Archive for the ‘James’ Category

James 5

James 5 confronts the reality of riches when used incorrectly.  “Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you….You have laid up treasureYou have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence”.  There is nothing wrong with money.  It’s how we respond to money that matters.  All the money on the planet belongs to God.  When we lose sight of that, and think somehow it is our own, we slide down a slippery slope of greed and idolatry that will lead to God’s response. “You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you”. There will be a price to pay for living rich.

It doesn’t necessarily happen quickly.  God tells us to be patient. “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains”.  Everything happens in its time.  And we are not in control, of the rain, or God’s return.  So how we live matters.  Not only with our money, but also in how we relate to each other.  James tells us to “let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no”.  That is a noble thought.  Wouldn’t it be nice if a person’s word meant something?  That’s what God expects.

He also expects us to be engaged with those in our patch.  “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord”.  God works in our lives through the body of Christ – the church.  We need to do life together there, and live life in a way that those around us can be part of the challenges we face.  The Christian life is not meant to be a solo event.  We are to do life as Christ Followers together.

But it goes deeper than praying for each other.  James tells us to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”.  We’re getting pretty deep now.  It’s one thing to ask for prayer, its entirely another to be transparent about our sins.  But that’s how the church should work.  We need to be accountable to each other.  And we need to submit to each other too.  “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. We have a responsibility to help each other stay the course.  If we wander, we need someone to pull us out of the ditch and back on the path of being a Christ Follower.  It’s our responsibility to each other in the body!

James 4

James 4 has the writer teaching us about pride and wanting things.  “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask”.  God makes it clear that one of our issues is a failure to ask for things we want and need.  But there is a catch.  “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions”.  Life is not about us, nor what we can accumulate.  God wants to give us more than we need, but not for ourselves.

He wants us to stand apart from the ways of the world.  “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God”?  We aren’t to fit into the world.  We are to stand apart because “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God”.  We can’t serve God and man.  If we are going to live in a way that pleases God, we have to be willing to be different from the world around us. We have to be willing to stand firm even if it means we are different and don’t just slide into the world we live in.

There are some strong words about how we view ourselves.  “God opposes the proud, but  gives grace to the humble…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you”. God looks for a humble heart.  Another reality that life is not about me.  In fact, we need to realize that the world revolves around Him, not us.  We do that by putting Him where He belongs – on the throne of our life.  “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts,  you double-minded”.  God needs to be in control of our life.

We also have to come to the realization that we are not determining the days of our life. “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that”.  But what we do certainly matters.  Sin is not just doing the things we know are wrong.  Sin also is not doing the things we know are right – “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin”.  Sin is sin, and sins of commission are no worse than sins of omission.  God wants us to live in a way that aligns with His will, through what we do, or don’t do!

James 3

James 3 begins with the author reminding us that “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness”.  God tells us in many places in scripture that those who teach or lead will be held to a higher standard.  We need to carefully consider the responsibility that comes with teaching and leading.  And then James launches into one of the key problem areas for every human – the tongue.  He makes it clear that small things create huge outcomes – be it a bridle, rudder, fire or our tongue.  They can all do great good when controlled properly.  We have to realize just how important it is to have that small part of our body under control.

So also the tongue is a small member, yet  it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire”!  Words matter.  What we say makes a significant impact to those in our patch.  The fire of the tongue has been used to burn many. “The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell”.  James isn’t telling us to never speak or to take a vow of silence; in many ways that would be easier than exercising true self-control over the tongue.

But he is warning us that “no human being can tame the tongue”.  Trying hard is not the answer here.  We need the power of the Holy Spirit within us to win this fight.  There aren’t many sins that don’t involve talking in some way.  “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people  who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so”.  Our excuse can’t be that we just can’t help it. The tongue can be brought under the power and the control of the Holy Spirit. Only God Himself is mightier than the human tongue!  So to tackle taming it on our own will be futile.  We need God’s help from God’s helper – the Holy Spirit who lives within us.

James goes on to describe God’s wisdom telling us “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere”. God’s wisdom is shown clearly by its fruit. This wisdom can be seen by the fruit it produces. It isn’t just the power to think and talk about things the right way, it truly yields a fruitful result.  James isn’t talking about theory here.  If we seek and live out God’s wisdom, our life will bear the fruit of godliness and make an impact in the lives of those in our patch!

James 2

James 2 begins with some strong words about how we treat people in our patch.  “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,”  while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become  judges with evil thoughts”?  There is no room for partiality in God’s kingdom.

God expects us to love all people everywhere.  “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it”.  Can we get to heaven and eternity by our own efforts?  James makes it pretty clear that won’t happen.  God only allows us to become perfected when we keep ALL the law.  One failure point disqualifies us from being good enough to be free from it’s conviction.  And how we treat others is definitely one area most if not all of us will fall short.  Treating people with partiality is a sin.  Failing in one area – committing one sin – puts us without entry to eternity with God.  It’s why we need Jesus.

