A Double-Mind is a Terrible Thing to Embrace (James 1:5-11)

If you’re going to move from Hanford to San Diego, plan on it being 66% more expensive overall.  Your house will cost 282% more in San Diego.

Economists provide these kinds of statistics so you will know how much salary you will need to maintain or increase your current standard of living after a move.

What if you are suddenly forced away from your home, and become a refugee?  Standard of living goes out the window when you are just trying to survive.

The audience James was addressing were “the twelve tribes… scattered abroad.”  They were ethnic Jews who had received Jesus as their Messiah and were suddenly forced to flee Jerusalem due to religious persecution against them.

Some may have had family to flee to; others became refugees, seeking any city where they might resettle.

Their standard of living was sure to take a huge hit:

Their belongings would either have already been plundered, or mostly left behind.

Wherever they ended-up, there would be few employment opportunities (if any).

Those who had monetary wealth they could carry would, at best, be humiliated.  At worst, they’d be in constant danger of being robbed.

James has something to say to them.  Two things, actually:

In verses nine, ten, and eleven, James will put their new standard of living into its true spiritual perspective.

In verses five through eight, James will remind them of their old standard for living, and encourage them to stick to it.

We are not refugees, but, spiritually speaking, we are pilgrims on the earth, looking forward to our heavenly home in the city whose builder and maker is God.  Thus it’s probably a good idea for us to put our standard of living into its true spiritual perspective.

It’s also a good idea to determine what standard we have adopted for living.  Is it worldly?  Or is it godly?

I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Wisdom Ought To Be Your Standard For Living, and #2 Wealth Ought Not To Be Your Standard Of Living.

#1    Wisdom Ought To Be Your Standard For Living (v5-8)

2017 isn’t all that far away.  Some of you might be in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions.

Before you do, I should tell you that Millennials have put their own spin on New Year’s resolutions.  It is now popular to choose one word instead of a list of resolutions.

myoneword.org is just one of many sites to encourages you along these lines.  To make it easier for you, there is a list of suggested words, and testimonials from people who have picked their one word.

Some of the suggested words seem insightful: Hope, achieve, and flourish, for example.

One person, very seriously, chose the word Ramano.  At first I thought they were referring to the Italian cheese, but the spelling was different.  They were referring to the comedian.  Their explanation was, “You should always be like Ray Ramano, because Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Before you completely dismiss this one word stuff with one word by saying it’s all a bunch of “hooey,” I submit to you that James gives us a single word of resolution.  It is wisdom.

Wisdom ought to be the Christian’s standard for living.  It’s the one-word that guides you in every decision.

Jas 1:5  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

Ask what “wisdom” means, and you’ll hear something like this: “Knowledge is knowing the facts, but wisdom is the proper application of knowledge.”

That understanding of wisdom is OK, so far as it goes.  But notice something.  James says the wisdom he is talking about is a gift from God, Who will give it upon asking Him for it in prayer.

As a Jew, James viewed wisdom as it related to the practice of righteousness in daily life.  It is the spiritual discernment that enables the believer to make decisions and choose actions consistent with God’s will.

One commentator defines it as “that… regulative discretion which sees and selects worthy ends, and the best means of attaining them.”

We can think of wisdom, then, as a regulator.  It is a divine regulator.

In the world of mechanical engineering, a regulator is a device which has the function of maintaining a designated characteristic.  It performs the activity of managing or maintaining a range of values in a machine.

A thermostat is one example; you set it to regulate the temperature you desire.

Wisdom is a righteousness-regulator.  It is a divine enablement that regulates your decisions and actions so that they are consistent with what pleases God.

Having been suddenly scattered out into a larger world, these Messianic Jews had decisions to make, about how to be in the world, but not of the world.  Some of those decisions were not going to be so black-and-white, no matter how well they knew their Scriptures.

The best way to explain what James means by wisdom in their situation is to see it lived-out in the lives of a few famous Jewish heroes of the faith.  To see wisdom in action, so to speak, in those who had been in similar scattered situations.

In the Old Testament, Joseph, one of Jacob’s twelve sons, was hated by his brothers and sold into slavery by them.  Far from home, with no hope of ever returning, and (so far as we know) the only Jew in Egypt, Joseph had a lot of decisions to make about being in the world, but not of the world.

He maintained God’s righteous standard of holiness by refusing the advances of Potiphar’s wife – even though it sent him to prison.  But later in the story we see Joseph adopt some of the culture and customs of Egypt – like marrying a non-Jew, and eating and dressing like one.

Wasn’t that a compromise with the world?  Apparently not.

How did Joseph know what was consistent with righteousness in his stressful situation, and what was inconsistent?  James would say he must have asked for, and received, divine wisdom.

Daniel and his three friends are the second example.  Taken captive, they were forced to become assimilated in the surrounding Babylonian culture.  They accepted new names; they dressed liked Babylonians; they studied subjects that we would consider the occult.

Weren’t they compromising with the world?  Apparently not.  Like Joseph, they knew when and where to draw the line.  James would say they were regulated by wisdom asked for, and given to them, by God.

We are out in the world, being pressured by cultures and customs that are nonChristian at best, and ungodly at worst.  We read the Bible; but we don’t always know where to draw the line.  Things aren’t always black-and-white.

