But what about FAITH IN GOD? What does THAT look like? What PRACTICAL DIFFERENCE does make?
It’s a question people TODAY are asking more and more. Not so much “Is your faith based on something that’s TRUE?” But “Does your faith MAKE A DIFFERENCE in your life?” Do you PROVE that God’s reliable by the way you live your life?
And James is vitally interested in that question. And it makes this little letter very relevant for today.
What does your faith LOOK LIKE?
James answered the question DIRECTLY back in Ch 2. Some people say you can have faith but no deeds. But that’s IMPOSSIBLE. Because TRUE faith in God has to LOOK LIKE something. It RISKS something. PRODUCES something.
And, from start to finish, James is interested in PRACTICALITIES. He wants to see TRUE faith that SOAKS into every corner of life. Not a sterile, powerless faith. With a tiny vision of God, who pleads for your church attendance an hour a week, and expects nothing more.
For James, religion – how you live out your faith – is an ALL OF LIFE THING. All the time, in every area, whatever your situation, with no areas out-of-bounds.
It’s a big call! Right up there with Jesus who said the Kingdom of God was like a man who found a pearl in a field, and then went away and SOLD EVERYTHING HE HAD to buy the field. That’s what God’s WORTH, and that’s what he WANTS. Everything you have!
And in THIS section, from Ch 4 v13, James teaches that our religion even affects those things that don’t SEEM religious. The way we approach everyday tasks like earning a living and moving are RELIGION. They’re an EXPRESSION OF OUR FAITH.
And he warns of A NUMBER OF TRAPS. Traps where UNBELIEF can cause us to SIN.
Traps for those with MUCH. As well as traps for those with LITTLE.
Traps for those with much
1.Presumption & boasting (4:13-16)
First, the traps for those with MUCH. There from v13. And the first trap is one of PRESUMPTION AND BOASTING.
13 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.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
And then, in v16, “…you BOAST AND BRAG.”
Now, James isn’t saying there’s anything wrong with doing business. Nothing wrong with moving from one city to another. Nothing wrong with making a profit.
What’s sinful is the attitude that PRESUMES to MAKE PLANS APART FROM GOD. That assumes that you control things.
And it assumes something about LIFE and CHOICE and ABILITY. It assumes you control how LONG you’ll live. (Today, tomorrow, next year). But you might catch an infection and die TOMORROW. And your plans are nothing.
And it assumes something about your CHOICE. “Today or tomorrow”, “this city or that city”. But you can’t really control THAT. There might be a plane crash, or a cyclone, or a revolution. And your plans come to nothing.
And it assumes something about your ABILITY. “I’ll carry on business and MAKE A PROFIT.” If only it were that easy! The world is full of perfect business plans that came to NOTHING.
All the best planning is no guarantee of success! Because there are so many unknowns. So many UNCONTROLLABLES.
It’s foolish, and unbelieving to PRESUME.
But the reality is it’s GOD who controls tomorrow. Who controls the stock market, and the weather, and the financial climate, and the political climate, and supply and demand.
The reality, heavenly wisdom, says there’s very little we control about our lives. Poor OR rich. V14
14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
That says something about our IGNORANCE. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. It says something about how FRAGILE we are. We’re a mist – small and insignificant and passing.
You can’t stop catching a cold. You can’t make your children love you, or keep your garden healthy. You can’t even stop your hair falling out or going gray. You can’t stop getting old – you might be able to slow it down, or disguise it. But you can’t STOP it.
And you can’t stop yourself DYING. You’re like the morning mist. It’s there for an hour or so. But as soon as the sun heats up, it’s GONE.
Wealth is no protection from death.
In 1990, Kerry Packer, then Australia’s richest man, suffered a heart attack while playing polo. The ambulance that responded was one of the few in NSW to carry a defibrillator. To shock his heart back into rhythm. He survived.
The following year, he donated $2.5 million so that EVERY ambulance in NSW could carry a defibrillator. And no doubt, many lives have been saved since.
And Kerry Packer went on to live for another 25 years. His money made SOME difference. Later, he paid a substantial amount of money to his helicopter pilot who donated a kidney.
But he STILL DIED. His money, no matter how much and how well spent, couldn’t stop him dying. He was just as much a mist as you and I.
Instead of presumption and boasting, in v15 James says, you ought to say, “IF IT’S THE LORD’S WILL, we will live and do this or that.”
That’s the ATTITUDE OF FAITH. It’s saying, “I’m nothing but a mist. Powerless and fading and ineffective. I can’t control anything. I can’t PRESUME anything. But GOD controls EVERYTHING. And I’m committing myself to HIS care.
It’s a LARGE view of God’s place in the world. It takes faith to recognise that the whole world is God’s. And that he has the right to rule EVERY part. Including every part of OUR LIVES. No exceptions.
One commentator wrote, “James isn’t against PLANNING, but only that sort of self-sufficient, self-important planning that keeps God for SUNDAY, but looks at Monday to Saturday as MINE.” (Motyer, 161).
