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“In Judah God is known; His name is great in Israel.  In Salem also is His tabernacle, and His dwelling place in Zion. There He broke the arrows of the bow, the shield and sword of battle.

Selah  Psalm 76:1–3

Psalm seventy is another of the psalms of Asaph and it celebrates God’s judgement and wrath as it’s directed against the violent oppressor. 

While far more poetic and cultured Asaph’s verses remind me of the boastful comparisons often made by little boys when talking about how strong and capable their fathers are when it comes to protecting and providing for their families. It doesn’t matter how big the challenge is my daddy is big enough, strong enough, smart enough to meet it and overcome it. 

There is however one big difference.  The boasts of little boys exaggerate the capabilities of their fathers because in their immaturity children don’t yet appreciate how big the problems are and how limited their fathers really are. 

But Asaph was not a little boy. He was a grown man living among warriors and mighty men in a land frequently touched by violence and death. His understanding may not be perfect but it was not that of the immature variety possessed by the little boys. 

At the same time Asaph’s boasts regarding God’s ability to face any oppressor fall short of describing the most important of God’s attributes. You see, like every good father, the ability to defend and protect, while being important, isn’t the attribute most prized by those who know and love them. It’s God’s care, loving kindness and tenderness to his friends and children that are most valued. 

In this sin filled world far too often God has to step in as defender and judge but I believe the roles he prefers to play in our lives as our Heavenly Father are that of provider, nurturer, teacher, healer, and blesser.

This is what Christ’s earthly life and ministry reveals. Only rarely did Jesus do anything in anger. In less than a handful of instances did Jesus assert himself as a judge. Sin has forced him at times to act in judgment and wrath but this is not the role he prefers for himself and he is working to bring the time of sin, oppression and judgment to an end. 

I praise God that he is able to meet and overcome the violence of this world, and I praise him more that he is not a God of violence. Rather he is a God of love and peace. I look forward to living in his kingdom of peace when at last the violence of this world is ended. 

“For exaltation comes neither from the east. Nor from the west nor from the south.  But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and exalts another. For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup, and the wine is red; it is fully mixed, and He pours it out; surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth drain and drink down.”  Psalm 75:6–8

There are a handful of passages in scripture that make mention to the drinking of God’s cup of wrath being the lot of the wicked after God has declared his judgment. Today’s passage from Psalm seventy five is one of them, Jeremiah twenty five contains another, Revelation fourteen contains a third. In Revelation sixteen we find a fourth passage where a series of sevens bowls containing the judgments of God are poured out upon the earth as acts of judgment upon the beast and his followers. 

In the Gospels there is yet another mention of the cup of God’s judgment being drank by one suffering under his wrath. 

In the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus was praying, just a short time before he would be arrested, he pled with God that he would not be required to drink the cup. If there was any other way of winning our salvation Jesus begged that that would be the path that would be taken. Then in submission Jesus said the five words that committed himself to the path of sacrificing himself so that you and I need never taste the bitter draught of God’s wrath and judgments against sinners, “Nevertheless, thy will be done.”

With those words Jesus agreed to take our sin, our guilt, and our condemnation. Far heavier than the weight of the cross, far more brutal than the abuses of the Roman and temple guards, it would be our sins that would break the heart of Jesus and just hours after he’d been nailed to the cross still that heart within his breast. 

Because Jesus drank that cup none need ever drink it again. Yet many, perhaps most, chose to reject Jesus as their substitute. They refuse him as their savior, redeemer, and Lord. They exalt themselves and their own wisdom and reason and substitute in his place paths and means of salvation of their own creation, and they condemn themselves to drinking that cup of wrath they could have been spared. 

O friend, choose Jesus today. He loves you and his love has already accomplished all that is needed for your salvation and blessing. It’s true that in this life we will have a share in his suffering, as the Gospel continues to wage war with the sinful hearts of men, but soon an eternity of peace will be the reward of all those who have chosen Jesus and endured to the end. O friend, choose Jesus. 

“O God, why have You cast us off forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture? Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old, The tribe of Your inheritance, which You have redeemed—This Mount Zion where You have dwelt. Lift up Your feet to the perpetual desolations. The enemy has damaged everything in the sanctuary.  Psalm 74:1–3

As long as I’ve been alive people have looked at the condition of the world and said that it just can’t get much worse and that God has to come again and bring an end to the madness. The truth is, yes the world is crazy, but if you look at history you see that this madness has been going on for thousands of years. The only thing that’s really changed is how we display our sinfulness and depravity not whether we do.

