Faithfulness to the Master (Luke 12:40-48)

TimeTalentTr2012_jpgJesus has entrusted us, as His servants, to do His work and be obedient to the truth we’ve received. In Luke 12:40-48, He is telling us we are all to be managers of important resources. Some people do a good job and others are poor spiritual managers. In verse 35, Jesus begins warning His disciples to be ready for His return. Then, in verse 40, He says,

You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Peter asked, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”

The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

“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. 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.

In this parable, Jesus is the Master who has returned to heaven, but one day He is coming again. We are the servants who have been entrusted by Him to do His work. Jesus is coming back, and if He came today, what kind of servant would He find you to be?

I. THE MARKS OF A GOOD SERVANT

In verse 42, Jesus asks, “Who is the faithful and wise manager?” He then proceeds to answer His own question. Look at the qualities of a faithful and wise servant:

1. He is a Good Manager of God’s Resources

The Master has left each servant with some resources and left him in charge of a certain job. If you are a believer, Jesus has done the same for you. Everything good in your life has come as a gift from God. But it’s not yours to own; it’s only yours to manage. You may disagree and say, “That’s not so! I own a piece of property, my name is on the deed, and I paid for it. That’s why they call it REAL estate and it’s mine to do with as I please!” Okay, if you think you own it, then I want to see you come back in a thousand years and claim it. You don’t own it; you are only allowed to “manage” it for a few years, like the previous “owner” and the “owner” before that! The question the Master will ask you when He returns is, “Have you been a good manager of the resources I gave you?” Here are three areas for you to consider if you are being a good manager:

a) Your Time

God is going to give all of us around 70 or 80 years of time in this world. The Bible says in Ephesians 5:16 we should be “redeeming the time because the days are evil.” When the Lord asks you how well you managed the time He gave you, how will you reply?

What if every morning when you woke up, you found $1,440 cash in your pocket or purse? The only condition is if you don’t spend it all that day, you lose whatever money is left over. Do you think you would have any trouble spending $1,440? I imagine you would be careful to spend almost all of it every day! For some of you, it would only last a couple of hours in a nice store. Wouldn’t it be fun to try?

In reality, God does that for you every single day of your life. Now, He doesn’t give you dollars; He gives you something more valuable than that: time. Every day, God gives us 1,440 minutes. Are you spending them wisely? Are you being faithful to the Master in how you invest your time or are you wasting your time on things that don’t really matter in light of eternity?

In this life, there are only two things we deal with that are eternal: The Word of God and the souls of people. Think about it; the best way to spend your God-given time is by investing it in the Word of God or in the souls of people. Are you a good manager of your time or are you involved in so many frivolous sideshows you can’t focus on the main thing?

b) Your Talents

God gave you natural abilities at your physical birth and He gave you at least one spiritual gift at your spiritual birth. Are you using your abilities to serve the Lord or to serve your own interests?

Some of you think there’s nothing you can do for the Lord. You are so shy you’d be afraid to lead a prayer in the nursery! But God has given you some special abilities. Each Christian is totally unique within the Body of Christ. You have a special “shape” nobody else has; that’s why you are needed. When you consider your unique talents and abilities, there is nobody else like you in our church. That’s why God is going to hold you accountable.

I started preaching when I was 15 years old. My first sermon was at a small church, but I preached the message as if there were thousands there. I memorized parts of a Billy Graham sermon he had preached in a stadium. At the end of message, I got so carried away I said, “In just a moment, I’m going to give the invitation. Hundreds are going to come forward in this holy moment!”

God may not have called you to preach, but He has put you in charge of something. Are you being a faithful, wise, manager?

c) Your Treasure

God has given everyone of us some financial or material resources. Remember, it all belongs to God, but He has allowed us to manage some of it for a while. The Master is coming back. Will He find you’ve been a wise manager or will you be a mis-manager?

2. A Good Servant is given Greater Responsibilities

Jesus said the Master will give that good servant a greater responsibility. There is a very important managerial principle at stake here. Jesus expressed it in Luke 16:10: “Whoever can be trusted with very little, can be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

This is true in business just like it’s true in spiritual life. I read once about a group of executives who were discussing promoting a certain worker to a place of much greater responsibility and much greater salary. They took a break for lunch and one of the executives just happened to be eating lunch at the same cafeteria where the worker was in line. The worker didn’t know his boss was in line behind him and he didn’t know he was being considered for a promotion. This was one of those cafeterias where you had to pay a few cents extra if you wanted small pats of butter for your bread. This particular worker took two or three pats of butter and slid them under the edge of his plate, obviously trying to hide them, so he wouldn’t have to pay for them. The executive watched as he reached the cashier, and the cashier never saw the butter and the worker never volunteered the information. After lunch the executive informed the rest of the group the man wasn’t their choice for a promotion. He said, “If he will steal a few cents from a cafeteria, he’ll steal more than that from our company.”

Jesus said if you are faithful in the small things, He’ll give you greater responsibility. There have been plenty of times when I’ve failed the Lord, but I’ve tried to always be faithful to my calling to preach. I have served at several churches and regardless of the congregation’s size, I’ve proclaimed God’s Word as if it was the greatest privilege on earth–and I think it is. You may not be called to preach like me, but if you are faithful to manage the gifts and resources God has given you, He will open up greater opportunities for you.

I wish I could end this message here, but in the text, Jesus also points out that some servants are irresponsible managers. They are bad servants. In Part 2, we will look at the mistakes of a bad servant.

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Lessons from a Blind Beggar (Luke 18:35-43)

lead-me-to-the-cross-1None of us have ever seen Jesus with our physical eyes and we are blind until we come to Him, but Jesus is able to hear your cry from the roar of the crowd. He is listening for your voice, and will stop and respond to you. In this message, we are going to examine an encounter a blind beggar had with Jesus. Let’s read about it in Luke 18:35-43:

As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to Him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight, your faith has healed you.” Immediately, he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

We know from Mark 10 the blind man’s name was Bartimaeus. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll call him Blind Bart. He can teach us a great deal about how we can relate to God. Our problem may not be physical blindness, but we need the same thing Bart asked for–mercy. Let’s study his story and learn five important things about the Christian life:

1. Faith is Hearing and Believing Even When You Can’t See

Bart was not only blind, he was a beggar. Most blind people today lead productive lives, but in Jesus’ time, blind people couldn’t work. Medical help was not available for their problems and people tended to ignore their obligation to care for the needy (Lev. 25:35-38). There was no Americans with Disabilities Act, so blindness was a terrible handicap. Everyday Bart sat beside the road holding out his hand pleading for money. Beggars had little hope of escaping their degrading way of life, but this blind beggar took hope in the Messiah.

Bart couldn’t see, but as with many blind people, he probably had a keen sense of hearing. On the day described in our text, he could tell from the sounds of the crowd something unusual was happening. He turned and asked someone, “What’s going on?” Over the mumble of the mob, he heard, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” No doubt, Bart had heard of Jesus. Perhaps he heard about how Jesus healed people, even restored sight to the blind! Even though he couldn’t see Jesus, based on what he had heard, he believed. He didn’t just believe Jesus was in his city: he believed Jesus had the power to change his life. He cried out, “Jesus! Son of David, have mercy on me!” The term “Son of David” was one reserved for the coming Messiah, the King. It was a title of Divine power. Blind Bart was confessing Jesus was more than a mere teacher–He was the King!

