Devotional: James 1:21-25 “Celebrate Jesus, For Real”

If you are receiving this via email and would like to view it on the website, you can do so by clicking here.

James 1:21-25

Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

The world of Christianity is full of professors and yet far fewer possessors. That is, many are quite willing to subscribe to the title of “Christian” while not following through on lives submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Claims never cost what the sacrifice of obedience does; it’s not a question of interest in Jesus, but loyalty to Him that is always at stake.

 

Today’s passage may be very familiar to you; it certainly is to me if boiled down to the phrase, “Be doers and not hearers only.” The truths of Scripture, especially those doctrinal passages of the New Testament letters, are often a cascade of theology, one point laying the foundation for the next. James 1:20 concluded a two-verse discourse on anger, that the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Upon the foundation of the righteousness of God, therefore, we step into verse 21.

 

Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. Once again, be reminded that “therefore,” often raises the question of, “What is it there for?” In relationship to a pursuit of the righteousness of God, believers are called to “lay aside…” It is the same phrase (one word in the Greek, apotithemi) used in Hebrews 12:1, which calls the reader to “lay aside every encumberance, and the sin which so easily ensnares us.” It is a word figuratively used towards removing clothing, to rid oneself of the carrying of something. Here, in v. 21, we are called to cast aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness. Another way to translate “filthiness” is vulgarity; obviously, both terms are meant to speak towards repulsive behavior. The “overflow of wickedness” speaks towards an abundance; think of living life in submission to sinful desires with little restraint, unbridled in such conduct.

 

A passage that would rightly fit with v. 21 would definitely be Romans 6:12-15, which says,

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!”

 

We must carefully avoid the mentality of license as believers, that forgiven sin equals a form of spiritual fire insurance. On the contrary, a heart that has been gripped by the grace that it has received will be inclined to please God, not provoke Him. Grace is a concept that is often learned first and emulated second; anyone can learn the theology of grace, but to be transformed by it in our relating to others and to be certain of it for ourselves before God is the grounds of redemptive living.

 

Putting aside a life of wickedness and unbridled sin is meant to have such energy parlayed into obedient living, growing over the course of time all the more to be a doer of the word of God rather than just a hearer. Consider this: what would it be like if every person who postured themselves spiritually as best they could actually lived up to the front that they gave? If you’ve ever been somewhere like Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, you would know that on Main Street there is a row of buildings that look quite compelling from the street. Even Cinderella’s castle is like this; all looks but far less than what meets the eye. This would be what Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 3:5, “having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” Form is the outward formal structure; denying is to disregard the power behind such form. Translation: (in the last days) there will be hypocritical fakers. Paul knew this, and James knew this in calling people to not just be hearers, but also doers of the word of God.

 

Given the length of the verses in scope today, I will not attempt to explain every definition, but there are some points to certainly be noted in the passage at hand. To receive with meekness the implanted word refers especially to the manner in which we are to hear God’s word. Think carefully about this one, because it absolutely applies to how we listen to sermons, lessons and reading Scripture ourselves. Meekness is “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance,” (BDAG, Bibleworks); in other words, with humility. It isn’t simply that God calls us to hear His word, but He also calls us to the manner in which we hear that word. This means that we need to check ourselves before listening, and that prayer is important not just for those presenting the word but also for those listening to it. Both the preaching of the word of God and the hearing of the word of God are incredible responsibilities that God entrusts us with. I would wager to say that many folks simply do not listen with a sense of responsibility, and that has hurt the church very much over the years. What does it create but exactly what James warns against? Hearers who are not doers of the word, people who are versed in Scripture but not necessarily empowered by it or committed to it.

 

How resilient is our faith in God and our commitment to obeying Him? It’s not often apparent in the seasons of ease but far more in pressing times of difficulty. Prayer is not a habit to start picking up when the soldier is in a foxhole with bullets flying overhead. Doing the word and being more than a hearer of it is not something to put off until life’s final moments begin taking form. It is a daily practice that if neglected will only result in people whose faith cannot withstand the storms of life, whose righteousness is nothing more than wishful fantasy rather than cemented reality in Christ. It is quite possible for any believer to fall into the rut of being a hearer and not a doer, but it poses a major theological problem if this “house of cards” is all that stands over the course of a lifetime. Ultimately, if all we do is hear Christ but not follow Him, we are not followers and have deceived ourselves. 1 John 2:4 says, “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

 

Notice that the meek reception of the implanted word of God in our hearts is able to save (our) souls. Listening to the word, being informed of it while not regarding it does not translate into salvation. Many church-goers are in for a rough awakening if they have only trusted in the act of association with Christianity rather than the Holy Spirit’s indwelling found by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus can live outside of us or He can live inside of us; one will never save, and one will forever save. It has been stated that many folks have missed heaven by a mere 18 inches; that is the general distance from the head to the heart.

 

What does it mean to deceive ourselves? This is an important question to answer in regards to the passage. It refers to miscalculation or false reasoning. We may very well sell ourselves on the idea that we are pleasing to God, acceptable in His sight when we are very much not. Religion is full of this very kind of thinking. We, even as believers, may have fallen prey to outward faith without any inner passion, conviction or submission, and in this case we would be self-deceived. This logic would be akin to stealing something but not considering it as stealing so long as we treat the stolen object with care or eventually return it after having used it for our purposes. People go to great lengths all the time to justify their actions; this is the art of self-deception.

 

Finally, let us consider the imagery James uses in this passage. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. Let me summarize this very briefly: imagine that you went to your mirror, saw that you had ketchup on your face, your hair made Einstein’s look tame, and you had dirt smudges on your cheeks. Then, after making such observations, you walked away and forgot entirely what you looked like and you made no alterations. How would that go in a social environment? You see, we look in mirrors to do quick check-ups on ourselves to make sure that we are publicly presentable. We look into the word of God to see what we ought to be and to recognize where we stand in relation to that standard.

 

But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. There is no blessing to be had in an unaltered life lived in relationship to the Scriptures. When the Bible calls us to believe in Christ, it does not assume that informing us of the necessity of believing in Jesus is the saving act itself; no, it is the follow-through of personal response in faith that saves. It is not the occasional glance is the spiritual mirror of the Bible that sets us right, but the continued perseverance in the word, living by it and submitting to it as the standard of our lives that alters us long-term and conforms us to the image of Christ.