Instead, the attitude of faith can sing,
“This is MY FATHER’S world! The birds their carols raise. The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise. This is my Father’s world; why should my heart be sad? THE LORD IS KING, let the heavens ring, GOD REIGNS, let the earth be glad!”
That’s the song to sing when you wake each morning.
This first trap, PRESUMPTION, is a particular trap for the RICH because it’s so easy to trust YOUR RESOURCES rather than God. To trust your independence and your intelligence and your influence. Because you have plenty. Money gives you OPTIONS.
That’s a trap WE need to be careful of here at Ashfield. We’re certainly not the WEALTHIEST church around. But God’s given us RESOURCES. Buildings and land, and people, and money in the bank. And with future of the Petersham property to be decided, it would be easy to trust the things we have. Even trusting our own PLANS. To PRESUME. Rather than trying to work out what GOD’S plans are. And asking for his enabling and guiding.
That’s what faith LOOKS LIKE. It doesn’t PRESUME and it doesn’t BOAST.
2.Not doing what is right (4:17)
The SECOND trap the rich can fall into is the SIN OF OMISSION. See it there in v17?
17 Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.
FAILING to do what’s RIGHT is just as much a sin as doing WRONG.
And I wonder if James doesn’t put the command HERE because it’s a particular trap for those with MUCH. The world is that much BIGGER when you have LOTS. There are so many more good things you can DO. You’ve got money and talents. You’ve got connections and influence.
You can see a need on the news, or in your street, or on facebook. And you actually have the resources to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
Whereas the POOR don’t have the potential to do as much good.
Jesus agrees with his brother James. He said (Lk 12:48) that from the one who’s been ENTRUSTED with much, much MORE will be expected.
It’s not enough for the rich, which includes US, to say, “But at least I gave more than HE did!” It’s not about looking AROUND us, but looking at the NEED. About knowing what we OUGHT to do, and then DOING it. That’s OBEDIENCE. That’s what FAITH looks like.
But to store up our wealth for a rainy day. To refuse to spend what God’s given us on the need we see. That’s what UNBELIEF looks like. Because it’s doubting that God can supply what you need. It’s trusting in YOUR plans and YOUR choices. Rather than doing what OUGHT to be done, and leaving tomorrow with God.
All around us, there’s COUNTLESS opportunities to do good we walk past every day. But here’s just ONE. Some of you may know Jenni Smith has been getting involved in how asylum seekers are being treated by Australian authorities. And she’s discovered a simple way we can help. It’s called Simple Love. It’s about churches collecting essential supplies for asylum seekers on bridging visas. They’re living all around us. They have limited access to government benefits and aren’t allowed to work. They need things like toiletries and bus tickets and non-perishable food.
We can be involved in collecting things, taking them to one of the groups coordinating things. And then, perhaps even helping DISTRIBUTE them.
It’s easy. It makes a difference! And it’s a SIN if we KNOW the good we ought to do, and DON’T DO IT.
3.Hoarding & self-indulgence (5:3)
Into Ch 5, James warns of a THIRD trap for those with much: HOARDING and SELF-INDULGENCE.
5:1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. YOU HAVE HOARDED WEALTH IN THE LAST DAYS.
And then down in v5.
5 You have lived on earth in LUXURY and SELF-INDULGENCE.
It’s a trap when you have resources, to either HOARD them – store them up in case – or else to WASTE them – ENJOY them FRIVOLOUSLY and IRRESPONSIBLY.
The wealthy think they’re so clever, planning for the future. They store up superannuation and savings for a rainy day.
Or they think they’re SO IMMUNE from running OUT of money that they just WASTE things on self-indulgence.
But it’s ignoring that there’s a day of reckoning coming.
Imelda Marcos was the wife of Philipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos. He ruled for 20 years and allegedly extorted millions of dollars from the Philipino people. And they lived in self-indulgence. And HOARDED. Her most famous indulgence was SHOES. When the revolution stormed the palace, (their day of reckoning), they found 3000 pairs of shoes – many never worn. And now, they’re rotting away in a museum store room. How foolish!
And James wants to go FURTHER. He says self-indulgence and hoarding are short-sighted and foolish because they ignore not just THIS life. But ETERNITY. They forget God’s JUDGMENT. That’s the misery that’s coming in v1.
What use are wardrobes full of clothes when the MOTHS have eaten them? Paintings and antiques kept safe will still, EVENTUALLY, fall apart. And even gold and silver that DON’T rust – they might AS WELL be copper and iron that rust for all the GOOD they’ll do you when you face death and judgment.
Their corrosion TESTIFIES against the rich.
1.Oppression & injustice (5:4)
And so do those who are OPPRESSED by the rich. They’re NEXT in line to give evidence.
That’s the FOURTH trap for the rich. Oppressing the poor. There in v4, they fail to pay the correct wages. Which, for daily pay, means the worker’s families go HUNGRY that night.
All that back pay is lining up to give evidence TOO. It’s screaming INJUSTICE! OPPRESSION! And demanding justice!
