connected and sharing culture. I can look on twitter and see what breakfast cereal my friend in California ate this morning – though I can’t tell you WHY I would want to know, or WHY he would want to tell me. When troubles unjustly rain down on us, we must admit that more of us are likely to Facebook than PRAY. We are much more likely to pick up a cell phone rather than drop to our knees. There is something desperately wrong in the life of a believer that allows troubles to pummel them without seeking God about what He may be saying.

Not all trouble comes from God directly.

  • Sometimes bad things happen because I live in a fallen world, and it is groaning to be redeemed. Tornadoes and Hurricanes aren’t all directed specifically at YOU – they are part of a larger process.
  • Sometimes bad things happen because I live on a planet filled with rebellious men and women. They want to do what they want to do. If they want to drink too much and then drive – their choices may affect the course of my life. It is part of living in a fallen community.
  • Sometimes bad things happen because I have been careless in preparations. If you don’t fill your gas tank, don’t get mad at God when the car stops on the highway late at night.

The fact is there are MANY reasons why troubles are introduced into our lives besides that of training for the future. At the same time, I have a lifeline to God that allows me to ASK THE QUESTION to Him about why they are dropping on me. The one thing I must NOT do, is assume God is somehow uninterested in me, or even MAD at me. God’s normal way of calling me to repentance is not THUNDERBOLTS that scare me – it is in KINDNESS.

Paul wrote to the Roman believers about God’s work in the specific context of passing judgment on other people and said:

Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

In other words, watch what you say about others. The standard we judge other by, will be the standard we get judged by. Then he continued…

Romans 2:2 Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?

He argues that God doesn’t change HIS standards, but those standards are always rooted in the absolute TRUTH. Since that is the case, if we judge someone else and our standard is right – the sword of truth will cut both ways. We cannot expect in others what we do not live ourselves. Now for the reason we are looking at this passage…

Romans 2:4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? 5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

Troubles apparently aren’t God’s preferred method of communicating to the believer.

The problem is that many of us don’t get it. God blesses, so we feel ok about doing wrong. God blesses more to get us to blush with embarrassment over how we are mistreating Him, and we feel more deeply justified. In the end, the judgment against us is compounded because our heart was hard and head was thick. Here’s the point: Don’t look at all trouble like a WOODSHED moment, where God is giving you a licking for being bad – that just isn’t the case. ASK GOD if you want to know, and then become very sensitive and quiet – and He will open the door of answers.

James argues that I must set aside my doubt about trouble and ask God if I want God’s work to be effective in me.

Trouble 4: When trouble comes, my prayer wobbles – because I am not certain I can trust God (1:6-7).

James 1:6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

James doesn’t only address the fact that we need to ASK GOD, but he adds a few words about HOW WE ASK. God isn’t in the business of dealing openly with people who “hedge their bets” on Him with other possible answers. When you think about it – that behavior is specifically demeaning to the Lord of the Universe. We aren’t to “TRY GOD” while we keep our other options open. Doubts about prayer are doubts about God. When we aren’t sure our “prayers are getting through” we are essentially addressing God’s ability to HEAR US – and that is a reflection of what we believe about HIM.

Have you ever tried to stand up in a small boat in rough seas? You stumble and cling to the sides just to move about! That is James’ point: When we don’t really count on God to come through, we dishonor God. We act like He isn’t where we should put our trust. We treat Him as untrustworthy. Can you imagine? The God that created everything from DNA strands to rainbow light refraction should wait for me to believe that HE is enough?

James argues that I must directly address my prayer life if I want troubles to sculpt my life into something pleasing to the Lord.

Trouble 5: When trouble comes, an unwanted reminder surfaces – my control is an illusion (1:9-11).

James 1:9 But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; 10 and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.

The text does not argue for me to feel good about other’s misfortune, nor cheer another’s pain. It can sound like that – but on close examination that whole behavior is ungodly. What James is driving at here is the reality that we live a life of illusion. The young think they can stay up all night, mistreat their bodies and push their limitations – because they are in control. Soon gravity and wrinkles do their work. The first half of life we are willing to press out every ounce of energy to get ahead in a job that provides a good salary and retirement benefits. The second half of our lives we are ready to spend any amount of money to have back half the body we destroyed in the first half.

Here’s my point: I am not in control. My life is not in my hands. My wealth, and the wealth of my nation is not all up to our abilities and our cunning. We live in a world that is operated by greater power than ourselves. I didn’t choose the day of my birth, and if all goes well, I will not choose the day of my death. I have no control over what sex, color or nationality I was born. I do not know to what extent my genes play into illness or wellness. What I know is that I am not in control – and that control is an illusion in this life. With each passing year, that lesson comes home to me in a more powerful way.

James argues I must see clearly in the midst of my troubles if I want them to perform their work in me.

Trouble 6: When trouble comes, I feel it is a penalty or curse – I fail to see the opportunity to please God with my life (1:12).

James 1:12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

James says that some people can be trounced upon by troubles and still be blessed. The key is perseverance until proof emerges that God is pleased – even if that comes in the life after this life. We must remember that God never misses a tear cried in the pain of injustice. He never overlooks a heart robbed of innocence and cruelly abused. He is an all seeing and ever-present God – and He will one day make sense of it all.

Do not be deceived into thinking that life will make sense now, should make sense now, or NEEDS to make sense now.

We see the tapestry from the bottom side, where the threads are mangled and hang in a thoughtless pattern. God views from above, where the beauty of the threads have woven into a tapestry to tell His story. Stop looking for an explanation of everything this side of Heaven. Man doesn’t know. Experts don’t know. Doctors don’t know. Sometimes the answers will be delayed all the way until Heaven – but they ARE known there.

James argues I must look past this life to see the real benefit of troubles.

God is often behind the weight of my troubles, teaching me endurance and offering me an opportunity to grow, excel and accomplish things I didn’t know I could. Even when I don’t understand what He is doing, I can deliberately place my confidence and trust in Who He is!