 

This Christmas season, many people will give lip service to the Lord for a brief moment. Don’t let that be you; be a person who gladly goes to the Bible, spends time before it, looks and ponders not only what it says but who you are in relationship to it, and follow through by being a doer of the word. If you don’t know the Lord as your Savior yet, how about today? If you sense Him speaking to your heart, go before Him and place your genuine faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ upon the cross as a perfect sacrifice for your sins. That’s why Jesus came into the world in the first place: He was born to one day die upon the cross of Calvary. I hope you can celebrate Christmas this year with a greater sense of adoration for what that manger scene really means.

 

Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

 

Be blessed.

 

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional: James 1:19-20 “Anger Management”

James 1:19-20

19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;
20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 

 

2020 will be closing in just a few short weeks. Can you believe it?! Who knows what 2021 will hold in store, or the next decade for that matter? God does, but we as humans do not. The past year has run the gamut of experiences and emotions for many people. What emotions would you highlight from the past year? In asking that question, feel free to refer not only to yourself, but to emotions that seem to have been on display at large. There are negative emotions, like fear, stress, frustration, worry or anxiety, feelings of hopelessness or plain old anger. People marched in streets and protested, and in the same year many people stayed in more than they may ever have before. Certainly it has been a year of friction, disagreements, and those things relative. Positively, perhaps there has also been great moments of happiness, closeness, clarity, joy, peace, and love. While life is full of uncertainty, we can always relate to our God who is never uncertain, who always remains in control.

 

Unfortunately, in many varieties anger was on display this past year. Today, we want to look more specifically at James 1:19-20 and ponder these two verses in regards to how we handle ourselves with anger and how Scripture speaks into that. James begins v. 19 with the phrase, “So then.”  The New King James translates a form of the word “oida” here, which speaks of being informed of certain knowledge. Given our context, we must look backwards to see that we have been speaking about God and His nature, especially as it relates to trials, temptations and gifts from above. It seems that a theme has formed through the first half of chapter one, which is that God is pure in His motives, giving freely and without ulterior plans in mind. Unlike man, who wavers and sins and fails time and time again to understand the meaning of the circumstances of life, God is faithful and true and holy.  Keep this in the front of your thoughts as we look at James 1:19-20, because on the basis of God’s character, we are called to fall in line.

 

James addresses, “my beloved brethren,” in this verse. You will notice that he begins his letter in v. 2 saying, “my brethren,” and will call the “brethren” to not be deceived in v. 16. Upon searching, the term comes up 15 times in the book of James in the NKJV. Why do you think that might be? Look at the times that it shows up and it appears that it comes when he is lovingly putting his verbal arm around them and exhorting them of truth they need to hear. The letter is directed very much to the believing brethren and speaks towards how they ought to live before God and among each other. John, in the books of 1 and 3 John, speaks in familial terms to the believers he has worked with as well, often calling them “beloved.” Both authors are drawing upon the connection believers share in the spiritual family of God.

 

The command portion of this verse is important to recognize as such. It is not a suggestion or a piece of advice, but a call with a subsequent reminder of why it is important. We might think of this verse in its converse; when people are angry they are typically slow to hear, quick to speak and quick to wrath in an effort to produce their desired results. Generally, those results may be to inflict pain of some sort or to gain control, but sometimes people may actually believe that anger somehow will bring another person around to being sensible and godly. This has certainly happened many times over in the church at large. If godliness is living with an awareness of God, it would be farfetched to say that our anger and lashing out ever results in people feeling closer to God. Yes, Jesus went into the Temple and drove out the moneychangers with visible anger, but His anger was appropriate; while we can certainly have appropriate anger, the greatest concern the Bible would press upon is how we handle it. Even in James 1:19-20, the verse is speaking not about being angry, but how one deals with others. Notice that the verse is giving us insight, too, in showing us that if the goal is to produce righteousness, this will not be accomplished through the manipulation tactic of anger. We may invariably create other people who simply fear consequences for having experienced our own wrath, but this does not produce repentance, only posturing. We must be very, very careful that we are not commandeering situations with the use of volatile anger or perhaps the opposite, some form of passive aggression by punishing another with silence or veiled resistance. However anger may come out of us (clamming up, blowing up, messing up), it may all still share some commonality as found in the unwillingness to listen, say or not say what we ought, and alter ourselves to the harm of another person.

 

Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” We might consider the scope of the audience in view here when it says “every man.” Brethren and men are both masculine terms, but in all likelihood are speaking to both males and females in a masculine address. Is this referring to every person out there, or to believers more specifically? Well, contextually James is speaking to believers with the knowledge that if they are believers then they are under the authority of God. Is it wise for all people to handle their anger better? Of course it is, and no one would be remiss for applying such a biblical principle as self-control in areas such as anger. Nevertheless, given the context, it is more likely speaking to every believing person as it assumes biblical authority over their lives as well as a general direction they all must move towards: the righteousness of God.

 

Let’s break down these terms briefly starting with “swift to hear.” The word for “swift” refers to being hasty or fast, and is sometimes translated with the idea of fleeing. What do angry people tend to think about the most? Their own anger, and not often the other side. Often one of the greatest failures of those who rush to judgment is their aversion to seeking to hear someone out or to check out the one-sided stories of others. “Hearing” is not simply acknowledging that someone else is making noise; it’s listening with an attempt to understand. If you want to win someone over to the Lord, one of the biggest hurdles you must realize is the art of listening. People listen to others when they feel heard themselves, but when they don’t feel like their voice matters, the conversation begins breaking down. If the goal is producing the righteousness of God, there must be a willingness to listen in an attempt to establish mutual communication. I have often found, on an evangelistic note, that though I may want to talk about the Gospel message, it’s also important for me to hear what a person already believes before moving into what I believe. Showing the respect of listening has far greater potential for opening up the door of being heard. Contention is often resolved on the same premise.

 

Slow to speak,” refers to a slowness often tied to mental or spiritual slowness in understanding; here it is speaking to self-control over what we say. Imagine telling a joke and the person you’re telling it to starts laughing five minutes after the punchline; they are slow to understand. Life is full of time-sensitive responses, but sometimes being time-sensitive means letting the clock tick a little more before talking. Quickness and slowness are both strategic in James 1:19; quick where we should be quick and slow where it is appropriate. Slowness to speak may mean thinking about our words, or it may also mean not shelling out unsolicited advice. Here, especially, it is referring to answering a matter prematurely because of judgment and anger. Speaking refers to expressing our opinions or emotions, and it is important to pause and consider before responding rashly. Remember, James gives us the goal in v. 20, and that’s important because without living with that goal in mind, we very well may be slaves to our anger because our goal is our sense of justice rather than God’s glory. Imagine if people took more to the streets for God’s glory than for their own angst!

