The Downward Slide

I remember it like it was yesterday. I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old and one of my neighbor’s parents built their kids a half-pipe right next to their house. I remember it being about 1,453 feet tall from my little 65lb frame. Maybe it wasn’t 1400+ ft. but it was probably close. It was big enough that I was too afraid to take the plunge once I ascended the mountainous structure. I just remember thinking, “This is way higher than what it looked from the ground.”

So, I did what every scared 10 year old boy would do in front of his friends…I pretended my bike was messed up and sent my trusty steed down the ramp without its hero. Which, of course, left me perched at the peak of Everest with a bruised ego and a new plan. I would take the downward slide on the back-side padding the Good Lord gave me…Can you imagine where that left me? Every inch I descended, toward what I thought would be glory, fame, and fortune on the sandlots of South Roxana, left me with small splintered reminders of my downward slide.

Iain Murray reminds us of the splinters that arose in Spurgeon’s day as the Church began to ask “What gains might be made by Christianity if the church was willing to adopt a less rigid and less uncritical attitude to the contents of Scripture…”[1]. Many of The Publicans readership is familiar with the Down-Grade controversy of Spurgeon’s day and the cry of the Prince of Preachers that stands as a prophetic voice, even still today. In the September 1887 issue of The Sword and the Trowel Spurgeon wrote:

“The house is being robbed, its very walls are being digged (sic) down, but the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth, and too much afraid of getting broken heads, to go downstairs to meet the burglars…Inspiration and speculation cannot long abide in peace. Compromise there can be none. We cannot hold the inspiration of the Word, and yet reject it; we cannot believe in the atonement and deny it; we cannot hold the doctrine of the fall and yet talk of the evolution of spiritual life from human nature; we cannot recognize the punishment of the impenitent and yet indulge the ‘lager hope’. One way or the other we must go. Decision is the virtue of the hour.”[2]

Those words could just as easily have been written on June 2, 2017. The phrase “Down-Grade Controversy” may have been coined for Spurgeon and his battle but the American Church faces its own downward slide today. The American Culture & Faith Institute’s most recent study reveals a terrifying reality of spiritual adultery in the American Church and the virtual abandonment of a biblical worldview (https://www.culturefaith.com/groundbreaking-survey-by-acfi-reveals-how-many-american-adults-have-a-biblical-worldview/). This downward slide has generational consequences. The spiritual adultery (James 4:4) of the greater American church has left our pews virtually empty of two to three generations. What’s even worse is that this is indicative of their relationship with God through Jesus Christ; empty, void, absent.

I am on the cusp of the Gen-X and Millennial generations having been born in 1979. Regardless of where a researcher places me, my generation slides down the half-pipe on our splinter-ridden rears to an abysmal 4-7% espousal of Christian Orthodoxy and a Biblical Worldview. Take those adulterous numbers and pass that down to the Mosaic’s (18 and under, children of Millenial & Gen-X) and you’ll find that 0.5% of our latest generation see the world through biblical lenses. Spurgeon was right, “the house has been robbed.” And it’s being robbed by the very fathers and husbands who God has tasked with spiritual leadership of their homes. Abidcation is the sin and apostasy is its fruit.

Thankfully, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ will ever ring true: “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against [my Church].”[3] Take heart, brothers & sisters, everything is not lost. The Lord Jesus himself assures us that the will of the Father is that he “should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”[4] With this confidence of assurance in Christ’s work, what then shall we do? Let us, as reformers, turn to the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient, Word of God to give us direction.

James 4:7-10—10 Realities of Repentance

Submit—Submission to God is to voluntarily place ourselves under his authoritative Word. As believers submit to God’s Word we will find that his commands are not burdensome[5] but a delight and our counselors[6]

Resist—Resistance is, as Kurt Richardson suggests, a defensive posture.[7] To actively resist the devil is to consciously secure a victory. Follow Christ’s model of resistance with God’s Word as your sword and faith as your shield.

Draw Near—Unlike the human heart, the heart of God is not repulsed by the wretchedness of man that approaches him in confession. Instead, as we actively draw near to the Throne of Grace, in repentance, the Father draws near to us as he runs toward us to welcome us home & clothes us with his ring & his robe.

Cleanse & Purify—These deliberate consecrating actions deliver the word picture to the mind of the Old Testament priests who would take intentional steps to remove the physical filth from their bodies that represented the spiritual filth of sin before they would approach God.

Wretch, Mourn, & Weep, Change from Laughter & Joy to Mourning & Weeping—A broken and contrite heart will not be despised by our Gracious God.[8] The Church needs a new relationship with sin; perhaps not a new but biblical one.

Humble—Until we are humbled, either in recognition of our sin or by God’s judgement, there will be no exaltation. For “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”[9]

May God find it in his gracious love to grant us a national, godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Without his grace, we, our children, and our children’s children will find that we have more than  plintered bottoms; our families will have an eternity separated from a loving and gracious God. Lord, let that not be found in my home.

Citations:

[1] Iain Murray: The Forgotten Spurgeon, The Banner of Truth Trust

[2] Ibid., pg 152

[3] Matthew 16:18 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[4] John 6:39 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[5] 1 John 5:2-4 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[6] Psalm 119:24 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[7] Kurt Richardson, New American Commentary. Vol 36, B & H Publishing

[8] Psalm 51:17 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[9] James 4:6 & Proverbs 3:34 ESV, Crossway, 2001

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James in a Social Media World

For many of us, social media has become one of our main sources of communication in a public forum. It is the place go to share great events taking place in our lives such as births, weddings, new jobs and other celebrated occasions. It is also a central avenue where we may keep in touch with friends who have moved away and see how the Lord is working in their lives or how we can continue to pray for them. In many ways, social media has many positives like any community, and this is an important part for us to remember not just that it isn’t all bad, but that to a degree it is a community. It is a place with real people, with real emotions, real thoughts, real hurts, real sins, and where real souls do exist. Behind the computer screen lies men and women designed by Father and those for whom his Son was sent. So, when we think about social media and the gospel we have to think about it just like any other community we exist in and that comes down to the question: does my speech, conduct and attitude online reflect the gospel or does it reflect the world. The Epistle of James is probably one of the best works in the New Testament on  the way we love out the Christian life and as such can be easily applied to our lives online.

