5 Reasons Why People Doubt Their Salvation

doubt“I am confident of this: that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

The Bible teaches not only does Jesus save us, but He keeps us in the faith. It teaches God not only gives eternal life, but will preserve us in that life. It is not life until we sin again, it is not life until we feel differently, it is not life until times get tough and our faith grows weak, it is eternal life which will never end. Scripture is filled with the assurance that our salvation is secure. Many people, however, doubt their salvation. Here are five reasons why:

1. They have a faulty understanding of how they are saved.

If a person thinks he is saved by good works, then it stands to reason he would think his salvation could be lost by bad works. This is the problem with many people today. They feel they can lose their salvation. They say, “If I could earn it, I could lose it. If I could deserve it, I could desert it.” But this is incorrect. The truth of the matter is since we cannot earn it, since it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast, then we did not deserve it in the first place.

This is why a proper theological understanding of salvation is important. God chose to save us, not based on our merits or what we deserved. Rather, He chose to save us in spite of who we are and contrary to what we deserved. Salvation is based on His goodness and grace, not on our merit. When we get a proper understanding of that, when we get a clear picture of how bad our sins are and how great God’s grace is, it will give us a new and deeper appreciation for our salvation.

2. They do not have a biblical understanding of perseverance.

Instead of realizing what God has said and trusting He will be faithful to His Word, many people have based their beliefs on what someone has told them, how they feel, on faulty interpretation, or something other than the revelation in God’s Word. This is the fundamental problem with all doctrinal error, that people have not rightly divided the Word of God and have based their belief on a view which is not biblical.

Many people base their beliefs on experience. They might say something like this: “I knew a person who was a great Christian for many years, but then one day he decided to walk away from the faith and leave God behind. He just laid down his salvation and abandoned God.” Scripture gives insight into such cases: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19). If we are truly saved, we will persevere in our salvation to the end.

3. They are ignorant of God’s promises in His Word.

The level of biblical illiteracy today is astonishing. Many professing Christians know more about their favorite sports teams than they do the doctrines of the faith. It is no wonder why so many of us are so easily led astray by every wind of doctrine which blows across the ecclesiological landscape.

The antidote for this is simple: get grounded and rooted in the Word of God, and learn what it says about who God is. God’s Word tells us He gives eternal life: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know you have eternal life” (1 John 5:12-13).

4. They are out of fellowship with God and do not sense His presence.

There are many Christians today who experience doubts about their salvation for no other reason than they are out of fellowship with God. Our salvation is all about relationship. It is about walking and talking, breathing and being; it is about practicing the presence of God in our lives. But many Christians have allowed sin to remain in their lives, unconfessed and unaddressed. They have grieved the Holy Spirit of God and are no longer sensitive to His presence in their lives, nor are they aware of His movement around them. It is little wonder why people in such a state doubt their salvation.

The solution for this is simple: Get right with God. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

5. They are not saved and sense they are lost because they really are.

One of the reasons people doubt their salvation is simply because they are not saved. They may have knowledge of the church. They may have knowledge of Scripture. They may have grown up in a Christian home, surrounded by Christian friends and family, but at the end of the day, they cannot say they have ever experienced a transformation of their life, the kind of transformation which only Jesus can bring when He gives a person a new heart and a new mind.

It is to this end that Paul tells the Christians at Corinth: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5). The reason many people will go to hell from a church pew is because they never gave themselves a spiritual examination. They never stopped to consider whether or not they were really saved. If you are truly saved, you should know it. God does not want you to be paralyzed by fear or doubts, which are ungrounded or unfounded.

The solution is clear: know what God’s Word says about your salvation. Stand on the truth that it is Jesus who saves you and not anything you have done. Ground yourself in good doctrine. Remember your salvation is a reflection and an extension of God’s character. Let Him show you if there is any sin in your life and stop for a moment to examine yourself spiritually to see if you are truly in the faith: “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).

* Read more in my book, Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living.

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Effective Prayer (James 5:13–20)

Effective PrayerThe gift of speech is a marvelous blessing, if it is used to the glory of God. Prayer is certainly a high and holy privilege. As God’s children, we can come freely and boldly to His throne and share with Him our needs! The mature Christian is prayerful in the troubles of life. Instead of complaining about his situation, he talks to God about it, and God hears and answers his prayers. Perhaps one of the greatest weaknesses in the average church today is in the area of prayer. The reason for this weakness may be traced to insensitivity. James encourages us to pray by describing four situations in which God answers prayer:

1. Prayer for the Suffering (5:13)

As God’s people go through life, they often must endure difficult circumstances that are not the result of sin or the chastening of God. Suffering should elicit prayer. The greatest assistance any believer can offer another is faithful prayer. Prayer is clear evidence of care. Prayer is the “hotline” to the One who can provide for any need no matter how complex or impossible it may seem. To share in prayer, a believer must have sensitivity to someone’s needs, engage in diligent supplication for those needs, and recognize the significance of those needs.

What should we do when we find ourselves in such trying circumstances? We must not grumble and criticize those who are having an easier time of it; nor should we blame the Lord. We should pray, asking God for the wisdom we need to understand the situation and use it to His glory. Prayer can remove affliction, if that is God’s will, but prayer can also give us the grace we need to endure troubles and use them to accomplish God’s perfect will (Read: Turning Trials into Triumphs).

2. Prayer for the Sick (5:14–16)

A great deal of misunderstanding has resulted from these verses. Some teach that full physical health is always just a prayer away, but James was not giving a blanket formula for healing the sick in these verses.

The heart of the problem lies in just what James meant when he referred to the “sick.” What did he mean? He was not referring to physical illness, but rather weak faith. James wrote to those who had grown weary, who had become weak both morally and spiritually in the midst of suffering. These are the ones who “should call” for the help of “the elders of the church.”

The church leaders were instructed to encourage the timid and help the weak. The “prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well [restore him from discouragement and spiritual defeat] and the Lord will raise him up.” That the restoration is spiritual, not physical, is further clarified by the assurance, “if he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”

Many physically ill Christians have called on elders to pray for them and to anoint them with oil, but a sizable percentage of them have remained sick. This fact suggests the passage may have been mistakenly understood as physical restoration rather than spiritual restoration. Those who claim God heals every case, and it is not His will for His children to be sick are denying both Scripture and experience. But where we have the inner conviction from the Word and the Spirit that it is God’s will to heal, then we can pray “the prayer of faith” and expect God to work (Read: My Testimony).

The conclusion is clear: “therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.” A mutual concern for one another is the way to combat discouragement and downfall. The cure is in personal confession and prayerful concern. The healing is not bodily healing, but healing of the soul.

3. Prayer for the Nation (5:17–18)

When wicked King Ahab and Queen Jezebel led Israel away from the Lord and into the worship of Baal, God punished the nation by holding back the rain they needed (1 Kings 17–18). For three and one half years the earth was dry and unable to produce the crops so necessary for life.

Then Elijah challenged the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel. All day long the priests cried out to their god, but no answer came. Elijah prayed once and fire came from heaven to consume the sacrifice. He had proven Jehovah is the true God.

But the nation still needed rain. Elijah went to the top of Mt. Carmel and fell down before the Lord in prayer. “He prayed earnestly [persistently].” He continued to pray for rain until his servant reported “a cloud the size of a man’s hand.” There was a great rain and the nation was saved.

Too many times, we fail to get what God promises because we stop praying. It is true we are not heard “for our much praying” (Matt. 6:7); but there is a difference between vain repetitions and true believing persistence in prayer.

Elijah prayed for his nation and God answered his prayer. We need to pray for our nation today, that God will bring conviction and revival, and “showers of blessing” will come to the land.

4. Prayer for the Wandering (5:19–20)

These verses deal with our ministry to a fellow believer who wanders from the truth and gets into sin. Those who have lost their way are the “sick ones” in the church family.

To wander suggests a gradual moving away from the will of God. The Old Testament term for this is “backsliding.” Sad to say, we see this tragedy occurring in our churches regularly. Sometimes a brother is “overtaken in a fault” (Gal. 6:1); but usually the sin is the result of slow, gradual spiritual decline.

Believers have a responsibility to fellow-believers who stray. The wandering one needs to be turned back to the Lord and brought back to the fold. A wandering believer cannot move ahead again on the path toward spiritual maturity until he or she is restored. James urges fellow-believers to get in their way, head them off, and turn them back. The rescue action is of great significance!

Many of us must admit when we see a Christian straying, we have a tendency to excuse ourselves from responsibility by saying, “It’s none of my business.” Or we think our responsibility begins and ends with praying for the backslidden. But James instructs us to lovingly confront them with their straying and tenderly call them back to the Lord.

If we are going to help a wandering brother or sister, we must have an attitude of love, for “love will cover over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). This does not mean love “sweeps the dirt under the carpet.” Where there is love, there must also be truth (“speaking the truth in love,” says Paul in Eph. 4:15); and where there is truth, there is honest confession of sin and cleansing from God. Love not only helps the offender to face his sins and deal with them, but love also assures the offender that those sins, once forgiven, are remembered no more.

* This brings us to the end our series in James. I hope and pray you have enjoyed and benefitted from this study as much as I have.

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The Power of Patience (Part 2)

Job2James knew his readers needed patience. They were facing persecution because of their faith. In Part 1, we saw two examples of patient endurance he gave: the farmer and the prophets. Today, we will look at the third example he gave.

Job (James 5:11)

As you know, we count as 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.

You cannot persevere unless there is a trial in your life. There can be no victories without battles; there can be no peaks without valleys. If we want the blessing, we must be prepared to carry the burden and fight the battle.

I once heard a young Christian pray, “Lord, please teach me the deep truths of Your Word! I want to be lifted up to the heavens to hear and see the wonderful things that are there!” It was a sincere prayer, but the young man did not realize what he was praying. Paul went to the “third heaven” and learned things too marvelous for words; and as a result, God had to give Paul a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble (2 Cor. 12:1–10). God has to balance privileges with responsibilities, blessings with burdens, or else you and I will become spoiled, pampered children.

When do “blessings” come? In the midst of trials we may experience God’s blessings, as did the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3); but James taught there is a blessing after we have endured. His example was Job.

The Book of Job is a long book and the chapters are filled with speeches that, to the Western mind, seem long and tedious. In the first three chapters is Job’s distress: he loses his wealth, his family (except for his wife, who told him to commit suicide), and his health. In chapters 4–31, we read Job’s defense, as he debates with his three friends and answers their false accusations. Chapters 38–42 present Job’s deliverance: first God humbles Job, and then He honors Job and gives him twice as much as he had before.

In studying the experience of Job, it is important to remember Job did not know what was going on “behind the scenes” between God and Satan. Job’s friends accused him of being a sinner and a hypocrite. “There must be some terrible sin in your life,” they argued, “or God would never have permitted this suffering.” Job disagreed with them and maintained his innocence (but not perfection) during the entire conversation. The friends were wrong: God had no cause against Job (Job 2:3) and in the end, God rebuked the friends for telling lies about Job (Job 42:7).

It is difficult to find a greater example of suffering than Job. Circumstances were against him. He lost his wealth and his health. He also lost his beloved children. His wife was against him, for she said, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). His friends were against him, for they accused him of being a hypocrite, deserving of the judgment of God. It even seemed like God was against him! When Job cried out for answers to his questions, there was no reply from heaven.

Yet, Job endured. Satan predicted Job would get impatient with God and abandon his faith, but that did not happen. While it is true Job questioned God’s will, he did not forsake his faith in the Lord. “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless, I will defend my ways before Him” (Job 13:15). Job was so sure of God’s perfections that he persisted in arguing with Him, even though he did not understand all God was doing. That is endurance.

God made a covenant with Israel that He would bless them if they would obey His Laws (Deut. 11). This led to the idea that, if you were wealthy and comfortable, you were blessed of God; but if you were suffering and poor, you were cursed of God. When Jesus said it is difficult for a rich man to enter heaven the disciples were shocked. “Who, then, can be saved?” they asked (Matt. 19:23–26). “The rich are especially blessed of God,” they were saying. “If they can’t make it, nobody can!” Sad to say, many people have that same erroneous idea today.

The Book of Job refutes that idea, for Job was a righteous man and yet he suffered. God found no evil in him and even Satan could not find any. Job’s friends could not prove their accusations. Job teaches us God has higher purposes in suffering than the punishing of sin. Job’s experience paved the way for Jesus, the perfect Son of God who suffered, not for His own sins, but for the sins of the world.

In Job’s case, what was “the end purpose of the Lord”? To reveal Himself as full of pity and tender mercy. Certainly, there were other results from Job’s experience, for God never wastes the sufferings of His saints. Job met God in a new and deeper way (Job 42:1–6), and, after that, he received greater blessings from the Lord.

“But if God is so merciful,” someone may argue, “why didn’t He protect Job from all that suffering to begin with?” To be sure, there are mysteries to God’s working that our finite minds cannot fathom; but this we know: God was glorified and Job was purified through this difficult experience. If there is nothing to endure, you cannot learn endurance.

What did Job’s story mean to the believers James wrote to and what does it mean to us today? It means that some of the trials of life are caused directly by satanic opposition. God permits Satan to try His children, but He always limits the extent of the enemy’s power (Job 1:12; 2:6). When you find yourself in the fire, remember God keeps His gracious hand on the thermostat! “But He knows the way I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

Satan wants us to get impatient with God, for an impatient Christian is a powerful weapon in the devil’s hands. You will recall from our study of James 1 that Moses’ impatience robbed him of a trip to the Holy Land; Abraham’s impatience led to the birth of Ishmael, the enemy of the Jews; and Peter’s impatience almost made him a murderer. When Satan attacks us, it is easy for us to get impatient, and run ahead of God and lose God’s blessing as a result.

What is the answer? “My grace is sufficient for you!” (2 Cor. 12:7–9) Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a “messenger of Satan.” Paul could have fought it, given up under it, or tried to deny the thorn existed; but he did not. Instead, he trusted God for the grace he needed and he turned Satan’s weapon into a tool for the building up of his own spiritual life.

When you find yourself in the furnace, go to the throne of grace and receive from the Lord all the grace you need to endure (Heb. 4:14–16). Remind yourself the Lord has a gracious purpose in all of this suffering, and He will work out His purposes in His time and for His glory. You are not a robot caught in the jaws of fate. You are a loving child of God, privileged to be a part of a wonderful plan. There is a difference!

“Be patient, for the coming of the Lord is near!”

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The Power of Patience (James 5:7–12)

PlantJames is still addressing the suffering saints when he writes, “Be patient.” This is his counsel at the beginning of his letter (1:1–5) and is still his counsel at the end of his letter. He knows God is not going to right all the wrongs in this world until Jesus returns, so we must patiently endure—and expect.

Three times James reminds us of the coming of the Lord (5:7–9). This is the “blessed hope” of the Christian (Titus 2:13). We do not expect to have everything easy and comfortable in this present life. “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Paul told his converts, “We must go through much tribulation to enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). We must patiently endure hardships and heartaches until Jesus returns.

But the question we must answer is: How can we as Christians experience this kind of patient endurance as we wait for the Lord to return? To answer that question, James gave three encouraging examples of patient endurance.

The Farmer (James 5:7–9)

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

If a man is impatient, then he had better not become a farmer. No crop appears overnight (except perhaps a crop of weeds) and no farmer has control over the weather. Too much rain can cause the crop to rot, too much sun can burn it up, and an early frost can kill the crop. How long-suffering the farmer must be with the weather! He must also have patience with the seed because it takes time for plants to grow. He has to wait many weeks for his seed to produce fruit.

Why does he willingly wait so long? Because the fruit is “precious” (v. 7). The harvest is worth waiting for. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

James pictures the Christian as a “spiritual farmer” looking for a spiritual harvest. Our hearts are the soil and the “seed is the Word of God” (Luke 8:11). There are seasons to the spiritual life just as there are seasons to the soil. Sometimes, our hearts become cold and “wintry,” and the Lord has to “plow them up” before He can plant the seed (Jer. 4:3). He sends the sunshine and the rains of His goodness to water and nurture the seeds planted; but we must be patient to wait for the harvest.

Here, then, is a secret of endurance when the going is tough: God is producing a harvest in our lives. He wants the “fruit of the Spirit” to grow (Gal. 5:22–23), and the only way He can do it is through trials and troubles. Instead of growing impatient with God and with ourselves, we must yield to the Lord and permit the fruit to grow. We are “spiritual farmers” looking for a harvest.

You can enjoy this kind of harvest only if your heart is established (James 5:8). The ministry of the Word of God and prayer are important if the heart is going to be established. Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to establish the young Christians in their faith (1 Thes. 3:1–3); and Paul also prayed for them that they might be established (1 Thes. 3:10–13). A heart that is not established cannot bear fruit.

Keep in mind the farmer does not stand around doing nothing: he is constantly at work as he looks toward the harvest. James does not tell these suffering believers to put on white robes, climb a hill, and wait for Jesus to return. “Keep working and waiting” was his admonition. “Blessed is that servant whom the Lord finds doing so when He returns” (Luke 12:43).

Nor does the farmer get into fights with his neighbors. One of the usual marks of farmers is their willingness to help one another. Nobody on the farm has time or energy for disputes with the neighbors. James must have had this in mind when he added, “Don’t grumble against each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged” (v. 9). Impatience with God often leads to impatience with God’s people and this is a sin we must avoid. If we start using the sickles on each other, we will miss the harvest!

The Prophets (James 5:10)

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

A Jewish congregation would understand this simple reference James made to the Old Testament prophets. These men were well known for suffering wrong when they had done no wrong. They were harshly treated for faithfully declaring the Word of God. James alluded to such prophets to urge his readers to be patient when they themselves were suffering for doing good. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus also used the prophets as an example of victory over persecution (Matt. 5:10–12).

What encouragements do we receive from their example? For one thing, they were in the will of God, yet they suffered. They were preaching “in the name of the Lord,” yet they were persecuted. Satan tells the faithful Christian his suffering is the result of sin or unfaithfulness; yet his suffering might well be because of faithfulness! “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Tim. 3:12). We must never think obedience automatically produces ease and pleasure. Our Lord was obedient and it led to death!

The prophets encourage us by reminding us God cares when we go through sufferings for His sake. Elijah announced to wicked King Ahab there would be a drought in the land for three and one half years; and Elijah himself had to suffer in that drought. But God cared for him and God gave him victory over the evil priests of Baal. It has been said, “The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you.”

Many of the prophets had to endure great trials and sufferings, not only at the hands of unbelievers, but at the hands of professed believers. Jeremiah was arrested as a traitor and even thrown into an abandoned well to die. God fed Jeremiah and protected him throughout the terrible siege of Jerusalem, even though at times it looked as though the prophet was going to be killed. Both Ezekiel and Daniel had their share of hardships, but the Lord delivered them.

Why is it that those who “speak in the name of the Lord” often must endure difficult trials? It is so their lives might back up their messages. The impact of a faithful, godly life carries much power. We need to remind ourselves our patience in times of suffering is a testimony to others around us.

This example James used from the Old Testament prophets ought to encourage us to spend more time in the Bible, getting acquainted with these heroes of the faith. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The better we know the Bible the more God can encourage us in the difficult experiences of life. The important thing is that, like the farmer, we keep working and, like the prophets, we keep witnessing, no matter how trying our circumstances may be.

In Part 2, we will look at the third example of patient endurance: Job.

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Money Talks (James 5:1-6)

Money“If money talks,” said a popular comedian, “all it ever says to me is good-bye!”

But money was not saying “good-bye” to the men James addressed in this section of his letter. These men were rich and their riches were sinful. They were using their wealth for selfish purposes and were persecuting the poor in the process.

James sounded a warning to the rich oppressors. We can divide his exhortation into two parts:

The heavy price tag attached to misused wealth (James 5:1–3)

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries which are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire. It is in the last days you have stored up your treasure!

Misused wealth leads to miseries! James could see those miseries coming towards his readers and described the consequences of misusing riches.

Riches will vanish (vv. 2-3a)

It is a great mistake to think there is security in wealth. Paul wrote, “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches” (1 Tim. 6:17). Riches are uncertain. The money market fluctuates from hour to hour and so does the stock market. Add to this the fact that life is brief and we cannot take wealth with us, and you can see how foolish it is to live for the things of this world.

Misused riches erode character (v. 3)

“Their corrosion … will eat your flesh like fire.” This is a present judgment: the poison of wealth has infected them and they are being eaten alive.

Of itself, money is not sinful; it is neutral. But “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). Abraham was a rich man, but he maintained his faith and character. When Lot became rich, it ruined his character and ultimately ruined his family. “If riches increase, do not set your heart upon them” (Ps. 62:10).

Judgment is certain (vv. 3, 5)

James not only saw a present judgment (their wealth decaying, their character eroding), but also a future judgment before God. Jesus Christ will be the Judge (James 5:9) and His judgment will be righteous.

Misused wealth will cause pain in the future. Those who make riches the primary thing in this life and live without regard to God will be keenly aware of their folly. Their memory of living for wealth when they could have lived for God will bite and burn like fire!

They will realize they have “stored up treasure in the last days.” In eternity, they will see they accumulated wealth as if they would live forever, but all the while they were living the last days of their lives. They were speeding towards eternity while they were amassing their riches.

The Day of Judgment is a serious thing. The lost will stand before Christ at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11–15). The saved will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10–12; 2 Cor. 5:9–10). God will not judge our sins, because they have already been judged on the cross; but He will judge our works and our ministry. If we have been faithful in serving and glorifying Him, we will receive a reward; if we have been unfaithful, we will lose our reward but not our salvation (1 Cor. 3:1–15).

The loss of a precious opportunity (v. 3)

“The last days” indicates James believed the coming of the Lord was near (see James 5:8–9). We must “make the most of every opportunity” (Eph. 5:16) and work while it is day (John 9:4). Think of all the good that could have been accomplished with that hoarded wealth. There were poor people in that congregation who could have been helped (James 2:1–6). There were workers who deserved their wages. Sad to say, in a just few years after this letter was written the Jewish nation was defeated and scattered, and Jerusalem destroyed.

It is possible to be “poor in this world” (James 2:5) and yet rich in the next world. It is also possible to be “rich in this world” (1 Tim. 6:17) and poor in the next world. The return of Jesus Christ will make some people poor and others rich, depending on the spiritual condition of their hearts. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21).

Manifestations of misused wealth (James 5:3–6)

It is in the last days that you have stored up your treasure! Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and led a life of wanton pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and put to death the righteous man; he does not resist you.

Hoarding (v. 3)

James warns his readers they have “stored up treasure.” Hoarding takes place when we continue to accumulate above and beyond that which is necessary. What a tragedy it is to see people “store up treasures for the last days” instead of “laying up treasures in heaven.”

What did Jesus mean by “laying up treasures in heaven”? Did He mean we should “sell everything and give to the poor” as He instructed the rich young ruler? I think not. He spoke that way to the rich ruler because greed was the young man’s besetting sin and Jesus wanted to expose it. To lay up treasures in heaven means to use all we have as stewards of God’s wealth. You and I may possess many things, but we do not own them. God is the Owner of everything and we are His stewards.

The Bible does not discourage saving or even investing, but it does condemn hoarding. What we possess and use are merely things apart from the will of God. When we yield to His will and use what He gives us to serve Him, then things become treasures and we are investing in eternity. What we do on earth is recorded in heaven, and God keeps the books and pays the interest.

