Category Archives: James

James 4:13-5:12: The kingdom of “you”

What does faith LOOK LIKE? Perhaps like this photo…faith

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!”

That’s UNBELIEF!

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?

3. Swearing

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.

James 1:1-18: Trials and Training

Happy-Chinese-New-Year-of-the-Horse-2014We’ve just celebrated Chinese lunar New Year. On Friday there were dragons marching down Liverpool Rd! With banging drums and clanging cymbals. And there are feasts and fireworks.

And, as I understand it, many of the traditions are to do with people wishing each other prosperity and health and safety and good luck. Wishing that the NEW year bring more of those things than the LAST year.

Prosperity and health and safety and good luck. They’re all very well. It’s great if we GET them. But is that really ALL we want to be wishing each other? Are they the highest goals in life?

I mean, in light of the passage we’ve just read from James, there’s something FAR BETTER we should be wishing for each other. Something far richer and deeper. Something more closely connected to God’s plans for us.

Because those sorts of wishes come and go so easily. They’re depend so much on other things. Poor weather. One bad night’s sleep, one thoughtless word, one burnt dinner, one piece of unreliable investment advice, one negative blood test result. And the happiness and prosperity and peace all disappear.

And New Year wishes like that are so UNREALISTIC. Because, for MOST of us, life’s just not LIKE that. Last year OR this year. And you need a whole DIFFERENT set of qualities to cope with REAL life.

So instead, from this passage, I want to wish you WISDOM AND PERSEVERANCE AND STRENGTHENED FAITH and MATURITY this year.

Which are far closer to what GOD wants for you this coming year. And far more use, in the REAL world, than the luck and prosperity of the world of New Year wishes.

Because the REAL world, mostly, isn’t about health and prosperity and happiness. Most of the time, it’s TOUGH. I know, for some of YOU, this PAST year’s been a difficult one. Some of you have buried husbands or parents. Or seen them in hospital, or moved to long-term care.

Others have had major health scares – still on-going.

There’s been operations and scans and consultations. There’s been constant pain from chronic medical conditions. There’s been long-term unemployment, or incredibly difficult WORK environments.

There’s been uncertainties about accommodation. And financial difficulties. And betrayal and hurt and alienation from close family. Or separation from family for long periods of time.

And I’m guessing that 2013 wasn’t much different to PAST years. Because that’s just life in God’s world.

But the way of WISDOM – the way of FAITH – says James. Is to view all those things as JOY. Because God’s BROUGHT them all. And he’s USING them. He’s got A PLAN for them all. A PURPOSE and a GOAL. See there in v2?

2 Consider it PURE JOY, my brothers, whenever you face TRIALS of many kinds, 3 because you know that the TESTING of your faith develops PERSEVERANCE. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be MATURE AND COMPLETE, not lacking ANYTHING.

It’s not about PRETENDING everything’s fine when it’s not. It’s looking at the difficulties square in the face, recognising them… And CELEBRATING. REJOICING. Because the difficulties are actually brought by God as EXERCISE, as RESISTANCE TRAINING to make you STRONGER.

Just like PHYSICAL training. Running or swimming is HARD WORK. But it’s GOOD pain. Because it builds up your endurance, and your strength.

FIRST week, you might run to the end of the block, or swim 2 laps. SECOND week, you might make it all the way AROUND the block, or 5 laps.

Each time, you’re exhausted. Each time, you wonder whether it’s doing any good. And plenty of people stop at that point. Because all they see is the PAIN. And so there’s no GAIN.

But when you take a LONGER TERM VIEW, when you look back SIX MONTHS LATER, you realise you’re actually running KILOMETRES, or swimming DOZENS of laps. And it’s all because of the hard work and training you put in along the way. The burning lungs, and the aching, quivering muscles are the price you pay for FITNESS and HEALTH. And it actually becomes EASIER, the fitter you GET. And you actually ENJOY it more. Dare I say it, you count it all as JOY.

But that’s just PHYSICAL exercise. God’s training you for something MUCH more important. The difficulties of life don’t make your MUSCLES stronger, but your FAITH stronger. He brings them to give you greater LIFE endurance – greater RESILIENCE. Greater PERSEVERANCE.

His goal for you isn’t a perfect PHYSICAL BODY, but a perfect, mature, complete, Christ-like CHARACTER. One that makes it to the end, with a solid confidence on God’s reliability. That doesn’t give up when the going gets tough.

And he uses TRIALS to DO it.

  • He uses FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES to make you TRUST HIS PROMISES BETTER.
  • He uses the aches and pains of OLD AGE to break your pride.
  • He uses CHILDREN WHO PUSH THE BOUNDARIES to push YOU to dependent prayer.
  • He uses UNBEARABLE WORK PRESSURES to bring you to the end of yourself, and to fix your eyes on heaven.
  • He uses BETRAYALS AND HURTS FROM CLOSE FRIENDS to teach you forgiveness and mercy, so you can better understand the forgiveness and mercy YOU’VE been shown.

And when the training session’s over. And we make it to the end – either we DIE, or Jesus returns – God’s got something far better than a gold medal, or a participant’s T-shirt. Look at v12.

12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, HE WILL RECEIVE THE CROWN OF LIFE that God has promised to those who love him.

That’s God’s ETERNAL reward. The crown that IS life. ETERNAL life – life of the ages – With God. The richest joy and greatest pleasure we can ever know. The goal of life itself.

Receiving THAT reward is a strong motivation to develop a strong faith and solid endurance. It’s a strong reason to count all the hardship NOW as JOY.

Wisdom

And it’s that LONG-TERM view we need when we’re in the MIDDLE of the testing. Of the training. Now. Next week. Next MONTH.

Otherwise we’ll COMPLAIN AND GIVE UP, we’ll blame God and lose our faith, rather than REJOICE and PERSEVERE.

James describes TWO WAYS we can look at trials. The WISE way, and the FOOLISH way.

The WISE way of viewing life is GOD’S way. In fact, only God can GIVE us the wisdom – the FAITH – to see life’s difficulties as training. So we need to ASK him. See it there in v5?

5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

You see, God doesn’t want us lacking ANYTHING. His whole purpose for us in trials is that we’ll be mature and complete, NOT LACKING ANYTHING (v4). At least, not lacking in the things that matter most.

Which includes not lacking WISDOM.

BIBLICAL wisdom isn’t just about INTELLIGENCE. It’s not about KNOWLEDGE. Biblical wisdom is knowing HOW TO LIVE WELL IN GOD’S WORLD. It’s about SEEING THINGS GOD’S WAY. From his perspective, according to his priorities and time frame. And making decisions BASED on that perspective.

And that’s certainly what we need when it comes to the DIFFICULTIES of life. It’s godly wisdom to see them as TRAIN and GAIN, rather than just VAIN PAIN.

We need GOD’S wisdom because it’s so UNNATURAL to think this way. To consider it all JOY when we SUFFER, and are stretched almost to breaking point. We need God’s wisdom to recognise his loving hand of discipline and correction and training in the midst of the storm.

That’s NONSENSE unless you see with God’s wisdom.

God’s wisdom looks BEYOND the immediate and the visible. And sees the TRUE nature of things. Their ETERNAL, INVISIBLE nature. Like in v9.

9 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. 10 But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. James 1:11

11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

Nonsense! Upside down and back to front! Unless you’ve got God’s wisdom.

The wise child of God might have NOTHING – no job, threadbare clothes, exhausting family situation, chronic pain – but WISDOM says to REJOICE that his heavenly Father LOVES him, and is working all things for his good. He’s a child of God, with an eternal inheritance and a crown of life waiting for him.

He’s got nothing NOW, but he’s RICH BEYOND MEASURE. That’s WISDOM.

Or the wise child of God might have EVERYTHING  HUMANLY speaking. The best comforts, the safest investments, the healthiest family. But she knows that they’re ALL A GIFT FROM GOD. All to be used to build up GOD’S interests, rather than her OWN. And she’s HUMBLE and THANKFUL, rather than PROUD.

And she knows that all this world’s riches are only TEMPORARY. And can be gone in an instant. And so she daily, hands it all over to the God of infinity. Every day she lays down the crowns of her independence and security and strength and influence, and humbly offers them in service and worship.

That’s WISDOM.

Is that the way YOU think about your life?

Or are you tempted instead to BLAME God – to shake your FIST at him? To insist that you know better? That you’d do things differently?

That’s the two different ways to approach life’s difficulties. BLESSING. Or BLAME. And James compares the two side-by-side for us. Wisdom in v12. Foolishness in v13.

And before we read them, there’s one thing to explain. The word translated “TRIAL” in v12 is from the same word group as TEMPTED in v13. Trial and temptation translate the same Greek word.

So the VERY SAME DIFFICULT SITUATION can either be a TRIAL – a TEST. Or a TEMPTATION. It all depends on how you LOOK at it. The same difficult situation can produce TWO DIFFERENT RESPONSES.

V12 “Blessed is the man who PERSEVERES under trial temptation – he’ll receive the crown of life

And v13.

When temptedtrialed, no one should say, “God is temptingtrialing me.” For God cannot be temptedtrialed by evil, nor does he tempttrial anyone;

Wisdom and foolishness.

The WISE approach is to TRUST GOD. To see his good purposes in TRAINING you.

And when we look at it THAT way, then God’s purposes are achieved. V3 our stretched faith grows and produces perseverance which grows and produces MATURITY.

And the end result, according to v12, is that we STAND THE TEST. We’re PROVED GENUINE.

Some sorts of exercise don’t just strengthen you, they TEST you. Like the BEEP TEST. You run between two lines 20m apart, and you have to complete it before the recorded BEEP. At first it’s EASY, but the BEEPS get closer and closer together, and so you have to run faster and faster to keep up. Until you have to stop. And you receive a result based on how many beeps you’ve completed. The fitter you are, the bigger the number.

It’s exercise, but it’s also a TEST. To show how fit you are.

And that’s ANOTHER of God’s purposes in bringing trials. They strengthen you, but they also prove that you’re GENUINE. Faithful, mature and reliable. And, in the end, those who pass the test  receive the prize God’s promised.

That’s WISDOM.

But FOOLISHNESS thinks DIFFERENTLY about those exact same difficulties. Instead, it BLAMES God. It gets angry and resentful. It makes you feel sorry for yourself. It compares you unfavourably with others – that OTHERS deserve this, but not YOU. It accuses God of evil motives – that he’s leading you into temptation, that he WANTS you to fail, or he’s punishing you.

V14 outlines the process. You experience a difficulty. Instead of treating it as JOY, as a TRIAL TO BE CONQUERED, your own evil desire drags you away and entices you somehow. And then that grows into SIN. Which leads to DEATH.

But that’s not God’s plan. His goal, instead of sin and death, is perseverance, maturity and a crown of LIFE.

His nature isn’t to want EVIL to grow in us. He’s not fickly and changing. There’s no evil in him, or around him. He never ENCOURAGES it. He doesn’t lead people to evil. He doesn’t WANT them to choose it.

Instead, v17, he gives every GOOD AND PERFECT gift. He works all things for GOOD. He doesn’t CHANGE like shadows. He’s not unreliable, changing his mind like the wind.

And that’s the difference between TRIALS and TEMPTATIONS. And the solution to the problem of whether we translate the SAME GREEK WORD as “TRIAL”, or as “TEMPTATION”. It’s all about the INTENT. The GOAL. What the OUTCOME is to be.

One commentator sees it like this, “God’s ‘temptingtrialing”, unlike the devil’s, is a TEST in which he does not desire the candidate to FAIL, but to SUCCEED” Adamson, 69

Think for example of God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. It was a test. A trial. Designed by God to prove the genuineness of his faith.

