Devotional: James 4:11-12

James 4:11-12

11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

Today’s passage is nothing more than a continuation of a thought process seen throughout all of ch. 4.  It’s important to remember that, because whenever we should grab a few verses to look at them, it’s very easy to isolate the verses in neglect of the thought flow from which they come. Remember that James 4 speaks of a breakdown in relationships because of selfish desires and a failure to submit to God in humility (vv. 1-10). There is also a call to repentance, the promise of God’s assistance and the devil’s fleeing should he be resisted. God gives grace to the humble but resists the proud.

Given the context, it’s not overly surprising that James steps back into how his readers are to relate to one another again. He started with human relational breakdowns, went further down into the spiritual issues at play, and then resurfaces back into the treatment of others.

It is necessary that we see a spiritual dimension to our interactions with others; God is always present and ready to assist, but the devil is always seeking unsuspecting prey to devour, oftentimes pitting people against each other in an effort to destroy them with their own hands. Spiritual awareness of a real spiritual battle is tantamount to how we see our interactions with others; forget the spiritual, and we live for lesser reasons and fight with little sense that we may be falling prey to Satan’s plans.

Verses 11 and 12 take the reader to the issue of speaking evil of as well as judging the law. What does this mean? Speaking evil refers to being degrading and judging refers to criticism. There is a mirror effect in this verse: it says that when we degrade and criticize a brother (another person), we do it to the law.

Now what is the law? Most simply, it’s the Word of God, the Bible. More exclusively, we might point to the 10 Commandments as “The Law.” Jesus, though, pointed out many times that it wasn’t just the external keeping of it, but doing so in the heart as well. Let me highlight that briefly from Matthew 5:27-28:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old,`You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

The term “law” comes up ten times in the book of James found within three separate passages. We find them here:

  1. (James 1:25) “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.”
  2. (James 2:8-12) “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.
  3. (James 4:11) “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”

If speaking evil of a brother and judging a brother is regarded as equivalent to doing so to the law, consider John’s words in 1 John 4:20:

“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”

John is saying that to hate one’s brother is to hate God; James says that to speak evil of and judge a brother is to do so to the law of God. When there is inconsistency between proclamations and character, it ought to put up a major red-flag.

James is saying that those who willfully sin and yet justify it degrade the standards of God and criticize those standards in a reinterpretation of what is good and acceptable to do. When a Christian remains in sin, they are functionally dethroning God and taking up lordship of their own life, defaming God and distancing themselves from Him. When we rewrite the rules, we are not doers of the law, but critics (judges) of the law; to do this to the law is to dismiss God’s authority in favor of our own.

James reminds the reader that there is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? Only God can save, only God can destroy. Very similar in wording is Jesus’ statement found in Matthew 10:28:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

“Who are you to judge another?” forms a rhetorical question given in light of one Lawgiver identified in the Lord. No one answers to another creature on judgment day, but to God. When we choose to sin, we must inevitably move God’s boundary lines in our hearts to accomadate the justification we may seek in harboring sinful attitudes. Poor treatment of others, especially believers, is inconsistent with a love for God and a keeping of His word. Only a person in denial who has subtly shifted the boundary lines could feel okay in their conscience when hating a brother and deceving themselves that they love God or His word at the same time. We really need to do some self-examination in those areas where there are inconsistencies between what we saw we agree with and what we functionally believe.

Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to

I encourage you (as well as myself) to pray to the Lord for the help to follow His word as He commands it, not as we would have it. We must repent in those areas of reinterpreting sin as anything less and move away from the crossing of those lines before God. Finally, remember the laid out plan provided in James’ earlier words in chapter 4 as a gameplan for repentance:

7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:7-10)

May God’s word find you well today and whatever your state may be, may you be sensitive to Him and submissive to His desires for you today.

In Christ,

 

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

Devotional: James 4:5-10 “The Mercy and Grace of God in Repentance”

James 4:5-10

5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. 

In looking over today’s text, I think that we can come away from this passage positively by recognizing the hope of God’s mercy and grace in the call to repentance. Repentance (Greek “metanoia”) comes from two words, “meta” meaning with and “noia” coming from “nous,” or the mind: literally, with the mind. It is referring to a change in thinking, but also in emotions and intentions and actions. Repentance is an upheaval within, a 180 degree turn from going our own direction to now submitting to God’s ways.

Keep in mind, though, that it’s not just following, but also the alteration of thinking that now comes into alignment with how God thinks. Where do we find how God thinks? Not in our imaginations or assumptions, but in the very Word of God, the Bible. Repentance can sometimes be mistaken for simply actinglike there’s heart change without any genuine alterations within: think of a child who, after being told again and again by their parents to sit, finally shouts back, “Fine, I’ll sit, but I’m still standing on the inside!” That is often how the Gospel has been misconstrued, as though it were comprised only of outer professions and public posturing without actually changing within.

Repentance means conforming progressively to the heart and mind of Christ. I like to think of the new nature here, reminded that it is the nature of who we are that drives the activities of who we are.  A cat may act like a dog for a moment, but inevitably will be back to being a cat in no time; an unbeliever may act like a Christian for a season but cannot resist their true nature when all is said and done.