Depriving workers of their rightful wages (v. 4)

The Law consistently condemns fraudulent treatment of workers (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:14–15). The rich would certainly not have been hurt by paying the wages they owed. They had plenty from which to pay! But the workers, who lived from day to day and from hand to mouth, were hurt tremendously by not getting paid.

James depicts the seriousness of the matter in terms of two cries going up to God. The first is the cry of the unpaid wages. James pictures them sitting there in the bank and crying out to God because they have not been sent to those to whom they should have gone. The second is the cry of the workers themselves. It is the cry of anguish, as they sit down with their families to eat a crust of bread or nothing at all when they could have been eating a decent meal.

Wallowing in luxury and self-indulgence (v. 5)

There is a great difference between enjoying what God has given us (1 Tim. 6:17) and living extravagantly on what we have withheld from others. Even if what we have has been earned lawfully and in the will of God, we must not waste it on selfish living. There are too many needs to be met.

Luxury has a way of ruining character. It is a form of self-indulgence. If you match self-indulgence with wealth the result is sin; but if you match character with wealth, you can produce much good. The rich man Jesus described in Luke 16:19–31 would have felt right at home with the rich men James wrote to!

Murdering the innocent (v. 6)

We are not to picture any of James’s readers going out with swords to hack people to death. James has something far more subtle in mind—but just as deadly! James is referring to judicial “murder”—primarily referring to taking away the means of making a living.

The rich controlled the courts. “Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” (James 2:6). The poor could not oppose them because they had no way to use the system and thus were helpless.

James’ words about murdering the just who do not resist make us think about the Lord Jesus Christ. Although He was just in every way, He was murdered. Although He certainly had the power to resist, He did not. He willingly submitted to unjust treatment, so He could provide eternal salvation for sinners.

Yes, money talks. What will it say to you at the last judgment?

To Think About and Discuss:

  • What are some of the indications that people have become obsessed with material things in the world around us? in the church?
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3 Attitudes Toward the Will of God: Part 2 (James 4:13–17)

trust-and-obeyIn Part 1, we looked at the first two attitudes toward God’s will: ignoring and disobeying. Today, we will look at the final attitude.

Obeying God’s Will (James 4:15)

Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work” (John 4:34). Paul often referred to the will of God as he shared his plans with his friends (Rom. 1:10; 15:32; 1 Cor. 4:19; 16:7). Paul did not consider the will of God a chain that shackled him; rather, it was a key that opened doors and set him free.

God’s will for our lives is comparable to the laws He has built in the universe, with this exception: those laws are general, but the will He has planned for our lives is specifically designed for us. No two lives are planned according to the same pattern.

To be sure, there are some things that must be true of all Christians. It is God’s will we yield ourselves to Him (2 Cor. 8:5). It is God’s will we avoid sexual immorality (1 Thes. 4:3). All Christians should rejoice, pray, and thank God (1 Thes. 5:16–18). Every commandment in the Bible addressed to believers is part of the will of God and must be obeyed. But God does not call each of us to the same work in life, or to exercise the same gifts and ministry. The will of God is “tailor-made” for each of us!

It is important we have the right attitude toward the will of God. Some people think God’s will is a cold, impersonal machine. God starts it going and it is up to us to keep it functioning smoothly. If we disobey Him in some way the machine grinds to a halt and we are out of God’s will for the rest of our lives.

God’s will is not a cold, impersonal machine. You do not determine God’s will in some mechanical way, like getting a soft drink out of a vending machine. The will of God is a living relationship between God and the believer. This relationship is not destroyed when the believer disobeys, for the Father still deals with His child, even if He must chasten.

Rather than looking at the will of God as a cold, impersonal machine, I prefer to see it as a warm, growing, living body. If something goes wrong with my body, I don’t die: the other parts of the body compensate for it until I get that organ working properly again. There is pain; there is also weakness; but there is not necessarily death.

When you and I get out of God’s will, it is not the end of everything. We suffer, to be sure; but when God cannot rule, He overrules. Just as the body compensates for the malfunctioning of one part, so God adjusts things to bring us back into His will. You see this illustrated clearly in the lives of Abraham and Jonah.

The believer’s relationship to the will of God is a growing experience. First, we should know His will (Acts 22:14). The will of God is not difficult to discover. If we are willing to obey, He is willing to reveal (John 7:17). It has been said that “obedience is the organ of spiritual knowledge.” This is true. God does not reveal His will to the curious or the careless, but to those who are ready and willing to obey Him.

But we must not stop with merely knowing some of God’s will. God wants us to be “filled with the knowledge of His will and all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col. 1:9). It is wrong to want to know God’s will about some matters and ignore His will in other matters. Everything in our lives is important to God and He has a plan for each detail.

God wants us to understand His will (Eph. 5:17). This is where spiritual wisdom comes in. A child can know the will of his father, but he may not understand his will. The child knows the “what,” but not the “why.” As the “friends” of Jesus Christ, we have the privilege of knowing why God does what He does (John 15:15). “He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel” (Ps. 103:7). The Israelites knew what God was doing, but Moses understood why He was doing it.

We must also prove God’s will (Rom. 12:2). The Greek verb means “to prove by experience.” We learn to determine the will of God by working at it. The more we obey the easier it is to discover what God wants us to do. It is something like learning to swim or play an instrument. You eventually “get the feel” of what you are doing and it becomes second nature to you.

People who keep asking, “How do I determine God’s will for my life?” may be announcing to everybody they have never really tried to do God’s will. You start with the thing you know you ought to do and you do that. Then God opens the way for the next step. You prove by experience what the will of God is. We learn both from successes and failures. “Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me” (Matt. 11:29). The yoke suggests doing things together, putting into practice what God has taught you.

Finally, we must do God’s will from the heart (Eph. 6:6). Jonah knew the will of God and (after a spanking) did the will of God; but he did not do it from his heart. Jonah 4 indicates the angry prophet did not love the Lord, nor did he love the people of Nineveh. He merely did God’s will to keep from getting another spanking!

What Paul said about giving can also be applied to living: “not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Grudgingly means “reluctantly, painfully.” Some people get absolutely no joy out of doing God’s will. Of necessity means “under compulsion.” They obey because they have to, not because they want to. Their heart is not in it.

The secret of a happy life is to delight in duty. When duty becomes delight, then burdens become blessings. “Your statutes have been my songs in my pilgrimage” (Ps. 119:54). When we love God, then His statutes become songs and we enjoy serving Him. When we serve God grudgingly or because we have to, we may accomplish His work, but we ourselves will miss the blessing. It will be toil, not ministry. But when we do God’s will from the heart, we are enriched, no matter how difficult the task might have been.

We must never think a failure in knowing or doing God’s will permanently affects our relationship with the Lord. We can confess our sins and receive His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). We can learn from the mistakes. The important thing is a heart that loves God and wants to sincerely do His will and glorify His name.

What are the benefits of doing the will of God? For one thing, we enjoy a deeper fellowship with Jesus Christ (Mark 3:35). We have the privilege of knowing God’s truth (John 7:17) and seeing our prayers answered (1 John 5:14–15). There is an eternal quality to the life and works of the one who does the will of God (1 John 2:15–17). Certainly, there is the expectation of reward at the return of Jesus Christ (Matt. 25:34).

Which of these three attitudes do you have toward the will of God? Do you totally ignore God’s will as you make your daily plans and decisions? Do you know God’s will, yet refuse to obey it? Each attitude is wrong, and can only bring sorrow and ruin to the life of the person who holds it.

But the Christian who knows, loves, and obeys the will of God will enjoy God’s blessing. His life may not be easier, but it will be holier and happier. His very food will be the will of God (John 4:34); it will be the joy and delight of his heart (Ps. 40:8).

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3 Attitudes Toward the Will of God: Part 1 (James 4:13–17)

arroganceJames began chapter 4 talking about war with God and he ends it talking about the will of God. The two themes are actually related: when a believer is out of the will of God, he becomes a troublemaker and not a peacemaker.

Lot moved into Sodom and brought trouble to his family. David committed adultery and brought trouble to his family and his kingdom. Jonah disobeyed God and almost sent a shipload of heathen sailors into a watery grave. In each case, there was a wrong attitude toward the will of God.

That God would have a plan for each of our lives is an obvious truth. He is a God of wisdom and knows what ought to happen and when it should occur. As a God of love, He desires the very best for His children. Too many Christians look on the will of God as bitter medicine they must take, instead of seeing it as the gracious evidence of the love of God.

“I would give my life to the Lord, but I’m afraid,” a perplexed teenager told me at a youth conference.

“What are you afraid of?” I asked.

“I’m afraid God will ask me to do something dangerous!”

“The dangerous life is not in the will of God,” I replied, “but out of the will of God. The safest place in the world is right where God wants you.”

In this section of his letter, James pointed out three attitudes toward the will of God (of course, only one of them is the correct one, the one that every Christian ought to cultivate).

Ignoring God’s Will (James 4:13–14, 16)

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes… As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.

James was addressing the wealthy merchants in the assembly. There is no evidence they sought the will of God or prayed about their decisions; rather, they boasted about their plans. They measured success in life by how many times they got their own way and accomplished what they had planned. They were basically saying to God, “We know what You want us to do, but we are not going to do it. We know more about this than You do!”

James presented four arguments that reveal the foolishness of ignoring the will of God:

The complexity of life (v. 13). Think of all that is involved in life: today, tomorrow, buying, selling, gaining, losing, going here, going there. Life is made up of people and places, activities and goals, days and years; and each of us must make many crucial decisions day after day.

Apart from the will of God, life is a mystery. But when you know Jesus Christ as your Savior, and seek to do His will, then life starts to make sense. Even the physical world around you takes on new meaning. There is a simplicity and unity to your life that makes for poise and confidence. You are no longer living in a mysterious, threatening universe.

The uncertainty of life (v. 14a). These people were making plans for a whole year when they could not even see ahead into one day! Their attitude reminds us of the farmer in Jesus’ parable in Luke 12:16–21. The man had an abundant harvest; but his barns were too small, so he decided to build bigger barns and have greater security for the future. He said to himself, “I have plenty of grain laid up for many years. I will take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”

What was God’s reply to this man’s boasting? “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.” Life is not uncertain to God, but it is uncertain to us. Only when we are in His will can we be confident of tomorrow, for we know that He is leading us.

It is good to have goals, but goals will disappoint us if we leave God out of them. There is no point in making plans as if God does not exist because the future is in His hands. What would you like to be doing ten years from now? One year from now? Tomorrow? How will you react if God steps in and rearranges your plans? Plan ahead, but hold your plans loosely. Put God’s desires at the center of your planning; He will never disappoint you.

The brevity of life (v. 14b). This is one of the repeated themes of Scripture. To us, life seems long and we measure it in years; but in comparison to eternity, life is but a vapor. It is like the morning mist that lingers only in the early morning hours and vanishes when the sun rises. We count our years at each birthday, but God tells us to number our days (Ps. 90:12). We live one day at a time and those days rush by quickly the older we grow. Life is short no matter how many years we live. Don’t be deceived into thinking you have lots of remaining time to live for Christ, to enjoy your loved ones, or to do what you know you should.

Since life is so brief, we cannot afford merely to “spend our lives” and we certainly do not want to “waste our lives.” We must invest our lives in those things that are eternal. Live for God now! Then, no matter when your life ends, you will have fulfilled God’s plan for you.

God reveals His will in His Word, yet most people ignore the Bible. In the Bible, God gives precepts, principles, and promises that can guide us in every area of life. Knowing and obeying the Word of God is the surest way to success (Josh. 1:8; Ps. 1:3).

The frailty of man (v. 16). “As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.” Man’s boasting only covers up man’s weakness. Man proposes, but God disposes. Man cannot control future events. He has neither the wisdom to see the future nor the power to control the future. For him to boast is sin; it is making himself a god. How foolish it is for people to ignore the will of God. It is like going through the dark jungle without a map or over the stormy sea without a compass.

Disobeying God’s Will (James 4:17)

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

We tend to think doing wrong is sin, but James tells us sin is also not doing right. (These two kinds of sins are sometimes called sins of commission and sins of omission.) These people know the will of God, but choose to disobey it. This attitude expresses even more pride than does the first: “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them” (2 Peter 2:21).

Why do people who know the will of God deliberately disobey it? I have already suggested one reason: pride. Man likes to boast that he is the “master of his fate, the captain of his soul.” Man has accomplished so many marvelous things that he thinks he can do anything.

Another reason for disobedience is man’s ignorance of the nature of God’s will. He acts as though the will of God is something he can accept or reject. In reality, the will of God is not an option; it is an obligation. We cannot “take it or leave it.” Because He is the Creator and we are the creatures, we must obey Him. Because He is the Savior and Lord, and we are His children and servants, we must obey Him. To treat the will of God lightly is to invite the chastening of God in our lives.

Many people have the mistaken idea that the will of God is a formula for misery. Just the opposite is true! It is disobeying the Lord’s will that leads to misery. The Bible and human experience are both witnesses to this truth. Even if a disobedient Christian seems to escape difficulty in this life, what will he say when he faces the Lord? “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the 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” (Luke 12:47–48).

What happens to Christians who deliberately disobey the known will of God? They are chastened by their loving Father until they submit (Heb. 12:5–11). If a professed believer is not chastened, it is evidence that he has never truly been born again, but is a counterfeit. God’s chastening is an evidence of His love, not His hatred. Just as we earthly fathers spank our children to help them learn respect and obedience, so our Heavenly Father chastens His own. Though chastening is hard to take, it has a comforting truth of sonship with it.

But there is also the danger of losing heavenly rewards. In 1 Corinthians 9:24–27, Paul compared the believer to a runner in the Greek races. In order to qualify for a crown, he had to obey the rules of the game. If any contestant was found to have disobeyed the rules, he was disqualified and humiliated. The word “disqualified” in 1 Corinthians 9:27 does not refer to the loss of salvation, but the loss of reward. Disobeying God’s will today may not seem a serious thing, but it will appear very serious when the Lord returns and examines our works (Col. 3:22–25).

Don’t count on your time. It is passing! Don’t count on your possessions. They will soon belong to someone else. Don’t count on your career. It will soon be over. But count on this: eternity is rapidly approaching and only those who have taken refuge in Jesus Christ can face it.

In Part 2, we will look at the third attitude toward God’s will.

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At War with God (James 4:4–10)

fleshPreviously, we saw there are wars happening within ourselves and wars happening with each other. Today, we will discover the primary reason we are at war with ourselves and, consequently, with each other: we are at war with God. We will also discuss how this war can be stopped.

At War with God (James 4:4–10)

The root cause of every war, internal and external, is rebellion against God. At the beginning of Creation, mankind beheld perfect harmony, but sin came into the world and this led to conflict. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4) and lawlessness is rebellion against God.

How does a believer declare war against God? By being friendly with God’s enemies. James names three enemies we must not fraternize with if we want to be at peace with God.

The world (v. 4). This means, of course, human society apart from God. The whole system of things in this society of ours is anti-Christ and anti-God. Abraham was the friend of God (James 2:23); Lot was the friend of the world. Lot ended up in a war and Abraham had to rescue him (Gen. 14).

Many pastors today are terrified at the thought of offending their people. But James did not concern himself with that. He called them “adulterers and adulteresses!” They were giving to someone else the love and devotion that belonged to God and God alone. Who was this rival lover? It was the world.

Dirty hands and defiled hearts! That’s the position many Christians are occupying these days. They go to places they ought not to go. They say things they ought not to say. They do things they ought not to do.

A Christian gets involved with the world gradually. First, there is “friendship with the world.” This results in being “spotted” by the world (James 1:27), so that areas of our lives meet with the approval of the world. Friendship leads to loving the world (1 John 2:15–17) and this makes it easy to conform to the world (Rom. 12:2). The sad result is being condemned with the world (1 Cor. 11:32) our souls saved “yet as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:11–15).

Friendship with the world is compared to adultery. The believer is “married to Christ” (Rom. 7:4) and ought to be faithful to Him. The Jewish Christians who read this letter would understand this picture of “spiritual adultery” because the Prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Hosea used it when rebuking Judah for her sins (Jer. 3:1–5; Ezek. 23; Hosea 1–2). By adopting the sinful ways of the other nations and by worshiping their gods the nation of Judah committed adultery against her God.

The world is the enemy of God and whoever wills to be a friend of the world cannot be the friend of God. Neither can he or she be if they live for the flesh, for this is the second enemy James named.

The flesh (vv. 1, 5). This refers to the old nature we inherited from Adam, that which is prone to sin. The flesh is not the body. The body is not sinful; the body is neutral. The Spirit may use the body to glorify God or the flesh may use the body to serve sin. When a sinner yields to Christ, he receives a new nature within him, but the old nature is neither removed nor reformed. For this reason, there is a battle within: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other so that you do not do what you want” (Gal. 5:17).

Living for the flesh means grieving the Holy Spirit of God who lives in us (v. 5). Just as the world is the enemy of God the Father, so the flesh is the enemy of God the Holy Spirit. There is a holy, loving jealousy that a husband and wife have over each other and rightly so. The Spirit within jealously guards our relationship to God and the Spirit is grieved when we sin against God’s love.

Living to please the old nature means to declare war against God. “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rom. 8:7). To allow the flesh to control the mind is to lose the blessing of fellowship with God. Abraham had a spiritual mind; he walked with God and enjoyed peace. Lot had a carnal mind; he disobeyed God and experienced war. “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).

The devil (vv. 6–7). The world is in conflict with the Father; the flesh fights against the Holy Spirit; and the devil opposes the Son of God. Pride is Satan’s great sin and it is one of his chief weapons in his warfare against the saint and the Savior. God wants us to be humble; Satan wants us to be proud. “You will be like God,” Satan promised Eve and she believed him. A new Christian must not be put into places of spiritual leadership “lest being lifted up with pride he falls into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6).

God wants us to depend on His grace, but the devil wants us to depend on ourselves. Satan is the author of all “do-it-yourself” spiritual enterprises. He enjoys inflating the ego and encouraging the believer to do it his own way. In spite of Jesus’ warnings about Satan’s plans, Peter fell into the snare, pulled out his sword, and tried to accomplish God’s will in his own way. What a mess he made of things!

One of the problems in our churches today is we have too many celebrities and not enough servants. Christian workers are promoted so much there is very little place left for God’s glory. Man has nothing to be proud of in himself. There dwells no good thing in us (Rom. 7:18); but when we trust Christ, He puts a “good thing” in us and makes us His children (2 Tim. 1:6, 14).

Here, then, are three enemies that want to turn us away from God: the world, the flesh, and the devil. These enemies are left over from our old life of sin (Eph. 2:1–3). Christ has delivered us from them, but they still attack us. How can we overcome them? How can we be the friends of God and the enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil?

James gave three instructions to follow if we would enjoy peace instead of war:

Submit to God (v. 7). This word is a military term that means “get into your proper rank.” When a buck private acts like the general, there is going to be trouble! Unconditional surrender is the only way to complete victory. If there is any area of the life kept back from God, there will always be battles. This explains why uncommitted Christians cannot live with themselves or with other people.

Is there anything more vexing than a child who refuses to submit to his or her parents? When told to do something, the child obstinately refuses. When told not to do something, he immediately does it! We all detest rebellion in children, especially when we see it coming from children who have exceptionally good parents. God is our heavenly Father, yet we often rebel against Him.

“Do not give the devil a foothold,” cautions Paul in Ephesians 4:27. Satan needs a foothold in our lives if he is going to fight against God and we give him that foothold. The way to resist the devil is to submit to God.

After King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed her husband, he hid his sins for almost a year. There was war between him and God, and David had declared it. Read Psalms 32 and 51 to discover the high price David paid to be at war with God. When he finally submitted to God, David experienced peace and joy. Submission is an act of the will; it is saying, “Not my will but Thine be done.”

Draw near to God (v. 8). How do we do this? By confessing our sins and asking for His cleansing. “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” The Greek word translated purify means “make chaste.” This parallels the idea of “spiritual adultery” in James 4:4.

The more we are like God, the nearer we are to God. I may be sitting in my living room with my cat on my lap and my wife may be twenty feet away in the kitchen; yet I am nearer to my wife than to the cat because the cat is unlike me. We have little in common.

God graciously draws near to us when we deal with the sin in our lives, which keep Him at a distance. He will not share us with anyone else; He must have complete control. The double-minded Christian can never be close to God. Again, Abraham and Lot come to mind. Abraham “drew near” and talked to God about Sodom (Gen. 18:23) while Lot moved into Sodom and lost the blessing of God.

Humble yourselves before God (vv. 9–10). “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.” Few verses of Scripture are looked upon with less favor than these. This is the day of lightness and frivolity, a day in which we prize laughter so much that we have turned it into an idol. We prize it so much that we regard as good anything that makes us laugh.

James is not calling for his readers to be joyless and miserable. But he is clearly telling them that our sins are not things we should be laughing about. James wants us to be happy Christians, but he also wants us to understand that any joy which co-exists with a worldly spirit and practice, and includes the assurance of being right with God, is a dangerous mirage. Gloom is not a Christian characteristic, but mourning over our sin is. Why should we mourn over our sins? Because (1) they defy the authority of the God who has made us; (2) they grievously impede the work of the Lord; (3) they rob us of true joy.

It is possible to submit outwardly and yet not be humbled inwardly. God hates the sin of pride (Prov. 6:16–17) and He will chasten the proud believer until he is humbled. We have a tendency to treat sin too lightly, but sin is serious. One mark of true humility is facing the seriousness of sin and dealing with our disobedience. “A broken and contrite heart You, God, will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).

Sometimes we hear a believer pray, “O Lord, humble me!” That is a dangerous thing to pray. Far better that we humble ourselves before God, confess our sins, weep over them, and turn from them. “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at My word” (Isa. 66:2). “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18).

We have looked, then, at James’s prescription for getting back to where we as Christians should be. If we obey these three instructions, then God will draw near to us, cleanse us, and forgive us; and the wars will cease! We will not be at war with God, so we will not be at war with ourselves. This means we will not be at war with others either. “And the work of righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and assurance forever” (Isa. 32:17).

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At War with Ourselves and Each Other (James 4)

Kids-FightingWar is a fact of life, in spite of treaties, world peace organizations, and the threat of atomic bombs. Not only are there wars between nations, but there are wars of one kind or another on almost every level of life—even “interpersonal wars” among those in the church! James discussed this important theme of war and explained there are three wars going on in the world. He also told how these wars could be stopped.

At War with Each Other (James 4:1a, 11–12)

“What causes fights and quarrels among you?” Among Christians! Surely, brethren should live together in love and harmony, yet often they do not. Lot caused a quarrel with his Uncle Abraham (Gen. 13). Absalom created a war for his father David (2 Sam. 13–18). Even the disciples created problems for the Lord when they argued over who was the greatest in the kingdom (Luke 9:46–48).

When you examine some of the early churches, you discover they had their share of disagreements. The members of the Corinthian church were competing with each other in the public meetings and even suing each other in court (1 Cor. 6:1–8; 14:23–40). The Galatian believers were “biting and devouring” one another (Gal. 5:15). Paul had to admonish the Ephesians to cultivate spiritual unity (Eph. 4:1–16); and even his beloved church at Philippi had problems: two women could not get along with each other (Phil. 4:1–3).

James mentioned several different kinds of disagreements among the saints:

Class wars (2:1–9). Here is that age-long rivalry between the rich and the poor. The rich man gets the attention; the poor man is ignored. The rich man is honored; the poor man is disgraced. How tragic it is when local churches get their values confused and cater to the rich while they ignore or even reject the poor. If fellowship in a church depends on such external things as clothing and economic status, then the church is out of the will of God.