It wasn’t A TEMPTATION. That has the purpose of leading into sin. Of inciting Abraham to disobey, or get angry. God doesn’t do that.

God, instead, has DIFFERENT plans for us. He created us, just like everything else. But he’s got a different plan for his elect. Look at v18.

18 He CHOSE to give us BIRTH THROUGH THE WORD OF TRUTH, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

God’s plans for his elect were to make them born again. To give them a new spiritual heart. To make them his special possession.

Just like the first fruits of the harvest in the Old Testament. Israel brought the best of the crop, and presented it to God as belonging to him. Holy and special.

And that’s God’s plans for his people. Holy and special. God’s possession.

And once he’s given us new birth, he keeps working on us. To make us mature and complete. And he uses life’s trials to do it.

Will you work hard, persevere, and trust him as you live through them? And will you pray for the wisdom to SEE them the way God does?

Let me finish by giving a real life example for how this can work out in practice? Let me read some of Mike and Katie Taylor’s newsletter that arrived this week.

This week has reminded me of our human frailty: we have driven past two major truck and bus accidents in the last 4 days; Mama Joshua’s father is very ill in hospital in Babati; a little girl at college almost drowned in a hole dug for a banana tree; another little boy at college is having ongoing breathing difficulties — his mother told to give up hope; a friend’s father had a heart attack. All around us, people are struggling. 

That’s the TRIALS. Where’s the wisdom that keeps trusting God, and sees them as growth and tests? Listen to what the Taylors have been learning.

As college resumes this week, Mike has been preaching through 2 Corinthians 4 each morning in chapel. We have been reminded of the revolutionary way God works: how God chooses to use the weak things of this world to spread his precious treasure: the gospel of Jesus. We ourselves regularly feel overwhelmed and hopelessly inadequate for the great task of teaching and training pastors; but yet we see God’s Spirit creating new life at Munguishi.

 

God brings to college, not the elite of Tanzanian society, but those who often have no more than primary school education, come from struggling and needy families, and are “weak” in the eyes of this world. Yet God is entrusting to these students the precious treasure of the gospel: to grasp on to and build upon, ready in turn to take this precious treasure to others.

Let’s pray for God’s wisdom that WE might see OUR trials like this. As train and gain, rather than as vain pain. That we may see growth in our faith and perseverance. That we might be mature, lacking nothing. And that we might stand the test, and receive the promised crown of life.

lineA � g t �T `� pan style=’font-size:24.0pt; mso-bidi-font-size:16.0pt;line-height:150%’>That’s the TRIALS. Where’s the wisdom that keeps trusting God, and sees them as growth and tests? Listen to what the Taylors have been learning.

As college resumes this week, Mike has been preaching through 2 Corinthians 4 each morning in chapel. We have been reminded of the revolutionary way God works: how God chooses to use the weak things of this world to spread his precious treasure: the gospel of Jesus. We ourselves regularly feel overwhelmed and hopelessly inadequate for the great task of teaching and training pastors; but yet we see God’s Spirit creating new life at Munguishi.

 

God brings to college, not the elite of Tanzanian society, but those who often have no more than primary school education, come from struggling and needy families, and are “weak” in the eyes of this world. Yet God is entrusting to these students the precious treasure of the gospel: to grasp on to and build upon, ready in turn to take this precious treasure to others.

Let’s pray for God’s wisdom that WE might see OUR trials like this. As train and gain, rather than as vain pain. That we may see growth in our faith and perseverance. That we might be mature, lacking nothing. And that we might stand the test, and receive the promised crown of life.

James 5:13-20: Powerful Prayer

“I am king.” That’s the slogan for an ad for eftpos from a couple of years ago. Trying to get us to use our savings accounts rather than credit.

“I am king. Master of my destiny. Ruler of my fate. When vain desire raises its head. I shall cut it off! I hold the reins. I press the buttons. I call the shots. I am free. I am king.”

Really? What happens if your card stops working? Or you lose your job and there’s no money in the account? Or someone skims the card details and empties your account? Or you forget your PIN? Or they only have your size in PINK?

What THEN? How much are you really in control?

We like to THINK we’re king. But the reality is we’re HELPLESS. Almost NOTHING we do or plan is within our control. Health, work, relationships, safety on the road, the weather. And it’s FOOLISH to think otherwise.

That’s been the message in the last couple of chapters of James. Back in 4:13 he says, “Don’t boast about what you’re going to do. Don’t make plans. Because you can’t make ANYTHING happen.”

Even the RICH are powerless. In the end wealth ROTS AWAY. Or moths eat it. Or the stock market crashes. Powerless. Our lives are MIST.

Instead, we should say, “IF IT’S THE LORD’S WILL, this seems like a good thing to do tomorrow.” That’s the WISE response. The Christian attitude.

The Christian knows he’s helpless. And he know that God is sovereign – he’s in control – over EVERYTHING.

And that means BEING PATIENT (v7 of Ch 5). Because God’s bringing about exactly what he wants to happen. WHEN he wants it to happen.

And second, in v12, an attitude of helplessness means NOT SWEARING ON OATH. James isn’t thinking about swear words. He’s thinking about the proud attitude that says, “I promise that I’ll do this! I swear it! I GUARANTEE it! You can BANK on it! James says that’s just FOOLISHNESS. That’s saying, “I am king!”

Don’t DO it, he says. Because you can’t control ANYTHING about tomorrow. Why GUARANTEE it to someone else?

And the THIRD practical outworking of helplessness is what our passage TODAY is about. When you recognize you’re HELPLESS. When you know things don’t happen because of YOU, then you’ll PRAY.

V13. Any sort of TROUBLE, you’ll PRAY. Ask God to sort things out.

And if things are going WELL, you won’t congratulate YOURSELF. You’ll pray with THANKS because it’s GOD who’s brought it to pass. Like he brings EVERYTHING to pass.

SELF-congratulation is FOOLISH. Thankfulness is WISE.

My guess is most of us AREN’T that good at thankfulness in prayer. We’re certainly fine at praying when we’re in trouble. But not so good at thanking God/ giving him the credit/ when things are FINE.

Let’s work HARD at listing, and remembering and reminding each other of the things God brings us. So we can be THANKFUL.

  1. Involving Others (14-16)

That’s when it comes to YOURSELF. But James’ attention is mostly on how we help EACH OTHER. What prayer looks like in the CHURCH CONTEXT. From v14.

14 Is any one of you SICK? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.

James is getting SPECIFIC. It’s not just the general “in trouble”. But PHYSICAL or MENTAL or EMOTIONAL SICKNESS.

And I think we can assume it’s SERIOUS sickness. Because the person has probably already prayed for themselves. Anyone in trouble should PRAY says James.

But here, things are BAD. And ONE PERSON praying hasn’t worked. And so the person has to admit helplessness. Has to DEMONSTRATE FAITH by asking for the elders of the church to pray over him, and to anoint him with oil.

There’s something about LETTING OTHERS KNOW about your need that’s humbling. It’s recognizing your NEED. It’s showing in a VISIBLE WAY that you have faith in the God who answers prayer.

The other reason James gives for proud people to share their prayer needs is down at the end of v16. “The prayer of a righteous man is POWERFUL AND EFFECTIVE.”

When you’re tempted not to bother anyone. To just keep your prayer points to yourself. God himself promises that righteous people praying for you is POWERFUL and EFFECTIVE.

So SHARE the need. Admit you’re helpless. Don’t worry about BOTHERING them. Or being EMBARRASSED.

The elders have done this a few times since I’ve been here. We did it for Barbara Davidian for example. And Phillippa says the elders did it for her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago. And we’re always happy to do it whenever someone asks.

We did it at my last church for a couple who’d struggled to have children. They’d been through countless rounds of IVF. They’d prayed on their own and with a few friends FOR YEARS. And had just about given up.

But they got to the point where they wanted the REST of their church family to join in as well. So we went and prayed with them and anointed Karen with oil.

And, praise God, she fell pregnant. And then again a couple of years after that.

But why THE ELDERS? I wonder if part of the answer is to do with v16. That the prayers of a righteous man are powerful and effective. Not that the elders are necessarily more RIGHTEOUS than everyone else. But they’ve been RECOGNISED as having a certain level of godliness and maturity.

And there’s a sense in which the elders are REPRESENTATIVE of the whole church. The whole church couldn’t fit in someone’s lounge room. But the elders went as your representatives. Acting ON YOUR BEHALF.

Another reason is that prayer is part of the JOB DESCRIPTION for elders. Part of what it means to lead God’s people is to SHEPHERD them. To look after them by TEACHING, and PRAYING for them.

And notice the elders are to pray OVER the sick person. I’m not quite sure what that means. But it’s something different to v16, where we’re to pray FOR each other.

It may mean nothing more than the sick person is lying down in bed. And the elders stand OVER them.

Or that the elders place their hands on the person, as a sign of God’s healing Holy Spirit flowing into them.

The other thing we’re not sure about it what the purpose of the oil is. Olive oil was both a MEDICINE, and a SIGN of anointing. A sign of God’s Holy Spirit filling someone.

It could have a PHYSICAL purpose, or a SPIRITUAL purpose.

So, it COULD mean that the elders are to pray for GOD’S healing AS WELL AS using HUMAN MEANS, like medicine, or treatment, or surgery.

And that’s CERTAINLY a good thing to be doing. Whether it’s what James means here, or not.

But my vote is that it’s meant to be a SIGN of the power of the Holy Spirit to heal that person. The oil, plus praying OVER the person perhaps with laying on of hands, both seem to be PHYSICAL SIGNS reminding us that it’s only BY THE POWER OF GOD’S SPIRIT that someone is healed.

Once again, it’s a physical expression of our HELPLESSNESS in the situation.

Both the oil and the laying on of hands help our faith as we pray. Help us to pray with CONFIDENCE in God’s power to heal.

But what about when God DOESN’T seem to heal? At first reading, v15 seems to be a blanket promise for healing. “The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person WELL!”

And yet, our experience is that many Christians AREN’T healed. Christians even DIE. That was the case with my mum. A whole bunch of people gathered around her hospital bed as she was dying with bowel cancer and anointed her with oil, and prayed for healing. But she still died.

And the mistake we make when God DOESN’T heal/ is to say that it must be because our FAITH wasn’t STRONG enough. Or BIG enough. “The prayer OF FAITH will make the sick person well”.

But Jesus says it’s not about the SIZE of your faith, but the one in whom your faith is PLACED. Faith the size of a mustard seed can cause amazing things.

It’s like two people getting on a plane. One’s terrified, and can barely take his seat for fear of the plane crashing. The other person’s a regular flyer. He doesn’t even give it a second thought. BOTH arrive at their destination SAFE. ONE hardly had any faith at all. The OTHER had LOTS of faith.

But it’s not about the faith of the passenger. It’s about the faithfulness of the pilot and the plane. That’s what will get you to your destination.

Same with prayer. It’s the faithfulness of GOD that provides the answer. Not our faith IN God.

So, as long as you have A LITTLE faith that God can heal, THAT can’t be the reason.

Let’s notice a couple of things first. Then I’ll come back to the question “What if God doesn’t heal?”

  1. v15 literally says that the prayer of faith will SAVE THE WEARY ONE. The Lord will RAISE him UP.

We expect to see HEAL, But we see SAVE instead. Sometimes the word CAN mean HEAL, but there’s a perfectly good word for HEAL – it’s down there in v16.

Which brings us to a second observation.

  1. When we look down to v16, we’re told “CONFESS YOUR SINS and pray for each other so you may be HEALED.” We expect to see SAVED / THERE. But we see HEALED instead.

It’s almost like James has got it the wrong way around. Pray for the SICK person, and he will be SAVED and RAISED UP. Pray for the SINFUL person, and he will be HEALED.