It’s the language of the LAW COURT. When God judges, all that WASTE – all the rust and moth holes – All that inequality and injustice. Will be EVIDENCE that accuses the rich. That testifies to their failure to do GOOD with their resources. That testifies to their greed and their trust in THINGS/ rather than in God and HIS priorities.
And there’s the lovely image in v5. The rich who have no eye on eternity have FATTENED THEMSELVES IN THE DAY OF SLAUGHTER. Like the turkey, greedily eating all the grain he’s given, blissfully unaware that his master is preparing him for a Christmas feast. That’s the rich who HOARD AND INDULGE AND OPPRESS with no eye on God’s judgment.
Is that a temptation YOU’RE falling into?
Don’t misunderstand me. James isn’t saying that it’s wrong to SAVE, or to prepare for tomorrow. And it’s not wrong to ENJOY the things God’s given you.
But it’s all about WHERE YOUR HEART IS. Where your FAITH is. And whether you’re willing to TRUTHFULLY say about your savings, “If it’s the Lord’s will, I’ll use it for THIS OR THAT.”
That’s what faith will LOOK LIKE when you have money.
Traps for those with little
Next James moves on to the traps for those with LITTLE. Which seems to be the majority of people in the churches he’s writing to.
How does a lack of faith show itself when you DON’T have much. When you’re on the RECEIVING end of injustice and inequality?
Impatience and grumbling
First, v7, a lack of faith shows itself by IMPATIENCE, AND GRUMBLING for God’s justice.
7 Be PATIENT, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. 8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. 9 Don’t GRUMBLE against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
Impatience is saying to God, “I know better than YOU. I’d do things THIS WAY in THIS time. Not the way YOU’RE doing it!”
Instead, we’re to be like the farmer. He’ll WORK HARD. He’ll do all HE can to produce a good crop at the right time. But there’s a certain point at which he has to take his hands off. To recognise that he CAN’T make the seeds germinate, or the sun shine, or the rain fall, or stop the hail or the locusts.
The farmer shows his trust in God’s hand in nature by WAITING.
And we should do the same. Wait patiently. Stand Firm. Endure. Which means not seeking personal revenge, but leaving it up to God.
And the patience doesn’t come from inside. By looking deep into ourselves and summoning up superhuman endurance. It comes by LOOKING FORWARD. Notice the little four letter word in v7? “Then” or THEREFORE.
WHY be patient? (back in v4) Because the cries of injustice and persecution have REACHED the ears of the Lord Almighty. He’s HEARD them.
So FAITH in God shows itself in PATIENTLY WAITING for God’s justice. In God’s time. In God’s way.
But instead, we often GRUMBLE. Which takes impatience the next step. It moves beyond an ATTITUDE/ to affecting our relationships. We complain that people aren’t meeting OUR needs, in the way WE’D like it.
It’s doubting God’s wisdom for putting you in a certain situation. It’s the OPPOSITE of faith and patience. It’s saying, God is I was in charge, I’d deal with this person like THIS.
It’s about the kingdom of YOU, rather than the Kingdom of God.
And it’s a particular temptation for those with little because there’s not a lot else they can DO. They don’t have the resources to move, or change their situation. They’re stuck where they are. And they grumble.
Instead of grumbling, faith shows itself by PERSEVERING. Like the prophets (v10). Year after year they preached God’s word faithfully. Despite the ridicule and abuse and rejection by the people.
And that’s what FAITH does when we’re the victims of injustice. It sticks it out with a firm confidence that, one day, God WILL restore the balances. He’ll set things right. The Judge is standing at the door.
Is that something people see in YOUR attitudes and actions?
And finally, a THIRD trap is there in v12.
12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear-not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.
It’s not really a command against using dirty words. It’s about taking oaths. About saying to someone, “I swear on my mother’s grave, I’ll pay you back. Or, I’ll make it on time. Or, I’ll tidy my room.”
It’s the same attitude of presumption the RICH have. It’s assuming you really CAN control tomorrow. But that’s just FOOLISH.
Instead we should just let our Yes be Yes and our No No. Which means we should work hard on being reliable and consistent. We shouldn’t NEED to add any extra evidence to convince someone. Because they’ll know that we’re people of our WORD. That we’re RELIABLE.
And then add onto it. Yes, I’ll be there tomorrow – IF THE LORD WILLS.
That’s what faith looks like.
Once again, James gives a whole lot of advice and commands. And it’s easy to UNDERSTAND what we need to do. But not so easy to DO when we’re in the MIDDLE of it.
And it’s easy to get discouraged. And to focus on our failures and inconsistencies. So let’s finish instead by focussing on the end of v11. The Lord is FULL of compassion and Mercy.
Don’t focus on your own ability. Don’t focus on the vileness of your persecutors. Focus on God’s compassion and mercy. That’s the decision of FAITH.
It’s ultimately not about our ability or success, but about the God we have FAITH in. HE is good and reliable and pure and powerful. And HE works in us. And faith in a God like THAT will LOOK LIKE something.