Oil Sick (James 5:13-20)

“How you doin?”

It’s the infamous stereotypical greeting between mob wiseguys. You might remember a series of Budweiser commercials some years ago that highlighted it.

In one, guys kept coming in to their favorite bar, and each time someone arrived, there’d be a new round of “How you doin?” between all of them.

They followed-up with a commercial in which an out-of-towner from Texas sat at the bar, and each time someone new arrived, and asked him, “How you doin?” he launched into a long dialog, not realizing it was a greeting and not a question.

“How you doin?” is remembered by some of you who were fans of the show, Friends.  It was Joey’s magic pick-up line for dating girls.

I’ve dubbed James a “wiseguy,” in the sense that he calls upon us to seek and then apply God’s wisdom in every circumstance of our lives.  You’d expect the ultimate spiritual wiseguy to ask, “How you doin?,” and James does not disappoint.

He doesn’t use that exact phrase; but as he closes his letter, he asks questions to probe how the dispersed Messianic Jews were doing.

I’ll organize my thoughts by asking the two questions James asked: #1 Is Any Among You Suffering?, and #2 Is Any Among You Sinning?

#1 – Is Any Among You Suffering? (v13-18)

A pastor went to visit Mrs. Jones, an elderly woman from his church who had just had an operation.  As he was sitting there talking with her, he noticed a bowl of peanuts on the stand next to the bed.  He began to eat them.  When it was time for him to leave, he noticed he had eaten all of her peanuts.

“Mrs. Jones,” he said “I’m so sorry!  I ate all of your peanuts.”

“That’s okay pastor,” she replied; “I already sucked all of the chocolate off of them.”

In my own visitations, I’ve had a few fails.  The most epic was as a Chaplain for Lemoore PD, responding to a death, when I nearly introduced myself to the deceased in front of his family.

Visitation of the sick was one of the things James had on his heart as he closed his letter to the dispersed Messianic Jews.

Jas 5:13  Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

James mentions two ends of the spiritual spectrum – “suffering” and abounding – and thus includes everything in-between

James had a strong theology of suffering.  By that, I mean he understood that Christians would, in this world, have tribulation.

The particular word he used for “suffering” means trouble of any kind – physical, financial, spiritual, etc.

At the other end of the spectrum are times when you are “cheerful.”  He’s going for the idea that you’re in a time of spiritual blessing and abounding.

Now at both ends, and everywhere in-between, you should involve the Lord.

He is there with you in your suffering, so talk to Him in prayer.

He is there in your times of blessing, so sing to Him.

Suffering can cause us to doubt God and His goodness, which then hinders our prayers.  Just keep praying… Just keep praying… Praying… Praying.

Times of blessing are super-dangerous.  They are the breeding ground for spiritual complacency or, worse, spiritual pride.  Rejoicing in the Lord acknowledges that your abundance is all from His hand; that every good and perfect gift is from above.

James next focuses on one particularly difficult type of suffering:

Jas 5:14  Is anyone among you sick? …

Physical illness, and death, entered into God’s creation when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus, in His role as the “second Adam,” has conquered death and illness; but since He has not yet returned to rule, and we are still in our fallen bodies, they are not yet eradicated.

If you believe everyone can be healed, then you must also believe that they need never die.  Besides being ridiculous, that is not the plain teaching of the New Testament.

Many sincere servants of the Lord are described as falling ill, and dying, even in the company of apostles who had gifts of healing.

The apostles all died martyrs deaths, with the exception of John, who they tried to kill, but eventually exiled to Patmos.  He later died a natural death – emphasis on he died.

Going forward in this verse, its important we realize that if any are sick among us, they may or may not be healed.  It does not promise healing if certain conditions are met.  James has already taught us that the overriding rule of prayer is, “if the Lord wills” (4:15).

Jas 5:14  Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.

The New Testament mentions certain men as gifted servant-leaders of the church; they are pastor-teachers, elders, and deacons.  The New Testament gives a lot of room as to exactly how those men are to govern in the church.

Rather than get stalled here, in an explanation of the three or so forms of biblical church government, I think we are on safe Scriptural ground by simply saying James wanted them to call upon the recognized leaders of the fellowship.

Something else to note before we go on.  This appears to be a case of severe sickness.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t pray for a common cold, but this situation was severe.

First is the fact that the elders are called to the sick man, indicating that he could not come to them.

Second, it is the elders who do all the praying.  It hints at weakness in the one who was sick.  In fact the word James chose for “sick” means weary and worn.

Third, the elders are said to pray “over him,” perhaps indicating he is confined to his bed.

The elders are called upon to do two things: To “pray over him, ” and “to anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.”  James is going to expand upon the particulars of the elders prayer in verse fifteen, so let’s first talk about the anointing with oil.

The Jews were all about anointing with oil.  Mostly olive oil, it was used medicinally:

The Good Samaritan poured oil into the wounds of the man who had been robbed and beaten (Luke 10:34).
Isaiah 1:6 says, “From the sole of the foot even to the head, There is no soundness in it, But wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; They have not been closed or bound up, Or soothed with ointment.”

It was also the custom of the Jews to anoint themselves with oil, as a means of personal hygiene:

In Psalm 104:15 we read that God has given “oil to make [a man’s] face shine.”

When Ruth was to see Boaz, she was told, “Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor…” (3:3).

Oil was also used to anoint priests and kings as a symbolic representation of the Holy Spirit coming upon those men:

When Samuel anointed David to be Israel’s king, we read, “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward…” (First Samuel 16:13).

In Psalm 133, we get a description of the anointing of the high priest when we read, “It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments.”

When you broke-out with oil, a Jew would have all these in mind.  It simultaneously represented the Holy Spirit, hygiene, and healing.

The fact that they were to anoint “in the name of the Lord” indicates this anointing of the sick was primarily symbolic.
I mean, when a Jew put oil on every day as part of his personal hygiene; or when he had it applied to a wound; it wasn’t “in the name of the Lord.”  It was ordinary and mundane.

All of these meanings are important, but especially the idea that you were symbolizing God the Holy Spirit.

The sick man had undoubtedly already employed oil, or other means, of healing.  That would be normal and natural.  There’s nothing wrong with that, because it is God who gives us those means.  God is not against medicine.  There is no hint here that the elders be called before, or instead of, the physician.

But since all healing, even using medicine, is God’s prerogative, they brought Him into the situation by using oil to anoint as a visible representation of His healing, of restoring health.  It gave the strong reminder that God can heal.

Should we use oil today – to anoint the sick?  Here is what decides it for me: In verse fifteen, James says it is “the prayer of faith [that] saves the sick,” not the anointing with oil.

I’m not against it; I’ve done it over the years.  I must admit, though, that the way we modern Christians anoint is not really biblical.  We normally take a little dab of oil on a finger, and apply it lightly to the forehead.  A little dab will do ‘ya doesn’t cut it.

These Bible guys had oil poured over their heads, running down their beards, staining their garments.

Try that and you’ll be the one needing healing!

Again, I’m not against it; I’m not saying it’s wrong.  I’ll dab; I’ll pour.

Truthfully, using oil has little meaning to us, the way it did to the Jews, and so it becomes a little ritualistic.  It could even become superstitious – as if the anointing with oil itself somehow effected the healing.

Positions and postures and potions are not required for God to heal; and they can smack of ritual that reduces God to a heavenly genie Who needs to be rubbed the right way.

Let’s get into the “prayer of faith.”

Jas 5:15  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up….

We already know, from the Bible, that not everyone will be healed.  This is not a promise that if you have enough faith, God will heal you.  And it’s the elders who pray, so we can’t blame the one who is sick in any case.

The wording is interesting.  It isn’t a prayer that’s prayed by a person or persons having great faith.  It is a particular prayer; it is “THE prayer of faith.”

The best thing I can do is give you an example.  One day, Peter and John were going to the Temple, to pray.  As they were going through the gate, they noticed a beggar – “a certain man lame from his mother’s womb…” who was laid daily there to ask for alms.  Peter and John had passed that way before, many times.  But on this particular pass, God the Holy Spirit directed their attention to the lame beggar, and we read,

Act 3:5  So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them.
Act 3:6  Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”
Act 3:7  And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
Act 3:8  So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them – walking, leaping, and praising God.

THAT is an example of “THE prayer of faith.”

What James was suggesting is that the elders be sensitive to the Holy Spirit prompting them to pray THE prayer of faith – with the certainty the sick man will be healed.

One commentator put it this way: “We should always be alert in our prayers to the fact that God may wish to give us a particular gift of faith in relation to something which we ask Him.”

Most of our prayers, in the plan and providence of God, will not be THE prayer of faith.  We might call those “prayers of rest,” because we are directed by God’s answer to rest in His will and in His wisdom.

Have you ever considered what an awful world this would be if every one of your prayers were answered?  It’s better to rest in God.

And that helps me to understand something very curious about this whole passage.  Why call the elders?  You’d think, in the first century church, if anyone was sick, they should call an apostle who had gifts of healing.

Indeed, when Dorcas died, they sent for Peter, believing he would restore her to life… Which he did.
If not an apostle, why not call someone with the gifts of healing?

So, again, I ask, “Why call the elders?”

I can only speculate, but I think it’s because if THE prayer of faith isn’t granted by God, the sick person is going to need a great deal of spiritual support and counsel about sickness, and they need to get it from mature men of God who have a strong theology of suffering.

Severe sickness is no time for clichés, or thoughtless comments.  Hopefully a mature leader can avoid those and bring real spiritual insight.  Or, at least, cause no spiritual harm.

Jas 5:15  … And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

We are quick to point out that not every sickness is the direct result of an individual’s sin.  James agrees, saying “if,” indicating that it is not always, or even mostly, the case.

But the Bible does give instances where sickness is the result of personal sin, and where it functions as either a warning, or as a discipline.

In the church at Corinth, for example, many were sick, and some were dying, because they were sinning at the communion table.  It was a warning to the church; and a discipline to them.

When you’re sick, it might be that it’s because of a particular sin, or habit of sin.  Or you may simply get in touch with how generally sinful you remain, in this body of flesh.

Or you may have none of that going on, but the sickness reveals more of the sufficiency of the grace of God to you.
Jas 5:16  Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed…

Read this carefully.  Not “sins,” but “trespasses,” meaning faults, are to be confessed.

They are to be confessed “to one another,” not to the elders, or to  one elder, who has no connection with the faults.  There is no justification here for the ritual of confession to a priest.

James was talking about a Matthew 18 situation, where a brother has ought against another brother; where someone has sinned against another believer.

They are to go to one another and work it out by agreeing it was sin, repenting, and being reconciled.

Whatever fault that was between them is removed, and they can now “pray for one another.”

The “healing” they receive is spiritual.  It is a return to fellowship with God, and with each other.

Jas 5:16  … The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

Bad translation.  A better one is, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (ISV).

James wants us to believe prayer is powerful and effective.  It need not be “fervent,” as we will see in his example.

We might shy away from this, thinking, “I’m not a righteous man (or woman).”  But by “righteous,” James means saved.  You are right with God, justified by your faith in Jesus Christ, and thereby declared righteous.

Every Christian is a righteous man or woman.

Your prayer is “powerful and effective” whether it is THE prayer of faith; or a prayer of rest; or prayer between reconciled parties.

Jas 5:17  Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months.
Jas 5:18  And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

Elijah took on the 450 prophets of Baal.  He challenged them to call upon their god, to ignite a sacrifice by bringing fire from Heaven.  They exhausted themselves trying, but failed.

Elijah called upon the God of Israel, and the fire came.

It wasn’t really about the fire.  Elijah staked everything on the fact that our God hears our prayers and responds.

Elijah soon after was being hunted down by Jezebel.  He grew depressed, to the point of wishing he could die.

He wasn’t suicidal, but he prayed to God to end his life.  Even in his depression, Elijah prayed.

One fascinating fact: The man who prayed to die never died, but was taken to Heaven in a chariot of fire.

The particular episode James uses to show the effect and power of prayer is the drought that Israel endured as a result of Elijah’s praying.

Once again, the word “earnestly,” in “he prayed earnestly,” is a poor translation.  It literally reads, “with prayer he prayed.”  He just prayed, and God answered.

James is saying, “Just pray, and God will answer.”

You might be thinking, “That’s great – except, when I just pray, it’s never THE prayer of faith, and nothing miraculous like starting or ending a drought ever happens.  Nobody ever gets healed; and nothing ever changes.”

Yes, it does; just not the way we might want it to.  Prayers of resting in God’s sufficient grace are powerful; they are effective.

God can heal.  He’s proven He can.  Jesus healed almost everyone, and cast out demons to boot.  He raised Lazarus from the dead.

He thereby showed us that He can do those things.  They are, if I might be so bold, easy for Him.

If He chooses to not heal, or to answer your prayer in a way you dislike, it must be because He has something else in mind for you that will further you on your way to be becoming like Jesus.

I hesitate to say God has something “better” for you, because, at the time, you’d disagree.  You can’t see, for example, how it’s better for someone you love to die from their sickness rather than be healed.

Perhaps a better word than “better” would be necessary.  If God takes you through something, rather than answering your prayer, it must be necessary.  There is, after all, a bigger picture which we will not see until we are with Jesus.

It’s as if Jesus is saying, “You see what I can do, so trust Me.  If I don’t do what you are asking, what I am doing is necessary.”

#2 – Is Any Among You Sinning? (v19-20)

Every now and then there’s a sad story about someone being assaulted while bystanders do nothing.

There’s even a television show, What Would You Do?, where actors act out scenes of conflict or illegal activity in public settings while hidden cameras videotape, and the focus is on whether or not bystanders intervene.

We are generally appalled when bystanders do nothing.

James points out a situation in the church where we sometimes stand by, doing nothing – even though the consequences are dire.

Jas 5:19  Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back,
Jas 5:20  let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

God’s Word is truth.  But truth is something that we must live-out.  We prove we know the truth by a life that matches it.

As the DoNut man sings, concerning the Bible, I read it, and I do it.

How sad when someone who was in fellowship gradually, or suddenly, wanders off, back into the world, back into sin.

They may still be in the fellowship; but their sin becomes known.

There is no call from them for prayer.  They aren’t wanting to be rescued.  They may even be antagonistic to any suggestion we intervene.

We cannot remain bystanders while a brother or sister is headed toward, or already in, sin.

We can “turn him [or her] back.”  James gives no instruction as to how we turn them back – just that we must make any and every effort.

You “will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”

Is this person a backslidden believer?  Or a person who professes faith but is not born-again at all?

We can’t always tell, can we?  The only evidence we have that a person is saved is how they live.  We are not privy to their hearts.

If they are mere professors of Christ, not in possession of Him, the phrase,”saves a soul from death and covers a multitude of sins” makes straightforward sense.

Their sins are “covered,” atoned for, at the Cross of Jesus Christ.  Their eternal soul, once headed for Hades then Hell, now has a heavenly destination.

The “soul” of the backslidden Christian can also be described as being “saved from death,” in a spiritual sense.  James has already told believers, earlier in this letter, that sin brings forth death.

Think of the things – the precious things – that die when you wander into sin.  Marriages… Families… Friendships… Churches… Ministries.

You kill them in a very real spiritual and emotional sense.

When you go after a backslidden believer, and they respond, you are to “cover their… sins” as much as possible.

If their sin was personal, just something they were doing, there’s no need for others to know.
If their sin was against one, or more, that small circle needs to be asked to forgive.
If their sin was open and public, then all those who were affected need to be brought in to the process of restoration.

And with that, James was done.  It’s an abrupt ending to the letter, don’t you think?

Some churches, as you exit, have a sign that reads, “You are now entering the mission field.”

This was James’ exit sign – verses nineteen and twenty.  We could paraphrase it and say, “Now entering the world in order to turn back wanderers.”

Seen that way, it’s a perfect conclusion.  A major theme in this letter was wisdom, and “he who wins souls is wise.”

Hi-ho, The Derry-o, The Farmer In The Bi-bell (James 5:7-12)

After first service, once you’re done fellowshipping, you might want to go out for breakfast.

After second service, you’ll probably be thinking about someplace to eat lunch.

Wherever you decide to go, you will most likely have to wait.  You give your name, and the size of your party… And you wait.

Hopefully, after not too long, you are escorted to your table.  What do you do there?

You wait some more.  Hopefully not too long; but you wait.

Once you’ve ordered – you wait for your food to arrive.

When you have finished eating, (unless you’re at Chili’s where you can pay at the table), you wait for the check – twice, because it has to come back to you after you’ve put your card or cash in the wallet.

My question is this: “Doesn’t all that waiting make you the waiter?”

According to one site I consulted, the average person throughout their lifetime spends five years waiting in lines and queues.

This is why I don’t mind seeing people who are waiting doing stuff on their smart phones.

Smart phones have taken the sting out of waiting.  When I whip out my iPhone 6, and return to my turn on Words with Friends, waiting has no power over me.

In fact, you can go ahead of me; I’m enjoying waiting.

In our verses, James suggests we see ourselves as the waiters:

We are waiting for the coming of the Lord, and,

Our waiting takes place among other believers.

How we wait for the Lord among other believers is important.  I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 You Should Have A Patient Expectation While Waiting For The Lord, and #2 You Should Have A Persevering Endurance While Waiting With The Saints.

#1    You Should Have A Patient Expectation While Waiting For The Lord (v7-8)

Whenever I mention Disneyland, someone has a horror story to tell of the time they waited in line practically all day for a particular attraction.  At least Disney tells you ahead of time, by signage, how long the wait will be, so that you can make an informed choice.

You can also download any number of apps that will tell you the current wait times, so you can have a better strategery for waiting.

And, finally, you can plan ahead, and get Fast Passes, to minimize your wait times.

Look at it this way: When it’s all said and done, since you are going to spend five years of your life in lines and queues anyway, why not do most of it at the Happiest Place on Earth?

Christians are called to a very special, a very exciting, kind of waiting.  We are waiting for the coming of the Lord.

Jas 5:7  Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord…

Was James referring to the Lord’s coming back to the earth, to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth?

No; he had to be referring to another “coming.”  In verse eight James says that this “coming of the Lord is at hand.”  It can be translated, it is near.

One of the commentators I especially trust for his scholarship says of this phrase,

His statement here leaves no doubt that James, like Paul, Peter, and John (Phil. 4:5; 1 Pet. 4:7; 1 John 2:18), looked for the personal return of Jesus Christ as imminent.  And this attitude of expectancy was in keeping with the attitude that Christ had inculcated (Mark 13:32–37).  The Lord had instructed His followers to be ready and watching; if they had believed that He would not return until centuries later, there would have been no occasion or need to watch for His return (D. Edmund Hiebert).