Wisdom is what we need – wisdom that is a gift from God, to regulate our decisions and actions when things aren’t so clear, so that they are consistent with righteousness.

Wisdom is something we are to “ask” for.  If it’s a gift, I can’t learn it, or earn it.  We are therefore dependent upon God to give it.

God gives it “to all liberally.”  God is a liberal when it comes to dispensing wisdom.  You can have it all the time, in abundance, by just asking for it.

He gives it “without reproach,” meaning He does not reprove you for needing His help.  He wants you to ask – admitting your dependence upon Him, rather than declaring your independence.

Here is something super-encouraging: No matter how much of God’s Word you know, or don’t know, you can be given wisdom to live righteously.  It doesn’t depend on your knowledge, but on God’s promise.

Knowledge is not unimportant to wisdom, if you mean biblical knowledge.  We are told,

2Ti 3:16  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
2Ti 3:17  that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

We have the Bible; we have knowledge, and we can grow in it as we study.

Some things are clearly spelled-out in God’s Word.  If something is a sin, I don’t need to ask for wisdom about whether I should do it or not.  The Word of God is the regulator in those situations.

If something is clearly commanded, or demanded, in Scripture – again, I simply do it.  I don’t need to ask about it.

There are some things you’ll encounter that aren’t so clear.  Let me give you an example of something that was not covered in the Scriptures.  If you ask people what the greatest single example of wisdom is, most likely they will say it was Solomon’s decision when asked to determine which of two women were the birth mother of a baby.  He ordered the baby cut in two, giving half to each lady.

One woman thought that was a great idea; the other begged Solomon to repeal his order, and instead give the baby to her rival.  It showed that she was the child’s mother.

The conclusion was, “Everyone in Israel was amazed when they heard how Solomon had made his decision.  They realized that God had given him wisdom to judge fairly” (First Kings 3:28).

Solomon, the ultimate wiseguy, was “given” wisdom, as a gift, to regulate a situation that wasn’t addressed by God in His Word.

Jas 1:6  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.

The “doubting” here has to do with the nature and character of God.  James just said God gives liberally, and without reproach.  I should never think otherwise of God.  I should not doubt His generosity.  I should think of Him as the One Who wants to help me, and not as One Who has somehow left me to fend for myself.

Is it not an all too human reaction in those kinds of circumstances to think that God has abandoned you?  That He has turned His back on you?

In the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon the family’s lives – not the least of which is them being expelled from Russia.

At one point Tevye says to God, “Sometimes I wonder, when it gets too quiet up there, if You are thinking, “What kind of mischief can I play on My friend Tevye?”

It is an all too human reaction that we are to overcome by “faith,” and believe God is immediately available to help us.

James pictured them as waves, being driven and tossed by the wind.  “Faith” in God’s generosity would calm them.

Jas 1:7  For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;

In the recent Christian film, God’s Not Dead, the characters had a saying they’d repeat to one another when things looked bad: “God is good, All the time; and All the time, God is good.”

If you doubt God’s goodness, it’s going to be impossible for you to “receive” His good gift of wisdom.  He wants to give it, generously; but you won’t be able to receive it unless you first see Him as the giver of good things; as the One Who is working in you, and Who causes all things to work together for the good.

Jas 1:8  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

There is no use of the word “double-minded” in Greek literature before its use here by James.  He uses the word twice 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.

For the Messianic Jews James was writing to, scattered as they were out in the world, compromising with the world was a constant pressure.

And not just the way we normally think, by partaking of ungodly things.  As the Book of Hebrews will make clear, there was intense pressure for them to return to Judaism.  Many Jews would, in fact, return, in order to end the persecution against them.

Such a two-souled solution only made things worse.  Such a person is “unstable in all his ways.”  “Unstable” means to lack a sure foundation.

To vacillate between the Lord and the world leaves you on shaky ground.  The Lord is your only sure foundation.

There is always pressure to be double-minded.  It is especially difficult when God’s wisdom tells you to go against the world.

I mentioned Joseph and Daniel and his three friends.  When God’s wisdom meant defying the world, their very lives were at stake.

For us, it may not be our lives, per se.  But it can mean our jobs, or our family.

Let me give you a quick summary of James’ encouragement:

You are scattered out in the world, away from your future home in the New Jerusalem.  It is likely that often you will find yourself in circumstances that leave you questioning God’s goodness, feeling tossed too and fro as a wave of the sea.

But God is good, All the time; and All the time, God is good.  He stands ready to help, by giving you His wisdom on how you are to live righteously in your circumstances.  The world will try to get you to compromise, but you should avoid being two-souled, and instead take your stand for the Lord, regardless the pressure to conform, and the consequences of living for Christ.

Wisdom is your standard for living the Christian life.  It’s foundation is the Word of God, and your knowledge of it is critical.  But, in the end, wisdom is a generous gift received by faith, available to all believers, anytime we ask.

One more thing, before moving on.  A little later in this letter, James will return to talking about wisdom.  He will tell us how we can recognize when it is from God, and not from our own thinking.