Employment wars (5:1–6). Again, it is the rich man who has the power to control and hurt the poor man. Laborers do not get their wages or they do not get their fair wages. In spite of our modern labor movement and federal legislation, there are still many people who cannot get a good job or whose income is less than adequate for the work they are doing.

Church fights (1:19–20; 3:13–18). Apparently, the believers James wrote to were at war with each other over positions in the church, many of them wanting to be teachers and leaders. When they studied the Word, the result was not edification, but strife and arguments. Each person thought his ideas were the only right ideas and his ways the only right ways. Selfish ambition ruled their meetings, not spiritual submission.

Personal wars (4:11–12). The saints were speaking evil of one another and judging one another. Here, again, we see the wrong use of the tongue. Christians are to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15); they are not to speak evil in a spirit of rivalry and criticism. If the truth about a brother is harmful, then we should cover it in love and not repeat it (1 Peter 4:8). If he has sinned, we should go to him personally and try to win him back (Matt. 18:15–19; Gal. 6:1–2).

James was not forbidding us to use discrimination or even to evaluate people. Christians need to have discernment (Phil. 1:9–10), but they must not act like God in passing judgment. We must first examine our own lives and then try to help others (Matt. 7:1–5). We never know all the facts in a case and we certainly never know the motives that are at work in men’s hearts. To speak evil of a brother and to judge him on the basis of partial evidence and (probably) unkind motives is to sin against him and against God. We are not called to be judges; God is the only Judge. He is patient and understanding; His judgments are just and holy; we can leave the matter with Him.

It is unfortunate the saints are at war with each other: leader against leader, church against church, fellowship against fellowship. The world watches these religious wars and says, “Behold, how they hate one another!” No wonder Jesus prayed, “That all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe You have sent Me” (John 17:21).

But, why are we at war with one another? We belong to the same family; we trust the same Savior; we are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit—and yet we fight one another. Why? James answered this question by explaining the second war that is going on.

At War with Ourselves (James 4:1b–3)

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (v. 1) The war in the heart is helping to cause the wars in the church! “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).

The essence of sin is selfishness. Eve disobeyed God because she wanted to eat of the tree and become wise like God (Gen. 3). Abraham lied about his wife because he selfishly wanted to save his own life (Gen. 12:10–20). Achan caused defeat to Israel because he selfishly took some forbidden loot from the ruins of Jericho (Josh. 7). “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way” (Isa. 53:6).

Often, we veil our religious quarrels under the disguise of “spirituality.” We are like Miriam and Aaron who complained about Moses’ wife, but who really were envious of Moses’ authority (Num. 12). Or we imitate James and John who asked for special thrones in the kingdom, when what we really want is recognition today (Mark 10:35–45). In both of these instances the result of selfish desire was chastening and division among God’s people. Miriam’s sin halted the progress of Israel for a whole week!

Selfish desires are dangerous things. They lead to wrong actions (“you kill, fight, and war,” v. 2) and they even lead to wrong praying (“When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives that you may spend what you get on your pleasures,” James 4:3). When our praying is wrong, our whole Christian life is wrong. It has well been said that the purpose of prayer is not to get man’s will done in heaven, but to get God’s will done on earth.

“Thou shalt not covet” is the last of God’s Ten Commandments, but its violation can make us break all of the other nine! Covetousness can make a person murder, tell lies, dishonor his parents, commit adultery, and in one way or another violate all of God’s moral law. Selfish living and selfish praying always lead to war. If there is war on the inside, there will ultimately be war on the outside.

People who are at war with themselves because of selfish desires are always unhappy people. They never enjoy life. Instead of being thankful for the blessings they do have, they complain about the blessings they do not have. They cannot get along with other people because they are always envying others for what they have and do. They are always looking for that “magic something” that will change their lives when the real problem is within their own hearts.

Sometimes, we use prayer as a cloak to hide our true desires. “But I prayed about it!” can be one of the biggest excuses a Christian can use. Instead of seeking God’s will, we tell God what He is supposed to do and we get angry at Him if He does not obey. This anger at God eventually spills over and we get angry at God’s people. More than one church split has been caused by saints who take out their frustrations with God on the members of the church. Many church or family problems would be solved if people would only look into their own hearts and see the battles raging there.

In my next article, we will discover the primary reason we are at war with ourselves and, consequently, with each other: we are at war with God.

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Man’s Wisdom Vs. God’s Wisdom: Part 3 (James 3:13–18)

man reading bibleIn Part 1, we learned there is a “heavenly wisdom” that comes from God and a “man-made wisdom” that comes from the world. In Part 2, we saw the contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the operation of the world’s wisdom. Today, we will look at the result of God’s wisdom versus the result of the world’s wisdom.

Contrast in Outcomes (James 3:16, 18)

For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find confusion and every evil practice… Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Origin determines outcome. Worldly wisdom will produce worldly results; spiritual wisdom will give spiritual results.

Worldly wisdom produces trouble (v. 16). “Envy, selfish ambition [strife], confusion, and evil works.” It does not appear God was at work in that assembly (in chapter 4, James would deal with the “wars and fighting” among the believers). Wrong thinking produces wrong living. One reason the world is in such a mess is because men have refused to accept the wisdom of God.

The word translated “confusion” means “disorder that comes from instability.” It is related to “unstable” in James 1:8 and “unruly” in James 3:8. Read 2 Corinthians 12:20 and you will get a description of a church that is confused. Jesus used this word to describe the convulsions of the world in the last days (Luke 21:9).

Jealousy, competition, selfish ambition—all of these contribute to confusion. The Tower of Babel in Genesis 11 is a good illustration of this fact. From man’s point of view the building of the tower was a wise thing, but from God’s viewpoint the project was stupid and sinful. The result? Confusion. Even today, we use the word “babel” to mean “confusion.”

Confusion sets the stage for “every evil work” (3:16). Evil here means “worthless, of no account.” It reminds us of the “wood, hay, and stubble” of 1 Corinthians 3:12. A ministry operating in the wisdom of this world may appear to be great and successful, but in the Day of Judgment it will burn up. The church at Smyrna thought it was poor, but the Lord said it was rich; while the “rich church” at Laodicea was declared to be poor (Rev. 2:9; 3:14–22).

The most important thing we can do in our local churches is measure our ministries by the Word of God, not by the wisdom of men. The many battles among Christians, the church splits, the absence of purity and peace, all suggest that something is wrong. Perhaps that “something” is the absence of the wisdom of God.

God’s wisdom produces blessing (v. 18). There is a vast difference between man-made results and God-given fruit. Fruit is the product of life and fruit has in it the seeds for more fruit. We usually speak of the seed that is sown, but here it is the fruit that is sown. As we share the fruit of God with others, they are fed and satisfied, and they in turn bear fruit.

The Christian life is a life of sowing and reaping. For that matter, every life is a life of sowing and reaping, and we reap just what we sow. The Christian who obeys God’s wisdom sows righteousness, not sin; he sows peace, not war. The life we live enables the Lord to bring righteousness and peace into the lives of others.

What we are is what we live and what we live is what we sow. What we sow determines what we reap. If we live in God’s wisdom, we sow righteousness and peace, and we reap God’s blessing. If we live in man’s worldly wisdom, we sow sin and war, and we reap “confusion and every evil work.”

It is a serious thing to be a troublemaker in God’s family. One of the sins God hates is that of sowing “discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:16–19). Lot followed the world’s wisdom and brought trouble to the camp of Abraham, but Abraham followed God’s wisdom and brought peace. Lot’s decision led to “good-for-nothing works,” and everything he lived for went up in smoke at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s decision, in the wisdom of God, led to blessings for his own household and ultimately for the whole world (Gen. 13). “Blessed are those who find wisdom, those who gain understanding” (Prov. 3:13).

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Man’s Wisdom Vs. God’s Wisdom: Part 2 (James 3:13–18)

understandingIn Part 1, we saw there is a “heavenly wisdom” that comes from God and a “man-made wisdom” that comes from the world. Today, we will look at the contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the world’s wisdom.

Contrast in Operations (James 3:13–14, 17)

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.

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.

The wisdom from above, God’s wisdom, operates in a different way from the world’s wisdom. Since they originate from radically different sources, they must operate in opposite ways. What are the evidences of false wisdom?

Envy (v. 14a). This word carries the meaning of selfish ambition and zeal. It ties in with James 3:1, where James warned them not to be ambitious for spiritual offices. The wisdom of the world says, “Promote yourself. You’re just as good as the other candidates, maybe better! The wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the grease.” Sad to say, there is a great deal of selfish, carnal promotion among God’s people. Even the Apostles argued over who was the greatest in the kingdom.

It is easy to go on an ego trip under the guise of spiritual zeal. The Pharisees used their religious activities to promote the praise of men (Matt. 6:1–18). We ought to be zealous in the things of the Lord, but we must be sure our motives are right. The wisdom of this world exalts man and robs God of glory. In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul discussed the wisdom of God and the wisdom of this world, and he explained why God works as He does: “so that no one may boast before Him” (1 Cor. 1:29). He concluded the section with the admonition, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:31).

Is our zeal for the Lord spiritual or carnal? Do we rejoice when others succeed, or do we have secret envy and criticism? Do we feel burdened when others fail or are we glad? When the wisdom of the world gets into the church, there is a great deal of fleshly promotion and human glorification. Beware!

Selfish ambition (v. 14b). This word means “party spirit.” It was used by the Greeks to describe a politician out canvassing for votes. The world’s wisdom says, “Get all the support you can! Ask the people in the church if they are for you or against you!” Of course, this spirit of self-seeking only creates rivalry and division in the church. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).

Boasting (v. 14c). Pride loves to boast and nothing is prouder than the wisdom of men. There is a way to report blessings so that God gets the glory, but there is also an approach that gives men the praise. It is tragic to see mutual admiration societies among God’s people. When God’s wisdom is at work, there is a sense of humility and submission, and you want God to get all the glory. You have no desire to compare yourself with any other Christian because you see only Christ—and compared with Him, all of us still have a long way to go!

Deceit (v. 14d). “Do not lie against the truth.” The sequence is not difficult to understand. First, there is selfish ambition that leads to strife and boasting. In order to “win the election,” we must resort to boasting; and boasting usually involves lies! A man’s life is not read in his press releases; it is read by the Lord in his heart. “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God” (1 Cor. 4:5). What a relief it is to turn to the evidences of true spiritual wisdom!

What are the evidences of God’s wisdom?

Humility or Meekness (v. 13). Meekness is not weakness; it is power under control. The meek person does not selfishly assert himself. The Greek word was used for a horse that had been broken so that his power was under control. The meek person seeks only the glory of God and does not cater to the praises of men. Meekness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23); it cannot be manufactured by man. There is a false humility that some people mistake for meekness, but it is only counterfeit. Meekness is the right use of power and wisdom is the right use of knowledge. They go together. The truly wise person will show in his “daily life” (behavior) that he is a child of God. Attitude and action go together.

Purity (v. 17a). “First pure” indicates the importance of holiness. God is holy; therefore the wisdom from above is pure. The idea behind this word is “chaste, free from defilement.” James used it again in James 4:8—“purify your hearts” or “make chaste your hearts.” God’s wisdom leads to purity of life. Man’s wisdom may lead to sin. There is a spiritual purity that results in a chaste relationship with the Lord (2 Cor. 11:3); and there is a worldliness that makes the person a spiritual adulterer (James 4:4).

Peace (v. 17b). Man’s wisdom leads to competition, rivalry, and war (James 4:1–2); but God’s wisdom leads to peace. It is a peace based on holiness, not on compromise. God never has “peace at any price.” The peace of the church is not more important than the purity of the church. If the church is pure, devoted to God, then there will be peace. “The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isa. 32:17). The church can never have peace by sweeping sins under the rug and pretending they are not there. Man’s wisdom says, “Cover up sin! Keep things together!” God’s wisdom says, “Confess sin and My peace will keep things together!”

Gentleness (v. 17c). A pastor translated this “sweet reasonableness.” This carries the meaning of moderation without compromise, gentleness without weakness. The gentle person does not deliberately cause fights, but neither does he compromise the truth in order to keep peace. Abraham Lincoln has been described as a man of “velvet steel.” That is a good description of gentleness.

Submissive or Compliant (v. 17d). God’s wisdom makes the believer agreeable, and easy to live with and work with. Man’s wisdom makes a person hard and stubborn. The compliant person is willing to hear all sides of a question, but he does not compromise his own convictions. He can disagree without being disagreeable. He is “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Many people think that stubbornness is conviction and they must have their own way. When God’s wisdom is at work, there is a willingness to listen, think, pray, and obey whatever God reveals. “Yielding to persuasion” is another translation of this word.

Full of Mercy (v. 17e). To be “full” of something means to be “controlled by.” The person who follows God’s wisdom is controlled by mercy. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). God in His grace gives us what we do not deserve and in His mercy, He does not give us what we do deserve. Our Lord’s Parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates the meaning of mercy (Luke 10:25–37). For a Samaritan to care for a Jewish stranger was an act of mercy. He could gain nothing from it, except the blessing that comes from doing the will of God; and the victim could not pay him back. That is mercy.

Good fruits (v. 17f). People who are faithful are fruitful. God’s wisdom does not make a life empty; it makes it full. The Spirit produces fruit to the glory of God (John 15:1–16). The lawyer in Luke 10:25–37 was willing to discuss the subject of neighborliness, but he was unwilling to be a neighbor and help someone else. God’s wisdom is practical; it changes the life and produces good works to the glory of God.

Decisive (v. 17g). The word suggests singleness of mind and is the opposite of “wavering” (James 1:6). When you lean on the world’s wisdom, you are pressured from one side and then another to change your mind or take a new viewpoint. When you have God’s wisdom, you need not waver; you can be decisive and not be afraid. Wisdom from above brings strength from above.

Sincerity (v. 17h). The Greek word translated hypocrite in our New Testament means “one who wears a mask, an actor.” When man’s wisdom is at work, there may be insincerity and pretense. When God’s wisdom is at work, there is openness and honesty, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Wherever you find God’s people pretending and hiding, you can be sure the wisdom of this world is governing their ministry. “Religious politics” is an abomination to God. “Faith is living without scheming.”

There is quite a contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the operation of the world’s wisdom. It would be profitable for church officers and leaders to evaluate their own lives and their ministries in light of what James has written. While the local church is an organization, it cannot depend on the “Madison Avenue” methods that make secular businesses succeed. God’s ways and God’s thoughts are far above us! “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us” (1 Cor. 2:12).

In Part 3, we will look at the contrast in outcomes between God’s wisdom and the wisdom of the world.

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Man’s Wisdom Vs. God’s Wisdom: Part 1 (James 3:13-18)

road_to_wisdomWisdom was an important thing to Jewish people. They realized it was not enough to have knowledge; you had to have wisdom to be able to use that knowledge correctly. All of us know people who are very intelligent, perhaps almost geniuses, and yet who seemingly are unable to carry out the simplest tasks of life. They can run computers, but they cannot manage their own lives! “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore, get wisdom” (Prov. 4:7).

James continued to exhort the people in the assembly who wanted to be teachers of the Word (James 3:1). It is not enough simply to stand before the people and say words; you must have something to say. This is where spiritual wisdom comes in. Knowledge enables us to take things apart, but wisdom enables us to put things together and relate God’s truth to daily life. All of us have heard preachers and teachers who say many good things, but who somehow miss the heart of God’s message and fail to relate truth to everyday life. It is this kind of “knowledge without wisdom” that James is writing about. He is contrasting true wisdom and false wisdom in three different aspects.

Contrast in Origins (James 3:15, 17a)

Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, sensual, and demonic.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is…

The true wisdom comes from above, but the false wisdom comes from below. In other words, there is a “heavenly wisdom” that comes from God, and there is a “man-made wisdom” that does not come from God. Whatever does not come from God is destined to fail, no matter how successful it may seem at the time.

The Bible contains many examples of the folly of man’s wisdom. The building of the Tower of Babel seemed like a wise enterprise, but it ended in failure and confusion (Gen. 11:1–9). It seemed wise for Abraham to go to Egypt when famine came to Canaan, but the results proved otherwise (Gen. 12:10–20). King Saul thought it was wise to put his own armor on young David for the boy’s battle with Goliath, but God’s plan was otherwise (1 Sam. 17:38). The disciples thought it was wise to dismiss the great crowd and let them find their own food; but Jesus took a few loaves and fish and fed the multitude. The Roman “experts” in Acts 27 thought it was wise to leave port and set sail for Rome, even though Paul disagreed; and the storm that followed proved Paul’s wisdom was better than their expert counsel. They lived to regret it, but they lived!

There is a “wisdom of this world” (1 Cor. 1:20–21). Do not confuse the world’s knowledge and the world’s wisdom. Certainly, there is a great deal of knowledge in this world, and we all benefit from it; but there is not much wisdom. Man unlocks the secrets of the universe, but he does not know what to do with them. Almost everything he discovers or devises turns against him. Over a century ago, Henry David Thoreau warned that we had “improved means to unimproved ends.”

The world by its wisdom knew not God, and in its wisdom rejects the very Gospel of God. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Any person enamored with the wisdom of this world ought to read the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians and notice how much Paul has to say about God’s wisdom and man’s wisdom. Man’s wisdom is foolishness to God (1 Cor. 1:20) and God’s wisdom is foolishness to man (1 Cor. 2:14). Man’s wisdom comes from reason, while God’s wisdom comes from revelation. Man’s worldly wisdom will come to nothing (1 Cor. 1:19), while God’s wisdom will endure forever.

This false wisdom has another source: it is “sensual,” that is, “natural.” The Greek word is psukikos, which comes from the Greek word psuke meaning “life” or “soul.” Our English word “psychology” is derived from it. In 1 Corinthians 2:14; 15:44, 46, psukikos is translated “natural,” referring to the opposite of “spiritual.” In Jude 19 it is translated “sensual.” The main idea is that man’s fallen nature is opposed to the new nature given by God.

This “wisdom that is from beneath” is also “demonic.” Beginning with Genesis 3, where Satan successfully deceived Eve and continuing through the entire Bible, there is a “wisdom of Satan” at work, fighting against the wisdom of God. Satan convinced Eve that she would be like God. He told her the tree would make her wise. Ever since that event people have continued to believe Satan’s lies and have tried to become their own gods (Rom. 1:18–25). Satan is cunning; he is the old serpent! He has wisdom that will confound and confuse you if you do not know the wisdom of God.

In contrast to the wisdom that is earthly, sensual, and demonic, James describes a “wisdom that is from above” (3:17). “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). The Christian looks up to heaven for all he needs. His citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20), just as his Father is in heaven (Matt. 6:9). His treasures are in heaven, not on earth (Matt. 6:19). He was born from above (John 3:1–7) when he trusted Jesus Christ. The believer’s home is in heaven (John 14:1–6) and his hope is in heaven. He sets his affection and attention on things above, not on earthly things (Col. 3:1–4).

What is the Christian’s wisdom? Does he look to the philosophies of this world? No! To begin with, Jesus Christ is our wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24, 30). In Jesus Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). The first step toward true wisdom is the receiving of Jesus Christ as Savior.

The Word of God is also our wisdom. “I have taught you decrees and laws … Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations” (Deut. 4:5–6). The Scriptures are able to make us “wise for salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15).

James 1:5 indicates we find wisdom through believing prayer: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” The Holy Spirit of God is “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Eph. 1:17) and He directs us in the wisest paths as we trust His Word and pray.

The origin of true spiritual wisdom is God. To get your wisdom from any other source is to ask for trouble. There is no need to get the counterfeit wisdom of the world, the wisdom that caters to the flesh and accomplishes the work of the devil. Get your wisdom from God!

In Part 2, we will look at the contrast between the operation of God’s wisdom and the operation of the world’s wisdom.

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The World’s Smallest But Largest Troublemaker: Part 2 (James 3:5–12)

tame-the-tongueIn Part 1, we learned the tongue has the power to direct. Today, we will look at two more powers of the tongue.

Power to Destroy: the Fire and Animal (James 3:5–8)

Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James compares the damage a tongue can do to a raging fire. Like a fire the tongue can “heat things up.” David wrote: “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin… my heart grew hot within me, while I meditated the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue” (Ps. 39:1, 3). Have you ever had that experience? A hot head and a hot heart can lead to burning words that later we will regret. David had a temper and he needed God’s help in controlling it. No wonder Solomon wrote, “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint and whoever has understanding is even-tempered” (Prov. 17:27). “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly” (Prov. 14:29).

Fire burns and hurts, and our words can burn and hurt. One of the sorrows our Lord had to bear when He was here on earth was the way His enemies talked about Him. They called Him a “glutton and a drunkard” (Matt. 11:19) because He graciously accepted invitations to dine with people the Pharisees did not like. When He performed miracles, they said He was in league with Satan. Even when He was dying on the cross, His enemies could not let Him alone, but threw vicious taunts into His face.

Fire spreads, and the more fuel you give it the faster and farther it will spread. The tongue “sets the whole course of one’s life on fire” (3:6). All of life is connected like a wheel and therefore, we cannot keep things from spreading. A person’s entire life can be injured or destroyed by the tongue. Time does not correct the sins of the tongue. We may confess our sins of speech, but the fire keeps on spreading.

The uncontrolled tongue can do terrible damage. Satan uses the tongue to divide people and pit them against one another. Idle and hateful words are damaging because they spread destruction quickly, and no one can stop the results once they are spoken. We dare not be careless with what we say, thinking we can apologize later because even if we do the scars remain. A few words spoken in anger can destroy a relationship that took years to build.

As it spreads, fire destroys; and the words we speak have the power to destroy. Our own words may not have caused wars or wrecked cities, but they can break hearts and ruin reputations. They can also destroy souls by sending them into eternity without Christ. How important it is for us to let our speech “be always full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). Fiery words can defile a home, a Sunday School class, a church. The only thing that can wash away that defilement is the blood of Jesus Christ.

Not only is the tongue like a fire, but it is also like a dangerous animal. It is restless and cannot be ruled (unruly), and it seeks its prey and then pounces and kills. My wife and I once drove through a safari park, admiring the animals as they moved about in their natural habitat. But there were warning signs posted all over the park: DO NOT LEAVE YOUR CAR! DO NOT OPEN YOUR WINDOWS! Those “peaceful animals” were capable of doing great damage and even killing.

Some animals are poisonous and some tongues spread poison. The deceptive thing about poison is that it works secretly and slowly, and then kills. How many times has some malicious person injected a bit of poison into the conversation, hoping it would spread and finally get to the person he or she wanted to hurt? As a pastor, I have seen poisonous tongues do great damage to individuals, families, classes, and entire churches. Would you turn hungry lions or angry snakes loose in your Sunday morning service? Of course not! But unruly tongues accomplish the same results.

The tongue cannot be tamed by man, but it can be tamed by God. Your tongue need not be “set on fire by hell” (3:6). Like the Apostles at Pentecost, it can be set on fire from heaven! If God lights the fire and controls it, then the tongue can be a mighty tool for the winning of the lost and the building up of the church. The important thing, of course, is the heart; for it is “out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). If the heart is filled with hatred, Satan will light the fire, but if the heart is filled with love, God will light the fire.

