Jewels from James
2004-06-22 – “Trouble”
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Jam1:2-4
It would be a lot better if the second word in James 1:2 was _if_ and not _when_!
Sometimes we get fooled into thinking that allegiance to Christ is a guarantee of the absence of trouble. James knocks that notion out of the ballpark!
Jesus warned His followers that His peace was not like the peace of the world. The world reckons peace to be the absence of trouble. Jesus and James’ arithmetic is different: trouble + grace = peace.
One might even define James’ attitude as masochistic: His attitude to trouble and hardship is joyful acceptance – “bring it on!” But is he really masochistic? A masochist likes to be hurt. James does not concentrate on the hurt or hardship, but on the results: perseverance, maturity, and completeness. James is not interested in the beginning of the process as the end.
To _this_ end, it would be better to define James as an opportunist. Trouble is an opportunity to grow. Like a muscle that can only be developed through load-bearing, our faith must be pulled, stretched, loaded and burdened before we can really grow. As far as my faith is concerned, I want to have depth, insight, wisdom, stickability, and courage. The road to that destination leads through the badlands and wastelands of life.
Trouble is not to be sought or enjoyed, but when trouble comes knocking, there is a sure and deep certainty (joy) that while God is not the author of trouble (we’ll see this in a few days time), He _will_ be with me and can use this experience to help me grow as long as I sidestep the temptation to become bitter and cynical.
2004-06-23 – “Wisdom”
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord, he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. Jam1:5-8
What is James’ response to trouble? Should we pray for a way out – for the absence of trouble? Not a chance! To gain the perserverance, maturity, and completeness that trouble can lead us to, we don’t need to be rescued as much as we need wisdom.
Wisdom is seeing things from God’s perspective. It is the ability to see the bigger picture. WIsdom helps us to sort our feelings, convictions, and faith into the right order. It is the clear guidance we need to see the truth in the midst of the lies that our feelings and circumstances dish up. Wisdom is the Divine counsel of the Holy Spirit who is at work in our hearts showing us how to live. It is the practical, common-sense, no-nonsense approach to life that cuts past the deceptions and half-truths to see reality as it really is.
And God wants to give us this wisdom – in fact, He longs to give it to us. We don’t have to pass an exam to get it, we don’t have to be perfect before He helps us.
But there is one requirement: We must not doubt like an unstable person.
I used to struggle with this… The thing that makes a trial a trial is the very fact that we _do_ doubt. If we did not doubt, then it wouldn’t be a trial!
But James is speaking about a specific _kind_ of doubt. A wave of the sea is blown and tossed by its circumstances. A wave of the sea is up and down and unstable. A double-minded man who is unstable in all he does is a man who has surrendered to his feelings and has made no effort to take hold of truth.
If we are allowing ourselves to be driven by our feelings and emotions then we are not really in a position to receive wisdom from the Lord. In order to receive God’s wisdom in our lives we need to begin to bring rampant emotionalism under control in order for God’s truth to begin to penetrate our confusion.
The problem is not that we are emotional – but that we let our emotions drive us. When we begin to tell our emotions the truth about God’s love and care, then we are in a position to hear His voice and receive His guidance.
The prayer for wisdom is a prayer that God loves to answer!
2004-06-24 – “Temptation”
When tempted no one should say “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, leads to death. Jam1:13-15
When Trouble, Trials, and Temptation (the unholy trinity of t’s) come across our paths, we wonder at the source of it. Is it God? Is it us? Is it just the brokenness of the world? James now examines the worst of the three: Temptation.
If God is somehow actively involved in temptation, then it is He who sets us up for a fall. This is difficult to reconcile with our picture of Him as a God of love. To be sure, there is a fine line here: God in love has given us free will: we _can_ choose, in fact, we _must_ choose. But does God predispose us toward the wrong choices, does He willingly and consciously place us in situations where we _will_ make wrong choices?
James’ answer is “No!” God is holy and therefore is not tempted or given to tempting us. There is a human process that leads us _into_ temptation and into the wrong choices.
Here’s the process:
1. A simple reality of life is that we are faced with choices. We have the ability to resist evil, but we _can_ make wrong choices if we _entertain_ the choice.
2. Our sinful nature tempts us when we entertain the choice and play around with the possibilities. James says our evil desires will drag us away and entice us. It is like a roller-coaster inching upward to the top of the big dip. When it gets to the top and encounters the first centimetre of downhill, nothing will stop it.