Faith is the first step you and I must take to receive mercy from God. Faith is not just believing God exists; it is acting on that belief. It is staking your entire eternity on the offer God has extended for you to have a personal relationship with Him.

Like Bart, I have never seen Jesus with my physical eyes, but I’ve heard about Him and I believe in Him. Faith is not just believing facts about Jesus; it is trusting Him with your life. I don’t just believe He was born in Bethlehem and died on a cross 33 years later; I believe He has changed my life. I don’t just believe in the fact of the resurrection; I believe Jesus is alive and living in me!

Like Bart, we are blind until we come to Jesus. There is someone who wants to keep you blind to the truth about God. The Bible calls him the god of this age, which is another title for the devil: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Satan wants to keep you from seeing the truth about Jesus. It’s not easy to believe without seeing, but that’s what faith is. Perhaps you are like millions of other people who say they would believe if they could see some reliable proof. Their motto is, “I’ll believe it when I see it!”

But to believe in God because you saw something is not faith–it’s simply sight. The Bible says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). By faith, Blind Bart called out to Jesus for help. Even though you’ve never seen Jesus, when you hear and believe, you’ll call out for mercy, too.

2. You Must Resist People Who Hinder Your Spiritual Progress

When Bart cried out to Jesus the people surrounding him didn’t say, “Good for you, Bart! Jesus can help you. Call out louder.” Instead of helping him, they rebuked him and told him to shut up! You’ll find when you are bold enough to cry out to Jesus, not everyone is going to be excited for you. In fact, there will be some people who will rebuke you and discourage you. When you start getting serious about seeking Jesus the voice of the crowd will try and “boo” you down. Our popular culture wants to mold you into being a clone of everyone else–wear the right labels, listen to the right music, and speak the same language everyone else uses. Our culture tells us it’s okay to be a little religious, but if you become a radical follower of Jesus, you won’t fit in with the pop culture anymore. They will ridicule you and call you a weird religious fanatic.

When you diligently seek to follow Jesus, you’ll face opposition and criticism. Paul wrote, “A great door for effective service has opened to me and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9). Sometimes those who oppose your spiritual progress are members of your family–or even people claiming to be Christians.

When these people try to hinder you, do what Bart did–resist them. Don’t let them intimidate you into silence. When they told Bart to be quiet, he wouldn’t be silenced. Verse 39 tells us, “he shouted all the more.” He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He yelled so loudly everyone got quiet. Some of you want to shout “amen” or “glory,” but you are afraid of what the crowd may think. Bart didn’t listen to the crowd, he just shouted to the Lord!

3. Jesus is Never Too Busy to Pause and Help You

Verse 40 says Jesus stood still and instructed the people to bring the blind man to Him. (By the way, He is still instructing us to bring people to Him.) At this point, Jesus was headed for Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world. Within the next few days, He would face betrayal, arrest, torture, and crucifixion. He was a man on a Mission, yet He paused to answer the cry of one blind beggar.

Surely, there were hundreds of voices in the crowd that day calling out to Jesus, but He was able to distinguish Bart’s cry for mercy from the roar of the crowd. Jesus is still listening for the one voice among the murmur of the crowd. When you call out for Him, He will stop and respond to you.

You may think that in the larger scheme of the entire universe you aren’t very important. But the fact is you are of such importance to God, that when you call out to Him, He pauses to help you! The awesome God who keeps the entire universe running will stop and answer your cry for help as if He had nothing else to do. God isn’t distracted by the millions of other voices. He always has time for you.

On the way to the cross, Jesus paused and helped Bart; and whatever else He is doing today, He will pause and help you too. The Bible says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Jesus always meets us at our point of desperation. But it’s not desperation alone because you can be desperate and never call on God for help. People all around you at work, school, and perhaps in your family may hinder you from crying out to God, but keep shouting even louder like Bart did!

4. You Must Admit Your Need in Order to be Changed

At first, I was surprised by the question Jesus asked Bart in verse 41. He said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” At first, I thought, “What a funny question. Jesus knows Bart is blind!” But then I recalled Jesus asked a similar question to the paralyzed man who lay everyday at the Pool of Bethesda. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6). Bart had a pretty simple life. He had grown accustomed to sitting beside the road and accepting handouts. After all, some people like the attention they get from their suffering. It would be like asking someone today who is physically able to work, “Do you really want to get off welfare?”

They say, “Beggars can’t be choosers,” but Jesus gave Bart a choice. He asked him because He wanted Bart to admit his point of need and to confess he believed Jesus could change his life. And that is exactly what Bart did. He expressed his need and demonstrated his belief in the power of Jesus. He cried out, “Lord, I want to see!” The best prayers are simple and specific.

Jesus stands before you today and asks, “What do you want Me to do for you?” You can’t pray specifically until you are willing to admit your point of need. God can’t help you until you say, “Lord, I’m addicted to alcohol! I want to stay sober!” Or “Lord, I’ve got a pornography problem, I want to be pure!” Or “Lord, I’ve got a problem with anger, bitterness, and gossip. I want to be changed!”

5. When You See the Face of Jesus, You’ll Follow Him Anywhere

Without touching him, Blind Bart received his sight. Jesus said, “I see your faith and that’s enough!” We have several accounts of Jesus healing blind people and He used a variety of methods. Jesus healed one blind man by touching him. For another man, Jesus touched him once and his sight was blurred, then He touched him again. Still, with another man, Jesus spit in the dirt, made clay, patted it on the eyes of the man, and told him to go wash it off in the pool of Siloam. That’s a great lesson about how Jesus changes people in a variety of ways. Don’t ever insist someone else has to have exactly the same experience you’ve had. That’s how different churches and denominations get started–people start insisting there is only one way God does things. Someone once said, “If those four blind men were here today, we’d have four churches by Friday: The Word of Faith Church, The Once-Touched Church, The Twice-Touched Church, and the Spit-in-the-Eye Church!”

When Bart opened his eyes, the first thing He saw was the face of Jesus. The last sentence in Chapter 18 says Bart followed Jesus. Jesus was headed for Jerusalem and a cross–and Bart followed Him. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get to heaven and find he was a part of the 120 disciples who were praying in an upper room on the Day of Pentecost.

Here’s the lesson: When you see the face of Jesus, you’ll follow Him, too. You may be thinking, “Wait! I thought faith is believing without seeing! And now you say I need to see the face of Jesus? Make up your mind!”