Let’s look at the passage and consider the grace and mercy of God in the activity of repentance. First of all, (Or) do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? This is said in connection to verse 4, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Or, therefore, is stated in relationship to being a friend of the world and an enemy of God, or at least acting like one within the scope of being a believer. The passage is not calling for a repentance of salvation, but a repentance of stagnation and deterioration from a worthy walk with Christ. We know this in part because of the prescribed actions to take in the verses that follow.

James says these things in relationship to desires going unmet, prayers being selfish, and warring and fighting taking place as a result of carnal living. Rather than being Christ-centered, his audience is acting in self-centeredness. Consider a parallel in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, which is stated in relationship to sexual immorality but has the same spiritual effect:

18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

What is comforting is the fact that God offers grace rather than a dismissive cutting of ties with those who have failed Him. James says in light of the Spirit’s yearning that He gives more grace: more unmerited favor, that is. Verse 6 very well highlights both the mercy and grace of God towards His children: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” When believers are proud, resistant to submission and determined to do as they please, God in His mercy resists them. He stands in opposition to them in that He will not enable sinfulness but He will frustrate their heart idolatry. We see that in the first few verses of James 4 as they take matters into their own hands for not getting what they want, but still don’t get what they desire. Conversely, God shows His grace to the humble (BDAG refers to this as acting unpretensiouly: BDAG, Bibleworks). God shows grace to everyone living in the form of common grace (it rains on the just and the unjust–Matthew 5:45), but in the context of James 4, mercy and grace are stated in relationship to the heart attitude of believers before God.

Notice James’ command on the basis of God’s resistance and grace: therefore, submit to God. The word for submission is hupotasso, and it means to place one’s self under the authority of another. It is a command, but it is also a choice and an act of humility and love. It is very fitting that James continues the thought on with resist the devil and he will flee from you: living lives of arrogant pride is actually submission to the devil’s plans. The devil opposes God, and those who live in sin live in opposition while doing so. Can a believer live in opposition to God, submitting to the devil? Yes, but they will have to sear the Spirit in doing so, the very Holy Spirit who yearns jealously for them. It seems to me that the devil himself is one of the last characters people think of when they choose to sin, but it’s important to remember that he very much is alive and active and that we effectively submit to his deviance when we choose to harbor sinful attitudes and actions. Satan cares far more that we are deceived and sunk into a rut of sin than that we are aware of whom we are functionally serving.

Ten commands are listed to those who would repent in response to the mercy and grace of God: submit (to God), resist (the devil), and draw near (to God), cleanse (your hands) and purify (your hearts) are the first five. Those who desire the closeness of God and the comfort and security of that closeness would do well to recognize that it is our sin, our stiffness to submit and our choice in doing so, that has caused God to both resist us and to remove the sense of His closeness. It’s not that God has left (He’s omnipresent), but the sweetness of relationship is on hold for good reason when we are living in defiant self-absorption. Why should God reward us with a relationship that isn’t affected when we live in sin? Nobody sins and continues in sin without a direct hit on their relationship to God, a downward spiral of distancing from Him that goes with the turf of disobedience and desensitization to the Holy Spirit within. When this all happens, it is not surprising to find that someone is very insecure in their eternal destination no matter how well versed they may be.

Notice in those first five commands listed that two are related to God, one to the devil, and two to the self. Three commands are external (who we submit to and who we resist) and two are internal (purification from dirty, sinful hearts and the hands that carried out the actions). Cleanse your hands, you sinners has that emphasis on wrong-doing in highlighting “sinners” whereas purifying the heart of the double-minded is addressing the divided heart of loyalty to God and to the self, purifying being that act of washing away those doubts that have caused hesitancy and back-and-forth living. (Double-mindedness flows throughout the book of James, by the way).

The last five commands are found in verses 9 and 10: Lamentand mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. I have underlined the five command words (all are Greek imperatives, which are commands). These are outer signs of inner repentance. Perhaps we might think of Job, how after he had lost his children and servants and livestock and so forth, we find him sitting in sackcloth and ashes, mourning deeply.  Here’s what Job says in regard his sorrow (Job 16:12-20):

12 I was at ease, but He has shattered me; He also has taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces; He has set me up for His target, 13 His archers surround me. He pierces my heart and does not pity; He pours out my gall on the ground. 14 He breaks me with wound upon wound; He runs at me like a warrior. 15 “I have sewn sackcloth over my skin, and laid my head in the dust. 16 My face is flushed from weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death;17 although no violence is in my hands, and my prayer is pure. 18 “O earth, do not cover my blood, and let my cry have no resting place!19 Surely even now my witness is in heaven, and my evidence is on high. 20 My friends scorn me; my eyes pour out tears to God.

The brokenness of Job was easily recognizable. Job’s circumstances had brought him to his knees, caused him to self-examine, and left him with only the hope of God’s care. A more relavent passage to James 5:5-10 is where Paul speaks to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 on godly sorrow:

9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. 

