Introduction and Turning Trials to Triumphs
The theme of the Book of James is spiritual maturity – how to grow up in Christ. The key verse is James 1:4b “ …so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.” Not everyone who grows old, grows up! There is a difference between age and maturity. The Book of Hebrews, which we studied a few months ago, and the Book of James go together. The theme of Hebrews is spiritual perfection. The word “perfect” is used 14 times in Hebrews. And the key verse of Hebrews is 6:1. Hebrews explains the perfect salvation in Christ. James exhorts his readers to build on this salvation and grow to maturity.
To get the most from this study we must look into it as a mirror. James 1:22-25 We must see ourselves as we are and then do something about it. (ILLUS: A primitive from the jungle had never seen a mirror. When he looked into one the first time and saw himself he was shocked and broke the mirror!) We must be doers of the Word and not hearers only. We must measure ourselves by the Word, not by other Christians. Not everyone who grows old, grows up!
A. James is the same name which in the Old Testament is Jacob. There are four men named James mentioned in the New Testament.
1. There was the disciple James who was the son of Zebedee and brother of John. He was killed by Herod in 44 AD. Acts 12:1-2
2. There was another, little known disciple named James who was the son of Alphaeus.
3. Then there was James the father of Judas. Judas was also a disciple, but he was not Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus.
4. The author of this book was James, the half-brother of Jesus. Jesus had brothers and sisters whose mother was Mary, but whose father was Joseph. So they were his half-brothers and sisters. Judas or Jude who wrote the Book of Jude was another one of them. Like Jude, James didn’t identify himself as the brother of Jesus, but only as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”. He also did not write that he was the exalted head of the church, like the Pope would do today. How humble James and Jude were!
B. It’s amazing that Jesus’ half-brothers, who did not accept Him as Messiah and Lord during His ministry, came to be among His staunchest supporters. At first they thought He was crazy. Mark 3:21 Later they mocked Him. John 7:1-5 Something happened to them during Jesus’ suffering, death and crucifixion, because they were in the Upper Room praying with the disciples and women at Pentecost. Acts 1:14 Jesus had appeared personally to James after the resurrection. I Cor. 15:7 Later James became the leader of the church. Paul called him one of the pillars of the church along with Peter and John. Gal. 2:9 In Acts 15 we find James as the moderator of the church council. There is no record of James’ death, but tradition says that he was martyred in 62 AD. The Pharisees had him thrown down from the temple and beaten to death with clubs. They probably hated James as much as Jesus since he was the leader of the church. He died like Jesus, praying for his murderers.
C. What kind of man was James? We can draw some conclusions about him from what he did and what he wrote. He must have been deeply spiritual to be able to gain the leadership of the church so quickly. From his leadership of the Jerusalem Council we see that he was wise, permitting all parties to express themselves, and then bringing peace by drawing on God’s Word. Tradition says that he was a man of prayer, with knees as hard as camel’s knees. James was a Jew, raised in the Law of Moses. In his book he didn’t just suggest. He commanded. There are 50 imperatives in the Book of James. Even before he believed in Jesus as Lord and Savior, James must have listened to Him because he makes 6 allusions to the Sermon on the Mount.
A. To whom did James write? James addressed his letter to the 12 tribes scattered among the nations (v. 1) or the Jews living outside of Palestine. He wrote specifically to Christian Jews, addressing them 19 times as “brothers”. He was very clear about the new birth. James 1:18 Why were they scattered? They were scattered by the persecution. Acts 8:1b Jesus had told them to scatter out and spread the gospel, but they didn’t obey until they were forced to leave Jerusalem by the persecution. Since they were Jews, they were rejected by Gentiles. Since they were Christian Jews they were rejected by Jews! It seems from what James wrote that most were poor and some were oppressed by the rich.
B. Why did James write? Each New Testament book had its own theme, purpose, and destination. You remember how we studied that about Hebrews. These Christian Jews expelled from their home were going through difficult testings – facing temptations to sin. One of the major problems in the church was the failure of many to live what they professed to believe. Is it any different today? Gossip, cheating, worldliness and division were hurting their witness to a needy world. What was the cause of all these problems? It was spiritual immaturity. So James’ theme is: the marks of maturity in the Christian life. Are our churches playpens for baby Christians or workshops for adult Christians?
A. Are we victims or victors in our trials? How are we to deal with trials in our lives? God tells us to expect trials. Jesus said, “In the world you shall have tribulation”. John 16:33 Paul said, “We must through much tribulation enter the kingdom.” Acts 14:22 Some trials come just because we are human and others because we are Christians. How are we to deal with these trials in our lives? James calls us to a very high standard. He doesn’t tell us to endure or keep a stiff upper lip. He calls us to consider our trials “pure joy”. That’s asking a lot. The trials may come from all directions, but regardless where they come from, we are to face them with joy. How can we? Our values determine our evaluations of our trials:
1. If comfort is more important to us than character, trials will upset us.
2. If material and physical things are more important to us than spiritual things, we will not be able to be joyful in trials.
3. If we live only for the present and forget the future, trials will make us bitter instead of better.
B. Only an understanding mind can help us to see trials in the right way. What do Christians know that makes it easier to face trials?
1. Faith is always tested. God tested Abraham to increase his faith. God tests us to bring out the best in us, just like a teacher tests her students.
2. Testing works for us, not against us. I Pet. 1:7 When a miner takes an ore sample to the assayer to have him test it for gold, it’s only worth a few dollars. If it is approved as pure gold it may be worth millions. II Cor. 4:17
3. Trials rightly used help us to mature. Patience is courageous perseverance in the face of suffering and difficulty. Immature people are always impatient. Mature people are patient and persistent. Impatience and unbelief go together while patience and faith go together. Heb. 10:36
C. God wants to make us patient because that’s the key to other blessings. Abraham was impatient to have a son so he jumped ahead of God’s plan and had a son by Hagar. To this day the descendants of the Ishmaelites are enemies of the Jews. Moses knew he wanted to rescue his people, but he jumped ahead of God’s plan and killed an Egyptian. Peter could have killed the servant of the high priest when he cut off his ear with his sword. The only way the Lord can develop patience and character is through trials – not through reading a book, listening to a sermon or even praying. We must go through difficulties, trust God and obey Him. When we understand this, we can have joy in our trials. Reading about faithful servants of God, or hearing testimonies of fellow believers helps us to understand that God has a purpose in every trial. Being tested, finding it joy, and persevering finally brings us to maturity and completeness, making it possible for us to hold onto our faith till the end.
A. God cannot build our character without our cooperation. God wants a finished product, mature and complete. We must begin the Christian life as babies – being born again into God’s family. But babies must become children who become young men and women who finally become fathers and mothers. God works for us in salvation, in us in sanctification, and then through us in service. Babies cannot serve others, so God builds character and maturity before He calls to service. Abraham had to wait 25 years before his promised son was born. Joseph had to wait 13 years before he was ready for the throne. Moses spent 80 years in preparation for 40 years of service. If we go through trials without surrendered wills, we end up immature children instead of mature adults. God disciplined Jonah, but he still didn’t obey God from the heart. He pouted like a spoiled child outside the walls of Nineveh after God graciously forgave an entire nation that repented.
B. But we often find ourselves incapable of facing trials with the right attitude. We are not wise enough to see through to the end of God’s purposes. When we go through God-ordained trials, what should we pray about? We need to ask God for wisdom. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. That’s why in this world sometimes we find educated fools! (evolution, etc.) Why do we need wisdom when going through trials? Why not strength, grace or deliverance? We need wisdom so we don’t waste the opportunity God is giving us to grow and mature. (ILLUS: A church secretary was going through hard times. She had a stroke, and her husband was blind and in the hospital. The pastor told her that he was praying. She asked, “What are you praying for? Pray that I won’t waste this opportunity to grow.”)
C. James not only told us what to ask for but how to ask. We are to ask in faith, not in doubt or fear. Waves are fickle. You never know which way they will go. If you are at a beach here where there are waves, don’t turn your back to them. They may knock you down or drag you out to sea! Doubt made Peter sink into the sea. Jesus asked him, “Why did you doubt?” He almost drowned because he was double-minded. Satan wants to use the tests to tear us down, but God uses them to build us up. We can have a joyful attitude in trials because we love God and we know He loves us. Where there is love, there is surrender and obedience. Love and faith go together. Love keeps us faithful to the Lord. The double-minded person is like an unfaithful husband or wife, loving both God and the world. Lot was double-minded. He failed under trials. Abraham was God’s friend. He loved and trusted God, and he was victorious and matured in his trials. Heb. 10:35-36
We can have wisdom by just asking God. He gives generously to all who ask without blaming us for being so foolish. Our problem is that we ask, not believing that God will guide us and give us wisdom. So what’s the use of asking if we don’t believe that God will answer? He who doubts that God will answer is like a wave which is tossed to and fro by every wind. The doubter is tossed around by every new idea. Eph. 4:14 He vacillates from faith to doubt. This dishonors God and makes Him unwilling to give anything to that person. The one who vacillates is a double-minded man. His mind is not set only on God. He also relies on himself, others, circumstances, etc. He is not just unstable in his prayer life. He is unstable in all he does, flipping back and forth between faith and doubt. Such a man will not receive anything from the Lord!
How to Handle Temptation
Last week we studied James’ words in verses 2 & 3. We are to consider it pure joy when we face trials because the testing of our faith develops perseverance. Trials may be tests sent by God, or they may be temptations sent by Satan and encouraged by our own fallen nature. What is the relationship between testings without and temptations within? When things are difficult, we may complain against God, question His love and resist His will. Satan then provides the way out – temptation! When there was a famine in Canaan, it was an opportunity for Abraham to trust and prove God’s faithfulness. Instead, he fell to the temptation to go to Egypt and there lied about Sarah and brought shame on God’s name.
I. Rich and poor are equal
A. James says that we should not judge people and this world by what we see or what seems to be. Actually when Jesus comes into our lives it turns everything upside down. Those in humble circumstances should be proud of their high position in Christ – as sons of God and heirs of an eternal kingdom. The Christian who is rich should be proud of his low position – that he is nothing without Christ, and will pass away like a wild flower, leaving all his money and possessions for others. All it takes is for the sun to rise with scorching heat to wither the plant, causing its blossom to fall and its beauty to be destroyed. It is glorious for a moment, but then is gone.
B. So the rich man has glories on this earth only for a moment. He will fade away even as he goes about the business of making money. So rich and poor should not measure themselves by the world’s standards, but by God’s great equalizing love. The poor become incredibly rich by walking with God. They need to think of themselves in that way, not as low and insignificant – of course, always giving glory to God. The rich need to know that their riches on this earth are transient and they are nobodies, but for the grace of God.
C. James then goes back to the subject of trials, which he mentioned in the first verses. The tests and trials of our faith develop perseverance. Blessed are those who faithfully persevere under trial. They don’t quit or turn against God. When that one has stood the test to the end, he will receive a crown for his faithfulness – the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him. Our perseverance under testing proves our love for Him. Without love, we would give up, quit serving Him, and turn bitter and angry, blaming Him for our trials.
A. Some may say when they are tested that God is tempting them. Look ahead to see where temptation leads – to death! We can’t blame God for temptation. He’s too holy to be tempted, and too loving to tempt others. God does test us, but He does not and cannot tempt us. He tests us by the fire to eliminate the dross and bring out the pure gold of perseverance out of love for God. Actually, we are not even tempted by Satan to begin with. He enters into the picture after we have been tempted by our own desires. We are the ones who turn testing into temptation. A temptation is trying to do a good thing in a bad way – cheating to pass an exam, or overeating instead of eating the amount that’s good for our bodies.
B. The process of sin is in 4 stages. The first stage is desire (v. 14). Lust is any kind of desire. Normal desires given to us by God all have good purposes. Those would be the desires to eat, drink, sleep or love someone. On the other hand, eating can turn to gluttony and overeating; sleep can turn to laziness; marital sex can turn to adultery or homosexuality. The secret is to be in constant control of our desires and to use them properly, as God planned. Our desires must be our servants, not our masters. We must stand guard over our hidden desires. Unless purified and committed to God, they may end in death.
C. The second stage of sin is deception (v. 14). In the kindest terms, James says, “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers.” (v. 16) Hunters and fishermen have to use bait, but they hide it. No animal will step into a trap if he knows it’s there, and fish don’t bite an empty hook. Temptation carries bait that appeals to our natural desires. The bait attracts us and also hides the sorrow and punishment that will follow. David saw only the beautiful Bathsheba and was not aware of all the sorrow and heartache that would come to him and his family when he fell to the temptation. Jesus quoted God’s Word when He was tempted. When God’s Word is first in our hearts and lives we can detect the bait and deal with it – by walking by faith & obedience, not by sight.
D. The third stage of sin is disobedience (v. 15). We move from the emotions (desire) to the intellect (deception) to the will. Desire conceives a method for taking the bait; the will approves and acts; and the result is sin. Christian living is a matter of the will, not feelings. Mature people act because it is right, no matter how they feel. As you exercise your will, God will take control of your life. Phil. 2:13
E. The fourth and final stage of sin is death (v. 15). Disobedience gives birth to death, not life. It may take years, but when the sin matures, the result will be death. God wants to stop this process. Ezek. 18:23 We can see these 4 stages in the very first sin in the Garden.
1.) The serpent used desire to interest Eve. Gen. 3:5
2.) Satan deceived Eve. II Cor. 11:3 Eve only saw the bait and forgot God’s warning. Gen. 2:17
3.) Eve disobeyed God. She shared with Adam and he disobeyed God. Adam sinned with his eyes open.
4.) Both Adam and Eve experienced immediate spiritual death – separation from God – and eventual physical death. And now all men die because of Adam and those who die without Christ will suffer eternal death. I Cor. 15:22
Whenever you’re tempted to sin, get your eyes off the bait and look ahead to the consequences: God’s judgment!
A. One of Satan’s tricks is to convince us that God doesn’t really love us and care for us. His message to Eve was: “If God really loved you He wouldn’t keep good things from you.” Satan’s message to Jesus was: “If Your Father really loved you, He wouldn’t let you be hungry like this.” Knowing and believing the goodness of God is a barrier against yielding to temptation. Since God is good, we don’t need any other person to met our needs, including Satan. If we doubt God and His goodness, we’ll be attracted to Satan’s offers. Moses warned Israel not to forget God’s goodness when they began to enjoy the blessings of the Promised Land. Deut. 6:10-15
B. The good and perfect gifts are all from above – not from below – the world or Satan. There are 4 facts we can know about the goodness of God.
