Sunday, October 27, 2013

James 4:1-17 - Who Is Your Best Friend?

James 4:1-17 - Who Is Your Best Friend?
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 27, 2013 AM

How many close trusted friends do you have, not family, who stick with you “through thick and thin”? A number of years ago, an interim pastor read the opening verse of Philemon where Paul wrote “our dear friend.” He stopped reading and inquired: “If I asked you how many true friends you have—friends you can count on—what, would you say?” He paused for a few seconds and then shared how many intimate friends he had. Slowly, he held up two fingers. He had two friends to whom he could go at any time and share anything with the assurance of total acceptance and support!

Folks want friends and would gladly welcome even more friends in their lives. This is also true of God. God desires everyone to be His friend. The first step is to become one of His children. Some folks are unwilling to make this commitment. Some do not care about being known as God’s friend, and do little to confirm they are! They never nurture their relationship. They assume their salvation is enough to ensure a close, intimate relationship with Him. Let’s discover why James teaches our friendship with God is important and how he helps us to consider who our best friend truly is.

READ: James 4:1-17

James addressed a serious situation among the believers he was writing. Conflict was severe and ongoing. He denounced Christians’ worldly behavior, noting it indicated they were friends with the world rather than with God. If we want to be God’s friend…

I. We are to reject worldly behavior! (4:1-5)


  1. Evidently, the peace and peacemakers James wrote about were in short supply among these Christians. James asks, “What causes fights and quarrels among you?” The word fights refers to chronic military campaigns, while quarrels indicates separate battles in those campaigns. In the context of conflict among believers, some were expressions of ongoing hostility while others were temporary flare-ups. James answered his first question with a second question that calls for a “yes” answer: “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” Desires refer to lustful passions that could be sensual or could be desire for money or power. We get our word hedonism from the Greek term. It conveys intense desire for what a person does not have. These believers kept on desiring and went on failing to get what they desired! James charged, “You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.” James was not describing petty differences but substantial and chronic conflict among believers. The sense is probably that these Christians wanted what others had, could not get what they wanted, and deliberately broke the Tenth Commandment! James retorts, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” And “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” When these Christians petitioned God, they still did not get what they wanted because their desires were not in line with God’s will. God’s answer to selfish, self-serving prayers is a resounding “No!” They were adulterous people who were more at ease with the world! Didn’t they “know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God?” In fact, “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God!” We might paraphrase verse 5 as, “Do you suppose the Scripture does not mean what it states?” God’s Spirit begins to reside in believers at conversion, and His Spirit continues to yearn jealously for our loyalty. With love, He intensely pursues us! “Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?” Thus, the Spirit seeks to guide us in realizing that if we want to be God’s friend, we are to reject worldly behavior!

  EXAMPLE: Feudin’, Fussin’ and a-Fightin is a musical comedy which starred Donald O’Conner. One of songs went, “Feudin’ and fightin’ and a-fussin,’ That’s all that’s goin’ on with us’n. We are such neighborly people peaceful and sweet, all except when we happen to meet.” Sounds like some Christians I know! Being God’s friends involves rejecting worldly behavior and eliminating attitudes that lead to trouble between others and us and between the Lord and us. Ongoing rivalry and conflict among Christians destroys fellowship and diminishes—if not negates—our witness for Christ! If we want to be God’s friend, we are to reject worldly behavior!

James stressed the availability of God’s grace to correct believers’ conflict with one another. On the basis of that grace, he called on them to submit and draw near to God through repentance and humility. If we desire to be God’s friend…

II. We should draw near to God! (4:6-10)

  1. We do not have to continue in a state of bitter, selfish conflict. In contrast to destructive infighting, greater grace is available to overcome hostility and restore relationships. James writes that, “But he gives us more grace.” Grace is the necessary power to end chronic conflict with others, renew loyalty to Christ, and relate in love. James quoted Proverbs 3:34 to remind us of the peril of pride and the need for humility: “That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” God is always in opposition to the haughty and arrogant, but He continually extends His favor to His people. James contends we are to, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!” Because of God’s presence and power with them, the Devil would flee from them. Evil would be vanquished from the battlefield. In rapid-fire succession, James gave three additional imperatives. By deliberate choice, Christians are to submit, resist, and come near! He urged believers to draw near to God for the purpose of offering Him reverence and worship. To do so would strengthen or repair their personal relationship with Him. But would believers do this? James described his readers as sinners and double-minded, as such we need to wash and purify ourselves! The use of these terms was meant to shock them into awareness. James stressed the sincere repentance believers should demonstrate because of their sins. They should be so upset that they are moved to lament with tears. Their frivolous laughter should become lamenting; and their shallow, worldly joy should be changed to dejection. Only deep, genuine repentance would lead to the forgiveness they needed to remedy their situation! James repeated himself, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” He called on them to confess to God their sins, weaknesses, and inadequacies. They were to admit their need for His grace and be open to receive it. As a result, God would raise them up! If we desire to be God’s friend, we should draw near to God!

  EXAMPLE: When our attitudes in prayer and worship are proper, God makes His presence known to us. In approaching God, however, we have to deal with sins in our lives through repentance and God’s forgiveness. We need to get rid of our selfish motives, as well, and sincerely desire to know and do God’s will. For many of us, submission has a negative tone. It has overtones of weakness. Submission to God, however, frees us to become what He can make of us by His power, love, and grace. If we are His friends, we obey Him and draw near to Him in reverence and worship. In addition, we eliminate attitudes and actions related to pride. If we desire to be God’s friend, we should draw near to God!

Believers were criticizing and judging one another. James rebuked them for assuming God’s right of judging people. If we desire to be God’s friend…

III. We need to recognize God is Judge! (4:11-12)

  1. A key element in believers’ humbling themselves before God is to stop slandering one another. James’ words indicate these Christians were engaging in criticism and needed to stop the practice. James declared that a believer who uses malicious, insulting language against another Christian or who issues withering sentences of condemnation against a believing brother or sister does the same against God’s law; particularly, the command to love your neighbor as oneself. God’s law was designed to evaluate people; any person who criticizes or judges others has taken over the law’s function. Actually, that individual presumes to take on God’s role, but only God is qualified to judge people. In doing so, the individual accuses the law and God of not doing an adequate job! That person assumes a stance of superiority to the law instead of living as the law teaches. James reminds us that, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?” James reminded believers that only one lawgiver and judge exists. The literal translation of the Greek text is emphatic! “One is lawgiver and judge.” James emphasized that God is the only lawgiver, judge, and all-powerful. He can save or destroy. God has the ability to preserve life or to end it. In light of His sovereignty and mercy, which of us could presume to take His role and judge a neighbor? No Christian is qualified to do so. If we desire to be God’s friend, we need to recognize God is Judge!

  EXAMPLE: When conversations turn to criticisms of people not present, how do you usually respond? What if the conversation concerns your pastor? God alone sets guidelines for living. His directives seek to protect people from evil and to free them to develop characters of high ethical and moral qualities. He alone is qualified to judge, because only He has the complete knowledge of people. James may have had in mind Jesus’ warning against judging others: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1-2 NIV) Being God’s friends involves recognizing He alone is Judge and eliminating all judgmental criticism of others. If we desire to be God’s friend, we need to recognize God is Judge!

James warned people who made business plans without considering God’s will. He emphasized the arrogance of such planning. If we desire to be God’s friend…

IV. We need to seek God’s will! (4:13-17)

  1. James turned to a familiar life-situation to stress believers’ need to make God’s will their first priority. James described a meeting in which hard-working small businessmen—probably believers—proposed a business plan: “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” As was typical of Jewish traders of that time, these men would travel to a city and promote their business. They had everything neatly worked out. Yet, James reminds them, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life?” He reminds us that we have no guarantees about the future! Each day would bring its challenges and surprises. In fact, they had no assurances concerning their lives. Tomorrow might dawn for us, and it might not! James compared people’s lives to a bit of “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes!” The Psalmist would write, “For my days vanish like smoke!” (Psalm 102:3 NIV) Both writers stressed life’s frailty and brevity. James made his point clear. The traders had not included God in their plans. They felt self-sufficient and secure. Life’s uncertainty should have led to dependence on God. “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.’” Note that James stressed seeking God’s will in business, not merely in religious matters. The implication is that everyone is to seek God’s will in all segments of life. James knew that “As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil.” He condemned the merchants’ presumption and self-reliance. Their bragging about plans and perceived profits expresses arrogance. Such boasting in one’s intelligence and skills not only is empty; it also is evil because it excludes God and exalts their own human ability. James succinctly writes, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins!” God’s will is that believers demonstrate their faith by living good lives for Him! To understand this truth and to fail to act on it is sin! Failure to act misses the mark God has set for His people. If we desire to be God’s friend, we need to seek God’s will!

  EXAMPLE: If we are not careful, we can live as though relationship with God does not matter. We can depend on our abilities to chart our futures and thus be guilty of the sins of presumption and arrogance. Being God’s friends involves seeking His will before we make decisions or plans and eliminating attitudes and actions related to arrogance.

Conclusion:
If we desire to be God’s friend, we need to:
 1. Reject worldly behavior.
 2. Draw near to God.
 3. Recognize God alone is Judge.
 4. Seek God’s will.

This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

How to sail through life! - James 3:1-18

How to sail through life! - James 3:1-18
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 20, 2013 AM

All Christians must deal with the issue of self-control. Many refuse to practice it, because they find it difficult. They do not like to be controlled, and they show this by refusing to control themselves. The recent events where Senate leadership accused their opposition of being "terrorists" and "anarchists" is an example where some will say and do anything in order to get what they want. Even when believers try to practice self-control, they often speak hurtful words and perform wrong actions. However, for Christians such control is a critical matter. Everything we say and do should reflect our relationship with Jesus Christ.

On the PBS show Nova, they showed how we are trying to make things go faster, everything from the Internet to sailboats. In fact, the man who owns Oracle just recently won the America's Cup with a newly designed sailboat that uses a carbon fiber wing for its sail and hydrofoils for its keel. It can take a 15 mph wind and propel the boat at 50 mph! The sail literally sucks the boat along at faster speeds. Controlling machines is one thing; controlling other parts of our lives is another. Almost all of us have to deal with control issues. James teaches us how to sail through life. Let's discover how…

READ: James 3:1-18

In what areas of life do you need to exercise better self-control? Some declare they are plainspoken and that "what you see is what you get." This may be a thinly disguised excuse to be rude and to insist on the freedom of self-expression at another's expense. Others view sins of speech as minor and model their conduct by society's pattern. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to…

I. Speak carefully! (3:1-2)

  1. James begins by addressing a teachers' heavy responsibility to speak carefully. Perhaps, there were some believers who wanted to teach but were not well qualified or equipped. Some selfishly may have wanted the prestige, recognition, and honor the teacher's role afforded. James warned against allowing believers to become teachers simply because they wanted such a position. He knew they first needed a firm grasp of the gospel's contents and applications for living. Commentators have offered differing suggestions concerning the teacher's role among early Christians. One view is that teaching once was an official position ranked among the highest in the church but later became part of the pastor's function. A contrasting view is that being instructors in Christian doctrines probably was not limited to a special group in the church. Based on the synagogue model, numerous members of a congregation could teach. Yet James cautioned that not everyone who aspired to teach could do so adequately. James's words here declared all believers stumble. Note he included himself. The Greek word translated stumble means "to make a false step," thus "to commit error." It can have the stronger ideas of offending or transgressing. Here it has the sense of sinning or failing in speech. "In many ways" means "often" or "many times." James declared that a person who can continuously avoid sinning in speech is a mature man. The word mature also can be rendered "perfect." James probably had spiritual maturity in mind. Disciplined speech is evidence a person can control his whole body. The term body could refer to the physical body whose appetites or drives can veer out of control. More likely, it refers to all that a person is. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to speak carefully!

  EXAMPLE: Churches need qualified teachers, but they discharge a heavy responsibility. Teachers receive a stricter judgment—literally, "a greater sentence." They are held accountable for correct or incorrect teaching. Teachers answer to God for their words about His Word. However, because believers are not completely mature spiritually and sin in their misuse of speech, they need to give attention to their words. It has always mystified me that folks have to use cursing in order to convey their desires. Believers especially need to discipline their speech so their words are not offensive. Being careful in what we say and in how we express ourselves shows our maturity in Christ. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to speak carefully!