3. When desire gets its way, then it causes the conception of sin and all the heartache that goes with it.
4. The sadness is that when we give birth to sin once, we are more inclined to do it again. We become more temptable and more drag-awayable!
Maybe an analogy is helpful. A young girl falls pregnant in the backseat of her boyfriend’s car. When did they cross from temptation to desire and sin? When they moved to the backseat? When the touching moved to the clothed areas? When he took off her clothes? Or when they stopped the car at a quiet spot? If they were to tell the truth, the trouble started when they parked the car – that was the start of the uphill to the big dip.
Everytime we give in to sin, desire gains strength. The cure is confession and forgiveness. When we confess our sin, we put desire in its place and as we receive God’s forgiveness, He roots out the brokeness in us so that we are less temptable.
There are two prayers of Jesus that are worth remembering:
- The Lord’s Prayer: Lead us not _into_ temptation – i.e. Help us resist the pull of our evil nature.
- The prayer for Peter: “Satan has asked to thresh you like wheat, but I have prayed for you Peter that your faith will not fail.”
2004-06-25 – “Gifts”
16 Don’t be deceived my dear brothers.
17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the Heavenly Lights who does not change like shifting shadows. Jam1:16-17
There is some debate about whether vs 16 belongs to the section about temptation (which we looked at yesterday) or whether it is connected to vs.17. I think it really serves as a bridge between the first 15 verses and the affirmation of verse 17.
Verses 1-15 look at the reality of trials and hardships, our need for wisdom, the reality of poverty and the transcience of wealth, and the problem of temptation: the struggles we have in the world today. When we look at all the struggles we face – hardship and inequality without and temptation within – it is very easy for us to be deceived: We can very easily forget that God is good!
So James warns us: Don’t be sucked into cycnicism and negativity. There is a lot of good and beauty in life and it is not accidental! It is not random or circumstantial – it comes from an unchangingly gracious and good God!
The heavenly lights – sun, moon, and stars – are amongst the few certainties in life! They represent stability and rythm. God is the Father of these comforting symbols. It is _He_ who gave the sun its warmth, the moon its beauty, and the moon their comforting quantity and sparkle.
Greek Philosophers said that life on earth was a flickering shadow on a cave wall where a small fire was burning. God is not a shadow, He is not even a small flickering fire! He is the Father of the heavenly lights and He does not change like the fire and the shadows!
So don’t be deceived! In the midst of the struggles of life there is the distinct presence of that which is beautiful and precious. This is not accidental but deliberate fingerprints of a good God who wants to make us and life beautiful.
The deception is to stop really living – verse 17 urges us to embrace the good gifts of life and worship the Giver!
2004-06-28 – “Doing”
Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Jam1:22
We have more tools and access to the Bible than ever before. One my shelves I have more than 12 translations, I have a Bible on CD and I can access the Bible on the internet.We can download Bible Studies, Sermons, and other Bible-related stuff from a plethora of sites on the Internet.
If one thinks about the revival in Europe that took place because Gutenberg’s printing press made the Scriptures available to the masses, then one would not be blamed for thinking that this incredible availability of Biblical material would benefit society. Unfortunately this has not happened.
James gives us the reason: It is quite possible for us to become so familiar with Scripture that we lose a sense of its soul-paring qualities. The author of the letter to the Hebrews likens Scripture to a sharp double-edged sword that is sharp enough to do spiritual surgery. It seems that James’ audience had a great deal of access to the Scriptures, but that the impact of this exposure was limited.
Good Bible knowledge is commendable – even desirable – but if there is not a corresponding willingness to be allow ourselves to be operated on, then there is a danger that our knowledge would be wasted. James extends his instruction with an illustration. A man who hears but does not do is like a man who looks intently at himself in a mirror, studying every detail and taking note of every feature and then forgetting what he looks like when he walks away. The absurdity is almost laughable, and yet, when we do not put the Word we read into practice, we are almost as absurd as this man! One the other hand, the man who continues to look intently into the law, continuing and not forgetting, and putting it into practice – he will be blessed.
I have often heard people say that we must be doers. But James says more – we must continue to hear and then we must do.
So…. Are you a hearer? Or a hearer-doer?