but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” James 3:8-12

First,  let us think of our speech. James spends a lot of his time discussing what it means to follow Christ. The book goes into extensive discussion on how we examine our lives in light of the truth of Christ and in a modern world we can easily apply it to the world of social media. That means, that when James addresses the issue of the tongue we can address the issue of our tweets, comments, status updates, Instagrams, Snapchat stories, blogs, etc.. For most of us on social media sites the above issues of blessing the Lor with one tweet d and cursing others in a comment section is nothing new, in one moment we are quoting scripture or posting memes about the greatness of God or his love and in the next moment tearing people down or calling them names, because we disagree with them or simple because we don’t like something they said, but this should never happen. As believers, our speech should reflect the gospel in all its ways that includes our online presence. Ask yourselves these questions: does my online life look any different from non-believers? If a non-Christian friend looked through my social media presence would they believe there is something different in how I post and how I comment and interact with others?  So when we approach life in a social media world we must remember when commenting or posting to think first about how the things I am saying represent Christ. We are ambassadors of the gospel in all we do, either for good or for bad, so think about if you are seeking to further the kingdom of God.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James: 1-3

The next thing that follows the words we say is the attitude behind it. James deals with this same topic. Sometimes the words we say may not be inherently sinful, but the attitude that they originate from is. James simply wants us to think about the conflicts that originate in our lives, especially among fellow believers. What we see is that it does not derive from a effort to see the gospel put on display, but rather there is an attitude of jealousy or self-righteousness behind it. Social media can be no different, when we hit up Twitter or Facebook what is the motivation behind what we post, again are you looking  to build up the body of Christ, show the gospel at work in your life, simply post about what is going on in your life so unbelievers can see the Christian community at work, or do we post to make ourselves look better, to make others look less than us, to tear down others. What is the motivation of our hearts when we post and especially towards those who will read and react to our posts. While, those online may not be able to see the attitude behind what we post online, God does and He is the one we seek to honor and serve, so may we do so with our online presences. Let us examine our hearts to see the motivation behind our posts, and unlike with speech we have more time to process and respond in a way that is honor to the Lord, because you can think and process your words and attitude before you hit enter.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:17-18

Finally, let us seek true wisdom form God and delivered it to the world. A wisdom from above does not look like the world nor acts like it.

A Preposterous Hypothesis for Black Friday

As James ends chapter 4 and begins chapter 5 do not be fooled into thinking that James is finished with his critique of the wealthy. After condemning their pride and arrogance in 4:12-13, he continues in 5:1-6 by pressing the wealthy and criticizing their ungodly use of wealth. A quick glance over the whole of James reveals that there is no other passage quite like 5:1-6. In all of James this is without a doubt the harshest, most severe word James has for his community.

Be warned: I am going to talk about something today that will offend some of you. As James did with his community, so I must do so now, especially today on Black Friday. We’re going talk about Money today. But not only money, we’re going to talk about your money. And not only your money, we’re going to talk about how you use your money. But before we get to that point we need to walk through this text to see the reason James used such severe words against the wealthy here.

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you. (James 5:1-6)

James criticizes the wealthy for being four things in this text:

Hoarders (5:1-3)

Did you notice how James begins this second section on the wealthy in the same way he began the first one? “Come now, you rich” shows that James, again as in 4:13, isn’t afraid of the wealthy in the community. He could have been afraid of them and be tempted into thinking that because they have money they therefore have more power and must be treated differently. He does no such thing. Here in these first three verses James calls them hoarders. The language he uses here shows us this: their riches are rotting, their clothes are moth-eaten, and their gold and silver are corroding, and James even says the evidence of their riches rotting will be evidence against them, therefore they ought to weep and howl because judgment is coming. Rather than doing what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:19-20 (laying up treasures in heaven where moth and rust cannot destroy) they were laying up treasure here on earth, in what James calls the “last days.”

Defrauders (5:4)

Moving into 5:4 James continues his harsh, but proper, treatment of these wealthy folks by calling them defrauders. They are called defrauders not because they have large properties but because on those properties they employ laborers who work and make a living by taking care of the property, and rather than paying them what have earned these wealthy landowners kept it back for themselves. These working class people need to be paid so they can make it and take care of their own families, but apparently some or most of the money that is supposed to be allocated for them is being used to pay for the landowner’s extravagant living. What happens to those who are overlooked? Who heard the cries of those who weren’t getting paid their fair share? God does. “Their cries have reached the Lord of hosts.” Not just “the Lord” but “the Lord of hosts” to show that God will avenge His own people when they’re mistreated with His own army, the heavenly host. This is no small matter. To take what rightly belongs to someone and use it to make your life more comfortable is disgusting.

Indulgers (5:5)

James calls them indulgers in 5:5 because these wealthy landowners took the money they wrongfully kept back from their workers and used it to live in luxury, self-indulgence, and fatness. Notice here it in 5:5 it gives more context to when they did this? Earlier in 5:3 it says they did this “in the last days” and here in 5:5 it says they did this “in the day of slaughter.” What does that mean? Remember the context to which James is writing into. James 1:1 says he wrote this letter during the dispersion, meaning he wrote this letter when persecution hit the Church and spread them, or dispersed them all around the country. This is what he’s referring to when he says the wealthy wrongfully used the money due to others for their own gain “in the day of slaughter.” During the time when the wealthy could be using their own resources and money to care for the persecuted believers and congregations in the area, they didn’t care at all and went out and got fatter in luxury, freely indulging in whatever they so desired while their brothers and sisters were being put to death for preaching the gospel.

Oppressors (5:6)

Because of all these things in 5:6 James says these wealthy landowners oppress the righteous by condemning and murdering them, and like Jesus these righteous men being condemned and murdered do not resist or avenge themselves. “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil, if anyone slaps you on the right cheek turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:38-39)

So as you can see, what these wealthy landowners were doing is nothing short of fantastically wretched. They turned their backs on their brothers and sisters in a time of need and lavishly turned to luxury and fatness. Now for the hard part for us: God is not saying riches are bad, he is not giving Robin Hood (stealing from the rich to give to the poor) a glowing recommendation. What God is saying is that we can sin grievously by how we use or don’t use our money. Are we hoarders, defrauders, indulgers, or oppressors? More than we know. And Black Friday reveals this.

Anyone notice the title to the blog today? A preposterous hypothesis for Black Friday? What is this hypothesis that sounds preposterous? Acts 20:35, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

The preposterous hypothesis for us is simple: giving and tithing.