James then presents three illustrations to describe the power of speech, the dangers associated with uncontrolled speech, and the importance of controlling it. All three illustrations contrast the tongue's small size to its tremendous power. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to…

II. Speak harmlessly! (3:3-6)

  1. James moved to the first of three illustrations that stress the power of speech. He had used the Greek verb for "bridle" in 1:26; 3:2. The word "bits" could be rendered "bridles," but the phrase into the mouths favors the small bits riders placed under the horses' tongues to control them. These bits enable riders to guide the whole animal. James' point is that small bits could control large, powerful animals. Bits have power out of proportion to their size. James next used ships that were very large to present the disparity between size and power. When huge ships encounter a storm and are driven by fierce winds; the ships' pilots use very small rudders to guide their vessels in the desired direction. James sharpened his contrast by using Greek terms that mean "so great" and "smallest" or "least." The rudder's size does not give a true picture of its power or of the concentrated attention, it demands. The tongue, an essential element to clear speech, is a small part of the body. Yet as little as it is, it "makes great boasts." The word boasts probably does not refer to idle bragging but expresses the tremendous power and influence of speech—for good or bad. James stressed that what believers say and how they say it matters. James pointed out a small spark could start a raging inferno that engulfs a huge forest. He reminds us, "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body." James knew that the tongue can be a basis of potential evil among the body's members. It is neutral, but it easily can be misused. An uncontrolled tongue represents an uncontrolled life. The use of undisciplined speech pollutes or corrupts the whole body. Our careless words "stain" or "soil" and contaminates our lives. "It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell." Undisciplined speech is continually fueled by hell. Evil goes on feeding the flames of uncontrolled speech. James emphasized the terrible evil that speech can work, and he also implied God's judgment on such speech. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to speak harmlessly!

  EXAMPLE: Speech is too powerful an instrument for good or for evil to be regarded casually or misused willfully. Words can heal or hurt. They can influence people for Christ or turn them away. We all can remember when we were hurt by another's careless words. Christians have a obligation to use speech positively and redemptively. Unless we control our speech, we risk causing others great harm. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to speak harmlessly!

James continues by emphasizing the need for consistency in believers' speech. He acknowledged the difficulty of controlling speech but condemned people who poison the air by using words inconsistent with the gospel. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to…

III. Speak consistently! (3:7-12)

  1. James pointed out that humans have tamed or domesticated all kinds of creatures. Yet people who can tame animals have trouble taming the tongue. The irony is apparent: Humans can control animals but have great difficulty controlling their speech. James described the tongue as a restless evil. Restless has the idea of impulsiveness, unpredictability, and inconsistency. Though not evil in itself, the tongue (or, our speech) is capable of great evil. In fact, it can be death-dealing, full of deadly poison. Poisonous speech strikes with venom comparable to that of the world's deadliest viper. James presented a devastating contradiction to emphasize believers' deadly misuse of speech. Christians continuously verbalize praise to God, who is Lord and Father. James' scathing indictment is that believers turn from the highest use of speech—praising God—to the lowest—cursing people. It's the idea of a seething hatred that wants misfortune to befall its object. It also could have the sense of using speech to abuse and insult others verbally. With a pair of rhetorical questions that call for "no" answers, James drove home the necessity of believers' maintaining consistency of speech. His first illustration from nature concerned water, a precious commodity. A spring gushing out of a fissure in the earth does not produce both sweet and salt water, does it? James' second illustration concerns food-producing plants. These plants produce after their kind. Fig trees produce figs, never olives. Grapevines produce grapes, never figs. And, a spring produces one kind of water! A saltwater spring, such as those in the Dead Sea area, could not yield fresh water—always at a premium in the promised land. James focused on nature's consistency to emphasize that believers' speech should not be inconsistent with their new nature in Christ. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to speak consistently!

  EXAMPLE: James stressed people are made in God's likeness. Because all people bear God's image, we are to treat one another with respect, not with hatred and verbal attacks. Although James shifted from the use of the tongue (speech) to a person's mouth, his emphasis is clear: The words that come out of our mouths should be consistent. We should not worship God with praise and turn to others with withering words of insult and injury. For blessing and cursing to come out of the same mouth is a moral contradiction. Recently, two teenage girls are under arrest for causing the suicide of another girl. Their words on social media cause her great stress and ultimately her life. The struggle to attain such consistency is ongoing. At times, we will fail in our efforts to speak only helpful words. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to speak consistently!