2004-06-29 – “Contrasts”
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. Jam1:27
I have never liked stereotypes – particularly in the church. During the 1980’s there was a fairly clear division in the wider church between the so-called Evangelicals and the so-called Ecumenicals. While there were many alleged differences, the one that was the most interesting was the Ecumenical emphasis on social action – helping the needy – compared with Evangelicals’ stress on personal holiness.
The Ecumenicals argued that feeding the hungry was witness enough – one should not push personal piety down people’s throats. The Evangelicals said that one should get one’s own house in order before going out to the aid of others – and, of course, they did not get to the second part.
James doesn’t see these two as a dichotomy. A faith system (that’s what the word used for “religion” implies) should be a very healthy balance between getting out there and helping others, and, at the same time, avoiding
compromise with worldly principles. It is interesting that James put the “getting out there” before the “get your house in order.” If we put it the other way around, we will _never_ be completely right and so will _never_ go
Real living faith is faith with heart and hands – or more accurately – hands and heart. It is not that James has isolated these two things as two arbitary qualities of a vibrant faith system – instead, James offers these as the two opposite ends of a vast continium of living, meaningful piety.
Where are you in the continium?
Fairly good at personal devotion but a bit unconcerned about the needy?
Or are you quite an activist – working for the needy and the poor – but too busy for God?
Or maybe, like me, you’re a little bit stuck in the middle – needing to reach out to others, but also needing to let go of the comfort of our world and its values and becoming more in tune with the beat of God’s heart.
To change the metaphor: James 1:27 is the “spirit level” by which we can measure the buildings of faith that we are building. A wall can lean front-to-back or left-to-right. We can be lacking in outreach and we can we lacking in upreach. My prayer is that we find balance and build well.
2004-06-30 – “Favoritism”
1 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism…
8 If you really keep the royal command found in Scripture “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. Jam2:1-9
I was tempted to skip over this section – is this really a jewell from James? Then James’ use of Christ’s full title in verse 1 grabbed my attention: When James urges them with this kind of intensity, then it is worth noting! As believers in the _glorious_Lord_Jesus_Christ, favoritism is not an option.
The issue was that wealthy folk would come to church and be given nice seats, while the poor were to sit on the floor or stand at the back. Favoritism is an insidious thing: It tempts us to judge the book by its cover and to evaluate people at face or bank-balance value.
This kind of favoritism is unacceptable for a number of reasons:
= It goes against the principle of loving our neighbour as ourselves.
= The poor have a special place in God’s kingdom
= Jesus lived among and mixed with the poor during His incarnation.
If the GLORIOUS LORD JESUS CHRIST did not consider equality with God something to be grasped and if He humbled Himself and took the form and nature of a servant, then there is no way that we can show favoritism.
But let’s think about that in our own lives…
What criteria do we use to categorise people?
Are we guilty of discrimination?
Do we judge people by their clothes, income, race, culture?
It has no place in the body of Christ.
2004-07-01 – “Faith”
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead. Jam2:14-17
There are two deadly enemies to true, living vibrant faith. Interestingly enough, these dangers are opposites.
The first danger is Legalistic Faith, where faith is reduced to a rule book of do’s and don’ts. This is very safe faith, it is simple and straight-forward: Just stick to the rules and all will be fine! What is lost is the vibrant flexibility of real faith in real life. It requires no personal relationship with Jesus.
The second danger is Philosophical Faith, where faith is an academic exercise. It is a matter of thinking “positive thoughts” It really doesn’t matter what we do or how we do it as long as we can justify it in our minds.
This is the danger facing the scattered Christians that James is addressing here. He spends the rest of the chapter working through this critical issue. Mind-over-matter and positive thinking will not feed the widow who is without food! Intellectualised faith will not clothe the naked. Faith without action is dead.
Real faith leads to changed actions. Real faith will affect the way we interact with the reality of our day to day lives. The gratitude I feel for my new life in Christ must affect the way I treat others. If I am aware of the mercy God has shown me, surely I will treat others with mercy?
James is radical. Faith that does not lead to action is no faith at all. It is empty, ugly, meaningless philosophy and it indicates that we have no real experience of the love and life of Christ.
Changed lives are the sure indicator of a real encounter with the living Christ. Unchanged lives are evidence that we have not really come to grips with the sacrifice that Jesus made for us.
Here’s some applicable bumper-sticker-wisdom:
“Christ invested His life in you. Have you shown any interest?”
2004-07-02 – “Risk”
Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. Jam3:1
And here I thought being a soldier or a racing driver or a stuntman was a risky profession!
Those who teach take on an awesome responsibility. Those who are taught by them open their minds and hearts to the influence and input of the teacher. That openness can be abused by a teacher through malice or neglect. A teacher can misinform by not being thorough or by saying one thing and by living another way. A teacher can mislead by presenting certain facts to arrive at desired conclusions. Finally a teacher can crush the spirit of a learner by abusing the trust placed in them.
James tells us that God will hold teachers _very_ responsible for their influence or lack of influence in the lives of those entrusted to them.
Although James is talking about those who teach in the context of the faith, any form of teaching is a calling that should be considered very carefully. How often do you pray for those who teach our children? It is deplorable that our teachers are so poorly regarded and badly paid. They carry an awesome responsibility. Please do take time to give thanks for those who have taught you.
2004-07-05 – “Tongues”
2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. 3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal…
5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell…
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Jam3:2-12
I’m appalled at the number of times that my words can cause an incredible amount of pain and confusion. There are many areas in my life where I am well disciplined and manage to keep things in check. I like my food, but I’ve managed to keep my weight down. I manage to stay reasonably fit and pay the price to get the necessary exercise. I am quite disciplined in terms of my duties and responsibilities… _But_ I stll say stupid insensitive things, I still bend the truth, and I still say unkind things about people.
In the line of work I am called to, words and language are important. One would expect that I because I deal with words such a lot, I have an advantage. The truth is that even though I know the power of words, I can still abuse them.
James uses 3 analogies: a bridle, a rudder, and a fire. Two images are basically constructive and the third is destructive. Words can build up – helping give direction, meaning, and purpose – or they can destroy: eroding confidence and self-worth. In each analogy the tongue is likened to something small that is very powerful. We should always take cognisance of the fact that our words _do_ matter. We should be counting them as they leave our lips and checking them before we speak them.
To give you some idea of the power of your words, think about the people who have “spoken” into your lives. Think about the power that their few words of praise and appreciation have had, and think about the devastation wreaked by unkind words. Even truth, when dished up without love, can be brutal and crippling.
Verse 2 is the starting point and the ultimate challenge of the passage. The more control we have over our tongues, the more control we will have elsewhere too. Our tongues can define the direction of our lives.
Jesus reminded us that what is inside a person comes out of their mouths. (Mt.12:34)
There are a few laws when it comes to the tongue:
-We should be quick to listen and slow to speak.
-Even a fool can appear wise if he keeps his mouth shut.
-Make sure brain in engaged when putting mouth into gear.
-God gave us two ears and one mouth… Go figure!
-As Christians our words should be seasoned with grace – not negativity and cynicism
- and finally…
“Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbour and says “I was only joking!” (Prov.26:18-19)
And so, a prayer – “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight oh Lord.”
2004-07-06 – “Wisdom2″
But the wisdom that is from above is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness Jam3:17-18
In the preceding verses James speaks about another kind of wisdom. This is the “wisdom” that comes from our ambitions, desires, and self-centeredness. It is ultimately earthly, unspiritual, and of the devil. There are people out there who are smart, shrewd, and very capable of getting their way by hook or by crook. But their brand of wisdom is not one we should be buying.
There is a good way to test where our “wisdom” is coming from. When we face a problem and we come up with a solution, here are the questions that we have to ask before we assume that we have found the right solution…
* First of all – is it pure? Are we bending or breaking rules to achieve our objective? We need to be careful of this!
* Is it peace-loving? Will it bring people closer together or divide them?
* Is it considerate? For the Christian the most important person is the one who has the smallest voice. We have to make sure that we do not walk over the quiet, the sensitive, and the vulnerable.
* Is it submissive? We can take ourselves too seriously. Are we throwing _our_ weight around or trying to assert our authority? Is our “wisdom” an act of rebellion?
* Is it full of mercy and good fruit? Will our “wisdom” taste good for others? It should not just be fair, but kind. It should not only be just, but bear good fruit!
* Is it impartial? This is very hard, but have we looked at it from all sides? This is particularly true in the context of a conflict situation.
* Is it sincere? If my solution requires me to withhold information or pretend to be something that I am not, I need to be deeply suspicious of my “wisdom.”
Finally, James reminds us that there is a reward for those who work at making peace. Rick Warren says it is easy to be a peace-lover or to be peaceable, but it is very hard work to be a peacemaker. Our wisdom, to be real wisdom, must come from a clear commitment to peace.
When next you face a problem and have to come up with a solution, try pouring it through this sieve. If it gets stuck anywhere – if any of your answers to the above questions is “no” then you need to re-examine your wisdom!
2004-07-07 – “Roots”
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have , because you do not ask God. When you ask you do not receive because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. Jam4:1-3
The roots of the world’s brokenness lie inside us. In spite of our advancement and “enlightenment” we are still broken people. In spite of our technology, psychology, and methology, we are still at war in our homes, in our work places, in our churches, and within ourselves.
Why? Because we continue to have this God-shaped vacuum in each of us. Whenever we ask Him to fill us, we can be at peace. The problem is that we leak, and when we are empty then the desires begin to be at war again.
What is the solution? We need to ask God to fill us again. But He is not a divine vending machine. When we remain narcissistic, self-centred, and self-absorbed, then He cannot help us. Our motive for wanting Him in our lives is very important. He is not interested in being a God who fits into our mould and does things the way we want them done – He comes on His own terms. CS Lewis in his “Narnia Chronicles” – where Christ is portrayed by a lion named Aslan – has one of his characters say “Aslan is not a tame lion…”
Help is a prayer away, renewal of our hearts is the door to real change, and our willingness to let God have the things we have held back is the key to the door.
These are tough truths, but truths nevertheless!
2004-07-08 – “Submission”
Submit yourselves then to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Jam4:7
This verse is often quoted, especially in the context of so-called spiritual warfare, and then usually only the second half of the verse.
This is a beautiful verse and promise, but it has a clear context: James is talking about worldliness. In verse 4 he speaks about being friends with the world, and in verse 8-10 he talks about repentance from worldliness.
The temptation to conform to the world, to be squeezed into its mould, is massive. Whether it is the world’s greed or its desires, the hunger for power or just the hunger for more, we have a hard time remaining focussed on the Kingdom of God. How do we resist Satan who masquerades as an angel of light enticing us to give in to his compromises?
Firstly, we submit to God! Like a wrestler who is caught in an inescapable grip, we stop resisting and struggling. We submit to an awesome and incredible love that stubbornly and relentlessly pursues us and grips us. God is longing to set us free from the world and he will continue to grip us and ask us to give Him everything. When we do, the world will have no place to grab hold of us.
Secondly, we resist Satan. Having submitted to God, there is still the possibility that we can foolishly try to have two masters. We are tempted to think that when we have handed over we can relax, but this is often when temptation is the hardest to resist. But when we keep our guard up and we are focussed, then we can resist and he will leave. Any move to dabble with our past or with things of the world has a very big probability of absolute disaster!
As Christians we are strongest when we are on our knees!
2004-07-09 – “Boasting”
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Jam4:13-16
When I was a child growing up in the Gereformeerde Kerk I was always puzzled at the letters “DV” that were placed behind many of the proposed activities in the church calendar. I had to ask quite a few people before I got the answer… DV stood for “Deo Volente” which is Latin for “If the Lord wills it.” This passage from James is one of the main reasons for this tradition.
We as human beings become self-important very quickly. It is _our_ lives, _our_ plans, _our_ schedules, _our_ jobs, _our_ bodies, _our_ choices, and _our_ time. Like the church in the 1700’s which believed that the earth was the centre of the universe, we need the Copernican shift which reminds us that just as the earth revolves around the sun, life does not revolve around us, but around the Son!
James strikes out at two issues: The first is that we believe that we are in control and that it is all about us and secondly that we talk and behave so that others conclude that God is not part of our lives.
This passage calls us to an attitude of dependent humility – life is to be lived with an openess to God’s intervention in our nicely made plans. We should live, aware that He is the architect and we are the contractors, while most of us live as architects trying to get God to build the things we want and then stamping our feet when He doesn’t comply!
It is not wrong to plan, lack of planning is a sign of immaturity. Planning must simply be done with a healthy dose of humility – being humble enough to listen to God and humble enough to accept the changes He makes along the way. This should be especially evident in the way we speak. We don’t need to append “DV’s” behind every phrase, but humility rather than arrogant self-centredness should be conveyed in our speech.