Black Friday is a day for the Church to show themselves to be different, by using our money in a God-honoring way rather than spending it on our own comfort and luxury. May you use today to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth or rust can destroy.”

James 3:1 – Leading with a Limp

There’s one last thing to we must mention when discussing the elder. He must lead with a limp.

Hebrews 5:1-4 says this, “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”

See the seriousness of the call here? No one takes this office upon himself, but only those who are called by God to do so. And even once one undertakes the ministry of the Word he must deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward since he himself is beset with weakness too. This is what leading with a limp looks like. Isaac’s son Jacob, in Genesis, was a proud young man who got by in life by his cunning deception and prideful manner. God met him in Genesis 32, they wrestled, and prideful Jacob became humbled Israel. From that moment on Jacob walked with a limp, for he had met God as a boy and came away a man.

One of my mentors while I was in seminary, Chris Robins, is someone I’ve learned much from him, and I’ll never forget a story he told me once.

He often drank coffee, so much so, the local Starbucks in Midtown Atlanta knew him by name and knew he was a pastor. One Sunday before church he came in for his coffee, the barista recognized him saying, “Good morning pastor Chris, how are you?” He responded, “Better than I deserve.” The barista stopped in her tracks because she didn’t understand how a pastor could say such things because she thought as a pastor he would’ve had it all together and figured out life’s most deepest questions/issues. She was busy and didn’t have time to linger on this befuddlement at the reality of a pastor saying such things so she went on making his coffee along with others. And when his coffee was done, he came and picked it up, thanked her, left, and on the way out of the door saw that she had drawn a “halo” under his name on the coffee cup.

He came into church that day and told us the story. He knew she didn’t understand what a pastor’s calling is. She thought of him as a saint, an angel. The halo showed that. He told us, “People think I’m a saint, or that I’ve somehow “arrived” and because of my great spiritual pilgrimage through life I can now teach others the way to God. What a lie this is! I haven’t arrived, I’m not saint! I teach and preach my heart out because I know who I am, I know I’m a sinner. But I know one more thing – I know if God can save me, he can save anyone!”

This has gripped me, has it gripped you? I pray it would, and that the amazing grace of God would so take you that you begin teaching all who have ears to hear. Teaching is a dangerous calling for sure, James tells us this. But there’s nothing else I’d rather give my life to!

Lord of all mercy, true hope of my heart,

Grant me Thy blessing that I may impart,

Hope for the helpless, wherever they may be

Help me bless others, as Thou has blessed me.

 

Father in heaven look down from above,

Make me a vessel of Thy perfect love,

Show in Thy kindness in this world of care,

Help me bless others this is my prayer.

 

Father all glorious my Lord and my Light,

Grant me Thy wisdom and strength that I might,

Comfort the fallen, and lift up the lame,

Help me bless others in Thy blessed name.

James 3:1 – The Weight

Whereas James 3:1 calls out the faithful teacher to ensure faithfulness, James 3:1 also calls out the false teacher and challenges unfaithfulness in teaching Biblical doctrine.

These folks perform who their ministry unfaithfully will indeed bring a more severe penalty. It is not a stretch to say that in some cases these teachers will receive condemnation, because if what one teaches is not the truth, do you really know the truth? If you don’t know the truth, and you teach to others, how much more liable to judgment are you? You’re lost yourself and all those under your teaching have been led astray as well. The weight of those led astray will land on the teacher himself. In Richard Baxter’s book “The Reformed Pastor” he says a startling word: “God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able preacher; but because he was a justified, sanctified man, and consequently faithful in his Master’s work. Take heed, therefore, to yourselves first, that you be that which you persuade your hearers to be, and believe that which you persuade them to believe, and heartily entertain that Savior whom you offer to them.”

Is it surprising for you to hear someone call elders, leaders in the Church, to examine that they actually be saved before they teach others? It shouldn’t be surprising to us in our day because we know how much false teaching exists, and that there really is a category of false teacher, that hurts man and dishonors God by producing man-centered substitutes for the authentic gospel. Whatever “call” a man may have on his life, if God has not called that man to salvation he is not called to the ministry. I think this is why Moses, in Acts 7:22, was said to be a “prophet mighty in word and deed” because his word and deed agreed, his heart, his hands, and his words were in unison.

Jesus echoes James 3:1 showing there is a weight to the elder’s office when He said, “To whom much is given, much will be required” in Luke 12:48. After telling many parables concerning the Pharisee’s unfaithful discharge of the ministry Jesus said in Matthew 23:1-7, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others…they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.”

I do think the Pharisee’s are a prime example of those who are under the condemnation of James 3:1, and that ought to challenge us that the one who undertakes to lead others in the faith must be careful that his own life reflects what he is teaching. Greater knowledge brings with it a greater responsibility to live according to that knowledge. James’ intention in 3:1 is not to discourage us from teaching if, like himself, we have the call and gifts to teach. James want to impress upon his audience then and us today the seriousness of the ministry of teaching the Word and to warn us that it must not be entered into lighthearted or selfishly.

It is indeed a dangerous calling to be a teacher. Knowing that we all teach to some extent or another, take heed, you’ll be held to a more severe examination than others because of your testimony of the truth.

James 3:1 – The Warning

Did you notice that the surrounding context of James 3:1-12 is all about the tongue? Interesting that James approaches the subject of the tongue by giving a warning to those who hold a place of teaching. He does this because an elder’s calling is one that contains many words. The majority of an elders teaching happens through words, how careful therefore must one be who is called to such a task if the tongue is as dangerous as James says it is.

Now, it is not a great mystery that teachers have always been very prominent in the history of the Church. 1 Cor. 12:28 and Rom. 12:7 mention that teaching is one of the most prominent ministries in the Church. Eph. 4:11-12 even says that teachers are among the gifts that God has given the Church so that the Church would be built up for the work of ministry. Because God has revealed Himself to us in a book, we ought to be a people of the book, and therefore have teachers of the book. Romans 12:1-2 calls us to be living sacrifices who are being transformed by the renewing of our minds. If our being transformed is dependent on the renewing of our minds we better be eager to renew our minds and what better way to renew our minds than placing ourselves under Biblical teaching? Even more so in the first century society where there weren’t many ways for one to educationally advance oneself. Few people could actually read. What then did they do if they wanted to be transformed by the renewing of their minds? They found a teacher. It is not surprising then that the teaching office, the office of elder, within the Church became to be held with a certain authority and prestige because it was and still is sought out by so many. But I think it is precisely this reason that James begins his instruction about the tongue with teachers because many have sought and still do seek to teach for wrong reasons. Enter James who himself was an elder in the Church at Jerusalem saying here in his letter, “Not many of you should become teachers…”

To reinforce this warning James not only warns that not many should become teachers, he adds another warning too – “…for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” The Greek word for greater here can also be translated as “intense”, “vehement”, while the Greek word for “strictness” here can also be translated as “severity” or “condemnation.” So we can read this verse as teachers will be judged with an intense severity, or a vehement condemnation. This is a serious warning. Clearly James cannot mean that teachers will receive a more severe penalty or condemnation than other Christians because Romans 8:1 says there is therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Christ, Christian teachers included. If it were the case that teachers received a more severe condemnation than other Christians who would ever want to become teachers?

