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FAITH IN ACTION
THE EPISTLE OF JAMES
BY DAVID J. WRIGLESWORTH
LIVING WORD INTERNATIONAL
All Scripture quotations are from the Authorized King James Version of the Bible unless noted.
Biblical research and information is taken from Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1986.
“I’m just tired of thinking about it.” One time our daughter said this phrase several times in a church play. It added a special touch and classic humor to the dramatic scenes. It put spice and life into the meaning of the play. Sometime take a little time to watch people at work if you have opportunity. A majority is unhappy with their positions and would rather not be there. They come to the work with a poor attitude and pass it on to others. When they are done and get to go home their whole attitudes change. Work, although we may not like to hear the word or involve ourselves in the task, is a basic need and duty of man. God has made us to work and programmed our physical bodies to function six days a week and rest on the seventh. Please understand that we do not have to work all the time; we can relax and enjoy ourselves in recreational activities. But God Himself has set the example in creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh. He continues to work day and night watching over us and taking care of our needs. Are you not grateful that He is always right beside you and protects you in life? Without work, the body begins to malfunction and dies quickly. As I tell people, I was made to work and have done so all of my life since age seven or eight. The industrial nations of this world have learned the importance of physical fitness and exercise. Often, a person retires at an early age from his or her occupation and dies in a few years if he or she does not keep active. We need a constant purpose to live and function. And so it is with the Christian faith. God made it an active faith. We do not simply receive Jesus Christ as personal Savior; and then, wait for our arrival in heaven. Like the secular world, we, too, must be active ourselves in the Christian life. God has chosen the Christians to be human instruments in proclaiming the Gospel message. The Epistle of James puts all this in a practical perspective and instructs us quite privately and specifically to put our faith in action. Therefore, James is equal to the most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, given by Jesus Himself. Both have very little theological input; instead, they provide deep ethical teachings that are timeless truths for believers to accept and do. It is our interest to explore these practical truths in relationship to a daily faith in action in the world or market place. We are fully commanded to put our faith in action, and James even challenges us to put it to the test. In other words, we must be willing to expose our Christian life and beliefs to the everyday life. In doing so, we can know it works and changes our lives for the better. My family is precious. We have had both mountaintop and valley experiences, but God is an excellent God and can be trusted in all things. Despite the rough road, my wife, Carrie, and our three wonderful children, Kimber, Chad and Nicole, have been true to God and faithful in supporting my ministry for the Lord. I praise God for their love and care through the years, especially when I could not always be there when they needed me. They now have grown and have their own families. And in 2013, the Lord called our son, Chad, home to his eternal glory. As you study the Epistle of James with me, I trust it will give you new insights and ideas on how to put your faith in action. May God bless your faithfulness, commitment and endeavors until He comes.
THEME: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead being alone” (James 2:17)
A Practical Letter (1:1) The Central Focus (1:2-5)
PREMISE 1: PRACTICAL THEOLOGY
A Doubleminded Man (1:6-11) A True Faith (1:12-27) A Partial Faith (2:1-13) A Basic Necessity (2:14-26) A Controlled Tongue (3:1-18)
PREMISE 2: PRODUCTIVE THEOLOGY
How To Overcome Worldliness—Part 1 (4:1-6) How To Overcome Worldliness—Part 2 (4:7-12) How To Overcome Worldliness—Part 3 (4:13-17) How To Misuse Wealth (5:1-6) How To Be Patient (5:7-12) How To Pray (5:13-20)
Faith: The Root of Salvation Works: The Fruit of Salvation
A PRACTICAL LETTER
Dream dreams. There is nothing wrong with having dreams. They are the foundational roots for survival and existence. They keep the well of hope alive in all walks of life. And often, they provide advancement and betterment for all mankind. Just as God had a vision and plan to create this world, He puts the same type of desire within us. The creation of man itself specializes in fulfilling dreams and ambitions (Genesis 1:26-28). Furthermore, the history of man attests to many evidences of both good and bad dreams fulfilled in life. The quests of both ancient and modern civilizations have been built on solid dreams. The human race has achieved mighty works; but still, there is a great future road to travel and conquer if the Lord tarries. We must face the many problems, obstacles and issues of life. Through the multiple experiences of life, we conclude time and time again that our dreams bring successes or failures. Quite noticeably, the dreams of mankind do not resolve the conflicts of the inner man. The Word of God clearly teaches that God alone with His wonderful and powerful works overcomes the spiritual deficiencies of man. World religions cannot fulfill the inner void because they miss the central plan of God. The spiritual emptiness of life is much greater than mere mortal man; therefore, God had to reach down to man instead of man reaching up to God. Faith in God opens the door to new life, inner joy and eternal bliss. Jesus Christ, the perfect, sinless Son of God, is the perfect fulfillment of God’s dreams and realities for the human race. And yet, our faith is not a super “pie-in-the-sky” experience that has no practicality in the earthly life. The spiritual life simply adds newness and power to living in the present while we anticipate the glorious eternal future in heaven. James, the Epistle, considers the practical view of the Christian faith. James', the author, interests rest in putting our faith into daily action through changed, transformed lives. The Christian faith exercised according to the Gospel becomes a little taste of heaven on earth. Never reaching perfection or completeness in this life, it offers hope to the peaceful and restful eternal state and presence with God. Faith is practical. How does James make our faith most practical for daily living? First, the Epistle provides special and practical instructions. The salutation is strong: “James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Our author is the converted half-brother of Jesus who recognizes Christ as Savior after the resurrection event. Prior to this historical occasion, most of His family members did not believe in Him. I am sure that great jealousy and envy existed among them because of His quick popularity and acceptance by the people. And besides, He was nothing more than a half-brother. Would it not have been difficult for them to accept His Virgin Birth and claim to be the Son of God? Human nature does not seem to allow any different thoughts, even among family members. It was just too difficult for them to submit to His claims, popularity and miracles. But now a deep spiritual change has taken place in the life of James, and he humbles himself to be a servant. Servanthood means ownership. A Christian willingly gives up his or her rights to a greater and better commitment in life. The heart is changed from serving the devil to submitting to God. James makes it very specific in this case. He is the servant of God, an open admission to the one, true living God. This same God is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Jesus clearly proclaimed, He and God are one. And the Lord Jesus, taking on human flesh and dwelling among us, was crucified on the cross to forgive our sins and offer us eternal life. He resurrected from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits on the right hand of God and awaits His moment of return for His Church. Servanthood begins with Saviorship. Jesus Christ is the Savior. We cannot find or know God without Him. He is the one and only Savior of mankind. The prefect only begotten Son of God gave His life on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Every person must make a personal decision to receive or reject Christ. To receive Him will change and transform your life. You will find new life and freedom in and through Him. And this decision promises and leads to an life in the presence of God forever and ever.
But servanthood also demands Lordship. When Jesus Christ becomes your personal Savior, you must also surrender to His great authority and power. He knows what is best for your life; therefore, it is important to put Him in charge. We have been called to bring honor and glory to His name, the sole purpose for our limited existence on this earth.
A major problem normally arises in this situation. There are many believers who do not understand the difference between these two decisions. Many individuals desire to make Jesus Christ Savior, but they are unwilling to give Him full authority and power. Instead they seek to control their own lives and reject His perfect will. This can be either an intentional or unintentional failure. Personally, I received Jesus Christ as my Savior at age nine, a one-time decision. On the other hand, I did not understand or give Him Lordship of my life until I was eighteen years old. Nevertheless, this was only the beginning. The commitment must be a daily decision to put our faith into practical action before the world.
Second, James writes his epistle “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greetings.” The Bible is the book of life. It gives us new life in Christ. And it provides a very practical ideology and truth to living. Instruction by instruction it offers the best path to spiritual and temporal living. You will never go wrong when you follow the Lord and obey His commands.
By the time of this writing, the Church had been dispersed throughout the Roman Empire and established in many provinces. New converts were being added daily and needed special instructions. Often, they would become discouraged because of the numerous persecutions, sufferings and martyrdoms. So the Epistle relates to daily experiences occurring in the New Testament times and offers the true faith put into practice for believers of all ages. The special instructions are given to separate the true children of God from the imitators and falsifiers.
Second, the Epistle relates moral and right teachings. Taking a close look at this letter, we find a facsimile and parallel to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus in His most famous Sermon (Matthew 5-7) tells us the most important points to life. He takes the spiritual truths and puts them on an everyday level for us. Basically, this particular sermon emphasizes Christian living instead of deep biblical theology. The Lord Jesus, the best Teacher of all times, would take timeless truths and explain them with simple, natural illustrations. The biblical teachings are not difficult to understand and apply to our daily living.
The Epistle of James, probably one of the earliest New Testament books, was written in the middle of the First Century around 45 or 50 A.D. This would be approximately twelve to seventeen years after the life, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ. In this view, the Sermon on the Mount would be fresh in the minds of His faithful and loyal followers. And with believers dispersed throughout the Roman Empire, it would be a most appropriate time to pen more practical guidelines to the faithful ones, especially to the new and fresh converts.
Looking back to the Old Testament, this Epistle looks much like the wisdom literature, primarily, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Our author uses the didactical method that is, repeating certain themes for reinforcement and power. Like all such literature, this writing also takes our inward faith commitment and translates it into daily, practical action. The joy of Christ, then, becomes our focus moving us from our self-centered lives and desires.
Our faith in Jesus Christ is not just another world religion. It is a personal commitment to God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church and people. Faith saves us, but our faith has no value unless it can be seen by others. This is an Epistle that puts one’s faith in action, putting it to work immediately and keeping it active until the Lord returns. It moves us beyond mere words or teachings. James definitely shows us the picture of how life should exist on the fast lane.
And third, this Epistle puts faith on a daily and practical level. Does the Bible contradict itself concerning our faith? The Pauline Epistles teach justification by faith alone, while James is a great proponent of “faith without works is dead.” Who is right? Is there a biblical divide or controversy? What are we to actually believe?
If we take a microscopic look of the two positions, there is no evident disagreement between the two thoughts. The Apostle Paul claims that our faith is the root of our salvation. We cannot know Christ without a belief in Him. The Word of God teaches salvation by faith alone. Justification comes through Jesus Christ and His atoning work. This is the Gospel, and there is no other way to heaven. God alone has bridged the gap between Himself and man. And the redemptive plan of God makes our faith come alive.
On the other hand, James discusses the works as the fruit of our salvation. Our living faith is put into a daily action. We should never get the two positions confused. How often do people put the cart before the horse? Because human nature normally takes pride in itself, many people believe that they must do good works for their salvation. No, salvation is an outright gift from God. All we need to do is receive it. A friend takes out a $100 and offers it to you as a gift. This money does not become your possession until you take into your hand and receive it with special gratitude. The gift of God does not become real until we take it and receive Jesus Christ into our hearts. After our salvation, the works, then, take effect. Christian works never come without knowing Christ. It is the works that bear fruit for the kingdom of God and let people know that we are followers of Christ.
Faith is practical. It brings the experience of salvation and provides us a new life in Christ. And without, the born-again or born-from-above experience, there is no hope in life now or forever. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to life and its needs. It is the main root of putting life together and finding the redemptive hope. For many, many people they need to come to the Savior, return to their roots for existence, and find true and eternal life.
The Epistle of James clearly tells us “that faith without works is dead.” This is where the rubber meets the road. What good is our faith if we do not exercise its principles and contents? One commentator writes: “What a noble man speaks in this Epistle! Deep unbroken patience in suffering! Greatness in poverty! Joy in sorrow! Simplicity, sincerity, direct confidence in prayer! How he wants action! Action, not words…not dead faith!”
Our physical bodies feel great when we eat, sleep and exercise properly. Sometimes they get out of whack due to busy schedules or unexpected emergencies. What happens? Our bodies get tired and sluggish, and the peak feeling is gone. To restore our bodies back to a good feeling, we must get back into a normal building and refreshing pattern.
Which is more important—keeping the physical body or spiritual life in shape? The Apostle Paul tells us to focus on the spiritual realities. James gives us the same instructions. Yes, there is a real faith in Christ that we can know and practice. It is this faith that moves us into a true commitment to our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. And furthermore, our daily service to God equips us for holy and righteous living. In turn, we give an uncompromising and shining testimony for the Gospel and its effectiveness in our lives and hopes.
THE CENTRAL FOCUS
What is the life of an innocent child? It is most interesting to watch little children in action. Within seconds, they can be content or discontent. Openly and honestly, they express their true feelings. And it takes very little to make them happy. To them, their little world seems perfect. Why? They do not have to confront the adult problems and traumas of life.
When I was a child (that was a long time ago) a nickel would buy the world. Or in those days, we could get a whole candy bar for three-cents with the candy bar being much larger than today. An ice cream cone was only five cents. A simple little purchase made all the difference in my small world with full and complete satisfaction.
Children are the same on every continent. Having traveled in many countries, I know that children from all cultures are thrilled with a small piece of candy. Their little eyes get as big as saucers, and big smiles come to their faces. Their world seems complete. By the way, many of the adults are just as happy to get a little sweet. With very little to eat and no earthly possessions, the smallest gift can be a welcome sight.
As we move into adulthood, this contentment all changes with each passing year. In affluence, we gain earthly possessions, and the happiness begins to wane and die for many people. Major losses, trials and problems disrupt and upset the applecart. Human beings become most miserable in a relentless pursuit for happiness.
Joy should be the central focus in life. Speaking to the scattered and dispersed believers, James writes: “My brethren, count it all joy….” Joy is not difficult if life is good to us. Is it not quite as easy to be happy when everything falls into place and we get the desires of our human hearts? The rub comes when endless difficulties arise; and seemingly, they never seem to go away.
The Christian must learn to rejoice at all times in both the good and bad times. There is no reason for us not to rejoice under every circumstance of life. We must understand that out of every situation God offers His best and brings His countless blessings. The Word of God tells us to accept nothing less. Life is joy.
There are four important steps to spiritual joy. One, learn to rejoice (v. 2). Unquestionably, joy is the most common theme of the biblical writings and relates to the redemptive plan of God. Our God is the joyous God, and He wants His people to be a joyous people. The Old Testament speaks of the joy of the Lord in the forthcoming of the Messiah. The New Testament reveals the root of our joy. And the Church and its individual members are told to continuously and endlessly rejoice in the work of God (Philippians 4:4).
But why should joy be present when persecution continues to visit the family of God? The author makes an emphatic statement: “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into temptations.” Temptations should be translated “various trials.” The New Testament writers had to encourage the believers in the strong attacks upon them, so they come to this conclusion. The adversities of life become benefits to us. God is preparing us to spend eternity with Him; therefore, we need to learn to accept the adversities and grow in spiritual maturity and steadfastness.
Such an important thought demands a closer look in our walk with the Lord. Again, the early church suffered great persecution and had to endure for the sake of the Gospel. There is greater persecution in the modern world than at any other time in world history. The enemy constantly attacks the Church and believers. He is relentless in his pursuits to defeat us. He does not have to attack the world; unbelievers are already in his camp. No, his goal is the defeat of the people of God.
The world has no problem in having happiness during the good times. Sometime stop and note the attitudinal changes around you. When people are at work, they seem to be most miserable. Offer them a party or good time, and they gain new life and energy. They are ready to go. Here is the bottom line: people are happy as long as life goes their way.