I think… I THINK… James’ point is that there’s A CLOSE CONNECTION between SIN and SICKNESS. Sickness can sometimes be the CONSEQUENCE of sin. Look there at the end of v15.

the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. IF HE HAS SINNED, HE WILL BE FORGIVEN.

Sometimes, sickness is the result of SIN. Not always. But sometimes, the only way God can get our attention is to bring us to our knees.

In 1 Corinthians 11:29-30, Paul warns the Corinthians that there are PHYSICAL consequences for their sin.

29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 THAT IS WHY many among you are WEAK AND SICK, AND A NUMBER OF YOU HAVE FALLEN ASLEEP.

Hear me carefully. I’m NOT saying that God is PUNISHING you with sickness because you’ve sinned. Lots of people think like that. But it’s not the way God works. At least not for a Christian.

If you’re a Christian, then Christ has TAKEN your punishment. There is NO CONDEMNATION for those who are IN Christ Jesus. Romans 8:1.

But God does DISCIPLINE us as CHILDREN. Because he LOVES us. Because he wants us to CHANGE. In Hebrews 12 it says THIS. (v5)

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” 

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. …10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it PRODUCES A HARVEST OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PEACE FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN TRAINED BY IT.

So the godly response to sickness/ is to PRAY. And to ask OTHERS to pray. But also to use it as a chance to EXAMINE YOURSELF. To see if there ARE things you need to confess.

Which is what James moves on to in v16.

16 Therefore CONFESS YOUR SINS TO EACH OTHER and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

Notice the “therefore”? There’s a connection between THIS verse, and the previous ones. If you ARE sick, and you HAVE sinned. CONFESS it, and you’ll be forgiven.

Sin and sickness are sometimes tied together.

BECAUSE that’s the case, if you’ve sinned against someone, CONFESS to him. Pray for each other. And you’ll be HEALED.

If your sickness is the result of a specific sin. And you confess it. You’ll be HEALED. Because that was God’s PURPOSE in that particular sickness.

But what about the question of why some people AREN’T healed?

There are at least four explanations. And there are bits about EACH ONE I’m not entirely comfortable with.

  1. Some people say that if we had MORE FAITH, then ANYTHING could be healed. I’ve already said that I don’t think the LACK of faith argument holds. Jesus healed MANY people who had only a TINY amount of faith, or no evidence of faith at ALL.
  2. Others focus on the word SAVED, and say the verse isn’t promising healing AT ALL. Pray for healing, you might be healed, or you might not. You might even die. But you WILL be SAVED for ETERNITY. Which is nothing more than what ALL CHRISTIANS are promised.
  3. Others say, you have to add the phrase “if it’s the Lord’s will” into the promise. The prayer of faith will make the sick person well (if it’s the Lord’s will).

And it’s true that Jesus promises that if we ask ANYTHING, it will be given to us. And then in OTHER places he adds, “if we ask anything ACCORDING to GOD’S WILL.

In other words, it’s ASSUMED, when he says ask for ANYTHING.

  1. A fourth solution is that “the prayer of faith” is prayer that rises from a special assurance that God gives AT SELECTED TIMES that he WILL heal.

It’s not something he ALWAYS does. Because sometimes he says no, or wait.

But at other times, when he’s decided to heal, he gives the pray-ers a SPECIAL depth of faith that BELIEVES that God has PROMISED HEALING.

And God will answer THAT prayer.

I’m not sure about that. I guess it ends up at the same place as adding “if it’s the Lord’s will”.

These are a tricky couple of verses. And there are nearly as many opinions as there are experts. But here’s what I DO know. And it’s THESE THINGS we hold onto when we pray.

  1. God WANTS me to pray. He promises that the prayers of a righteous man are POWERFUL and EFFECTIVE.
  2. God HEARS every prayer. And he ALWAYS ANSWERS them.
  3. God is GOOD and WISE. He ALWAYS gives us what’s BEST for us. Sometimes he HEALS us. Sometimes he DOESN’T. But I trust him, whatever his answer.
  4. ONE DAY God WILL heal us 100% physically. When Christ returns, on the new heaven and earth, we’ll receive NEW BODIES. RESURRECTED BODIES. Which are PERFECT and ETERNAL.

Those promises are SURE. So TRUST them.

  1. Dealing With Others (19-20)

Finally, James turns to ANOTHER situation. Not sharing YOUR concerns with OTHERS. But noticing THEIR concerns. Dealing with OTHER people.

We all know them. People who’ve been involved with church. But for one reason or another have just slipped away. Not just from church, but from following Jesus. It might be a gradual thing. Or it might be because of a huge blow-up.

They might be HAPPY in their backsliding. Or they might be MISERABLE.

They might have done it DELIBERATELY. Or it’s just been an ACCIDENTAL thing.

And we never quite know what to do or say. How to encourage them back. Without appearing judgmental. Or saying something wrong.

But James says it’s WORTH THE EFFORT. Because there are great benefits. Someone’s SOUL is at stake. V19.

19 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

It’s all quite comfortable if it happens like v16. (If someone RECOGNIZES their sin, and then confesses it to you). That’s EASY.

But when they DON’T. When YOU have to make the move, that can be harder. Because you don’t want to put your foot in it. You don’t want to say the wrong thing. The thing that will drive them FURTHER away. Either be too SOFT, and make them think what they’re doing is OK. Or else being too HARSH or JUDGMENTAL, and not LOVING. And driving them away. Giving them an excuse to continue with their choices.  So, often, you say NOTHING.

But when it comes to saving someone from DEATH – WHO CARES if you say things the wrong way around? It’s worth the risk!

Is there someone like THAT/ YOU can be approaching?

Your good intentions. Your actions. Can cover over a multitude of sins. In other words, it leads to their repentance, and God’s forgiveness of their sin.

So, says James, WHATEVER situation you’re in, the solution is to PRAY. Because in ALL of them you’re HELPLESS. Trouble, sickness, sin, drought, unemployment, childlessness, loneliness. Pray!

Pray that God would bring about his purposes in YOU. And in those around you here at church. To make us more like Jesus.

How can we be making this a place where we PRAY MORE?

Let me suggest three quickies.

  1. Share your needs. Be humble and vulnerable. Trust the righteousness and good intentions and prayerfulness of your brothers and sisters here.

Each week we take time to assemble prayer requests on our church bulletin. Spend some time thinking about what areas of life you’re HELPLESS in. And what you need God’s intrusion into. Which is EVERY AREA. And then let me know, so we can INCLUDE them for us all to pray.

  1. And actually PRAY for other people’s needs. Specifically. And regularly. Push through the awkward point in the conversation, and just SAY it, “Can I pray for you about that RIGHT NOW?”

Wouldn’t it be GREAT to see little pairs of people bowing their heads together all over the place after church?

  1. Find someone to confess your sins to. Someone with broad shoulders who can ask you the tough questions.

GRAB someone, or TWO, and arrange to meet regularly to PRAY. And read the Bible.

WHATEVER SITUATION GOD BRINGS, You’re HELPLESS. But PRAYER IS THE SOLUTION.

James 3:13-4:12: The Fight

When I was growing up, World Championship Wrestling was popular among us boys. Our heroes were Andre the Giant or Hulk Hogan. It used to be great fun watching them on TV. Or else, imitating their moves on each other. Practicing a knee drop, or a coat hanger or a choke hold. It was all fun because we knew there was a fair bit of THEATRE in it. Of acting and entertainment. It wasn’t that DANGEROUS. I wouldn’t go so far to say it was FAKE. But there was certainly A ROUGH SCRIPT the wrestlers followed.

These days, wrestling is STILL popular. But there’s a new kind of FIGHT that’s attracting attention. It’s ULTIMATE fighting, or mixed martial arts. This is basically no padded gloves, no rules, no holds barred. A combination of boxing, wrestling, jui jitsu and anything else you like. Fighters regularly break noses, bleed freely, dislocate joints. And fights often end with one contestant choking the other until he loses consciousness. It’s brutal and violent.

The symptom

And as James thinks about the arguments and disagreements within THE CHURCH, he describes them more like Ultimate Fighting, rather than World Championship Wrestling.

We might think the odd disagreement or impatient word within the church ISN’T THAT BAD. That no one’s really getting hurt. More World Championship Wrestling than Ultimate Fighting. But James calls it for what it really is. Brutal, destructive, worldly, slanderous, envious, judgemental, bitter MURDER.

He’s just finished chapter 3 talking about PEACE. About how wisdom from heaven produces a whole lot of fruit. It’s pure and peace-loving and considerate and submissive and merciful, impartial and sincere. Wisdom like that results in people who MAKE peace. People who produce A HARVEST OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. That’s what churches SHOULD be like.

But instead, straight away James launches in to what they’re OFTEN LIKE INSTEAD. V1 he identifies the problem. 4:1 What causes FIGHTS AND QUARRELS among you?

There SHOULD be wisdom from HEAVEN, but instead there’s WISDOM that’s EARTHLY and DEVILISH. There SHOULD be PEACE, but instead there’s FIGHTS AND QUARRELS.

And what’s depressing is that James can write this as a GENERAL COMMENT to Christian communities scattered all over the place. It’s not just for one particular group. This is relevant to ALL his readers. We’re ALL guilty of fights and quarrels at SOME time, to a lesser or greater extent.

A while ago I was on a presbytery visitation committee to a church that was having huge problems because of disagreements. Mature Christians who should know better speaking unwisely, jumping to conclusions, assuming the worst, making hasty impatient decisions, taking sides. And the whole mess was tearing the congregation apart.

And James sees those sorts of things going on in churches ALL OVER THE PLACE.

The diagnosis

But that’s just THE SYMPTOM. James goes on to his DIAGNOSIS. What the REAL problem is. The second part of verse 1 says Don’t they come from your desires that BATTLE WITHIN YOU?

That’s a PLURAL “you”. Desires that battle within YOU ALL. He’s thinking about desires that battle within an INDIVIDUAL. The desire to serve OTHERS fighting the desire to serve SELF. We know what we SHOULD do, but we just don’t WANT to do that.

But it’s also the desires within TWO INDIVIDUALS battling EACH OTHER. The desires of ONE person clashing with the desires of ANOTHER person. ONE person wants to be first, but so does the OTHER one. Two people both want to be first, or best, or liked, or appreciated.

That’s what causes fights and quarrels among you.

And then he goes on to describe HOW those passions battle. V2. (I’ll just change the emphasis to help make a bit more sense of it)

2 You want something

…. but don’t get it.

…..You kill

and you covet,

…… but you cannot have what you want

….. You quarrel and fight.

Three steps. Repeated. It’s parallelism, like a Psalm. Two lines, both saying a similar thing. The DESIRE comes first. Then the UNSATISFIED WANT. Then the REACTION.

Someone sees something he wants, and he COVETS it. It might be possessions, it might be attention, or giftedness or popularity or friends. Most of the time he doesn’t GET what he wants. A lot of the time he wouldn’t dare TRY to get it, because it just wouldn’t be RIGHT. But the COVETING is the sin.

And then after NOT getting what he wants, the coveting SHOWS itself in some way. In feelings of wanting to see the other person HARMED or BROUGHT DOWN. Which is not much different from KILLING. Or it shows itself in harsh words or reactions. Jealousy EXPRESSED. In quarrels and disagreements. Or perhaps it’s NOT expressed. There’s just a growing COOLNESS to the person. You never make the first move. You always wait for THEM to initiate the conversation. You don’t mind at all if they’re not at church for a few weeks. Which is no less sinful than if the desires and frustrations ARE expressed.

And James picks up the description again down in v11. More symptoms.