 

Slow to wrath,” once again speaks of being slow and controlled in the wrath that could come out. What will it accomplish, and will I regret it? Will I be obedient to God in what I do? “Wrath” is speaking of strong displeasure displayed in the emotions; you might think of the emotional volcanic eruption or implosion for that matter. Whatever display may be shown, is the end result a desire for the other person to love God more? Obviously, it’s a rarely a question asked when we choose to follow through on most forms of anger. Anger, if handled appropriately, should move us to take action that will result in the proliferation of the righteousness of God. There certainly have been people over the years who were moved by anger towards sin and injustice that sought to make things right and bring more accessibility to the Gospel. Anger that leads both us and those we unleash it upon away from God is never a righteous form of anger, nor is it God-focused. In fact, it very well may be alerting us to the diminishing focus we have on God when anger becomes more of a motif of our lives.

 

Now, why should we follow these commands? James begins v. 20 with, “for,” and in this we are seeing the reasoning behind v. 19 and the goal of putting this into practice. We have already looked at the word “wrath” so let’s look at the latter part of the verse. “Produce” is speaking of accomplishing or achieving something as a result of effort. The wrath of man, which takes quite a bit of energy, does not achieve the righteousness of God. “Righteousness” as used here is “the quality or character of upright behavior” (BDAG, Bibleworks). Character that is in line with who? God. Godly character is not brought about by sinful anger. Perhaps this is a good time to consider Romans 2:4, which says, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” Notice that Paul points primarily to positive qualities, especially kindness, as the means by which God leads His children to repentance. We might assume that “the anger of God leads us to repentance,” but anger does not produce change, only fear. Biblically speaking, the wrath of God is best thought of in a punitive sense, not a redemptive one. When someone recognizes their sin and how dark and ugly it is, how unworthy of God’s love they are and that they deserve punishment for their sin, they are often in for quite a surprise when grasping the Gospel. God, who rightly could condemn and destroy us, offers forgiveness and grace and reconciliation with Him. The kindness of God breaks a penitent heart with great effect, but anger in itself only follows through on what is already expected. Our goal is to help others and ourselves in growing to be more like the Lord, not like people attending a spiritual masquerade. Be more concerned about the heart of others, be they a child, parent, friend or enemy, fellow believer, etc., because while we may succeed in intimidating others into our agendas for them, our goal must be higher and greater. As much as you can, work to not manipulate others into behavioral compliance but be deeply concerned about their soul.

 

Today’s verses offer us a challenge: consider how we listen to others, the slowness in which we speak and the long fuse we must develop if we are to be winsome towards the Gospel and the goal of building others up in Christ.

 

Thank you for your time and may God bless you as you ponder His word.

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional: James 1:16-18 “Sorting Out a More Biblical View of God and Ourselves”

James 1:16-18

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

 

The last portion of Scripture we looked at in the book of James (in these devotionals) was found in verses 12-15, which spoke to the truth that temptations do not come from God, because He can neither be tempted with sin nor does He tempt with sin. Rather, temptation is deeply connected to the sin nature itself, which when enticed becomes the drawing power of committing sin. The very nature of temptation is an attempt to cause someone to fail morally in an effort to derail them and dishonor God; reasons that help understand why God does not tempt. No one can be tempted with that which they have no desire for, and every sin offers some kind of reward for sinning in the moment, oftentimes good things made superior to God (like comfort, control, pleasure, etc.). The sin nature turns desires into demands, and temptation sells the need to act upon the potential.

 

It’s important to remember vv. 12-15 because verses 16-18 speak of the gifts of God, almost in contrast to temptations which do not come from God. Now, let’s get into the breakdown of the verses, for it’s often found that assumption of meaning may quickly trump gleaning from the text. If we are to learn what Scripture is getting at, we must be careful to not draw conclusions prematurely when seeking to determine what is being said.

 

Verse 16 says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” In the Greek, the first half of the sentence is actually just two words (me planasthe), and it is a command. The word means “to proceed without a proper sense of judgment” (BDAG, Bibleworks) and James says not to do this. It is in the passive tense, meaning that it is something that happens to us rather than us acting upon someone or something else. What would we be misled by? Contextually, it would seem to be ourselves, perhaps the voices of others at times, with false conclusions drawn about God and His treatment of us. James also addresses this to “my beloved brethren,” whom he has addressed earlier on as the believers which are scattered abroad. Scripture again and again warns believers to be watchful and to be on guard as spiritual warfare is just as much about prevention against deviance as it is in Gospel promotion and righteousness. 

Free gift Images, Pictures, and Royalty-Free Stock Photos - FreeImages.com

 

Verse 17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” The book of James on numerous accounts speaks to the rich and how they not only treat others, but also how they esteem themselves (1:10-11, 2:5-6, 5:1). The distinctions drawn and the arrogance on display are addressed within this letter. Verse 17 fits into this mental framework, because if a person assumes they are the reason for their blessings, they are apt to get a big head and to diminish God’s role in giving provisions in their lives. One of the most common deceptions both in the Bible and in the world today is the act of seeing prosperity and assuming God’s favor, or seeing poverty or difficulty and assuming God’s displeasure; the heart often has a way of informing us of conclusions that are not biblical but are persuasive nonetheless. 

 

Every good gift” refers to those things which are useful or beneficial. “Good” in Scriptural definition as found here is not necessarily a loose idea of moral agreeableness but rather, usefulness (especially usefulness to God).  Think about that: we often call someone or something “good” because of we benefit and “bad” when we are brought harm. “Perfect gift” refers to being of the highest standard, like we think of traditionally with our use of the word perfect.

 

Don’t be misled and miss the blessing of recognizing the gifts of God as from God while also giving your thanks to GodThese gifts don’t just come from anywhere, certainly not ourselves; they “come down from above.” It’s not hard to imagine in reading James 1 that people easily can conclude false assumptions about God, either that He has tempted them because He wants to see them fall so as to punish them (the idea of “reproach” from v. 5), or that if we want good gifts, we must fight for them because they don’t necessarily come from God. James is clearing that up so that false conclusions are not drawn; God is the source of our blessings. A prideful heart loses sight of God and begins to imagine that one has created their own success, and this is just not true. If left unchecked, this kind of thinking can create a monster within anyone that harbors such thoughts.