Rather we should understand James to be saying that because of the importance of teaching correct Biblical doctrine to others, teachers in general are held to closer scrutiny because it is the elder that works with the Word, so much with the Word, that we ought to know the Word like the back of our hand. How great an atrocity is it than when an elder sins and falls out of line when he houses within him such a storehouse of Biblical truth. James 3:1 calls out the teacher, and challenges us to faithfully ensure that what we teach is Biblical.

This is an awesome responsibility in every respect of the word.

Paul was very much aware of this responsibility. As he said farewell to the elders of the Ephesian church, he said something that a teacher yearns to say at the end of their ministry. In Acts 20:26-27 Paul said, “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” How could Paul say he was innocent of the blood of all of them? Because rather than holding back parts of the Word that are hard, deep, or challenging, Paul had faithfully taught the whole counsel of God to God’s people. As an elder he discharged his ministry well. This is the elder’s calling.

A Dangerous Calling

If you look up the world’s most dangerous jobs you’ll find fascinating things. Usually jobs such as mechanics, couriers, street sweepers, miners, body guards, astronauts, firefighters, police officers, and mountaineer guides are on the list and we’re not caught off guard with these jobs because they’re ones we’d all expect to be on lists like this. But, one list I found had 3 jobs of that stuck out to me as especially dangerous, so much so that I was surprised to see that these were even real jobs people can have: alligator wrestler, lion tamer, and land-mine remover. I’m not quite sure what goes through the mind of a person when they sign up for this kind of work, or even what the life expectancy of one these careers has, it can’t be very long at all!

But then I’m reminded by James 3:1 that there’s another profession just as dangerous. You know what it is? The New Testament elder. James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” Lion tamers, alligator wrestlers, land-mine removers, and elders; wouldn’t normally go together on any list would it? James says otherwise. Why? Because those who teach the Word of God will be judged with greater strictness.

I do think James 3:1 refers to the office of elder as the New Testament describes it and not merely the pastor. I say this because among the Biblical qualifications for elder we find that they must be “able to teach.” 1 Timothy 3:2 says, “Therefore an overseer (synonymous with elder) must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…” 2 Tim. 2:24, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach…” Likewise 2 Tim. 2:2 Paul reminds Timothy it is these men you want to disciple so they can pass it onto others, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Lastly in Titus 1:9 Paul instructs young Titus to put elders in the Church on the island of Crete that “…hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” So we see it is the calling of the elder to not only be “able to teach” but to be able to “rebuke those who contradict sound teaching.” Therefore, I conclude, and you should conclude this person in view here in James 3:1 is not merely the pastor, but the elders, because we elders are the ones God has called and equipped to teach His Church.

This is indeed a dangerous calling is it not? Sure we may not be sticking our heads into the mouths of alligators, taming lions, or removing land mines, but week in and week out it is the elders of the Church who bear the burden of the people; their joys, their sorrows, their sins, their failings, their victories, their triumphs, and then bringing the Word to bear on our hearts in the midst of all these seasons. The elders bear the weight of the people of God, instruct with the Word of God, and are held accountable to God for this activity. I want to spend the whole of our week on James 3:1. I want to do this for a variety of reasons.

First, it is telling that in the Bible God gives us, as His people, a window into what life looks like as an elder. It is good to see such things.

Second, I pastor an elder led church, meaning that SonRise Community Church is led by a plurality of elders who together with much discussion and prayer discern where God yearns to take us as a body. Did you know this? SonRise is not led by an independent, ungoverned, Maverick lead pastor who goes wherever he wishes. There are 4 of us elders here at SonRise and we all have one vote each.

Third, in a very real sense James 3:1 doesn’t merely have elders in view either, but all of you because you are all teachers to some extent aren’t you? Either you’re teaching or discipling your children, teaching or discipling your spiritual children, or (and you must be aware of this) your teaching everyone who watches you day in and day out. If someone knows you’re a Christian they’ll watch you, to see if you really are what you say you are. So do not be fooled, that this is only for those who’ve officially been called to serve the Church as an elder, it is for all of you, because whether you like or not, all of you teach.

Fourth, and most importantly, the weight of James 3:1 must fall on us, and chase us to the cross so that we all become more dependent of Christ, and less dependent of ourselves.

to be continued…

God Creates True Religion In His Own

God secures our identity and then out of that calls us toward proper activity.

This order is of massive importance because in no way are we to understand that our identity is secured by our activity.  Salvation is by grace, not works.  James 1:26-27 is very similar in its feel.  To cap off the past weeks blogs I want to tell you about a moment in the Protestant Reformation.

After Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses and was condemned by the Catholic church, there was a meeting held in Heidelberg to further examine his views.  Luther was invited to present his doctrine, and this meeting came to be known as the Heidelberg Disputation.  What Luther said in this meeting is what some consider to be the most beautiful statement he ever made.  After a brief introduction Luther said this to his examiners, “God’s love does not find, but creates, what is pleasing to His sight.”

You see what he’s saying there. God does not search throughout the world for those who are pleasing to His sight, for those who are doing good works enough to merit His graceful eye.  No, God doesn’t find anything but sin when looks through the earth, He doesn’t find holy people, He finds wretched people.  When He saves us, He then creates out of us and in us and through us, what is pleasing in His sight.  This is what the gospel does.  God creates true religion in the hearts of His true people.