11 Brothers, do not SLANDER one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or JUDGES him speaks against the law and judges it.

In legal language slander refers to DEFAMATORY LIES. Here the word is literally do not SPEAK EVIL AGAINST one another. Which is broader than just LIES.

You might criticise or drag down a brother, and it might be TRUE, but that doesn’t make it RIGHT. And it’s no excuse for saying it. It’s not just the LIE that’s sin, but the HARMFUL INTENT of the words. The SUPERIOR JUDGMENTALISM.

True or false, speaking EVIL against a brother is to put yourself ABOVE him. To judge yourself SUPERIOR. And we’re not to DO it.

We see more of the diagnosis for the fights and quarrels back in Ch 3 v14.

14 But if you harbor BITTER ENVY and selfish ambition IN YOUR HEARTS, do not BOAST about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have ENVY AND SELFISH AMBITION, there you find disorder and EVERY EVIL PRACTICE.

Can you see the same thing happening here? There’s a desire on the INSIDE. And that SHOWS ITSELF in fights. In this case it’s bitter envy and selfish ambition. Envy – same word as covet in 4:2. And it’s BITTER. Just like the bitter spring that can’t produce fresh water back in v12.

Envy is BITTER. It’s unattractive, and leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. It’s not being content with what you have, and wanting what belongs to another.

And that’s combined with SELFISH AMBITION. Which wants to see YOU lifted up at the expense of someone else. Which wants to see you BUILDING UP A SUPPORT GROUP at the expense of someone else. Dividing church down the middle. Those who SUPPORT you, and those WHO DON’T.

James says if you recognise those things in yourself, don’t BOAST about it. Don’t deny the truth. Don’t think of selfish ambition as a GOOD quality. That’s something the WORLD says. Employers want people who are AMBITIOUS. Who have ASPIRATIONS. Who want to IMPROVE themselves. People who are STRONG and who STAND UP FOR THEMSELVES. Who will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to climb the ladder to success.

But all that’s just another label for “SELFISH AMBITION”, isn’t it?

And, yet, sometimes Christians think attitudes like that are good for THEM to have. People like that might increase a company’s PROFITS, but they won’t improve A CHURCH. V15

15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is EARTHLY, unspiritual, OF THE DEVIL. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

It’s more than just HUMAN fallenness, there’s a SATANIC element to attitudes like that. Such wisdom is FROM THE DEVIL.

The devil ENCOURAGES attitudes like bitter envy and selfish ambition because they lead to such DESTRUCTIVE CHARACTERISTICS in churches. To DISORDER and EVERY EVIL PRACTICE.

So what can we do about ENVY? At an INDIVIDUAL level, ENVY CAN BE STARVED BY CONTENTMENT AND THANKFULNESS. Envy can be starved by contentment. Being SATISFIED with what you have. And THANKING GOD for it. Both those attitudes say, “God you know what you’re doing in my life. You’re giving me exactly what I need. You know what would be BAD for me to have. Thank you for giving me all these blessings. And thanks for withholding what would make me more worldly and less heavenly.”

It’s very hard to be envious of someone else if you genuinely hold THAT ATTITUDE about the life God’s given you.

The OTHER thing we can do to fight envy is AT A CHURCH LEVEL. I think a lot of our envy comes from unrealistic expectations. We see someone’s car, or abilities, or relationship with their spouse, or clothes. And we WANT it. But it’s only PART OF THE PICTURE. We don’t realise that there’s a whole lot of other stuff going on in people’s lives that’s NOT so attractive.

And we can HELP that misinformation by being HONEST with each other. Not necessarily sharing all our family secrets. But being OPEN about our STRUGGLES. Asking for prayer. Admitting weakness and mistakes.

And that helps us ALL not to envy the BETTER bits of each other’s lives.

And HEALTHY HOME GROUPS are a great safe space to be DOING that. And MANY of you are in a group like that. Can I encourage you to KEEP doing that?

That’s a description of the DIAGNOSIS of the PROBLEM. Passions that work themselves out in all sorts of disorderly, bitter and disruptive ways.

The condition (4:4-5)

Next we see a description of THE CONDITION. There in v4 and 5. What’s BEHIND the diagnosis. What’s CAUSING it. Where those attitudes COME from. We’ve already seen it at the end of ch 3. There’s two sorts of wisdom. EARTHLY wisdom and HEAVENLY wisdom.

And James says, in Ch 4 v4, the two can’t go together.

4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that FRIENDSHIP WITH THE WORLD is HATRED toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the WORLD becomes an ENEMY OF GOD.

It’s ONE thing to be IN the world. We can’t escape the world. We have to work, and travel on trains, and buy groceries, and get our car serviced. The kids play sport, we buy new clothes, we listen to music and enjoy a restaurant meal or a holiday.

But it’s ANOTHER THING to be FRIENDS with the world. To LOVE the world at the expense of loving God.

Paul wrote to Timothy about another of his co-workers. 2 Tim 4:9-10

9 Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas , BECAUSE HE LOVED THIS WORLD, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.

Demas, presumably, was a Christian. But he had the choice to keep supporting Paul in prison. To keep taking up his cross daily. Or instead, to take the easy way out. To love comfort and self-satisfaction and ease/ more than he loved obedience and sacrifice and walking as Jesus walked.

And he loved the WORLD more than he loved CHRIST. And that’s what James means when he says that friendship with the world is hatred towards God.

It’s desiring the things the WORLD values MORE than the things GOD values. That’s where ENVY comes from. It’s choosing STUFF over RELATIONSHIP. Choosing to COVET, rather than being CONTENT. It’s choosing quarrels rather than unity. Taking sides rather than working together.

And for people who might argue that you can love BOTH. That you can have the best of both worlds. James says NO WAY. It’s nothing more than ADULTERY. It’s like the husband who has an affair. But won’t give up either. Who says he loves his wife AND his girlfriend.

But you can’t LOVE your wife, and then treat her as if she’s SECOND. LOVE means your wife comes FIRST.

And it’s the same with God. The first and most important of the Ten Commandments. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt… YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME.” (In fact, you can argue that there really is only ONE command. And that the rest are logical outworkings of the FIRST.)

If God is God, then he’s NUMBER ONE. There’s no place for any other contender. James says it in the difficult v5. His Spirit ENVIES INTENSELY. Which I think means that when God puts his Spirit in us, he doesn’t like to SHARE. He doesn’t like the Spirit of the WORLD taking up space in us AS WELL. Two into ONE DOESN’T FIT.

It’s another way of saying that God’s a JEALOUS God. We sometimes confuse jealousy with envy. But they’re different. Envy is wanting something that ISN’T rightfully yours. Like someone else’s car, or abilities.

But jealousy is wanting what’s RIGHTFULLY yours. Like a husband who’s JEALOUS for his wife’s attention. It’s RIGHT that he alone receives it. It’s what she PROMISED him.

Or God who’s JEALOUS for the honour of his name. It’s RIGHT that people honour it. Or jealous for the loyalty of his children. Which is what he’s jealous for here. That we’re loyal to him alone.

He’s sent Jesus to win us back. He’s paid the price of his Son. He’s chosen us. He’s forgiven us. He’s changed our status from condemned to righteous. He’s given us his Spirit. He gives us life and hope and joy. He’s promised us eternity and an inheritance.

And we want to make LIGHT of all of that. To minimise its significance. To substitute OTHER affections instead. Is it any wonder James says

4 You ADULTEROUS people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?

The cure (6-10)

That’s the condition. And James is quick to move on to the CURE. Which is just as well, because he’s been so tough in his diagnosis people might assume there’s no hope.

V6. Yes. God is JEALOUS. He won’t put up with rivals. But… HE GIVES MORE GRACE.

How beautiful are THOSE words!? We’ve really come to the centre of the book. The hinge on which the whole thing swings. The solution to all the problems. The answer to all the questions.

You MAY love the world more than God. You may be envious and ambitious. You may find yourself cursing men straight after praising God. You may show favouritism, preferring the rich and popular to the poor and rejected. You may overlook widows and orphans, or be struggling against the pollution of the world. You may give in to temptation, and even blame God for BRINGING the temptation. You may doubt, and like a wave of the sea be being tossed all around.

Your sins and failures might be piling up to the ceiling. So high, you can’t even see the top.

But GOD GIVES MORE GRACE. Four simple words that cover all the rest. God gives MORE grace.

Paul puts it like this in Romans 5:20. “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.” Or where sin ABOUNDED, grace SUPER ABOUNDED.

Then James quotes Proverbs 3:34 is support. God gives GRACE to the HUMBLE.

And that’s the KEY to unlocking the rich storehouses of God’s grace. HUMILITY. Recognising your need. Your LACK. Your POVERTY. And TURNING TO THE ONE WHO CAN DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. v7.

7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Over and over. Different ways of saying the same thing. Submit yourself to God. (Recognise your sin, turn from it. And come to him in repentance). Draw near to God, and he promises to be FOUND. (He’ll never play hide and seek with the genuine God-seeker.)

Wash your hands. Purify your hearts. (Both metaphors for REPENTING. Perhaps washing hands is about repenting of ACTIONS. And purifying hearts is about repenting of MOTIVES AND ATTITUDES.)

Grieve, mourn and wail. Recognise you’re not who God wants you to be. You might be better than the next person. But you’re a long way from godly. So mourn at your sin.

Do it FOR THE FIRST TIME. If you’re not a Christian, if you’ve never turned from your rebellion and self-satisfying. Then bow the knee before God TODAY. And he promises to wash you clean because of Jesus. Humble yourself, and he promises to LIFT YOU UP.

But don’t just do it ONCE. We’re to do it again and again. To DRAW NEAR TO GOD. Using the means he’s given us. Through his Word, and through his people. And through his sacraments.

Dwell on his promises, remember his goodness, be encouraged by his faithfulness to his people, stay strong in trials, pray for grace to persevere.

Repent together. Forgive together. Pray together. Live together.

Come near to God, and, v8, God promises to come near to YOU. Humble yourself before the Lord, and v10, God promises to LIFT YOU UP. He’ll give you hope and joy. He’ll give you peace and contentment. He’ll keep his promises, and answer your prayers. He’ll grow you into the likeness of Jesus.

He’ll give you the wisdom that comes from heaven. That’s pure and peace-loving and considerate and submissive and full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

He’ll grow in you a harvest of righteousness.

And eventually, he’ll bring you into glory. And seat you at his table. And celebrate with you and his people forever.

How could we be envious of such little things in OTHERS when we have such RICHES in God?! How could we be friends WITH THE WORLD, when we have A FRIEND AS GOOD as God?!

 

James 2:1-13: The Foolishness of Favouritism

Michael was homeless. He looked pretty rough. Unshaven. Smelly old shirt, trousers too short, no shoes. One day, he decided to visit the old, traditional church on the corner of the main street. It was full of well-dressed, successful, middle-class people. At THIS church, things were always predictable and controlled and respectable. They wanted to reach into the community. But they weren’t sure how to go about it. Michael arrived late for the service. And so he started walking down the aisle looking for a seat. But there was nowhere obvious to sit, so he kept walking.

By now people had noticed him, and they all looked a bit uncomfortable. Michael got closer and closer to the front until he was in line with the front pew. Then he realized there were no seats there either. What would you do? Ever eye in the place was on him.

Michael casually just squatted down and crossed his legs. And sat right on the carpet. In the middle of the aisle. Directly in front of the pulpit. People began to feel uncomfortable, they looked around at each other. “Somebody should DO something,” they thought.

Just then a welcomer started slowly making his way toward Michael. Bob was in his eighties, and wore a suit. The same one he wore every week.

As he started walking toward Michael, you could hear the buzz. All eyes were focused on him. People were saying under their breath, “Look here comes Bob. He’ll fix things. He’ll straighten this guy out.