You can see Him with eyes of faith. When you cry out to Jesus and trust Him to change you, you WILL see Him. His light will shine into the darkness of your heart. You don’t need physical eyesight to see Jesus. In fact, people who are physically blind can often see spiritual truths more clearly than those of us who have sight. Fanny Crosby was blind, yet she was one of the most prolific hymn writers in America history. She wrote over 8,500 poems and hymns. Imagine a stack of 15 hymn books piled on top of each other–it would take that many to contain all the songs Fanny Crosby wrote. Some of her more familiar hymns include, “To God Be the Glory,” “Blessed Assurance,” and “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.” Fanny Crosby could see things most of us can’t. She had wonderful insight because of her blindness. She glimpsed at the glory and greatness of God, and she looked forward to the time when she would see Jesus face-to-face.

The title of this message is “Lessons from a Blind Beggar.” Even before he was healed, Bart saw at least two important things. First, he saw his need: do you? Next, he saw an opportunity passing in front of him. The bystanders told him, “Jesus is passing by.” This is a powerful example of how great opportunities pass in front of us. Bart was faced with a split-second decision. If he remained still and silent, his opportunity for healing would be gone. Perhaps he thought, “There’s a crowd here today, maybe I’ll catch Jesus the next time He comes through Jericho.”

Some of you here right now need to do business with Jesus and you are hesitating, “Oh, I’ll do it after the first of the year.” What Bart didn’t know was Jesus never passed through Jericho again. He went straight from Jericho to the cross. Jesus is passing by right now, what are you going to do?

This encounter teaches us about the critical importance of seizing the opportunity. Today, you have the opportunity to cry out for mercy. Will you do it?

Today, Jesus is passing by. You may not have another opportunity like this one. I encourage you to call out to Him, “Jesus, have mercy on me!” If you’ll do that, I can promise you, on the authority of God’s Word, that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!” (Romans 10:13)

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

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What Makes Heaven Rejoice? Part 2 (Luke 15:1-10)

Found CoinLuke 15 contains three parables about lost items. In each story, extreme measures are taken to seek the lost; when each is found, there is great rejoicing. These stories are pictures of how God seeks us and the joy heaven experiences when we are found. In Part 1, we examined the first parable Jesus told about a lost sheep and the shepherd who goes out to rescue it. Today, we will look at the second parable.

II. THE LOST COIN: God has Gone to Extreme Measures to Rescue You

In this second parable, it’s not a lamb that has wandered off on its own; it’s a coin that has been accidentally lost. Jewish brides often wore a headdress of ten coins strung across their foreheads. So the coin had great sentimental value because it was part of her wedding vows. That’s why she literally turned her house upside down to find it.

The woman is so intent on finding the lost coin that she does two important things: First, she “lights” a lamp and second she “sweeps” up the dirt on her floor. In our lost condition, we are represented by the lost coin and Jesus is the one searching to find us. There is an important application we can make from these two details of light and sweeping.

1. Jesus Lives to Give You Light

The first thing the woman did was light a lamp to help here see clearly. There is a joke about a man looking for some lost money under the street light at night. A policeman started helping him look. After a few moments the policeman asked the man, “Exactly where did you lose the money?” The man replied, “Oh, I lost it half way down the block.” The policeman said, “Then why are you searching here?” The man said, “Because the light is so much better!”

It does help to have light when you are looking for something. Before Jesus finds us, we are lost in the darkness of sin. Jesus came into this world to provide the light of truth. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

In the Bible, there is a connection between light and truth. God gives every person a measure of light or truth about Himself–even if they don’t have a Bible. They can look at creation and understand Someone superior and intelligent designed it all. They can look within and understand that every person is born with a sense of right and wrong (so there must be a moral absolute in the universe). Everybody has some light. If you walk toward the light, God gives you more and more light about Jesus. If you walk away from the light the Bible says in Romans 1 that your understanding becomes darkened.

2. Jesus Died to Sweep Out Your Dirt

The lost coin was somewhere on the floor, and the best way to find it was to take a broom and sweep up all the dirt. In the process of cleaning every square inch of the floor the woman found the coin. There’s a great lesson here as well. In addition to giving you light, Jesus desires to cleanse your life of all the dirt and filth accumulated there. He died on the cross so your sins could be forgiven. “And the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The Bible says there is cleansing power in the blood of Jesus. Before you can be found, you need the light of the Lord and the cleansing power of the Lord.

In all of these parables the single theme that emerges is

III. The Joy of Salvation: Heaven Rejoices Over Every Changed Life

The jubilant shepherd called his friends and they rejoiced over the little lamb that was lost and is now found. The woman was so overjoyed when she recovered her lost coin she plans a party to celebrate it. Jesus said there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents. Let me share with you two reason why heaven rejoices over a single person who repents:

1. The Happiest Experience of Life is to be Rescued by God

Remember the saddest experience of life is to be spiritually lost, but to be found and rescued by God is the most joyous experience. I believe we should be more excited about our own salvation. You cannot lose your salvation, but sadly, many people have lost the joy of their salvation. Do you have a sense of this inexpressible and glorious joy? When Jesus is in your heart, there will be this sense of joy. Jesus said, “I have spoken these things to you, so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11). I sometimes encounter professed Christians who are negative and pessimistic about everything. I want to say to them, “If you really have Jesus’ joy in your heart, then you should notify your face!”

2. We Should Celebrate What Heaven Celebrates!

What is it in life that really gets you excited? What would give you the greatest joy that you could imagine? What would it take for you to grin and jump around and dance a jig and shout, “Whoo! Hoo! Yippee!?” I wonder if anything could move some people to that kind of joy. Some people are so straight-laced, a stick of dynamite couldn’t move them! But what would it take to really get you fired up? For some, it would be winning the lottery, or getting a hole-in-one, or hearing the doctor say the words, “cancer free.” It might be different for different people. But for those of us who claim to love Jesus, I submit to you we should celebrate what heaven celebrates. There is joy in the presence of angels when one sinner repents, so there should be joy among believers when a person repents.

In these parables, Jesus is teaching us God is like a shepherd who goes searching for one little lost lamb, and when He finds him, God celebrates! God is also like the woman who turns her house upside down to find the one lost coin, and when God finds that lost person, there is a party. Our God is personally interested in every lost lamb, every lost coin, and every wayward son. He is interested in the secretary in your office, the student in the classroom, the executive in the boardroom, and the drunkard on the street. He wants every lost person to be found.

You will never fully celebrate your salvation or the salvation of anyone else until you understand how wretched and miserable it is to be totally lost without Christ. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound; that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost; but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see!”

Have you ever admitted you were a “wretch” before Jesus found you? Do you realize how miserable and depraved you were before you repented and accepted God’s love? You’ll never truly celebrate and appreciate God’s grace until you realize how terrible it is to be lost.

If you are lost today, you can be found. God is seeking and searching for you. He loves you so much that Jesus came and died on the cross for your sins. Will you repent? To repent simply means to change your mind and to change your behavior. Change your mind about Jesus and Who He is and what He can do for you. Accept His grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Change your behavior and start living as He wants you to live. When you turn to Him, there is joy in the presence of angels!