Repentance is not just a salvation issue, though it does reflect the nature of redeemed heart to have repeated patterns of repentance. It is a return to health in a believer’s life who has grown spiritually unhealthy. It is marked by internal changes that have gone so far as to have affected the entire person, not just their behavior nor just their heart.

As I stated at the outset of this devotional, this passage is a positive call that highlights God’s great grace and mercy. It shows us that mercy can mean God’s resistance and distancing if this keeps us from destructive ends. It also shows us God’s grace in that there is an offer to repent and holistic means to do so as we submit to His authority. Where we should perhaps read only of punishment in response to failure, we find yet again that God is deeply concerned for the spiritual welfare of His children and will do what it takes to bring them to Christlikeness. I hope you find comfort in that; I know that I do as I contemplate these verses. Don’t forget that it’s a call to us as well to humble ourselves before God, to draw near to Him, to purify our hearts and to be broken over our sin. Repentance leads to abundant living where life was confined by sinful selfishness and the absence of joy. God wants the best for us.

Thank you for your time and may God bless you as you contemplate His word today!

In Christ,

 

 

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

Devotional: James 4:1-4 “Wisdom and Foolishness Manifested”

James 4:1-10

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?
2 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.
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously “?
6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

 

James 4 continues on in the line of logic from distinguishing false wisdom from true wisdom going back to James 3:13 and following. Much of what James says towards the selfishness on display in verses 1-4 is still in sync with James 3:14-16:

14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.

We have to wonder in James’ questioning in v. 1 if he is asking them a rhetorical question to which they are already informed or whether he is probing an area of blindness. The connection between 3:13-18 and 4:1-10 may be this: wisdom is manifested in humility (4:6-10) and foolishness is manifested in selfish pride and the behaviors that come from that (4:1-5).

Let’s first consider the negative manifestation of selish pride as a sign of foolishness:

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 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. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously “?

Fools are potentially aware of information but fail to put it into practice. Fools act in both arrogance and ignorance. When Christians should be foolish, they choose to submit to the old idols of their hearts rather than the God who has saved them. Make no doubt about it, this is the wrestling match of the Christian life (consider Romans 7:14-25): choosing every day and every moment whom we will serve.

James says that fights are the result of deep desires. Interestingly, the Greek word for “pleasure” in v. 1 is hedonon from which we derive the words “hedonism” or “hedonistic”: pleasure-seeking and pleasure-driven self-indulgence. Furthermore, at heart the act of hedonism comes from pleasure-worshipping.

Whenever we take a good thing (such as pleasure) and make it an ultimate thing, we have displaced God and erected an idol to worship. Pleasure, comfort, control, power, love, security, etc. are all emotional states that often determine how we relate to others, to money, to material goods, to work, and to God for starters. Think about this: in addictive behaviors, the addict is not actually seeking the substance nearly as much as they are seeking the emotional state that that substance has taken them to. Aside from addictions, all sin functions on the same premise of temporary emotional states in exchange for a compromise in morality and ultimately in obedience to God.

Total deprativity is the doctrine that we are tainted in all parts of who we are: intellect, emotion and will. Not that we’re as bad as we can be, but that all parts of us bear the stain of sin.Heart idolatry will shape your dreams and desires, prayer requests, what a “good day” means to you as well as what a “bad day” means, and that’s just a handful of the ways it affects you or me.  The reason not everyone is affected the same way by similar situations is in part because of idolatry; if I worship something and everything frustrates that (I want to be happy), I will have a bad day. If you should have a similar day but aren’t driven by happiness, you may not be as affected by it as I was.

When James says the people are warring, fighting, murdering, etc., notice that he ties it all to both having desires and those desires going unmet. As an alternative to asking God for things (needs/wants), they take matters into their own hands and sin to achieve their desired ends. They compromise. When they do ask God, they ask for the wrong reasons, to appease those idols that they worship which would be to their detriment: they are seeking to fulfill their pleasure. A good understanding of the nature of God should remind us that God is in the business of removing idols, not appeasing them; therefore, He allows His children at times to suffer frustration as a result of their unmitigated greed. God is jealous for His children and is more invested in where He is taking them than what they want along the way. The issue of adulterers and adultresses is found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament in that when people give away their loyalty and hearts to anything other than God (often false gods), He often reminds them both of their adultery and His holy jealousy for their worship.

 

Secondly, let’s consider wisdom as it is manifested in humility and I think you will see that in the passage:

6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. 

God gives grace; grace to live without our desires being met, grace to endure when life is hard, grace to meet what we truly need. Contextually, He gives grace in response to humility. He stands against pride; He does not reward pride nor does He serve to enable it. I am reminded very much that when anyone starts approaching God more as a dispenser of desires than our Master and Lord, we run the risk of assuming mastery over God. Prayer was never meant to be a dictation of our wants and desires that put God in a bind to perform in response to what we want; far more, it pulls us into alignment with His plans rather than calling Him to submit to ours. Humility is prerequisite in a meaningful prayer life.

