J. Gordon Duncan

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Introduction for The Gospel Protects Us

In the past six months, I have lost both of my wonderful parents.  My Father (affectionately known as Sam) passed after a lengthy stay in the hospital where his lungs just finally quit working.  My mother passed suddenly as a result of a horrendous car crash.  I loved them both dearly, and perhaps no child has ever been loved as well I was by them.

Soon after my Father’s passing, I began editing this little book about persevering trials from the Epistle of James.  Much of what you will read was gathered in from my sermon notes from my James series that I preached at Sovereign King Church.  So re-reading and understanding these teachings have been a comfort for my soul.  However, the initial push for the book faded within two months of my Father’s funeral.

But recently, I walked through a season of trials like none that I have ever experienced.  Following my Mother’s sudden and shocking car wreck, my car broke down with a flat tire.  I got poison ivy so badly it was on my eyelids.  My children were soon suffering from fevers of over 103 coupled with nausea and vomiting.  And oh yeah, around that time I announced that I was resigning from Sovereign King to move to Spotsylvania, VA to plant a new church.

Trials?  I knew them well.  Enduring them well?  That was yet to be determined.

So I returned to this little document trying to see if I knew anything about suffering when I originally wrote it.  I couldn’t have imagined when preaching that series that I would have to experience such trials, but as I reread these words, I could see that at least God had prepared me well.

But please know that this is not a book purely about trials.  James lays out three things for us at the end of Chapter One.  First, he wants us to thank God when we do endure suffering because we know that His loving, sovereign hand is behind each one.  Secondly, he wants us to then live out Godliness in our relationships (these usually suffer during hard times).  And finally, he wants us to trust God, believe that He is true, and then live out wisdom as we suffer and love one another.

I hope these words are helpful.  Writing them innocently and reading them after much suffering experience has been good for me.

I pray the same for you.

Gordon
October 2012

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October 2, 2012 Posted by | church, gospel, mission, missional | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon Notes and Family Devotion for James 4:11-12

Big Idea:  God loves so we don’t judge.

James 4: 11  Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.

·    What are examples of the way we can speak evil against other Christians?
·    Very few people will own up to this.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you if this is something in which you need to confess.

The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

·    Why is speaking evil against your brother also judging your brother?
·    How is judging speaking against the law?

12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.

·    Why do we judge when we know only God has that right?
·    How do you reconcile what you know about God’s character when you read that God saves and destroys?

But who are you to judge your neighbor?

·    Why do we think we can judge?
·    Including neighbors here in addition to brothers means we are not allowed to judge non-Christians either.  Why do we feel like we have that right?

I don’t know many Christians who will regularly admit, “You know, I really struggle with judging people.  I judge Christians.  I judge non-Christians.  I just think I am better than everybody else.  Oh, we’ll own up every now and then, but I’m afraid the day to day for most of us is a joyful judgment of the rest of the world.  Even when we have low views of ourselves, we still think we are better than most everybody else.   And when we judge, we justify it by saying, “No, the Bible says that’s wrong.  I’m just being biblical.”  Goodness we are a mess.

You want to know many times the Bible tells us not to command?  Take a guess?  10?  15?  20?   I lost count somewhere in the 2-3 dozen, gang.  Let me give you just a quick sample.

·    Matthew 7:1“Judge not, that you be not judged.
·    Luke 6:37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven
·    John 7:24 Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
·    James 4:11 But who are you to judge your neighbor?
·    Romans 2:1-3 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.
·    Matthew 7:5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Now, you may hear this and think, “But Gordon, aren’t we supposed to speak out against sin and unholiness in this world?  Won’t this world just go to hell in a hand basket if don’t stand for what the Bible says?”  Listen Gang, I’ve been on both sides.  I have judged people straight up as if I personally sat on the throne of God.  And I have had people tell me that the reason our church doesn’t grow is because I dress like I do and I enjoy a glass a wine in the evening.

So again, I ask, what then do we do?  Well, I don’t know if our passage in James is going to answer every one of those questions, but it is going to answer one very simple questions for us.  So with this intro in mind, let’s pursue this Big Idea this week from the book of James.

Big Idea:  God loves so we don’t judge.

Now, before jump into this audacious topic, let’s as always do a bit of reminding ourselves of what James has been talking about.  Last week, James reminded us once again that the path to be lifted up and encouraged before God is to pursue humility.  Humility is the path of walking before God.  We heard commands like, Submit yourself to God and He will lift you up coupled with truths like, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  Humility is always recognizing that God alone is good and holy.  We are not.  Always.  Well, after exhorting us to walk in humility before God, James is now going to encourage us to walk in humility before each other.  Listen to James 4:

James 4: 11  Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.  The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.   12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.  But who are you to judge your neighbor?

Before we jump into this verse by verse, just reckon for a moment.  I think we are here in some part because we recognize that we should walk in humility before a holy God because are sinful.  But James is putting in front of us that walk in humility before one another is the natural extension of humility before God.  Know humility before God and know humility before each other.  No humility before God and no humility before each other.  Let’s jump into this verse by verse.

James 4: 11  Do not speak evil against one another, brothers.

So James commands us to not speak evil against one another.  This is a specific command about how Christians should interact as James is personally addressing “brothers” or fellow believers in this passage.  So let’s ask a couple of questions here.  What does it mean to speak evil against another Christian?  And, why does James care if we do it or not?

Well, Biblically, there are several ways that we can speak evil against one another in the church.  Well, for the sake of time, I’ll just focus on 3 – literally we could be here all day.  We can say things about each other that are not true.  We can condemn each other for things in which we are guilty.  Or we can just speak in such a way that is not gracious. Let me briefly speak to each one of those.

We are so often guilty of the first one which is saying things about one another that are not true.  Now I don’t imagine many of you are walking around making up lies.  For example, I don’t think any of us are accusing one another of beating our wives or stealing from our employers.  But we are extremely guilty of then when we speak of motives.

What we do, because we are oh so spiritual, is that when folks disappoint us, we decide why they did what they did or didn’t do what we wanted them to do.  This happens in marriages all the time.  One or the other will say something straightforward and the other person will immediately say, “Well, you only said that because you feel this way,” as if we were psychic or something.

Kids, you do this to your parents all the time.  They won’t let you do what you want, and you’ll say awful things to them like, “You just don’t want me to have fun,” or “You don’t trust me,” or whatever else you want to throw out at them.  I’m not immune to it.  I’m tempted to decide why some of you aren’t as committed to the ministries of the church like I wish you were.  When some of you show up Sunday after Sunday but never or rarely commit to the ministries in the church, I’m tempted to determine why I think that is.

And here is thing.  Every time we do that, we are committing this sin.  In our hearts, we are speaking evil against one another because we honestly have no idea why people do what they do.  We just feel better about ourselves when we make up our mind and start judging.  Towards that end, let’s shoot for this Mission #1

Mission #1:  Stop sinning by accusing people of motives that you don’t know anything about.

Now another we speak evil about one another is by condemning each other of things in which we are guilty.  Of course we are hypocrites.  Remember Jesus words to the “Godly” of His day.”  Matthew 23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Jesus condemned the Pharisees of trying to look good on the outside so as to judge others while at the same time they were guilty of the very sins that they condemned.  James and Jesus are saying, “Stop speaking evil against one another about what sin they commit.  Inside many of you are committing the very same sin.”  For example, in the church, we love to talk about how other people raise their kids.  We’ll see them act up in church or speak back to their parents and goodness we will speak evil against them.  When all the while, we really should just be walking in humility about the struggle all of us have with raising our own kids.  We can be so judgmental in this.

Missions #2:  Stop judging people for things in which you are also guilty.

And finally, we are guilty of speaking evil against one another when we just don’t speak graciously to one another.  Parents, and I’m speaking to myself as much as I am to you, just because you kids are your kids, that does not give you the right the yell at them, call them names, and humiliate them.  We are commanded to speak to each other in this way, Colossians 4: Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.  Brothers and sisters, you are speaking evil against one another when you curse at each other, make fun of each other, and basically troll to your own pleasure.

Mission #3:  Speak graciously to one another with gentile, kind words.

Whew, Gang, we are just getting started here.  James is telling us to stop speaking evil against one another, so in then next verse he explains why should stop speaking that way.

The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

When we speak evil against one another, what we are doing is making ourselves out to be judges.  James says when we speak evil against each other, we are actually speaking against the law itself, judging the law.  When you read Romans 7-8, you see the purpose of God’s law is threefold.  Show us our sin.  Restrain sin.  Show us our need of God.

Whenever we use begin speaking evil against one another and judging one another we are using the law for purposes other than what God intended.  We are misusing and therefore judging the law itself.  Guys, God takes the way we speak about one another incredibly seriously.  James is saying, “Your off-hand comment about how another Christian is living or how they are talking or how they are raising their kids or how they are doing whatever is quite often sinful.”  And when you sin by speaking evil against one another, you are sinning against and judging the law of God.

In the end of verse 11 tells us exactly what we are when we do this.  It says if you judge the law, you are a judge.  We are saying that we are the not only the standard bearers but we are the standard maker.

Gang, these kinds of commands will typically move us in one of two directions.  It will make us never speak about obedience and righteous ever again for fear of sinning.  Or it will make us dig in even further with justifications of why we should speak up more about the sin we see in each other’s lives.  In case, you are tempted towards either, James gives us this command in verse 4.

12    here is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy.

The rightful view of our hearts that will keep us from judging one another is found in verse 12.  God alone is the lawgiver and the judge whoever breaks that law.  And coupled with that, He alone is able to save those who break that law and He alone is able to destroy those who break that law.

We can’t do either.  We can speak evil about each other when we break the law but we can’t destroy each other – that is God’s right as a righteous judge to destroy those who break His holy law.  We can perhaps even speak graciously towards each other, but none of us can save someone who has broken the law.

As always, the proper understanding of who God is transforms us.  God is the lone lawgiver and the sole judge and destroyer of all of violate His law.  Why?  Because the law is much more than a list of to do’s and don’ts.    God’s law is the expression of His character.  Obedience to it causes us to reflect God’s character.  Psalm 19 makes that abundantly clear.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure,      making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean,     enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.

Because of the law’s nature, God alone has the right to destroy those who disobey it or save those He chooses to save.  When we speak evil against each other, we are attempting to take God’s place as lawgiver, saver, and destroyer.

Gang, there is no doubt that scripture gives us God’s commands, and then subsequently when we have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins, we are to teach those commands to one another, raise our children in Godliness, and proclaim God’s holiness to the world.  But we must walk lightly when we begin to speak of others in light of their supposed disobedience.  We are to in all humility proclaim God’s holiness, and we are to do it as though who have absolutely no help of obeying apart from God’s help.

In fact, the goal of proclaiming the laws of God to one another is not first and foremost to get people to obey.  I’ll be careful here because I know that his initially sounds like heresy.  No, the reason are to proclaim the holiness of God through the law is found in Galatians 3.

Galatians 3: Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith

Ask yourself about your motives.  When you joyfully pointing how every Christian in the world is getting it wrong, and how you are subsequently getting it right, is your goal to lead them to Christ so that they can be saved by faith?  Rarely, I’m afraid, right?

Most of our judgmental conversation is to just point out how everyone else gets it wrong.  This takes so much wisdom, grace, and discernment.  We have to ask God, “How in the world do I mention the commandments of God to anyone and point them to Christ?”  God, how do I do it and not speak evil of them or to them?

But the answer is found in the question.  God, help me keep my mouth shut unless my speaking of your commands lead that person to Christ.  Either leading them to repent of sin and seek forgiveness through Christ.  Or to move their heart to realize how desperately they need Christ because they can’t obey what God has commanded.

Think about it for a minute.  Let’s get radically different here for a minute.  What if anytime you thought about the commands of God, whether it was for your own sake, your family’s sake, or another Christian’s sake, what if you thought about it in terms of that law leading others to know Christ and know Him better?  That would remove all speaking of evil and all judging because you would be using the law correctly.

Let’s try to think of an example or two to make this practical.  What if when you spoke about another Christian and the way they loved their wife or loved their husband, you did it in such a way that you led them to Christ.  Hey man.  I know it’s hard to be patient and its hard to be forgiving to your wife.  But that is the way Jesus is with us.  We are His bride and He is patient and forgives us.  That is so much different than, “Pww, I can’t believe the way that guys speaks about his wife.  See the difference?  Instead of speaking about someone’s sin, which is just evil, you are leading them to the commandments of God and pointing them to Jesus.

Let’s try another.  What if when you heard about another Christian believing something or some piece of theology that seemed to be completely unbiblical, what if you spoke to them to lead them to Christ.  What if you said, “Hey, you know Paul tells us to rightly divide the word of truth or other words, piece out theology together correctly so that we can be assured that we know Jesus.”  Let’s talk about our theology and see how it points us to Jesus?  That’s radical isn’t?  That is completely different than saying, “That is some rat house crazy theology they’ve got over there.  Our denomination would do well just to model this humility btw.  Instead of just making phone of other’s theology, which is sinful and speaking evil, we could be leading ourselves and others to a stronger relationship with Christ.

Let’s go for one more.  What if when we spoke to our children about their disobedience we were really trying to point them to Jesus?  When our children openly disobey us by either speaking rudely to us or just flat out refusing to do what we tell them to do, what if we pointed them to Christ instead of just demanding obedience?  You see, a lot of time, when our children disobey, we are mad not because the laws of God have been violated or God’s holiness has been violated.  We are mad because we think we have been violated.  But all the authority we have as parents is just borrowed authority from God.  So we can yell at our kids and say obey me or we can talk them about how we personally struggle to obey God and so we understand how they personally struggle to obey God.  When you do that, you quit speaking evil about your kids and you start pointing yourself and your children to Jesus Christ.

So then Mission #4:  When we speak of the commands of God, let’s do it only as we point to Jesus Christ.

Now, you may have noticed that up until this point, every reference I have made has been about making sure that we do not speak evil about or judge other Christians.  Does that mean we get to judge the world and what they do?  The last half of verse 12 speaks to that.

But who are you to judge your neighbor?

Jesus has already answered for us the question, “Who is our neighbor?”  According to the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10, every single person on the face of the planet is our neighbor.   So, instant takeaway.  We don’t get to judge non-Christians either.

Why not?  Easy – same answer.  We are neither the lawgiver nor the judge.  Let me bring up a topic that I was very hesitant to bring up in the past month, but in this case, I think it just might be relevant.  In the past month, NC voted on what the legal definition of a marriage is.  Believe it or not, I’m  not even going to discuss the merits of either side, tell you how I voted or tell you what I think of the outcome because in the context of this verse, that is not what I need to talk about.

What needs to be addressed is the judgmental, harsh, dis-compassionate, angry, bitter, and ugly language that churches and supposed Christians used around that conversation in the past month.  I think rightfully the church should speak about the Biblical foundations of covenant marriage that were established in scripture about God bringing together a man and a woman to complete each other and become one.  But if we do it in any way other than a desire to point others towards Jesus Christ, then we are guilty of judging our neighbor.

I can honestly say that most of the conversation I heard about this topic in our culture in the past month were about one thing:  who is right.  And if all we are doing is using Biblical truths to make sure we are right in the public arena, then we are self-serving, judgmental Christians who bring shame to the name of Jesus Christ.  Speak truth but only in a way that it leads people to Jesus.  Do not speak truth just to be seen as right and with the sole purpose of winning an argument.  That type of Christianity is disgusting and far from the humble faith that James has been speaking to in Chapter 4.   If you want to address any area of obedience, holiness, or the commandments of God, according to James and according to Paul, we are to do it in humility, we are not to speak evil of others, and we are only to do it if we can point others to Jesus Christ.

Listen to Romans 8:1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

God loved us even though we were guilty of disobeying His law.  And Jesus has now set us free from our disobedience to the law.  He did what we could not do:  obey the law.  And all of God’s righteous requirement in the law is fulfilled in us when we have faith in Jesus.  So we can’t judge anyone.  Our obedience is simple Jesus’ obedience.  So it is foolish for us to judge others because all we have has been given to us by Jesus.  So we sum that up in our Big Idea:
o    Our Big Idea was this:  Big Idea:  God loves so we don’t judge.
o
With that, let’s ask God to helps us live out these simple missions in application.

·    Mission #1:  Stop sinning by accusing people of motives that you don’t know anything about.
·    Missions #2:  Stop judging people for things in which you are also guilty.
·    Mission #3:  Speak graciously to one another with gentile, kind words.
·    Mission #4:  When we speak of the commands of God, let’s do it only as we point to Jesus Christ.

June 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon Notes and Family Devotions for James 4:6-10

Big Idea:  God loves humility.  We and everyone else hate it.

James 4: 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:6 But he gives more grace.

·    God gives more grace because we keep sinning, how is this an encouragement?
·    How can you describe God because He gives so much grace?

Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

·    Why does God oppose the proud and give grace to the humble?
·    Why is it so hard to seek humility?

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

·    How do submitting to God and drawing near to God relate to resisting the devil and the devil fleeing from you?
·    How are the cleansings of hands, and the purifying of hearts acts of repentance?
·    What do those things mean?

9  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

·    Why would God want us to be wretched, mourn, and weep?
·    Why would God want our laughter to turn to mourning?

10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

·    Theologians call this the “upside down nature of the Kingdom” – how is God’s plan of exaltation different than ours?
·    Why is humility hard for us to achieve?
·    What do want instead of humility?

Please forgive the typos.

Have you ever thought how incredibly insane this command from Philippians 2 is?

Philippians 2: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus

The Bible commands each and every one of us to never have selfish ambition meaning never do anything, work, workout, make money, raise kids, never do those things for selfish reasons.  Instead, do everything in humility.  How does the Bible define humility?  Verse 3 tells us.  Look at every person in the world, every coworker, neighbor, family member, whatever, look at them and truly think and believe, “That person is more significant than I am.”  Insane.  Can’t be done.  Humility also means according to verse 4 that I don’t just look after my own interests but instead I look after your interests as well.  The Bible doesn’t give us the right to make decisions just for ourselves.

And the reason we are supposed to that is because that is exactly how Jesus was.  Philippians tells us this:  Though He (Jesus) was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross

Jesus said, “I’m not going to hold onto to being God.  I’m going to be humble, become a servant by becoming a human and I’m going to die.  Jesus considered others more significant than He considered Himself which He proved by dying for us while still hated Him.  So God commands us to be humble just like Jesus was humble.  God loves humility because humility is like Christ and glorifies God.  But we and everyone else hate humility because we don’t want to consider others more significant than ourselves.

