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…
FOUR WAYS TO RESPOND WHEN WRONGED
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.