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What Makes Heaven Rejoice? Part 1 (Luke 15:1-10)

Parable of Lost SheepLuke 15 may be one of the greatest chapters in the entire Bible. It contains three parables about things that were lost and then found. These stories are pictures of how God seeks us and the joy heaven experiences when we are found. Let’s begin reading in verse 1:

Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

There were two different groups present in Jesus’ audience: the religious leaders and the sinners. The Pharisees and teachers of the law had become the enemies of Jesus by this time. They followed Him around looking for a reason to condemn Him. These religious fanatics were so scrupulous in their observance of the law; they would never sit down and eat with “sinners” like tax collectors and common men. The words of Jesus made the religious crowd very angry and they were going to eventually crucify Him in the name of their religion.

But the Bible says the common people heard Jesus gladly–they rejoiced in His words! We need to be on guard constantly so we don’t become so self-righteous that we begin to exclude people who aren’t just like us. When we do, we become exactly like those Pharisees. Look at their criticism of Jesus: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” My response to that is, “Thank God He welcomes sinners or else I would never have a chance to know Him!” Their criticism was actually a compliment!

If you are here today and you feel you aren’t good enough, that you have failed and blown it too many times to approach God, let me remind you that Jesus welcomes sinners! Jesus didn’t share the scruples of the religious leaders, so He was always hanging out with the outcasts and rejected people. Because Jesus welcomed sinners, we need to welcome sinners, too! Look at verses 3-10:

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. The he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

What is it that makes heaven happy? Jesus reports there is great rejoicing in heaven when one person turns from their sins and puts their faith in Jesus Christ. The world may be impressed when we build a huge building, but I don’t believe heaven celebrates too much when a building is built. The world may be impressed with our multitude of programs and ministries, but Jesus never said there was joy in the presence of angels over 4,000 people gathering for Bible Study. He did say, not once, not twice, but three times there is great joy in heaven when one person turns to God and receives His forgiveness. Let’s take a closer look at these parables and discover why heaven gets so happy when a person turns to Christ. In both of these parables, there was something lost that was found.

I. THE LOST LAMB: God Loves You as an Individual

In the first parable, a little lamb is lost and the Shepherd leaves the others to go out and find the individual lamb. We are the lost lamb and Jesus is the Shepherd. This leads to two observations:

1. The Saddest Experience of Life is To Be Lost

In the parable, God is the Shepherd and the lost lamb represents us: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). There are three words starting with “D” that describe sheep: dumb, defenseless, and directionless. You won’t see any trained sheep acts at the circus–they are too dumb. Almost all animals have either claws, sharp teeth, quills, a hard shell, or speed to escape predators, but not a lamb; they have no defenses. Sheep get lost easily, too. Pigeons, cats, and dogs can often find their way back home, but sheep are clueless about how to find their own way back home. In many respects, we are the same way in our ability to rescue ourselves from our lost condition. We are dumb, defenseless, and directionless. Like sheep, we all have a tendency to stray away from God. We are prone to wander.

It can be unnerving to be lost. How many of you have ever been in a strange building or city and gotten lost? It can be a distressing experience! In this passage, Jesus used the word “lost” to speak of the spiritual condition of being eternally lost. The word L-O-S-T is one of the scariest four lettered words in the human language. A lost soul is the most tragic condition in life. There was a time, as a young adult, when I was very wealthy, but because of some unwise investments, I lost it all. It’s terrible to lose a fortune, but that’s nothing compared to the tragedy of a lost soul.

I have friends and family who suffer (and in some cases have died) from various health problems. They once had been strong and healthy, but then they were disabled. It’s terrible when someone loses his health, but not nearly as terrible as a lost soul. You can lose your mind, but it’s not as tragic as a lost soul. Death will heal the loss of a fortune, or a loss of health, or a loss of a mind, but a lost soul is for eternity. We are all like a lost lamb at one time in our lives. Jesus can never find you until you admit you are a lost sinner. The bad news is without Christ, we are lost. But the good news is

2. Jesus Searches for Us in Order To Save Us

The shepherd had 100 sheep and he began to count them, “…97, 98, 99, Whoa! I’m missing one!” Then the Shepherd does something surprising. He leaves the other 99 sheep and sets off to find the single lost lamb. Remember, that’s what God is like. Most people think “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” But Jesus never said anything like that. God is more concerned with the individual than with the group. God deals with us as individuals, not as groups. He cannot save the crowd, but He will save every individual in the crowd who will accept His love and forgiveness. You don’t get saved by hanging around other saved people–that’s called salvation by association–it doesn’t work that way. You have to have a personal encounter with the Shepherd yourself.

Now, many folks think the shepherd is foolish to leave the 99 sheep in order to search for one lamb. What’s the big deal if one is lost? You still have 99 sheep–it’s only a 1% loss! But with God, every individual matters. If the shepherd had 10,000 sheep and one was lost, he would have still left the 9,999 and gone after the one. Why? Because it is the character of our God to love the individual and to seek the lost. If you were the only person on earth who was lost and needed a Savior, Jesus would have still come to earth and died on a cross for your sins. That’s why Jesus came to earth.

The bad news is without God you are lost. But the good news is Jesus loves you so much He died on the cross. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). It is the nature of God to seek the lost. In the other religions of the world, man is seeking and searching for God; but in the Christian faith, it is God who comes seeking and searching for you!

Notice what happened when the shepherd found the lost lamb. He didn’t scold the lamb or take a whip and drive the lamb back to the flock. Instead, the shepherd picked up the lamb and carried him on his shoulder all the way back home. To me, that communicates salvation is something Jesus does for us, not something we do for Him. He does it all. He carries us home. Won’t you let the Shepherd pick you up today and carry you home?

In Part 2, we will look at the second parable Jesus told about a lost coin and the woman who searched frantically for it.

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5 Portraits of a Real Disciple (Luke 14:25-35)

Discipleship 3Jesus was getting closer and closer to the cross. People who wanted to see a miracle or get a free meal from Him were mobbing Him. The crowd following Jesus knew who He was, but they would soon be gone. The crowd was about to become much smaller because Jesus started setting forth the cost of discipleship and it’s not a popular message. It requires total commitment. Today, the majority of people who express an interest in Jesus represent the crowd–they are not committed to Jesus and do not experience a deep level of intimacy with Him. In Luke 14:25-35, Jesus provided five vivid images and used each one to teach a lesson about discipleship:

1. A Family: Love Jesus Supremely

The first image Jesus used was a family. Are you surprised Jesus said to be a disciple you must hate your family? I read about a pastor who entitled his sermon, “How to hate your wife.” You may be asking yourself, “Doesn’t Jesus talk elsewhere about loving everyone, including our enemies?” Yes, but the Greek word for “hate” means something totally different than our English word for “hate.” In Greek the word “hate” means to prefer above. Jesus often used figures of speech to give His words a greater impact. He used metaphors, similes, and parables. And here, He simply employed hyperbole. Hyperbole is an intentional exaggeration to emphasize a point. My wife uses hyperbole all the time when she says something like, “I’ve told you a million times to put the seat down.” I know it really isn’t a million times, so don’t get upset because Jesus used hyperbole.