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.
Jas 3:14  But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.
Jas 3:15  This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.
Jas 3:16  For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
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.
Jas 3:18  Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

If your decision or behavior doesn’t look like that, it’s not wisdom.

#2    Wealth Ought Not To Be Your Standard Of Living (v9-11)

Thinking again of Tevye, he also says this to God: “It may sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not.  After all, with Your help, I’m starving to death.  Oh, dear Lord.  You made many many poor people.  I realize, of course, it’s no shame to be poor… but it’s no great honor either.  So what would be so terrible… if I had a small fortune?”

Persecution left these scattered Jews impoverished.  Those who had been wealthy were humiliated.  Their situation was not likely to get any better.

If James was writing around 50AD, in less than two decades any hopes of returning home, to Jerusalem, would be dashed when Titus and his Roman legions destroyed the city and its Temple.

We know the history of ethnic Jews after that.  Through the centuries they would settle as immigrants and find ways to be successful – until some new threat of persecution again came against them, plundering their goods, and taking their lives.

James gave them a heavenly perspective on their standard of living as a persecuted people.

Jas 1:9  Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation,

By “lowly” James meant social status and wealth.  These believers were barely getting by, and it was getting worse for them throughout the Gentile countries.

Yet all of the lowly could and therefore should “glory in… exaltation.”

How were they exalted?  In a passage in the Book of Romans, the apostle Paul lists the following spiritual blessings that belong to all Israelites – even nonbelieving ones.

Rom 9:4  … [to] Israelites… pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises;
Rom 9:5  of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God.

Believing Jews, and Gentile Christians like ourselves, are even more spiritually rich:

2Co 8:9  For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.

In Christ we have been blessed with “every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3).  His riches are described as “unfathomable” (Ephesians 3:8).

In the animated film, Megamind, after endowing Hal with super powers, Megamind tells him, “You’ve been blessed with unfathomable powers!”  Hal doesn’t understand what unfathomable means, so Megamind tries to explain, saying, “It’s like, uh, without fathom.”

I always feel that way trying to describe our riches in Jesus.  I can’t really fathom them.

We are “accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6), “forgiven for Christ’s sake” (Ephesians 4:32), “justified by His grace” (Titus 3:7),  and “kept by the power of God” (First Peter 1:5).

Later on James will say,

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?

Your earthly standard of living can change dramatically, in an instant.  That’s why you are to glory in your spiritual riches in Jesus – both now and to come.

Jas 1:10  but the rich [should glory] in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away.
Jas 1:11  For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.

The persecution against Messianic Jews did not discriminate.  Wealthy Messianic Jews were forced to flee.  This is a word for them – to encourage them about what they’d lost.

Those who trust in riches, and pursue them above spiritual things, are no more permanent than the flower of the field that withers under the hot, desert sun.

These scattered Jewish believers may have lost their wealth on earth, but what does it profit to gain the whole world if you lose your soul?

They, too, enjoyed all the spiritual blessings in Christ, and now, perhaps, they could appreciate them all the more.

The Bible does not mandate a single standard of living for believers.  It doesn’t suggest we live communally, sharing all things in common.

You can be wealthy; many Bible characters were wealthy.  Just be aware that there are many warnings about money, and about pursuing wealth.

It’s easy to think God is blessing me if I have more when, in fact, the more I have might be getting in the way of my relationship with the Lord.

James’ point here seems to be that, if you are devastated by persecution, and lose your wealth, it is something to glory in – because you are suffering for your testimony as a believer in Jesus Christ.

Those who remain wealthy, who are safe from persecution because they don’t know the Lord, are the ones to be pitied.

When Solomon succeeded David as king over Israel, the Lord appeared to him, and told him he could ask for anything he wanted.  Solomon asked for “a wise and discerning heart.”  He asked for wisdom.  God gave it to him.

Ask God and he will generously give you wisdom.  Make “wisdom” your one word resolution.

Joy Я Us (James 1:2-4, 12)

My iPhone wants to be helpful so it frequently auto-corrects the words I’m typing.

All too often, auto-correct fails.  In fact there is a world of auto-correct fails on the internet.  Like this one:

Hey my grandpa is in the hospital.  I hope he gets better. :(

I hope he dies.


Does; I hope he does.

Or this one:

I’m going to get a sandwich BRB

Okay.  My whole office is complaining because I have tuna in my underwear.

Um.  I can’t exactly say I blame them.

LOL.  I meant tuna in my Tupperware!

English can be a hard language, even without help from auto-correct.  Take homonyms for example, which are words spelt and pronounced like another word but with a different meaning.

The word “hail” (h-a-i-l) can be a description of somebody or something as being special or good; or it can mean the small balls of ice that fall as rain; or it can mean to call to somebody to gain their attention.

Exactly how we define a word can make all the difference in understanding what is being said.  That is no where more true than in the Bible.

The word we need to be careful to define today is “joy.”  It will make all the difference between what James says about joy being either a bummer, or a blessing.

I’ll organize my thoughts about joy around two points: #1 You Cultivate Joy That Counts, and #2 You Anticipate Joy That Is Crowned.

#1    You Cultivate A Joy That Counts

When I was first saved, someone told me that joy was Jesus… Others… You.