Power to Delight: the Fountain and Tree (James 3:9–12)

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same fountain? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

The fountain or spring provides the cool water that man needs to stay alive. In Oriental countries, the presence of a freshwater fountain is a great blessing to a village. Man needs water not only for drinking, but also for washing, cooking, farming, and a host of other activities so necessary to life.

We could not be healthy without water. Paul’s prayer was that he might “refresh” the saints in Rome when he came to them (Rom. 15:32). He often named Christians who had refreshed him (1 Cor. 16:18; Phile. 7, 20). Water is life-giving and our words can give life. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21).

Our words can help to shelter and encourage a weary traveler, and can help to feed a hungry soul. “The lips of the righteous nourish many” (Prov. 10:21). Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63). As we share His Word with others, we feed them and encourage them along the way.

Water also cleanses. There was a laver in the Old Testament tabernacle and temple, provided for the cleansing of the priests’ hands and feet. God’s Word is the spiritual water that cleanses us (John 15:3; Eph. 5:26–27). Our words to others can also help to cleanse and sanctify them. Our words ought to be like that river described in Ezekiel 47 that brought life to everything it touched.

The tongue is also delightful because it is like a tree. The most important thing about a tree is the root system. If the roots do not go down deep the tree will not grow in a healthy manner. If we are rooted in the things of the Lord, then our words will be the fruit of our fellowship with Him. We will be like that “blessed man” in Psalm 1 and produce fruit in due season.

One reason our Lord was able to say the right words at the right times was because He communed with His Father and heard from heaven each day. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed” (Mark 1:35). If you and I are going to have tongues that delight, then we must meet with the Lord each day and learn from Him. We must get our “spiritual roots” deep into His Word. We must pray and meditate and permit the Spirit of God to fill our hearts with God’s love and truth.

If the tongue is inconsistent, there is something radically wrong with the heart. I heard about a professing Christian who got angry on the job and let loose with some swear words. Embarrassed, he turned to his coworker and said, “I don’t know why I said that. It really isn’t in me.” His coworker wisely replied, “It had to be in you or it couldn’t have come out of you.” When Peter was out of fellowship with Christ, he uttered some distasteful words; but he went out and wept bitterly and confessed his sins.

The tongue that blesses the Father, and then turns around and curses men made in God’s image is in desperate need of spiritual medicine! How easy it is to sing songs during the worship service, and then after the service get into the family car and argue and fight all the way home!

The problem, of course, is not the tongue; it is the heart. It is easy to have “bitter envy and selfish ambition” in our hearts (James 3:14). “The things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart and these defile them” (Matt. 15:18). “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Prov. 4:23). As we fill our hearts with God’s Word and yield to the Holy Spirit, He can use us to bring delight to others, and we will be refreshing fountains and trees.

Yes, the smallest but largest troublemaker in all the world is the tongue. But it does not have to be a troublemaker! God can use our tongues to direct others into the way of life and to delight them in the trials of life. The tongue is a little member, but it has great power. Give God your tongue and your heart each day, and ask Him to use you to be a blessing to others.

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The World’s Smallest But Largest Troublemaker: Part 1 (James 3:1–4)

big_tongueJames has explained to us two characteristics of the mature Christian: he is patient in trouble (James 1) and he practices the truth (James 2). In this section, he shares the third characteristic of the mature believer: he has power over his tongue.

A pastor friend told me about a member of his church who was a notorious gossip. She would “hang on the phone” most of the day, sharing tidbits with any and all who would listen.

She came to the pastor one day and said, “Pastor, the Lord has convicted me of my sin of gossip. My tongue is getting me and others into trouble.”

My friend knew she was not sincere because she had gone through that routine before. Guardedly he asked, “Well, what do you plan to do?”

“I want to put my tongue on the altar,” she replied with pious fervor.

Calmly my friend replied, “There isn’t an altar big enough” and he left her to think it over.

The Christians James wrote to were apparently having serious problems with their tongues. James had warned them to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). The believer who does not control his tongue is not truly religious (James 1:26). We must speak and act as though we were already facing Christ in judgment (James 2:12). When you read passages like James 4:1, 11–12, you get the impression that this assembly must have had some interesting meetings!

The power of speech is one of the greatest powers God has given us. With the tongue, man can praise God, pray, preach the Word, and lead the lost to Christ. What a privilege! But with that same tongue, he can tell lies that could ruin a man’s reputation or break a person’s heart. The ability to speak words is the ability to influence others and accomplish tremendous tasks; and yet we take this ability for granted.

In order to impress on us the importance of controlled speech and the great consequences of our words, James gave us six pictures of the tongue: the bit, the rudder, fire, a poisonous animal, a fountain, and a fig tree. We can put these six pictures into three meaningful classifications that reveal the three powers of the tongue.

Power to Direct: the Bit and Rudder (James 3:1–4)

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.

Apparently, everybody in the assembly wanted to teach and be a spiritual leader for James had to warn them: “Not many of you should become teachers” (3:1). Perhaps they were impressed with the authority and prestige of the office, and forgot about the tremendous responsibility and accountability! Those who teach the Word face the stricter judgment. Teachers must use their tongue to share God’s truth and it is easy to commit sins of the tongue. Furthermore, teachers must practice what they teach; otherwise, their teaching is hypocrisy. Think of the damage that can be done by a teacher who is unprepared or whose spiritual life is not up to par.

But teachers are not the only ones who are tempted and sin; every Christian must admit that “we all stumble in many ways” (3:2). And sins of the tongue seem to head the list. The person who is able to discipline his tongue gives evidence he can control his whole body. He proves that he is a mature (perfect) man.

Is James making a mistake by connecting sins of the tongue with sins committed by “the whole body”? No, because words usually lead to deeds. During World War II, people were accustomed to seeing posters that read LOOSE LIPS SINK SHIPS! But loose lips also wreck lives. A person makes an unguarded statement and suddenly finds himself involved in a fight. His tongue has forced the rest of his body to defend itself.

In selecting the bit and the rudder, James presented two items that are small of themselves, yet exercise great power, just like the tongue. A small bit enables the rider to control the great horse and a small rudder enables the captain to steer the huge ship. The tongue is a small member in the body and yet it has the power to accomplish great things.

Both the bit and the rudder must overcome contrary forces. The bit must overcome the wild nature of the horse, and the rudder must fight the winds and currents that would drive the ship off its course. The human tongue also must overcome contrary forces. We have an old nature that wants to control us and make us sin. There are circumstances around us that would make us say things we ought not to say. Sin on the inside and pressures on the outside are seeking to get control of the tongue.

This means both the bit and the rudder must be under the control of a strong hand. The expert horseman keeps the mighty power of his steed under control and the experienced pilot courageously steers the ship through the storm. When Jesus Christ controls the tongue, then we need not fear saying the wrong things—or even saying the right things in a wrong way! “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” warned Solomon (Prov. 18:21). No wonder David prayed, “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil” (Ps. 141:3–4). David knew that the heart is the key to right speech. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). When Jesus is the Lord of the heart, then He is Lord of the lips too.

The bit and rudder have the power to direct, which means they affect the lives of others. A runaway horse or a shipwreck could mean injury or death to pedestrians or passengers. The words we speak affect the lives of others. A judge says “Guilty!” or “Not Guilty!” and those words affect the destiny of the prisoner, his family, and his friends. The President of the United States speaks a few words and signs some papers, and the nation is at war. Even a simple yes or no from the lips of a parent can greatly affect the direction of a child’s life.

Never underestimate the guidance you give by the words you speak or do not speak. Jesus spoke to a woman at a well, and her life and the lives of her neighbors experienced a miraculous change (John 4). Peter preached at Pentecost and 3,000 souls came to salvation through faith in Christ (Acts 2).

On April 21, 1855, Edward Kimball went into a Boston shoe store and led young Dwight L. Moody to Christ. The result: one of history’s greatest evangelists, a man whose ministry still continues. The tongue has the power to direct others to the right choices.

It would do us all good to read frequently the Book of Proverbs and to note especially the many references to speech. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 12:22). “Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues” (Prov. 10:19). Yes, the tongue is like a bit and a rudder: it has the power to direct. How important it is that our tongues direct people in the right way!

In Part 2, we will look at two more powers of the tongue.

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Dynamic Faith (James 2:20–26)

Faith that WorksIn our previous study, we learned there are three kinds of faith, only one of which is true saving faith. Today, we will take a closer look at this saving faith.

Dynamic Faith (James 2:20–26)

You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father 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 considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. 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.

Dynamic faith is faith that is real, faith that has power, and faith that results in a changed life. James described this true saving faith. To begin with, it is based on the Word of God. We receive our spiritual rebirth through God’s Word (James 1:18). We receive the Word and this saves us (James 1:21). “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). James used Abraham and Rahab as illustrations of dynamic saving faith, since both of them heard and received the message of God through His Word.

Faith is only as good as its object. The man in the jungle bows before an idol of stone and trusts it to help him, but he receives no help. No matter how much faith a person may generate, if it is not directed at the right object, it will accomplish nothing. “I believe” may be the testimony of many sincere people, but the big question is, “In whom do you believe? What do you believe?” We are not saved by faith in faith; we are saved by faith in Christ as revealed in His Word.

Dynamic faith is based on God’s Word and it involves the whole man. Dead faith touches only the intellect; demonic faith involves both the mind and the emotions; but dynamic faith involves the will. The whole person plays a part in true saving faith. The mind understands the truth; the heart desires the truth; and the will acts upon the truth. The men and women of faith named in Hebrews 11 were people of action: God spoke and they obeyed. “Faith is not believing in spite of evidence; faith is obeying in spite of consequence.”

True saving faith leads to action. Dynamic faith is not intellectual contemplation or emotional consternation; it leads to obedience on the part of the will. This obedience is not an isolated event: it continues throughout the whole life. It leads to works.

Many different kinds of works are named in the New Testament. “The works of the Law” (Gal. 2:16) relate to the sinner’s attempt to please God by obeying the Law of Moses. Of course, it is impossible for a sinner to be saved through the works of the Law. “The works of the flesh” (Gal. 5:19) are done by unsaved people who live for the things of the old nature. There are also “wicked works” (Col. 1:21) and “dead works” (Heb. 9:14). Where there is dynamic faith—saving faith—we will always find good works.

James then illustrated his doctrine in the lives of two well-known Bible persons: Abraham and Rahab. You could not find two more different persons! Abraham was a Jew; Rahab was a Gentile. Abraham was a godly man, but Rahab was a sinful woman, a harlot. Abraham was the friend of God, while Rahab belonged to the enemies of God. What did they have in common? Both exercised saving faith in God.

God called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees to lead him into Canaan and to make out of him the great nation of Israel. It was through Israel that God would bring the Savior into the world. Abraham’s salvation experience is recorded in Genesis 15. At night, God showed His servant the stars and gave him a promise, “So shall your offspring be!” How did Abraham respond? “He believed in the Lord and He [the Lord] counted it to him for righteousness” (Gen. 15:5–6).

The word counted is a legal or financial term; it means “to put to one’s account.” As a sinner, Abraham’s spiritual bankbook was empty. He was bankrupt! But he trusted God and God put righteous on Abraham’s account. Abraham did not work for this righteousness; he received it as a gift from God. He was declared righteous by faith and was justified by faith (Rom. 4).

Justification is an important doctrine in the Bible. Justification is the act of God whereby He declares the believing sinner righteous on the basis of Christ’s finished work on the cross. It is not a process; it is an act. It is not something the sinner does; it is something God does for the sinner when he trusts Christ. It is a once-for-all event. It never changes.

How can we tell if a person is justified by faith if this transaction takes place between the sinner and God privately? Abraham’s example answers that important question: the justified person has a changed life and obeys God’s will. His faith is demonstrated by his works.

James used another event in Abraham’s life, an event that took place many years after Abraham’s conversion. This event is the offering up of Isaac on the altar (Gen. 22). Abraham was not saved by obeying God’s difficult command. His obedience proved he already was saved: “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did” (2:22). There is a perfect relationship between faith and works. As someone has expressed it, “Abraham was not saved by faith plus works, but by a faith that works.”

How was Abraham “justified by works” (2:21) when he had already been “justified by faith”? (Rom. 4) By faith, he was justified before God and his righteousness declared; by works he was justified before men and his righteousness demonstrated. It is true that no humans actually saw Abraham put his son on the altar, but the inspired record in Genesis 22 enables us to see the event and witness Abraham’s faith demonstrated by his works.

D.L. Moody often said, “Every Bible should be bound in shoe leather.” He did not say that because he had been a successful shoe salesman; he said it because he was a dedicated Christian. Dynamic faith obeys God and proves itself in daily life and works. Unfortunately, we still have church members today who fit the description given in Titus: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him” (Titus 1:16).

James’ second illustration is Rahab (her background is found in Joshua 2 and 6). Israel was about to invade their Promised Land and take the city of Jericho. Joshua sent spies into the city to get the lay of the land. There they met Rahab, a harlot, who protected them and affirmed she believed in what God said and what God was going to do. When the men departed, they promised to save her and her family when the city was taken; and this they did.

It is an exciting story and in it is one of the Bible’s great examples of saving faith (see Heb. 11:31). Rahab heard the Word and knew her city was condemned. This truth affected her and her fellow citizens, so that their hearts melted within them (Josh. 2:11). Rahab responded with her mind and her emotions; but she also responded with her will: she did something about it! She risked her own life to protect the Jewish spies and she further risked her life by sharing the good news of deliverance with the members of her family. Rahab is one of the first soul winners in the Bible, and we cannot help but compare her with the “bad Samaritan” in John 4.

Rahab could have had dead faith, a mere intellectual experience. Or she could have had demonic faith, her mind enlightened and her emotions stirred. But she exercised dynamic faith: her mind knew the truth, her heart was stirred by the truth, and her will acted on the truth. She proved her faith by her works.

When you realize the small amount of information Rahab had, you can see how truly marvelous her faith really was. Today, we have the full revelation of God through His Word and His Son. We live on the other side of Calvary, and we have the Holy Spirit to convict and to teach us the Word. Her faith is an indictment against the unbelief of sinners today. “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 12:48).

James 2 emphasized the mature Christian practices the truth. He does not merely hold to ancient doctrines; he practices those doctrines in his everyday life. His faith is not the dead faith of the intellectuals or the demonic faith of the fallen spirits. It is the dynamic faith of men like Abraham and women like Rahab, faith that changes a life and goes to work for God.

It is important that each professing Christian examine his own heart and life, and make sure that he possesses true saving faith, dynamic faith: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Cor. 13:5). Satan is the great deceiver; one of his devices is imitation. If he can convince a person that counterfeit faith is true faith, he has that person in his power.

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves as we examine our hearts:

  1. Was there a time when I honestly realized I was a sinner and admitted this to myself and to God?
  2. Was there a time when my heart stirred me to flee from the wrath to come?
  3. Do I truly understand the Gospel, that Christ died for my sins and arose again? Do I understand and confess that I cannot save myself?
  4. Did I sincerely repent of my sins and turn from them? Or do I secretly love sin and want to enjoy it?
  5. Have I trusted Christ and Christ alone for my salvation? Do I enjoy a living relationship with Him through the Word and in the Spirit?
  6. Has there been a change in my life? Do I maintain good works, or are my works occasional and weak? Do I seek to grow in the things of the Lord? Can others tell that I have been with Jesus?
  7. Do I have a desire to share Christ with others or am I ashamed of Him?
  8. Do I enjoy the fellowship of God’s people? Is worship a delight to me?
  9. Am I ready for the Lord’s return or will I be ashamed when He comes for me?

To be sure, not every Christian has the same personal experience; and there are degrees of sanctification. But for the most part, the preceding spiritual inventory can assist a person in determining his true standing before God. What question(s) would you add to this list?

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24).

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False Faith (James 2:14–19)

Faith mountainFaith is a key doctrine in the Christian life. The sinner is saved by faith (Eph. 2:8–9) and the believer must walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) and whatever we do apart from faith is sin (Rom. 14:23).

Someone has said that faith is not “believing in spite of evidence, but obeying in spite of consequence.” When you read Hebrews 11, you meet men and women who acted on God’s Word, no matter what price they had to pay. Faith is not some kind of nebulous feeling we work up; faith is confidence that God’s Word is true and conviction that acting on that Word will bring His blessing.

In this paragraph, James discussed the relationship between faith and works. This is an important discussion, for if we are wrong in this matter, we jeopardize our eternal salvation. What kind of faith really saves a person? Is it necessary to perform good works in order to be saved? How can a person tell whether or not he is exercising true saving faith? James answers these questions by explaining to us there are three kinds of faith, only one of which is true saving faith.

Dead Faith (James 2:14–17)

deadfaithWhat good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Even in the early church there were those who claimed they had saving faith, yet did not possess salvation. Wherever there is the true, you will find the counterfeit. Jesus warned, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

People with dead faith substitute words for deeds. They know the correct vocabulary for prayer and testimony, and can even quote the right verses from the Bible; but their walk does not measure up to their talk. They think their words are as good as works, and they are wrong.

James gave a simple illustration. A poor believer came into a fellowship, without proper clothing and in need of food. The person with dead faith noticed the visitor and saw his needs, but he did not do anything to meet the needs. All he did was say a few pious words! “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed” (2:16). But the visitor went away just as hungry and naked as he came in!

Food and clothing are basic needs of every human being, whether he is saved or unsaved. “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:8). “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows you need them” (Matt. 6:31–32). Jacob included these basic needs in his prayer to God: “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking, and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear” (Gen. 28:20).

As believers, we have an obligation to help meet the needs of people, no matter who they may be. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:10). “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me” (Matt. 25:40).

To help a person in need is an expression of love and faith works by love (Gal. 5:6). The Apostle John emphasized this aspect of good works. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and truth” (1 John 3:17–18). The priest and Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan each had religious training, but neither of them paused to assist the dying man at the side of the road (Luke 10:25–37). Each of them would defend his faith, yet neither demonstrated that faith in loving works.

The question in 2:14 should read, “Can that kind of faith save him?” What kind? The kind of faith that is never seen in practical works. The answer is no! Any declaration of faith that does not result in a changed life and good works is a false declaration. That kind of faith is dead faith. “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (2:17). The great theologian, John Calvin, wrote, “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone.” The word alone in 2:17 simply means “by itself.” True saving faith can never be by itself: it always brings life and life produces good works.

The person with dead faith has only an intellectual experience. In his mind, he knows the doctrines of salvation, but he has never submitted himself to God and trusted Christ for salvation. He knows the right words, but he does not back up his words with his works. Faith in Christ brings life (John 3:16), and where there is life there must be growth and fruit. Three times in this paragraph, James warns us that “faith without works is dead” (2:17, 20, 26).

Beware of a mere intellectual faith. No man can come to Christ by faith and remain the same any more than he can come into contact with a 220-volt wire and remain the same. “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). Dead faith is not saving faith. Dead faith is counterfeit faith and lulls the person into a false confidence of eternal life.

Demonic Faith (James 2:18–19)

even-the-demons-believeBut someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

James wanted to shock his complacent readers, so he used demons as his illustration. In recent years the church has rediscovered the reality and activity of demons. When our Lord was ministering on earth, He often cast out demons; and He gave that power to His disciples. Paul often confronted demonic forces in his ministry; and in Ephesians 6:10–20, he admonished the early Christians to claim God’s protection and defeat the spiritual forces of wickedness.

It comes as a shock to people that demons have faith! What do they believe? For one thing, they believe in the existence of God; they are neither atheists nor agnostics. They also believe in the deity of Christ. Whenever they met Christ when He was on earth, they bore witness to His sonship (Mark 3:11–12). They believe in the existence of a place of punishment (Luke 8:31); and they also recognize Jesus Christ as the Judge (Mark 5:1–13). They submit to the power of His Word.

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord!” (Deut. 6:4) This was the daily affirmation of faith of the godly Jew. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (2:19). The man with dead faith was touched only in his intellect; but the demons are touched also in their emotions. They believe and tremble.

But it is not a saving experience to believe and tremble. A person can be enlightened in his mind and even stirred in his heart and be lost forever. True saving faith involves something more, something that can be seen and recognized: a changed life. “Show me your faith without deeds,” challenged James, “and I will show you my faith by my deeds” (2:18).

How could a person show his faith without works? Can a dead sinner perform good works? Impossible! When you trust Christ, you are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Being a Christian involves trusting Christ and living for Christ; you receive the life, then you reveal the life. Faith that is barren is not saving faith. The Greek word translated “dead” in 2:20 carries the meaning of “barren or idle,” like money drawing no interest.

James has introduced us to two kinds of faith that can never save the sinner: dead faith (the intellect alone) and demonic faith (the intellect and the emotions). He closes this section by describing the only kind of faith that can save the sinner—dynamic faith.

In Part 2, we will take a closer look at this true saving faith.

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Favoritism Forbidden, Walking the Talk: Part 2 (James 2:8–13)

walk the talkIn Part 1, we learned James examines four basic Christian doctrines in the light of the way we treat other people. Today, we will look at the last two.

The Word of God (James 2:8–11)

In recent years, believers have waged battles over the inspiration and authority of the Word of God. Certainly, it is a good thing to defend the truth of God’s Word, but we must never forget that our lives and ministries are the best defense. D.L. Moody often said, “Every Bible should be bound in shoe leather!”

James reached back into the Old Testament for one of God’s laws, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). In His Parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus told us that our neighbor is anyone who needs our help (Luke 10:25–37). It is not a matter of geography, but opportunity. The important question is not, “Who is my neighbor?” but “To whom can I be a neighbor?”

Why is “love your neighbor” called “the royal law”? For one thing, it was given by the King. God the Father gave it in the Law, and God the Son reaffirmed it to His disciples (John 13:34). God the Spirit fills our hearts with God’s love and expects us to share it with others (Rom. 5:5). True believers are “taught by God to love one another” (1 Thes. 4:9).

“Love your neighbor” is the royal law for a second reason: it rules all the other laws. “Love is the fulfillment of the Law” (Rom. 13:10). There would be no need for the thousands of complex laws if each citizen truly loved his neighbors.

But the main reason why this is the royal law is that obeying it makes you a king. Hatred makes a person a slave, but love sets us free from selfishness and enables us to reign like kings. Love enables us to obey the Word of God and treat people as God commands us to do. We obey His Law, not out of fear, but out of love.

Showing respect of persons can lead a person into disobeying all of God’s Law. Take any of the Ten Commandments and you will find ways of breaking it if you respect a person’s social or financial status. Respect of persons could make you lie, for example. It could lead to idolatry (getting money out of the rich) or even mistreatment of one’s parents. Once we start acting on the basis of respecting persons and rejecting God’s Word, we are heading for trouble. And we need not break all of God’s Law to be guilty. There is only one Lawgiver, and all of His Laws are from His mind and heart. If I disobey one law, I am capable of disobeying all of them; and by rebelling, I have already done so.

Christian love does not mean that I must like a person and agree with him on everything. I may not like his vocabulary or his habits, and I may not want him for an intimate friend. Christian love means treating others the way God has treated me. It is an act of the will, not an emotion that I try to manufacture. The motive is to glorify God. The means is the power of the Spirit within (“for the fruit of the Spirit is love”). As I act in love toward another, I may find myself drawn more and more to him, and I may see in him (through Christ) qualities that before were hidden to me.

Also, Christian love does not leave the person where it finds him. Love should help the poor man do better; love should help the rich man make better use of his God-given resources. Love always builds up (1 Cor. 8:1); hatred always tears down.