True Religion Is More than Jeans

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his own tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:26-27)

James now turns to describe what true religion looks like.  He says in 1:27, “Pure and undefiled religion before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”

First note in context here true religion is not content with removing evil only but must be concerned about what is good.  There should not only be a passion to remove sin but a delight to add holiness to our lives.  True religion is negative and positive: “Do not walk in the counsel of the wicked …but delight in the law of the Lord” (Psalm 1:1–2).  This explanation of what true religion looks like again is not an exhaustive explanation of all the ins and outs of the Christian religion.  No, James is saying if religion is to be true, it must have these realities in it.  True religion is not garnished with ceremony or ritual, but with charity and purity before the presence of God.

By calling us in 1:27 to be those who visit orphans and widows in their affliction James deals with the group Jesus calls, “the least of these.”  The verse is Matthew 25:40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  So to James, true religion will cause you to visit the needy, the oppressed, the overlooked, the orphan, the widow, and the derelict.  Why?  Because this is what Jesus did.  There is a profoundly theological reason for this.  Jesus as the King of grace means to teach us that His grace levels the playing field in the heart.  Some of you may have experienced this – before God saved you you thought of yourself as better than most of the people around you.  You’d turn away from those in need and think of them as a blemish on society.  After God wrecked your heart with His sovereign grace, you begin to see everyone as peers rather than as above or below you.  You begin to see people as what they are, sinners in need of a Savior.  The sovereign grace of God shown at the cross is the great equalizer, bringing down the prideful and raising up the “least of these.”

Since this is what the cross does, we can learn that those who continue to view themselves as superior to those in need probably haven’t been wrecked by the gospel yet.  But those who have been wrecked by the gospel know what Jesus means when He said in Luke 7:47, “He who has been forgiven much, loves much. He who has been forgiven little, loves little.”  Have you seen this happen in your heart?  1 John 3:16-18 describes this: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  If anyone has the worlds goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”  Not in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.  In Psalm 68:5 we see God is the “Father to the fatherless and the protector of the widows.”  Christians whose religion is pure and undefiled will see this and imitate God helping the helpless, remembering the forgotten, and representing those overlooked by society.  True religion doesn’t look for the moments of pomp and circumstance, it looks for the raw and real, it lives in the messiness of life, and is willing to jump into the messiness of others for Christ’s sake.  One Puritan commentator says, “True religion is concerned with all the duties we owe to our neighbor.”

The last mark of true religion in our text is in 1:27, “to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  It is the glory of true religion to be pure, not mixed or interwoven with the world.  It is the glory of true religion to join together charity and purity.  Two quick side comments:

a) This verse is contains a reason for why I’m not catholic.  The Catholic catechism in 1992 teaches that charity, as a work, can take the place of a holy life.  Both Pope John Paul 2 and Pope Benedict have said that this Catechism is “a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith.”  Pope Francis has been silent on this catechism thus far and until he says something one way or another this remains their official teaching.  If you’re charitable enough in this life, it doesn’t matter if you’re holy or not, charity in abundance makes up for it.  Well, though it be their teaching, it’s not ours.  Clearly James is bringing both charity and purity to the table.  It is not charity, with an additional side item of holiness.  True religion consists of both charity and purity.  They’re linked together.

b) 1:27 contains a reason why I’m not a seeker sensitive pastor.  Do you know what that means? If I were a seeker sensitive pastor I would cater everything we do in the worship service to those who aren’t Christians.  Softening the Word so it doesn’t land with a negative blow, catering to the desires of visitors to make the service more comfortable.  No, the worship of the Church is not to be mixed or interwoven with worldly principles.  It is the glory of Christian worship to be just that – distinctly Christian, Christ-centered, Christ-exalting, not Christ-lite, not half truths mixed with worldly church growth strategies, or half-truths mixed with worldly music to draw a crowd.  James 1:27 is one of the reasons I believe this Sunday morning moment is for the Church, that it would be built up and equipped for the works of ministry.  Sure when the gospel goes out in power people will be transformed, believer, or unbeliever.  So people should be becoming Christians in this moment, and people should be growing in their faith in this moment.  But the truth stands in James 1:27, the Church is to be pure, unstained from the world, so it should be Word principles not worldly principles that govern the Church.

In 1:27 James tells us to be unstained from the world but don’t we all live in the world?  James is not advocating escapism or leaving society at large to set up our own godly little communities.  No, we’re to be in the world but not of it.  Aliens, strangers, sojourners passing through, unstained by the world.  1 John 2:16 give meaning to the world here, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.”  Meaning, true religion leads people to avoid embracing worldly values, worldly theology, worldly morality, worldly lusts, or worldly criteria for this or that.  Jesus prayed that His sheep would not be taken out of the world but protected from the evil one (John 17:15).  Paul said when he came to faith that the world had been crucified to Him and He to the world (Galatians 6:14), meaning that the world’s desires were dead to him and he was dead to it.

I often hear people often say church is boring, preaching is boring, worship music is boring.  Well perhaps they may be right.  Perhaps some of you have said such things.  But perhaps it really doesn’t have to do with anything that happens here at all.  Perhaps you find that moment so boring because you’ve done nothing all week but sit and feed off the table of the world.  Is that you?  I hope not.

 

Your Words Will Eventually Betray You

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his own tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:26-27)

1:26 says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”  What he’s saying is clear.  If one claims to be religious but shows otherwise by their speech, our religion, our devotion to Christ and His Church, is worthless and deceptive.  In worthless or vain religion men have a form of godliness but deny its power.  It seems that religion in this sense of the word is awful – being used as a tool, not for growing closer to Jesus, or understanding the gospel deeper, but a tool used for making oneself seem holier to others when there is no real concern for such things.

The Puritans called those who do such things, “ones with detracting tongues.”  The tongue is said to be detracting because when these people, who want to be seen as religious, talk about others they themselves always seem to come out as wiser, better, godlier, holier, or farther along.  In an effort to build themselves up they tear others down.  Matthew Henry said, “The man who has a detracting tongue cannot have a truly humble gracious heart.  He who delights to injure his neighbor in vain pretends to love God; therefore a reviling tongue will prove a man a hypocrite.”  Since Jesus summed up the whole law with two commands, “Love God and love neighbor” it’s correct to say both of these must be going on if true religion is present in the heart.  The modern word we all use for a person with a detracting heart is simple – a jerk, a gossip, selfish, egotistical, bigot, arrogant, or hypocrite.

