Saturday, August 29, 2009

James 5

In James 5 in verses 1 through 6 there is a warning of God's judgment and a call to repentance to the rich who live to make more money,indulge their selfish desires and exploit those who have less money, status and power. Chances are you do not consider yourself to be rich, but the term "rich" is relative. With more than 6.7 billion people in the world, it is likely that you are rich compared to someone else in the world. Accordingly, James' warning is applicable to all of us regardless of how much we possess.

Jesus taught that we are to lay up treasures in heaven because the things of this earth will pass away, and we are certainly not to earn money or anything else at the expense of anyone. A Christian who hoards and is stingy with their money and possessions, even to the point of cheating others what is rightful theirs, is not trusting God to meet his every need. The reason God gives us money and other possessions is not for us to collect them, but to use these resources to help the less fortunate and to spread the Gospel, all of which honors the Lord. You may think that the more you give away, the less you will have to support your needs. However, the reality is if the giving is done in line with God's will, God will give you more blessings than you could ever imagine in return. You can never out give God!

To those who are being taken advantage of and mistreated, it is easy to become discouraged; it is difficult to see how things will change and when the guilty will be punished. However, in verses 7 through 11 James reminds us of Jesus' imminent return and that judgment that will befall on the wicked. It is hard to wait, but anything worth having involves a wait;the wait is always worth it which is absolutely true of Jesus' return.

Until Jesus returns and pronounces judgment on the wicked, we are to endure the trials of this earth with steadfast faith. We can do this because we know God is control, and He will vindicate His children when they have been wronged. Also, in the interim, we are to refrain from complaining and criticizing one another. During difficult times it is natural to become frustrated and overwhelmed by emotions, and during these times, we should pour out our feelings to our Heavenly Father and not to each other. Regardless of the circumstances that we may encounter, we need to remember that we will be held accountable for any careless words that we may speak. While we are waiting on God to deliver us from our unbearable situation, we can find comfort that others, such as the prophets from the Bible, have endured and survived the hardships of life. James, in particular, singled out Job who endured tremendous trials, but He remained faithful to God throughout it all.  God brought Job through that difficult time and bestowed great blessings upon him. God can do the same for us, if we will endure faithful and not lose hope no matter what happens. 

In verses 13 through 18 James urges us to be people of prayer.  Whether we are healthy or sick, happy or sad, with plenty or very little, we should always pray.  Paul affirmed this in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 when he said to "pray without ceasing".  Our prayer life should remain active regardless of our circumstances, and we can do this by trusting fully in God's sovreignty over our lives and to regularly praise him for the blessings he gives us. 

Verse 16 states that "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective".  James illustrates this point by reminding us of Elijah who prayed fervently that it would not rain, and God answered Elijah's prayers by withholding rain for three years until Elijah asked God to provide rain.  Elijah is proof that God hears and responds to persistent prayers.  But what made Elijah righteous?  He was a believer of God who lived his life in God's will by being faithful and obedient.

Lastly, the book of James ends with a reminder to Christians that we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ who stray from the Gospel and live a life that is in rebellion to God. Our motive in doing so should be out of godly love and not condemnation.  All Christians belong to one body, the body of Christ.  When one member is living outside of God's will, the entire body of Christ is affected, that is why it is so important that we encourage each other to perserve through life's challenges and to remain faithful to God.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

James 4

To me the underlying theme of James 4 is a warning against pride. Pride reveals itself when we demand our desires be met without no thought of others (verses 1-4), when we choose our way over God's way (verses 4 and 7), when we have no remorse for our sin (verses 8-10), when we are judgmental of others (verses 11 and 12), and when we make plans without considering God's will for us (verses 13-17).

Verses 1 and 2a states that all conflicts are a result of man's selfish desires and the pursuit of those desires at all costs without any regard to the impact on others. Disputes occur when we feed the flesh instead of the spirit. The source of these selfish pursuits is man's unwillingness to be content with what God has blessed him with instead of being always driven to obtain more. Fights occur when man chooses his way over God's way, and unfortunately, man will go to get lengths to get what he wants instead of pursuing God.

Verses 2b and 3 point out the problems with our prayers and why we don't receive what we want: we fail to ask God or we ask but the request is based on our selfish desires. God cannot grant us something if we fail to ask, and He will never give us anything when we ask with an impure heart, wrong motives, what will cause us harm or for what is outside His will for us.

Verse 4 - Christians who live like they belong in the world by pursuing their selfish desires and failing to put God first in their lives are guilty of spiritual adultery and are enemies of God. Worldliness draws us away from God. As Christians we live in the world, but we are not to live as the world does; we are to be different. Worldly Christians are ineffective disciples; because the sin in their life they will not be able to have the impact on the world that God intends. Rather the world is having an impact on their lives.

Verse 5 - God's jealousy is righteous because we belong to Him because of His only Son's death on the cross.