 

The last part of verse 17 says that these gifts “come down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” Does the sun give off shadows? No it does not; shadows are cast by objects standing in the way of the sun’s beams as the light shines down. The sun has never cast a shadow of its own accord, only light. Think about the sun in a very elemental sense, too: in simplistic terms, it never changes. It Free the sun Images, Pictures, and Royalty-Free Stock Photos - FreeImages.comalways is bright and continuous, at least from our perspective. The clouds may come out and the earth may turn so that one half of the world cannot see it for a part of a 24 hour period, but it’s always there doing what the sun does: emitting light and heat. As we could not live without the sun, we absolutely and even more profoundly could not live without God.

 

It is very possible that James was using the sun here to teach us about God: light comes from Him, and truth is a light in itself. God never changes and there is no figurative shadow cast from Him in turning away from us, for He is always the same and always faithful. All of this to say that God is constant, trustworthy, true and has nothing to hide. He is perfect and holy in His intentions. This part of the text likely harkens back to verse 5 where it says that God “gives to all liberally and without reproach,” the word reproach referring to a determination “to find fault in a way that demeans the other” (BDAG, Bibleworks). The gifts of God are not a ploy meant to trip us up and betray our trust, but are pure in their design and meant for our good and His glory. 

 

Verse 18 goes on to say, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” Sometimes it’s very helpful to think in contrasting ways to examine text; the converse of this verse might say, “of our own will He brought us forth by our request, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of our own doing.” In many ways, the converse I just portrayed tends to be how many have assumed salvation, but such would be a false conclusion. There may be over reach there in the contrast, but let me explain the text. The word “will” speaks to intention; “brought us forth” speaks to being born or birthed. ᐈ Offering stock pictures, Royalty Free offering photos | download on Depositphotos®Of God’s will believers were born through the word of truth. The “word of truth” is the Gospel and in a larger sense the Bible. It is through the use of biblical truth applied to the heart that a person believes this truth regarding faith in Christ and is brought to spiritual life. This verse very much parallels passages like John 1:12-13, But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

 

Additionally, we might reference Ephesians 2:4-7, which says,

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

 

The latter part of verse 18 tells us the purpose of why God has done things this way (from the first half of the verse): “that we might be a kind of firstfuits of His creatures.” The term “firstfruits” refers to those first fruits or portions that were dedicated to holy consecration before the rest was used for common purposes (BDAG, Bibleworks); think of the Old Testament sacrifices. Even when Cain and Abel came before the Lord in Genesis 4, the practice was already understood that the first and best portion was to be given to the Lord as an offering before there was to be personal partaking of the remaining resources. In a sense, the verse is telling us that God, of His own unconstrained will, brought us forth spiritually by His word that we might be an offering dedicated to His pleasure. Of all creatures, believers exist as an offering well-pleasing to God by His determination and directive. While this is not the case of every person, those that are redeemed are intended in their redemption for this very purpose (and every believer will definitely be pleased within this ultimately, too). 

 

Notice throughout James 1 that there is a dualistic lesson to be learned: God is good and right and true and pure and holy. Man, even redeemed, runs the risk of doubting and being tempted and misunderstanding God and being selfish. Man changes all of the time, but God never changes. Man sets out with a determination to find identity and success, but God is the one who determines man’s steps and to be a believer is to be a person called into the privilege and call of pleasing God and growing in truth. In reading Chapter One of James, it becomes clear that God is not the problem, but sinful man is, and the only remedy is salvation, maturation and submission to God. 

 

As we go through the book of James, realize that James is teaching us both about understanding God and deciphering ourselves, too. We are often prone to underestimating God in His character while simultaneously overestimating the merit of our own character. We must listen to the word, consider it, contemplate it, put it into practice and live with truth as our guide. There is no other way to succeed spiritually as a believer than to live humbly in the sight of our Lord.

 

I hope today’s lesson has served to help you in your walk with God. If you have questions or are curious about salvation, please reach out to us and we’d be glad to help. Thank you.

 

In Christ,

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional: James 1:12-15 “Fighting Temptation”

James 1:12-15

12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.

15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. 

Temptation: have you ever had a day in your life that has been completely devoid of any form of temptation? It certainly seems to be a central part of living life in this world, each of us sinners with sin natures facing the continuous onslaught of the invitation to sin, be that enticement from outside of us or within us. 

 

Today’s verses touch yet again on another picture, if not two, that will help us to ponder the nature of temptation and to see it more clearly for what it is. If we were to compare verses 2-4 to a tree blowing in the wind, the forces against that tree causing growth by the roots going deeper, the parallel would be temptation and trials and the propensity for growth by endurance in obedience to the Lord. We return yet again to that concept in verse 12 on the issue of endurance, that the man who endures temptation is blessed.  The term “blessed” refers to being privileged or fortunate, and this ties very much into verse 2’s “count it all joy when you fall into various trials”; both verses instruct us to look at temptation as a possibility for growth, one speaking to the beginning of the process and the other (v. 12) speaking to the completion of the process.

King Photography Royalty-free Crown Stock Free Clipart - Transparent Background Crown Png , Free Transparent Clipart - ClipartKey

The second part of v. 12 tells us, “for when he has been approved.” The word “for” here is a word speaking to cause: why is the man or woman who endures temptation blessed? Because when they have been approved (referring to tested and proven), “(they) will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love him.” This may be a good spot to plug in a concept for the Christian life: why don’t we just go to Heaven upon salvation? Why don’t we find life easier and better in a growing fashion after salvation? Part of the answer lies in two reasons. First, to prepare us for glory, which is called sanctification. Secondly, because the winds blowing against all who call themselves Christians will either make them grow their roots deeper in the Lord or it will blow them off of the path along the way. Only those with genuine relationships in Jesus, rooted and anchored by the indwelling Holy Spirit, will remain. The Christian life is a proving ground and a battleground, but it has never been a playground.

 

Receiving the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him speaks to receiving the reward (crown) of eternal life promised to those who love Him. Remember 1 John 4:10 which says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” Love for God is always God-born, not reflective of the virtue of any believer in bearing that love themselves. It is one of the elements of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 (note that these are not the “fruits” of the Spirit, but the singular “fruit” of the Spirit). All along the way to eternity for every believer, there is a line connecting us to the end; there is no part of the Christian life that does not give us bearings on our destination. If we are headed to Heaven, there will be signs along the way of the Spirit’s presence and the growth of character. Heaven is not and never has been a reward for the morally virtuous, but rather a gift started in faith and carried out in a life of following God, led by the Holy Spirit within.