1.) God gives only good gifts. If it did not come from God, it isn’t good. If it is from God it must be good, even if we can’t see it at the time.
2.) The way God gives is good. A person can give you a gift with the wrong motives – to deceive you or gain your favor or buy your soul! What God gives and how He gives it are both good.
3.) He gives constantly. “It keeps on coming down.” Even when we don’t see His gifts or are not aware of them, He is still sending them.
4.) God does not change. He can’t change for the worse because He is holy; He can’t change for the better because He’s already perfect. He does not change like shifting shadows. The devil and godless men do. They are unstable. (v. 8)
B. The light of the sun varies as the earth changes, but the sun itself still shines. If shadows come between God and us, He didn’t cause them! God had been good to David, but David forgot God’s goodness and took the bait. The first barrier against temptation is a negative one: the judgment of God. The second barrier is positive: the goodness of God. We can obey God because we fear Him or because we love Him for His goodness to us. In Joseph’s temptation, he was restrained by the goodness of God in providing everything for him. Gen. 39:9 God’s gifts are always better than Satan’s bargains. Satan never gives any gifts because you pay for them dearly. When tempted, think about God’s goodness in your life. If you think you need something, wait for God to provide it.
A. In the first barrier to temptation, God says, “Look ahead and beware of judgment”. In the second barrier, He says, “Look around and see how good I’ve been to you.” in the third barrier, He says, “Look within and realize that you have been born from above and possess the divine nature.” 1.) This birth is divine. Just as we did not generate our human birth, we can’t generate our spiritual birth. When we put our faith in Christ, God performed the miracle. 2.) This birth is gracious. We did not earn or deserve it. This new birth is the work of God – not of relatives or resolutions or religion. John 1:13
B. 3.) This new birth is through God’s Word and God’s Spirit. John 3:6; I Pet. 1:23 The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to bring us to Him. 4.) This birth is the finest birth possible. The Jews offered the finest, the firstfruits to God. Of all God’s creatures, Christians are the highest and finest. We share God’s nature. It’s beneath our dignity to accept Satan’s bait or desire sinful things. A higher birth must mean a higher life. God accepts the new birth, not the old birth. If we let the old nature take over, we’ll fail. We received it from Adam and he was a failure. If we yield to the new nature, we’ll succeed because it comes from Christ and He’s the Victor.
C. It is the Father who gave birth to His children. He did it through the Word of truth. He made us firstfruits of all He created. Actually, Jesus is the firstfruit. And we follow as His offspring. Isa. 53:10 All His creation belongs to Him but it has come under the curse. We, His children, are the first to be delivered, to come to Him as firstfruits, purchased by the Son, given birth by the Father, and filled with the Holy Spirit.
When temptation knocks at the door, send Jesus, not Adam! The old man will fall every time. God has erected 3 barriers to help us in times of temptation. First, we remember His judgment and the death that is waiting at the end of the road of sin. Second, we remember His goodness. He has been faithful and loving all our lives. The least we can do is respond to His love by refusing to disobey Him. Third, we remember that we are children of God, bought with a terrible price – the blood of Jesus. Our heart’s desire should be to please Him. If we pay attention to these 3 barriers, we’ll win a crown (v. 12). If we break through them and insist on our own lustful desires, we’ll find a coffin (v. 15).
Stop Deceiving Yourself
Once again James addresses the ones to whom he writes as “my dear brothers”. This shows that he is writing to Christians, and that he has a tender heart toward them. But he doesn’t hold back or mince his words. Of all the New Testament writers, James is possibly the most straightforward. I believe this shows his close affinity to Jesus who also spoke in a very straightforward manner. We don’t always like to hear this kind of teaching because it gets too close to home. James is not afraid to tackle some of our major faults. We do well to listen and pay attention!
I. Receive the Word
A. James calls God’s Word the “engrafted word” or “the word planted in you”(v. 21). It reminds us of Jesus’ parable in Matt. 13:1-23. There God’s Word is likened to the seed and our hearts to the soil. There are 4 kinds of soil: the hard, the shallow, the crowded, and the fruitful. The final test of salvation is fruit! What kind of fruit can God and others expect to see in our lives? Our fruit should include: growing in spiritual maturity, the winning of souls, sharing what we have with the needy, developing of the fruits of the Spirit, the doing of good works, and a life of prayer and praise. Real fruit has in it the seeds to produce more fruit. John 15:1-5 We must be careful what we hear and how we hear so that we don’t deceive ourselves into thinking that we are holier than we are. Attending Church and Bible Studies is good, but of little value if no fruit is evident from our studies.
B. First we must be “swift to hear” or “quick to listen”. Over and over again Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Matt. 13:9 A good servant is quick to hear his master’s voice. A mother is quick to hear her baby’s cry. So we must be quick to hear God speak. King David yearned for a drink of cool water from the well in Bethlehem, his home village. He didn’t give an order to his men, but only quietly expressed his longing. (II Sam. 23:15) Three of his mighty men heard his sigh and risked their lives to get the water. They were “quick to listen” to his whispered longing. Are we close enough to the Lord to hear His whispers of what He longs for us to do and be?
C. Second we must be “slow to speak”. We have 2 ears and 1 mouth, which ought to remind us to listen more than we speak. Too many times we argue with God’s Word or with others who are teaching it. Sometimes it seems like a war has been declared in our homes or our churches. James 4:1 Too much speaking and not enough listening can bring on the third problem. We must be “slow to become angry”. First, it is a mistake to become angry at God or His Word. In Gethsemane Peter was slow to hear, quick to speak and swift to anger. He almost killed a man and ended up denying the Lord. He might have avoided that if he had listened more carefully to Jesus. Many church fights are the result of short tempers and hasty words. Man’s uncontrolled anger does not bring about a righteous life. Instead it tends toward hatred, bitterness and resentment as well as high blood pressure and strokes. There is a godly anger against sin (Psa. 97:10), but our natural anger doesn’t produce God’s righteousness (v. 20). In fact, anger is the opposite of patience. James 1:3-4 If we are angry we need to calm down and find a quick resolution to the problem. Eph. 4:26
D. The fourth thing we need is a prepared heart. James saw the human heart as a garden. If left to itself, it will produce only weeds. He urged us to pull out the weeds and prepare the soil for the planting of God’s Word. The “moral filth and evil” he referred to is an overgrowth of useless and harmful weeds in our hearts. James said that the filth and evil are prevalent. That means they are everywhere growing like uncontrolled weeds. Today Sodom is right here on the TV and the Internet. We must be careful to guard our hearts and our homes. It’s foolish to receive God’s Word in an unprepared heart. It’s like planting flower seeds in the middle of hard ground full of weeds. How do we prepare the soil of our hearts?
1.) We confess our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness. I John 1:9
2.) We meditate on God’s love and grace and ask Him to plow up the hardness in our hearts. Jer. 4:3
3.) We have an attitude of meekness or humility. When you humbly receive God’s Word, you accept it and honor it instead of arguing with it. You don’t twist it to conform to your thinking or what you want to hear.
Christians who like to argue and debate “points of view” may be cultivating weeds instead of promoting spiritual growth.
A. People think that hearing a message or Bible Study makes them grow. It’s not the hearing but the doing that brings the blessing. Here James compares the Word to a mirror rather than seed. There are two other references to God’s Word as a mirror. We will look at those and see the ministry God’s Word has as a mirror. The first is to use it for examination. The purpose of a mirror is to help us see ourselves to be sure that we are neat and clean. Looking into God’s Word helps us see ourselves as we are. James mentions mistakes that people make as they look into God’s mirror.
B. Mistake no. #1: They merely glance at themselves in the mirror. Many sincere believers read a chapter a day, but it’s only a religious exercise that makes them feel better, but doesn’t really teach them anything. They read the Bible carelessly. It’s like the difference between a picture and an x-ray.
Mistake no. #2: They forget what they see in the mirror. If they looked deeply into their own hearts they would not be able to forget what they saw. Job was the most righteous man on earth, but he had to confess what he saw in God’s mirror. Job 42:6
Mistake no. #3: They don’t do what the Word tells them to do. One of James’ favorite words is “do”. In 4 verses here he uses it 6 times. In 2:14-26 he uses “do, does, deeds and actions” 13 times. How many Christians “merely listen” to the Word and so deceive themselves? They deceive themselves into thinking they are O.K. because they go to church or read the Bible. They are not O.K. until they do what the Bible says. They think hearing is the same as doing, but it isn’t. We Christians tend to substitute reading or talking for doing. We hold endless committee meetings and conferences about evangelism and church growth, but never do anything about it.
C. If we are to use God’s mirror profitably, we must gaze into it carefully and with serious intent. This requires time, attention, and sincere devotions. 5 minutes with God won’t do it. A good doctor takes time for his examination of the patient and tells him the truth. But some patients avoid the doctor or don’t want to hear the truth from him. Jesus, the Great Physician, examines us with His Word. Are we afraid of what we might see? After seeing ourselves, we must remember what we are and what God says we need to do about it, and then do what He says. Why does James call the Word, “the perfect law that gives freedom”? We think of law as binding, but God’s law and His ways set us free from sin and ourselves. When we obey it, God sets us free to be the kind of people He wants us to be and we want to be. John 8:31-32, 34 The one who continues to look intently into the mirror – who carefully studies the Word regularly – and does something about what he sees, is blessed in what he does. The blessing comes, not because he looks or hears, but because he does what he learned!
D. The second purpose of God’s mirror is restoration. In building the tabernacle Moses took the metal “mirrors” of the women and from them made the laver – a huge basin filled with water in which the priests washed hands and feet before entering the Holy Place. Water for washing pictures God’s Word in its cleansing power. As we walk in the world our hands and feet are defiled. In II Samuel 12 we read the story of how Nathan confronted David after his sin with Bathsheba and the death of Uriah. Nathan told David a story, ending with God’s Word to him about his sin. When David confessed his sin, Nathan used God’s Word for restoration. But what happens when we consider ourselves to be religious and yet do not control our tongues? Most religious people talk too much – especially gossip. If someone cannot control his tongue and thinks it is O.K. to gossip about others, James says his religion is “worthless”. A loose tongue can cancel out all the good of his religion – in the eyes of God and men!
E. The third purpose of God’s mirror is transformation. II Cor. 3:18 God wants to transform us – to help us grow in grace so we don’t commit that sin again. There is a difference between the Old Covenant of Law and the New Covenant of grace. Moses used a veil to hide his face so the Israelites wouldn’t see the fading glory. The New Testament believer has an unveiled face with the glory ever growing as he matures in Christ. When we look into the Word, God’s mirror, we see the Son of God and are transformed by the Spirit of God to share in God’s glory. A caterpillar goes through metamorphosis or change to become a butterfly. It’s a change on the outside that comes from the inside. With us, the glory of God’s Spirit on the inside changes us on the outside. Rom. 12:2 We have to take off the veil and not hide anything. John 1:8
A. The word “religion” means the outward practice or service of a god. It is used only 5 times in the New Testament. Pure religion has nothing to do with ceremonies, temples, or special days. It’s practicing God’s Word and sharing it with others. It has to do with our treatment of others, and our personal lifestyle. How are we to share it with others? We share God’s Word with our tongue. There are many references to speech and the tongue in this letter. In fact most of the third chapter of James is about the tongue. It seems that the tongue was then, and is now, a serious problem in the church. If the heart is right, the tongue will say right things. Secondly, we share God’s Word with our service. After we’ve seen Christ and ourselves in God’s mirror, then we need to see others and their needs. Isaiah first saw the Lord, then himself, then the people to whom he would minister. Isa. 6:1-8 Words are no substitute for deeds of love. We can’t get by with paying for others to do the ministry we should be doing. Looking after orphans and widows in their distress and needs shows a loving concern for suffering people who may be overlooked by others. There’s no glory in helping orphans and widows. This is an outgoing but quiet demonstration of faith and love. The one who serves like this expects nothing in return and no honor from doing it.
B. The third way we share God’s Word is with separation from the world. The world is society without God, and Satan is the prince of this world. We are in the world physically, but not of the world spiritually. We are sent into the world to influence others for Christ. We have to maintain our separation from the world to be able to serve and help others. The friendship of the world can lead to love for the world. James 4:4 We can than become conformed to this world and end up condemned with the world. I Cor. 11:32 Lot is the illustration. He chose the plains of Sodom, then pitched his tents toward Sodom, then moved into Sodom. Finally, Sodom moved in to him, and he lost his testimony. When judgment fell on Sodom he lost everything. It is not necessary for a Christian to get involved in the world in order to have a ministry to the people of the world. Jesus was unspotted, and yet He was the friend of publicans and sinners – not to join them in what they were doing, but to save them out of it! Luke 19:10
This section of James is on the dangers of self-deception. If a Christian is deceived by Satan and sins, that’s bad. But it’s worse when he deceived himself. Many deceive themselves into thinking they’re saved when they’re not. Matt. 7:22-23 But Christians can deceive themselves into thinking they’re spiritual when they’re not! It is a mark of a mature believer when a person faces himself honestly, admitting his faults and sins and recognizing his needs. Spiritual reality comes with a proper relationship to God through His Word. We must be willing to receive or accept His Word, practice His Word by being doers of it, and then share His Word and His love to others who need it.
Discrimination in the Church
The theme of the second chapter of James is the practicing of the truth. We know James is directing his words to Christians because he calls them “dear brothers”. His rebukes and correction are clothed in kind and loving words. Most churches have a statement of faith or covenant. These are good, but they are not substitutes for doing God’s will. James gave us a simple test to help us understand whether we are practicing God’s Word. He sent 2 visitors to church – one rich and one poor – and then watched to see how they were treated. The way we treat people indicates what we really believe about God. I John 4:20 James examines 4 basic Christian doctrines in the light of the way we treat other people.
Read James 2:1-13
I. The Deity of Christ
A. Jewish people in that day coveted recognition and honor. We have the same problem today – in politics, business and the church. Every church has its select groups and cliques. New Christians have a hard time fitting into the groups already formed. Another problem in the church is the use of positions and titles to feel important and gain status. Is this the reason why some people want to be deacons or deaconesses? Is it the cause of some men trying very hard to be ordained? Jesus said that we are to be humble servants. We don’t need a title to be a servant. We only need to serve.
B. Jesus did not respect persons. Matt. 22:16 Jesus wasn’t impressed with people’s outward appearance or status. He looked at the heart. The poor widow who offered only a mite was greater in His eyes than the rich Pharisee boasting about his big donation. Also, He saw the potential in the lives of sinners. In Simon, the fisherman, He saw a rock – Peter. In Matthew, a tax collector, He saw a faithful disciple who would one day write the first Gospel. In the sinful Samaritan woman at the well He saw a testimony that would shake the town of Sychar. Often we judge people by their past instead of their future potential. The church in Jerusalem was afraid to trust Saul of Tarsus after his conversion. We may be afraid to welcome and love new people because their past sins might damage our reputation and standing in the church.