Verse 6 - God will grant us grace to overcome our selfish desires, but we must first humble ourselves before him.

In verses 7 through 10 list the way to overcome temptations and worldliness:
  1. submit to God - accept His authority over your life
  2. resist the devil - decide to obey God and take a stand against sin. There is the promise if we resist the devil, he will flee from us.
  3. come near to God - turn from the world; There is the promise that God will draw near to us if we first draw near to Him.
  4. wash your hands - cease sinful actions
  5. purify hearts - the heart is cleansed from sinful attitudes. Note the ceasing of sinful actions and cleansing the heart of sinful attitudes can only occur after we have submitted to God, resisted the devil and drawn near to God. Steps 4 and 5 cannot be done without God's help.
  6. grieve, mourn and wail - show true remorse for sin and repent
  7. humble yourselves before the Lord - this is to know that you are in need of His mercy. The promise here is if you humble yourself before the Lord, He will lift you up.

Verses 11 and 12 - Criticism is a form of judging others; we elevate ourselves by putting others down. When we criticize and judge, we are acting like the world and are not glorifying God. Our words should help and build up others and not hurt them or tear them down. The only one who can judge mankind is God; we can't and don't need to do His job for Him.

Verses 13 through 17 - When we make plans we must be sure we are inside of God's will. We should not hold onto our aspirations for the future tightly, but always be aware that God can change them without warning. God has authority over all the world and that includes are future. A person's reaction to God altering their plans can be very telling of the person's spiritual maturity and their view of God's authority over their life. Our attitude should be "If it is the Lord's will, we will...(fill in the blank with what you have planned).

Verses 14 and 16 specifically warn us against procrastination by reminding us of the brevity of life and that if we know of a good deed, we should do it. Failure to know what is good and not do it is a sin.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Tongue - Controlling the Uncontrolable

James Chapter 3 contains many important points about controlling one's tongue.

In verse 1, James tells us that teachers will be held to a stricter judgment. This is because the words they speak can have a tremendous impact on the lives of those they are instructing. For this reason no one should seek to become a teacher unless they are being called by God. The responsibilities that teachers bear are too great to do otherwise.

In verse 2, James reminds us that "we all stumble in many ways". To not stumble in our speech shows spiritual maturity because the one who can control his tongue can exercise discipline over the rest of his body.

Verses 3 through 5 illustrates the power of the tongue. The tongue is a very small organ which can produce great effect, either for good, if it is controlled or for evil, if it is not controlled. Our speech not only influences our lives, but the lives of those around us. With very few words we can either destroy or build relationships and harm or help others, and the effects of those words can last a lifetime. The damage caused by an uncontrolled tongue is difficult to repair because the wounds cut deep within a person's soul and are hard to forget. An out of control tongue is a destructive force, and the one who possesses such a tongue is doing the work of Satan.

A vow of silence is not the solution because that does not fulfill God's purpose of giving us the ability to speak. He expects us to use our speech to be help others. To hold our tongue because we are afraid of saying the wrong thing is just as much a sin as it is to use our tongue for slander and gossip. The answer instead is to allow the Holy Spirit to control your tongue. If God can control your speech, He can control the rest of your behavior just like the one who controls the bit in the horse's mouth can control the whole animal.

Verses 7 and 8 state that "no man can control the tongue". What is needed to control one's tongue is the Holy Spirit's help, wisdom from God and a daily dependence on Him.

Verses 9 through 12 show the contradictory nature of the tongue. With our mouth we bless our Heavenly Father and curse our fellow man who is made in God's image. Blessings and curses that come out of the same mouth reveal inconsistencies in person's spiritual life. A consistent walk with Jesus will result in speech that consistently builds up others and is helpful. What is in your heart will always be revealed in your speech (Matthew 12:34). Thus, your speech is a good indication of your character.

A person's wisdom will be evident by their humility and good conduct (verse 13). Like faith, godly wisdom will result in good works, including good speech. A wise person also does not perform deeds in order to garner attention for himself; anyone seeking to promote himself and his status is not acting wisely.

Verses 14 through 16 identify characteristics of earthly wisdom which include envy and selfish ambition. Envy and selfish ambition also leading to sins committed with the tongue, such as bragging and lying. Such earthly wisdom will open the door to disorder and every kind of evil. "Earthly wisdom evaluates everything by worldly standards and makes personal gain life's highest goal."(Burdick) A Christian who is guided by earthly wisdom will lead a life that is filled with contradictions and confusion.

Verses 17 and 18 describes godly wisdom which is pure, peace loving, gentle, compliant, merciful, full of good fruit, impartial and without hypocrisy. True wisdom is willing to listen and to learn. We can know God's peace by exercising godly wisdom.

"Express yourself powerfully and effectively: say what you mean, mean what you say, without being mean when you say it." Meryl Runion

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