On the contrary, the Christian community learns to live in the good and bad times. This is a primary difference between the Church and world. Why? The eyes of the true believer are not fixed on the events of this world; but rather, we see the spiritual perspective of the present and future experiences. Without doubt, we know that all will end in peace and joy with Christ. We look forward to this greater joy knowing all the heartaches and pains of this life will be gone.
If the true believers are experiencing deep spiritual joy, the world will stand up and take notice. It is Christian joy that divides the two worlds, especially in the times of trouble. We can take our adversities and make them great witnessing opportunities for our Lord. Or tribulation can bring special development into our personal lives. The key is learning to rejoice at all times. This joy does not come naturally. It must be sown, planted, cultivated and watered daily. And God promises to bring happiness into our hearts and lives.
Two, accept the test (v. 3). It is a proven fact. Every Christian will face the tests of life. These tests come in various forms, such as, physical, psychological, social, marital, financial or spiritual problems. The root causes come from the endless temptations and pressures of living in the anti-Christian world. Satan is always present trying to discredit your life and testimony for the Lord.
Here it is necessary to make discernment about the testing of our faith. Not all the issues of life are the trying of our personal experience with God. Too often, we disorient ourselves from the practical, commonsense living and manufacture unnecessary problems upon us. We make wrong decisions on the path of life. We can become quite divisive, even within the church body. How many times do we possess unwilling hearts? We consciously determine that we are not going to change our lifestyle or position. And yes, we count it a great privilege to be engaged for the sake of the Gospel. We actually boast openly about what we are doing for the Lord. These are not spiritual tests. They are personal decisions that drive us from a close relationship with God.
In reverse, the spiritual tests lead us into godly patience. To be a child of God in this strange, ungodly world is the most difficult walk in this earthly life. We must learn to rely upon the Holy Spirit to give us strength and ability to endure. And then, we will know the grater joy of life—heaven—it is still future.
Yes, we learn to accept the deep trials of life as part of our spiritual experience. We ride the rough, bumpy road and build our lives upon the unbreakable pillar of faith. We let His will be done in our lives and take every experience and make it an opportunity to serve the Lord. And of course, we are looking upward waiting for His glorious appearance.
In reality, the true child of God does rejoice in both the good and bad times. We are not rejoicing in the trial itself, but joy comes as the fruit of enduring the trial, that is, a lasting patience and endurance for the sake of Jesus Christ.
Third, build good character (v. 4). The learning of patience brings the process of life under the control and power of God. What is the major goal? It is perfection. Moffatt calls it “the staying power of life.” Matthew 5:48 says: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” The author of Hebrews writes: “To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of men made perfect.” The earthly accomplishments create a higher state of being. As a reminder, our salvation is a gift that cannot be obtained by works; but then, the Christian life is a day by day walk in the issues of life to become more like Jesus Christ.
Once again, let me ask: “Is our Christian faith practical?” Even though it has existed and survived for almost two thousand years, this does not necessarily guarantee its practicality. Today, it appears to be losing its effectiveness in the modern technological world and taking a backseat to false religions. While they are gaining prestige and power, our faith is desperately trying to survive in this hostile world. Can we no longer have a balance between the spiritual and temporal? Has faith lost its gusto in the highly educated and sophisticated environment? But this is simply the surface of the problem.
According to this fourth verse, good character is built with patience. Patience in faith leads to a strong inner maturity and completeness. In turn, we gain all that we will ever need to live life and complete its goals. And not one power or person can take this from us. Although the problems and issues are different from today, the early church had its difficulty in relating the faith with practical living. The words in James tell the whole story. It is most imperative to put feet to our commitment to Jesus Christ. If not, the world will see no difference in our lives, and they will reject the most life-changing message of love and hope.
Four, ask for wisdom (v. 5). God never leaves us defenseless in this life. Note that one of the greatest resources available to us is the wisdom of God. Wisdom comes by knowing God and experiencing life with Him on a daily basis. It is learning His truth day by day. Each individual is well-equipped to succeed in life, but not one person is expected to do more than God has equipped him or her to do.
Why, then, do we find so many failures on the road of life, even within the body of believers? It is extremely easy to count the number not seeking the wisdom of God. They fail to acknowledge His presence or influence upon their lives. And they continually deny the power of His salvation and oppose His living truth. What actually takes place? Too many fail to discover the divine purpose in the hardships because of the lack of wisdom. All of us can easily spoil His glorious gifts bestowed upon us by grudging in the way in which they are given and complaining about the reproaches that accompany them.
Too often, we try to live life on self-wisdom and self-strength. We fail to acknowledge the literalness and action of this exhortation by James. Anytime, we lack divine wisdom, we can return to the eternal divine source and draw from it. The eternal, personal God supplies an infinite pool of answers to all the details of life. What happens? God hears our prayers. His creative resources become available. He openly gives to all who seek His limitless power. We begin living a new spirituality and godliness that becomes beneficial to our needs and useful to the people around us. The door of life opens on newer and greater levels. New joys and privileges abound, even in the hard times. All of this can come through a simple prayer for wisdom. What a refreshing thought in the midst of a troubled world! Jesus said: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). Again, He teaches us: For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith” (Mark 11:23).
Life is joy. The little child is happy and content with the simple things of life. And practically everything in life makes the child content. Give him or her security, food, shelter, love and care, and the child is quite satisfied. How far we move from this concept as we get older and obtain more in life.
The Word of God is clear in its presentation. The joy in spiritual living rises from a closer walk with God. The nearer we get to heaven the possessions of this earthly life grow strangely dim. We must come to God with a simple child-like faith and understand the great complexities of this life through His leading.
When is the joy actually existent in Christian living? Our affluence in life has killed our deep, deep happiness in Christ. It is limiting our walk by faith. The Church, in general, needs an old-fashioned, down-to-earth Holy Spirit-led revival. Faith appears to be the great missing link to a truly intimate and personal walk with God. Today, let us seek God and ask His Holy Spirit to restore the full joy in Christ, our Savior. Like the Apostle Paul, let us count all circumstances “all joy.” In this, the peace of God will rule and reign in our lives.
PREMISE 1: PRACTICAL THEOLOGY
A DOUBLE-MINDED MAN
Decisions and more decisions! They are an important part of life and must be made every single day. They cannot be ignored; and yet, there are many people who procrastinate and do not take the appropriate actions. These indecisive acts usually lead to major problems and ill relationships later down the road.
Sometimes, my wife and I go out to eat. It becomes a guessing game. I ask my wife where she would like to go. She responds: “I don’t care. Why don’t you make the choice?” I reply: “It doesn’t make any difference to me.” Or we go through the same procedure when we are with our children. Although this creates only a minor crisis, it illustrates what can develop with indecisiveness. In the end, we do come to a consensus and make a decision together.
In the Christian circle, James calls this individual a double-minded believer. The Greek term is dipsychos, meaning “double-minded, inconstant or fickle.” It is used two specific times in the New Testament (James 1:8; 4:8). This person leaves a negative influence in the work of God. Can you imagine a majority or whole body composed of doubleminded believers? It could be called the Doubleminded Fellowship or Indecisive Church. Nothing would ever get accomplished. How grateful we can be for decision-makers in the body of believers. Thank God for those who are willing to take the risks and make important decisions for the growth of the Church! They may not always be right, but at least they are willing to take action.
Why does James write about doublemindedness in his Epistle? How does this relate to faith in action? Foundationally, he is telling us that God’s people cannot have an effective faith by being unstable. The Christian must know his or her purpose and direction, make decisions in relationship to it, and mature in the faith as time progresses. True belief builds soundness.
What characterizes a doubleminded individual? Most important, the faith wavers (vv. 6-7). I think all of us would agree wholeheartedly and rightfully that our Christian world is built totally and completely by faith. Without it, we would not make it in this life. When we live by faith, we must ask by faith. And asking requires a solid, mature commitment. Faith alone becomes the primary life of the Christian who seeks to walk the straight and narrow path.
In the previous section, our author talks about trials and how we should handle them. None of us can waver if we desire to be victorious in the troublesome times. Wavering is the one step that is important to our enemies; they try to get us to fear and doubt. Faith does not quit when the enemy throws a fit.
What actually happens when our faith does waver? We seek the best from two worlds—the divine and selfish worlds. God can help us when we turn to Him, but He will leave us alone when we are not willing to ask for His advice. Either we will fulfill His purpose and plan in our lives, or it does not work. Why do we tend to make life so complicated when the Word of God makes it so simple? A sincere faith in God always resolve the issues of life in due time, but we try to do it ourselves without His help.
Too often, tribulations and troubles surface in life because our faith wavers. James uses the vivid and natural illustration of the boisterous wave driven uncontrollably by the wind. It cannot stop, and it leaves great destruction in its path. This is the faith doubter. He or she has mental reservations about prayer and remains uncertain about the requests. The key point is relatively simple. Be certain you want what you request. God honors those with an unwavering faith. And He will bless those with solid faith in Him. This is the promise of His Word, and God always keeps His promises.
Next, the failure surfaces (vv. 8-10). The doubleminded person cannot be highly successful in any arena of life. He or she is not just unstable in one isolated area of life; it is the total life. In other words, the doublemindedness affects all the decisions—mental, physical, social and spiritual. The ultimate outcome is a most unsuccessful trip in life. And this person can also lead others down this same path.
The distinct contrast is between the poor and rich. Before discussing this, our author does not condemn the wealthy Christian who uses his or her assets wisely. The Bible does openly oppose those who mismanage or misuse their wealth. These individuals simply seek temporary material wealth and fail to see all the deceitfulness and destruction in riches. They constantly struggle with the anxiety to amass and retain greater material riches. Take for example the rich and famous. How many of them are actually happy with their fame and wealth? Riches do not satisfy the longing of the soul.
God never frowns on riches, but He does despise their misuse and abuse. We must always understand that He alone gives and takes away. We actually own nothing; everything belongs to God. He loans us certain things in life to accomplish more for Him. Without His grace and kindness, we would have absolutely nothing—not even our lives. But we are totally responsible for what we do have and how we use them.
Whom does God truly bless? He blesses those who are humble in heart, the true appreciative child of God. It is clear that the faith life will be exalted in the end. And God will bless those who know Him and serve Him faithfully. We will have all the benefits of an eternal home in heaven.
Those who place all their opportunities and chances in this earthly life will fall far short. They will quickly wither like the flower in the field. Have you ever noticed how short fame is? They tell us that we all have about fifteen minutes of fame at one time or another in our lives. A star is born today but forgotten tomorrow. A sports figure emerges victorious only to be crowned for a moment. And life itself is short and instantaneous. It simply comes and goes with no hope.
Be thankful to God for His involvement in this world and our lives. Praise Him daily for who you are and what He has given to you. The Christian carries the greatest hope for this life and eternity. It is guaranteed to be fool-proof in the end. This eternal life is available to all who believe.
Finally, the future persists (vv. 11-12). Grass is a precious commodity. We may not like to mow it, but we do enjoy its luscious green padding under our feet. In the Third World countries, it is almost non-existent. The developed countries live in a luxurious green world. No homeowner in our world wants to be without it. Once a new home is built, the owner works extra hard to create a beautiful, lush lawn. It is seeded and watered until it develops to full maturity.
What happens when there is a drought? The grass quickly dries up and becomes brown. If it is a severe drought, it never recovers. A new lawn has to be planted and developed over time, or it will not grow. Within a short time, grass can be gone.
It never seems to fail. Every place we go and live, we get a neighbor who idolizes his grass. He is always taking special tender loving care of it. Grass is important, but I find greater values in life. What an illustration by James to describe the doubleminded individual. When this person faces God, there is nothing left in his or her life. And those years of labor and toil are erased from the divine books. And God slowly closes them and pronounces His judgment. True life is lost in a Christ-less eternity. And the unproductive believer will lose his or her rewards in heaven.
Does there seem to be any hope at all? James pronounces a blessing to complete this section. To overcome temptation in this life provides the crown of life in eternity. It begins with salvation in Christ and ends in living with Christ forever and ever. God never closes the door of life to those who are stable in their commitment to the Savior. The Christian life is the one walk of reality.
True belief builds soundness. The exhortation is not to be doubleminded. This brings nothing but instability to life and leads to destruction. The individual, namely, self-destructs in both the temporal and eternal worlds. And such action is not a glorious sight.
The pronounced blessing tells the story of the faithful believer. Like all the biblical authors, James teaches faith as a gift of God. We cannot save ourselves, but we can receive Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord. This is the one and only way to receive the crown of life. Ask God to save you without wavering. This is a decision for now and eternity.
In closing, I share these words from Charles Wesley:
“A heart resigned, submissive meek,
My great Redeemer’s throne,
Where only Christ is heard to speak,
Where Jesus reigns alone.”
Is this the deep desire of your heart? Come to know Christ better every day and serve Him faithfully until He comes. It will pay great dividends in the now and eternity. God is waiting for your response and wants to give you the best in life. Our commitment is to Him or self. Self cannot obtain what He offers to you.
A TRUE FAITH
Sometime, take a little survey from your neighborhood or street. Ask people if they are religious. Even ask them if they believe in God. The majority will respond with an affirmative answer. Religious thoughts play an important role in life, especially during the times of matrimony, birth, death and crisis; otherwise, many people do not practice religion in the modern world. It is only with great feeling and emotion the family or individual summons the Church to respond when there is an urgent need.
Are people truly religious? Yes, every individual is religious. Genesis, the book of beginnings, tells us that man is created in the image and likeness of God. From birth, we are religious beings and have been made for the purpose of worshipping and fellowshipping with the Creator.
But do people practice their religion? This, on the contrary, is a different story as referenced in our initial thoughts. The highest percentage of the population has nothing to do with the Church except when it is convenient or they need us for a special favor. Instead they turn from God and His Church for the pleasures of this world and never darken its door unless the special occasion or emergency arises. Quite literally, many people do not know how to act properly in the Church.
A startling contrast can be drawn from this section of the Epistle. Foundationally, we see the definitions of two religions. First, there is the modern religion or vain religion. This definitely includes all unbelievers, apostates and double-minded believers. To them, external ritualism and rites are highly important, but do not ask them to get too serious about their belief in God. They practice their religion for show and condemn, censure, revile and distract the true worshipper. The false religionist is deceiving himself or herself, not others.
The second religion is called the “pure religion” or true faith (v. 26). In modern terms, it is the old-time religion. It is the biblical faith coming alive in the true child of God. It sets the right priorities—worship to God, service to others, and duty to self. It looks after the fatherless and widows (these are not original thoughts from James; they come from the Old Testament law—Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 68:5, 83:3; Isaiah 1:17). It is a biblical faith and life that God intended for this world.
True biblical faith is unmixed with the inventions of man and the corruptions of this world. It acts in the presence of God and according to His perfect will. And the external evidence shows deep compassion and charity to those in need. As Jesus Himself saw the multiple needs within the human race, the Christian also experiences the same deep conviction and reacts to it. True faith is God in us.
What makes the real difference between a religious person and true believer? Real faith resists temptations (vv. 13-15). You and I face many temptations every day and during our lifetime. Temptation is not a sin until we yield to it; therefore, the child of God should resist all temptations and seek His righteousness. It must also be understood that God will never tempt us, but we ourselves fail the test. A self-desire or lust draws us from the presence of God, and we desire what God knows is not good for us.