To be a real disciple, we must love Jesus more than we love anyone else–even family members. Our love for Jesus should be so powerful that in comparison, it seems as if we hate everyone else. It is also true that sometimes our love for Jesus will alienate us from others, even our family. If you truly follow the Lord, you won’t have to look for people to ridicule you and oppose you, they will find you–and they may be your family members. Jesus said, “All men will hate you because of Me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved… Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:22, 37). Friend, when God calls you, you will have to make some difficult decisions, and sometimes your family will not jump up and down and rejoice over your choices. That’s the first portrait of a real disciple.

2. A Cross: Live Like a Dead Person

The second image Jesus used was a cross. A real disciple is someone who carries his cross. Many Christians are confused about what it means to carry a cross. I’ve had someone say to me, “I have migraine headaches, but I guess it’s just the cross I must bear.” Or I had someone take off his shoe one time and show me his ugly big toe. He said, “I have an in-grown toenail, but I guess it’s just the cross I must bear.” I always wanted to say, “Why don’t you have that nasty thing worked on by a doctor?” The cross is NOT a headache or an ingrown toenail.

The true message of the cross is death. In Jesus’ time the cross was a horrible, agonizing, and tortuous mode of execution. It was the electric chair, lethal injection, and noose of His day. In the time of Jesus, when you saw someone carrying a cross, it meant only one thing–they were as good as dead. Jesus’ audience was well aware of what it meant to carry a cross. When the Romans led a criminal to his execution site, he was forced to carry the cross on which he would die. This showed his submission to Rome and warned observers they had better submit too. Jesus spoke this teaching to get the crowd thinking about their enthusiasm for Him. He encouraged those who were superficial either to go deeper or to turn back. Following Christ means total submission to Him–perhaps even to the point of death.

But today, the image of the cross has lost its horror. How many of you are either wearing a cross or have a cross on your Bible? How nice. The cross has become benign–a piece of harmless jewelry. What if stores began to sell miniature models of an electric chair or made a little syringe of poison and started offering it as jewelry to wear? Can you imagine someone walking up to you saying, “I love your electric chair hanging from your neck, where did you get it?” Or “I love your lethal injection syringe, where did you get it?”

Paul understood what it meant to carry a cross. Here are two dynamite verses from the book of Galatians: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20) and “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). That means there is nothing the world has to offer that interests you–it’s as if the world is dead to you and you are dead to the world. For a disciple carrying a cross, the world can’t offer a thing he wants. In many ways, a dead man is set free. You and I won’t be truly liberated until we understand what it is to be crucified with Christ. That’s the second portrait of a real disciple.

3. A Tower: Consider the Value of a Good Finish

The third image Jesus used was a tower. Jesus presented the image of a man who plans on building a tower. Before he begins the construction, he must “count the cost” to see if he has enough resources to finish the job. When a builder doesn’t count the cost or estimates it inaccurately, his building may be left half completed. Jesus is talking about the cost of commitment.

Will your Christian life be only half built and then abandoned because you did not count the cost of total commitment to Jesus? What are those costs? Christians may face loss of social status or wealth. They may have to give up control over their money, their time, and their career. They may be hated, separated from their family, and even put to death. Following Christ does not mean a trouble-free life. We must carefully count the cost of becoming Christ’s disciples, so we will know what we are getting into and won’t be tempted later to turn back.

Actually, it may be better to think in terms of the value instead of the cost. A good finish as a disciple is the key. A lot of backslidden Christians may go to heaven when they die, but they won’t be finishing well. Jesus spoke about the man “who was not able to finish” (v. 29). Jesus says everyone will look at the uncompleted project and ridicule the one who didn’t finish it. I’m haunted by those words–I don’t want to become a spiritual dropout.

The older I get the more I realize there can never be any “coasting” in the Christian life. There is no such thing as spiritual retirement. The pages of the Bible are littered with great men and women who didn’t finish well. Noah and his family were saved from the flood, but poor Noah ended as a drunken man who got naked. Solomon was the wisest man in all of history, but he didn’t finish well–his many wives turned his heart away from God.

Are you going to finish well? I know some folks who used to be faithful servants, real disciples, but they have dropped out. Oh, they still attend church sometimes and I suppose they’ll go to heaven when they die, but unless something changes they aren’t going to finish strong.

The good news is none of us are finished yet. It doesn’t matter what has happened in the past, we can still finish well. The finish line is still ahead. Are you sitting down on the track? Are you going to barely drag yourself across the finish line? Or are you going to summon God’s strength, so you can sprint across the finish line? It doesn’t matter how well you start if you fail to finish. A real disciple finishes strong.

4. A War: Surrender to the Stronger King

In the fourth image Jesus used, He described two kings. One was outnumbered, so he wisely approached the stronger king and made peace before the battle ever began. You and I are one of the kings and God is the other. Guess which one we are? Because we can never win against God, we must surrender to Him. In Jesus’ time, a surrendering king could be made into a slave of the opposing king, so it required great humility to bow down and ask for terms of peace. It takes humility to surrender to Jesus. You cannot be a disciple unless you are willing to give up control of your life to Him. And that’s hard to do. None of us wants to give up.

I once read about a lifeguard on a beach who saw a drowning man. He walked into the surf but didn’t go out to rescue him. People gathered on the beach and yelled and screamed at the lifeguard to go out and rescue the drowning man. The lifeguard waded a little deeper, and kept his eye on the drowning man, but the yells and screams of the onlookers didn’t motivate him to swim out. Just when it seemed the man was going down for the last time the lifeguard swam out with strong strokes, and grabbed the man and brought him back to shore. After some spitting and coughing the man was conscious. But rather than hailing him as a hero the onlookers were angry at the lifeguard and said, “You coward! You saw he was drowning. Why didn’t you go out sooner?”

The lifeguard patiently explained, “You can see that he is much bigger and stronger than I am.” If I had gone out sooner, he was thrashing and kicked so violently that he would have probably drowned both of us. As long as he was trying to save himself, I couldn’t save him. But when he got tired and gave up, then I knew I could save him.”

That’s a great lesson about salvation. As long as you think you are strong enough to save yourself, you won’t surrender to Jesus. It’s only when you give up and realize you are hopelessly lost that Jesus can come and rescue you. Have you ever come to a place in your life where you have surrendered everything you have and everything you are to Jesus? Real discipleship is coming to Jesus and saying, “Jesus, I give up control of my life to You.”

One of the reasons the book of Psalms speaks of lifting your hands in praise is because the lifting of hands has always been a gesture of surrender. Even today the police will say, “Put your hands up!” Have you surrendered to Jesus? I didn’t ask you if you were a Christian. For me, I have found I need to surrender to Jesus often. Maybe you need to do what I do.

5. Salt: Stay Pure to Preserve Goodness

The fifth image Jesus used was salt. Salt was very valuable during Jesus’ time. Roman soldiers were paid with salt rations. The greatest value of salt was in its use as a preservative. Since they didn’t have any way to refrigerate meat, salt would be applied to fresh meat to prevent the meat from rotting. The salt created a chemical reaction that slowed down the process of decay and preserved the goodness of the meat. That’s why Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” (Matthew 5:13).

The problem Jesus identified is that some people have lost their saltiness. We live in a nation suffering from moral decay at an alarming rate. Our society is getting more rotten by the day. Sadly, many believers live such impure lives that they have lost their sense of saltiness in a rotting world. When we allow impure thoughts and impure behavior to become mixed in our personality, we lose our saltiness. Many Christians blend into the world and avoid the cost of standing up for Christ. But Jesus said if Christians lose their distinctive saltiness, they become worthless. Just as salt flavors and preserves food, we are to preserve the good in the world. Being “salty” is not easy, but if we fail in this function, we fail to represent Christ to the world. How salty are you?

We should be dangerous disciples in this world, but too many believers are harmless to the devil’s work. Too many Christians are like the dog a friend of mine told me about. One day, he walked into an old country store and saw a sign just inside that read: “DANGER! BEWARE OF DOG!” My friend looked around cautiously, but all he saw was an old hound curled up on the floor, sound asleep. He said to the owner, “That dog doesn’t look dangerous to me.” The owner said, “Well, folks kept tripping over him, so that’s why I put up the sign.”

Are you a real disciple? Do you love Jesus more than anyone else, even your family? Are you a dead man walking, carrying your cross? Are you committed to finishing strong for Jesus? Are you constantly surrendering everything you have to Him? Are you willing to stay pure, so you can be salt in a rotting world? Jesus is looking for a few good men and women: the humble, the pure, the dead, the committed. Will you decide today to move from being a casual bystander in the crowd and make being a fully devoted follower of Jesus your goal?

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The Truth about God: Part 3 (Luke 20:9-19)

truthWhat is God really like? Jesus tells a parable in Luke 20:9-19, which reveals four foundational aspects of the nature of God. In Part 1, we saw God is good. In Part 2, we saw God is patient and loving. Now, in the conclusion of this message, we will look at the final truth we learn about God from this parable. You may be shocked to discover the truth!

4. God is holy – He will punish sin

After Jesus spoke of the tenants killing the owner’s son, He paused and asked, “What will the owner of the vineyard do then?” Before the listeners had a chance to respond, He answered His own question. He said, “He will come and kill them and give the vineyard to someone else” (vv. 15-16).

Don’t confuse love with syrupy sentimentality. Because God is holy, He cannot tolerate sin. Years ago, school teachers used to paddle students if they misbehaved. I remember hearing a story about one teacher who had a big paddle he kept in his desk drawer. He had the word “patience” written on his paddle. Whenever someone misbehaved, he would pull the paddle out and say, “You’re getting close to the end of my patience.” He always warned a student before he executed judgment. If the warning was ignored, the student got a paddling. He would say, “You’ve reached the end of my patience, now the end of my patience is going to reach you.”

On the other hand, whenever the students had a substitute teacher, they could misbehave because substitute teachers seldom punished kids. Some people think God is like some half-witted, permissive substitute teacher who looks at the world of misbehaving sinners and says, “Now, now boys and girls, please sit down and be quiet.” No, God is holy and like the owner of the vineyard, there will be a day of judgment for those who reject His Son.

In the book of Revelation, there is a great deal written about God’s ultimate judgment against those who reject His love. In the middle of these future judgments, an angel says to God, “You are just in these judgments, O Holy One,You who are and who were;for they have shed the blood of Your holy people and Your prophets, and You have given them blood to drink as they deserve” (Rev. 16:5). Because God is Holy, He will punish sin; and because God is Holy, He is right and just in His judgments.

Jesus infuriated the Jewish leaders because He claimed to be the “stone which the builders rejected.” The Jews were on the verge of rejecting God’s chief cornerstone – they would crucify Him. But God was going to exalt Jesus by raising Him from the dead.

A few months after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Peter and John were arrested for healing a paralyzed man. They were summoned before the same Jewish council who sentenced Jesus to die. Instead of pleading for mercy, Peter used the opportunity to repeat these words of Jesus right in their faces: “Know this, you and all the people of Israel: it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is the ‘stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:10-12).

What is God really like? He is good, He is patient, and He is loving. But He is also holy and today you and I must consider Jesus’ warning: If you reject God’s Son, you will receive God’s judgment.

Imagine, for a moment, you committed a capital crime and were convicted and sentenced to receive the death penalty. You are on death row and the date of your execution is approaching. Just a few hours before you are scheduled to receive a lethal injection the prison warden enters your cell and says, “I have good news for you! The governor has decided to grant you a full and free pardon. Here, this is a copy of your pardon.” Then imagine you look at the warden, and laugh and say, “I don’t believe you. Besides, I’m guilty. No thanks.” Then you tear up the pardon and toss it back in the warden’s face. You would be a fool not to accept such an offer. The only recourse for the warden would be to carry out your execution.

It is also true that if you receive God’s Son, you will receive God’s forgiveness. Each of us stands guilty before the Lord. The good news is God has offered you a full and free pardon. Jesus Christ has already taken our punishment and all we have to do is accept God’s free gift of forgiveness. You and I would be fools not to accept such an offer. The Bible says, “The fool has said in his heart there is no God” (Psalm 53:1).

Will you receive His Son today? The Bible says, “To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

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The Truth about God: Part 2 (Luke 20:9-19)

repentanceWhat is God really like? Jesus tells a parable in Luke 20:9-19, which reveals four foundational aspects of the nature of God. In Part 1, we saw God is good. Now, we will consider two more truths about God we learn from this parable:

2. God is patient – He sends us many messengers

In the parable, the owner, who represents God, sent a servant to the vineyard when the grapes were ready to harvest. The tenants were like share-croppers. The owner did not demand all of the grapes, just a portion of them. But the tenants rejected the servant, beat him up, and kicked him out. The essence of sin is declaring independence from your Creator – refusing to acknowledge God’s ownership of this world and rejecting His claim on your life. Sin always begins with an attitude that says, “I don’t need God. I’m the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.”

The tenants insulted the owner by rejecting his servant. What would you do if you were the landlord of a rental house and you sent an employee to collect the rent and instead of paying, the renter beat up your employee and said, “This is MY house! I’m not paying a dime!” God would have been legally and morally justified to instantly reclaim the vineyard from sinful mankind and punish us immediately. But at this point in the parable, we learn the truth about God: He is not only good, He is patient. Instead of punishing the farmers, he sends another servant, and then another – and they are all rejected.

In the Old Testament, God sent many prophets to Israel to warn them of the dangers of rejecting God. Most of the prophets were abused and scorned. Elijah was threatened by a wicked queen, Jeremiah was thrown into a pit to die, and Amos was ridiculed. The messages of the prophets were never valued until years after they died. Someone once said prophets, poets, and pigs have one thing in common: they aren’t truly appreciated until they’re dead.

God owns this world and He owns your life. Have you rejected His claim? If you have, you should be thankful God is patient. He keeps on sending you messengers to patiently request you surrender to Him what is rightfully His. God has promised He will punish sin. You may think you are getting away with your sin, but God is just being patient with you. The Bible says, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). He is giving you another chance right now as you read these words. Patience is not weakness or unconcern; patience is strength under control.

In the 19th century, before radio or television, people in America found entertainment by listening to orators. One of the most infamous was a gifted atheist by the name of Robert Ingersol. He traveled around the country delivering eloquent speeches on the irrationality of believing in God. One of his most dramatic methods was to stand on stage and shake his fist toward heaven and say, “If there is a God, I dare Him to strike me dead in 10 seconds!” Then he slowly counted to ten. Women fainted and God-fearing people rushed for the exits, fully expecting God to send a fireball and consume Robert Ingersol. Of course, nothing happened. After completing his count, Ingersol challenged anyone in the audience to refute his logic. It is reported in one small Midwestern town an old, godly woman laughed out loud and said, “Mr. Ingersol, do you think you can exhaust God’s wonderful patience in just 10 seconds?” God is patient, but as we will see, His patience will run out one day.

3. God is loving – He sent His only Son

In the parable, after his servants had been rejected and abused, the owner takes an unprecedented, astonishing step – he sent his son. Jesus called him “the beloved son.” In Mark’s version of the story, the owner sends his “only son.” The words “beloved son” are the same words heard when Jesus was baptized. A voice from heaven said, “This is My Beloved Son” (Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11).

I was reading my Bible the other day and came across an amazing verse. When I read it, I was blown away. It is probably the most important statement about God found in the Bible. I want to share it with you in case you have never read it. It says, “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Can you comprehend that? There is only one God and He has only one Son, and He loves us so much He sent His only Son to reconcile our differences with Him. What did we do? Did we run out to meet God’s Son and fall at His feet in surrender? No, like the tenants in the parable, we crucified the Son of God.

This parable not only highlights the truth about the character of God, it reveals the shocking truth about the utter wickedness of the human heart. The tenants of the vineyard did not kill the owner’s son in the spontaneous heat of emotion; they made a calculated decision. They thought by killing the son, they could claim ownership of the vineyard.

That’s what so amazing about God’s love. We are sinners by nature and by choice, but God still loves us, in spite of our sin. He loves us enough that He sent His only Son to die for us. The Bible says, “God demonstrated His love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

How can a person resist that kind of love? God has written thousands of letters to us – and each one of them says, “I love you.” The reason some people don’t understand the Bible is because they try to study it like they study other literature, such as Shakespeare or Milton. Instead, the Bible is one long love letter. On every page, God is expressing His love to you.

The owner of the vineyard was good, patient, and loving, but he couldn’t allow the wickedness of the tenants to go unnoticed or unpunished.

In Part 3, we will look at the final truth about God. You may be shocked to discover the truth!

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The Truth about God: Part 1 (Luke 20:9-19)

when-jesus-calls-your-nameMost of us are familiar with product warning labels. A warning label is designed to protect us from harm. If there was a warning label attached to the passage of Scripture we are looking at today, it would read: WARNING – IF YOU REJECT GOD’S SON YOU WILL RECEIVE GOD’S JUDGEMENT.

On the Sunday before His crucifixion, Jesus was welcomed by the cheers of the people. As He entered Jerusalem, He paused and sobbed bitter tears over how the people of Israel had rejected Him. Over the next few days, He taught openly in the temple courts. The religious leaders tried unsuccessfully to entrap Him with trick questions. In the midst of these questions, Jesus shared a parable that contained a scathing indictment against the failure of the Jewish people to accept Him (Read Luke 20:9-19):

A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.

Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’

But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!”

Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest Him immediately because they knew He had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

When Jesus finished telling this parable the people were so shocked, they cried out, “May it never be so!” They were astonished because Jesus disrupted their nice, neat understanding of the God of Israel. Their view of God had become so skewed they thought God existed for the sake of Israel, not Israel for God.

Over 90 percent of Americans claim to believe in God, but what kind of God do they trust? For some, He is the nice, neat God they salute for an hour a week on Sunday and then live the rest of their lives as if He doesn’t exist. For others, their religious rules and rituals have become a substitute for actually knowing God. Jesus Christ visited planet earth 2,000 years ago to teach us what God is really like. In this parable, He reveals four foundational aspects of the nature of God. You may be shocked to learn the truth!

1. God is good – He has placed us in this world to tend it

Like the owner of the vineyard, God created this world. He is the owner of this vineyard called Earth. He has placed us here to manage it. We don’t own anything, we’re just the tenants. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).

A good place to learn about the nature of God is in the book of Genesis. The first three words in the Hebrew Bible are, “Bershith bara Elohim,” which means, “in the beginning God created.” The Bible really doesn’t go into detail about how God created the universe, it simply says, “In the beginning God created” (Genesis 1:1).

Sadly, most Americans have been taught the universe just came into existence by chance rather than by creation. Most schools teach billions of years ago there was a big bang somewhere in space and the spark of life was ignited. Then, through the process of natural selection, this tiny cell of proto-life evolved.

But the Bible says God created the heavens and the earth. You don’t have to commit intellectual suicide to believe there is a higher being, who planned and created this world. The first two chapters of Genesis were not written to teach us about the exact process of creation, they were written to teach us about the God of Creation. From the beginning, we see He is a good God.

During creation, God was like a master painter. He created something, stepped back, and said, “That’s good.” In Genesis 1, the phrase “and God saw that it was good” is repeated six times. When He finished, “God saw all He had made and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

When He created Adam, God saw he was alone and said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). God’s nature is to create and seek good. When He sees something that is not good, He corrects it. That’s why God gave Adam a wife; He knew she would be good for him.

God is good and everything good in our lives comes from Him (James 1:17).Things may not look too good in your world right now. Some people think for things to be good, there must be the absence of problems or pain. They argue, “If God is good, then how could He allow this war to happen? If God is good, why do bad things happen?” Look at the parable again. The bad things that happened in the vineyard were not caused by the owner; the tenants messed up a good thing. That’s what has happened in our world today. We live in a fallen, sinful world and our sin has messed it up. When someone complains to me that life isn’t fair, I sometimes say, “You’re right, life isn’t fair – but God is good.”

God really is good and He’s good all the time! I can stand here all day and tell you God is good, but you’ll never know for sure until you get to know Him for yourself and you experience His goodness. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 24:8). When you experience the living God of the Bible, not a religion, you’ll say like Andy Griffith used to say, “umm umm good!”

In Part 2, we will look at two more truths about God we learn from this parable.

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Jesus, the Unwelcomed Lover (Luke 13:31-35)

red-love-rejectionHave you ever had your love rejected? It hurts when someone rejects your love, whether you are 13, 23, or 73 years old. Oh, the pain of rejected love!

In today’s passage, I want you to see how Jesus’ love is often unwelcomed and rejected. But before we read our text, let me review the context and setting. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be crucified (v. 22). The opposition against Him was growing stronger and more vocal. The common people loved Him and heard Him gladly, but the religious crowd hated Him because He exposed their hypocrisy and wickedness. Let’s pick up with Luke 13:31-35:

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to Him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill You.”

He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

In these words, you can almost feel the depth of love and compassion Jesus had for His people. That’s the same kind of love He has for you today. Let’s learn three important things about Jesus’ love:

1. Jesus is a fearless lover

The Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod was out to kill Him, so He had better leave town by sundown. He was no friend of the Pharisees, so this warning was probably a scare tactic intended to spook Jesus.