C. Jesus was despised and rejected. Isa. 53:1-3 In spite of Third Wave claims that Jesus was rich, we know that He was a poor man who was rejected. He said that even the foxes and birds had homes while He had none. He grew up in the despised city of Nazareth. He had nothing physically or materially that would attract us to Him. In spite of appearances, Jesus was the very glory of God, dressed in poor, human flesh. John 1:14 The religious experts in Jesus’ day judged Him by human standards, and then rejected Him. He came from the wrong city, didn’t graduate from their schools, and was poor. And His followers were mere fishermen, tax collectors, and sinners. And yet He was the very glory of God!
D. We tend to judge people by their clothes, their nationality, where they come from, their wealth or lack of it, and their position or status. We cater to the rich and important to get something out of them, and avoid the poor because they embarrass us. How do we practice the deity of Christ in our human relationships? We need to look at everyone through the eyes of Christ. All of them were made in the image of the glorious God! If they’re Christians, Christ lives in them in the Person of the Holy Spirit. If they’re unsaved, Christ cared enough for them to come and die for them! Christ can use anyone who is willing to give his life to Him.
A. The next emphasis is on God’s choosing. “Has not God chosen..”? God has truly chosen those who are poor in the world’s eyes – the Gentiles, the landless, the impaired, the sick. He has chosen them to be rich in faith though they may never be rich in anything else. But the day will come when they will inherit the kingdom that He has promised to those who love Him. This is the same phrase used in 1:12 where it is the crown of life that is promised to those who love Him enough to stand the test. In this case, the test is being poor, in whatever way. The question is: Will we love Him to the end, no matter what the test? But these to whom James writes have discriminated against the poor and insulted them. On the other hand, they honor the rich who have exploited them, dragged them into court, and slandered the noble name of Jesus to whom they belong.
B. This involves the grace of God. Grace implies God’s sovereign choice of those, like us, who cannot earn, and do not deserve, His salvation. God ignores national differences. Acts 10:34 The Jewish believers were shocked when Peter went to a Gentile home, preached to them and ate with them. In the sight of God there is no difference between Jew and Gentile, Palauan and Chuukese, American and Marshallese. There is no difference when it comes to salvation. Rom. 10:12-13 There is also no difference when it comes to condemnation. Rom. 2:9-11 It is a sin for us to make differences and to discriminate between people when we have been blessed by the God of grace. We, too, must be full of grace toward others.
D. God also ignores social differences. Masters and slaves, rich and poor are all alike to Him. Eph. 6:9 James teaches that the grace of God makes the rich man poor because he can’t depend on his wealth. God’s grace makes the poor man rich because he inherits the riches of Christ. God often chooses the poor instead of the rich just because they are willing to come to Him. I Cor. 1:26-29 God promises the kingdom to those who love Him, not to those who love this world and its riches. Then, as now, rich people often exploit the poor. They use them as slave labor or low-paid workers to make themselves rich. The doctrine of God’s grace forces us to relate to people on the basis of God’s plan, not human merit or social status.
A. It is true that we must defend the truth of God’s Word, but remember that our lives and ministries are our best defense. James reached back into the Old Testament for one of God’s laws: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught that our neighbor is anyone who needs help, regardless of his nationality, sex or financial status. The important question is not: “Who is my neighbor?” but “Lord, to whom can I be a good neighbor?” Why is “Love your neighbor as yourself” called a royal law?
B. 1.) It was given by the King! God the Father gave it in the law of Moses, and God the Son reaffirmed it to His disciples. John 13:34 God the Spirit fills our hearts with God’s love and expects us to share it.
2.) It is a royal law because it’s found in both Old and New Testaments.
3.) It is a royal law because it refers to all people, and excludes no one
4.) It is a royal law because it rules all the other laws. Love is the fulfilling of the law. Rom. 13:10 It eliminates the need of the hundreds of other laws that the Pharisees added later.
5.) It’s a royal law because obeying it makes you a king. Hatred makes a person a slave, but love sets us free from selfishness.
B. When we make differences between people, it can cause us to disobey all of God’s Word. If we show favoritism we become lawbreakers. Honoring the rich can cause us to lie for them. Not respecting our mate or another’s mate can cause us to commit adultery. If we break one of God’s laws, we are guilty of breaking all of them. Matt. 5:19 Christian love means treating others the way God has treated me. It is an act of the will with the motive of glorifying God. Love always builds up the lives of others; hatred tears down their lives. We only believe as much of the Bible as we practice. The Pharisees were careful about minor points of law, but missed the main point. Matt. 23:23
A. Every orthodox statement of faith includes the return of Jesus and the final judgment. Both Jesus and Paul taught that Christian believers will never be judged for their sins John 5:24, Rom. 8:1, but our works will be judged and rewarded. Our words will be judged. For instance, the words spoken to the rich and poor in 2:3. What we say to people and how we say it will come before the Lord unless we have repented and asked forgiveness. Even careless words will be judged. Matt. 12:36 Jesus reminded us to be careful of our words in the Sermon on the Mount.
B. Our deeds will be judged. It is true that God forgives our sins and remembers them no more, but our sins affect our character and works. We cannot sin lightly and serve faithfully at the same time. God forgives our sins, but cannot change the consequences. David’s sin is a prime example of this. Our attitudes will be judged. V. 13 James contrasted 2 attitudes: showing mercy to others, and refusing to show mercy. Mercy and justice both come from God. Where God finds repentance and faith, He is able to show mercy. Where He finds rebellion and unbelief, He must administer justice. If we forgive our brothers, we have the kind of heart that is open to God’s forgiveness.
C. We shall be judged by the law of liberty. This is the law that James mentioned in 1:25. The law that gives freedom is Christ’s law of love. It gives us freedom to live and act in a way that honors and pleases God. We voluntarily choose to love God with everything in us, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Why does James call this the “law of liberty”? First, when we obey God’s law it frees us, and enables us to walk in liberty. Second, law prepares us for liberty. A child must be under rules because he’s not mature enough to handle decisions. He is given outward discipline, so that he will be able to develop inward discipline and can one day be free of rules.
D. Third, liberty is not license. License, or doing what I want, is the worst kind of bondage. Liberty means the freedom to be all I can be in Christ. Fourth, God’s Word is called the law of liberty. God’s Word can transform us and give us the desire to do God’s will from our hearts – not from rules. Our beliefs should control our behavior. If we really believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that God is gracious, that His Word is true, and that one day He will judge us, then our conduct will reveal our convictions. Before we attack the beliefs of others, we must be sure that we practice the doctrines we defend. Jonah had great theology, but he hated people and was angry at God.
It’s all a question of mercy and grace. The Good Samaritan was voluntarily merciful to a stranger in need, not counting the cost to himself. Our problem is that we tend to criticize and judge others rather than being merciful to them. We feel free to discriminate against them because they are not like us. Suppose they were all like us? What kind of world would this be? We must remember that judgment without mercy will be shown anyone who has not been merciful. V. 13 We can expect God to judge us as we judge others. “Mercy triumphs over judgment”. Mercy conquers judgment just as Christ’s mercy has conquered the judgment hanging over our heads. Let us seek to be merciful to others as He has been to us!
Real or Counterfeit Faith?
Next we come to James’ famous discourse on faith and works. James’ insistence on doing and deeds or actions is made clear by the 13 times that the words “do”, “deeds”, and “actions” appear in these 13 verses. Faith alone is not enough. It is not good enough to “believe” only. If faith and believing are not linked to commitment and doing, they are only words without proof and substance.
Faith is a key doctrine in the Christian life. The sinner is saved by faith (Eph. 2:8-9) and the believer must walk by faith (II Cor. 5:7). Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) and whatever we do apart from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23). When we studied Hebrews 11, we met men and women of faith who acted upon God’s Word, no matter what price they had to pay. Faith is not some feeling that we work up. It’s confidence that God’s Word is true, and conviction that acting on the Word will bring blessing.
A. He is appealing as a brother to other members of the family. He writes that there are 3 kinds of faith, but only one is true, saving faith. Wherever there is the true, we will find the counterfeit. Matt. 7:21 People with dead faith substitute words for deeds. They know the correct Christian vocabulary and can even quote the Bible, but their walk doesn’t measure up to their talk. James gives a simple illustration. A poor believer came into the church. The person with dead faith noticed the visitor and saw his needs, but didn’t do anything. He only said a few holy-sounding words.
B. As believers, we have an obligation to help meet the needs of people, no matter who they are. Gal. 6:10 To help a person in need is an expression of love, and faith works by love. I John 3:17-18 The priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan each had religious training, but neither of them helped the dying man at the side of the road. No doubt if we could talk to them, they would defend their faith, but neither demonstrated that faith with loving works. If a man claims to have faith but has no deeds, can his claim be proven or is it only words? Can such faith – that kind of faith – save him? What kind of faith is James referring to? The kind that is never seen in practical works. Faith in words only cannot save because it isn’t the right kind of faith. What kind is it? Verse 17 tells us that it’s dead faith. “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone.” “Alone” means “by itself”. True saving faith brings life and life produces good works.
C. The person with dead faith has only an intellectual experience. He knows about salvation, but has never submitted his will to God and truly trusted Christ with his whole life. 3 times in these verses James warns us that “faith without works is dead or useless”. Beware of a mere intellectual faith. No man can come to Christ and remain the same, anymore than he can come in contact with a 220 volt wire and remain the same. Dead faith is not saving faith. It is counterfeit faith, and lulls the person into a false confidence of eternal life. James says that people tend to fall into 2 camps – those who say they have faith, and those who say they have deeds. But James says you can’t separate them that way. It’s not either/or. It has to be both. How can we show our faith without deeds? We have to show it by what we do. If we say we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ but we don’t commit ourselves to obey Him, we are speaking empty words. He is not our Lord!
II. Demonic Faith
A. James wanted to shock his complacent readers, so he used demons as his illustration. Jesus, the disciples, and Paul cast out demons. Surprisingly enough, demons have faith! What do they believe?
1. They believe in the existence of God. They are not atheists or agnostics.
2. They believe in the deity of Christ. Mark 3:11-12
3. They believe there is a place of punishment. Luke 8:31
4. They recognize Jesus as the Judge and so submit to Him. Mark 5:1-13
The Jews’ daily affirmation of faith was “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord.” James says that the demons believe that and shudder. v. 19 People of other religions also may believe in “one God”, but if they have not committed themselves to follow and obey Him, they are like the demons – unsaved.
B. The man of dead faith is touched only in his intellect. The demons are touched also in their emotions. But it is not a saving experience to believe and tremble. A person can be enlightened in his mind and even stirred in his heart and still be lost forever. Even in Christian churches people can have an “easy believism” which does not save.
True saving faith involves something more – a changed life. How can a person show his faith without works? Being a Christian involves trusting Christ and then living for Christ. You receive the life, then you reveal the life. Faith that is barren or dead is not saving faith. Then what kind of faith can save the sinner?
III. Dynamic Faith
A. Dynamic faith is real, has power, and results in a changed life. James describes this true faith in various ways. First, it’s based on the Word of God. We receive our spiritual rebirth through God’s Word. James 1:18 We receive the Word and this saves us. James 1:21; Rom. 10:17 James used Abraham and Rahab as illustrations of dynamic, saving faith since both of them heard and received the message through God’s Word. Faith is only as good as its object. No matter how much faith a person may generate, if it’s not faith in the right Person, it will accomplish nothing. We are not saved by faith in our faith, but by faith in Christ as revealed in God’s Word.
B. Secondly, dynamic faith is not only based on God’s Word. It involves the whole man. Dead faith touches only the intellect. Demonic faith involves the mind and emotions. Dynamic faith also involves the will. It requires the whole person. The mind understands the truth; the heart desires the truth; and the will acts on the truth. Hebrews 11 tells the story of people who heard God speak and obeyed. Thirdly, dynamic faith leads to action. It leads to obedience on the part of the will. This obedience continues through the whole life. It leads to works. We are not saved by our works. Our works prove that we are already saved.
IV. Two Witnesses
A. James illustrated his points with the lives of 2 people: Abraham and Rahab. You couldn’t find two more different people. Abraham was a Jew – in fact, the Father of the Jews. Rahab was a Gentile. Abraham was a godly man, while Rahab was a prostitute. Abraham was the friend of God while Rahab was one of the enemies of God and His people. What did they have in common? Each of them had saving faith in God! Abraham was called by God who made him a promise. Abraham believed God and His promise. Gen. 15:5-6 The Lord “counted it to him” for righteousness. As a sinner, Abraham’s spiritual bankbook was empty. But he trusted God, and God put “righteous” on Abraham’s account, just as He does when we give our hearts to Christ. It was a gift.
B. Abraham was justified by faith. Justification is the act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous on the basis of Christ’s finished work on the cross. How can you tell that someone is justified? The justified person has a changed life and obeys God’s will. James uses the offering of Isaac. Abraham wasn’t saved by obeying God’s command to sacrifice his son. His obedience proved that he was already saved. “Abraham wasn’t saved by faith plus works, but by a faith that works.” By faith Abraham was justified before God. By works he demonstrated and proved his justification.
C. Abraham was considered righteous because he lived out his faith in God. His complete faith in a trustworthy God led him to do what the Lord told him to do though seemingly insane or even wicked. It was the heathen gods who wanted the sacrifices of children. How could God be understood as loving and merciful when He required such a sacrifice from Abraham? Faith transcends human reason. It holds on to a loving God in the face of obvious contradictions. Abraham could kill his only precious son, the hope of the promised future on whom God’s covenant rested. He could do that because he believed that Isaac belonged first to God. And if God could bring Isaac from Sarah’s dead womb, He could also bring him up off the altar alive. Heb, 11:17-19 If Abraham had not obeyed God, it would have shown that his so-called faith was dead or useless. Dynamic faith obeys God and proves itself in daily life and works.
D. Abraham was considered righteous for what he did, not just what he believed. His faith and his actions were working together. Faith and actions can’t be separated, because faith without deeds is no faith at all. Abraham’s faith was made complete by what he did. Faith begins in the understanding, but in order to be complete it must be worked out in deeds of the hands, feet and heart. It was when Abraham climbed Mt. Moriah with Isaac and a knife in obedience to God that the scripture was fulfilled. Gen. 15:6 True faith results in righteousness, but faith is not true without commitment to obey. How can we be considered righteous when we refuse God’s will in our lives? Only a righteous person can be called God’s friend. Those who love God enough to commit themselves totally to Him and do His will, no matter what the cost, are the ones who are God’s friends.