This leads to the deliberate and willful actions to disobey God and His commands which produce sin. Under the umbrella of religion, many people try to blame God for all their woes and troubles. They deliberately and consciously choose the road of unrighteousness and expect God to bail them out in the end after putting the blame on Him. Knowing what is right is not sufficient; we must also do what is right. True faith has a moral base that cannot be ignored in our daily living.
It has been said: “First we make our habits, then our habits make us.” There is a great deal of truth in these thoughts. The habits that we practice determine who we really are. They tell us much about the inner character of a person. What are the present existing people problems? Too many individuals are yielding to temptations and satisfying the sensual desires without weighing the outcome or consequences.
According to our text, pure religion remains undefiled. In other words, it never regrets what it has done. Sin delivers us to death, but faith provides eternal life (Romans 6:23). God does not take away the joy from life, but we ourselves commit that gross error when we do not resist the temptations that come our way. God intends for us to have the fullest enjoyment in life, but we spoil His intentions and purposes by falling into sin.
Real faith omits mistakes (vv. 16-18). “Do not err.” This stands as a specific command, not an option, to all believers. If we truly understand biblical truth, we will seek to minimize our mistakes and sins in life. God knows that we will still make them, but they should never be habit-forming in the godly life. And God expects the best from us under His guidance and direction.
How does this actually take place? Despite the reaching of modern psychology, self-esteem is not the answer. It is good to have the right self-esteem, but it should not be separated from a spiritual newness. The Christian accepts God’s gracious gifts realizing that there is no hope apart from the divine redemptive work in and through Jesus Christ. What we are comes from God Himself if we are on the right track. Salvation makes us acceptable in His sight and produces spiritual fruit within us.
But again, let us take a look at modern religion. What has happened to the pure religion? It has been replaced by erroneous doctrines building upon the idea of good works to achieve and accomplish. Man has come to believe that he must do something for his salvation. No, it is a gift of God and must be freely received. Without the power of the Gospel, there is no spiritual discernment. And even deeper, man does not know who he is and understand his independence without the presence of God and the Holy Spirit.
These mistakes cannot be if true faith is evident. God changes lives for the better and to make a difference in this world. If we as believers do not know how to freely accept His gifts and use them wisely, how, then, will the world see the power of the Gospel and its true meaning to life? Salvation changes us into new creations; and day by day, we live our faith before the world. The proof comes in the spiritual lifestyle and commitment that is far apart from the world and its practices.
Real faith changes reactions (v. 19). Here we find three concise commands, that is, listening to others, speaking with wisdom, and controlling the temper. Why are these three commands so important to us? If we think about them for a moment, their practice would literally dissolve most relational issues. Trouble arises when we do not practice these commands.
Let us put it in reverse for a moment. It is always good to look at both sides of the issue. If we fail to do these things, what are the foundational consequences? Not listening to others establishes dogmatic opinions and creates disunity and dissatisfaction in the family, Church, and world. It is a lack of wisdom that produces and blurts out half-truths causing a deep confusion and mistrust. And speaking in anger kindles deeper tensions and restlessness. All in all, what we are experiencing in the world today comes because we have thrown these commands out the window.
The Christian reaction should differ distinctly from the non-Christian reaction. The people of God will offer spirituality in life, but the unbelieving world moves further and further from it. The Church should always be the problem-solver, not the problem-maker. Without God, the world falls deeper and deeper into permissive sin and unresolved issues. It is traveling a dangerous road to destruction. Problems are never resolved until our hearts and minds turn toward God and walk with Him.
Real faith saves life (v. 21). Again, we are reminded that sin has no part in our Christian living. We must be meek and humble accepting the truths of the Word. Walking in purity and practicing the Word saves the soul. Salvation must be received by the power of the Gospel message. God has given us the plan of redemption, and we are not to add to it or subtract from it. Salvation never can be conceived within ourselves; it is the perfect gift of God, His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Modern religion relishes the impurities of life and loses the soul. The world cannot wait for the tabloid story—the latest circulating gossip. Why? People desire to know the bad side about a person. With its deep interest to be caught up in the modern evil, the world underestimates and minimizes the judgments of God. In fact, they actually ignore them and erase them from their minds. As a result, the temporal world alone becomes the priority, and eternity and its outcome are put on hold.
Life is more than this world. This is extremely hard for the modern scientific world to handle. We have to see, touch, handle and prove everything. With modern technology advancing more rapidly every day, we have literally lost the sight of the spiritual world and its existence. The Holy Scriptures tells us that life is not merely temporal, but this earthly existence is only a steppingstone to the eternal realm. And the Word of God clearly defines two different and opposite directions—the spiritual life (heaven) and spiritual lost-ness (hell). It also boldly proclaims that the decision concerning your position in eternity is determined now. Christ is the only way to heaven. You must receive or reject Him in this life. And your decision cannot be changed in eternity.
Real faith creates doers (vv. 22-25). This classical passage tells us to put our faith into action. Words are not sufficient in religion; Christian actions must speak louder than the words themselves. The world will never stop to read the Bible, but they do look at the lives of believers. Time and again, this is true. And the old cliché “actions do speak louder than words” becomes the norm. How many people have turned away from the words of the Lord because a professing Christian was walking the way of the world? You and I must pray to the Lord that we will not be an obstacle to the world, but rather, radiant lights of Christ living in and through us.
We must never forget who we are at any time or any place. Someone is always watching our every move. One time, I had a man say to me at my secular job: “Do you still whistle?” I have a habit of doing so at work, so I responded with a definite “yes.” We got further into the conversation, and he asked me if I were a believer. I responded with another resounding “yes.” He said that he knew there was something different about me and related his belief in Christ. The non-Christian world also sees the difference. They definitely know when you take a stand for the right and live it daily.
A doer practices the faith before people from day to day, not in the closet. A hearer hears the Word and leaves it at home, but the true child of God takes his faith into the marketplace. People can see it vividly and openly. Without a testimony for Christ, we vandalize the true faith and diminish the effectiveness of the truth.
A promise, then, exists for the actual doer. He or she will be blessed by God for his or her appropriate actions. When I do a good deed for someone, I feel good. I know that I have accomplished a service for the Lord. And I have found that God always returns the favor with His special blessing. I do not expect it in return, but we can never out give the Lord. Our doing puts our faith into action, and the action never goes unnoticed, especially by our Lord.
Real faith needs ministry (vv. 26-27). These two verses cite the test of every true and sincere believer. A tongue that flaps out of control and without any defined purpose reveals the true character of the individual. If the heart has not been changed by the precious shed blood of Christ, the religious affiliation or background makes no difference. A false religion will soon be detected from the speech and character of the person. Mere religion will never get anyone to heaven.
The heart is the key to true faith. Without God changing it, the good deeds will be meaningless. Oh, they may have short-term meaning for the person who has been helped, but the true effect will not last. James cites good examples of the changed heart—visiting people in need and separating one’s self from the world. These, of course, are not all the duties of believers, but they simply demonstrate the new life in focus. And they stand as the key elements to demonstrating our true belief in the Son of God.
Every Christian has been called to minister. We must do the work of Christ and bear witness to the truth. God never calls us to be perfect believers, but He does expect us to be faithful workers. Through our faithfulness, the Gospel can be heard, seen, and received by the world. This is true faith in action. And this is the way it should be, not the way we desire.
True faith is God in us. Test your faith. Does it measure up the definitions that James states? Are your resisting temptations, omitting mistakes, changing reactions, saving life, creating doers and needing ministry? Overcome your weaknesses by submitting to God and living up to your potential for His honor and glory. God blesses those who serve Him faithfully.
What can you do to become more Christian in your daily walk? First, you must be certain that you have repented of your sins and given Jesus Christ your heart and life. Salvation is the first decision. And second, you must develop your Christian character under the guidance of God. Accept the challenge. Pray for His direction. Seek help from other believers. And expect God to change your life. By taking these urgent steps, your faith will become pure and undefiled.
E. Stanley Jones wrote: “Faith is not merely your holding on to God—it is God holding on to you. He will not let you go!” It is our faith in God that makes the difference in life. Its greatest reward is our eternal home in the presence of Jesus, the living Christ.
A PRACTICAL FAITH
“James and John once asked Jesus to grant that one of them should sit on His right hand and the other on His left in His kingdom.
A universal temptation perplexes us—the temptation to compete from position. There is a basic human need to feel valued and of value. This is good when it pushes us toward quality living and performance. It is mistrusted when we substitute appearance for quality in our work. All working people confront this problem and are vulnerable.
We can overcome the temptation not so much by struggling as by replacing struggle with something better.
When we learn to love our brother as ourselves, the spirit of competition loses its power over us.
Persistent direction of our thoughts toward our true objective leads to greater accomplishment.
A consuming passion for the true goal of our efforts causes us to lose ourselves in the joy of our work.”
By no means is the present Church perfect, both universally and locally. As the popular saying goes “If you find the perfect church, don’t join it. It will, then, become imperfect if you do.” If there were no problems in the Church, our surrender and dependence upon Christ would cease. The power of God is perfected in and through us when we become more like Him and serve with His humble attitude.
The early church had its many problems as discussed in the various New Testament Epistles. In fact over the given centuries, the problems continue to remain the same. Our author deals with a delicate and crucial issue in every church, namely, partiality. And in God’s writings, this is a pressing Christian problem that needs an immediate resolve.
What is Christian partiality? In modern terms, it could be best identified as a spirit of competitiveness. In this particular case, salvation was recognized to the respect of persons and relationship to their economic status. Basically, it comes to specializing in whom we chose as Christian friends and even members. James asks a blunt question: “Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thought” (v. 4)?
Our text uses the term “respect of persons.” This carries a special usage in a bad connotation. It literally means “to regard the external circumstances of man.” The chief priests and scribes tried to trick Jesus on one occasion with this idea, but He quickly omitted the issue (Luke 20:19-26). Throughout the New Testament, we find this to be a common and corrupt practice. Nor has it ceased in the contemporary church and its settings.
Is it possible to be Christian and practice the respect of persons? To be honest, our persisting human natures tend to make all of us partial. But in our utmost desire to be Christ-like, we should never practice it. Partiality is extremely inconsistent with the teachings of our Lord. When we receive Jesus Christ as Savior by faith, we embrace and govern ourselves by His truths. In doing so, we should respect every person regardless of their background. This does not signify that we agree with them or condone their actions, but we respect them as an individual. More importantly, this indicates a genuine relationship to Christ and full conformity to His will and purpose. Distinctions disappear under the glory of Christ and His cross.
What are the facts about partial Christianity? It sets a judgment value (vv. 1-4). James uses an excellent illustration to show the false value system that arises from partiality. Certain church members were favoring the rich and shunning the poor. What was taking place in simple terms? The rich were given special treatment and the best seats in the church. And the church did this consciously and intentionally expecting a favorable return.
Of course we all know this never happens in our modern churches. We would never favor the rich expecting a financial gift or gain. And surely, we would not respect persons for their special gifts or talents while neglecting those who are willing to serve with lessor abilities. God forbid that we should be guilty of such crimes.
A false judgment rejects the basic commitment principle of the cross. The world is known for its endless partialities, often termed “politics.” In opposite, the Church should be known for its open impartial reputation. Oh to the Lord of glory that we would be like Him and get it right. The Spirit of God must remove this ugly human reaction from us. And as believers of the Lord, we must fight this battle daily. Paul writes: “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12:1).
Second, it establishes personal despisement (vv. 5-7). People begin to despise and hate one another when the partiality trend exists. Relationships are based upon outward appearance, pomp and circumstance instead of seeing the real person. The external appearance takes precedence, not the inward grace that God provides. In retrospect, this individual truly accepts the values of this world rather than the wonderful and glorious works of God.
Let me cite a personal example about the implication in these verses. I think every man dreams about the perfect female model in the romantic years. The world society tends to focus on the outward physical, sexual attraction. However, there are no perfect female specimens to be found. I learned years ago that the physical attraction means far less in a relationship than the inward beauty. My wife is beautiful both inwardly and outwardly, but her greatest asset is her inward qualities. Relationships built on the outward appearance do not normally last; they must be founded in deep internal characteristics.
Misused riches are mischief, vice, blasphemy and persecution. They destroy the beauty that God intended for us to enjoy. In this context, they pull the Christian faith down to the worldly level and destroy all that is being built for the glory of God and His kingdom. And most importantly, they dishonor the worthiness of the Christian name and reputation if not used in the light of our faith in Christ.
The challenge is set before us. We must recognize and rejoice in those who are rich in faith and members of the kingdom. The greatest legacy is not the material wealth and possessions but the spiritual inheritance we leave behind. Even believers have a hard time getting this great truth in perspective. Too often, we get caught in the material web of this world and minimize the spiritual truths and life. Our priority must be the spiritual walk with Jesus Christ each day.
Third, it develops a lawless attitude (vv. 8-11). If we commit a sin or do one wrongful act, we have broken all the laws. This is the conclusion of Jesus, the Master, in the Sermon on the Mount. Respecting other persons under the banner of partiality is considered a sin. It is included under breaking the whole law of God. And not one person is innocent in the sight of Almighty God. Christ came to die for all the sinners and save us from our sins.
When we do sin, it takes away and disqualifies any rights that we might possess. Godlessness causes us to be ashamed. Guilt comes by our wrongdoing. Regardless how much we try to erase it from life and society, it still remains. Sin cannot be removed without divine work and forgiveness. Sin corrupts and destroys us, but the power, love and grace of God overcomes it. In God, we find His forgiveness and new life.
Why does James come down so hard on partiality? Partiality was the most direct act against God in the Levitical laws. The laws were written allowing no excuses for doing special favors (Leviticus 9:15). Under no circumstances does God desire His people to play the game of favorites. Does not God remain impartial in meeting our needs? He accepts any sinner who is willing to come to Him and receive forgiveness. If God does this for us, can He not expect the same from us who are His children?
The proper attitude is experiencing the right spirit toward the law. In so doing, hatred should not exist in the heart toward anyone. The love of God is for all peoples that we meet, and partiality cannot be condoned. God expects us to treat all races and peoples the same. This would be a much better and different world if we put this attitude into effect. However, it cannot be done without a right heart.
And fourth, it brings a merciless judgment (vv. 12-13). The mercy of God stands as a precious and pure doctrine of the Word of God. Without it, you and I would not even be here. A merciless God could pass immediate judgment, and all of us would perish under His mighty, wrathful hand. Be most thankful that we serve the living God who is merciful toward sinners and gives us endless opportunities to repent.
But here the mercy of God will be consummated. In due time, the patience of God will pass, and He will judge the unrighteous and unsaved to not receiving His plan of redemption. We, the saved people of God, will be judged for our works. Our sins are forgiven and forgotten forever by Jesus Christ and His precious shed blood. His salvation is complete for us. And our eternal hope and life rest in Him. A note of warning is necessary; this does not give us a license to keep living in sin. No, we have been called to be a righteous and holy people.