Herod Antipas was a powerful governor who had the authority to execute anyone he desired. A few months earlier, he had beheaded John the Baptist at the request of his cunning stepdaughter, who was also his niece. Herod had nightmares that Jesus was actually John come back from the dead.

Jesus’ reply is priceless. He makes a joke of Herod. He says, “You tell that fox…” (v. 32). That’s an example of Hebrew humor. He was offering a caricature of Herod as a sneaky, cunning, predatory animal—actually pretty funny if you knew anything about Herod! He was more animal-like in his passions than human.

This response reveals Jesus’ courage. He is a fearless lover. He indicated He was going to keep on doing what He had been doing and Herod would not slow Him down. He had a job to do and He had a goal to accomplish. In verse 32, Jesus said, “I WILL reach my goal.” His goal was to redeem sinful mankind—and He knew He would have to die as the sacrificial Lamb to provide forgiveness. Nothing would cause Him to detour from the destination of the cross. Jesus was not afraid of Herod because He knew He already had a date with death and it wouldn’t be at the hands of Herod. Jesus did not die some martyr’s death over which He had no control. They did not execute Him; He willingly laid down His life. He makes that clear by what He said in John 10:17-18: “The reason My Father loves Me is that I lay down My life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord.” Revelation 13:8 says Jesus is the Lamb of God who was “slain from the creation of the world.” The cross was not an afterthought of God. It was not “Plan B” because Adam and Eve sinned. It was not a contingency plan—it was always God’s plan.

In a few days, Jesus was going to carry a literal cross from Pilate’s fort to a hill outside Jerusalem. But Jesus was already carrying that cross in His mind and heart. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus knew He would die and rise again. He said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:19). That’s why He was a fearless lover.

Human nature always wants to “detour from the difficult” instead of staying the course. Human nature says, “Get out of that bad marriage” or “Don’t submit to that difficult boss.” But there is a cross for all of us who would follow Jesus and we must be fearless in carrying it.

Jesus laughed and said, “You tell that fox…” On the surface, it seems as if Herod was the old fox who was being laughed at, but on a different level, I think Jesus was also laughing at the fox of death, the death Herod had the power to inflict. Jesus laughed at death.

Here’s the personal application for each of us: when we belong to God, we don’t have to fear any fox! When we are carrying the cross of Jesus, we have already died to self. You can’t scare a dead man. When we’re carrying the cross, it’s a liberating experience because we don’t have to be afraid of anybody or anything.

When the ship captain delivered the first missionaries to the wild jungle, he said, “I don’t know why you are going to those savages because they will kill you.” The missionary replied, “They can’t kill us because we have already died.”

The Bible says, “Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). That’s why Jesus wasn’t afraid. He possessed a perfect love for us. Jesus laughed in the face of the fear of death. You and I don’t have to be afraid either. When we are carrying the cross of Christ, we can laugh at any threat. I love the comment about the “Proverbs 31 woman.” The Bible says a godly woman is able to “laugh at the days to come” (Prov. 31:25). When you are carrying the cross, you can face any threat of the future and laugh at it. That’s what Jesus did – He made a joke about Herod and his deathly threat.

What are you afraid of today? Death? Financial ruin? Terrorist attack? Disease? When you truly belong to God there is nothing in this life that can rob you of your joy and your promise of eternal life. Some people go through this life whining and complaining and moaning and groaning that life isn’t fair. Hey, this life isn’t fair, but this life isn’t all there is! So get over it and get under the cross! Start living a life under the cross where you can laugh at the things that ought to scare you. Jesus is a fearless lover and what a lesson for all of us!

2. Jesus is a protective lover

This passage could be called Animal Planet because Jesus makes references to two different animals. He compared Herod and death to a fox, and He compared Himself to a mother hen. Look at verse 34 again. Jesus says, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Can you hear the depth of passion and heartache in that cry? There are many pictures in the Bible that describe God’s nature and character: He is a rock, the door, a shepherd, the light… and there are many others. God’s character is so multi-faceted that none of these images fully communicate the richness of His nature. Each one gives us a small insight into how He wants to relate to us.

Have you ever thought of God as a mother hen? Jesus was standing over Jerusalem with His arms of love outstretched, but the Jews were unwilling to accept His love. Jerusalem will never have peace until they acknowledge the Prince of Peace. Now, I must admit, I have never raised chickens, and maybe some of you have, so you may know more about chickens than I do. But we can learn something about God by understanding a mother hen.

A hen constantly calls her chicks. Maybe you have been around a chicken yard and heard them clucking, and thought they were clucking just to hear themselves cluck. But each hen has a distinctive cluck and clucks constantly, so her chicks can find her. Her chicks recognize her call. Jesus is constantly calling us to Himself as well. He says, “Come to Me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). If we are wise, we will recognize and respond to the call of Jesus.

A hen calls them to feed. In every chicken yard there is a clearly established “pecking order.” The most dominant chickens get the first chance at food. As you can imagine, little chicks are pretty far down the pecking order. That’s why we are told to “stay right in the center” of God’s love. Like those little chicks Jesus spoke of, we should stay under the protective wings of God. We should be like a little child running to a parent with our arms outstretched and open—and get into the zone of His blessing and grace. Some of you are Christians and God loves you, but you have left the shelter of His love. Today, you can come back to Him and get back into the center of His love.

3. Jesus is a rejected lover

Verse 34 contains five of the saddest words in the Universe. Jesus said, “but you were not willing.” Jesus loves us so much He died for our sins. There is a heaven and a hell, and if a person lives their entire life rejecting His love, they will spend eternity in hell. I suspect He will say to each person who goes to hell, “I wanted to protect you and shelter you like a hen protects her chicks… but you were not willing.”

I can understand how Jesus’ heart was broken because His Jewish brothers and sisters rejected Him. The Bible says, “He came to that which was His own, but his own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). When I was in the eighth grade, there was a girl who rejected my love—and the result was only a minor broken heart. But the consequences of rejecting Jesus’ love are much more severe. Any person who rejects God’s love will experience spiritual desolation. When I think of the word “desolate,” I imagine a dry, barren desert where there is no shade and no water. I’ve known people, and perhaps you are one of them, who are experiencing spiritual desolation. There are no springs of living water bubbling up in their personalities. There is no fruit, no joy, no peace—only barrenness and desolation. Are you there?

The most amazing thing Jesus said in this passage is that we have the power to choose. Those last four words in verse 34 are some of the most powerful words in the universe. Jesus says to us, “I will love you and shelter you like a mother hen protects her chicks if you are willing.” You have the power to choose. When you choose to change the direction of your life, that’s called repentance. Have you ever repented and accepted Jesus’ love?

Today, Jesus invites you to run under His wings of safety and warmth. Some of you are Christians who left the circle of His love. He never stopped loving you, but you have vacated that zone of blessing. Will you move back to a position of obedience, so He can bless you? Others of you need to accept His love for the first time. Will you do that? If you choose not to receive His offer of love, for you He is still Jesus, the unwelcomed lover.

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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 (James 5:7-12)

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

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: Part 1 (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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