We only believe as much of the Bible as we practice. If we fail to obey the most important word—“love your neighbor as yourself”—then we will not do any good with the lesser matters of the Word. It was a glaring fault in the Pharisees that they were careful about the minor matters and careless about the fundamentals (Matt. 23:23). They broke the very Law they thought they were defending!

The Judgment of God (James 2:12–13)

Every orthodox statement of faith ends with a statement about the return of Jesus Christ and the final judgment. Not all Christians agree as to the details of these future events, but the certainty of them none denies. Nor would any deny the importance of a final judgment. Both Jesus (John 5:24) and Paul (Rom. 8:1) assured us that Christian believers will never be judged for their sins; but our works will be judged and rewarded (Rom. 14:10–13; 2 Cor. 5:9–10).

Our words will be judged. Note the words spoken to the two visitors in James 2:3. What we say to people and how we say it will come up before God. Even our careless words will be judged (Matt. 12:36). Of course the words we speak come from the heart; so when God judges the words, He is examining the heart (Matt. 12:34–37). Jesus emphasized caution when speaking in some of His warnings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:21–26, 33–37; 7:1–5, 21–23).

Our deeds will be judged. Read Colossians 3:22–25 for additional insight. It is true that God remembers our sins against us no more (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 10:17); but our sins affect our character and works. We cannot sin lightly and serve faithfully. God forgives our sins when we confess them to Him, but He cannot change their consequences.

Our attitudes will be judged (v. 13). James contrasted two attitudes: showing mercy to others and refusing to show mercy. If we have been merciful toward others, God can be merciful toward us. However, we must not twist this truth into a lie. It does not mean that we earn mercy by showing mercy because it is impossible to earn mercy. If it is earned, it is not mercy! Nor does it mean that we should “be soft on sin” and never judge it in the lives of others. “I don’t condemn anybody,” a man once told me, “and God won’t condemn me.” How wrong he was!

Mercy and justice both come from God, so they are not competitors. Where God finds repentance and faith, He is able to show mercy; where He finds rebellion and unbelief, He must administer justice. It is the heart of the sinner that determines the treatment he gets. Our Lord’s parable in Matthew 18:21–35 illustrates the truth. The parable is not illustrating salvation, but forgiveness between fellow servants. If we forgive our brothers, then we have the kind of heart that is open toward the forgiveness of God.

We will be judged “by the Law of liberty.” Why does James use this title for God’s Law? For one thing, when we obey God’s Law, it frees us from sin and enables us to walk in liberty (Ps. 119:45). Also, law prepares us for liberty. A child must be under rules and regulations because he is not mature enough to handle the decisions and demands of life. He is given outward discipline so that he might develop inward discipline and one day be free of rules.

Liberty does not mean license. License (doing whatever I want to do) is the worst kind of bondage. Liberty means the freedom to be all that I can be in Jesus Christ. License is confinement; liberty is fulfillment.

Finally, the Word is called “the Law of liberty” because God sees our hearts and knows what we would have done had we been free to do so. The Christian student who obeys only because the school has rules is not really maturing. What will he do when he leaves the school? God’s Word can change our hearts and give us the desire to do God’s will, so that we obey from inward compulsion and not outward constraint.

There is one obvious message to this section: our beliefs should control our behavior. If we really believe that Jesus is the Son of God, God is gracious, His Word is true, and one day He will judge us, then our conduct will reveal our convictions. Before we attack those who do not have orthodox doctrine, we must be sure we practice the doctrines we defend. Jonah had wonderful theology, but he hated people and was angry with God (Jonah 4).

One of the tests of the reality of our faith is how we treat other people. Can we pass the test?

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Favoritism Forbidden, Walking the Talk: Part 1 (James 2:1–7)

favoritism james 2Not only is the mature Christian patient in testing (James 1), but he also practices the truth. This is the theme of James 2. Immature people talk about their beliefs, but the mature person lives his faith. Hearing God’s Word and talking about God’s Word can never substitute for doing God’s Word.

Every believer has some statement of faith or personal expression of what he believes. Most churches have such statements and members are asked to subscribe to the statement and practice it. Most churches also have a “covenant” that they read publicly, often when they observe the Lord’s Supper. Statements of faith and church covenants are good and useful, but they are not substitutes for doing God’s will. As a pastor, I have heard believers read the church covenant, and then come to a business meeting and act in ways completely contrary to the covenant.

James wants to help us practice God’s Word, so he gave us a simple test. He sent two visitors to a church service, a rich man and a poor man; and he watched to see how they were treated. The way we behave toward people indicates what we really believe about God! We cannot—and dare not—separate human relationships from divine fellowship. “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen (1 John 4:20).

In this section, James examines four basic Christian doctrines in the light of the way we treat other people.

The Deity of Christ (James 2:1-4)

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old 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?

Jewish people in that day coveted recognition and honor, and vied with one another for praise. We have this same problem with us today. “Pyramid climbers” are among us, not only in politics, industry, and society, but also in the church. Almost every church has its cliques, and often, new Christians find it difficult to get in. Some church members use their offices to enhance their own images of importance. Many of the believers James wrote to were trying to seize spiritual offices and James had to warn them (James 3:1).

Jesus did not respect persons. Even His enemies admitted, “You aren’t swayed by men because You pay no attention to who they are” (Matt. 22:16). Our Lord did not look at the outward appearance; He looked at the heart. He was not impressed with riches or social status. The poor widow who gave her mite was greater in His eyes than the rich Pharisee who boastfully gave his large donation.

Furthermore, Christ saw the potential in the lives of sinners. In Simon, He saw a rock. In Matthew, the publican, He saw a faithful disciple who would one day write one of the four Gospels. The disciples were amazed to see Jesus talking with the sinful woman at the well of Sychar, but Jesus saw in her an instrument for reaping a great harvest.

We are prone to judge people by their past, not their future. When Saul of Tarsus was converted, the church in Jerusalem was afraid to receive him! It took Barnabas, who believed in Saul’s conversion, to break down the walls (Acts 9:26–28). We are also prone to judge by outward appearance rather than by the inner attitude of the heart. We do not enjoy sitting with certain people in church because they “are not our kind of people.”

Jesus was the Friend of sinners, though He disapproved of their sins. It was not compromise, but compassion, that caused Him to welcome them, and when they trusted Him, forgive them.

Jesus was despised and rejected. This fact was prophesied in Isaiah 53:1–3. He was “the poor man” who was rejected by the self-righteous nation. Unlike the foxes and the birds, He had no home. He grew up in the despised city of Nazareth in a home that knew the feeling of poverty. Had you and I met Him while He was ministering on earth, we would have seen nothing physically or materially that would attract us.

Yet, He is the very glory of God! In the Old Testament, God’s glory dwelled first in the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34–38), and then in the temple (1 Kings 8:10–11). When Jesus came to earth, God’s glory resided in Him (John 1:14). Today, the glory of God dwells in the believer individually (1 Cor. 6:19–20), and the church collectively (Eph. 2:21–22).

The religious experts in Christ’s day judged Him by their human standards and they rejected Him. He came from the wrong city, Nazareth of Galilee. He was not a graduate of their accepted schools. He did not have the official approval of the people in power. He had no wealth. His followers were a nondescript mob, and included publicans and sinners. Yet He was the very glory of God! No wonder Jesus warned the religious leaders, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24).

Sad to say, we often make the same mistakes. When visitors come into our churches, we tend to judge them on what we see outwardly rather than what they are inwardly. Dress, color of skin, fashion, and other superficial things carry more weight than the fruit of the Spirit that may be manifest in their lives. We cater to the rich because we hope to get something out of them and we avoid the poor because they embarrass us. Jesus did not do this and He cannot approve of it.

How do we practice the deity of Christ in our human relationships? It is really quite simple: look at everyone through the eyes of Christ. If the visitor is a Christian, we can accept him because Christ lives in him. If he is not a Christian, we can receive him because Christ died for him. It is Christ who is the link between us and others, and He is a link of love. The basis for relationship with others is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Any other basis is not going to work. Furthermore, God can use even the most unlikely person to bring glory to His name. He used Peter, Zaccheus, John Mark and countless others, and He can even use that poor man whom we might reject.

The Grace of God (James 2:5–7)

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: 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 dishonored 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 blaspheming the noble name of Him to whom you belong?

The emphasis here is on God’s choosing and this involves the grace of God. If salvation were on the basis of merit, it would not be by grace. Grace implies God’s sovereign choice of those who cannot earn and do not deserve His salvation (Eph. 1:4–7; 2:8–10). God saves us completely on the basis of the work of Christ on the cross, not because of anything we are or have.

God ignores national differences (Acts 10:34). The Jewish believers were shocked when Peter went to the Gentile household of Cornelius, preached to the Gentiles, and even ate with them. The topic of the first church council was, “Must a Gentile become a Jew to become a Christian?” (Acts 15) The answer the Holy Spirit gave them was, “No!” In the sight of God, there is no difference between Jew and Gentile when it comes to condemnation (Rom. 2:6–16) or salvation (Rom. 10:1–13).

God also ignores social differences. Masters and slaves (Eph. 6:9), and rich and poor are alike to Him. James teaches us the grace of God makes the rich man poor because he cannot depend on his wealth; and it makes the poor man rich because he inherits the riches of grace in Christ (James 1:9–11). “The Lord sends poverty and wealth; He humbles and He exalts. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor” (1 Sam. 2:7–8).

From the human point of view, God chooses the poor instead of the rich. “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Cor. 1:26–27). The poor of this world become rich in faith; as sons of God, they inherit the wealth of the kingdom.

It is possible to be poor in this world and rich in the next, or rich in this world and poor in the next (1 Tim. 6:17–18). Or, you could be poor both in this world and the next, or rich in this world and the next. It all depends on what you do with Christ and the material wealth He has given you. God promises the kingdom to “those that love Him” (James 2:5), not to those who love this world and its riches.

James gave a stern rebuke in James 2:6–7. “When you despise the poor man, you are behaving like the unsaved rich people.” In that day, it was easy for rich persons to exploit the poor, influence decisions at court, and make themselves richer. Unfortunately, we have the same sins being committed today; and these sins blaspheme the very name of Christ. Our Lord was poor and He too was the victim of injustice perpetrated by the wealthy leaders of His day.

The doctrine of God’s grace, if we really believe it, forces us to relate to people on the basis of God’s plan and not on the basis of human merit or social status. A “class church” is not a church that magnifies the grace of God. When He died, Jesus broke down the wall that separated Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11–22). But in His birth and life, Jesus broke down the walls between rich and poor, young and old, educated and uneducated. It is wrong for us to build those walls again; we cannot rebuild them if we believe in the grace of God.

In Part 2, we will examine two more basic Christian doctrines in the light of the way we treat other people.

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Quit Kidding Yourself: Part 2 (James 1:22–27)

look-yourself-in-the-mirrorThere are true believers who are fooling themselves concerning their Christian walk. If a Christian sins because Satan deceives him, that is one thing; but if he deceives himself, that is a far more serious matter. In these verses, James says we have three responsibilities toward God’s Word; and if we fulfill these responsibilities, we will have an honest walk with God and men. In Part 1, we saw the first responsibility: receive the Word. Today, we will look at the next two responsibilities.

Practice the Word (James 1:22–25)

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 someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

It is not enough to hear the Word; we must do it. Many people have the mistaken idea that hearing a good sermon or Bible study is what makes them grow and receive God’s blessing. It is not the hearing, but the doing that brings the blessing. Too many Christians mark their Bibles, but their Bibles never mark them! If you think you are spiritual because you hear the Word, then you are only kidding yourself.

In the previous paragraph, James compares the Word of God to seed; but in this paragraph, he compares it to a mirror. There are three ministries of the Word as a mirror:

Examination (vv. 23–25). This is the main purpose for owning a mirror, to be able to see yourself and make yourself look as clean and neat as possible. As we look into the mirror of God’s Word, we see ourselves as we really are. James mentions several mistakes people make as they look into God’s mirror.

They merely glance at themselves. They do not carefully study themselves as they read the Word. Many sincere believers read a chapter of the Bible each day, but it is only a religious exercise and they fail to profit from it personally. Their conscience would bother them if they did not have their daily reading, when actually their conscience should bother them because they read the Word carelessly. A cursory reading of the Bible will never reveal our deepest needs. It is the difference between a candid photo and an X-ray.

They forget what they see. If they were looking deeply enough into their hearts, what they would see would be unforgettable! We tend to smile at the “extremes” of people back in the days of the great revivals. Before we consign these people to some psychological limbo, remember how saints in the Bible responded to the true knowledge of their own hearts. Isaiah cried, “Woe is me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips!” (Isa. 6:5) Peter cried, “Depart from me, Lord; for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8) Job was the most righteous man on earth in his day, yet he confessed, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).

They fail to obey what the Word tells them to do. They think hearing is the same as doing, and it is not. We Christians enjoy substituting reading for doing or even talking for doing. We hold endless committee meetings and conferences about topics like evangelism and church growth, and think we have made progress. While there is certainly nothing wrong with conferences and committee meetings, they are sinful if they are a substitute for service.

If we are to use God’s mirror profitably, then we must gaze into it carefully and with serious intent. No quick glances will do. We must examine our own hearts and lives in the light of God’s Word. This requires time, attention, and sincere devotion. Five minutes with God each day will never accomplish a deep spiritual examination. Perhaps one reason we glance into the Word instead of gaze into the Word is that we are afraid of what we might see.

After seeing ourselves, we must remember what we are and what God says, and we must do what the Word tell us. The blessing comes in the doing, not in the reading of the Word. “This man will be blessed in his doing.” The emphasis in James is on the practice of the Word. We are to continue after reading the Word (see Acts 1:14; 2:42, 46; 13:43; 14:22; 26:22 for examples of this in the early church). We can measure the effectiveness of our Bible study by the effect it has on our behavior and attitudes.

Why does James call the Word of God “the perfect law of liberty”? Because when we obey it, God sets us free. “I will walk in liberty, for I have sought out Your precepts” (Ps. 119:45). “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). “If you continue in My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32).

Restoration (Ex. 38:8). When Moses built the tabernacle, God commanded him to make the laver. The laver was a huge basin that stood between the altar of sacrifice and the holy place. The basin was filled with water, and the priests washed their hands and feet at the laver before they entered the holy place to minister (Ex. 30:17–21).

Water for washing is a picture of the Word of God in its cleansing power. “You are clean because of the Word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). The church is sanctified and cleansed “by the washing with water through the Word” (Eph. 5:26). When the sinner trusts Christ, he is once and for all washed clean (1 Cor. 6:9–11; Titus 3:4–6). But as the believer walks in this world, his hands and feet are defiled and he needs cleansing (John 13:1–11).

The mirror of the Word not only examines us and reveals our sins, but it helps to cleanse us as well. It gives us the promise of cleansing (1 John 1:9) and, as we meditate on it, it cleanses the heart and the mind from spiritual defilement. It is the blood of Christ that cleanses the guilt, but the water of the Word helps to wash away the defilement.

Nathan’s experience with David in 2 Samuel 12 illustrates this truth. Nathan told David the story about the “stolen ewe lamb” and David became angry at the sin described. “You are the man,” said the prophet and he held up the mirror of the Word for David to see himself. The result was confession and repentance: “I have sinned against the Lord!” The mirror of the Word did its work of examination.

But Nathan did not stop there. He also used the Word for restoration. “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die” (2 Sam. 12:13). David visited the laver outside the Tabernacle, and washed his hands and feet. Here was the assurance of forgiveness and cleansing, and it came from the Word.

Transformation (2 Cor. 3:18). “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” After the Lord restores us, He wants to change us so that we will grow in grace and not commit that sin again. Too many Christians confess their sins and claim forgiveness, but never grow spiritually to conquer self and sin.

2 Corinthians 3 is a discussion of the contrasts between the Old Covenant ministry of Law and the New Covenant ministry of grace. The Law is external, written on tables of stone; but salvation means God’s Word is written on the heart. The Old Covenant ministry condemned and killed; but the New Covenant ministry brings forgiveness and life. The glory of the Law gradually disappeared, but the glory of God’s grace becomes brighter and brighter. The Law was temporary, but the New Covenant of grace is eternal.

Paul’s illustration of this truth is Moses and his veil. When Moses came down from the mount, where he met God, his face was shining (Ex. 34:29–35). He did not want the Jews to see this glory fading away, so he put on a veil to hide it. When he returned to the mount, he took off the veil. When Jesus died, He tore the veil in the temple and removed the veil between men and God. The Old Testament prophet wore a veil to hide the fading of the glory. The New Testament believer has an unveiled face, and the glory gets greater and greater!

You may explain 2 Corinthians 3:18 in this way: “When the child of God looks into the Word of God [the mirror], he sees the Son of God and is transformed by the Spirit of God to share in the glory of God!” The word changed in the Greek gives us our English word “metamorphosis”—a change on the outside which comes from the inside. When an ugly worm turns into a beautiful butterfly, this is metamorphosis. When a believer spends time looking into the Word and seeing Christ, he is transformed: the glory on the inside is revealed on the outside.

It is this word that is translated “transfigured” in Matthew 17:2. The glory of Christ on the mount was not reflected; it was radiated from within. You will find the same word in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” As we meditate on the Word, the Spirit renews the mind and reveals the glory of God. We do not become spiritual Christians overnight. It is a process, the work of the Spirit of God through the mirror of the Word of God.

The important thing is that we hide nothing. Take off the veil! “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24). “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).

Our first responsibility is to receive the Word. Then, we must practice the Word; otherwise we are deceiving ourselves. This leads to a third responsibility.

kids james 1_27Share the Word (James 1:26–27)

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their 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.

The word translated “religion” means “the outward practice, the service of a god.” It is used only five times in the entire New Testament (James 1:26–27; Acts 25:19; 26:5; 1 Tim. 5:4; and Col. 2:18, where it is translated “worship”). Pure religion has nothing to do with ceremonies, temples, or special days. Pure religion means practicing God’s Word and sharing it with others, through speech, service, and separation from the world.

Speech (v. 26). There are many references to speech in this letter, giving the impression that the tongue was a serious problem in the assembly (James 1:19; 2:12; 3:1–3, 14–18; 4:11–12). It is the tongue that reveals the heart (Matt. 12:34–35); if the heart is right, the speech will be right. A controlled tongue means a controlled body (James 3:1).

Service (v. 27a). After we have seen ourselves and Christ in the mirror of the Word, we must see others and their needs. Isaiah first saw the Lord, then himself, and then the people to whom he would minister (Isa. 6:1–8). Words are no substitute for deeds of love (James 2:14–18; 1 John 3:11–18). God does not want us to pay for others to minister as a substitute for our own personal service!

In the first century, orphans and widows had very little means of economic support. Unless a family member was willing to care for them, they were reduced to begging, selling themselves as slaves, or starving. By caring for these powerless people the church put God’s Word into practice. When we give with no hope of receiving in return, we show what it means to serve others.

Separation from the world (v. 27b). By “the world,” James means “society without God.” Satan is the prince of this world (John 14:30) and the lost are the children of this world (Luke 16:8). As children of God, we are in the world physically, but not of the world spiritually (John 17:11–16). We are sent into the world to win others to Christ (John 17:18). It is only as we maintain our separation from the world that we can serve others.

The world wants to “spot” the Christian and start to defile him. First, there is “friendship with the world” (James 4:4), which can lead to a love for the world (1 John 2:15–17). If we are not careful, we will become conformed to this world (Rom. 12:1–2) and the result is being condemned with the world (1 Cor. 11:32). This does not suggest we lose our salvation, but that we lose all we have lived for. Lot is an illustration of this principle. First, he pitched his tent toward Sodom. Then, he moved into Sodom. Before long, Sodom moved into him and he lost his testimony even with his own family. When judgment fell on Sodom, Lot lost everything. It was Abraham, the separated believer, the friend of God, who had a greater ministry to the people than did Lot, the friend of the world. It is not necessary for the Christian to get involved with the world to have a ministry to the world. Jesus was “unspotted” (1 Peter 1:19), and yet He was the friend of publicans and sinners. The best way to minister to the needs of the world is to be pure from the defilement of the world.

We have three responsibilities toward God’s Word: receive it, practice it, and share it. If we fulfill these responsibilities, we will have an honest walk with God and men.

JamesTo Think About and Discuss:

1. How would you respond to a person who says the Bible is too restrictive?

2. James likens the Word of God to a mirror. In what ways have you found the Bible to be a mirror?

3. How can we share the Word more effectively with others?

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Quit Kidding Yourself: Part 1 (James 1:19–21)

Growing up in ChristThe emphasis in this section is on the dangers of self-deception: “deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22); “deceives his own heart” (James 1:26). If a Christian sins because Satan deceives him, that is one thing; but if he deceives himself, that is a far more serious matter.

Many people are deceiving themselves into thinking they are saved when they are not. Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:22–23).

But there are true believers who are fooling themselves concerning their Christian walk. They think they are spiritual when they are not. It is a mark of maturity when a person faces himself honestly, knows himself, and admits his needs. It is the immature person who pretends: “I have need of nothing” (Rev. 3:17).

Spiritual reality results from the proper relationship to God through His Word. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17) and if we are rightly related to God’s truth, we cannot be dishonest or hypocritical. In these verses, James says we have three responsibilities toward God’s Word; and if we fulfill these responsibilities, we will have an honest walk with God and men.

Receive the Word (James 1:19–21)

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness 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.

James says God’s Word is “planted.” Borrowing from our Lord’s Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:1–9, 18–23), he compares God’s Word to seed and the human heart to soil. In His parable, Jesus describes four kinds of hearts: the hard heart, which does not understand or receive the Word and therefore bears no fruit; the shallow heart, which is very emotional but has no depth, and bears no fruit; the crowded heart, which lacks repentance and permits sin to crowd out the Word; and the fruitful heart, which receives the Word, allows it to take root, and produces a harvest of fruit.

The final test of salvation is fruit. This means a changed life, Christian character and conduct, and ministry to others in the glory of God. This fruit might be winning souls to Christ (Rom. 1:16), growing in holy living (Rom. 6:22), sharing our material possessions (Rom. 15:28), spiritual character (Gal. 5:22–23), good works (Col. 1:10), and even praising the Lord (Heb. 13:15). Religious works may be manufactured, but they do not have life in them, nor do they bring glory to God. Real fruit has in it the seed for more fruit, so the harvest continues to grow (John 15:1–5).

But the Word of God cannot work in our lives unless we receive it in the right way. Jesus not only said, “Consider carefully what you hear” (Mark 4:24), but He also said, “Consider carefully how you hear” (Luke 8:18). Too many people are in that tragic condition in which “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand” (Matt. 13:13). They attend Bible classes and church services, but never seem to grow. Is it the fault of the teacher or preacher? Perhaps, but it may also be the fault of the hearer. It is possible to be “dull of hearing” (Heb. 5:11) because of decay of the spiritual life.

If the seed of God’s Word is to be planted in our hearts, then we must obey the instructions James gives us.

Swift to hear (v. 19a). “Whoever has ears, let them hear!” (Matt. 13:9) “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Just as the servant is quick to hear his master’s voice and the mother to hear her baby’s smallest cry, so the believer should be quick to hear what God has to say.