I would love regale you guys with some cool or fun story about sometime in my life when I was really humble, but there are two problems with that.  First, there is no way to tell you a story about my being humble without me being prideful.  I would negate all humility by telling you.  I could tell of other people’s humility but not my own.  Here is the second problem with me telling you a story about me being humble.  I don’t have any of those stories.  I don’t think many of us do.

I’ve seen pride.  I’ve seen false humility, you know where we pretend to be humble, but really aren’t, but honest examples of imitating the humble nature of Christ are rare.  What we are going to see this week in the book of James is that he is going to not only command us to be humble, he is going to show us why humility is a better way.  So with that in mind, let’s try to tackle this Big Idea:

Big Idea:  God loves humility.  We and everyone else hate it.

As a quick reminder, let’s refresh our minds to what James has been talking about these past few weeks.  In the last two weeks, we have seen James tell us these things.  He has said, “Listen, Godly wisdom that comes from God and from the scriptures is pure.  And if the facts that you know are going to be considered Godly wisdom, then you will become more peaceable, more reasonable, and more merciful.  If you don’t see those qualities growing in your life, you are not growing in Godly wisdom.  Then last week we heard James tell us that our passions cause us to run after every single thing but God.  We think every single in this world but God will satisfy us.  He then commanded us to find that hope and comfort and joy in God alone.  Thankfully, James reminded us that when we sin, God yearns for us and gives us more and more grace.  That is where we start this week in verse 6.  In light of all of our sin, we read these verses.

James 4:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

This challenging passage of scripture begins with the rich promise that God gives us more and more grace when we sin.  And we are going to need more and more grace because of the second half of verse 6.  It tells us  Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Wow, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  You could take this passage this way.  Those that are forgiven, called the children of God, the church, those called Christians, are such because they are humble and God has given them grace.  Everyone else, God opposes and judges.

Now, this is squirmy language, isn’t it?  I mean which one is it?  Does God give you grace because you are humble or are you humble because you received God’s grace?  The answer to some extent is “yes”

You see, the bible teaches us that every person is prideful apart from God but God gives us grace to make us humble and cry out to Him.  Listen to Gospel from the OT for a minute

Proverbs 16: Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.  6 By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for and by the fear of the Lord one turns away from evil.

These tiny verses from Proverbs teach us so much.  Arrogance is an abomination to the Lord which means that our pride and our arrogance is just that – a vile, shameful act against God.  Our pride says, “I do not need you God.  I’m smart, talented, and strong.  At best, I’ll talk you when I really need something, but otherwise I’m good.”  And this verse in Proverbs promises us that God punishes arrogance and pride.  God’s purity and righteousness necessitates that He will punish any that exalt themselves against Him.  However, God displays a consistent, steadfast love and faithfulness and those actions on God’s behalf through Jesus atone for our sin, and through that we grow in a healthy fear of God.  That humbles us and turn away from our pride and arrogance.

So God humbles and we display humility and God lifts us up – otherwise He opposes us.  Now hearing this, logically you would think that all of us would run around seeking humility and being humbled because what could be better than having God lift us up?  But I’m afraid our pride and arrogance is too strong.  None of us want to be humbled – that’s why humility is a gift from God.  He either gifts it to us or He orders our circumstances so that we grow into it.  Either way, humility is God wrought but it is His gift to us so that ultimately we can be lifted up  and not cast down.  Let’s try something news.  Let’s start making very specific applications each week along the way.  We’ll call them missions.

So today’s Mission #1:  Find some area in your life that is really tough, thank God for it and ask Him to lift you up.

Notice, that is not the same as asking God for your tough situation to go away.  Just ask God to lift you up.  So, okay having said all of those things, James wants to show how we walk in humility and teach us one its practical benefits.  Look at verse 7.

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Now these passages go hand in hand:  true humility is submitting to God is resisting the Devil and causes the devil to flee from you.  What’s the connection?  Let me explain it this way.  When you are humble, you are submitting to God and telling Him, “You alone are wise.  Whatever you have planned for me is best, and apart from you, I am a sinner only deserving your grace.”  That posture says, “Sickness or health, poverty or riches, busy or slow, whatever you call me to and command to is not only best, God, but it is what I want.”  Now, I am going to make an audacious statement here and I think it true.”  Submitting to God by saying whatever you call me to do and whatever you command me to do is not some radical form of Christianity.  It is Christianity and anything less is a cheap knockoff form of religion that makes a mockery of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Because when we submit ourselves to God in such away, that is in and of itself resisting the Devil.  Submitting to God’s will and God’s command is resisting the devil because you are aligning yourself with God’s character and what God calls good and best.  Anything less is agreeing with Satan.

Hey Gang, I get struggling with difficult circumstances like finances, health, and craziness.  I get it and my life is full of all of that.  So we can humanly struggle with those things because we are weak and flesh.  But as we struggle with difficult circumstances, the posture of faith as a child of God says, “No matter how hard this is, and no matter how hard it is to obey your God and to attempt to be humble, that is what I really want because only you are good and wise.”  That is humility and that is submitting to God and quite frankly that is Christianity.

So, why in the world is submitting to God the same is resisting the devil and why does he flee when you do that?  Simple answer:  the devil flees you when you submit to God because he knows you belong to God, and he can’t mess with you.  You submit to God’s will and God’s commands, and the devil says, “Oh, that one belongs to God, and God won’t let me mess with Him.”

You know these days, the theology surrounding who the devil is is a mess and more shaped by movies like Paranormal Activity and the Exorcist than it is the scriptures.  But I like the ways guys like Luther and the later on the Puritans spoke about Satan.  Luther said “The Devil is God’s Devil” meaning that Satan only is allowed to do and go as far as God allows him to do and go.  God the Father is not some epic battle with Satan.  God is the creator of all, including Satan and the devil only can do and go as far as God allows Him to.

Remember the book of Job?  God picked that fight with Satan, not the other way around.  God said, “Hey Satan, have you considered my servant Job?”  Satan said, “Aaaa, he only loves you because you bless him.  And God said, “Fine, do what you want to do to him, just don’t kill him.”  In the end, Job lost his wife, kids,  and all his money, but ultimately gave God greater glory because He greater experienced the creator of the universe.

Satan only did what God allowed him to do.  As one Puritan writer said, “Satan is God’s lap dog.”  He cannot do a single thing without God allowing it.

So, when you submit to God, when you say, “God in humility whatever you want for me is best,” Satan says, “Oh, that’s one of God’s kids, and I can’t mess with them.”  Jesus purchased them by His blood and took them away from me by His resurrection.

Mission #2 – You submit to God and Satan will run away.

So what we see in verse 8 is a more intimate picture of this humility and submission.  Listen to the promises attached to verse 8.

8  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

If you desire intimacy with God, a sense of His closeness and His affection, submitting to Him brings you into the reality that is always there.  Here is what I mean.  I love a good praise song as much as all of you – I better if I’m going to lead all of you in singing them.  I love that rapturous moment where you find your soul lifted it up in praising God.  But we fool ourselves if we think that is the height of experiencing God’s presence.  It is incredibly sweet and one of the aspects that God calls us to as a body of believers.

However, we don’t have to wait for another Sunday to come around to enjoy God’s intimacy.  We don’t have to wait for that one song that we really, really like.  We don’t have to wait from super spiritual moment in the midst of even this sermon.

If you want to enjoy the intimacy of God, draw near to Him by submitting to His will and His commands.  As you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you.  It is not that God is not drawing Himself to you.  He constantly does Himself to you because He pledged His love to you in Jesus Christ.  We just happened to become aware of God’s drawing Himself to us when we submit to His will and His commands.  As you draw near to God in this way, you happily and willingly obey what James commands in the second half of verse 8.

Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

If you want to experience God drawing Himself to you, then cleanse your hands.  Cleansing your hands is biblical terminology for confessing your sin and repenting or walking away from your sin.  Listen, if you are a believer, this is clear.  The Holy Spirit residing in your heart is teaching daily areas in which you can confess your sin and repent.  Confess, ask for forgiveness and find your heart being purified to God.

Double-mindedness is that state of saying, “God is my God,” while you sin.  Sinning is declaring, “I am my God.”   So if you want to intimacy with God, here is

Mission #3:  Confess your sin to God and know His intimacy greater.

Then, James just gets weird at least to we human spirit triumphs over all Americans.  Listen to what he commands us to do in verse 9.

9  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

Why would God want us to be wretched, mourn, and weep?  Why would God want our laughter to turn to mourning?  Didn’t just tell you that you would experience an intimacy with God like no other if you submitted your will to God and confessed your sins?

Isn’t that supposed to make you happy or something?  Aren’t we looking for comfort from God here?  And the answer is yes, but remember the Kingdom of God is completely upside down compared to the Kingdom of this world.  To experience fully the comforting presence of God, we must align our hearts with His will and His commands.  Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 5: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Comfort comes in recovery from something.  We mourn and weep as we find our thoughts, speech, and actions in conflict with God’s will.  Why?  Because if you love God, you want to follow Him in all things and as His child, you take no greater joy than giving Him glory by reflecting His character.

So when you start yelling at your kid and abusing their little hearts or when you secretly lust after another or when you pursue your career more for your ease than serving God, there will come a time where God will call those sins to light.  If you love God, you weep, mourn, and be wretch, as Job repented in ashes, because as a Christian, you have said, “Your will be done.  Not mine.”  The past down is the path up.  As verse 10 says

10  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Exaltation comes by humiliation.  That may stink to some of you, and you would do well to wrestle with the desires of your heart right now.  Ask yourself, “Have I been asking God for forgiveness just so I skip hell all this time without realizing that what God calls me to do in that is to repent, walk away from my sin and find myself completely dependent upon Him?”  That is what we are called to, gang.  Nothing less.

Our Mission #4 is this:  Humility is our greatest path to experience the intimacy of God.”

You and I are to walk before God and recognize that every good thing is from Him.  We should look at every possession, at every skill, and every day as a gift from Him.  And we should ask the Holy Spirit to enable us to be humble so that we might experience God’s exaltation.

How scared might we all be to pray, “God make me humble so that I might be exalted.”  It is scary to think about that.  We wonder, “Oh no, what might God take away from me?”  If you can answer what you are afraid God might take away, you are this close to seeing what it is that your trust or enjoy more than God.”

And then you might just say, “Hmm, I love God but I don’t those things taken away.”  And I can’t tell you if God is going to take it away or not, but I can tell you that the path to enjoying greater intimacy with God is in humility asking Him to change you so that you trust Him and His word more than anything else.

But the heart of anyone who is a Christian and who has ask Jesus to forgive them of their sins you take joy in God doing whatever it is that is necessary to move us towards intimacy and loving God more.  Let me tell you a story, and then we’ll walk through a summary of what I hope God has taught us in these few verses.  I used to know this guy in college, and to be honest, I didn’t really like him.  He was arrogant and presumptive, and he was this way probably because he was short like me.  But during my time at ECU, I knew he interacted with a few of my female friends from college in ways that you couldn’t exactly call appropriate.  He took advantage of a couple of girls and didn’t really care.  Oh he claimed to be a Christian, but there was a real break between saying he was one and acting like he was one – at least it seemed that way to me.

And I couldn’t stand this guy.  Whenever I thought about him, I just wanted to punch him in the face.  Well, he was older than I was, so he moved away from ECU a couple of years before me and I lost touch with him.  Well, when I graduated, my first job was a teacher in Rocky Mount.  I  moved there not knowing a single person, not one.

So guess who I got a phone call from about a week in?   Yeah, you guessed it, this dude.  He said, “Oh Gordon, great to find you.  I’m a part of this Bible study  in town with 8-109 other folks.  We would love for you to join us.”

My first reaction was, “Dude, there is no way that I would want to spend any time with you.”  But you know what?  I was lonely, and I thought, “Well, there are going to be 8-10 other folks there.”  So I agreed to go to his Bible study despite pretty much detesting that guy.  Well, I went, met an incredible group of folks and believe it or not, that is where I met my beautiful wife Amy.

I have to thank that dude for that, but that is not the point of my story.  About a year in, I was leading that Bible study and I discovered that this guy had interacted with one of the ladies there just like he had with my friends at ECU.  This time, I was ready to fight.  I was fully prepared to go punch this guy in the face.  Well, I told him, “Dude, we need to talk.”  And without me saying a thing, he said, “Gordon, you have every right to just punch me in the face right now.”

And he went on and detailed how he had been less than a gentleman to several of my friend of whom I was very close.  He cried in repentance, spoke about the need to ask them to forgiven him, and he asked me to forgive him.  Again, he ended by saying, “I would totally understand if you just wanted to punch me in the face right now.”  And I wanted to so badly, but how could I?  He demonstrated humility.  He confessed to everything that I was mad with him about.

He talked reconciling his relationship with those girls but even more importantly, reconciling his relationship with God.  Now I have no idea where that dude is now and what the state of his heart is, but in that moment, he demonstrated humility and diffused what was going to be an incredibly tense situation.  He avoided a butt kicking.  Remember I was taller.

He was humble, and the proper response from me was humility as well.  I didn’t have any right to take it out on him.  Humility on his part created humility on my part.

That is exactly what Jesus has done for us.  Remember that verse from Philippians 2 we looked at earlier?  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Jesus’ humility on your behalf earning your salvation is intended to lead you towards humility.  Those things help us to live out our Big Idea and those 4 Missions that I mentioned earlier.

Our Big Idea was this:  Big Idea:  God loves humility.  We and everyone else hate it.  God loves humility because humility causes us to walk away from our self and our sin and lead us to trusting Him more.

As we do that, we can live out these 4 missions.

·    Mission #1:  Find some area in your life that is really tough, thank God for it and ask Him to lift you up.
·    Mission #2:  You submit to God and Satan will run away.
·    Mission #3:  Confess your sin to God and know His intimacy greater.
·    Mission #4:  Humility is our greatest path to experience the intimacy of God.”

June 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Sermon Notes and Family Devotions for James 4:1-6

Big Picture Question:  Don’t You Want to Stop Fighting?

James 4: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?

  • James assumes that we all fight to some degree.  Do you find this true?
  • In what areas do you most disagree with folks?
  • Why do you think we disagree so much?

Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

  • Why does James say that we fight so much?
  • What do we do when we don’t get what we want?
  • Why don’t we get what we ask for from God?

4  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

  • How does friendship with God make a person adulterous?
  • What does it mean to be friends with God?
  • Why does friendship with the word cause enmity or strife with God?

5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

  • What does it mean that God’s Spirit yearns jealously over you?
  • How is God’s jealous yearning not sin?
  • How is God’s jealous yearning an act of love to us?

6 But he gives more grace.

  • What does it mean that God gives us grace when we are friends with the world?

Please forgive the typos.

Fundamentally, there should be a host of changes when a person declares faith in Jesus.  The Bible describes what happens when a person has faith in Jesus becoming a new creation.  The old has passed away.  2 Corinthians 5:18 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come

That means, at the core of a Christian, at the core of who you are as a believer, you should be completely different than you were prior to knowing to Jesus and different from those who don’t know Jesus.  You should be more gentle.  You should be more merciful.  You should be less quarrelsome.

We saw that last week at the end of chapter 3.  James tells us that the wisdom that comes from having a relationship with God should be described in this way.  James 3: But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  If you profess faith in Jesus, you should just be more peacable, gentle, and merciful than the rest of the world.

Looking around at the church, looking at how Christians live their lives, looking at how we agree or disagree with others, looking at whether we are merciful or not, sometimes I just have to wonder.  Many of the reasons why people leave the church is because we aren’t those things.  Heck, look beyond the church, is this how your house is described?  If people saw you and your spouse or you and your kids, would they describe you as peaceable, reasonable, and merciful?

Gang, the church fights a lot.  I’m not saying you have to be perfect.  Jesus’ perfection is yours before God.  But you and I should fundamentally be changed and different.  Pursuing Jesus and His wisdom means you should just fight less.  Much of my counseling is dealing with just that.  So much fighting so much quarrelling so much arguing.  So in light of that, let’s try to answer this Big Picture Question this week:

Big Picture Question:  Don’t You Want to Stop Fighting?

James 4: What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  4  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?  6 But he gives more grace.

Now when I read verse 1 that says “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? A host of answers might come to mind.  When I speak to folks who are arguing a lot, their answer to the question of what causes so many fights goes something like this.  I’ll tell you why we fight so much – she does this or my kid does that or my boss does that.  It’s their fault.  Think about your last fight whether it was with spouse or child or boss or sibling.  How much of that argument did you spend telling the other person what they did wrong?

Think about typical things you argue about.  Sex and money are popular topics.  Who is carrying the appropriate amount of weight around a house is another.  Spending money you have agreed not to spend.  What’s for dinner?

Have you ever had one of these fights?  It starts out with, “Hey, why didn’t you help me out with that?”  And then instead of the person answering the question, they deflect and say, “Well, you didn’t do this one thing, so why should I do that?”  And then you have two things to argue about with both people feeling superior and right in their anger.  When we have these fights, we feel incredible justified in our anger.  If we choose not to fight, we feel incredibly self-righteous because we know we are right.  But James is getting ready to flip the script here.  James answers what causes all of our fights and most of us are not going to like the answer.

Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

James says that what causes our fights is the war of passions within our hearts.  We don’t get to blame the other person.  We don’t get to remind them of all their mistakes.  We don’t get to get angry with them for the umpteenth time.  Our raging passions cause all of our fights.  Now James explains that in verse 2.  In fact, he gives us 3 examples of raging passions in our hearts though I’m sure he could get us a hundred.

For example, he says, you desire or want something that you don’t have and don’t get.  What’s the result?  You murder.  Now you might say, “Gordon, I’ve never murdered anyone in my life.”  But remember how Jesus speaks of murder.  Matthew 5: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.

Jesus is telling us that anger and murder are the same sin and bring about the same judgment just as lust and adultery are the same sin and bring about the same judgment.  So James’ point is when you have desire, any desire that goes unmet, we get angry with either the people who are keeping us from that desire or with God who we feel is keeping us from that desire.  He goes onto say that when we covet and want what other people have, and we don’t get it we fight.

Oh we want other people’s beauty and when we can’t get it we fight.  We want other people’s health and when we can’t get it we fight.  We want other people’s wealth and when we can’t get it we fight.  We want other people’s free time and when we can’t get it we fight.