James was talking about a coming of the Lord that was imminent – meaning it could happen at any moment.  The coming of Jesus to establish the Kingdom of God is not an imminent event; it is preceded by at least the seven-years of the Tribulation.

The imminent coming of Jesus is what we commonly call the rapture of the church.  It is a coming promised by Jesus to the members of the church, from the Day of Pentecost forward, until He comes.

It is the coming clearly taught in First Thessalonians 4:13-17.

1Th 4:13  But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.
1Th 4:14  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
1Th 4:15  For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
1Th 4:16  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
1Th 4:17  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

The “dead in Christ” from the church age will be raised from the dead, and given their resurrection bodies.  Then living believers will be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, to be caught-up to Heaven by Jesus with the resurrected saints.

At some point after this game-changing event, the seven year Tribulation on the earth will begin.  It is at the end of those seven years that Jesus returns in His Second Coming – not for the church, but with the church.  It is then He establishes the Kingdom of God on the earth for one thousand years.

“If the hope of the Lord’s return is relegated to such a remote future that it has no present impact on our way of living, then this great Christian hope no longer exercises the vital influence upon Christian living that James and other New Testament writers present it as having” (Hiebert).

Interestingly, James wasn’t teaching them about the rapture.  His wording assumes they all knew about it, and were aware of its imminence.

James was giving them, and us, an important teaching on exactly how to wait for an event that is imminent.

Do you know what an oxymoron is?  It’s not a person addicted to oxycodone.  It is a combination of contradictory or incongruous words.  Bitter sweet is an example; so is dull roar, and found missing.

Waiting for something that is imminent isn’t a true oxymoron, but they are two somewhat contradictory ideas.  If it’s imminent, there’s no waiting; if you’re waiting, how can it be imminent?

Waiting for the imminent coming of the Lord would create a problem in the Gentile church of Thessalonica.  Since Jesus’ return was imminent, many believers quit their jobs.  In a way, it made sense.

The apostle Paul had to get involved, telling the church to ‘quit’ supporting them.  They should be working while waiting.

Waiting for Jesus’ imminent coming requires that we keep working, both in the world and for the Lord, while simultaneously proclaiming He could come at any moment.

To help illustrate this special kind of waiting, James said,

Jas 5:7  … See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.

God is in control of the rains.  Similarly, God is in control of the coming of Jesus.  It is imminent, but that only means it could be today, or might be tomorrow.  It’s in His timing.

The farmer must work furiously within God’s time table.  He must prepare the fields for planting, then sew the seeds, then tend the fields.  He must harvest the crop, and take the fruit to market.
Similarly, we are to work furiously within God’s timetable.

The fact that the Lord could return at any moment is meant to encourage me to stay busy.  It should never have the opposite effect.

Jas 5:8  You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

We should have the same active patience of the farmer.

“Establish [our] hearts” is an exhortation to go on growing in the Lord.  It calls on us to work towards producing mature fruit in our walk.  Our hearts are the field upon which the word was sown, and has taken root.  We’re to tend to them, and bring forth fruit, a hundredfold, spurred-on by the imminence of the coming of the Lord.

It has become popular for critics of pretribulational, premillennial teaching, to suggest that it promotes an escapism that leads us to inactivity.

James, and all the writers of the Bible, came to the exact opposite conclusion.  The imminent, and therefore pre-trib/pre-mil coming of the Lord, incites furious activity.

Jesus is coming.  Get busy.

#2    You Should Have A Persevering Endurance While Waiting With The Saints (v9-12)

There is a commonly quoted poem that is a good set-up for what James wants to say in the remaining verses:

To walk above with saints we love,
That will indeed be glory;

To walk below with saints we know –
Well, that’s another story!

Warren Wiersbe likes to say, “No doubt you have heard it said, If you ever find the perfect church, please don’t join.  If you do, it won’t be perfect anymore.”

Local churches are made-up of flawed human beings saved by God’s grace.  We are each on track to becoming perfect, but we are all currently imperfect works in progress as we wait for the coming of the Lord.

It’s a formula for problems, so James turns his attention to our being patient with one another as we wait for the coming of the Lord.

Jas 5:9  Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!

James is definitely talking to and about Christians, calling us all – men and women – “brethren.”  We can’t wiggle out of this exhortation.

Are you familiar with the “Mister” series of children’s books?  Mr. Tickle was always our favorite, because you’d tickle the kids at the end.

There is Mr. Grumble.  He’s described as “hating laughter, and hating singing.”  Mr. Grumble’s name suited him well.  “Bah,” he would grumble every morning when his alarm clock rang.  “The start of yet another horrible day” [he said].
Mr. Grumble doesn’t care if Mr. Bump gets hurt.

Apparently, grumbling was a major problem among the dispersed Messianic Jews James was writing to.  The word he used describes an inner feeling of dissatisfaction and personal irritation with other believers.  It arises in your heart especially when you are mistreated.

It’s not slandering, or gossiping, or even murmuring.  That’s probably why we don’t see it as sin; it’s quiet and personal.  But it is against others, and it affects our relationship with them, and it can become open and hostile.

You won’t be able to “establish your heart” so long as you have grumbling in it.

“Lest you be condemned” doesn’t have anything to do with your eternal destination.  He’s talking to believers who are going to Heaven.

It means you will be judged, and it’s referring to the day you stand before Jesus at His reward seat, where He will be the Judge of your works.

We should always deal with sin immediately, because the Lord is “standing at the door,” ready to return for us.

Until that day, we’re always going to have problems with others in the church.  Instead of grumbling about other believers, James calls upon us to have another kind of patience – a persevering endurance.

He sees that kind of persevering endurance among brethren in two places in their Scriptures: Among the prophets, and in Job.
Jas 5:10  My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience.

The “prophets” were called and sent by God to “speak in the name of the Lord.”

Ambassadors of Heaven, they were nevertheless, most of them, made to “suffer” at the hands, not of the Gentiles, but of their own people.

Jeremiah comes immediately to mind.  I found this short list of his sufferings:

He was persecuted by his own family.
He was plotted against by the people of his hometown.
He was rejected and reviled by his peers in the religious world.
Pashur, the chief temple priest, had him whipped and put in stocks.
He preached a sermon at the Temple gate and was nearly killed by an angry mob for predicting the Temple would be destroyed.
He was cast down into an empty, filthy cistern, and left to die.
He saw his original manuscript burned by wicked King Jehoiakim.
He was forced to go to Egypt against his will when the Jews refused to heed his prophecies to not go there.

Most of God’s prophets were badly treated by their countrymen.  In the Book of Hebrews we read this about the servants of God:

Heb 11:36  …Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.
Heb 11:37  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented…

Just before he was stoned to death for preaching Jesus to the Jews, Stephen said to his persecutors, “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the [Messiah]…” (Acts 7:52).

It’s sad to say this, but you ought to expect to be mistreated by other believers.  Remember, there’s no perfect church.

We see that the prophets are an example of suffering, but what about “patience?”

The kind of “patience” James has in mind is what we would call perseverance.  It is enduring suffering til the end, without quitting.

James said, in verse eleven, “Indeed we count them blessed who endure.”  Endurance… Perseverance… That’s what he was counseling.

Jeremiah wanted to give-up.  In fact he never wanted to start serving the Lord as a prophet in the first place.  He persevered to the end, faithful to his calling by God despite the suffering.

We shouldn’t quit working on account of the imminence of the Lord’s return.  Likewise, we shouldn’t quit on account of mistreatment, even when it is at the hands of those who we minister to, and are called to minister to us.

James gives a second example of persevering to the end:

Jas 5:11  … You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord – that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.

You are familiar with the story of Job.  Satan accused him before God of serving the Lord solely because he was being blessed by Heaven on a material basis.  The devil suggested that if Job’s material blessings were withdrawn, that he would curse God.

God knew Job was spiritual, so He allowed Satan to test Job.  He lost everything – including his children and his health.  For most of the book, he is sitting in the local dump, using shards of broken pottery to scrape the boils he has from his head to his toes.

“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (Job 2:11 NIV).

They did comfort Job, at first.  But his friends quickly entered a vicious cycle of argument and accusation.

It incited quite a lot of grumbling from Job.  In using Job as an example, James isn’t excusing it, or overlooking it.  He was a believer being mistreated by his peers who shouldn’t have grumbled, but he nevertheless persevered.

James says, you’ve “seen the end intended by the Lord.”  Even though others were deriding him, Job persevered.  He should have done it without grumbling, because of where it would “end.”

Everyone familiar with Job knows the “end.”  Spoiler alert – if you aren’t familiar with his end, here it comes:

Job 42:10  And the LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
Job 42:11  Then all his brothers, all his sisters, and all those who had been his acquaintances before, came to him and ate food with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversity that the LORD had brought upon him. Each one gave him a piece of silver and each a ring of gold.
Job 42:12  Now the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys.
Job 42:13  He also had seven sons and three daughters…
Job 42:15  In all the land were found no women so beautiful as the daughters of Job; and their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers.
Job 42:16  After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations.
Job 42:17  So Job died, old and full of days.

By seeing the “end” of the lives of Bible characters, like Job, we get an idea of the “end” God intends for our lives.  And we are reminded that grumbling is counterproductive.

I don’t know why, but the Johnny Cash classic, A Boy Named Sue, comes to mind.  Because of his girlish name, Sue is always getting into scrapes; he hates his name.

(To which I say, “Just change it to Sam.”  But that wouldn’t be country).

He eventually finds and confronts his absent father, whom he tries to kill.  His deadbeat-dad explains that he knew he wouldn’t be around to make his son a man, so he gave him the name “Sue” so he’d have to be tough growing up.  It worked.

ANYWAY, as the song ends, Sue understands.  And he says,

And if I ever have a son, I think I’m gonna name him
Bill or George!  Anything but Sue!  I still hate that name!

At the end of his trial, do you think Job might have said, “I understand what the Lord wanted to do, but I’d rather He would have left me alone?”

Well, here is what Job did say:

Job 23:10  But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.

He persevered, and he experienced the “end” God intended.

James gives us an insight into what Job learned about God when he says, “the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.”

Wow.  If we were in a book club, and had just finished reading Job, and were asked, “What do you see most about God in this book,?” would we answer, “That He is very compassionate and merciful?”

That IS the answer, whether we see it or not.  Nonbelievers certainly do not see it.  Job is a favorite criticism they level against God, for being uncompassionate and merciless.

Job did some grumbling, but we just read, “And the LORD restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends.”

He quit his grumbling, and he replaced it with prayer that pleased the Lord.

If and when you have identified grumbling in your heart, pray for those you’ve grumbled against.

James turns his attention to another problem between the saints: The making of non-binding oaths.

Jas 5:12  But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. But let your “Yes” be “Yes,” and your “No,” “No,” lest you fall into judgment.

Apparently, the Jews had devised an elaborate system of oaths, by which they might “swear” that something was true when it was not true.  Depending on what you swore by, e.g., God or the Temple or something else in Heaven or on the earth, you could argue that your oath was not binding.

Kids on the playground understand this.  When I was in elementary school, our oath was, Cross my heart and hope to die; Stick a needle in my eye.

It was totally binding; but there was one exception.  Do you know what it was?  If you had your fingers crossed, all bets were off.

Crossed fingers invalidate promises and allow you to tell lies without your pants catching on fire.  In the film The Truman Show, Truman realizes his marriage is a farce when he discovers a wedding photo of his wife with her fingers crossed.
James wasn’t saying you can never make a vow, or swear an oath.  In the Bi-bell, God Himself is described as swearing an oath (Hebrews 6:13).

James wanted the Messianic Jews to drop the whole cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die habit, and always tell the truth.

Honesty is the way we ought to be waiting with other believers.

Here is what we’ve emphasized today:

Imminent waiting calls for a special kind of patience – an active, working patience.  We certainly believe the Lord’s coming could happen now – but we are not escapists who shirk our responsibilities.  We are those who work furiously to spread the Gospel while there is time.

Being among God’s people on earth requires perseverance.  You will be mistreated by other imperfect saints; and you will mistreat others, no matter that you don’t want to.  Rather than be Mr. or Mrs. Grumble, pray for those who mistreat you, and look past it to the “end” God has in mind.

He is working all things together for good for those who love Him.

Planning Ommissioners (James 4:13-5:6)

I’ll admit, the prescription drug ads on TV scare me.  Drug makers are legally required to tell you their products might lead to a series of horrifying side effects, up to and including death.

They try to soften the effect by having a narrator off camera read the list while they show pleasant images of people being helped by the drug, but the possibilities for harm are overwhelming.

ABILIFY – (For depression) “Side effects include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, coma or death… And trouble swallowing.”

MIRAPEX – (For Restless Leg Syndrome) “Side effects include hallucinations, as well as increased gambling, sexual, or other overpowering urges.”

ALLI – (For weight loss) “Side effects include an increased number of bowel movements, an urgent need to have them, and an inability to control them.”
If you hear, “sleep disturbances” mentioned, that’s Big Pharma’s code for the psychotic nightmares you’ll suffer if you suddenly stop taking the drug without slowly weaning off of it.

Scary stuff.  But not as scary as the ads for retirement.  They let me know that I’m several million dollars behind in securing a future that includes having a roof over my head, and food on the table.

AARP says you should aim to have a nest egg of $1 million to $1.5 million.  Another way of approaching it is that your savings should amount to 10 to 12 times your current income.

Outliving your money is a modern nightmare.  No one has devised a hard and fast formula for just how much money we will actually need in retirement.  That’s because nobody knows how long we’re likely to live.  We don’t know if we should be planning financially for 20 years of post-retirement life, or 30… Or even 40.

The National Institute on Aging says that “the oldest old people age 85 or older are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population.”

I’m 61; my dad died in his nineties, and my mom is still alive at 95.

Before you either pat yourself on the back for your foresight in planning, or you chastise yourself for your lack of planning, you’re going to want to hear what James has to say.

These verses are about planning, but factoring in, at all times, “if the Lord wills.”

We will explore what that means by organizing our thoughts around the following two points: #1 Your Plans Must Always Be Submitted To The Will Of God, and #2 Your Plans Must Never Be Steered By The Wealth Of The World.

#1    Your Plans Must Always Be Submitted To The Will Of God (4:13-17)

Salesmen like to say, “Plan your work, then work your plan.”

It sounds like great advice – until you read what James has to say about planning that omits considering “if the Lord wills.”

Jas 4:13  Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”;

James is using someone we might call a traveling salesman as an example of the planning we all do, or are encouraged to do, in life.

You don’t have to be in sales to relate to planning.  From the first time anyone ever asks you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” you are prone to making future plans.

There is pressure put upon you to finish high school, and to go on to college, and beyond.

There is nothing wrong with planning.  The disciples and apostles of Jesus made plans.  For that matter, Jesus made plans.  His incarnation followed a plan that had been determined in eternity past.  We like to say that He has a plan for our lives.
James wasn’t suggesting we do not plan.  He was suggesting, as we will see, that we can leave God out of our plans.

Before he says that, he suggests a reason why all planning, apart from God, is flawed.

Jas 4:14  whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

You could die tomorrow.  For that matter, you could die today.

You might conclude that James is a glass-half-empty kind of guy; but I’d say he was more of a glass-overflowing guy.

It isn’t so much that he was saying you could die, as he was suggesting you might finally experience eternal life.

If you are a Christian, you’re not on the brink of death; you’re on the verge of really living by going home to be with Jesus.

He was reminding born-again believers that we are more than physical beings living in a material world.  We are spiritual, and should therefore always take spiritual things into consideration before and while making any plans.

James was giving us a last-day-on-earth pep talk.  Realizing today might be your last day on the earth, and that tomorrow you’ll be with Jesus, how should you plan?

You should plan according to things that are the Lord’s will.

Jas 4:15  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
I think we all know that we shouldn’t make plans on our own, then say, “if the Lord wills,” and think we’re covered.

We don’t want to say, “Lord, these are my plans, and if You “will” something else, You’re going to have to stop me.”

“How do I know God’s will?” is one of the most asked questions by Christians.

Truth is, we already know a great deal about what God wills for us.  I think James is telling us to remember to hold dear the things God wills and to factor them into our planning.

So what is it that God wills for us?  For one thing, He wills for you to be saved.  He says that he “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (First Timothy 2:4).  He says also that he is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (Second Peter 3:9).

Are you saved?  If you’re not, no amount of planning is going to be productive for you in the long run.  We are here, on this earth, to determine where we will spend eternity.  Will it be in Heaven?  Or will it be Hell?

God doesn’t just will for you to be saved.  He wills for you to be a witness to others, so that they might be saved.  He says that He “sent his Son into the world to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).  The Great Commission comes to mind; as well as other verses that indicate He is sending you forth, into the world, as light and salt, to sew the Word of God, to be a savor of life to those being saved, and of death to all who are perishing.

We are living epistles, to be ‘read’ by others, to communicate the grace and love of our God and Savior.
In the letter to the Ephesians we get more insight into what the Lord wills:

Eph 5:17  Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Eph 5:18  And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit,

It is God’s will for you to “be filled with the [Holy] Spirit.”  What does that look like?

Eph 5:19  speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,
Eph 5:20  giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Eph 5:21  submitting to one another in the fear of God.

We don’t have the time to go through all this.  Think of it as a gauge to measure where you are at with the Lord.

Are you joy-filled?  Thankful “for all things?”  Are you in fellowship with other believers, “submitting to one another?”  That is what He wills for you.

Then we read,

1Th 4:3. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality;
1Th 4:4  that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor,

Sexual purity – both yours and that of those you know – is important to God.  We remain physical beings, but are encouraged to control our impulses using the spiritual means made available to us.

This one is tough, in our sex-saturated culture.  It’s easy to become desensitized to sexual immorality.

Finally, here is a tough one regarding the will of God.  God might want you to suffer.  Twice, the apostle Peter mentions suffering according to the will of God.  In one place he says, “It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (First Peter 3:17).  In another place he says, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (First Peter 4:19).

Those are a few things – big things – that we must always factor in to our plans.  We’ll say more about that in a moment.  But first James adds,

Jas 4:16  But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

The “boast” was what they were saying in verse thirteen.  They were boasting in their iron-clad plans to go and establish themselves and make their fortune.  It was “arrogance” to omit the Lord’s will from those plans.