E. Next James goes from the great patriarch of the Jews to the Gentile prostitute Rahab. What a shock it must have been to the Jewish mind when James linked them together by writing, “In the same way…” As Abraham was justified, and considered righteous, so was Rahab. Heb. 11:31 Rahab believed that the Hebrews worshipped the true God, and that her city was condemned. She responded with her mind, her emotions and her will. In believing she chose to align herself with them. Rahab risked her own life to protect the Jewish spies. She also shared the news of deliverance with her family. In doing this, she declared that she was leaving her city and heritage to become one of them. She later married an Israelite and became the ancestress of David and Christ. Matt. 1:5 Rahab exercised dynamic faith with only a little information. Today we have the full revelation of God through His Word and His Son. Rahab's faith is an indictment against the unbelief of today’s sinners.
It’s important that each person who calls himself Christian examines his own heart and life to make sure that he possesses true saving or dynamic faith. II Cor. 13:5a Here are some questions we can ask ourselves:
1. Was there a time when I honestly realized that I was a sinner and admitted this to myself and to God?
2. Was there a time when my heart stirred me to flee from the coming judgement of God? Have I ever been seriously broken-hearted over my sins?
3. Do I truly understand the Gospel: that Christ died for my sins and rose again? Have I realized and confessed that I cannot save myself?
4. Did I seriously repent of my sins and turn from them? Do I secretly love sin and want to enjoy it or hate sin and fear God?
5. Have I trusted Christ and Christ alone for my salvation? Do I enjoy a living relationship with Him through the Word and in the Spirit?
6. Has there been a change in my life? Do I seek to grow in the things of the Lord? Can others tell that I have been with Jesus?
7. Do I have a desire to share Christ with others, or am I ashamed of Him?
8. Do I enjoy the fellowship of God’s people? Is worship of God a delight to me?
9. Am I ready for the Lord’s return, or will I be ashamed when He comes?
The World’s Smallest and Largest Troublemaker
James has explained 2 characteristics of the mature Christian. He is patient in trouble (Ch. 1). He practices the truth (Ch. 2). The third characteristic is: he has power over his tongue. Evidently the Christians James wrote to had serious problems with their tongues, like many Christians today. He had already warned them, and us, about the dangers of loose tongues. James 1:19, 26 He reminded them in chapter 4 that we have to speak and act as though we are facing Christ in judgment. From his description, we wonder about their meetings. James 4:1,11-12 The power of speech is one of the greatest powers God has given us. With the tongue we can praise God, pray, teach the Word, and lead the lost to Christ. But with the same tongue we can ruin a person’s reputation or break his heart. James gives us 6 pictures of the tongue to impress on us the importance of controlled speech and the serious consequences of our words. He pictures the tongue as: a bit in a horse’s mouth, a rudder on a ship, fire, a poisonous animal, a fountain, and a fig tree.
I. Power to direct: the bit and rudder
A. The tongue has power to direct like the bit and the rudder. Evidently everyone in the church wanted to teach and be a spiritual leader. James warned them that not everybody should be leaders or teachers. People are often impressed with the authority and recognition of having a position or title. But they forget the tremendous responsibility and accountability required by God. Teachers and Preachers face a stricter judgment. Teachers use their tongues to share God’s truth, but it’s easy to say incorrect things, or say them in a wrong way. Besides this, leaders are required to practice what they teach and preach. Great damage is done by teachers who are unprepared, who teach false doctrine, or whose lives lead others astray.
B. But teachers are not the only ones who fail. We all stumble. Sins of the tongue seem to head the list. A person who can discipline his tongue, can control his whole body. He is a mature Christian. Why does James connect the sins of the tongue with the whole body? It’s because words usually lead to deeds. (Illus: During World War II there were posters around reminding people “Loose lips sink ships!” People who carelessly talked about movements of war ships or planes could be the cause of the enemy finding them and sinking their ships. In the same way, loose lips can wreck lives.)
C. In choosing the illustrations of the bit and rudder, James presented 2 items that are small in themselves, yet exercise great power – like the tongue. A small bit enables a rider to control a great horse, and a small rudder allows the pilot to steer a huge ship. The tongue is one of the small members of the body, but it has the power to accomplish great things. Both bit and rudder have to overcome forces against them. The bit must overcome the wild nature of the horse that makes him want to run free. The rudder must fight against the winds and currents that would drive the ship off course. Our tongues must also overcome forces. We have an old nature inside that wants to lead us astray and make us sin. Also the circumstances around us tend to make us say things we shouldn’t say. Sin on the inside and pressures on the outside seek to get control of our tongues.
D. This means that both the bit and the rudder must be under the control of a strong hand. When Jesus Christ controls our tongues, then we don’t have to worry about saying the wrong things – or even the right things in a wrong way. Psa. 141:3-4 Jesus knew that the heart is the key to right speech. Matt. 12:34 When Jesus is Lord of the heart, then He is the Lord of the lips and tongue, too. The bit and rudder affect the lives of others. A runaway horse or a shipwreck could mean injury or death to the people involved. A judge’s words - “Guilty” or “Not guilty” – affect the future of the prisoner, his family and friends. The President speaks a few words and signs some papers and the nation is at war. Even when parents say “Yes” or “No” to their children, it can affect their lives.
E. Our tongues may also be a powerful influence for good through the guidance and advice we give others. Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, and her life and the lives of her neighbors experienced a miraculous change. Peter preached at Pentecost and 3000 came to salvation through faith in Christ. (Illus: Edward Kimball went into a shoe store and led the shoe salesman to Christ. His name was D. L. Moody. He became one of history’s greatest evangelists whose ministry led thousands to Christ.) The tongue has the power to direct. The tongue has the power to direct others to the right choices. How very important it is that our tongues direct people in the right way!
A. The tongue also has the power to destroy, like fire and wild animals do. (Illus: When I was in California we were driving through beautiful forests. There was one section that was ugly because it was all burned out. Millions of dollars of valuable timber were wiped out. I asked how it happened. They said it was somebody’s lit cigarette!) A fire can begin with a small spark and grow to destroy a city. In 1871 there was a fire in a barn in Chicago. It spread until 100,000 people were left homeless, 17,500 buildings were destroyed, 300 people died, and the loss amounted to 400 million dollars. Our words can start fires. Prov. 26:20-21 In some churches there are members or officers who can’t control their tongues and the result is destruction. When they move out of town, a spirit of harmony and love takes over.
B. Like a fire, the tongue can heat things up. Psa. 39:3 Have you had that experience? A hot head and a hot heart can lead to burning words that we regret later. David had a temper and he had to have God’s help in controlling it. Prov. 14:29 Fire not only starts small and grows, creating heat. It also defiles. A fire in the basement of a house can ruin the upstairs rooms with smoke and fire damage. Fiery words can defile a house or a church. Fire burns and hurts and our words can burn and hurt others. One of the sorrows Jesus endured here on earth was the way His enemies talked about Him. Because He was the friend of sinners, they called Him a drunkard and glutton. When He performed miracles, they said He was using Satan’s power. Even at the cross while He was suffering they said cruel things to Him and about Him.
C. Fire spreads, and the more fuel you give it, the faster and farther it will spread. All of life is connected so we can’t keep things from spreading. A person’s entire life can be injured or destroyed by the tongue. Time doesn’t correct the sins of the tongue. We may confess our sinful words and be forgiven, but that doesn’t stop the fire from spreading. The words we speak have the power to destroy. For every word written in Hitler’s book, “Mein Kampf”, 125 lives were lost in WW II that Hitler started. Our words may not cause wars or wreck cities, but they can break hearts and ruin reputations. They can also destroy souls by sending them to eternity without Christ. How important it is that we let our speech be always full of grace. Col. 4:6
D. Our tongues are also like dangerous animals. Wild animals are restless and unruly. They seek their prey and then pounce and kill. (Illus: It’s interesting to drive through a safari park where wild animals are roaming around freely without fences. Because they are safe, they seem to be quiet and gentle. But there are many warning signs: “Do not leave your car! Do not open your windows!” Why? Because those seemingly peaceful animals are capable of great damage and can kill.) Some animals are poisonous, and so are some tongues. The deceptive thing about poison is that it usually works secretly and slowly, and then kills. So does gossip! Many times people who want revenge add a little poison into the conversation, hoping it will spread and destroy the people they want to hurt. Would you turn hungry lions or poisonous snakes loose in your church? Unruly tongues can do the same damage.
E. James reminds us that animals can be tamed. Fire can be tamed or contained as well. When you tame an animal like a horse you get a worker instead of a destroyer. When you control fire you generate power for cooking. The tongue can’t be tamed by man, but it can be tamed by God. Your tongue does not have to be set on fire of hell. Like the apostles at Pentecost, it can be set on fire from heaven. If God lights the fire and controls it, the tongue can be a mighty tool for winning the lost and building up the church. If the heart is filled with hatred, Satan will light the fire. If the heart is filled with love, God will light the fire. Matt. 12:34
III. Power to delight: a fountain and a tree
A. The tongue not only has power to direct and to destroy. It also has power to delight like a fountain or a tree. The fountain provides the cool water man needs to stay alive. In arid countries, the presence of a fountain of fresh water is a great blessing. When the 2 million Israelites were traveling through the wilderness they needed water, not only for drinking, but for cooking and washing as well. In the Sahara Desert they need water for farming. Our words can be like life-giving water. Prov. 18:4 However, if water is not controlled, it brings death and destruction like the tsunami in Southeast Asia where over 220,000 people died. Prov. 18:21 But when we bend over a fountain for a drink of water, we don’t think of floods. We think only of the precious gift of refreshment on a hot day. We could not be healthy without water. Water also cleans. There was a laver in the Old Testament tabernacle for the cleansing of the priests’ hands and feet. God’s Word is the spiritual water that cleanses us. John 15:3 Our words to others can also help to cleanse and sanctify them for the Lord’s work.
B. The tongue is also delightful because it is like a tree. Trees are very important. They help to hold down the soil, provide beauty and shade, and bear delicious fruit. In California they provide lumber for all kinds of buildings and products. Our words can help to shelter and encourage those who are weary and sick, and can feed hungry souls. Prov. 10:21 As we share God’s Word with our tongues, we feed and encourage others. The most important thing about a tree is the root system. If the roots don’t go down deep, the tree will not be healthy. If we are rooted in the things of the Lord, our words will be the fruit of our fellowship with Him. Isa. 50:4 If we want to heave tongues that delight, we must meet the Lord each day and learn from Him as Jesus did. We must get our roots deep in to His Word. We must pray and meditate, allowing the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts and our tongues with God's love and truth.
C. But James issued a warning: a fountain cannot give forth 2 kinds of water, and a tree cannot bear 2 kinds of fruit. We expect the fountain to flow with sweet water all the time. A spring produces only one kind of water, depending on its source and the contaminants it contacts. What is the source of our spring of words? Is it our Lord, or the flesh or the devil? What kind of contaminants have we been in contact with that have made our words bitter instead of sweet? We look for figs on the fig tree, olives on the olive tree and breadfruit on the breadfruit tree. If the tongue is inconsistent, there is something wrong with the heart. (Illus: A Christian got angry at work and started to swear. He was embarrassed and said to his partner, “I don’t know why I said that. It really isn’t in me.” The partner answered, “It had to be in you, or it couldn’t have come out of you.”) The tongue that blesses the Father and then turns and curses men made in His image is sick! Some of the so-called Christians who write to Sandy do this. Too many of us sing during the worship service, then get in the car and argue all the way home. The problem of course is not the tongue, but the heart. Prov. 4:23
The tongue is the smallest and largest troublemaker in the world. But it doesn’t have to be a troublemaker. God can use our tongues to direct others in to the way of life, and to delight and encourage them in the trials of life. The tongue is a little member but with great power. Give God your tongue and your heart each day and ask Him to use you as a blessing.
What is Wisdom?
What is wisdom? Who is a wise man? The world certainly has its definition of a wise man, but it’s not God’s definition. The Jewish people understood the value of wisdom. It’s not enough to have information or knowledge. We need wisdom to be able to use the knowledge and information correctly. Some people are very intelligent – maybe geniuses – but their lives are a mess. They can run computers but can’t manage their own lives. Prov. 4:7 James here is continuing to exhort those who want to be teachers of the Word. James 3:1 It’s not enough to be able to talk well. You have to have something valuable to say. Knowledge enables us to take things apart, but wisdom helps us to put things together and relate God’s truth to our daily lives. James contrasts true wisdom and false wisdom in 3 different ways.
A. James begins by writing about the origins of true and false wisdom. True wisdom comes from above, but false wisdom from below. Man-made wisdom does not come from God and so is destined to fail. The Bible gives many examples of the foolishness of man’s wisdom. The building of the Tower of Babel seemed like a wise enterprise, but it ended in failure and confusion. It seemed wise for Abraham to go to Egypt during the famine, but the results proved it was not. King Saul thought it was a good idea to put his armor on David to protect him from Goliath, but God had a different plan. The disciples thought it would be wise to dismiss the crowd and let them find their own food, but instead Jesus fed the multitude with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
B. What is the origin of man’s wisdom? It doesn’t come from above, but is “earthly, sensual, devilish”. This description lines up with John’s description of our 3 enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. There is a wisdom of this world. I Cor. 1:20-21 There is a great deal of knowledge in this world like the theory of evolution and all kinds of new technology, but very little wisdom. Man unlocks the secrets of the universe, but doesn’t know what to do with them. (Illus: A famous Chinese scholar visited a man in Boston. The man met him at the train station and rushed him to the subway, running and panting for breath. The man said, “If we catch the next subway we’ll save 3 minutes.” The Chinese asked, “And what significant thing will we do with those 3 minutes?”)
C. Anyone who s impressed with the wisdom of this world should read I Cor. 1 & 2. Paul writes that man’s wisdom is foolishness to God and God’s wisdom is foolishness to man. Man’s wisdom comes from reason while God’s wisdom comes to us by revelation – the Bible. Man’s worldly wisdom will come to nothing, while God’s wisdom will endure forever. Because the world has turned from God it has lost its wisdom. This false wisdom has another source. It is sensual or natural. The main idea is that man’s fallen nature is opposed to the new nature given my God. There is a wisdom that gets its origin in man’s nature, totally apart from the Spirit of God. Bu this wisdom from beneath is also devilish and demonic. Ever since the Garden of Eden, the wisdom of Satan has been at work, deceiving and fighting against God’s wisdom. Satan convinced Eve that she would be wise like God. Ever since then, people have tried to be their own gods. This is a common teaching now among false teachers in the church.