James goes on to make clear that faith alone is not what it looks like when one becomes a true Christ Follower.  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him”?  James starts with a question about what salvation really looks like.  And then he goes on to answer it quickly.  “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works”.  If we truly have faith and a relationship with Christ – we will be moved to live out that faith through works.

Works are a result of faith, but not really a choice, but rather a result. James uses Abraham as an example of what faith will do in our life.  It comes alive and leaks out through works.  It isn’t something we keep to ourselves. “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed  by his works”. We can’t contain our faith and keep it to ourselves.  It has to come out and bless others.  “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone”.  It isn’t that works are part two of a salvation experience with Jesus.  But rather that true faith in our Savior and Lord can’t be contained and held within. It will come out of us.  It is a sign of a true relationship with the Savior. “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead”.

James 1

James 1 is filled with wisdom about how to live life as a Christ Follower.  There are several men named James mentioned in the New Testament, but reliable tradition assigns this book to the one called James the Just, the half-brother of Jesus and the brother of Jude, who led the church in Jerusalem.  He starts off with a very counter cultural approach.  “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing”.  Most of us run from trials.  When they come, we’re immediately asking God to take them away.  But wait, there is a reason they come.

Trials lead us to develop steadfastness.  James tells us that trials as inevitable. He said ‘when’, not if you fall into various trials. At the same time trials are occasions for joy, not discouragement or frustration. We can count it all joy in the midst of trials because they are used to produce patience – another word for steadfastness.  But there is even more value.  Faith is tested through trials, not produced by trials. Trials reveal the depth of the faith we have; not because God doesn’t know how much faith we have, but so that our faith will be known to us and to those around us. But wait, there is more. The work of patient endurance comes slowly and must be allowed to have full bloom.  Patience means we learn to wait on God, trusting Him to act on our behalf.  It is a sign of true faith lived out over time.

How important is faith?  “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.  Faith unlocks God’s wisdom in our life.  It is right there for the asking, and God will give it to us, if we have faith.  Without faith, it is impossible to receive God’s offer and in fact, as it says in Hebrews, without faith it is impossible to please God.

The chapter is filled with lots of other wisdom, but James ends this first chapter reminding us that the life of a Christ Follower is not spent sitting on the sidelines.  “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 who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like”.  If we follow Jesus, we have to get out of the pew and into the game.  We can’t watch from a far.  Jesus spent His entire life where people were, not sitting in the synagogue waiting for them to come to him.  He was in homes, the marketplace, and the highways and byways of life.  We have to live the Word, not merely hear it.  It demands action from each of us that claim Jesus as Savior and Lord!

James 5

James 5 wraps up with some clear guidance on how we should live in preparation for the last days.  James describes what the people have been doing to get ready:

       You have laid up treasure

       You have lived on the earth in luxury and self-indulgence

       You have fattened your hearts

       You have condemned

       You have murdered the righteous person

Wow – sounds quite a bit like today doesn’t it.  Focused on self and what we can accumulate, living for self and what we can consume, pointing fingers and blaming others, and still crucifying our Lord by our continued sin and selfish actions.  James is talking to people just like us here. 

 

So what does he say?  Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains”.  We need to learn to wait on the Lord.  We want it our way and we want it right now.  But God is not running on our timeline.  God wants us to learn to wait upon Him.  We are also told “do not grumble against one another”.  Plenty of grumbling going on around us isn’t there?  But instead we need to realize we will be “blessed who remain steadfast”.  God wants us to just walk with Him day by day and quit comparing ourselves with others.  We need to live faithfully as we walk with Him.

 

James gives a foundation for how we should relate with each other.  let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation”.  Are you honest in how you conduct yourself with those in your patch?  Does your word mean anything?  It should.   Our word should be exactly what we are going to do.  It is a powerful way to let people know we are living God’s way – when what we do lines up with what we say.

 

James also teaches us the importance of the body.  Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed”.  There is much power in confession.  It isn’t an easy thing to do – to admit we messed up and need to be set free from our sin – but it is a critical part of getting right with God and with each other.  We all know that no one is perfect.  We all know that there are things that need to be confessed.  So trying to appear like we are without sin is fooling no one but ourselves.  Why does it matter?   The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working”. Because if we get it right we can impact each other deeply through prayer.  Intercession is a powerful way to make a difference in the lives of others.  We need to learn to pray.

 

Finally James lays this on us: “if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins”.  We don’t live in our own little bubble where we are to ignore everyone else.  We are in the body of Christ to help each other live right.  And that means we have to be willing to confront sin and help others fix it.  Not just by pointing it out and telling them they are wrong, but by coming alongside and helping restore them.  Did you catch that in James words?  We need to bring back a sinner from his wandering – we have to get into the trenches beside them and help them find their way back to God and His direction.  Not finger pointing but coming along side and getting in the mud with them.  Are you doing that?  Do you let others do that for you?  Or do you stiff arm those who might come to you with suggestions and help in how to life God’s way?  Life matters – we need to leverage the body to help us do life well!

James 4

James 4 is filled with so many things to consider.  A short 17 verses but packed with things that give us direction on how we need to live.  Let’s take a look at a few key teachings he gives us.  He begins by telling us what is wrong at the core: “your passions are at war within you”.  We are messed up on the inside.  We focus on the wrong things:

      You desire and do not have

      You covet and cannot obtain

      You do not have because you do not ask

      You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly to spend it on your passions

Our issue is that we are focused on ourselves.  It is all about me and what I need and want and will get.  Me, me, me.  We have our eyes on the wrong things.  God wants us to be focused on Him and what He cares about.  Listen closely to these words: “do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God”?  If we want to be focused on the stuff of this world, we are missing the boat completely with God. He is not about stuff.  He is about life and people and eternity and souls.  He is not worried about the details of our money or houses or cars.  He cares about people.

 

James goes on to remind us that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”.  Want to get in good with God – learn humility.  He is giving us the formula for success.  Humility means we put ourselves in our right place in relationship to God and the world around us.  It is realizing that the world does not revolve around us at all, and in fact, we are a mere spec on the world we live it.  James gives a very straight list of things we need to do here:

      Submit yourselves to God

      Resist the devil

      Draw near to God

      Cleanse your hands

      Purify your hearts

      Be wretched and mourn and weep

      Humble yourselves

      Do not speak evil

  See any common thread here?  It is putting God and others first and above us.  It is not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought, as Paul puts it in another place in scripture.  We have to learn to be humble.

 

James also reminds us of our fragileness: “Come now, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes….you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that”.  There are no guarantees about tomorrow.  In fact, we have no idea what the future holds.  But we do know who holds the future.  God alone is in control my friends.  He alone knows what tomorrow will bring.  We need to recognize His authority and His majesty and know that we are in His hands.

 

James ends this chapter with a chilling verse that should haunt each of us.  So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin”.  We often want to define sin as things we do that are wrong.  James gives us the other side of the coin here.  What we fail to do that we know we should be doing is also sin.  Did you catch what he said?  Missing the mark and committing sin is not only what we do we shouldn’t (sins of commission) but also includes things we know we are to do but don’t (sins of omission).  And sin is sin is sin no matter which kind it is.  Hard to equate a murder with failing to care for a widow isn’t it?  But God tells us plainly to care for widows and orphans many times in scripture.  When we have those directions and ignore them – we sin.  We need to seek God’s direction and listen carefully to what He is telling each of us to do.  Being a Christ Follower demands obedience and action.  Failing to do so is sin!

James 3

James 3 deals with a difficult area of life for many of us – the tongue.  James begin by giving us a warning – “not many of you should become teachers….we who teach will be judged with greater strictness”.  There is a huge responsibility that comes along with teaching others.  God holds us accountable for what we teach.  Often we take that a little too lightly I am afraid.  We tend to discount this warning – but it certainly isn’t something God takes for granted.  A teacher has a huge responsibility to their student(s).  Leading someone astray is a very serious issue.  And James makes it clear where that occurs – through our tongue.

He points out that the tongue may seem like a very small part of us – but it certainly is a driver for what happens in our lives.  “The tongue is a fire….setting on fire the entire course of life”.  What we say makes a difference – it matters much – and we need to recognize that and make sure we are focused on controlling our tongue.  James compares it to a small rudder on a ship – it is a small member of our body – but it controls much of the outcome of life.  And here is the key we must come to grips with: “no human being can tame the tongue”.  He doesn’t say that not many can do it – did you catch what he said – NO human can do it.  That pretty much includes you and me.  We are not going to be able to keep it under control.  It can be used to bless our Lord, but it also will curse folks and put us on the wrong path.

James ends the chapter telling us that “where jealousy and self-ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice”.  When we focus on self – bad things result.  It is a significant problem when we are the center of things.  We lose our perspective and we get stupid.  Fortunately he gives us the opposite guidance – we need to see wisdom from above.  If we are focused on God and His wisdom a whole different set of outcomes occur.  Wisdom is seeing things through God’s perspective – it is being on His page and knowing what He thinks.  When we think like that – when we are focused on living in His wisdom – James tells us that it will be “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere”.  Compare that with disorder and vile practice.  Which sounds like a better plan to you?  We need to get focused on God’s wisdom and walking in that – avoiding our self-ambition and learning to control our tongue.  Then we can experience the good things that come from living God’s way!