There is a beautiful illustration of this truth in the life of King David (2 Sam. 23:14–17). David was hiding from the Philistines who were in possession of Bethlehem. He yearned for a drink of cool water from the well in Bethlehem, a well he had often visited in his boyhood and youth. He did not issue an order to his men; he simply said to himself, “Oh, that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” Three of his mighty men heard their king sigh for water, and they risked their lives to secure the water and bring it to him. They were “swift to hear.”

tame3Slow to speak (v. 19b). We have two ears and one mouth, which ought to remind us to listen more than we speak. Too many times we argue with God’s Word, if not audibly, at least in our hearts and minds. “The wise man holds his tongue” (Prov. 10:19). “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint” (Prov. 17:27). Instead of being slow to speak, the lawyer in Luke 10:29 argued with Jesus by asking, “And who is my neighbor?” In the early church the services were informal and often the listeners would debate with the speaker. There were even fights and wars among the brethren James was writing to (James 4:1).

Slow to wrath (v. 19c). Do not get angry at God or His Word. “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Prov. 14:29). When the Prophet Nathan told King David the story about “the stolen ewe lamb” the king became angry, but at the wrong person. “You are the man!” said Nathan. David then confessed, “I have sinned” (2 Sam. 12). In the Garden, Peter was slow to hear, swift to speak, and swift to anger—and he almost killed a man with the sword. Many church fights are the result of short tempers and hasty words. There is a godly anger against sin (Eph. 4:26); and if we love the Lord, we must hate sin (Ps. 97:10). But man’s anger does not produce God’s righteousness (James 1:20). In fact, anger is just the opposite of the patience God wants to produce in our lives as we mature in Christ (James 1:3–4).

I once saw a poster that read, “Temper is such a valuable thing; it’s a shame to lose it!” The person who cannot get angry at sin does not have much strength to fight it. James warns us against getting angry at God’s Word because it reveals our sins to us. Like the man who broke the mirror because he disliked the image in it, people rebel against God’s Word because it tells the truth about them and their sinfulness.

A prepared heart (v. 21). James saw the human heart as a garden; if left to itself, the soil would produce only weeds. He urges us to “pull out the weeds” and prepare the soil for the “planted Word of God.” Some gardens are overgrown with weeds that cannot be controlled. It is foolish to try to receive God’s Word into an unprepared heart.

How do we prepare the soil of our hearts for God’s Word? First, by confessing our sins and asking the Father to forgive us (1 John 1:9). Then, by meditating on God’s love and grace, and asking Him to “plow up” any hardness in our hearts: “Break up your unplowed ground and do not sow among thorns” (Jer. 4:3). Finally, we must have an attitude of “meekness” (James 1:21). Meekness is the opposite of “anger” in James 1:19–20. When you receive the Word with meekness, you accept it, do not argue with it, and honor it as the Word of God. You do not try to twist it to conform it to your thinking.

If we do not receive the planted Word, then we are deceiving ourselves. Christians who like to argue various “points of view” may be only fooling themselves. They think their “discussions” are promoting spiritual growth, when in reality they may only be cultivating the weeds. James advises us to get rid of all that is wrong in our lives and “humbly accept” the salvation message we have received (“the Word planted in you”) because it alone can save us.

In Part 2, we will look at two more responsibilities we have toward God’s Word.

James_practical wisdomTo Think About and Discuss:

1. In what ways does the Bible strengthen you?

2. What can we do to show that we value the Word of God?

3. What advice can you give to a fellow-believer who expresses the desire to prize the Word of God more?

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How To Handle Temptation: Part 2 (James 1:17–18)

overcoming-temptation2When our circumstances are difficult, we may find ourselves complaining against God, questioning His love, and resisting His will. At this point, Satan provides us with an opportunity to escape the difficulty. This opportunity is a temptation. There are three facts we must consider if we are to overcome temptation. In Part 1, we saw the first fact: God’s Judgment. Today, we will consider the next two facts.

God’s Goodness (James 1:17)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly Lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

One of the enemy’s tricks is to convince us that our Father is holding out on us, that He does not really love us and care for us. When Satan approached Eve, he suggested if God really loved her, He would permit her to eat from the forbidden tree. When Satan tempted Jesus, he raised the question of hunger: “If your father loves you, why are you hungry?”

The goodness of God is a great barrier against yielding to temptation. Since God is good, we do not need any other person (including Satan) to meet our needs. It is better to be hungry in the will of God than full outside the will of God. Once we start to doubt God’s goodness, we will be attracted to Satan’s offers; and the natural desires within will reach out for his bait. Moses warned Israel not to forget God’s goodness when they began to enjoy the blessings of the Promised Land (Deut. 6:10–15). We need this warning today.

James presents four facts about the goodness of God.

God gives only good gifts. Everything good in this world comes from God. If it did not come from God, it is not good. If it comes from God, it must be good, even if we do not see the goodness in it immediately. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was given to him by God and it seemed to be a strange gift; yet it became a tremendous blessing to him (2 Cor. 12:1–10).

The way God gives is good. It is possible for someone to give us a gift in a manner that is less than loving. The value of a gift can be diminished by the way it is given to us. But when God gives us a blessing, He does it in a loving, gracious manner. What He gives and how He gives are both good.

God gives constantly. “Coming down” is a present participle: “it keeps on coming down.” God does not give occasionally; He gives constantly. Even when we do not see His gifts, He is sending them. How do we know this? Because He tells us so and we believe His Word.

God does not change. There are no shadows with the Father of Lights. It is impossible for God to change. He cannot change for the worse because He is holy; He cannot change for the better because He is already perfect. The light of the sun varies as the earth changes, but the sun itself is still shining. If shadows come between us and the Father, He did not cause them. He is the unchanging God. This means we should never question His love or doubt His goodness when difficulties come or temptations appear.

If King David had remembered the goodness of the Lord, he would not have taken Bathsheba and committed those terrible sins with her. God had been good to David (2 Sam. 12:7–8), yet he forgot God’s goodness and took the bait.

The first barrier against temptation is a negative one: the judgment of God. This second barrier is positive: the goodness of God. A fear of God is a healthy attitude, but the love of God must balance it. We can obey Him because He may chasten us; or we can obey Him because He has already been so generous to us and because we love Him for it.

It was this positive attitude that helped to keep Joseph from sinning when he was tempted by his master’s wife (Gen. 39:7-9). Joseph knew all his blessings had come from God. It was the goodness of God that restrained him in the hour of temptation.

God’s gifts are always better than Satan’s bargains. Satan never gives any gifts because you end up paying for them dearly. Achan forgot the warning of God and the goodness of God, saw the forbidden wealth, coveted it, and took it. He became rich, but the sorrow that followed turned his riches into poverty (Josh. 7).

The next time you are tempted, meditate on the goodness of God in your life. If you think you need something, wait on the Lord to provide it. Never toy with the devil’s bait. One purpose for temptation is to teach us patience. David was tempted twice to kill King Saul and hasten his own crowning, but he resisted the temptation and waited for God’s time.

Born AgainGod’s Divine Nature Within (James 1:18)

In the exercise of His will, He brought us forth by the Word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

In the first barrier against temptation, God says, “Look ahead and beware of judgment.” In the second barrier, He says, “Look around and see how good I have been to you.” But with this third barrier, God says, “Look within and realize you have been born from above, and possess the divine nature.”

James uses birth as a picture to explain how we can enjoy victory over temptation and sin. The Apostle John uses a similar approach in 1 John 3:9, where “God’s seed” refers to the divine life and nature within the believer: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning because they have been born of God.” Note the characteristics of this new birth:

It is divine. Nicodemus thought he had to reenter his mother’s womb to be born again, but he was wrong. This birth is not of the flesh: it is from above (John 3:1–7). It is the work of God. Just as we do not generate our human birth, we cannot generate our spiritual birth. When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, it is God who performs the miracle of the new birth in us.

This birth is gracious. We do not earn it or deserve it; God gives us spiritual birth because of His own grace and will. We are “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:13). No one can be born again because of his relatives, his resolutions, or his religion. The new birth is the work of God.

This birth is through God’s Word. Just as human birth requires two parents, so divine birth has two parents: the Word of God and the Spirit of God. “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6). “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to bring about the miracle of the new birth (Heb. 4:12).

This birth is the finest birth possible. We are “firstfruits of His creatures.” James wrote to Jewish believers and the word firstfruits would be meaningful to them. The Old Testament Jews brought the firstfruits to the Lord as the expression of their devotion and obedience. “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Prov. 3:9). Of all the creatures God has in this universe, Christians are the very highest and the finest! We share God’s nature. For this reason, it is beneath our dignity to accept Satan’s bait or to desire sinful things. A higher birth must mean a higher life.

By granting us a new birth, God declares He cannot accept the old birth. Throughout the Bible, God rejects the firstborn and accepts the secondborn. He accepted Abel, not Cain; Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau. He rejects your first birth (no matter how noble it might be in the eyes of men) and He announces you need a second birth.

It is this experience of the new birth that helps us overcome temptation. If we let the old nature (from the first birth) take over, we will fail. We received our old nature (the flesh) from Adam and he was a failure. But if we yield to the new nature, we will succeed; for that new nature comes from Christ and He is the Victor.

A child in Sunday School explained the matter in simple terms. “Two men live in my heart: the old Adam and Jesus. When temptation knocks at the door, somebody has to answer. If I let Adam answer, I will sin; so I send Jesus to answer. He always wins!”

Of course, this new nature must be fed the Word of God daily, so it might be strong to fight the battle. Just as the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to give us spiritual birth, He uses the Word to give us spiritual strength. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

No matter what excuses we make, we have no one to blame for sin but ourselves. Our own desires lead us into temptation and sin. God is not to blame. He has erected these three barriers to keep us from sin. If we heed the barriers, we will win a crown (James 1:12). If we ignore them, we will find a coffin (James 1:15). Which will it be?

James seriesTo Think About and Discuss

1. Read Psalm 107. How many times does the Bible use the word “good” or “goodness” in reference to God? What manifestations of God’s goodness do you find in this psalm?

2. What are some of the ways God has expressed His goodness to you?

  1. How do you explain difficult circumstances as expressions of God’s goodness?
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How To Handle Temptation: Part 1 (James 1:13–16)

Serpent-and-AppleThe mature person is patient in trials. Sometimes the trials may be tests sent by God or they may be temptations sent by Satan, and encouraged by our own fallen nature. If we are not careful the testings on the outside may become temptations on the inside. It is this second aspect of trials—temptations on the inside—that James deals with in this section.

When our circumstances are difficult, we may find ourselves complaining against God, questioning His love, and resisting His will. At this point, Satan provides us with an opportunity to escape the difficulty. This opportunity is a temptation.

There are many illustrations of this truth found in the Bible. Abraham arrived in Canaan and discovered a famine there. He was not able to care for his flocks and herds. This trial was an opportunity to prove his devotion to God; but Abraham turned it into a temptation and went down to Egypt. God had to chasten Abraham to bring him back to the place of obedience and blessing.

While Israel was wandering in the wilderness the nation often turned testings into temptations. As soon as they had been delivered from Egyptian oppression, their water supply vanished and they had to march for three days without water. When they did find water, it was so bitter they could not drink it. Immediately, they began to murmur and blame God. They turned their testing into a temptation and they failed.

Temptations come from evil desires within us, not from God. It begins with an evil thought and becomes sin when we dwell on the thought and allow it to become an action. Like a snowball rolling downhill, sin grows more destructive the more we let it have its way. The best time to stop a temptation is before it is too strong or moving too fast to control.

Certainly, God does not want us yielding to temptation, yet neither can He spare us the experience of temptation. We are not God’s sheltered people; we are God’s scattered people. If we are to mature, we must face testings and temptations.

There are three facts we must consider if we are to overcome temptation.

God’s Judgment (James 1:13–16)

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.

This is a negative approach, but it is an important one. James said, “Look ahead and see where sin ends—death!” Do not blame God for temptation. He is too holy to be tempted and He is too loving to tempt others. God does test us, as He did Abraham (Gen. 22); but He does not and cannot tempt us. It is we who turn occasions of testing into temptations.

People who live for God often wonder why they still have temptations. Does God tempt them? God tests people, but He does not tempt them by trying to seduce them to sin. God allows Satan to tempt people in order to refine their faith and to help them grow in their dependence on Christ.

A temptation is an opportunity to accomplish a good thing in a bad way, out of the will of God. It is not wrong to want to pass an examination; but if I cheat to pass, then I have sinned. The temptation to cheat is an opportunity to accomplish a good thing (passing the exam) in a bad way. It is not wrong to eat; but if you consider stealing the food, you are tempting yourself.

We think of sin as a single act, but God sees it as a process. Adam committed one act of sin, yet that one act brought sin, death, and judgment on the whole human race. James describes this process of sin in four stages:

Desire (v. 14). The word lust means any kind of desire and not necessarily sexual passions. The normal desires of life are given to us by God and, of themselves, are not sinful. Without these desires, we could not function. Unless we felt hunger and thirst, we would never eat and drink, and we would die. Without fatigue the body would never rest and would eventually wear out. Sex is a normal desire; without it the human race could not continue.

It is when we want to satisfy these desires in ways outside God’s will that we get into trouble. Eating is normal; gluttony is sin. Sleep is normal; laziness is sin. Some people try to become “spiritual” by denying these normal desires or by seeking to suppress them; but this only makes them less than human. These fundamental desires of life are the steam in the boiler that makes the machinery go. Turn off the steam and you have no power. Let the steam go its own way and you have destruction. The secret is in constant control. These desires must be our servants and not our masters; and this we can do through Jesus Christ.

mouse-trap1Deception (v. 14). No temptation appears as temptation; it always seems more alluring than it really is. James used two illustrations from the world of sports to prove his point. Dragged away carries with it the idea of baiting a trap; enticed in the original Greek means “to bait a hook.” The hunter and the fisherman have to use bait to attract and catch their prey. No animal is deliberately going to step into a trap and no fish will knowingly bite at a naked hook. The idea is to hide the trap and the hook.

Temptation always carries with it some bait that appeals to our natural desires. The bait not only attracts us, but it also hides the fact that yielding to the desire will eventually bring sorrow and punishment. It is the bait that is the exciting thing. Lot would never have moved toward Sodom had he not seen the “well-watered plains of Jordan” (Gen. 13:10). When David looked on his neighbor’s wife, he would never have committed adultery had he seen the tragic consequences: the death of a baby (Bathsheba’s son), the murder of a brave soldier (Uriah), the violation of a daughter (Tamar). The bait keeps us from seeing the consequences of sin.

When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert (Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13), He always dealt with the temptation on the basis of the Word of God. Three times He said, “It is written.” From the human point of view, turning stones into bread to satisfy hunger is a sensible thing to do; but not from God’s point of view. When you know the Bible, you can detect the bait and deal with it decisively. This is what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.

Disobedience (v. 15). We are moving from the emotions (desire) and the intellect (deception) to the will. James changes the picture from hunting and fishing to the birth of a baby. Desire conceives a method for taking the bait. The will approves and acts; and the result is sin. Whether we feel it or not, we are hooked and trapped. The baby is born and just wait until it matures!

Christian living is a matter of the will, not the feelings. I often hear believers say, “I don’t feel like reading the Bible.” Or, “I don’t feel like attending prayer meeting.” Children operate on the basis of feeling, but mature adults operate on the basis of will. They act because it is right, no matter how they feel (see Perseverance Produces Character). This explains why immature Christians easily fall into temptation: they let their feelings make the decisions. The more you exercise your will in saying a decisive “no” to temptation the more God will take control of your life: “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).

Death (v. 15). Disobedience gives birth to death, not life. It may take years for the sin to mature, but when it does the result will be death. If we will only believe God’s Word and see this final tragedy, it will encourage us not to yield to temptation. God has erected this barrier because He loves us. “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” declares the Sovereign Lord. “Am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezek. 18:23).

These four stages in temptation and sin are perfectly depicted in the first sin recorded in the Bible (Genesis 3). The serpent used desire to interest Eve: “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v. 5). Eve saw “the tree was good” (v. 6) and her desire was aroused. This desire led to sin.

Paul described the deception of Eve in 2 Corinthians 11:3. “I am afraid just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” Satan is the deceiver and he seeks to deceive the mind. The bait he used with Eve was the fact the forbidden tree was good and pleasant, and eating of it would make her wise. She saw the bait, but forgot the Lord’s warning: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil… or you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17).

Eve disobeyed God by taking fruit from the tree and eating it. Then, she shared it with her husband and he disobeyed God as well. Adam was not deceived, but sinned with his eyes wide open. For this reason, it is his sin that plunged the human race into tragedy (Rom. 5:12–21; 1 Tim. 2:12–15).

Both Adam and Eve experienced immediate spiritual death (separation from God) and ultimate physical death. All men die because of Adam (1 Cor. 15:21–22). The person who dies without Jesus Christ will experience eternal death in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11–15).

Whenever you are faced with temptation get your eyes off the bait and look ahead to see the consequences of sin: the judgment of God. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

The first fact we must consider if we are to overcome temptation is God’s judgment.

In Part 2, we will look at two more facts we must consider if we are to overcome temptation.

James series2To Think About and Discuss

1. What is the difference between tests sent by God and temptations sent by Satan?

2. What temptations are you facing at the moment? Name some steps you can take to ward off temptation.

3. What can we as Christians do to increase our awareness of the depravity of sin?

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Turning Trials into Triumphs: Part 2 (James 1:4–12)

Nothings too hardIn the Christian life, God tells us to expect trials. If we are going to turn trials into triumphs, we must obey four imperatives. In Part 1, we discussed the first two: a joyful attitude and an understanding mind. Today, we will be looking at the last two imperatives.

Let—a Surrendered Will (James 1:4, 9–12)

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they 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 will fade away even while they go about their business. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

God cannot build our character without our cooperation. If we resist Him, then He chastens us into submission. But if we submit to Him, then He can accomplish His work. He is not satisfied with a halfway job. God wants a perfect work; He wants a finished product that is mature and complete.

God’s goal for our lives is maturity. It would be a tragedy if our children remained little babies. We enjoy watching them mature, even though maturity brings dangers as well as delights. Many Christians shelter themselves from the trials of life and as a result never grow up. God wants the “little children” to become “young men” and the “young men” to become “fathers” (1 John 2:12–14).

Paul outlined three works that are involved in a complete Christian life (Eph. 2:8–10). First, there is the work God does for us, which is salvation. Jesus Christ completed this work on the cross. If we trust Him, He will save us. Second, there is the work God does in us, “For we are His workmanship.” This work is known as sanctification. God builds our character and we become more like Jesus Christ, “conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29). The third work is what God does through us—service. We are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works.”

God builds our character before He calls us to service. He must work in us before He can work through us. God spent twenty-five years working in Abraham before He could give him his promised son. God worked thirteen years in Joseph’s life, putting him into “various testings” before He could put him on the throne of Egypt. He spent eighty years preparing Moses for forty years of service. Our Lord took three years training His disciples, building their character.

But God cannot work in us without our consent. There must be a surrendered will. The mature person does not argue with God’s will; instead, he accepts it willingly and obeys it joyfully. “Doing the will of God from the heart” (Eph. 6:6). If we try to go through trials without surrendered wills, we will end up more like immature children than mature adults.

Jonah is an illustration of this. God commanded Jonah to preach to the Gentiles at Nineveh and he refused. God chastened the prophet before he accepted his commission. But Jonah did not obey God from the heart. He did not grow in this experience. How do we know? Because in the last chapter of Jonah the prophet is acting like a spoiled child! He is sitting outside the city pouting, hoping God will send judgment. He is impatient with the sun, the wind, the plant, the worm, and with God.

One difficult stage of maturing is weaning. A child being weaned is sure his mother no longer loves him and everything is against him. Actually, weaning is a step toward maturity and liberty. It is good for the child! Sometimes God has to wean His children away from their childish toys and immature attitudes. David pictured this in Psalm 131:2, “But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.” God uses trials to wean us away from childish things; but if we do not surrender to Him, we will become even more immature.

James applies this principle to two different kinds of Christians: the poor and the rich. Apparently, money and social status were real problems among these people (see James 2:1–7, 15–16; 4:1–3, 13–17; 5:1–8). God’s testings have a way of leveling us. It is not your material resources that take you through the testings of life; it is your spiritual resources.

James 1.5Ask—a Believing Heart (James 1:5–8)

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

The people to whom James wrote had problems with their praying (James 4:1–3; 5:13–18). When we are going through God-ordained difficulties, what should we pray about? James gives the answer: ask God for wisdom.

James has a great deal to say about wisdom (James 1:5; 3:13–18). The Jewish people were lovers of wisdom, as the Book of Proverbs gives evidence. Someone has said knowledge is the ability to take things apart, while wisdom is the ability to put them together. Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. All of us know people who are educated fools: they have brilliant academic records, but they cannot make the simplest decisions in life.

Why do we need wisdom when we are going through trials? Why not ask for strength or grace, or even deliverance? For this reason: we need wisdom, so we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature. Wisdom helps us understand how to use these circumstances for our good and God’s glory.

James not only explained what to ask for (wisdom), but he also described how to ask. We are to ask in faith. To “believe and not doubt” means not only believing in the existence of God, but also believing in His loving care. It includes relying on God and expecting that He will hear and answer when we pray.

James compares the doubting believer to the waves of the sea, up one minute and down the next. This is the experience of the “double-minded man.” Faith says, “Yes!” but unbelief says, “No!” Then doubt comes along and says “Yes!” one minute and “No!” the next. It was doubt that made Peter sink in the waves as he was walking to Jesus (Matt. 14:22–33). Jesus reached out His hand: “You of little faith,” He said, “why did you doubt?” When Peter started his walk of faith, he kept his eyes on Christ. But when he was distracted by the wind and waves, he ceased to walk by faith; and he began to sink. He was double-minded and he almost drowned.

Many Christians live like corks on the waves: up one minute, down the next; tossed back and forth. This kind of experience is evidence of immaturity. A mind that waivers is not completely convinced God’s way is best. It treats God’s Word like any human advice. It vacillates between allegiance to God, subjective feelings, and the world’s ideas. The double-minded person is like an unfaithful husband or wife: he wants to love both God and the world. James admonished, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded!” (James 4:8) Instability and immaturity go together.

To stabilize a wavering or doubtful mind, we must commit ourselves wholeheartedly to God. “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). If your faith is new, weak, or struggling, remember that you can trust God. Then be loyal to Him.

James closes this section of his letter with a beatitude: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). Paul often used athletic illustrations in his letters and James does so here. He is not saying the sinner is saved by enduring trials. He is saying the believer is rewarded by enduring trials. The “crown of life” is like the victory wreath given to winning athletes. God’s crown of life is not glory and honor here on earth, but the reward of eternal life – living with God forever. The way to be in God’s winners’ circle is by loving Him and staying faithful even under pressure.

Let’s go back to the weaning illustration for a moment. The child who loves his mother, and who is sure his mother loves him will be able to get through the weaning and start to grow up. The Christian who loves God and who knows God loves him will not fall apart when God permits trials to come. He is secure in God’s love. He is not double-minded, trying to love both God and the world. Lot was double-minded; when trials came, he failed miserably. Abraham was the friend of God; he loved God and trusted Him. When trials came, Abraham triumphed and matured in his faith.

God’s purpose in trials is maturity: “Let perseverance finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:4).

Faith Test_tTo Think About and Discuss:

1. What can you do to improve your prayer life?

2. What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?

3. Why do we need God’s wisdom when we are going through trials?

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Turning Trials into Triumphs: Part 1 (James 1:2–3)

Count-It-All-JoyPerhaps you have seen the bumper sticker that reads: “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade!” It is easier to smile at that statement than to practice it, but the basic philosophy is sound. In fact, it is biblical. Throughout the Bible are people who turned defeat into victory and trial into triumph. Instead of being victims, they became victors.