D. In contrast to this wisdom that is earthly, sensual and devilish, James describes the wisdom that is from above. The Christian looks to heaven for all he needs. His citizenship is in heaven, his Father is in heaven, his treasures are in heaven, his hope and his home is in heaven. So he sets his affections on things above, not on earthly things. Col. 3:1-4 What is the Christian’s wisdom? The first step toward true wisdom is receiving Jesus Christ who is our wisdom. Col. 2:3 The Word of God is also our wisdom. The Scriptures make us wise. II Tim. 3:15 In James 1:5 he told us that we find wisdom through believing prayer. The Holy Spirit is the One who directs us into the wisest paths and helps us understand God’s will. Eph. 1:17 To sum it all up, the origin of true spiritual wisdom is God Himself!
A. Since the wisdom from above and earthly wisdom originate from different sources, they must operate in opposite ways. What are the evidences of false wisdom? The first is envy. This carries the idea of selfish ambition and zeal. It ties in with James 3:1 where James warns us not to be ambitious for spiritual offices. The world says, “Promote yourself.” We see this often in politics, but also in the church. Even the apostles argued over who was the greatest in the kingdom. It’s easy to mix up our personal ego with spiritual zeal. The wisdom of this world exalts man and robs God of His glory. I Cor. 1:31 We must check our motives. Is our zeal for the Lord spiritual or fleshly? Do we rejoice when others succeed, or are we jealous and critical? Do we feel burdened and sad when others fail, or are we glad to see their downfall?
B. The second evidence of false wisdom is strife. This word means “party spirit”, like a politician trying to get votes. This spirit of self-seeking creates rivalry and division in the church. Phil. 2:3 We must avoid strife and selfish ambition. The third evidence is boasting. Pride loves to boast, and nothing is prouder than the wisdom of men. There is a way to report blessing so that God gets the glory, but it can also bring praise to men. Be careful of your testimonies! When God’s wisdom is at work, there is a sense of humility and submission when you preach, teach or testify. You want God to get all the glory. You have no desire to compare yourself with another person because you see only Christ. Compared to Him, we all have a long way to go! The fourth evidence of false wisdom is deceit. We can see the progression. First, there is selfish ambition that leads to a ‘party spirit” and rivalry. In order to “win the election” we resort to boasting, and boasting usually involves deceit and lies. God knows not only the words but also the heart. I Cor. 4:5
C. On the other hand, what are the evidences of true spiritual wisdom? The first evidence is meekness or humility. Meekness is not weakness. It is power under control. The Greek word for meekness was used for a horse that had been broken to allow a rider. Its power was under the control of the one who was riding it. The meek person seeks to glorify God, not gain the praises of men. Meekness is a fruit of the Spirit. It can’t be manufactured by men. There is a false humility which some people think is meekness, but it’s counterfeit. Meekness is the right use of power just as wisdom is the right use of knowledge. The truly wise person will show in his daily life and behavior that he is a child of God. The second evidence of spiritual wisdom is purity. James writes, “First of all, pure”, indicating the importance of holiness. In James 4:8 he writes, “Purify your hearts.” God’s wisdom leads to purity of life. Man’s wisdom leads to sin. Spiritual purity leads to a pure relationship with Christ, our Husband. Worldliness makes the person a spiritual adulterer. James 4:4
D. The third evidence of spiritual wisdom is peace. Man’s wisdom leads to competition, rivalry and war. God’s wisdom leads to peace. But it’s not peace at any price. It’s a peace based on holiness, not on compromise. The peace of the church is not more important than the purity of the church. If the church is pure and devoted to God, there will be peace. Isa. 32:17 The church can never have peace by sweeping sins under the rug and pretending they’re not there. Man’s wisdom says, “Cover up sin. Keep things together.” God’s wisdom says, “Confess sin, and My peace will keep things together.” The fourth evidence of spiritual wisdom is gentleness. It carries the meaning of moderation without compromise, gentleness without weakness. The gentle person does not deliberately cause fights, but neither does he compromise the truth in order to keep peace. Abraham Lincoln was a gentle, uncompromising person. He was called “a man of velvet steel”.
E. The fifth evidence of spiritual wisdom is compliance or consideration and submissiveness. God’s wisdom makes the believer agreeable and easy to live and work with. The compliant person is willing to hear all sides of a question, but he doesn’t compromise his own convictions. He can disagree without being disagreeable. James 1:19 Many people think that stubbornness is conviction, and they have to have their own way. When God’s wisdom is at work there is willingness to listen, think, pray and then obey whatever God reveals. The sixth evidence of spiritual wisdom is mercy. To be “full of mercy” is to be controlled by mercy. God in His grace gives us what we don’t deserve, and in His mercy He doesn’t give us what we do deserve. The parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates mercy. For a Samaritan to care for a Jewish stranger was an act of mercy. He couldn’t gain anything from it except the blessing that comes from doing God’s will and being like God.
F. The seventh evidence is good fruit. People who are faithful are also fruitful. God’s wisdom does not make life empty. It makes it full. The Spirit produces fruit to the glory of God. The eighth evidence is decisiveness or impartiality. This is single-mindedness – the opposite of wavering. James 1:6 When you lean on the world’s wisdom, you’re pressured from one side and then another to change your mind. When you have God’s wisdom you can be decisive and not afraid. Wisdom from above brings strength from above. The ninth evidence of spiritual wisdom is sincerity. “Hypocrite” in Greek is one who wears a mask or an actor. When man’s wisdom is at work there must be insincerity and pretense. With God’s wisdom there is openness and honesty. Whenever God’s people pretend and hide things, you can be sure the wisdom of the world is governing their ministry. “Religious politics” is an abomination to God. There is a great contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the operation of worldly wisdom. It would be profitable for church officers and leaders to evaluate their lives and ministries in the light of James’ writing. While the church is an organization, it cannot depend on methods used in secular businesses as is suggested in “The Purpose-Driven Church”.
A. Worldly wisdom will produce worldly results. Spiritual wisdom will give spiritual results. Worldly wisdom produces trouble. When there is envy, strife, disorder, and evil practice it is clear that God is not at work in that church. Wrong thinking produces wrong living. One reason the world is in such a mess is that men refuse to accept the wisdom of God. Confusion comes from instability as in James 1:8. The Corinthian church was confused and unstable. II Cor. 12:20 Today we still use the word “babel” to mean confusion because the building of the Tower of Babel which looked right ended in confusion. Confusion sets the stage for every evil work. Evil here means worthless or of no value. It reminds us of the “wood, hay and stubble” in I Cor. 3:12. A ministry operating in the wisdom of the world as many of the mega churches do, may appear great and successful, but in the Day of Judgment it will burn up. The Church at Smyrna thought it was poor, but the Lord said it was rich. Rev. 2:9 The rich church at Laodicea was declared by the Lord to be poor. Rev. 3:14-22 The most important thing we can do is measure our lives and ministries by God’s Word, not by the wisdom of men.
B. God’s wisdom produces blessing. There is a great difference between man-made results and God-given fruit. Fruit is the product of life and has in it the seeds for more fruit. As we share the fruit of God with others, they are fed and satisfied, and they in turn bear fruit. Life is a matter of sowing and reaping. We reap just what we sow. The Christian who obeys God’s wisdom sows righteousness, not sin, and peace, not war. The life we live enables the Lord to bring peace and righteousness into the lives of others. What we are is what we live, and what we live is what we sow in others’ lives. If we live in God’s wisdom we sow righteousness and peace, and we reap God’s blessing. If we live in man’s worldly wisdom, we sow sin and war and reap confusion and every evil work.
It is a serious thing to be a troublemaker in God’s family. One of the sins that God hates is “sowing discord among brethren”. Prov. 6:16-19 Lot followed the world’s wisdom and brought trouble to the camp of Abraham. Abraham followed God’s wisdom and brought peace. Lot’s decisions led to good-for-nothing works, and everything he lived for went up in smoke with Sodom. Abraham’s decisions, in the wisdom of God, led to blessing for his household and for the whole world. Let’s be sure that we are children of Abraham, not children of Lot.
How to End Wars
James has written that envy and selfish ambition lead to disorder and evil practice. (James 3:16) God’s wisdom is peace-loving and peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17-18) Now he goes on to point out that where peace is lacking, there are fights and quarrels. War is a fact of life. History records wars with unlikely names such as: “The War of the Whiskers”, “The War of the Oaken Bucket”, and ”The War of Jenkin’s Ear”. Not only are there wars between nations. There are wars of one kind or another on almost every level of life. There are even “gas wars” between gas stations where one station lowers its price for gas by one or two cents to beat another station. James discussed war in this chapter. He explained that there are 3 wars going on in this world and how they could be stopped.
I. At war with each other
A. What causes fights and quarrels among us? Surely brethren should live together in love and harmony, yet often they don’t. Psa. 133:1 Lot quarreled with Abraham. Absalom created a war against his father, King David. Even the disciples argued about who was the greatest in the kingdom. The early churches had their share of disagreements. In the Corinthian Church they were competing against each other in public meetings and suing each other. (I Cor. 6: 1-8; 14:23-40) The Galatian believers were “biting” and “devouring” one another. (Gal. 5:15) Two women at Philippi couldn’t get along with each other. Phil. 4:1-3
B. In his book James mentioned several kinds of disagreements among saints. The first were class wars. James 2:1-9 This is the ancient rivalry between the rich and the poor. The rich man gets the attention; the poor man is ignored. The rich man is honored; the poor man is shamed. If fellowship in a church depends on things like clothing and economic status or color of skin and nationality, then the church is at war and out of the will of God. Secondly, James mentions employment wars in James 5:1-6. The rich man has the power to control and hurt the poor man. Laborers are not paid at all or are not paid fair wages. There are many who cannot get a good job or whose income is not sufficient to cover their expenses.
C. Thirdly, James mentions church fights in James 1:19-20; 3:13-18. Evidently the believers James wrote to were at war with each other over positions in the church because many of them wanted to be in a leadership position. Perhaps some wanted to be in control of the money for selfish reasons. When they studied the Word they argued over it instead of being edified. Each person thought his ideas were the right ones and his methods the only way to operate. Selfish ambition ruled their meetings instead of spiritual submission to one another.
D. The fourth were personal wars mentioned in James 4:11-12. The saints were speaking evil of one another and judging one another. Here again is the wrong use of the tongue. Christians are to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), not speak evil in a spirit of rivalry and criticism. If the truth about a brother is harmful, then we should cover it in love and not repeat it. If he has sinned, we should go to him personally and try to win him back. Gal. 6:1-2 James was not telling us to refuse to judge and evaluate people and what they teach. Christians need to have discernment. Phil. 1:9-10, but we must not act like God in passing judgment.
E. First, we must examine our own lives and then try to help others. It is a sin against God and our brother to speak evil or judge him on the basis of partial evidence with wrong motives. God is the final Judge, not us. It’s bad that the saints are at war with each other – leader against leader, church against church, and denomination against denomination. The world watches this and says, “Look how they hate one another”, instead of “See how they love one another”. Jesus prayed that all true believers would be united in Him. John 17:21 But why are we at war with one another? We belong to the same family, trust the same Savior, and are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit – and yet we fight with one another.
A. What causes these wars with others and even in the church? We are at war with ourselves. We have evil desires in our hearts like envy and strife. James 3:14-16 The very essence of sin is self or selfishness. Eve disobeyed God because she wanted to be wise like God. Abraham lied about his wife in Egypt because he selfishly wanted to save his own life. Achan caused defeat for Israel because he selfishly stole forbidden things. Sometimes we hide our religious quarrels under “spirituality”. Miriam and Aaron complained about Moses’ wife, but actually they were jealous of Moses’ authority. We are like James and John who asked for special thrones in the kingdom, when what we really want is honor from men now! In the cases of Miriam and Aaron and also James and John, the Lord brought rebuke and chastening on them.
B. Selfish desires are dangerous because they lead to wrong actions. James said they lead to killing, quarreling and fighting. (4:2) They can even lead to wrong praying. (4:3) When our praying is wrong, our whole Christian life is wrong. Someone has said, “The purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth.” “Thou shall not covet” is the last of God’s 10 commandments, but when we break it it causes us to break all the other 9. Covetousness can cause a person to murder, lie, dishonor parents, commit adultery, etc.
C. Selfish living and selfish praying always lead to war! People at war with themselves because of selfish desires are always unhappy people. Instead of thanking God for what they have, they complain about what they don’t have. They can’t get along with others because they are jealous of them. Sometimes we use prayer as a cover-up to hide our true desires. Instead of seeking God’s will, we tell God what He is supposed to do and then get angry with Him when He doesn’t do it. James makes it clear why we are at war with ourselves, and, therefore, at war with each other.
A. The root cause of every war, whether internal or external, is rebellion against God. At the beginning of creation there was perfect harmony, but sin came into the world and this led to conflict. Sin is lawlessness (I John 3:4) and lawlessness is rebellion against God. How does a Christian declare war against God? By being friendly with God’s enemies. Today people friendly to the terrorists are enemies of the US. James names 3 enemies. The first is the world (James 4:4) or human society apart from God. The whole worldly system is anti-Christ and anti-God. Abraham was the friend of God (James 2:23). Lot was the friend of the world. Lot ended up in a war and Abraham had to rescue him.
B. A Christian gets involved with the world gradually. First, we are friendly with the world (4:4). That causes us to become polluted by the world in order to gain the world’s approval (James 1:27). Next, we begin loving the world (I John 2:15-17). That makes it easy for us to conform to the world (Rom. 12:2). The end result is that we are condemned with the world (I Cor. 11:32). James compares friendship with the world to adultery. The believer is married to Christ and should be faithful to Him. The Old Testament prophets often wrote about spiritual adultery. Judah committed adultery against her God by adopting the sinful ways of other nations and worshipping their gods. The world is the enemy of God. If we choose to be a friend of the world, we can’t be God’s friend.