This is the issue here is it not?  That false religion or true religion is known by the tongue, so that a man can claim to believe this or that all day long, but when it comes down to it – what comes out of the mouth is the best proof of what’s ones religion is all about.  There seems to be such a fluid connection between the tongue and the heart of a man that one can know the one by the other.  This is why Jesus said, “…from the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matt. 12:34, Luke 6:35) John even in 1 John 2:9 says, “Anyone who claims to be in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness.”

Apparently James’ audience really struggled with this for James to deal with it so often in his letter.  He already told us in 1:19 to be quick to listen, and slow to speak, he’s telling us again here, he’ll even continue to develop this truth later in chapter 3 and 4.  So too I’m convinced that it’s still an issue today, in every congregation.  Gossip can kill a church quicker than anything. So hear me friends, loud and clear, if you ever got beef with things going on or got beef with someone the last place to go is someone else.  Go to the person, be honest, work it out, and move on.  If you begin to gossip beware, that’s evidence of false religion.

Now, we know from 1:26 that if the tongue is properly bridled it can do a great deal of good.  But I’m afraid it’s not in natural man’s constitution to bridle the tongue.  Once this begins to take place in the heart, and your tongue begins detracting others to build yourself up, religion merely becomes an exercise in vanity.  Knowing this, we need verses like Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”  Paul warns in Galatians 6:3, “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”

So Christian I challenge you, be warned – you may fool some for a time, but you’re words will betray you eventually.

 

Are you Religious? I think You Are.

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his own tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:26-27)

Have you ever noticed the verses directly before James 1:26-27 call our attention to the importance of being hearers of the Word and doers of the Word?  Is it than any surprise that directly after James tells us this he gives us direction to put that truth into action in 1:26-27? How are we to be doers of the Word?

Have true religion, not false religion.

In the original Greek text of the New Testament word order is very important, and unlike English, the most important subject in the sentence is brought right up to the front.  In the Greek text of James 1:26-27 we find the word “threskos” or “religion” (sometimes translated as “ritual” or “ceremony”) not only at the front of 1:26 but at the back of it as well creating a sort of bookend idea to the whole verse.  The word is also brought directly to the front in 1:27 too – why does this matter?  This matters because in this Greek word order we see what is most important to James in these two verses.

To James this whole passage is about one thing – true or false religion.

A question then comes into view, I think, for most of us. Would we, or perhaps should we, consider ourselves as being “religious?”  Does this rise out of the text for you?  It does for me.  I think most of view the word “religion” as a dirty word because in whatever context the word comes we seem to understand it as a word of confinement, or a cage, or a box, and you know how much modern man enjoys to feel confined right?  One time in particular I recall doing this myself.  I was 19 years old, God hadn’t saved me yet, freshman in college, hanging off a climbing rope 1100 ft. in the air on a cliff, thinking to myself – “I love this.  Good view, good climb, sunny day, does it get any better?”  Then the phrase that came into my mind next is telling about where my heart was at the time.  Beholding the glorious view I thought to myself, “Who needs religion?  This is my church.”  Little did I know how religious I was being at the time, bowing and worshipping at the altar of the creation rather than the Creator.  God saved me a year later, and to the eyes of many, I became very “religious.”

Now the question of whether or not Christians are to be called “religious” is neither here nor there.  It doesn’t really matter what labels we use to identify ourselves, what really matters is what we mean by those labels and how we define them.  This is what James is probing into.  We can easily hide under labels and think ourselves to be this or that regardless of how we live.  There are ways to be very religious and yet remain very far from God.  There are ways to be considered by others as religious and not even know God.  There are also ways to be religious and really know God while others may think you’re as pagan as they come.  What really matters is this – is our religion true?  Or is our religion false?  This is the overarching reality James brings us to face in this passage.  Are we true?  Or are we false?

Now that we’ve seen the grand overarching reality James has given us in this text, he gives us examples of what true and false religion look like.  We’ll look at these in the days to come.

Keep in mind here – James is not describing all there is to the true Christian religion.  He’s saying that religion with or without these things makes it pure or worthless.

The Giver and His Gifts

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”  (James 1:16-18)

You see what God is up to here? He is not only eager to tell us earlier that He is not the author of temptation, He is eager to tell us what does come from Him – every good gift. Isn’t that kind of our Father?

“Every” because all and each thing we receive comes from Him.

“Good” because He is the author of all that is good, and is the definition of good Himself.

“Gift” because God is not obligated to give us anything, but He does.

Every…good…gift we enjoy, is a grace from His hand to ours, purchased for us by the blood of His Son. Do not be deceived friends, the good you enjoy does not come from you. Darkness, luring away, enticement, sin, and death come from us. Light, strength, hope, peace, and life come from Him. While we may constantly wander and be dark as night God alone is the Father of lights with no variation or change. He is the “King with no Shadow” breaking forth with light into our darkness. Just as God isn’t vague about what comes and doesn’t come from Him, the passage concludes in 1:18 describing the best of His gifts. “Of His own will He brought us forth by the Word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” To a suffering people, dispersed throughout the known world due to gospel persecution, God speaks a supremely loving Word – He has redeemed them.

3 things to note in James 1:18.

First, God redeems us by “His own will.” God remind these sufferers that He redeemed them sovereignly, that is, not by their will but by “His own will.” I remind you that if you call yourself a Christian today, and have in truth placed your faith in Jesus banking on Him for your salvation, God has redeemed you sovereignly as well, not by your will but by “His own will.” It is comforting to know this. It is comforting to read in the Bible the reason why we are what we are today. We are not Christians today because of the suggestion or persuasion of any preacher or evangelist. We are Christians today because before the world began God elected and destined a specific people for Himself. How encouraging would it have been to those suffering gospel persecution in James audience and how encouraging is it for us today to learn that though we may have only known Jesus as our Savior & Treasure for a few years, He has always known us, and for His glory He adopted us into the family. Before the world was He elected us and gave us grace in Christ 2 Tim. 1:9 says. You don’t need to understand this, but you must believe it.

Second, God redeems us by “the Word of truth.” God didn’t just elect us before the world was and had us pop out as infants in the Kingdom. Yes He is sovereign, yes He elected us, yes He predestined us to be in His Kingdom, but He accomplished this sovereign plan through something – the Word of truth. No one is born into this world as a Christian, but by re-birth. The text gives a picture of childbirth. God brought us forth by the Word of truth. This means that upon hearing and believing the gospel we were re-born. Just as Lazarus was raised by the power of Jesus calling out to his dead body, so too we are raised from our death and born anew when Jesus sovereignly calls to us.