That’s nice, I guess; I should always put Jesus and others ahead of me.  But that isn’t how the Bible says joy is produced.

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit; we’re told it is in Galatians chapter five.

Gal 5:22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
Gal 5:23  gentleness, self-control…

Since it is compared to fruit, I can assume that joy is something I cultivate, watching it grow, over time, and come to maturity.

The right environment to cultivate joy – its garden – is trials.

Jas 1:2  My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,

James calls them “brethren.”  It’s one of his favorite words, and it means he considered them a part of his own spiritual family.  They were definitely born-again.

James was writing, specifically, to Jewish believers who had been scattered from Jerusalem out into the larger world on account of persecution.  It was a severe trial, and it was accompanied by many other trials – depending on exactly where they ended up.

“Trials” mean adverse outward circumstances.  It does not refer to inward solicitation to sin – or what we would call “temptation.”

James will deal with temptation later in this chapter.

Trials can be things that befall everyone, believer and nonbeliever alike; and they can be things that befall believers on account of your testimony about Jesus.

Christians, therefore, have double (at least potentially) the trouble that others have.

“Fall into” is very descriptive.  Jesus used it of the man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and “fell among” thieves.  It pictures the man as being surrounded by the thieves on all sides, with no way of escape, and thus “falling” victim to their assaults.

“When you fall into” lets you know they are unavoidable.  You will, at many points in your Christian walk, be surrounded by adversities, afflictions, and calamities that are hard to bear.

You know why you will?  Because the world we live in is fallen, dominated by sin and death; and while in it, we are assaulted by unseen but malevolent supernatural enemies who seek only to rob, kill, and destroy.

In that sense, each of us is walking on the road leading to the New Jerusalem but, along the way, we will be surrounded by supernatural thieves on all sides.

Or, if you prefer, we will be attacked by supernatural beasts.

The apostle Paul once said, “I have fought with beasts at Ephesus” (First Corinthians 15:2).  He probably meant demons.

Satan is described as a beast – roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.

Isn’t our Lion more powerful?  Didn’t Jesus, the “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” defeat Satan, sin, and death on the Cross.

Didn’t He cry out, “It is finished!?”

Yes, He did.  It is finished – but it isn’t over.

You see it in warfare all the time.  A decisive battle is fought, and won.  The war is effectively over.  But the enemy fights on.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender of his Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865, marked the end of the Civil War, but not its official conclusion.  At least six other battles were fought after Appomattox.

Jesus rose from the dead, and He ascended into Heaven.  He is seated at the right hand of God – in the place of victory.

The devil fights on.

At some point in the future, “the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms” of Jesus Christ.  He will return, in His glorious Second Coming, and incarcerate the devil and his demons for a thousand years.

In the mean time, Satan remains the ruler and god of this world.

There you are – suddenly surrounded by adversities, afflictions, and calamities.  How do you respond?

I couldn’t help but picture a scene from The Last Samurai.  Tom Cruise is surrounded by enemies who mean to assault him.  In his mind, in slow motion, he dispatches them, one-by-one.  Then the scene plays out in real time… and it’s pretty cool.

I think we approach trials that way.  We expect to have the skills to dispatch them quickly, and go on about our business.

It rarely plays-out that way.  The enemies either won’t stay down, or they just keep coming.

James will say, in the next verse, “let patience have its perfect work.”  Then, in verse twelve, he will use the word, “endures.”

Patience… Endurance… It sounds like we are going to be in the trials longer than we’d like.

God is perfectly capable of delivering us from the trial.  It’s OK to ask Him to.  But most of the time, in the age in which we are living, the trials run their course.

It’s strategic, to reveal the strength of the Spirit-filled life over living without the Spirit.

There is no better example of this than the apostle Paul.  He was suffering a severe trial.  He called it a thorn in his flesh, and “the messenger of Satan.”  He sought the Lord to remove his affliction.

The Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (Second Corinthians 12:9).

Then Paul surrendered to God’s choice by saying, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Like it or not, God is most revealed when in our weaknesses He is made to appear strong.  It is not weakness when God chooses to not heal you; it is strength – or it is intended to reveal a strength that can only be the result of God in you.

Superior weaponry usually means victory.  It’s just that we consider things like healing and exorcism to be superior, when, in fact, they are not.  You see in the ministry of Jesus that those weapons did not lead to massive revival.

We read in First Corinthians 1:27-28,

1Co 1:27  But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;
1Co 1:28  and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are

Weakness… Baseness… Despised.  Those are the superior weapons God has in His arsenal, by which we are assured victory.

That brings us to the phrase, “count it all joy.”  Does that mean I make a choice to rejoice in my trial?  To start praising the Lord?

Maybe; but I think something else is being said.

I would paraphrase this, “consider your trials the means by which God cultivates the fruit of joy.”

William MacDonald said, “the fruit of the Spirit cannot be produced when it is all sunshine.  There must be rain and dark clouds.”

“Count” is a word that encourages us to determine how we are going to think about our trials.  It suggests a certain mindset we ought to adopt about our trials.

We should consider trials “joy.”  Let me attempt a working definition of “joy.”

Joy is the settled assurance that God is at work conforming me into the image of Jesus; it is the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to work together for the good; and, as a result of those two things, it is my determined choice to surrender to the will of God in every situation.