C. The same is true of the second enemy – the flesh (4:1, 5). The flesh is the old nature that we inherited from Adam that is prone to sin. The flesh is not the body. The Holy Spirit may use the body to glorify God, or the flesh may use the body to serve sin. When a sinner yields to Christ, he receives a new nature within, but the old nature is neither removed nor reformed. That’s why there’s a battle within. Gal. 5:17 Living for the flesh means grieving the Holy Spirit of God who lives in us. Eph. 4:30 Just as the world is the enemy of God the Father, the flesh is the enemy of God the Holy Spirit. There is a holy, loving jealousy that a husband and wife have for each other. The Spirit within jealously guards our relationship to God. He is grieved when we sin against God’s love. Living to please the old nature means to declare war against God. Rom. 8:7-8
D. The third enemy is the devil (4:6-7). The world is in conflict with the Father, the flesh fights against the Holy Spirit, and the devil opposes the Son of God. Pride is Satan’s great sin, and it is one of his chief weapons in his warfare against the saint and the Savior. God wants us to be humble; Satan wants us to be proud. He said to Eve, “You shall be as a god.” Today false teachers are echoing Satan’s words saying, “We’re all little gods.” A new Christian should not be put into a place of leadership because of the problem of pride. (I Tim. 3:6) God wants us to depend on His grace, while the devil wants us to depend on ourselves. One of the problems in our churches is that we have too many bosses and not enough servants. Christian workers are promoted so much that there is very little place left for God to receive the glory.
A. How can we overcome these 3 enemies? How can we be the friends of God and enemies to the world, the flesh and the devil? James gives us 3 instructions to follow if we want peace instead of war. First, we must submit to God. (4:7) “Submit” is a military term that means, “Get into your proper rank”. When a private acts like a general there’s going to be trouble. Unconditional surrender is the only way to complete victory. If any area of the life is kept back from the Lord there will be battles. This is why uncommitted Christians can neither live peacefully with themselves nor with other people. Paul says, “Neither give place to the devil” in Eph. 4:27. Satan needs a foothold in our lives to use to fight against God, and we give him that foothold. The way to resist the devil is to submit to God. When King David sinned, he hid his sins for a year. He declared war with God. When he finally submitted, he once again found peace and joy. Psalms 32 & 51 describe both the war and the peace. Submission is an act of the will: “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
B. James’ second instruction is: “Draw near to God.” (4:8). How do we do this? By repenting of and confessing our sins, and asking for His cleansing. “Purify your hearts” means in Greek to make holy, without adultery. The more we are like God, the nearer we are to God. Tozer wrote: “Nearness is likeness.” When I was petting Ashley’s dog on my lap in CA I was not as near to the dog as I was to my family and friends in far away Hawaii. Why? The dog is nice, but unlike me. God graciously draws near to us when we deal with the sin in our lives that keeps Him at a distance. He will not share us with anyone else. He must have complete control. The double-minded Christian can never be close to God. Abraham drew near and talked to God about Sodom. Lot moved into Sodom, and lost God’s blessing.
C. The third instruction to guide us to peace in the place of war is: “Humble yourselves before God.” (4:9-10) It’s possible to submit outwardly and yet not be humble inwardly. God hates pride, and He will discipline us until we are humbled. Thank Him for it! We have a tendency to treat sin too lightly, even to laugh about it. James writes, “Let your laughter be turned into mourning.” Sin is serious. One mark of true humility is facing the seriousness of sin and dealing honestly with our disobedience. If we obey these 3 instructions, God will draw near to us, cleanse us, forgive us, and the wars will stop. We will not be at war with God, so we will not be at war with ourselves. This means we will not be at war with others. Let Christ become the Prince of Peace as you put your life in His hands.
So we see that the rule of thumb for all of life is simple: “Submit to God; resist the devil”. It’s a matter of submission and resistance, but we have to be careful that we don’t turn it around, submitting to the devil and resisting the Lord! It is also a matter of getting away from and coming near. If we resist the devil, he will flee from us. We will get rid of him, at least for awhile. If we come near to God submitting ourselves to Him, He will come near to us with help, comfort, strength, and peace. I have experienced how this works out in our lives many times. I will tell you about one. Sandy and I were planning a trip around the United States in 1998. I retired that year from the Mission, and I wanted to say good-by and “thank you” to all my friends who had prayed for me and supported me for 36 years. I also wanted to encourage them to consider supporting Sandy and Rose as they had supported me. A few days before we were to leave I was diagnosed with cancer. I couldn’t go with Sandy. He had to go alone. Then I had a call from my health insurance company saying that they were dropping my insurance. I was disappointed and sad, but I submitted myself and my life or death once more to the Lord. Still I felt burdened and uneasy. The Lord showed me that I needed to resist the devil as well as submit to Him. So I told the enemy to leave me alone, and then my peace returned. We must submit and resist!
James began chapter 4 talking about war with God and he ended it talking about the will of God. The two themes are related. When a believer is out of the will of God, he becomes a troublemaker instead of a peacemaker. Lot moved into Sodom and brought trouble to his family. David committed adultery and brought trouble to his family and kingdom. Jonah disobeyed God and almost sent a ship full of unbelieving sailors to a watery grave. In each case there was a wrong attitude toward the will of God.
Many Christians look on the will of God as bitter medicine they have to take instead of seeing it as the gracious evidence of the love of God. He is a God of wisdom who knows what ought to happen and when. He is also a God of love who desires the best for His children. I have heard a teen-ager say, “I would give my life to Christ, but I’m afraid He will ask me to do something dangerous or give me something hard.” The safest place in the world is right where God wants you. Psa. 33:11 The will of God comes from the heart of God. His will is the expression of His love.
I. Ignoring God’s will
A. James points out 3 attitudes toward the will of God. The first is ignoring God’s will. Maybe James was referring to the wealthy businessmen in the church. Maybe they discussed business deals and boasted about their plans. There is no evidence that they sought the will of God or prayed about their decisions. James presented 4 arguments that revealed the foolishness of ignoring the will of God.
B. His first argument had to do with the complexity of life. Think of all that is involved in life: today, tomorrow, buying, selling, making money, losing money, going here, going there. Life is made up of people and places, activities and goals, days and years. Each of us has to make crucial decisions day after day. Apart from the will of God, life is a mystery. When you know Christ as Savior and seek to do His will, life starts to make sense. Even the creation takes on new meaning. There is a simplicity and unity to your life that creates peace and confidence. You can sing, “This is my Father’s world.”
C. James’ second argument has to do with the uncertainty of life. The first part of verse 14 is based on Prov. 27:1. These businessmen were planning for a year ahead when they couldn’t even see one day ahead! They were saying, “We will”…”We will”…”We will”… Their attitude reminds us of the farmer in Jesus’ parable in Luke 12:16-21. The man had a bumper crop, so he planned to build bigger barns and have greater security for the future. What was God’s reply to his boasting? v. 20 Life is not uncertain to God, but it is uncertain to us. Only when we are in God’s will can we be confident of tomorrow because we know He is leading us. (Illus: Are we in control of anything? Think of the space shuttle that was supposedly in control of space. In the blink of an eye it disintegrated and the 7 crew members with it.)
D. James’ third argument is about the brevity or shortness of life. This is one of the repeated themes of scripture. To us, life seems long and we measure it in years. In comparison to eternity, life is but a vapor or mist. Job has many pictures of this: Job 7:6,9; 8:9; 9:25-26; 14:1-2 We count our years at each birthday, but God tells us to number our days! Psa. 90:12 We live a day at a time, and those days rush by quickly as we get older. Since life is brief, we can’t afford to just “spend our lives”. We certainly don’t want to “waste our lives”. We must invest our lives in eternal things. God reveals His will in His Word, but most people ignore the Bible or give it little thought. God gives us precepts, principles and promises that can guide us into His will.
E. James 4th argument is the frailty or weakness of man. He says, “You boast and brag. All such boasting is evil”. Man’s boasting only attempts to cover his weakness. Man can’t control future events. He has neither the power to see the future or to control the future. To boast is sin. That’s trying to take God’s place – to be our own little gods. How foolish to ignore the will of God. It’s like going through dark jungles without a map or over stormy seas without a compass. In a visit to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, the lights were turned off and it was pitch black with not even a pinprick of light. The tour guide gave a 5-minute sermon before they did this. The theme was, “Stay close to your guide.” It’s a good message for us every day of our lives.
A. Besides ignoring God’s will sometimes people choose to disobey His will. These people know the will of God but choose to disobey it. This person says to God, “I know what you want me to do, but I prefer not to do it. I know more about this than You do.” This is dangerous. II Pet. 2:21 Why do people who know God’s will deliberately disobey it? There are several possible reasons for this. First, their pride may be the reason. Some people feel that they must be the master of their fate and the captain of their soul. Man has accomplished so much that he thinks he can do anything.
B. Another reason why a person may choose to disobey God’s will is his ignorance of the nature of God’s will. He acts as though God’s will is something he can accept or reject. The will of God is not an option. It’s an obligation. Because He is the Creator and we are His creatures, we must obey Him. Because He is the Savior and Lord, we must obey Him. To treat the will of God lightly is to ask for His rebuke and discipline. A third reason why we may choose to disobey God’s will is that we believe it leads to misery. Instead, disobeying God’s will leads to misery! Even if a disobedient Christian seems to escape difficulty in this life, what will he do when he faces the Lord? Luke 12:47-48
C. What happens to Christians who deliberately disobey the known will of God? They are disciplined by a loving Father until they submit. Heb. 12:5-11 God’s correction and discipline is the evidence of His love, not His hatred. Though discipline is hard to take, it is the proof of our sonship. God doesn’t discipline illegitimate children. Christians who deliberately disobey are in danger of losing heavenly rewards. I Cor. 9:24-27 In order to qualify for a crown, the runner has to obey the rules of the race. If a runner disobeyed the rules he would be disqualified and humiliated and would lose his chance to win a crown.
A, We don’t have to ignore or disobey God’s will. When we say, “If the Lord wills”, they are not just words. This is the constant attitude of a believer’s heart. John 4:34 In his letters Paul often referred to the will of God. He didn’t feel that it was a choice that bound him, but rather a key that opened doors and set him free. Everything in the universe works according to laws. If we cooperate and obey these laws, the universe works with us. If we fight the laws and disobey them, the universe will work against us. (Illus: Think about this the next time you fly: Certain laws govern flight. The engineer who obeys these laws in designing and building the plane, and the pilot who obeys those laws in flying the plane, will both have the joy of seeing the plane operate perfectly and safely. You don’t want to be on the plane when those laws are disobeyed!)
B. God’s will for our lives is like the laws He built into the universe, except that those laws are general and His will for our lives is specific. No two lives are planned to the same pattern. Of course, there is a general will of God for all Christians. It is God’s will that we yield ourselves to Him. II Cor. 8:5 It’s God’s will for us to avoid sexual immorality. I Thess. 4:3 All Christians should rejoice, pray and be thankful. I Thess. 5:16-18 Every commandment in the Bible is God’s will for every Christian. But God doesn’t call all of us to the same work or to exercise the same gifts and ministry.
C. It’s important to have the right attitude toward the will of God. It’s not some cold, impersonal machine, which God starts up and we have to keep running. If we disobey Him, the machine stops and we’re out of God’s will for the rest of our lives. The will of God is a living relationship between God and the believer. Ths relationship is not destroyed by disobedience. The Father still deals with His child even though He must discipline him. When you and I are out of God’s will, it isn’t the end of everything. We suffer, to be sure, but when God cannot rule, He overrules. This is illustrated in the lives of Abraham and Jonah.
D. The believer’s relationship to the will of God is a growing experience. First, we should know His will. It’s not hard to find God’s will. If we are willing to obey him, He is willing to reveal His will. John 7:17 God does not reveal His will to the curious or careless, but to those who are ready and willing to obey Him. But we should not stop with knowing some of God’s will. We want us to be filled with the knowledge of His will. Col. 1:9 It’s wrong to want to know God’s will about some things and ignore His will in other things. He has a plan for each detail.
E. God wants us not only to know but also to understand His will. Eph. 5:17 This is where spiritual wisdom comes in. A child may know the will of his father, but not understand it. The child knows the “what”, but not the “why”. Psa. 103:7 The Israelites knew what God was doing, but Moses understood why He was doing it. As we grow into knowing and then understanding God’s will, we must prove His will. Rom. 12:2 In Greek this means “to prove by experience”. The more we obey, the easier it is to discover what God wants us to do. Like learning to swim or play the guitar, you get the feel of it and it becomes like second nature. People who keep asking, “How can I find God’s will for my life?” haven’t tried to do God’s will. You start with what you know you ought to do and do it. Then God opens the way to the next step. We learn from both failures and successes.
F. Knowing, understanding and proving God’s will falls short unless we do God’s will from the heart. Jonah knew the will of God and after being disciplined, did God’s will, but not from the heart. He did not love the Lord or the people of Nineveh. He did God’s will to escape further discipline. What God said about giving can be applied to living. II Cor. 9:7 “Grudgingly” means reluctantly and painfully. There is no joy in doing God’s will. “Of necessity” means under compulsion – because we have to. The secret of a happy life is to delight in duty. When duty becomes delight, then burdens become blessings. Psa. 119: 54 When we love God, His rules and His ways become songs.
We mustn’t think that a failure in knowing and doing God’s will affects our relationship with Him. But it does affect our fellowship with Him. We feel separated from Him until we repent of our disobedience, confess our sins, and ask for His forgiveness. We can learn from our mistakes, but if we continue in them we will grieve our loving Lord. The important thing is a heart that truly loves God and wants to do His will and glorify His name.
What are the benefits of doing the will of God?
1.) You enjoy a deeper fellowship with Christ. Mark 3:35
2.) You come to know God’s truth on a deep level. John 7:17
3.) Your prayers are answered. I John 5:14-15
4.) There is an eternal quality to the life and works of one who does God’s will. I John 2:15-17
5.) There is the expectation of reward. Matt. 25:34
Which of these attitudes do you have toward the will of God? Do you ignore it and just go on with your life? Do you know it but refuse to do it? Those responses bring sorrow and ruin to the life. The Christian who knows, loves and obeys the will of God will enjoy His blessings. His life may not be easier, but it is holier and happier. Psa. 40:8
Are You Rich or Poor?
James has a very different viewpoint from the one taken by the world and even most Christians. He told people to grieve and mourn instead of laughing. (4:9) Here he says that the rich instead of living it up and rejoicing in their wealth, should weep and wail because of the misery coming to them. One of the themes in James 5 is trouble. We meet poor people who are suffering materially because they have been deprived of their wages. We meet people who are physically afflicted, and we meet people who are spiritually backslidden.
A second theme in James 5 is prayer. The poor laborers cry out to God. The sick and afflicted are told to pray. Elijah is given as an example of a man who prayed and received answers. When we put these 2 themes together we come up with the 5th mark of a mature Christian. He is prayerful in troubles. Instead of giving up when troubles come, the mature believer turns to God, praying and believing that He will help.