The merciless judgment of God threads itself throughout the entire scriptures. It cannot be denied, but it can be avoided. We have a couple of good examples in the Gospel of Matthew: an unwillingness to forgive (Matthew 6:14-15) and unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35). Does God not give endless warnings about the merciless judgment to come? And these warnings take away any excuse that one might have. Jesus Christ is the answer to the endless mercy of God. Are you His child and a member of His family?
Distinctions disappear under the glory of Christ and His cross. The Gospel rises far above cultural, racial, and social differences. It accepts the rich and poor, strong and weak, educated and uneducated, and famous and simple. It offers spiritual liberty to all peoples that no nation or government upon this earth can provide.
It is a sad commentary that Christian partiality still exists within the Church. Today, just like the early church, it is a prevalent sin. I have had opportunity to travel and minister in many parts of this world, and it has been my endless joy to meet brothers and sisters in Christ from all races and backgrounds. The love bond of our Lord knits us together into His universal body. And praise God, the heavenly gathering of all the saints of all ages and nations will be completely partial free. Truly, we will be one in Christ for eternity.
God commands impartiality in His Church. Church politics must be gone. Divisional lines and barriers must be broken. The great Christian leader and the poor widow can join hands in Christ. The great biblical expositor and former drug addict serve the same God. The political leader and welfare recipient have common ground. An educator can experience the love of God along with a mentally handicapped person. A “charismatic” individual can have fellowship with a “quiet” person. One who likes formal worship can join hands with an informal worshipper. And a free man can embrace an afflicted person. The Christian faith is open to all who receive God’s gift of salvation, His glorious Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of the cross.
Martin Luther wrote: “God our Father has made all things to depend on faith that whosoever has faith will have everything, and whosoever does not have faith will have nothing.” This is a great thought. We may not have much that the world offers, but God gives us all that we need in life. And this life of faith continues into the life of eternal reality.
I close with these awesome spiritual thoughts. Without God, there is no hope. We are all untouchable, sinful people. But God alone has offered refuge to the untouchable human race, including sinners like you and me. As a Christian, what am I doing to reach the untouchables of my society and this world? Am I a partial or impartial believer? It is my deepest prayer to be impartial as a servant of my Lord.
A BASIC NECESSITY
Religion, a significant and crucial point of man’s long topsy and turvy history, remains the key to life. Although leaders and civilizations have sought to diminish and even eradicate it, the spiritual nature of man cannot be dismissed or abolished. This truth is highly evident in the multiple, complicated religious systems of this world, and they attest to the importance of meeting the needs of the inner man. In living reality, religion is here to stay; and quite simply, man draws himself closer to the true and living God or moves further from Him. Depending on the response and decision determines how much religion affects us and becomes part of our lives.
Every person from the most prestigious to the forgotten pauper must answer to the spiritual hunger in the soul. Almost everybody (I have known a few exceptions) who enters this world and leaves it desires or hopes to get to heaven. In conversations with all peoples and cultures, you sense a religious tone and great anticipation to enter the pearly gates and reside in the glorious side of eternity.
People desire religion to deliver them, but they do not make any commitments to get to heaven. This also occurs within the Church and individuals. The greatest error in religion is profession, and it carries no exceptions. This is the common attitude: “I will profess Christ as a ticket to eternal glory and rest, but do not expect me to live my faith and put it to work in my daily life. The minimum essentials of the Christian faith will do the job for me.” Our faith needs the works.
What are the basic teachings of faith with works? Faith with works is profitable (v. 14). The controversy has raged throughout the centuries. Does faith alone save an individual, or do we need faith and works for salvation? The Apostle Paul cries out “justification by faith alone” which became the same call of the Protestant Reformation. James tells us that “faith without works is dead.” A careful view of the two positions shows both speak the same Gospel faith and are reconcilable positions.
What, then, is the apparent problem? The two authors have differing definitions of works. Paul speaks of works being done in obedience to the law of Moses. James refers to works in obedience to the Gospel and its message. Second, there is a different usage of works. The Apostle depends on works for godly merits or rewards. On the other hand, James does not allow works in the living faith. And third, the application becomes quite different. Paul is justifying our faith before God; James justifies the faith commitment before men. Therefore, the Bible literally and always agrees with itself. It will never contradict or oppose what it is saying. Conclusively, the divine words claim that faith alone brings us our salvation.
In this particular verse, the context does not consider the person with a definite faith. Yes, this person makes a positive, meaningful confession. The salvation experience is real; the individual is a true, sincere child of God and is bound for heaven. Before God, the person is fully saved and becomes a new person in Christ Jesus.
On the contrary, these specific words refer to the person who says he or she has faith. It is an opinion, speculation or mental assent. And without any doubt, it is a mere boastful experience. The person does not have a true salvation experience; therefore, all the good works will not save this individual. And the external faith profession will not save him or her from eternal judgment and damnation.
The proper faith is making a genuine confession, asking the forgiveness of sin, and knowing Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord. Salvation alone gets us to heaven; it is a gift from God and cannot be earned. Once this salvation becomes a reality; then and only then, the true believer will desire to do the good works among all peoples. The power of God flows freely from the heart and becomes profitable to our Savior and Master.
Second, faith with works is operative (vv. 15-17). The Word of God identifies and reveals the true identity of the heart and soul. It removes all the false masks that we wear. We cannot be plastic or artificial in our commitment to Christ. God does not interest Himself in the external affairs of man but looks at the heart. From this view, He knows how we will respond externally. The bottom line for God keeps it simple: His complete divine plan is to draw men unto Himself. And if the inner being is right, then the outer life will manifest a true spiritual character and behavior.
An illustration of useless and worthless charity helps the cause. If you see a person in genuine need, will you let him or her go without giving a helping hand? A kind word or special encouragement is insufficient. Your generous words must be put into action. If there is no action, it unmasks an uncaring individual. There will be no desire to aid in the distress.
Faith remains the same. God does not want a cheap and easy-going religious person. He frowns on the mock-faith just as we do on a false action of charity. And yet, millions of people are wearing false masks. They fail to get it and do not possess a true salvation experience. Without faith, all their religious efforts end in vanity and emptiness.
True faith will always be operative. It carries the right actions and motives. The words and actions team together and reveal the glory and power of God in and through the daily living experience. This is where the rubber meets the road. In this operative faith, everyone sees the glorious revelation of God and benefits from the closeness of His presence. It is faith as it should be, and no one can rightfully deny its continuous action.
Third, faith with works is fruitful (v. 18). This particular verse is interesting. When we justify our faith before men with good works, we examine it closely. Are we what we say we are? Our actions will reveal the right or wrong answer to the people that we meet. Whether it is a close friend or a total stranger, they will be able to tell if we are genuine or not. And our faith will give a clear or distorted picture of the presence or absence of the Gospel within us.
In other words, works speak for themselves. Watch a good man or woman over the lifespan. He or she will be consistent and true in character and action. The words and acts will be the same day in and day out. Trustworthiness and honesty will rise to the surface. In reverse, look at a deceitful and dishonest person. No one can trust him or her. The words and actions never match each other. Although the person is most deceitful, he or she seems to roam free; but in the end, the individual will pay for his or her crimes.
The true child of God shines on the world scene and bears good fruit. Jesus tells us plainly “by their fruits you shall know them.” Certainly, the final judgment rests in the hands of Almighty God; but momentarily, we can judge ourselves and others in the light of this statement. In essence, the true judgment will be seen in the personal character. And actually the person brings the judgment upon himself or herself.
The basis at the judgment seat of Christ will be based on both faith and good works. The unsaved peoples will have no hope. Their lack of salvation condemns them to an eternal damnation and hell. It seems to me that there are definite degrees of sin. Do not misinterpret this statement. All unsaved peoples will be condemned to the lake of fire because of their personal rejection of Christ. But over and above this conclusive judgment, it appears that there may be greater or lesser judgments depending on the sins and their severity. Is this the inference in Revelation 20:12: “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” Regardless of the position we take, God will be fair and just in His dealings with the unsaved peoples of this world. And remember, they put themselves in the Christ-less eternity; God, the Judge, pronounces the sentence.
The Christian believers are forgiven of their past, present and any future sins upon this earth. God forgives and forgets. Our strong faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross places us in heaven. We are permanent members of the kingdom of God. But here again, the believers will be judged for their works—what we have or have not done for our Savior. The Christian mission is a commission. We are mandated by Christ to bear eternal fruit for His glorious kingdom. Christ gives us the authority, and we have the obligation to fulfill His purpose.
And fourth, faith works is life-giving (vv. 19-26). This special faith rises to the highest level. It is greater than the assent to faith in God or even a speculation of faith in God. Although the devil himself and his companions hate and oppose God, they do know that God exists. Why would they oppose Him so openly and defiantly if He were non-existent?
The Gospel demands a commitment from the followers of Jesus Christ. We must give ourselves to His divine plan and work, always opposing the devil and his demons. We must love God with the complete life—heart, mind, soul and body. And to complete the commitment, we must delight ourselves in His glory and serve Him daily.
Is this not wise living? The specialty is not boasting. If we boast, it tells the emptiness of our faith and determines that we are fools in the sight of God. The foolish of this world never reach heaven and eternal life. It is the wise who reach the eternal bliss because of a personal faith in God.
Our faith needs the works. Two Old Testament illustrations are cited for our understanding. Abraham willingly offered his son, Isaac, on the altar. His faith and works spared his son, but his great belief and sacrifice title him to be a friend of God. Could there be any greater recognition for a mere human being?
Then, Rahab, a Gentile, receives a special reward for her great feat. She willingly risked her life and hid the spies from Israel. As a result, the people of God were able to conquer the city of Jericho. She and her family were saved from the terrible destruction. And her faith and works place her in the great hall of faith (Hebrews 11).
Here is the final conclusion for our text. Faith remains the sole authority and action for our salvation. We must personally receive the gift of God, His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ alone is our only hope for salvation and eternal life. And this faith stands as the necessary root for all good works for the honor and glory of God.
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, wrote: “Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works, and then faith again, and then works again—until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.” True faith will produce the good works. Works remain the external evidences or fruits of our faith in Him. Thus, we cannot have faith without works or works without faith if we claim to belong to Jesus Christ and His kingdom. Have you personally received Jesus Christ into your heart? Is He your Savior? And do you put your faith into daily practice? Can others see the powerful action of your faith? Faith and works will show the same life—a life faithful and true to God.
A CONTROLLED TONGUE
The tongue speaks the contents of the heart. It is most interesting to see how much the Word of God dwells on the importance of the tongue, especially in the brief Epistle of James. The tongue tells people who we really are, what we think, and how we act. It springs forth the love or hatred of the inner person and reveals the true character. For example, a compassionate person will try to help in every circumstance and seek to overcome any issue. A foul-mouthed individual reveals hatred toward God and other people; nothing seems to satisfy the inner man.
As Christian believers, the tongue must be controlled by the presence and power of God within us. In James 1, it speaks of double-mindedness (James 1:1-12). We view this as being partial, trying to satisfy both the spiritual and carnal man. Literally, we straddle the fence desiring to secure both worlds and never make a final commitment to the Lord. And normally, worldliness wins the heart and life.
Also, we studied the old-time or true religion (James 1:13-27), comparing both the traditional and modern views. Without doubt, we cannot change the divine truths and revelations. The Word of God stands against the tests of time. The modern religious attitude that has become so prevalent breaks the unbelievers, apostates and double-minded believers from the true intent and purposes of God. They stand convinced the external rites and rituals will get them to heaven. And their practices become mere religious shows and will melt under the final judgment of God.
In the context of these verses, the old-time religion ushers forth the biblical faith and life. It remains pure if it stays unmixed with the religious inventions of man. The Gospel must never be compromised or tainted with the worldly corruptions and acts in the presence of the living God. Sadly, there are very few who walk this path, even within the Church and its ministry.
James 2 gives us more information on partiality (James 2:1-13), a deadly sin. It regards the external circumstances of man and opposes the teachings of Christ. It is related to double-mindedness, but it goes all the way. In fact, partiality has no consistency with the truth and should be divorced from the Church. God accepts us as we are and makes us a new creation in and through the work of Jesus Christ, our Savior. And if God accepts us, we should accept one another. Partiality should be divorced from the body of Christ. As brothers and sisters in the Lord, we are to be in one accord.
A second topic in this same chapter is the great theological issue of faith and works (James 2:14-26). Good works does not save us. No one will get to heaven by merely being a good person and doing good deeds among mankind. Good works come after the salvation experience. It is our faith in God that produces the good works, and ultimately, beneficial spiritual fruits for the kingdom of God, human race and individual. Our faith cannot be a mock-faith or mock-charity; it must be true and genuine.
The practical applications of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ continue in James 3 with the tongue and its effects. Without works, our faith is certainly unprofitable and dead. It carries conceit in our personalities, conversations and actions. And the great sins of the tongue can lead to many destructible lifestyles, thoughts and feelings. The saying of putting your big foot in your mouth would definitely apply to this chapter. It is a must study for every true believer and should be readily applied to our daily lives. The tongue can be a most destructive weapon, even to external and eternal damnation. James does not spare any words in regard to tongue control. Control your tongue.
Why should we learn to control our tongues? An uncontrolled tongue creates major problems in life. One, we control others (vv. 1-2). The key term stands as :be not many masters.” Literally translated, no one should use his or her position to overpower others. It is wrong to create a haughty air as a leader or teacher. We should never feel that we are better than others and demand that everyone follow our standards in life. This is a form of judgment which condemns us and offends others.
What is the right attitude toward other people? We should always be learners in life and carry a spirit of humility. This will avoid a strict and severe judgment against others (Matthew 7:1-2). Our words should never be offensive; therefore, we can perfect the whole body. Often what we say portrays who we are.
The bottom line focuses on controlling ourselves instead of trying to control other people. The problem is self, not others. When we become critical of others, studies tell us that we see our own weaknesses in other people and point them out with our critical remarks. Once we see ourselves in the mirror and become less critical, we get closer and closer to the world that God intends for us. Tongue control makes a huge difference in how we see life and live it on a daily basis.
Two, we exaggerate life (vv. 3-5). Later, we will comment on the good illustrations—the bits in the horses’ mouth and little helms that control the largest ships. For the moment, we conclude, as does James, that both do an adequate job in keeping control. The tongue is a relatively small member compared to the whole body, but it can devastate a complete life. By using little lies or half-truths in our conversations, the tongue can create major problems for us. Outright falsehoods and total lies destroy the moral fiber of society and undermine the great power of integrity.
What actually takes place when we exaggerate? Exaggeration displays a pseudo importance and prestige. We fail to humble ourselves before God and the world. Without tongue control, a fire rages. Anger erupts. Problems arise and are left unresolved. Relationships are torn apart and never restored. We just keep piling troubles upon troubles blaming everyone else and never realizing that we might be the problem.
Tongue control minimizes the human discontents. It takes away the ill feelings, overlooks failures and offers divine grace. Could God not lash out against this world with all of its evil, sin, corruption and destruction? Instead, He offers the best provision—His redemptive plan through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And He waits patiently for us to accept His plan and come back to Him. Can we do any less than God? Certainly not! If we expect His divine power to change our lives and the people around us, then we need to control the tongue.
Three, we defile the body (v. 6). Without the grace of God, the tongue becomes the most destructive force in our bodies. There is not one of us who has not been hurt by an uncontrollable tongue. In turn, we have hurt others with our sharply spoken words. There are many, many evil acts in this world, but the world has become fully destructive with gossip, false accusations, and powerful insinuations.