2004-07-13 – “Wealth”
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you… Jam5:1
This verse is part of six verses at the beginning of chapter 5 in which James addresses the wealthy. Very few commentators feel that the wealthy are actually part of the congregation. One of the most helpul commentators has suggested that the whole letter was actually a sermon that was preached and that James would have paced up and down in the room where the congregation met and at this point one could imagine him hanging out the window yelling these words at the luxury houses across the river. When his harangue had finished one could imagine him mopping his brow and in a quiet voice, picking up at verse 7, he would address the congregation again: “Be patient then…”
Wealth is a tricky issue in the New Testament. Jesus repeatedly warns us that our riches can hold us back and prevent us from enjoying a meaningful relationship with Him. For us who are wealthy – and I consider myself wealthy… (If we have two cars, a house, a fridge, a stove, and nice beds we are wealthy!) – the challenges of the New Testament are very scary indeed!
James has a couple of complaints against the wealthy: (These are found in v.2-6)
1.They have piled up so much wealth that it is starting to rot – rather than help others, they let their money just pile up without letting it work to help others.
2.They have been hoarders – rather than let others who need it have, the wealthy have gathered much more than they have needed.
3.They have paid unjust wages. Just because people are desperate for work does not mean that they should be paid as little as possible.
4.They have lived in luxury and self-indulgence. They have been entirely self-focussed.
5.They have condemned and murdered innocent people – not so much by their action, but by their inaction.
For those of us who are wealthy, we need to do a self-examination very carefully. I wouldn’t want James to be yelling out the window in the direction of my house!
2004-07-14 – “Patience”
Be patient, then, brothers and sisters until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and sporing rains. You too be patient and stand firm because the Lord’s coming is near. Jam5:7-8
I planted some bulbs this year: Rununculus, Fresias, and Anenomes. Caleb helped me and he was very excited about the process. When the Fresias popped up 3 weeks later he was delighted! Only 3 rununculus (rununculi?) have come up and none of the anenomes. I am obviously not a great farmer, because my impatience got the better of me and I eventually starteded to dig to ascertain whether the bulbs had been duds or if they had been gobbled by something. What it looks like is that the combination of a 3 year old assistant and the rush of planting in the late evening before it got dark meant that quite a few bulbs got planted too deep and some of them were upside down! But wonderously the clever little bulb has figured out its own bearings and having grown past itself is on its way to the surface – the only intervention required from me is not to mess with it and to be patient!
Sometimes life is like that too! We are so tempted to try to be in 100% control! The truth is that we are not and that we cannot be! Many of us are complete control freaks when it comes to life. One of the things that we must learn is that even when it seems as though things are out of our control and even when we have made serious mistakes along the way, it is still best for us to let go of the things that we are not good at and learn to be patient.
What we learn is dependence and that God is dependable even if He is not predicatable.
2004-07-15 – “Words”
Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear – not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes and your “No”, no or you will be condemned. Jam5:12
Returning again to the issue of the tongue and that our ability to control our tongues is an accurate measure of maturity, James speaks here about consistency in our speech. The issue with making oaths is that it immediately implies that there are degrees of truth – that if I say “yes” there is a certain level of trustworthiness attached to that, and that if I say “Yes, by the Zeus” _then_ there is a higher level of trustworthiness.
What James is pursuing here is a fundamental commitment to integrity – that there should never have to be qualifiers for our truthfulness. This is an issue Jesus was also very direct about: Verbal integrity, from the size of the fish I caught, to where I was last night, is vital to our identity as Christians.
This is much more of a struggle than one thinks. I was late for a meeting the other day. The day had been crazy and I had had more pressures on me than I would have liked. It was very tempting to exaggerate the reasons why I was late. My dad once arrived late at a conference and the guest speaker got my Dad’s colleagues to bet on which excuse he would use. He walked in and said “I’m late! I’m sorry!” and was greatly surprised when all the folk packed out laughing. It won him a great deal of respect when he did not try to do a verbal cover-up.
It is always tempting to exaggerate how busy we are or how tough it has been.
We flatter, we mislead with our words and Jesus calls us to simple integrity – even and especially in our words!
- Am I often feeling the need to back up my statements with explanations?
- Am I prone to exaggeration and embellishment?
- Do I suffer from a bad case of verbal lack-of-integrity?
- Can my life match my words?
2004-07-16 – “Pray!”
Is any of you in trouble? He should pray… Jam5:13
One would think that James shouldn’t need to tell us to do this, but he does because we don’t! There are all sorts of sayings like “There are no atheists in foxholes” and as students we noticed that church was fuller around exam time, but the sobering reality is that especially amongst Christians, the people who know how to pray, there is often a very sad tendency to turn to prayer as an absolute last resort – that if there is nothing else that we can do, we can pray.
I see this especially in my own life: When I encounter a problem, I employ all my skills, talents and resources and it is only when all these have failed and I get over my resentment about the failure that I pray. By then the damage wreaked by my independent spirit has been done.
“Ah ” you will say “but, we should also learn to take responsibility and be mature – God isn’t going to solve all our problems for us, we have to _do_ something.” This is true, but only half-true… Our best efforts are most effective when they are guided by Divine Insight and strengthened by the undergirding of the Holy Spirit, and when our efforts are driven by a clear grasp of the Big Picture – God’s not ours.
This brings us back to the very beginning of James where we were reminded that the best prayer to pray is the prayer for wisdom. When we’re in trouble, the best prayer to pray – right up front – is this one:
“Lord, I’m facing a crisis today. Please help me to be perceptive and to use my resources as wisely as possible. Show me where I need to use the gifts you have given me and help me to walk the fine line between childish over-dependent reliance and rebellious self-centred independence. May I be wise enough to use my gifts and abilities to _Your_ glory and may I be humble enough to rely on Your help where I need it.”
Or maybe the famous “Serenity prayer”
“God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change
courage to change the things I can
and wisdom to know the difference.”
2004-07-20 – “Sing!”
Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Jam5:13
Not only does our stubborn pride prevent us from asking for help when we need it, but our preoccupation with ourselves and our schedules undermines our willingness and openess to celebrate life.
For many of us life has ceased to be good for no other reason than the simple fact that we have forgotten to celebrate the moments of happiness and joy. The pace and compexity of life, the moments of sadness, and our self-centredness crowd out our ability to be wonder-filled and awestruck at the beauty and bounty of life.
James’ solution? Sing! When life offers you something beautiful, stop, take notice, and SING! Throw your head back, lose those inhibitions, make a choice to be lost in the moment and celebrate! So often of our hearts are dead and dull from the drudgery of the rat race and the pain along the way. The road to life is found in choosing to luxuriate in the abundance of beauty that life offers in the midst of sadness and trouble.
The scriptures urge us to be joyful because this is a decision and an act of the will – this is something that we must be proactive about. Conversely, to be happy is a response. It is a reaction to something in life that makes it all worthwhile and when these responses well up in us, we should celebrate!
But James’ advice is not just therapy – it’s not just being upbeat and focussing on the positives. It’s not only counting your blessings so that the pros outweigh the cons. We are to sing songs of PRAISE. Not only do we need to be disciplined enough to notice life’s goodness and courageous enough to celebrate its abundance, but we need to be mindful that our happiness is the fingerprint of the Creator and to burst forth in spontaneous praise!
God is the Source and the Author of all good things. Do you remember chapter one? “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” The beauty of the sunrise, the hug of a child, the warmth of a home, the wind in my hair, and the contentment of family are all signposts pointing to an abundant, overflowing, gracious, abounding God who longs to fill our lives with fullness. When we _celebrate_ HIS goodness and _bask_ in HIS love, we truly live!
2004-07-21 – “Healing”
14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective Jam5:14-16
The whole thrust of these closing paragraphs in James’ sermon-letter is a picture of warm intimacy with God. Are we in trouble? Pray! Is life good? Sing praises to God. Are you sick? Be prayed for! Are you feeling separated from God? Confess!
At our congregation in the last couple of years we have started inviting people forward at our communion service and anointing them with oil as we pray for them. No, the oil is not magic – it is a _symbol_ of Holy Spirit’s anointing and power. It is an aid to our weak faith, and in _some_ ways, like the bread and wine and the water of baptism, it is a means of grace, a conduit through which God comforts, reassures, and heals us. These services are quiet, gentle, dignified, and wonderfully uplifting for the ones being prayed for and the ones doing the praying. And James is quick to attribute healing to the prayer of faith and not the oil!
There is a link between sin and healing. Unfortunately many people conclude that all sickness is the result of sin. Sin _can_ cause sickness, but not always. More importantly, awareness of my sin can drive a wedge into my relationship with God making it hard for me to _receive_ healing. For some reason we carry our sense of guilt around with us long after Jesus has forgiven us. Often too, there are issues in our lives that God would want to have sorted out _before_ we can move on and by asking us to confess them James is ensuring that must let go of our secrets. When I am trying to get rid of an evil habit, it is amazing how effective confession is. Especially if I ask someone to pray with me.