When you are mad at your spouse because they did something fun and you had to work or take care of the kids or whatever, James says you are coveting what they have.  The argument you are having with them is not because they did something irresponsible.  The argument you are having is that you are coveting their freedom to make that choice.  Check yourself is James’ point.

He goes one further in verse 3.  He says you ask and you don’t receive because you ask wrongly so you fight.  You don’t get what you want because you ask with bad motives.  You ask for what you want just to feed your passions.

This is true both in our relationships and in our relationships with God.  Hey kids, you want free time or you want to buy a game or you want something specific for dinner.  You ask and are told no.  Your parents tell you no sometimes because they can see that they only reason you ask is to feed your passion.

You want a certain dinner because you are gracious enough to eat whatever mom makes.  You want a game so you can hide in your room.  You want money to go do what you want.  But you rarely if ever do what your parents ask and if you do, do it, it is so that you can ask for what you want.  Your parents right say no and you fight.  I wish was only a kid issue but husbands and wives have these conversations all the time as well.

But more importantly, our prayers to God are met with a resounding no because we are just asking God to feed our passions. Ask yourself, Gang.  How often do you pray?  How often are your prayers just asking God for stuff?  How often are you just asking God to make your life easier?

It is very easy to neglect all the other aspects of prayer.  How often are our prayers just words of praise to God?  How often are our prayer thanks to God?  How often are we praying for others?  How often are we seeking God’s wisdom?  How often are we asking God what certain passages of scripture mean?

I don’t mean to upset you, but all of those things I just mentioned are supposed to be part of the normal day to day life of a Christian.  In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed something about my prayers.  Let me give you an example.  When my dad died, I prayed that our hearts would be comforted.  I prayed some of my family wouldn’t get stupid.  Once again, as the church is not growing numerically or financially, I found myself praying for those things as well.

But this passage has caused me to stop and examine my motives.  There is nothing wrong with asking for comfort as we grieve my father’s passing.  There is nothing wrong with asking God to grow the church numerically and financially.

But this passage asks me to examine my heart.  What is my motive?  Do I just want to avoid pain?  Sometimes, God uses pain and heartache to draw His children closer and to severe their dependency on other things.  Do I just want the church to grow so numerically and financially so I don’t have to stress so much?  Maybe God wants us to stick closer to Him so we have to trust Him.

I don’t know, gang.  I’m not going to tell you the mind of God.  But this passage specifically says, If you ask for things from God with the wrong motive, asking for them just so you can keep feeding your passions, God is not inclined to give you anything.  In fact, a lot of times He just says now.  Think through what you ask God for, examine your heart, look for real to figure out your motive and the return to God either to ask for nothing, to confess your sin or ask God once again assured you know just why you are asking.  So, let’s make this a moment of action or mission

Mission 1:  Ask God to show you where you ask with poor motives.

Because you know what happens if we just keep feeding our passions?  You know what God calls people who are just slaves to what they want?  Look at verse 4.

4  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Adulterous people.  Friends with the world – enmity with God.  Okay, this is an incredibly quoted passage, so we are going to walk carefully here.  First of all, what does James use the description “adulterous people”

When your passions are not first and foremost glorifying God, any passion you have makes you adulterer.  Let me explain.  James is like a NT prophet here.  To call someone who has faith in God adulterous harkens back to language from Jeremiah, Hosea and others.  A Christian would described as adulterous when they have pledged their life to Jesus Christ, giving themselves completely over, describing yourself as dead but now alive in Christ.

That’s the description of a Christian now – not super Christians, but Christians.  Those folks, we would be described when there is anything in this world that we look to give us more pleasure than God.  More joy than God.  More hope than God.  More comfort than God.  And the list could go on and on.

James rightfully know that we look to everything in this world but God sometimes to make us joyful, hopeful, to give us comfort to give us pleasure.  It is not that God has said we cannot enjoy the things of this world – that was the incorrect approach of the monks – any thing that gives pleasure other than God is wrong.  No, we can enjoy this world – in fact, Christians should enjoy more than anyone else, why?  Because we have found everything we need in God, therefore any joy of this world, any hope of this world, any pleasure of this world is enjoyed in perspective  – recognizing that it is a wonderful gift but a lesser joy than what God gives.

You see, let me explain how we have got this wrong for a long time and then lets figure out what James is calling to.  Friendship with the world means enemy with God.  Many have read this language and thought that it has given the church the right to hate the world – meaning quite often hate the people of the world who are not Christians.  These verse have justified everything from hate speech, to mocking people, to telling folks they can’t drink alcohol and can’t go to the movies.

Could it be those things?  Well, anything in the world that is not declared sinful, is okay – as long as you don’t find your worth in it, as long you don’t find more joy in it than you do God, as long you don’t find more hope in it than God, and on and on.  So take any hobby – running, swimming, reading, golf.  If you take more joy in that than God, you are an adulterer.

Take things like eating, hanging out, and drinking alcohol.  Well, scripture is clear.  Food is gift from God.  Eating too much is a sin.  Hanging with friends is wonderful.  Talking too much is a sin.  Drinking alcohol is fine.  Drinking too much is a sin.

I like sitting on the back porch with friends and a glass of wine as much as the next guy.  That is not sin.  Talking too much, drinking too much is.  Our topics of conversation could sinful.  If we are trusting in those things to bring us down and relax us more than God, they are sin.  You see, if just tell you that this place is sin because its worldly, this food, this drink, this typo clothing – they are worldly and sinful. – I’m not asking you to use your brain or to exercise faith.  Use your brain, read the scriptures, exercise faith and ask yourself, better yet, ask God “Am I adulterous?  Am I turning to something other than you God more than you?   Help me walk in faith and repentance.

This takes a mature faith.  One that is not easily figured out and takes a bit more thinking than just listening to your pastor rail against everything in the world that he doesn’t like.  So let’s make this missionable.

So Mission #2 Ask God to make you love Him more and show you where you need to love the world less.

But more than anything else.  Understanding these things is found in the light of the Gospel, just like everything else.  Listen to the great hope of verse 5.

5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

Okay, what in the world does this mean?  Does God yearn jealously for our spirits that He gave us or does God yearn jealously for the Holy Spirit which He gave us?  Well, James talks about the human spirit in 2:26, 4:1,3 and the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in the whole book.  Since the context of this section is speaking of our human passions, it would seem to make sense that the passage is saying that God yearns jealously for your spirit, the one that He gave you.

So the, why do the scriptures tell us that God yearns jealously over the spirit that He has made to dwell in us?  Well, the OT speaks of God being a jealous God at least 3-4 times and in each case, it describes God in that way surrounding human idolatry.  For example, when Israel renewed their covenant with God and were being warned about the dangers of the Promised Land, we read this:

Exodus 34:14  For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

So it makes sense here that James would tell us that God is jealous in a completely righteous way for our souls because James is telling us that our passions cause us to run after everything else to satisfy us but God.  Our adulterous desires that are greater for things than they are for God are idolatrous.  But what James is telling us here should cause us to pause.

Think about what he is saying.  God is no doubt holy.  His righteous is above ours, and any goodness that we possess comes from Him.  God hates sin and punishes sin.

But James is encouraging us through the gospel hope that when His children sin, yes God hates that sin but he responds with a jealousy for us.  God is jealous for us when we sin.  God wants our heart back when we sin.  God yearns for you to love Him and not whatever passion it is you are feeding.

I so wish my heart, your heart, this church’s heart, and the heart of this city could get this.  Think about it.  When you sin, what happens?  If you have faith in Jesus, when you sin, the very Spirit of God that lives within you convicts you of that sin.  You realize that your harsh word, your lustful though, your drunkish behavior, whatever, the Spirit moves in your heart to say, “No, that is not what God has called you to or commanded you to do.”

And how do we respond?  Ultimately, the work of the Spirit in our hearts is intended to cause us to respond by confessing our sin, repenting and walking away, and enjoying the forgiveness of God.  But we often do it because we think God is mad at us now.  We either consciously or subconsciously think that God has raised His arm to give us a back hand and maybe we think Jesus is up there holding Him back until either we repent or God forgets.

This passage is saying, “Listen, when you sin, you know what God does?”  His heart yearns for you.  He loves you and wants your heart back.  You are pursuing everything in the world to satisfy you and nothing will be God.

So right now, as you struggle with sin, either confessed or hidden, God jealously yearns for you in righteous way.  He wants you back.  He wants you to find joy, hope, comfort, and identify in Him.

He wants you to find comfort in knowing that Jesus has secured all of your goodness for you and Jesus has secured all the payment of penalty for you.  So now, you can joyously walk before God.  You can admit how your passions have caused you to run after everything but God.  And you can thank God for Jesus who takes on God’s wrath and gifts us with God’s holy jealousy.

So Mission #3:  Be motivated to repent of sin because God yearns for you.

And you want what we need then?  You know what will meet our souls’ need more than anything else?  Listen to verse 6.

6 But he gives more grace.

Your sin has not taxed God’s grace.  It will never run out.  God’s grace is not dependent on your faithfulness or your obedience.  It is what your faithlessness and your disobedience need.  You and I need more of God’s love and grace.

We must recognize that our passions draw us into every fight in the world.  We fight our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our kids, and our God.  We run after everything else but God.  And for some reason, we neglect to depend on God’s grace for what we need and instead trust our hands, efforts, and the poor wisdom of our hearts.

I read one author this week who summed up our challenge here in this way.  He said,

I’m not surprised by bitter, socially uncomfortable Christians with messy or dysfunctional relationships at home, tense relationships with co-workers, awkwardness with folks in the church, and secret, unconfessed sin. We have become comfortable with defining ourselves in a less than biblical way.   We approach God as less than needy, so we’re less open to the ministry of others and to the conviction of the Spirit.  This sucks the life out of the devotional aspect of our walk with God.  Tender, heartfelt worship is hard for a person who thinks of himself as having arrived.  No one celebrates the presence and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ more than the person who has embraced his desperate and daily need of it. Paul Tripp

So gang, here is what we need to do.  If we want to stop fighting.  If we want to find peace in our hearts and our homes, we must recognize our desperate and daily need for God’s grace.  Memorize simple verse 6.  “But God gives more grace.”

So that when you find yourself in that fight that you always find yourself in, ask God, “What passion is it of mine that is going unmet?”  My passion for money or health?  My passion for children who looked good, Godly, and don’t cause me any problems?  My passion for someone other than my spouse?  My passion to be right or to be seen as Godly?

And as God shows you how your passions are driving you, pray that He would gift you with a passion for Him through Jesus empowered by the Spirit.  And then ask God to remind you of His yearning love for you.  And ask for more grace.  Before we close, let’s remind ourselves of our 3 Missions

·    Mission 1:  Ask God to show you where you ask with poor motives.
·    Mission #2:  Ask God to make you love Him more and show you where you need to love the world less.
·    Mission #3:  Be motivated to repent of sin because God yearns for you.

June 3, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Sermon Notes and Family Devotion – James 3:13ff

Big Idea:  Being wise is much than knowing stuff.  Much, much more.

 James 3: 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.

 

  • What does it mean to be meek in wisdom?
  • How can you be arrogant in wisdom?

 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

  • What would it look like to have truth but be bitter, jealous, and selfish?
  • Why is wisdom that is bitter, jealous, and selfish unspiritual and demonic?
  • Is it possible to have Biblical wisdom but also be bitter, jealous, and selfish?

16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

  • What does jealously and selfish-ambition produce?
  • What does wisdom from God look like?
  • Describe a community that has that Godly wisdom?

18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

  • How does the church produce a community of righteousness?
  • What does it mean to sow in peace?

Is the church asking the wrong questions?  Maybe a better question is, “Is the church answering the wrong questions?”  Here is what I mean.

I value a deep and correct theology.  In fact, I have given much of life to pursing a deep and correct theology through personal study, elder training, seminary, and preparing for ordination exams.  Every single sentence I say up here is an attempt to communicate God correctly to you – essentially, every sermon is theological.  But to be honest, I fear the church, this church, our denomination, and many others are just trying to further sharpen our theological pencils instead of loving God by engaging hearts and engaging the world as Christ did.

Think about the way Jesus did “ministry”  To the self-righteous religious scholars, Jesus busted up their incorrect theology and subsequent incorrect practices.  But to the world around Him, Jesus presented Himself in word and deed.  Jesus said, “This is who I am,” while demonstrating who He was by healing them, feeding them, and serving them.

Yes, of course Jesus always addressed incorrect thinking, but His point was to point others more to Himself.  For example, when the woman at the well questioned Jesus, he corrected her thinking but even more so presented Himself to her.  She was transformed by the interaction with the person of Jesus and then ran back to everyone in her world about how she had met the man, Jesus.

So, what questions is the church asking?  I know we actively discuss the questions of our part in sanctification, what ultimately is our justification based on, the proper order of worship service.  These are not unimportant questions.  But our denomination, in which I love, has or is arguing such issues as whether women can serve the military, whether intinction is a proper form of partaking the Lord’s Supper and whether the Federal Vision is an accurate portrayal of the Gospel.  While all of those issues are of some merit, I fear the church often strains at gnats while we swallow camels.

I think the questions that need to be answered right now sound like this:

·    How do I keep my family together?
·    How do I help my daughter who hates her body so much?
·    My son is so angry, what do I do?
·    How can my wife and I forgive each other?
·    How do we make a living?
·    How do I live with such poor health?
·    Take all of those questions and tell me how or why God cares.

The church can debate whether our spirit is dichotomous or trichotomous all it wants, but I don’t know if the church is accurately speaking to how the gospel meets practical needs.  Right now, the church needs to address issues like how the Gospel speaks to

·    Families struggling financially
·    Couple fighting and having a hard time forgiving
·    The single who is lonely and the parent struggling to raise their kids.
A deep and rich theology is important.  I believe that and still pursue that.  But that theology should lead to a deep, rich practical theology.  It should also lead the church to getting off their butts.  A deep and rich theology should move a church to an active loving of one another, of serving those in need, and a passionate loving of those who don’t yet know Jesus.  But knowing what to say and knowing how to say it and knowing when to say it is matter of wisdom.  Fortunately, wisdom is the issue that the book of James takes up this week, so with that in mind, let’s pursue this Big Idea:

Big Idea:  Being wise is much than knowing stuff.  Much, much more.

James 3: 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

For just a matter of brief review, let’s remind ourselves what happened just before verse 13.  We have spent the last two weeks looking at James’ warning surrounding the use of our tongue – how we speak.  We have heard such warnings as:

·    The tongue is small but boasts of great things.
·    The tongue is a world of unrighteousness.
·    No one can tame the tongue.
·    The tongue is a restless evil, full of poison.
·    We should not bless God but curse one another with the same tongue.

Along the way we looked at how we redeem the use of our speech by speaking of the mysteries of Christ and the beauty of a reconciled relationship with God.  So now, James decides to pursue other areas in which we do not represent our relationship with God well.

14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.

What we find in verse 14 is a specific command against jealousy and selfish ambition.  Now here is part of the problem surrounding jealousy and selfish ambition:  Very few people will admit to having either which means that a lot folks are blind to the dangers of this sin.  You see, to admit that you are jealous means you have to admit that someone has something you want or you have to admit you want what someone else has achieved or owned.

But typically, we have too much pride to admit jealousy.  You see how these sins just get intertwined.  We sin in jealousy because we aren’t content with what God has given us, and then our pride keeps us from admitting our jealousy.

Ask yourself, where are you secretly motivated because you want something others have?  Is your work lifestyle based upon a desired amount of ease and desired comfort at home?  Is that desire of ease and comfort based upon what you have seen others have and so you want it to?  If so, that is jealousy.

Are your desires and efforts to look a certain way based upon a desire to care for your body as the temple of God?  Or are those desires based on wanting to look like someone or better than someone?  If the latter, that is jealousy.

Are you efforts in raising your kids as Godly or raising them to be talented or smart, are those efforts based on making sure your kids don’t grow up to be untalented, dumb, and ungodly kids like your neighbors?  Or are you efforts to raise your kids based on a desire to glorify God?  If the first, that is jealousy.

Let me try this one on for size.  Are my efforts to grow this church based on a desire to have a bigger church than the one next door or the one across the street or the other PCA churches that I think don’t deserve to have as many people sitting in their as they do?  Or are my efforts to build this church based on a desire to glorify God?  If the first, that is jealousy.

And what fuels our jealousy is selfish ambition?  Wanting and working for what you want for your own purposes and your own reasons.  Motivated by self, the satisfaction you get from getting what you want.

Let me tell you a story about perhaps the first adult conversation I ever had.  In my freshman year of college, I had a friend who was a junior.  He was dating a lovely girl, but he didn’t always speak to her gently.  In fact, I think he spoke to her pretty harshly.

So I confronted him.  Now what I was confronting him about was right.  He should have spoken more gently to his girlfriend.  He wasn’t harsh or terrible, just too gruff.  My friend heard me, admitted he should speak more gently to his girlfriend.  But then he said, “Okay, Gordon.  You are right.  But this is not what all of this conversation is about.  You’re jealous aren’t you?”  You know my response.  “Pssh, no I’m not.”  But he was right, and I eventually had to admit it.  I was 19 and figured out that the human heart is pretty complicated.  Rarely are things simple.  And even when it looks like you are doing something good, it can still be mixed with jealousy and selfish ambition.

You know James is telling us we are really doing when motivated that way?  Verse 14 tells us that we are boasting and being false to the truth.  When we act out of jealousy, we are boasting of our skills, our own talents, and our own will.  We are saying, “I will do what I want, when I want, and for whatever reason I want.”  Boasting is idolatry – the worship of self.

If you are a Christian and boast and work out of jealousy and selfish ambition, then what you are also doing is being false to the truth.  As a Christian, you have declared that God alone is worthy of praise.  You have said, “Not my will but thy will be done.”  You have also said, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light for path.”

When you and I are motivated by jealousy and selfish ambition, when you do what you want for what you want or even do what God wants for what you want, you have denied all of those truths.  You are saying, “I am worthy of your praise.”  You are saying, “My will be done.”  You are saying, “My word is a lamp unto my feet.”  When we as followers of Christ deny the truths we know and pursue our efforts or even God’s efforts for our own glory and our own desires, verse 15 tells us what we are doing.

15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

Jealousy and selfish ambition are not motivated or controlled by the wisdom of God.  Jealousy and selfish ambition are demonic, unearthly, and unspiritual.  Does that seem harsh to you?  Maybe a bit melodramatic?  And what does it mean for jealousy and selfish ambition to be demonic?