Jas 4:17  Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

This is a great stand-alone verse.  Sin isn’t just doing things that we know to be wrong.  It is not doing things that we know to be good and right.

At home, I may not mistreat my spouse.  But do I treat her the way I should?  If I, as a husband, don’t love my wife as Jesus loved and loves the church, it is sin – because I know it is right, and I can do it in the empowering of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

If, as a wife, you are not submitting to your husband as unto the Lord, it is sin – because you know it is right, and you can do it in the empowering of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Verse seventeen can stand alone, but let’s look at it in context.  James is saying, “if you don’t seek to do “good” by factoring what you already know to be the Lord’s will in to all your plans, it is sin.

Maybe a few examples of factoring-in the Lord’s will might help. We saw that witnessing to others is the Lord’s will.  When you really believe it is, it cannot help but affect your plans.

If you’ll allow me to exaggerate.  If your plans are to live somewhere isolated, practically as a hermit… That may not be the Lord’s will, because you will have no one to share the Gospel with.

On a less extreme scale, it being the Lord’s will that you share Him with others might affect job and career choices, or promotions within your profession.

You need to submit your plans to the question, “Will this increase or decrease my witness to others?”

We saw that it is the Lord’s will you be filled with the Holy Spirit.  Thus you will want to plan in such a way that you do not quench the Holy Spirit, or grieve Him.

And you will want to be engaging in those activities that please Him, like fellowship and Bible reading and prayer.

It is Gods will you be pure, sexually.  If your plans involve sex before marriage, or marrying a nonbeliever – those are never the Lord’s will.

Finally, you may need to suffer in the will of God.  How might this affect planning?  Let’s say you are being persecuted or otherwise mistreated at work.  It might be that your plan is to get out of suffering by, say, quitting your job.  That, however, may not be the Lord’s will.  He may want you to endure suffering, in the power of the Spirit, as a witness to your employer, and to your fellow employees.

It’s the Lord’s will you be saved… Be a witness to others… Be filled with His Holy Spirit… Live a pure life, especially sexually within biblical boundaries… And suffer with supernatural endurance when called upon.

Always factor those things into your plans.  We can use the man in verse thirteen as an example.  He said, “Today or tomorrow [I] will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit.”

“Today or tomorrow” tells us that it may be God’s will we go immediately; or that we wait.  He knows what divine appointments He has set-up for us.

Filled with His Spirit, I pray, and seek His wisdom on when – of if – to go.

Also on where to go.  “To such and such a city.”  Do you think you are always going to be sent by God where you want to go?  Are you dragging Him to your next desired destination?

It isn’t true that God will always send you where you don’t want to go.  But He may send you where you need to go – spiritually speaking; and that may not be where you would choose based on geography and climate.

The traveling salesmen said he was going to “spend a year there.”  He must have calculated how long it would take to make the money he wanted.  But couldn’t God grant him success sooner?

Or couldn’t circumstances be such that his gains turned into losses?

He needed to make money, sure.  But he was being sent for other reasons, e.g., to be a witness, and therefore his time there was more in God’s hands.

Finally he said he’d “buy and sell, and make a profit.”  What if God asked him to donate all his profit?

It wouldn’t make sense from a material standpoint.  But can you envision a scenario where God asks you to give everything?  To leave everything?

Sure you can, because, after all, we are stewards of God’s resources that He gives us to use to further His Gospel on the earth.

Here is something else that is the Lord’s will.  He is conforming you into the image of Jesus.  He has begun a good work in you – a spiritual work – and He will complete it.  One day you will be like Jesus.

As we factor His will into all of our plans, we cooperate with God’s ultimate plan for us.  His will sets godly, loving parameters and boundaries.

I saw a two-panel cartoon the other day that illustrates biblical boundaries.  A runner is coming-up on what looks to be a hurdle.  As he jumps over it, a spectator says, “It’s not a hurdle; it’s a guardrail.”  In the second panel you see that it is, in fact, a guardrail, and by jumping over it, the runner will plummet into a valley below.

God’s boundaries – expressed by His will – are always guardrails to keep you safe.

#2    Your Plans Must Never Be Steered By The Wealth Of The World (5:1-6)

There was a man who had worked all of his life and had saved all of his money.

He was a real miser when it came to his money.  He loved money more than just about anything, and just before he died, he said to his wife, “Now listen, when I die I want you to take all my money and place it in the casket with me.  I want to take all my money to the afterlife.”

He got his wife to promise him with all her heart that when he died, she would put all the money in the casket with him.
Well, one day he died.

He was stretched out in the casket, the wife was sitting there in black next to their best friend.  When they finished the ceremony, just before the undertakers got ready to close the casket, the wife said, “Wait a minute!”

She had a shoebox with her. She came over with the box and placed it in the casket. Then the undertakers locked the casket and rolled it away.

Her friend said, “I hope you weren’t crazy enough to put all that money in there with that stingy old man.”

She said, “Yes, I promised. I’m a good Christian, I can’t lie.  I promised him that I was going to put that money in that casket with him.”

“You mean to tell me you put every cent of his money in the casket with him?”

“I sure did,” said the wife. “I got it all together, put it into my account and I wrote him a check.”

James has been telling us that spiritual things are more important than material things.  In these verses he exposes the folly of preferring material things over the things that are spiritual.

Jas 5:1  Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you!
Jas 5:2  Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten.
Jas 5:3  Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.

James mentions “the last days.”  We have the knowledge that the history of the world is following a divine timeline.  God is working-out His plan of redemption, heading toward the destruction of the current earth and heavens, and the creation of new ones that will go forward into eternity.

It doesn’t make sense to focus on this earth, and its temporary riches.  Even before God’s destruction of things, garments can be moth-eaten, and gold and silver corroded.

James might have mentioned robbed as well.

In movies, there’s always that one greedy guy who tries to carry-out the treasure while the mine or the cave is collapsing.  He always gets crushed as a witness against greed.  It’s the fate of all nonbelieving materialists.

Jas 5:4  Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.

These guys used every means to build their wealth – even illegal means like “fraud.”  It’s amazing what you can justify to yourself if you don’t factor-in the Lord’s will.

The “cries” of their oppressed workers reached “the Lord of (translated) Hosts.”  It describes the vast, powerful armies of angels in Heaven.

In the Old Testament, God dispatched a single angel to kill 185,000 Assyrian warriors.  Imagine what a host of angels could accomplish for good.

We struggle with this, do we not?  These inequities, and other sufferings, are known to God, and He has the means to overcome them.  Still, He waits.

Tragedies aside for a moment, we want Him to wait.  His waiting is a good thing, even if bad things happen while He waits.

His waiting is called His longsuffering.  In His longsuffering He waits, because He is not willing that anyone should perish, but that they would come to know Him, and inherit eternal life.

Eternal damnation is so severe that God allows terrible suffering to continue on this earth, in this timeline, before He says, “Enough.”

If the Lord had resurrected and raptured the church five years ago… Or ten years ago… Or twenty… Where would you be?

His longsuffering waited, and you’re here – saved.

Jas 5:5  You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter.

When the wicked wealthy indulge themselves, they think of it as pleasurable.  God says they are being fattened for a slaughter.

Jas 5:6  You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.

The “just” is a reference to believers.  We are justified by faith in Jesus.  When you believe in Jesus, He declares you righteous on the basis of what Jesus has done.

It is just-as-if-you’d never sinned.

Because they know it can be in the Lord’s will that they suffer for Him, the just endure patiently their mistreatment.

The wicked wealthy go as far exploiting them as they can – even murdering them.

James was giving an extreme example of the disparity between the wicked and the witnesses.  Nevertheless you certainly don’t want to be among the wicked, no matter how much you might suffer for your witness.

There is simply too much at stake.

Since we are on the subject of God’s will, you still might be wondering, “How do I know His specific will for things, like which job to take?”

I’d answer by saying you first need to be waking in God’s will in the ways He has clearly revealed.  Why would He reveal more of His will for you if you refuse to follow what He has shown you?

Then it comes down to cultivating a personal relationship with Jesus within which you start to know how He is speaking to you.

People like to joke about communication, or lack of it, in marriage.  Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus, was a best-selling book because it promised to close that communication gap.

I’ve found that the longer we’ve been married, the more Pam and I understand each other, and can finish each other’s sentences.

It’s going to be like that with Jesus.  The longer you know Him, and the more effort you put in over that time, the more you will recognize His voice, whether it be Him speaking to you through the Word, or by the influences of the indwelling Spirit, or through circumstances in which doors are opened or closed, or through other believers, or through visions or dreams or similes.

One commentator suggested that, “the key is wanting God’s will, not our own.”

Start there, and then listen carefully.

Practically Prodigal In Every Way (James 4:1-12)

The director of The Purge admitted he was inspired by an episode of Star Trek – The Original Series.

Stay calm: I haven’t seen, nor do I plan to see, The Purge, or it’s two sequels.  (After all, I’m a Christian… Just kidding… Maybe).

The movie describes an America with a totalitarian government and a police state.  The 28th Amendment to the US Constitution is ratified, establishing a 12-hour event known as “The Purge” which takes place from 7:00pm the evening of March 21 to 7:00am the morning of March 22.  During that time, all crime – including murder – becomes legal.

The movie tagline is, “Survive the night.”

It sounded like something I’d seen before; so I looked it up.

In a print interview, director James DeMonaco was inspired, he said, by the Star Trek episode, Return of the Archons.

Captain Kirk and company beam down to a planet whose populace is tightly controlled by a computer called Landru.  At 6pm each day, everybody goes mad, committing all manner of heinous crimes for a period of sixty minutes, called the Red Hour.

I thought James was describing the Red Hour when I read through the verses we are studying and saw these words: “fights,” “war,” “lust,” “murder,” and “covet.”

While those words would accurately describe The Purge or Return of the Archons, James was describing goings on in the churches.

Read the verses and you’ll see that the believers James was writing to – at least a significant number of them – possessed a worldly spirit while they remained in the church.

James drops a clue as to what he may have been thinking about with regard to their worldliness.  In verse three, he says, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

That word spend is used Luke 15:14 to describe the activities of the prodigal son.  You know the story: He demanded his inheritance early, so he could go out into the world and spend it on riotous living.

I think James was suggesting that the worldly believers involved in “fights,” “wars,” “lusting,” “murdering,” and “coveting,” were prodigals who had never left home.  They were stay-at-home, in the church, prodigals, but living as if they were out in the world.
You don’t want to be a stay-at-home prodigal; you want to be a stay-the-course progeny.

We’ll work through the verses by asking two questions: #1 Are You A Stay-at-Home Prodigal? Or #2 Are You A Stay-the-Course Progeny?

#1 – Are You A Stay-at-Home Prodigal? (v1-6)

We tend to romanticize the first century church.  As amazing as it was, built on the foundation of Jesus Christ by the apostles and prophets in such a way that it shatters the Gates of Hell, it was riddled with problems.

Most of the letters written to the individual churches were corrective of various serious issues.

The believers in Corinth were dividing over who to follow as the ‘best’ teacher; they were suing one another in open court; they were tolerating, in their midst, gross sexual sin; they were getting drunk at the communion table.

In his letter to the Galatian churches, Paul asks, “O foolish Galatians!  Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” (3:1).

There was strife in Philippi.

In Colossae the believers were being affected by false teachings.

In Thessalonica there were some who had quit working and were mooching off of others.

Jesus wrote letters to seven churches in the Revelation.  The only one to escape correction was Smyrna, the suffering church.

The situation in Laodicea was so severe it prompted Jesus to say, “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth” (3:16).

I don’t mean to in any way denigrate the church.  We are the beloved bride of Jesus Christ.  He is daily cleansing us, looking forward to the day He will present us perfect in Heaven to His Father.

In the mean time, sadly, believers can sometimes be described as follows.

Jas 4:1  Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?

“Wars” describe ongoing conflicts, and “fights” are the particular skirmishes.

This doesn’t mean they had come to blows – although that does happen.  I ran across this 2016 article:

A service at Deliverance Church in Rongo, western Kenya, turned chaotic when pastors exchanged blows over leadership, prompting worshipers to run for safety.

The pastors hurled stones and chairs at each other, injuring several members, in the incident on Sunday.

You don’t need to come to blows to fight a war in church.  There are more subtle, and definitely more sinister, ways of doing so.
James wants us to acknowledge that, wherever there are wars and fights, the root cause is the war within each of us as our unredeemed flesh seeks its own satisfaction.

If I’m upset with a brother or sister, and try to take them down by drafting others to come over to me and be in my army and be against them… I’m in sin.  Somebody should point it out, and I should repent, before things escalate.

Jas 4:2  You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.

James backtracks, mentioning three things, then returning to “fight[s] and war[s].”

“Lust” is certainly seen in the church at Corinth where they were tolerating, proudly, the membership of a couple in which the man was having sex with his father’s wife.

Anytime you are in the church, but committing sexual sin, you’re a stay-at-home prodigal.

“Lust” isn’t limited to sexual sin.  You can “lust” after possessions, or position, or power.  The apostle John had to deal with a guy named Diotrephes whom he said “wouldn’t receive us” because “he loved to have… the preeminence” (Third John 1:9).

“Murder” is what Jesus said we do if we harbor anger and hatred in our hearts.

It’s hard to not “covet” when we are around others in the church.  Whether its some possession of theirs, or some relationship they have which we do not, our tendency is to want what others have.

James points out that these characteristics “cannot obtain.”  These characteristics, when pursued, can help you attain pleasure – at least, for a season.

What they “cannot obtain” is satisfaction.  You will always need to lust, murder, and covet more if you yield to the flesh.  You will always be at war with others, fighting.

You can never give the flesh enough.  It’s like the description Captain Barbosa gave of the cursed state of he and his Black Pearl crew,

And there be the chest… and inside, be the gold.  We took them all!  Spent ’em, traded ’em and fritted ’em away, for drink and food and pleasurable company.  But the more we gave them away, the more we came to realize.  The drink would not satisfy, food turned to ash in our mouths, nor all the company in the world would harm or slake our lust.  We are cursed men… Compelled by greed, we were.  But now, we are consumed by it.

James says, “Yet you do not have because you do not ask.”  Instead of yielding to the flesh, we ought to seek the things that are spiritual, that promote spiritual health and growth.

Jas 4:3  You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

Those who might object, claiming to be people who prayed, were praying wrongly.  They were praying for the things their flesh desired, instead of what their spirit required.

Do you realize that entire congregations, and lots of believers in other congregations, still follow the health and wealth heresy?

The one that grounds your prayer life solidly on earth, and on earthly things, like cars and houses and other material things?

The teaching that God wants you to be in total health, and rich?

This is a great verse to refute them.

Jas 4:4  Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

We tend to think of physical adultery, whereas a Messianic Jew would immediately receive this as a rebuke of their spiritual adultery.

In the Old Testament, God the Father depicts Himself as a Husband to Israel.  In the New Testament, the church is called the bride of Jesus Christ.

We therefore commit spiritual adultery and are at “enmity” with our betrothed if we pursue “friendship with the world.”

“Friendship with the world” is James’s term for life that is lived as if this present world were our priority.  It is life that is lived according to the values, desires and aspirations of this temporary realm.

If you are a Christian, God is not your enemy; but you can make yourself His enemy by putting your priority on this world.

Jas 4:5  Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

Commentators are in a tizzy over the fact they can find no single quote in the Old Testament “Scripture” that says this.

Have you ever said, “the Scripture says…,” or, “the Bible says…,” then summarized a basic teaching, rather than quoting a specific verse?  That’s what James’s was doing.

God the Holy Spirit “dwells in us.”  The moment you receive Jesus Christ, God the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within you.  Your human body becomes the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Collectively, when we gather together, our church is His temple.

He “yearns jealously.”  What does the Holy Spirit yearn for?  It’s not a ‘what,’ it’s a ‘who.’

You; He yearns for you.

He yearns for you to yield to Him, so that He can lead you, and guide you, and gift you, and empower you.

He sees you as Jesus sees you – as completed, as perfect.  But there is a lot of work to be done, day-by-day, to get you to that place.  He is focused on changing you, on conforming you into the image of Jesus, on helping you fulfill Jesus’ plan for your life.

He yearns to protect you, too.  He knows where your walk in worldliness will end – in destruction and ruin.

In the letter to Ephesus, the apostle Paul compares God the Holy Spirit to an engagement ring.  He says the Holy Spirit is the “guarantee of our inheritance,” (1:14), and that word “guarantee” is used of an engagement ring.

Think about a romantic engagement.  The couple wants only to be together, all the time, to the exclusion of other relationships.

So long as we are on this earth, God the Holy Spirit wants us that way.  We are the ones who, by yielding to the flesh instead of Him, ruin the romance.

He “yearns jealously.”  There is a good, godly, pure jealousy.  It knows what is best, and works diligently to achieve it.

Jas 4:6  But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “GOD RESISTS THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.”

The prodigal son wanted out of his father’s house.  He demanded his inheritance.  He went out into the world, and he indulged the pleasures of his flesh with riotous living.

His resources failed.  He found himself feeding swine, eating their grain.

His father waited for him to return… Waited everyday.  Until he finally did; and then they partied.

His father had to resist him while he walked in pride, but was quick to show grace when he humbled himself.

These Messianic Jews would have recognized the connection between the prodigal and themselves on account of what James said in verse three, about spending.  True, the Gospel of Luke was not yet written.  But the apostles had been teaching the sayings of Jesus for decades; and the parable of the prodigal son is a favorite.

They were prodigals, chasing after the world to fulfill their flesh.  But in horror they’d realize they were doing so in their Father’s house – right under His nose, so to speak.

The Holy Spirit who dwelt in them – that jealous Spirit – could thereby convict them of their sin, and recommend repentance.

James was calling them out to return to their first love; to return home in their hearts.

#2 – Are You A Stay-the-Course Progeny? (v7-12)

“Progeny” can mean a body of followers or disciples.  That describes us to a T.  Instead of backsliding into the flesh, we ought to stay-the-course Jesus has set before us.

(What do you think?  “Progeny” as a potential church name?).

James was addressing them as prodigals who had fallen, so these next verses describe what happens when a stay-at-home prodigal ‘returns’ to continue as a stay-the-course progeny.

Jas 4:7  Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

They had been pursuing friendship with the world.  You can bet that their “submit[ing] to God” would be met with opposition from the ruler and god of this world – from the “devil.”