 

Verse 13 now hones in on the concept of temptation as to where it comes from. It is further fleshed out in verses 14 and 15. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. God is not the Author of sin, though He does permit it within His sovereign will. This does not mean that He approves of it, but that He allows it for His purposes. If He did not allow for its existence, there would be no Devil nor many of the things we see in our world, or even in ourselves. The cross is a great example, by the way, because ungodly sinners nailed our perfect Lord to the cross, providing salvation through His death and resurrection but nonetheless on account of sin.

 

Temptation free stock photos - StockFreeImages

God is not a tempter; on the other hand, remember that God does test with the intention of proving. Temptation is the act of enticing with the intention of causing another to stumble. God’s heart is not to cause us to stumble, but there are times He will allow us to face difficult circumstances to prove our hearts, refine us, and prepare us for usability down the road in unforeseen circumstances and things of the like. I like to think of the difference between temptation and testing like bowling: temptation is the gutters, but testing would be like bumper bowling, God intending to redirect us as He moves us towards Him.

 

By the way, why can’t God be tempted by evil? God is holy and righteous and just. He is perfect and pure in ways above our understanding. Temptation can only work if the internal inclinations in a person are towards something forbidden; God cannot be tempted for there is no inclination in Him towards doing something against His character. The sin nature drives humans towards defiance of the character of God. 

 

Why is it important for James to remind the Christians he was writing to, as well as us, why God is not the author of sin? I think it because, in part, we are inclined to blame God for our failures if we are not careful, but drawing that conclusion would simply not be true. God can neither be tempted by sin, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

 

744,246 Fishing Photos - Free & Royalty-Free Stock Photos from DreamstimeSo where does temptation come from? Verses 14 and 15 help us to understand the dynamic of temptation. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” There are potentially two pictures going on here in the text: first, think of a fish that is drawn to bait. While the bait is cast and maneuvered to get a fish’s attention, it is the fish that is drawn to the bait. It is the fish that bites and it is the fish that gets itself caught. Hunting and fishing are more of a game of knowing the inclinations of the animal that the hunter is seeking to catch. Because we have sin natures and particular desires at times given our circumstances, our inhibitions or lack thereof, and many other inputs, temptation only works on us if we seek what our hearts already desire. No one gets tempted by those things which they don’t desire within, and many times it’s the end result that the heart is after, not necessarily the sinful pathway to get there.

 

If I was the Devil and wanted to tempt you, I’d spend a lot of time studying you and your habits first; then I’d go to work on you. I’d watch for moments of weakness in your resolve, or the resolve of others, that might be used against you. This is the nature of temptation, and that is why it is so fitting that Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Jesus says to the disciples in Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Combine the idea of being unsuspecting prey with the call for being watchful and prayerful and the issue of temptation should become more clear. Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:9, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.” The language surrounding temptation is that of hunter and prey; we must watch our own pridefulness in ignoring the dangers that lurk every day. Humility before God is one of the best ways to protect yourself from the power of temptation.

 

137,357 Baby Room Photos - Free & Royalty-Free Stock Photos from DreamstimeVerse 15 says, “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” We as readers should hear a shift from a hunting or fishing imagery to that of conception and birth. Verse 15 is using pregnancy as an analogy to understand the end game of sin. When desire conceives in the heart, the joining of temptation and action take place and produce sin; this follows much along with the idea of verse 14. Remember, temptation is not sin; acting upon temptation is.  It’s best to remove yourself from temptation, though, because it somehow saps the resistance over time, doesn’t it?

There must be an agreement made between temptation and desire for sin to be produced. Sin, much like a child in its mothers womb, when brought to full term brings forth death. It’s not the easiest thing to interpret, but my theology teacher in seminary likened this verse to the anticipation of a baby only to have the child still-born at delivery. Imagine the excitement, the planning, the naming, purchases and painting, the hopefulness of a relationship all to be dashed in a moment. Sin does this: we get lured by unrealistic hopes and find that it comes and crushes those hopes because it was only a snare to wreck our lives and divide us from God. The worst part, though, is to be so blind as to not see a wrecked life for what it is, or to not consider distance or deadness to God as a problem, which it is. Satan’s grand schemes are to keep the spiritually dead blinded and dead to God, and to make Christians numb to their blessings in Christ and the needs of this world. If Satan could just get us to all believe that we were powerless, hopeless, and beyond the grace of God, oh how he would press upon that. 

 

Step back from whatever you may be facing or being tempted in today. Realize that you are a target and wakeup. Do not be used by the Devil against God, others, and even yourself. God is not your enemy, but He does offer hope and help in facing your enemy. 

 

Preach the Gospel to yourself again: Jesus Christ died for my sins and took the punishment I should have received that I might not endure the wrath of God by putting my faith in Jesus. I am not loved or accepted by God for what I’ve done, but for what He has done for me. I am justified by grace through faith alone. Nothing can separate me from the love of God. These are truths we must remind ourselves of, and when we forget them, it’s quite easy to fall prey to bad thinking and ruts of despair. Don’t do that; go to God. He loves you and He is always ready to help you. Be watchful and be humble.

 

Thank you for your time and I hope this devotional is a help to you as you consider God’s word from James 1:12-15. If you have any further questions in regards to any of these devotionals, please feel free to ask.  Thank you!

 

Devotional: James 1:9-11 “If I Must Glory”

James 1:9-11

9 Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation,

10 but the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away.

11 For no sooner has the sun risen with a burning heat than it withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beautiful appearance perishes. So the rich man also will fade away in his pursuits.

Today’s passage comes with a play on words for both those in humbling circumstances as well as those who are in quite favorable positions. The word pictures throughout the book of James are quite thick in volume; it seems that nearly every couple of verses has some kind of illustration being used to describe biblical truth. James would have been a great model for preaching as he was good at giving visual references in explaining practical theology to make his point. With that being said, let’s look at the text.

 

“Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation.”  BDAG describes “lowly” here as “pertaining to being of low social status or to relative inability to cope.” (BDAG, Bibleworks)  Poverty can be in its most thought of form, financial need, but that isn’t the only way it could be understood. In this passage, we will soon see from verse 10 that it most likely does have wealth or possessions in mind. However a person became “high status” or “low status” in a social context, there are often accompanying traits that go with the territory.