In this section on riches, it is important to notice that James did not write that it is a sin to be rich. Abraham was a wealthy man, but he walked with God and was greatly used by God to bless the whole world. Two examples closer to our time are the very wealthy businessmen, JC Penney and RA LeTourneau. They developed businesses that made them very rich, but they used close to 90% of their earnings (instead of 10%) to support God’s work around the world. James was concerned about the selfishness of most rich people and advised them to weep and wail. He gave 3 reasons for writing this.
I. The way the rich got their wealth
A. We are responsible for 2 things regarding finances: how we get our money and how we spend it. James wrote that the rich should fear God’s judgment because of the ways that they got their wealth. The Bible does not discourage the acquiring of wealth. The Jews in the Promised Land owned their own property, worked it, and gained profit from it. In some of His parables, Jesus showed His respect for personal property and private gain. What the Bible does condemn is getting rich by using crooked ways to get money, and by using money for crooked purposes. The prophets Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah exposed the selfishness of the rich and their tendency to rob the poor. They warned that judgment was coming. James joins them in that warning. James gave 2 illustrations of how the rich gained their wealth. These are still true in some places today.
B. He wrote that the rich made their money by holding back wages. Laborers were hired by the day and did not have legal contracts with their employers. In the Law God had given definite instructions concerning the laboring man to protect him from an unfair, oppressive employer. Deut. 24:14-15; Lev. 19:13; Jer. 22:13 These rich men had hired the laborers and promised to pay them a specific amount. The men had completed their work, but had not been paid. The verb “kept back” in Greek indicates that the laborers never will get their salaries. “Thou shall not steal” is still the law of God. It is a law He will enforce. As Christians we must be faithful to keep our promises and pay our bills. (Illus: A doctor met his friend who was a Christian. He asked, “How are things going?” The doctor answered, “I guess O.K.” The friend told him that he was praying for him. The doctor answered, “Pray for all the people who owe me money, that they will pay”)
C. James wrote that another way the rich made money was by controlling the courts. It is often true that those who have wealth also have political power and get what they want. (Illus: There was a cartoon in the paper. One person asked, “What is the Golden Rule?” The other answered, “Whoever has the gold makes the rules.”) James 2:6 Whenever the name “Watergate” is mentioned, nobody thinks of a beautiful hotel. That word reminds them of an ugly episode in American history that led to the discovery of lies and cover-up, and ended with the resignation of President Nixon. When God established Israel in her land, He gave the people a system of courts. He warned the judges not to be greedy. They were not to be partial to the rich or poor. Lev. 19:15 Bribery was condemned by the Lord. Amos denounced the judges in his day who took bribes and “fixed” cases for money. Amos 5:12, 15
D. Evidently the courts in James’ day were easy to control if you had enough money. As today, poor workers could not afford expensive lawsuits, so they were beaten down every time. The workers had the just cause but were not given justice. They were mistreated and abused. The poor man didn’t resist the rich because he had no weapons with which to fight. All he could do was call on God for justice. The Bible warns us against gaining wealth by illegal or wrong methods. We may not be rich, but are we faithful in small ways not to steal from others? God owns all the wealth, and He permits us to be stewards of His wealth for His glory. We must put God first in our lives, and He will provide us with what we need. Matt. 6:33
II. The way the rich used their wealth
A. It is bad to gain money in a wrong way, but to use the money you gain in a wrong way makes the sin greater. How did they misuse their money? First, they stored it up. Of course, there is nothing wrong with saving. I Tim. 5:8 But it is wrong to store up money for yourself that is owed to your employees. These rich men were hoarding grain, gold and clothing. Instead of laying up treasures in heaven by using their money for God’s glory, they were selfishly guarding it for their own security and pleasure. 10 years after James wrote this, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans and all this accumulated wealth was taken.
B. What did Jesus mean about laying up treasures in heaven? Matt. 6:19 He told the rich young ruler to sell all and give to the poor. But that was because Jesus knew that his riches stood between him and following Christ. To lay up treasures in heaven means to use all that we have as stewards of God’s wealth. God is the Owner of everything and we are only His stewards. What a tragedy it is to see people “heap up treasures for the last days”, instead of laying up treasures in heaven. The Bible does not discourage saving or investing, but it does condemn hoarding money instead of using it for God’s work. We must use our money to bless the widows, orphans and those in need. These people hoarded money in the last days when probably many will be suffering and dying.
C. Secondly, the rich kept others from benefiting from their wealth. The rich robbed the poor. They refused to pay their salaries so that they could take care of their families. Since we are stewards of God’s wealth, we have responsibilities to our Master. We must be faithful to use what He gives us for the good of others and the glory of God. I Cor. 4:2 Joseph was a faithful steward in Potiphar’s house. Potiphar prospered and God was glorified. Thirdly, the rich lived in luxury. Luxury is waste and waste is sin. (Illus: a magazine ad told of an oil-rich sultan who went on a shopping spree. He bought 19 Cadillacs, one for each of his 19 wives. He also bought 2 Porsches, 6 Mercedes, a $40,000 speedboat and a truck for hauling it. Besides those, he bought 16 refrigerators, $47,000 in women’s luggage, 20 Florida grapefruit trees, 2 reclining chairs and a slot machine. The bill was $1,500,000 plus $194,500 to have it delivered.) That was a sinful waste!
D. We are all grateful for the good things of life. It would be difficult to live in primitive conditions as some missionaries have to. A Quaker said, “Tell me what you need and I’ll tell you how to get along without it.” Luke 12:15 These rich men were feeding themselves on their riches and starving to death spiritually. In Greek it pictures cattle being fattened for slaughter. There is a great difference between enjoying what God has given us and living extravagantly on what we have withheld from others. Even if what we have has been earned lawfully and in the will of God, we must not waste it on selfish living. Luxury has a way of ruining character. The rich man in Luke 16:19-31 would have fit right in with these rich men, but he ended up in the fires of Hades.
A. The rich men thought they had it made, but James describes the consequences of misusing riches. First of all, riches will vanish. Grain will rot, gold will rust, and clothes will wear out. Nothing material in this world will last forever. The seeds of death and decay are in everything earthly. It is a big mistake to think that there is security in wealth. I Tim. 6:17 Riches are uncertain. Prices go up and down and the stock market fluctuates. Actually gold doesn’t rust like iron does, but the idea is the same. Gold is losing its value. We need to remember that life is brief and we can’t take our money with us. Then we see how foolish it is to live for things of the world. Luke 12:20
B. Secondly, misused riches will corrode your character just like salt water corrodes metal. James says that the corrosion of riches will eat your flesh like fire. This is a present judgment. The poison of wealth like gangrene has infected these rich men and they are being eaten alive. Of itself, money is not sinful. It’s neutral. It’s the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil. I Tim. 6:10 “Thou shall not covet” is the last of the 10 commandments, but coveting someone else’s money and things will cause you to break all the other 9. Abraham was a rich man but he maintained his faith and good character. When Lot became rich it ruined his character and eventually his family. It’s O.K. to have money in your hand as long as it doesn’t get into your heart! Psa. 62:10
C. Thirdly, misused riches will result in certain judgment. James not only saw the present judgment of their wealth decaying and their character eroding. He saw a future judgment before God when Christ will be the Judge. James 5:9 What will be the witnesses that God will call on in that Day of Judgment? First, their rotten grain, rusted gold and moth-eaten clothes will bear witness of their selfishness. Secondly, the wages they held back from their employees will testify against them in court. These stolen salaries will cry out to God for justice and judgment. God heard Abel’s blood cry out from the ground, and He hears this stolen money cry, too.
D. Then, the workers will testify against them. These rich men will not be able to bribe the witnesses or the Judge in this court of heaven! This judgment is a serious thing. The lost will stand before God at the Great White Throne Judgment. Rev. 29:11-15 The saved will stand before Christ at His judgment seat. II Cor. 5:9-10 God will not judge Christians’ sins because they have already been judged at the cross and put under the blood. But He will judge our works and our ministry. If we have been faithful, we will receive a reward. If we’ve been unfaithful, we’ll lose our reward.
E. James shows us that misused riches result in the loss of a precious opportunity. We must buy up or make use of our opportunities. Eph. 5:16 We must work while it is day. John 8:4 Think of all the good that could have been accomplished with that selfishly hoarded wealth. It is good to have the things that money can buy provided that you also have the things that money can’t buy. What good is a $500,000 house if it is not really a home for a loving family? What good is a million-dollar diamond ring if there is no love in giving it or receiving it?
James didn’t condemn riches or rich people. He condemned the wrong use of riches, and rich people who use their wealth as a weapon against others instead of a tool to build up others. It is possible to be poor in this world and yet rich in the next world. James 2:5 It is also possible to be rich in this world and poor in the next one. We see this lived out in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The return of Christ will make some people poor and others rich, depending on the spiritual condition of their hearts. What we keep, we lose. What we give to God, we keep and He adds interest. Although none of us is rich, we must guard against the love of money also. Are we jealous of the rich people? Is God first in our money, or do we give Him the leftovers? Are we generous toward others or only generous to ourselves? What we do with our money shows whom we love most. Luke 12:21 We need to ask ourselves, “Am I rich or poor toward God and His work?”
The Power of Patience
James was still addressing the suffering saints when he wrote, “Be patient.” In fact, In fact, “patient” and “patience” is mentioned 4 times in 4 verses. This was similar to his counsel at the beginning of this letter when he encouraged the brothers to persevere. God is not going to make right all the wrong in this world until Jesus Christ returns, so we believers must patiently endure – and expect His coming. 3 times James reminds us of the coming of the Lord in these verses (v. 7,8 &9). This is the blessed hope of the Christian. We don’t expect to have everything easy and comfortable in this present life. Jesus told us that in John 16:33. Paul counseled his converts the same way in Acts 14:22. We must patiently endure hardship and heartaches until Jesus returns.
James uses 2 different words for patience. In verses 7, 8 & 10 it was the word that means longsuffering. In verse 11 perseverance or patience means enduring under great stress. Patience means to stay put and stand fast when you’d like to run away. How can we Christians experience that kind of patient endurance as we wait for the Lord to return? James gives us 3 encouraging examples.
A. James’ first example is a farmer. An impatient man better not become a farmer. No crop appears overnight, and no farmer has control over the weather. Too much rain can rot and too much sun can burn up. In colder climates an early frost can kill the crop. Farmers must have patience with the seed because it takes time for plants to grow. Jewish farmers would plow and sow the seed in the fall months. The early rain would soften the soil. The latter rain in the spring would help mature the crop for harvest. They had to wait months for the seed to produce fruit. Why did the farmer willingly wait do long? He was willing to wait because the fruit is precious. The harvest is worth waiting for. Gal. 6:9
B. James pictured the Christian as a spiritual farmer looking for a spiritual harvest. Our hearts are the soil and the seed is the Word of God. There are seasons to the spiritual life just as there are seasons to the soil. Sometimes our hearts become cold and wintry and the Lord has to plow them up before He can plant the seed. Jer. 4:3 Here then is the secret of endurance when the going is tough: God is producing a harvest in our lives. He wants the fruit of the Spirit to grow, and the only way He can do it is through trials and troubles. Instead of growing impatient with God and ourselves, we must yield to the Lord and permit the fruit to grow. The same is true in the lives of our children and those whom we are discipling.
C. You can enjoy this kind of harvest if your heart is established. One of the purposes of the ministry of the church is to establish the heart. Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to establish the young Christians in the faith. I Thess. 3:1-3 The ministry of the Word and prayer is necessary if the heart is going to be established. This is brought about through church services, Bible Studies and personal devotions. A heart that is not established can’t bear fruit. Remember that the farmer doesn’t stand around doing nothing. He is constantly at work as he looks toward the harvest. James didn’t tell these believers to put on white robes, climb a hill, and wait for Jesus to return. “Keep working and waiting” was his admonition. Luke 12:42-43 Neither does the farmer get into fights with his neighbors. One of the usual marks of farmers is their willingness to help one another. Nobody on the farm has time or energy for disputes with neighbors. (v. 9) Impatience with God often leads to impatience with God’s people, and this is a sin we must avoid. If we start using the sickles on each other, we’ll miss the harvest!
II. The Prophets
A. The second example James uses is the prophets. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus also used the prophets as an example of victory over persecution. Matt. 5:10-12 What encouragement do we receive from their example? First, they were in the will of God, yet they suffered. They were preaching in the Lord’s name and yet they were persecuted. Satan tries to defeat faithful Christians by telling us that our suffering is the result of sin or unfaithfulness. The truth is that our suffering may be the result of our faithfulness! II Tim. 3:12 We mustn’t think that obedience automatically leads to ease and pleasure. Our Lord was obedient and it led to a cross!
B. Secondly, the prophets encourage us by reminding us that God cares for us when we go through suffering for His sake. Elijah announced to wicked King Ahab that there would be a drought for 3 ½ years, and Elijah himself had to suffer in that drought. But God cared for him by providing food through ravens and through a penniless widow. Afterward, God gave him a great victory at Carmel. “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.” Many of the prophets had to endure great trials and suffering, not only at the hands of unbelievers, but also at the hands of professed believers. Jeremiah was arrested as a traitor and thrown into an abandoned well to die. God sent him help and kept him alive during the siege of Jerusalem. Ezekiel and Daniel had their share of hardships, but the Lord delivered them.
C. Even those who were not delivered but died for their faith received a special reward for being true to Him till the end. Why is it that those who speak in the name of the Lord must endure difficult trials? It is so that their lives might back up their words. The impact of a faithful, godly life carries much power. But haven’t many faithful Christians died without any notice or recognition – as the martyrs in Sudan, China and Indonesia? It’s true, but when Christ returns He will give them the recognition and reward they deserve. Rev. 22:12 This example of the prophets should encourage us to spend more time in the Bible, getting acquainted with those heroes of faith. The important thing is that, like the farmer, we keep working, and like the prophets we keep sharing the truth, no matter how hard the circumstances.
A. James’ third example of patient endurance is Job. You cannot persevere unless there is a trial in your life. There can be no victories without battles and no mountain peaks without valleys. A young Christian prayed, “Lord, teach me the deep truths of Your Word. Lift me up to the heavens to hear and see the wonderful things that are there.” He didn’t know that he was asking for trials. (Illus: When I prayed back in 1961 asking the Lord to give me the faith of Abraham, I didn’t realize that He would answer later, “You have to be willing to sacrifice your children as Abraham did.”) Paul went to the third heaven and learned marvelous things, but as a result God had to give Paul a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble. God has to balance privileges with responsibilities and blessings with burdens so we don’t become spoiled children who are no use to others or ourselves.