What do the scriptures were Satan’s motivation for rebelling against God and leading a host of angels from heaven?  Isaiah 14:13 You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God      I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; 14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’  Satan desired greatness apart from God, desired acclaim and praise apart from God.  In fact, he desired the acclaim and praise of God.

Seeking your own fame, fortune, praise, and even leisure apart from God is seeking a wisdom apart from God and it is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic.  You see, the difference between wisdom that is from above and wisdom that is from God typically comes down to motivation and always demonstrates itself in a Christ-like fashion.  Let me explain.

Take the truth that we celebrate here – the Gospel – the truth that every single thing necessary for your salvation was secured by Jesus.  Jesus dies for your sins:  John 3:16  Jesus rose again to give you life:  I Corinthians 15:20  Jesus gives you His goodness:  Romans 4:6  Jesus even gifts you with the faith you need to believe:  Ephesians 2:8

Now this is incredible wisdom for us.  These are undying, unchanging truths.  How in the world might this wisdom become earthly and selfish?   Oh, it’s very easy.  In fact, it is the cancer of the church.  This wisdom becomes earthly and selfish in at least two ways.

One way is you hear that Jesus has secured everything for you and you respond in a slovenly, lazy fashion assuming that since Jesus secured everything for you, you will not pursue worship, scripture, prayer, service or any other acts of obedience.  This is exactly the type of faith that James has been preaching against when he told us that “faith without works is dead”   The human heart can take the wonderful truths of the gospel and make it earthly and unspiritual by not being transformed by it.

The second way however is probably the one that is the largest temptation for SK Church.  As we celebrate the Gospel here at SK, celebrating all that Christ has secured for us in His life, death, and resurrection, we will be tempted to make our entire Christian nothing more than a selfish pursuit…of ourselves.  We take the truths of the Gospel and just make sure we and our families are more Godly, but don’t care about anyone else.  Oh we judge, mock, and make fun of those other folks wow we get more Godly, but we don’t do any more than give lip service to serving others and sharing the Gospel with others.

Now you might say, “Gordon, that’s not us.  We’re SK.  We create and engage community.”  And pastorally, I will say that God has blessed us with a better than average desire and effort to love folks beyond ourselves.  But we aren’t ready to start patting ourselves on the back yet.

Ask yourself:  How many of your relationships outside of your family are designed for selfless service?  How many non-Christians are you presently befriending?  How many people are serving as Christ has served you?  How many people are you comforting with the comfort of Christ, and I’m not just talking about other Christians?  Who are you comforting?  Godly wisdom should move you to spend more time w/ people who need Jesus, not less.  If we struggle to answer these questions in any way that demonstrates that your wisdom has benefit outside of your household, you need ask yourself if your wisdom is heavenly or earthly?  If we pursue wisdom, even scriptural wisdom only for our sake, making it earthly and not heavenly, there is a consequence that is inevitable.  Listen to verse 16.

16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

James reiterates that knowledge for personal gain and even a selfish holiness ultimately leads to jealousy, selfish ambition.  Without relentlessly pursuing knowledge of our own jealousy and selfish ambition in our hearts, we will ultimately be tripped up by own desires and we will walk into the conflict of disorder and every other vile practice.  Before I go into this any further, I will say this is one of the things I like about SK.  Not that we have every vile practice.

Your elders do this well.  When we see these verses, these warnings, we don’t immediately start talking about how all of those people out there are so evil and vile.  We challenge you to look at your own heart.  That is one of the reasons we have a time of repentance – so we can confess our sin.  You can tell a lot about a church by the way we talk.  When talking about sin, do we talk about “us” and “we” or do we talk about “them” and those” – dangerous territory to  spend more time talking about “them” and “those” because that type of language implies we are worrying about every else’s sin more than ours and that is evil and vile in and of itself.  So let’s hear these commands and warnings from James.

If we pursue anything, even personal holiness and obedience, out of jealousy or selfish ambition, it will lead to every vile practice you can imagine and ultimately to disorder and conflict among us right here.  That means we need God’s help to show us our motivations and aspirations.  Just why do you want to make the amount of money you make?  Just why do we work so hard to raise Godly children?  Hey, Gordon why do you work so hard to try to build this church?  Gang, ask God to fearlessly examine your heart in every area asking the Holy Spirit to show you why you do or don’t do what you do or don’t do.

If we pursue wisdom and godliness for selfish ambition, for our own purposes and our own glory and our own satisfaction and not the glory of God, then we are just going to fall into great sin and great conflict.  Oh we might find a way to keep it quiet and look Godly but if we don’t ask God to show us our motives, we might outwardly pursue the most Godly of actions for the most selfish of reasons.  That’s why churches have conflict, anger, splits, and every other manner of disorder.

But there is great hope here.  We can hear this warning and walk in hope.  God can work in us to forgive us and transform us.  Look at verse 17.

17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

If we are enjoying, pursuing, bathing in and walking in Godly wisdom, which is the knowledge of God for His glory and not ours, then there is wonderful promise for us in the scriptures.  What God gives us when we pursue His wisdom for His glory instead whatever other motivation we have is this glorious list.  When we pursue God for His glory, He gives us Godly wisdom.  That wisdom about what we know and how we should live is pure.  It leads to peace for yourself and peace with others.  It’s gentle which means we learn the ability to communicate even difficult truths gently without provoking hostility.

The wisdom of God makes you open to reason – your mind hears and process logic and reason reasonably.  You become full of mercy.  This might be the real test of whether we have the wisdom of God.  Hey church, if you possess the wisdom of God, then you will be full of mercy to each other and to others outside these doors.  Full of mercy to those with whom you disagree and even full of mercy to those who have made every mistake but stand in great need.  Godly wisdom leads to being full of mercy to those who are actively sinning and making every mistake possible.  We will be impartial and sincere.

Gang, this is how we can see God working within our hearts, our families, at SK and even our community.  Are we becoming more like this?  You see here a clear difference between knowledge and wisdom right?

We can become incredibly theologically astute.  We can quote the church fathers.  We can quote the Westminster Confession of Faith.  We can quote the catechisms.  We can even quote the Bible.

But those things can just be knowledge if we aren’t careful.  For them to be wisdom, to be Godly wisdom, this has to be happening.  You, me, your family, my family, SK, our denomination and any that claim Jesus as Christ, this will be evidence of Godly wisdom.  We will be described then as peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  If you are pursuing wisdom for God’s glory and not just knowledge for your own sake, these things will become who you and I are.

Peaceable, full of mercy, man those sound like wonderful qualities for a church.  I want that so bad for us.  If we aren’t seeing it, if we aren’t seeing ourselves grow in gentleness and peace, and mercy, we might just very well need to repent of even how we pursue God.  Praying, dear God help me to serve you and know you for your glory.

St Augustine used to talk about this.  He would talk about the different types of loves.  He said, “You know some folks love themselves for their own sake.  Some work, eat, rest, and play all for their own sake.  Eventually some see a good and gracious God, and what happens is that we begin to love God, but often at the very beginning, we love God for our own sake.  We think, “Jesus died for me?  Okay, well I love you Jesus for all you have done for me.  It is a love of God but it is a selfish love.  But we are intended to grow in that love.  Maturity is moving towards loving God for God’s sake.  Oh,God, you are beautiful and good and loving.  Yes, Jesus died for me, but I love you for who you are no matter what benefits I receive.

That is Godly wisdom and the transformation of knowledge.  And James lets us know, as we grow in that Godly wisdom, you know what happens?  God does another amazing work among us.  Listen to verse 18.

18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

I can barely understand, much less contemplate that verse.  When we seek God for God’s sake and His glory seeking to know Him so that our knowledge becomes real wisdom, this is what God does among us.  A harvest of righteousness is God producing more and more obedience and goodness among us.  Seeking Godly wisdom produces Godliness and righteousness.

We make peace by sowing in peace.  What does that mean?  I’ll tell you, it is the very commissioning that Jesus gave the disciples and us.  You see, we often miss this, but let’s not miss it now.  When Jesus returned at His resurrection, He appeared to Mary, the disciples and other followers, and this is what He said.

John 20:19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.

Gang, this is how we pursue Godly wisdom.  Jesus, our Savior, has not only lived for us and died for us, but He rose to new life so that we might live.  As He returned, He gathered His followers together and declared, “Peace be with you.”  This is a real pace earned by Jesus so that you will be at peace with God.  Apart from this blessing, you and I and everyone else is at war with God.  Jesus earns our peace with God.

And then Jesus commissions His church to go out in the same way that God sent Jesus out.  As Jesus was sent to bring about peace between God and man, we the church are sent out in the same way.  Go declaring that there is now peace possible between sinful men and women and God.

Sew in peace James says.  Go pursue the wisdom of God found in the scriptures.  The wisdom will lead you to know that Jesus has made peace between you and God.  In fact, Jesus was sent by God to bring you back to God.

So now lead others to make peace with God by sewing the peaceful work of Jesus and what will happen is God will produce a harvest of righteousness or a harvest of goodness.  You yourself will grow in Godliness and righteousness.  And God will use you to grow others in Godliness and righteousness.

Gang, let’s just not be that church that cares so much about theological knowledge but yet we don’t grow in mercy, wisdom, and gentleness.  Because if we theologically correct but we aren’t growing in mercy, wisdom, and gentleness, James says we are seeking those out of selfish ambition.  If we need to repent, let’s repent, but let’s pursue God for God’s sake.  Let’s walk in the peace that Jesus  has earned for us so that we can sew peace among each other and any that God gives us audience with so that there might a great harvest of goodness and righteousness brought about by what God is doing among us.

May 13, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Sermon Notes and Family Devotion for James 3:6-11

Big Idea:  Godly control of your speech will lead to glorifying God in many areas.

James 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.

·    How does James describe the tongue?
·    When you first hear that, does that description sound accurate or overblown?

The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

·    How does your speech affect your entire body?
·    Can you think of an example where you said something and it directly affected how you acted towards someone?

7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

·    To what does James contrast the tongue?
·    Have you ever considered James warning about the tongue at the end of verse 8?
·    Can you think of situations where you allow yourself to let your speech get out of hand?

9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

·    What are two things we do with the tongue?
·    Why should this not be?  What then should we be doing instead?

There are literally hundreds of verses in the Bible about our speech.  We are commanded when to speak, and we are commanded when not to speak.  We are commanded how to encourage one another with words.  We are commanded how to speak to our parents, to our kids, to our spouses, and even commanded how to speak of God.

And despite George Carlin’s famous rant that there are 7 cuss words, the Bible does not give us a list of words that we cannot say.  We are told not to take the Lord’s name in vain, and some people take that so far as to say that you should not even say God’s name out loud.  But believe it or not, the Bible does not give us a list of words not to say.

The bible does tell us that the heart behind our speech matters.  Jesus said in Matthew 15:18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.

It is the heart the makes one word beneficial or hurtful.  It is the heart that makes a word sinful or obedient.  Typically innocuous speech can be sinful depending upon what our heart motive is.  And the smallest word can be glorifying to God when given wisely with a desire to glorify God.

I remember when I first learned the wisdom of the properly timed word.  I had become an RA at ECU which the Resident Adviser or the guy in the dorm that supposedly would help guide the younger students.  Well, I went to our first training session and I met the coordinator for the whole campus.  She had completely gray hair and I just couldn’t gauge how old she was.   I was a naïve 19 years old at the time.  So all of a sudden, this little girl runs up to her and jumps in her arm, and this is when I get it really wrong.    I said, “Oh, is this your granddaughter???”  I should have said, “Oh, is this your sister?”  The RA Coordinator dryly said, “No, this is my daughter,” and I never got a promotion in the 3 years I served as an RA.  One question, without a lot of wisdom behind, and probably ruined her day.

It appears that most folks either I know though fall into one of two camps.  Either they are so scared of saying something wrong that they are practically silent or folks talk so much they are practically white noise.  Too much or too little.  Too crude or not honest enough.

If you have read the Hunger Games, we’re either Caesar Flickerman or a bunch aphoxes.  Too much talk or not enough.  I must talk too much because when I fall silent, people start getting worried about me.  But James this week is going to make some incredible promises about how we speak, so with that in mind, let’s pursue this Big Idea

Big Idea:  Godly control of your speech will lead to glorifying God in many areas.

James 3: 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Now as a brief reminder, last week we saw James speaking about speech as well.  However, he couched that conversation into a warning about not many people being teachers.  Everyone wants to be a teacher, no one wants to be a student.  And last week, he let us know that it is impossible to completely tame our tongues but then he encouraged us that it only takes a little bit of Godly speaking to make a big difference.  So that brings us to verse 6.

James 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.  The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

Now, look at how James describes the tongue.  He says the tongue, meaning speech is a tongue of fire, a world of unrighteousness.  When you first hear that, does that description sound accurate or overblown?  I imagine it would only seem overblown if you have somehow fooled yourself into thinking that you have yours under control, but more than likely, all of us realize just how dangerous our words can be.

You see, one of the reasons that the tongue is a world of unrighteousness is that one simple phrase given or delivered or spoken at the wrong time can mess up someone for the rest of their life.  Errant words are so powerful.  I know of one girl who was caught by her parents messing around with her boyfriend.  Her father’s response was, “Well dirty girls do dirty things.”  After that crushing response, that girl just decided, “Well I guess dad thinks I’m a dirty girl so that what’s what I’m going to be.”

I know one young man who no matter what he did, he’s couldn’t find a way to encourage him or praise him.  5 A’s and B meant one big failure.  He could bat .400 in baseball but his dad could only point out how he failed to turn that double play in the second.  If he studied his Bible, his parents would say, “Well that what you should do every day.”  And though we are responsible for ourselves, this young man figured, “Nothing I ever do is going to be good enough, so I’m checking out.”  And today, he is a coke addict.

James says that when we use our words to hurt, to maim, to demean, those words are literally set on fire by hell itself.  Those words cause bodily harm.  They hurt the one speaking as they reinforce and embitter.  They hurt the one receiving those words as they reinforce and damage and dredge up hurt.  Words are set on fire by hell when those words are seasoned with the truth of scripture and the grace of Jesus.

Gang, those stories are not hyperbolic – I haven’t exaggerated anything.  James says, the tongue is a world of unrighteousness. Words are so powerful that there is a temptation to just never speak but that is faithless response.  Jesus redeems speech just like He redeems our souls, so the faithful response to the dangers of speech is to peak words of life, words of truth, and words of hope.

James really wants us to get this point, and I want you as an individual, you as families, and we as SK get church to get this.  I want my heart to get this.  So James goes in verse 7

7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

James says, “Look around.  Any animal in the world can be tamed.”  Take for instance the Askew house – their 100 +lb dog, Benji.  Mike will tell you that he could survive in the woods with that dog.  Big, giant, strong, and completely trained.  If they tell him to get in his bed, he gets in his bed.  If they tell him to quiet down, he quiets down.  It didn’t just happen.  They trained him, but the point is, here is this massive, animal that could rage and hurt, but is completely tamed by the Askew’s.  He responds to everyone from Mike all the way down to Noah.

James makes that point to make this one.  You, alone, no manner of self-control or self-exertion is going to control your tongue.  No one can tame it.  The tongue is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Have you ever had that person in your life, and no matter how hard you try, they just irritate you so badly that you just say things you know you shouldn’t say?  Maybe it is someone at work.  Maybe it is one of your family members.  Maybe it is someone here.  Huh, maybe it’s me.  Maybe just the sight of my face tempts you to want to start cussing.

And no matter how hard you try.  At some point, that person or I just frustrate you to no end.   And you think you are not going to say what you want to say but you say it.  And oh, what you have to say is good and juicy and sarcastic and hurtful and it just makes you feel great say it.  Until then you are convicted that you are hurting someone, you are disobeying, you are sinning.

James says, “On your own, you cannot tame the tongue.”  But you are thinking, “Well Gordon this is when you are going to preach the gospel to us, right?  This is when you are going to tell us about Jesus?”  Yeah, but probably not how you think.  Listen ot verse 9.

9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

Right now, we have sung songs of praise and worship to God.  Just a minute ago, we sang this line:  O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe.  We sang to God, “Your love is so great to me that you will never let me go.  And because of that love, I am going to find rest for my weary soul.  And I give you every part of myself.  I leave nothing to me but give all to you.

Now, that is good and right and glorifying to God if we mean it.  James’ point is that right now you use your tongue to sing those words.  But when you leave this place, you are going to use that very same mouth to mock people, judge people, and curse people.  You might think its okay because you just say it to yourself or because your trolling on your computer or because some passive/aggressive Facebook thing, but James doesn’t give you an out or a rationalization.  James says, “We should not use the same tongue to bless God and curse one another.”  You can’t bless God and then curse someone made in the image of God.

Gang, let’s get this right now.

·    You can’t bless God and then make fun of homosexuals.
·    You can’t bless God and then mock whichever politician or political party you don’t like.
·    You can’t bless God and then run your wife or husband into the ground when they are not around.
·    Huh, you can’t bless God and then run your wife or husband into the ground to their face.
·    You can’t bless God and then cuss your parents out.
·    You can’t bless God and then cuss your kids out.

And before any of us start to get self-righteous and start pointing at others and saying, “Yeah, you talk to better,” James has already made the point, nobody can tame the tongue.  We have to pray to do more of the first and none of the second.  Dear God my tongue is raging fire.  I enjoy sinning with the way that I speak.  Please enable me to praise you with my mouth here as I sing about you and sing to you, and please enable me to praise you by the way I speak to others and the way I speak about others.  God’s enabling you to speak words of truth with words of grace to someone is as glorifying to God as when you right here and now sing your praise song.

James makes a very helpful analogy here.  He says, “When you find water flowing down stream, you don’t get an hour of fresh water and then an hour of salt water.”  You either get one or the other.  When you go to a fig tree, you don’t find olives.  You get one or the other.  You get either one or the other.

Now here is the dilemma this passage presents.  James makes it very clear that no one can tame the tongue.  Every single person is guilty of using their tongue for evil.  But then, James specifically goes after Christians and tells points out the hypocrisy in our lives.  This isn’t a teaching where we are supposed to self-righteous and go, “Yeah, I can’t stand when someone says  cuss word around me,” or “Can you believe how so and so speaks to their children.”  “Oh we don’t say, “Hate or fool or stupid,” or whatever speech laws you make.

James is going to have none of that.  He has a specific rebuke for anyone who claims the name of Christ.  We shouldn’t spend all of this time attempting to praise God with our words and then walk away from here and start judging, gossiping, and condemning each other and anyone else with our words either.

But we’ve covered that.  It is James’ third point that is troublesome to me.  He said you can do both.  Bodies of water either produce salt or fresh water.  They don’t switch and do one and then the other.  Trees produce one type of fruit but not another.

So where does that leave us?  Which one are we?   Are we those that bless God or are we the ones that condemn, hurt, and judge with our words?  Are we blind to how we use our words assuming that we do just fine even after all of these admonitions.

Well as always, we have got to use all of the scripture to understand any of the scripture.  Turn with me to 1 Thess to help us understand where to go with this.  How can we redeem our speech when we just fail?  We bless God and curse me.  We bless God and lie.  What are we going to do?

1 Thessalonians 5: 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.

For those who have faith in Jesus, you are no longer destined to experience the wrath of God.  God has destined His children for salvation through Jesus.  Have we all forgotten that?  Is not enough to give us joy?  I’m telling you, this pastors flesh is being stripped from Him right now.  So many thing upon which I depend on count on for joy, things I never knew I assumed, but did.  God is removing them away, not because He is mean or harsh, but because in love He wants me to recognize our powerful and fundamental and assuring and loving is the work of Jesus Christ.

I am not destined for God’s wrath but destined to obtain salvation.  That is my hope.  That is your only hope.  Whether we’re talking about Moses waiting for Jesus return, the disciples and what they’ve done or you and me waiting for Jesus, our only hope is the Gospel.  Jesus has secured forgiveness for us, secured God’s love for us, removed God’s wrath and brought us into salvation.  If you notice, we always end each sermon with the Gospel.  There is no application, change, repentance, or hope without it.  So, Paul feels same way and after reminding us of the Gospel, he tells us how to redeem this problem with have our speech.

11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Get this gang.  Please.  It is foundational for the transforming work God is doing at SK right now.  One of the results of your guaranteed assured salvation earned by Jesus Christ should be that you use your words to encourage one another and build up one another.  If you claim faith in Christ, but your speech is characterized by harsh criticism, sarcasm, judgmentalism, disapproving tone, hatred, anger, and ridicule, why do you think you can claim faith in Jesus?   Godly speech doesn’t save you.  Godly speech is evidence that you have been saved.

Paul is commanding them to do the same thing that they already doing.  You redeemed folks, you folks who have been spared God’s wrath, you folks who know the love of the Father and forgiveness, you know what you are doing, encouraging and building one another up.  So keep doing that.

What does that look like?  Paul tells us.  It is two specific things.  Encouraging one another.  Building one another up.  Let’s look at each one of those as Paul intended.

What does it mean for us to encourage one another?  There are a myriad of ways but I would like focus on two.  The first is we can encourage each other silently.  We can just be with people.  In Job 2, we find that Job had lost all of his wealth and his children.  His body was covered in sores and his wife was telling him to deny God.  At that time, Job had 3 friends and you know what they did?  Listen to Job 2

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. 12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

I love the end of vs 11.  They made an appointment to come together and who sympathy and comfort him.  How did they do that?  By being with him.  Words weren’t necessary.  Presence comforts.   Who right now do you know that is discouraged?  Who feels alone?  Who needs your presences?   Remember Jesus came to us.  The presence of the Holy Spirit is described as a comforting presence.

But of course, you can speak words of encouragement.  They don’t have to be words that tell people how tough they are or blow a bunch of smoke that tries to get people to depend on themselves.  Encourage them with the Gospel.  Encourage them with the truths of scripture.  Jesus tells His children they will never leave them or forsake them.  Paul tells us that God is so great that we can do everything through His strength because God strengthens those that trust in Him.  Make that your goal:  know the scriptures to be encouraged and to be able to encourage others.

Just last week, I was holding a grown man while he cried and was coming down from a terrible high of drugs and alcohol.  He struggles as he has never experienced the approval of love of his earthly father.  I told him of John 17 where Jesus says, “Father, loved them as you have loved me.”  The truth that Jesus’s life and death and resurrection secures the undying love and approval of the Father gives hope and encouragement.

But in addition to encourage folks, we can build them up.  Speak to folks about either who they are in Jesus Christ or who they can be in Jesus Christ.  Here is brief description.  And hear these as comfort to your soul and encourage words to build up others.

In Jesus you are a

·    John 1:12             Child of God
·    John 15:15         Friend of Jesus
·    Romans 8:14, 15         Son/daughter of God
·    Romans 8:17         An heir with Christ sharing His inheritance with Him
·    1 Corinthians 12:27     A member of the body of  Christ’s body
·    Ephesians 1:1         A saint
·    Philippians 3:20         A citizen of heaven
·    Colossians 3:3         Hidden with Christ in God

And the promises go on.  You can build people up by reminding them that they partake in Christ, they are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession and on and on.  The promises of God to build people up are great.  And what will happen when we do that?

23 Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24  He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

God will sanctify you completely.  That’s a great promise, but what does that mean?  Sanctification means becoming more and more like Jesus Christ.  Verse 23 tells us that as we use our speech to encourage one another and build each other up, God uses that process to sanctify us.  You want me to encourage.  Speak to me about Jesus and it will make me more like Jesus.

And God is the one doing this ultimately.  He has ordained you as part of this process.  Your whole spirit, soul and body will be protected and kept blameless by God until Jesus returns.  God calls you.  He is faithful.  He will do this in your life.  And God has chosen you to be part of this process.  Be with people.  Speak the truths of scripture to them.  Remind them who they are in Jesus.

And God will keep and protect you and them and all the future believers who come to know Jesus by your faithful words

May 6, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Sermon Notes and Family Devotion for James 2:17-19

Big Idea:  Jesus wants more for you than you can imagine.

James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

·    James describes a conversation between two people about the nature of their relationship with Jesus.  How does each describe their relationship?
·    Verse 17 says that “Faith without Works is Dead,” which side do you think James is on?

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

·    How does James says we should demonstrate our faith?
·    What is the difference between demonstrating your faith and speaking about your faith?
·    What then is the place of talking about your faith?

19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

·    How do demons believe the same thing that a Christian does?
·    Why doesn’t their belief save?
·    How then does your belief save?

How in the world does the world know you have faith in Jesus Christ?  With Biblical commands like “Go into the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28), “Let your light so shine” (Matthew 5), and You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5), you and I, and anyone else who claims faith in Jesus Christ, are not given the option of having a private faith.  Faith in Jesus is an outward demonstration and active proclamation of faith before the world with the intention of bringing attention to and glory to Jesus.

So how then does the world know that you have faith in Jesus?  Do you hope that they will know you know Jesus by all the things you don’t do anymore?  Don’t drink; don’t smoke; what do you do?  Do you hope that they will know you know Jesus because you are an expert at pre-suppositional apologetics or you that you memorized the book “Evidence that Demands a Verdict”?  You can argue with the best of them.  Do you hope that they will know you know Jesus because you go to work everyday, work hard, live a quiet life, and you hope that your “witness” will be enough to make people wonder?  Or do you just not give it a second’s thought.  Maybe you just want to be forgiven and you desperately hope no one ever asks you about Jesus.

I think in my life I have swung from pretty much all points on the pendulum.  When I was 16, I lost pretty much every friend I ever had because I was so confrontational about Jesus.  I wanted everyone to know what I believed, and I wanted everyone to know what I thought was sin and what I thought was wrong.  That didn’t work out too well for me.

At one point, I swung all the way to other side of the pendulum.  When Amy and I were married, somewhere along our second year of marriage, we just took a year off.  We went to church sporadically.  We didn’t really study our Bible, didn’t really pray.  I was much more concerned with making money than I was about making disciples or telling people about Jesus.

When I went to seminary, I’m afraid I fell into the academic trap.  If you didn’t have an intellectual, theological response to my questions, I would belittle you.  Even if you did have an intellectual, theological, response to my questions, I would still belittle you if you didn’t agree with my view point.  I still have regrets about the damage some relationships took during that time.

Where am I now?   Whew.  I still have theological discussions, but they aren’t my first line defense any more.  There are times when I’m silent about Christ and times when I’m vocal.  I’m much more concerned with establishing a relationship with a person long before I begin preaching to them.  Is this the best way to go about sharing the Gospel?  I don’t know.  We’ll figure it out.  I just don’t want to belittle or demean anyone anymore.

And Jesus doesn’t give me the option of being silent about my faith either.  Fortunately, James this week is going to speak about what it should look like for us to share and demonstrate to the world that we know Jesus Christ.  It is one of those passages of scripture where both extroverts and introverts will think James is stating their case.  Extroverts are going to hear and think, “Get out there and show Jesus,” and introverts are going to hear and think, “Get out there and show Jesus.”

No matter where you fall personality wise, James wants us to know this:  This whole sharing of Jesus is not easy.  It is not just trying to convince someone to think differently or believe differently.   Reducing faith in Jesus to mere belief is fallacy, it is error.  And sharing Jesus is a heck of a lot more than just trying to get someone to walk an aisle and make a decision for Christ.  God can use those things, but faith in Jesus is much more than that.  So with that in mind, let’s pursue this Big Idea this week:  Big Idea:  Mere belief in Jesus is not enough to save.

James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

Let’s set all of this into context.  Over the last few weeks, you can summarize James’ argument this way.  James says that the worship that God accepts is for us to reflect the mercy we know by showing mercy to others and doing it in a way that you don’t comprise Biblical convictions.  How do we do that?  James says, “Simple.  Love others as much as you love yourself.  That’s how God did it.  He gave you Jesus, so you go give yourself to others.”  And last week, James went so far as to say if you aren’t doing that, your faith won’t save you.  Faith without the evidence of obedience and works is a dead faith that won’t save.

That’s how powerful faith in Jesus is.  Once you completely cast your life onto Him, He promises to change you.  You have no other choice.   Look for real Gospel change and find real faith.   Look for real faith and find real Gospel change.

So this week, James continues with the theme of what the transformed life in Jesus is supposed to look like.  In verse 18 he says, James 2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

What we find here is James imagining a conversation between two people who claim to be Christians.  He wants to set the context of his point and he does it by creating a hypothetical argument between two people who say they have faith in Jesus.  One person is saying that they merely have faith in Jesus, and another is saying, “Well, I have works because of Jesus.”

What’s going on here?   Well James is trying to place two choices in front us.  Essentially, James is describing what different people think salvation looks like.  So we definitely need to make sure we understand the distinction that James is making.  First of all, James is not saying that the two options are salvation by faith alone verses salvation by works or earning your way before God.  We know that because the passage we looked at last week was talking about a faith that must evidence itself in a changed life.  James has made it clear:  Faith alone in Jesus saves, but if you have faith in Jesus, you will be changed.

So the two people in this rhetorical conversation are arguing this way.  One of them says that they have faith in Jesus but that faith is not really showing any evidence of a changed life.  Basically, they believe in Jesus but that belief has not grown in obeying Jesus.  And they are okay with this.  This is the “Yeah, I became a Christian when I was a little kid.  I walked the aisle, confessed my sins and asked Jesus into my heart.  I got baptized the next Sunday.” Person.  But, there is no real evidence or any real significant change where this person is actively trying to obey, actively trying to worship, and actively trying to grow in Godliness.  The second person has faith in Jesus as well.  However, the difference between this guy and the other is that their belief in Jesus has changed them and is changing them.  They now obey, do good works and good deeds.  They actively seek to know Christ in a deeper way and they actively seek to have that knowledge change them in obedience.

James wants us to wrestle with these two perspectives on knowing Jesus.  Why?  Because this is a real issue.  It was real issue in James’ day & it is in our day as well.  And eternity hangs in the balance.  You see, a lot people will say, “Well I believe in Jesus.  I walked the aisle when I was a kid or I asked Jesus into my heart,” or they will have some experience that they are counting on to count as security for their relationship with Jesus.  And many of those very same folks will not evidence a transformed heart or a transformed life.

What’s going to happen to them?  Are they resting on a real, sure foundation of faith or have they been duped?  James does not want anyone to be duped or anyone to trust something that is unsure.  Salvation and forgiveness do come by faith alone, but as James has said, that faith, if it is a genuine faith, never remains alone.  Faith in Jesus must and will and is guaranteed to change you.  You must be different than you were before knowing Jesus and you must be different from people who do not know Jesus.  Not because you are incredible and powerful but because Jesus is.  It is not a matter of self-righteous or of saying, “I’m better than you.”

Faith in Jesus just changes you.  There is not choice in the matter.  The transformation in scriptures is described in this way.

·    Romans 6 – You were buried in death before you had faith.  You are raise to life after you have faith in Jesus.
·    Romans 6 – You were a slave to sin before you had faith.  You are a slave to righteousness after you have faith in Jesus.
·    2 Corinthians 5 – After you have faith in Jesus the old passes away and you become a new creation
·    2 Corinthians 5 – You were outside and away from God before you had faith.  You are in Christ after you have faith in Jesus.
·    2 Corinthians 3 God’s glory was veiled to you before you had faith.  God’s glory has been revealed to you after  you have faith in Jesus.
·    Galatians 2:  You lived for yourself before you had faith.  You live for Christ after you have faith in Jesus.

And Biblically we could go on and on with the difference that having faith in Jesus makes.  James’ point is that you cannot say, “I have faith in Jesus but no works.”  That isn’t faith because faith in Jesus must results in works.  He makes that abundantly clear in the second half of verse 18.

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.

One way or the other, real genuine faith in Jesus is going to be made clear and evidence itself in some way.  And if someone is saying they have faith in Jesus without growing in obedience, James puts them to the test.  He is saying, “Well, if you want to tell me you have faith in Jesus, great, but what I’m counting on is that I can demonstrate my faith, and I’ll count on that.”

Now, how is this not the most arrogant conversation ever presented in scripture?  Well, remember James is making a rhetorical argument.  He is not suggesting any of us go around have debates like this.  He is however recommending to us that we examine our own hearts in light of this hypothetical discussion.  James is asking you and me this question.  If the world were to look at you, would they know that you are a believer in Jesus Christ?  By what would they make their judgment?

Well, I would offer there are a couple of very practical reasons why James is offering this line of thinking.  First, he intends for Christians to be absolutely assured of their salvation.  He doesn’t want anyone to be deceived into thinking they have genuine faith and found out that they don’t when it is too late.  And secondly, he intends for the world that does not know Jesus to have a clear picture of who Jesus is and he wants to that to happen through the changed lives of Christians.  Let me walk you through each one of those purposes.

Jesus tells a story in Matthew 25, one that came up for us just a few weeks ago, but it bears on this portion of James as well.  In that story, Jesus is describing His return and how all the world will eventually be sifted before Him.  He says that He will return in glory which means that Jesus will return as the exalted Savior   And this is what Jesus says He is going to do.  He is going to take all of humanity, every human being in the existence of the world, and divide them on his left and on his right.  He will look at those on His right and say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

They of course will ask, “When did we do all of these things for you?”  And Jesus will say, “Any time that you have cared for someone, you have by default cared for me.  Then Jesus will look at everyone on His left, and He will say, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

And they of course will say, “When did we see you in need and pass you over?”  And Jesus will say, “Whenever you didn’t care for people in need, you didn’t care for me.”  Now how in the world can Jesus demand such things of His servants?  So you know how many needy people there are in this world?  If I spent that much time taking care of people, I wouldn’t have any time for…I don’t know, I wouldn’t have time to worry about my own problems.  Hmm.  Maybe you are on to something.

You know I had a conversation the other day, and this time it was with someone at SK.  He and I were doing a couple of projects together and pondering just what it takes to see the Gospel of Jesus grow.  These were his thoughts.  He wondered, “Maybe we have backwards.  Maybe we spend so much time running back and forth our kids, taking them to dance and sports and everything else, that we really miss out on serving folks and telling them about Jesus.  He admitted that there is absolutely nothing wrong with kid extracurricular activities, but then in one of those absolutely revolutionary moments he thought, “What if we tried to help our kids grow and mature by serving others instead of signing up for every single thing in the world?”

Its daunting isn’t it?  You hear that, and I bet there is more than one of you who goes, “Huh, maybe that would be better than running mom’s bus service for multiple kids doing multiple sports, dance, drama, whatever.”  But then American guilt kicks in and you think, “Well, we’ll make time for that but I want my kid to get into a good school…”  And the idea of serving others trails off just like that sentence.  Gang, there is nothing wrong with extra-curricular activities (please hear me on that), and hear me, “There is nothing wrong with hobbies and interests.”  But Jesus in Matthew 25 and James in this week’s passage says this:  You should know you have faith and the world should know you have faith in Jesus by the fact that the mercy you know is evidence in the mercy you show.  That is THE most important thing.   THE most important thing.

James is saying, “You will know if you are saved, and other people will have a sense that you are saved by the fact that you evidence a transformed life.”  You will evidence a transformed conscience.  You will show a desire to know Jesus more intimately.  Studying the Bible and praying will become part of your life.

Those things will be part of your new life, but those things aren’t the examples that Jesus gives and those are the examples that James has been giving either.  No, they emphasize showing mercy as evidence of a transformed life.  Feeding the hungry.  Visiting the lonely.  Clothing the naked.  And lots of other faith stretching activities.

Now at this point, we might all be squirming a bit.  Like I said last week, I’m not trying to make anyone doubt their salvation.  I want people to look at their heart and look at their faith, and ask, “Is God changing me?”  Don’t ask, “Am I perfect,” or “Am I more Godly than the person beside me?”   Ask, “Is God slowly but surely changing me to be like Jesus?

But even then, the heart struggles a bit.  You say wait a minute.  I know I’m growing because look all the theology I know or I can quote lots of old dead guys or the Westminster Confession of Faith (which a work of theology not a dog show btw).  And let me say this carefully and try not to be a hypocrite.  You see our denomination rightly values theological depth.  You can’t be a pastor in the denom without a Master’s Degree and you have to have studied Greek and Hebrew.  You can’t be an elder or a deacon without passing theological exams.  We value getting it right.

But we can have the most orthodox doctrine in the world and completely miss out on Jesus if we are not careful.  James tells us that exact thing.   Listen to verse 19

19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

James says, “Oh you believe in God and that He is one?  Great.  Demons believe that too and they shudder because they know that they will ultimately and one day suffer punishment in hell.  Now, this is odd.  Why does James pick this particular statement of belief?

Well, this quote about God being one?  It’s taken directly from Deuteronomy 6 where God announces Himself to the people of God surrounding the presentation of the 10 Commandments.  God said this:  “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

The Israelites called this announcement of God, “the Shema”.  They would pray “The Lord our God the Lord is one,” at least twice a day.  And the truly devoted would make it the first and last words that their children would hear in a day.  It was the height of religious expression and the height or orthodoxy.  The really devout and religious Israelites of the day would use the Shema, the pronouncement that “God is one” as the theological standard of Godliness.  This is like the banner of saying, “I’m a 5 point Calvinist” or “I’m Reformed” or “I’m confessional” or whatever other theologically precise category that folks like to claim.

Well James says, “Don’t pat yourself on the back because you are theologically sound.”   Demons have correct theological thoughts.   The most evil spawn of Satan, the most evil demon you can imagine in all of existence, doesn’t have a theology or a belief problem.    As some of have said, “The Devil thinks more right thoughts about God in a day than you will in your entire life.  They know who God is.  They believe who He is.  Their problem, Satan’s or any demons, the problem is not their theology.  It is not their orthodoxy.  It is their orthopraxy.  It demonstrates that they do not have a saving faith but a belief that leads them into greater sin.

James is essentially asking you, “Who cares how incredible your theology is if it doesn’t result in a transformed life?”  And James specifically wants you to know that your faith must evidence itself in a transformed life beyond yourself.  He has spent all of chapter 2 so far telling us that the expression of your faith must result in showing mercy to others.

Listen, I love theology.  I have given years of my life to the study of theology and reading guys whose names can barely be pronounced.  But none of that matters if I don’t grow in loving the Lord with all my heart soul and mind and loving my neighbor as myself.  Forgive the running analogy, but theology is like water.  You have got to have water to survive.  Some studies say that the overwhelming majority of people today walk around dehydrated because of the amount of caffeine we all drink.  But you can drink all the water in the world and that does not mean you can run a marathon. Oh if you run a marathon, you better drink water, and lots of it.  You have to water.  But water itself is not going to cause you to run 26.2 miles.

Theology is water.  Theology is about belief, and you have to have correct faith and belief in God – all eternity rests on it.  If your faith is in someone or something other than how God has presented Himself in the scriptures, then you are trusting someone or something other than God.   But know this:  it is possible to have a correct belief in who God is and not have salvation.  James says a saving faith in Jesus will result in obedience, works, and acts of mercy.  James say, “Take that water, train, and run a marathon.”  Test and see if your faith is real by putting into action.

Now this is typically the point in the sermon when I try to get you guys to focus in specifically on a direct application of the sermon.  I like direct application.  I think they lead to direct results…but not always.  Sometimes, pastorally, I think either I’m not clear or you guys don’t believe what I’m saying or maybe God is preventing us from going forward.   And other times, I just don’t know.  In discussing this, the lovely talented Amy gave me an article to read on just that topic.  It was so clear that I have just copied a part of it and am going to use it as our conclusion.  Pull up a seat and listen in on this article from Trevin Wax.

A pastor recently asked this question: “We’ve got people getting together who study the Scriptures but aren’t involved in reaching out to their community with the gospel.  “How can I get them motivated?”  In response, I mentioned how our natural tendency as church leaders is to reinforce the commands related to our mission, to tell people again and again what they should be doing. We think, “If they aren’t reaching out to represent and proclaim Christ, they must not know what to do” But is this really the case? In my experience, the problem isn’t that we’ve forgotten our responsibility to love our neighbor and share the gospel.  The problem is that even when we know what our duty is, we still don’t do it.  That’s why I’m convinced that focusing most of your teaching on our missional duty isn’t the best way to motivate people to serve Christ long-term.  It may result in some initial fruit, but it doesn’t affect the heart-change necessary for long-lasting obedience.

So what to do?  Exalt God. Magnify His holiness. Praise His greatness. Exult in His grace.  Set the magnificent, majestic God of the Bible before your people week after week, and pray that they will encounter Him for who He is. Why? Because it’s an encounter with an awesome God that motivates us to mission.

Case in point: our biblical heroes. As you read through the Bible, you’ll notice that whenever people come face to face with God’s greatness, the next scene often shows them on mission.  Moses trembles before God in the burning bush. Next he is standing before Pharaoh saying, “Let my people go!”  The majesty of God displayed before Moses’ eyes on a faraway hillside is the same majesty God displays before the greatest empire of the day.  Isaiah caught a vision of the Lord in His temple that was so staggering that he fell on his face like a dead man.  Notice God didn’t even have to tell him what to do.   God simply asks, “Who shall go?” and the awestruck Isaiah volunteers: “Here am I. Send me!”  The Samaritan woman at the well was amazed at the supernatural knowledge of Jesus.  Next we see her running into town telling her friends and family about His greatness.  The women at the tomb are the first to witness the resurrection power of God.  Next we see them telling everyone, “We have seen the Lord!”  Peter denies Christ and hides., but then he encounters the greatness of King Jesus.  Afterwards he proclaims Christ as Messiah and Lord before thousands of people.  Saul is a murder but then he encounters with the risen Jesus.  Afterwards, he spends the rest of his life seeking to help the Gentiles see the very One who initially blinded him.  Why should it be any different with us?

Missional fruitfulness comes from a heart gripped by God’s greatness and enthralled with His grace.  May we be so mesmerized by the glory of Jesus Christ that we count it as nothing to lose our lives for the spread of His fame!  Let’s get on our faces before God and then get on our feet for His mission.

 

March 18, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 2:14-17

Big Idea:  Faith without works is Dead

James 2:14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

  • Should someone be concerned if they say they have faith in Jesus but they don’t have any desire to evidence of obeying?
  • How does Romans 6:17-18 encourage us to obedience?
  • Give an example of a place where you desire to obey and a place where you have seen God help you obey?

 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 

  •  Why do you think James uses the example of showing mercy as evidence of having a saving faith?
  • Why is just wishing people well not an act of genuine faith?
  • How did Jesus do more for us than just wish us well?

17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

  •  Pray with your parents for an assurance of faith and the opportunity to demonstrate to others in need.

This week, the Book of James is so blunt, it is scary.  He is so straightforward and his clarity is meant to cause each and every one of us to examine our hearts.  James is going to tell you and me that the faith we have in Jesus Christ is a guarantee that we will be changed.  Having faith in Jesus is so life-changing that you will be completely different after professing faith in Him.  You will become more Godly if you have faith in Jesus, and if you do not see that change in your life, you have a real reason to examine your heart to see if you actually have a life changing faith or not.

Now this kind of conversation is incredibly dangerous while simultaneously being incredibly true.  Let me explain the dangerous part.  Christians loves to beat up other Christians and we like to use language like, “Don’t be a fake Christian” or “Be the same Christian out that you are at home”.  And though I do encourage us all to be the same person out and about that we are at home, often that kind language is used by scared parents to control their kids or it used by the  self-righteous to make other people feel bad.  Instead, the truth that real faith causes real change should be a cause for hope.

Biblically, we see tons of examples of that change.  Moses from murderer to leader.  Paul from murderer to missionary.  Peter from arrogance to preacher.  And there are tons of other examples both biblically and there should be those around us in the day to day as well.

Your faith in Jesus’ goodness is a promise that He will gradually and continually conform your life to look like His.  That’s what salvation is.  It is not just, “forgive me.”  It is “change me.”  If we are struggling with a temptation or a sin, don’t think, “Oh no.  I’m not a Christian.”  Instead think, “There is a real, promised hope from God that I am going to grow in trusting Jesus and overcome this sin.  I have a real and lasting hope.”  Getting to that point though is hard.  And not struggling with or abusing people with self-righteousness ain’t easy either, so let’s walk gently, but trust God in great faith.  Towards that end, we are going to pursue this Big Idea this week.  Big Idea:  Faith without works is Dead

James 1:14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

As always, we need to be reminded of where these verses fall in the overall context of James teaching.  Last week, we looked at two commands that were circling around the idea of what pure, undefiled religion and worship look like.  James has been telling us that the religion that God accepts is demonstrating mercy in the midst of a sinful world and doing it without compromising Biblical convictions.

James reiterates the teaching of Jesus in that and tells us, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  And if we respond with a host of reasons why we don’t do that, reasons like, “I’m not a gifted evangelist” or “I’m an introvert” or “I’m focusing on my kids right now” or “I’ve pulled my time already”   James tells us this:  Mercy triumphs over judgment.  Mercy triumphed over judgment when you were forgiven and you should get over yourself and all the rationalizations that you give for not obeying God and show mercy to the people that you otherwise are judging with your silence and inactivity.  So that brings us to verse 14.

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?

Well, what good is it?  Is your “faith” any good at all if you aren’t activiely transformed and obeying God?  James says, “Nope, it’s no good at all”.  You see, this is the point and the conversation that I have had a million times and I’m going to have it a million more in the town of Garner.  The scriptures tell us that apart from faith in Jesus Christ, we are dead in sin and a slave to to sin.

This is vividly demonstrated for us in the book of Romans:  Romans 7:5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death.  6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Romans 6:17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.

The promise of scripture of the life that has faith in Jesus is that before faith, you and I were a slave to sin.  Our will was given over to our self and our desires and our desires were sinful.  But now through Jesus Christ, we serve in the power of the Spirit and are a slave to goodness, rightreousness and obddience.  Our will is to do the will of our father in heaven.

If you have faith in Jesus Christ, your will is to do the will of your father in heaven and a promised transformation is to take pace.  The Holy Spirit indwells, transforms, and enables the followers of Christ to obey.  If YOU have faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit indwells, transforms, and enables the followers of Christ to obey.  If that work is not taking place, then the Holy Spirit is not indwelling, is not transforming, and not enabling you to obey.

This is both a proof and a promise.  Let me explain.  The promised trasnformation of faith is proof that you are saved and it is a promise that God is going to work in your life to make your more like Jesus.  Notice what James asks, “Can a faith that doesn’t show evidence of change in a person’s life actually be a real, genuine faith?”  Rhetorically, the answer is, “No it can’t”.  Now, I’m going to be really, really carefully here because this has been one of the most messed up, mis-abused passages in all of the Bible.  Before we move into applying this passage in our own lives, I want us to be careful to understand how not to use.

So when I say that James declaration that proof of faith is works, here is what this passage is not saying.  James is not saying that you and I are supposed to walk around trying to decide who is and who is not a Christian by people’s works.  We are not the judges of the human heart.  God alone is.  The absolutely wrong thing for you and me to do here is to take this verse and say, “Well, they aren’t obeying enough or they aren’t Godly enough or they aren’t generous enough, so they aren’t Christians.”

Or more specifically, you hear about someone doing something and then you make your judgment.  So and so moved in with his boyfriend?  I always knew he wasn’t a Christian.  He got drunk?  Yep, I always knew.  You voted for Obama?  Oh, now everything makes sense.

The only thing that is proved when you have thoughts like that is that you are incredibly good at being judgmental.  This is going to be one of the things that we get right at SK.  We are not going to be the church on the corner that owns the moral microscope and uses it to burn the immoral ants that we deem as being unworthy of God’s grace.

When we read a passage like this one that says that a genuine faith in Jesus Christ must evidence itself in faithful works, the only inspection that is going to take place is introspection.  No judgment, no trolling, no gossip, no, “Did you hear?”  When we say that this passage shows us proof of salvation, we look into our own heart because that is the only one that you can assuredly know anything about.

If you have faith in Jesus Christ, you can look into your heart and see whether Jesus Christ is there making any difference or not.  Why can we do this?  Because 2 Corinthians 5:17 echoes this verse in James.  It says:  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

With Jesus, the old you is gone and the new you is present.  Let me give you a few examples or evidences that you can look for in your life, and though there are literally dozens of passages that will speak to how you will see change in your life when you have faith in Jesus, let me just focus on what is called the Fruit of the Sprit.  The Fruit of the Spirit is the promised work of what will happen in your heart when you have faith in Jesus and are empowered by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Galatians 6:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

Ask yourself these questions about this promise made in scripture:  Do you evidence the fruit of the indwelling Spirit of God from Galatians?  Do you see in a way that was not evident before you became a Christian, genuine displays of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?  Do you see those qualities not only present where they once weren’t before knowing Christ but do you also see them gradually growing in your life?  According to James, do you see mercy and a desire to help others in need as a reflection of gentleness and love?  Do you see that your life is a movement towards making peace and not conflict?  Are you becoming more kind or more judgmental?  Do you see your heart turning more and more away from selfish desires and becoming more faithful the work of God’s kingdom?  When you see people in need, do you help, do you walk away, or do you flippantly say, “Go in peace and filled; I’ll pray for you”?

If you don’t see those qualities glaringly or you know God is working but you are wanting to see them grow, don’t worry, Philippians 1 tells us this:  6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

This is one of those verses that we got to go into a bit more depth in at Sunday School and if you are attending SS, I’m telling you that you are missing out on a real opportunity to grow together as a church family and to grow closer to your Savior.  But the point James and Paul and Jesus all make is this:  if you have a genuine faith in Jesus Christ, you will be changed.  It might be slow.  It might be gradual.  But you will be growing in Christ-likeness.

Now this teaching of James is also a promise in addition to a proof.  If you are struggling with a sin, let’s say its masturbation or gossip or laziness or being judgmental or whatever your struggle with sin is, the promised work here is that God is going to work in you to help you grow in obedience.  We see this promise made vividly for us in 2 Thessalonians 2

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.  16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word

God has chosen you to be saved, has promised to sanctify you, which means God will make you more like Jesus, and those promises are intended to comfort your heart and establish you in every good work that God commanded.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all play a part in making sure that God’s children are transformed and enabled to obey.

That means when you begin to lose hope that you are ever going to change or when you lose hope that someone you love is ever going to change, the hope you have is only this:  Jesus in your promises to change you.  I would love for us to grow as a community in sharing this hope with others.  I would love for people we work with or our neighbors or anyone that we have contact with to think, “You know, I don’t have my questions answered about this whole Jesus think, but I see real change, a real difference in _______ and I want to know more about it.  In that, you are not offering self-righteousness or your goodness or your witness, none of that junk.  You are offering the hope that comes from knowing Jesus.  You can say, “I was this and now I’m that.  I was harsh judgmental B but I confess my sins to Jesus and he softened me.  I was an arrogant SOB, and Jesus is humbling me.  I had no hope but now I have hope.

As we move back to the text in James, he also gives us an example to what that promised transformation should look like.

15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?

Now, there are a hosts of evidences to show that the Holy Spirit is working in the heart of a believer.  I mean, James could talk about how you now obey scripture in a host of ways now that you know Jesus Christ.  He could tell us how you quit getting drunk every weekend.  He could tell us how you quit looking at porn.  He could tell us how you quit gossiping.  He could tell us how you now read your Bible, pray, and teach your children about your faith.  And all of those would be good proofs to show that the Holy Spirit is working in your heart and changing you and transforming you.

But that is not the evidence that James uses.  As has been his theme for the past few verses, James uses mercy as proof that the Holy Spirit is working in your life.  And if you wonder why, like I do that James chose this example, I can only speculate but here is my two cents.  Showing mercy is harder than stopping gossip, quitting porn, and quitting getting drunk.

If God can change you to actually love others, then God can do anything and that is exactly what God has promised to do in you.  He says, Listen, if you know of a brother or sister in need and you just wish them well but don’t actually do anything to help them, what good is that?  Now notice, he says “Poorly clothed and lacking food” – if they don’t have a coat for the winter or their kids don’t have the clothes they need or if they are hurting trying to feed everyone.  If you just wish them well, what good is your faith?   Will that faith save?  Nope.

You see, James just got done telling us that it is a sin if we show favoritism or partiality to the wealthy.  Ignoring the physical needs of others is by default showing favoritism to the wealthy.  Ignoring the physical needs of others is by default saying to the needy “buck up little camper improve your lot in life and be like me or be like them”

And what James really can’t stand is superficial Christian responses to those in need.  Oh go and be well or in our vernacular “Ok I’ll be praying for you”  Forgive my cynicism but I bet more words are uttered in promising to pray than actual words of prayer are offered to God.  What James is telling us is this:  If you know Jesus, if you have faith in Jesus, you are going to move that faith into action to those in need.

This kind of teaching typically illicits a couple of responses and what I mean is this:  when a person hears this kind of teaching, one of two things typically happens.  You can either go to a church where nothing like this is demanded of you.  Actively caring for those in need is only talked about but not really expected.  And there a million churches just like that on pretty much every corner of Garner and the world.  That is not nor will it be this church btw.  The scriptures command that our faith be expressed in obedience, specifically in areas of showing mercy to those in need and that has been the expectation here, it is now, and it is going to be going forward.  Another response is you can just check out and say “I don’t want anything to do with that at all.”  If that is what expected of me, forget it.  I work hard for my money, I’ve made good decisions, and I’m not going to go munk in the life of people who are a mess.  Make better decisions like I did.   And to be honest, that response, checking out, shows more integrity than just pretending to be Godly while not being merciful.

What we pray for is that when we hear James telling us that genuine faith must result in obedience, specifically to those in need, we pray that God would help us respond with hearts that know mercy and grace and therefore want to show mercy and grace.  You know why?  You know why we pray for the response of mercy and grace?  Verse 17 tells us

17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

James is telling you that you are saved by faith alone but that faith will never be alone.  Your faith in Jesus will transform you and as a result you will obey and do good works.  Remember, faith in Jesus is not just crying “Forgive me.”  Faith in Jesus is crying out, “Change me.”  “Get in the middle of life, messed it up and make it what you will.”  And one of the things that God promises to do is to move you towards good works that are beyond self-serving and are an extending of grace and mercy to those in need just like when grace and mercy were extended to you when you were in need.

Gang, when confess faith in Christ, some things become instantly clear.  We are convicted of sin like we have never been before.   We begin to see that our lying and our gossiping and our lusting are wrong.

By God’s grace and his indwelling Spirit, God is going to make us like Jesus.  He might do it through a wonderful succession of what looks like worldly blessings but more than likely the process by which we walk away from our sin and move towards obedience is going to be painful.  I mean think about it.  If you are going to start helping folks as they walk through poverty and need, and you are not just handing out a dollar to make yourself feel good but you are actually trying to help people get jobs, take care of their family and basically re-orient themselves towards a life that is full of work and family and worship and service, you are going to find yourself inconvenienced.

You are going to give people access to your time, your money, your talents, and your wisdom.  And for some of us, that will be the tearing away of what is probably the biggest idol in all of our lives:  comfort and ease.  And you might say, “Gordon, that sounds awful.  I just want to go to work and raise my family in Godliness or I just want to go home and chill.”  And I would say, “That is not a Biblical life; not according to James it’s not.”

Living out these commands, really doing this, is about simplicity and recognizing our continual need on Jesus.  The simplicity portion is this:  Mercy shown is evidence of mercy known.  If you know God’s mercy then you are going to show God’s mercy.  The extent to which you outwardly and purposefully show mercy is in direct proportion to how your understanding of how God outwardly and purposefully showed mercy to you.

And this is the promise of James:  you don’t have a choice in the matter.  If you have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, you will evidence obedience and you will grow in obedience, and specifically one of the areas in which you will show that obedience is you will show mercy to other folks in need.  Now, listen, it is not salvation by faith alone plus showing mercy to others, however it is if you have salvation by faith alone you will be changed to such an extent that you show mercy to others.  You and I have to wrestle with the depth and nature of the forgiveness that we have received if we are ever going to be merciful to others.  In fact, in manner of obedience as James put forward here finds its motivation and depths in understanding the nature of our forgiveness.

Let me shape this story for you in a way that I hope will bring these things home for us.  I was talking to a local pastor the other day.  He was telling me that he had to preach a sermon on forgiveness.  So I asked him how he was going to approach it.  He said that in his sermon, he was planning on walking the congregation through three stages:  forgiving people who have offended them, asking for forgiveness from people they have offended, and then he said came the hard part:  forgiving self.   Now I don’t tell this story to demean this pastor or to speak ill of his church.  I tell it because it is going to demonstrate a few things for us.

My pastor friends point in walking his congregation through this sermon is that the hardest forgiveness is forgiving self.  He was saying that we really don’t move forward in love and service until we forgive ourselves.  And I won’t argue that it is difficult to walk away from guilt and condemnation that we heap upon ourselves for things that we have done or should have done.  But that is not the point of the gospel.  The problem with my friend’s exercise is that Christ wasn’t necessary for anything that he asked congregation to do.  It might as well have been a self-help seminary or the counsel of a local psychiatrist.

James is offering this to us.  There is not forgiveness for your sin apart from Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection on your behalf.  The nature of our sin is not a mixup in our character or a slip up in our self-discipline.  It is foolish, rebellion that desires our will to be God and desire God to step down from His throne.

And as we see how deep and nasty and pervasive our sin is and how rich and beautiful and thorough the love of God is in forgiving us, we become mesmerized, awed by the grace of God and we reflect that in obedience to God.  We are so awed by the mercy of God that we then have no choice but to desire to show God’s mercy to others so that they might know it as well.  It is not that we just need to muster up forgiveness of our selves so we can forgive and love others, it is that God Himself has forgiveness us and shown us mercy and we just don’t have any choice but to do the same.  Let me demonstrate this biblically.

Titus 3: 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

What were we before we came to know Jesus Christ according to Titus?  Foolish, disobedient, led astray, we were a slave to our sin, and spent our days in malice, envious of others, and hating God and hating others.  But look what happened?  The goodness and loving kindness of Jesus, our God and Savior appeared.  Jesus saved us, not because you did anything good or righteous.  He saved us simply because He wanted to show us His mercy.  He did it by regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.  That means it was all God.  Regeneration is making something alive that was once dead.  We can’t do that.  Dead people don’t regenerate themselves.  But God being rich in mercy wanted to show His mercy by forgiving and transforming you.

Now, as you are made alive and profess faith in Jesus you are justified or made right by God by one reason:  the grace of God.   You go from rebellions sinner to an heir with Jesus inheriting all the glories of heaven because of Jesus alone.  Okay, that is the Gospel.  Now what happens in light of all of God doing all of that?  Listen to verse 8 of Titus 3.

8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

The work that God has saved you, forgiven you, made you alive and gifted you with heaven is trustworthy.  You can count on it.  And light of those things you can now devote yourself to obedience and good work.  Mercy known becomes mercy shown.   And demonstrating that mercy is excellent and profitable for you.  The greater degree to which you embrace the depths of forgiveness and transformation that God has done on your part, the greater degree you will show mercy to others.  You will be willing to endure people’s ridiculous stupid decisions, their judgmentalism, their poor financial situations, even their judgment, because you know that Christ forgave you of those very things.  And when you start showing mercy to people and you find it really, really hard to keep going because they frustrate you so badly, you’re probably getting pretty close to understanding the depths of your sin and you’ll be thankful and obedient.

Now, as I close up here, some of you might start to get worried.  You might start thinking, “I believe in Jesus but I’m not where near obedient as I should be and I don’t really want to get out of my house and show mercy to folks.  Am I really a believer?  And I would offer this hope to you.

When you say, “Yes I believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of my sins and I want to obey, I really do,” I would offer that is the cry of a Christian.   People who don’t know Christ don’t have pricked consciences about obeying and glorifying Jesus.  If you have that conscience, then that is an evidence of faith.  But let me end with this verse to give you hope.  This is what God promises to His children when they fail:

2 Timothy 2:13:“If we are faithless, he remains faithful- for he cannot deny himself.”

March 11, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Sermon Notes and Family Devotions for James 2:8-12

Big Idea:  Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

·    How does this command enable you to fulfill the law?
·    Why would obeying that mean you are doing well?
·    Have you ever, in even one instance done this?  Give an example.

9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

·    How does partiality violate the command to love your neighbor as yourself?
·    Where are areas where your favor certain people over others?

10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.  11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

·    What about God’s character makes this statement true?
·    How does this truth protect us from partiality?

12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

·    How does the law of liberty judge those who have faith in Jesus?
·    What is the connection between knowing mercy and showing mercy?
·    How does mercy triumph judgment and God still be holy?

Once an expert in Biblical law tried to trick Jesus, so he asked him this question.  Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  We guess that what the teacher was trying to do was trick Jesus into emphasizing something that would get him into trouble.  I guess the lawyer hoped that Jesus was state something Jesus Himself was not doing.

But as always, Jesus is wise in understanding the human heart and wise in the scriptures.  37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus takes all of the scriptures and reduces them to two commands.  Love God with everything in you.  Love others as much as you love yourself.  You would think with Jesus’ emphasis here that the church would overwhelmingly concerned with loving God and loving others.  You would think that every church that has ever hung a shingle anywhere in the world would have incredible ministries and actions of care within the church and especially outside the church.  Remember, Jesus defined who our neighbor is in the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10.  Basically your neighbor is any single person in this world in need.  See each person as your neighbor and be a neighbor to them by extending both physical mercies and spiritual mercies.

Unfortunately, the church, even this one, falls woefully short in obeying these verses.  We skip the neighbor part or at least we just focus on certain areas in which we want to be neighborly.  Love the Lord God with all your heart soul and mind and love your church as yourself.  Love the Lord God with all your heart soul and mind and love your family as yourself.  Love the Lord God with all your heart soul and mind and love your college friends as yourself.  But my neighbors?  Those people that I don’t really know well and don’t really want to let in my house?  Well, let me just work on my family and friends first and then I’ll get around to loving my neighbors.  And there lots of reasons we don’t love our neighbors as ourself – time, worry, money, but the biggest issue we face is that we just judge them and their lifestyles.

Our heart and minds are bad as TMZ’s.  We either know who they are and declare them out of bounds by the mere fact that we don’t interact with them  or we assume we know who they are and just declare that we don’t have the time.  We judge them as unworthy to hear the Gospel by the fact that we just don’t care enough to actively love them.  But our hope this week, and it is going to be a challenging hope is this.  Despite how bad our judgment is, there is something greater than our judgment. There is something more powerful than our lack of care and our indifference.  And that is our Big Idea this week:  Big Idea:  Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

As always, let me remind our hearts where we left off last week so we can see these verses in their proper context.  Last week, we saw the daunting proclamation from James that the God hates favoritism.  He cannot stand it when someone is treated better than another for such silly, trivial things as their appearance and how much money they make.

God himself is unimpressed with these things.  Every creature has value in God’s eyes as they are created in the image of God.  Yet, every creature is a sinner justly deserving God’s displeasure.  No one earns their way before God.  No one is good enough.  But God pours His grace out even to His enemies so that they may be forgiven.  So when we hear the daunting command to not show partiality and favoritism, the correct thing for us to do is to figure out when we do that so we can repent and obey.  Verse 8 is going to show us just how we might know if we commit the sin of partiality and favoritism.

James 2:8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

Loving your neighbor as yourself means wanting the same thing for others that you want for yourself.  Any Godly hope that you have for yourself, you should want for your neighbor.  Do you want to have family devotions?   Then want it and work for it for your neighbor.  Do you want to have peace in the home?  Then want it and work for it for your neighbor.  Do you want to have marital faithfulness?  Then want it and work for it for it for your neighbor.  Do you want to have Godly children and safe home?  Then want it and work for it for your neighbor.  Do you want your family to worship as a family at SK?  Then want it and work for it for your neighbor.

If it is a good and Godly desire and you want it for yourself, then you are to want it and seek to make it happen for your neighbor.  The amazing thing is that the true worship of God means wanting those good and Godly things for your neighbor just as badly as you want them for yourself.  You are not given the freedom from James or Jesus to just want a private life that just happens to make inroads into the world that then run back to safety of your home.

I was thinking about this command this week and wondering why its application is so difficult for the American or the church in general or just for our church.  Part of it I think is when we hear a command like “Love your neighbor as yourself” we feel enlightened and say, “Well I don’t love myself that much,” when we actually do.  So let phrase it in such a way to get the impact that perhaps is intended by the passage.  And love your neighbor as much as you love your child.  Love your neighbor as much as you love your down time.  Love your neighbor as much as you love running.  Love your neighbor as much as you love your spouse.  Love your neighbor as much as you love playing video games.  Love your neighbor as much as you love making money.

These aren’t options.  These are the commands of God.  Love Him.  And love everyone else, and I mean your neighbor, co-worker, that person with whom you disagree with politically, love everyone else as much as you love whatever it is you love a lot.  Now, James says that obeying that verse enables you to fulfill the law.  How does obeying this command enable you to fulfill the law?

Well, every command in the Bible, everything you do for personal holiness and worship is about these two things.  Worshiping God with everything in you and reflecting that love to others, especially to your enemies and those folks you just can’t stand.   That obedience fulfills the law because that is how God shows you His love.  I John 4:9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

God showed His selfless love by sending Jesus to love us when we didn’t love Him.  We worship God when we do the exact same thing.  We love others, not just each other or our spouses or our kids, but we love others as Christ has loved us.  How do you know if you are doing this?  Well if your life is not presently upside down in actively loving someone who is hard to love and actively loving someone who does not know Christ, then you are not obeying this verse.  If you are, James says “good job”  If you are not, you and I found ourselves in the verse 9 category.

9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

This was the emphasis of last week’s passage.  Showing partiality and favoritism is forbidden because it does not reflect the character of God.  God is not impressed.  None of us have been good enough to earn His favor.  He loves us as we are His creation born in His image.  Partiality literally means “to judge one’s face” so when we show favoritism what we are doing is pointlessly showing favor towards some to the neglect of others.  We are making superficial judgments based on what we like and not based on anything of actual eternal value.  It’s just what we like.

You see Jesus is the only one who should receive glory and honor.  When we show favoritism for the arbitrary reasons that we do, we are giving Jesus’ glory and honor away.  If you choose not to get to know your neighbor or your co-worker or fellow student because you disagree with them politically or you are offended by their sexual orientation or because they just seem so damn needy, you have shown favoritism and partiality to those with whom you do associate.  You have judged one as unworthy and made your circle of friends the worthy.  And in doing so, you have giving Jesus’ glory away and James says, “You have not loved your neighbor as your self, you have shown partiality and are found guilty under the law.

Can you imagine the revolution that would take place in this church, this community, your neighborhood and this world if we got even close to loving our neighbors as we love ourselves?  The temptation in the church is to think, “Well, listen I’m going to work, I’m doing all I can to raise my kids in Godly home, I just…just…don’t have time to for this loving of my neighbor.  You might ask in more Godly way, “Well, what does God want me to do?  Spend less time with my kids?  You know how hard it is to raise Godly children in this world?  I’ll just let those people who are gifted with evangelism do all that love your neighbor stuff.”

Well verses 10-11 addresse that line of thinking.

10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.  11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

This is hard teaching and Gang, I promise you it cuts me just like it cuts you.  Verses 10-11 explain to us why we never get to be self-righteous or judgmental against anyone.  If we fail in any one part of God’s commands, then we have failed in all of it.  You might ask, “Well why does God have to be so exacting and so hard?”  Well, it is not because God is the most strict grading teacher that you have ever had.  It is not that you either make a 100 or a zero.

The reason one sin makes us culpable for every sin is this.  The commands of God are not arbitrary.  They are the expression of God’s character.  Our sin is not a slip up; our sin is cosmic treason that demands that God leave His throne so that we can sit on it.  One act of obedience doesn’t cover another act of disobedience.  So if you commit one sin, you have transgressed the character of God.

This is why we so desperately need Jesus Christ.  Our only hope is that Jesus obeys perfectly on our behalf, gives that goodness to us and that He pays the penalty of our sin.  Oh we can pay for our sin just fine, but we can’t earn the goodness necessary before God.  So Jesus says, “I’ll do both.  I’ll pay your penalty of sin, and I’ll give you my obedience when you have faith in me.”  So, through Jesus, you can now obey as the Holy Spirit indwells in you, and that obedience is a glorious offering of thanks to Him, but you and I never get to feel like we have arrived or that we are better than anyone else because we are always interacting with God on the basis of Jesus’ obedience, not ours.

Understanding that nature of the Gospel enables us to obey and care about God’s command.  We don’t get to say, “That loving your neighbor as yourself stuff is just too hard.  I’m going to go to work, hang out with Christians, you know the ones I like, and I’m going to leave the investing of my life into the rest of the world to those extroverts like Gordon or whoever you think is going to do it.”  James doesn’t give us that option.  Do not show partiality.  Do not only hang out with people that are like you or only with people who can help get you what you want and call that Christianity because it is not.

Let me tell you a story about a rebuke I once received.  Sometimes I find the stories about me messing up are more helpful than any story I can tell you about me getting it right.  First of all, if you are a sinner like me, I have more messing up stories, so let me show my error so that you see the Holy Spirit help you avoid it.

When I was in college, I was part of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.  I was the large group coordinator, which meant that once a week I would organize what was essentially our worship service and then I would assist in organizing things like retreats and such.  Well, we went on our annual beach retreat, me and 100 other folks.  During the retreat, I was having a great time.  3 of my best buds were there and we spent the first day just having a blast, playing football on the beach, and that kind of thing.

Well, that night our staff worker pulled us aside, but focused on me and gave me a pretty strong rebuke.  He began by asking me, “What do you think you are doing?”  I said, “Having fun at the beach retreat, what does it look like I’m doing?”  Well, he went onto explain this verse.

There were 100 people, many of which I didn’t know and many of which didn’t know Jesus.  My purpose there was not to take a personal vacation with my buddies.  I was to love and serve every person there whether I related to them or not whether liked them or not.  There would be time to hang my friends, but do not squander the opportunity to love this other people and ultimately share Jesus with them.

I know analogies can be rough but bear with me.  We are hard wired to love the folks we love and spend time with the folks that we like to spend time with.  We also love justifying our actions basing them on things like our personality and our commitments and our skill sets.  God does give us those outs.  No partiality.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Now, I hope at this point and time you and I are struggling a bit.  If we are not wrestling with the challenges of this passage, it is my fault, it is this poor pastor’s fault because the scriptures are clear.  Most of us, probably all of us should be moving towards repentance right now.   Saying something like, “God I love my job, my wife, my child, and my hobbies all much more than I love my neighbor and I don’t quite honestly know if can change that, and to be honest, I don’t know if I really want to change.”

Reckon in your heart where you are now with this.  Many of us have made idols out of things that we love and serve.  The order is, according to Jesus and James, is “Love God, love your neighbor”.

Now, you might push back and say, “But Gordon, my love of my wife and kids is part of my loving God,” and I won’t argue with you, but that doesn’t mean that you get to leave the loving neighbor part out.  It is the fulfillment of the royal law of God, and the church is weak because we think obedience to it is an option or we have mollified our conscience to it by rationalization.  Verses 12-13 help us know what to do light of these truths.

12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Speak and act as one judged under the law of liberty.  What does that mean?  Are we those judged by the law of liberty and if so, what does that mean?  Well, there have been rivers of ink spilled on this one.

The idea of being judged by the law of  liberty should be contrasted with the law of death.  Apart from Jesus’ goodness, each person stands before God on the merit of their own goodness.  The law condemns us if we are trusting on our own goodness.   The law of God becomes the law of death to us.

But if you have faith in Jesus Christ, it is His goodness by which you stand before God, and you now have the enabling power of the Holy Spirit that helps you obey.   The law is actually freedom because you are not enslaved to sin but alive in Christ.  You are freed up to obey.  We see this illustrated for us in Romans 8

7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

The Spirit of God enables the believer in Jesus to obey.  You have life in your body.  The impossible commands of God are now possible because Jesus Christ has made you alive and His spirit gives you that life to obey.  Ligon Duncan, no relations though I wish, speaks to how all of this works together.

He says, What is, “The law of liberty. The fact that when you stand before the throne you won’t be judged according to your works, because if you’re judged according to your works, you’ll be condemned. But you’re judged according to Christ’s works, and you’re accepted according to Christ’s works, and you’re declared righteous according to Christ’s works. And you’re invited into the kingdom of heaven because of Christ’s works. That’s the law of liberty. And he says, now, if you’ve received that mercy from God, if you’ve received that liberty, that freedom from the bondage to sin and condemnation through the mercy and grace of God, how are you going to treat other people? Isn’t your heart going to overflow with mercy?”

This transformation from death to life in Jesus is so sure that your demonstration of love and mercy to your neighbor is in some measure guaranteed.  How do we know that?  James says that there will be no mercy for those who don’t show mercy.  That’s because it is a guarantee that if you know mercy, you will show mercy.  Your mercy doesn’t save you.  Your mercy shows you have been saved.