 

The lowly brother should “glory in his exaltation.” The term for glory refers to boasting, essentially bragging or taking pride in something. What is that something, specifically? BDAG defines exaltation here as, “a position of high status.” What a strange play on words. It’s basically saying, “Let the brother of low status brag about his high status.” This can only be understood by further context.

 

“But the rich in his humiliation, because as a flower of the field he will pass away.” Rich is referring to “having an abundance of earthly possessions that exceeds normal experience.” (BDAG, Bibleworks) It’s funny, because “rich” always seems relative to each person defining what that looks like. What should the rich boast about? The word for humiliation means, “to experience a reversal of fortunes.” (BDAG, Bibleworks) Drawing those two definitions together, it is telling us that those with wealth should brag about losing their wealth and therefore, status. 

 

What on earth is the writer getting at? This is all spoken in irony to make a point. The rest of these verses (10-11) speak only of the rich person, not the poor one. It compares the rich man to a flower of the field which will wither away, the flower falling off of the plant and the beauty perishing. Does this mean that the poor man doesn’t also have a fleeting life? No, it absolutely is the poor man’s end, too, except for the fact that all of the luster of the rich man’s life fades with his life. It’s not if they perish, but how they perish.  The poor man has little if any luster to lose and therefore is not diminished so much by fading away. Both are humans, weak and dependent upon the mercy and grace of God when seen at the grave, and it is mortality that brings us all back to the same place. In Job 1:21, he is recorded as saying, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.” 

 

It would be a mistake to look at these verses and to behold wealth with a jaundiced eye or to promote the power of poverty as though it were more noble. In reality, both riches and poverty leave the soul’s greatest need unmet, which is salvation from the wrath of God through justification in His sight. Poverty doesn’t lead to salvation, and wealth doesn’t lead to it, either. Wealth can be deceiving, though, in that it does pose the potential of fooling a person into a false sense of security when eternity is at stake. The preacher Jonathan Edwards from the First Great Awakening said long ago: “Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotted covering.” (Jonathan Edwards, from his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”) What he’s saying is that there is a great ignorance towards a very precarious position to be in for all of those who have not found salvation in Jesus Christ; social status has no bearing on that.

 

If “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” as we see in the Old Testament (Ps. 111:10, Prov. 1:7), then both those who are poor and those who are rich must start with God or there is no hope. Salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, period. Acts 4:12 states, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” 

 

Do poor people brag about being poor? Not if they’re sensible; nor would rich people brag about losing all that they possess. Perhaps we should look at a somewhat parallel passage in Philippians 4:11-13: 

 

11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:

12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

 

Paul is glorying neither in prosperity nor poverty, but in Jesus Christ as he writes to the Philippians. Foolishness boasts in positions and circumstances like trophies on a wall, but wisdom boasts in He who can both build up and tear down, the Sovereign Lord.  Yes, we are probably all guilty of putting too much stock in status at times, but it’s something God is working to draw out of us as He changes us (and if you’re like me, we both need a lot of help and polishing). The lots God gives us are for His purposes, and they put us in the paths of others that we might not meet had we been in different circumstances.

James 1 speaks deeply into temptation and trials. From verse 2 until verse 18, the primary emphasis is this very subject. Wisdom (see vv. 5-8) is to look at our lives, whether prosperous or impoverished, and to recognize that this does not speak volumes of our character per se, and especially not of our salvation. Contextually, wealthy people must avoid the temptation to think too highly of themselves because of the possessions they have, as though this informed them of their worth. Rich or poor, our worth comes from the value God has placed upon us and the love He has shown to us in offering His Son to die on the cross for our sins. Don’t let your bank account, the kind of car you drive, the people you know or the achievements you’ve accomplished inform you of your worth; relish the truth that God has mad every believer equally worthy of His forgiveness, faithfulness, blessings and eternal hope. Without God’s justification, it won’t matter how much we have or how many people think we’re wildly amazing.

 

“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

 

May God bless you in the reading of today’s devotional.

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional: James 1:5-8, On Wisdom

 

James 1:5-8

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.

For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;

he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 

 

 

Let’s look at today’s portion of James 1 under two primary categories: first, a promise, and secondly, a condition. Most promises made in this world are found to be conditional, and while it does happen in the Bible multiple times, it tends to the be unconditional promises that I personally have warmed to the most over the years (predominantly in relationship to salvation and glorification, whose fulfillment are both dependent upon God’s faithfulness and precious grace). We do ourselves a great disservice, though, if we only look at Scriptural promises as only conditional or only unconditional; both are present. It is very easy to presume conditions or to impose conditions where they are not, so our task is always to mine what the Bible says and to avoid the fallacy of assumption. 

 

Verse 5 is following from verse 4, because both use the term “lacking” in connection with each other. In James 1:4, he says, “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” If you didn’t read last week’s devotional on James 1:1-4, I encourage you to do so as it may be of help in further understanding today’s devotional. 

 

“Perfection” has a couple different uses in this passage, one being of standard (which is they typical way we think of “perfection”) and the other is maturity, either in physical growth or in moral development. Lacking, therefore, was directly linked to the idea of maturity, that a person who is spiritually immature is lacking in certain areas. Think of it especially as it relates to spiritual fruit and spiritual character.

 

Within the realm of maturity as is described in this passage as “perfection” is certainly wisdom. Can you imagine being mature and yet not being wise? No one thinks of a mature person as one who is foolish; the image of a sage is generally pictured as a person who is both mature and wise. 

 

Contextually, we might consider this verse in relationship to Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Fearing God, which involves both being aware of His presence and acting reverentially because of it, precede obedience in the face of temptation as well as all types of trials. Little awareness of God and little reverence will always show forth in sinful behavior in response to temptation. No matter the nature of the trial, if God is small to us in the moments of difficulty, we run a constant risk of sinning in response to the adversity that we face.

 

If we are to face temptations or trials with joy (James 1:2), knowing that perseverance produces patience and proven character leading to spiritual maturity, then wisdom is absolutely a part of the package. To lack wisdom, therefore, is to lack part of what it means to be mature, and this will play out in how we live. The promise of this portion of the passage is that if we should lack wisdom, we can “ask God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him (or her).” 