I believe, on paper, that God is doing a work in my life.  I believe that He has begun a good work in me, and that He has promised to complete it – despite my frequent lack of cooperation.

I believe that one day I will awake in the likeness of Jesus.

I see plenty of examples in the Bible of God keeping His word to work all things together for good.

I want to surrender to His will, as that which is best and perfect for me.  And I always think that I will, when given the choice.

BUT I cannot know if I really own these things unless and until I am in a trial and see my spiritual reaction.

I won’t know if my spiritual garden is producing “joy” without trials.  I can’t have a settled assurance God is at work, and a quiet confidence that all things work together for good, unless those beliefs are tested by circumstances that seem otherwise.

I think I do pretty well believing God is doing a work in me; and that eventually all things will work together for good.

Most of us are successful in believing those things in our trials.

Surrendering to the will of God – that’s the place I stumble.  I might start out by surrendering, but if the trial seems to linger, as so many trials do, I can lose my joy by becoming impatient:

I quit seeing it as something that is changing me into the image of Jesus – especially if I’m going through the trial badly.

I don’t see how it could possibly ever work together for good.

I try every which way to get out of it.

James must have experienced that impatience as well, because he addresses it next.

Jas 1:3  knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
Jas 1:4  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Here are those verses in the New Living Translation:

3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

James refers to the “trials” as tests of faith.  They are not tests to see you fail, but so you can produce fruit.

You should not cave-in to impatience.  Keep on believing that joy is being cultivated.

Patience in trials (testing) gives joy the greatest chance of maturing.

God is working to “perfect” you; to “complete” you; trials are a big part of how He is able to do it.  One day, you will “lack nothing,” having been resurrected or raptured to stand in the presence of God.

Before we move on to our second point, let me ask this question: Does “consider it all joy” mean that I cannot weep or grieve or be sorrowful in my trials?

Does it mean I must express joy by rejoicing in my circumstances?

The Pixar film, Inside Out, featured characters who represented various emotions.  One of them was Joy.  In her bio, we read, “Joy’s goal has always been to make sure Riley stays happy.  She is lighthearted, optimistic and determined to find the fun in every situation.  Joy sees challenges in Riley’s life as opportunities, and the less happy moments as hiccups on the way back to something great.  As long as Riley is happy, so is Joy.”

Is that what we are to do – stay happy?  One commentator said you must make “the choice to rejoice,” no matter how severe the trial.

Before you agree, let’s look at the two people in the Bible who teach us the most about joy.

Take Jesus as our example.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit; or we might say, He had the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

His joy must have been 100%, never wavering; He expressed perfect joy.

Yet He wept on several occasions:

He wept at the grave of His friend, Lazarus.

He wept over Jerusalem, for the disbelief of its citizens.

One of His names is “the Man of Sorrows.”

Closer to us, but still more spiritual, is the apostle Paul.  He actually said, “rejoice in the Lord always.”  But he also said to “weep with those who weep.”

He didn’t say we should tell them to quit weeping; or that they should make “the choice to rejoice.”

I can cultivate joy no matter that my circumstances make me weep.

Don’t burden believers who are in trials by insisting they smile.  Encourage them to endure – knowing that they are becoming more like Jesus, and that all things work together, ultimately, for good.

#2    You Anticipate A Joy That Is Crowned

If you are explaining something to someone, do you ever forget to say something important, then bring it up a little later?

James does something like that in chapter one.  In verse five, he starts a new subject; but then he remembers he has something more to say about trials… And he brings it up in verse twelve.

Jas 1:12  Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

This is a little confusing to us because we are reading an English translation of what James wrote.  The word “temptation” should be translated “trials.”  James will talk about temptations – solicitations to evil.  But here, once again, he was talking about enduring adverse circumstances.

He was returning to his previous thoughts about trials.  He wanted to finish his point about enduring.

First of all, you’ll be rewarded for enduring by being “blessed.”  What might that mean?

One thing it might mean is that you will be brought into a closer fellowship with Jesus.  Someone has expressed it like this:

I could not do without Thee,
    I cannot stand alone,
I have no strength or goodness,
    No wisdom of my own:
But Thou, beloved Savior,
    Art all-in-all to me;
And weakness will be power,
    If leaning hard on Thee.

I could not do without Thee,
    The years are fleeting fast,
And soon in solemn silence
    The river must be passed:
But Thou wilt never leave me;
    And though the waves run high,
I know Thou wilt be near me,
    And whisper, “It is I.”

We are “blessed” to know Jesus in new, deeper ways when He is near us in our trials.  As we “endure,” He draws nearer-and-nearer.

The present tense of “endure” denotes that we bravely and steadfastly remain under the trying ordeal until it is ended.

It doesn’t mean that we will never sink in defeat under a certain trial.  We will; we do.  Failure can be repented of and reversed.

James portrays us as enduring the trials and refusing to give up.

Enduring trials is a summary of our lives on the earth.  It could be written on each of our tombstones.  What James said next looks beyond our lives on the earth, to eternity.

“… when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

James reminds us that we each have a personal appointment, in the future, with Jesus.  If you are a believer, you have eternal life as a gift.  If you die, you will be absent from your body, but present with the Lord.