If I had to suggest a picture, it’s as if, the moment you turn to return to Jesus, the devil is there, somehow, attempting to hinder you.

In Greek mythology, Antaeus blocked your path would challenge all passers-by to wrestling matches and remained invincible as long as he remained in contact with his mother, the earth.

Hercules easily defeated him by lifting him off the earth.

In our case, we don’t lift the devil; we break our connection with the world, which is his realm.  “Resist” means take a stand against.  If you do, “he will flee from you.”

This is a promise that you need not succumb to the devil and his lies as he tries to hinder your return to Jesus.  Break your contact with the world and the devil is powerless.

Jas 4:8  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

There is no use of the word “double-minded” in Greek literature before its use by James.  He used the word once before in this letter, and it is used nowhere else in the New Testament.

James coined this special word to get his point across.

It is literally translated, two-souled.  We do not have two souls.  James was suggesting that, after we are born-again, we can act as if we have two souls – one facing the Lord, and the other facing the world.

The solution to backsliding is to “draw near to God.”  Come immediately, and just as you are.  Like the prodigal son’s father, He will immediately “draw near to you.”

There you will have your sinning hands “cleanse[d],” and your duplicitous “hearts” “purif[ied].”

The cleansing and the purifying happen to you when you draw near.  They are a result, not something you must do to earn God’s favor.  You don’t clean-up your life before you turn to God.  You turn to Him, and He does the cleaning.

The prodigal son had a plan to clean himself up, to return and be a servant in his father’s house, but dad instantly restored him to being his son.

Jas 4:9  Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

This is advice for a returning prodigal.  It isn’t how we ought to go around walking with Jesus as progeny.

When we become aware of our friendship with the world, we will “lament and mourn and weep”; and the reveling we were doing in the world will be replaced by “mourning” and “gloom.”

Often we react this way because we realize we have destroyed something, or someone, by our lusts, and murders, and coveting.

Has your sin ever hit you like a ton of bricks?  You stand there amidst the rubble of your life, and see the hurt you’ve caused others.  You want so badly to go back in time; but it’s too late to undo what you’ve done.

Thank God for grace and mercy in abundance at His throne.

Jas 4:10  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

I liked a comment in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: “The lowly one becomes the lifted one.”
When the prodigal son returned, this is how it went down:

Luk 15:21  And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
Luk 15:22  “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.
Luk 15:23  And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry;
Luk 15:24  for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.

God will do something equivalent for you as His son or daughter.

Jas 4:11  Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

This verse seems a little out of place, almost as if James shifted to a new topic.  He did not.

He’s encouraged prodigals to return.  Whenever they do, those who have never left have a hard time receiving them back with grace.  They are, in fact, judgmental.

You know who that was supremely true of?  The older brother of the prodigal son.  When the party started, we read this:

Luk 15:28  “But [the brother] was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him.
Luk 15:29  So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends.
Luk 15:30  But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
Luk 15:31  “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.
Luk 15:32  It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’ ”

When we judge the prodigal, we are “speaking evil of the law.”

What law?  James wrote about it earlier – the law of love, that we love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as ourself.

Clearly the prodigal son’s brother was not loving God, Who provides forgiveness; nor was he loving his brother.

Neither are we when we are bitter a sinning brother or sister has repented and returned, demanding that he or she prove their godly sorrow; or seeing them as a lesser believer.

Jas 4:12  There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

God is not arbitrary in receiving back the prodigal.  It’s part of the work Jesus accomplished by dying on the Cross for our sins, then rising on the third day.

God determined, in eternity past, how He could redeem and restore lost men and women.  It would be by grace, through faith.

He is the author of salvation, the One who has given us this law, so that we might get right with Him, and stay right.

After we are saved, we can lose the war within.  We can war and fight; we can, and do, lust, murder, and covet.

But since the penalty for all our sin has been paid once-for-all by Jesus, there are no works we must do to earn God’s presence – except to draw near to Him, to submit to Him, to return to Him.

Are you a stay-at-home prodigal?  It can be hard to admit, because we mostly suffer from partial-prodigality.

There are those who are obviously in sin.  Partial-prodigality is us harboring worldliness in one, or a few, areas of our hearts.

Repent and return before the ruin.

If you cannot identify with the prodigal, that’s great.  Just be careful you don’t have the bitter heart of his older brother around your brothers and sisters who have been re-robed by our Father.

Enjoy Heaven’s celebration for them.

I Zeal Good, I Knew That I Would (James 3:13-18)

If you could go back in time and kill baby Hitler, would you?

Before you think I’ve lost my mind, let me remind you that this question came up in the Republican presidential primaries.

It really did; I’ve seen the videos.

Jeb Bush was asked the question, and he unhesitatingly answered, “Yes!” adding, “You’ve got to step-up.”

He then qualified his zeal saying, “The problem with going back in history and doing that, as we know from the series – what’s the name of the Michael Fox movies? – It could have a dangerous effect on everything else.”

In a twist on the question designed to trip him up, Dr. Ben Carson was asked if he would be in favor of aborting baby Hitler.  He answered, “I’m not in favor of aborting anybody.”

Donald Trump was asked the question by Jimmy Kimmel.  He first stated that he thought Jeb Bush was too nice to kill baby Hitler.  His own answer to the question was, “No comment.”

Let’s go from syfy to history.  By most counts, from 1934 until 1944 there were more than twenty attempts on Hitler’s life.

Given the opportunity, I think a lot of people would say, “Yes, I would have killed Hitler.”

In first century Israel, it wasn’t Hitler people wanted to kill; it was Caesar.  And it was Jews who worked with the Roman government to keep the peace.  There were other patriotic Jews whose desire for independence led them to kill both the Roman usurpers and their Jewish sympathizers.

One such group was the Zealots.  The Zealots promoted armed rebellion against Rome.  They believed that God would deliver Israel with the sword.

They were called Zealots on account of their zeal to serve God.  These guys were willing to kill, and to die, for their national pride.

Jesus chose, as one of His twelve apostles, a Zealot – Simon the Zealot.  He also chose a tax collector – Matthew.  A tax collector was just the kind of high-value target Simon would have wanted to kill – a Jew in league with the Roman oppressors.

I wonder how long it was before Matthew could sleep through the night, knowing Simon was among them?
After Jesus ascended into Heaven, and the apostles and disciples started spreading the Gospel, Zealots were getting saved.  There were Zealots among the believing Jews who had been dispersed by persecution.

Should they continue to rebel?  To promote the sword?  To encourage, through violence, their countrymen to rise up?

It was an important question among Messianic Jews.

James answers it, albeit indirectly, in our verses.  In verses fourteen and sixteen, when he says “envy,” the root word is zeal.

I’m not saying he was talking only about the Zealots, but he was describing what real zeal for the Lord looked like; and it didn’t look anything like what the Zealots were doing.  They were wrong.

I’m sure we each, in our own way, want to be described as zealous for the Lord.  But there are at least two different types of zeal – one earthly, the other heavenly.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two questions:  #1 Is Your Zeal Defended By Earthly Wisdom?, or #2 Is Your Zeal Dependent On Heavenly Wisdom?

#1 – Is Your Zeal Defended By Earthly Wisdom? (v13-16)

I uncovered this fascinating fact of Jewish history.  The Zealots were founded by Judas of Galilee in the year 6AD in resistance to the census and taxation ordered by Quirinius.

He encouraged Jews not to register, and those that did register had their houses burnt and their livestock stolen by his followers.

Do you recognize this census?  This is the exact census that caused Joseph to travel with his very pregnant wife, Mary, to his ancestral home in Bethlehem to register with Rome.

Do you see what was going on?  There were two very different approaches to the same event:

We can certainly sympathize with the Zealots.  We might even agree with them.  After all, our own great nation was born from a revolution involving taxation.

But aren’t you grateful that Joseph did not join the Zealots?  Aren’t you grateful that he wasn’t killed by them for cooperating with Rome?

It was God’s heavenly wisdom for Joseph to submit to the ruling authorities, and journey to Bethlehem, where Jesus was long-destined to be born.

There could be no argument.  The Zealots were operating on an earthly level, appealing to a wisdom that James will describe as “sensual” and “demonic.”

That kind of wisdom is always competing for our attention, and we must learn to recognize it so we can reject it.

Jas 3:13  Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.

“Wise and understanding” is a phrase that describes someone we today might call “mature,” or “spiritual.”
The mature, spiritual believer revels in “the meekness of wisdom.”  Let’s stick to the historic example we’ve presented:

Judas of Galilee and the Zealots were not acting in meekness.  They were fomenting rebellion, and doing violence to their fellow countrymen who disagreed with them.  I’m sure they thought anyone acting meekly was a coward.

Joseph, on the other hand, acted meekly not just in submitting to the census.  He was willing to accept God’s will that he remain married to a woman whom everyone believed to be an adulteress.  Joseph was no weak coward; at least, not morally, where it counted the most.

As Adrian Rogers used to say, “Meekness is not weakness.  If you think meekness is weakness, try being meek for a week!”

By his “good conduct” it was obvious Joseph’s “works [were] done in the meekness of [heavenly] wisdom.”

In almost every situation you encounter in your life, you are presented with a heavenly wisdom that suggests conducting yourself in meekness; AND you are presented with an earthly wisdom that sounds spiritual but is really sensual and demonic.

I’m sure it was easy to justify the Zealot approach.  After all, Israel was a sovereign nation, occupied by foreign invaders.  They used the Old Testament, and King David, as their defense, noting that he rose-up to deliver Israel with the sword against Gentile oppressors.  It seemed solid wisdom.

With hindsight, we see that Rome was overcome using an entirely different wisdom.  There was a lot more at stake than political freedom.  Men needed to be saved.

James describes earthly wisdom so we can learn to recognize it.

Jas 3:14  But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.

The word “envy” is zeal.  It is a neutral term and may have either a good sense or a bad sense.

“Bitter” qualifies this zeal as something bad.  If you use the Zealots as your example, I’d say burning down your house was “bitter envy” in action.

“Self-seeking” denotes a willingness to use unworthy and divisive means to promote your own views or interests.

The Zealots were definitely an example, but this same conduct is possible among believers in fellowship with one another.  Almost any church split involves self-seeking from those at odds.  Both sides believe their position to be godly.  They excuse their methods, thinking godly ends justify earthly means.  They do not.

Manipulation is another manifestation of this kind of earthly wisdom.  Whether it is subtle or severe, to manipulate other believers through guilt and shame, or by using the techniques of the world, is earthly wisdom at work.

We can “boast” all we want that we are right, but it is a “lie against the truth” that we have a sin-problem in our “hearts.”

Jas 3:15  This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.

There is Someone above us.  Jesus ascended into Heaven, where He is said to be seated at God’s right hand.  From that place of authority, He sent the gift of the Holy Spirit, to descend upon His church.

The church age is an ongoing Pentecost as we continue to ask, seek, and knock for this outpouring of the Spirit from above (Luke 11:9-13); and Jesus, Who is the giver of good gifts, grants Him to us; and we go on receiving Him by faith.

We are told,

Col 3:1  … seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
Col 3:2  Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

Have you ever heard it said, “Christians are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good?”  C.S. Lewis once commented in print on that criticism:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.  It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.  If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.  The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.  Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in.”  Aim at earth and you will get neither.
The kind of “wisdom” James was describing could never have descended from the purity and majesty of Heaven.  It is “earthly, sensuous, demonic.”

You may recall the story of Lot.  Both Lot and Abraham had large herds of cattle, and their herdsmen quarreled over their diminishing pasturelands.

Abraham suggested that the two separate.  Being the godly man he was, he gave Lot his choice of land.

The Bible tells that Lot chose the lush, fertile, land of the Jordan River valley.  Was it the wise choice?  It was if you were using earthly wisdom.

The pasture may have looked better but Lot failed to consider the consequences when he “pitched his tent toward Sodom.”  He kept moving closer to the notoriously wicked city, until he lived in it, and became one of its leaders.

When God destroyed Sodom, Lot barely survived.  If it wasn’t for him being mentioned by the apostle Peter as a “righteous man,” you’d doubt that he was saved.

Abraham examples heavenly wisdom.  Certainly it was meekness in action, seeing he was the elder and had every right to tell Lot what to do.

Earthly wisdom isn’t simply inferior to heavenly wisdom.  It is “sensual, demonic.”

“Sensual” isn’t describing the lusts of the flesh.  It means unspiritual.  It describes life apart from God; it is life without God’s Spirit.

It describes all nonbelievers, who have not been born again, and it should therefore never describe a believer.

Earthly wisdom is “demonic.”  It has its source, ultimately, in the devil.  His seemingly wise council to Eve in the Garden of Eden broke mankind’s connection with God.  It doomed mankind to an earthly existence that would have ended in dust and death and eternal destruction but for God’s gracious intervention.

We said that the Zealots started in about 6AD with Judas the Galilean.  By 66AD Menahem, a son of Judas, was one of the leaders.

Menahem raised a powerful band of cutthroats.  He overpowered his opponents who preferred peace with the Romans and made a triumphant entry into Jerusalem dressed as a king.  Menahem then took control of the Temple and had the high priest Ananias put to death.  One day, when he was entering the Temple dressed in royal robes, an angry mob seized and killed him.

Late in 67AD John of Gishala rose to power.  He was even more brutal than Menahem.  He had tens of thousands of Jews put to death.  Anyone who supported the Romans or desired peace was worthy of death in John’s eyes.  At one point he seized the Temple and killed the high priest.  So fierce was the fighting that 8500 died on the Temple grounds.

Judas the Galilean, and Menahem, and John of Gishala, seemed zealous for the Lord, but in reality they conducted themselves with earthly wisdom that was sensual and demonic.

Jesus seemingly did nothing for almost thirty years after the Roman census.
After three-and-one-half years of ministry, He looked defeated, having been rejected by the Jews and crucified by Rome.

But three days after He was crucified, Heaven’s wisdom exploded onto the scene.  He was risen, and alive.  His followers would spread His Gospel to the whole world – a mission we continue to this very day – as we await His return to establish the kingdom on the earth.

Let me quickly address something you may be wondering about.  Does James mean by this to teach Christian pacifism?

The answer is “No,” he is not teaching Christian pacifism.  In using the history of first century Israel, we must keep in mind that her destruction had been prophesied by Jesus:

Mat 24:2  And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”

Jesus wept over Jerusalem, knowing her destruction was nigh.

Christian pacifists will sometimes cite Jesus’ statement, “Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

Jesus wasn’t giving a universal command.  He was talking in the context of Israel’s immediate future.  In 70AD the Romans would crush those, like the Zealots, who were living by the sword.

The situation of first century Israel was like that of Israel in the sixth century BC.  Jeremiah was prophesying that Jerusalem’s destruction was at hand, and that their captivity in Babylon would last for the next seventy-years.  He was counseling surrender.

It was too late for any personal repentance to save them from national judgment.

Jesus is Himself described as wielding the sword, at His Second Coming.  He is a warrior.  In the mean time, the New Testament instructs us about governments and their power to wield the sword, and about our responsibilities toward government.

To even talk about revolution or pacifism from these verses would be a misapplication.

Don’t get distracted by what our verses are not saying.  What they are saying is that there is an earthly wisdom that is always sensual and demonic.  Don’t apply it to your situation.

You know where we see this the most?  We see it the most when, in their heart, a spouse lies against the truth of God and decides to pursue an unbiblical divorce.  I’ve heard all kinds of earthly wisdom to justify the destruction of a marriage.

Earthly wisdom only, always destroys.  Instead, seek the wisdom that is from above.

#2 – Is Your Zeal Dependent On Heavenly Wisdom? (v17-18)

We’ve seen some examples of what zeal for the Lord looks like when it depends on heavenly wisdom.  James next lists some of its main characteristics.

Jas 3:17  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.

Since it is “from above,” it is immediately available to you in any and every situation.  It is available to you if you’ve been a believer for ten minutes or ten years.

Growing and maturing are an important part of the Christian life.  We should practice the disciplines of biblical Christianity to enhance our growth.  We should read the Word… Pray… Give to the work of the Lord, both of our treasure and time.  We should fast… And share our faith.

But when it comes to making right choices, wisdom is yours whenever you need it, wherever you are in your walk.

The words James uses to describe the characteristics of wisdom are pretty straightforward.  They don’t need definition so much as they need a context in which to see them in action.

I mentioned that we see so much earthly wisdom in the tragic dissolution of Christian marriages.  Let’s use the institution of biblical marriage as our context and example for these words that describe wisdom.

James wasn’t giving a marriage study, but we can see how applying heavenly wisdom affects marriage.

“Wisdom that is from above is first pure.”  Whatever God clearly says about marriage must be yielded to.  I should not mix my own ideas about marriage with what God has said.  To do so is to add earthly wisdom, which makes everything instantly impure.

A biblical marriage is heterosexual, monogamous (between one man and one woman), to last their lifetime.  Any other definition of marriage is earthly, sensual, and, yes, it is demonic.

Grounds for divorce include sexual sin and abandonment.  But that’s not why most Christian marriages end.  There are usually no grounds other than personal feelings.

In fact what happens is one spouse starts adding impurities to their thinking.  They start feeling sorry for themselves; they convince themselves they are not happy; they start flirting with friends or co-workers; they get involved in pornography.  Simultaneously, they begin to lower the biblical definition of marriage, divorce, and remarriage.

The wisdom from above that is pure holds you to your wedding vows – the ones where you promised to stay together for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part.

Next James lists “peaceable.”  You may be thinking, “You don’t know what my spouse is like!  Peace is not possible.”

It doesn’t matter what your spouse is like.  You are to respond by being “peaceable.”  Since it is a quality that comes “from above,” you can have it in every situation.

Next, heavenly wisdom is “gentle.”  Such a person will submit to all kinds of mistreatment and difficulty with an attitude of kind, courteous, patient humility, without any thought of hatred or revenge.

I know; your spouse pushes you too far.  You have limits.

Or do you?  Again, this quality comes “from above.”  It is a gift to be received, not something to be learned or earned over time.

The Christian life isn’t a matter of slowly overcoming your natural limits.  It is life without limits, since you have help from Heaven.

Are you “willing to yield?”  You can’t always yield; sometimes your spouse is wrong, or in sin.  But are you “willing to yield,” when possible?

More importantly, if you find yourself somewhere along the path of thinking it would be better to get a divorce, if you read God’s Word on the matter, “are you willing to yield” to Him?