James 2

James 2 begins with the admonition to “show no partiality” toward people based on their circumstances.  James speaks about the rich and poor, but the message is clearly that we must not “become judges with evil thoughts”.  When we treat people differently based on how they look we are failing to keep the commandment as he reminds us: “you will love your neighbor as yourself”.  Love does not treat people differently based on their status or class.  James makes it clear that failing in this area is a problem when he teaches us that “if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law”.  That is pretty straight forward isn’t it?  If we miss the love part – we are sinning.  And a key teaching of scripture is reinforced here.  Failing and falling in one area makes us guilty.  There are not shades of good and bad.  You either are a sinner or you are not.  And sinning in one area makes you a sinner no matter how much goodness there is in other parts of your life.  This is the problem of mankind in general.  None of us are good enough to live a life that is pleasing to God and meets His requirements for godliness and holiness.  “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it”.  There is a major problem for each one of us.  We are sinners.  We need a Savior.  We have to have Jesus if we want to overcome this issue and get to heaven.

James goes on to make another very important point in this chapter – he reminds us that “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead”.  Does that mean that we are saved by works?  Absolutely not.  Scripture tells us we are saved by our faith in Jesus Christ period.  But faith is not some passive thing we have.  Faith means we are living it out.  Faith is an action word.  Like we learned in last chapter when James used the word “be”.  Faith means we are living out what we believe in.  “What good is it my brothers, if someone says he have faith but does not have works”?  They go together.   They are connected at the hip.  If you have faith, it will cause you to do works.  “Faith was completed by his works”.  We need to realize that a faith that is alive and real will exhibit works – lining up with what God is up to and joining him in doing good.  It is how faith manifests itself.  When we truly believe it drives us to get in the game and do things alongside our Lord.  “Faith apart from works is useless”.  It simply becomes a mental exercise.  That is not what real faith looks like.  The reality is that if we believe we will take action and join God in what He is doing around us.  “Faith apart from works is dead”.  Is your faith alive and active?  Are you joining God in what He is up to?  If you have faith, you won’t be able to control yourself from getting involved!

James 1

The book of James and chapter 1 falls in the middle of our journey through Acts.  This entire book is filled with direction on how to live life.  James starts things off with a bang as he addresses the way we should face problems – check out what he says:

–      “Count it all joy

–      When you meet trials of various kinds

–      You know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness

–      That you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing

We really don’t like to hear those words do we?  It is a lot more fun to whine and complain when things don’t go our way.  Yet James tells us to quit focusing on the immediate pain and realize what God is up to in our lives.  He is making us perfect – helping us to become refined through fire – to become like Jesus.  That only happens in one way – through testing and trials and the fire.  So dealing with the tough things in life has to begin with our attitude.  How we look at it makes all the difference in what results.  If we resist God’s hand, if we fight Him at every turn, the refining just continues.  If we accept His plan and realize that He is working to makes us perfect and complete things go a lot more smoothly.  We are told that God will help us understand if we will only ask.  It doesn’t always make sense, but check out what James says: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him”.  Don’t understand what is happening – have you thought about simply asking God to give you some answers.  Scripture tells us He will gladly do that. 

So trials will come and how we respond is critical.  James goes on to say: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him”.  We need to stay true to God and His plan for our life.  We will be blessed if we do.  Some accuse God of causing bad things to happen.  Scripture doesn’t back that up.  James tells us: “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one”.  Don’t blame God for temptation in your life.  We are fully able to make those happen on our own.  But we learn here what happens in our hearts that causes us to sin.  This is some very important stuff:

Each person…enticed by his own desire à desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin à sin when it is fully grown brings forth death”. 

The progression is pretty clear.  Our own desires cause us to be tempted.  God doesn’t do it to us – we do it to ourselves.  We can do a lot of things to help prevent that, but temptation will happen because of our fallen nature.  Then comes the big point in the progression – CHOICE.  We can’t blame anyone other than ourselves for the second part of this process.  We choose to sin – plain and simple.  It doesn’t do it on its own.  James goes on to remind us of a couple areas that can cause all kinds of sin if we aren’t paying attention: “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger….put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness”.  Our mouth can get us into all kinds of trouble if we don’t learn to “bridle his tongue” and keep it in check.  How are you doing in that area of life?

James closes with some very important truth.  Over and over in this chapter he uses the word BE.  That is an action word.  It means we need to do something.  And this last something is pretty important when it comes to the transfer of our knowledge into action.  Check out what James writes to us: “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 who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing”.  Want to be blessed – be a doer of God’s Word.  Obey.  That is a pretty simple translation of what James is telling us.  Hear what God says and go do it.  Today.  Not someday when it is convenient.  Go do it today – right now – as He leads. Being a Christ Follower requires action.  Not a little, not once in a while, but continual, persevering, obedient action.  Are you living that way?   Are you being what God called you to be?

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