The body becomes defiled by misusing the natural passions and desires (Ecclesiastes 5:6). Such actions bring sufferable snares upon others and destroy our lives and reputations. Can this be what God intended for His world? No, they are the inconsiderate realities of the deplorable, sinful and destructive positions of life. And they should always be left to the world, not the people of God. We expect the world to act in this manner, but not the redeemed of the Lord.
Without tongue control, we fail to keep three destructive behaviors in check—the body, nature and hell. These translate into the human, natural and eternal worlds. The lack of controlling the tongue leaves nothing untouched. And only God can change the deplorable condition of the human race. We need to be grateful that our loving God has provided a new life and hope for us. God offers us the best in life and the world to come. The shed blood of Christ provides us reconciliation with God and an eternal presence with Him.
Four, we create evil (vv. 7-8). Nature takes care of itself. God balances His beautiful, awesome creation by giving authority and dominion over it. By no means does this imply that man always makes the right decisions. But man does have the wisdom, if used properly, to keep and protect the world.
Amazingly, this same human race cannot even control the little tongue. We get caught in small, unintentional slips which hurt deeply. And then, we intentionally and deliberately criticize, gossip and backbite. Either way, evil surfaces and deadly poison kills the individual figuratively and destroys a good reputation. Which is easier for us to do—to relate good news about an individual or to pass on a bad word about someone? Human nature tends to take the second option; we cannot wait to tell someone what happened to another person.
How do we control our tongues? Our only hope rests in the grace and assistance of God. When we let Him change the heart, the tongue should also be transformed. It will take constant work, but we learn to speak good words. It has been said often: “If you can’t say a good word about someone, don’t say anything.” This is good advice for both Christians and non-Christians. Careful watchfulness and special prayer will guard the tongue and prevent future damages.
Fifth, we curse God (vv. 9-13). I stand amazed how quickly people can change. They can be swearing and cursing at the top of their lungs but quickly change when a minister steps into the room. The nature of man is highly inconsistent. He curses and blesses God with the very same tongue. This is not acceptable to God’s true gift or grace.
Can we have both sweet and bitter water in the same jug? I think not! A fig tree will never produce olives, and a grapevine will not grow figs. You cannot get both salt and fresh water from the same fountain. How, then, can we expect the same with the tongue? If evil is spoken, it is from an evil heart. We may try to put on a good pious conversation and face, but it does not work. The Christian should never curse. He or she should not speak clichés that replace cursing. No, the child of God must speak the righteousness and joy of the Lord—not the evil words of the devil and his gang.
Sixth, we serve the devil (vv. 14-15). God did not create evil, even though He does allow it to exist for the present. Our evil natures and actions come from the deep pit of hell. The devil stands behind all that is wrong. He is the troublemaker and promoter of evil and the pleasures of this world. And he leads us down the path of destruction and death.
We cannot serve both God and the devil at the same time. The fruit of our lives tells the true story. Bitter envying and strife spell the non-Christian attitudes. An atmosphere of evil and confusion twirl around the ungodly. Evil, earthly, sensual and demonic acts issue from the fountain of life continuously and consistently. Even a person that does not engage in these open acts is not good enough for God. We are all evil, sinners in the sight of God.
God knows the terrible condition of sinful man. This is why He sent His Son to be the perfect sacrifice for us. Isaiah 53, the suffering servant chapter, reveals what God has done for us. The perfect Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, makes us right before God. Once we are saved, life changes. We commit our lives to the Lord, not the devil. We take on a good conversation, meekness, humility and perfection as true children of God. The spiritual nature takes charge, and this is life at its best.
And seven, we cause confusion (vv. 16-18). The world gets a mixed message if we show both the good and evil nature within us. The scriptures clearly teach against this existing confusion. We are either for or against God. We cannot have one foot in the Church and the other foot in the world (Romans 12:1-2).
Wisdom makes the difference. The Christian position is a welcome change. It is pure, peaceable, gentle, easy-going, merciful, fruitful, impartial, and non-hypocritical. How do we obtain this life? By knowing God and taking on the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). These acts bring righteousness to the world. James hinges on restating the fruit of the Spirit as our only hope to better the conditions of this world.
Control your tongue. The basic principles rest on cleansing the heart for tongue control. How do we cleanse ourselves? We cannot do it ourselves; it is God working in and through us. The second verse gives the perfect answer. Be the perfect individual. Perfection here does not mean that we become sinless, but we turn our attention to godliness, righteousness and holiness. Be a sincere believer, that is, advanced, improved and mature in the faith. As a result, the tongue will be ruled by our actions.
Again, note the perfect illustrations. I finally get back to these. The horse can be easily controlled by the bit and the ship by the small rudder. Do you see the parallel? Although the tongue is very small, it can be easily controlled by the heart. Spiritual wisdom from above must take precedence in the life of the believer (vv. 17-18). Purity means no sin but a steady holiness. The peaceable believer follows purity and preserves life. Our gentleness expects no extreme rights in property. It is not furious in opinions, rude, overbearing in conversation or harsh or cruel in temper. Persuasion is knowing the Word of God so we can counsel others and receive from them. Mercy and good fruits bear kindness and goodness. Impartiality is without suspicion and free from wrongful judging. And hypocrisy has no disguises or deceits. Tongue control comes with Christ control. Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? And are you living for Him? Your tongue tells people your character—spiritual or unspiritual.
Let me close with this little poem by “William Norris, the American novelist, who specialized in simple rhymes that packed a wallop.” He once wrote:
If your lips would keep you from slips,
Five things observe with care:
To whom you speak;
Of whom you speak;
And how, and when, and where.”
PREMISE 2: PRODUCTIVE THEOLOGY
HOW TO OVERCOME WORLDLINESS—PART 1
We begin a three-part study on the subject of worldliness, an often discussed topic of the New Testament and constant plague in the Church and among believers. The early Christians came from a pagan environment and needed to be weaned from its sinful practices. After over two thousand years, the Christian life has not changed. The world has grown godless and corrupt as man searches for his identity. Satan, our chief enemy, seeks to pull us into a worldly attitude rendering our testimony and witness ineffective for the Lord. This chapter discusses the problems of worldliness (vv. 1-6), the principles in overcoming worldliness (vv. 7-11), and the pressures in witnessing (vv. 11-17). How does James define the term worldliness? Our text speaks plainly about this issue. It talks about being on “good terms with persons, forces, or things.” To James, it is an “attitude of indifference toward God.” In even stronger terms, it is an “open hostility to God.” His definitions can be compared to the words of Jesus (Matthew 6:24) and the Apostle John (John 15:18-19). Basically then, worldliness is: “the self-indulgent attitude of the heart and mind toward life—this material universe and all of life’s relationships.” It is “actually what we are, not just what we do.” This avenue of life goes much deeper than the outer man. It is “essentially an inner attitude, not only the outward actions” (Proverbs 23:7). Worldliness boils down to the “interests of any Christian directed at himself or herself—even at what he or she does not do—egocentric.” The Word of God speaks very clearly about this position. Worldliness is not optional for the believer. It is absolutely forbidden under all circumstances. John in his First Epistle states that worldliness cannot and will not be acceptable to the believer who loves the Lord and desires to serve Him (1 John 2:15-17). There are many examples of worldliness in the Bible. A few key ones are: Lot and his continual downfall (Genesis 19:15-17); Saul and his direct disobedience (1 Samuel 13:11-14); David and his adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-5); and Ananias and Sapphira lying to the Holy Spirit and being struck dead as an example to the Church (Acts 5:1-5). Christian disobedience is worldliness. What are the major problems that arise in the view of worldliness? First and foremost, worldliness creates personal and corporate divisions (v. 1). The Jewish population has had its major troubles and persecutions over the centuries. During the New Testament times, they were in constant conflict with the Roman power and authority and despised the rule over them. There were divisions among themselves in regard to the Roman occupation. This even led to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus because He would not free His people from the hated Roman bondage. Of course, we know that it was the divine plan for our redemption; the blame goes to every sinner. Remember that James is writing specifically to the Jews scattered abroad; therefore, it is important for him to raise the issue of worldliness in his letter. It is most important for the Church to be pure and holy before the Lord and world. And clearly, the scriptures forbid the people of God to be married to the world. We are to reach the world for Christ, not to join its sinful lifestyle and ambitions. Many historical divisions have often led to a weak and frail Church. The Church must be united, or it will not stand against the attacks of the devil and world. When believers seek power and prestige, the Church cannot minister effectively and fruitfully to the world. Riches and attainments, that is, the affluent society can kill the effectiveness of the Church. And the sensual and social pleasures become destructive to the Church. What must we do when divisions do take place in the Church? There is only one concrete answer to this question. There must be a powerful Holy Ghost revival; otherwise, the body of Christ will be weak spiritually and fail to fulfill its Christ-centered mission. Can we not conclude that the modern Church is in the great need of the presence of the Spirit of God and an absolute and final divorcement from worldliness? Brothers and sisters, we need to pray for a worldwide revival, a visit of the Holy Ghost, and the holiness of God. Second, worldliness raises continual dissatisfactions (v. 2). There are many, many people who are involved and saturated with themselves. This is the now generation that seeks selfish pursuits to obtain immediate happiness and pleasure for themselves, often trampling on others to reach their goals. They will literally overthrow anything in the way of their wishes. Some even go to the extent of committing an actual thought or murder to obtain their personal desires. The final outcome is self-evident. Dissatisfaction, disappointment and failure lead to self-destruction. The joy and happiness of life can never be reached due to focusing on self. This personal pursuit neglects God and the spiritual life. As a result, true life is never obtained and discouragement overcomes the person who is interested in self. Life was not designed to center itself on the “me” concept. God created us to enjoy His presence and fellowship; and then, we are to reach out and share with others openly and unselfishly. Is this not the condition of the Church? It has become interested in itself and seeks to protect its members from the world. This attitude has caused a failure to fulfill the Great Commission and reach the lost for Christ. The much dissatisfaction within local churches is a sure sign of worldliness and selfishness within its walls. And as described in Revelation, the Church will become lukewarm in the last days, neither hot nor cold. Surely, this is an evident sign that the last days are upon us and the Lord could return any moment. Third, worldliness divorces us from God (v. 3). Worldliness is a definite unspiritual condition. It develops into a divorcement from God and His will. Our love for God and care for His people are tossed out the window. There is an insignificant prayer life, little consultation with God, lack of spiritual commitment and life and stubborn self-views and corruptions. In other words, life literally falls apart, and God is no longer the central priority of the Church or individual believers. The Word of the Lord clearly tells us how to live life to its fullest extent. We need a good dose of spiritual vitamins each day. Many of us take vitamins and minerals for healthy physical bodies. The same holds true for believers; we need to enhance our spiritual bodies to be well-equipped to serve the Lord and combat the forces of evil. Successful Christian living comes in glorifying and serving the Lord no matter who we are or what we are doing. In turn, God promises to give us joy, peace and contentment in our hearts and relationships. This is a constant building process; but in the end, it pays the greatest dividends. Is He not worthy of every ounce of energy and our time? Fourth, worldliness befriends the evil world (v. 4). Literally, many believers offer themselves to the affairs of this world and forget God and the future life. Quite often, the scriptures paint a picture of spiritual adultery. When a husband and wife cheat on each other, it is sin against God and develops ill relationships in the marriage. Many times, it leads to separation and eventual divorce. Worldliness is nothing less than spiritual adultery. It is a deep treason and rebellion against God. Furthermore, it gives no peace. The non-Christian world will never be pleased; it is always dissatisfied. Worldly friends cannot be well-suited. Translated into simple terms, the world is full of evil people and inclinations and will never let go. There will always be envy and strife due to the existence of contrary spirits between believers and unbelievers. And in essence, the believer has no right to befriend the world to meet his or her selfish desires and enjoy the carnal pleasures. It brings nothing but chaos and destruction within the Church and the Christian life. And fifth, worldliness brings a resistance from God (vv. 5-6). The Old Testament speaks of the proud and humble before God (Psalm 18:27; Proverbs 3:34). God resists the proud. Self-pride does not set well with the Lord God who was willing to humble Himself before us and provide our salvation. The word for proud is harsh in these verses. God brings disgrace to the proud. In the Greek, it means that God is in battle against those who are full of self-pride. Those who continually resist and fight against God and His truths will pay a terrible price. God will bring them to an utter shame which is their ultimate defeat and plight. And we do know it will be a conscious, eternal separation from Him and the joys of heaven. Christian disobedience is worldliness. This is a simple definition; and yet, many believers fail to heed the warnings. The greatest problem in the Church is the practice of worldliness that is, thinking in selfish terms and doing it our way instead of God’s way. This is an open, deliberate disobedience against God and the Gospel. It is a premediated sin that carries a heavy price. There are two extremes to worldliness taught in the Bible. The first extreme is the indulging believer. He or she says: “I will do my own thing; just leave me alone.” This brings the practice of every questionable sin with no restrictions upon his or her participation in the world. It might even lead to “everything goes” to win a soul. Needless to say, this is a twisting of the scriptures to satisfy the sensual desires and lifestyle. The second extreme is the separating believer. This person claims to be “totally obedient to the Word of God.” He or she makes straight-jacketed commitments with no breathing room. There is the adoption of all the “dos” and “don’ts” with a complete and total separation from the world. There is the fire and brimstone witnessing. But how does this create a problem? Many people are turned away from the truth because of this closed, rigid attitude. By taking an open pride in the “right” interpretation of the Word, many people feel that they cannot meet the standard and live up to it. Although the approach may be right, love fails to abound. And without the love, the sure testimony is lost. Our text tells it like it is. If you desire to run with the world—live like the world, you cannot be a friend of God. How much do we hold on to this world? How much do you really love it? Are we willing to let go for the furtherance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? It is a fine line; therefore, we must let God guide us and direct us on the path of life. And whatever we do gain in this world should be used to help others come to the Lord Jesus. Ours should be an eternal gain, not the worldly pleasures. The Christian experience does not take the joy out of life; it adds special spice to our living for Christ. God desires us to have the best, but we will never have it if we marry ourselves to this world. What is your decision—godliness or worldliness? Charles Spurgeon gives us a good illustration in closing: “If I had a brother who had been murdered, what would you think of me if I…daily consorted with the assassin who drove the dagger into my brother’s heart; surely I too must be an accomplice in the crime. Sin murdered Christ; will you be a friend to it? Sin pierced the heart of the Incarnate God; can you love it?”