James tells us that we can have this same experience today. No matter what the trials may be on the outside (James 1:1–12) or the temptations on the inside (James 1:13–27), through faith in Christ we can experience victory. The result of this victory is spiritual maturity.

If we are going to turn trials into triumphs, we must obey four imperatives:

Count—a Joyful Attitude (James 1:2)

Count [consider] it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.

James does not say if you face trials, but whenever you face them. He assumes we will have trials and that it is possible to profit from them. It is not “if you fall into various testings” but “when you fall into various testings.” The believer who expects his Christian life to be easy is in for a shock. Jesus warned His disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). Paul said, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). God tells us to expect trials.

Outlook determines outcome and attitude determines action. Because we are God’s “scattered people” and not His “sheltered people,” we must experience trials. We cannot always expect everything to go our way. Some trials come simply because we are human—sickness, accidents, disappointments, even seeming tragedies. Other trials come because we are Christians. Peter emphasizes this in his first letter: “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). Satan fights us, the world opposes us, and this makes for a life of battle.

The trials of life are not all alike; they are like various colors of yarn the weaver uses to make a beautiful rug. God arranges and mixes the colors and experiences of life together. The final product is a beautiful thing for His glory. God’s work in us is not finished yet!

The key word is count. It means “to evaluate.” Paul used it several times in Philippians 3 (see Learning How to Count). When Paul became a Christian, he evaluated his life and set new goals and priorities. Things that were once important to him became “garbage” in the light of his experience with Christ. When we face the trials of life, we must evaluate them in the light of what God is doing for us.

This explains why the dedicated Christian can have joy in the midst of trials: he lives for the things that matter most. Even our Lord was able to endure the cross because of “the joy that was set before Him” (Heb. 12:2), the joy of returning to heaven and one day sharing His glory with His church.

Our values determine our evaluations. If we value comfort more than character, then trials will upset us. If we value the material and physical more than the spiritual, we will not be able to “count it all joy.” If we live only for the present and forget the future, then trials will make us bitter, not better. Job had the right outlook when he said, “But He knows the way I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

So, when trials come, immediately give thanks to the Lord and adopt a joyful attitude. Do not pretend; do not try self-hypnosis; simply look at trials through the eyes of faith. Outlook determines outcome. To end with joy, begin with joy.

“But how,” we may ask, “is it possible to rejoice in the midst of trials?”

encouragementKnow—an Understanding Mind (James 1:3)

Because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

James tells us to turn our hardships into times of learning. Tough times can teach us perseverance. We cannot really know the depth of our character until we see how we react under pressure. It is easy to be kind to others when everything is going well, but can we still be kind when others are treating us unfairly? God wants to make us mature and complete, not keep us from all pain. Instead of complaining about our struggles, we should see them as opportunities for growth.

What does the mature Christian know that makes it easier to face trials and benefit from them?

Our faith is always tested. When God called Abraham to live by faith, He tested him in order to increase his faith. God always tests us to bring out the best; Satan tempts us to bring out the worst. The testing of our faith proves we are truly born again.

Testing works for us, not against us. God’s approval of our faith is precious because it assures us our faith is genuine. Trials work for the believer, not against him. Paul said, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28). “Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).

Trials, rightly used, help us to mature. What does God want to produce in our lives? Patience, endurance, and the ability to keep going when things are tough. “We glory in our sufferings because we know suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3-4). In the Bible, patience is not a passive acceptance of circumstances. It is a courageous perseverance in the face of suffering and difficulty.

Immature people are always impatient; mature people are patient and persistent. Impatience and unbelief usually go together, just as faith and patience do. “Be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:12). “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised” (Heb. 10:36).

God wants to make us patient because that is the key to every other blessing. The little child who does not learn patience will not learn much of anything else. When the believer learns to wait on the Lord, then God can do great things for him. Abraham ran ahead of the Lord, married Hagar, and brought great sorrow into his home (Gen. 16). Moses ran ahead of God, murdered a man, and had to spend forty years with the sheep to learn patience (Ex. 2:11-12). Peter almost killed a man in his impatience (John 18:10-11).

The only way the Lord can develop patience and character in our lives is through trials. Endurance cannot be attained by reading an article (even this one), listening to a sermon, or praying a prayer. We must go through the difficulties of life, trust God, and obey Him. The result will be patience and character. Knowing this, we can face trials joyfully. We know what trials will do in us and for us, and we know the end result will bring glory to God.

This fact explains why studying the Bible helps us grow in patience (Rom. 15:4). As we read about Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, and even our Lord, we realize God has a purpose in trials. God fulfills His purposes as we trust Him. There is no substitute for an understanding mind. Satan can defeat the ignorant believer, but he cannot overcome the Christian who knows his Bible and understands the purposes of God.

In Part 2, we will discover two more imperatives to turn trials into triumphs!

Faith is TestedTo Think About and Discuss

1. What times of suffering have you experienced? What are some of the things you have learned from these times?

2. What is the value of perseverance?

3. Why do Christians not need to lose heart in their suffering?

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Time to Grow Up

growWe are starting a new series in the Book of James. Beginning a study of a book of the Bible is something like preparing for a trip: you like to know where you are going and what you can expect to see. Perhaps the best way to launch into this study is to answer two important questions:

Why Did James Write?

To teach the marks of maturity in the Christian life. As we read the Epistle of James, we will discover these Jewish Christians were having some problems in their personal lives and in their church fellowship. They were going through difficult testings and were facing temptations to sin. Some of the believers were catering to the rich, while others were being robbed by the rich. Church members were competing for offices in the church, particularly teaching offices.

One of the major problems in the church was a failure on the part of many to live what they professed to believe. The tongue was a serious problem, even to the point of creating wars and divisions in the assembly. Worldliness was another problem. Some of the members were disobeying God’s Word and were sick physically because of it; some were straying away from the Lord and the church.

As we review this list of problems, it does not appear to be much different from the problems that beset the average local church today. Do we not have in our churches people who are suffering for one reason or another? Do we not have members who talk one way, but walk another way? Is not worldliness a serious problem? Are there not Christians who cannot control their tongues? It seems James is dealing with very up-to-date matters!

But James was not discussing an array of miscellaneous problems. All of these problems have a common cause: spiritual immaturity. These Christians simply were not growing up. This gives us a hint as to the basic theme of this letter: the marks of maturity in the Christian life. James uses the word perfect several times, a word that means “mature, complete” (James 1:4, 17, 25; 2:22; 3:2). By “perfect man”, James does not mean a sinless man, but rather one who is mature, balanced, and grown-up.

Spiritual maturity is one of the greatest needs in churches today. Too many churches are playpens for babies instead of workshops for adults. The members are not mature enough to eat the solid spiritual food they need, so they have to be fed on milk (Heb. 5:11–14). Just look at the problems James dealt with and you can see each of them is characteristic of little children:

  • Impatience in difficulties (1:1–4)
  • Talking, but not living the truth (2:14)
  • No control of the tongue (3:1)
  • Fighting and coveting (4:1)
  • Collecting material “toys” (5:1)

After 15 years of ministry, I am convinced that spiritual immaturity is the number one problem in our churches. God is looking for mature men and women to carry on His work, and sometimes all He can find are little children who cannot even get along with each other!

The five chapters of this letter suggest the five marks of the mature Christian: (1) he is patient in testing; (2) he practices the truth; (3) he has power of his tongue; (4) he is a peacemaker, not a troublemaker; (5) he is prayerful in troubles.

As the chapters are examined, spiritual maturity and how it may be attained will be emphasized.

James exhorts his readers to build on the perfect salvation to be had in Christ and grow into maturity; for without the perfect work of Christ there can be no perfecting of the believers.

TimeToGrowHow Can We Get the Most Out of This Study?

First of all, it is essential we have been born again. Since the theme of James is spiritual maturity, we must begin by examining our own hearts to see where we are in the Christian life. Apart from spiritual birth there can be no spiritual maturity.

If we have been born again, there is a second essential: we must honestly examine our lives in the light of God’s Word. James compares the Bible to a mirror (James 1:22). As we study the Word, we are looking into the divine mirror and seeing ourselves as we really are. James warns us that we must be honest about what we see and not merely glance at the image and walk away.

Perhaps you heard about the primitive savage who looked into a mirror for the first time. He was so shocked at what he saw that he broke the mirror! Many Christians make the same mistake: they criticize the preacher or the lesson, when they ought to be judging themselves. (At the end of this article are 12 questions based on James that may help in a personal evaluation. Refer to them often. Regular examinations are good for spiritual health.)

Third, we must obey what God teaches us, no matter what the cost. We must be “doers of the Word and not hearers only” (James 1:22). It is easy to attend a Bible study, share the lesson, and discuss it; but it is much more difficult to go out into life in the world and practice what we have learned. The blessing does not come in studying the Word, but in doing the Word. Unless we are willing to obey the Lord is not obligated to teach us (John 7:17).

Fourth, we must be prepared for some extra trials and testings. Whenever we are serious about spiritual growth the enemy gets serious about opposing us. Perhaps you feel a need for more patience. Then be prepared for more trials because tribulation produces patience (Rom. 5:3). The real examinations of Bible study come in the school of life, not in the classroom.

I recently read about a man who was burdened to grow in his patience. He knew he was immature in that area of his life and he wanted to grow up. He sincerely prayed, “Lord, help me to grow in patience. I want to have more self-control in this area of my life.” That morning, he missed his train to work and spent the next fifty minutes pacing the platform and complaining of his plight. As the next train to the city arrived the man realized how stupid he had been. “The Lord gave me nearly an hour to grow in my patience and all I did was practice my impatience!” he said to himself.

There may come a time in this study when you decide continuing is too dangerous. Satan may turn on the heat and make things so difficult for you that you will want to retreat. Don’t do it! When that time arrives, you will be on the verge of a new and wonderful blessing in your own life, a thrilling new step of maturity. Even if Satan does turn on the heat, your Father in heaven keeps His almighty hand on the thermostat!

Even physical maturity is not always an easy, pleasant experience. The teenager walking on that difficult bridge from childhood to adulthood has his frustrations and failures; but if he keeps on going (and growing), he eventually enters a wonderful life of maturity. Christian growth is not automatic, as is physical growth. Christian maturity is something we must work at constantly. So don’t give up! There is travail in birth and there is also travail in maturity (Gal. 4:19).

The fifth essential for getting the most out of this study is we must measure our spiritual growth by the Word of God. Regular examinations are good for spiritual health. But we should not measure ourselves by other Christians, rather by the Word of God and the Son of God (Eph. 4:13).

Not everyone who grows old grows up. There is a difference between age and maturity. Just because a Christian has been saved for ten or twenty years does not guarantee he is mature in the Lord. Mature Christians are happy Christians, useful Christians, Christians who help to encourage others and to build their local church. As we study James together, with God’s help, we will learn and mature together.


1. Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?

2. Do I play with temptation or resist it from the start?

3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?

4. Are there any prejudices that shackle me?

5. Am I able to control my tongue?

6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker? Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?

7. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?

8. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?

9. Am I selfish when it comes to money? Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?

10. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?

11. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?

12. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother? Do I criticize and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?

Don’t just grow old—grow up!

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Paul’s Charge to Timothy: Part 2 (1 Timothy 6:11-19)

fightthegoodfightToday, we will be looking at the final section of chapter 6, where the Apostle Paul continues his instructions to Timothy on ministering to the various kinds of believers in the church (if you missed Part 1, I encourage you to read it now).

The Pastor Himself (1 Tim. 6:11–16, 20–21)

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To Him be honor and might forever. Amen.

Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.

While caring for the needs of his people, Timothy needed to care for himself as well. “But you” indicates a contrast between Timothy and the false teachers. They were men of the world, but he was a “man of God.” This special designation was also given to Moses (Deut. 33:1), Samuel (1 Sam. 9:6), Elijah (1 Kings 17:18), and David (Neh. 12:24); so Timothy was in good company.

Paul gave four admonitions to Timothy that, if obeyed, would assure him success in his ministry and a continued testimony as “a man of God.”

Flee (v. 11a). There are times when running away is a mark of cowardice. “Should such a man as I flee?” asked Nehemiah (Neh. 6:11). But there are other times when fleeing is a mark of wisdom and a means of victory. Joseph fled when he was tempted by his master’s wife (Gen. 39:12) and David fled when King Saul tried to kill him (1 Sam. 19:10). The word “flee” that Paul uses here does not refer to literal running, but to Timothy’s separating himself from the sins of the false teachers.

Not all unity is good and not all division is bad. There are times when a servant of God should take a stand against false doctrine and godless practices, and separate himself from them. He must be sure, however, that he acts on the basis of biblical conviction and not because of a personal prejudice or carnal agenda.

Pursue (v. 11b). Separation without positive growth becomes isolation. We must cultivate these graces of the Spirit (“righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness”) in our lives or else we will be known only for what we oppose rather than for what we propose.

Fight (vv. 12–16). The verb means “keep on fighting!” It is a word from which we get our English word agonize, and it applies both to athletes and to soldiers. It describes a person straining and giving his best to win the prize or win the battle. Near the end of his own life, Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim. 4:7).

This “fight,” however, is not between believers; it is between a person of God and the enemy around him. He is fighting to defend the faith, that body of truth deposited with the church (1 Tim. 6:20). Like Nehemiah, Christians today need to have a trowel in one hand for building and a sword in the other hand for battling (Neh. 4:17). It is sad when some Christians spend so much time fighting the enemy that they have no time to do their work and build the church. On the other hand, if we do not stand guard and oppose the enemy, what we have built could be taken from us.

What is it that encourages us in the battle? We have “eternal life” and need to take hold of it and let it work in our experience. We have been called by God and this assures us of victory. We have made our public profession of faith in Christ and others in the church stand with us.

Another encouragement in our battle is the witness of Jesus Christ our Savior. He “witnessed a good confession” before Pontius Pilate and did not relent before the enemy. He knew God the Father was with Him and watching over Him, and He would be raised from the dead. It is “God who makes all things alive,” who is caring for us, so we need not fear. Timothy’s natural timidity might want to make him shrink from the battle. But all he had to do was remember Jesus Christ and His bold confession, and this would encourage him.

Paul gave Timothy military orders: “I charge you” (also 1:3). He was to guard the commandment and obey it. Why? Because one day the Commander would appear and he would have to report on his assignment! The only way he could be ready would be to obey the orders “without spot or blame.”

It is impossible for a sinful human to approach the holy God. It is only through Jesus Christ that we can be accepted into His glorious presence. Why did Paul write so much about the person and glory of God? Probably as a warning against the “emperor cult” that existed in the Roman Empire. It was customary to acknowledge regularly, “Caesar is Lord!” Of course, Christians would say, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” Only God has “honor and power everlasting.” If Timothy was going to fight the good fight of faith, he had to decide that Jesus Christ alone was worthy of worship and complete devotion.

Take Hold (vv. 20–21). God had committed the truth to Paul (1 Tim. 1:11) and Paul had committed it to Timothy. It was Timothy’s responsibility to guard the deposit and then pass it along to others who would, in turn, continue to pass it on (2 Tim. 2:2). This is God’s way of protecting the truth and spreading it around the world. We are stewards of the doctrines of the faith and God expects us to be faithful in sharing His Good News.

Why should Timothy avoid the teachings of those who claimed to have special knowledge from God (the Gnostics)? Because some who got involved with them “wandered from the faith.” Not only will wrong motives (a desire for money) cause a person to wander from the faith (1 Tim. 6:10), but so will wrong teachings. These lies work their way into a person’s mind and heart gradually, and before he realizes it, he is wandering off the path of truth.

The Rich (1 Tim. 6:17–19)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way, they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Paul had already written about the danger of the love of money, but he added a special “charge” for Timothy to give to the rich. We may not think this charge applies to us, but it does. After all, our standard of living today would certainly make us “rich” in the eyes of Timothy’s congregation!

Be humble (v. 17a). If wealth makes a person proud, then he understands neither himself nor his wealth. “But remember the Lord your God for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deut. 8:18). We are not owners; we are stewards. If we have wealth, it is by the goodness of God and not because of any special merits on our part. The possessing of material wealth ought to humble a person and cause him to glorify God, not himself.

It is possible to be “rich in the world” and be poor in the next. It is also possible to be poor in this world and rich in the next. Jesus talked about both (Luke 16:19–31). But a believer can be rich in this world and also rich in the next if he uses what he has to honor God (Matt. 6:19–34). In fact, a person who is poor in this world can use even his limited means to glorify God and discover great reward in the next world.

Trust God, not wealth (v. 17b). The rich farmer in our Lord’s parable (Luke 12:13–21) thought his wealth meant security, when really it was an evidence of insecurity. He was not really trusting God. Riches are uncertain, not only in their value (which changes constantly), but also in their durability. Thieves can steal wealth, investments can drop in value, and the ravages of time can ruin cars and houses. If God gives us wealth, we should trust Him, the Giver, and not the gifts.

Enjoy what God gives you (v. 17c). Yes, the word enjoy is in the Bible! In fact, one of the recurring themes in the book of Ecclesiastes is, “Enjoy the blessings of life now because life will end one day” (Ecc. 2:24; 3:12–15, 22; 5:18–20; 9:7–10; 11:9–10). This is not sinful “hedonism,” living for the pleasures of life. It is simply enjoying all God gives us for His glory.

Employ what God gives you (vv. 18–19). We should use our wealth to do good to others; we should share; we should put our money to work. When we do, we enrich ourselves spiritually and make investments for the future (Luke 16:1–13). Riches can lure a person into a make-believe world of shallow pleasure, but riches plus God’s will can introduce a person to life that is real and ministry that is lasting.

Paul’s final sentence was not for Timothy alone because the pronoun is plural: “Grace be with all of you.” Paul had the entire church in mind when he wrote this letter, not just Timothy. As the pastor and leader of the church, Timothy needed to heed the word of the apostle; but all of his church members had a responsibility to hear and obey as well.

And so do we today.

Stand FirmTo Think About and Discuss

1. In what practical ways do we “take hold of … eternal life”? How will it affect our attitude and order our priorities?

2. We live in a culture in which many false ideas about God and the Lord Jesus Christ exist. How do we “guard the gospel” in this context?

3. Read Ephesians 6:10–18 and identify the weapons God gives us to “fight the good fight of the faith.”

* This concludes our 6-week series in the book of 1 Timothy. I hope and pray you have enjoyed and benefitted from this study as much as I have.

Our next series will begin on Monday in the Book of James.

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Paul’s Charge to Timothy: Part 1 (1 Timothy 6:1-10)

defending-the-faith 2Welcome back to our series in 1 Timothy! This chapter continues Paul’s instructions to Timothy on ministering to the various kinds of believers in the church and also how to keep his own life in the will of God.

Christian Slaves (1 Tim. 6:1–2)

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.

Historians have estimated that half of the population of the Roman Empire was composed of slaves. Many of these people were educated and cultured, but legally they were not considered persons at all. The Gospel message of salvation and freedom in Christ appealed to the slaves, and many of them became believers. When slaves were able to get away from their household duties, they would fellowship in local assemblies where being a slave was not a handicap (Gal. 3:28).

But there was a problem: Some slaves used their newfound freedom in Christ as an excuse to disobey, if not defy, their masters. They needed to learn that their spiritual freedom in Christ did not alter their social position, even though they were accepted graciously into the fellowship of the church.

What were they to do now that they were free in Christ? They were to act in a way that would bring glory to Christ “so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.” They would do this by showing respect to their masters and working hard.

I recall counseling a young lady who resigned from a secular job to go to work in a Christian organization. She had been there about a month and was completely disillusioned.

“I thought it was going to be heaven on earth,” she complained. “Instead, there are nothing but problems.”

“Are you working just as hard for your Christian boss as you did for your other boss?” I asked. The look on her face gave me the answer. “Try working harder,” I advised, “and show him real respect. Just because all of you in the office are saved doesn’t mean you can do less than your best.” She took my advice and her problems cleared up.

False Teachers2False Teachers (1 Tim. 6:3–10)

These are the things you are to teach and insist on. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Paul had opened this letter with warnings about false teachers (1 Tim. 1:3) and had even refuted some of their dangerous teachings (1 Tim. 4:1). The spiritual leaders in the local church must constantly oversee what is being taught, for it is easy for false doctrines to slip in (Acts 20:28–32). I know I have discovered teachers who were sharing their “visions” instead of teaching God’s Word!

The marks of these false teachers (vv. 3–5a). The first mark is they refused to adhere to “the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching.” Their teaching did not promote godliness. The prophet Isaiah said, “If anyone does not speak according to this Word, they have no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). It is important a church maintain sound [healthy] teaching (2 Tim. 1:13).

A second mark is the teacher’s own attitude. Instead of being humble, a false teacher is proud; yet he has nothing to be proud about because he does not know anything.

A believer who understands the Word will have a burning heart, not a big head (Luke 24:32; Dan. 9:1–20). This “conceited attitude” causes a teacher to argue about minor matters concerning “words.” The result of such unspiritual teaching is “envy, quarreling, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction.” The tragedy of all this is people are “robbed of the truth” while they think they are discovering truth!

The motive for their teaching (vv. 5b–10). These false teachers supposed “that godliness is a way of financial gain.” Here, the word “godliness” means “the profession of Christian faith,” and not true holy living in the power of the Spirit. They used their religious profession as a means to make money. What they did was not a true ministry; it was just a religious business.

Paul was always careful not to use his calling or ministry as a means of making money. In fact, he even refused support from the Corinthian church, so that no one could accuse him of greed (1 Cor. 9:15–19). He never used his preaching for “flattery or greed” (1 Thes. 2:5). What a tragedy it is today to see the religious racketeers who prey on gullible people, promising them help while taking away their money.

To warn Timothy—and us—about the dangers of covetousness, Paul shared four facts:

Wealth does not bring contentment (v. 6). As we have seen, Paul used this same word in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (see The Secret of Contentment). True contentment comes from godliness in the heart, not wealth in the hand. A person who depends on material things for peace and assurance will never be satisfied because material things have a way of losing their appeal. It is the wealthy people, not the poor people, who go to psychiatrists and who are more apt to try to commit suicide.

Wealth is not lasting (v. 7). “We brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it” (see Job 1:21). Whatever wealth we amass goes to the government, our heirs, and perhaps charity and the church. When someone’s spirit leaves his body at death, it can take nothing with it. We always know the answer to the question, “How much did he leave?” Everything!

Our basic needs are easily met (v. 8). Food and “covering” (clothing and shelter) are basic needs; if we lose them, we lose the ability to secure other things. A miser without food would starve to death counting his money. I am reminded of the simple-living Quaker who was watching his new neighbor move in with all of the furnishings and expensive “toys” that “successful people” collect. The Quaker finally went over to his new neighbor and said, “Neighbor, if ever thou dost need anything, come to see me and I will tell thee how to get along without it.”

The economic and energy crises the world faces will probably be used by God to encourage people to simplify their lives. Too many of us know the “price of everything and the value of nothing.” We are so glutted with luxuries that we have forgotten how to enjoy our necessities.