The prayer of a righteous man is also misunderstood… This is not so much a person who is perfect, but a person who is forgiven. Again it has to do with warm intimacy with God. When I confess my brokenness and I regularly allow God to cleanse me and purify me and work in my brokenness, I am righteous – not in myself, but through Him.
Healing is a complex dynamic. This passage must be read in its wider context. Warm and intimate vulnerability in our relationship with God and His people brings about answers to prayer and healing and restoration. These verses are not so much a recipe that we use from time to time, but a lifestyle!
2004-07-22 – “Elijah”
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops. Jam5:17-18
Continuing in the theme of prayer, James now gives an example of someone who prayed. I must admit that initially I wondered why James would use Elijah as an example and why he would use the incident of the rain, rather than the raising of the widow’s son, or the miraculous lighting of the altar fire.
It is quite possible that Elijah is used as an example _because_ we see a very human side to him when he flees from Jezebel and needs to be comforted and restored by God. When James tells us that Elijah was a man just like us, we are left in little doubt about this because we know of Elijah’s period of depression.
When one looks at Elijah’s prayers for rain, this is also interesting: When the rain is stopped, we have no record of Elijah’s prayer, but rather an announcement to the king that it will not rain again. After the triumph over the prophets of Baal, Elijah tells king Ahab to go home and eat and drink because he had heard the sound of great rain. Then we are told that Elijah sent his servant to go to the edge of the mountain and to look for rainclouds while he himself remained crouched with his head between his knees. The servant reported back six times that there were no clouds and it was only after the seventh time that he saw “a cloud like a man’s hand” and Elijah knew that his prayer had been answered.
There are a few facets to the picture given to us here:
- Elijah is the conduit through which God accomplishes His work. Elijah knew prophetically that it would rain, and then he participated in its happening by prayer.
- Elijah prayed earnestly (In the Greek James has “He prayed prayerfully” or “He prayed and prayed” – i.e. he uses two forms of the same Greek verb for prayer) The earnestness is indicated by his body language and the repetition of his prayers. Repeated prayers are not necessarily a lack of faith!
- Prayer can have an impact on the natural order – in this example rain – and this is very important to remember in the context of prayers for healing.
- The “intervention” of Elijah’s prayer was in the area of rain. He did not have to pray for the crops to grow and for the ground to bring forth food. Sometimes people who have been healed carry on being dependent. They are like land that has had rain but does not produce crops. Divine intervention can and does come at critical points, but then we have to get on with it!
To conclude: If Elijah’s prayers were effective, so ours can be effective. From Elijah we learn to be persistent and earnest in praying for the accomplishment of God’s will which He often has already revealed to us. Martin Luther said: “The real miracle is not that God _answers_ prayer, but that He _inspires_ prayer!”
2004-07-23 – “Sheep”
My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins. Jam5:19-20
To me it is quite fitting that James should end this challenging sermon-letter on this abrupt but challenging, hopeful and yet uncomfortable note. After all the pokes and prods that we have received throughout, I find this one very relevant for the church today.
Today there is quite a prominent mindset sweeping the church that can be summed up as follows: “The church is for people who are _committed_ to Christ, we are therefore going to expend our energy and focus on the committed people and not on the periphery members.” This is good business practice: it is the old 80-20 principle – 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people and so one should concentrate on them!
Jesus and James do not subscribe to this policy! Jesus lifts up the example of the shepherd who leaves the 99 “good” sheep to go in search of the 1 lost one, and here James urges us to pursue the stumbling and failing “uncommitted.” The point is that these people need to be reached _before_ they completely harden their hearts.
This does not mean that we have to condone sin or approve of what they have done. Paul describes disciplinary processes in the church that are specifically applied in order to highlight the potential loss of fellowship and membership to the wanderer in order to shock them into the reality of the consequences of the path they have chosen. Church discipline is not about punishment, but about restoration.
I know that the truth is that I am often much too quick to write people off and leave them to their own devices. The wonderful incredible truth is that there is abundant forgiveness available and that the path they are on will lead them to hardened hearts and ultimate brokeness. I have quite a bit of thinking to do!