HOW TO OVERCOME WORLDLINESS—PART 2
It is pertinent that we do a quick review of our first message on worldliness (James 4:1-6). We defined worldliness according to James 4:4b, a very concise definition. God desires to have no part of a worldly individual. If we are worldly, it will be evident in our lives. It is actually what we live and comes from the heart and inner attitude. It all stems from the egocentric attitude on what we do or not do. And worldliness is absolutely and strictly forbidden for believers. There are five major problems with worldliness as we shared: personal and corporate divisions (v. 1); continual dissatisfactions (v. 2); divorcement from God (v. 3); friendship with the world (v. 4); and resistance by God (vv. 5-6). Thus, the Christian should always be humble in his or her walk with the Lord. In our text today, it says “cleanse your hands” (v. 8b). This is a specific reference to the outward conduct. It means hands of cleanliness without any injustice, cruelty or evil. It is impossible for us to call upon God with dirty hands. This scriptural reference to the cleansing of hands speaks of a personal confession of all sins, denunciation of selfish desires and individual restoration of fellowship with God. Secondly, we are to “purify our hearts.” Now, James refers to the inner motives. There is no scriptural provision for a divided allegiance; we are either for God or against Him. Hypocrisy, a terrible sin, comes from a heart impurity. And all of us can be guilty of this at any time. We must constantly purify our hearts by submitting our personal wills to the will of God, accepting the complete work of the cross and totally depending upon God in our daily living. We are to overcome worldliness. What are the six primary principles in overcoming the world? One, submit the complete self to God (v. 7). To submit the complete self to the will of God, the sinful life and condition must be changed. First, sin cannot be overcome without knowing Jesus Christ as personal Savior. Salvation, the primary step, is essential in submitting to God. Second, we become disciples of the truths of the Word. In order to accomplish this, we must make the scriptures are primary guidebook in life. Third, prayer must be true and sincere. In prayer, we communicate and converse with God about our lives and needs. Not only do we talk with the Lord, but we listen to Him in prayer. And fourth, we put on the whole armor of God to fight against our enemies (Ephesians 6:10-18). A good example would be the Apostle Paul. He had everything going for him in a high worldly position. He had the leadership in persecuting the believers of the faith. In today’s terms, he had it made with power and position. And apparently at the time, he seemed most content and satisfied with his present life. Nothing was missing from his world view. However, God changed his life and put him in the Christian position. The Lord placed him in total obedience and humility to now being a promoter of the Gospel. And he came to realize that he must “live for Christ” (Philippians 1:21); “be Christ-minded” (Philippians 2:5); “be free in Christ” (Galatians 5:1); and “glory in the cross” (Galatians 6:4). Submitting to God gives Him charge of how we live and what we do. The spiritual giants that stand out in the history of the Church and present-day living learn a total surrender to God. We admit our need of God moment by moment and lean upon Him. Until we admit that special need, God cannot work His mighty works in our lives. It is a total surrender where we give God complete authority, control and outcome. Two, resist the devil (v. 7). Continuously, this chief enemy attacks and tempts us trying to get us to fall into sin. The Word warns us to avoid his prowl (1 Peter 5:8). He is not interested in getting unbelievers; he already has them under his power and authority. The unsaved belong to the devil, but the child of God does not. Even though he cannot pluck us out of the hand of God, we become his main target. If he can destroy our testimony for the Lord, he has accomplished his mission. We must overcome his temptations. A temptation is not a sin until we yield to it. The devil will keep following us and trying to get us to yield. Persistence is the name of the game. By constantly pestering us, he often wins the conflict. If we keep from envy and pride, we begin to travel the path of winning the battle. For a perfect model, we have the three recorded temptations of Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11). These are not the only temptations that our Lord encountered. Like us, He had to face them every day. But despite all the temptations that our Lord endured, He never yielded to one. He is the prefect, sinless Son of God. God expects much the same from us. Even though we are not perfect, we can keep from sinning. Resistance requires a spiritual commitment to the Lord and refusal of worldliness in our lives. Worldliness makes a temptation more tasteful, but godliness steers us from the devil and his tricks. God commands us to resist the devil. It becomes extremely important to realize that we cannot do it under our own power. No, we depend upon the endless power of Christ (1 John 4:4). This powerful verse gives us the confidence and encouragement that we need to overcome the daily conflicts with the enemy. Three, draw near to God (v. 8). The Christian never loses in this earthly life or the eternal state (Philippians 1:21). Notice what is actually stated here: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.” It is a two-way street. As we travel closer and closer to the presence of God, He, in turn, moves closer and closer to us. He actually and literally takes us under His wings (Psalm 17:8). And He gives us His peace and strength (Isaiah 26:3-4). Worldliness keeps us from closeness to God. God cannot be an intimate part of our lives if we are flirting with the world, living like the world, and neglecting our spiritual growth in Christ. Can we honestly say that it is easy to draw nigh to God? No, we live in a material world. We see it every day and have to make a living; therefore, we often get caught in the physical life and its web. We must endure the troubles, tribulations, pains, and heartaches. Sometimes, these can be overwhelming to us.
It takes endless work and commitment to keep our focus on the Lord. Again, He sets a good example for us. We cannot even imagine the heavy temptations, pressures and conflicts that the Lord endured each day. His schedule was busy teaching His truths, training the disciples, preforming miracles, and combatting His enemies; yet, He focused on the will of the Father and had time to spend with the Father. The cross became His climax to the complete surrender of His will to the divine mission.
We are not to grow tired and weary of our mission in this world. God has put His complete dependence upon us, His children and witnesses, to get the job done. Life will overtake us if we do not keep our focus on the Lord and final victory. We have no time to entertain discouragement if we keep close to God and finish the race with a victorious crown.
Four, be serious about seeking the plan of God (v. 9). Troubles will visit us in life. This fact we cannot deny or ignore. Thus, we must learn to accept the trials and tribulations and be sensible about them. Never let them overtake you. Turn your situations to the Lord believing and knowing that He has the best plan. Ultimately, God will bring us through the difficulties that we are facing.
What is the most important key in facing life’s rigorous journey? We cannot allow sin and worldliness to create greater trouble for us. We are not to sin. And we need to learn to cry over our sins and the sins of others. The world would be a much better place if we would walk the spiritual tightrope in the rough times.
“Whatever the pastime
In which you engage,
For the cheering of youth
Or the solace of age,
Turn away from such pleasure
You’d shrink from pursuing
Were God to look down and say
What are you doing?”
Or think about this quote: “There is much truth and sense in being a ‘truthful liar’ or ‘an honest thief’ as being a worldly Christian” (Unknown)! The worldly believer does more harm than good for the name of Christ. This is why we must turn from worldliness and walk in the plan of God.
Five, be humble in the sight of the Lord (v. 10). Throughout our study in James, we have mentioned this quite often. It cannot be said enough times. To be saved, we must humble ourselves and admit our sinfulness. The outstanding believers are the ones that have learned to be humble and practice it on the road of life. God will lift us up; He will put us in the limelight; we do not have to do it ourselves. When we try to be outstanding or great on our own merits, we fall flat on our faces. God can take the frail, weak believer and make him or her special in His kingdom. He is the Potter; we are the clay. We allow the Potter to do His work in and through us.
Jesus made this absolutely clear in His teachings and an important part of His kingdom. In teaching His disciples after the rich young man had come to him, Jesus told them: “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first” (Matthew 19:30). Pride does not stand in the work of Christ. Humility produces shining lights for the glory of the Lord. It is difficult to accomplish great things for God when we push ourselves to the center of the stage. Our work for Christ does not shine until we step back and let Him shine in and through us.
Six, speak no evil (vv. 11-12). Taking and rephrasing the words of the Lord Jesus, the Master Teacher, James tells us not to judge one another. Believers should never tear down another brother or sister. We are to build one another in the faith, not to destroy each other. If we would only take this to heart, the Church would be the most accommodating place for growth and development in life. We are to look at each other’s gifts and strengths, not the weaknesses or failures.
God is the Judge. He saves those who trust Him and brings judgment upon those who reject Him. He has this full right because of His perfection and standards. When we are under the authority of someone else, it is important to obey the established rules and laws. God is our authority; He has established the divine guidelines for life. We can obey or disobey, but the decision we make pays dividends or consequences. And in no way can we blame God for the choices that we make on the path of life. And rest assured that we will be held accountable.
We are to overcome worldliness. Where do you stand? Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Are you with the world or do you stand with Christ against the world? There is no happy medium. You cannot travel both roads. Overcome the world by submitting to God, resisting the devil, drawing near to God, seeking His plan, humbling yourself in the Lord, and speaking no evil. God pours out His special blessings upon those who serve Him. It may not always come in this life, but it will be fully seen and known in the eternal state. Praise God for victory in the cross of Jesus Christ and the wonderful opportunity to overcome worldliness and serve Him. Be faithful to the end.
Donald Grey Barnhouse gives us this illustration: “Some years ago, musicians noted that errand boys in a certain part of London all whistled out of tune as they went about their work. It was talked about and someone suggested that it was because the bells of Westminster were slightly out of tune. Something had gone wrong with the chimes and they were discordant. The boys did not know there was anything wrong with the peals, and quite unconsciously they had copied their pitch.
So we tend to copy the people with whom we associate; we borrow thoughts from the books we read and the programs to which we listen, almost without knowing it. God has given us His Word which is the absolute pitch of life and living. If we learn to sing by it, we shall easily detect the false in all the music of the world.”
HOW TO OVERCOME WORLDLINESS-PART 3
What was the priority of the early church recorded in the early pages of New Testament history? The birth of the Church takes place on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and begins to grow leaps and bounds. Within a very short time, the local church in Jerusalem had thousands of members. The priority was missions as Jesus commanded (Acts 1:8). The Church focused upon missions, and it was an accepted fact that all the believers were special witnesses in sharing the Gospel to the world.
The Apostle Paul stands in church history as one of the greatest missionaries of all times, and most probably, the greatest missionary statesman. As we can see in his mission trips and writings, he was very systematic in his work. His aim was to work through all the Gentile countries and world. After each mission work and the establishment of a church, the leadership and responsibilities were given to local leaders. In other words, he believed highly in the indigenous church principle and never diverted from it. Once a new church was able to stand, it became completely independent from his team’s missionary efforts. However, he did give help when the churches asked or needed it—a basic reason for many of his personal letters and epistles in the New Testament writings.
In general, the New Testament church made the strong commitment to build a Christian world. Referring again to the Great Mandate or Commission, the Lord Jesus has personally given us the authority to evangelize the world. What is the glorious proclamation? It is about our Savior crucified, risen and coming again (Acts 2:32). So as the Church took the Gospel into the world, there were great waves of persecution (Acts 4:17-18). Difficulties arose within the universal body of believers, but love overpowered the issues (Acts 6:1-2). And of utmost importance, the Church kept its witness to all the nations (Acts 8:4).
This leads us the biblical definition of witnessing. Literally, scriptural soul-winning is “one who gives his witness to the actions and words of others.” The Greek term relates to “one who attests his belief in the Gospel by personal suffering.” The authority and power of the Gospel witnessing is authored and commissioned by Christ Jesus Himself (Matthew 28:19-20). Therefore, witnessing is a verbal expression, personal example and Christian action. It is taking a personal risk of one’s reputation and life, even to possible martyrdom.
Charles Spurgeon tells us what soul-winning is not. Basically, it is not the transfer of membership from one church to another. Quite often, this has become the growth technique of the modern church. In his writings, he clearly tells us that soul-winning is not stealing sheep, not bringing men to peculiar views of the faith, not increasing the church rolls and not creating an atmosphere of excitement.
The principle of effective and fruitful witnessing can be found in the textual verse—“if the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (v. 15). We must have a constant, consistent dependence upon God and His will. This is not figurative speech. James tells us to be reverent and serious in our words and actions for God. Our Christian lives and foundations rest on these words. We must live for God as long as He appoints us to this earth. And every design of our lives must be under the power and control of God. Again, let us review what we have already said about overcoming the world in case you missed them. There are five major problems with worldliness: personal and corporate divisions (v. 1); continual dissatisfactions (v. 2); inability to receive from God (v. 3); divorcement from God (v. 4); friendship with the world (v. 4); and resistance by God Himself (vv. 5-6). Next, we studied the six principles in overcoming the world: submitting ourselves to God (v. 7); resisting the devil (v. 7); drawing near to God (v. 8); being serious about His plan (v. 9); humbling ourselves in the sight of the Lord (v. 10); and speaking no evil (vv. 11-12). In this entire chapter, we have three strong premises: 1) worldliness destroys effective witnessing; 2) godliness builds good witnessing; and 3) personal determination creates a powerful witness for the Lord. Be a Gospel witness. What are the five main reasons that Christians do not openly witness for the Lord? One, we disobey the laws of God (v. 11). As mentioned previously, the Epistle of James is written to the Church with harsh words. Dishonest doubts cannot be allowed to exist about the power of divine salvation or personal salvation experiences. Yes, there will be times of “honest” doubts, that is, a questioning of our spiritual life and its commitments.
Every believer goes through doubtful stages, but these should not be the norm. We can ask basic existential and philosophical questions about our faith, but these should not be entertained long-term nor should they lead to a destruction of our faith. The devil seeks to cause doubt, take away our confidence, lead us from the faith, and destroy our commitment to the Gospel. It is always important to take a strong stand.
Christian believers should never defile or defame one another. This is both Old Testament law (Leviticus 19:6) and the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 7:1-5). When we make personal judgments on others, it usually indicates our failure to keep the law. Our Lord called His arch enemies, the Pharisees, hypocrites because they would judge others but fail to fulfill the law themselves. A root problem to good, effective witnessing is hypocrisy. Normally, this persuades an individual not to become a believer. Therefore, the biblical writings constantly warn us about hypocrisy and personal destruction. We should never give an unbeliever any valid reason to reject the Gospel truth and its life-transforming power.
Two, we waste valuable time (v. 13). How often do we plan, organize and work diligently for the Lord, but we leave Him out of the actual picture? We get so involved in formulating personal and church plans that we do not give God room to work His mighty power. And we omit any anticipation or expectation for God to give and increase and bear fruit.
There are far too many believers who are happy living in worldliness. They fail to give God their complete lives and deliberately dismiss or ignore witnessing. Most likely, all of us are guilty for putting it off for a future date. We just keep procrastinating. I learned this the hard way a long time ago. In my ministry, I have always made it a habit to visit those in the hospital. In my early years, I went to visit a man—a stranger who had no interest in the church to my knowledge. On a particular visit, I felt led to witness to him. Every time I went to share the Gospel there was a disruption. Finally, I left never sharing the Gospel with him. I never had another opportunity; he died that night. When the Spirit encourages us to witness, we should do it immediately. Tomorrow may never come.
Can you imagine if the early church had decided to wait and witness at a later time? The Church would not have grown. It would have failed to expand into the known world. And we may have never had an opportunity to come to the truth. Could it be that the contemporary church has become too interested in itself and disinterested in reaching the world with the Gospel? We are losing valuable time because we are too involved with ourselves instead of the mission of God. The time is short; now is the time to witness. The world needs to hear the Gospel; and truly in this day and age, people need the Lord.
Third, we devalue life (v. 14). Often, the Christian world accuses the secular world of destroying life. It is a justified accusation with the acts of abortion and euthanasia. The world puts no value on life when the spiritual hope and morals are gone. Although they claim to sanctify life, their actions speak louder than their words.
The world lives in spiritual darkness, especially to the future events. Human existence to them depends upon a continuation of this present world (Proverbs 27:1). To them, the world is an appearance. There is nothing solid or certain. And it is easily scattered and gone.
The born-again child of God cannot get caught in this web of confusion, destruction and death. We do know that the world is coming to an end, but it will be on God’s time and terms. Witnessing about the future hope is now, not a task for tomorrow. While the world is seeking, we as believers must be ready with the answers. Life is important, and the Word of the Lord brings hope to mankind.