Third, God redeems us to be “firstfruits.” Firstfruits are an Old Testament expression referring to the first and best crops that God commanded to be brought as an offering. Giving God the initial crop was a sign of thankfulness for God’s provision, and a sign of faith that just as He provided these crops, He’ll provide more. In the same way Christians are the first evidence to the world of God’s new creation that is to come. As He is redeeming and saving us, we rejoice to see Him redeeming and saving more and more and more into the family. We are only the firstfruits of the Kingdom.

A Descent into Depravity

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully-grown brings forth death.”  (James 1:14-15)

This is ugly isn’t it? God tempts no one, and is not tempted with evil – yet we are lured away and enticed by what? Our own desires. Remember the image of the monster breaking out of the nostalgic movie theater? “It came from within!” seems to be an appropriate statement describing the shocking reality of what lurks beneath the surface in our hearts. But do you agree with God? Do you agree that when you’re tempted you’re led astray by your own desires? Do you think your heart is really this black? I mean it doesn’t take many steps into our current cultural climate to find out what most people think about the heart of man.

If you take a tour through the monster ballads of the 80’s you’ll find a robust theological view of not only what the heart is, but what it is for.

For example: Edge of a Broken Heart by Bon Jovi, Kickstart My Heart by Motley Crue, Burning Heart by Survivor, Hide Your Heart by Kiss, Closer To The Heart by Rush, Owner of a Lonely Heart by Yes, Listen To Your Heart by Roxette, Open Your Heart by Madonna, Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler, Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around by Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks, Harden My Heart by Quarterflash, Cold Hearted by Paula Abdul, Hearts and Bones by Paul Simon, do I need to go on?

That was just in the 80’s! Imagine how large the song list gets when you open it up all the way to the present?! We are not a people who are disinterested about the thoughts and intentions of our hearts are we? No were not. Rather, I think we’re so obsessed with our hearts, so driven by our hearts, and so bent on following our hearts regardless of the consequences it brings. This is not good. You should never follow your heart, or be driven here or there by its leading or orientation. The early American poet Emily Dickinson coined a phrase that many of us have used to justify our sin: “The heart wants what the heart wants.” Jeremiah 17:9 gives us warning, “The heart is deceitful above all things, desperately sick, who can know it?” Jesus even said in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander.”

Lets pause and ask a question. Have you said or heard someone say “I fell into sin again.” I have. Do you think James agrees with this? I don’t! If each person is tempted when they are lured away and enticed by their own desires, than it follows that no one “falls” into sin. Rather we sin because we want to. Isn’t this sin defined? Preferring what is evil over what is good? I think we say we “fall” into sin because we don’t want to see ourselves as bad as we really are. Notice 1:15, we see the anatomy of temptation in a chain like fashion. Once desire is conceived, it gives birth to sin, and once sin is full grown it brings forth death. It really does come from within. The completion of this step-by-step progression into sin may take years to form in the heart, or it may take minutes. Allowing sinful desires to grow in our hearts give it room to grow, sin then comes forth, when it roars its ugly head literally all hell breaks lose, and if sin is not dealt with in a Biblically appropriate manner, it will be the end of us.

John Witherspoon, a Scottish pastor and former Princeton president, once preached a sermon called “The Deceitfulness of Sin.” In it he described what this process of sin looks like in the human experience as it grows. He gave 8 steps.

1 – you enter and initiate yourself in a vicious practice by small sins.

2 – having once begun in the ways of sin, you venture upon something greater and more daring; courage grows with experience; and you give yourself more liberty to walk in the ways of your heart.

3 – open sins soon throw you into the hands of ungodly companions.

4 – next, you begin to feel the force of habit and custom.

5 – the next stage you lose the sense of shame and sin openly and boldly.

6 – you begin to harden yourself so as to sin without remorse of conscience.

7 – you then come to boast and glory in your wickedness, that what you do is something to be above shame, perhaps you even esteem your sin as honorable.

8 – lastly, not content with being wicked yourself, you use all your person and influence to make others join in with you.

Author Kevin DeYoung described this process as beginning from small sins to bigger sins, to bad friends and bad habits, to loss of shame and loss of conscience, to boasting in what is evil and then zealously pursuing others to do the same – this is the devilish nature of sin’s grip on the human heart.

The descent into our depravity is not a ride many want to take. But God has cure for this, and He doesn’t leave us in the knowledge of our depravity in this text.

(stay tuned…)

It Came From Within!

Do any of you remember the old monster movies?

You know the ones that begin by showing the front of an old nostalgic movie theater, and all of the sudden crowds of people come rushing out onto the streets screaming for their lives. Soon after this scene we usually see the monster come bursting out through the front of the movie theater, usually tearing down the “now showing” sign (which ironically bears the monsters own name). Do you remember these images? I do, and I always like what happened next. The movie pauses with the monster front and center while large diagonal letters come across the screen saying, “It came from within!” This imagery of a monster coming forth devouring all in its path is quite descriptive of what is happening in James 1:13-18. In this passage, James describes the anatomy of temptation, and contrary to popular opinion, James says the origin of temptation comes from within.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He himself tempts no one.”  (James 1:13)

Some of you may think this verse is out of place because who in their right mind would accuse God of tempting them with evil? Perhaps you’d say, “God is God, He is holy. He is light and in Him there is no darkness at all as 1 John says. This is elementary Christian doctrine. Certainly I would never accuse God of such a thing.” Wrong, I think you would. I think we all would. I think this because when we’re in a trial (like the audience of James is) we’re not in our right mind, and when we’re not in our right mind all sorts of fantastically wicked/sinful things become possible.

We blame God for His providence, for the times we live in, for the people around us, for our circumstances, for allowing tempting things to remain in our path, some of us even blame God for our own evil condition. Didn’t Adam do these things in the Garden? After sinning himself and eating the fruit do you remember what he said to God? “The woman YOU gave me made me eat it!” As if God had laid such misfortune upon Adam in giving him this woman that he was forced to do what he did. Perhaps some of you husbands have said this about your wives to God. “God I’d be a better man if YOU hadn’t given me such foul woman!” Recall David and Bathsheba. Was it coincidence Bathsheba was bathing the same time David was looking out on his roof over the city? Of course not, it was by the sovereign providence of God that Bathsheba and David were where they were. Was it then God’s fault that David didn’t go out with his army to war but stayed home, and just so happened to go out on the roof late in the day at the very time he knows people would be bathing to get ready for bed? Was it God’s fault that David saw her, desired her, sent for her, and violated her? No, it was David’s fault, he wanted the peep show, and once he got it, he wanted more.