B. When do blessings come? We may experience God’s blessings in the midst of trials like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did. But James taught that there is a blessing after we have endured. His example was Job. The Book of Job is long and filled with speeches. In chapters 1-3 we read of Job’s distress. He lost his wealth, his health and his family – except for his wife who told him to commit suicide. In chapters 4-31 we read of Job’s defense as he debated with his 3 friends and answered their accusations. In chapters 38-42 we read of Job’s deliverance. First, God humbled Job, and then He honored Job and gave him twice as much as he had before. What do we learn from Job’s experiences?
C. Job did not know what was going on “behind the scenes” between God and Satan. Job’s friends accused him of being a sinner and a hypocrite. They said, “God would never permit this suffering unless there were some terrible hidden sin in your life.” Job disagreed and maintained his innocence even though he knew he was not perfect. The friends were wrong. God had no accusation to bring against Job, and in the end, God rebuked the friends for telling lies about Job. Job 42:7 It’s difficult to find a greater example of suffering than Job. Circumstances were against him. He lost his wealth, his health and his beloved children. His wife and his friends turned against him. It seemed as though God was against him because when he cried out for answers, heaven was silent.
D. In spite of everything, Job endured. Satan predicted that Job would get impatient with God and abandon his faith, but that didn’t happen. It’s true that Job questioned God’s will, but he did not forsake his faith in God. Job 13:15 God made a covenant with Israel that He would bless them if they obeyed His laws. That led to the idea that if you were wealthy and comfortable, you were blessed of God. If you were suffering and poor, you were cursed by God. Many people, like the Word Faith preachers, still teach this today. The story of Job disproves that theory. Jesus told the disciples that it is difficult for a rich man to enter heaven. The disciples were shocked. They thought that rich people were especially blessed by God and therefore would be the first in heaven.
E. The Book of Job teaches us that righteous people suffer. Job was a righteous man and yet he suffered. Neither God not Satan could find any evil in Job. Job’s friends couldn’t prove their false accusations. Job teaches us that God has higher purposes in suffering than the punishment of sin. Job’s experiences paved the way for Jesus, the perfect, sinless Son of God, who suffered, not for His sins, but for the sins of the world. God never wastes the sufferings of His saints. It was God’s purpose to reveal Himself as full of pity and tender mercy. Job met God in a new and deeper way, and after that, received greater blessings from the Lord. Some may ask, “If God is so merciful, why didn’t He protect Job from all that suffering?” We don’t understand all the mysteries of God’s working and will, but we do know this: God was glorified and Job was purified through this difficult experience. If there is nothing to endure, you can’t learn endurance.
F. What did Job’s story mean to the believers in James’ day and what does it mean to us today? Some of the trials of life are caused directly by Satanic opposition. God permits Satan to try His children, but He always limits the extent to which he can do it. Job 1:12, 2:6 When you find yourself in the fire, remember that God’s hand is on the thermostat. Job 23:10 Satan wants us to get impatient with God because an impatient Christian is a powerful tool in Satan’s hands. Moses’ impatience cost him his ticket to enter the Holy Land. Abraham’s impatience led to the birth of Ishmael, the father of the enemies of the Jews. Peter’s impatience almost made him a murderer. Our impatience can cause us to run ahead of God and lose His blessing.
G. What does swearing (v. 12) have to do with the problem of suffering? If you have suffered, you know the answer. Impatience and anger can cause you to say things you wouldn’t usually say. It’s easy to say things you don’t mean and even make bargains with God when you’re going through difficulties. “If you’ll only heal me or give me the money I need, I’ll…” Then you make promises you will never keep. James is probably referring back to the Sermon on the Mount. The Jews were great ones for using various oaths to back up what they said. They were careful not to use the name of God lest they blaspheme. But if they swore by heaven, that is His throne, the earth is His footstool, and Jerusalem is His city. Anything you swear by includes God because it all belongs to Him. If you are a true Christian with integrity, you only need to say “Yes” or “No” and people will believe you. Don’t let impatience push you into saying things that don’t glorify God. Submit to God’s will by saying “Yes” to Him because you love and trust Him.
Reviewing this section, you can see how practical it is. Like the farmer we are patiently waiting for a spiritual harvest - in our lives and the lives of others. Like the prophets, we patiently look for opportunities to witness, even when we face opposition. Like Job, we patiently wait for the Lord to fulfill His loving purpose, knowing that He will never cause His children to suffer needlessly. Job was blessed after much suffering because he passed the test, so we will be blessed someday if we pass our test. James 1:2-4,12 In fact, God honored Job by telling Satan that His servant would be faithful to the end, no matter what happened to him. Can God trust us like that? When Jesus returns will He find us patiently faithful and expectantly looking for Him to come?
Prayer Changes Things
The gift of speech is a marvelous blessing if it is used for the glory of God. James had a lot to say about the tongue, and this chapter is no exception. In chapter 5 He mentions some of the lowest uses of the tongue: complaining (v. 9) and swearing (v. 12). But he also named some of the highest uses of the tongue: Proclaiming God’s Word (v. 10) and praying and praising God. (v. 13). 7 times in this section James mentions prayer. Prayer is certainly a high and holy privilege. As God’s children we can come freely to His throne to worship Him and tell Him of our needs and the needs of others. The mature Christian is prayerful in the troubles of life. Instead of worrying or complaining, he talks to God about it - and God hears and answers his prayers. James encourages us to pray by describing 4 situations in which God answers prayer.
I. Prayer for the Suffering
A. What should we do in our times of trouble and sickness, joy and sorrow? It’s a simple, straightforward answer: “Turn to the Lord”. The first situation James describes is suffering. “Afflicted” means suffering in difficult circumstances. Paul used this word to describe the circumstances he was in as he suffered for the Gospel’s sake. II Tim. 2:9 God’s people must often endure difficulties that are not the result of sin or of God’s discipline. What should we do in such trying circumstances? We must not grumble and criticize or be jealous of others who are having an easier time than we are. (v. 9) Nor should we blame the Lord. We should pray, asking God for the wisdom we need to understand the situation and use it for His glory. James 1:5 God can remove the problem through prayer if that is His will.
B. But prayer can also give us the grace we need to endure troubles and use them to accomplish God’s perfect will. God can transform troubles into triumphs. “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater.” James 4:6 Paul prayed that God might change his circumstances, but instead, God gave Paul the grace he needed to turn his weakness to strength. II Cor. 12:7-10 Our Lord prayed in Gethsemane that the cup of suffering might be removed, and it was not. But the Father gave Him the strength He needed to go to the cross and die for our sins.
We may have troubles, but God balances our lives and gives us hours of suffering, but days of singing. “Is any merry? Let him sing Psalms”.
C. The mature Christian knows how to sing, not only when he’s merry, but when he’s suffering as well. God is able to give songs in the night. Job 35:10 He did this for Paul and Silas when they were in sticks and suffering in the jail in Philippi. Prayer and singing were important elements in the early church, and they should be important to us. The believer’s praise should be intelligent – thoughtful – and not just the mouthing of words or ideas that mean nothing to him. It should not put us into a trance by too much repetition. Our praise should come from the heart and be motivated by the Holy Spirit. Christian singing must be based on the Word of God, not just the clever ideas of men. Sometimes people learn false doctrine from the songs they sing in church. If a song is not biblical it is not acceptable to God.
A. The second situation James describes is sickness. James does not give a blanket formula for healing the sick as some people think he does. We must be careful about using “methods” that we are told will “work”. There was a situation where the pastor and elders prayed for 2 different sick ladies. In one week, one of them was restored in a miraculous way, but the other went to the hospital and later passed away. What are the special characteristics of this case that James is describing? First, the person was sick because of sin. The Greek reads, “If he has been constantly sinning.” I Cor. 11:30 James is describing a church member who is sick because he is being disciplined by God. This is why the elders are called. He can’t go to church, so he asks the spiritual leaders to come to him.
B. Secondly, the person confesses his sins. In the early church the believers practiced church discipline. II Cor. 5 is a good example. Paul told the believers at Corinth to dismiss the sinning member from the assembly until he repented of his sins and made things right. The literal translation of James 5:16 is: “Confess your sins therefore to one another, and pray for one another that you may be healed.” Thirdly, the person is healed by the prayer of faith. It is not the anointing that heals, but the praying. The Greek word “anointing” is a medicinal term that could be translated “massaging”. This may indicate that James is suggesting using available means for healing along with asking the Lord for His divine touch. In our day, that could refer to massage, or a doctor’s skill, or medication. God can heal with or without these means, but in each case, it is God alone who heals.
C. But what is the prayer of faith that heals the sick? The answer is in I John 5:14-15. The prayer of faith is a prayer offered when we know the will of God. The elders would seek the mind of God in this matter and then pray accordingly. When I visit the sick I don’t always know how to pray for them. Paul had the same problem. Rom. 8:26 Is it God’s will to heal? Is God using this sickness to accomplish His purposes? Is God planning to call His child home? Unless I have a clear word from the Lord about how to pray, I pray like this,” If it is Your will, heal Your child. But accomplish Your purposes in this life, whatever they are.” Those who claim that God heals every case, and that it’s not His will for His children to be sick, are denying both scripture and experience. But when we have the inner conviction from the Word and the Spirit that it’s God’s will to heal, we can pray the “prayer of faith” with confidence.
D. Notice that James doesn’t tell the believer to send for some “Faith Healer” or go to a “Miracle Healing Meeting”. He is to call for spiritual men of God who seek God’s will and pray. There are some practical lessons in this section that we must not overlook. First, disobedience to God can lead to sickness. Second, sin affects the whole church. We can never sin alone because sin always affects others. This man had to confess his sins to the church by confessing them to the elders. Third, there is both physical and spiritual healing when sin is dealt with. Fourth, the confessing that James wrote about is done among the saints. He was not told to confess to the priest. We confess our sins first to the Lord (I John 1:9), but if there are others who have been affected by them, we must confess to them also. Fifth, we must never confess sin beyond the circle of that sin’s influence. Private sin requires private confession, and public sin public confession. It’s wrong for Christians to hang dirty wash in public.
III. Prayer for the Nation
A. The third situation James mentions has to do with prayer for our country. James cited Elijah as an example of a righteous man whose prayers were powerful and effective. (v. 16) The background of this incident is found in I Kings 17 & 18. Wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had led Israel away from the Lord and into the worship of Baal. God punished the nation by holding back the rain that they needed. Deut. 28:12, 23 For 3 ½ years there was no rain and the earth was unable to produce crops. Then Elijah challenged the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel. No answer came from Baal to the priests that prayed to him. Elijah prayed just once and fire came down from heaven proving that Jehovah was the true God.
B. But the nation still needed rain. Elijah went to the top of Mt. Carmel and fell down before the Lord in prayer. As he prayed he sent his servant 7 times to see if there was any evidence of rain. Finally on the 7th time the servant saw a little cloud and soon there was a great rain and the nation was saved. Do we need “showers of blessing” in our country today? Maybe we argue that Elijah was a special prophet, so we could expect God to answer his prayers in a wonderful way. But James wrote, “Elijah was a man like us.” He was not perfect. In fact, right after his victory on Mt. Carmel, Elijah became afraid and discouraged and ran away. But he was “a righteous man” – obedient to the Lord and trusting Him. God’s promises of answered prayer are for all His children who are obedient to Him.
C. Elijah prayed in faith on the basis of God’s promise that He would send rain. I Kings 18:1 Unlike the teaching of the Word Faith people, “Prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven, but getting God’s will done on earth.” You cannot separate the Word of God and prayer, because in His Word He gives us the promises that we claim in prayer. Elijah not only believed, he was persistent. “He prayed… and he prayed again.” (v. 17-18) On Mt. Carmel Elijah continued to pray for rain until his servant reported a small cloud. Too many times we fail to get what God promises because we stop praying. Elijah was also determined and concerned in his praying. “He prayed earnestly”. Many people just say religious words and their hearts are not in their prayers. Prayer power is the greatest power in the world today. Prayer power is greater than nuclear power. Elijah prayed for his nation and God answered. Are we praying for our nation and its leaders? I Tim. 2:1-3
IV. Prayer for the Straying
A. Besides praying for the sick, the suffering, our nation and its leaders, we must pray for straying Christians. James didn’t mention prayer in these 2 verses, but it’s obvious from what he wrote that we need to pray for wanderers from the faith. These verses deal with a fellow believer who strays from the truth and gets into sin. Here we have a picture of someone who gradually moves away from the will of God, like a man who wanders off the right path in the jungles or a boat that wanders away from the correct course to the next island. The OT term is “backsliding”. Sometimes a brother or sister is “overtaken in a fault” or has a sudden fall from his walk with God, but usually the sin is the result of slow, gradual spiritual decline.
B. Such a condition is of course dangerous. It is dangerous to the offender because he may be severely disciplined by the Lord. He also could be in danger of committing the sin unto death. I John 5:16-17 But this backsliding is also dangerous to the church. A wandering Christian can influence others and lead them astray like leaven in the dough. Eccl. 9:18 This is why the spiritual members of the church must step in and help the man who wanders away. The beginning of his problem is that he “wandered from the truth”. The truth here of course refers to the Word of God. Unless a believer stays close to the truth, he will start to drift away. Heb. 2:1 Jesus warned Peter that Satan was at hand to tempt him, but Peter didn’t pay attention and ended up denying the Lord.
C. The outcome of this wandering, James says, is “sin” and possible death. The sinner here is a believer. Sin in the life of a Christian is worse than sin in the life of an unbeliever. What are we to do when we see a fellow believer wandering from the truth? We should pray for him but also seek to help him. He needs to be “converted” – turned back into the right path again. Do believers need to be converted? Jesus told Peter that he would need to be converted. Luke 22:32 It’s important to seek the lost, but also to win back our wandering brothers and sisters. If we are going to help a wandering one, we must have an attitude of love. Criticism and gossip will never bring a wanderer back to the Lord. This does not mean that love sweeps the dirt under the rug. Where there is love there must also be truth, and where there is truth there is honest confession of sin and cleansing from God. Love not only helps the offender face his sins and deal with them. Love also assures the offender that those sins are forgiven and forgotten.
Whether we are seeking lost sinners or straying Christians, we need to remember Jesus’ 3 parables in Luke 15. The lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son all needed to be found and returned. The Lord also compared winning souls to catching fish in Mark 1:17. Sin is out to catch and kill. James 1:13-15 We should be out to catch and make alive. Jude 23 pictures the soul-winner as a fireman pulling brands out of the fire. We have looked at many evidences of spiritual maturity in this study from James. Probably the most important, and perhaps the one that is missing the most, is caring for the lost and the wandering. Is this evident in our lives or do we leave it for somebody else? We can start with prayer for the sick, the suffering, the lost and the wanderers, but are we willing to go find them and minister to them?