Honestly, here in North America, where I live, we have it pretty good compared to the craziness that exists in a lot of the world. Yes, it’s still crazy, we don’t have to look very far, or dig very deep, to find plenty to lament about to God.

This was also true for Asaph as he was writing Psalm 74. He lived, ministered, and prophesied during the reign of David, a time of revival and prosperity for the people of Israel. During David’s reign the enemies surrounding Israel and Judah were pushed back and most lived in peace and stability. Spiritually, things hadn’t been better in a long time. David was a devote worshipper of God possessing a strong yearning for an ever deepening connection with God and in many ways this was reflected throughout the nation.  But the good times in this sinful world were still full of wickedness and difficulty. 

I write this because many times I hear people commenting on how bad it’s getting and citing this as evidence that Christ’s return is soon. 

Friends, Jesus made it clear in Matthew chapter twenty four that war, hardship, and spiritual turmoil would exist from his day all the way to the end. I’ve seen nothing yet, when it comes to disregard of human kindness and disrespect for godliness, that hasn’t been commonly present throughout recorded history. 

Asaph saw these things as evidence of God’s absence or neglect. We, additionally, like to give an apocalyptic significance to the crimes and disasters that are reported daily. Too often we forget that the signs of the end are more specific in type than the hardships that so often afflict us. I believe that Jesus is coming soon but not because life is crazy. I believe because I see some of those specific prophecies on the verge of fulfillment.

Friends, God, who created this world and sent his son to save us, is never far. Violence, sinfulness, and godlessness have been a part of our lives ever since the fall of Adam and Eve. We need to stop looking at the condition of the world around us so much and look to God in faith. Look to his word for guidance. He’ll sustain us today, and he’ll carry us through to the end. 

“Nevertheless I am continually with You;

You hold me by my right hand.

You will guide me with Your counsel,

And afterward receive me to glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You?

And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.”

Psalm 73:23–25

Psalms 73 through 83 were written by a man named Asaph and his descendants. Who was Asaph?  According to the books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles, Asaph was a Levite, a musician and songwriter, and a prophet that served in the temple during the reign of King David. Beyond that, and the content of the psalms he wrote, we know little about him. 

Psalm 73 begins with a lament about the success and peaceful lives of the wicked. Asaph admits to being envious over the wealth and ease experienced by the wicked and confessed that in his envy he almost forgot about the goodness of God to Israel. 

It’s easy to get caught by the lure of money, possessions, and leisure. When a worldly, or wicked person accumulates wealth his only concern is how to use it to please himself, but the righteous person is never concerned about pleasing himself, rather his concern or focus is how to live a life that is pleasing to God. After all it’s God who has been good and blessed him should he not then complete the circle by serving God and being a blessing to others. 

After Asaph had recounted his meditation on the advantages of the wicked in their wealthiness he confessed that he had nearly forgotten the precariousness of their situation. Asaph then observes that in this world God has set the wick upon a slippery slope. No matter how secure they may appear in a moment they can be brought to desolation and destruction. 

Wealth is that way. Sometimes it’s easy to get and always it’s easy to lose. 

The riches of the righteous is the presence of God in our lives. Of the Lord Asaph writes, “Nevertheless I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, And afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.”

It’s easy to get caught by the lure of wealth and riches but the purest treasure we can possess in this life is the presence of our Heavenly Father. His love can never decay, tarnish, or be stolen. He will never abandon us. There is nothing and no one more worthy of being desired than he

“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”  James 5:19–20

Yesterday I wrote about the our need for one another if we’re to experience spiritual victory in our lives. I believe that God has created us to thrive and be most healthy in community and that we need to guard against the attitude or tendency to try and be spiritual lone rangers. Remember the Lone Ranger wasn’t alone. He had Tonto and just as surely we need partners in our lives if were to become all God has called us to become. 

Another aspect of protection that we derive from being in community is the safe guard community has when it comes to running off track spiritually. It may be that we become spiritually imbalanced, focusing along one line of development or activity and neglecting other essential aspects.  Caring members of our community can help to keep us balanced and on track. It may also be that we become distracted or discouraged and actually begin to spiritually drift away. Once again our caring church family has a role to help to call us back. 

James briefly writes about this protective aspect of being part of a church community as he closes his letter. Reading between the lines a little we notice that there may have been a hesitancy among church members to interfere or involve themselves in the private spiritual lives of their brothers and sisters. We see this because James writes about two incentives inherent in the effort of calling a brother or sister back from error. The first is that you will have saved a person from sinful error and death, and the second is that you will cover a multitude of sins. 