This reveals David’s sinful heart, not God’s! It’s almost as if we treat God as Pharaoh and say the way we are is His fault because after all, He requires a brick but He gave me no straw to make it. Puritan Thomas Manton said the reason we say such things of God is because, “there is in man a wicked folly which moves us to measure God by man’s standards, and because we can be tempted to sin we think God can be tempted also, and because we can tempt others we presume God does the same.”

Clearly some of the dispersed believers James is addressing are struggling with this, saying these things, and rather than seeing their trials as sent to them by God for their own growth in grace (thereby allowing them to “count it all joy”), they are blaming God for their trials, and even going so far as to accuse God of tempting them to sin in the midst of their trials.

This should not be so.

Even more, this cannot be so, God cannot do such a thing because that would be altogether inconsistent with His purity and the holiness of His nature. Notice 1:13 – God Himself tempts no one, and it isn’t even possible for God to be tempted with evil. This leaves us with the question of the origin of temptation – where does temptation come from if it doesn’t come from God? James continues and answers our question by descending into our own depravity in the next few verses.

(stay tuned…)

God Commends His Sovereignty

James 4:15-17 says:

Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

This is what we see as this passage finishes. Rather than saying, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a place and spend a year there to trade and make a profit” we ought to be saying, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 4:16 reveals this presumptive planning, which leaves God out of the equation is nothing but arrogant boasting which is evil. God doesn’t want this from us. Now some of you at this point are thinking of an objection. You may be saying in your head right now, “You see, this is exactly why I don’t like coming to church. This sermon is why I don’t want anything to do with Christianity because this pastor is really only saying we shouldn’t speak in one way and should speak in another way. It’s just surface level religion with no real heartfelt reality driving it. I don’t need surface level religion.”

Well if that’s you, in the spirit of James 4:13, come on up, I invite you to pay attention because God is about to mock your fickle heart and show you that these things are deeper than “surface level religion.” James does say in 4:13-14 “do not say” and does say in 4:15 “do say” but are these matters of talk only? Is that what James is getting after here, to change our speech from incorrect to correct? OF COURSE NOT! James is getting to the heart of the matter, after all – where does all of our speech come from? Our hearts. So yes God is dealing with our speech but He’s yearning for more, God is wanting to get into our hearts and kick out wrong ideas so that right ideas can take place, which will produce right theology instead of wrong theology, which will produce right speech instead of wrong speech.

So what does James want us to know here deep down in our hearts? That God is sovereign. That the only way we do anything is if the Lord wills it. “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” In this statement we also find that the opposite is also true: “If the Lord does not will, we will not live or do this or that.” Everything in life depends on if God wills it or if God doesn’t. Does that make you angry? To hear that you’re not in control? Hear more of the Bible:

-Eph. 1:11b, “…all things work according to the counsel of His will.”

-Deuteronomy 32:39, “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no God beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”

-1 Samuel 12:6, “The LORD kills and brings to life; He brings down to Sheol and raises up.”

-Exodus 4:11, “Then the LORD said to Moses, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

-Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that he pleases.”

-Job 42:2, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

-Daniel 4:35, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, “What have you done?”

We must remember that our days are not in our hands, they’re in God’s. We live as long as God appoints, and in the circumstances God He desires. It is wrong for us to act as if we were completely independent of God and to plan our lives as if His desires or His will don’t matter or cannot impact, influence, or change what we in our own power have set out to do. This is the epitome of arrogance. “All our actions and plans are under the control of heaven…” Matthew Henry says, “…our heads may be filled with cares and contrivances. This and the other thing we may propose to do for ourselves, or our families, or our friends; but Providence sometimes breaks all our measures, and throws our schemes into confusion. Therefore…all we design and all we do should be with a submissive dependence on God.” If you and I boast in our own vanity, boast in our own plotting and planning, boast in our own projects we aspire to do one day, boast in our own titles we claim to have one day, we make it plain that we don’t love God or desire to submit to Him. Really, you know what the human heart wants? You know what you and I want? We want to be sovereign. But, if we acknowledge Christ, the Sovereign Christ who reigns over all He has made, all our days in His hands, all our breath and energy at His disposal, we will be glad resting in His sovereign work described in Romans 8 where we find that God causes all things to work together for our good and nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ, nothing!

We then find 4:17 a challenge to us. If we know this to be true, and don’t act accordingly we sin. This verse isn’t talking about some relative idea of sin, that says what’s sinful for me may not be sinful for you. It’s teaching us that we sin wickedly by not doing something we know we should do, just as much as we sin by doing something we know shouldn’t do. Sins of omission are just as wicked as sins of commission.

So friends, what’s coming up the next few months on your calendar? Meetings, lunches, dinners, business trips, vacations, holiday plans? Have you taken time to pray about them? Have you planned to do something you know God doesn’t want you to do? Have you purposefully not planned to do something you know God does want you to do? Perhaps it’s not what’s coming in a few months that’s the issue for you, perhaps for you it’s the everyday agenda that needs some shaping up.

Do you make time for Bible reading and prayer everyday? Some people will try to convince you that if you plan to spend time with Christ each day you’ll lose the freedom of worship. Really? When has anyone ever lost worship from daily disciplined reading of the Bible? God’s not against order, in fact that how He prefers things to run, 1 Cor. 14 makes that crystal clear.

Still some other people may tell you that I am being legalistic to tell you to read your Bibles and pray everyday. Really? Have we become so fearful of being legalistic that we will no longer allow someone else to tell us to do something, and in the name of legalism shy away from a life of godly discipline?

Still some other people may try and convince you that to plan time with Christ each day is to be too heavenly minded and that these people are of no earthly good. Really? I argue that in reality you’ll be no earthly good to anyone (not to yourself, not to your family, not to your co-workers, not to anyone) unless you’re heavenly minded. It’s only the heavenly minded, happy souls in God that get anything done on this planet.

Be challenged. We are all more arrogant than we think. Doing anything without taking God into account is to sin. Anyone need to repent? Church, be commended by God’s Word to embrace His sovereignty. Do you really think you’ve got control? C’mon guys, there is rest and freedom that comes with living under the wings of the Sovereign Grace of God.