James further identifies some of the necessary elements of humble repentance: drawing near to God, cleansing hands and purifying hearts (repenting of sin both in heart and behavior). Purifying the hearts of the double-minded means clearing up the wishy-washy division of direction and aligning one’s self to God’s desires. “Choose whom you will serve,” says Joshua in Joshua 24:15. Furthermore, lament (be distressed) and mourn (sorrow over your condition) and weep (cry)–these are all signs of conviction and repentance. They are the physical alterations that take place when someone really feels sorrow and grief.

James makes it clear that laughter and joy are not always appropriate, nor are they always the goal. Laughter, joy and pleasure all stand as witnesses against those who should not be so! There are times when people live in sin and it would be better for them to be overcome with feelings of conviction because their state of happiness comes from arrogance, not humility. Humility before the Lord leads to God’s exaltation of us rather than our own manufactured exaltation. There’s nothing better for the soul than being in sync with God.

As I’ve tried to “state my case,” I believe this passage is referring to wisdom as displayed in humility versus foolishness as displayed in selfish pride. It is good for us to be humble before God, to feel conviction that sometimes overwhelms us for our sin and carelessness, and it is good for us to wait on the Lord when we are in such a state of brokenness. It is not good for us to be held in the clutches of our sin and idolatry, living lives full of selfishness and insensitivity, but it happens quite easily and is a daily battle.

One of the simplest questions we can ask ourselves as a result of reading this passage is, “Why do I do what I do?” We might also ask, “Who am I living for?” It is a call for deep self-examination, for if we are in a broken, sinful condition, hopefully God will help us to see it that we might be convicted and repent. That would be mercy and mercy is what we need. One of the greatest kindnesses of God is to show us places where we’ve had “blind spots,” to move us to see it and feel it, to sense conviction but then to move us into humbling ourselves before Him. Awareness of our condition is a sign of God’s mercy. Awareness that we cannot fix this condition but that it’s only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is mercy and grace. Humbling ourselves before God and casting ourselves at His mercy only to find grace? That’s the heart of the Gospel. We’re not done learning the intricacies of this Gospel, no matter how long we’ve been saved, you know?

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

 

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

Devotional: James 3:13-18 “Wisdom vs. Foolishness”

James 3:13-18

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.
15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.
16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.
18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

 

What a powerful passage to speak into something that plagues many a church in our modern times! This portion of the book of James speaks into wisdom and the character of a wise person. James is comparing those who boast in their intellectual prowess with those who are truly governed by the godly characteristic of wisdom.

Verse 13 begins, who is wise and understanding among you? The BDAG lexicon defines the usage of wise here as “pertaining to understanding that results in wise attitudes and conduct” (BDAG, Bibleworks). Wisdom is the application of knowledge learned either through instruction or experience and especially tied to biblical knowledge. Every person well-trained in the Scriptures has the potential for becoming nothing more than a smart fool; that is, a person who is learned but who does not or will not put into practice what they know. Foolishness is categorically an issue of choosing to not apply knowledge; the old saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly while hoping for a different outcome,” would fit under the umbrella of foolishness. Understanding refers to “pertaining to being knowledgeable in a way that makes one effectual in the exercise of such knowledge,” (BDAG, Bibleworks). It is referring to the matter of expertise.

We may ask, what exactly is this expertise and wisdom related to? In a more broad sense, it would appear that a person is claiming to be wise and understanding as an identity, and that this identity is found in the context of the church. How would this person be recognized as wise and understanding? It wouldn’t be because they flaunt their intelligence; it would only come, as James points out, in the showing of good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. Wisdom is displayed through the governance of such wisdom in the actions of an individual and their character through the process. Conversely, much like a spring of water sending forth both fresh and bitter water (v. 11) or many of the other similar illustrations used in the prior verses, wisdom is not simply a claim; wisdom is more of an underlying principle giving structure to good character.

But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. Bitterness and selfishness both betray the claim of being wise. Can we be both smart and bitter, an expert on the Christian life and selfish? Yes, but we cannot be wise and be both. This is why I said earlier that such is a smart fool. Fools can be incredibly intelligent and well-versed in the Bible and yet at the same time be incredibly selfish and envious to the point of being bitter. When the church moves away from being doers of the word and becomes hearers only, the outcome is the breeding of educated fools, and such will only thrive in environments where doing is secondary to knowing. Make no doubt about it, that’s where our culture has headed over the years and how the church is being affected for that matter, too.

I don’t feel it would be far-fetched at all to say that the church at Ephesus of Revelation 2:1-7, the church that was very discerning but had lost it’s first love for Jesus Christ, had grown to become discerning fools. “Fool” may sound harsh, but remember that foolishness is what happens when one knows what to do but does not do it. Foolishness, too, is when one has chosen to make primary what is secondary and make secondary what is primary, that being the neglect of one’s heart before God in favor of growing one’s education for their own ends. James says to this inconsistency, “do not boast and lie against the truth.” Don’t brag about being wise when it’s just not true. Church, do not confuse the wise with the foolish.

This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. There are two types of “wisdom” being highlighted, therefore: true wisdom and fake wisdom. True wisdom is the sound application of knowledge, whereas fake wisdom is the posturing of being wise and the swapping of a life governed by wisdom to a life governed by conceitedness. This is the second time in the book of James that he will speak of the demonic; the first time was in James 2:19, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe– and tremble!” The breakdown of James 2:19 is that the demons believe there’s one God (how could they not since they saw him as angels and oppose Him daily?) but they did not submit themselves to him. Satan and all demons are extremely intelligent, and the Bible has never given us reason to think otherwise. Far more intelligent than any of us–but wise? Absolutely not. Anyone functioning like this is functioning with a wisdom that does not come down from above but is earthly, sensual and demonic in nature. Foolishness is demonic because it acts in the same mentality: knowing truth but refusing to either put it into practice or submit to such knowledge and the God who has given it.

For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. The conclusive nature of James’ definition of the wisdom that is earthly, sensual and demonic is that is nothing more than evidence of confusion and evil. A dog is only as free as the length of leash it’s given; so too is a person only as wise as their willingness to put into practice that which they know. The Bible makes clear that the beginning of wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, 9:10); conversely, wisdom ends when that fear goes. Fear could be understood not simply as terror (which isn’t crazy to read into that), but also the respect that is part of the fear that governs how one lives. If you fear heights, you will respect walking on the edge of the Grand Canyon. You will fear falling off. You will alter course. If one does not alter course when they are confronted with the knowledge of God, they are living dangerous lives of foolishness though they may proclaim loyalty to God nonetheless.

James ends this line of thought with these words: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” In many ways, this passage is a passage of discernment; in fact, the book of James is filled with lines of reasoning built upon discernment. The wisdom from above, in contrast to the false wisdom of this world, is first pure (referring to holiness), then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield (versus fighting/argumentative), merciful and full of good (spiritual) fruit, impartial to others and without hypocrisy (saying one thing but doing another). Notice that wisdom is not based upon intelligence but rather a disciplined character where one has brought into line their actions with their biblical understanding. Our intelligence may take us far but our character will be our Achille’s heel. Lastly, the fruit of righteousness is sown in a peaceful manner (rather than a contentious, self-seeking manner) by those who make peace. Wisdom is highlighted by character that is reflective of biblical principles, not book smarts or membership tenure in a church.

We must be very careful that we are not simply wise in our own estimation or in the estimation of others who have revised what it means to be wise. Biblical wisdom is the practice of biblical knowledge in good discretion. The passage is not simply calling us to be people who are wise, but also people who are discerning as to what wisdom is. In our day and age alone, for lack of discernment we are shooting ourselves in the foot for identifying what godliness truly looks like and what churches should be pursuant of in character. It is a slippery slope indeed when we begin to exchange any biblical definition for a more suitable, man-made version that hollows out what God has defined.

I would like to additionally add at the end of this devotional a link to a great article by Ligonier Ministries on the issue of discernment here. I believe it could be a great help to you if you have a few minutes to read it as well. Thank you.

 

May this find you well–

In Christ,

 

 

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

Devotional: James 2:14-26…Let’s Clarify What Really Saves a Person

James 2:14-26

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,
16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe– and tremble!
20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.
24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. 

 

Let me start this devotional by stating this very plainly: salvation is by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ. 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.” I edited this devotional and felt it quite necessary to establish the truth of the Gospel from the outset.

If there is one thing we must be sure to clarify in this life, it is the issue of faith. What saves a person, does a person need saved, and in what or who must they trust? As a Baptist pastor, I have seen many forms of faith over the years and we tend to pick them out as Baptists: faith in works, faith in character, faith in religious ordinances like baptism or perhaps communion, faith in our good deeds outweighing our bad deeds, faith in a plethora of various deities or religious figures, and on the list goes.

Perhaps what will hit most closely to home in a typical evangelical, Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching church will be the more indistinguishable line of an alternative form of works righteousness. Can it exist in Bible-preaching churches that exalt Christ and the Gospel? I believe the answer is “Yes, it can and does.” What would it be, then? Let me suggest that it is the dividing line between those trusting in their sincerity of faith and those trusting in Christ through the promises of God.

It’s hard to distinguish between the two because they often look quite the same on the surface. If all you’ve ever trusted in, though, is your trust itself, I would beg you to consider whether you’ve ever actually trusted in Jesus Christ. Guilt and shame seem to somehow still accompany those who have only trusted in their sincerity, and it may baffle them as to why this is so; I believe this comes down to the fluctuating nature of our sincerity, and if our sincerity is “strong” one day only to wane the next, we have all reason to fear though we preach the Bible and claim salvation by grace through faith alone. If we are not careful, we may miss having trusted in our intentionality in asking for forgiveness or walking an aisle in church or claiming something like the truths of the “Roman’s Road.”

Since I have grown up in mostly Baptist churches, I will speak once again to our greatest danger which is as subtle as a snake in tall grass: churches that are filled with those who have trusted in their trust and those who have trusted in Christ sharing the same room. It can cause conflict and make no sense when it’s assumed we are all on the same page, which we may not be. For this reason, it’s not crazy that there are people who sometimes in Bible-preaching churches “get saved” years after they “got saved.”