But whose sins are covered?  Is it the sins of the one called back or those of the one who is calling?  

I believe it’s both. Soul winning, of course, doesn’t produce merit or forgiveness for sin. God’s love has already produced all the forgiveness we’ll ever need. However, humility as we do our part in working with Jesus to call others away from sin serves to reveal the presence of sin in our own lives which produces repentance and confession and these in turn produce the realization of God’s promise to forgive. So you see, working for the spiritual benefit of others does help to draw the laborers themselves closer to Jesus even as they are working to draw the sinner away from sin and closer to him, and this results in a multitude of sins being covered. 

Spiritual victory for ourselves and others relies on our doing our part in the body of Christ, the church. 

“Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”  James 5:16

I believe that one of the strategies the devil uses to keep us stuck where we are, helpless to overcome sin in our lives, powerless to advance the gospel, and failures in regards to perhaps a dozen other spiritual victories, is the strategy of keeping us working alone. 

Everywhere you look, whether in the church or in the world, you find people working alone. It’s true we praise the team players, but in reality it’s the lone rangers that are the superstars, and we all want to be superstars. I guess we forget that the Lone Ranger had Tonto. 

In the church we even have songs that celebrate the “need” to work solo.  In fact, one spiritual titled, Lonesome Valley, dolefully talks about how Jesus had to walk this lonesome valley alone and then shifts to the message that we all must walk this valley alone as well.

Friends, Jesus didn’t walk this lonesome valley alone until after Gethsemane, and by that time his father was withdrawing because he was receiving our sin and guilt and quite literally experiencing hell for us. Jesus went through that so that we never have to. 

I can’t think of a single passage in the Bible where we’re told that victory can only be really achieved by the individual operator. But I can think of several, and if I searched I might find dozens, exhorting us to draw close to God and each other, and in that community find the strength and resources we need for victory. 

Our focus text addresses specifically our need to confess our sins to one another as part of our battle to overcome sin. Do you have sins in your life that you feel helpless to overcome?  On your own you probably are. You might have even been praying about this for years with seemingly no result. It may be that the missing element is the strength you get when we work in community. God didn’t design us to be alone. We need him and we need each other. 

It just may be that when we see the failure of individuals around us the real reason for the failure, the reason why victory seems so illusive, is because there’s an absence of community praying, working and fighting for them. 

Yes, there is an individual responsibility when it comes to victory but that doesn’t mean we have to go it alone. The opposite is true. What we need is to resist the tendency to avoid community, hide our weaknesses and work solo. Strength and victory comes for each of us as we band together, unite in all our work and struggles, seek God’s presence, wisdom and might in everything, and truly become the body of Christ. 

“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.  And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”  James 5:14–16

I was a brand new, intern pastor, fresh out of the seminary. One of the members of my flock was a very sick woman. She had been sick for years and, like the woman who touched Jesus robe, had suffered much at the hands of doctors. She had completed preparation for baptism but had decided that she would wait to be baptized until after she was well, however, a few months after I’d moved into the district she decided that she might not ever get well so she requested to be baptized and anointed on the same sabbath. 

I of course agreed and my first baptism and anointing happened within minutes of one another. Her story isn’t one of instant healing but providence did show its presence. Within a month of that service, after years of tests, drugs and surgeries, a doctor was found that knew what was wrong and how to make her well again. The road to wellness took years but almost immediately she began to experience the blessing of the healing process. 

Call it a slow motion miracle. We didn’t know it, but we saw our sister healed that sabbath and she has lived to marry and see her son marry as well. 

While I believe that God gives his blessing to all who, through the sacrament of anointing, come to him in obedience and faith I don’t believe that it’s God’s will that every anointing results in the blessing of healing as we might expect it. If that we’re so then no Christian would ever die and immortality hasn’t been promised until the second coming of Christ. Until then we will suffer the painful separation of death. 

I believe that God knows how we are as people and that sometimes, like when we’re very sick or have been sick of a long time, our faith needs a little help, something to get it moving in the right direction. So in the anointing service God has given us an action that we can in obedience do to act as a catalyst to activate our faith.  There’s no magic. It’s simple faith taking hold of the blessing God in his love and wisdom is offering. 

That blessing always contains acceptance and forgiveness and with it a promise of heaven for those who remain faithful. Many will find healing either immediately or through a more prolonged process. Still others will find the grace to hold to their faith in the ultimate restoration they will receive when they rise from their graves and see Jesus face to face. 

“Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”  James 5:7–8

“Therefore be patient…”. As James begins the conclusion of his letter he adds this exhortation, but he could have just as easily stated it as a prohibition, “Therefore do not be impatient.”

If we were to be impatient who would we be impatient with?  It appears from the verses following James exhortation that one individual we could become impatient with is God, and the reason for our impatience is his failure to return as soon as we expect him to. 

Preparedness for the return of Christ, according to James, requires both patience and expectation. We believe that Jesus is coming soon, that his return is at hand, and hold on to that expectation through a life time of delay. This has been the experience of every believer since the time of James which makes his admonition all the more appropriate. Like the first century believers, James was writing to, we in the twenty first century need to hold onto our faith and belief in God’s promise in spite of the the fact that our definition of “soon” isn’t the same as his. 

But God isn’t the only one we need to be patient with. As he continues James does exchange his exhortation with a prohibition, “Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned.”  It appears that even in James’ day patience was required in dealing with fellow believers.

It’s been said that life in the church would be much easier if it weren’t for all the messed up people. Relationships in the church are just like relationships in any family group, sometimes wonderful and sometimes heartbreaking. But friends, don’t be too quick to grumble and complain. It may be that the Lord’s decision to delay his returning has everything to do with our impatience with each other and the attendant grumbling and faithlessness. Too much we focus on the dysfunctions of our brothers and sisters, acting as if it were a surprise that they were as messed up as recovering sinners ought to be expected to be, when when ought to be focusing on cooperating with the work that God is trying to accomplish in our own lives. 

Friends be patient with each other and be patient with God. We’re all a mess but God’s perfect plan still calls for him to enlist us in being his agents in proclaiming the Gospel to the world. Grumbling and complaining about each other”s shortcomings will only add to the difficulties. Be patient. Jesus is coming soon, which means that soon he will accomplish his greatest work and transform this group of delinquents we call the church into the unadulterated body of Christ and his work will then be complete. 

Our impatience will never help to bring this to pass. Be patient.

“Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days. Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.”  James 5:3–4

Christ when he walked and taught among the people of Judah and Galilee warned against the dangers of focusing on the accumulation of riches and trusting in them for happiness and security. Christ’s advice was that we ought to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven. But the pursuit of wealth and possessions is a seductive temptation and many, even those that never are able o fulfill their desires for wealth, are seduced by it. 

One of the pitfalls of pursuing wealth is the means by which we must obtain and keep it. Many times the making of money requires the use of less than legal or ethical means just to get it and once you get the money, you cheated to get, there’s always someone else working to take it from you so you have to protect yourself from them. It can be very easy for the person focused on gaining wealth to have two prevailing objectives in life: to make as much money as they can, and to make sure no one else takes it away. 

This is a problem for the Christian. God’s called us to live in loving service to him and others. 

It appears that even among the early Christians, living as they were so close in time to the example of our self sacrificing Savior, there was a struggle to break away from the temptation of living for wealth. It would have been enough of a condemnation if they had merely been selfish with God’s blessings, neglecting the needs of the church and the poor, but they went far beyond that. James says that they were cheating their workers out of the wages they had labored for. He goes on to say that they had “condemned and murdered” in their pursuit of wealth. Murder for wealth is fairly straightforward to understand. The word condemned refers to the use of legal but unethical means to take money or property from another. This the wealthy Christian believers appear to have been doing to the poor. 

Friends, Charles Dickens words in his novel about Scrooge seem appropriate here.  “Mankind ought to be our business.”  God may bless us with wealth but our love for God and our fellow man ought to guide us in how to use it. One day we’ll leave everything on this earth behind. Not a single thing we’ve built or accumulated will be taken with us save the character of Christ in our lives and the souls that have been led to Christ through us. Letting go of the world today is a good preparation for that day. 

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”  But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.”  James 4:13–16

If you read some very early issues of Adventist publication you’ll notice that our church fathers took the message of our focus text quite seriously. They didn’t always use the the exact words James prescribes but from phrases like, “if the Lord should tarry,” or “if providence should allow,” it’s very clear that they daily lived with the conscious knowledge that God was the one in control and it was his plans that were the operative factor and not those of any man. 

Today, I feel like people aren’t making plans and moving ahead with the arrogant attitude that James is finding fault with, but neither are they adopting the posture of faith and trust in God’s will that the apostle is advocating for. 

We know that life is uncertain. An accident, or an undiagnosed medical condition, could change everything in a moment. This knowledge is reflected in the old proverb, “life happens while you making plans.”  The problem with this version of man’s uncertainty regarding the future is that all it has is fatalism. What James is calling us to isn’t fatalism, it’s faith. 

While it’s true that we don’t know about tomorrow and because of that we’re compelled to live our lives day by day, and sometimes hour by hour it doesn’t mean that we’re not to have confidence in the future that lies ahead. James is calling us to place our confidence in God, not our plans and our abilities to see them through. 

Therefore, it’s not enough to merely add, “if God should will…”, as a prefix our suffix to what we plan to do. Proverbs 3:5, 6 tells us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge (or submit to) him and he will direct your paths. 

James is calling us to live lives of faith and if faith is forging the plans we make then we will be seeking God’s guidance all along the way, ensuring that what we’re planning harmonizes with his will. It’s true that God doesn’t usually let us know specifically what he’s going to do more than a short time in advance but it’s also true that He has a plan and if we’ll listen and submit he’ll guide us to doing our part in making his plan a reality. 

“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?”  James 4:11–12

Usually when we talk about speaking evil of someone else we’re referring to saying bad things about another person. Perhaps accusing them of some wrong action or gossiping about some mistake they’ve made.  But James makes it clear that when he talks about speaking evil of another person what he’s really referring to is being judgmental about them. 

James isn’t the only Bible writer to have strong things to say about our tendency to judge one another. In the sermon of the mount, Jesus commanded us to not judge one another and warned us that in the same measure as we judge we will be judged. Paul, early in the book of Romans, wrote than when we judge one another we demonstrate that we know the law and that we are guilty, without excuse, because we too are guilty of the same sins we judge others for. 

Now, in our focus text, James points out that when we speak evil of another and judge them we set our selves up as judges. Like a judge we’re interpreting the law of God and then applying that interpretation to the lives and actions of others. When we do this we set ourselves apart from our brothers and sisters. No longer are we a fellow travelers on the road of life as we strive to learn what it means to be a child of God and a citizen of Christ’s kingdom. Now we’re judges and law givers fit and able to judge and condemn those that fall short of the standards as we see them. 

What does James have to say about this?  There is one lawgiver and judge and he is able to both save and destroy. 

Friends, my experience is that out judging never works to save another person. Our judging hurts, divides, and drives people away from us and sometimes away from Jesus. But Christ, when he reveals his law to us, and applies it in our hearts brings conviction in a way that heals us, strengthens us, and restores us. Christ’s conviction eases the burdens and lightens life’s load at the same time it reveals sin and guilt. It’s also true that, when resisted, that same saving power also has the power to destroy us, but the submitted person is transformed and enlivened by the convicting power of Christ through the Holy Spirit. 

Friends be very careful. God’s love is gentle, peaceful, and kind even when he sets out to correct. Far too often we, in our self righteous superiority, hurt much more than we help, and those we hurt were often already suffering hurts we can’t even understand. Regardless how justified we may feel, what right do we have to add to the burden and pain of a fellow traveler on the road of life. 

“Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  James 4:7

Whether we see it or not we’re all living lives where we’re fighting a running battle with the devil. Everyday we face booby traps, and surprise attacks designed to either lead us into new paths of fallenness or to reinforce a fallen condition we’ve long inhabited. 

In our focus text, James presents the solution for our vulnerability, submission to God. “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

It’s a simple equation James presents to us for achieving spiritual victory over the Devil. Submit to God, draw near to him, and the Devil will flee when you resist him.

Many times when this passage has been used in sermons on the advantages of a relationship with God, or how to overcome Satan’s attacks, the message that’s sent is that all that’s needed for spiritual strength is to stay close to God. If we keep our relationship with God near and dear the Devil doesn’t have a chance. 

But James doesn’t just tell us to have a close spiritual proximity to God. He begins this part of his letter by saying we need to submit to God. Then in the next few verses he unpacks what drawing near to God in submission means. 

“Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”

What James is saying is that if you want strength over temptation, and power over the Devil, you need to come close to God in a spirit of submission and repentance. In our hearts we need to mourn and regret our fallenness. Satan’s doesn’t just present us with random temptations. He’s been coming to us and tempting us with the sinful garbage our hearts yearn for. It’s to our own desires that we’ve been falling. 

Victory over the Devil and temptation is achieved only when in repentance and submission we humbly present ourselves to God. With anything less and we’re still the sitting ducks we’ve always been and the devil won’t run and we will fall.  But listen to the promise James gives to us when we come to Christ as he tells us to, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”

“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’?”  James 4:4–5

God is both the Savior of the world and the world’s most dedicated enemy.

Scripture makes it clear that God is set on a course to bring about the world’s complete destruction. Nothing short of that will satisfy God’s plans for the future of this planet. Revelation chapter 21 tells us that after the fiery destruction of the world God will then set to work and create a whole new world that will replace our sin ravaged one. 