You can be “full of mercy and good fruits” in your home.  You want to draw your spouse closer to Jesus, not push them away from you.

“Without partiality,” in the context of a marriage, means you see your spouse as a work in progress.  You see him or her as God does.  You don’t compare them to some imaginary standard, or to someone else.

I know, I know; you can’t do this either.  Not naturally; but you can supernaturally.

Finally James says, “without hypocrisy.”  If you ultimately end up at an excuse to walk away from your marriage with no biblical grounds, it’s a hypocrisy.  You’re a person who could depend upon heavenly wisdom, and have a zeal for the Lord; but, instead, you settle for earthly wisdom.  You give in to that which is sensual and demonic.

These characteristics apply in every situation – not just marriage.  But marriages are in trouble; they are under attack.

There may be someone here, today, who has come to conclusions about their marriage based upon earthly wisdom that is sensual and demonic, rather than pure, coming down from God.

Jas 3:18  Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Like so much in James, translators have a difficult time with these words.  I think James is talking about the effect depending upon God’s wisdom has on observers.

He depicts you as a “sower.”  No matter where you are, or what you’re doing, if you are a Christian, you are always sowing.  People are taking note of your conduct.

You want to sow “the fruit of righteousness.”  That is immediately interesting, since normally we think of sowing seed, not fruit.

The “fruit of righteousness” is conduct that is consistent with having been declared righteous by God.  It involves doing what is right from a biblical worldview.  People watch you to see if your conduct is fruitful, rather than destructive.

“Those who make peace” would be those whose zeal is dependent upon heavenly wisdom.  “Sown in peace” reminds us that our methods must be consistent with God’s methods.

I’m not sure I get everything James was trying to say in verse eighteen.  But here is something to ponder.

I can sow the seed of God’s Word even if my conduct is poor.  The Gospel is, in itself, the power of God unto salvation.
But I can only sow fruit if I’m walking with God.  It’s James’ way of reminding us our walk must line-up with our talk.

Depending upon heavenly wisdom is no easy task.  It is often – maybe almost always – counter to what we want to do, or think is right.

Doc Hudson tried to share his wisdom about driving on a dirt racetrack with Lightning McQueen.  He said, “I’ll put it simple.  If you’re going hard enough left, you’ll find yourself turning right.”

McQueen thought it counter to what he should do, saying, “Oh, right.  That makes perfect sense.  Turn right to go left.  Yes, thank you!  Or should I say, NO THANK YOU!!!  Because in Opposite World, maybe that really means thank you.”

If you seek wisdom from above, you’ll often think you’re in Opposite World, for sure.

The examples we have in God’s Word are great in this regard.  Almost everything in the life of Jesus seemed contrary to wisdom; yet, in the end, the wisdom of God was, and is, salvation to those who believe.

Whatever you’re deciding today or soon, look up – for the wisdom that comes from above.

Pit Got Your Tongue? (James 3:1-12)

Originally developed by Alcoholics Anonymous, the twelve-step method has been adapted widely by groups of people recovering from various addictions, compulsive behaviors, and mental health problems.

You’re probably familiar with, or at least you’re not surprised to hear about, the following Anonymous groups: Gamblers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and Overeaters Anonymous.

There are several lesser-known Anonymous groups:

FAA – Food Addicts Anonymous.  They offer help for recovery from the despair and shame of food obsession.

OLGA – Online Gamers Anonymous.  Their website says, “We share our experience, strengths and hope to help each other recover and heal from problems caused by excessive game playing, whether it be computer, video, console, or on-line.”  If you are playing a game right now, you’ve got a real problem.

CA – Clutterers Anonymous.  It used to be a “clutterer” was either considered a slob or just the crazy person on the block who never threw anything away.  But then came the TV show Hoarders, and clutterers came out of the junk-closet.

SA – Spenders Anonymous.  They have a slogan, “The best things in life are not things.”  We’re coming into arguably the toughest season for these folks.  If you’re struggling with over-spending at Christmas, and you do happen to fall off the wagon… I wear size Large in shirts and enjoy Civet coffee.

James could have started Tongues Anonymous.  As we approach our verses, I can imagine James saying, “Hi, I’m James, and my tongue is untamed.”

As a group, Tongues Anonymous would include everyone – because James says, “no man can tame the tongue” (v8).

If I’m not mistaken, the first step in all these Anonymous groups is admitting you have a problem.

Surprisingly, James offers no further steps beyond admitting you have a problem for overcoming the untamed tongue.  Instead he presents a series of comparisons that reveal how prevalent and awful the problem really is.

His was a one-step to recovery program: Admit your problem.  Because, once you do, what you cannot tame, God can, and will, tame.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 You Can Rely On God’s Dynamic Power To Tame Your Tongue, or #2 You Can Release The Destructive Power Of Your Untamed Tongue.

#1 – You Can Rely On God’s Dynamic Power To Tame Your Tongue (v1-2)

Did anyone ever ask you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Verse one of our text makes it sound like the dispersed adult Messianic Jews that James was writing to would answer, “a teacher of God’s Word.”

He didn’t exactly encourage it, and we’ll see why.

Jas 3:1  My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.

The language and the context indicate they aspired to be teachers.  There was something about their situation as persecuted believers that was contributing to their aspiration.

After 9-11, many retired military re-enlisted; and a lot of civilians enlisted.  That same dynamic was at work among the dispersed Jews.  There was something about being persecuted and dispersed that caused them to want to teach.

Teaching God’s Word, however, is a gift.  The apostle Paul tells us that God gives gifted men to the church as pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:1-12).

He says in another place, “God has appointed in the church… teachers” (First Corinthians 12:28).  He says, ” Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them… the one who teaches, in his teaching” (Romans 12:6-7).

Gifts are given by the Holy Spirit as He sees fit, and not as we desire or aspire to them – and that certainly includes teaching God’s Word.

Just in case there were, among them, those with the gift of teaching, James reminds them that teachers, like himself, “shall receive a stricter judgment.”

He was talking mostly about the future judgement at the Reward Seat of Jesus.  But we see that teachers of God’s Word receive a stricter judgment even now, by the church and by society.

A man can cheat on his wife, or be arrested for a DUI, and not have it affect his career at all.  Unless he is in the ministry; then he becomes disqualified, and people argue about whether he can ever teach again.

(Ministry is certainly not the only walk of life where conduct is severely judged.  But teaching the Bible holds you to a higher standard).

We can’t argue with God about His “stricter judgment” of teachers.  Others are following their lead, believing that God is using them to expound spiritual truth.

It should be daunting.  Everyone who teaches God’s Word ought to feel a little like Jeremiah.  At his calling, Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak… (1:6).

Later, Jeremiah wanted to quit.  But he found that he couldn’t!

Jer 20:9  Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not.

Bible teachers must simultaneously have a reverent reluctance and a consuming passion to communicate.

James wasn’t elevating teachers.  He was describing their calling, their gifting, to those who aspired to the work without God’s anointing.

Just because you aren’t called to teach, it doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.  The words of every believer are heavily weighted.

Jas 3:2  For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.

It’s a fact that we are in a spiritual conflict.  After we are born again, we find within us the flesh – a propensity to sin by satisfying our natural appetites in excessive, even evil, ways.

I mentioned the Anonymous 12-step groups.  They all exist because our flesh is yielded to, and we sin.

On top of the war within us, we have spiritual foes – a host of malevolent beings, under the direction of Satan, who seek constantly to defeat us.  They are highly organized, and super-powerful.

We therefore “stumble in many things.”  We like to describe our relationship with Jesus as a walk.  We are walking with Him through our lives, on a journey towards home.

We’re walking, when suddenly, Bam – we stumble on something.

Think of it in terms of tripping while walking.  Sometimes we can catch ourselves before too much damage is done.  Other times we go down hard, and do long-term, or even lasting, damage.

“Many things” can cause us to stumble.  We have our own unique temptations, as well as there being secret supernatural strategies that are being plotted against us.

Let’s say that you are stumbling in some area.  Where do you begin, in terms of overcoming it?

If I’m understanding James, what he says next is his suggestion for where to begin if we want to overcome our stumbling.

Whether your problem is alcohol, overeating… or cluttering or overspending… James says to start with your tongue.

Notice he says, “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.”  A “bridle” is that which controls and guides the horse you are riding.

James sees the tamed-tongue as a bridle that can guide you, keeping you from stumbling.  In fact, he says you will be “perfect,” meaning you will make progress in your walk, growing and maturing.

Somehow the tamed-tongue affects “the whole body.”

In practical terms, you may or may not attend a Christian recovery group.  Whether you do or not, priority one – you must deal with your tongue.

What do we mean by the “tongue?”  Is it just a careful editing of the words you speak?

Is it taking the advice of Thumper’s dad, who said, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all?”

It’s more than the words you speak.  Anyone can fake it.  For example, we’re in a political season in which we expect politicians to say things they don’t mean.

The tongue is not just the actual words you speak, although they are important.  It’s the heart behind the words.  In Luke 6:45 we read, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

You can “produce evil” even if your actual words sound good.  Satan’s speech to Eve in the Garden of Eden certainly sounded good.

So did his enticements to Jesus, in the 40-day wilderness temptation.

So do his enticements to you and I.

Implied is that you can tame your tongue by dealing with your heart in the power of the Holy Spirit.  While it is true that “no man can tame the tongue,” God can tame it.

Another way of saying this is that too often we deal with the symptoms of our sin and stumbling instead of the root cause.  We need God to search us, for His Word to divide between our soul and our spirit, and show us the inner disease that plagues us.

One commentator wrote, “The real trouble lies in the heart behind the tongue, and the seat of the disease being in the heart, there the remedy must be applied.”

The one-step recovery program is to admit you have a problem.  Then repent and yield yourself to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

It will result in a God-tamed tongue.

#2 – You Can Release The Destructive Power Of Your Untamed Tongue (v3-12)

When you go to the doctor, he asks you to stick out your tongue, and he takes a look at it.  He can tell your condition by your tongue; your tongue reveals what is going on in your body.

While it is possible for a persons words to sound good when they are really bad, mostly our words give away what is in our hearts.

We frequently say, “I can’t see another person’s heart.”  That’s not totally true.  When I’m acting badly, arguing, complaining, using coarse or curse words, yelling – you are seeing exactly what is in my heart.

James just said that the tongue can have a profound effect on the whole body.  Even I must admit it seems like our problems are far more complex.

I mean, how would it be received if I went to an AA meeting (or any Anonymous meeting), and said, “Hi, I’m Gene, and I have an untamed tongue”?

James anticipates our skepticism and shows us the power of the untamed tongue using two comparisons.

Jas 3:3  Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body.
Jas 3:4  Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.

Something relatively small – a “bit,” or a “rudder,” – is nevertheless powerful enough to guide and control something that is much greater.

So, yes, your God-tamed tongue can direct your body, and keep you from stumbling.

OR your untamed tongue can be the single most destructive force on earth.

Jas 3:5  Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!

“Don’t play with matches.  Only you can prevent forest fires.”

That tiny flame can start a blaze that destroys forests and homes and lives.

Want to cripple your marriage?  All you need to do is use the “D” word in an argument – “Divorce.”  Its the nuclear option, cancelling-out hope for future harmony.

Jas 3:6  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

The untamed tongue is as powerful an agent of destruction as any flame, always ready to start a blaze.

It is “a world of iniquity.”  We just got back from five days at Walt Disney World.  You feel like you’re in another world, its so big.  In fact, it encompasses 30,000 acres, making it roughly the size of San Francisco.  It is enjoyed by 48million guests annually.

Everything is themed.  Each park has a theme; each land in each park has a theme; each ride in each land has a theme.  It is a vast “world” of fantasy, innovation, and imagination.

When your tongue is untamed, you’re in a vast “world” whose theme is “iniquity” – meaning sin.

The sin you are yielding to can be considered a slum in the world of iniquity; and your particular expression of sin, a shanty you’re in.  The possibilities are, sadly, endless.

James says “it defiles the whole body.”  He keeps driving home this point that the tongue is where the action is.  Because it is connected to the heart (spiritually speaking), your tongue controls everything else.

Untamed, it is a match to the tinder of your “nature.”  As an example I’d use road rage.  There have been a couple of notable cases recently in the news, one involving former NFL running back Joe McKnight, who was killed.

In another incident, Cardell Hayes, the 28-year-old who shot and killed former New Orleans Saints player Will Smith earlier this year, was found guilty of manslaughter.

In court documents, authorities said that Smith and his wife were shot by Hayes in April after he rear-ended their vehicle with his Hummer, after which the two men “exchanged words” and Hayes “produced a handgun and shot Smith multiple times.”

What turns ordinary people into killers almost instantaneously?  Their nature is set on fire by what is happening in their heart, verbalized by their tongue.

Jas 3:7  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.

Shamu.  Bart the Bear.  Charlie the Lonesome Cougar.  It’s amazing to see these beasts obey their tamers.

Jas 3:8  But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

The “deadly poison” James mentions is venom from a snake.  I’m not sure if he had snake-charmers in mind.  Snake-charming can be found in ancient Egyptian history.  I was surprised to find it in the Bible.

Psa 58:3  The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.
Psa 58:4  Their poison is like the poison of a serpent; They are like the deaf cobra that stops its ear,
Psa 58:5  Which will not heed the voice of charmers, Charming ever so skillfully.

If you are a snake-charmer, and you haven’t yet altered your snake to prevent its bite from releasing venom, you don’t want your snake to be deaf.

On our own, trying to “charm” the tongue, we will fail.  Our flesh is deaf to all natural means of help.

“No man can tame the tongue,” but God can, supernaturally, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Jas 3:9  With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.

James was all-about elevating our understanding of how serious things are.  If I “curse” someone, which simply means I speak ill of them in any manner, I’m really exposing my contempt for God – Who made that person in His own image.

To put it another way, if I wouldn’t openly speak ill of God, why will I do so against one of His dearly beloved children?

Jas 3:10  Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.

We get our own fountain drinks now.  You order at the counter, and the cashier hands you an empty cup.  You go over to the machine, dispense ice if you want it, then pick your drink.

It’s bad enough that half the time the thing is out of gas, so your Coke tastes like syrup.

What if half the time, randomly, the machine dispensed a deadly poison that tasted just like Coke?  You’d probably bring your own bottled water.

Jas 3:11  Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?

I keep referring to the Holy Spirit, and His empowering indwelling, when James hasn’t specifically mentioned Him.

I think that’s OK, because his readers, and us, know that we have His empowering indwelling.  It’s understood, and doesn’t need to be explained.

There may be a nod to the Holy Spirit in verse eleven, with the mention of a “spring [sending] forth fresh water.”  It is reminiscent of Jesus’ promise that, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Then we read,

Joh 7:39  But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive…

Our hearts are the “spring” from which either will flow rivers of living water, or “bitter” water.

The rivers of living water are released by a God-tamed tongue.  The bitter, by your untamed tongue.

Jas 3:12  Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

It is the nature of a fig tree to produce figs.  Likewise the olive tree, and the grapevine, produce according to their own nature.

If I am born-again, I have a new nature – a divine nature – that should produce fruit after its kind.

The difference between me and a fig tree is that I can still produce after my old nature, on account of the flesh.

I can produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit; I can produce the works of the flesh.

In terms of the salt water/fresh water analogy, James makes a pretty bold statement.  He says I can’t be producing both at the same time.

I tend to think that I can be bringing forth fresh, life-giving water for the most part, with perhaps a tiny amount of salt water, because of some sin or sins I refuse to repent of.

But even a grain of salt will pollute the fresh flow.

We all understand that a tiny amount of toxin will pollute an entire water supply.

I was going to look-up some measurements, but as I was typing in Google, “how much poison to contaminate water supply,” I realized that someone, somewhere, is monitoring my keystrokes.  I’d like to remain a free citizen.

Let’s not get overwhelmed.  James, you remember, included himself as someone who “stumbles in many things.”  He’s not arguing for some kind of sinless perfection.

He is merely, but forcefully, asking us to be serious about heart-sin, and to not try to harbor it, but to admit it, and repent.

And he is offering the incredible encouragement that God can and will tame our tongues if we will yield to Him.

In the end, I must say, “Hi, my name is Gene, and I have an untamed tongue.”

We should all take that one-step to recovery, and allow God to reveal the “world of iniquity” that we are harboring within our hearts.

If you’re a Christian, don’t keep dealing with the symptoms of your sin.  Go to the root and repent.

If you’re not a Christian, maybe you’re thinking, “I go to recovery meetings; I’ve got this.”

I’m happy for you if you are controlling your behavior for the betterment of yourself and society.  I hope you keep earning your badges or tokens or pins.

In the end, however, it matters not that you gain the whole world, if you lose your soul.

Jesus said, “You must be born-again,” and that happens when you believe in Him to forgive your sin at the Cross of Calvary.

Have you been born-again?

Show-Me Don’t Play (James 2:14-26)

Each of the states in the US has an official slogan to encourage tourism.  They are often printed on license plates.  We’re familiar with many of them:

Florida is The Sunshine State.
Montana is Big Sky Country.
New Mexico is The Land of Enchantment.
Virginia is For Lovers.

The writers over at Comedy Central have suggested some unofficial state slogans:

Arkansas – Literacy Ain’t Easy.
Hawaii – Haka Tiki Mou Sha’ami Leeki Toru (which translated is, Death to Mainlanders, But Leave Your Money).
Kentucky – Five Million People, Seven Last Names.
North Carolina – Tobacco is a Vegetable.
Rhode Island – We’re Not Really An Island.

If I asked you, seriously, which state is The Show-Me State, I’d bet most of you know it’s Missouri.

There are several stories concerning the origin of the “Show-Me” slogan.  The most widely known story gives credit to Missouri’s U.S. Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver for coining the phrase in 1899.  During a speech in Philadelphia, he said:

I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me.  I am from Missouri.  You have got to show me.

(I suppose it needs to be updated to read “Republican,” since Missouri was a yuge-ly red state in the recent presidential election).

In the Bible, James is the “show-me” preacher.  In our verses, he says, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (v18).

You simply cannot “show” faith without works; genuine faith works.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Show Me Your Faith By Serving Others, and #2 Show Me Your Faith By Showing Jesus.

#1 – Show Me Your Faith By Serving Others (v14-17)

On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached the Gospel and three thousand Jews received Jesus Christ as their Savior.

Not long after, another five thousand were saved at once.  We read, too, that men and women were being saved on a daily basis as ordinary believers shared the Gospel one-on-one.