Fourth, we experience joy in self-attainments (v. 16). James tells it like it is: “Ye glory in your vauntings.” This is nothing shy of self-glory and self-proclamation. We dismiss God from our lives and obtain the worldly treasures. How often does the Word speak against such attainments? The treasures of this world will not last; it is what we do for the Lord that will continue for all eternity.
He also warns us against boasting. It is a very evil thing. Boasting produces the fruit of great disappointment. It destroys the witness and testimony of many children of God. And too frequently, it becomes the satanic device for soul-winning. It produces an ineffective soul-winner. How can a boasting believer tell the world about the power of the Gospel in his or her life when caught up in self? It is impossible to witness and boast at the same time and bear fruit for the kingdom of God. Simply, we obtain in this life because God gives it to us. And we should never forget our glorious and prosperous heritage that He extends to us.
And fifth, we reject the wisdom of God (v. 17). “It is sin to doubt whether a thing be right, and yet do it.” “It is also a sin to know that a thing is right, and yet leave it undone.” Omissions and commissions are both sins. We cannot live in doubt or sin if we are to be fruitful witnesses. The Gospel is truth, and it is one hundred per cent right. We should never doubt its authenticity. And witnessing is a command of Christ; therefore, we should never leave it undone.
The greatest witness to us is the conscience. Can we rightfully claim that we have been an effective witness to the Gospel? Can we stand before God and tell Him that we are now actively involved in His witnessing program? Failing to witness is a sin against God. In words and actions, we should leave Christ, not ourselves, wherever we go.
Be a Gospel witness. The Christian world is not getting the job done today. Too often, we use lame excuses. “I don’t know how to witness.” “I can’t talk to people.” “I need to know the principles for witnessing.” “I don’t have the time to witness.” “All I need to do is live a good witness.” These do not hold water when we look at the command of Christ. He tells us to go and share the Gospel.
Our greatest biblical example is the ministry of Christ. For three and one-half years, He openly and publicly proclaimed the truth. His disciples were continuously doubtful. And then, it happened. One day, the Master was gone having ascended back into heaven after His resurrection. He left the challenge of the Great Commission. And the record stands. His followers influenced the world for Christ; in three hundred years, the faith was legalized.
The biblical key to overcoming fear and ashamedness is a complete reliance upon the Holy Spirit. He will always give you confidence and direction. We need to accept the command of Christ seriously and go out and share the wonderful truth of our salvation. We must begin living and speaking the faith in boldness. Why not look for opportunities to share a Christian word with someone each day? It may open the door to their salvation.
The best way to witness is to make it a priority in life. What will be your commitment to the Lord? Will you and I be strong witnesses like the disciples (Mark 16:15)? Or will we be like the Pharisees who opposed the truth (John 9:41)? God needs us now, not tomorrow.
“As D. L. Moody walked down a Chicago street one day, he saw a man leaning against a lamppost. The evangelist gently put his hand on this man’s shoulder and asked him if he was a Christian. The fellow raised his fists and angrily exclaimed, ‘Mind your own business!’
‘I’m very sorry I’ve offended you,’ said Moody, ‘but to be very frank, that is my business!’ Even if people reject the Gospel, we still must love them.”
THE MISUSE OF WEALTH
“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”
Our textual verse is simply a seconding of the initial words of our Savior that we read in Luke 6:24: “But woe unto you that are rich! For ye have received your consolation.” Both our Lord and James are not denouncing or condemning riches. The Word of God never condemns the rich who have the right attitude and perspective, but the scriptures do condemn the “love of money” which is the root of all evil. There are multiple warnings against the great temptations of riches. And the Holy Scriptures do not hesitate to pronounce condemnation upon the ungodly and their riches.
James uses a special literary rhetorical device or apostrophe. He turns from his actual audience and addresses some other person or object. Basically, he moves from the believing Jews (messianic Jews) to the unbelieving Jews. While doing this, it benefits the real audience to whom he is writing. And specifically, it serves as a special encouragement to the poor Jewish Christians. Today, these words apply to all believers and unbelievers. He makes a simple, and yet very profound, announcement. Rusty riches bring weeping and howling.
God sees those who adopt poor practices and misuse their riches. What are the four startling facts about those who misuse what God has given to them? The rich fall into personal corruption (vv. 1-3). Here we see the practical problems and dangers of being rich. Too many rich people do not consider their time, put little value on eternity, experience outward afflictions, find turmoil and unrest in their hearts, and definitely attain the world and hell if they do not know Christ. There are always the exceptions to the rule, but most rich people go for the treasures of this world.
I had a friend years ago who was a multi-millionaire. He would send me gifts for my mission ministry around the world. He heard the Gospel many, many times. He knew the message of salvation in his mind, but most of his life he wanted nothing to do with Christ and the Church. In his later years, he began attending church. I do not know whether he ever accepted Christ. If not, his eternity is a separation from God forever, a major tragedy in his life. It is my prayer and hope that he did come to Christ and is now in heaven. Eternity will reveal his position to me. There are many who are rich in material possessions, but they have never come to Christ and His spiritual riches. Too many wealthy people see no need to receive Christ or know Him. They become content with their state of life and fail to look beyond this present world.
The rich, in general, do not receive Christ (Matthew 13:22). And without Christ, there is no spiritual or personal growth in their lives (Psalm 62:10). A good example is the rich man and Lazarus as told by our Lord (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man never humbled himself before God and was lost forever, but Lazarus committed himself to the mercy of God and enjoys a presence in the Lord forever.
Second, the rich involve themselves in personal dishonesty (v. 4). In actuality, this verse is a restatement of the Old Testament law (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). A study of the rich often shows a dishonest character. This is not true in all cases, but it does happen. As Paul writes, the love of money brings the rise of evil into the world (1 Timothy 6:10). Evil comes from the desire to have more and more possessions which draws people from God and His truths.
Again, we turn to the teachings of Jesus for an excellent illustration of the rich farmer (Luke 12:13-21). The farmer made a good investment in expanding his farm; he did nothing wrong in increasing his assets and riches. His mistake came when he dismissed God from his present plans and future life. We need to be very careful when we make our decisions in life. Our plans may not be God’s plans. God had different plans for this farmer. God and dishonesty do not go together. If we choose a dishonest path, we will definitely pay the consequences. God expects us to use our resources for His honor and glory. Our possessions do not belong to us; they belong to God.
Third, the rich seek personal glory (v. 5). Why do many rich people often fall short of the glory of God? Their whole aim is to fulfill self-satisfactions (Hosea 13:6). Amazingly, some of the poorest people are the best givers. We would expect the rich to give more, but this is not normally the case. We can thank God for the poor or average person who is willing to give from the heart to meet needs.
Here we do not want to leave the wrong impression. God does not forbid good pleasure. He expects us to enjoy life. However, we can choose the wrong pleasure as we see in the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30). He went away from Jesus sorrowful because he was unwilling to make the right commitment. It is always important to make the right decisions, or we will regret it the rest of our lives.
And fourth, the rich inflict personal persecution (v. 6). The rich normally have no regard for the just or justice. The one goal is to achieve their own objectives and desires without the consideration of others. In every society, there exists a great division between the rich and poor. When one has opportunity to travel in a number of nations and societies, this evidence can be easily seen. And it is evident that the rich exploit the poor to accomplish their position.
The rich brought their riches to the Temple treasury. Jesus is present and watches all the events of the day, including the giving. A widow comes into the Temple and drops all that she has into the treasury. Jesus quickly responds by saying that the rich have given out of their wealth, but the widow has given all that she has. And for this, she is honored instead of the rich (Luke 21:1-4).
The Word of the Lord predicts the doom of the rich (Jeremiah 12:3). Without the right heart, their riches will not get them to heaven. We can be thankful to God that our salvation comes as a gift from God. Without this gift, the rich would have a huge advantage. But under the plan of God, all, rich and poor, must come humbly and kneel at the cross. In God’s sight, we are all the same—sinners who need salvation.
Rusty riches bring weeping and howling. Certainly, this is a major apostrophe to consider in life. James speaks about the ungodly rich, and it serves as an unusual benefit for the modern church. The revelations of God have all the time periods and generations in mind. And this specific exhortation encourages us to remain faithful to the Lord and run from worldliness. The pleasures of this world lead to eternal destruction, but a focus on the eternal world (obtaining eternal life and rewards in heaven) bring eternal bliss.
Today, we are experiencing the unbiblical church. It is involved in personal corruption without the love of Christ. Personal dishonesty seems to be the order of the day, both with individuals and the world. Personal glory has risen its ugly head in carnal prestige and desire. And personal persecution is rising rapidly against the true Church of Christ.
Historically, riches can be seen as the ruin of many local churches. Although the scriptures speak against covetousness, that is, desiring the possessions of one another and the world, there is an internal chaos and destruction. An abuse of power comes in the envy and strife within the body of Christ. Sensuality, the obvious fleshly desires and lusts, cause the erosion and fall of good moral standards in the body of Christ. And wrongful judgments, a definite no, in the Word of God brings improper and harmful judgments and condemnations among fellow believers. With all the internal issues, the Church suffers and cannot grow.
In conclusion, rust indicates a strong witness that the wrong riches are being accrued. Wealth is a gift from God and must be used as a blessing from Him for the good of all mankind. A judgment will come in the misuse of riches. Again, be reminded that the Word does not condemn the rich, but it does make a very strong case against the love and misuse of riches.
Listen to this article, “I Had No Idea There Were So Many?” Let it speak to your heart.
“We have read of a father who one’s winter night was walking along, hurrying toward home, with his little daughter at his side. Suddenly she said to him, ‘Father, I am going to count the stars.’ ‘Very well,’ he said, ‘go on.’ By and by he heard her counting—Two hundred and twenty-three and twenty-four, two hundred and twenty-five. ‘O dear,’ she said, ‘I had no idea there were so many.’
Ah, fellow Christian, have you never said in your soul, ‘Now, Master, I am going to count Thy benefits,’ and soon found your heart sighing, not with sorrow, but burdened with goodness, and you saying to yourself, ‘I had no idea there were so many?’”
God gives us countless blessings. Thank Him daily for all His wonderful blessings from His great salvation to the smallest daily provisions. For both the saved and unsaved, God puts His continuous blessings upon us. We all should appreciate His gifts, especially we who are saved. Sadly, the unsaved will not realize it until it is too late. Do not be involved in the riches of this world without knowing the Savior.
PATIENCE: A VIRTUE
“A certain pastor had been asked to give the devotion at a Minister’s meeting on Monday morning. He turned in the Bible and read from Paul’s Epistle to Timothy, Chapter 4, verses 10 and ll. ‘For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed into Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me.’ The pastor then made the remark: ‘Brethern, that is exactly how I felt last evening as I entered my pulpit and looked out over the scattered few in the congregation. But I do thank God for the Lukes. The statement was not intended to be a humorous one, but it was taken that way, for every pastor sitting there, in a measure, had experienced the same feeling. Who are the Lukes? Very simply, they are the ones who can be counted on. They are dependable. The Church is full of Demases who love this present world more than the things of Christ, but our Lord be thanked for the Lukes. Will you be counted with the Lukes this Sunday, this Wednesday, or must you take you place with Demas, Crescens, and Titus? Our text, James 5:7, talks about patience. Like us, the believers of James’ day needed great patience in their precious faith. Normally, the early believers came from the poor and common population. Are they not the majority in every generation and serve as the victims of the ruthless rich. Again, there are many wonderful and generous rich people, but a great number do evil deeds upon the less fortunate population. And the Christian believers were the recipients of pagan persecutions and continuous misunderstandings. This would give great reason for the teaching of patience in the early church and thanking God for those who stood faithful despite the many sufferings. The hope of the believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is “the coming of the Lord.” The ascension of Jesus took place about fifteen years prior to the writing of the Epistle. The early church had great confidence in both His imminent return and reality of His second coming. They did not involve themselves in proving His second coming, but they focused on an unwavering confidence in His return. To them, this was the future escape from all the persecution and suffering. What does James mean by the word patience? It is a unique New Testament word—makrothumia (the noun) and makrothumein (the verb). These are characteristically Christian words and basically unknown to the secular world. Why? Patience is a special and unique Christian virtue. It means “long-suffering, endurance or patience.” In the listing of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), the exact same word is used. New Testament or Christian patience has two very special characteristics. First, this patience is not quick to retaliate. Although it is able to seek revenge, it refuses to do it. Actually, this is the lesson learned from the abuses of the wicked rich (vv. 1-6). The Christian must be steadfast in spirit, a spirit that will never give in to the daily pressures of life. The second characteristic is no disappointment in the delay of Christ’s return. While we wait, we as His children must bear the sufferings from this world. The sufferings are not the end; but rather, we look forward to the future inheritance of the promise of God. We never give up the glorious hope in the eternal, divine Word of God and look forward to the better life with Him. Be patient. In what must we be patient? Be patient in waiting for the Lord (v. 7). While we wait for the Lord, we must occupy until He comes. In so doing, we must be willing to fulfill our God-given responsibilities. And in all that we do, we must plan life continuously in preparation for His coming. We never know when He will return; therefore, we live as though it might be today. The best approach is to be in the perfect will of God at all times. Knowing the will of God requires both short-term and long-term requirements. Daily, you and I must seek the will of God in all our duties and decisions, but God also provides us insight into our careers and occupations. Wherever the will of God takes us, we must focus on His ministry in our lives and the forthcoming kingdom. And if we do the will of God, the mission of life will be fully accomplished properly and perfectly. The Christian should be like the farmer. The farmer is patient in growing his crops. He waits for the rains of spring and fall. He plows, cultivates and plants. He allows nature to take it course of action. And in his patience for the entire season, he reaps a bountiful harvest. The same holds true for the child of God. We must wait upon the Lord. In due season, we shall reap bountiful, eternal blessings. Life will turn from the temporal to the eternal. And the presence of believers will be with Jesus Christ forever and ever. Second, be patient in establishing your hearts (v. 8). The command is given and cannot be considered as an option. We must draw near to God; and in turn, God will draw close to us. It is an intimate relationship that must grow deeper and deeper every day. As we anticipate the coming of Christ, it should stir our great expectancy for His return. “If the Lord’s return seems to us to be long delayed, or if we relegate it to such a remote future that it has no effect upon our outlook or our way of living, it is clear that it has ceased to be for us a living hope, and it may be that we have allowed the doctrine that ‘He will come again with glory to judge both the quick and dead’ to be whittled away by skepticism, or to be so transmuted into something else, such as the gradual transformation of human society by Christian values, that it has ceased to exercise a powerful influence on our lives.” If this truly be the case, have we not ceased to be New Testament believers? The expectancy of His return must be established in our hearts and remain there until He takes us home or actually comes for His Church. Our lives, plans and decisions must be based on this reality. Without this, we fall into the danger of divine judgment for our fretfulness and discontent or our forgetfulness and neglect. In other words, we must always have heaven-bound inspirations. Third, be patient in association with one another (vv. 9-11). Let me share this little poem with you: To walk in love with saints above Will be a wondrous glory; But to walk with saints you know--- Well that’s another story.” The body of Christ should always be one in Him. We should never make it a habit to groan about our brothers and sisters in Christ. Do we not get enough attacks by the world that we should ban together and support on another? Believers should never make one another feel uneasy. And we should always avoid the temptations of grudging, groaning, complaining, criticizing, and condemning. Our association with each other leaves a right or wrong impact upon the world. Today, the Church is leaving the wrong view about the Christian faith. We make the world uncomfortable about becoming a child of God. To minister effectively and fruitfully, the body of Christ must relate to one another with love and respect. The contemporary song says: “They will know that we are Christians by our love.” The effect will be tremendous if we truly love one another; the world will take notice that there is a dividing line between the world and Church. And fourth, be patient in speaking the truth (v. 12). This particular verse carries three meanings. One, it refers to profane swearing. There are people who take the name of the Lord God in vain. To do so strikes at the honor of God. It throws contempt upon His Name and authority. And it places the person in direct enmity with God (Psalm 139:20). As one of the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, people, in general, are not to take the name of the Lord God in vain. It is forbidden Second, we are not to swear in anger against our enemies. The enemy can get under our skin and irritate us, but we are commanded not to speak explosively or carelessly about those who oppose us. We must always be above all unguarded forms of emotional and complaining speech. In due time, God will take care of our enemies. Here again, we must show endless patience for evil will come to an end. The righteousness of God stands the tests of time and will finally bring us the eternal victory. And third, we must never falsify our words. The Word warns us about taking oaths in our conversations. A good example of this saying is: “I’ll swear to it on the Bible.” The honest, upright character and reputation is more important than just making the promise and not keeping it. Simple answers are all-sufficient. Sometimes, we talk too much or promise more than we can keep. Sooner or later, our words or promises will come back to haunt us. The conversation must be kept simple, and we cannot promise more than we can deliver. In other words, don’t be a dishonest believer to have your own way or desires. Be patient. This Epistle commands us to be patient in waiting, establishing, associating and speaking. Our patience serves as a living testimony to the non-Christian world. We believe the coming of the Lord is near, and it will bring wonderful blessings. But we must be faithful in obeying the Lord while we wait. We find too many people questioning the second coming because of the long wait. They have become lukewarm or given up and quit. We must be faithful to the end; the coming is part of God’s truths and it will happen. The bride must wait for the bridegroom. The young bridegroom and bride anticipate the upcoming wedding day. It seems as though it will never arrive. Waiting with patience is most difficult, but finally the day arrives. The man and woman are joined as husband and wife. The blessings of their love are fully manifested in the newly-formed relationship. So the Church awaits the coming the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus. When it happens, the patient waiting will be worth every moment of eternity. What does the Christian patience bring? It offers honor and glory unto God and creates the final spirituality and perfection in our lives. Note the great comfort given to us. To suffer, we walk in the most godly company. The prophets, suffering and patience all go together. Honor has come to the great afflicted prophets of God. If we suffer, we can be like the great men and women of God in the past ages. Or take a look at the life of Job. He faced many miseries. His children, possessions and health were taken from him. His friends accused him of sin. His wife went against him and told him to curse God and die. But Job never gave into the pressures. And today, he is known at the man of patience. As a result of his great patience, he received double the blessings in the end. Every Christian ought to be like Job. God will bring us His blessings in eternity. The words of Jesus bring great comfort: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” We have the great, great hope that all will come out perfectly in the end. Living the Christian life and always doing the will of God will pay endless dividends.