Why is God so determinedly set against this world?  It’s the presence of sin that drives God to take the measures he’s taking. Sin is insidious. It corrupts virtually everyone it touches and because every person on planet earth has been infected by sin we ensured that sin has left its mark on everything and the only way to remove the imprint of sin upon this world is to destroy it and start over. 

God is also the world’s best friend because he has been set on saving as many people from this world as will allow him to save them. Heaven has gone to great expense for our salvation. No price has been to high to pay. No sacrifice to much to make. The Father gave his Son. The Son gave himself.  The Holy Spirit has been sent to live in our hearts. Numberless angels labor as they give us their help in cooperating with God’s efforts to save us. All this so that we might be able to chose to be with God and so that he could, with our cooperation, recreate us from the inside out. 

But James makes its clear that a partial submission, a divided loyalty, will never satisfy when it comes to preparing to live forever with our Heavenly Father. If we strive to maintain our friendship with this world we cultivate in our hearts enmity with God. The sinful desires we cultivate are lust, violence, greed, pride, selfishness, strife, murder and covetousness.  All these, no matter how benign they may seem to us, are diametrically opposed to the heart of God and we are to have the heart of God living in us motivating and directing all we do and say. 

God asks to to give up this sinful world and our attachment to it so that we can have him and his love. He promises us a new home to replace the one our sinfulness forces him to destroy. But clinging to this world will only hold is here on this world and ultimately result in our being destroyed as well. We too must, like God, hate this sinful world, but love its people enough to work for their salvation. 

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.”  James 3:17

I’m by nature a curious person. If I see or hear something I’ve never encountered before I want to know about it and if it’s at all interesting I want to know even more. I’ve been this way ever since I was a boy and now that I’ve past the half century mark I find that one of the rewards of being curious and making the effort to satisfy that curiosity is that I know about a lot of different things. 

Sometimes kids have been surprised at how often I’ve been able to answer questions they’ve asked. “How do you know about so many different things?” They’d ask. My answer was that if they’d become curious too and love to read they’d learn a lot as well. 

But I’ve found that knowledge combined with a sinful nature can make cultivating the wisdom James wrote about in our focus text much more difficult, and I wish my own life didn’t prove the truth of that fact. You see, our sinfulness tends to make us prideful and often stubborn. I’ve also noticed that many times people with knowledge can become impatient with less knowledgeable people because ignorance can really slow a person down when it comes to making decisions and taking action. 

Another way know sinfulness can present itself in a knowledgeable person is a tendency to show off. You may not exactly think you’re better than other people but you sure do love the spotlight. This too is evil because it robs others of the chance to contribute in relationships. 

God’s wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, good, impartial, and unhypocritical. That means that with a Christian, the more we grow and know the more gentle and patient we ought to become. The more willing we ought to be to let someone else take the lead or persuade us with their point of view. Humble knowledge and wisdom has a very different relational feel when compared with prideful knowledge and wisdom. When a person is humble you never feel like you’re competing or have anything to prove but with a prideful person you almost always feel like you’re gearing up for a competition. 

I think this all grows out of our personal relationship with God. He’s so kind and patient and yet he possesses all wisdom and knowledge. He delights in us and the more we’re with him the more we become like him. His wisdom becomes our wisdom. We too become kind, gentle, patient and wise. 

“For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.”  James 3:2

We all have experiences where we wished we would have not been quite to so quick to have said what we said. 

Perhaps our words got away from us because we became angry or impatient and in a fit of temper the words just erupted from our mouths. It might have felt good in that instance to have released that verbal volcano but later as we endeavored to clean up the mess those words had made we wished we’d had a little more self control. 

But perhaps it wasn’t temper at all that prompted our out of control words. Perhaps we were just excited and enthusiastic about what we had to say. Maybe it was a new story or joke we just couldn’t wait to tell and holding that excitement in had us practically bouncing in our chair. It was only later that we found out that what we just had to say was supposed to be kept a secret and now feelings are hurt. 

But perhaps it wasn’t about what we said at all. Maybe our untamed tongue was demonstrated by our unwillingness to say what needed to be said. We sat quiet while lies were told and people were hurt because we were afraid we’d be hurt too if we interfered. We stayed silent while a friend engaged in self-destructive behavior endangering himself and others all the while telling ourselves it wasn’t any of our business. Or just perhaps the silence we were clinging to concerns our responsibility to be the witness for Christ we’ve been called to be. Instead of prayerfully telling others of the great things God is doing we sit silent because we’re afraid of rejection or we don’t want to be a bother or nuisance. 