James returns to the topic of Christian behavior. The next verses call for using wisdom from God to control our behavior. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to…

IV. Behave wisely! (3:13-18)

  1. James apparently returned to the subject of being "wise and understanding." James was deeply concerned about their spiritual and ethical character; moral excellence is required of them and of all Christians. Christians are to demonstrate their works "by his good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom." The wise and understanding person follows Christ's directives for the good of God's people. Rather than being puffed up with pride, the individual is to place his intellect at Christ's disposal. James continued by writing, "But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such 'wisdom' does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil." Envy could have a positive or a negative meaning: "zeal" or "jealousy." A contentious spirit denies true wisdom and the truth we profess to believe. These attitudes are counter to a faith expressed in love and grace. Wisdom demonstrated in "bitter envy and selfish ambition" does not come from God. James described false, truth-denying wisdom with three strong terms. First, counterfeit wisdom is earthly—human with human limitations. Also, such wisdom focuses on worldly pursuits. Second, false wisdom is sensual; it is concerned with appetites and desires. Instead of following the Holy Spirit, a person with this wisdom is mastered by unregenerate human nature. Third, such wisdom is demonic; evil is its source and it serves evil. James pointed out that selfish ambition results in disorder and every kind of evil. "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere." Living by wisdom from God produces the fruit of righteousness—evidence of a right relationship with Him. Believers experience peace and work for peace among others. Sowing the seeds of mercy and good deeds, believers function as peacemakers. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to behave wisely!

  EXAMPLE: How sad to see or hear Christians use their intelligence as a means of sarcasm. There is an old fashioned word that was used to describe such persons, "prig." It described someone who used their position or intelligence to feel morally superior to others. If we use our wisdom from God to control our behavior, it will be what He wants and will promote good relationships with others. If we continually ask Him for wisdom, we can be peacemakers. James writes that in order for believers to sail through life, they need to behave wisely!

Conclusion:
In order to sail through life as a believer we should speak carefully, speak harmlessly, speak consistently, and behave wisely! (3:13-18)

This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Show me your faith! - James 2:14-26

Show me your faith! - James 2:14-26
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 13, 2013 AM

Some adult believers have the wrong idea about faith and works. Some feel good works are necessary to maintain their Christianity. Thus, they always try to keep busy doing something good and feel guilty if they feel they are not doing enough. They do not understand their salvation is secure on the basis of faith, not good works. For other Christians, this security creates a different problem. Their attitude can be, “I don’t need to do anything I don’t have to do.” They are content to enjoy the blessings of salvation now and to look forward to heaven one day. They do not understand genuine faith always leads to good works.

James understood that believers who perform good works for the wrong reasons and those without good works need to evaluate themselves to see whether their faith is real. God wants us to do good works that demonstrate our faith in Christ. Some Christians are far to content to let others perform works of ministry. Monetary contributions are no substitute for personal acts of service. Others feel they must earn and maintain their good standing with God through good works. James challenges us by saying, “Show me your faith!”

READ: James 2:14-26

James moved from dealing with the sin of showing favoritism to the relationship between faith and works. He declared faith without works is “dead”, it is more than just “feeling” someone’s pain. In fact, James writes that if you want to show your faith, it is…

I. More than just talking! (2:14-17)

“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 him, "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.”

  1. James asks, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” God’s grace brings redemption, and the redeemed live out that unearned grace. Actions taken on others’ behalf demonstrate Christ’s love. James’ question called for an obvious answer: An inactive faith accomplishes nothing. James’s second question is a key to understanding the rest of these verses: “Can such faith save him?” Faith that does not bring forth good works is not saving faith. Why? Perhaps it is counterfeit, a false faith, or one based on emotionalism instead of total trust. Only faith demonstrated by works will bring a favorable verdict in the last judgment. Paul does not contradict James’ words about good works. Paul opposed those who taught salvation results from having faith and performing works of the law. He declared salvation is by faith alone. His focus concerned the fact that people are saved by faith and not by rituals such as circumcision. James wrote to counter people who taught works were not necessary in a Christian’s life. Both stressed that saved people do good deeds. James gave an illustration of the emptiness of words without actions. It echoes Jesus’ teaching, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Matthew 25:35-36 NIV). James asks, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” A believer who is in a position to help refuses to and instead responds with useless words! Words are cheap. A cheap faith results in cheap actions. James drew the parallel between words without actions and faith that produces no good works: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Mere words, no matter how well meaning are no substitute for helpful actions. Showing one’s faith is more than just talk!