Prayer is one of the most important, if not the most important, ministries in the Church. The scriptures reveal four major ministries for the Church—prayer, evangelism, missions and prophecy. Not everyone can do the last three, but all believers have been called to pray. And a praying Church moves the people of God and world closer to the Lord. God waits for us to pray so that He can shower His blessings upon us. Prayer stands as a priority in Christian work. Of the four ministries, prayer has to be number one. Without making it the lead ministry, the others will be weak and even falter due to the lack of praying. Therefore, it is imperative that you and I are consistent pray-ers. Through prayer we can make a difference and bring good changes to the Church and world. What happens when the people of God pray? Revival takes place within the Church, and the salvation of souls happens continuously. It creates a divine presence and power where the Holy Spirit can work effectively and fruitfully. “Prayer power has never been tried to its fullest capacity in any local church. If we want to see mighty wonders of divine power and grace sought in a place of sinfulness, weakness, failure and disappointment, the entire Church must answer to God’s standing challenge: “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not.” How do we actually become effective in praying? Our text commands effective praying among the people of God, “the petition of a righteous man availeth much in its working.” This sets two basic requirements if we are going to pray with results. First, we must be righteous. God hears our prayers if we do not have unconfessed sins in our hearts (Psalm 66:16-20). When the heart is right, we can pour out our requests before the throne of God. God will hear and answer. Second, supplication must enter the picture. We make our requests known to God. God already knows the need or issue in our lives, but He wants us to ask. By asking, we become more aware of what is taking place in our lives. Effective praying occurs in the environment of righteousness and holiness. God will never turn His back on a sincere, righteous pray-er. The Apostle Paul tells us that prayer must be actuated or inspired by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26). And deeper prayers are given over to His work and ministry in our hearts. Too often, we enter the prayer closet with a false assumption, that is, only super-human saints can get prayer answered. But in reality, the Spirit of God gets our prayers answered; and the same Spirit is accessible to all of us. Righteousness must prevail if we are going to receive His answers. The prayers of the righteous are effective. What are the conditions for the most effective praying? First, it must be consistent praying. “The day that prayer dies in a man’s soul he commits spiritual suicide” (Donald Mackay). Prayer is a daily task set before us in our Christian walk. We need to note the special phrases used by James. “Let us pray.” “Call for the elders.” “Pray for one another.” “He prayed earnestly.” “And He prayed again.” This is a constant and consistent line of praying and never ceasing. The most successful and fruitful Christian life persists in prayer. Prayer and its forms are used seven times in six consecutive verses. As James comes to the conclusion of his Epistle, he desires his readers to put their faith into action by faithful praying. Prayer opens the door to the active Christian life. But we must always remember that once we pray, we need to put feet to our prayers. We cannot pray and set back expecting God to do all the work. No, prayer puts us into action. If not, prayer will add little value to our lives. Second, it demands intelligent praying. “If your prayer isn’t of sufficient importance for you to try to answer it, why expect the Lord to answer it?” (Unknown). Prayer requires time and work; thus, the reasons that modern believers do not take the time to pray. Prayer always leads to the appropriate actions. God will answer our prayers if we believe that they are important enough for Him to answer. God is not going to waste His time answering our prayers if He knows that we are not going to act. Why do we pray? Note the three basic purposes of prayer: suffering (v. 13), sickness (vv. 14-15), and sin (vv. 15-16). The Church and believers must uphold each other in these three particular counts. Suffering is a fact of life. Sickness will visit the body at some time in one’s life span. And sin can be found quite often in our lives. Prayer helps us to overcome and endure when these three issues come upon us. Prayer requests are not made for gossip. Any special request brought before the church should be treated with the highest respect and regard. The request is simply made known for prayer and help. Help comes from the Church (v. 14), from one another (v. 16), and for one another (v. 16). If the Church is praying fervently and effectively, it will never be involved in the misuse of prayer and the factual information given to it. Prayer, the most powerful tool in our hands, will keep us on the right track and active for the Lord. Third, it requires special praying. James introduces the anointing with oil, a very common New Testament practice. Jesus was anointed by the adulterous woman in special recognition of His messiahship. In this particular case, the Church should anoint with oil upon the sick if they make such a request. It is simply an aid to faith, not the answer. The sickness can be upon the physical body with or without sin. Whichever the case, the Church can be called to pray for healing, again, it is always subject to the will of God. There is no prayer that is not subject to the will and purpose of God. Basically, many prayers are made for erring believers (James 5:19-20). Here the term convert, as translated, can be a misleading word. It does not refer to the loss of salvation, but it focuses on leaving the doctrines of the faith. The believer neglects to fulfill his or her moral responsibilities. Through the power of prayer, this person can be delivered from unfaithfulness to the Lord. Such prayers carry a two-fold purpose. First, they can save the soul from physical death (1 Corinthians 11:30). And second, they hide and forgive a multitude of sins. Without any doubt, God sees and knows all our sins; we cannot hide any sin from God. When we call out and seek His forgiveness with a sincere heart, He promises to forgive. His forgiveness includes forgetfulness. He hides all of our forgiven sins and remembers them no more. As a result, we can move forward in our Christian lives knowing that we are now free from the sins that we have committed before God.
A note of warning is necessary, His forgiveness and forgetfulness of our sins do not give us a license to keep sinning. Habitual sinning is wrong biblically and morally, and it carries heavy penalties and consequences. We are commanded to be holy as God is holy. A Christian living in sin does not represent the holy and righteous life. Our lives are to be pure before the Lord as we await His coming again (1 John 3:1-3).
And fourth, it commands faith praying. Faith moves the Church and its ministry. There are two recipients: the person who is praying and the person for whom the prayer is said. Prayer does not go unheard or unanswered; therefore, it is always important to go before the throne of God in prayer.
The Word of the Lord teaches the doctrine of divine healing. Our God is the same God of the Old and New Testaments. He can still perform miracles. Sometimes God uses other providential means and agencies; therefore, they should not be refused. If you need a doctor, go to a doctor. We can also use the gifts of modern science; but in the end, we always commit our healing to God.
I share this quote with you: “James leaves this promise without qualification, although both he and his readers know perfectly well that not all cases of sickness will be healed; here as always when the efficacy of prayer is taught, the condition, ‘if it be God’s will is tacitly understood.’ Nonetheless, everyone knows that where intense and vivid faith exists—and that such was the case when James was written may be taken for granted—extraordinary cures occur” (Unknown).
The prayers of the righteous are effective. The example of Elijah, a great prophet and prayer warrior, is given. Elijah was human, having the same nature and character as you and I have. And yet, the prayers of Elijah changed the course of nature. The same sources of God are still available today. If your prayer is important, let it be known to God. He asks us to pray and exercise our faith. “Prayer not only changes us, but through it God also changes things.”
The great power of prayer is the key to our Christian life and survival in this evil world. We need to communicate with our heavenly Father. Even the smallest requests are very important to Him. Prayer is the greatest tool that we possess against the devil. And it is a means of helping others and ourselves from foolish errors and sins. Listen to this little poem:
“I know not by what methods rare,
But this I know: God answers prayer.
I know not when He sends the word
That tells us fervent prayer is heard.
I know it cometh soon or late;
Therefore, we need to pray and wait.
I know not if the blessing sought
Will come in just the guise I thought.
I leave my prayers with Him alone
Whose will is wiser than my own.”
God does answer prayer. If you are not a child of God, pray and ask Jesus Christ to be your Savior. God will save you today. This is the most important prayer of your present and future life. The people of God can pray for nations, needs, health and one another. The throne of God is always open to your prayers. But today, make the decision to pray on a regular basis. It is the spiritual duty and responsibility that He has given to all His children. It will put our faith into action and give God the glory and praise.
FAITH: THE ROOT OF SALVATION
The Word of God is very clear in its presentation of the Gospel message. No one can enter the kingdom of God without knowing Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord. To be a believer in the Lord Jesus involves both intellectual and heart confessions that He died on the cross to forgive you of your sins. Personally, every individual must acknowledge that He is Savior and receive Him into his or her heart. No one can make this decision for us.
Faith alone is the plan to know God and have eternal life. John, in his First Epistle, states it very clearly: “He that has the Son has life, and he that does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). Works will not save you. You can accomplish many great deeds and feats in the name of the Christian faith, but they will not get you into heaven. You must give your heart totally and completely to the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith alone is the root of our salvation and eternal life.
Although it is a sad commentary, there have been many last minute decisions for Christ. The thief on the cross is a classical example. He was found guilty of his crimes and was paying the price—the death penalty on a cruel cross. He called out to the Lord to remember him in paradise and that day his faith gave him eternal life and a home in heaven. The regret is not the lack of the salvation experience; a sincere last minute decision is valid. The problem is not living for Christ in this life; the rewards for service to God will be minimal or none.
But if a last minute decision is acceptable, why not wait until the last moment of life to make a commitment to Christ? It is not that simple. If we had a schedule before us and knew the moment that we were going to die, this would be possible. But no person knows his or her time of death. We expect our children to bury us when we get older; we never envision that we will bury our children. Yet, we had to bury our son who served in the military. We thank God that he is now in heaven with the Lord Jesus and other family members. As someone has noted, we are only one heartbeat from death. We do not know our appointed time.
Because of this, it is most important to make the decision when you first have the golden opportunity. That, of course, is this very moment! Tomorrow may be too late! Your decision will last for eternity in the presence of God or absence from Him. Believe in Him and receive Him into your heart before it is too late. Your root heritage is personal salvation. God gives you the second opportunity in life. Your sin has separated you from God, but the crucifixion and death on the cross open the door. What will you do with Jesus Christ today? Will you receive Him or reject Him?
WORKS: THE FRUIT OF SALVATION
The Christian believer has received Jesus Christ into his or her heart. The eternal state is a presence with Christ in heaven forever and ever. The Holy Scriptures give us this assurance and confidence. Faith gives us a new life in Him. Our names have been written in the Book of Life, and God does not possess an eraser. Faith saves us.
Once we are saved, works become an important factor in our living. James tells us to put our faith into action. Jesus commissions us to be witnesses and share the Gospel with the world. We cannot reach the whole world by ourselves, but we can be an effective and fruitful witness in the small part of the world where we live.
If we are truly saved, it will be our utmost desire to do the will and purpose of God. We will be holy and righteous with no desire to sin. Our hearts will give Him the glory and praise in all things. There will be no second guessing on what to do in every given situation. If there is doubt, do not do it. Our purpose is to know and do the work of God regardless of the circumstances.
In the Epistle of James, Christian works are always done in love and humility. The Christian never expects a return on his or her investment. We do not ask: “What will we get from this deed or action?” No, we live in Christ-likeness, hoping and expecting the world to desire the love of Christ and know Him as Savior. The bottom line is leaving a vibrant testimony for the sake of the Gospel.
Works is the fruit of our salvation. The devil has many people convinced of the opposite. He pleads his case before them. He tells them to do the good works for their salvation. And all is lost. Salvation will never come by doing good works. It will never bear eternal fruit. It will never give eternal life. The present world may operate on good deeds getting us recognition or gain, but works for the future world offer the promises of God upon the condition of salvation. And we have already explained the way of salvation. It is a gift from God; we must receive it as a gift.
True faith in Christ shows the world the difference between the present and future. Again, the world may do good deeds, but these will not last into eternity. The Christian works alone offer the fruit of our salvation. And without Christ or salvation, life is vain. All will be lost in eternity with no future hope.
James tells us to overcome worldliness and walk with God. Every person should know God and live for Him. But too often, life ends a tragedy. It is wasted and gone. People hear the Gospel, have endless opportunities to receive Christ, and continuously reject Him. How many believers know the truth but fail to live for Christ? The greatest potential for the human race is knowing God and living for Him. In the end, His glory and grace will be revealed to all who believe and serve Him. Despite what life may offer or give to you, keep your focus and attention on Him. People will see your faith in action. And prayerfully, they, too, will desire to seek Him and know the glorious life in Christ. The truth of God will stand forever. The motto holds true: “One life ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”