I think James is right. If we could exercise control over the words we say, weighing and censoring them so that we only say the ones that ought to be said and were not holding back from speaking the words that need to be said, then we’d demonstrate that we’re capable of exercising self control over every part of our lives. Of course it wouldn’t necessarily follow that we would exercise that self control it would just show that we had that capability. 

There are just so many opportunities to speak or refrain from speaking. Having the discretion to only and always say what needs to be said would be a miracle. Like so many other things in life this is only possible by Christ abiding in the life through the presence of the Holy Spirit. God can work miracles in our lives. The impossible becomes possible when we let God work his power. If we ask him to he’ll give is control over the words we say. 

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”  James 2:14–17

If love is real it will inevitably result in actions that demonstrate that love. You see love is other focused, and because it’s other focused it must lovingly touch the lives of others to really be love. The love that lives in the heart will, if it’s real, affect and influence the choices made in the life of the lover, and it could be said that if those actions and choices aren’t made to confirm the love the feelings and impulses associated with love never matured sufficiently to really, effectively, be love.  The beginning, the potential, was there but it never grew sufficiently to really become love. 

So it is with faith. Faith isn’t love, but faith, like love, requires action to really be faith. 

Several years ago I came across a definition for faith that I really like. I wish I’d taken better notes so that I could credit the author for his incite but the best I can do at present is to apologies and give the credit for this definition to an anonymous author. What’s the definition? “Faith is knowledge that leads to action.”

As we grow in our experience with God, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, our relationship with the church, and our study of the word of God we gain knowledge. That knowledge then has the capacity to grow into belief. In belief we acknowledge that what we’ve come to know is true. When that belief, the conviction we have of the truth, produces action in harmony with our belief then we have faith. 

But notice that without the corresponding action the knowledge isn’t faith. It’s just knowledge. 

By the same token, action unprompted by knowing God isn’t faith either. Those actions are merely coincidental convergences that at times occur but they don’t indicate that we’re in a relationship with God because they were produced by a different set of motivations. 

For faith to be faith it must be the knowledge of God living in the life of the believer through action. 

Without the action the apostle James says our faith is dead and useless. 

The Spirit that comes into our lives after we accept Jesus and his salvation comes to give us life. If we’re alive in the Spirit of Christ then our faith, if it’s really faith, must be alive and active as well. 

“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well;  but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”  James 2:8–10

Many years ago now I heard a modern parable about a wealthy investor that was having a shopping mall built and hired a project manager to over see the job while he was out of the country for several months. 

They toured the site and reviewed the work that had been done and then talked over the plans for the completed work and when the investor left he gave one final piece of instruction, “Build everything, and locate every business exactly where the plans I’ve made tell you to.”

Months later, as the work was nearing completion, the investor returned and with the project manager toured the now finished shopping mall.  Most of it looked just like he’d expected it to but there were a few business that weren’t where he’d thought they’d be and when he was able to look at the blueprints, sure enough, the location for these businesses had been changed. 

Turning to the project manager he said, “You didn’t do anything the way I wanted you to.”

“But I did,” protested the project manager, “I only changed the location of a few businesses because it made more sense considering the flow of business in the mall.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” responded the investor, “It made more sense to you. The few changes you made tell me that you’d have changed everything if it hadn’t matched what you thought the plans should have been. You didn’t do anything the way I want. You did everything the way you wanted.”

Obedience to God is an all or none proposition. You either obey him in everything or you’re guilty of disobeying him in everything. The reason for this is because it’s all a question of whether or not you’re willing to submit your sinful heart and will to his perfect and righteous one. Will you follow his commands or will you substitute your own?

Substituting your own will for one or more of his commands demonstrates that you’re willing to substitute your own for all of them. 

Our history as sinners means that we don’t think like God thinks. We don’t really understand what love and righteousness are, and we have a tendency to think that things are ok when God knows they’re not. 

Taking Jesus as our Lord and Savior means that we’re to submit to him in everything, even when it doesn’t make sense to us. 

“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.”  James 2:1

How do you think Jesus would be dressed if he came into church this Sabbath?

We have a tendency to estimate whether or not a person ought to be taken seriously, spiritually, by their outward appearance.  But consider this: Jesus came to his teaching and healing ministry from a working class background. He was a carpenter. On top of that he was poor.  By poor I mean that, like most manual laborers, the work of that day’s labor provided the income that would purchase the food for the next day. It was almost literally a hand to mouth existence. 