You might not die.  Jesus promised to return for His church, to take us to Heaven; and that means we will not all die.  Those who are alive at His coming will be raptured.

Afterwards, we will each “receive the crown of life.”  It could be a reference to being rewarded, generally.  We will receive the consummation – the crowning  moment – of eternal life.

It is most likely a specific “crown” that will be given each of us.  We do read, in the Revelation, that in Heaven, the church has crowns which we cast at the Lord’s feet in adoration and worship.

Eternal life, and rewards in Heaven, are “promised to those who love Him.”  Was James establishing a scale of “love,” and suggesting that we are falling short?

Was he saying that, at the Reward Seat of Jesus, our love-quotient will be revealed – sort of like a credit score?

I think “those who love Him” is simply a description of believers.  Of course we love Him Who first loved us.  We are in a love relationship.

We can, for sure, leave our first love; Jesus warned us about that in His letter to the church at Ephesus, in the Revelation.  Every relationship needs work.

You’ve heard it said, and probably said to someone yourself, that the Bible is God’s love-letter to believers.  If that’s so, why do we always read it as if it were God’s appraisal of believers, with us always falling short and thereby disappointing Him?

“Those who love Him” – that’s us, as opposed to nonbelievers.  Rather than reprove you for not loving Jesus sufficiently, I remind you how blessed you are to be in a love relationship with your Savior.

He’s coming for you; and until He does, He is with you, and He is working on you – especially in your deepest sorrow.

The Name is Bond Servant; James Bond Servant (James 1:1)

Have you played Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

It’s a game based on the ‘six degrees of separation’ concept, which assumes that any two people on Earth can be connected by six or fewer acquaintances.

Movie buffs challenge each other to find the shortest path between an arbitrary actor and Kevin Bacon.

I can connect myself to Kevin Bacon with only three degrees of separation:

My friend Marti has met actor and director Jon Favreau… Who was in Iron Man 3 with Kendrick Cross… Who was in Death Sentence with Kevin Bacon.

We are going to be talking a lot about separation as we listen to the wisdom and warnings of the Book of James.

It’s a different kind of separation.  Biblical separation is the recognition that God has called believers out of the world and into a personal and a corporate purity in the midst of their surrounding sinful cultures.

It’s a term that refers to your lifestyle choices as a Christian.  Having been redeemed and regenerated by Jesus, your life is to be different from that of the nonbeliever.

Separation does not require Christians to have no contact with nonbelievers.  Like Jesus, we should befriend the sinner without partaking of the sin (Luke 7:34).

The easiest way to think about separation is the famous but accurate Christian cliché, “Be in the world, but not of the world.”

James was writing to a group of Jewish believers in Jesus who had recently been forced out of Jerusalem into the surrounding Gentile world.  He is going to urge them to maintain separation.

We might not be Jewish Christians who have been forced out of Jerusalem, but we are forced to wait for our heavenly home, the New Jerusalem.

Everywhere we find ourselves, on the Earth, is foreign soil.  And it is hostile territory, seeing that the devil is still the ruler of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the leader of malevolent principalities and powers who are seeking to overwhelm  us, and to destroy us.

We need to be urged, as the world worsens, to maintain separation.

We agree that separation is biblical; but we frequently disagree over the degrees of separation.  Those disagreements usually start with a question that begins with three words, “Can a Christian…?”  You fill in the blank.

We must guard against reducing separation into a list of do’s and (mostly) don’ts.  We are not to be, or to become, rules oriented; we are in a relationship with Jesus.

Is there something that can guide us regarding separation?  Some starting point that will keep us from becoming either too lax or too legalistic?

I’m going to suggest two such guidelines from the starting point of the Book of James; from verse one.  I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 Separation Is A Result Of You Being A Slave, and #2 Separation Is A Result Of You Being Scattered.

#1    Separation Is A Result Of
    You Being A Slave

Sing with me:

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
My, oh my, what a wonderful day
Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

Do you know where that song is from?  Not Splash Mountain; not originally.

It’s from the 1946 Disney film, Song of the South.  I’m guessing a lot of you have not seen it.  It’s banned.

Or is it?  So many myths to be busted and urban legends to be debunked.

Song of the South is not officially banned.  There hasn’t been any official “banning” going on anywhere.  It seems that Disney has taken it upon themselves to withhold this movie from the public.

If you have seen it, you can probably guess why it has engendered so much controversy.  I ran across this summary:

The general objections lie in the depiction of African-Americans within the live action sequences of the film, such as stereotyping. Some also believe the movie depicts slavery, and consequently believe that Disney tried to “sugarcoat” slavery.  The tar baby sequence is especially troubling.  The NAACP charged the film with giving the impression of “an idyllic master-slave relationship.”

The History Channel recently remade Alex Haley’s Roots for a new generation.  It depicts the type of nightmarish, oppressive inhumanity we normally think of whenever the term “slave” is used.  Certainly not idyllic.

Without dulling our sensibilities to the horrors of slavery, before we can get into verse one, we need to understand that the slavery condoned and practiced in ancient Israel was of an entirely different nature.

Israel as a nation were slaves for over 400 years.  When they were freed God gave them laws regarding slaves that were not the same as the other nations.

Slaves had rights in Israel’s social system.

They were not treated as non-human, or partially human, or as property, but as men made in the image of God.

Slavery was more like an occupation; it was servanthood with rights.

Slaves had economic rights, including the right to own their own slaves (Second Samuel 9:9-10).
They had religious rights, such as enjoying Sabbath rest (Exodus 2:10).

Some Israelites sold themselves into slavery (Leviticus 25:39; Deuteronomy 15:12-17).  Others were sold to pay debts (Second Kings 4; Nehemiah 5:1-8).

Jewish slaves could not be held for more than six years and were then given a choice to leave (Exodus 21:2).  They could voluntarily choose to remain; and many did remain.

Exo 21:5  But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’
Exo 21:6  then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.

You might say they were “Awl-in.”  Get it?

Now we are more prepared to meet James.

Jas 1:1  James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…

“James” is our English version of the Hebrew name, Jacob.  We’ll stick with James to minimize confusion.

This James is the the Lord’s brother.  After the virgin birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary had four other sons – Joseph, James, Jude, and Simon.  Because of the virgin birth, Joseph was not the father of Jesus so these were the half-brothers of Jesus.  The last three mentioned are not to be confused with those who were disciples of Jesus by the same name.

Jesus also had at least two half-sisters.

John tells us that during the ministry of Jesus “even His brothers did not believe in Him” (John 7:5).  Later, however, they became active leaders in the church with two of them (James and Jude) writing letters that became part of the New Testament.

It would seem James got saved when big-brother Jesus made a personal, post-resurrection visit to him (First Corinthians 15:7).

James was not one of the twelve.  Nevertheless it’s clear from reading the Book of Acts that he was the recognized leader of the believers in Jerusalem.

He calls himself “a bond servant.”  He identified as a slave.

There’s a lot of talk today about people identifying themselves as something they’re not.  Identity is how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves.

Gender identity, for example, is said to be one’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both, or neither.
Proponents argue that one’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.

Gender identity is resolved by something God said in Genesis; and that Jesus reinforced in His ministry.  “Male and female He created them.”  God assigns gender; not society, or the individual.

James uses this idea of “identity” in a proper way, when he calls himself “a bond servant.”  James was not a bond servant in the civil sense of that designation.  He was a free Jew.

But he identified as a bond servant spiritually.

We take this to mean that James identified with the type of slave who chose to stay with his master forever.  The one who was “awl-in.”

Because we spent time delineating the nature of Jewish slavery, what I’m going to say next shouldn’t shock you, in context.

There are amazing benefits to identifying as a bond servant.

Have you thought about that?  Usually we concentrate on all the serving and sacrificing.  But there is a big up-side to bond serving.

Think of it: Your master was responsible for room and board, and to clothe you, and to educate and train you.  He was responsible, even liable, for your health and well-being, and for your protection.

It sounds a lot like something Jesus once intimated about God:

Mat 6:25  “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Mat 6:26  Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
Mat 6:27  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
Mat 6:28  “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;
Mat 6:29  and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Mat 6:30  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Mat 6:31  “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’
Mat 6:32  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
Mat 6:33  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

Why do we, in fact, worry about these very things?  Maybe it is because we don’t identify as bond servants.  If we did, we’d know that everything pertaining to our daily life must be provided by our Master.

If you are God’s bond servant, none of your endeavors can ever fail.  I’ve had many failures; and, while I’m not planning to, I’m sure I’ll have more.

But those are times I’m operating as self-employed, rather than a slave.  When God is leading me, I cannot help but succeed.

Spiritual success isn’t always what we think.  It can, in fact, look like failure, outwardly, to the untrained eye.

The biblical example that immediately comes to mind is Jeremiah.  No real converts; persecuted; thrown into a cistern and left for dead.

Would you say his ministry was a failure?  Of course not; he did all that God asked of him, and excelled.

We read from Exodus that being a bond servant was a personal choice, and that it involved your ear.

Identifying as a spiritual bond servant is a personal choice involving your ear; only in this case, your ear has to do with hearing the Word of God.

The DoNut Man has a lyric that goes,

I like the Bible, I like the Bible,
‘Cause I read it and I do it, I read it and I do it

Later in this letter James will make his famous remark, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (1:22).

I’m a bond servant when I read it and I do it.

While a Jew made a one-time, lifetime commitment to being a bond servant, we must identify as a bond servant over-and-over again.

Every time I am faced with a decision regarding an attitude or an action, I can be awl-in by obeying the Word.  Or I can disobey and take life on by myself.

When I choose to function as the “bond servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” separation follows and flows from it.  Separation is the result, not the cause.

That’s why rules don’t work.  I can’t establish a rule, like “Christians can’t go to the movies,” and think it will catapult me into a relationship with Jesus.

But if I relate to Him as my benevolent Master, and identify as His bond servant, I will make decisions about everything that are consistent with pleasing Him and, thus, I will find myself separated by many degrees from the surrounding sinful culture.

If He is providing me with all I need for life and godliness, why look to the world for its false satisfactions?

#2    Separation Is A Result Of
    You Being Scattered

San Bernardino is my home town; I grew up there from the age of three until I was almost 30 years old.  I lived in Riverside for two years; and in Running Springs briefly.  But San Berdoo is home.

I feel totally uncomfortable there now.  Everything, it seems, has changed, and I wasn’t around to change with it.  Hanford is my home now.

You know that uncomfortable feeling you get when you’re not at home?  That is how we should feel all the time in our spirit.

We are not at home.  We should be able to relate to the Jewish patriarch, Abraham, of whom we read,

Heb 11:9  By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;
Heb 11:10  for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

James was writing to a very unique audience.  We meet them at the end of verse one:

Jas 1:1  … To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings.

The “twelve tribes” means the physical descendants of the Jewish patriarchs.  It is not a mystical, or even a metaphorical, name for believers of all ages.

James was writing to Jews; but they were Jews who had received Jesus as their Messiah.  I guess today we’d call them Messianic Jews.

The first Christians were all Jews.  It all started on the Day of Pentecost when the 120 disciples gathered in an upper room received the promise of the Holy Spirit and began praising God in  languages familiar to all the pilgrims gathered in and around the Temple.

About three thousand Jews were saved as Peter presented the Gospel.

Not too long after, five thousand more were saved.  We read, in fact, “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

From the get-go, the Messianic Jews were in conflict with the religious leaders.  It wasn’t long before a zealous Pharisee began to persecute the believers, with the full support of the ruling council and the chief priests.

It was Saul, who we know better as Paul.  He was there when the Jews killed Stephen, the first martyr of the church age.

Act 8:1  Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Act 8:2  And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
Act 8:3  As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

They were “scattered.”  The word means “dispersed.”  It’s from a root word, diaspora, which is why you’ll sometimes hear them referred to as the Diaspora.

(It’s one of those words scholars use to feel smarter than us).

In Acts we see they went to “Judea and Samaria.”  But it wasn’t long before they had to go further.  By Acts chapter nine, they were in Syria, and Saul got permission to go hunt them there.

It was on that trip Saul was converted in an encounter with the risen Lord.
James was writing to these Messianic Jews “scattered abroad,” and to any saved Jews anywhere in Gentile territory.  He wrote somewhere around 45-50AD, making this the very first book of the New Testament.

One commentator noted, concerning the dispersed Jews, “Through their contacts with other people, the Jews of the Dispersion generally had a larger outlook on life and a greater openness to new ideas…”

In other words, they were more susceptible to being influenced by the surrounding sinful cultures.  Instead of succumbing to the culture, James was warning them to maintain a certain degree of separation.

He even uses a special word – a word that summarizes his warning.

We find the word in two places in this letter, and no where else in the New Testament; in James 1:8 and 4:8.

It is the word “double-minded.”  It literally means two-spirited.  It describes a person who vacillates between the world and the Lord.

Jas 1:8 (KJV)  A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

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.

In other words, don’t be lured away and drawn off by the things of the surrounding culture.  Maintain your separation.

If you are familiar with the Christian classic, Pilgrims Progress, by John Bunyan, you might recall a character by the name of Mr. Facing-Both-Ways.  That name captures fully what James was saying with the word double-minded.

You can’t be longing for the world and for the Lord at the same time.

James wasn’t simply acknowledging that they were dispersed.  They were to realize, no matter how far from Jerusalem they were, they were “the twelve tribes.”  They might be in Damascus, Syria, but they were, spiritually speaking, in Israel.

We are in Hanford.  But listen to where we are spiritually:

Eph 2:4  But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
Eph 2:5  even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
Eph 2:6  and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

I can’t improve on what William MacDonald says about our being seated in heavenly places:

By our union with Him we are seen as already delivered from this present evil world and seated in Christ in glory.  This is how God sees us.  If we appropriate it by faith, it will change the character of our lives.  We will no longer be earthbound, occupied with the trivial and the transient.  We will seek those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

No matter how “scattered” from Heaven you seem to be, you are to operate as if you were already seated there with Jesus.
Thus, reminding yourself you are a scattered stranger on the Earth will result in you keeping yourself separated.

James maintained separation.  Hegesippus, a second-century Christian writer, recounts that his life of piety gained for James the title “James the Just” and that he spent so much time in the Temple praying that his knees became as hard as a camel’s.

Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews gives a simple and apparently authentic account of James’s death.  He reports that upon the death of the procurator, Festus, and before his successor Albinus had arrived in 62AD, the newly appointed young high priest Ananus II “assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”

These, then, are the bulletpoints for our separation: You are a slave; You are scattered.

The degree or degrees of separation – those are up to you to determine, in grace, as you walk with the Lord.

James will have his suggestions as we proceed, and he’s not shy, or politically correct about sharing them.

They’ll provide a good baseline for us to gauge our individual degrees of separation.

As a chaplain, hanging around police and fire fighters, I frequently hear the term, “perishable skills.”  Perishable skills are those skills that depreciate in effectiveness over time if they are not practiced.

Instead of thinking of the bold statements James makes in this letter as stinging rebukes, maybe we should see him as a spiritual trainer, encouraging us to practice our spiritual separation, which loses its effectiveness over time as we are assaulted by the world.