One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

TOMS: James 4

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 28, 2007

James covers a wide variety of topics here. There is a lot packed into 17 verses.

"What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, 'He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us?'" (4:1-5)

We need to always be watchful of our fleshly desires, whether that be for more money, a better position in life, or whatever else. We hope James is using hyperbole here when he talks about killing, but maybe James is referencing something his readers would have been familiar with. Note the shocking term that James uses: "adulterous." We are the bride of Christ, and he has everything we  really need, but we go traipsing off after a sinful pleasure and abandoning our true love. No doubt this called to mind the word picture found often in the Old Testament prophets of Israel cavorting with other nations for security and commerce instead of relying on God. James goes on to say that the Holy Spirit is grieved and is jealous of our flirtings with the world and our fleshly lusts. God takes our sins, even those that we think are minor, very seriously. It is much worse than a weakness or a mistake. It is a sign of our lack of faith and trust in the Lord for our good.

"Therefore it says, 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.' Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." (4:6-10)

Another source of discord is pride. Pride is very simply asserting our own ideas and our own desires above those of God and others. God will not honor the desires of a proud heart, but His ears are open to those who humbly seek His will. And if that means we need to afflict our flesh for a while, it is a worthy means to an end of humility. That is what James is talking about when he tells them to mourn and weep. This is certainly contrary to the prosperity false gospel we hear preached from way too many pulpits today. God wants us to be happy in Him, not happy in the fulfillment of our earthly desires. God did not save us for us to be self-fulfilled or self-actualized. He saved us to be servants of His, that we can be led by Him to do what He wants us to do.

Also note that we have the power to resist Satan, not by saying magic words to "rebuke" him, but by drawing ever closer to God. Satan only has the power over us that we and God allow him to have. Sometimes God uses Satan to work out his purpose: just look at the life of Job, and there are other examples in the Old Testament as well. And certainly God allowed the demons to control several people's lives in Jesus' day so that God would be glorified when Jesus cast them out. Of course God does not allow us to be possessed, but He apparently does allow Satan to stir up turmoil and problems in our lives. But these temptations are ultimately designed by God to bring us closer to Him. But when we allow Satan a foothold in our lives, that is when trouble starts. We dare not try to deal with temptation on our own. Our way of escape is to flee to the Lord, who loves us.

"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." (4:13-17)

This is an amazing lesson in trusting God. When things are going good, we have a tendency to think it is because of something we have done, and not the blessings of God. That is what these people were doing. They had their lives planned out, but they forgot to consider God's plan. We should seek the Lord's will in every detail of our lives, and not just decide what is best for ourselves. Most of the time when we do that we end up making a mess.

But I want you to notice especially that last verse, in context with the rest of the passage. The context adds a lot of richness to that one verse. Most of us just take that verse to mean that if we know we ought to do something good and we don't do it, it is sin. And that is of course true. But the context adds the element of urgency. The reason that neglecting to do something good is sinful is because our lives here on earth are short, and we don't know what may happen tomorrow. Most of us take our lives way too flippantly. The Lord takes our lives seriously, and we need to as well. If the Lord gives you an opportunity to do good today, take advantage of it not because you are afraid of sinning, although that is a valid but shallow reason, but because our lives are short, and we may never again have an opportunity to do good for that particular someone. This passage is an important reminder to live every day to the fullest. We never know what might happen tomorrow or even a few minutes from now.

Friday, December 4, 2015

TOMS: James 3

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 27, 2007

This chapter begins with a very strange warning: "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." (3:1) It is a serious matter when we are dealing with the Word of God. When we are standing in front of a group of people, whether it be an entire congregation or just a small class, we are responsible to proclaim to them the whole counsel of God as best we can. It is certainly a blessed opportunity, and it is an honorable calling. But it is not something to be taken lightly.

"For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." (3:2-8)

This is an incredible indictment of the power of the tongue. James says here that if you can avoid sin with your tongue, you are pretty near perfection. The words we say have so much impact, we hardly realize it. But we realize it when somebody says some harsh and thoughtless words to us. 

"With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?" (3:9-11)

We are such inconsistent creatures. We can be praising God and saying wonderful things one minute and then criticizing someone else the next minute. We can be encouraging someone who is hurting and then later cursing because something bad happened. The tongue is a powerful force for good or for evil. We need to acknowledge it and strive to use our tongues for good. An encouraging tongue is a blessing to all who hear the words coming from it. You know that as well as I. We all know someone like that. There is someone at your church and hopefully somewhere else in your life who always has an encouraging word to say, and who is a joy to be around. And you also know people who never have anything positive to say. They are always criticizing you or someone else. They are never fun to be around, they are only a drag.

"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." (3:13-18, ESV)

Now James goes deeper and explains the source of our words. Our words come from our own deepest feelings, and sometimes they even surprise us. But, without trying to sound like a psychoanalyst, they are there, and our goal should be to rid our minds of the wrong thoughts. We need a heart that is clean. A clean heart can only come from the work of the Lord in our lives. James talks about two kinds of wisdom here: wisdom from above and wisdom from below. Actually, I put them out of James' order, but you get the idea. The demonic wisdom likes to stir up strife, envy and pride among people. It takes its joy in making itself look good at the expense of others. Godly wisdom seeks peace among everyone, even among those with whom we disagree or think are doing wrong. It takes its joy in lifting others up at the expense of itself. The demonic wisdom comes easily to our flesh. We are prone to attitudes of pride, jealousy and other such vices. The Godly wisdom takes work. Not that we have to work to earn it, but we have to work to mortify our flesh and learn to walk in the Spirit. Certainly the Lord will help us when we yield to His working in our lives, but we have to consciously take steps in that direction.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

TOMS: James 2

For an introduction to this series, click here.

November 26, 2007

I had a wonderful weekend with my folks and Beth Anne. I guess it is back to the old grind this morning. Oh well.

"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' while you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there,' or, 'Sit down at my feet,' have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors." (2:1-9)

James is concerned a lot with the way we live our Christian lives. Here we have a real-life situation: two visitors comes to church, one obviously very wealthy and one obviously very poor. How do we as members of the church treat them? This is just as relevant now as it was back in the first century. It is an easy temptation to just look at the outside and go out of our way to make sure the rich person is taken care of while at the same time ignoring or begrudgingly acknowledging the poor person. There are several passages in the Bible that say God is not a respecter of persons. When we do that, we show ourselves to be not like God. 

"For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not murder.' If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law." (2:10-11)

This is an important point for us to realize. We are sinners, whether we want to admit it or not. Most people think they are pretty good, and honestly, humanly speaking, most people are pretty good most of the time. But we deceive ourselves if we think that makes us right with God. God gave us the Law not so we can justify ourselves, but so we will be overwhelmed by it and turn to God for salvation.

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (2:14-18)

This is practical reality. We are often guilty of saying pious words to people in need or in trouble and not doing what we can to help them. But this illustrates a point about true faith. Faith is more than a simple intellectual belief. Faith is taking our intellectual belief and living it out every day in our lives. It is impossible to have real faith without obedience. Perfect obedience is impossible, but at some level obedience will follow genuine faith.

"You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!" (2:19) 
It takes more than believing facts about God to be saved. Notice James uses language similar to the famous statement in Deuteronomy 6:4. This would have been very familiar to James' Jewish audience.

The demons believe in God. They are more aware of Him than we are. True faith lives itself out in obedience to God. The demons certainly do not obey God: they hate Him, but they do believe He exists. Obedience is a natural result of faith, and James gives us two biblical examples to finish the chapter: 

"Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness'—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead." (2:20-26, ESV)