Most people in his circumstance possessed one outfit of clothes and that was what they worked, played, slept, and worshipped in. If they did possess two outfits they were usually of the same quality with one being newer and in better condition than the other. They might reserve the newer outfit for more formal occasions like feasts, celebrations and worship but eventually when their work clothes wore out that “good” outfit would become their work clothes. 

So Jesus if he were to come into our church, if he came from a working class background similar to the one he was born into two thousand years ago, would probably walk through the doors dressed as we would expect a clean and respectable carpenter to be dressed on a work day. 

Now here’s the real question. Dressed like that, would we take him seriously?  Would we recognize in him the quality of spiritual depth he actually possessed and give him the attention that spiritual depth deserves?

We do tend to be partial in our estimation of one another. James’ call to us is that we would extend to one another the highest level of respect and consideration regardless of appearance. 

It may be that God will communicate his presence to us in the most unlikely of forms. Jesus came in an appearance the Jewish elite did not expect, but appearances didn’t change the fact that he was was God the Son incarnate. 

You never know, the homeless man walking into your church might be an angel in disguise or that naive, sickly looking young woman might have just been chosen by God to communicate his messages of counsel and guidance to his church. Our God is known for doing things differently than we might expect. Because of that, it’s not just unloving, it’s dangerous to show partiality in church. 

“If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.”  James 1:26

We all know people that seem to have the tendency of saying whatever thoughts that come in their minds. Maybe we, ourselves, are one of those people. 

I’ve heard people respond when it’s been suggested to them that perhaps they needed to be more careful in the things they said to others that they had the right to say whatever they wanted to say and if others didn’t like it they didn’t have to listen. 

Friends, such an attitude is not supported in scripture. James is going to elaborate on the capacity of our words to inflict great harm on others so I won’t delve deeply into it at this time. Suffice it to say, in this post, that there is a need for carefulness, and self control, when it comes to what we say. In fact, the apostle clearly states that if we’re not careful in how we exercise control of our words that our religion is useless. And that if we try and convince ourselves that this is not the case we’re deceiving ourselves. 

Pure religion, he goes on to say is “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

Notice that he begins by citing selfless service for the vulnerable as the first of the criterion for pure religion. Christlikeness means that we will have thoughtful consideration in all our dealings with others. Whether it’s what we say or what we do we will exercise carefulness so that we can be the messengers of God’s love and salvation we’ve been called to be. 

But too much the influence of the world intrudes into our interactions with others. Selfishness, self satisfaction, and discourtesy too often mark the things that far to quickly come out of our mouths. This may be thought acceptable by people living by the world’s standards but it’s not to be thought correct by anyone seeking the approval of heaven. 

Social media communications and the the example of many prominent celebrities and politicians may seem to be giving license for thoughtlessness and hurtfulness but friends Christ is our example, his behavior is the standard by which we ought to pattern our lives and his love should be the lingering impact that follows others interactions with us. 

This is pure religion. This is what it means to be a Christian. 

“Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”  James 1:21–22

For anything to be considered true or real there must be evidence that supports it. This is true in science and in legal matters. For a scientific hypothesis to be proven it has to be validated by experimentation, the method for that validation recorded and the process and the results repeatable. In a criminal court assertions of the prosecution and defense need to be upheld by actual evidence verifying that these assertions are true. 

We don’t have any problem with this standard of verification when it comes to science and the criminal justice system. In fact, we rely on these expectations as a kind of assurance that science and our courts are trustable. But some how when it comes to our personal spirituality and faith we have a tendency to expect that we shouldn’t have to have any proof, outside of our verbal testimony, to verify that we in fact believe in Jesus, love him, and take him as our Lord and Savior. 

James makes it clear that hearing the word of God proclaimed is not enough. Even hearing and giving a verbal agreement to what we’ve heard would fall short of meeting the required standard of authentication. To authentically demonstrate that we have heard, and accepted and believed requires that we actually become “doers” of the word that we’ve heard. 

You see verse twenty-one of our focus text makes it clear that the word needs to not be merely heard, it has to be implanted. Implanting is a process by which one thing becomes imbedded into another. Paul uses the metaphor of grafting to describe the implanting process illustrating that the result of the implanting is that the imbedded word will become part of the make up of the individual into which it is imbedded. 

Spiritual implanting is demonstrated by our obedience, our doing the works that are in harmony with the word we’ve heard and received. Anything less demonstrates that the hearing has not resulted in implanting. The message has just gone in one ear and out the other. This is understandable with low priority messages but we’re talking about the gospel. We’re talking about salvation from sin and death. It doesn’t get more important and there needs to be evidence that the message has been implanted in us.