The desire for wealth leads to sin (vv. 9–10). These verses describe a person who has to have more and more material things in order to be happy and feel successful. But riches are a trap; they lead to bondage, not freedom. Instead of giving satisfaction, riches create additional lusts (desires) and these must be satisfied. Instead of providing help and health, an excess of material things hurts and wounds. The result Paul described very vividly: “Harmful desires … plunge men into ruin and destruction.” It is the picture of a man drowning! He trusted his wealth and “sailed along,” but the storm came and he sank.

It is a dangerous thing to use religion as a cover-up for acquiring wealth. God’s laborer is certainly worthy of his hire (1 Tim. 5:17-18), but his motive for laboring must not be money. That would make him a “hireling” and not a true shepherd (John 10:11-14). We should not ask, “How much will I get?” but rather “How much can I give?”

In Part 2, we will take a closer look at what Paul has to say about the pastor himself and the rich.

faith steps_t_nvTo Think About and Discuss

1. What should you do when there is a conflict between what God’s Word says and what your boss tells you to do? Who are we really working for and how will this affect our performance on the job?

2. What should church members do if their leaders start teaching ideas that contradict Scripture?

3. How can we “learn to be content” with what we have and not allow our culture to influence us?

4. Can a Christian be wealthy? If so, what are the unique spiritual dangers that he or she faces and what should he be doing to counteract them?

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How to Treat Officers in the Church (1 Timothy 5:17-25)

1timothy_smallWelcome back to our series in 1 Timothy! Today, we will be looking at the final portion of chapter 5, where the Apostle Paul gives instructions about how to treat officers in the church.

Church Officers (1 Tim. 5:17–25)

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. But those elders who are sinning, you are to reprove before everyone, so that the others may take warning. I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism.

Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.

The instructions in this section deal primarily with the elders, but the principles apply to a pastor’s relationship with any officer in his church. It is a wonderful thing when the elders and deacons (and other officers) work together in harmony and love. It is tragic when a pastor tries to become a spiritual dictator (1 Peter 5:3) or when an officer tries to be a preeminent “big shot” (3 John 9–10).

Apparently Timothy was having some problems with the elders of the church at Ephesus. He was a young man and still had much to learn. Ephesus was not an easy place to minister. Furthermore, Timothy had followed Paul as overseer of the church and Paul would not be an easy man to follow! Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20) shows how hard he had worked, how faithful he had been, and how much the elders loved him (vv. 36–38). In spite of the fact Paul had personally sent Timothy to Ephesus the young man was having a hard time.

This situation may be the reason for Paul’s instruction about wine. Did Timothy have stomach trouble? Was he ill because of his many responsibilities and problems? Or had he tried to follow the ideas of some ascetics (1 Tim. 4:1–5), only to discover his diet was making him worse instead of better? We do not know the answers to all these questions; we can only read between the lines. It is worth noting that Paul’s mention of wine here is not an endorsement of the entire alcohol industry. Using wine for medicinal reasons is not an encouragement for social drinking. As we have seen, while the Bible does not demand total abstinence, it does denounce drunkenness.

Paul counseled Timothy in his relationship to the elders by discussing three topics:

EldersPaying the elders (vv. 17–18). In the early church, instead of one pastor, several elders ministered to the people. These men would devote themselves full-time to the work of the Lord and deserved some kind of remuneration. In most congregations today the elders are laymen who have other vocations, but who assist in the work of the church. Usually the pastoral staff are the only full-time workers in the church (of course, there are also secretaries, custodians, etc., but Paul was not writing about them). There were two kinds of elders in the church: ruling elders who supervised the work of the congregation; and teaching elders who taught the Word of God.

The local church needs both ruling and teaching. The Spirit gives the gifts of “helps” and “administration” to the church (1 Cor. 12:28). If a church is not organized, there will be wasted effort, money, and opportunities. If spiritually minded leaders do not supervise the various ministries of the local church, there will be chaos instead of order. However, this supervision must not be dictatorial. You do not manage the work of a local church in the same manner as you do a grocery store or a manufacturing plant. While a church should follow good business principles, it is not a business. The ruthless way some church leaders have pushed people around is a disgrace to the Gospel.

But ruling without teaching would accomplish very little. The local church grows through the ministry of the Word of God (Eph. 4:11). You cannot rule over babies! Unless the believers are fed, cleansed, and strengthened by the Word, they will be weak and useless and will only create problems.

Paul told Timothy to be sure the leaders were paid adequately, on the basis of their ministries. He quoted an Old Testament law to prove his point (Deut. 25:4). (The best commentary on this is 1 Cor. 9:7–14.) Then Paul added a statement from our Lord Jesus Christ: “The laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). This was a common saying in that day, but Paul equated the words of Christ with Old Testament Scripture!

If pastors are faithful in feeding and leading the people, then the church ought to be faithful and pay them adequately. “Double honor” can be translated “generous pay.” (The word honor is used as in “honorarium.”) It is God’s plan that the needs of His servants be met by their local churches; and He will bless churches that are faithful to His servants. If a church is not faithful, and its pastor’s needs are not met, it is a poor testimony; and God has ways of dealing with the situation. He can provide through other means, but then the church misses the blessing; or He may move His servant elsewhere.

The other side of the coin is this: a pastor must never minister simply to earn money (1 Tim. 3:3). To “negotiate” with churches or to canvass around looking for a place with a bigger salary is not in the will of God. Nor is it right for a pastor to bring into his sermons his own financial needs, hoping to arouse some support from the finance committee!

Disciplining the elders (vv. 19–21). Church discipline usually goes to one of two extremes. Either there is no discipline at all, and the church languishes because of disobedience and sin. Or the church officers become evangelical policemen who hold court and violate many of the Bible’s spiritual principles.

The disciplining of church members is explained in Matthew 18:15–18; Romans 16:17–18; 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Corinthians 2:6–11; Galatians 6:1–3; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–16; 2 Timothy 2:23–26; Titus 3:10; and 2 John 9–11.

In our current passage, Paul discussed the disciplining of church leaders. It is sad when a church member must be disciplined, but it is even sadder when a spiritual leader fails and must be disciplined; for leaders, when they fall, have a way of affecting others.

The purpose of discipline is restoration, not revenge. Our purpose must be to save the offender, not to drive him away. Our attitude must be one of love and tenderness (Gal. 6:1–3). In fact the verb restore Paul used in Galatians 6:1 means “to set a broken bone.” Think of the patience and tenderness involved in that procedure!

Paul’s first caution to Timothy is to be sure of his facts and the way to do that is to have witnesses. This principle is also stated in Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16; and 2 Corinthians 13:1. I think a dual application of the principle is suggested here. First, those who make any accusation against a pastor must be able to support it with witnesses. Rumor and suspicion are not adequate grounds for discipline. Second, when an accusation is made, witnesses ought to be present. In other words, the accused has the right to face his accuser in the presence of witnesses.

A church member approached me at a church dinner one evening and began to accuse me of ruining the church. She had all sorts of miscellaneous bits of gossip, none of which were true. As soon as she started her tirade, I asked two of the officers standing nearby to witness what she was saying. Of course, she immediately stopped talking and marched defiantly away.

It is sad when churches disobey the Word and listen to rumors, lies, and gossip. Many a godly pastor has been defeated in his life and ministry in this way, and some have even resigned from the ministry. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” may be a good slogan for a volunteer fire department, but it does not apply to local churches. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” could possibly mean that somebody’s tongue has been “set on fire by hell!” (James 3:6)

Paul’s second caution to Timothy is to do everything openly and truthfully. The under-the-counter politics of city hall have no place in a church. “I have spoken openly to the world… I have said nothing in secret,” Jesus said (John 18:20). If an officer is guilty, then he should be rebuked before all the other leaders (1 Tim. 5:20). He should be given opportunity to repent, and if he does he should be forgiven (2 Cor. 2:6–11). Once he is forgiven the matter is settled and should never be brought up again.

Paul’s third caution to Timothy is to obey the Word no matter what his personal feelings might be. He should act without prejudice against or partiality for the accused officer. There are no seniority rights in a local church; each member has the same standing before God and His Word. To show either prejudice or partiality is to make the situation even worse.

Selecting and ordaining the elders (vv. 22–25). Only God knows the hearts of everyone (Acts 1:24). The church needs spiritual wisdom and guidance in selecting its officers. It is dangerous to impulsively put a new Christian or a new church member in a place of spiritual responsibility. Some people’s sins are clearly seen; others are able to cover their sins, though their sins pursue them. The good works of dedicated believers ought to be evident, even though they do not serve to be seen by people.

In other words, the church must carefully investigate the lives of potential leaders to make sure there is nothing seriously wrong. To ordain elders with sin in their lives is to partake of those sins! If welcoming a heretic in our home makes us partakers of his evil deeds (2 John 10–11), then how much guiltier are we if we ordain people whose lives are not right with God?

No pastor or church member is perfect, but that should not hinder us from striving for perfection. The ministry of a local church rises and falls with its leadership. Godly leadership means God’s blessing, and that is what we want and need.

1-Timothy 5.21-22To Think About and Discuss

1. Too often church leaders are targets of criticism because the congregation has unrealistic expectations. How do you treat your church leaders? Do you find fault or do you show appreciation?

2. Do your church leaders receive enough financial support to allow them to live without worry and to provide for the needs of their families? If not, what should the church do?

3. What should you do if you suspect an elder of sinning?

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Caring for Widows in the Church (1 Timothy 5:1-16)

Aging87713759Welcome back to our series in 1 Timothy! Today, we will be looking at chapter 5, where the Apostle Paul gives instructions about how to treat various groups of people within the church.

The first problem the early church faced was also a modern one: a group of church members were neglected by the ministering staff (Acts 6). I once heard a church member describe a certain pastor as “a man who is invisible during the week and incomprehensible on Sunday.” Again, somebody in his congregation was feeling neglected.

In 1 Timothy 5, Paul instructed Timothy how to minister to specific groups in the church.

The Older Members (1 Tim. 5:1–2)

Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as your father, to the younger men as brothers, the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.

Paul admonished Timothy to minister to the various kinds of people in the church and not to show partiality (1 Tim. 5:21). Since Timothy was a younger man, he might be tempted to ignore the older members; so Paul urged him to love and serve all of the people, regardless of their ages. The church is a family: Treat the older members like your mother and father, and the younger members like your brothers and sisters.

The Old Widows (1 Tim. 5:3–10)

Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God. The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help. But the widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. Give the people these instructions, so that no one may be open to blame. Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.

From the beginning of its ministry the church had a concern for believing widows (Acts 6:1; 9:39). Of course, the nation of Israel had sought to care for widows and God had given special legislation to protect them (Deut. 10:18; 24:17; Isa. 1:17). God’s special care for the widows is a recurring theme in Scripture (Deut. 14:29; Ps. 94:6; Mal. 3:5). It was only right that the local church show compassion to these women who were in need.

However, the church must be careful not to waste its resources on people who really are not in need. Whether we like to admit it or not, there are individuals and entire families that “milk” local churches, while they themselves refuse to work or to use their own resources wisely. As long as they can get handouts from the church, why bother to go to work? Paul listed the qualifications a widow must meet if she is to be supported by the church.

Without human support (vv. 5a, 8, “desolate”). If a widow had relatives, they should care for her so the church might use its money to care for others who have no help. If her own children were dead, then her grandchildren should accept the responsibility. When you recall the society in that day did not have the kind of institutions we have today—pensions, Social Security, retirement homes, etc.—you can see how important family care really was. Of course, the presence of such institutions today does not relieve any family of its loving obligations. “Honor your father and your mother” is still in the Bible (Ex. 20:12; Eph. 6:1–3).

Suppose a relative is unwilling to help support his loved one? “He … is worse than an unbeliever!” was Paul’s judgment (also see v. 16). A missionary friend of mine came home from the field to care for her sick and elderly parents. She was severely criticized by some of her associates (“We should love God more than father and mother!”), but she remained faithful to the end. Then, she returned to the field for years of fruitful service, knowing she had obeyed God. After all, we love God by loving His people; and He has a special concern for the elderly, the widows, and the orphans.

A believer with a faithful testimony (vv. 5b–7). The church could not care for all the widows in the city, but it should care for believers who are a part of the fellowship. We should “do good to all people, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). A widow the church helps should not be a self-indulgent person, seeking pleasure, but a godly woman who hopes in God and has a ministry of intercession and prayer (see Luke 2:36–37 for an example of a godly widow).

It has been my experience as a pastor that godly widows are “spiritual powerhouses” in the church. They are the backbone of the prayer meetings. They give themselves to visitation and they swell the ranks of teachers in the Sunday School. It has also been my experience that if a widow is not godly, she can be a great problem to the church. She will demand attention, complain about what the younger people do, and often “hang on the telephone” and gossip. (Of course, it is not really “gossip.” She only wants her friends to be able to “pray more intelligently” about these matters!) Paul made it clear that church-helped widows must be “blameless”—irreproachable.

At least sixty years old (v. 9a). A woman of this age was not likely to get remarried in that day, though sixty is not considered that “old” today. The early church had an official list of the names of qualified widows and we get the impression that these “enlisted” women ministered to the congregation in various ways. (Remember Dorcas and her widow friends, Acts 9:36–43?)

A good marriage record (v. 9b). We have met this same requirement before for elders (1 Tim. 3:2) and for deacons (1 Tim. 3:12). The implication is the widow was not a divorced woman. Since younger widows were advised to remarry (1 Tim. 5:14), this stipulation cannot refer to a woman who had a temporary second marriage after the death of her husband. Faithfulness to one’s marriage vows is very important in the eyes of God.

A witness of good works (v. 10). If a person is faithfully serving God, the light will shine and others will see it and glorify God (Matt. 5:16). “Brought up children” can refer either to a widow’s own children or the reference may be to orphans who needed a home. If it refers to her own children, then they would need to have died; otherwise the church would not support her. It is likely the reference here is to the practice of rescuing abandoned children and raising them to know the Lord.

Hospitality is another factor, for this was an important ministry in those days when travel was dangerous and safe places to sleep were scarce. The washing of feet does not refer to a special ritual, but to the common practice of washing a guest’s feet when he arrived in the home (Luke 7:44). It was not beneath this woman’s dignity to take the place of a humble servant.

“Helping those in trouble” could cover many kinds of ministry to the needy: feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, encouraging the sorrowing, etc. Every pastor gives thanks for godly women who minister to the material and physical needs in the church. These widows were cared for by the church, but they, in turn, helped to care for the church.

The Younger Widows (1 Tim. 5:11–16)

As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.

The younger widows would technically be women under sixty years of age, but no doubt Paul had much younger women in mind. It was not likely that a fifty-nine-year-old woman would “bear children” if she remarried! The dangers of travel, the ravages of disease, war, and a host of other things could rob a young wife of her husband. But Paul forbade Timothy to enroll the younger widows and put them under the care of the church.

The reasons for refusing them (vv. 11–14a). Because of their age, younger widows are naturally attracted to men and want to marry again. What is so bad about that? Paul seems to imply that each of the widows enrolled pledged herself to remain a widow and serve the Lord in the church. This pledge must not be interpreted as a “vow of celibacy,” nor should we look on this group of ministering widows as a “special monastic order.” There seemed to be an agreement between the widows and the church that they would remain widows and serve the Lord.

There is another possible interpretation: These younger widows, if supported by the church, would have opportunities to “live it up” and find other husbands, most likely unbelievers. By marrying unbelievers, they would be casting off their first faith.

Paul does make it clear that younger widows, if cared for by the church, would have time on their hands and get involved in sinful activities. They would get in the habit of being idle instead of being useful. They would go about from house to house and indulge in gossip and be busybodies. There is a definite connection between idleness and sin.

Paul warned Timothy against using the “charity” ministry of the church to encourage people to be idle. The church certainly ought to assist those who really need help, but it must not subsidize sin.

Requirements for younger widows (vv. 14b–16). Moving from the negative, Paul listed the positive things he wanted the younger widows to do to be accepted and approved in the church. He wanted the younger widows to marry and have families. While not every person is supposed to get married, marriage is natural for most people who have been married before. Why remain in lonely widowhood if there was yet opportunity for a husband and a family? Of course, all of this would have to be “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39).

“Be fruitful and multiply” was God’s mandate to our first parents (Gen. 1:28), so the normal result of marriage is a family. Those today who refuse to have children because of the “awfulness of the times” should check out how difficult the times were in Paul’s day! If Christians do not have children and raise them to live for God, who will?

“Guide the house” literally means “rule the house.” The wife should manage the affairs of the household and her husband should trust her to do so (Prov. 31:10–31). Of course, marriage is a partnership; but each partner has a special sphere of responsibility. Few men can do in a home what a woman can do. Whenever my wife is ill and I have to manage some of the affairs of the home, I discover quickly that I am out of my sphere of ministry!

The result of all this is a good testimony that silences the accusers. Satan (the adversary) is always alert to an opportunity to invade and destroy a Christian home. A Christian wife who is not doing her job at home gives Satan a platform for his operations and the results are tragic. While there are times when a Christian wife and mother may have to work outside the home, it must not destroy her ministry in the home. The wife who works simply to get luxuries may discover too late she has lost some necessities. It may be all right to have what money can buy if you do not lose what money cannot buy.

How Christian wives and mothers manage their homes is a testimony to those outside the church. Just as a pastor is to have a good reputation with outsiders (1 Tim. 3:7) and the servants are not to bring reproach on God’s Word (1 Tim. 6:1), so the wives are to have a good witness. Women may not be elders of the church, but they can minister for the Lord right in their own homes (see Titus 2:4–5 for an additional emphasis on this vital ministry).

Paul then summarized the principle of each family caring for the needs of its own members. Paul did not tell them how these widows should be helped—giving them a regular income, taking them into a home, giving them employment, etc. Each local assembly would have to decide this for themselves according to the needs of individual cases.

How does this principle apply to Christians today? Certainly, we must honor our parents and grandparents and seek to provide for them if they have needs. Not every Christian family is able to take in another member and not every widow wants to live with her children. Where there is sickness or handicap, professional care is necessary, and perhaps this cannot be given in a home. Each family must decide what God’s will is in the matter and no decision is easy. The important thing is that believers show love and concern, and do all they can to help each other.

seniorsaintsTo Think About and Discuss

1. What would you do if an older man were clearly behaving in an unacceptable way and he quoted the verse “Do not rebuke an older man” whenever anyone attempted to correct him?

2. Should Christians see it as their responsibility to care for their ageing parents? If so, to what extent are they to do so and what support should they expect from the state?

3. How would you respond to someone who arrived at your church, at the end of the service, asking for money?

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How To Be a Man of God: Part 3 (1 Timothy 4)

god-make-me-an-instrumentWelcome back to our series in 1 Timothy! Today, we will be looking at the final section of chapter 4, where the Apostle Paul gives instructions for church leaders (if you missed Part 1 and Part 2, I encourage you to read them now).

A Growing Minister Progresses in the Word (1 Tim. 4:13–16)

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

The key thought in this section is “that your progress will be evident to all” (v. 15). The word progress is a Greek military term; it means “pioneer advance.” It describes the soldiers who go ahead of the troops, clear away the obstacles, and make it possible for others to follow. As a godly pastor, Timothy was to grow spiritually, so the whole church could see his spiritual progress and imitate it.

No pastor can lead his people where he has not been himself. The pastor (or church member) who is not growing is actually going backward, for it is impossible to stand still in the Christian life. In his living, teaching, preaching, and leading the minister must give evidence of spiritual growth. But what factors make spiritual progress possible?

Emphasize God’s Word (v. 13). “Devote yourself” means “be absorbed in.” Ministering the Word was not something Timothy was to do in his spare time, after he had done other things; it was to be the most important thing he did. Reading means the public reading of Scripture in the local assembly. The Jewish people always had the reading of the Law and the Prophets in their synagogues, and this practice carried over into Christian churches. Jesus read the Scriptures in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16) and Paul often read the lessons when he visited a synagogue (Acts 13:15).

In my travelling ministry, I have noticed many churches have dispensed with the public reading of God’s Word and I am disappointed. They have time for “special music” and endless announcements, but there is no time for the reading of the Bible (the pastor may read a text before he preaches, but that is a different thing). Every local church ought to have a schedule of Bible readings for the public services. It is commanded by God in Scripture that we read His Word in the public assemblies. (I might add those who read the Word publicly ought to prepare themselves privately. Nobody should be asked “at the last minute” to read the Scriptures publicly. The Bible deserves the best we can give.)

Exhortation (v. 13). This literally means “encouragement” and suggests the applying of the Word to the lives of the people. The pastor was to read the Word, explain it, and apply it.

Doctrine (v. 13). This means “teaching” and is a major emphasis in the pastoral letters. There are at least twenty-two references to “teaching” or “doctrine” in these thirteen chapters. “Apt to teach” is one of the qualifications of a minister (1 Tim. 3:2); and it has been correctly said, “Apt to teach implies apt to learn.” A growing minister (or church member) must be a student of the Word. Before he teaches others, he must teach himself (Rom. 2:21). His spiritual progress is an example to his flock and an encouragement to others.

Use your spiritual gifts (v. 14). So much has been written in recent years about spiritual gifts that we have almost forgotten the graces (“fruits”) of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23). The word gift is the Greek word charisma. It simply means “a gracious gift from God.” (The world uses the word charisma to describe a person with magnetic personality and commanding appearance.) Every Christian has the gift of the Spirit (Rom. 8:9) and at least one gift from the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:1–11). The gift of the Spirit and the gifts from the Spirit are bestowed by God at the moment of conversion.

However, when God calls a believer into a special place of ministry, He can (and often does) impart a spiritual gift for that task. When Timothy was ordained by the elders, he received an enabling gift from God. But for some reason, Timothy had neglected to cultivate this gift which was so necessary to his spiritual progress and ministry. In fact, Paul had to admonish him in his second letter: “Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Tim. 1:6).

It is encouraging to know the God who calls us also equips us to do His work. We have nothing in ourselves that enables us to serve Him; the ministry must all come from God (1 Cor. 15:9–10; Phil. 4:13; 1 Tim. 1:12). However, we must not be passive; we must cultivate God’s gifts, use them, and develop them wherever God puts us.

Devote yourself fully to Christ (v. 15). Timothy’s spiritual life and ministry were to be the absorbing, controlling things in his life, not merely sidelines that he occasionally practiced. There can be no real pioneer advance in one’s ministry without total dedication to the task. “No man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24).

While I do not want to sound critical, I must confess I am disturbed by the fact that too many pastors and Christian workers divide their time and interest between the church and some sideline activity. It may be real estate, trips to the Holy Land, politics, civic duties, even denominational service. Their own spiritual lives suffer and their churches suffer because these men are not devoting themselves wholly to their ministry. “This one thing I do” was Paul’s controlling motive and it ought to be ours too (Phil. 3:13). “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8).

Take spiritual inventory (v. 16). Examine your own heart in the light of the Word of God. A servant of God can be so busy helping others that he neglects himself and his own spiritual walk. The building up of the saved and the winning of the lost are the purposes for our ministry, to the glory of God. But God must work in us before He can effectively work through us (Phil. 2:12–13). As good ministers, we preach the Word; as godly ministers, we practice the Word; as growing ministers, we progress in the Word.

banner_Know_and_Grow_in_Christ-copy-598x311To Think About and Discuss

1. Paul commanded Timothy to “devote [himself] to the public reading of Scripture.” What does God expect from those of us who are being taught from His Word?

2. How is the reality of personal salvation demonstrated in our lives?

3. It has been said, “The great purpose of life is the shaping of character by truth.” How does this apply to you?

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