 

Tackling the wisdom issue as it relates to the passage, there is a great need for wisdom in how we should live in light of adversity, be it from without or from within. We don’t always know how to be when things are hard or we face long-term battles of heart idolatry, and this is where asking for wisdom from God is tied to how we should think, feel, and live. Most of us find ourselves in increasingly difficult circumstances, some very unique, feeling like greenhorns and rightly so. God has prepared us for trusting Him through trials and temptations by being available, not necessarily by always giving us the “how-to” for some of those problematic areas that we enter into. Remember this: God has given us what we need for what we face, which should force us to look at what we have when we’re in some state of vulnerability. 

 

Now, please remember that wisdom can be as simple as having the smarts to know yourself and how you react habitually within certain environments. There are many things that we do without even thinking about it, especially within certain contexts that are familiar, that take our minds places, move us to do certain behaviors repeatedly and so forth, and wisdom can be as simple as God helping us to grow in self-awareness and changing how we respond.

 

Let’s further break down just a few of the terms from verse 5 to help us understand what is being said. First of all, wisdom: this is “the capacity to understand and act accordingly” (BDAG, Bibleworks). Note that there is a big difference between intelligence and wisdom: we can know a lot but not apply it, and that would essentially make us smart fools. Wisdom, biblically speaking, is the act of both knowing what to do and doing what we know to do. 

 

Secondly, “liberally” means: “sincerely or openly” (BDAG, Bibleworks) Even more so here, it is listed in BDAG as “without reservation.” God doesn’t hold back on the things that would help us. 

 

If you recall, it’s the same book, the book of James, where it also says, “You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:2-3) The same book that tells us that God gives liberally and without reproach to those who ask also says that some people don’t have because they ask amiss to spend their requests on their own pleasures. This means that God is invested in giving us what would be good for us: what would benefit us and not hurt our relationship to Him in the process. Prayer, therefore, is not just about asking, but also about aligning, and when we align with God’s purposes, we will find that we will want more of what He wants for us and ask for it in wiser ways.

 

What is “reproach”? That’s the third term we’ll look at, from where it says, “God…gives to all liberally and without reproach.” BDAG defines the word for reproach, oneidizo, as “seeking to find fault that demeans the other.” I think that it’s trying to tell us here is that God doesn’t give gifts with a hidden agenda, looking to trip us up or test us to show our faults. The gifts of God are not a ploy, some kind of bait meant to catch us and expose us. God’s gifts are as gifts should be: straight-forward and direct with no ulterior motives. God is honest and just.

 

Note that the conclusive nature of the promise is that, “it will be given to him.” The “iffy” nature is not brought in on the basis of God’s character, but on the basis of a person’s trust. Why is trust such a big issue? Connect the terms from above and I think you’ll start to see that God, who gives openly and without some hidden intention of finding fault with us in giving us gifts like wisdom, is not one for being belittled. He’s just not into playing games when it comes to how we relate to Him. The reason someone would doubt is because they don’t trust His character, you see; because of that, they should expect nothing from God no matter the request. It is offensive to ask God for help when not trusting the help that He might give.

 

“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.” Remember, doubting God is a reflection of the character of the doubter, not of God. God is trustworthy, period. The picture analogy here, one of many in James, is of a wave of the sea. The wave, which is driven and tossed, meaning controlled by the wind, is likened to the person doubting, who is controlled by their doubt. Doubt is in charge, and it is moving them to do their own thing and to even ask God for whatever it is that they feel they need. They are not controlled by faith. They are not submissive to God. Their master is their insecurity. Want to grow in your relationship to God? Learn to trust Him for who He is first and foremost.

 

“For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” Let me say this again: prayer is not just about asking God for things; it’s very much about alignment with Him. These last two verses are very reflective of the person praying as to the lack of receiving what they’re asking for. Two words of note from verse 8: double-minded and unstable. Being “double-minded” means “being uncertain about the truth of something” (BDAG, Bibleworks). Uncertain about the truth of what, or Whom, rather? The context drives us back to whether or not one can trust God’s motives in giving them gifts, and contextually, wisdom.

 

Another issue to consider here is that people may not trust God because they don’t think He wants to give them wisdom; perhaps they’ve concluded that He wants them to suffer and feel completely alone and confused in the process. If we were to conclude that God hurts us just to enjoy our pain, how could we not end up doubting Him? False views of God often cause much doubt because people who see God in wrong ways will always relate to Him in warped fashions. 

 

If you are facing trials, especially temptations, what should you do? Ask God for help and ask Him for wisdom. Don’t accuse Him but entreat Him. Additionally, I encourage you to analyze what your views of Him really are. Many times we will find that we hold some wrong views about God that have had a very negative affect on our relationship to Him, and in those cases, we must recognize the failure, repent, and see God anew for who He has shown Himself to be in the Bible. 

 

Why not take a moment and ask Him to help you grow in wisdom towards the pressures you currently face?

 

Thank you for your time and the Lord bless you as you contemplate His word.

In Christ,

 

Devotional: What is the Point of Resisting Temptation? James 1:1-4

James 1:1-4

“James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad: Greetings. 

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of  your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”

 

If Philippians is a book written both from joy and really on the topic of having joy, James is not far off from Paul’s letter as he begins his letter “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad.” Most New Testament letters are identified by their recipient, but the book of James is identified by the writer himself. Obviously, this book has a much farther-reaching message than to its scattered original audience, as the book is very practical and very applicable to the modern reader. It’s a great place to start for those who haven’t read the Bible much or want to get back into reading the Bible as it is relatively short, very practical, and very straight-forward with little need to understand culture aside from what’s highlighted. James also uses a lot of word pictures and analogies, and that makes this a memorable book of the Bible as well.

 

What is joy? As I have read it in multiple Christian dictionaries and Greek lexicons, it is essentially “the experience of gladness or well-being.” It has very little to do with the externals of life, those happenings into which we often walk many times unassuming. It has very little to do with what goes on physically, as though health, be it good or bad, really affected what it meant to be glad.  Joy is not predicated upon those three old prosperity gospel tenets: health, wealth, and happiness, though it is often assumed that it follows not far behind. In fact, it is important that we discern the common reasoning behind such desires, which if we’re truly honest is often tied to the false conclusion of what brings people joy. The Bible would tell us very different things that lead to joy other than what is typically assumed or preached today.

 

Paul wrote from prison in Philippians, an unlikely place for joy if we equated joy with circumstances. James, in a similar vein, tells us to “count it all joy when we fall into various trials.” If trials and the lack thereof are a standard by which you determine your faith or your closeness to God, you are in for a hard road, and James makes that clear with his initial words. Thankfully, he doesn’t just say that as someone telling us to “just think positive thoughts,” as though we should just console ourselves with wishful thinking. The comforting effect of trials is found in what they “produce.” What James is saying is that we can be glad as we face trials for we know that God is at work to make us better than we were before the trial happened. It’s very hard to look at trials positively without this wisdom towards them. 

 

Maybe you’re wondering, though, what a trial is. This is a great example of a place where eisegesis can get us off from the author’s intention. “Trial” as it is called here is often translated “temptation” in the New Testament. It’s not an issue of difficult circumstances like we often think of; BDAG refers to it here as “an attempt to make one do something wrong, temptation, enticement to sin.” (BDAG Lexicon, Bibleworks) We know from later on in v. 13, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.” 

 

How could we have joy in stepping into something meant to cause us to stumble and how could it not be from God? The answer is that God allows temptation without promoting it for the sake of purifying His people. He calls us to grow and to trust Him while letting the winds of adversity blow against us. Faithfulness through this resistance accomplishes the goal, which isn’t just serving, but it’s also being sanctified. This principle has to be one of Satan’s least favorite gems: God uses Satan’s opposition to make His children stronger and better if they’ll endure those winds by faith.

 

James says that the “testing of your faith,” produces patience. It’s not “having faith,” that produces patience, but rather faith that has the winds of opposition driving against it, which like a tree causes us to drive our roots deeper. The believer drives their roots of faith into God and His promises, whereas the tree drives its roots further into the dirt for moisture, nutrients and anchoring. Both are made more capable of producing fruit and enduring the seasons of life by this very process.

 

Furthermore, the more firm the root system of the believer, the stronger the believer. “Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” It’s somewhat of a disservice for English translations to say “perfect,” because our vernacular identifies perfect as flawless and pristine, an issue of standards when that’s not always the way to read the word. Let me clarify: in the BDAG Lexicon, it actually identifies the word as being used in three different ways: “1. pertaining to the highest standard; 2. pertaining to being mature or full-grown; 3. pertaining to being fully developed in a moral sense.” (BDAG Lexicon, Bibleworks) We see, therefore, that there is some interchangeability between the same word, context often driving the interpretation of the word. (As a side note, we should always let context do this for us with our English translations; eisegesis, pronounced eye-seh-gee-sis is the practice of taking perspective and using it as our interpretive guide-this can lead us astray. Exegesis, pronounced ex-eh-gee-sis, is to draw the meaning out of text, whether that’s a word or a paragraph or a book of the Bible). 

 

A full-grown tree, with healthy branches and green leaves and producing beautiful, healthy fruit (if it’s a fruit-bearing tree) is a mature tree. It has become what is was made to become; it is not waiting for future years in which it will yield forth those elements which it might currently lack.  

For a believer, maturity would be a healthy, obedient Christian that is wise and committed to God, bearing much evidence of a life yielded to the indwelling Holy Spirit. This person forsakes sin, confesses when they do sin, lives in light of the grace of God, and seeks to be pleasing to Him. When facing the temptation to sin and patiently outlasting the temptation, we become mature believers. The perfect (as a standard) work of patience is a perfect (morally mature) child of God. 

We often come upon difficulties and what is our response? Remove this from my life, God. Just make everything better. What does this show about us, though, but that our perspective is found to be lacking? When we pray for these issues to go away, invariably we are often asking God, “Please, can just make my life easy, or easier?” Listening to a Jim Rohn video this morning on YouTube from the early 1980’s, he said these words: “Don’t wish for your life to be easy; work to be better.” Good point. What’s hard for a child may be a cakewalk for an adult; this is why growing and learning and maturing make the same tasks easier. The same concept holds true for being a believer; it may never be easier, but we may be more mature and handle difficulties better. Once again, though, we’re talking in this particular passage about being better by resisting the temptation to sin. Immature believers are push-overs when sin comes knocking; that’s what God is trying to get out of our system on our way to glory.

 

If perhaps your hope has been to grow in maturity in Christ, know that God may be answering that hope with the process that will bring it so long as you or I are committed to riding it out in faith. We can pray for temptations to never come our way, but the harder challenge will be resting in God’s grace to endure it by saying no to our sinful desires when they arise. It’s much harder than just not having the temptation, isn’t it?! 

 

All too often, God is far more vested in our growth than we are, and as such, we run into temptations and difficulties regardless of wanting to be more mature or not. In highlighting what is probably a pretty common problem among us Christians, it would be best advised that we get on board with growth if that’s where God has clearly said He’s taking us, because it’s one thing to face temptations for maturity, but something else to not even have maturity as one’s own goal.

 

I read a quote years ago that still makes me chuckle when I think about it: “Why does life keep teaching me lessons I never asked to learn?” The Devil himself likes those kind of Christians, the ones who keep getting tempted but see no hope other than not being tempted. Consider Peter’s words from 1 Peter 5:8-9: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.”

 

How do we resist? Maybe, just maybe, it starts with understanding “why” we resist in the first place. Why would we ever carry on in resisting when we’re not convinced of the point? A teenager may mumble what mom or dad said, “We don’t do it so we can glorify God…” and that’s true, but God has given us more in James 1:2-4. We resist sin to become mature, like a weightlifter uses resists the gravitational pull of a bunch of weight plates on a barbell as they lower it down and push it back up. When temptation comes your way, you’ve got to welcome it with joy because on the other side of resisting it is greater spiritual maturity and character. Don’t be the person standing there near the water-cooler watching people running on treadmills, dismissing them like hamsters on a wheel. They walk and others lift so as to be stronger and better, not so they can walk and push weights alone.

 

If you’ve noticed that the world as a whole struggles with sin, you’re right; it does. Don’t think that temptations exist because you’re a Christian; temptation happens to every sinner in a sin-cursed world. There is hope for every Christian because there is deep purpose to our pain, and it will not be wasted by God. He will use it and our faith to make us into who He wants us to be, and that’s part of the redemptive plan of faith-based moral resistance for our mortal season of eternity. Maturity precedes perfect glorification in Heaven where we will be with the Lord in a place of no more tears or pain. We may lose sight of the purpose of our pain at times, but thank God that He never does. He will never leave us or forsake us, and nothing will happen to us that He doesn’t intend to use in perfecting the masterpieces of who we are in Christ for His glory. Amen.

Thank you for your time and may God bless you in your endeavors to please Him. We are in this fight together.

In Christ,

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.