James practically gives us a sermon here in James 2:14-26. There are about five illustrations used to help explain faith and the same conclusion restated multiple times: faith without works is dead. The five examples are this:

1. V. 15-16: showing concern for others in need without giving tangible assistance
2. V. 18: comparative forms of righteousness, purely “faith” vs. purely “works” (we need both)
3. V. 19: demons believe–but do not submit to what they know is true
4. V. 21-23: Abraham offered Isaac as a sign of his faith in response to God’s test
5. V. 25: Rahab had faith that the spies were men of God and that their God was the true God

This has probably been such a contentious passage over the years for how people understood “works” and the divisions that may have been drawn over thinking that James was preaching works righteousness vs. justification by faith. Let’s be clear, he wasn’t advocating works righteousness, but calling out a professed faith that had no substance.

If you and I were in a room and I told you that I had just learned there was a bomb in the room and that it would explode in the next few minutes, would you alter your behavior? Would you run? Would you panic? Would you laugh and sit and look incredulously at me? You see, if you trusted me, you’d be running for cover and get away as far as you could. If you saw kids, you might rush to grab them and do what you could to get them to safety. You’d probably scream and warn others and all the things someone does when danger is imminent. You wouldn’t sit there and be apathetic if you believed me.

The “works” that James speaks of are the evidence of someone being persuaded of information as truth. The “works” are also evidence of trusting God. It is possible that someone doubts God or His intentions and has works; it happens all the time. This very well may be where sincerity pops up for the more Bible-based types. It’s not that we shouldn’t be sincere, by the way, but we are really called to trust God to uphold His promises to us in seeking His forgiveness and acceptance by placing our faith in Christ. Anything else, any other false savior, will only lead to a powerless “gospel” that runs more on willpower than the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. Willpower gets tiring, but God can sustain us even when our own tanks are running empty.

The hope and strength of any true believer’s relationship with God will always be the God who sustains them! If you’ve trusted in your own trust, recognize that the willpower it takes to keep being sincere can get tiring; we often learn to posture and fake it when grace-empowered lives seem quite distant. God has a better way: trust in Him, rest in the Gospel, and live knowing that you are loved by Him and secure in Christ.

Faith without works is dead. James says it again and again, and he is pointing to a trust in God that is evidenced by actions that are done out of trust. Works are as natural to faith as fans cheering for their team–but it’s a necessity that works accompany faith even if the fans don’t cheer for their team. My hope for you today is that you will consider your faith: is it legitimate or is it all talk? Where has it been placed? How has it changed you? Has it changed you?

Last thought: where we find assurance of our faith is often the breadcrumb trail leading us back to what we have been trusting in all along. If I asked you, “Why would God let you into Heaven when you died?” I wonder what you might reply. When someone says, “I prayed…” I have to wonder (not trying to judge) if their faith was in the act of asking or if it were in the promise of God being pressed upon. Remember that it’s not the quality of the request, but the God who answers the prayer.  Faith banks on God’s character, not one’s own; this is so different than how people often view religion.

Another illustration for you: if I asked you to sit in a chair and told you that the chair could hold you, would believing me be enough? Maybe you’d be satisified with that response (you don’t care to sit), but until you sat in the chair, you wouldn’t have fully trusted the chair’s ability to hold you yet. Now, if you sat down and looked at me and said, “Wow, my faith is keeping me held up on this chair,” I might laugh. You see, your sincerity is not keeping you supported, but rather, the strength of the chair. It doesn’t matter how much you trust, even if you’re sitting in the chair; the only thing keeping you up is the chair, not your “belief power.” If the chair isn’t capable of supporting you, you will fall; so too, when people place their faith in anything less than Christ, it will not end well. Translate this into a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ: it is not the fact that you trust or that your trust is so strong that you would be held secure in the grip of God, but rather that God is holding you by His will to love you, forgive you, justify you by your faith in Christ’s substitionary death on the cross and accept you as His own forever.

Please, please, please hear these words today. I don’t care if you’ve been a faithful member of a Bible preaching church for fifty years or you’re just a kid reading this, this is the distinction you must make in regards to what it means to be saved. Your eternity is at stake and both Heaven and Hell are real, whether or not that is popular in our day and age. Offense will not matter on the other side of the grave but Whom you have trusted in will. May God be with you as you consider these words today.

Yours in Christ,

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

Devotional: James 2:10-13 “Perfect in Christ”

James 2:10-13

10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.
13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

 

Today’s passage has one of the most powerful verses that speaks to all of us on the issue of sin. It’s often taught in casual ways that people are accepted into Heaven on moral grounds, the good outweighing the bad and God knowing that a person’s heart is in the right place. Most teachings about being righteous enough to inherit God’s blessing of eternal acceptance are variants of an emphasis on human performance, some teaching general goodness, some moral perfectionism, and some on religious acts of piety.

Such notions are simply untrue, because Scripture teaches even right here in James 2 that any deviation from the standard of God’s perfection is worthy of the condemnation and wrath of God Supreme. Rather than trying to console ourselves over the general goodness of humanity, we would do far better to focus on the goodness of God to a lost and dying world in the provision of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ died as a perfect sacrifice for sin upon the cross, rose again, and that all who place their faith on Him for His wrath-removing sacrifice are forgiven and incur the righteous record of Jesus Christ in the sight of God. It is honoring to God to trust in what Christ has done while a tremendous disservice to emphasize our moral performance as though that was what made us right with God. Any “gospel” that does not preach faith in Jesus Christ alone is a flimsy, man-made gospel that does not save.

Now, that being said, we ought to remember that this portion of the text comes from a line of reasoning linked by the idea of partiality, which is both ungodly and dishonorable in the sight of God. Those practicing favoritism are not behaving like God in that God Himself shows no favoritism, but freely bestows His grace upon whom He wills for His glory. In the vein of partiality, James is reminding the reader that though they be morally upstanding in many areas, if favoritism (contextually) is part of how they are treating others, they have missed the mark of God’s righteousness: they are sinners who are sinning.

Verse 11 continues the thought of verse 10 on by clarifiying, “He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” It’s interesting that in James 4:1-2, James will bring up this idea of murder again: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 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.” If we define murder by how Jesus defines it in Matthew 5:21-22, we see it goes beyond physical murder and steps back into sinful anger within: “You have heard that it was said to those of old,`You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother,`Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says,`You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” So consider this: sin is not just the physical manifestation, but also the internal intent at play. Additionally, this is a good place to be reminded of the two types of sin: sins of commission (doing what we shouldn’t) and sins of ommission (not doing what we ought to do). The more that we broaden the scope of what constitutes sin and where it takes place (in our hearts and flowing out into the world), the more it becomes impossible to deny our sinfulness if we are truly honest with God and ourselves. I think genuine believers often find that the depth of their sinfulness was hard to fathom in the early days; the further we go, the more we seem to uncover. Once again, thank God for His grace and kindness towards us in contemplating this humbling ordeal.

Verse 12, in relation to this premise, says, “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” I would suggest here that the converse to being judged by the law of liberty is to be judged by our own estimations of whether we’ve sinned or not and whether we are indeed righteous. We do not get to judge ourselves, though; this is only for God! God judges with impartiality, looking at the sin and the sinner and always judges appropriately in His determinations. The verse here is calling for us to not be partial, especially towards ourselves, in how we might estimate ourselves to be in a favorable standing before God. Only through faith in Jesus Christ can we be found righteous in the sight of God.

Verse 13: “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Personally, as I read this verse, I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:23-35:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying,`Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying,`Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying,`Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him,`You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. `Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

The standard by which we must judge others is with mercy and grace; it is in line with how God is towards us. A heart that refuses to submit to the authority of Jesus Christ, though it may claim Him as Savior, stands suspect as one that is truly won over at all to the Gospel. Acting in alignment with the heart of God is crucial in reflecting on the verity of our true spiritual nature. Now, how do we know that that’s where James is going in his line of logic? The remainder of James 2 will be focused on the concept of “faith without works is dead”; vocalized faith means nothing if it lacks the works that manifest that faith. Faith is more than just a religious stamp, more than just a subscription; it must be evidenced in the lifestyle and it will be evidenced if it truly is in our hearts.

“Mercy triumphs over judgment,” verse 13 concludes. Mercy is the act of withholding what one deserves punitively, and grace is the act of giving someone what they have not deserved or earned. Christianity is such a blessing in that being a believer means that we receive both mercy and grace from God, and both can be much more rich and complex than we often limit them to be. Mercy triumphs (which is to hold power over) judgment, which is condemnation. The mercy of God thankfully outweighs and overpowers the condemnation that we ought to have incurred. Jesus Christ suffered such condemnation in our place upon the cross, though we were the guilty party. Paul says in Romans 5:20 that “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” Those who have grasped the mercy and grace of God towards themselves are far more likely to give grace and mercy themselves.

What a powerful passage and what great consolation is the Gospel to those who believe. It is not on the basis of merit but rather God’s determination to love and save and offer hope in the cross. Our hope is not in our moral performance but in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and God’s pleasure in His Son’s atonement for sin.

Are you growing to be more like your Lord? Do you find hope in yourself or in Jesus Christ? Do you see that Jesus is enough, all you ever needed and are you resting in that? If not, you still could by placing your faith in Jesus. The hope is not in us, but in the Lord Jesus Christ, and to Him we must align and realign every day.

 

Thank you for your time and may God bless you in the contemplation of His word!

 

In Christ,

 

 

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

James 2:1-9 “Dealing with the Sin of Partiality”

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James 2:1-9

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.

2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes,
3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,”
4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?
7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well;
9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

 

We live in a world that is riddled with sin, and one of the ways that sin manifests itself is within the issue of partiality. The news actually seems to be full of the idea of partiality (or favoritism) these days, but how it addresses the issue and where it assumes the problem comes from are completely debased from Scripture. We may hear terms relative to racial privilege (by the way, not original to me, but there’s only one race, the human race) or inequality (now the bigger term is “equity”), but rather than chase things down a political rabbit hole, we’d be far better off to understand what is Scriptural. Christians, if not careful, easily go down paths of politics and so forth, but the answer has never been in fine-tuning our ability to weed out what is wrong as much as becoming grounded in what is right. Counterfeit currency has often been taught to be identified not by falsifications, but rather on what is genuine; what is false quickly is detected by being honed in on what is true.

In James’ day, the issue that he addressed was that of partiality being shown within the church. It is a matter of dispute as to what scenario James is referring to, but some scholars believe that he is talking about two people being judged by the church in a matter. This passage has often been portrayed as a worship service and the treatment of people within it, but in all likelihood is probably more parallel to other texts such as 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.  The first couple verses say this:

“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” (1 Cor. 6:1-2)

Please keep in mind that this was never advocating that the legal system be bypassed where laws had been broken. Many of the things a church may address may very well be sinful and wrong, yet not technically against the law. The early church was family in ways we often do not understand in American culture; to follow Christ meant cultural ostracization, potentially losing jobs, safety, etc. Christian community was perhaps the only community many of the early church believers had once they had decided to follow Christ.

Even in the earliest part of the church, “there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellinists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1). We could also see something similiar in Philippians 4:2-3 where it says, “I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.” It says in 1 Timothy 5:19-20, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” Notice that there is a common thread throughout the New Testament, which is the judging and discerning in matters within the church and the authoritative nature of those decisions.

So, back to our passage: “do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ…with partiality.” This is the primary command of this portion of the text, which is followed by the reasoning behind not only the command but also the illustration of the failure. “For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” James is pointing out the problem by showing us the differences in the people’s responses and the pride that fuels such a response. The rich were treated with honor whereas the poor were treated with contempt. James highlights the externals of both the rich and the poor and that on such a flimsy basis, people are showing partiality (this will be contrasted later with the character of these individuals versus their outer attire).

James’ audience are supposedly followers of Jesus who believe in grace (unmerited favor), but the favor that they give is “merited,” even though it hasn’t been earned from them at all. The term for “evil” refers to morally worthless thoughts, the judges using morally worthless thoughts as their guide rather than faith. Why would they do that? Treating the rich with favoritism has the p

otential advantage of return, whereas treating the poor with favoritism may have little if any social return. It’s no wonder that these verses fall on the heels of the last verses of James 1, which speaks of true religion (God-fearing) as looking out for orphans and widows and keeping one’s self unspotted from the world. Looking out for orphans and widows would have only been an act of love, not an act with return in

mind. It would probably have cost far more to help these neglected groups than to not help them, and this steps into Chapter Two’s words on partiality.

James reminds the recipients of his letter with these words in vv. 5-7: “Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?” Does poverty make a person favored in the sight of God? No, it doesn’t, because salvation is not based upon what we had or didn’t have in this life, but only based upon faith in Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Poor people, though, can often only rest in the richness of faith (trusting God for needs) when they go without and the greatest hope of a poor believer is a rich inheritance in Heaven.  There is poverty in America, but there is often massive poverty in third world countries and many believers in those countries may go without much at all until glory. Some people will follow Christ and die in poverty or oppression, hunger and thirst. I do not say that to belittle their lot, but to be reminded that following Jesus does not mean that life will be easy, and in fact it may be very hard even until the end.

The value of a person comes from God’s love for them and His design of them, not from their knowledge, achievements, finances, popularity or power. When we forget why God values people and run on pride-based valuations of others, we will judge some better than others, to be sure. In the Gospel, though, all are equal in their destiny and God’s love and sacrifice for them. He makes us each different and diverse based upon His determinations, not our worth and despite our backgrounds and experiences, we are each offered the very same Gospel with the same benefits.

Additionally, James reminds the people that the rich actually caused them a great deal of problems, such as “dragging them” into courts and blaspheming Christ. They did not act in a godly fashion or evidence faith in their behavior, but they had received favorable treatment for their social status. Losing sight of the blessings of God in exchange for the short-term benefits of human esteem will always be a challenge we must fight against in this life. We all want to be treated well and nobody ever really took well to being treated poorly, did they?

The last part of today’s passage says this to us: “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” Take note that James speaks with royal terms here: a noble name and a royal law. Christians are children of the King of the universe, God Himself. We were saved by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ. Every believer is part of the heavenly royal family. Unity cannot be attained nor partiality eschewed unless hearts are united to Christ by faith and living in submission to His authority. Sin is the problem and if we don’t label it as such, we will only seek social reformation rather than soul regeneration.

Partiality throws us back into carnal ways of judging others, and it is a transgression; it is a sin. The only way to properly deal with partiality is to place ourselves under the authority of the Gospel, to believe every day the truth that people are saved by grace rather than works or merits, and that God sent His Son Jesus Christ to the cross with a love for humanity. In Christ, we are all equally loved by our Father, brothers and sisters in the Lord. Praise God that He loves people like you and me enough to not only save us but also sanctify us and prepare us for an eternal home with Him in Heaven.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration of God’s word today!

 

 

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

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

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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.