You can’t blame him though. How can you expect a man of his age and upbringing to understand someone like that sitting on the floor in church?”

But when he got to the front, instead of telling Michael to get up, he stopped and with great difficulty, lowered himself to the ground and sat down next to Bill.

It was so unexpected. But at the same time it was EXACTLY THE RIGHT thing to do. Exactly what JESUS would have done.

You see, the people in the church that morning were presented with A CHOICE. Maintain respectability. Keep up earthly appearances. Get rid of the messy and the unlovely and the uncontrolled and the complicated.

OR… show unbiased, self-giving, acceptance and love. Irrespective of what the person looked like. Or where they came from. Or how much money they had. What choice would YOU have made?

Q: WHY not discriminate?

That’s what James presents us with. The opportunity to make a choice. A very practical situation. But one that says a lot about THEORY. About your THEOLOGY – what you think about GOD. Look at it with me. In v2.

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.

That’s the choice. It’s one perhaps you’ve made before as you stand at the front door. Or as you drink your coffee at morning tea. Two different people. From completely different backgrounds. One’s wearing designer clothes, nice aftershave, new iphone, standing tall. Looks people in the eye. Confident, together, Attractive. Easy to talk to.

The other one You can SMELL before you SEE him. Bare feet. Unshaven. Beanie pulled down over his head. Looks around cautiously. Like he’s expecting someone to throw him out any minute. Perhaps he mumbles to himself. Can’t hold a conversation. That’s your choice.

And the WAY you respond/ says something about your VALUES. What is it that EXCITES you? Is it the glory, and glamour, and power, and influence, and potential that go with EARTHLY riches?  Or is it the opportunity to SERVE? To put others first. To seek the glory of GOD’S kingdom? Which glory excites you? Earthly glory, or heavenly glory?

And the NATURAL, INSTINCTIVE response is to gravitate towards the WEALTHY. The attractive. The earthly. Look at v3.

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,”

The theory is “The more MONEY you have, the more VALUABLE you are.” The more / it’s worth me spending TIME with you.

Look at how the two men are SPOKEN TO. The RICH man receives an OFFER – “Here’s a good seat!” But the POOR man gets treated like DIRT. COMMANDED. Like a pet. “You. Stand there!” or “Sit on the floor at my feet!” More money. More VALUE.

But James says that theory’s all wrong. V4. When you think like that, you DISCRIMINATE. Show favouritism. Judge. And judgments like that are EVIL. AGAINST the way God thinks.

And James gives us FOUR REASONS for not discriminating. Four answers to the question of “Why not discriminate?” One’s to do with Jesus. One’s to do with US. The third’s to do with GOD. And the last reason’s to do with THE LAW.

A1: Because Jesus… (v1)

Firstly, because Jesus… Look at v1.

My brothers, AS BELIEVERS IN OUR GLORIOUS LORD JESUS CHRIST, don’t show favoritism.

The REASON we’re not to show favouritism is because we’re believers in Jesus.

But it’s an unusual description for Jesus. This translation’s a bit awkward. But it’s literally. “as believers in Our Lord Jesus Christ – THE GLORY!”

It’s the GLORY of Jesus that’s being emphasised. The glory of his power and his exalted position at God’s right hand. The glory of God HIMSELF. Listen to 2 Corinthians 4. v4

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see THE LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL OF THE GLORY OF CHRIST, who is the image of God.

All God’s GLORIOUS goodness/ and power/ and holiness/ and wisdom/ and love/ are seen when we look in Jesus’ face. THAT’S the glorious Jesus we believe in.

And James’ point is this. Because JESUS is so glorious/ how can we POSSIBLY get distracted by the EARTHLY glory of riches? Of cars, or clothes, or physical aattractiveness? That glory’s NOTHING compared to the glory of Jesus.

And Jesus’ glory isn’t just GREATER, it’s completely DIFFERENT to the glory of the world. His is a glory of WEAKNESS AND LOVE AND SACRIFICE. The glory of the eternally powerful being born into helpless poverty. The glory of Jesus, the servant King, becoming weak and poor, that we might become ETERNALLY RICH.

If Jesus chose THAT sort of upside-down glory. And if we are those who FOLLOW him, it’s NONSENSE to choose, instead, to honour the pale, temporary, weak EARTHLY glory of money and clothes and influence. It’s the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of Jesus.

A2: Because We… (v5)

That’s the first reason we’re not to discriminate. (Because Jesus). And the second reason is in v5. And it’s to do with US.

You see, I’m not to get distracted by someone ELSE’S riches because I’m ALREADY RICH.

It’s probably news to Caron. But I’m a WEALTHY MAN. That’s why I’m not to be attracted by glory of dollars. Look at v5.

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world TO BE RICH (there you go – that’s me!) RICH IN FAITH and TO INHERIT THE KINGDOM he promised those who love him?

I ALREADY have riches better than anything Bill Gates has got. So why am I so ATTRACTED to ASSETS? TAKEN with TREASURE? INFATUATED by INCOME?  BESOTTED by BUCKS?

Compared to MY RICHES in Christ. BOTH these men – poor AND rich. Are BANKRUPT AND DESTITUTE. And they’ve got nothing to offer me. We’re inheriting A KINGDOM.

Listen to what WE’VE got that they haven’t. Ephesians 2:4-7

But because of his great love for us, God, who is RICH IN MERCY, {5} made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. {6} And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, {7} in order that in the coming ages he might show THE INCOMPARABLE RICHES OF HIS GRACE, expressed in his KINDNESS TO US IN CHRIST JESUS.

God’s grace and mercy. Knowing and being known by our Creator and Saviour and Lord. It’s gorgeous and lavish and eternal and pure. They’re the riches WE have. Much more valuable than anything EARTHLY. That’s the second reason we shouldn’t discriminate. We’re ALREADY rich.

A3. Because God… (v5)

And the third reason’s in v5 too. We should take notice of the poor because that’s the way GOD works. “Hasn’t GOD chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world”.

God NEVER looks to those who APPEAR to be the best and brightest. He ALWAYS chooses the LEAST. (It’s the way he’s worked all through the Bible)

Like why he chose Israel. Look at what he says in Deuteronomy 7 v6. One of my favourite verses in the whole Bible.

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has CHOSEN you/ out of ALL the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. {7} The LORD did NOT set his affection on you and choose you because you were more NUMEROUS than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. (or because they were the richest, or had the best potential. Why did he do it then?){8} But it was because the LORD / LOVED YOU.

And nothing changes in the New Testament. Look at what Paul says to the Corinthians. And to us. 1 Corinthians 1 v26

Brothers, 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. {27} 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. {28} He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, {29} so that no one may boast before him. {30} It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. {31} Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

God chooses those who are WEAK. And POOR. And unintelligent. And unattractive. And without connections, or influence. (Don’t take it personally, but that’s you guys!)

And yet WE assume that those who’ll make the best Christians – the most useful and significant – will be those with the money. And the influence. And the experience. And the abilities. And so we gravitate towards them. And think God will build his kingdom THAT way.

And so we love to hear about the CELEBRITY Christian. Kate Bracks the winner of Masterchef a couple of years ago. Or Jarad Hayne, the Parramatta footy player. Or Andrew Scipione the NSW Police Commissioner. Or Mike Baird, the former NSW Premier. We think how INFLUENTIAL they’ll be.

And even though it’s fantastic that God’s saving people from ALL walks of life, we shouldn’t be more excited about THEIR Christian testimony than any other.

Because (But) it’s not the way God works. He doesn’t normally choose the powerful and influential and famous. God loves to choose the LEAST and the LAST and the LOST. And then he USES people like that to build his kingdom. He does it that way, so the honour and glory belongs to HIM. Otherwise, we’d take the credit OURSELVES. That’s the way it’s ALWAYS BEEN.

And so WE should love people like that TOO. In fact, we’re more likely to be choosing the people God chooses when we love the poor and insignificant. That’s the third reason.

A4. Because the law… (1:27; v8-11)

And the fourth reason is to do with THE LAW. We should look after the poor because the law says so. That’s the behaviour that pleases God. Remember back to Ch 1 v27?

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress

But it’s more than just some little sub-point of the law. To discriminate against the poor is to break one of THE GREATEST COMMANDS of all. Look at Ch 2 v8.

If you really keep the ROYAL law found in Scripture, “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing right. {9} But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as LAWBREAKERS.

Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s in Leviticus 19:8.

And when Jesus was asked what the most important laws were, he named THIS ONE as one of two. Because it’s a SUMMARY of a whole lot of other laws.

That’s why James calls it the ROYAL law. Or the Law OF THE KING. Because it’s the law of KING JESUS. The law which characterizes his KINGDOM.

And it’s Jesus’ KINGDOM we’re inheriting according to v5. Which is why it’s appropriate for CITIZENS of the kingdom to behave according to the LAWS of that kingdom. Which are SUMMARISED by the law to love your neighbour as you love yourself.

And that means NOT SHOWING FAVOURITISM. Because to show favouritism/ is NOT to LOVE. It’s as black and white as that. To show favouritism is NOT LOVE.

Love should be UNCONDITIONAL, without strings. But favouritism is conditional. Your treatment of someone depends on what they’re LIKE. And favouritism is, ultimately, SELFISHNESS. Because you want to benefit from what the rich person can do for YOU. Which is NOT LOVE.  YOU SHOW YOU’RE NOT PART OF THE KINGDOM/ WHEN DON’T LOVE. WHEN YOU PICK AND CHOOSE WHO YOU’LL HELP.

What does it mean to love your neighbour like you LOVE YOURSELF? I think it’s MOSTLY about who you put FIRST. Who your top priority is. It’s NATURAL to put YOURSELF first, and OTHERS second.

I’m pushing my trolley up to the checkout, and from the other direction there’s a little old lady with a HUGE trolley. Full of cat food, band aids, tea bags and toilet paper. And she’s brought her own bags, so it will take AGES. And so I just speed up a LITTLE bit. Not enough to be NOTICEABLE, but just enough to get to the checkout FIRST, and save myself three minutes. Do you ever do THAT?

But the law of the kingdom says consider others BEFORE you think about yourself. Love YOUR neighbour. Go to the BACK of the line, rather than push to the FRONT. Even if it’s not NATURAL, even if it’s TOUGH.

James continues. Be challenged. BUT DON’T LOSE HEART. Yes, Jesus commands us to LOVE. And it’s a high bar to clear. But it’s NOT IMPOSSIBLE. Look at v12.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law…

(That all sounds a bit depressing. Oppressive. Too hard to measure up to.)

The problem with LAW is/ only 100% will do. We all fail according to THAT law. But that’s not the law we’re to be judged under. James goes on.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by THE LAW THAT GIVES FREEDOM,

THAT’S the law for the Christian. Jesus has SATISFIED the perfect demands of God’s law. We have ALREADY been declared righteous. So, James says, speak and act in OBEDIENT RESPONSE to that freedom. We have been FREED FROM judgment. And FREED TO obedience. Speak and act that way. FREELY LOVE, rather than JUDGE, since you’ve been set FREE from judgment.

The Father has made you a new person – regenerated you -because of the Son’s work.

And he’s given you his Spirit. You’re now ABLE to obey. You have the FREEDOM to DO what God desires. To love your neighbour as yourself. To NOT show favouritism. To look after the poor. So DO IT!

Living God’s way sets you FREE to live the fullness of his DESIGN for you.

How will this affect your attitude to people? To people OUT THERE IN ASHFIELD? To visitors at church. Neighbours you wave at, but never speak to. People you meet down Liverpool Rd. Drinkers sitting on our park benches. Or homeless people who wander into morning tea.

God is saying that EVERYONE has value. He chooses the ones we wouldn’t give a second glance to. So GIVE them a second glance. See the VALUE that God places on them.

Perhaps even people here at church you don’t talk to because you ASSUME you’ve got nothing in common with them.

And the flip-side of this/ is your attitude to the ATTRACTIVE. The RICH.

I used to go over to Bellevue Hill occasionally to watch Daniel play cricket against Cranbrook. And the road opposite the park is Wolseley Rd, Point Piper. One of the most expensive streets of Real Estate IN THE WORLD. With $50 million properties!

The lives of people there are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Waterfront, servants, cars, boats, views, parties. They have NONE of the problems we face.

It’s easy to look at these people and ASSUME. Assume they’re HAPPY. That THESE people really have it together. That they have a glory that’s worth striving for. Worth being jealous of.

And it was tempting to wonder whether I really had anything to offer them. Whether the gospel would IMPROVE what they had.

It’s easy to be INFATUATED BY INCOME.

And to lose sight of the GLORIOUS Lord Jesus we follow. And the riches we have in him. And that all THAT stuff just pales into insignificance compared to our inheritance.

Don’t ever think that people you know – impressive, in-control, capable attractive people – don’t NEED Christ. Because they DO. Without him, they’re headed for a life of emptiness and vanity. And then an eternity of darkness and loneliness and punishment. No matter HOW rich they are.

Let me share one final story. Warren went to Central Sydney Pressie church when I was there. He grew up on the North Shore. Went to a good school. And trained as a medical doctor. He’s married to Andrea who’s also a doctor. They live in a nice house on the northern beaches.

Life could have been very comfortable for Warren. But every week for the last 10 years or so before I was there, he’d run the Ezekiel ministry in the Surry Hills area. For the homeless, the poor, those in welfare housing, those with psychiatric illnesses – schizophrenia or depression. They’re often anti-social, and smelly. Terrible personal hygiene and health. He’s seen a number of them die over the years. Folk most people want nothing to do with.

And every week they’d meet to talk, study the Bible, and have a meal together. Warren would help with medical matters. And some of them have become his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Warren could see the passing glory of this world’s riches. And the eternal, glorious riches of Christ, and our inheritance in him. And so he doesn’t show favouritism.

That might even be something we could do AROUND HERE.

For YOU, it might look like something different.

But it’s got to LOOK LIKE something. You can’t just SAY it.

How are YOU not going to show favouritism, and instead show how much you VALUE THE RICHES OF YOUR ETERNAL INHERITANCE?

James 3:1-12: The Untameable Animal

On February 24, 2010 at Sea World in San Diego, during a public performance, Dawn Brancheau was dragged into the water by a killer whale she’d trained. The whale grabbed her around the waist, and dragged her into the pool. As terrified spectators watch on helplessly, the killer whale tossed her around under water like a rag doll. Within a couple of minutes she’d drowned.

There’s all sorts of animals we can train. Even huge and dangerous and wild animals. But sometimes the animals we THINK are under control show their true nature. Show that they’re WILD. Uncontrollable. And DEADLY.

And James wants to make the point that THE TONGUE is just like THAT. We can think it’s under control. That our words will only be safe and gentle and harmless. But then, all of a sudden, without warning, our tongue will just ATTACK. With devastating results.

See it there in v7?

7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8 but NO MAN CAN TAME THE TONGUE. IT IS A RESTLESS EVIL, FULL OF DEADLY POISON.

It’s hardly the biggest or strongest muscle in the body. But it’s much more POWERFUL than all the rest.

Our words can do SO MUCH GOOD. We can guide and teach and encourage. We can say, “I love you” or “Well done!” or “Jesus is Lord”.

James has already mentioned some examples. 1:18 God chose to make us his children THROUGH THE WORD OF TRUTH. And in v21, if we humbly accept the word planted in us IT CAN SAVE US.

WORDS help us understand the gospel. And be saved.

But our words can also WOUND. They can leave scars that never heal.

Perhaps that’s something YOU’VE been on the receiving end of. Someone’s said something, just an off-hand comment. They may not even have MEANT anything by it. But it just INSTANTLY HURTS you, and, physically, just takes your breath away. You feel deflated. Like you’ve been STABBED. You feel betrayed, or undermined, or ridiculed, or worthless.

It’s just words – perhaps even only ONE SENTENCE – but it can do so much damage. Damage it can take YEARS to recover from.

Some people NEVER recover from words said about them. Lives RUINED by just a thoughtless word.

We’ve seen that in the news in the last couple of weeks with the suicide of Charlotte Dawson. Her depression was made worse by the cyber-bullying of cruel ignorant people.

And, unfortunately, it’s often THOSE words that are so hard to control. So quick and easy to produce. While the GOOD words seem to take much more effort to produce.

I don’t know about YOU, but often it’s the sarcastic, critical comment that’s the FIRST, instinctive thing that pops into my head. And I’ve got to work so much harder to think of the right, encouraging, wise and loving thing to say.

It’s SO FRUSTRATING!

It’s almost like our tongue has a mind of its own. James says, “No one can tame the tongue. It’s a restless EVIL. Full of deadly poison.”

It’s a theme he’s come BACK to here in Ch 3.

Back in Ch 1, he said we should be QUICK TO LISTEN. And SLOW TO SPEAK. Words MATTER! So use them WISELY.

And at the end of Ch 1 he listed our SPEECH as one of the three tests of ACCEPTABLE RELIGION. Of whether we LIVE OUT PRACTICALLY the things we believe about God. He said (1:26)

26 If anyone considers himself religious and yet DOES NOT KEEP A TIGHT REIN ON HIS TONGUE, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

Why keep a tight rein on your tongue?

And now he comes back to the subject of OUR WORDS. And he explains WHY IT’S SO IMPORTANT to watch what we SAY. Why it matters that we keep a tight rein on our tongue.

And he gives THREE REASONS.

1.Because the tongue’s SMALL BUT POWERFUL

2.Because the tongue’s DIFFICULT TO CONTROL

3.Because the tongue’s A TOOL OF SATAN

1.Because the tongue is small but powerful

First. Because the tongue’s SMALL BUT POWERFUL.

V3. Like a bit in the mouth of a horse. It’s only small, but it can turn this huge, powerful animal from one direction to another. Just a little touch on the reins, and the horse will turn left or right. Or even stop. Because it feels the pressure from the bit in its mouth.

Same thing with the rudder on a ship (v4). Hundreds of square metres of sail, pushing a 50m ship along that weighs tonnes, but it’s STEERED by a rudder that’s perhaps 2 square metres in area. The physics and the fluid dynamics means a great deal of force can be exerted through a very small object.

Or again, v5 – the end of the verse. A huge, destructive forest fire can be started by ONE TINY SPARK. We see it every year. One carelessly tossed cigarette butt, and millions of hectares destroyed. Small thing, huge effect.

And it’s the same with the tongue v5. Tiny but powerful.

5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it MAKES GREAT BOASTS.

Think about the damage GOSSIP can do. Just one or two sentences repeated to the wrong people.

Or vindictive false accusations of child abuse.

Or constant criticism in a marriage.

Whole LIVES can be ruined.

Or in a church. Criticism and complaints instead of gratitude and compliments can tear a church apart.

Tiny object. Huge impact. That’s the FIRST reason we should watch what we say.

2. Because it’s difficult to control

And the SECOND reason is because the tongue is DIFFICULT TO CONTROL. We looked at those verses at the beginning.

Verses 7 and 8. The tongue is like a wild animal. A crocodile or a lion or a killer whale. You can TRY to tame it. And it can SEEM tame enough for a while. But then it just SNAPS. And shows its true WILD nature.

Same with your tongue. For a while, you’re saying NICE things, gentle things, encouraging things.

But then something you’re thinking just pops out of your mouth before you know it. And the damage is done.

Or maybe the problem is you DON’T think. You say THOUGHTLESS words that hurt people. You don’t think about the effect they’ll have. But before you know it, it’s too late, and the damage is done.

Either way, the tongue is like A SLIPPERY SNAKE. Hard to hold on to. And full of deadly poison.

(pause) Which is why James BEGINS this chapter by warning his readers that TEACHING is a dangerous career. You may not have THOUGHT of it as a dangerous career.

You probably thought OTHER jobs were dangerous – like stuntman, or army commando, or Council parking officer.

But James says, No! Teaching has the potential to be the most dangerous job of all. And it’s all because of the tools of the trade.

Some tools of the trade are SHARP AND DANGEROUS. A hairdresser uses sharp SCISSORS. A carpenter uses sharp CHISELS. A butcher uses sharp KNIVES. And there’s a few butchers around missing bits of their fingers.

I was watching the tree surgeon cut down the tree outside church. Hanging out of a tree with two chainsaws dangling from his belt on the end of ropes. It was amazing to watch.

But James says the sharpest and most dangerous tool of the trade belongs to TEACHERS. It’s their TONGUE. Which can be SHARP AND DANGEROUS TOO. And can do even MORE damage than a sharp knife.

And that’s why James says in v1.

3:1 Not MANY of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that WE WHO TEACH will be judged MORE STRICTLY.

That would have been revolutionary for James’ Jewish readers. To be a teacher – a rabbi – was a high prestigious position. It means, in Aramaic, “my GREAT ONE”.

If anything, they’d expect Rabbis to be judged more EASILY. (That God would over look a few things because they’d done such good work TEACHING people). But James says the OPPOSITE is true. The bar is HIGHER.

The danger for teachers is that people LEARN from them. They LISTEN to what they SAY. That’s why God will judge them more strictly. Because their words have GREATER IMPACT. There’s MORE AT STAKE when A TEACHER speaks than when someone ELSE speaks. They can do more GOOD. But they can also do more HARM.

And what makes teaching so DANGEROUS is that the tongue is so difficult to control. V2.

2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault IN WHAT HE SAYS, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.

When James says teachers will be judged more harshly, he’s not saying they’re expected to be PERFECT. He says we all stumble in many ways. NON-teachers and teachers ALIKE.

Then he goes on to say, “If anyone is never at fault in WHAT HE SAYS”, he’s achieved PERFECTION. In other words, our tongues are the HARDEST thing for us to learn to control. If we never say a hurtful or dumb or unkind word, then we’ve reached PERFECTION in EVERY area.

But the reality is we’ll go to our GRAVES still saying things we wish we could take back. So people shouldn’t PRESUME to BECOME teachers. There are serious consequences.

And if you ARE a teacher, then you need to be ESPECIALLY CAUTIOUS about the things you say. Because it’s only THE PERFECT man who never makes a mistake with his words.

And that’s certainly not ME. I learned quite early on in my preaching that it was the UNSCRIPTED parts in my sermon that got me into the most trouble. The off-hand comments that I didn’t have in my notes ended up NOT being funny or clever, like they sounded in my head the moment before I spoke them. Instead they ended up negative or hurtful or confusing or distracting.

And because I’m saying it in A SERMON. And because there are plenty of people CONCENTRATING on it, those words can do greater DAMAGE.

So I stick, MOSTLY, to the words I’ve thought carefully about. And prepared during the week.

Because it’s a tool of Satan (6)

The third reason we’re to keep a tight rein on our tongue is because IT’S A TOOL OF SATAN. He LOVES to see us ripping each other apart with our words. Look at v6.

6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, AND IS ITSELF SET ON FIRE BY HELL.

Satan knows how dangerous the tongue is. What a huge destructive fire it can cause. It’s one of his favourite weapons. So he’s quite happy to kick start things himself with a little spark. A fire starter.