A majority of these new converts had traveled from all-over the Roman Empire to attend the annual feast.  After getting saved, they lingered in Jerusalem, wanting to learn as much as they could about Jesus directly from the Twelve.  Local Jews opened-up their homes and showered hospitality upon them.  In The Book of Acts we read,

Act 4:32  Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.

Eventually the majority of these visiting believers returned to their own homes outside of Jerusalem and Judea, to their regular lives and occupations, and to their synagogues.

It wasn’t too long before waves of severe persecution hit the believers in Jerusalem.  Many Jerusalem Jews were forced away from their homes and occupations out into Gentile territories.  Most were poor already, but fleeing from persecution meant leaving everything behind.  They were effectively refugees.

If you were a Messianic Jew who had been forced out of your home, dispersed out into Gentile territory, where would you seek help?

That’s right – from the existing Messianic Jewish communities in those Gentile territories; from Messianic Jews who, just maybe, you had shown hospitality to some years earlier, after they were saved and hung around Jerusalem to learn about the Lord.

Evidently at least some of the more settled Jews were not given to showing them hospitality.  Seeing their brothers and sisters in great need, they pronounced a blessing upon them, but sent them away without helping them.

James was not happy about it.

Jas 2:14  What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?

Many of you know that this section of James’ letter has caused all sorts of theological trouble.

We like to say that salvation is by grace, through faith, plus nothing.  James seems to say – and I emphasize seems – that salvation is by grace, through faith, plus works.

You may have heard that the Reformer, Martin Luther, rejected the Book of James on account of this faith/works dilemma.  That he thought it was in conflict with the writings of the apostle Paul.

Truth is, Luther vacillated on the Book of James.  Lutherans after him offer the following analysis:

Paul was dealing with one kind of error while James was dealing with a different error.  The errorists Paul was dealing with were people who said that works of the law were needed to be added to faith in order to help earn God’s favor.

Paul countered this error by pointing out that salvation was by faith alone apart from deeds of the law (Galatians 2:16; Romans 3:21-22).  Like James, Paul also taught that saving faith is not dead but alive, showing thanks to God in deeds of love.

James was dealing with errorists who said that if they had faith they didn’t need to show love by a life of faith (James 2:14-17). James countered this error by teaching that faith is alive, showing itself to be so by deeds of love (James 2:18, 26).

Perhaps an alternate translation of verse fourteen will help.  The ISV has it, “What good does it do, my brothers, if someone claims to have faith but does not prove it with actions?  This kind of faith cannot save him, can it?”

The kind of “faith” that produces absolutely no spiritual changes in a person’s life; or, worse, the person acts contrary to Christian character; that kind of faith is not saving faith.

James and Paul both teach that salvation is by faith alone and also that saving faith is never alone, but shows itself to be alive by deeds of love that express a believer’s thanks to God for the free gift of salvation by faith in Jesus.

Jas 2:15  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,
Jas 2:16  and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?

I think that this was more than a hypothetical case.  More than an illustration.  Given the scenario I laid-out earlier with regards to Jews being scattered by persecution, I think this was happening in real time.

Jews recently forced to flee Jerusalem were ending-up in the synagogues of settled Jews already dispersed throughout the Empire.

In the opening verses of chapter two, James introduced a situation in which a “poor man in filthy clothes” came in to the assembly.

Doesn’t it sound like he is continuing his illustration by picking up where he left off – with this poor man?

“Naked” is translated from a word that can mean without adequate clothing.  Driven out of Jerusalem by persecution, it wasn’t long before your clothing would be soiled, at the least, and eventually tattered.  It wasn’t long before you’d run out of money for daily necessities.

The poor man in filthy clothes wasn’t initially treated badly; he was invited in, to stand or sit during the service.  The Rich man was given preferential treatment; but the poor man wasn’t turned away.

Afterward, however, he was being sent on his way with only a blessing.  They ended their service with the doxology, then sent the poor man off without helping him.

“What does it profit?” can be translated, “your words are worthless.”  To put it in our own slang, James was telling them, “You need to put your money where your mouth is.”

James had also, in the previous verses, talked about loving your neighbor as yourself.  It would have evoked thoughts about Jesus’ teaching on the Good Samaritan, because it was in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” that Jesus told that story.

The Samaritan stopped to help the robbed and beaten Jewish stranger, getting him to safety, and providing for his physical needs for some days afterward.

Yet here these Jews were, turning away one of their own.  Dismissing him or her with a blessing wasn’t really an option.

Jas 2:17  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

If this sounds harsh, we’re forgetting something Jesus said.  It’s a rather long passage; bear with me as I read it.

Mat 25:31  “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.
Mat 25:32  All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.
Mat 25:33  And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left.
Mat 25:34  Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
Mat 25:35  for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;
Mat 25:36  I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
Mat 25:37  “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?
Mat 25:38  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?
Mat 25:39  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
Mat 25:40  And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
Mat 25:41  “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:
Mat 25:42  for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink;
Mat 25:43  I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
Mat 25:44  “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’
Mat 25:45  Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’
Mat 25:46  And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

James wasn’t the only one who thought that saving faith was shown by works.

It was one thing for the Jerusalem Jews to show hospitality for the converts at and after the Day of Pentecost.  It was all excitement, and revival, and miracles.

Now, a decade-and-a-half later, those Jerusalem Jews were targets of persecution.  The persecution hadn’t reached the outlying areas, but if you helped a refugee, that might cast suspicion on you.  It was dangerous, and the local Jews were ignoring the need.

I’ve expanded this beyond helping the naked and destitute to say that you show your faith by serving others.

Take inventory of your ministering to others.  Is your faith working?

#2 – Show Me Your Faith By Showing Jesus (v18-26)

People almost universally think that having a job description is essential to success in the workplace.

I’ll tell you one place where I’ve seen having a job description be detrimental: in the Church.

Let me give an example.  Christians have a tendency to think in terms of the gift or gifts of the Spirit they have been given.  That’s great; you should stir-up the gift or gifts God has given you, and use them to serve others.

However, it’s never an excuse to forgo serving because what is needed is not your gifting.

I think that is part of the background for the confrontation in verse eighteen.

Jas 2:18  But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

The objector says, of James, that he has “works,” while they have “faith.”

We might say that the two men are gifted differently, so that one has the gift of faith, but not the gift of works; and vice-versa.

The implication is that the person with faith has no real obligation to help the needy, because it’s not in their spiritual job description.

They might even go so far as to say that pronouncing a blessing over the needy brother or sister is all that God wants them to do.

James wants his readers to know that he isn’t talking about their gifts.  He’s talking about something far more basic.  Every believer, who has saving faith, must show it by his or her works.

He challenges believers to “show me” faith.  You can’t do it without works.

Jas 2:19  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!

All Jews – whether saved or not – “believe that there is one God.”  As part of the practice of Judaism, Jews each day would repeat these words from the Book of Deuteronomy, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (6:4-5).

James’ audience were men and women who had recited that creed all of their lives, every day.  Then, one day, they were exposed to the Gospel.  Their eyes were opened to see that Jesus was and is God.  They were saved – born-again.

Their lives were radically transformed from within, as they were filled with God the Holy Spirit.  Old things passed away; all things became new.

In verse nineteen, I see James reminding them of where they’d come from.  As Jews, before Jesus, they believed in One God – but they didn’t know Him.

James pointed-out that even demons believe in One God.  They “tremble” at the reality of being consigned, eternally, to the Lake of Fire.

A Jew – or a Gentile – who believes in One God, but is not born-again, will share the same fate as demons.

God had saved them from that fate, and for good works.  They go hand-in-hand.

Jas 2:20  But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?

“Do you want to know” means “are you willing to learn.”  James wants to show them, from their own Scriptures, that saving faith has always shown itself by works among the heroes and heroines of faith.

Jas 2:21  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?

Abraham, of course, was the physical father of the Jewish nation.  He was, and is, the spiritual father of all those who are saved – Jew and Gentile alike.

His greatest test of faith was God asking him to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice.  Abraham never hesitated.

Jas 2:22  Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?

I’m sure that, in synagogue school, the average Jew had been told that story a gazillion times; and, each time, they understood that Abraham’s obedience showed them what they couldn’t see – his faith.

Jas 2:23  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS ACCOUNTED TO HIM FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” And he was called the friend of God.

William MacDonald has a great take on this:

True faith and works are inseparable.  The first produces the second, and the second evidences the first.  In the offering of Isaac we see a practical demonstration of the faith of Abraham.  It was the practical fulfillment of the Scripture which said that Abraham was justified by believing.

Jas 2:24  You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

In Genesis15:6 we read that Abraham believed in the Lord, and God counted it to him for righteousness.  Abraham was therefore justified by believing; in other words, he was justified by faith.

It is not till we come to Genesis 22 that we find Abraham offering up his son.  It is then that he was justified by works.

As soon as Abraham believed in the Lord, he was justified in the sight of God.  He was saved.  He couldn’t be any more saved.  But then, seven chapters later, God put Abraham’s faith to the test.  Abraham demonstrated – to mankind – that it was genuine, saving faith by his willingness to offer up Isaac.  His obedience showed that his faith was not merely a head belief, but a heart commitment.

James next mentions Rahab.

Jas 2:25  Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?

Joshua sent two spies to do recon before attacking Jericho.  Their presence became known, and they were being hunted.  Rahab the harlot took them in and hid them – effectively committing treason.  She protected them and, when she had diverted the search party, “sent them out another way.”

Another great lesson from synagogue school which showed that Rahab’s faith – even though she had very little knowledge of the God of Israel – was shown to be genuine by her works.

Simply put, James was pointing-out to his readers that they already believed what he was teaching them.  They knew, from their own Scriptures, that faith works… And therefore that faith without works is like a corpse without life.

How would it have been if Abraham refused to offer Isaac?

What would Jews have thought if Rahab had turned-in the spies?

He didn’t, and she didn’t, precisely because they had true, saving faith that prompted obedience – no matter the consequences.

Neither of them said, “I have faith, and don’t need the works of obedience that show it.”

The Jews turning away their naked and destitute brothers and sisters were understandably afraid of repercussions.

What would Abraham have done in their situation?  Or Rahab?

Whether it was actually being verbalized as an excuse, to say, “You have faith, and I have works,” was a lame, nonbiblical excuse.

Jas 2:26  For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

If, after pointing this out, a Jew continued to refuse help and hospitality, it might be they were never saved in the first place.

This is where it gets tough.  If a professing believer doesn’t do what is clearly right, they are either unwilling to do it, or they are unable to do it.

By unable, I mean that they lack the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and cannot obey God.  They are not saved.
By unwilling, I mean that they choose sin over obedience.  They are carnal.

I can’t be sure of their faith in Jesus, because I can’t see their heart.  But I can raise the concern that they are not saved, because “faith without works” of obedience is “dead.”

There is something else I want to point out.  There is something in common, and marvelous, about the two examples James used.  Abraham and Rahab both show Jesus in their works:

As most of you know, Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac is a picture of God the Father sacrificing His Son, Jesus.  What Abraham was stopped from doing, God the Father would do centuries later, and on that same spot.  Abraham was showing Jesus.

Rahab was promised she’d be delivered from destruction in Jericho but only if she tied a scarlet cord outside her window.  As early as the first century, commentators such as Clement of Rome, Justin Martyr, Ireneaus, Origen, and others saw this scarlet cord as a symbol of the blood of Jesus.  She, too, was showing Jesus.

Works must show the world Jesus to have true, eternal value.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates is not only the world’s richest person, he’s also one of the most generous.  His organization, The Gates Foundation, is dedicated to eradicating diseases and helping the world’s most poor, and he’s committed to giving away almost his entire fortune.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, he revealed that part of the inspiration for helping others is based on religious principles.  He told the magazine,

The moral systems of religion, I think, are superimportant.  We’ve raised our kids in a religious way; they’ve gone to the Catholic church that Melinda goes to and I participate in.  I’ve been very lucky, and therefore I owe it to try and reduce the inequity in the world.  And that’s kind of a religious belief.  I mean, it’s at least a moral belief.

Is he saved?  David Frost asked Gates, “Do you believe in the Sermon on the Mount?”

“I don’t.  I’m not somebody who goes to church on a regular basis.  The specific elements of Christianity are not something I’m a huge believer in.”

Gates is not showing Jesus. While his good works alleviate much suffering, they do not offer eternal rewards, or warn of eternal punishment.

While you are contemplating your faith and its works, remember that you want to show others Jesus in all that you say and do.

Goldfingered (James 2:1-13)

Have you heard this quoted: “The church is not a museum for saints – it’s a hospital for sinners.”

It was popular when I was first saved; or, at least, that is when I first heard it from the pulpit.

It’s been attributed to Augustine, but that seems highly unlikely.  In the fifth century AD, hospitals weren’t exactly places you’d go to get better.

The true source of the quote seems to be Abigail Van Buren – better known as advice columnist “Dear Abby.”  It was published in newspapers on March 29, 1964, in response to a question from two people with troubled consciences because they were living together in sin.

Dear Abby told them to go to church because it was the place where sinners would be welcomed, not to continue in their sin, but to find healing through salvation – “a hospital for sinners.”

It is a modern metaphor to suggest how we ought to behave as believers towards those needing spiritual help.

As modern metaphors go, it’s better than some of the more recent ones.  A professor at a Christian college wrote,

I asked several… pastors to try creating their own metaphors for what church ought to be. Their suggestions varied from a spiritual Starbucks, Alcoholics Anonymous.. and a continuation high school, to a Cheers-like bar where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came.

Recently in Texas the church service became a sports bar of sorts.  The Friendship-West Baptist Church projected the Cowboy’s 27–17 win over the Ravens for its congregation, prompting one reporter to comment, “it left nearly the entire place thinking about Ezekiel Elliott instead of Ezekiel 3:10.”

James suggests a metaphor in chapter two.  A set of related words jump out at you as you read verses one through thirteen: “judges” (v4), “courts” (v6), “guilty” (v10), “judged” (v12), and “judgement” (v13).

The word “law” is used throughout these verses as well.

James was comparing the meetings of the believers to a court proceeding – but not in a good way.  He was pointing out that the way they were treating visitors was the way that corrupt judges treated people in their earthly courtrooms – preferring the wealthy while oppressing the poor.

The believers were doing it by looking on the outward appearance, and thereby showing partiality to those who had the trappings of wealth and social status.

We may not be doing that; at least, not obviously.  But we all have a natural tendency to form judgments based on outward appearances – and James says that makes us “judges with evil thoughts,” and “transgressors of the law.”

These verses serve as a reminder that our gatherings should be places where “mercy triumphs over judgment,” which begins with each of us looking beneath the surface with the aid of the Holy Spirit and what James calls the “royal law of love.”

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points:  #1 You Can Quit Looking At People Like A Judge Does, and #2 You Can Keep Loving People Like Jesus Does.

#1 – You Can Quit Looking At People Like A Judge Does (v1-7)

One of the commentators I read titled this section, “The Case of the Short-sighted Usher.”

It’s not easy ushering, and I give props to our guys.

In my research I came across a set of uniform hand-signals taught by the National United Church Ushers Association of America.

Who knew?

Please indulge me while I do some usher training.





There may not have been ushers in the gatherings James was describing; at least, not the way we think of ushers today.

The entire congregation was being short-sighted.  They were prone to showing partiality.

Jas 2:1  My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.

James was writing to the first generation of believers.  They were mostly Jews who had become born-again.  They were being scattered throughout the world on account of persecution.

How do you “hold the faith?”  We might say of someone, “he holds to his convictions.”  That is the idea here.

Except that these believers were “holding to their faith” in a way that was unbecoming.  They were showing “partiality,” which James will illustrate in a moment.

Before he does, he gives them one word, describing Jesus, that, by itself, could solve their problem.  It’s the word “glory,” when James calls Jesus “the Lord of glory.”

As we will see, they were being affected by the temporary “glory” displayed by the wealthy.  Flashy clothing and gold rings on every finger.

(By the way, the word for “gold rings” is, literally, goldfingered).

If you are going to be attracted to glory, keep your eyes on Jesus, Who not only sits in glory, but is returning in glory.

Plus, He is changing you and I from glory-to-glory.

Plus He is one day going to complete His work in us, and we each will be glorified.

So there’s no reason to get distracted by the fading, false glory of this world.  If you want glory, it’s glory galore with Jesus.

Let’s see exactly what James means by “partiality.”

Jas 2:2  For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes,
Jas 2:3  and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,”

Two men arrive simultaneously, needing to be seated.

The poor man isn’t turned away.  He isn’t described as being mistreated.  It was not uncommon in the first-century assemblies to “stand,” or to be seated on the floor.

Their problem was with how they reacted, in comparison, to the man of wealth and status.  If there was only one good seat left, they’d give it to him, based on his outward appearance.

Jas 2:4  have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

Out in the world, this kind of partiality is practiced, and it is expected.

I often use the example of the private club at Disneyland, Club 33.  One Christmas, Pam and I had ticketed reservations to see the annual Candlelight Processional.  As we were waiting in line, some rude guy started shouting to a Cast Member, telling him (and everyone else) that he was a member of Club 33.  He was immediately whisked away to special reserved seating.

I can understand that – in the world.  But not in the church.

James introduces his metaphor, saying they had become “judges with evil thoughts.”  He wasn’t calling them judgmental.  He was comparing them to unjust, worldly, corrupt, bribe-loving judges.

Jas 2:5  Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?

He calls them “my beloved brethren.”  James has a reputation for being in-your-face with his stinging rebukes.  It’s not a fair assessment.  He loves them too much to overlook attitudes and actions that will tear them down, rather than build them up.

God hasn’t only chosen “the poor of this world.”  Jesus is the Savior of all men – especially those who believe.  It’s just that the wealthy, and those with status, seem uninterested in the Gospel – trusting instead in this world and its fleeting riches.

True riches should always be measured by a spiritual standard.  A believer is “rich in faith,” meaning he or she has access now to all spiritual blessings in heavenly places.

Believers are “heirs” of the coming Kingdom – which includes the Thousand Year Kingdom on the earth, and eternity.

“Those who love” Jesus – that’s another way of describing anyone who is born-again.  It’s a title; like Christian, or believer.  My dad used to call us “born-agains.”

Since Jesus “promised” us this wealth, it is secure for us, now and in Heaven.  We should therefore be living on earth influenced by eternity.  Displays of temporary glory shouldn’t attract us.

Jas 2:6  But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?

They “dishonored the poor man,” not by mistreating him, but by preferring the rich man.

James doesn’t say they should have ushered the poor man to the best seat, and mistreated the rich man.  That would still be showing partiality.  They must treat all as equals.

In Galatians 3:28 we read,

Gal 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Let me qualify this verse.  It does not mean there are no distinctions whatsoever.  Men and women, for example, are distinguished in the New Testament, and each have certain roles and responsibilities in the home and in the church.

What this verse is saying is that we are all rendered “one” as believers in Jesus Christ.  It means God shows no partiality to men over women, or to women over men.

Or to Jews over Gentiles, or to Gentiles over Jews.

Or to slaves and masters.

James pointed out to them that the rich, as a class of people, were the ones leading the persecution against them.

Jas 2:7  Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

I wonder what “that noble name” was?  If we say, “Christian,” that’s probably inaccurate.  James was writing only ten or fifteen years after the Day of Pentecost.  In the Book of Acts, we read that the “disciples were first called Christians” much later, in the Gentile church of Antioch (11:26).

In Acts 9:2 we see Saul (Paul) seeking and receiving the authority to persecute Messianic Jews, who are referred to as “the Way.”

Whether that was the name or not, James refers to them as “noble.”  It’s a short-hand for “rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom of God.”

I ran across this personal application of our text:

Let us test ourselves then on this important subject of partiality. Do we show more kindness to those of our own race than those of other races?  Are we more kindly disposed to the young than to the old?  Are we more outgoing to good-looking people than to those who are plain or homely?  Are we more anxious to befriend prominent people than those who are comparatively unknown? Do we avoid people with physical infirmities and seek the companionship of the strong and healthy?

Do we favor the rich over the poor?  Do we give the “cold shoulder” to “foreigners,” those who speak our language with a foreign accent?

As we answer these questions, let us remember that the way we treat the least lovable believer is the way we treat the Savior (Matthew 25:40).

Our assemblies should never be comparable to courtrooms where corrupt judges sit in judgment.

How do we overcome our natural tendencies to sit in judgment?

#2 – You Can Keep Loving People Like Jesus Does (v8-13)

The headline read, Judge Joe Brown Released On His Own Recognizance.


Judge Joe Brown was released on his own recognizance Monday after he was charged with contempt of court and sentenced to five days in jail.  Brown, 66, was sentenced for reportedly being disorderly in front of a magistrate Monday in juvenile court.  He was representing a woman who was accused of being the mother of an unknown child by someone in Virginia.

You’ve seen enough lawyer shows to know what Own Recognizance means.  When a person is granted release on their “own recognizance,” or “O.R.,” no bail money is paid to the court and no bond is posted.  The suspect is merely released after promising, in writing, to appear in court for all upcoming proceedings.

James just suggested that his beloved brethren were acting like judges.  You might say they were in contempt of Heaven’s law.

In these next verses, they are like judges released on their own spiritual recognizance, to judge themselves instead of others.

Jas 2:8  If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you do well;

The metaphor of judges and judging suggested to James he talk more about God’s Law.

Jews were all about the Law of Moses, and trying to keep it.  In their analysis, they had identified a total of 613 commandments.  These included 248 positive commandments, to perform an act, and 365 negative commandments, to abstain from certain acts.

They were always seeking the greatest commandment – one that, if kept, overruled them all.  It was a matter of constant debate among the rabbis.

It was therefore only a matter of time before they asked Jesus.  The exchange is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel.

Mat 22:35  Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying,
Mat 22:36  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
Mat 22:38  This is the first and great commandment.
Mat 22:39  And the second is like it: ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’
Mat 22:40  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Why doesn’t James mention loving the Lord with all their heart, soul, and mind?

He did – back in verse five, when he referred to them as “those who love the Lord.”  His focus here is on loving your neighbor as yourself.

It’s the “royal law” because it is the supreme summary of the entire Old Testament, given directly by the King to His subjects.

Love your neighbor as yourself and, by default, you keep every other possible law.

If you love your neighbor as yourself, you will honor your parents… You will not murder, commit adultery, or steal from your neighbor…  You will not bear false witness against your neighbor… And you will not covet anything of your neighbor’s.

If you’re wondering who, exactly, is your “neighbor,” it’s effectively everyone – not just folks you know or like or who are good to you.

Jas 2:9  but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

To show partiality is a violation of the royal law.  It is both “sin,” and “transgression.”

Sin is any lack of conformity to the will of God, a failure to meet His standards.
Transgression is the breaking of a known law.

Certain acts are sinful because they are basically and inherently wrong, but they become transgressions when there is a specific law which forbids them

If there had been a debriefing after services the day the ushers showed partiality, this is what James would have said.  They were in sin.

Jas 2:10  For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

Remember, James was writing to saved Jews.  They were used to certain laws being more heavily weighted than others.

I had a similar experience growing-up Roman Catholic.  There were certain “mortal sins” which were far more serious than others, which were called “venial sins.”

This way of thinking about sin results in a person overlooking the severity of sin and transgression.  It weights sins, so that if I don’t commit any of the ‘big ones,’ I feel OK about myself.  It fosters an environment within which so-called lesser sins take hold.

James uses their own law to show that isn’t the right approach for a believer to take.  Any “stumble” leaves you guilty of the whole law.

Jas 2:11  For He who said, “DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “DO NOT MURDER.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

Al Capone.  Notorious Chicago mobster.  Architect of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  They could never get any charges against him to stick… Until they got him on tax evasion in 1931.

It wasn’t murder, or racketeering… But it was enough to get him incarcerated as a law breaker.

Why did James choose “murder” and “adultery?”  Not sure – except I’m guessing that his beloved brethren, along with us, would rank them as much, much worse than showing partiality.

Not so, in one sense.  Partiality is a serious violation of the royal law, too.

It portrays God as being partial – which is not true, and it misrepresents Him to the lost.

Jas 2:12  So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.

We said, in our last study (in chapter one) that “the law of liberty” means Jesus perfectly kept, and fulfilled, God’s Law while on the earth.  As a result, when we are saved, we are no longer subject to the penalties of the Law, and, more importantly, we are endured with power in the Person of the indwelling Holy Spirit, to walk as new creatures.

We are at liberty, or free, to walk according to God’s will for our lives.

We are given a new nature – a divine nature – that defaults to keeping the royal law as long as we yield to the Holy Spirit.

We find, however, still within us what is called “the flesh” – a propensity to satisfy our appetites in excessive, evil, sinful ways.
Thus we can show partiality… Or we can show impartiality.  The choice, really, is ours.

We’re on our own recognizance and should judge ourselves rather than become judges of others.

Jas 2:13  For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

William MacDonald writes:

Verse thirteen must be understood in the light of the context. James is speaking to believers.  There is no question of eternal punishment here; that penalty was paid once for all at Calvary’s cross.  Here it is a question of God’s dealing with us in this world as [His] children.  If we do not show mercy to others, we are not walking in fellowship with God and can expect to suffer the consequences of a backslidden condition.

The “consequences of a backslidden condition” are God’s discipline.

In other words, like any good Father, God would rather show us mercy than have to discipline us.  To quote MacDonald again, “The general idea seems to be that if we show mercy to others, the [discipline] which might otherwise fall on us will be replaced by mercy.”

How is justice portrayed, outside a courtroom?  As blindfolded.  A blindfolded judge cannot show partiality on the basis of wealth or status or ethnicity.

In our case, if we are blindfolded by the royal law, we will be free from judgment towards others and ready, instead, to show them God’s mercy.

Mercy has been defined as “not getting what you deserve” from God – which is death and Hell, since all fall short of His glory.

Like any metaphor we suggest, the hospital breaks down somewhat.  No one wants to live in the hospital permanently; you want to be released.

But I think if we understand that, from time-to-time, we all need healing from some acute spiritual condition; or that there is still some chronic spiritual condition that we are dealing with as out-patients; then the hospital works somewhat as an extra-biblical metaphor.

Our assemblies ought to be mercy hospitals to those needing hope and wholeness – believer and nonbeliever alike.

Mirror, Mirror of the Lord, He’s the Fairest of Them All (James 1:19-27)

There are some great ‘mirror-moments.’

I’ve already alluded to the classic line from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.  If you’re paying attention, and a big fan of the Disney version, you know the actual dialog is, “Magic mirror on the wall.”

(In the original Brothers Grimm story, translated into English, it is indeed: Mirror, mirror, on the wall, Who in this land is fairest of all?).

Trivia aside, the Evil Queen’s look into the mirror sets the malevolent tone for the story.

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There is a novel by Lewis Carroll, the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Set some six months later than the earlier book, Alice again enters a fantastical world, this time by climbing through a mirror into the world that she can see beyond it.

In The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, the Mirror of Galadriel was a basin filled with water in which one could see far away visions of the past, present and future.  It was used by Galadriel, the Lady of Lórien.

Galadriel could not predict what the mirror would show and did not guarantee that its visions would come to pass.

The best pop-culture mirror-moment has to be the Fonz in Happy Days.  Season One, episode one, he steps up to the bathroom mirror with comb in hand, only to see himself perfectly coifed.  He then uttered his famous, “Eyy!”

The term, “Eyy!” came from an improvised moment due to Henry Winkler’s refusal to constantly comb his hair.  Network executives at ABC insisted he run the comb through his hair, but when it filmed he instead stopped himself and said the line.  It received huge laughs from the audience and the scene was made part of the opening sequence.

There are some great mirror-moments in the Bible:

1Co 13:12  For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

2Co 3:18  But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

By far, the most well-known mirror-moment is when James said,

Jas 1:23  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror;
Jas 1:24  for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is my hope we all have more mirror-moments once we understand a little more about what James was saying.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 The Mirror Shows You There Is Work To Be Done, and #2 The Mirror Shows You The Work God Has Done.

#1 – The Mirror Shows You There Is Work To Be Done (v19-24)

Do you remember autostereograms?  Probably not by that name.  Popular in the 1990’s, they were those posters of colored dots that allowed some people to see 3D images by focusing on 2D patterns.

You stare at the poster without focusing and, eventually, you will see a hidden three-dimensional image within the pattern.

They are popularly called MagicEye.

Obviously the apostle Paul knew nothing about MagicEye.  But when he said, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord,” it has the feeling of seeing something come into focus.

In our case, Jesus comes into focus and, the more He does, the more like Him we become.

If I’m going to look more like Jesus, I’m going to need to do a lot of staring!

James invites us to look long into the mirror.

Jas 1:19  So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;
Jas 1:20  for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

It’s super-important we keep in mind the original audience James was writing to.  They were his “beloved brethren” – Jews who had received Jesus Christ as their Messiah.  They  were being severely persecuted for their faith in Jesus, and had been “scattered” – forced to flee their homes.  We would consider them refugees.

I don’t need to tell you that the immediate human reaction to persecution is anger, here called “wrath.”  I think we can assume that many of these Messianic Jews were swift to speak out against their persecutors; slow to hear godly encouragement; and quick tempered.

When he used the word “produced,” James was introducing an illustration.  If they were to be compared to a plant, the fruit they were producing was “the wrath of man.”  It’s a fruit not at all palatable to God; and not very attractive for a Christian.

James reminded them that their circumstances were the perfect garden to “produce the righteousness of God.”

Righteous, and righteousness, are terms we don’t always fully understand.  In everyday life, we might say something is “righteous” the way Crush does in the Nemo movies – as a superlative to describe the rush he gets from riding the ocean’s currents.

In the Bible, righteousness is “behavior that is morally perfect.”  William Tyndall, the great Bible translator, original translated the Hebrew word into English as right-ways.  The Bible’s standard of human righteousness is God’s own perfection in every attribute, every attitude, every behavior, and every word.

That’s why the Bible can declare, “there is none righteous, not one,” and that “all fall short of the glory of God.”

If we are to have any hope of Heaven, God must declare us righteous.  He does declare us righteous – when we believe in Jesus Christ.  Jesus takes upon Himself our sin, and God imputes to us His righteousness.

James use of “righteousness” implies that a saved person can lead a life that is pleasing to God.

A believer can always go the right-ways, and avoid the wrong ways.

Instead of “wrath,” the natural reaction, they could produce the fruit of the Spirit.

Are you in a tough testing?  Are you producing wrong-way wrath, or right-way fruit?

Jas 1:21  Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

Don’t ask me why, but the other day Pam and I were watching a show about just how filthy cities used to be in the Middle Ages.  This particular episode was about London.  It was making us turn-away and gag.

These words, “filthiness and overflow of wickedness,” are like that.  Whatever they exactly mean, you don’t want their stench and defilement attaching themselves to you.

Were some of the Messianic Jews reverting to gross pre-salvation sins?  Maybe.

I think what James meant was something a little different.  The phrase “lay aside” tells us that James was likening their situation to laying aside, or removing, their garments.

Not their physical garments; their spiritual clothing.  In terms more familiar to us, he was saying put-off the old man, and put-on the new man, created in Jesus Christ when you were saved.

“Able to save your souls” describes an on-going work of salvation.  Salvation is three-phased in the Bible, involving your past, your present, and your future:

When you receive Jesus, and are born again, you are saved for eternity.  That’s the all important phase one.
As you walk with the Lord, you are being “saved” as you grow in Him, becoming more like Him.  This phase of salvation is called sanctification.

When you go to be with the Lord, your salvation is complete, as you are glorified.

You are saved; you are being sanctified; you will be glorified.

James was encouraging them in phase two – to cooperate with God and be sanctified by enduring persecution as a Christian can and should.

Jas 1:22  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

James had illustrated their response by comparing them to a plant bearing fruit – either wrath, or righteousness.

He had compared them to a man choosing to wear either filthy garments, or those that spoke of righteousness.

Now he says they are like poets.  The word “doers” can mean those who build something, or put something together.  It is also the word you’d use of a poet, writing poetry.

I like that, because in the Book of Ephesians, Paul says were are God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (2:10).

The word for “workmanship” is poem.  We are God’s poem; and we are poets ourselves.  As we allow ourselves to be led by God, we are collaborating on the great poem of our lives.

Some of you collaborate online.  Several people have access to the same document, and you each work on it until it’s deemed finished by the main author.

In this context, to be a “hearer only” means you’re not collaborating.  You’re intently listening to the poet, but making no contribution.

In today’s church vernacular, you’re a pew-potato.  We all know what a couch-potato is.  Some ingenious minister coined the term pew-potato to describe disengaged Christians who are basically hearers only.

James says you’re “deceiving” yourself.  Maybe an illustration will help.

Let’s say you want to get in shape.  You join one of the gyms here in town.  Every few days, you put on your exercise clothes, and you go to the gym.  You find a comfortable table in the snack bar, order a latte, and sit there for an hour or two, reading articles and blogs on fitness, and nutrition.

Are you going to get fit?  No; you’re deceiving yourself.  All the equipment is there, but you must utilize it in order to see results.

Jas 1:23  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror;

My mirror challenge to you: I challenge you to go out tomorrow, to work or to school, without looking into a mirror.  Go on a mirror-fast.  Do it for several days.

Isn’t it terrifying just contemplating it?  Bed-hair alone gives me a shudder.

Jas 1:24  for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.

This guy uses the mirror, but doesn’t do anything about what he sees in it.  He sees that he needs a shave… He sees that, unlike Fonzi, his hair needs combing… You get the idea.

James says the hearer is observing his “natural face,” then “forgets what kind of man he was.”

In other words, he is content reacting to life as a “natural” man, as the man he was before salvation, rather than desirous of things that are more supernatural, that will change him to be more like Jesus.

This section started with James suggesting that those he was writing to were not responding to their persecution the right way.      He ends it by suggesting that it was because they were not really interested in becoming more like Jesus.

In the remaining verses, James is going to talk about looking into the mirror in the way that changes you from glory-to-glory, to be transformed more into the image of the Lord.

#2 – The Mirror Shows You The Work God Has Done (v25-27)

Have you ever seen the mirror comedy skit with Lucille Ball and Harpo Marx?  She’s dressed just like him, and every time he does something, Lucy mimics it, as if Harpo is looking in a mirror.

Before the election, you may have seen a variation on the mirror skit, as Jimmy Fallon, dressed to look like Trump, had a conversation with Trump as if the president-elect was talking to himself in the mirror.

There is an element of both those ideas in James’ use of the mirror as an illustration:

Like Lucy, we are to see the real thing, then imitate it.  The real thing is Jesus, as He is presented in the Bible.
There is a dialog going on, as God the Holy Spirit applies what we see in Jesus to our own lives, and we decide whether or not to yield to His leading.

Jas 1:25  But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

Without any explanation, instead of saying “he who looks into the mirror,” James calls it “the perfect law of liberty.”

His original audience needed no explanation.  They would know he meant the Law of Moses, summarized in the Ten Commandments.

Regarding His law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, God had promised the Jews that, one day, He would internalize it, and they would be supernaturally endowed in order to keep it perfectly.

The promise was recorded in the Book of Jeremiah.

Jer 31:33  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

My mind is processing all sorts of information, on its own.  My heart is beating, on its own, without me having to work at it.
If God’s law is in my mind, and written on my heart, then, spiritually speaking, I have been endowed by God to follow it, to keep it, as a by-product of being saved.

Why don’t I keep God’s law all the time?  One reason is that I still find within me the flesh – that propensity to fulfill my natural appetites in sinful ways.

Another reason I don’t keep God’s law all the time is because I try to keep it in my own strength, as an outward rule or ritual, rather than understanding that I have been endowed with power to keep it from within.

I get that from James calling it “the perfect law of liberty.”  The law of God is, of course, perfect; there is nothing wrong with it.

But that isn’t all that James means here.  The “perfect law…” describes what Jesus has done; He perfectly fulfilled or completed the law.

The law was a written code you can’t keep.  Try and live by the law, as for example the apostle Paul did, and it makes you miserable.  He once said, “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (Romans 7:24).

Paul couldn’t keep the law no matter how hard he tried.  He needed help; and that’s what we get in Jesus.  He went on to say, “Who will rescue me…? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 7:24-25).

Because He kept the law perfectly, on our behalf, we can now enjoy the “liberty” of living the right way, by the endowment of power given to us by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Look into the mirror of God’s law and you will be miserable, for it exposes all your faults.  But look into the same law perfectly kept by Jesus on your behalf, and you will be blessed, for it reveals His righteousness.

You and I need constant reminding that the principle way to live is not by rules and rites and regulations.  It is by the leading of the indwelling Holy Spirit, as He shows us the right way.

Let me give you a poor illustration; but it might help.  Most of you plan to, or you’d like to, retire.  For 20 or 30 or 50 years, you work hard, subject to time constraints, and other pressures.  Then, one day you wake up and (theoretically, at least) are free to do what you want to do.

James was suggesting that his beloved brethren retire from trying to keep the law and, instead, enjoy the liberty of being empowered by the indwelling Spirit of God to always do what is right.

In their case, it meant they could be set free from producing wrath, and instead love their enemies and persecutors in the power of the Holy Spirit – just like Jesus could and did while He was on earth being persecuted.

Messianic Jews needed constant reminding to not return to the rites and rules and rituals of Judaism as a means of righteousness.  One reason they needed this reminding was the temptation to avoid persecution by returning to Judaism.

Nope; not an option.  Instead, the right thing to do was to suffer persecution, to endure it, and bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.

Jas 1:26  If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.

This seems disconnected at first, but it is not.  James has been describing the change from keeping the law externally, and being empowered internally to keep it.

Externally, you can seem very “religious.”  The Pharisees seemed incredibly religious – putting others to shame.
But your “tongue” reveals, ultimately, what is in your heart.

This also ties-in to the opening verses of our text.  There were those, expressing wrath, who were not bridling their tongue.  It should wake them up to the fact they were reverting to the flesh, instead of relying on the Spirit.

Jas 1:27  Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

In the first century, widows and orphans were especially needy.  There were no government programs to help them; it was all left to the religious people.

One author wrote, “the practical outworking of the new birth is found in acts of grace and a walk of separation.”

Acts of grace, to James, were extremely personal.  I get that from his use of the word, “visit.”  It’s one thing to hear about the needs of “orphans and widows in their trouble,” and give towards helping them.

It’s another thing entirely to “visit” them – to get hands-on in a personal way.

This doesn’t mean every one of us has to visit widows; or take-in orphans.

But it does mean some of us do need to do that… And that all of us need to be hands-on in some area of ministering to others.

Dr. J. Vernon McGee said,

Christians should be getting out where the people are.  I feel there is a grave danger in our having a religion of the sanctuary but not a religion of the street.  We need a religion of the street also. We should be in contact with the world in a personal way, with tenderness and kindness and helpfulness.

Just remember to “keep [yourself] unspotted by the world.”  Its safer in the sanctuary.  Life on the streets can get messy.

By “streets,” I don’t mean ghettos, or the third world.  The “streets” are anywhere you live and work; anywhere there are sinners who need the Gospel.

You can become just as defiled in a white-collar job in a skyscraper as you can working with addicts in their makeshift camps.

If you’ve been born-again, you have a new nature – a divine nature.  It loves to obey God; it loves to go the right-ways.

It’s not a burden to obey God; it’s a blessing.

But it is hard, because the devil is the god of the world system, and he uses it to attack you – to tempt your flesh, and to persecute you.

As these pressures mount, you can revert to your natural reactions.  You might, for example, be angry, and say things you shouldn’t.

James says, “Don’t.”  Instead, stare at Jesus, as He is revealed in God’s Word, until the right-way of reacting comes into focus.  Then, by faith, walk according to your new nature.

Put Your Best Fruit Forward (James 1:13-18)

It seems like every-other movie being released is a superhero film.

Dr. Strange is in theaters now.  At least eight more Marvel superhero movies are planned between now and 2019.

DC Comics plans to release two movies per year between now and 2020.

Every time a superhero is introduced, we get his or her origin story:

Young Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed before his eyes, providing his motivation for Batman to patrol the streets of Gotham City.

When Krypton was imploding, Kal El’s parents launched him to earth where he would be Superman.

Bruce Banner hulks-out because of his accident with gamma radiation.

Of course, every superhero has his or her own arch villains – who require their own origin stories.

I got to thinking about this because of something James mentions in verse eighteen of chapter one in his letter.  He calls his audience the “first-fruits of [God’s] creatures.”

It’s more than a metaphor.  It’s an origins story.

“First-fruits” is connected to the Jewish feasts of First-fruits, and of Pentecost.

Jesus rose from the dead on the Feast of First-fruits.  About ten days after He ascended into Heaven; His disciples were waiting in an upper room on the Day of Pentecost.  The promise of the Holy Spirit came upon them like a mighty, rushing wind.  Tongues of fire rested upon them.  They were all filled with the Spirit, and began praising God in languages they had never learned, but which the crowds gathered in the Temple understood in their various native tongues.

The church was born.  By calling them the “first-fruits,” James reminded them of their origin as the church.

Why remind them?  In the context of these verses, remembering their origin would accomplish two things:

First, remembering their origin would put the temptations they were struggling with into perspective.

Second, remembering their origin would remind them of their mission to share their testimony.

There is a sense in which every Christian of the church age is part of “the first-fruits of [God’s] creatures.”  What was written to them is written to us.

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 You’re The First-fruits Of His Creatures Who Understand The Source Of Your Temptation, and #2 You’re The First-fruits Of His Creatures Who Undertake The Sharing Of Your Testimony.

#1 – You’re The First-fruits Of His Creatures Who Understand The Source Of Your Temptation (v13-16)

Superhero associations have really cool names: The Avengers… The Justice League… The X-Men… The Fantastic Four… Guardians of the Galaxy.

I have to admit, “The First-fruits of God’s Creatures” isn’t all that exciting a name.  But what it means is spiritually powerful.

James won’t mention “first-fruits” until verse eighteen, but it’s so important in this section that we need to discuss it before anything else.

“First-fruits” means very little to us on first-reading, because we are Gentile Christians.  Remember, though, that James was writing to “the twelve tribes scattered abroad.”  He was writing to the first generation of Christians – who were all Jews by birth.

Furthermore, James was writing only about ten to fifteen years after the birth of the church.

Use the word “first-fruits” writing to Messianic Jews about ten years old in the Lord, and you evoked thoughts of the feasts of First-fruits and Pentecost.

Jesus rose from the dead on the Feast of First-fruits.  He also gave the Father His proper first-fruits offering: a few graves were opened and dead people rose and were seen after His resurrection in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:53).  Our Lord gratefully brought before the Father a few early “crops” of what would be an ongoing harvest throughout the church age.

The Feast of Pentecost occurs fifty days after First-fruits.  It represents the summer harvest – larger than the first, but still not the final ingathering.

On the Day of Pentecost, when the church was born, three thousand people were saved as a result of Peter’s preaching of the Gospel.  Along with the one hundred twenty believers in the upper room, they became the first-fruits of a greater harvest of souls to come.

Every person saved throughout church history is a kind of first-fruits of the greater, final harvest at the end of the ages, when God’s people will be complete.

That’s what “first-fruits” would have meant to James’ original audience.

What about this word, “creatures” – “first-fruits of His creatures?”  It means we are new creations in Jesus Christ.  It means we have God the Holy Spirit living in us, as the promise that one day the work God has begun in us will be completed.  We will be raised, or raptured, in a glorious, eternal body, incapable of sin.

On top of all that, we are commissioned to go tell others, so that they can receive the Lord.  It’s incredible.

But it’s also difficult.  While we wait for the Lord’s appearing, we have many trials.  James dealt with our trials in the opening verses, telling us to “count it all joy,” and to “endure,” our trials.

Now James turns his attention from external trials to internal temptations.

Jas 1:13  Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

It seems an abrupt statement, coming out of nowhere.  Were Messianic Jews really saying this?  Were they blameshifting to God?

The classic biblical example of blameshifting is Adam and Eve.  And since it involved the first sin, it sets a precedent.

God gave our first parents one prohibition: Don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Eve ate, and gave to her husband, Adam, and he ate.  The rest is, as they say, history: sin and death began to reign in a now fallen creation.

When God asked Adam about it, he blamed Eve.  When God asked Eve, she blamed the devil.  That’s blameshifting.

But Adam did more than blame Eve.  Adam said to God, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12).

He implied that he would have remained innocent if God hadn’t put Eve in the garden with him.

Likewise Eve blamed the serpent – thereby blaming God for creating him, and for allowing him to tempt her.

Thus we see that all blameshifting, ultimately, is blaming God.

If you are not taking personal responsibility for your sin, you are blameshifting – to God.

All of a sudden this is totally applicable to each of us, everyday.

James points out the folly of blaming God.  “God cannot be tempted by evil.”  It means that God is so wonderful that He couldn’t think of a way to tempt you to sin if He wanted to!

Since it is not in His nature to be able to tempt you, you can always be certain that God tempts no one.

In mythology, the gods are always flawed, and they frequently wreak havoc on mankind.  They are temptable, and they tempt.

We create gods that are temptable, and who tempt, because WE are flawed in those ways.  We tend to project this on God in our temptations.

As first-fruits of His creatures, having been born-again, and having received God the Holy Spirit, we understand that God is incapable of such things.

Jas 1:14  But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.

Most commentators see this as a fishing analogy, because “enticed” carries the idea of being lured.

The world of fishing lures is impressive.  They’ve got some crazy names: the Storm Kickin Goby, the Zara Spook, the Original Gitzit, the Gibbs Pencil Popper, and (my favorite) the Swedish Pimple.

Some spin; some make noise; some give off a scent.  But they are all designed to attract fish, to get them to bite.

They appeal to some “desire” in the fish, namely, to eat.

We don’t want to push this analogy too far, and here’s why.  We can’t really blame the fish for wanting to eat.  We are fooling him, making him think the lure is his food when, in fact, the fish is going to become our food.

In our case, we know the “lure” is evil.  We are not fooled by it, unless we deceive ourselves about it.

It isn’t our normal, natural “desires” that James is highlighting, but, rather, our desire to gratify our appetites in excessive ways, or in ways that we know to be wrong or evil or sinful.

When that spam e-mail arrives, mentioning “Russian brides,” I can be pretty certain that if I click on it, to open it, I’m going to see something that appeals to my basest desires.  It’s a lure to my lusts.

I’m not being fooled; I’m deciding to be a fool.

You are born-again, with the Holy Spirit residing in you.

You are guaranteed by Him that you will one day be complete.  In the mean time, you find the flesh still hanging on, seeking to fulfill its appetites in sinful ways.

It’s not God tempting you.  The problem is within you.

Notice, too, that James uses the words, “his own desires.”  Not everyone has the same desires.  A failure to recognize this tends to make us less compassionate.

For example I have no desire to gamble.  Maybe it’s because I’m so bad at most games.  I still don’t know how to play Hearts – even though Pam has taught me a million times.  She can ‘shoot the moon’ and I have no idea what she’s up to.

I’ll play a card, and she’ll say, “Why did you do that?”

Some people have a real gambling problem.  A few years ago I was involved with a fellow, trying to help him, who had rung-up over $20,000.00 in credit card debt patronizing our various local casinos.

We need to be considerate of the struggles that others have, if we are going to be able to help them, and not stumble them.

I should refuse to yield to these desires; and I can, thanks to Pentecost and the indwelling Holy Spirit.

If instead I indulge myself, there are going to be consequences.

Jas 1:15  Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

It may sound crude, but if you have intercourse, you just might conceive a baby.

If you yield to lust, it will conceive, and a hideous baby named “sin” will be born.

“Full grown” is a scary term.  It can mean that sin comes to full maturity as a settled habit of my life.  You might call it a life-dominating sin.

A small indulgence can become so dominating that it ruins your life, and the lives of those you love.

It “brings forth death.”  That can’t be good.  We need reminding that sin kills things.

In the Garden of Eden, Satan told Eve that eating the forbidden fruit would be a good thing, to bring her and Adam into a greater knowledge of life.

She thought her quality of life would improve.  It’s a grass-is-greener thing.  I convince myself that what God calls sin is really good for me, better for me.  That it will improve my life.

Did eating the forbidden fruit improve Eve’s quality of life?  Quite the opposite.  It brought death.  Adam and Eve died spiritually, they began to die physically – and ultimately they did die.

Worse, they brought down the whole creation, and passed-on a sin nature to their offspring.

Every sickness, every suffering, every hurt, every evil that you see in the world, is part of the death from that original sin.

Many of you have experienced death as a result of your sin; or as a result of the sin of another person in a relationship with you.  Sin killed a marriage, a family, a career, a church.

In some cases, sin literally kills someone, e.g., drunken driving.

Sin can only kill.  It may not kill at first, or all at once.  But death on some level will be the result.

Jas 1:16  Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

As I said earlier, we are not being fooled into sinning.  We are deceiving ourselves.

If you’ve fished, you’ve probably hooked yourself with a lure.  Not on purpose, of course.

What James is saying is that sin is like a fisherman knowingly swallowing a lure, but thinking it’s OK because you’re hungry and it looks so good.

Let’s get serious.  Some of us might be in one of these stages right now: desire… conception… birth.

I read one commentator who referred to this progression as the source, the course, and the force:

Desire describes the source of sin.  No matter that you have been born-again, you still find within you the flesh as a source that gravitates towards sin.

Conception describes the course of sin.  You entertain your desires, letting them run their course, going way beyond the boundaries God has set for their normal range.

Birth describes the force of sin.  Once conceived, it becomes a force in your life, draining energy and strength as it grows.

Believe James, that it can only lead to sin and death.  Take responsibility and repent before something precious dies.

Quit all blameshifting; take personal responsibility for your attitudes and actions.

Here is the beauty of it: Because you are in this exclusive association, as one of the “First-fruits of His Creatures,” you absolutely can take responsibility, and refuse to yield to your lusts, no matter the lure.

#2 – You’re The First-fruits Of His Creatures Who Undertake The Sharing Of Your Testimony (v17-18)

Super heroes usually rise to some enemy.  The Avengers were assembled when Loki was bargaining with an alien race to take over the earth as its emperor.

What is the enemy that the First-fruits of His Creatures has risen to overcome?

Nothing less than the Gates of Hell.

The phrase the “gates of Hell” is found only once in the entire Scriptures, in Matthew 16:18; but it is pertinent to our discussion, because it involves the church and our mission.  In this passage, Jesus was referring to the building of His church: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”

In ancient times, the cities were surrounded by walls with gates, and in battles the gates of these cities would usually be the first place their enemies assaulted.  This was because the protection of the city was determined by the strength or power of its gates.

The gates of Hell cannot prevail against the First-fruits of His Creatures.  We will accomplish our mission, from generation to generation, until Jesus comes for us.

Jas 1:17  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

In context, once you read verse eighteen, you can argue that the “good and perfect gift… from above” that came “down” was the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

That is, I think, what one of these scattered Messianic Jews would get from James mentioning “first-fruits.”  The words “Father” and “gift” are reminiscent of things Jesus said about the Holy Spirit:

Jesus called the coming of the Holy Spirit upon His disciples “the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4).

Jesus once said, “If you then… know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13).

James uses the word “good” in that same way – to describe the act of giving.  It is supremely “good” of God to give us the Holy Spirit.

“Perfect” describes the gift itself.  It can mean that the gift is complete, having everything you could ever require.
Jesus said that, after He went to Heaven, the Holy Spirit would come to be with us, and be just as perfect and helpful to us as Himself.

Being born-again, and having the Holy Spirit, is, then, just like having Jesus 24/7.

“Father of lights” is most likely a Jewish expression for God as the Creator, taken from the Genesis account of creation.

It makes sense that James would mention God as Creator because we are His new creations, the first-fruits that promise one day God will create a new earth and new heavens.

God’s original creation was marred, but He has redeemed it, and will recreate it.

The apostle Paul wrote,

Rom 8:19  For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God…
Rom 8:21  … because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Rom 8:22  For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.
Rom 8:23  Not only that, but we also who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.

There is a cosmic drama of redemption being played-out on the earth as men and women are saved.  We are headed toward the consummation of God’s plan to save us, and enjoy fellowship with us as new creatures in His new creation.

“With whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”  The lights God created – the sun and the stars – may be stunning, but they all have variations, and they cast shadows (or cause them to be cast).

I think this, too, looks forward to the new creation.  In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, we read,

Rev 21:23  The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.

Rev 22:5  There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light. And they shall reign forever and ever.

No more springing ahead and falling behind.  No more sun at all – just the pure light emanating from the Lord.

Verse seventeen, then, tells us what we have now on the earth, the Holy Spirit, as we are looking forward to the consummation of the age, and the new creation.

Jas 1:18  Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures.

“Brought us forth” is the new birth.  It is being born-again.  It is regeneration.

“Of His own will” doesn’t just mean it was the act of God operating by grace upon us.  It means that regeneration is the will of God for mankind.

It’s in harmony with Peter saying that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to eternal life.
Of course, not everyone will be saved.  Jesus is the Savior of all men – especially those who believe.  You must believe in Him to be saved.

“By the word of truth”; well that’s a reference to the Gospel.  God uses His Word to free the will of sinners so they can receive or reject Jesus Christ as their Savior.

Put yourself in this verse.  If you were saved later in life, someone shared the Gospel with you, and you understood you were a sinner in need of salvation.

You understood that it was God’s will you be saved, rather than perish eternally.

You received Jesus by grace, with no works of righteousness on your part.

And you received the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit – the good and perfect gift of the Father.

You became one of the “First-fruits of His Creatures.”

What do first-fruits do?  They share their testimony with lost sinners, to bring them into the harvest of souls that cannot be stopped in the church age in which we live.

Let me tell you a little more about the Feast of Pentecost.

Or, rather, let’s listen to Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum:

In the Old Testament, two loaves of bread were to be offered on a single sheet and waved before the Lord.  The Feast of Pentecost was fulfilled by the birthday of the Church, which is composed of both Jewish and Gentile believers united into one Body.  One loaf represents the Jews, one loaf represents the Gentiles, and the single sheet represents the fact that Jewish and Gentile believers are united into one Body.

Another thing learned from the Old Testament observance of this feast is that these loaves were to be leavened (Leviticus 23:17). Leaven, when used symbolically in Scripture, is a symbol of sin. It is Jewish and Gentile sinners who are saved by grace through faith and are brought into this one Body, the Church.

Furthermore, these loaves were to be made of wheat.  Wheat and harvest are common symbols of evangelism and salvation in the Gospels. In Matthew 3:11-12, the concepts of wheat and harvest are also connected with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which began on the Feast of Pentecost, thereby bringing the Church into existence.

If we see all these connections, the way a scattered, Messianic Jew would have, then James’ comments are incredibly encouraging.

They help us to defeat sin; and in our declaring of the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ.