We’ve been going through the book of James, written by Jesus’ half-brother. The entire book of James is about practical, real faith, faith that works in real life.
Today we’re talking about the power of prayer. We pray because we can’t help it. The very word prayer comes from the Latin root precarius—a linguistic cousin to precarious.
Does prayer excite you or feel more like a task? Why?
Most people that I know—including myself—are frustrated by prayer for one reason or another.
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. (James 5:13)
Are you in trouble? Pray! Now!
The Greek word means “enduring hardship, experiencing misfortune, experiencing calamity.” Have you ever been there?
Are you happy? Thankful? We’ve just sung songs of praise.
Prayer and praise.
Prayer is talking with God. It is more than just asking God for stuff.
Sometimes we treat God like Santa Claus, always asking for things, often in desperation. We pray ONLY in times of trouble.
As a dad, it would drive me crazy if the only time my kids called my name was when they wanted something from me. I love it when they say thanks, share ideas, reveal their feelings, ask me questions, and offer kind words. When I have a relationship with them, I WANT to give them good things when they ask.
Many are frustrated with prayer because they don’t get immediate answers to their prayers, but petitions or requests are just one type of prayer. I fear that for some of us, if it weren’t for trouble, we would never talk with God.
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:14)
I think this verse is pretty clear. The word for “sick” means literally “to be without strength.” It’s not having the sniffles, but being truly sick.
This phrase “call the elders” is a command to the sick person.
Too often we call the doctor or grab head to the medicine cabinet. There’s nothing wrong with doctors or medicine, but the local church is the God-designed community where we are to love and serve one another. It is a joy to worship together, to bear one another’s burdens, to pray for each other.
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. (James 5:15)
What makes prayer effective? Is it long prayers? Deep, intellectual words? Oil? No, it is faith-filled prayer.
Where does faith come from? It is a gift of God.
Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
Do you have faith to believe God will answer your prayer?
One of the many Hebrew names for God is Yahweh Raphah, the LORD who heals.
The phrase “prayer offered in faith” literally means in the Greek “THE prayer of THE faith.”
What is the prayer of faith? John tells us...
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
Philip Yancey said, “Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.”
Does God always heal as we desire, instantly and completely? No. Why not? Great question! He does not always answer the way we desire...or in our timing.
In some cases, we may be the reason we are sick. If he has sinned—sometimes sin causes sickness. Jesus often forgave sins during healing encounters.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)
Prayer matters. Prayer is powerful.
We looked at this verse several months ago when we talked about praying for one another. There’s something powerful about confession. The verb tense means “keep on confessing your sins to one another” and “keep on praying for one another so that you may be healed.”
Again, there is often—not always, but often—a relationship between sin and sickness.
Proverbs 15:29 says...
The LORD is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous. (Proverbs 15:29)
John 9:31 tells us...
We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. (John 9:31)
James continues with an example.
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. (James 5:17-18)
Elijah was a role model for James. James’ nickname was “camel knees” because he spent so much time praying that calluses developed on his knees.
1 Kings 18 tells the story of Elijah’s powerful prayers.
Notice it says he was a man “just like us.” He did some great things, but he was also a coward.
God wants to see faith, real faith, faith that leads to prayer. When we pray according to God’s will, He will respond. Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ and the more we hear the Word and spend time in prayer, the more we will know and understand God’s will and pray accordingly.
Matthew Henry said...
“It is not enough to say a prayer, but we must pray in prayer. Thoughts must be fixed, desires must be firm and ardent, and graces exercised. This instance of the power of prayer, encourages every Christian to be earnest in prayer.”
I love this...
"Everything in God’s store is on the bottom shelf–you have to get on your knees to get it.” - Robert Collier
After all of these verses on prayer, James concludes his book by saying...
My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
Sheep wander. That’s why they need a shepherd.
It’s so easy to lose our way, especially when our world is so dark. None of us is perfect which is why we need one another. We have a strong enemy that will do anything to get us off the path, either sending us backward or just leading us to a picnic at the side of the road that prevents growth.
We were made for community and it is required if you truly want to follow Jesus. You can’t do it alone. Our culture says to reject authority and be your own person, but that’s not the message of the Bible. We were created to live interdependently. Brothers look out for brothers. Sisters care about sisters.
These two verses paint a beautiful picture of restoration, wisdom, and initiative. This is not, of course, speaking of harsh criticism and judgment, but rather speaking the truth in love.
Prodigals are always welcome here in the Scio family. Always.
Of course the greatest demonstration of this is introducing an unbeliever to Jesus. There is no greater joy!
We have noted previously that ...
Prayer Is The Primary Work Of God’s People (Phil. 4:6-7)
It is not a program or an event. It is what we do. It is not only the way in which we communicate with and know God, it is a way to bless others.
“Prayer Is The Soul’s Sincere Desire”
Prayer is the soul's sincere desire,
unuttered or expressed,
the motion of a hidden fire
that trembles in the breast.
Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
the falling of a tear,
the upward glancing of an eye,
when none but God is near.
Prayer is the simplest form of speech
that infant lips can try;
prayer the sublimest strains that reach
the Majesty on high.
Prayer is the contrite sinners' voice,
returning from their way,
while angels in their songs rejoice
and cry, "Behold, they pray!"
Prayer is the Christians' vital breath,
the Christians' native air;
their watchword at the gates of death;
they enter heaven with prayer.
O Thou, by whom we come to God,
the Life, the Truth, the Way:
the path of prayer thyself hast trod;
Lord, teach us how to pray!
- James Montgomery, 1771-1854
You can listen to the podcast here.
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you. (James 5:1-6)
What is James saying here? Very simply, we cannot rely on our riches but, instead, need to put our trust in God. We have repeatedly said that each of us is financially rich compared to the rest of the world.
Greed is not good.
- We are to be good stewards of our wealth.
- Generosity honors God and blesses people.
- Note that it is not wealth itself that is bad, but the love and hoarding of it.
- One writer said to summarize this text, “A believer who seeks spiritual growth dare not become caught up in the accumulation of wealth for himself. He should share his possessions for God’s glory and the good of others.” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary by Walvoord and Zuck)
- I used to consider myself a patient person...until I had kids!
- It is difficult to be patient in our culture because things happen so rapidly. People live busy lives and when a slowdown occurs, we often don’t know how to react.
- James writes...
- Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (James 5:7-8)
- It’s easy to get impatient. This is true in the short-term when we are waiting for a red traffic light to turn green, for instance, but also in the long-term.
- Students, how many of you can’t wait until graduation? For some of you it is years away!
- We have singles in this room that may be impatient about finding a spouse.
- There are hurting parents here today that have been waiting years for their wayward children to return to Jesus.
- Most of us would say that we long for the return of Jesus. We are excited about heaven and eternity in the presence of Christ.
- What I find interesting is that Jesus said He would return...when? Soon! I guess soon means different things to different people! 2000 years is not my definition of soon!
- In life, we need to think of the long-term, the ultimate goal. The race we run is a marathon, not a sprint. The LORD’s coming is near and we need to be ready. We need to be ready to persevere until He returns. We need to be focused and intentional about how we live our lives. We need to live with the urgency of knowing that at any moment the trumpet could sound, signaling the arrival of Christ. Some have said, “Jesus is coming. Look busy!” That’s not exactly the point, but we are to be patient as we await His return, yet also stand firm, regardless of the circumstances that surround us.
- Peter wrote…
- But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
- But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.
- Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (2 Peter 3:8-12)
- We are to be patient and stand firm. We cannot speed up the return of Christ any more than the farmer can speed up the harvest.
- Patience is a part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. If we ask for patience, we will surely receive...but asking for patience is a dangerous prayer!!!
- James continues...
- Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door! (James 5:9)
- Children have been known to misbehave when the teacher steps out of the classroom. Often someone will play lookout and warn everyone when the teacher is coming.
- In a similar manner, the Judge, the King, Jesus Christ is coming and we need to be ready. We need to not only look busy, we need to be busy doing the business of our Father.
- We need to be ready.
- Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:10-11)
- There have been countless martyrs throughout history that have been killed simply because of their faith in Jesus. At this moment there are brothers and sisters around the world facing persecution and execution for following Christ.
- It’s going to be worth it.
- Friends, this life is so short compared to eternity. Someday God will judge. He will set things straight. He will honor those who persevered like Job. Note that it does not say that Job had patience, but he endured and was steadfast despite his impatience with God!
- That last sentence is powerful—the LORD is full of compassion and mercy. There are days when it doesn’t feel like it, times when it seems that God is taking a nap, moments when we wonder if He is good, but I’m here to tell you and James is here telling us that He is full of compassion and mercy. He can be trusted.
- Above all, my brothers, do not swear — not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned. (James 5:12)
- This is not speaking of profanity, but of an oath or promise. God is watching...and He will return soon so we are to always be honest and trustworthy or we will be condemned and fall under judgment.
- So what’s the big idea? We are to persevere and patiently wait until the return of Jesus. He is watching. Our lives matter. Our actions matter.
- We are to stand firm.
- We are not to grumble.
- We are to remain steadfast during trials.
- We are not to break promises.
- This text reminds me that we are to live not only for today, but also for tomorrow. That’s what Jesus did. He modeled patience and endurance. He never grumbled or broke a promise. He remains our example, and promised to be with us always through the Holy Spirit.
- King David wrote
- I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. (Psalm 27:13-14)
- Good things will eventually come to those that wait.
- You can listen to the podcast here.
- Big Idea: We can pridefully boast about ourselves or be humble and let God lift us up.
- Have you ever been in a fight? I don’t mean a little argument, but a physical fight. There’s an old saying that someone went to a fight and a hockey game broke out! People love the excitement of a fight. For years boxing was hugely popular and then wresting. Now Ultimate Fight Club and MMA are all of the rage—literally!
- I was in a fight—once. I believe it was seventh grade. Recess. I’m not sure how it happened, but I found myself hitting this classmate on the playground—my best friend in the class! It didn’t take long for a crowd to grow around us, most of them cheering for me because of the two of us unpopular kids, I was slightly more popular, I guess. It was a bizarre experience to discover my fists hitting the body of my friend.
- We are continuing our series on the book of James, a letter written by Jesus' half brother to people around the world who were among the first followers of Jesus. We have spent many weeks looking at the first three chapters which brings us to chapter four.
- What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. (1-2a)
- Often fights break out because someone wants something that the other person has, be it a car, a loved one, money, or even freedom. We quarrel over the dumbest things sometimes, don’t we?
- One of the fundamental problems we have is trusting God. We have a desire and then we take matters into our own hands to get that desire met.
- We love to be in control...so much so that we accuse people being control...freaks. As Frank Sinatra famously sang, he wanted to do things “my way.”
- If you think that fighting and quarreling and selfishness and greed are mere products of our USAmerican culture, think again. They have been going on for thousands of years.
- James continues
- You do not have because you do not ask God. (2b)
- Think about that for a moment. You do not have because you do not ask God. Have you ever done this?
- Sometimes I get so frustrated because after trying to fix my headache with Advil I realize I never even gave God a chance to heal me through prayer.
- Instead of waiting for direction about a decision, I love to charge ahead and then ask God to bail me out when I realize the stupidity of my choice.
- What’s the point here? It says pretty clearly that we do not have because we do not ask God.
- What do you want? Pray about it right now.
- Before you print and frame James 4:2 and hang it on your wall and post it on Facebook, let’s continue to read…
- When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. (3)
- Does this need an explanation? The question is not merely what do you want, but why? Is it to bless others? Is it to glorify God? Or is it merely for your own pleasure.
- You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (4)
- Ouch! God has been challenging me and many of us that we are to live radical lives, holy lives, set apart lives, lives different than our world. James states it pretty clearly here. You can be a friend of God or a friend of the world. You can serve God or yourself. It’s all about God…or all about you. The amazing thing is that we get to choose!
- Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble." (5-6)
- Where does it say that?
- The LORD’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the righteous. He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. (Proverbs 3:33-34)
- Why does God oppose the proud?
- It all goes back to the meaning of life? The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way:
- Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
- The meaning of life is to glorify God. It’s to honor God. That’s what the Bible is all about—God! Some people will say it’s all about God loving us, but that’s not it. God does love us, but He loves us so that we will love and glorify Him.
- Have you heard about Cat & Dog Theology? It goes something like this:
- Cats see their owner feeding them and caring for them and conclude that they must be god.
- Dogs see their owner feeding them and caring for them and conclude that their owner must be god.
- It’s no accident that the first of the Ten Commandments was no other gods. I used to think it strange that the second one was similar—no idols—yet God wanted to be abundantly clear: He is God and we are not. If that weren’t enough, what’s the third commandment? Do not misuse God’s Name. Who does He think He is?
- God opposes the proud because they have violated the first two or three commandments. It’s all about you, or it’s all about God. It’s all about the world, or it’s all about God.
- James then gives ten instructions, his own ten commandments:
- Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (7-10)
- Did you catch all ten?
- Submit yourselves to God.
- Resist the devil.
- Come near to God.
- Wash your hands.
- Purify your hearts.
- Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.
- Humble yourselves.
- This is not exactly the pathway to the American Dream, is it? Several of those commands have probably made you uncomfortable. They make me uncomfortable! It’s not that we are to be depressed, but we are to treat our sin seriously as God does. God wants us to worship and follow and glorify Him and to pursue our own agendas is satanic! Yes! The only way to resist the devil is to draw near to God. You can’t have it both ways.
- What I love about this passage is the ending. James doesn’t leave us filled with sorrow. He says
- Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (10)
- This doesn’t mean we’ll all be rock stars, but it does mean that as we glorify God, He will bless us. We can either exalt ourselves or let God exalt us.
- Do you remember verse six:
- But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble." (6)
- It’s counter-intuitive. It’s counter-cultural. Pride is deadly. It declares that I am god rather than allowing God to be God.
- Earlier we sang about “our God.” Our God is awesome, our God is greater, our God is stronger..than who? Than me. Than you!
- The prophet Jeremiah wrote:
- This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
- King David, perhaps the greatest and most powerful man on the planet, wrote
- My soul will boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. (Psalm 34:2)
- …words echoed twice by the Apostle Paul, the most prolific writer of the New Testament…
- Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:31)
- But, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 10:17)
- It’s all about you…or God. Your choice.
- You can listen to the podcast here.
- Big Idea: Human knowledge can’t begin to compare to the perfect wisdom of God.
- We live in the second most-educated city in the nation (Boulder, CO). Nearly 100,000 college students will soon begin the new school year in search of knowledge that will propel their careers. For years, Google has been busy digitizing the entire University of Michigan library, one of the greatest collections of books on the planet. In addition to all of the degrees that hang on walls throughout our communities, the Internet now makes immeasurably more information available at our fingertips.
- Unfortunately, knowledge does not guarantee success, happiness, or even joy. Like money, information can be used…and abused. It can become an idol, an addiction, a source of pride, …or a useful tool. What we really need is wisdom, the ability to apply our knowledge and resources.
- Last week Bill talked about taming the tongue as we continued our series PrACTical Christianity—A Study of the Book of James. Just to review and understand our context, James wrote
- All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. (3:7-8)
- With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water. (3:9-12)
- My favorite verse(s) in the Bible is Proverbs 3:5-6.
- Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
- It reminds me of the choice that I have throughout every day to “have it my way” or submit to God. As we all know, it can be very difficult to “seek first the Kingdom of God” rather than seeking after that which brings us the greatest safety, comfort, control, and happiness. Making it even more challenging are the 3000 messages the average person encounters each day that are trying to woo us into buying their product or service because we deserve it. It’s all about you, right?
- James 3 contrasts wisdom and selfish ambition. One is from above and leads to peace while the other earthly one leads to disorder.
- Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (3:13)
- Wisdom is not demonstrated by the number of university degrees. It’s not demonstrated by our job title or position. James says it can only be shown by our good live, our deeds, and our humility. We saw previously that faith without works is…dead. Our lives demonstrate our beliefs. If God is truly our LORD, our deeds will be done in humility, seeking to give God the credit for the good in our lives.
- But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (3:14-16)
- If we are truly in control of our lives—or thinking we are—a completely different result occurs.
- Our world is full of envy and selfish ambition. Unfortunately, my life is full of envy and selfish ambition. It’s not a pretty picture.
- Let me give you an example. Last night I was listening to my son play guitar. He amazes me! I watch and listen to him play and marvel at his musical ability. I confessed to him last night that I envy his guitar skills and it’s not a good thing. I don’t obsess about it, but imagine what would happen to our relationship if my envy grew and was never acknowledged. We would eventually both end up miserable.
- Selfish ambition can be just as bad. Have you ever met someone that acted as if no one else mattered—or even existed?! It doesn’t take long for their list of friends to shrink, though if they have enough fame or fortune they may think they have a lot of friends!
- Many people—especially in our community—think they are “all of that and a bag of chips” because they have a lot of initials after their name or six or seven figures in their salary. I learned first-hand that many M.D.s at a certain nearby hospital act as if they are G-O-D! Scientists work overtime trying to find ways to explain the mysteries of the universe apart from a Creator. James says this is from satan! Pride, envy, selfish ambition, self-reliance, and self-worship are from the pit of hell.
- I can’t stress enough how simple yet powerful this is to understand. The first two commandments are “no other gods” and “no idols.” This sounds so basic, yet I am daily reminded of how often I worship the guy in the mirror. That scares me. It’s no wonder that Jesus told us to pick up our cross daily and follow Him. The temptation to make it all about me seems to never end.
- James continues
- But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. (3:17)
- Don’t you like this list better?
- In many ways, this list of characteristics is similar to the Fruit of the Spirit.
- Pure. We don’t talk much about purity in our culture. In fact, I often hear people almost boasting in their sin. “Nobody’s perfect” has become a mantra of pride rather than a humbling confession. We want others to be pure but are quick to rationalize our own failures. In fact, if you’re like me, you want grace for yourself and justice for everyone else.
- This happens a lot to me when I’m driving. When I’m in a hurry, I get irritated when someone in front of me is taking a leisurely drive similar to the one I did the day before. The next moment I judge the driver that passes me on the expressway as going too fast.
- The word pure also means “innocent,” something that even young children seem to be losing so early in life. It describes sincere moral and spiritual integrity. This is the key to all of the following qualities. Are you pure?
- Peace-loving. Ann Arbor is full of pacifists, but peace-loving is more than a “No War” sign in your yard. It seeks win-win. It views both sides of an argument. It strives for resolution rather than avoiding conflict. The Hebrew word shalom reflects this, not only well being but ultimately salvation. The peace-lover not only prefers peace but spreads it.
- Considerate. The Greek for this word also means gentle or humane. It describes a person who is fair and generous rather than rigid and unreasonable.
- Submissive. Huh? This is the only time this word is used in the New Testament. Some have interpreted it to mean “yielding to persuasion.” Obedient and compliant are related words. The term is used both of military discipline and legal obedience. We are to submit to authorities, be they our boss or police or other authority. Jesus submitted to the will of the Father.
- Full of mercy and good fruit. This is all-embracing mercy to all, not just the rich or powerful. Good fruit benefits and blesses others.
- Impartial and sincere. One English translation says, “undivided in mind” while another says “untainted by hypocrisy.” Much of James’ writings have talked about focus, not wavering, and treating everyone with dignity and respect, not just the rich or powerful.
- Peacemakers. The passage concludes
- Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (3:18)
- …or fruit or crop of what is right, in agreement with God’s standards, in proper relationship with God.
- Ultimately we can pursue the so-called wisdom of the world or pursue heavenly wisdom. As Paul said in Galatians, we will reap what we sow.
- What Now?
- So how do we get this heavenly wisdom? If you recall, we looked at wisdom a few weeks ago in chapter one where Jesus’ half-brother wrote
- If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (1:5-8)
- We said there are two parts to being filled with the Spirit—exhaling by confessing our sins and inhaling by inviting the Holy Spirit to fill us and change us. It happens when we quit asking God to be our co-pilot, hand him the keys, ask Him to be our pilot, and jump in the back seat—or the trunk!
- Where are you? Has it been all about you? Are you selfishly pursuing your happiness or God’s glory? We get to choose every day and experience the consequences. It all begins with our relationship with God, time in the Word, and time in prayer. Do you know Him? He knows more than any professor, doctor, or scientist—and He wants nothing more than a deeper relationship with you to share His perfect wisdom.
- You can listen to the podcast here.
When I was in middle school, I asked the question of friends, all of whom said heaven. “Why?” I asked. “Because I’m a good person and haven’t killed anyone,” they would usually respond.
“There’s a problem, though” I would say. “You’re not good enough. I’m not good enough.”
...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)
All of my goodness is as filthy rags it says in Isaiah 64:6.
Let’s look at some of Paul’s writings for a moment:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
How are we saved? By grace. Through faith. By God.
This is one of the most vital passages in the Bible. You are not good enough to go to heaven.
It’s not what you do that gets you to heaven but what was done by Jesus.
So does that mean that all dogs go to heaven, and people, too? No. We must receive the gift. Action is required. Faith is not merely something in your head, but something that is expressed.
Niagara Falls story
The Great Blondin - the man who invented the high wire act, announced to the world that he intended to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. More than five thousand people gathered to watch. Halfway across, Blondin suddenly stopped, steadied himself, back flipped into the air, landed squarely on the rope, and then continued safely to the other side. Blondin crossed the Falls again and again; blindfolded, carrying a stove, in chains, and on a bicycle. Just as he was about to begin yet another crossing, this time pushing a wheelbarrow, he turned to the crowd and shouted, "Who trusts that I can cross pushing this wheelbarrow?" Every hand in the crowd went up. Blondin pointed at one man:
"Do you trust that I can do it?" he asked.
"Yes, I trust you can." said the man.
"Are you certain that you trust me?" said Blondin.
"Yes" said the man.
"Absolute trust? Absolutely certain?"
"Yes, absolute trust, with absolute certainty."
"Thank you," said Blondin, "please get into the wheelbarrow."
On Thursday I took my son and two friends to see the Detroit Tigers. They were losing 5-0 near the end of the game and I told my friend, “If I was a betting man, I’d say the Tigers will lose.” After the Tigers scored two runs and had opportunities for more, I leaned over and said, “I’m glad I’m not a betting man.”
There’s a difference between saying you believe something and putting action behind it. It’s one thing to say the Tigers will win and another to put money on it, not that I’m advocating gambling!
Are you willing to get in the wheelbarrow?
Let’s look at today’s passage from the book of James.
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-17)
Here James refers to the poor again as he did in his definition of “pure religion.”
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (1:27)
Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. That’s why I love Jesus. He didn’t just tell people, “I love you.” He demonstrated His love by giving His very life for us, dying on the cross in our place, receiving the punishment of our sins.
Martin Luther took issue with James, arguing that we are not saved by works, but instead by faith.
James' point is not to argue whether we are saved by faith or by works. His point is that our belief, which saves us, is only true belief if it is confirmed by our actions, if it is confirmed by hopping in the wheelbarrow.
But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder. (2:18-19)
Check this out—satan believes in God, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to heaven!
It’s not enough to say you believe in God. Again, talk is cheap. Knowledge isn’t enough. Following Jesus is a verb, it involves action. Demons may believe in God, but they don’t serve Him, they don’t call Him LORD, they haven’t died to themselves in order to let Jesus live in and through them. Jesus said if we want to follow Him we must pick up our cross daily. We must die. We must put our faith into action.
You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. (2:20-24)
Real faith requires action.
At this point it should be obvious that in context James is talking about works and faith being so tightly interwoven that to suggest you are saved, but do not do good works in response to that salvation then it's likely you are not really saved. Notice that James does not say, "You are justified by works alone." He very clearly unites works and faith. Either one alone is useless. It’s like a screen door on a submarine.
It’s so useless that James equates it to a body without a spirit, which is a dead body. The living dead. Those who claim to have faith but have no works are living with a dead thing; their dead spirit.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (2:25-26)
Jesus did not die 2000 years ago to simply make history. His butchered body didn’t hang on a cross for people to say they witnessed a death. He died to demonstrate His love for us that we would die to ourselves, be recreated in His image, and make a difference in our world. Christians are to do more than talk the talk...we are to walk the walk. The world can’t see our mental beliefs, but they can see our actions...and often they FAIL to see our actions, making us hypocrites.
Jesus’ ministry was filled with good works as he healed the sick and fed the poor. That opened the door to dialogue about faith.
We need to walk in faith, not sit in faith.
So my challenge to you...and to me...is to walk the walk and put are faith into action. That’s what our Master did.
You can listen to the podcast here.
We all have preferences. That’s probably why there are dozens of different types of toothpaste to choose from when we go to the store. Jesus’ half-brother, James, had some strong words about favoritism.
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (2:1-4)
Last week’s message could be boiled down to three words:
Just Do It (obey the Word)
This week’s message could be boiled down to three words from another 80’s slogan:
Just Say No (to favoritism)
The message is pretty simple to understand, yet it can be difficult to obey.
Why do people show favoritism?
I’m continually amazed that in a nation whose Declaration of Independence reads “all men are created equal,” it was nearly 100 years later in 1870 that race was removed as a barrier to voting and it took another 50 years in 1920 for women to vote. Favoritism?
By the way, note that it says that all are “created.” Just a thought!
God originated the idea of love, of respect, and of equality. In fact, He loves the underdog, the humble, and the weak. Why? He hates pride!
Today’s passage in James 2 comes on the heels of the final verses from last week. It’s important to note that the Bible was not written with chapters and verses. They were added centuries later. Right before James talks about favoritism, he writes
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (1:27)
God loves the poor and the orphan and the widow. He cares for them—uses us to show that love. The next time you pray for God to bless the hungry, He may ask you to feed them. The next time you pray for God to bless the orphans, be ready to become a foster parent or even adopt.
There’s an old saying that you can’t judge a book by its cover, yet we do. It’s our human nature to judge people by what we see or know about them, yet even if our assumptions are true, they are created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth.
One of the greatest examples of God’s concern for the underdog is found in 1 Samuel 16. Samuel is told by God to visit the home of Jesse where he would find the next king of Israel.
When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:6-7)
I love that last sentence.
Why do we pay so much attention to outward appearance?
I’m ashamed to confess this, but this week I judged someone by their outward appearance. I got my hair cut at one of those walk-in places where you get whoever is available to cut your hair. I was hoping for one of the trendy-looking stylists and was called into the chair of an older, not-terribly attractive person…who then proceeded to give me a terrific haircut.
One of the greatest examples I have ever seen of judging the outward appearance of someone happened two years ago on a British television program. You can view it here.
I have a friend who is a multi-millionaire. You’d never know it by the way that he dresses. He told me of a time when he entered a car showroom ready to buy a new car—or two!—with cash!—yet was ignored by numerous salespeople who gave their attention to better-dressed shoppers.
That’s an unusual case of a rich man NOT getting preferential treatment, but there was obviously no perceived wealth. James continues
Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? (2:5-7)
Why are we drawn to the rich? There’s nothing evil about being wealthy, but favoritism is clearly a sin. It’s amazing to me how some of the most rich and famous people are the most miserable—and make others around them miserable.
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. (2:8-11)
There are only two things we must do as followers of Jesus—love God and our neighbor. The Golden Rule is referenced here. Love your neighbor as yourself. James is saying that’s the true test of our maturity and obedience. Too many people will tell you that they’re going to heaven because they haven’t killed anyone, but James is saying that favoritism is a sin and all sin leads to death. Period.
The early church certainly had their issues or else James would not have needed to write these words, yet they became known for taking care of the poor and the widow and the orphan and the outcast. The Good News of Jesus Christ is alive and well 2000 years later because men and women and children before us followed the Golden Rule and lived radical, counter-cultural lives of faith, hope and love.
The next time you are tempted to pre-judge someone, show favoritism, or discriminate against someone, remember Susan Boyle. Remember James. Remember Jesus. Remember the Golden Rule. Imagine what would happen if we treated everyone we encounter with the dignity, value and respect that they deserve as being created in the image of God.
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment! (2:12-13)
James is referring to the Old Testament law that no one was able to follow perfectly, yet Jesus came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it. Mercy is not getting the punishment that we deserve and it’s only because of Jesus that we have the opportunity to experience both abundant and eternal life.
You can listen to the podcast here.
What is your favorite word? Probably your name. Words are the building blocks of communication. They are the subject of the game Scrabble and its newer rival Words with Friends. Words are powerful. They convey meaning. Words can encourage or destroy, inform or confuse.
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (1:19-20)
That sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Quick to listen
Slow to speak
Slow to become angry
Let’s go back for a moment and review the context. The previous verses say
Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:16-18)
Notice that phrase...
...“word of truth.” The Greek is “logos” and means “word, spoken or written, often with a focus on the content of a communication.” Jesus is referred to as “The Word” in John 1:1 which emphasizes His own deity and the communication of who God is and what He is like.
We have been given the Word, both Jesus Christ and the Bible. God chose to give us new life and the Word.
Followers of Jesus that know Jesus and the Bible are to be...
Quick to listen
Slow to speak
Slow to become angry
When I was writing my message this week, I accidentally wrote
Quick to speak
Slow to listen
Slow to become angry
Unfortunately, that probably describes me more accurately. I love to speak (aren’t you glad!). It has been said, however, that God has given us one mouth and two ears. I’m trying to become a better listener. It’s difficult. Sometimes I catch myself thinking about what I’m going to say next rather than truly listening to the speaker.
We are also to be slow to anger. This is impossible without being filled with the Holy Spirit, something we talked about a few weeks ago. If you missed it, I encourage you to download the podcast because being filled with the Holy Spirit is one of the most vital and yet ignored aspects of following Jesus. We need to confess our sins, get rid of the junk in our lives, and invite the Holy Spirit to fill us. That’s exactly what the next verse says...
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. (1:19-21)
Is there any moral filth or evil in your life? Get rid of it!
Last week I mentioned my (weed) garden. Before I could plant my garden, I had to first remove all of the weeds from last year. I rototilled the soil and then planted seeds.
What is in the garden of your mind? Fox News? Facebook? Gossip? Lust? Or the Word?
Let me be very frank: if you are not filling your mind with the Word, it’s sin!
Last week I said there were sins of commission that we commit and sins of omission when we ignore things. You cannot follow Jesus if you don’t know Him. You can’t obey God’s Word if you don’t know what it says.
We have more resources and opportunities to fill our minds with God’s Word than ever before. People in other countries smuggle pages of the Bible, risking their own lives, in order to read it. We can listen to it in our cars, read it on our phones, buy countless translations and study editions, and even watch much of it on film.
If you spend any time online, I urge you to download the free YouVersion app or bookmark YouVersion.com on your computer. It’s a totally free resource where you can both read and listen to the Bible, post notes, interact with others, and view various reading plans. I’m reading through the Bible this year with the Life Journal reading plan. I begin most every day using my iPad to read the Bible before I even get out of bed. It’s a great way to start the day!
Perhaps you’ve tried to read the Bible and found it to be boring or difficult to understand. If so, a reading plan is great, especially one that takes you through both the Old and New Testament each day. I often find that out of the four or five chapters I read each day, if one or two are less than exciting, inevitably one or two will be timely and powerful. For daily reading, I’m using the New Living Translation and love it.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does. (1:22-25)
Did you catch that? Don’t just read the Bible, do what it says.
I’ve met people that love to study the Bible, but they never apply it. That’s like a soldier who spends all day polishing his gun collection but never goes into battle. There are many so-called Bible scholars that are atheists! They completely miss the point! They are educated, but not transformed. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were like that. Their brain was filled, but it never reached their heart.
Watching workout videos won’t help you lose weight!
Most of us are educated far beyond our level of obedience.
A common complaint to pastors is that they want deeper teaching. Deep teaching means I want you to confuse me so I don’t have to do anything about it! Mark Twain famously said, “It ain't those parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
They both heard the same word but had different outcomes.
Listen to this!
“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:47-48)
We’re judged by what we do, not what we know (the opposite of most schools!).
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (1:26-27)
A few years ago I was talking with a man who told me that he was not into organized religion. I told him that I hated organized religion! He was surprised and said, “But I thought you were a pastor.” I explained that I follow Jesus, not a religion. I know Jesus through prayer and the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. Religion is man’s attempt to know God, but Jesus didn’t come to start a new religion. He came to foster a relationship, to give us freedom and real life, and to establish His Kingdom. He has sent us on a mission to be His hands and feet, serving orphans and widows and the poor and needy. He wants us fully engaged in the world, but so filled with the Word that it transforms the world rather than the world polluting us.
It grieves me when I see Christianity reduced to information without transformation. We need information, but it most not stop with information. We need application which then leads to transformation.
We were created to know God, not merely know about God. Jesus Christ is the Word. Do you know Him? He gave Himself and also the Bible. Let’s get into the Word. Let’s let the Word get into us. Finally, let’s practice true religion and get the Word into the world, our broken world that is desperately in need of faith, hope, and love.
You can listen to the podcast here.
Last week we began our current series, PrACTical Christianity, a study of the book of James. We saw how James was written by Jesus’ half-brother who led the Church in Jerusalem. We also said this is one of, if not, the most practical books in the Bible. The messages are fairly universal and relevant 2000 years later.
The focus of much of the first chapter of James is the Greek word peirasmo/ß, (peirasmos) which means trial or test…or temptation. James tells us to “consider it pure joy…whenever we face trials of many kinds” because they help us develop perseverance, grow, and mature. Although that’s not always much consolation in the midst of trials, it is encouraging to know that they serve a purpose, are meant for our ultimate good, and that God truly is in control, especially when we aren’t (which is always!).
Temptation began…in the Garden of Eden as Adam and Eve were tempted by satan to disobey God. Our enemy is real…and real crafty. Satan has no power to create, but he loves to distort and destroy God’s creation, including us.
It is important to realize that temptation is not sin. Many people feel guilty when they are tempted, yet it is possible to be tempted and not sin. Jesus proved this.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
I love that verse! How many of you struggle with temptation? Jesus understands! He really does. He did not have a superpower sin shield that kept him from temptation. He “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”
When you are tempted, pray! Jesus understands!
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; (James 1:13)
The Greek word for temptation is… peira¿zw, (peirazoœ). This is the same root as “trial” that we examined last week, but it has the emphasis of a trap. “The difference between a test and a temptation is found in the tester’s motivations and expectations; the devil tempts that the believer might fail God’s standards of faith and so sin; God tests that he might determine and sharpen true character, with no focus on making the believer fail.” (NIV Greek Dictionary)
What can we learn about God in this verse?
Who tempts? The devil or satan.
I found this helpful chart that shows the distinctions between God’s discipline, God-ordained trials, and God-allowed temptations (www.Acts 17-11.com).
|God, World, Satan||The Devil|
|Following God||Pride or Exposure|
HOW TO DISCERN
|Proves Faith||Leads Astray|
Make Light of
|Shrink Back||Fall into|
GOD IS SAYING
We are Sons
|His Name is in Us||The Flesh is Weak|
Fear and Holiness
|Death and Glory||Sin or Victory|
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. (James 1:13-14)
Oswald Chambers said, "Until we are born again, [this is] the only temptation we understand. But by regeneration we are lifted into another realm where we face the kind of temptations Our Lord faced... Satan does not tempt us to do wrong things, he tempts us in order to make us lose... the possibility of being of value to God... Temptation is a suggested short-cut to the realization of the highest at which I aim--not at what I understand as evil, but towards what I understand as good... [At this point Satan] does not come along the line of tempting us to sin, but on the line of shifting the point of view, and only the Spirit of God can reveal this as a temptation of the devil."
Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (1:15)
Did you notice the progression?
Years ago a famous televangelist was caught, uh, with his pants down. I remember him saying, “I never thought it could happen to me.” That was his problem. He thought he was above the possibility of sin.
The crazy thing is that we all have healthy, God-given desires. Again, it’s satan that distorts those desires or gets us to seek their fulfillment in inappropriate ways.
Think about Adam and Eve. Did they need to eat? Yes. The question was not should they eat, but should they eat from that tree.
People don’t just wake up one day and do crazy things. Our prisons are not filled with people who randomly decided to kill or steal. There was a desire that grew into a sin and all sin ultimately leads to…death.
Romans 6:23 clearly affirms this.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We are in the midst of a cosmic war between God and satan, good and evil.
C.S. Lewis: "No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because he was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means--the only complete realist."
Two Types of Sin
Perhaps you are feeling pretty good right now thinking you’ve resisted temptation, after all, you’ve never killed anyone! There are sins of commission—wrongful things that we commit or do—and sins of omission—things that we should do that we don’t. Honestly, that’s where I get in the most trouble. God draws me to prayer, yet I choose to ignore him and talk to a friend on the phone. He draws me to read the Bible, yet I choose to read blogs online. He draws me to give generously to others, yet I choose to spend money on myself.
And how does that sin lead to death? It kills the potential for a deeper relationship with God.
Perhaps you are feeling pretty bad right now thinking about how you’ve messed up. Here’s the good news!
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Because Jesus endured temptation without sinning, His death on the cross allows Him to forgive us from ALL unrighteousness. Hallelujah!
When tempted, we should pray. Jesus knows, understands, and the Holy Spirit can fill us and help us in our struggle.
Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. (Matthew 26:41)
Understand that you’re not alone in being tempted. Everyone in this room faces it daily.
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. (1 Peter 5:8-10)
It’s so easy to become discouraged as we battle with sin, but don’t give up. Don’t ever give up! It’s worth the fight. It’s literally a fight for life, the abundant life that Jesus came to give us.
We can also share our struggles with one another, encouraging one another when we have gained victory and even when we’ve blown it.
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)
The wisdom of Proverbs says
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7b)
You can listen to the podcast here.
First, it was written by...James! That may seem obvious, but many New Testament books are named after their recipient, not their author. In fact, most of Paul’s writings such as Titus and Ephesians, were written to a man named Titus and a church in the city of Ephesus.
James is the author, believed by most to be Jesus’ half-brother. Imagine the sibling rivalry in that family! Actually, James was skeptical of the deity claims made by Jesus and later in life became a devoted follower.
James is probably the earliest of the New Testament writings. Where Paul wrote about inner saving faith from God’s perspective, James wrote about outward saving faith from the perspective of man.
I love the book of James because it is very practical and easy to understand, though challenging to completely obey. Many biblical books are written to a particular person or group in response to a particular situation. Therefore, we can’t just read and apply without understanding the context. James, however, begins with a very clear and broad audience.
The early church was the recipient, those Christians in churches around the world. In other words, James writes universal truths that are essentially for all people. It was clearly written for public reading as a sermon and authoritative. In fact, there is, on average, a call for action in every other verse in the book! It is both passionate and picturesque with rich metaphors, similes, and dozens of references to Nature.
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
Here we see that he is clearly a Christ-follower. He was a well-known, authoritative figure in the early Church. He actually led the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15). He calls himself simply a servant, the Greek word “doulos” meaning a bond-slave. He was God’s property.
He is writing to the twelve tribes, a reference to the Jews that were scattered from their homeland among the Gentiles.
He then writes, “Greetings.” He is obviously a friendly man!
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (1:2)
Wait a minute! Did we read that correctly?
Did he write joy and trials in the same sentence? Are you kidding me? If you’re like me, you do everything to avoid trials. My flesh wants life to safe, comfortable, and convenient. I want things to go smoothly. Any unexpected interruption to my life is not a joy but a pain in the rear end! Trials in my life are met with groans and complaints.
Do you know what I mean? Perhaps that is why James needed to write these words!
The Greek word for trial here is peirasmo/ß, peirasmos, It means trial or temptation or test.
How many of you like to take tests in school? If you’re like me, there have been one or two tests that you actually looked forward to taking, the ones you studied hard for and felt confident and prepared. The purpose of a test is not to be a hardship or reveal your stupidity, but to show what you know. A test is given to see if a student can pass, not pass out! Trials are not to be seen as tribulations but tests. Our attitude is critical in the midst of trials.
James does not say to be happy, but to be joyful. He doesn’t say to be joyful for the trials, but in the midst of trials.
How do we find joy in trials?
...because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (1:3-4)
Tests have a purpose. If you pass your third-grade tests, you demonstrate your readiness for fourth-grade. If you pass the bar exam, you prove that you can be an attorney. James reminds us that endurance is one product of trials. James’ readers know this (notice “because you know”) but I’m afraid we’re not so quick to think about the benefits of trials in our culture. Athletes might be the exception.
No pain, no gain.
In this case, the testing is not done to prove our faith but to approve it. We develop endurance, but the goal is to be mature and complete. I think we all want to be complete, but it doesn’t just happen. Even physical maturity requires growing pains. It’s all part of God’s plan for our lives. He wants us to grow and mature and becoming complete in Him so He allows trials and testing to accomplish His purposes.
“But wait,” you might say, “I thought God loves me.” He absolutely does. Love is looking out for the best interest of another. He wants you to grow, become strong, and be a blessing to others.
Five years ago if you told me about your trials, I would’ve done my best to be kind and understanding, but I had no idea what real testing was all about. Through several events in the past few years, I have a completely different perspective. I know suffering. I know testing. It has changed me. It has transformed me. I’d like to think that I’m done, but I know there are more trials ahead.
Friends, you are either in a trial, coming out of a trial, or about to experience one. Don’t face that as bad news. It’s all part of God’s plan to make you more like Jesus, the One who faced the ultimate trials and testing.
The testing of our faith produces patience and perseverance. Faith is like gold. Gold endures no matter how hot the fire. Peter—who understood trials as did all of the early church leaders, most of whom died as martyrs, wrote
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith — of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire — may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)
When gold is heated, the impurities rise to the surface. The metal worker cannot take their eyes off of the gold, knowing that it is pure when they can see their face reflected in it. That’s what God does. He refines us through trials until all that is seen in us is Jesus.
Let me pause for a moment and say that there are two types of trials—those that come to us and those that are self-inflicted. I’m always amazed when I hear of teenage girls that say, “God, how could you allow me to get pregnant” or the person angry at God because they got caught speeding or stealing. Our actions have consequences. There are other things, however, like tsunamis, diseases, and the drunk driving of others over which we have no control.
We can face trials with joy because it will mature us and our faith to the point where we lack nothing.
But that’s easier said than done, right? How?! Fortunately, James continues….
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (1:5)
Wisdom is not merely knowledge but the application of knowledge. Do you seek wisdom?
King Solomon had an Aladdin experience. He was given one wish from God.
That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (2 Chronicles 1:7)
Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?”
God said to Solomon, “Since this is your heart’s desire and you have not asked for wealth, riches or honor, nor for the death of your enemies, and since you have not asked for a long life but for wisdom and knowledge to govern my people over whom I have made you king, therefore wisdom and knowledge will be given you. And I will also give you wealth, riches and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” (2 Chronicles 1:10-12)
What does this verse promise us about asking for wisdom? God gives it generously to those who ask.
My greatest prayer is for wisdom. I pray daily for God to give me wisdom as I seek to lead my family, Scio, and most of all myself!
Keep in mind that the context of this request is in the midst of trials. If you’ve ever asked “why?” you have sought Godly wisdom to understand your situation. God loves it when we ask for wisdom. He loves to hear us pour out our hearts. He loves honest, authentic prayers.
Perhaps you’ve been told that there are certain things that appropriate to tell God. He knows it all! Keep it real! He can handle the truth!
But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (1:6-8)
We must seek God and His wisdom in faith. One writer says that our answer from God depends upon our assurance in God.
I can tell you from experience that God can be trusted. He is love. Following Jesus doesn’t mean life will always be easy, but it will be satisfying. It will be filled with purpose. It will contain hope and meaning.
If you’re in the midst of a trial right now, I want to remind you that God is real. God cares. It might not feel like it, but I promise you that He does. I often think about a child at the doctor’s getting immunizations. Love is the last thing that they feel, yet the shots are actually the most loving thing a parent to can allow, providing endurance and strength to avoid devastating diseases.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
We may experience hurt that God allows to shape us but never harm. There is one that wants to harm us, though.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)
How many of you are rich? Compared to the rest of the world, the poorest in this room are filthy rich.
If you make $25,000/year, you are in the top 10% richest on the planet!
If you make $50,000/year, you are in the top 1% richest on the planet!
Of course, rich does not always refer to finances. We can be rich in health, friends, or spirit. James continues…
The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. (1:9-11)
Most of the Jewish converts were poor and perhaps considered their lowly position a hindrance in enduring trials. James reminds them that God honors the persistence of even the lowliest of people. The rich, on the other hand, are trusting in their riches which will whither and fade away. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (1:12)
And everybody said…amen!