To get the tongue moving – with a pang of jealousy, or a bad night’s sleep and a quick temper. Or a feeling of being out of control in a situation. Or a simple misunderstanding. Or a badly expressed thought quickly taken the wrong way. Or feeling sorry for yourself.

Just a little spark, and our tongues will take over. And make a REAL mess of things. They’ll turn the spark into a forest fire.

And notice the areas James highlights that are damaged. We sometimes think our words just hurt OTHER people. And that’s certainly true. But here, James focuses on the effect our words have ON OUR OWN LIVES. He says our tongue “corrupts the WHOLE person”. EVERY AREA of our life. Our words can damage EVERYTHING. Our work, our family, our church. Our sleep, our recreation, our holidays.

They can damage how we THINK about people. They can damage our EMOTIONS, and what we think about OURSELVES. And they can damage how we think about God.

And he adds that the tongue “sets THE WHOLE COURSE OF OUR LIFE on fire”. It’s LENGTH of effect as well as BREADTH. From beginning of life to end.

We never grow out of saying the wrong thing. Babies learn very quickly how to use WORDS to get what they want. Or how to hurt others.

And young men sin with their words in ONE WAY. They’re ANGRY YOUNG MEN. They know best. They’re impatient and unteachable. They want to fit in, and be well-thought of.

But OLD men sin with their words in A DIFFERENT way. They’re critical and complaining and disagreeable and frustrated. And they don’t care WHO knows.

Like that TV show, Grumpy Old Men, that’s basically just a series of interviews with well-known old men grumbling about what ANNOYS them about life. Terrible!

From beginning to end. Across all areas of life. The tongue is a fire. A world of evil.

No WONDER Satan loves to set the tongue on fire. So it can make a mess of things.

The problem

ESPECIALLY when it comes to THE CHURCH.

Up to this point, James has been making his point GENERALLY. But from v9 he turns his attention SPECIFICALLY to the Christian.

To how ILLOGICAL it is that the same tongue can praise God ONE moment, then CURSE a brother the NEXT. Same tongue! V9

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.   10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.

The old American western movies used to have the Indians saying “white man speak with forked tongue.” In other words, that his tongue was split in two, like a snake. He’d say two different things. That white man couldn’t be trusted.

And that’s what James is saying here. The Christian SHOULDN’T have a forked tongue. But often WE DO.

I mean, it’s the ultimate in hypocrisy, isn’t it! We sing, “May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day!” Then we go outside and start gossiping about someone. Or criticising how they raise their kids. Or laughing at their fashion sense. Or arguing with them about what a Bible verse means. Or responding with sarcasm to their comment.

You can almost hear the pain in James’ voice When he says, “My brothers, this should not be.” It’s just not right! It’s not natural. He says (v11), fresh water and salt water don’t flow from the same spring. So what’s going on? He says, you don’t get olives and grapes from the same PLANT (v12). So what’s the story? What’s the problem?

The cause and the solution

(pause) And that’s beginning to get to the CAUSE of the problem.

Ultimately the evil words we speak are just the SYMPTOM. The RESULT.

The ILLNESS is what CAUSES the symptoms. It’s no good putting bandaids on measle spots. You’ve got to treat the MEASLES.

And, ultimately, the problem isn’t our TONGUES, but with the SPRING that the words COME from. From OUR HEART. James says it in v12. A SALT spring can’t produce fresh water. No matter how much you clean the bucket. No matter how much you filter the salt water. The SOURCE is salt. To get FRESH water, you’ve got to change THE SOURCE.

It’s just what Jesus said (Mark ch 7). He was talking about clean and unclean foods. And he said, it’s not what goes into a man that makes him unclean, but what comes OUT of him. V21.

21 For from within, out of men’s HEARTS, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from INSIDE and make a man ‘unclean.'”

The OUTSIDE is just the SYMPTOM. It’s the INSIDE where the CAUSE is. It’s a problem with our HEARTS that makes our TONGUES say the wrong thing.

I think we’ve all experienced that. Someone looks calm on the outside, but then they’ll SAY SOMETHING THAT GIVES IT AWAY.

And you think, “Ooh, I know what you’re REALLY thinking now!” Something that gives away that, really, they’ve been hurt. Or embarrassed. Or that they’re angry. Or that they’re REAL motives aren’t as nice as they seem.

You can try to control your tongue as much as you like. But if there’s a problem with your HEART. With the things you love. And who you’re serving. And what your ultimate motivation is. Then, some time, that’s going to come out in your words. Because the tongue is a wild animal. And because salt SPRINGS produce salt WATER.

It’s just what JAMES goes on to say. Into the next section. He identifies the CAUSE of the tongue problem. V14.

“But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in YOUR HEARTS, do not boast about it or deny the truth.”

That’s the SPRING. And it’s not the sort of heart GOD wants. V15.

“Such wisdom does NOT come down from heaven, but is EARTHLY, unspiritual, of THE DEVIL. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

Envy and selfishness in your HEARTS result in BOASTING AND DENYING. In WORDS that damage.

(pause) So how can do something about your HEART? What’s the solution to THAT problem? Because if we can do something about our HEART, then we can begin to do something about our TONGUES.

The simple answer is WE can’t do ANYTHING about our hearts. Only GOD can. We need wisdom FROM GOD, not wisdom from the EARTH. V17

“But the wisdom that COMES FROM HEAVEN is first of first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, fill of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”

Think about it. If God does a miracle in our hearts. If he removes our heart of stone, and gives us a heart of flesh. And he begins to build in PURITY, then our SPEECH will be pure.

If he grows a nature that LOVES PEACE. Then we won’t go looking for a quarrel. We’ll be more able to COMPLEMENT than CRITICISE.

And if he’s making us more THANKFUL. We’ll see the GOOD in others more. And complements and gratitude and positives will come more naturally, rather than complaints and grumbling and negatives.

And if our hearts are becoming MORE CONSIDERATE, then we’ll be less and less likely to blurt out what’s inappropriate. We’ll THINK before we speak.

And if he makes us more and more SUBMISSIVE, we begin to let OTHERS win arguments. It becomes more important to KEEP A FRIENDSHIP than to win the disagreement. We’ll be content to BUILD OTHERS UP, instead of having to build OURSELVES up

Same thing with MERCY. If our hearts are FULL OF MERCY, then our WORDS will REFLECT that. We’ll speak with grace and forgiveness. We’ll say “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” more often. We’ll ask others how THEY’RE doing, rather than complaining about how WE’RE doing. We’ll OFFER help more than we’ll ASK for it.

That’s what we need in this church.

If God’s doing a work like THAT in our hearts, then we’ll be seeing REAL CHANGES in our conversations. They’ll be genuine ENJOYMENT at being involved in each other’s lives.

They’ll be genuine ENCOURAGEMENT, which is why we meet together in the FIRST place. People will go away from church STRONGER than when they arrived. Which isn’t always the way it works with church.

And what all of that means is that I need to preaching about HEART changes, not just MORALITY. I’m a lazy physician if I just focus on the SYMPTOMS without addressing the SICKNESS. If I just tell you to DO THIS, or DO THAT.

I need to be pointing you, with the best of my intellect and emotion and strength, to the GOD OF ALL GRACE. So you might LOVE HIM BETTER. To the one who has lavished on us every spiritual blessing in Christ. Who calls us out of darkness into the kingdom of his marvellous light. The one who did not spare his only Son but graciously gave him up for us all. The one who washes us clean and makes us children. And gives us his Spirit to teach and strengthen and guide and convict.

I need to be helping you to love him WIDER. To be treasuring him above EVERY area of your life. I need to be helping you to love him DEEPER. To be appreciating more and more the BEAUTY of God. His WORTHINESS of our loyalty and love and honour.

I need to be helping you to UNDERSTAND HIM BETTER. With your intellect. To know his Word better. To know HIM better. So we might know his CHARACTER better. What he LOVES, and what he HATES. So that we might love and hate the same things HE does. That’s HEART-change.

And the more our hearts grow LIKE him, the more our WORDS will REFLECT that.

And the more, as James puts it, God will produce A HARVEST OF RIGHTEOUSNESS in us.

May that be a harvest that overflows in THIS church!

James 1:19-27: Authentic Religion

I wonder whether you’ve heard this comment from people. It goes something like this, “I believe in God, but I don’t go to church.” Or maybe they say, “I’m SPIRITUAL, but I’m not into ORGANISED RELIGION.”

Often what they mean is they like the IDEA of having some sort of relationship with God, but the WAY THAT WORKS OUT IN PRACTICE puts them off.

And it’s often because they’ve been put off by people in churches.

Perhaps they’ve been burned by ABUSIVE LEADERSHIP. Leaders who’ve TALKED about serving and humility and building God’s kingdom. But who’ve been more about building their OWN kingdom, and manipulating people to SERVE THEM.

Or maybe they’ve experienced HYPOCRISY in the church. People who TALK about values and honesty and morals. But who live a secret double life of dishonesty and deception. And when the whole tangled web of lies unravels it just leaves a nasty taste in the mouths of people looking on.

Or maybe they just know people who SAY that God’s the most important part of their life. But you’d never KNOW it by looking at their lives. They’re just as greedy and self-obsessed and quick-tempered and materialistic as everyone else.

And so these people look at organised religion – the external LIVING OUT of belief – and decide they want NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.

I think what they’re really saying is they want to see AUTHENTIC RELIGION. They’re not interested in belief that MAKES NO DIFFERENCE to HOW YOU LIVE.

And you know what? NEITHER IS GOD! What GOD wants to see from people who say they follow him is TO SEE IT WORKED OUT IN PRACTICE. He wants to see AUTHENTIC RELIGION TOO.

So what does authentic religion LOOK LIKE? Religion that God approves of?

The answer James gives is that it’s SURPRISINGLY SIMPLE.

It’s a question he’s got a particular interest in. Because he’s writing to a group of people who are EXPERTS at the question of RELIGION. At how to LIVE OUT your faith. The JEWS.

The James who wrote this letter was the brother of Jesus. He wasn’t a disciple. In fact, from what we can tell he didn’t even BECOME A FOLLOWER until after Jesus’ resurrection. But by the time of Acts 15 – perhaps 20 years later – James was the leader of the whole Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem.

And he’s writing his letter to Jewish Christians, not in Jerusalem, but who’d been scattered all over the world. See it there in v1 of Ch 1?

1:1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To THE TWELVE TRIBES scattered among the nations:

And, living in Jerusalem, he would have seen plenty of examples of RELIGION. The public practice of faith in God.

Like in Acts 21, when he welcomes the Apostle Paul to Jerusalem, he describes the church in Jerusalem. He says there are many thousands who’ve believed (Acts 21:20). And they’re ALL ZEALOUS FOR THE LAW. In other words, they’re committed to the authentic practice of religion.

It’s what the WHOLE JEWISH CULTURE was about. Authentic religion. ESPECIALLY in Jerusalem where the temple was.

EVERYTHING Jews did was RELIGION. Everything was connected to their relationship with God. Food, holidays, how you worked, when you worked. Who you could and couldn’t work with, or touch, or eat with. How you raised your family. What you wore. How you washed. What things mattered, and what things DIDN’T.

And it wasn’t just keeping what was written in the Old Testament. The WRITTEN Law. But it was all the OTHER laws the experts had ADDED to it. Another 613 ORAL regulations. Rules you kept so you wouldn’t get anywhere NEAR breaking one of the WRITTEN ones.

But now many Jews had become Christians. And things had changed. Because Jesus came to FULFIL the law. To perfectly KEEP IT. To be its goal and its target. The one it all pointed towards.

And Jesus declared all food clean. “Eat whatever you like!”

And he replaced the temple as the place to meet God.

And he died as the ULTIMATE SACRIFICE, so no more offerings had to be made.

And he set people FREE from the demands of the law.

And so NOW  AUTHENTIC religion wasn’t about ANY of that stuff. It was about IMITATING Jesus instead. The TRUE word of God. The TRUE IMAGE of God. The lived-out perfect expression of what trusting God looked like. Walking, talking authentic religion himself.

Perhaps James saw it as a particular problem for the Jewish Christians he knew. A temptation to try to please God with the old religious law-keeping. A temptation to focus on the EXTERNAL trappings.

Whatever the reason the book of James is about AUTHENTIC RELIGION. How to live out your faith in a way that’s REAL.

And what James says  is in complete contrast to the old Jewish law. Especially the Oral Law. Which made things SO COMPLICATED. And so DIFFICULT that no one could KEEP it.

James, on the other hand, makes it SIMPLE. Look at what he says about religion – v26 – down near the end of our reading.

26 If anyone considers himself RELIGIOUS…

And every one of James’ Jewish Christian readers would have got interested at that point. “YES! That’s me,” they’d think. But here’s where it gets interesting.

26 If anyone considers himself RELIGIOUS…and yet DOES NOT KEEP A TIGHT REIN ON HIS TONGUE, he deceives himself and his religion is WORTHLESS. 27 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.

 

If you want to be RELIGIOUS says James, if you want to be accepted by God. If you want to be found PURE AND FAULTLESS. It’s not about keeping 613 laws. It’s much SIMPLER than that.

Three simple characteristics. Not difficult. You don’t need to be an expert. It’s possible even for ORDINARY people.

Watch your tongue

Look after people who need it

Don’t get stained by the world.

It almost seems too easy, doesn’t it? Watch your tongue. Look after people who need it. Don’t get stained by the world.

So, is James saying that’s ALL God requires us to do? That we can live anyway we LIKE, do and say ANYTHING. As long as we do THESE things?

No! What James is saying is that these things are A MEASURE of authentic religion. They don’t MAKE you right. They MEASURE you right.

They’re a thermometer, not a thermostat. A thermometer MEASURES temperature. A thermostat SETS the temperature

These three things are like the canary in a coal mine. Before gas detectors, coal miners would take a canary down the mine with them. As long as the canary was singing, the air was clean enough for them to breathe. But if the concentration of the deadly, odourless and colourless coal gas began to build up, the canary would stop singing. And eventually die. And the miners knew it was time to get out.

The canary would die before they knew anything was wrong. It was the early warning system of danger.

And that’s what James is giving us here. An early warning system for authentic religion. If there’s no self-control of your TONGUE. If there’s no interest in HELPING THOSE WHO NEED IT. If there’s no desire to SEPARATE from the pollution of the world. Then “Look out! DANGER ahead!”

It’s possible your religion, no matter how good it looks in OTHER areas, might be WORTHLESS.

Your religious practice can look impressive in all sorts of ways. Your attendance is exemplary, your donations are generous, your theology is reformed, your quiet times are regular, your Bible memorization is studious!

But if you ALSO abuse people when you’re tired. Or you gossip, or you blurt out the first thing that pops into your head instead of listening to others. Then that’s a WARNING SIGN – a MEASURE – that, maybe, all the REST is WORTHLESS!

During WW2, there was a saying in America “Loose lips sink ships.” In other words careless words could give away secure information that the enemy could use.

But here the consequences are EVEN WORSE. Loose lips make your religion WORTHLESS. No use before God. And no use before MEN.

But not just your WORDS. Your ACTIONS, TOO. If you have NO interest in helping people who are helpless. If you just drive past people when you should stop. If you say you’ll PRAY for someone who needs it, but never actually INCONVENIENCE yourself for them. Then that’s a MEASURE of the authenticity of your religion. That it’s all talk and no walk. All air and no substance.

Or PURITY. If you do all those GOOD things, but at the same time walk in secret a very DIFFERENT path. If you’re ONE person Monday to Friday. And someone very different on Sunday.

If you have a secret, shameful, polluted, HIDDEN life. Plunging into the same rotten cesspool the people around you swim in. (Anger, dishonesty, lust, pleasure-seeking, idolatry, greed.) Then God’s not going to ACCEPT the GOOD STUFF you do. It’s all WASTED. Cancelled out. OTHER people mightn’t see it. But GOD does.

All that BAD stuff shows the TRUE MEASURE OF THE AUTHENTICITY OF YOUR RELIGION.

And it’s not just before GOD, EITHER. It’s all wasted before OTHER PEOPLE TOO. Non-Christians watching your life go deaf very quickly to your WORDS if your ACTIONS and ATTITUDES are drowning them out.

If you have the sharpest tongue in the workplace at criticising people, or are the first and loudest to complain. Or your shouting at your kids can be heard at the end of the street. Or if you ignore the neighbours who are doing it tough. Too busy to stop and help. Or if you’re the slowest payer of bills in your town, or the most creative with the truth in writing invoices.

People won’t notice what you SAY if you’re not LIVING it.

No WONDER people say, “I’m spiritual, but I’m not into organised religion.”

When it’s better to receive than to give (19-21)

We’ve actually started at the END of this section. Because that’s where James talks about RELIGION. But that’s just the external application of an INTERNAL ATTITUDE.

If you jump back to the top of the passage (v19), you can see what PRODUCES authentic religion.

Authentic religion is the practical outworking of your attitude to God’s word. Which in turn, reflects your attitude to GOD HIMSELF.

Authentic religion is never a matter of making up your OWN rules, But of LISTENING CAREFULLY TO WHAT GOD’S WAYS ARE. Of letting him be LORD and KING. Look at v19.

19 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

We normally say, it’s better to give than to receive. But here, it’s better to RECEIVE than to give.

Better to RECEIVE words than to GIVE them. Be quick to listen, and slow to speak. There’s a reason we’ve been given TWO EARS and only ONE MOUTH. Listen twice as much as you talk.

And the context shows that it’s not just listening IN A GENERAL SENSE. It’s about listening to GOD’S words. As they’re read and taught.

In the verse just BEFORE this one, v18, we learned that God makes us born again THROUGH HIS WORD OF TRUTH. We understand how to become his children through the Bible. If that’s TRUE, then (v19) it makes sense that we should be quick to LISTEN to it.

And then, down in v21, James says to HUMBLY ACCEPT the word planted in you. Another way of saying the same thing. God’s word needs to be HUMBLY ACCEPTED. Not standing over it in judgment. (Deciding which bits you like or don’t like.) But letting it judge YOU. That’s humbly accepting it. Better to receive GOD’S word, than to give YOUR opinion.

And if you keep that attitude, it SAVES you (v21). You BEGIN your journey by God’s Word. (It gives you BIRTH v17). And you’ll see the END of your journey by God’s Word TOO.

But you’ve got to humbly ACCEPT it if it’s going to SAVE you. Like the emergency instructions on a plane. Listen to the instructions. Watch the demonstration. Don’t think you know better. Don’t be smug. Don’t listen to your iPod, or read the paper. It could save your life. So humbly accept the words you’re told.

How much MORE important is it to humbly accept the words that give ETERNAL life!

Be quick to listen and slow to speak. That’s the attitude to have to GOD’S WORD. But it’s also a godly approach to HUMAN relationships as well. BELIEF WORKS ITSELF OUT IN AUTHENTIC RELIGION. Being quick to listen and slow to speak about God’s Word means you’ll be quick to listen and slow to speak to OTHERS.

Authentic religion means we’ll show care for people by LISTENING to them. It shows HUMILITY – that others have something to contribute, not just you.

And by being slow to speak and quick to listen, you’re less likely to JUDGE people. To jump to conclusions about why they make certain choices. You’re more likely to be able to hear things from THEIR point of view. Perhaps a way of thinking about something you haven’t thought of.

And being slow to speak means you’re more likely to say something HELPFUL when you DO speak. Because you’ve listened carefully to exactly what the person’s saying.

And it gives you more time to pray for God’s help as you listen. Praying that he’ll give you something WORTH SAYING.

And James goes on. Often a quick word comes because its connected to ANGER. “Be slow to SPEAK and slow to become ANGRY.”

We’ve all done it, haven’t we? Someone says or does something that UPSETS us. We feel embarrassed or hurt or unappreciated. And we want to GET EVEN. We want to hurt the way we’ve been hurt. And so we bite back. We say something hurtful or sarcastic or cruel.

Verse 20 sums it up. That sort of anger doesn’t bring about THE RIGHTEOUS LIFE God desires. In other words, it’s not AUTHENTIC RELIGION. It just leads to bitterness and resentment and unforgiveness and broken relationships.

But we can cut that process off. If we LISTEN before we speak. And if we’re SLOW to anger. If we give people the benefit of the doubt. If we assume the BEST of someone, rather than the WORST. If we leave the judging up to GOD. He’s much better at it than WE are.

And rather than GIVING someone a piece of your mind. Do the OPPOSITE. RECEIVE a piece of GOD’S mind. (Better to receive than to give).

Rather than dazzle everyone with YOUR words, humbly accept instead GOD’S WORDS. There in v21.

“Humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”

Do things GOD’S way. Recognise it as better than YOUR way.

It hardly seems worth saying. Especially when we think about James’ audience. JEWS. If there’s ANY group who’d be listening to, and studying, God’s Word, it’s the JEWS.

But James wants to say it’s not enough just to be READING it, or STUDYING it. Or even MEMORISING it as lots of Jews did. You need to HUMBLY ACCEPT it. Which might be something ENTIRELY DIFFERENT.

V22. Humbly accepting it means not just LISTENING to it. But DOING WHAT IT SAYS. That’s the measure of your attitude to it.

V23. To just LISTEN to God’s Word and then IGNORE it is like someone looking in a mirror. How silly to notice a big blob of shaving cream on your ear, or a big blob of mascara on your eyelash. And then just walk away and FORGET ABOUT IT.

Then for the rest of the day you walk around with everyone sniggering behind their hands as you walk by.

No! When you look in the mirror and see something not right. You DO something about it. You can’t see it on your own, the mirror points out the problem. You FIX it.

Whether it’s a mirror, or God’s Word. V25.

25 But the man who looks intently into the PERFECT law that gives FREEDOM, and continues to do this, NOT forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-he will be BLESSED in what he does.

God’s Word shows us what we’re really like. What we need to change. So we should CHANGE IT. Not IGNORE it.

It’s such a temptation for us evangelicals. (To forget what we’ve heard). We evangelicals value the Bible. We value clear Biblical preaching. We’re expert sermon CRITICS. We’ve got a sensitive EAR, just like Matt Preston from Master Chef has a sensitive PALATE.

We order and read the latest Christian books.

We podcast the highest rating preachers from around the world

We’re proud of how long, and how in-depth our Bible studies are.

We never miss a quiet time.

It’s like having the best and clearest and brightest mirrors. We’re proud of our mirrors. How clearly they show our spots and blemishes and skin cancers. And we focus all our attention on making sure they stay clear and shiny. And never actually doing anything about fixing up our face.

We walk around in this bible bubble. Thinking our knowledge, or our heritage, is enough.

But we never get around to LIVING IT OUT. To being AUTHENTIC. To watching our tongues, or looking after those who NEED it. Or keeping PURE from the world.

The word we SAY we value so much is PERFECT says James. It gives FREEDOM. And doing it leads to BLESSING.

But we don’t BELIEVE that. At least not enough to LIVE IT.

Instead, says James, “Make sure you reflect on your reflection.” Look INTENTLY. CONTINUALLY. Don’t FORGET. And then DO IT. Simple. That’s where the blessing comes. That’s when authentic religion comes. Religion that’s acceptable to God.

Religion that OTHER people will NOTICE. Will be ATTRACTED to. And will want to live out TOO.

May we be a church community like THAT!