  EXAMPLE: “Thank you, Jesus!” “Can I get a witness?” Praise the Lord!” If all we do is talk about having faith, we may not have saving faith. We can know and use all the right religious words, but without compassionate actions, they have a hollow ring. Kind of like a resounding gong or clanging cymbal bonged in an echoing cave! Francis of Assisi purportedly said, “Preach the gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” Francis’ “faith” was steeped in acts of kindness because of what Christ had done in his life. Saving faith engages in a lot more doing than talking.
   
James continues to emphasize that a professed faith is useless if actions do not demonstrate its genuineness. Faith and works are inseparable. He writes that showing one’s faith is…

II. More than just “believing”! (2:18-20)

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?”

  1. Throughout his letter, James employed a method of injecting an objection to his argument and then answering it. He anticipated someone in his audience would counter his strong assertion that faith not expressed in works “is dead”. His statement suggests a division of ministry in which some people perform good works and others encourage them. James would have none of it. James challenged the objector to give proof of faith. Is our vocal expressions sufficient evidence of our commitment to Christ? Can our correct and pious religious terms prove faith; perhaps emotional fervency or emphasis of tone, or, maybe by our strident repetition? None of these ways provides convincing evidence, for none demonstrates visibly our inward attitude of faith. The reality of faith is shown in a lifestyle characterized by ministry to others in obedience to Christ. Faith cannot be separated from daily behavior. James then used the basic affirmation of Judaism (Deut. 6:4-5) to illustrate that real faith cannot be mere intellectual acceptance of a creed. To accept God’s oneness is well and good. Yet, “Even the demons believe that--and shudder. “ Accepting a fact does not mean one has redemptive faith. James used a little humor as he pointed out demons shudder in light of the one God’s awesomeness—their hair bristles or stands on end in terror. Unlike people who profess faith and do no good works, at least demons tremble as an outward expression of their belief! James’ forcefulness in addressing his opponent reflects the issue’s crucial nature. Saving faith and good works cannot be separated; genuine faith consistently issues in actions of ministry to others in fulfillment of the royal law. Anyone who thinks works are unimportant is, according to James, “foolish” He asks, “Do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?” The lesson this “empty headed” person needed to learn was that faith without works is useless. James emphasized that unproductive faith is a contradiction in terms and is a sham. Showing one’s faith is more than just “believing”!

  EXAMPLE: If all we do is claim to believe scriptural truths, we have a useless faith, not a saving faith. I have had dozens of folks over the years tell me they “believe in Jesus” but that is a meaningless statement if one does not see Jesus in their actions. Genuine faith is dynamic, active, and productive. You will see Jesus in one’s active faith! During His earthly ministry, Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). Being His people means following His model. Showing one’s faith is more than just “believing”!

Abraham and Rahab are examples of people who demonstrate the kind of faith that makes people right with God. Their works gave evidence of saving faith. Showing one’s faith is…

III. Justifying faith! (2:21-26)

“Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

  1. James asks his readers, “Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar?” They all knew the story of Abraham. James and Paul used the word “justified” in different ways. Paul used it in the sense of being made right with God by grace through faith instead of by “works of law” (Romans 3:28). Paul’s contention was that legalism played no part in salvation. James made a different point: Abraham’s obedience in being willing to sacrifice Isaac demonstrated the genuineness of his faith. His faith issued in obedient actions. The patriarch already had been made right with God; his obedience came out of his faith relationship with God. James concludes, “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” Abraham’s willingness to offer Isaac perfected the patriarch’s faith in realizing God’s intended purpose--the goal of obedient action. “And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God's friend.” Faith’s purpose in a believer’s life is to produce good works; without good works, faith is incomplete. Good works demonstrate faith’s integrity and maturity. The patriarch’s faith worked with his actions to demonstrate obedience. James was reinforcing his contention that faith and works are inseparable: “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” A person who is right with God does good works. An absence of good works calls into question a profession of faith. Then, James turned to the dregs of society for his second example of faith demonstrated by works. “In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?” Her actions were evidence of her having a right relationship with God. James well may have meant to make a point by contrast. Abraham, the father of the faithful, could be expected to perform good works out of his faith. Yet at the other end of the spectrum, a Canaanite prostitute also demonstrated her faith by her actions! James concluded with an analogy involving the human body. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” Such faith has no life; it is reduced to a walking corpse or perhaps in today’s vernacular, a zombie! James teaches us that showing one’s faith, is justifying faith!

  EXAMPLE: We show our faith is genuine when it leads us to do good deeds. Opportunities to engage in compassionate ministry to needy people are all around us. We need determined good will, generosity, and sensitivity to grasp some of those opportunities. We cannot do everything and help everybody, but none of us is exempt from translating our faith into concrete actions. James teaches us that showing one’s faith, is justifying faith! 

Conclusion:
 1. If all we do is talk about having faith, we do not have saving faith.
 2. If all we do is claim to believe the truth of the Scriptures, we have a useless faith, not saving faith.
 3. We show ours is a genuine faith when it leads us to do good deeds.
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 This article is copyrighted © 2013 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Let’s be fair about it! - James 2:1-13

Let’s be fair about it! - James 2:1-13
By Pastor Lee Hemen
October 6, 2013 AM

I’ve noticed that even some four or five-year-olds have low self-esteem. Helping them build a healthy self-image as an important part of a parent’s task. It involves more than handing out stickers; it also involves nurturing them. All children need fair, impartial, and caring treatment to instill the self-confidence they need as they mature. Every child should be treated as a special gift of God.

Although we can treat some people as special, that does not mean we should do so at another’s expense. Favoritism results from using superficial means to evaluate others and making that evaluation the basis for how we treat them. Favoritism is being kind or courteous to some but not to all. It is showing mercy to and forgiving some but being unmerciful and unforgiving to others. Even Christians can fall into the trap of showing partiality in their families, workplaces, and churches. They are drawn to people with whom they identify easily and exclude people who are different or are considered unimportant or unattractive. James teaches us that this is simply evil, let’s discover why…

READ: James 2:1-13

James pulled no punches in emphasizing that partiality is totally unacceptable among believers. In fact, favoritism is a sin that brings judgment. James denounced favoritism in the church; we are to…

I. Ignore the externals! (James 2:1-4)

  1. James counseled believers to stop practicing (“habitually exercising”) their faith in their current manner. He writes, “Don’t show favoritism.” The word favoritism expresses the idea of arbitrarily assigning more worth to some people than to others and extending preferential treatment to individuals deemed more worthy. James made it clear that obedience to Christ excludes partiality. “Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.” The phrase your meeting literally is “your synagogue” and indicated believers coming together for worship. As Jewish Christians, these believers would understand the term “synagogue” for their place of worship. James supposed that two visiting men entered this group of gathered Christians. James described their economic status. One man was wearing a gold ring and he was wearing fine clothes. Then a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. This man had only the clothes on his back. He had only one garment that bore the stains of daily use. James set the scene with starkly contrasting descriptions. The gathered believers’ response to these two men was immediately revealing. James asks, “If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated”? Why are we tempted to show favoritism to certain people? What helps us to refuse to show partiality? James concluded his possible scenario with a rhetorical question to which he expected an answer of yes, “Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” To make such a blatant and shameful distinction based on appearances and economic status demonstrated that believers were practicing discrimination! Showing bias on the basis of outward appearances makes believers judges with evil thoughts. Instead of relating to one another as brothers in Christ, these believers created a division among themselves, believers are to ignore the externals!

  EXAMPLE: We should always dress well and put our best foot forward for a job interview, however, believers are not to display discrimination based on eternals. Our culture shows blatant partiality to people who are attractive, talented, wealthy, powerful, successful, or socially prominent. Superstars abound in today’s culture. Great soccer players cause fans to riot in the bleachers. Popular musicians have fans who stand in line for hours for tickets. And Hollywood celebrities hire bodyguards to protect themselves from adoring stalkers. We easily can fall victim to favoring church members, potential church members, or even those who are not likely to be members on the basis of external trappings. We can treat people impartially only when we ignore any external differences between them, others, or ourselves. As Christians, we are to live according to a higher standard. We are to ignore the externals!

James goes on to indicate behavior that dishonors God’s people and that honors people who mistreat believers. He teaches us that we are to…

II. Honor all God’s people! (James 2:5-7)

  I. James writes, “Listen,” because he wanted them to give careful attention to what he was about to say. He reminded them of what they already knew from their Jewish background: God champions the poor. While most Christians at this time were poor, God never exhibits favoritism. He responds positively to all people who turn to Him in faith, regardless of their financial status. James asks, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” James had in mind those who, while poor, were rightly related to God through Christ. James did not mean God selected the poor above anyone else; it is the idea of God’s initiative in extending grace to the poor as He did to all people. In Luke 4:18, Jesus said God had sent Him “to preach good news to the poor.” They were included in God’s redemptive purpose. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 NIV) James’ reference to Jesus’ beatitude assured the poor they shared in God’s kingdom. Although these believers might have been materially destitute, they were spiritually wealthy. God honors the poor by extending His grace to them and exalting them. Evidently, these believers had dishonored a poor man. James writes, “But you have insulted the poor.” If he was a visitor, they did not know whether he was a Christian or an unbeliever. If He was a Christian, they had denied his equality with them in the faith. If he was an unbeliever, they had failed to exhibit God’s grace and love. James asks three rhetorical questions, “Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?” They all demanded a “yes” answer. The assumption is that they had forgotten who had been persecuting them. Those they had thought highly of, because of their wealth, had used their wealth for persecution! The implication was clear, the rich were the ones who “slandered” or “spoke evil of” Jesus! These Christians were showing favoritism to people who constantly expressed their contempt for Christ! As believers, we are to honor all God’s people!

  EXAMPLE: A Washington Post article reported that studies into the nature of prejudice found that almost everyone harbors biases, and these attitudes affect even those who actively resist them. A University of Kentucky psychologist says that much of our self-esteem comes from feeling better about ourselves than about others because of the group we belong to. Prejudice is not easy to overcome, even within the family of God. Christianity out of all the religions of the world is the great equalizer. No clan, no ethnicity, no social status, or educational background separates us from the love of God. Nor should they separate God's people in loving one another! Because His people are important to Him, we are to honor them, not to ignore them or to give preferential treatment to people who abuse them. In fact, we are to look for ways to serve other believers. Also, we are to counter abuse of all people but especially mistreatment of Christians. We are to honor all of God's people!

James strongly stated believers had only two options for treating others: loving them or sinning against them (vv. 8-13). Christians are to fulfill “the royal law”: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore, we are to…

III. Extend God’s love! (James 2:8-13)

  1. James tells them, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.” The phrase the royal law meant the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18 NIV) We are to extend to all the same care and concern we have for ourselves. In contrast, believers who continually show favoritism “sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.” They were missing Christ’s mark of God’s grace! We are to love God completely and others as ourselves! When we don't, it convicts us as sinners! Then, James used a common Jewish teaching to demonstrate that disobedience is no light infraction. “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” To be law-abiding, a person has to keep all the law; which is impossible. James’s point is that God’s people are to keep all His laws. James quoted the 7th and then the 6th Commandments. By associating partiality with adultery and murder, James stressed the seriousness of exhibiting favoritism. He did not mean the sin of partiality is the same as adultery and murder; however, to reject any of God’s commands is disobedience. James warned against failing to love others as God commanded and as Jesus affirmed. Believers are to “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.” All believers are to live in the understanding that in God’s final judgment, the gospel will be the standard by which we will be measured. We must remember, “Mercy triumphs over judgment!” Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7 NIV) James connected mercy with loving others and treating them fairly; he connected lack of mercy with showing favoritism. People who have received God’s mercy through Christ are to extend God's love to others.

  EXAMPLE: Charlie Brown, the comic strip character, identified with the underdog, probably because he always felt like one. In one scene he was building a birdhouse when the cynical Lucy came by. “I’m building it for sparrows,” Charlie told her. Lucy said, “For sparrows? Nobody builds birdhouses for sparrows.” “I do,” replied Charlie Brown. “I always stick up for the underbird.” If we do not treat people in ways that express love and mercy, we are committing sin. Believers need to stick up for the "underbird"! We show love and mercy by treating all other people fairly, refusing to show favoritism. We live in the tension of being measured by the gospel, which affirms every person’s worth.

Conclusion:
 1. We can treat people impartially only when we ignore any external differences between them and others.
 2. Because people who belong to God are important to Him, we are to honor them, not to ignore them or to give preferential treatment to people who abuse them.
 3. If we do not treat people in ways that express love and mercy, we are committing sin.
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This article is the copyrighted property of Lee Hemen and may not be edited or redistributed without his written permission.