You and I may not be loving our neighbor well now and we may not be innocent from showing partiality, but the Spirit of God in you is the promise that you are going to be moving in that direction.  That should give you hope; it should give me hope; it should give this church hope.  Let’s be honest.  We’ll all say that we enjoy time with our spouses and our children and our friends more than our neighbors, and we’ll make every justification from DNA to providence to explain why we don’t love our neighbors well.

But the hope I offer to you and to me and to this church is that the Spirit of God dwells in you and change is not only promised but to some degree in your life, assured.  If you are a neighbor here, you might say, “Well I’ve never seen anyone act like this to me.  And if you are a Christian, you might say, “I don’t see how I’m going to do that, Gordon.”  Well, part of the way to address that is to focus on James’ last statement “Mercy triumphs over judgment”

Well, what does that mean?   Does that mean that God just chooses to forgive people instead of judge them for their sins?  Well, the answer to that is no.  God is going to righteously judge every sin ever committed as sin is an afront to God’s character and holiness.  So if you don’t have faith in Jesus, you will be judged and pay the penalty of your sin.  But if you have been forgiven by God, it is not because He just chose not to judge you.  If you are forgiven by God, your sins have been judged and placed on Jesus.  God’s mercy triumphed in placing the judgment of your sins on Jesus and not you.

Mercy always triumphs over judgment.   That doesn’t mean that judgment was just done away with.  It just means that in the face of judgment, someone took the penalty for someone else.  So when James commands us to speak and act as those judged by law of liberty with mercy triumphing over judgment, he is echoing the command of Jesus.  In Matthew 18, Jesus tells a parable about a man who was forgiven a massive debt, one so large that he could never hope to repay it.  And then that man went out and refused to be forgiving to another man who owed him very little.

The command of Jesus as this Matthew 18 “And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”  Gang, I’ll say it again and I’ve quoted the scriptures and every person smarter than I that I can find.  The extent in which you move out of your comfort zone and love your neighbor is in direct proportion to the extent of mercy you think you have received from Jesus.  If the sum of your Christian looks like the building of Christian enclave away from a sinful world, then you know little of Jesus’ mercy though should know much.  The mercy of Jesus towards you should burden your heart for others.

I implore you and I beg of the Holy Spirit to make this true of SK.  Show us how Christ has been our neighbor is His obedience, death, and resurrection.  And then implore you and beg of the Holy Spirit for God to give us a burden that moves us to share Jesus Christ with our neighbors.

March 4, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 2:1-6

Big Idea:  Showing mercy is a test of your heart not anyone else’s.

James 2:1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

·    Partiality is when you like one person more than another person for reasons like their appearance or how many things they own.  Why do you think James does not want us to show partiality?
·    If Jesus is the Lord of Glory, He is the only one who should be glorified.  How does showing partiality give someone else glory?

2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

·    Why are we tempted to show favoritism to people who are dressed nicely?
·    Why would that be a sin?
·    What might this sin look like in our church today?

5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

·    If God has chosen the poor in Spirit to receive the kingdom, how should we reflect that in dealing with people who are poor in wealth?
·    How can Sovereign King obey this verse?

We have all done it.  We have stopped at the stop light and right outside of our window is guy asking for money.  If we didn’t lock the doors already, we stealthfully locked them and then either judge the dude or assume he is making more money begging than we are working.  Let me move away from the stereotypical example.  You have been at work, at school, at dance class, at soccer, somewhere, maybe even right here at church, and you hear about someone in need.  Their life is mess.  They are making every bad decision in the world and are suffering from it.  You politely decline in your heart to get involved.

But maybe you meet someone who looks like you.  You’re white and they are white.  You’re whatever and they are whatever.  You like computers or sports and they do to.  Basically, they are bright shiny people just like all of us.  And you find out that they are in need.  In fact, a couple of bad things have happened, but it is not too messy, so you decide to get involved.  You offer them advice, maybe offer to meet their family, maybe you invite them to worship at SK.

You know what happened in both examples?  Your heart was revealed.  Showing mercy is a test of your heart, not anyone else’s.  When you see need, need that you by God’s grace and gifting you can help with, what  you do in response, says more about you than it does about the other person.  If you are more inclined to help your suburban neighbor than you are the guy on the street, you learned more about yourself didn’t you?  God, I’ll take some risks, but let’s make it safe why don’t we?

Well, last week, we heard James describe what the worship of God should look like.  Surprisingly, it didn’t involve many of the things that are traditionally considered religious like how much you study or how much you pray or what your Sabbath looks like.  No, James described showing mercy to those in need and doing in the midst of a sinful world.  Extending mercy without comprising Biblical convictions.  So this week, James continues to explain to us what our religion should like.  So let’s pursue this Big Idea:  Showing mercy is a test of your heart not anyone else’s.

James 2:1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. 2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

James doesn’t pull any punches does he?  Let’s take this verse by verse and see what we can find.  Verse 1 makes an interesting connection.  James says

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

The way in which we hold to our faith, the way in which we persevere in giving glory to Jesus is by not showing partiality.  Now partiality can also be translated “favoritism” and the word literally means “to receive one’s face” which gives the idea of making judgments about people based on appearances.  James is saying we aren’t to show partiality or favoritism and the reason for this is demonstrated for us in the titles that James gives to Jesus.

He calls Jesus three different things.  He calls Jesus, his half-brother btw:  Lord, Christ, and Lord of Glory.  Jesus as Lord has every right to demand of us how to live and what to do.  He is Lord in title and Lord in practice.  Believers in Jesus submit to His Lordship.  His command is our will and our desire.  It is intended to be, and if it is not, then we are to repent of our will and of our desire to submit to His.

In addition, Jesus is Christ or another way of saying that is Jesus is Messiah.  Since every human being fails sinfully at following Jesus’ lordship, we stand in need of a Savior.  Jesus is Messiah in that He is the God-appointed, God-sent, obedient son who offers Himself as the sacrifice for our sin, and His resurrection assures new life and forgiveness and goodness for all who have faith in Him.

And this Lord Christ is also the Lord of Glory.  Now in the Greek there is some debate as to whether this should be translated “Lord Jesus Christ the Glory” or “Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory”  Either way, each puts forth the same idea.  The Greek word for “Glory” means weight, substance, maybe even gravitas.

Jesus deserves the weight of glory and that is the same as the glory of God the Father.  John 1: And (Jesus) the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  Jesus took on human flesh yet retained all the glory of God.  One theologian (RC Sproul) described it in this way.  He said that God’s glory is the manifestation of all His holiness, beauty, and goodness.  So, “As we think on the Lord’s glory, let us be concerned to reflect His beauty and goodness in all that we do and say.”

So only Jesus is to receive glory.  When we show partiality, we are giving someone other than Jesus glory.  So Jesus as Lord, as Savior, and as the manifestation of God’s glory, commands us to show no partiality as we hold to our faith in Him.  Now, why?  Haven’t we said the commands of God reflect the character of God?  And if they do, how does this command reflect God’s character?   Romans 2 explains that for us.

Romans 2:11 For God shows no partiality. For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

God approaches each human being in light of the fact that we are sinners.  Our sin is rebellion against the nature and character of God, so God doesn’t see anyone as better than another because everyone has sinned against the law of God.  Everyone.  So God is not impressed with anyone’s supposed obedience.  So when God shows mercy, He is doing it not impressed with some who think they have obeyed well and not more upset with others.  All of us have sinned all the time against an all-knowing God.  That is who we are when God pours out His mercy.

What James is recommending to us here is that we should approach everyone without partiality.  God didn’t forgive us because we were obedient and good.  God poured His mercy out on no matter our status.  That is the way we are to approach others – we should pour our mercy out on everyone and not be impressed by anything.  Now, you might say, “Gordon, no one impresses me.  I would never do that.  What is James talking about?”  Fortunately, he tells us in verse 2.

2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, 3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” 4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? 5

James presents a scenario where a church is gathering for worship just like this one and two men show up as visitors.  One of them is dressed nicely and has expensive jewelry.  The other is a poor man dressed in shabby clothes.  Now, what happens next is folks are quick to greet the well-dressed man.  You give the tour of the place.  Show him where the bulletins and the good and the restrooms are.  You welcome him to find a nice sit.  But to the poor man, notice what it says.  “If you pay attention to him.”  A lot of folks won’t.  He smells.  Who is that guy, you ask.  But if you do speak to him, you don’t even give him a seat.

James say you have made a distinctions based on worldly things.  Your thoughts are worldly.  You are a judge with an evil thought.  Essentially, James is saying that this is a real temptation and therefore a real threat to the worship of God and the exercising of your faith.

Each and everyone one of you, myself included, is going to be tempted show partiality to the wealthy and to judge the poor.  Even if we just think more of the folks that are in similar socio-economic levels as ourselves and thus judge those below us we fall into this sin.  In light of our politics, our views on welfare, our views on taxing, in light of those political convictions, we often get our biblical convictions mashed up and confused.  James isn’t concerned at all about your view of welfare and taxes.  Here, he doesn’t care who you voted for and he is definitely not impressed with how hard you work or how you can take great joy in earning your income.  James just hates bigotry and can’t stand judgmental, self-righteousness.

James just calls it a sin whenever you make distinctions between yourself and others and between the rich and the poor.  Your favoritism of anyone because of their status or what they have earned belies a misunderstanding of the Gospel.  If you favor bright shiny people over dirty, shabby people, then you have forgotten that God poured His grace out on you while you were yet a shabby sinner.

The two thoughts, how you see yourself receiving God’s grace and how you perceive others are inextricably related.  The Lord Jesus Christ wasn’t impressed with anyone and neither should you be.  As you hold onto faith in Him, reflect His character and show mercy and grace without favoritism or partiality.  Tim Keller, perhaps the wisest voice in our day on this subject speaks well of this in his book “Generous Justice” – he says.

Our compassion for the poor, our desire to see justice done, our drive to reconcile the world to Him, our feeding of the hungry, clothing of the poor, comforting of the sick, welcoming of the foreigner, and visiting of those in prison is a profound response to all that we have received from God. Even when they are dirty and broken, deserving of their state, seemingly to “blame”, unloveable, undeserving and ungrateful – because that is exactly how we were when God LAVISHED his love on us. Our response then is a right and fitting response to the grace we have received. Our lack of response is indicative of a lack of understanding of the grace we have received. A full understanding of God’s grace COMPELS us to respond in kind to those around us. Not doing so demonstrates that we have not fully grasped God’s grace towards us.

We show mercy as a response to the mercy we have received in Jesus Christ.  Even if the people that we bump into are dirty and broken and at fault for their condition, we show mercy to them.  Why?  Because we were dirty and broken and at fault for our condition before God.  And God lavished His love on us.

You will be merciful to those in need to the extent that you understand how in need you were when Jesus was merciful to you.  A full understanding of those two things:  our desperate need and God’s incredible grace will compel us to be merciful to even the most faulty, needy person.  Not demonstrating mercy demonstrates that we do not fully grasp God’s grace.

We come to a transition in this section of James though.  Tell me this.  Have you ever been in a discussion with someone, and they responded to your words by saying, “Now listen”?  How does that normally go for you?  Makes you angry doesn’t it?  I think the reason it makes us angry is that we feel like we are being corrected or that the other person doesn’t respect our viewpoint.  Well, James is correcting us and he doesn’t respect your viewpoint.  He says

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? 7 Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

What kind of poor man are we talking about here?  Spiritually poor or earthly poor?   The answer is “yes” or “both”  God has elected that the poor in spirit in this world will be rich in faith and an heir of His kingdom which he promised to those who love Him.  This of course echoes Jesus’ comment, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Matthew 5:3

God chose people who have absolutely nothing by which to recommend themselves.  There weren’t any really good folks, and there weren’t any folks who were rich in good works.  God chose His children out of those who had nothing, had not hope to be loved or forgiven or transformed.

Now, we are to take that spiritual reality and reflect in an earthly reality.  The living out of our faith, the pure undefiled religion that God accepts is this.  Do not dishonor those who are poor and honor the rich.  It is not poor people who oppress you; it is the rich.  They have the power to take you into court and to sue you.  They blaspheme the name of Jesus as they trust in themselves and not God.

Now, you might hear this and begin to feel uncomfortable.  If you weren’t with us a few weeks ago, remember rich is only rich by comparison.  A family of four in America at what is considered the poverty line is still richer than 98% of the rest of the world.  It is probably wise for us to consider ourselves rich here.

You might ask, “Isn’t it better to be rich than to be poor?”  Well, remember, no one recommends themselves to God and God shows no partiality.   But wealth is an idol in and of itself.  Like Jesus said in Matthew 19:23 “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

No, James is saying, “Listen, apart from the grace of God, the rich are going to oppress and the poor are going to be oppressed.”  Yes, maybe the rich man was smarter and yes, maybe the poor man was irresponsible, but that doesn’t matter because you are not to show favoritism, even if people make good, smart decisions.  View every single person as one made in the image and likeness of God just as James commands us in chapter 3.  Any inherent worth that a human being has does not come from their wealth or their accomplishments or their beauty of their appearance.  It comes from the fact that they are created in the image of God.   That image is marred by sin, but in the likeness of God nonetheless.

James is imploring the church and therefore imploring us to care for the poor.  And if we aren’t actively seeking out and showing mercy to those in need, we are therefore inherently showing favoritism to those whose needs are as apparent, or the rich as he calls them.  I have told this story before, so if you have heard it, please bear with me as it bears telling again.

When I quit my job at the eye doctors office to go to seminary full-time and prepare for ministry, my family endured a lot of changes.  We went from 2 cares to 1.  We went from $50,000 a year to less than $20,000.  We went from great insurance to really, barely pay anything insurance.  Then we discovered that Amy was pregnant with Landry.  Then Amy’s sister had to move in to help us pay the bills.

And Christmas rolled around.   In fact, it was mid December, and we had an artificial Christmas tree but we didn’t have any presents.  And then came a knock at our door.  Standing there was my buddy Trevor who worked with the Marines.  He had three giant bags of toys and he said he was there representing toys with tots.  I said, “Cool, who in the neighborhood are you giving them to?”  And his answer to my surprise was, “You.”  My heart of hearts wanted to fight it, but the reality was, we were poor.  We were poor as dirt and the only way we would give our kids presents was by these guys grace.

Their mercy demonstrated to us the great mercy of Jesus, and that moment we will never forget.  But James is going even further in his commands.  Yes, we should be meeting the needs of those in our community, both SK and surrounding.  Yes, we should be finding out who is in need and meet that need.

But we should do more as well.  We should be seeking justice in the lives of those who are poor and oppressed by the rich.  Let me help reset this for us.  Last week, James asked, “What is pure and undefiled religion that God accepts?”  His answer was to show mercy to show mercy to widows and orphans and keep yourself unblemished in a sinful world.  Essentially, we are to show extend mercy to those in need and to those who oppressed and take advantage of because of their poverty.  We then looked at Isaiah 1 when this truth was demonstrated.

When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?  13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.  New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.  14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts  my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.  15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers,     I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

The people of Isaiah’s day were just like us right now.  They were coming to worship God in their assemblies just like we are right now.  They were observing the Sabbath just like many of you are observing the Lord’s Day today.  They were praying just like we have been praying.

And God detested their worship.  Why?  Because their’s was restricted to their community and themselves.  Their worship hemmed in in every area by the size of their own life.  It was personal, family, community worship, and God rejected it because their worship did not extend to showing mercy to those in need.  They were looking to do justice in the lives of the needy.

That my friends means they were showing partiality to the wealthy, those without need, to those who were doing just fine.  Neglect of caring for those in need is partiality and favoritism to the beauty and the wealthy and it is a continuation of the injustice and neglect that those in need suffer from.  So God didn’t bless the worship of the people in Isaiah, even though they were obedient to the Sabbath and the festivals and the offerings.  Why?  Because their worship was determined by the sphere of their life and not by extension of worship in service to those in need.

Can we be guilty of that same sin?  I don’t how to make it any more clear than by saying, “Yes.”  Again, Keller helps in this understanding.

“The logic is clear. If a person has grasped the meaning of God’s grace in his heart, he will do justice. If he doesn’t live justly, then he may say with his lips that he is grateful for God’s grace, but in his heart he is far from him. If he doesn’t care about the poor, it reveals that at best he doesn’t understand the grace he has experienced, and at worst he has not really encountered the saving mercy of God. Grace should make you just.” (Generous Justice, p. 94)

If this community doesn’t actively meet the needs of the poor and actively seek to make their lives better from the injustices of those who oppress them, not only do we not understand our great need and how it was met by God’s grace, then we may very well be offering worship to God that is unacceptable.

We can observe the Sabbath without fail.  We can have the most orthodox theology the world has ever known.  We can offer sweet prayers and have incredible Bible studies.  The question is, “Can our worship of God be described as showing mercy and doing justice to those in need?”

If not, we are called to the exact same repentance that the people of Isaiah were called to in.

Isaiah 1:16  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, 17 learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s case.

Repent and cease to do evil.  Learn to do good.  Seek justice for those who are being taken advantage of.  Correct oppression when you see it.  Bring justice to millions of kids today that grow up without fathers.  Plead the case of the woman whose husband has died and how she can’t pay the bills.

You say, “Gordon, I don’t know any of those folks,” and I will say that precisely the point.  We must quit favoring the rich and only associating ourselves with our tight knit group of friends who look like us, make money like us, believe like us, quit showing favoritism.  I’m asking, no the passage is exhorting, you and I in this way.  Quit being oppressive by ignoring those who are being oppressed.  Quit isolating yourself into wonderful Christian safe environments that look Godly in religious observance but lack the depth of religious worship that is extending mercy to those in need.

Again, this is not the SK plan to grow.  Actively seeking out mercy to meet, to be extended, seeking out oppression to be lifted is worship.  It is the necessary other portion of what we do here, and our worship we only be as rich and as deep as can be when we do both things:  worship here and worship out there.

Micah 6: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?  Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  7  Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

How shall we worship our God?  Big huge acts of praise and incredibly acts of discipline?

8 He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Gang, I’m for Bible Instruction.  I’m for prayer.  I’m for Lord’s Day Observance and family devotions.  I’m completely for our church’s doctrine and form of government.  But what if demonstrated we knew the Gospel first by acts of mercy instead of acts of personal piety?  What if we showed our children the essence of the gospel by serving those in need?  What if the burden that we had for each other was not how many people we could serve in corporate worship but how many we could serve in our community?

February 26, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment