This work grows from years of personal conviction that we establish or destroy our personal discipleship by our words. With an open confession, I must acknowledge that I have wrestled often with my tongue. James stings me, along with you, when he attacks the spirit of carnal tongues in Chapter 3 of his Book. He also encourages and admonishes me when he furnishes a godly alternative in Chapter 5, his conclusion.
The Book of James is direct and gently confrontational. To preserve his message, I must maintain that spirit in my explanations. Authentic Christianity appears in the depth to which we are willing to apply Christ's teachings to our conduct. For example, study the Sermon On The Mount, Mt 5-7. The pretentious, superficial Pharisees diluted God's concise Ten Commandments with convenient interpretations that allowed them to profess godliness without practicing it. Make a list of Jesus' teachings in that message with two headings. They say and I say. Analyze the difference between these two lists. You will quickly see the superficial behavior of the They say list and the in-depth reforming godliness of the I say list. The Book of James in many ways imitates the Sermon On The Mount. It is pointed, concise, and practical. It goes quickly to the "bottom line" of applied Christianity.
Some of the chapters will appear discouragingly blunt, challenging speech habits that you have taken for granted over much of your lifetime. As you read these chapters, do not forget. Discipleship requires discipline! It does not spring to life until it begins to reform our conduct and curb our carnal tendencies. Take courage. Before you reach the end of the book, you will find encouragement. To help you along the way, many of these unusually blunt chapters will include a section entitled God's More Excellent Way, taken from 1Co 12:31. "But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way." 1Co 12 begins a three chapter study of spiritual gifts. In Chapter 12 Paul rebuked the spirit of jealousy, the practice of coveting a gift that belongs to another member of the body. This verse correctly labelled that practice as coveting, a violation against one of the Ten Commandments. What was the more excellent way to which Paul alluded? It was 1Co 13, the chapter of love. In context, this chapter deals with charity, the God-kind of supreme love, as applied to the use of our spiritual gifts. Under these God's More Excellent Way sections, you will find suggestions that redirect the sinful conduct exposed in the chapter. By replacing the sinful habit with these suggestions, it is hoped that you will begin to gain the victory over the habit of sinning with the tongue.
At the end of each chapter you will find two sections. Sharpen Your Sword contains a series of questions intended to encourage thoughtful application of the chapter's theme to your personal discipleship. Take the time to review them and to think about them. Better yet, take the time to make notes and to complete the written exercises recommended. They will help you apply God's truth to your life. Examine God's Sword contains a list of scriptures you can study to expand the theme of the chapter. In Eph 6:17 Paul described the sword of the Spirit as the word of God, scripture. This weapon is the only offensive weapon in that list of godly Christian armor. The only way to become effective with any tool or weapon is to use it often. Study these scriptures intently. They will enhance your knowledge of scripture and improve your effectiveness as a soldier of Jesus Christ. Take note. Many of the verses will appear at the end of more than one chapter. This repetition is intentional. By permanently imbedding key verses in our minds, we arm ourselves with godly weapons against the harsh onslaughts of our arch-enemy, Satan. When David wrote, "Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee," Ps 119:11, he probably intended a regular habit of memorizing key verses of scripture. Make this godly habit a regular part of your discipleship. It will fortify your defenses against Satan, in all areas of your discipleship, including your tongue.
I am deeply grateful to four friends, Lasserre Bradley, Michael Gowens, Gus Harter, and Mike Ivey, all fellow-ministers, who served as counselors and friendly critics of this work. By their godly conduct, and godly discipline of their tongues, they convinced me over many years that they would tell me, not others, if they disagreed with my writings. They also convinced me that I could reveal my thoughts, however rough the draft, with the safe assurance that they would respond in kindness when they felt the need to correct the course of my words. I thank Professor Vicki Beyer who gently corrected grammatical and spelling oversights. She also offered occasional suggestions that arose from godly wisdom, suggestions that improve the readability and the spiritual value of this work.
I am profoundly grateful to my best, my most honest, and my most loving critic, Sandra, my wife. Without her patience I could never appropriate the time to compile my thoughts into print. She tolerated my pre-occupied mind, and she understood when I got up from our moments together to research a thought or write down the next idea that came to mind. She faithfully proofed drafts that no one else ever saw and provided invaluable counsel. Her insights took away many words that would not have accomplished my objective and added many helpful alternatives.
While this work focuses on the tongue, its design strives to intensify and to deepen our whole sense of Christian conduct, of discipleship in life's daily trenches. None of us has risen to the point that we do not need improvement in our Christian practice. Most of us need more help in our tongue control than in any other area. Satan makes it so easy for us to slip into harsh destructive words that diminish and discourage those around us. We need James' pointed admonitions to control our tongues. We need his rebuke of our careless words. Our words hold the power to neutralize our best attempts at Christian living. They can defeat every effort to govern our own spirits and to serve as a convincing witness to others. That same tongue, controlled by the Spirit of God, can nurture a safe, vibrant Christian witness that invites others to join with us on the Christian pathway. God bless the message of James to lead us in our battle for the tongue.
Joseph R. Holder
Few New Testament books are as intense and as practical in their dedication to authentic Christian ethics as the Book of James. James so focused his emphasis on practical Christianity that some theologians have discredited this book as spurious or contradictory to other New Testament writings. Why should James not be God's chosen vessel to teach Christian ethics? He was raised in the same home as Christ. Throughout those silent years of our Lord's youth when He was growing up in that home, He lived as godly as He did in the public eye. James, His half-brother, witnessed first-hand the power of authentic Christian conduct in life's everyday circumstances. We would do well to respect his down-to-earth practical teachings on Christian ethics. We would do better to adopt it and practice it as our personal habit of Christian conduct. While Jesus spoke in love, He always spoke pointedly and briefly. James followed the example of his Lord, and half-brother, in his writing style. No New Testament book is so pointed and practical. As much as possible, this thesis will reflect that pointed practical tone. Authentic Christianity permeates every pore of our being. It is serious business indeed.
Within our society, and within our churches, there appears to be a growing acceptance, almost an expectation, of sinful, abusive use of the tongue. Rather than choosing to discipline their conversation, many will offer a quick supply of excuses and justifications for their sinful words. From comedian-like entertainment to "I'm only telling you about this problem so you can pray for them," it seems that people will do almost anything rather than control their tongues. Preachers spread regional rumors and gossip across wide geographical areas with the defense that they are protecting believers from the danger of a supposed error. In this way the victim of the gossip is judged and convicted without knowing he was ever accused. Members of churches use gossip or talebearing to exaggerate their value to a local church, while using innuendo to diminish their victim. Occasionally, vicious verbal attacks are conducted on the basis of "I believe in shooting straight. I tell it like it is." Honest conversation does not require vicious cruelty! The grievous lack of effectiveness in many churches may well relate to this kind of tongue-abuse.
James says more about the sins of the tongue than any other writer in the New Testament. Given his emphasis, we might conclude that sins of the tongue more often compromise and neutralize a godly lifestyle than any other sin we could name. "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain." Jas 1:26. If believers cannot control their tongues, they cannot control any other sinful tendency in their life! They should not be congratulated for their bold use of their tongues. They should be rebuked for their undisciplined compromise of their Christianity! This work will examine the whole Book of James with emphasis on the sins, and the godly use, of the tongue.
How Do Christians Abuse Their Tongues?
Before we explore James for a biblical program to recapture the tongue, let's look at the kinds of tongue-abuse, sins of the tongue, that commonly appear among those who profess Christ as their Lord.
Gossip. Gossip often gives little regard for truth. It relishes attention and cheap newspaper headline mentality far more than it portrays Christian ethics. Here are some examples that almost always introduce a juicy, destructive bit of gossip. "Have you heard?" "Did you know?" "They tell me." "I heard that ...." "I don't believe it, but ....." "Don't repeat this, but ....." "I know if I tell you, it will go no further." "I am only telling you this so you can pray for ....." Whatever the stated reason, gossip gives little regard for truth or for the welfare of its victim. It plays on a base carnal desire to discredit its object. Beware! The person who gossips to you about someone else will gossip about you when you are not around!
Innuendo. Innuendo is characterized by unspoken words, an awkward silence, a raised eyebrow, or a quizzical look. I recently read a beautiful example of innuendo. A ship's captain made a brief mention in his daily log, "Ship's first mate drunk today." Learning of the entry, the first mate made this entry in his log a few days later, "Captain sober today." Anytime we pass along misleading half-truths about a person, we are guilty of innuendo.
Flattery. A gossip will say to your back what he would never say to your face. A flatterer will say to your face what he will never say to your back. Flattery designs to disarm you and to convince you that the flatterer is your friend, perhaps your only friend. No one else thinks, or speaks, so highly of you. It is deceptive and insincere. Do not confuse genuine encouragement and words of appreciation with flattery. Encouragement is altogether biblical and profitable. Flattery is insincere, often used as a tool to win false confidence which will later be used by the flatterer to hurt its object.
Criticism. Often criticism is little more than a spiritual search-and-destroy mission, a witch-hunt to find, and repeat, anything derogatory about its victim. It gives little regard for truth. It often imputes motives to the actions criticized. "He only did that because he was jealous of me." Often people do things without fully knowing their own motives. It is nearly impossible for someone to know your motives, but the critic will reconstruct the whole episode around a supposed motive which casts the worst possible light on your conduct.
Diminishment. "Speak not evil one of another, brethren," Jas 4:11. "Speak evil" is translated from a Greek word which literally means to speak down. Suppose you just bought a new Steinway piano. It is your pride and joy. A friend sees it and remarks, "What a nice little piano." In Lu 18:11 the Pharisee practiced diminishment in his description of lesser worshippers who went with him to pray.
Talebearing. Solomon wrote about the evils of talebearing. This sin of the tongue does not lie. Most of the time, it does not even misrepresent the facts. It appears in the inappropriate spreading of information. "Lord, I don't lie about my neighbors. Everything I say about them is the truth." We can tell the truth about someone in an inappropriate fashion that makes our conduct a sin of the tongue. Why should the whole world know about every misfortune every other soul experiences? Like most sins of the tongue, talebearing is cruel and damaging.
As we prepare to enter the battle for the tongue, we should begin with the understanding that God has not appointed us as His private, personal megaphone. He does not depend on us to spread every tidbit of information we know about everyone to all who will listen. He does not approve of our embellishing and humorizing another person's misfortune for our personal entertainment.
James illustrated the powerful impact a small part can have on the direction of the body with the illustration of a very small rudder steering the course of a large ship. An historic episode from World War II illustrates the importance of a ship's rudder, a perfect modern parallel to James' illustration. During World War II, the Germans built the most formidable battle ship ever known to that time, the mighty Bismarck. It struck fear in the hearts of Germany's foes. When they faced the Bismarck, they were sure to suffer defeat. On May 27, 1941, the Bismarck, in the process of disengaging from a bitter conflict with English forces, suddenly turned back into open waters and headed directly for a concentration of enemy ships. It showed no defensive maneuvers at all. On that eventful day, the most formidable battle ship ever to sail the seas was defeated and sunk by the British. Later it was discovered that a British explosive had damaged the Bismarck's steering mechanism. The strange course which assured the Bismarck's destruction was due to a damaged rudder. James compares our tongue to the rudder of a ship. "Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth," Jas 3:4. Think back over your years in the faith. Can you think of any particularly notable believers, perhaps even preachers, who allowed their tongues to destroy their effectiveness? Let the Bismarck serve as a solemn warning to all of us. However great our mission, however noble our motives, however accomplished our abilities, failure to control our tongue holds the potential to destroy our effectiveness for God. Are we willing to risk failure and disgrace upon the cause of Christ for the carnal joy and twisted entertainment we derive from our sinful words? That, my friends, is what we risk every time we indulge this unruly member of our body.
The human tongue weighs approximately two ounces, making it a relatively small member of the body. Yet it is responsible for more sins in the Christian community than any other single member of the body. We more often excuse and justify its sinful conduct than any other category of sin. James writes, "And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell," Jas 3:6. This work is offered as instruction in the Christian ethic of the tongue, a reminder that we must maintain strict control over our tongues as a matter of Christian morality. We can maintain effective control on all our other appetites and sinful tendencies. But if we do not control our tongues, we give unbridled liberty to two ounces of hell! In the fall of 1993 a southern California camper built a fire in the early morning hours of October 27. Strong winds caught this little innocent blaze and spread it until it had destroyed several hundred homes and several thousand acres. Sinful use of our tongues is equivalent to building the fire, blowing the blaze, and then responding, "I didn't really intend for it to get out of control and do all that damage." The believer who controls every other appetite, every other sinful habit, but fails to control his tongue, James says, has vain religion and is out of control. If we can't control our tongue, what makes us think we can control any of our other sinful leanings? Satan will gladly leave us alone in those other areas if he can convince us to give him those two ounces of fiery hell. Sadly, too many Christians are so willing to indulge their tongues that they will gladly make this pact with the devil and live with the consequences. Little do they realize that a pact with the devil is never an honorable contract!
In the Book of James God gives us a sure strategy for victory over the tongue. It reveals truth in the trenches where we live every day like no other book in the Bible with the possible exception of Proverbs. What will we do with our tongues? Will we fan two flaming ounces of pure hell? Will we camouflage the devil's gleeful victory by covering our sinful words with humor at the expense and damage of a fellow-believer? Will we compromise our personal ability to bear witness to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ by sending briny, salt water out of the same fountain God ordained for his praise and the edification of our fellow-believers? The success or failure of our Christian witness depends on what we do with our tongues!
Study James' illustration of fire, Jas 3:6. Out of control, few things are as destructive as a fire. Make a list of examples of tongues out of control that validate this powerful example. Now meditate on the warmth a well-vented fire in a fireplace gives a room on a cold winter's night. Make a companion list of tongue habits that compare with the fire that warms the room. Think of a soft glowing candle in an otherwise dark room. Once again, you see the value of light that is controlled and put to wise use. Make another list of tongue habits that correspond to a light in a candle holder. Each time we speak, we should quietly ask ourselves, "Will these words run out of control and destroy, or will they warm cold hearts with encouragement? Will they wilt spirits of tired Christians, or will they cast warm godly light on a dark unfriendly climate? By listing specific tongue habits that match each of these three categories, you can begin a systematic program to take over your tongue for God. You are well on your way to winning a major battle for control and godly use of your tongue!
At this crucial moment in our personal discipleship, nothing could be more vital to our survival and to our effective witness to God's truth. Our tongue may gather its energy from the fires of hell or from God's amazing love. What we do with our words will determine the effectiveness, or total lack thereof, of everything else we do in our profession of discipleship. We cannot claim that we have submitted to the lordship of Christ while giving Satan control of our tongue! In whose army do we serve? In his letter to the Romans Paul dedicated most of Chapter 6 to Christian service, discipleship in action. The words yield and instruments in this quotation were common terms for military commands and weapons. Paul well understood that godliness requires a military discipline to direct our spiritual resources to victory against our cunning enemy.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? Ro 6:12-16.
Take a look at this lesson, rephrased to fit this study on Christian control of the tongue.
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal tongue, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your tongues as weapons of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves (Including your tongues) unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your tongues as weapons of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over your tongue: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? shall we sin with our tongue, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield your tongues servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? Ro 6:12-16.
God help us to join the battle for control of our tongues, and to gain the victory for him!
Sharpen Your Sword
1|. This chapter listed six sinful uses of the tongue. Can you name others? What about boasting?
2|. Make a list of personal experiences you have seen of each tongue sin listed, along with those you add to the list. Beside each experience, write down the effect those sins of the tongue had on the person who sinned. On the person who was victimized by the tongue sin. How well do these personal observations parallel James' teachings?
3|. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? "Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to what happens to you." Write down your thoughts for further study later.
Examine God's Sword
Who was James? Mt 13:55; Ac 12:17,13,18; Ga 2:9.
To whom did he write this epistle? Ac 8:1; Jas 1:1.
Patience Under Pressure
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting. My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. Jas 1:1-4.
Through the first six chapters, we will examine godly foundations, the basis James established for Christian ethics. These foundational principles support all areas of godliness. Our effectiveness and our authenticity as believers will stand or fall depending on our respect for these foundations. We cannot win the battle for the tongue unless we build a lifestyle on these godly foundations. The battle for the tongue is part of a broader battle for authentic Christianity in every aspect of our conduct. James tells us that any man who seems to be religious, but does not control his tongue, possesses a vain, empty religion! If we don't control our tongues, how can we expect to control all the other sinful tendencies and appetites of our carnal nature?
Sometimes we look at a friend or fellow-believer and think they have everything going their way. Life is so simple for them. "If only my life could be as simple as theirs," we think. We fail to understand that pressure comes in many forms. Some are obvious; others are invisible to the observer. I will never forget a poem I read in a literature class. It described the author as living under a constant cloud of pressures and problems. The author examined a friend who seemed to live above pressures and problems. He always seemed happy and relaxed. His business prospered; his family seemed happy and well-adjusted. Everything about this man appeared to be ideal. Then one day he went to work and this ideal man was not there. Later in the day, the news arrived that this man had committed suicide the night before! Everything was not as it had appeared!
Our Christianity does not meet its test on Easy Street! Each of us faces our own set of problems and pressures every day. The measure of our Christianity appears in how we deal with those pressures. We can fall apart at the seams and blame someone else, a common practice of the faithless under pressure. "Our Church would be just fine if it weren't for ...." The believer with this mindset never thinks about their personal contribution to the Church. If there is a problem, it belongs to someone else. "I would have gotten that promotion if ...." The moment Adam and Eve fell under the curse for their sin in Eden, they began to blame someone else. We still manifest the scars of that fall!
Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations. In context, temptation refers to testing, not enticement into sin. James did not suggest that we should be joyful when we fail under Satan's enticements to sin. How do you react when pressures unexpectedly disrupt your life? Most of us have countless opportunities to assess our reaction. We frequently face the unexpected and the undesirable. For too many of us, unexpected pressure prompts an instant pity party. "I don't understand why this had to happen to me. I might as well just quit trying to serve God." Rest assured, my friend, God neither sent, nor allowed, problems to enter your life to give you an excuse to feel sorry for yourself. The joy of this lesson does not spring from a warped enjoyment of pain and distress. To the contrary, it comes from the understanding that we have another opportunity to witness God's faithfulness under pressure.
Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. Here lies the source of the joy. When we face a test in our own personal strength, we will certainly respond with self-pity and gloom. When we face it with faith, we will understand that our God is greater than any test we will endure. Trusting God, we will look past the test to His abiding faithfulness and look forward to the blessing He has in store for us after the test ends. Confronting the test in faith, we develop a sense of patience, knowing that God will stand by us in the test and that He will enrich us through it.
But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. Study the fruits of patience in this lesson. Learn the difference between patience and passive, angry endurance of those things you cannot change. Keep in mind that patience, as described in this lesson, calls for us to view the test through faith. We endure the trial, but we keep our hearts set on God. We look at Him through the test, not at the test itself. If we understand the faithfulness of God, we will endure the test of the moment with trust in His goodness to produce something good from it. We need not know what lies beyond the test. We need only recall God's unwavering faithfulness to endure the problem of the moment.
Trials, testings, pressures from less-than-perfect situations, all stretch our spiritual muscles when we face them in faith. Spiritual growth requires that we face our pressures with faith in God to stand by us and to supply the grace necessary for us to endure the problem. We sometimes speak of people who respond well to problems as "Turning a lemon into lemonade." Many years ago, a young boy in Decatur, Illinois, was deeply interested in photography. He ordered a book on photography from a magazine ad. The publisher made a mistake and sent him a book about ventriloquism. This young man read the book with fascination and began practicing the art of ventriloquism. Thanks to this young man's decision to turn his problem into an opportunity, the world enjoyed the humor of Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. We never know when something that appears to us as a terrible problem may turn out to be our greatest blessing. Fanny Crosby, the famous hymn writer, lost her vision when she was six weeks old. Rather than living in bitterness at her misfortune, she once said, "If I could meet Him now, I would say thank you, thank you, over and over again for making me blind."
How many blessings have we lost because we turned an impatient bitter heart toward some test that came our way? According to James, we must encounter unpleasant pressures, different testings, to reach the state of mind he described as perfect and entire, wanting nothing. What drives our life? Is it desire for more possessions and status in the eyes of man? We will never find peace in such accomplishments. Every accomplishment will merely sharpen our appetite for another possession. I recently read about two grave markers in a cemetery in England. The first reads "She died for want of things." The adjacent marker, belonging to her husband, reads "He died trying to give them to her." What would future generations think of us, should our biography be written from our checkbook? From a lifetime analysis of how we spent our time? My friend, now, today, is the time to get our priorities in order, to invest our life and energies in those things which are most important to us. If we invest in godliness, we will find a full measure of contentment not available through any other pursuit.
How do we reflect our reaction to life's difficulties? How do others know how we deal with our problems? They watch our words, our tongues. Who said, "..... for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh," Lu 6:45?
Sharpen Your Sword
1|. Think back to the most recent episode in which you "Lost your cool." What did you do that you would like to erase? How involved did your tongue become in your reaction?
2|. Study this lesson from James in light of that personal episode. Does it offer any insights that might help you in your next trial? How many times have you looked back on similar angry "Blow-ups" and wished you could go back and handle it differently? Does this lesson from James contain any specific actions you can take, or changes in attitude you can develop, to prevent a repeat performance of that episode? Reinforce these changes. Write them down and hang them by your bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator door, or some place where you will see them often. Read them every day.
3|. Do you agree with this statement? "Be patient. Much good can come from this trial you are going through?" Why? Do you agree that making the statement helps or encourages a person at the time they are going through the trial? When distressing trials occur, should we look at the trial, or should we turn our hearts toward God and seek His help and strength?
Examine God's Sword
On Christian suffering. Mt 5:10-12; Lu 6:22-23; Ac 5:41; Ro 8:17-18,35-37; 2Co 12:9-10; Php 1:29; 2:17; Col 1:24; Heb 10:34; 11:36-38; 1Pe 1:6-8; 4:13-16; 2Pe 2:9, and Re 2:10.
Unwavering Dependence On God
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. Jas 1:5-8.
How would you describe wisdom? Do you think of the wise person as a modern-day Solomon who walks around with profound insights and solutions that no one else would have imagined? Do you imagine the wise person as living apart from normal people and mundane problems? Neither image matches this lesson. Like many of His very special graces, God supplies wisdom for the immediate need. He does not give one massive dose of wisdom for an entire lifetime.
How do you handle challenging situations? Do you panic and run around in circles, wringing your hands and losing sleep? What does this lesson teach us to do? Recreate a recent complicated decision you had to make. First you analyze the situation and realize the complexity. As you think of all the implications, you know the problem exceeds your insights to make a comfortable, workable decision. What did you do at that point? If any of you lack wisdom describes that moment in your problem. You surveyed the situation and realized that a workable solution was beyond you. You identified that you lacked the wisdom to solve it on your own. Ask of God. Did you think to pray quietly instead of wringing your hands and filling your heart with anxiety? Did you consider asking God for his help with the problem?
Some will object, "I would ask God, but my poor little problem is too insignificant to pray over." Why do you think that? Are you too insignificant to God? Didn't Jesus tell us, "But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows," Lu 12:7? God does not look at the value of your problem when you go to Him in prayer. He looks at your value to Him! When you take any problem to Him with a prayer for His wisdom to guide you in your decision, you have engaged Hm in worship. You have demonstrated your faith in Hs power and Hs kind-spirited disposition to invest Hmself in your needs, in your life. Notice the basis for taking our need to God. That giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not. God does not respond to our prayers like a Scrooge at Christmas. He stands ready and willing to help. He gives of His wisdom liberally. Some will protest that their concerns are too trivial to take to God. God might become impatient with their constant prayers. Why don't you try Him? James says that He will not upbraid our petition. Yes, God upbraids. He chides man's sinful folly, but He never upbraids His child's sincere prayer!
The Holy Spirit anticipated all our excuses, all our hesitancy to take our problems to God. We ask; He gives. He gives liberally. He does not upbraid. There is no hindrance for us to take our problems, our complex questions, our deepest concerns to God in prayer. This lesson urges us to do just that. Failure to take our needs to God reflects basic unbelief in our hearts! It has nothing to do with God or any hesitancy whatever on His part to respond to our needs. It has to do with our stubborn resistance to take our weakness to Him, confessing that we face a problem we can't solve. The minute we confess that weakness to Him and seek His help, He supplies the needed wisdom. He celebrates every occasion we give Him to involve Himself in our lives and to supply His wisdom, grace, and miracles to meet our needs. Will He always give exactly what we ask? No, sometimes, like a foolish child, we will ask for things that would not bless us or meet our needs. He knows and declines to give those things, but instead He gives us something better. Notice the focused image of this lesson. It does not give us a blank check for all of our wishes. It gives us a faithful promise that God will give the wisdom we seek when we go to Him with the confession that our problem needs His help. God will answer that prayer with His wisdom and help.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. How many times do we pray with the attitude of unbelief? "Just as I expected, God didn't answer my prayer. He doesn't care about me." James tells us to ask for God's wisdom, fully expecting it. We do not present our prayer to Him because we deserve the blessing or because He owes us a favor. We ask from the basis of faith in Him, confidence in His goodness, respect for His loving character. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. A wavering prayer makes God our villain, not our loving Father. If we ask with the expectation that He really won't answer, but we'll try it anyway, we cast ourselves as the poor passive wave, driven by the mindless cruelty of life's winds. Do you see that James makes wavering the exact opposite of asking in faith? Do we use God as our giant villain when things get tough? Do we blame Him for everything that doesn't go our way? How many times have you wanted something so much you could taste it, only to discover later that it would not have been good for you? Perhaps you wanted a promotion on the job, but later you learned that your employer eliminated that position. Had you gotten the promotion, you would have enjoyed a momentary splash in the sun, only to end up in the unemployment line! Despite the frustration of the moment, God's denial of your desire proved to be a blessing. Look back over several such instances in your life. Build on those experiences to strengthen your faith in God through tough times. Faith does not trust God for the obvious. Faith trusts God when we cannot discern anything at all. It relies on His predictable, loving, gracious character, even if the problem of the moment appears cruel. I have learned, admittedly with some difficulty, that those tough experiences contain great value. Our first reaction may be "Why?" but our faith-driven response should eventually take us to the next question. "What? Lord, what do you want me to learn from this difficult situation? Help me to grow through it. Help me to learn from it."
For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. Why should we think God will answer our prayer when we don't even expect Him to answer it? Why should we blame God and complain about His failure to bless us if we aren't willing to put our case in His hands and trust Him to supply His wisdom and grace for our need? God is in the business of responding to the faith-driven cries of his people. Whether He blesses exactly as we pray or not, He responds to our needs with wisdom and kindness. The whole lesson builds on the premise that we face a problem whose solution exceeds our wisdom. We take a problem to Him that we can't solve. We ask Him to help us with His wisdom. If He gives us an answer, a solution, why should we reject it? Perhaps He knows more than we. We need to trust Him and His faithfulness. Otherwise, we have no reason to expect His help. In fact, if we aren't willing to accept His answer, why should we take it to Him in the first place? What is the purpose? A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. Vacillating prayer, how can such a thing be? In the very act of prayer we acknowledge Him as our Father who loves us and cares about our lives. Then we admit that, even in our prayers, we really didn't expect Him to bless! Nothing could be more alien to faith in God.
How is it with you? What have you done with your problems? Are you willing to take your insurmountable problems to Him, fully trusting Him to give you the right answer? Are you willing to believe the answer He gives, even if you don't understand it at the moment? Go back to your foundations. When hard decisions press upon you, take them to God with unwavering dependence on Him for the right answers. Then accept those answers in faith and implement them, fully trusting God to bless the results.
Sharpen Your Sword
1|. How much time do you spend looking back at regrettable things you said in a moment of anger or frustration? How much time did you spend before you spoke out asking God for help and insight with this problem? How much time do you spend repairing the damage your tongue created? How much time do you spend looking for insights and better ways to prevent future failures of your tongue?
2|. Which statement best describes the way you would characterized God? "God sits in heaven with a giant fly-swatter in His hand, just waiting for me to make a mistake." Or "God constantly stands ready to give His wisdom and grace when I ask for His help."
3|. How does faith in God affect your personal reaction to frustration or disappointment?
4|. Describe God's liberality, as used in this lesson. How does it affect the way you face difficult situations?
5|. What did James mean by a "Double minded" man? Have you ever reacted with these characteristics? How can you prevent future "Double minded" reactions to problems?
Examine God's Sword
Did Job find wisdom? Job 28; 40:3-5; 42:1-6.
God, the source of wisdom. Pr 2:3-6; 3:5-7; Jer 1:6-7; 1Ch 22:12; 2Ch 1:10; Mt 7:7-11; Lu 11:9-13; Joh 4:10; 14:13; 15:7; 1Jo 5:14-15.
Dependence on God. Mr 11:22-24; Eph 4:14; 1Ti 2:8; Heb 10:23; 11:6; 13:9,
Double minds. 1Ki 18:21; 2Ki 17:33,41; Pr 15:8; 21:27; Isa 1:15; 29:13; 58:3-4; Mt 6:22,24; 2Pe 3:16.
Acceptance of Eternal Values
Let the brother of low degree rejoice in that he is exalted: But the rich, in that he is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away in his ways. Jas 1:9-11.
The story is told of some Christians who were traveling in the Middle East. They heard about a wise, beloved old believer who lived in the area. They decided to visit him. When they found him, they discovered that he was living in a simple hut. All he had inside was a rough cot, a chair, a table, and an old worn out stove. One of the visitors asked, "Well, where is your furniture?" The saintly old man responded with a question, "Where is yours?" The visitor stuttered and responded, "Why, at home, of course. I don't carry it with me, I'm traveling." "So am I," answered the godly old Christian. "So am I."
How easily we judge things, and people, based on external appearance. We build so many of our assessments on bank accounts, a person's neighborhood, the value of the house where he lives, titles, and earthly prestige. Such a view of people contradicts the foundations our Lord established. He was born in a stable and wrapped in shredded grave cloth. He grew up in a despised village of which people would later say, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" When some of his followers pledged to follow him in all things, he responded, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head," Lu 9:58. He was even buried for three days in a borrowed tomb! How clearly can we see eternal values when our eyes are clouded with all the clutter and dust of this world?
Nothing so equalizes the children of God as the truth of this lesson. We should look at everything around us through eternal values. When we can see so clearly, the brother of low degree, who struggles to put food on the table for his family, will rejoice at the great blessings that await him in glory. He will go to the place of worship, confident that he abides with people who see him in the same light as they see the wealthiest member of the congregation. He goes there as a child of the King, a member of the royal priesthood of believers. The wealthy member will go to the same assembly and, with clearer view, understand that all his possessions will mean nothing to him after he is dead. He will rejoice that he has been brought low to understand the uncertainty of riches. He will find his confidence in eternal things, not in bank accounts and financial portfolios. Remember Paul's words to Timothy, "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life," 1Ti 6:17-19. Paul did not condemn riches; he cautioned against undue trust in them. He warned against excessive greed to gain them. He taught that those who are wealthy should use their possessions, not allow their possessions to use them. They should be rich in good works.
Because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. Whether we live in a simple rented apartment or on Plush Lane, we will all arrive at the same end, death. No matter the state of our bank account or earthly status, the death rate in the human family is 100%, one death for each person. What difference did we make with our life? If we had material wealth, how did we use it? If we didn't have it, how did we use our other blessings? My wife and I have a small spot in our back yard where we planted gladioluses. Each spring they produce the most beautiful splash of color you could imagine. Their beauty, however, is short-lived. One splash of color and beauty; then they wilt and turn brown. Such is human life. How small, how insignificant it all is, if measured only by the material.
Contrast the brief glory of human life that centers around materialism with the godly man.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish. Ps 1.
Like a tree planted by the rivers of water, do you sense the contrast between a tall, well-watered oak and that beautiful, but brief, gladiolus? Life at best is brief. Where have we invested our time and emphasis? Where have we placed our priorities? Oh, it is ever so easy to talk about our love for the Lord and His truth. Let's take a look at reality! What priority does your checkbook reveal? What priority does your use of time display? How much time do you spend in study and mental effort to perform on your job? How much time do you spend with your Bible? How much time do you spend applying what you learn in the Bible to help those around you in the household of faith? How much time do you spend reforming your personal habits that do not honor your Lord? We are willing to talk for the Lord. Are we willing to change for Him? Are we willing to confront our sinful habits and walk away from them for the praise of Christ?
Study Php 3. In a nation whose social centerpiece was their religion, Paul listed his accomplishments; circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. In our culture we might mention the Ivy-League schools we attended, the titles and degrees we hold, the Fortune 500 companies where we have worked, and the six digit salaries we commanded.
Now review Paul's assessment of all these things when he looked at them through an eternal perspective.
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death. Php 3:7-10.
How could Paul turn away from all those titles and accomplishments? Why would he? He knew that he could not be married to this world and to his Lord. Friends, we see God and His truth far clearer through the eye of faith than through fading titles and accomplishments. I do not condemn accomplishment or success. I believe these lessons contain a solemn, sobering warning that we can become mesmerized and intoxicated by those things to the extent that we forget their frailty. What was more important to Paul, the titles and the appeal of accomplishment, or the joy of godliness? What should be more important to us? Where did he place his trust, in the power of the portfolio or the power of Christ's resurrection? Where do we place our trust?
Authentic Christianity does not lie in conformity to rules and laws or acceptance of philosophical concepts. It lives in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ! We cannot measure our Christianity by how well we conform to certain rules, but by how faithfully we have stood side by side with our Lord Jesus Christ in times of test and adversity. The authenticity of our Christianity is not measured in good times and sound health. It appears in how we deal with frustration on the job, disappointment in unfaithful friends, pain in family relationships, and stress from the many things that do not go the way we want. Do we see all those things through the correcting lens of eternal values, or do we see them as the most important thing in our life? Do we react with anger and rage at disappointment, or do we consider it and search for what God would have us learn from the experience?
More than perhaps any other way, we show our reaction to adversity with our tongues! While the eye may be the window to the soul, the tongue is the window of the soul. The tongue sends forth a clear distinct message about the state of our soul! Our words will distinctly reveal whether we have built our life on godly foundations or on shifting sand. Build on these godly foundations, and you will find the tongue far easier to control.
Sharpen Your Sword
1|. An acquaintance says something hurtful about you. You hear about it. We all know the pain of this experience. Write down a few key words or sentences that describe that feeling. Now write down a few key words or sentences that best describe how you would alter your reaction by viewing the situation from an eternal perspective.
2|. Have you ever been caught up in the "Rat race" for more, bigger, and better things? Did you ever know anyone who really won the rat race? If no one ever wins that race, why run it? Why not run a different race, Heb 12:1-2?
3|. If God measured your priorities by the amount of time you spend on various activities and pursuits, where would He place your discipleship? Think of the way you spend the time of an ordinary day. Name one thing you could do to make more time to study your Bible, to meditate quietly about how the things you read in the Bible relate to your lifestyle, to pray and to experience personal fellowship with God.
Examine God's Sword
Compassionate hearts. De 15:7-11; 1Sa 2:8; Ps 113:7-8; Pr 17:5; 19:1; Lu 1:52,
The Many Faces of Testing
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Jas 1:12-15.
"The devil made me do it!" This famous line from Flip Wilson voices the sentiment of many who look for reasons to justify their failures under temptation. Many who profess to believe in Christ act as if they just sit around begging the devil to set a sweet morsel of sin in front of them. The very appearance of the sin appeals to them like a rich fattening dessert. Its presence signals their appetite for sin! A romantic song contains the words, "It can't be wrong if it feels so right." It appeals to the carnal hedonistic sin nature of man. Few will go so far as to say that God sent the enticement, though that thought lies at the heart of this naive hunger for any excuse to sin. The believer's prayer says, "Lead us not into temptation." Our carnal inclination says, "If it appears within my field of vision, God must want me to enjoy it."
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation. We cannot avoid temptation. It appears on every side and at the least expected times. It takes on countless forms. If Satan cannot entice us to sin through appeal to our fleshly appetites, he appeals to our pride, even contaminating our faith in God with a false sense of pride and personal arrogance. "I would never fall for such a sin as that believer fell for." The question before us is not whether we will face temptation or not. The question centers around what we will do when it confronts us. Will we fall for it, like a hungry dog for a piece of meat? Will we look away from the temptation to our Lord, seeking his grace to endure and to overcome it? Endure comes from a Greek word which means to stay under, remain figuratively to undergo, bear trials, have fortitude, persevere. It was translated in the New Testament by such words as abide, endure, take patiently, patient, suffer, tarry behind. The idea in our lesson deals with standing up under temptation, as opposed to surrendering to it. No temptation is easy; the devil knows exactly where our vulnerable spot, our weakness, lies. He attacks at our weakest area. God specializes in strengthening our weaknesses!
The crown of life refers to the garland wreath that Olympic competitors received when they won their event. It refers to an immediate, and temporary, crown that designates the victor. God sends such garlands of victory often upon His children who overcome in the season of temptation. In this way He reinforces our conduct and strengthens us for the next test.
Temptation carries two meanings in scripture, depending on who tempts. When God puts us to the test, as in Ge 22:1, it means to test for good, to strengthen and to inform. God tested Abraham by telling him to offer Isaac. What was the result of that test? Abraham's faith in God was strengthened, and he saw the day of Christ his Savior. When Satan tempts us, he intends our destruction. He seeks to shipwreck our faith and destroy our witness for Christ. The issue before us in James relates to the confusion that occurs when we blame enticing, destructive temptations on God.
But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Evil temptation appeals to our sinful desire toward that which God has prohibited for our good. Remember, one of the Ten Commandments says, "Thou shalt not covet." To covet, to lust, both words suggest desiring something that does not belong to us, something that God has prohibited. Despite God's wise restriction, Satan appeals to our sinful nature and entices us to ignore what God said. The sweet song of enticement continues to sing the appealing melody of
Ge 3:1. Where do temptation and sin originate?
2|. How does sin end? Does this lesson apply to sins of the tongue? To all sins?
3|. When testing comes, how does God expect you to react?
4|. Think back to a recent personal experience in which you were tempted. Be brave! Look at an experience that resulted in your yielding to the temptation. Look for an episode in which you sinned with your tongue. Analyze the experience in the light of this lesson. Identify the conception, when the idea began. Trace its progress, the path it took to deceive you into the actual commission of the sin. Does this help you understand Satan's methods? Does it help you prepare to overcome the next temptation?
Examine God's Sword
Purpose in testing. De 8:2; 13:3; Job 5:17; Ps 94:12; 119:67,71; Pr 4:23; 17:3; Ho 13:9; Mal 3:2-3; Lu 22:28-30; Heb 3:13; 6:15; 11:17; 10:32; 12:5; 1Pe 1:6-7; 4:13; 5:10; Re 3:19.
God's Abundant Gifts
Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Jas 1:16-18.
The Bible contains many warnings against bitterness. This lesson leaves us without excuse. We have no reason to resort to debilitating bitterness. Look at all the good things God gives us. James just finished correcting the idea that God tempts people to sin. These verses build on that truth and continue it to the next step. God is not fickle. He does not tempt people one minute and send a spiritual blessing the next. He does not sit in heaven with a holy fly swatter, eagerly looking for any reason to swat any of His children who do not comply with His wishes. Yes He chastens, but with love and restraint. He never looks for illogical reasons to impose punishment upon us. He looks for reasons to bless us! Do not err, my beloved brethren. Do not attribute cruel motives or fickle designs to God! He doesn't work that way. God's family needs to understand this lesson. How many believers think of God in this way? "I feel so blessed. I just know God is waiting to spoil it all for me." Why not accept your blessings and thank Him for them? Yes, times of adversity will come, but God will not impose cruel and fickle pain upon you. He will stand by you and help you in tough times.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. How broadly should we interpret this lesson? How far do we take this idea that God gives us every good gift and every perfect gift? We should interpret it just as broadly as the two adjectives allow. Is it good? Is it perfect? Then God gave it! Why not take the time to make a list of your blessings? We tend to take many of them for granted or to ignore them entirely. By making a list, by taking the time and thought to writing down a comprehensive list of all God's blessings, you will begin to realize the expansive reach of His blessings. Start with yourself. Then consider your family, your friends, your church, your access to the Bible, your tender heart to pray and think about God. Keep building the list. Within each of these areas, look for additional blessings. Write them down. Before long, you will have a very long list, and you'll realize that you have named only a small fraction of all the things God has blessed you to enjoy. How can you feel bitter and angry with such abundant blessings? How can you think God will not watch over you and take care of you through every test of life, through every difficult season? God does not have two sides to His personality. He does not play mind games with us. There is no variableness, no fickleness, in Him. Not even His shadow turns. Turn comes from a Greek word which means to rotate. It is the root for the English word trope, a word or expression intentionally used in a different sense from that which it ordinarily possesses. How many people try to impose such "Double-speak" mentality upon God? No, God does not mislead or deceive His children. When He gives us something, He gives a good and perfect gift.
Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. This sentence could apply in one of two ways. It could apply to the new birth. If that be the case, the word of truth should be interpreted as Jesus, God's living Word, or of the direct voice of God who speaks His life-giving voice in the new birth, Joh 5:25. Contrary to the popular teachings of the day, the new birth does not occur through man's will, but of God's will. This point emphatically contradicts the theology of those who teach that man's will must be operative in the new birth. Without question, the new birth is the first gift the child of God experiences from God. It comes as a result of His own will, not ours. It is also a good and perfect gift. The lesson could also apply to the manner in which God brings us into the knowledge of the truth in our conversion. That blessing, too, springs from God's will, not ours. Let's look into the context for the right application.
Remember that James wrote to Jews, probably Jewish Christians who belonged to the Church in Jerusalem before the great persecution drove them from their homes. It would be ever so easy for these Jewish Christians to attribute their conversion blessing to their race. After all, they belonged to the race whom God chose to bless in the Old Testament era. They belonged to the race whom God chose to be his priests and the custodians of His law. They belonged to the race of which Jesus was born. Should they forget the source of every good and every perfect gift, they might think that God blessed them with the truth because of their race, not because of his grace. Therefore, it was necessary for James to remind them that their knowledge of God's truth came from God's will and his consistent giving of good gifts, not because of their race or history. That we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. It was God's intent that the gospel be preached among the Jews before it reached out to the Gentiles, Lu 24:46-48. Once the Jews rejected the gospel, God sent it to the Gentiles, Ac 13:46. God intended that Jews be the firstfruits of the gospel after the resurrection of Christ. It was His will that embraced them in the infant outreach of the gospel, not their merit. James reminded them of that truth. God wanted Jews to be the firstfruits of the New Testament gospel and the New Testament Church. His will sent the gospel to them and enlightened their minds to the truth. Their inclusion in the blessings of the gospel had to do with God's will and His giving of good and perfect gifts, not with their deserving those blessings. In context, I believe this lesson relates to God's begetting these Jews to the truth of the gospel and making them His Jewish firstfruits of the new era.
How is it with you? Did God bless you to know the truth of his liberating, joyful gospel because you were so good? Did you come to the truth because of your superior intellect, or your superior godliness? No! He blessed you with the knowledge of the truth because of His will. In addition to giving you His eternal life, He sent His truth to you and enlightened your mind to His truth. This is a good and perfect gift. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Your knowledge of God's truth is the result of His good and perfect gift to you.
What joy we experience by remembering this foundational truth. It inoculates us from bitterness, frustration, and impatience. It assures us that, come what may in life, God sends us a steady stream of blessings, all good and perfect. He never leaves us destitute of blessings. He never plays deceptive mind-games. He never tricks us. He loves us. He involves himself in every dimension of our lives for our good. He daily loads us with benefits, Ps 68:19. So what if your profession didn't turn out the way you imagined when you entered it. So what if your health is not the best. Remember how temporary these things are. Remember the flowing stream of blessings God has sent to you throughout your life. Look at the balance between the good and the bad. Build on that foundation.
How does this lesson relate to our use of the tongue? If God refuses to play deceptive word games with us, we should use our words with the same open, loving giftedness He exemplified in Himself. We should avoid any appearance of using words to manipulate those around us, especially those we love. We should speak so as to make every word a blessing, every word a good and perfect gift of openness and encouragement to those around us. Realizing these gifts, we should refuse to utter bitter words in any area of our life. Anything less would diminish our valuation of His blessings upon us.
Sharpen Your Sword
1|. Think back to a recent episode in which you felt that God especially blessed you. How did you respond to Him? Did you take the time to thank Him?
2|. Do you tend to look at life from a "Rewards and punishment" perspective? Do you receive blessings with dread, fearing that they are a precursor to some undefined punishment? Can you justify this attitude in light of this lesson from James? How does this attitude affect your peace of mind?
3|. God revealed His truth to a number of Jews, despite the broad rejection with which most of the Jews spurned Christ. Those whom God blessed were called a kind of firstfruit of God's creatures, His special spiritual creation. Think about your neighborhood, your workplace. Are you a firstfruit? Have you witnessed your faith to those around you? Have your feet, and, yes, your tongue, been good witnesses for God? How can you improve the credibility of your witness?
Examine Your Sword
God's many gifts. Ps 84:11; Pr 2:6; Isa 28:26; Mt 7:11; 11:25-26; 13:11-12; 22:29; Mr 12:24; Ac 5:31; 11:18; Ro 12:6-8; 1Co 4:7; 12:4-12; Eph 2:1-10; 4:8-11; Php 1:29; Heb 13:1; 1Jo 5:11-12,
Man's Wrath and God's Righteousness
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Jas 1:19-20.
This final foundational principle takes us directly to the issue of the tongue. Our relationships with others live or die by the way we discipline our tongue. Verse 19 examines how much we speak and how our speech joins our attitude, the state of our soul. Verse 20 challenges our self-defense and our tendency to give license to our own tongue, while imposing severe restrictions on others. A woman once told the famous evangelist Billy Sunday, "Yes, I have a bad temper, but it's always over in a minute." Sunday replied, "So is a shotgun blast! But look at the damage it can do in just a split second." It is far easier to control our tongue than to repair the foolish damage we do after the fact.
How balanced would the figures be if you put a stop watch on your conversations? What per cent of the conversation do you talk? What per cent do you allow the other person to talk? If you dominate the conversation, what does that tell the other person? Do they feel that you listen when they talk to you? Do they gather by your conversation that they have anything of value to say?
Study the three steps to this godly foundation. Consider the order in which they appear. Let every man be swift to hear. We show our respect for those around us by respecting their ideas. How can we do that? We must be quiet and listen to their words. Seldom do we get in trouble by silence! We can only know and understand what others think by listening to them. Conversation is intended to be a two-way street. We need to listen as well as talk. We need to give equal, or greater, regard to the ideas of the other person as we give voice to our own thoughts. This idea suggests an intensity in listening, swift to hear. Do we listen impatiently to what others say, almost bursting for our turn to say what is on our minds? The spirit of Christ, Php 2, calls us to give greater regard to our brother and sister than to ourselves. Oh, how we can find excuses not to follow that lesson! Someone has defined an egotist as a person who is me-deep in conversation. Do we qualify? Ouch! Too many of us spend a lot of time in just that spirit, me-deep. We want to tell people about our families, our grandchildren, our jobs, our surgeries, our illnesses, anything about me. When they respond with an attempt to join the dialogue, we quickly answer with a "One-ups-man-ship" dialogue. I have prettier grandchildren. I've had more problems on the job. I had more life-threatening illnesses.
After all the verbal smoke clears, we wonder why our lives are so empty. I remember many Christmas eves when our children were small and I sat up late assembling toys for them. How many times I would look at the parts and think how easy it would be to assemble the toy, never looking at the instruction sheet. How many times I had to undo what I did and go to the instructions. Christian living is much the same way. We look at life and think how easy it is to take care of this problem, but we never bother to look at God's instruction book, the Bible. Then when things go wrong, we try to undo the damage of the shotgun blast and go back to the Book. Why not read the instructions first? Instead of burying ourselves me-deep in conversation, why not engage ourselves in Christ-deep conversation? Why not be swift to hear, to understand what someone else thinks and feels? Why not show the mind of Christ,
Notice how many words appear in this lesson that refer to the tongue, to words. No guile appeared in His mouth. When men reviled Him with words, he did not revile them. When they inflicted suffering on Him, He threatened not. How can we practice these godly controls on our tongue? If we try in our own strength and self-control, we will fail. Man is more deficient in self-control than in most other attributes. If we bottle up our frustration toward our problems, we will build to an uncontrolled explosion. That is not what the lesson teaches. What did Jesus do? He committed Himself to the Father, knowing that the Father judges righteously. Commit in this verse comes from a compound Greek word which literally means to give up beside. You stand beside God and give up your frustration to Him. Most often our anger and frustration originates with feelings that we have been treated unfairly. Why not stop expecting everyone always to treat us as we wish? Instead give up any disappointment and frustration to the Father whom you trust to make a fair judgement. If that person mistreated you, let God settle it. Surrender your anger to God and ask Him to relieve you of it. Intrust the injustice to Him with full assurance that He will make it right. Is this easy? No! Does it rise naturally from our angry hearts? No! Yet Peter taught us to follow Christ's example. Christ did not ignore the injustices men heaped upon Him. He gave them to His Father. When malice came, He stood close to the Father. He prayed in the wilderness temptation. He prayed in Gethsemane. He prayed on the cross, "Father, forgive them." Why not try the instructions God sent us in the Book? This is a solid foundation for godliness and for authentic tongue-control.
Sharpen Your Sword
1. What three steps did James mention to control sins of the tongue? Is there any significance to the order in which they appear?
2. How often do you express anger with your words? Do you feel good afterwards? Write down for your private study exactly how you felt the last time you became angry and spoke out. Are you satisfied with your reaction? Does James teach anything here that might help you find more contentment with your reactions?
3. If you put a stop watch on your conversations with others, how evenly would the time be divided between your speech and the other person's? How much time do you allow others to speak? How much time do you listen? Do you really listen when others talk to you?
4. When you last reacted in anger with your mouth, did you think you were right? What does James say about man's wrath and God's righteousness? Considering what James wrote here, go back to that episode and rethink it. If the person to whom you spoke had nothing but that conversation by which to judge your Christianity, would they decide that you were, or were not, a Christian?
5. How can being quick to anger and quick to speak hinder your discipleship?
6. Review Chapters 1 through 6, Godly Foundations. The six foundations covered were patience under pressure, unwavering dependence on God, acceptance of eternal values, the many faces of testing, God's abundant gifts, and man's wrath and God's righteousness. Make a list of your most difficult areas of discipleship. Include situations in which you find it especially difficult to control your tongue. Beside each area of difficulty, write down ways in which these godly foundations can help you gain the victory in future battles with your tongue.
Examine God's Sword
Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. Jas 1:21.
The first step to overcoming a problem is to admit that we have it. One of our greatest frustrations in ministry is to witness the obvious evidences of various problems that we could help believers solve, but they refuse to admit to the problem. They think they must maintain a perfect Christian appearance, not knowing that the problem stands out in them like a wart on the face. The problem has clear, soluble, biblical answers. It could be healed and put away, if only they would confront it, confess it, and seek biblical help to correct it. Look at the people in this verse. How many of us would take offense at James for suggesting that we had filthy, dirty minds and deeds? The nerve of that preacher!
We should consider James as the premier New Testament "How To" book. It sweeps away the pretense of "Store-front" Christianity. It challenges our hypocrisy unmercifully. It confronts our "Cheap talk" Christianity. It inspires us to practice what we talk. It demands that we overcome entrenched habits. It rebukes our complacency and urges us to greater godliness. It takes us out of cloudy theology that sees eternal things clearly, but ignores the practical, timely implications of biblical theology, and shows us the trenches of life where we spend most of our time. Then it shows us how we can practice our Christianity right down there in the trenches. James, thank you!
Sin in the heart is like a boil in the flesh. Unless we lance and drain it, it will grow larger and more painful. It cannot heal from the outside; it must heal from the inside out. In this verse James lances the sin boil. No longer will he politely pretend. He looks into our heart and calls filthiness what it is, moral dirt. He confronts head on our excessive appetite for sin. He calls it superfluity, a superabundance, an excessive quantity. The Greek word he used for naughtiness does not refer to a little mischievous thought. Strong defines it as badness, depravity, malignity, or trouble. It appears in the New Testament as evil, malice, maliciousness, and wickedness. These words describe the depth of sin that lies within us, unless we open up our souls to God for His surgical lance. In many cases we must also take our problems to other godly people for their help. We need them to stand beside us, to hold us up, to make us account for our actions until we reform our automatic pilots into a godly habit.
Let's join James in a blunt assessment of our spiritual state? Too many who profess conservative Christianity have become spiritual weaklings. We look more like infants in Christ than like soldiers wearing the whole armor of God. We attempt to sterilize sin. We have a weakness. We made a mistake. We sincerely erred in our judgement. We have a disease. Conduct the Bible calls an abomination, we stand idly by and allow the world to call a perfectly acceptable alternate lifestyle. When the issue surfaces, when we can no longer keep it underground, we look for anyone to blame. He provoked me. She didn't understand. My parents were too cold and harsh. All of these excuses put together will not heal our spiritual woundedness! They will not make us whole. We will find our healing only when we stand in the midst of the crowd and reach out to touch the hem of His garment. We will overcome our secret sins when we cry out along the busy pathways, "Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me!" Is it any wonder that James has never been an especially popular book in the New Testament Library?
Receive with meekness. You receive something that you do not presently possess. You accept a new way of thinking, a new way of dealing with life. You acknowledge that you had to look outside yourself and your independent, proud heart for the answer. So? Do you think you are the first person who walked that path? Do you think there is something inherently wrong with honest, authentic Christianity that admits our sin and calls upon Christ to do what he does best, heal our sinfulness? Praise God! James told us to receive this word with meekness. When you take that step, you have started down the road that will lead you to the most joyful time of your life. No more looking over you back to see if someone saw you being less than perfect. No more building relationships and manipulating people with guilt. We find our greatest contentment as we relate to them in open, honest love. We are not bothered if they don't always do what we want. We want them to find their joy in Christ just as we did. Their calling, their work for Him, may be entirely different from ours. God bless the diversity!
The engrafted word. James tells us that the healing word which solves our problems, gives us the strength to rise above our sins and serve God with integrity, is engrafted. It did not grow from our nature, our intellect, or our wisdom. God grafted it into us, just as a branch of one fruit is grafted into the stock of another. Why make this great blessing a source of carnal pride? Why not make public confession of it and give the Father who performed the graft the praise for His work?
Which is able to save your souls. Many view the Bible with a narrow field of vision. They cannot see the word save without thinking only of eternity. They see no immediate joy or blessing in it. It is locked away behind a massive padlock. Oh, we'll survive now with no joy, no encouragement, no blessing, because we know we will live with God in eternity. Save is a verb. Verbs have three basic tenses. They relate to three seasons of time, past, present, and future. Our salvation is like the verb. God delivered (saved) us (Past tense) from the wrath to come (Future tense), 1Th 1:10. He now saves us (Present tense), 2Co 1:10. Preachers who take good heed to themselves and their teaching will save (Future tense) those who hear them, 1Ti 4:16. All salvation in time builds upon God's salvation in eternity. The word translated save in this verse comes from a Greek word which means safe, to save, i.e. deliver or protect (literally or figuratively). It was translated in the New Testament by such words as heal, preserve, save, do well, be or make whole. Healing, preservation, doing well, living in safety, it would be a travesty to limit this word in every New Testament appearance to eternity with no blessing and no joy or application in the painful, crushing here and now of discipleship. The safe course for the believer lies in receiving, and living, the engrafted word. It promotes spiritual health, healing from sin, and joy in serving God.
How well do we convey that safe, healing spirit in our words? When people think of us, do they think of such words to describe our spirit, and our words? If the engrafted word communicates God's heavenly truth, we have no better example to follow with our words to fellow-believers. How can we console ourselves with heavenly thoughts, only to speak hellish words? What consolation do we find in such a pattern? Why not talk a heavenly language now? God help us to lance the sin boils in our souls, bleed away the infectious resident sins that disease the soul, and receive with due meekness that healing balm of God's engrafted word. It will keep us safe from spiritual infection. It will preserve our soul-health. It will inspire joy and blessing through us to others. What will describe our words? Filthiness and excessive depravity? Or the sweet healing balm of the engrafted word? Will our words carry contagious soul-sickness to those around us? Will we speak of bitterness and anger? Will we fault-find and criticize? Or will we prove our love to God by our lovely words? The choice is ours! The power for change is God's, and He makes it fully available to our every need. What will it be?
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Give a specific example of your own words that might fit James' description of superfluity and naughtiness.
2. Why did James contrast these two questionable attitudes with meekness? What makes superfluity and naughtiness the opposites of meekness? How do you define meekness?
3. The word save carries many meanings in scripture. In this instance it refers to control of the tongue that will consistently keep us safe from verbal offenses. Make a list of things you can do to make your tongue safer.
4. When someone needs to talk about their problems, to confess a fault, does your "Tongue-reputation" make you a safe person to hear them? If they ask you to keep their conversation confidential, can they trust you to do so? Or do you have a reputation for telling others everything you know, even matters which might be best kept in respectful confidence?
Examine God's Sword
Godly discretion. Ps 25:9; Isa 29:19; Zep 2:3; Mt 5:5; Ro 13:12-13; 2Co 7:1; Eph 4:22; 5:4; Col 3:5-8; 1Th 2:13; 2Ti 3:15-17; Heb 12:1; 1Pe 2:1,11.
The Mirror of Christian Ethics
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. Jas 1:22-25.
One evening a Christian was walking home from a church service when he stopped to talk to a fellow member who had missed the service. The absentee member asked, "Is the sermon done?" "No," came the reply, "The sermon is preached, but it remains to be done." How do we respond to the sermons we hear? Do we think about how enjoyable the message was? Do we reflect on the preacher's illustrations and style of delivery, perhaps on his verbal slips or grammatical errors? Do we think of the sermon as a grand philosophical statement? Like the disciples' response to Jesus' question, "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" we give good answers, but they are all wrong answers. We believe in godly speech, but we still use profanity when we get mad or upset. We believe in biblical morality, but we still stretch the ethical limits on our job or on our income tax return. We think of Christianity as a body of rules and regulations, but somewhere deep inside we think anything goes, just so long as we don't get caught in the wrong. I recently read the results of a survey that analyzed the moral responses of Christians and non-Christians. It asked questions about a wide variety of moral issues. The difference between the Christians' responses and the non-Christians' was generally only 5-10%! Ninety per cent of the non-Christians were as morally conscious as the Christians! Does that get your attention? If someone who works with you were to give an assessment of your moral and ethical conduct, how different would your image in their minds be to their assessment of other fellow-workers who do not profess Christ?
We live in a time when people praise "Situational ethics," the idea that you do what is best for you in the immediate situation with no thought of an absolute right or wrong. Some in the Christian camp subscribe to a form of Christian situational ethics. They structure their lives and build churches on the basis of public opinion and personal taste, giving little thought to what the Bible teaches. They typically respond that the Bible has very little to say on the topic of their preference, so it leaves them at liberty to do as they wish. I use the term Christian ethics quite differently. By Christian ethics, I refer to the biblical demand that we apply authentic Christianity to every nook and cranny of our lives and our churches. Most will agree on the moral issues of the Ten Commandments, at least in the glaring sins. Few will commit open adultery and tell you the Bible gives them liberty to do so. Few will commit premeditated murder and defend their action as biblically approved. Yet in the Sermon On The Mount Jesus said looking at a woman with lust constitutes adultery in the heart, and unjustified anger constitutes murder in the heart. Do you see the difference between the shallow manner in which superficial Christians apply God's moral law and the intensity to which Jesus applied it? That illustrates what I call Christian ethics. James digs through the pretense and applies Christian morality to the smallest, most remote segment of our conduct. He even says that the most religious person in the church who refuses to control his tongue is guilty of self-deception. His religion is vain, profitless, empty! We cannot claim authentic Christianity and shield any area of our actions, thoughts, or words from the scrutiny of God's truth. We cannot claim to be followers of Jesus Christ unless we submit our whole selves, and all our conduct, to the person of Jesus Christ.
We hear much about self-image. No doubt, the way a person sees himself will impact his conduct and his contentment. I am gravely concerned that the basis of most self-image messages builds on a sandy foundation. Study the two people used in this lesson to illustrate the difference between a mere hearer and a doer of the perfect law of liberty. When you look into a mirror, you see an image of yourself. Quite often, we look into the mirror with the idea of changing our appearance. We shave. We comb our hair. We put on makeup. After a brief time, we feel the need to look back into the mirror again. Did our hair get blown around? Is the makeup still fresh? Because we looked in the mirror at an external image, we will soon forget the image. So is the Christian who hears biblical preaching, but never absorbs it into his conduct. He needs to return to church each Sunday to take another superficial look into the mirror. He never considers absorbing what he heard on Sunday into his lifestyle. Oh, he maintains enough superficial Christianity to give a good impression, but he will not permit the gospel to reform his conduct, to penetrate into his being and change his way of thinking. He must go back to the mirror again and again. He will ask, "Is the sermon done?" but he will never consider the difference between the sermon delivered and the sermon practiced in living, reformed conduct, particularly his own. Where do we go to build our self-image? Do we look into the mirror of vanity or into the perfect law of liberty?
But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein. Looking into the law of liberty requires a piercing vision into God's mind. It requires taking that vision with us into our homes, our neighborhoods, and our jobs. It requires altering our responses to disappointment, stress, and pain. A casual Sunday morning glance will not work!
What is the perfect law of liberty? Law and liberty strike us as opposites. Laws restrict our liberty. How can you speak of the law of liberty? Much of this lesson builds on the way we think. If we live on the edge, intent on doing everything we can get away with doing, we will view God and his prescribed lifestyle as restrictive and prohibitive. If we understand that Christianity means standing close to our Lord Jesus Christ, we will constantly look at Him and find our greatest joy in following His example. Anything we see in Him becomes a privilege, not a restriction. His life exudes liberty, and we find great joy in following that example. It is a law in that it defines conduct. It is liberty in that it warms our hearts to the person and character of Jesus Christ.
He being not a forgetful hearer. This simple statement tells us much about the spirit of the lesson. It describes a sleepy, passive hearer. The mind is not engaged in the message. While the preacher speaks of godliness, the mind thinks about all the things that need to be done when the sermon ends. It thinks of all the things we can't do because of those joy-killing rules. It worries about all the things that might go wrong with our plans. Where is the personality of Jesus Christ in that hearer's mind? Where is the engaged, eager mind to know more about God and his liberating truth?
A doer of the work. As we look into the mirror of Christ, we form a living image of him that takes shape and substance within us. It takes control of our life. It alters our eyes, our hands, our feet, our ears, and, yes, our tongues. We will attack the sinful complacency of our old ways. We will feed the fires of godliness and strive to conform our conduct to the image of Christ. Some theologians attempt to make Paul and James contradict each other. Far from it! Consider how similar Paul's intent was in this lesson from II Corinthians to James' teachings in our study verse.
Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. 2Co 3:17-18.
What do we see when we look into this mirror? What are we looking for when we look into it? If we are looking for self-image, we will see ourselves, and pride will drive us to return again and again to see how we look, what we need to change to look better in our own eyes and in the eyes of those around us. If we go to the mirror to see Christ, we will forget self, and we will see the image of His glory. That image will be so powerful, so contagious, that it will begin to penetrate our carnal pride and our sinful tendencies. It will begin to reshape us from the inside out!
Someone on the sidelines of Christianity always has something to say about the failures and errors of others who profess Christ. They can tell you everything that person did wrong. They can even give the appearance of a biblical master, righteously quoting scripture. Remember the six sinful uses of the tongue from the Introduction, gossip, innuendo, flattery, criticism, diminishment, and talebearing? They are experts in these six sins. They elevate these traits to religious sanctity! Those who invest their lives and souls in living the image of Christ will have no time for such tongue sins. The more we busy ourselves living God's will in our lives, the less time, and inclination, we will have toward such sinful speech. Are we in the world, bearing witness to Christ, or are we in Christ, bearing witness to the world? Do we show people our personal Christian attainments, or do we obscure ourselves behind the image of Christ in us? The first, and often the most prominent, manifestation of our Christianity is our speech. Are we mere hearers or doers? Whose image do we see in the mirror?
God's more excellent way. Think about an especially difficult habit with which you have struggled, perhaps unsuccessfully trying to control it. Relive the last time you failed in that area of your discipleship. Meditate on the way Jesus would have confronted that problem. Relive the episode as he would have dealt with it. Go from meditation to prayer. Ask the Lord to strengthen your effort to reform that sinful habit. Keep this image of Christ prominent in your mind the next time a similar situation occurs. Step by step, confront the episode with Christ in your mind. This is looking into the perfect law of liberty.
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Who do you admire as a spiritual role model? How does this person's conduct affect you? How does it affect you when someone you respect does something they tell others not to do?
2. Think back over the last several sermons you have heard. Did any of them confront a personal sin in your life? How did you respond? How would your reaction compare with this quotation? "I know what I do is wrong, but I have no intention of changing it. I know many others who do things that are far worse." Write a paragraph addressed to the Lord himself, explaining your reaction to that sermon and its impact on your conduct.
3. Do you think God will continue to bless you if you do not confront your sins and work to eliminate them from your life? Are you willing to change for God?
4. Have you ever experienced a special sense of freedom through serving God? By doing the things taught in scripture? How does that sense of freedom relate to what James called the "Perfect law of liberty?"
5. Make a list of differences between your image in a natural mirror and your spiritual image in the "Law of liberty." Which image most controls your conduct? Your tongue? Does your conduct live up to your words?
Examine God's Sword
Hearing and doing. Ps 119:96-105; Jer 44:16; Eze 33:31-32; Mt 7:21-25; 12:50; 28:20; Lu 11:28; 12:47-48; Joh 13:17; 2Co 3:17-18; Ga 5:1; Php 4:8; Col 3:17; Jas 4:17; 1Pe 2:16; 1Jo 2:3; 3Jo 11.
If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. Jas 1:26-27.
In these verses James gives us three rules by which we may measure our Christianity. Our conformity to these three dimensions will reveal the authenticity, or the hypocrisy, of our profession. They are (1) control of the tongue, (2) ministering to those who cannot take care of themselves, and (3) maintaining a moral, ethical, and spiritual separateness from the world system in which we live.
In Col 2:18 Paul used the same Greek word for the worship of angels that James used for religious. We do not measure our religion by mere external compliance with the form and image of the church. The New Testament certainly requires regular, faithful attendance from obedient believers, but New Testament worship, religion, requires far more! James taught that our worship of God hangs on these three principles of applied Christianity. Immediately after taking us to the mirror of the spirit, the perfect law of liberty in Christ, it is no accident that James takes us directly to the need for ministry to others. Nor is it a coincidence that he shows how intense control of our words qualifies, or disqualifies, us for the ministry of compassion to others. If we constantly gossip and criticize others, we will hardly convince anyone that we are genuinely concerned and want to help.
Seems to be religious. James first looks at the way these people see themselves. They really think they are religious. They can tell you all the reasons they are among the most valued members of their church. How often we fail to see ourselves, our true selves, in that mirror of Christ's example. James quickly disposes of what we think of ourselves. What do we do with our tongue, our words? Do we bridle our tongue? He introduces a metaphor he will develop more extensively later in the book. A hundred pound woman can put a bridle and saddle on a spirited thousand to fifteen hundred pound thoroughbred and guide the horse at her will. James poses the question. Do we guide our tongue, or does our tongue guide us?
When we measure our Christianity by our own assessment instead of the steady unchanging person of our Lord Jesus Christ, we deceive our own heart. We commit the most cruel hoax imaginable. What is the cure for self-delusion? How can we escape this trap, once it has ensnared us? We must confront our self-centered, deceptive religion with the mirror of Christ's perfect law of liberty. We must replace self at the center of our faith. Christ must be the strength of our convictions, or they will wilt under pressure.
This man's religion is vain. Empty, profitless religion is a cruel hoax! It deceives the person who possesses it. It deceives others who see the outside, but cannot judge the heart. Like clouds without water, it sets us up for grand expectations, only to disappoint us with failure under pressure. The most disillusioned person in the whole process will be the person who professed his religion, but deceived himself. Lest we fail to overcome our tongue and fall into vain, empty religion, let's study the solution for this disease.
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this. Don't forget the meaning of the word religion. We think of religion as something intellectual and mental. James defined religion by our tongue-control, our visitation of those who need us, and our moral separateness from the world system in which we live. Look at the most common symbol of discipleship, the cross. A horizontal piece of wood is nailed to a vertical piece. We must first establish our vertical, our God-ward, character before we can build our horizontal discipleship. Our horizontal discipleship, our relationships with fellow-believers, hangs on our relationship with God. If we do not have our relationship with God straight, we will fail in our relationships with others. We would like to walk so as to appear morally unsoiled, undefiled, before God. Insert the meaning of religion into this statement, Pure worship and undefiled before God and the Father is this. Look across the landscape of your relationships. Stop and linger at those painful seasons of failure, broken friendships, strained family relationships, and breaches in fellowship with other believers. What emotions surface as you look at faces that are now absent in your life? Anger? Hurt feelings? Jealously? What part did the tongue, yours and theirs, play in developing the wreckage you see? Now look at the cross of discipleship. Did you react from the posture of a strong, clean relationship with God or from personal emotions that overpowered your thoughts toward God? Yes, it is painful! I feel the pain in my personal reflections, too! What would be different today if we had controlled our tongues, and our other reactions until we gave our problem to God, our Father, and found his help in dealing with it? Did we feel that we were the victim of injustice? He is a just Judge. We can depend on him to set injustices right. Did we feel anger? We can talk to our Father about our anger and find his compassion to neutralize the acrid juices of carnal rage. If we had worked out our problems, and our hurts, with God first, how differently would we have reacted to that situation?
James does not advocate pushing every bad emotion down inside our minds and hiding them. That will eventually create an atomic emotional explosion. He advocates taking our deepest hurts, our hottest anger, our bitter disappointments to God. Notice how James added the emphatic and the Father in this statement. We do not take our emotions to a lofty remote Deity. We take them to that God who is our Father. Father knows all about us, even our greatest failures and flaws, but He loves us still because He is our Father. He knows the way we think. He understands our most private thoughts. We can tell Him anything that crosses our minds. We can especially go to Him with our pain and our failures. In such a time we can depend on Him to offer His help and His personal power to solve our problem. By taking our emotional pains to Him in faith, we will find the healing insights and the strength to deal with our fellows who have, at least in our minds, caused the hurt. We will not heap our rage upon them. We will leave it with the Father! If He considers it appropriate to chasten that person for inflicting the problem upon us, He will do so. If not, He knows best. We trust Him fully to do what is right, and we move forward with our life. Without paralyzing our ability to get along in a less-than-perfect world with less-than-perfect associates, we can put the strength of our vertical discipleship to work in support of our horizontal discipleship. That is God's model of discipleship!
Relating to God as our Father in this way frees us to serve the fatherless and the widows, those in need with no resources to help themselves. It also establishes a steady posture of dependence on God that will strengthen our ability to maintain moral and spiritual separateness from the contagious diseased world in which we live. In the First Century orphans and widows had no means of support except from compassionate family members or friends. By caring for those who cannot repay us, we put our faith into practice. We show what it means to serve others. Never forget the words of Christ, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me," Mt 25:40. Consider also Ps 68:5, "A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation." By investing our discipleship in the orphans and widows we unite with God's compassion for them. Isn't this what discipleship is all about? What better way could we worship God?
To keep himself unspotted from the world. We cannot allow ourselves to compromise Christian separateness -- moral, intellectual, and spiritual -- with the world's way of thinking and acting. When Christians try to justify abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, and other sins that modern society accepts, it stirs fear within us for the health of the biblical conscience. We cannot unite with God and the world. We cannot deny God's morality and claim God! The Bible is too clear on these and many other modern moral issues. Such attempts reveal that the world, the sinful, godless world, has already spotted us. On the other side of this issue, we can become so separate as to become cult-like. The idea that no other people besides us have any love for God, any moral integrity, or any insight into biblical truth is cult-like! Slavish reliance on one or two charismatic preachers is cult-like! The demand that everyone agree with us in every minuscule particular of our way of thinking is cult-like! There is a body of theological and practical Christianity that we should hold in a united front. Within the framework of that core truth, there is room for individuality and differences. The minute I demand that others agree with me in every particular, I set myself up as an absolute authority, equal with the Bible! No man has that authority from God! We measure our resistance to the moral and ethical spots of the world by God, not by another less-than-perfect man, however informed and charismatic. Herein we see one of the most frequent abuses of the tongue within the family of believers. The moment we disagree with another believer, another preacher, or another church, we decide we have the right to say anything we wish about them. We engage in brutal, ungodly tongue-abuse with Pharisaical indignation. James has something to say about such habits. This man's religion is vain!
To keep himself unspotted from the world. Some Christians think this lesson means that they keep themselves isolated from the world, an impossible task. Rather, it means that we expose ourselves, and our Lord in us, to the world. With Him in us, and with His strength supporting us, we can face the sinful defilements of the world, fully immunized from its infections.
One day a young minister was touring a coal mine. At the entrance of one of the caverns, he spied a beautiful white flower growing out of the black dusty earth. "How can it blossom in such purity and radiance in this dirty mine?" he asked. "Throw some coal dust on it and see for yourself," his guide replied. When he did, he was surprised that the fine, sooty particles slid right off the snowy petals, leaving the plant just as lovely and unstained as before. Its surface was so smooth that the grit and grime could not adhere to it. In commenting on this incident, an unknown author says, "Our hearts should have the same characteristic. Just as that flower could not control its habitat, so we cannot help it that we have to live in a world filled with evil. But God's grace can keep us so clean and unspotted that though we touch sin on every side, it will not cling to us." We can learn much from this little flower!
Sharpen Your Sword
1. How is a person's speech related to the credibility of their faith? How does our speech reflect our relationship with God? When are you most likely to lose your temper? In what situation this week will you need to curb your anger? Will you? How?
2. In what ways can the world pollute us? How can it motivate us to compromise our faith? How can we avoid this compromise? What immediate situation do you face that has enticed you to compromise your faith?
3. How can we help widows and orphans? Do you know someone, other than a widow or an orphan, who may need a special word of encouragement at this season of their life? Why not call them or send them a brief "Thinking of you" note?
Examine God's Sword
Appearance and reality. Ps 32:9; 34:13; 141:3; Pr 10:19,31; 13:2-3; 14:12; 15:2; 16:25; Lu 8:18; 1Co 3:18; Ga 6:3,9-10; Eph 4; 6:24; 5:4; Col 4:6; 1Ti 1:5; 1Pe 3:10; 1Jo 3:17-19.
My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Jas 2:1-4.
How quickly our words reveal our inner thoughts! We need not say anything profound to reveal our thinking. "Sit here. Sit there." That said it all in this illustration from James. What a powerful way for James to remind us of the integral role our words perform in our Christian profession. We complain that many of the modern, money-driven churches would give no room for the poor widow who could only give her mite, but do we also harbor our own prejudices that are just as unbiblical?
Dr. J. H. Gwynne tells of an incident in the life of Robert E. Lee which occurred while Lee was riding on a train to Richmond. The general was seated at the rear of the coach, and all the other seats were filled with officers and soldiers. An elderly woman, poorly dressed, entered the coach at one of the stations. Having no seat offered to her, she trudged down the aisle to the back of the car. Immediately Lee stood up and gave her his place. One man after another then arose to give the general his seat. "No, gentlemen," he said, "If there is none for this lady, there can be none for me." This experience offers an excellent commentary for our lesson. The most deserving man in the coach was the first to rise for the poorly dressed woman. How much value do we place on appearance and dress? How much of that value do we allow to slip through our lips in words and subtle attitudes toward those around us?
My brethren. James wrote to Christians, unfortunately imperfect Christians. Do we fit that description? If so, we may consider ourselves fortunate in that we have such instructive truth for our own imperfections. We should never forget that God sent the gospel "For the perfecting of the saints," Eph 4:12. Do we consider ourselves near perfect, compared with all those other people in the church? Do we consider our church near perfect, compared with other churches, even within our fellowship?
Have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. First, notice the force with which James defines the Lord. He is our Lord. He is Jesus Christ. He is Lord. He is the Lord of glory. We need to remember our Lord's true identity more in the moment of trial, the moment of the temptation to falter, than at any other time. He is not a mere philosophical influence in our minds. He is not a mere "force." He is a living God! He is our Lord. When Sir Henry Brackenbury was a military attache in Paris, he was conversing with the distinguished statesman, Gambetta, who said to him, "In these days there are only two things a soldier needs to know. He must know how to march, and he must know how to shoot!" The Englishman quickly responded, "I beg your pardon, Excellency, but you have forgotten the most important thing of all!" "What's that?" asked the Frenchman. Brackenbury replied, "He must know how to obey!" Could this knowledge be the single most important thing a soldier of Jesus Christ needs to know, as well? We are willing to do so many things. Are we willing to pledge our unquestioned obedience to Christ, the Captain of our salvation? Consider these words from John.
But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 1Jo 3:17-19.
How do we prove our Christian love? John said we prove it in deed and in truth, not in word and in tongue. How deep does our religion go? Does it stop with tongue religion? Does it penetrate to the marrow of the soul where it drives us to joyful deeds of giving, helping, and sharing with those less fortunate than we? What is the final measure of our religion, our worship of God? Most of us would make some particular set of theological doctrines the major factor. Without question, theological truth is vital to our understanding of God and the right motive for our conduct. What do you think about sound theology that never lifts a finger in godly conduct? What do you think of sound theology that looks the other way as we continue sinful, negligent habits in our daily living? What do you think of sound theology that encourages us to slaughter someone with harsh, cutting tongue-sins who does not see or do things exactly as we? We may not show respect of persons on the basis of a person's bank account or wardrobe, but do we practice the same unscriptural discrimination on some other basis?
Many have used Jonah as an example of general disobedience. They say he refused to preach to Nineveh because he was "Fighting his call to the ministry." Perhaps they use Jonah to justify their personal refusal to serve God, a classic study in self-justification. Take another look at Jonah. Let Jonah tell us in his own words why he refused to preach to Nineveh.
And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil. Jon 4:2.
Nineveh was an Assyrian city, located not far from modern Baghdad. For Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach would be like a Jewish rabbi walking through the streets of Baghdad today, preaching to the Iraqi people!
Notice Paul's words to the Galatian Churches.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. Ga 3:27-29.
The powerful truth that settled all other matters external stood on a person's identity with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek. This distinction has to do with race. God removed racial barriers from his family. Christ shed his blood for all the elect alike, regardless of their race. Someone has said that salvation is by grace, not race. Amen! There is neither bond nor free. This distinction has to do with social status, very fitting to the illustration James used. Most of the people in the First Century Church were slaves! The Book of Philemon offers a wonderful lesson about a runaway slave of a Christian man. The slave encountered Paul, was converted to Christ, and sent home to Philemon by Paul with the admonition that he be received, not as a runaway slave, but as a beloved brother. The Book of Philemon is the letter Paul sent to Philemon with the returning slave. God removed the distinction between social casts. Rich or free, slave or freeman, all needed the blood of Christ to cover their sins. All became one in the fellowship of the primitive Church. There is neither male nor female. In the First Century women had few rights. They were indeed second class citizens. I find it amazing that modern feminists regard Paul as a woman hater. Does Eph 5 sound as if the writer hated women, especially when you consider that it was written at a time when women were considered as near slaves? Ye are all one in Christ! Christ's, Abraham's seed, heirs according to God's promise; God did not send these blessings upon people through bigoted eyes. He did not regard their race, their social standing, nor their sex. He regarded their status as His elect, chosen sovereignly by Him to be washed in the blood of the Lamb and elevated to the position of blood-bought children of God! How do we administer our faith? How do we reveal, through our words, the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ? Do we give way to social, cultural, financial, and racial prejudice? Do our words, and our subtle attitudes, say to those outside our acceptable circle, "Sit here. Sit there."? Be careful, little tongue, what you say!
Sharpen Your Sword
1. How much money would it take for you to consider yourself wealthy? For you to never again worry about money? Would that amount of money improve your contentment? Your discipleship? Write down some of the reasons for your answers. Keep the list and go back to it periodically.
2. What are some of the common reasons people use to think they are more important than someone else? Are these reasons valid? Does God think that person is more important than others?
3. Where do you see prejudice, racial, social, or cultural, being practiced? Do you see it in churches? How important was racial and social prejudice in Jonah's reaction to Nineveh, Jon 4?
4. What does a church do to a poor person, or any person against whom it shows prejudice, by showing favoritism toward others?
5. Do you view any of God's laws with favoritism? Any of God's people?
Examine God's Sword
Equalizing grace. Ac 20:21; Col 1:4; 1Ti 1:19; Tit 1:1; 2Pe 1:1.
No partiality in godliness. De 1:17; 16:19; Ps 82:2; 109:31; Isa 65:5; Joh 7:24; 1Ti 5:21; Jude 16.
Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? Jas 2:5-7.
Does this lesson mean that more poor people are good Christians than rich? No, but it means that the rich face greater obstacles when they enter the service of God. A person whose possessions entitle him to the rich classification enjoys enough financial security that he may not comprehend his need of God as fully as someone who lives with less. Likewise, a poor person faces the danger of becoming bitter at his constant deficiency. There is no financial status that makes one automatically more fit for serving God. Consider the setting of this Book. Most Bible historians believe that James was pastor of the early Jerusalem Church. When heated persecution dispersed the Church at Jerusalem, the only believers left in the city were the apostles, Ac 8:1 and Ac 11:19. James did not forget his pastor's heart toward these people. He could no longer minister to them in person, but he could write them a circular letter, the Book of James. He could remind them, as only a pastor can, of the vital need for applied Christianity.
Given this persecution and the attendant disruption of lives, imagine the abject poverty that many of those dispersed Christians faced. They may have been wealthy before the persecution, but they had nothing now. Many of them were poor before they left Jerusalem (Remember the need for daily distribution to the widows, Ac 6), so they continued to suffer intense poverty. They lived outside the mainstream of society, outside the benevolent protection of laws and courts that would take up their cause. As they sought work to support their families, they would find themselves at the mercy of their employers or masters. This lesson follows on the heels of James' warning against success-prejudice in the public assembly of the church. Because one person entered the church with all the image of wealth and success, he should not receive any different treatment from the most shabbily dressed person in attendance. James very forcefully said, "Don't you remember how they treat you?" At the same time, he did not blindly push them to prejudice on the other side. "They get the best of you on the job. Now in the church you can get even." That spirit never succeeds!
Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith? Poor here comes from a Greek word which describes a terrible state of poverty. It means to crouch, a beggar (as cringing), a pauper (strictly denoting absolute or public mendicancy). It further describes a prolonged state, not a temporary financial setback that we may experience, but keep private. When people live in such conditions, they do not become soft in their spirits from the comforts and luxuries of life. They face pain and want every day. In his autobiography an old English preacher, John Warburton, described a time when he and his family lived in a basement. On one occasion they had no food and no prospect for any. The children went to bed hungry that night. He went into a corner and prayed that he might die rather than awake the next morning to the cries of his hungry children. By a miracle of God's mercies, he heard a knock on his door and opened it to a neighbor who brought his family food. He rejoiced at God's deliverance of his beloved family. The John Warburtons of this world have no need to be told of their need for God's grace. They live in need. They understand it through daily personal experience.
A church without its spiritual senses at work could see a wealthy person enter the assembly and think about all the great things that person could do for the church. Think of the funds in the treasury. Consider the public prestige such a person could attract to the church. Do you see how this attitude ignores the most important issue of discipleship? What was the universal question raised by the early church before it received a person for baptism? What did they think about Jesus Christ? Why should we submit the wealthy to a different basis of respect or acceptance than anyone else?
Living daily with need can cultivate a bitter spirit. We need to beware of that problem. However, if we avoid the bitter spirit in our need, we can grow in faith and spiritual riches in God's kingdom. Where did Jesus tell us to lay up treasures, on earth or in heaven? Often our spiritual growth occurs through experiences of pain and difficulty. Those who have suffered the most in life often show the greatest spiritual strength. God didn't make them poor, but He certainly used their state to help them grow strong in His ways and rich in faith.
More than either abject poverty or riches, I fear that the church of our time has become biased in favor of the middle class. We have dangerously stereotyped an acceptable prospect for church membership as a middle classed working person. Do we make the very poor feel as welcomed in our assembly as we would a fellow-worker in our same financial and social class? Do we show the same welcome to someone who appears to be more wealthy than we? Do we really believe that the only people God wants in the church fall in the same exact racial, social, financial, and cultural caste as we? We endanger our kingdom blessings by such narrow thinking! God did not give us the church as our private possession. He did not charge us to protect it from all except near-clones of ourselves. The last time a people took that attitude, God took his blessings away from them and gave the church to the very people they despised! Do we stand by faith, open to any whom God sends our way with broken hearts over sin, or do we stand in danger of falling away from God's blessings?
Our tongues, our words, will do more than anything to welcome visitors or to give them the subtle, but clear, message that we do not want them in our assembly. What do we do when we notice a visitor in the assembly? Do we make sure to greet them as soon as the worship service ends? Do we show them a clear spirit of hospitality and encourage them to visit our assembly again? Or, upon the end of the worship service, do we run immediately to another member to share the latest gossip, the latest news about our grandchildren, or some other such thing? Then when someone asks, "Did you meet the visitor?" you must respond, "No, they left before I could meet them." Do you see how we used our tongue to send these people away? How many angels have we turned away without knowing it? I recently read about a man shabbily dressed in dirty work clothes who entered a new car dealership. He described one of the manufacturer's best models and asked the salesperson, "Do you have 16 of this model in your inventory?" The salesperson ridiculed the man who left, walked across the street, and found a welcome in a competitive auto dealer's showroom. He left after purchasing 16 new cars! He belonged to a fleet of fishermen who had just returned from a very successful season. All the fishermen decided to celebrate their success by purchasing new cars. They decided to send this man into town to negotiate the best price by purchasing 16 cars from the same dealer. The shabby image of this man caused the first dealer to miss a golden opportunity. Have we lost invaluable visitors by looking on their outward appearance?
Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? What does it mean to blaspheme? Does that word carry some reference to the tongue? Strong defines the Greek word, also the root for our English word blaspheme, as to vilify; specifically to speak impiously. In other New Testament texts it was translated with such words as defame, rail on, revile, speak evil. Notice the recipient of their blasphemy. They reach beyond the individual believer or even the local church. They blaspheme that worthy name of our Lord!
As our country has gained in affluence, what has happened to its moral conscience? What do you see, or hear, from the highest circles of society about biblical morality? About Christianity? You need only read the newspaper for a few days to find a vicious attack against biblical Christianity and its values. By showing partiality in favor of the wealthy, those who received James' letter contributed to the blasphemy. How does this principle apply to us and our time? Consider these examples. Should we ever vote for any candidate who supports abortion? Should we deposit funds in banks, or patronize other businesses, that apply pressure to civic and charitable organizations to weaken their moral integrity with young people? Why not write such political candidates and businesses to let them know why we will not support them? Our Lord's worthy name deserves more respect than we can give him while supporting those who blaspheme Him!
We have lived too long with one foot in the world and one in the kingdom of God, trying to fit into both structures! You can't fit in both places! Realize it or not, we will either show allegiance to the kingdom of God or to the world. The time has come, as in few ages since Christ came, for biblical believers in His worthy name to put on his armor, stand under his flag, and practice his lifestyle, in word, in heart, and in deed. We must rise above wealth or poverty, above arrogant pride or bitterness. We need to clothe ourselves with the spirit, the attitudes, the character, the words, and the conduct of Jesus Christ and His kingdom.
The story is told of a small boy who came from a very poor home. He enjoyed school, but he often attended classes shabbily dressed. When asked who was his favorite teacher, he singled out a particular teacher. When asked why she was his favorite, he responded, "She's so interested in me, she doesn't see my patches." May we follow the good teacher's example!
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Most of the First Century Church consisted of slaves and disenfranchised people. What do rich people have a history of doing to people in the church? Do you know a rich Christian who has avoided those sins?
2. Why do we tend to treat rich people differently from ordinary people? How can we help poor people to feel welcome in our church?
3. Have you ever been a victim of prejudice or favoritism? Why is the sin of favoritism and prejudice often overlooked? Do you need to ask someone's forgiveness for showing favoritism or prejudice against them? Why not do it this week?
Examine God's Sword
True versus uncertain riches. Ps 10:2,8,10,14; 12:5; 14:6-7; 17:5; 22:16; Ga 3; 6:18; Eph 1:3-5,11; 2Th 3:5; 1Ti 6:17-18; Heb 1:13-14; Re 3:18.
If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment. Jas 2:8-13.
Through the first seven verses of this chapter, James warned against showing partiality to persons within the family of believers. In this lesson he defines partiality as sin. Sin is transgression of God's law. No doubt, his readers would ask, "Which law did I violate in showing partiality to that rich attendant? I did it to entice them to join our church. What's wrong with that?" James responds, "You violated the greatest commandment of all, the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself." Implied in this lesson we find the principle of the Golden Rule, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets," Mt 7:12. Jesus is our Lord and King, right? This is his law to us, right? Does that constitute the royal law? What guarantee do you have that a wealthy person will make a better Christian or church member than a poor person? How will you react if this wealthy person joins the church and begins to take cruel charge of the church as if he were overseeing his private possessions?
Building upon this premise, James also warns against showing partiality toward God's moral commandments. "I may talk about my friends once in a while, but I don't commit adultery." Does abstaining from adultery entitle us to sin with our tongue? No! Do you see the power this lesson places on authentic godliness? Do you see its force against pretentious Christianity? Nothing good that we do justifies sinful conduct in another area of our life.
More to the point, we learn from this lesson that Christianity is not another philosophical school, another set of laws, rules, and regulations. Although we can define certain moral and ethical patterns of behavior as Christ-like, the vibrant force behind authentic Christianity lies, not in rules, but in aligning our whole life as near to the living person of Jesus Christ as possible. We should so live that the most hostile atheist may curse our religion, but confess that we really live by its precepts! The royal law expects us to serve the King! It also expects us to do so with joyful willingness. We could not list enough rules and regulations to embody the whole moral, ethical, and gracious character of Christ. The only way to fulfill the royal law is to tune our hearts, and conduct, to Him. He lives and rules in heaven. He also lives within us. We deceive ourselves by practicing external pretentious religion, while our hearts live in habitual rebellion against the King. Fellow-citizens in the kingdom may view us as loyal subjects, but the King knows our hearts. He sees us as the rebel we are within.
One of the best examples of this principle comes from the Old Testament. Scripture describes David as a man after God's own heart. As we study David's life, particularly some of his weak moments and lapses into sin, we wonder how he could be described as a man after God's own heart. The answer lies in his constant awareness that his God was alive and intricately intertwined in his life. When Nathan revealed his sin with Bathsheba, he prayed to that intimate, personal God whom he had offended, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest," Ps 51:4. He didn't plunge into a pathetic pity party. He didn't cry out, "Oh, what will the people say? I'll never be able to face them again." He cried out his confession and his plea for mercy to that living personal God who fashioned his heart in His image. Living after God's own heart does not mean that we live above sin. We live after God's own heart when we attune our hearts to His, when we measure our whole life by Him. How would He react to this situation I'm facing? What would He think of this decision I am about to make? Would He consider this action I propose to comply with His moral code? If our conduct were shouted from the house top, how would He react? What does it do to others' regard for Him to see me doing this?
So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. Notice the sequence of our conduct. First, we must speak with the awareness that we shall be judged, not by popular opinion, but the royal law, the law of liberty, the law of Christ. We must frame our speech according to the king's person. How would we speak if we knew that He stood beside us and heard every word? Would we be so quick to criticize our brother or sister? Would we so readily engage in put downs and belittling gossip about fellow-citizens in the kingdom? Often believers reflect much of what is occurring in the society where they live. We should shine Christ out to that society, but so often we absorb the darkness of society into our hearts. Then we take it into the church and into our conduct with other members of the King's household. We think any leader in the church, preacher, deacon, anyone in leadership, and their family, are fair game to our tongues. By their position in the church, they must expect our criticism, and we have every right to put them and their family in a glass house before we lead the mob to stone them. If their glass house breaks, it just goes to show that they weren't really authentic anyway. For a moment, turn the tables. Put yourself in that glass house. Imagine yourself in the spotlight around the clock. Imagine a whole group of people watching your every move to see if they can find something to criticize. Would they find anything? Yes! How would you feel to learn that they were talking about you behind your back? Before you speak that harsh word of criticism against someone, think about the King. Never mind your personal feelings toward that person. Never mind whether they dot the theological "I" exactly as you. Think about the King's family. Think how you would feel if that person talked about you as you are ready to talk about them. Put yourself in the King's presence. That is where you are! Adapt your language to the King's house. Show the royal, refined manners fit for the King. Apply those manners to your tongue. It is amazing how much easier it is to control our behavior when we start with our tongue!
Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour. Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD. Le 19:15-16.
Do you see the parallel between James and this ancient lesson from Moses? Notice the tight union between partiality in judgment and control of the tongue. Think about this union. One relates to the other. A talebearer does not bear false witness. A talebearer does not lie. Usually, a talebearer tells the truth! The problem, the reason the Bible condemns talebearing, relates to the fact that the talebearer has already shown partiality in their conduct toward someone. They have singled out someone whom they disapprove or dislike. They have conveniently made that person's misfortune the topic of their tongue. Do they talk as freely about their own personal misfortunes as about the subject of their talebearing? Do they speak as critically about their own family as they speak about the family who happens to be the subject of their talebearing? Do they want the whole world to know as much about their personal faults as they want the world to know, by way of their tongue, about their victim? Study these words from
The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly. Pr 18:8.
He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips. Pr 20:19.
Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. Pr 26:20.
The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly. Pr 26:22.
What will it be my friend? Will we adopt the language of the King, or will we adopt the language of rebels? Will we heal or wound with our words? Will we enflame the landscape of our relationships with uncontrolled fires, fires from hell? Or will we labor to heal the walking wounded with words that strengthen and heal? Will we speak so as always to look over our shoulder to see if our victim is listening? Or will we speak as if we were in the perpetual presence of our King, glad to share our words with all His citizens?
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Is there some particular sin or breach of biblical ethics that you consider to be less important than others? What is it? Can you give a biblical reason for this difference in your assessment of its lesser importance?
2. What is the "Royal law?" What is the "Law of liberty?"
3. How do you weigh sins of the tongue against moral sins? Can you defend this difference by scripture?
4. Can you explain the difference between gossip, rumor, lying, insincere flattery, and talebearing? Which of these tongue sins gives you the most problems? Why not concentrate on that sin this week, emphasizing its control and prevention in all of your conversations?
Examine God's Sword
Royal Righteousness. Le 19:18,34; Ps 51:4; 119:45; 130:3-4; Mt 5:7; 6:15; 18:28-35; 22:39; Mr 12:31-33; Lu 10:27-37; Joh 8:32; Ro 13:8-9; Ga 5:14; 6:2; Php 4:8; Col 3:17; 1Th 4:9; 1Pe 2:9,16; 2Pe 1:1-8; 1Jo 4:8-16.
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Jas 2:14-18.
This lesson begins a section of James that has witnessed historic debate over whether James and Paul agreed on faith. If you hold that Paul's teachings on faith relate to how sinners receive eternal life, and you make James apply his words in the same way, they disagreed! On that premise, Paul taught that eternal salvation occurs by faith; James taught that it is by works. However, if you allow the practical context of both writers to apply their words to authentic discipleship, they fully agree! I believe they agreed! Paul taught that we should make faith in Christ, not worshipful regard for law, the basis of our discipleship. James built on Paul's teachings and taught that true faith will manifest itself in conduct, in works, not merely in acceptable theological philosophy. Perhaps the most famous question about James came from Martin Luther. Consider his introduction to his version of the New Testament, published in 1522. He put the books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation at the end as a supplement rather than in their usual places. He omitted them from the table of contents. He explained why in his introduction.
In fine, Saint John's Gospel and his first Epistle, Saint Paul's Epistles, especially those to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and Saint Peter's first Epistle, these are the books which show thee Christ, and teach thee everything that is needful and blessed for thee to know even though thou never see or hear any either book or doctrine. Therefore is Saint James's Epistle a right strawy Epistle in comparison with them, for it has no gospel character to it.
Apparently, Luther thought James wrote in opposition to Paul's theology. We serve our Lord better when we accept all of His words and seek reconciliation and harmony in them. Does James contain no gospel? Compare the similarity of his teachings to those of his Lord, and half-brother. Jesus taught that the poor inherit the kingdom of God. So did James. Compare Jas 2:5 with Mt 5:3 and Lu 6:20. Jesus blessed the persecuted. Compare Jas 1:12 with Mt 5:10-12. Deeds of mercy reflect true faith. Compare Jas 1:27 and Jas 2:14-17 with Mt 7:21 and Mt 25:31-46. Where is the straw?
Repeatedly we see in James the theme of authentic Christianity. What kind of faith in God allows the professor of faith to remain morally twisted, cold, callous against his fellows, and unwilling to help someone in need? Again, compare James on this point with Jesus' lesson on the Good Samaritan. The very religious in Jesus' lesson were too concerned with their religious appointments, with becoming unclean by touching the bloody beaten body of a man lying in the ditch, to lift a finger. A lowly Samaritan passed by, saw this man, and ministered compassionately to his needs. Jesus used this lesson to ask his lawyer critic, "Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?" Lu 10:36. When the lawyer reluctantly answered, "He that showed mercy on him," Jesus put him in the uncomfortable position of similarity with a godly, but racially undesirable Samaritan! Can you imagine the lawyer's thoughts at that moment? Think further how he must have felt when Jesus said, "Go, and do thou likewise." Imitate a Samaritan! How dare this Jesus embarrass him with such a command! You see, James and Jesus thought alike in this area. Mere words, the high standing of a church leader, the reputation of being religious, means nothing unless Christ reforms our conduct. In their emphasis on faith and works produced by faith, neither Paul nor James were teaching on eternal salvation, but on vital discipleship. We cannot claim good works apart from faith in the living, vital Christ who stands before us in the mirror of the perfect law of liberty, our living example. Such faith-driven Christianity will not rest in the towers of intellectual theology. Biblical theology alters conduct. It breaks our hearts over sin. It melts our heart with compassion for those in need. It will not rest as religious theory. It stirs the soul to actions that show the resurrected Christ in living conduct. It feeds the hungry. It clothes the naked. It visits the sick. It ministers to those in need, even to those in prison. How sadly we stereotype our faith! Surely the only people who deserve the blessings of the church are middle class, white, English speaking Americans. No, my friends! God warmed the heart of a lowly Samaritan to show tender care for the man who fell among thieves. He rejected the Pharisaical Jews and opened the door of faith and the New Testament Church to Gentiles. We would show more respect for our King by imitating that Samaritan than by following the Pharisees in self-serving me-religion.
Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. What value does faith without reformed, God-altered conduct possess? Does it warm cold hearts? Does it feed hungry souls? Does it nurture the weak and discouraged? Does it restore the weak, sinning brother overtaken in fault, Ga 6:1? Or does it talk to others about how terribly he erred? Soul-searching, isn't it? Makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, doesn't it? That is exactly why James wrote such powerful words.
Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Study the tension between these two statements. The unnamed speaker says, "You know, we live in the age of specialty. Everyone is a specialist. That's good. I'm a works specialist; you're a faith specialist. We all have our role. I can work very well without your faith." James rebukes this cold, philosophical response. How do you show your works without the impact of faith? How can you prove that you have faith in God without showing his loving mercy to your fellow? You can't! James leads us down the path to true discipleship, "I will show you my faith by my works." I'll prove what I believe by what I do. Works without faith is godless philosophy. Faith without works is antinomianism! God hates both!
Take a long hard look at every area of your life. Does your faith show in all of them? Would someone know you have faith by looking at your checkbook? Would they know you had faith by talking with your work associates? Would they know you had faith by talking with people who have done business with you? Would they know you had faith by talking to your family?
First, James told us to speak in such a way as to anticipate judgment by the perfect law of liberty, the personal example of Christ. In this lesson he told us to act consistently with the same law of liberty. First, we must speak the language of the King. Then we must practice the conduct of the King.
Consider this example in which the Queen of England said so much by her silence. Upon hearing that the wife of a common laborer had unexpectedly lost her baby, Queen Victoria expressed deep sympathy. Having experienced deep sorrow herself, she called on the bereaved woman and stayed with her for some time. After she left, the neighbors asked what the royal visitor had said. "The queen said nothing," replied the grieving mother. "She simply put her hands on mine, and we silently wept together."
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Can you explain why Luther didn't value James as he valued Paul's writings?
2. What is the difference between someone who talks about a problem and someone who does something about the problem? Into which of these categories do you place yourself? Would those who know you best agree?
3. James introduced an unnamed person who stated that he had good works without faith. Do you know anyone who thinks in this way? What is the relationship between faith and good works? Can you show one without the other, either one?
4. Silence, as well as well chosen words can be golden. Can you think of a situation in which silence is not golden? How Christian is the practice of giving someone "The silent treatment?" What about looking the other way and remaining silent in matters of injustice? Are you willing to speak up against something considered "Politically correct" in your church circle, even though it is not supported by scripture?
Examine God's Sword
Working faith. 1Co 13; 16:22; 2Co 7:1; Ga 5:6,13; 1Th 1:3-10; 1Ti 1:5; Tit 2:7; 3:8; 1Jo 5:4.
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. Jas 2:19-26.
Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. This verse has plagued those who hold that man participates in his eternal salvation through his faith, through believing the gospel. If belief is the primary condition of eternal salvation, and if the devils believe, why can't the devils be saved? To counter this silliness, many who hold to this view will object that only faith which produces works will produce salvation, essentially moving their view to a form of salvation by works. This illustrates the confusion of those who choose to ignore the wonderfully practical content of scripture in order to justify their theological views of eternal things. How beautiful this lesson becomes when we see it as a pastor's heart poured out to his dispersed, persecuted flock. He was not telling his readers how to get to heaven, but how to survive, with their faith intact, the intense persecution they faced. The lesson presents a supremely practical guide to legitimate discipleship, not a roadmap to heaven. It reveals a roadmap to a heaven on earth, even in the midst of intense persecution.
What did James mean by this off-the-wall question? He used it to show his readers that theoretical discipleship, philosophical Christianity, is an empty shell, a farce! He reminded them that the God-kind of faith he preached to them imposes itself, boldly intrudes, into every area of their life. It reforms their thinking. It remolds their conduct. It alters their lifestyle; it does not leave the believer free to pursue an alternate lifestyle! For this Jesus, only one lifestyle is acceptable, the life that patterns its conduct after him in all things. Any other course he rejects and disapproves.
But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Strong words must be used to awaken the slothful, carnally intoxicated believer out of his errors. James just finished rebuking the unnamed respondent who said, "You have faith; I have works," the philosopher who denied the need to put Christ at the center of his life or his conduct. "I can practice acceptable morality and upright ethics without embracing faith in this Jesus." James rejected that argument. In this phrase he moves to the other extreme and rejects the opposite view. "I have faith in God. Why should I bother with working?" Theologians call this attitude antinomianism, against law, rejection of and refusal to follow the laws of God. A faith that fails to alter conduct is no faith! More a pretense, it claims what it cannot prove. According to James, we prove our faith by works that rise from faith, not from laws and rules. Did James contradict Paul in this teaching? Far from it, study Romans and Galatians, searching for those times when Paul taught intensely on the righteousness of faith. Paul's intent by this term was to describe a righteous way of life that builds on faith, not on laws, rules, and regulations, exactly the point James makes in this lesson. We live according to the life of Christ, the law of liberty, the royal law, not according to legalistic rules. Our example, our law, is not a body of printed statutes, but the living, dynamic Lord Jesus Christ. Paul built his theology of faith on the same premise as he built his theology about eternal things, God's law written in the hearts of all God's children, Ro 2:13-15, Ro 10, Ga 3, and Heb 8 and Heb 10. When God writes His law in the hearts of HHs elect, he alters their moral view of life. He so imbeds His law in their hearts that they see sin as He sees it. They hate it and seek to avoid it. They sense His convicting Spirit when they fall into sin, and they sense the peaceful blessing of the Spirit when they obey it. They do not obtain this conscience of God's law by hearing and obeying the gospel. They receive it directly from God in the new birth. Paul and James contradict each other? Nothing could be further from reality!
But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? In order to appreciate fully James' use of Abraham take the time to study the sequence of events James mentions in Abraham's life, beginning with Ge 11. Study the New Testament lessons that use Abraham as a model of New Testament faith and works. According to Heb 11:8, Abraham walked by faith when he left Ur of the Chaldees, probably at around age 70. He walked by faith for about 30 years before God gave him the promised son, Isaac. Sometime between age 70 and 100, Abraham prayed for confirmation of God's promise, Ge 15. Based on context, we could make a strong case that he was around age 80-85 at this time. As God gave him the rich assurance of this promise, we read "And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness," Ge 15:6. Abraham believed in God, in God's promise, and God counted his belief for a righteous act. We could call this the righteousness of faith, a concept taught by both Paul and James. This was not Abraham's act of saving faith, as those teach who believe in salvation by man's act of faith. Abraham's first act of faith occurred almost 15 years earlier when, by faith, he left Ur of the Chaldees. Remember Heb 11:8. Finally, when Abraham was around age 100, Sarah conceived, and Isaac was born. God was true to His promise, though He waited 30 years to deliver it. Abraham's faith in his God was vindicated!
Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Many years later, God appeared to Abraham and told him to do something that, to Abraham's mind, was as contradictory to God's nature and promise as anything could be. He told Abraham to take Isaac to Mount Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice to God. We don't know exactly how old Isaac was, but he was old enough to take a large supply of wood up a steep rugged mountain, probably a young adult. Let's say he was around 20. That would make Abraham 120. Abraham began walking by faith at age 70. When he was 80-85, he believed in God and God counted his faith as a righteous act. When he was 100, the promised son was born. When he was 120, he had to put his faith in God to the test. He rose above doubts, pain, and intellect. He obeyed God! By this sacrificial act of obedience, Abraham showed his faith by his works. Never mind that it was almost 50 years later. He did it!
We have examined the King's language and the King's conduct. It would all be empty without seeing how it stands on the foundation of the King's faith. Had Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac without faith, he would have been guilty of unbelievable cruelty and abomination. Had he refused to put his faith to work, he would have been guilty of rebellion and unbelief. Only by putting his faith to work did he become the supreme New Testament example of unqualified faith in God, faith that works, faith that trusts God when every intellectual conclusion wilts under the heat of the unexplainable.
How is it with you? Has God taught you to follow Him by faith and to do something which seems impossible to you? Has He told you that He will make it right? Has He promised to stand with you? What is stronger in your mind? Your intellectual interpretation of the situation or your faith in God? Have you taken progressive steps of faith, not understanding, but trusting God to guide you? Have you faced impossible, inexplicable situations? Have you looked beyond the pain and anxiety of the situation to God? Has He proved Himself faithful to you, and to His promise? I call on you to put your faith to work! Trust God to do what He promised to do for you. Look past the pain, the doubts, and the inconsistencies. As the poet said, "Look away from the cross to the glittering crown." God will stand faithful to His promises! I do not advocate blind faith. Biblical faith possesses inscrutable vision. I do not suggest that we foolishly tempt God. Biblical faith unites with biblical truth to show the way clearly. When you confront a situation that seems to put circumstances and God at conflict, I urge you to believe in your Lord and to trust His faithfulness.
Only those who have walked with the King can trust Him sufficiently to put this kind of discipleship into action. You will never rise to such kingly faith by practicing rules and legalistic external religion. The only way to find this courage is to walk with the King and talk with the king so constantly, so regularly, that you know through long personal experience how the King thinks. You know what to expect from Him. You have learned through a thousand experiences that the King will remain faithful to His promise and to His character. Now you are ready to experience the liberating, working faith of the King. Having once walked this path, you will not be content with any other. Having fellowshipped with Him in this way, you will never be content with another travel companion. You will never rest with the ordinary language of mortals. You will want to speak His language. You will want to imitate His conduct. Yes, and you will experience the King's faith!
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Make your next Bible study project a study of Abraham's life, beginning in Ge 11. Make a timeline of his life, writing in significant events at each age. How long did Abraham walk by faith before he "Believed in the Lord and he counted it to him for righteousness?" Ge 11:31; 15:6; Heb 11:8.
2. How much time lapsed between Abraham's act of believing God, Ge 15, and his being justified by works, Ge 22? What significance does this time lapse have for you and your discipleship? Can you think of something good you can do this week without such a long delay? Why not do it?
3. What is wrong with faith that has no accompanying deeds? What is wrong with good deeds without faith? Which is easier, talking about your faith to others or showing godly love toward them?
4. How did Rahab show her faith? Can you find evidence of her in scripture after the fall of Jericho? Why would God use a prostitute to exhibit faith and works? Does this strange illustration offer any guidance to your discipleship?
Examine God's Sword
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. Jas 3:1-2.
For most of my adult life, I have worked in a secular profession, along with my work in the church. During that time, I have witnessed a growing trend toward more careless use of the tongue throughout our society. I wonder. Does this sin reveal a growing immorality that threatens the moral fabric of our society? What do James' words mean to us? Just this, control of the tongue, or lack thereof, reveals control of all our other actions, or lack thereof. Sadly, many church members have grown cold toward true godliness and have warmed to the world. They have lost their keen spiritual fellowship with Christ. Consequently, they bring the world's darkness into the church and wonder why the joy has gone. In few areas is this compromise so obvious as the use of the tongue in Christian circles, even within the church body. Sinful exploits of the tongue have risen to a kind of entertainment, enjoyed and expected. In similar fashion many preachers have adopted the world's ethics by practicing sinful excesses with their tongues among the very sheep God called them to feed with wholesome spiritual words and a Christ-like example of conduct.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote, "For the leaders of this people cause them to err; and they that are led of them are destroyed," Isa 9:16. Similarly, James emphasizes that leadership in a church often sets a tone of conduct that encourages, or passively allows, sinful conduct to flourish. Be not many masters. The Greek word translated Master is a derivative of the Greek root for our English word didactic, having to do with teaching or instruction. James directly confronted the ministry for their role in sins of the tongue in the church! We shall receive the greater condemnation. God holds us accountable in direct proportion both to our knowledge and our position. He is far kinder in chastening a sin of ignorance than a willful sin against knowledge. He is far more severe against sins among the leaders of his people than he is against similar sins among those who are not leaders. James tells us that those in ministry will receive a more severe sentence from God for their sins than the same sin among others in the family of believers. Why should a more severe judgment apply to the ministry? In 1Ti 4:12 Paul commanded the young preacher to be an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Notice that the first two areas of ministerial example relate to the tongue. God holds the ministry accountable both for their personal sin and for the corruption their bad example conveys to other believers. Subsequent chapters will deal with sins of the tongue that relate to other people in the church family. Because of the greater responsibility and greater condemnation, this chapter will deal more pointedly with the ministry. We must accept our position with fearful respect for the example we set before other believers!
As ministers, by their sinful speech, diminish respect for the ministry, we must wonder if their sin diminishes the spiritual state of the church proportionately. Isaiah witnessed the same agony in his day. They that are led of them are destroyed. This lesson illustrates the danger of setting a bad example. It matters little whether you are the first lemming off the cliff or you follow the leader over the edge. Either way, you are destroyed going over the cliff.
God specially blesses some preachers to travel and to spread His message abroad. He requires them to control their tongue just as He requires it of a local pastor. God didn't call any preacher to spread gossip, rumors, and false accusations. He called them to preach the word! Within the framework of our essential theology, there is room for diversity of views and interpretations. If we feel compelled to put down everyone who disagrees with us, we make the assumption that we are as correct as the Bible itself, inerrant. Everyone must agree with us or they are wrong. The Bible condemns such an attitude. It is idolatry, making a god out of a preacher.
Within this world of dark tongue sins in ministry, there appears to be a growing belief that the Bible exempts preachers from the requirement to deal privately, and in person, toward those with whom they disagree. Have we grown callous to the whole validity of Mt 18 as an effective, biblical practice? We seem to have developed a warped view. "If it applies to us at all, surely it does not at all apply to preachers. Don't preachers have the right, if not the obligation, to serve as a megaphone, to spread abroad their interpretation of every other preacher's errors?" No! God holds them doubly accountable to practice biblical ethics, to handle their differences with fellow-ministers as privately as possible. When preachers practice Mt 18 effectively, individual believers under their teaching will also practice it. Preachers should avoid criticizing or otherwise putting down other preachers in every way possible. Shun condemning non-specific adjectives such as liberal or loose in describing other ministers. If a particular difference between you and another preacher arises, follow Jesus' teachings in Mt 18. Take it privately to that brother. Between the two of you alone, work long and hard to resolve it. The whole Mt 18 process aims at privacy and loving, respectful, peaceful resolution of differences. As ministers of Jesus Christ, do we lead in demonstrating this example, or do we reinforce the attitude of disbelief toward it?
The most grievous schism in the ministry of the New Testament occurred between Paul and Barnabas, Ac 15:35-41. When Paul left, what did he do? And he went through Syria and Cilicia, confirming the churches. Where is the account that he went everywhere telling all the churches what a heel Barnabas was, how he had departed from the faith, and from biblical Christianity? Where is the verse that says he talked non-stop about Barnabas' error? Paul did not practice such conduct! He made it his full occupation to confirm the churches in the truth of the gospel! This lesson imposes a powerful example upon the ministry of all subsequent generations. In no place does the New Testament take sides with Paul or Barnabas. There is no verse that blames one and justifies the other. Never in subsequent New Testament scriptures did Paul ever take advantage of his office to put Barnabas down. He confirmed churches in the faith. That activity is so consuming, so full, that it leaves no time, no ethic, no desire, and no tendency to send bitter and sweet waters out of the same verbal fountain.
For in many things we offend all. Without trying to offend with our tongues, we will do so. How many times have you said something with one meaning, only to learn later that someone in the audience interpreted your words with almost the opposite meaning? If such unintentional offenses occur in ministry, why should preachers try to offend by sinfully using their tongues against others in the ministry? Be careful, little tongue, what you say.
If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. James reached an astute conclusion in this lesson. The man who does not control his tongue also does not control the rest of his body! Context applies this lesson specifically to the ministry. The preacher who does not control his tongue also has no control over the rest of his body. As he excuses sinful use of his tongue, he may also excuse other sinful things in his life. He is liable to running out of control, morally, ethically, and spiritually! This conduct ignores the faith of God which must govern all acceptable righteous conduct. It does not rise from faith, but from a selfish desire to enhance self at the expense of the person we attack with our tongue sins. Look back to the Introduction at the list of sinful tongue practices. Let's explore examples of each of those sins, as practiced among the ministry.
- Gossip. "I recently visited the area where this preacher lives, and I heard that ...." The Bible requires that we name witnesses when we repeat a matter. Who did you hear it from? What basis did they have for their statement? Were they personal witnesses of this alleged sin? Or did they repeat unconfirmed rumor and gossip? Don't make yourself an accessory to the sin. Don't listen! Require that the gossiper give witnesses and justify his purpose in repeating this matter, or ask him to stop immediately! The person who so freely gossips about others to you will do the same toward you. He will gossip about you to others! Beware!
- Innuendo. Unspoken communications can be fully as condemning as the spoken word. A raised eyebrow when an absent preacher's name comes up in conversation, negative body language; there are so many ways to imply negative ideas about someone without making concrete statements.
- Flattery. This tongue sin occurs to your face. It exaggerates you above what is true or appropriate. It is insincere. You are not this person's yoke-fellow in ministry; you are his mentor, his model, his highest aspiration. The flatterer will use flattery to gain personal knowledge of you that he will quickly gossip to others. Flattery is just as sinful as gossip, and just as cruel.
- Criticism. "I'm grieved to the heart. Did you hear what Brother Slippery did?" Implied in criticism is the idea that the speaker is the final, perfect authority. Anyone who disagrees with him must be in error. The critic feels free to speak of another person's faults, exaggerate their faults, misrepresent their actions, impute motives of which they have no knowledge, or in many other ways put down their fellows with harsh judgments. Double-speak terms appear clearly in this area of tongue sins. "That brother has joined the liberal element in the church." "He is a little loose on ....." Implied in most sinful criticism is a put down of the victim and an equal boost of the critic. "I'm better than that person because I haven't fallen into that sin."
- Diminishment. Egotistical preachers can accomplish this sin with finesse. "I used to hold that view before I started studying my Bible." "He gave a nice little talk about practical godliness." "The only church that would consider him as pastor was ....." Diminishing remarks rise from the sinful desire to boost self.
- Talebearing. Talebearing normally spreads the truth, or near truth, inappropriately. Grant that a certain thing may be true. What purpose is served by repeating it at this time? Talebearing tends to tell half-truths and to impute false motives. Because a certain thing happened on one side of the country does not mean that it is appropriate conversation on the other side of the country. Because a preacher said something in a specific context does not justify my taking it out of context and repeating it elsewhere. By repeating what the preacher said out of context, we can tell the truth in such a way as to condemn him. This is the danger of talebearing.
At some time or another, every one of us has slipped in these areas. We cannot change past wrongs. We can alter the present and the future! Preachers, God sent us to preach the good news of his gospel, not to serve as His Holy Spirit, His judge and jury, or His megaphone. He expects us to control our tongue, wherever we go. He will judge us more severely for our lack of tongue-control than anyone else in the church. Let's be sure our tongue is sanctified, limited to edifying and godliness. Do not permit it to send bitter judgmental waters and sweet gospel waters forth. By so doing, we compromise our example to other believers, we weaken our influence in the pulpit, and we jeopardize God's blessing upon our ministry.
A Better Way
Despite the wicked character of the high priest, study Ac 23:1-5 for Paul's example of godly speech. Is it hard for you to apologize when you have said something hurtful or out of line? What would happen if you apologized as quickly as Paul did? What does this lesson teach us about ungodly speech toward spiritual leaders in the church of today? How well do we practice that habit? In this lesson Paul first rebuked the priest with rather sharp words. A bystander asked why he spoke so disrespectfully against the high priest. Paul immediately retracted his words, quoting an Old Testament scripture to show his reasons, "Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people," Ac 23:5. Whether a particular person deserves our criticism or not, this lesson obligates us to respect their position, even if they are not filling it as they should. Disrespectful speech toward a man in the ministry will lead to disrespect toward the office of the ministry in general.
Some will justify their open criticism of a preacher by offering Paul's testimony from Ga 2. There he told the Galatians about Peter's failure to oppose the Jews' food traditions during his ministry to a group of Gentiles. He told of confronting Peter to his face. This lesson offers an example of godly dealing with problems, not of talking about them to other people. First, note that the problem to which Paul referred was a settled issue. He and Peter resolved the matter and remained in close respectful association with each other. Secondly, note that it was a completed narrative. It was not an ongoing controversy. Paul was not trying to influence the
Ga 1-6. Can we find a single verse anywhere in Acts or in Paul's subsequent writings in which he spoke in any way disrespectfully against Barnabas? No, he immediately dropped this issue and began his travels, preaching and confirming the saints in the faith. Scripture is clear on the issue of tongues in the ministry. We must guard them faithfully. We must prevent them from saying anything that might give room for anyone to criticize or disrespect the ministry. No one in the office lives up to its full demands. No one in the ministry can claim a biblical basis to criticize (openly or privately), to put down, or to nurture a schismatic attitude toward another minister. Such a practice is sin and should be rejected!
God's more excellent way. After the conflict between Paul and Barnabas, Paul never criticized Barnabas or put him down. Consider a conflict between you and a fellowminister. Did you fall into the temptation to criticize that brother to others? Why not follow Paul's example? Go back to the people who heard you speak those harsh words. Ask their forgiveness. Go to, or write, the fellowminister. Ask his forgiveness. The healing of this action will amaze you.
Paul wrote, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers," Eph 4:29. Set this verse at the door of your mouth, like a watchman. Permit it to test your words before they escape your lips. If the words you consider will not edify and minister grace to those who hear you, do not speak them. Study Re 2 and Re 3, with special emphasis on the role Christ plays as he walks amid the candlesticks. To whom must every church, every preacher, and every believer answer? Are you willing to trust Him to judge His people? Prove it by avoiding the personal judgement you exhibit when you speak evil against another believer, especially another preacher.
As those in ministry risk the greater condemnation, they also hold the potential for greater influence to godliness. Assess every moment you spent during the last month in the presence of another believer. Consider the weight of your example on them. Did you use all of that time for godliness, or did you fall into the temptation to use part of it for criticism or other tongue sins? Make a list of the slips you allowed. As you go forward in the next month, give special emphasis to these areas that revealed your personal weakness. Ask God to strengthen you to avoid a repetition of the same sin. Work pointedly to use your tongue exclusively for God and His purposes.
Sharpen Your Sword
1. If you could hear a tape recording of everything you said in the last week, can you think of anything in particular that you would like to edit out? Did you talk about someone? If they could hear that tape recording, how would they react?
2. Why does God hold those in ministry to a greater degree of accountability? How much influence do spiritual leaders actually carry over those whom they teach? How important is their personal example?
3. What does control of our tongues say about our control of other areas of our life, moral, ethical, and spiritual? Can a spiritual leader's abuse of his tongue disqualify him from his position in leadership?
4. Have you heard someone in the ministry practice any of these tongue sins? How did their conduct affect your respect for them?
5. Have you heard someone in ministry indulge in boasting? Use your Bible concordance to look up every appearance of the word boast in the New Testament. Is boasting a fruit of a godly spiritual mind or of a sinful carnal mind?
Examine God's Sword
Leadership's responsibility and accountability to God. Ps 34:12-16; Pr 13:3; Mt 23:7-10; Lu 12:47; Ac 13:1-3; 20:26-28; Ro 2:17-24; 1Co 4:2; 9:27; 12:27-31; Eph 4:11-16; Heb 13:17; 1Pe 5:1-3; 1Jo 1:7-10.
Behold, we put bits in the horses' mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Jas 3:3.
Imagine James' illustration. Think of a horse, weighing between a thousand and fifteen hundred pounds, spirited and unbelievably strong. Now put a tiny metal bit in its mouth, a saddle on its back, and put a 100 pound woman in the saddle. She will make this horse dance, prance, trot, jump, or do just about anything else she wishes. That tiny bit made the difference. James suggests by this illustration that, if we control the tongue, we can control the whole body. If we don't control the tongue, the whole body is out of control.
Stay with my illustration. The New Testament defines the role of men and women in teaching, leadership positions in the church. Not a temporary social agenda, but timeless scripture prohibits women in teaching, leadership positions in the church.
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. 1Co 14:34-35.
But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 1Ti 2:12.
Many church leaders stop with only these two lessons and subject women in the church to a non-existent passive role. They are as wrong as those who advocate women preachers! Look at the balance, the active, beneficial role Paul defined for women in the church.
The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Tit 2:3-5.
Notice Paul's introduction to this chapter, "But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine." Paul used the above description of women as an example of speaking the things that become sound doctrine. Preaching that ignores this responsibility of women in the church, or preaching that strips it from women and reassigns it to some other party or function does not become sound doctrine! No substitute will ever replace the effectiveness God designed for well-informed women who take their responsibility seriously and teach their own children, and other young people, the virtues mentioned in these verses. Preachers must focus their preaching so as to instruct mothers and older women to fulfill that assignment. Many preachers have failed in this teaching, only to blame women for the failure of children to learn these foundational principles of Christian ethics.
As the previous chapter pointedly challenged preachers to live up to their greater accountability, this lesson challenges women in their role. Just as no one preacher will practice all the tongue sins mentioned in the last chapter, no one woman will practice all the things addressed below. A horse out of control can run in any direction. So can a tongue out of control. Therefore, this chapter must cover as many tongue abuses as possible in a brief space. Perhaps a reader will find herself in just one thing mentioned here. If it helps her tighten the bit on her mouth in that one area, thank God. At one time or another, we have all witnessed these practices. In honesty have we not all practiced more of them than we care to admit? They appear here in rapid-fire succession to illustrate the power of the tongue for evil.
The same tongue has even greater power when put to godly use and subjected to godly control. That is the point of James' metaphor about bits in horses' mouths. A well-controlled bit in a horse's mouth turns a powerful uncontrolled animal into a well-trained thing of beauty and discipline. Women can do the same with their mouths. A well-disciplined woman can exemplify true Christianity from the heart beautifully. Study the virtuous woman of Pr 31. This lesson describes a woman under control, God's control revealed in the testimony of scripture. Proverbs describes the wicked foolish woman as graphically as the virtuous woman. Each Christian woman, and man, faces a daily challenge. Which of the Proverbs descriptions will I exemplify today? How will I use my unique responsibilities and my tongue?
Consider the foolish woman of Proverbs in a Twentieth Century setting. Imagine a young mother with her children under foot around the home all day. They become intimate emotional companions. They both understand how the other thinks and responds. What is the impact on the children if the mother spends much of her time talking about various people in the church or the neighborhood? Criticize another mother's dress. Criticize the singing. Debate all the issues the preacher taught that you don't like. Obscure the authority of scripture; our private opinion is just as proper as scripture. Encourage arrogance. We have every right to believe whatever we think is right, don't we? Suggest to your children that the preacher is often a bit pushy and intrusive. "He thinks he has the right to tell us how to live! Can you imagine?" Be sure to point out that his family is not always the model of Christian goodness. Rest assured, God didn't sanctify preachers or their families to the extent that they will live above sin. Be sure to tell the children all the latest gossip. When you compare your family with any other family in the church, be sure to make them feel superior. Never mind what Paul taught in Php 2. That is only theory, only what we should act out in the presence of church people. We really don't feel that way, you know. Any time someone in the church fails, morally or ethically, be sure to discuss all the details with the children. Feel very free to indulge in some interesting imagination about the details. Make it juicy. Surely that will pique their interest in the church. When the preacher makes a verbal slip, be sure to correct it with appropriate piety before the children. "Well, considering his background, what could you expect?"
What will such conduct in the home do for the children? What will it really do? First, it will convince them that church is a place of organized, well-orchestrated hypocrisy. Secondly, it will convince them that gossip and other tongue sins are both acceptable and desirable. Thirdly, it will encourage them to build a critical unloving attitude toward the church, its members, and its leadership. You just gave them the best incentive imaginable to join the latest campus cult, the New Age Movement, or anything other than a group of hypocritical Christians playing church.
Now, recreate the home with this woman exemplifying the virtuous woman of Pr 31. Language, meaningful communicative language, is rapidly becoming a lost art. Verbal patterns and habits form very early in childhood. Think of a mother's unique position of influence to nurture in her children the habit of kind, open dialogue. Think of her ability to demonstrate to the children the power of the tongue to discuss differences in an open unthreatening manner, to communicate honest feelings and desires with godly sincerity. Here you see the power of the bit in the horse's mouth. God bless those Christian women who take their great responsibility seriously. Her family will bless her, and her children will leave home with a rich heritage of verbal skills and loving verbal honesty.
What happened to the horse? Without the bit of living Christian ethics securely in the mouth, controlling the tongue, the horse went where he pleased and did what he wished. The person on his back merely went along for the ride! Applied to Christian conduct and ethics, the tongue, that mighty horse, took control of the whole life. He wreaked havoc and destruction, daring anyone to control him. After all, he had the strength to do it. Doesn't might make right?
God has assigned women a powerful ministry that will build, or destroy, the future of vital, authentic Christianity! You can demonstrate loving Christian virtues to your children, and to younger members in the church, or you can destroy their vision of biblical godliness. You will accomplish the greater part of either goal by your use, and control, of your tongue. You have the assignment from God. Preachers must rise to their obligation to teach you more about how to accomplish your godly mission. How will you fulfill it? Will you put the bridle in your tongue and put the mighty horse to work in doing good? Or will you send it off in undisciplined self-righteous destruction?
Bar none, the greatest single influence in my life, outside of God himself, was my mother. She was a soft spoken, kind hearted woman who had little respect for manipulation and mind games. She was known in every circle of her life for honest, but kind, truthfulness. I thank God for giving me a wife who, like my mother, does not like manipulation and mind games. She may not always tell me what I want to hear, but she will tell me her honest opinion with as much openness and kindness as possible. I owe these two women more credit than I can ever express. Let's pray for such examples in every Christian mother, in every Christian woman in the church. Ladies, you can do more to cement the beauty of true Christianity into the minds of the young than any number of Sunday sermons. Take full advantage of the position God gave you.
As preachers must answer for their personal conduct, as well as the example they set, so must we all within our area of ministry. You see, ministry is not limited to the preacher. Whatever gifts God has given us, whatever opportunity He set before us, whatever role He taught us to fill, becomes our ministry. Know it or not, others watch to see how we respect our ministry. They watch our use of the tongue. They learn from us. Either they will learn abusive sins of the tongue, or they will learn how a horse with a bit in its mouth really acts. They will adopt in their lives far more of our example than anything else we teach. What are we teaching our young people? What example have we given them? Ladies, take heed to the ministry God gave you. Fulfill it wisely, lovingly, and with godly control of the mighty force God gave you as a tool for his glory, your tongue.
God's more excellent way. Ladies, study Tit 2, particularly Paul's definition of the role between older and younger believers. This role contains God's means to bridle our tongues. Identify in your personal experience a particular older Christian woman whom you respect and admire for her godly kindness. Make a point of visiting with her. Ask her to tell you about her early Christian experiences. How did she first become aware of her convictions toward God? How did she overcome the common traps of Satan in the area of tongue sins? How did she relate to her husband, her children, and others in her circle of influence? In a low-key manner make yourself available to younger believers. Gently help them understand the vital role they play in the health of the church.
Study the lesson of the virtuous woman in Pr 31. Make a list of her godly activities that involved the tongue. Did she do anything that didn't require godly speech? Use her model of godliness to assess your personal life, particularly your speech. How many areas of her example overlap into your daily responsibilities? How can her godly impact on her family and the world around her help you? In the pattern of thought provoking tension statements common in the Proverbs, study each verse, each part of her life. Think about the breadth of her activities involving speech. What speech disciplines must she have mastered to accomplish this impressive list of godly activities? Make a parallel list of similar speech disciplines from her model that will help you strengthen your godly speech habits.
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Make a list of the ten most influential people in your life. How many were godly women? Beside their names write down the single most important character trait they exemplified. How well did they control their tongue?
2. What does the illustration of a horse say about the power of the tongue? Has your study of James given you any clues as to bits you can use to control this mighty force in your life?
3. Study the virtuous woman in Pr 31. Make a list of her dominant character traits. How do they manifest themselves? What evidence do you see that she controlled her tongue?
4. What is God's ministry to godly women? How important is tongue control to that ministry? Have you recently allowed your tongue to take control of you? Why not go to the person whom you injured with that episode and ask their forgiveness? Do it this week!
Examine God's Sword
Tongue control. Ps 32:9; 39:1; Isa 37:29; Ac 23:1-5; 2Ti 1:5; 3:15.
A Tiny Rudder, A Big Ship
Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Jas 3:4.
When I first read about the steering mechanism's contribution to the destruction of the Bismarck, I was fascinated. This lesson immediately came to mind. As you keep James' purpose in mind, explore the metaphor. Imagine a giant ocean going vessel. Now imagine that ship in the midst of a hurricane. The ship's survival depends on skillfully steering through the storm. The way the captain controls the steering will land the ship safe in harbor or destroyed on the ocean floor. What a tiny device to wield such power! Why did James choose this metaphor? What parallels can you find between this scene and the human tongue? Consider that the average man weighs around 175 pounds. Consider that his tongue weighs 2-3 ounces. How does that comparison fit the rudder of a giant ship?
James introduced this chapter with a warning against those in ministry who misuse their tongues. The previous chapter used the metaphor of a bit in a horse's mouth to illustrate the dangers of tongue sins among women. Men, it's your turn! Let's examine this verse for danger signals, and for wise instruction, to men and their lives in the family of believers.
A large ship does not travel the seas empty. It carries valuable cargo. It travels with a destination in mind. It follows a charted course. During the journey, the ship may encounter bad weather, from a brief rain shower to a hurricane or a tropical storm. A novice helmsman can quickly learn to guide the ship in calm waters and clear weather. He needs only to watch the instruments and to maintain the course. What happens in a storm will determine whether the ship, its cargo, and its crew become casualties at sea or land safely in port. That is the crisis James anticipates as he advances his lesson on the tongue.
In Tit 2 where Paul taught that sound, effective preaching should instruct the women, we also find rich instruction to men in the church.
But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. Tit 2:1-2.
Men, this verse has a lot to say about your mission and your cargo. Is all this conduct only to give you a good Christian appearance? Is it not to ensure your spiritual maturity, so that you will set a good example for the young men? Temperament, which would include qualities described by such words as sober, grave, temperate, and patient, often reveals itself more by word of mouth than by any other action. The same holds for spiritual maturity which reveals itself in faith and charity, unselfish love hard at work. How many of these traits have you exemplified in your life? How clearly have you spoken from these foundational patterns of conduct? Do these traits chart the course of your tongue?
Having set the stage, men, look again at the ship's rudder. When everything in your life turns out the way you wanted, when you have money in the bank and everyone in the family is getting along well, it doesn't take a lot of strength to be the spiritual leader of the family. You can nearly run on automatic pilot. When a storm of problems crosses your path, what kind of Christianity do you manifest? When you must choose between Christian ethics and stretching the truth -- and a great promotion is on the line -- how do you turn? When enticing temptations sweep across your path, how do you weather the storm? When someone in your family makes a big mistake, how do you handle the situation? Do you make them feel that money or what people outside the family will think is more important to you than they are? You will reveal most of your feelings in these areas by spoken words! Your words will steer the course of your family into disaster or through the storm to a safe harbor. I fear that most Christian men are far better at competition on the job or diplomacy in stressful situations at work than they are at spiritual tenderness and loving care in their personal lives, and in the home. Do you inflict pain and unfair competition on your sons with the words, "Don't be a sissy! Be a man!"? Do you ignore your wife's need to talk to an adult after she spent a trying day with only little voices and young minds in her world? Do you reveal by your tongue that her problems are not important to you?
A ship doesn't travel the seas just to look good to passers-by. It has purpose; it carries cargo. Men, we don't go through life merely to show our masculinity, our machismo. God gave us a noble purpose. Do we know what it is? Are we in touch with it? Are we steering the course necessary to deliver the cargo He entrusted to us into the port He defined on the bill of lading? Normally, women find it natural and easy to voice emotions, especially tender loving emotions. Men equally find it embarrassing and difficult to confront their tender side. They reveal that uneasy spirit in words, or failure with words. Men, if God made you the captain of your family's ship, how well do you steer the course? How well do you shield your family from pressure? How well do you make sure your sense of direction and conviction is communicated, understandably and lovingly, to everyone in the family? Does your family feel comfortable on board your ship? Or do they fear what will happen the next time you face a job crisis or a minor frustration of some kind?
We speak often of peer pressure on young people. We should fear peer pressure among adults fully as much as we fear it in the youth. How often have you seen a well-meaning man give way to the pressure and stay over after work for drinks with the boss, or other questionable habits? These habits grew into behavior patterns that injured their families and destroyed the respect they should have maintained as the leader of the family. They decide that being a "Yuppie" was more important than the greatest responsibility God gave them, to stand before their family as a faithful example of loving care and tenderness. Men, will the helmsman's position stand vacant in your home? Will your home ship meander aimlessly on the sea of life? Are you willing to make the tough decisions, to set the right priorities, and to stand by them, ensuring the spiritual health of your family?
Next let's take a look at your role in the church. Several years ago, I was visiting some churches in a different area of the country. A large number of members were visiting in a home before going to the church for worship services. As often occurs, the men and the women segregated into different rooms and different conversations. During this time, I walked into the room where the women were talking just in time to hear one woman say, "Well, the men in the church have sat on their behinds and failed to do anything long enough. I, for one, think its time we women took over and ran the church our way." Several women enthusiastically agreed. That church soon lapsed into decline and schism where it remains today. Men, what are you doing to contribute to the health and strength of the church? When was the last time you talked with someone at work or in the neighborhood about God? When did you last invite someone to church? When did you last notice something that needed to be done around the church and quietly went to work doing it, rather than telling the deacons about it? When did you last speak up with a word of encouragement to someone in the church who seemed down? When did you last remind the pastor that you keep him in your prayers? When did you last listen to the message with such conviction that you changed your conduct to reflect what you heard from the pulpit? If you did so, and it worked out well, did you tell the pastor about it? Were you willing to confess your faults to him and to tell him about God's blessing your repentance?
The last two chapters have dealt pointedly with the weight of example in the ministry and in women. Men, do you feel any weight in this area? Do you realize how keenly little eyes look up to your every word for recognition? Do you feel the piercing gaze of those eyes watching to learn how to face life by seeing you deal with it? Can you sense the quiet watchful eye of your wife observing to see how much priority you assign to her and to the family? When you reach retirement age, have you prepared your relationship with your wife for retirement as carefully as you have prepared your pension plan? How much time and conversation do you give her? Will you retire to the realization that you lost contact with her? Will you retire with a stranger who, somewhere between your last promotion and your last hobby, decided to make a life of her own because you had ignored her out of yours?
Men, hear the challenge from this metaphor of the ship's rudder! What course are you steering? What impact are you making on those around you for God? How have your words guided those you love most? Into cold Arctic waters, full of dangerous icebergs and freezing cold emotions? Along uncharted coastlines where you considered jumping ship for another mission? Now is the time to give your ship the leadership, the love, the attention, the time, and the spiritual maturity to put it in good working order, to guide it through tough times. Now is the time to check your spiritual, moral, and ethical compass to determine how well you have maintained your course. Don't ignore your ship and crew until you get to port. Make sure you enjoy the voyage with them. Make sure you let them know you are enjoying the voyage. Give them enough time, tenderness, and love that they clearly understand this message from you. Your primary tool to accomplish this wonderful mission is words, your tongue! All aboard!
Study the qualifications of the ministry and of deacons in 1Ti 3. How many speech habits appear in these qualifications? How does a deacon, or a minister, for that matter, purchase a good degree? Do you have a college degree? Compare the value of a college education with the value of this degree? Sometimes in Christian circles, silence is golden. How important is confidentiality to godly fulfillment of these offices in the church? What will happen to a pastor who will not respect the confidentiality of people who take their personal problems to him? What will happen to his ministry if his wife breaks confidentiality and talks to church members about private matters which members have taken to her? What is the impact on a deacon's effectiveness if he, or his wife, talk to people in the church about who gives, how much they give, and who doesn't give to the church? From these qualifications, make a list of likely responsibilities a deacon, and his wife, should shoulder in the church today. How does this list compare with the responsibilities of other members in the church? Of other men?
God's more excellent way. A ship run aground in the midst of a storm is a pathetic sight and a pathetic loss. A ship steered skillfully through the storm is a wonder to behold. Make a list of all the potential dangers a ship's captain faces on a typical journey. Make a list of his responsibilities. Of his opportunities. Now make a companion list of parallel dangers, responsibilities, and opportunities you face as the husband and father in your family. Can you identify one particular area in which you are vulnerable to failure? Why not make that area a matter of special prayer for the next month. Pray daily about it. Ask God to teach you how to overcome it. Focus on specific situations that seem to trigger this failure. When you sense one of these situations on the horizon, pray especially for help in confronting it with godly patience and wisdom.
Sharpen Your Sword
1. In 1Co 11 Paul established that God has appointed the man as the spiritual head of his family. How many men do you know who live up to that assignment? How does family prayer, Bible discussions, kind applications of biblical truth to daily activities relate to that role?
2. What is more important in God's scale of values, a successful career or a spiritually nurtured family? How important is financial status compared with spiritual leadership in the family? Based on the amount of time a man spends on the job, and with his family, what can you say about his view of these two roles?
3. What impact does the current economic situation have on the husband's ability to devote time to his family? How do you distinguish "Quality time" from "Quantity of time?" Can you have one without the other?
4. Make a list of habits in your extended family that demonstrates how powerfully the husbands and fathers influence their families. Do you recall the song "The Cat's In The Cradle?" What is its message?
5. Men, make a private inventory of your personal "Ship's cargo." How well is your rudder working? Where are you leading your family? Are you comfortable with that direction? What can you do this week to enrich your family's spiritual health and sense of direction?
Examine God's Sword
A solid rudder. Eph 4:14; 6:24; 5:1-4; Col 3:8-17.
Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. 1Ti 4:12.
This chapter leaves James for its text. However, no examination of the tongue and discipleship would be complete without consideration of both the unique pressures imposed on the young and the vital force of their discipleship in the area of speech. Although this verse comes from Paul's letter to a young preacher, remember that God gives each of us a ministry, so His words are as applicable to us as to a seasoned preacher. Timothy was a very young man to hold a position in the ministry. His youth could be viewed as a liability, so Paul urged him to take extra precautions to turn that potential liability into an asset.
We do not know Timothy's exact age, but we know from several verses in Paul's letter to him, that he was young enough that his youth was noteworthy. In fact he was so young that some might dismiss him as too young and inexperienced to have anything to contribute to the church. Age alone does not dictate wisdom or insight in the family of believers. Recently, I was talking with a group of people about an especially difficult problem in a local church. Two young men in the group spoke up with some of the most profound wisdom mentioned by anyone present. God gives young people a wonderful sense of idealism that older people often lose, sad to say. Biblical Christianity builds on the ideal! Young believers feel a strong sense of their obligation to consistent godliness that presents older, sometimes cynical, believers with a godly challenge. Jesus reminded His disciples that a "Little child shall lead them." Here in one of the most dramatic letters of the New Testament, a letter dedicated to pastoral instructions from Paul to a young minister, we find a wonderful sense of prophecy fulfilled.
Human nature seeks companionship and acceptance. For a young person not fully established in their habits and lifestyle, the need for acceptance is even more intense. Often young people in large social groups will form cliques, groups with similar interests who band together. They can be extremely cruel to anyone outside their accepted group. A young person who must live or attend school with this group lives with a horrible fear. Join the group and gain their acceptance or become the victim of the group's cruelty! Actually this pattern continues into adulthood. You see it in the workplace, in neighborhoods, and, unfortunately, in churches that do not take their discipleship to Jesus Christ seriously. What is more important, friendship with God or friendship with a peer group? In most cases there are other alternatives. Neither the children nor the adults face such a stark choice. There are other interest groups with values more attuned to the child's upbringing. There are young people, and adults, who accept friendships without imposing unreasonable demands on those who join their group. You see in this scenario a mini-illustration of what sin has done to the human family. It has corrupted the honorable need for companionship and acceptance. It has driven mean-spirited people, young and old, to force their views upon others, essentially selling their friendship and their influence. If you must buy a friendship, what is it really worth?
To all the young Christians who read this chapter, I salute you. I also challenge you, as Paul challenged Timothy. Make your personal Christianity an example to Christians of all ages. Paul defined six areas of example. Study each of these areas as they apply to your personal experience and your role in the church. How can you model a similar godly example in each of these areas? Get a copy of Strong's concordance and look up the Greek words translated by these six English words. Do the Greek definitions shed additional light on areas of your personal example? Based on Strong's definitions, what is the difference between word and conversation? Has an older believer ever made light of your example? Rather than allow this experience to discourage you, follow this biblical model and set a godly example that will enrich believers of any age. Be a Christian for all ages! Study Ps 144, particularly Ps 144:12, "That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace." Why did David use the two metaphors, plants grown up in their youth and polished corner stones? After naming several other metaphorical conditions, David concluded this psalm with these words, "Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the LORD," Ps 144:15. God has given you the unique potential to spread Christian happiness around His family. Happy Christianity!
If Timothy had the responsibility to set a godly speech example in the midst of older believers, surely young Christians should celebrate the challenge to set similar examples among their peers, as well as among their fellowbelievers. Despite the cry of corrupted youth we hear so often these days, we should also note that school-age students are bold in their faith, bold enough to gather around the school flag pole and to celebrate a day of prayer. More and more, young people are petitioning a hostile governmental authority for the right to establish on-campus Christian interest clubs. God bless their good examples!
Most of our habits, especially our "Automatic pilot" responses, are formed in our youth. The habits formed in youth are the most difficult to break. Therefore it is vital that we help young people form godly habits early in their youth. The most effective way is to provide them with a consistent good example. An unknown author has written these very convicting words. Can you think of particular scriptures that confirm this poem's message?
A careful man I ought to be; a little fellow follows me.
I do not dare to go astray, for fear he'll go the selfsame way.
Not once can I escape his eyes; whate'er he sees me do he tries.
Like me he says he's going to be, that little chap who follows me.
I must remember as I go through summer sun and winter snow,
I'm molding for the years to be -- that little chap who follows me.
The New Testament pattern of the church requires that the ministry teach and equip the women to teach the younger women and the men to teach the younger men, Tit 2. In First Century Jewish culture a child lived under the special care of its mother until about age 6 or 7. Then the boys were slowly moved into the family business or trade with their fathers. The girls continued with their mothers, learning the skills necessary to run the household. This cultural pattern made parental molding a vital part of childhood. The Twentieth Century pattern seems to be that the child quickly leaves the safe shelter of the home for day care, pre-school, or elementary school. Godly behavior patterns that have not yet become entrenched and reinforced in the child are quickly challenged and eroded. One need only spend time with a pre-school teacher or visit a school playground to experience what is happening to patterns of speech in today's young people. By junior high school and high school, peer pressure has almost replaced parental influence. Parents should work to establish strong values in their children long before they feel the pressures of these groups. The speech one hears on these school campuses is shocking! This cultural attack on Christian influence makes it vital that parents do everything they can to entrench and to reinforce godly speech and behavior patterns at a very early age. It also demands that parents maintain a safe, nurturing relationship with their children throughout these important growing years. As Christians should foster safe speech habits toward one another, something that needs a lot of our attention right now, Christian parents should build the spirit with their children that nurtures a sense in children that they can talk to their parents about anything with the assurance that they will receive a safe response, not a hostile outburst or a personal attack against them.
If we review the New Testament from the perspective of the child, we could easily conclude that the most important role of the child in those early years is to learn; to learn godly speech habits, godly behavioral disciplines, and godly mental habits. An umbrella that covers all of these areas defines the skills necessary to get along with yourself, including your personal moral and ethical values, and to get along with others. Often you read statistics that indicate failure of personal skills, the ability to interact successfully with other people, as the most frequent cause of job failure. The best time for a child to learn the skills of getting along with others is in the safe protected setting of the home. A parent who demeans their children for minor violations of the home will not build these skills. Parents who model the spirit of kindness and tolerance in dealing with disagreements and stresses will give their children a tremendous head start toward career and personal success in life.
Godly parents, indeed all godly adults, must strengthen our youth to accept this challenge. Yes, many sinful peers will criticize and make fun of them. Will they not also find this true in their adult discipleship? Did the wicked not laugh their Lord to scorn? Give them the encouragement and the godly example to build this vital pattern early. Many adult Christians could find the way back to their first, most important, love through the pure, forceful example of a young godly Christian.
One of the most alarming television commercials ever viewed shows a young boy in his bedroom smoking marijuana. His father walks in and explodes, "Where did you get that? Where did you learn to do this?" The son looks up at a bewildered father and says, "From you." The commercial fades as we see the face of a shocked father. How many youthful problems relate to a poor example?
Children need the company of other children, just as they need the guidance of adults. Where do our children find most of their adult model? How much time does your child spend with you each day in personal attentive interaction? How much time does your child spend watching television? What kind of program restrictions do you impose on that time? Do you guard them against violence or sexual subject matter? They gain a sense of the world outside their home by this exposure. How valid is that exposure? Do they see the world as they will experience it, or do they see the world as the Hollywood culture molders want them to see it? What moral and ethical model do they see in their typical television viewing? Need I say more?
In Ps 144, mentioned earlier, David emphasized the vital role filled by young people in the contentment of godly people.
That our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace. Ps 144:12.
This lesson exemplifies two major issues for Christian parents. First, it models the emotional and moral state of our children. Secondly, it gives us a model of parenting. This is the parental goal we are to move toward with our children. Sons grown up in their youth. The normal biological process of maturing moves slower in boys than in girls. Parents need to help their sons to see life from a mature godly perspective long before the biological timeclock springboards them into physical maturity. A mature body with a child's mind is dangerous! This guidance requires open dialogue that covers every aspect of mature life. Sex education is good and proper, but it belongs in the home where godly parents will instill biblical morals and responsibility along with the education. It requires both training and modeling of a godly respect from the father to the mother and the daughters of the house. Daughters, cornerstones, polished after the similitude of a palace. A demeaning husband who turns his wife into a doormat cannot build his daughters into cornerstones. Can we read the description of the virtuous woman in Pr 31 without understanding the vital role of the woman in society and in the home?
God included Proverbs as a unique parenting tool, modelled after his wise design for the family. Both parents and godly children can find a wealth of instruction in this Book. Look at each proverb as the "Door opener" to a spiritual dialogue with your parents. The point is brief and focused. Most of the Proverbs contain a tension between the two clauses of the proverb. The mental exercise necessary to reconcile these two tension statements reveals the heart of the pathway to wisdom. Study this frequently quoted verse on training children.
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Pr 22:6.
While we can never over emphasize the need for parents to model and to teach their children strong moral values, consider this verse from a slightly different perspective. God didn't make the embryonic phase of a child's life a mere clay factory, impersonally molding the form of the body with no personality or individuality. From the moment of birth, children manifest distinct personality and disposition. All too often, parents try to mold their children into a clone of themselves, or worse, of what they wanted to be. They methodically work to erase the marks of personality and individuality for the clone-like cookie cutter image they want to see in their children. This parenting habit will send a child into the precarious waters of adolescence and adulthood, not knowing their individuality or their uniqueness. Like a blank chalk board, they will look to the wicked world around them for values and personality to fill up that empty void of confusion and lack of godly uniqueness. The way he should go perhaps suggests that God gives each child born into the world a unique view of life and a unique direction for their life. Godly parents need to perceive wisely that godly individuality and help the child accept it and put it to good use for God and for their own mission in life. He will not depart from it. As the most important responsibility of children in the home is to learn, the most important responsibility of parents is to teach. Accepting the children as the godly unique individuals God made them to be and helping them understand themselves in that way will strengthen them against the onslaughts of sin and amoral life-views so common in education and society. The family unit contains both parents and children. God models the home in a way to strengthen the whole unit to stand up against the assailants that seek to destroy it.
God's more excellent way. Study Tit 2. Often young people search for their role in the church, for their sphere of activity. From this lesson, we learn that one of their key roles is to learn. Biblical Christianity is an historic faith, well established and handed down from one generation to the other. Paul made that point quite clear in this chapter. Why not take the initiative? Think about the older Christians you know. Focus particularly on a few whom you especially respect for their authentic godliness. Make an appointment with them. Go to their homes. Ask them to tell you about their beginnings in the faith? How did they first become aware of the beauties of God's truth? How did they balance career and Christianity? How did they find time for child-rearing and Bible reading? What do they consider, in retrospect, the most important factors to effective personal Christianity? You will accomplish two wonderful things by this activity. You will fulfill your role in the historic transition of the faith. The wise insights of these older believers will serve as your foundation to build and to improve further in your personal Christianity. Your interest will also provide a wonderful encouragement to those older believers whom you approached. This kind of contact will serve as a powerful bridge across the age difference, building love and respect in both you and them.
Sharpen Your Sword
1. If you are an older person who has moved past the age of raising children, think back over your experiences in light of this teacher-student role of parenting. What would you do differently if you could go back and raise your children over? Do you know that you still have that opportunity? Study the Proverbs of Solomon on the responsibilities of grandparents. What does Solomon write about "Children's children?" What can you do to improve the role model with your grandchildren? With young mothers in your church?
2. If you are now in the midst of raising children, how does your parenting role compare with the model outlined here? Do you view your role as parent in the way outlined above? Solomon wrote his Book of Proverbs as a guide to his young son. Now while you still have the assignment of parenting, intensely study the Book of Proverbs as a parenting handbook. You'll find it far more helpful than the flood of parenting handbooks on the commercial book market. Use Proverbs to build dialogue with your children. Notice how Solomon often built individual Proverbs with tension statements, two parts that offer very different views of a situation. The tension in the proverb stirs thought. Stirring thought builds wisdom. You can introduce one proverb to your children at a time and help them begin to think and talk about God in brief lessons. They fit the child's brief attention span wonderfully. They can serve as your best resource to develop brief, effective, safe, godly dialogue with your children. Introduce the proverb, define the ideas in the tension statements, and let your child think and talk to you about what it means. You'll be delighted.
3. If you are a young person, what areas can you personally impact with your godly tongue skills? What can you do among your peers to model a rich godly speech? What can you do to improve the discipleship model of adults in your church group? How can you exemplify Paul's counsel to Timothy?
4. What sinful speech patterns do you see in your life that need improvement? Does the idea that you serve as an example to others impose a sense of urgency, of importance upon your speech habits?
Examine God's Sword
Youthful examples. How old was David when he fought Goliath, 1Sa 17? If you can't find an exact age, use clues in the chapter to guess his approximate age. How old were Daniel and his friends when they faced the test of Babylonian culture against their godly childhood, Da 1? What kind of childhood environment did Timothy experience, 1Ti 3:15; 2Ti 1:3-5?
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. Jas 3:5-6.
On October 8, 1871 the city of Chicago was devastated by one of the worst fires in the history of this country. About 17,500 buildings were destroyed at an estimated cost of $200 million. Was this fire the work of a sinister warped arsonist? No, it resulted from a very innocent act. Mrs. Patrick O'Leary's cow kicked over a lantern, and the rest is history. The cow had no ill will toward the city. Mrs. O'Leary's only thought was to milk her cow. It was all so innocent! Yet the fire occurred and the damage was very real.
James understood the power of the tongue to dedicate more space in his book to it than to any other single member of the body, and any other single sin in the family of God. How often have we encountered rumors that destroyed good men and women, only to learn later that the rumor was false or at least exaggerated? Did anyone challenge the perpetrator? Did anyone try to correct the rumor? No, once it begins, it develops a life of its own. It spreads with as much force as the Chicago fire. When you occasionally confront the source of a rumor, the perpetrator will righteously protest, "But I didn't intend any harm to them. I believed what I said and I thought people should know. I'm sorry." Belated regrets never extinguish the fire! Controlling a rumor is like shaking the feathers out of a pillow in a strong wind. Try to gather them all back into the pillow. You can't! You will never capture every feather! Once you let careless words cross your lips, you will never retrieve all the pain and damage those words cause. You can never control where they go or how others use them. You have only one opportunity to prevent the damage. Stop the words before they escape your mouth!
A world of iniquity. Human language takes on awesome power. We who speak it determine whether we will use that power for good or for evil. Uncontrolled, it will spark a horrible fire. World comes from the Greek word kosmos, orderly arrangement. It appears in the English language as cosmetic. Iniquity comes from a Greek work which means injustice (The quality, or by implication, the act), moral wrongfulness of character, life or act. The King James Bible uses iniquity, unjust, unrighteousness, and wrong to translate it. James taught that the human tongue, apart from godly control, lives in a well-ordered, intelligently arranged world of injustice and moral wrongness. Protests of innocence notwithstanding, the minute we choose to speak harsh words about someone, we fan the flames of our dark, sinful nature. We cannot mask the consequences by good intentions.
It defileth the whole body. How can we isolate our tongue from the rest of our body, and from the sinful nature that uses the appetites of the body to entice us into sin? The tongue inflicts moral stains upon our character. Imagine yourself in a gathering of important dignitaries. The host calls all the important guests to dine. You find your seat right beside the guest of honor. Just as the spotlight shines upon the guest of honor and all eyes gaze at the guest -- and at you beside him -- you take a bite of food and spill gravy all over your tie. You cannot hide the soil. You would like to crawl under the table, run out of the room, and never see anyone there again. My Christian friend, we live in constant nearness to the most important guest of honor ever to bless our life, our Lord Jesus Christ. We never sit down, or rise up, without His immediate presence. Heaven's spotlight constantly shines on Him, and on us because we are His. Every time we allow foolish words to slip out of our mouth, we spill moral and ethical gravy on our spiritual clothes. We wear the stain for all to see. How does our sloppy stained spiritual wardrobe effect the impression others build of our Lord?
It setteth on fire the course of nature. When I was young, a cute song gained popularity, "Doing what comes naturally." When the fires of human depravity ignite our sinful depraved appetites, the results are neither cute nor innocent! The human tongue ignites our sinful nature. It fires the desire to act out all the corrupt tendencies that live deep in our sinful hearts.
It is set on fire of hell. Every fire has its beginning. Something started it. The fires flamed by the human tongue were ignited by hell itself. Hell in this phrase comes from Gehenna, a common word in the New Testament for eternal hell. It originated as the name of a valley just outside the city of Jerusalem where the citizens took their garbage. A constant fire burned in Gehenna because there was always a ready supply of garbage to fuel it. The human tongue, like the fires of Gehenna, never lacks for fuel. Ignited by a sinful, depraved nature, the tongue can always find fault, imply evil motives, misrepresent conduct, or give wings to angry, bitter feelings that please Satan wonderfully.
No doubt, many believers speak carelessly and with no conscious intention of starting a Chicago fire in the life of an acquaintance or a church. What do you think of the wisdom of their words? No matter how small the beginning, how innocent that cow's kick, the city of Chicago was devastated by the fire. Motives cannot control words, once we send them forth. They run of their own power, subject to embellishment and warping, limited only by the evil imagination of any who hear them and pass them on to others. The only way to prevent the fire is to set an armed guard at your lips. Test the words that seek to pass that way. Examine them carefully. Once you let them go, they are out of your control. This does not diminish your responsibility for them! They carry your name wherever they go. They take your reputation with them. God brings them back to haunt you! The gravy stain will not leave your spiritual clothes!
Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. Pr 26:20.
Solomon had a way with words. He went right to the heart of the matter, much like James. The relationship between a fire and more wood is so clear, so simple. Add wood and the fire burns hotter and longer. He says the same relationship exists between strife, bitter feelings, misunderstandings, and that sense of carnal competitiveness that fuels the tongue to put down others and to boost self.
Can't probably shows up more often in discussions of tongue control than in just about any other area of our conduct. We protest that we just can't control our tongue. We defend it with our good intentions, or we praise it as "Calling the shots the way I see them." We will do almost anything but control the fires of the tongue. The story is told of a small boy who was taken to the barber shop for a haircut. The room was filled with smelly cigar smoke. The boy curled his nose and said, "Who's been smoking in here?" The barber sheepishly confessed, "I have, son." The boy responded, "Don't you know it isn't good for you?" "I know," said the barber. "I've tried to quit a thousand times, but I just can't." The boy thought a moment and commented, "I understand, sir. I've tried to stop sucking my thumb, but I can't either!" We can hide behind the "I can't" of our weakling sinful nature, or we can apply the fire extinguisher of God's power to our tongues. The outcome will prove our discipleship, or destroy it.
Lest you get the idea that you can't talk at all and fill your role as a godly Christian, let's look at a few examples of godly conversation in scripture. Because Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern does not make all cows evil. Because a lantern started the Chicago fire does not mean that we should outlaw lanterns, or fire. It reminds us of the power of the tongue. It urges us to respect that power, and to use it wisely. Study the life of Barnabas and Mark in the New Testament. As you review their lives, make a list of significant episodes involving the tongue, both good and bad. Here is a list of chapters to help you along the way. Ac 4; 4:9,12-13,14-15; 1Co 9; Ga 2; Col 4; Phm 1-25; 1Pe 5, and 2Ti 4. Boil this study down to all the issues that relate to the tongue. What can we learn from these lessons?
God's more excellent way. While James made one of the most powerful statements of his entire Book with this illustration, take the time to look at both sides of the metaphor. The same fire that began out of control in Mrs. O'Leary's barn was serving a very important role in her lantern. It was giving light that enabled her to go about her important chores. On a cold winter's night in the fireplace or the stove, it warmed her home, making it comfortable for all who lived there. The same holds true with our speech. We can permit our tongues to run out of control, and horrible destruction will surely occur. Or we can use our tongues to shed light, warmth, and encouragement to fellow-believers in a cold dark world. Make a list of believers you know who are experiencing special difficulties at the moment. Call or visit them. Be sure to remind them of your care for them. Let them know you would like to stand beneath their load and give them some special help in this difficult time. The same tongue that holds the potential for massive destruction, you have used for one of your most important roles of discipleship. Look at the evidences of grace in Mt 25:35-40. How many of these activities require godly exercise of speech? How great is our potential for good when we direct and control our tongues for God!
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Have you ever witnessed a Chicago fire episode of the tongue? Did the fact that the person didn't intend to damage another soften the damage they caused? Do good intentions soften a wrong deed?
2. Make a list of similarities between a person's tongue and a horse, a ship, and a fire. Separate your list into two columns, one for the potential damage and the other for the potential good. Go over the whole list. Give yourself a report card. Where do you stand on this ledger? What can you do to move your tongue control into the positive column. Why not start with just one single change, one habit you can begin to practice this week.
3. What is so difficult about taming the tongue? Why is it such a problem? In what ways are we inconsistent? What does inconsistency do to the credibility of your discipleship?
4. What weakness does a person's speech reveal? What weakness does your speech reveal? How directly is our speech influenced by others around us? Is it important to choose our associates wisely?
Examine God's Sword
Tongue fires. Job 5:21; 21:14-15; 22:17; Ps 10:3; 12:2-4; 31:20; 50:19-21; 52:1-5; 63:3; 64:2-5; 73:8-9; 120:3-4; 140:3; Pr 1:10-14; 6:16-19; 7:21-23; 10:11-12; 12:17-19; 14:3-17; 15:1-4; 16:27; 18:21; 26:17-25; Jer 9:1-4; 18:18; Mt 12:34; 15:11; Lu 6:45; Ro 1:30; 3:13; 6:13; 2Pe 2:17-19; Jude 16.
For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Jas 3:7-8.
Why does the circus fascinate us? Those wild animals that have been trained to do so many amazing things leave us spell-bound. Elephants gently lay their feet over the trainer's chest. Lions and tigers jump from one pedestal to another or roll over on the floor. We train birds to talk and to perform tricks on our fingers. We teach seals and dolphins to perform wonderful tricks in the water. Our ability with animals knows no limits!
Despite these feats, man faces one animal every day that defies control, his own tongue! He will offer imaginative excuses for its unruly performance. He will justify its destruction. He will explain its sinful performance as if it were the most righteous member of his body. He will do anything but try to control it. Let's get away from this third person comfort. Bring the illustration home. Every one of us wrestles with this wild animal every day! More often than we comfortably wish, it wins the battle and we lose. We lose friends whom we loved dearly because this wild animal viciously attacked them. We lose opportunities for growth, for spiritual enrichment, for countless blessings because we permit the raging tongue to control us.
It is an unruly evil. Unruly was translated from a Greek word which means unrestrainable. The tongue fights restraint of any kind. Like a spoiled child in a candy store, it has an untrained will. It wants everything it sees. It resists any kind of limit or restraint. Evil comes from a word which means intrinsically worthless, depraved, or injurious. If we saw a report in the morning newspaper of an unrestrained evil force running rampant across the country, we would write our congressmen, call the local police, organize neighborhood watches, or do anything possible to neutralize that force. We would disdain anyone who stood up in defense of this vile evil. Define this rampant evil as the human tongue, our tongue, and we will do everything in our power to defend it and give it occasion to demonstrate its untamed power. Go back to the circus scene. How would you react to a circus where the animals controlled the trainers? How would you feel when a lion walked out into the ring and announced his intent to control a vicious animal? When he entered the cage and began cracking a whip and poking a stick at a defenseless man, how would you feel? Do you know that is exactly what we do with our tongues? We give center ring spotlight to our tongue, that untamed wild animal, and we encourage it to control us! No, we strongly defend its right to control us!
Full of deadly poison. Deadly comes from a Greek word which means death-bearing. Poison comes from a word which means serpent's venom. Imagine the deadliest serpent you ever read about. A few drops of its venom will kill a grown man in a matter of minutes. Now imagine that same serpent with the ability to send forth its venom over long distances. No longer restricted to its piercing fangs, now it can send a spray of venom across unbelievable distances. The venom remains just as deadly, even miles away from the serpent's mouth! That, my friend, is the power of the human tongue for evil, the power of my tongue and yours!
If no man can tame it, why bother trying? Why not just give up and live in a science fiction world full of deadly poison, a living nightmare? Even if we can't perfectly tame our tongue, we can handicap its dangerous ability. In the fall of 1993 southern California was overrun by uncontrolled brush fires. To take a fatalistic attitude toward the tongue would be the equivalent to all the fire departments remaining in their stations with the explanation, "We knew we couldn't immediately put out all those fires, so we just decided not to try." We would be indignant, and rightly so! The same applies to our tongue. Because we cannot bring our tongue into perfect control does not excuse our paralyzed resistance to do anything at all to control it. Had the fire departments announced that, since they couldn't put out the fires, they intended to go out and set more fires, we would have been stunned. To protest that, since we cannot control our tongue, we intend to keep it busy gossiping, spreading rumors, innuendoes, angry damaging tales, and anything else our depraved minds can imagine, is just as logical as the fireman's illustration!
Since Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicked over the lantern and started the great Chicago fire, firefighting has become very sophisticated. One of the most effective methods used by modern firefighting to control fires is to set a carefully placed back fire. Wisely set, the controlled fire removes the fuel that maintains the uncontrolled fire. Solomon tells us "Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife. Pr 26:20-21. Take away the fuel and you extinguish the fire. Take away the talebearer, the contentious person who indiscreetly uses his tongue to spread anything he knows about another person, and you will remove angry strife.
Naturalists tell us that snails have tiny teeth on their tongues. One scientist reported finding with his microscope some 30,000 teeth on a snail's tongue. The snail keeps its tongue rolled up like a ribbon until it needs to use that strange tongue to cut tough leaves for food. I wonder. How many teeth grow on our tongues? How many good and beautiful blessings have we consumed with our tongue teeth? How many godly lives have we injured with our tongue teeth?
We must accept a double risk inherent in the careless words we send forth with teeth in them. Suppose you decide to talk unkindly or inappropriately about a person. A hundred people hear your report. At that time you learn the mistake of your words and announce a public retraction. Suppose that everyone who heard the words also hears your retraction. Miraculously, they believe you and stop spreading the unkind rumor. You have stopped the rumor. However, you planted a seed of doubt in a hundred minds. That seed remains entrenched in their thoughts. The next time they encounter that person, a tiny doubt will creep up in their thoughts because of your words. If that person does something they do not especially like, they will recall your harsh words and doubt the reliability of this person even more. You planted a seed that you cannot retract! You smeared that person in a way that you can never correct!
The food science department at Michigan State University announced the result of years of research. You can peel an onion without making the eyes water if you perform the chore with your mouth closed. Whether this tactic works with onions, I don't know. However, it offers a wonderful solution in Christian tongue control. If we must "Peel the onions" of other men's faults and evil deeds, we should do it mentally, but keep our mouth shut. We will avoid many tears!
No one can reasonably control their tongue in their own strength. Like New Year's resolutions, any desire to control the tongue without God's help, however full of good intentions, will be short-lived. The first time you confront disruption of your expectations, anger and bitter words will flow freely. The first time someone whom you don't particularly like slips, your tongue stands ready and eager to spread the failure to all who will listen.
Don't stop here! The reason James devoted a whole chapter to the tongue, indeed, made the tongue the theme of the whole book, was not to wallow in fatalistic hopelessness. James taught that God has provided a means to tame the tongue, to control its vile, poisonous outbreaks. God sends his Holy Spirit to strengthen and encourage us in our battle to control this untamed serpent. In order to secure that help, we must take our tongues to him in prayer and confession. Lay aside the self-righteous excuses and self-justifications. Confess the fault of your tongue to him. Use the same instrument that challenges any effort at control to tell God your deep need of His grace. He will send help. The Holy Spirit can tame the tongue. He can overcome the wild, undisciplined words that fly from our lips. He can reform that vicious member into an instrument of praise to God!
God's more excellent way. Think back to your very first visit to a circus. Recall the excitement, the amazement, you felt at the control the trainers demonstrated with these exotic animals from all over the world. Study the life of a particularly respected Christian, preferably one whom you have known personally. Talk with them about their problems with the tongue. Ask how they were able to control this problem? Ask how they turned the untamed tongue into an agent of encouragement and wisdom.
What methods does a wild animal trainer use to train an animal? Repetition? Consistency? Reward? How might you use these same tactics in training your tongue?
To some extent, we are all involved in ministry. Study Ro 12 as a good example of the church-wide ministry of believers. God knew His church would be made up of imperfect people, so He included abundant admonitions that show us how to deal with each other in our imperfections. Whether you are a preacher or not, think about recent episodes in your life that exemplify that imperfection, yours or another believer's. Our first carnal human response is to give liberties to our tongues that shine the spotlight on the errors of others and hide our own imperfections. Consider this lesson from Colossians.
Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. Col 4:6.
The word grace appeals to us to follow God's pattern of conduct, in this case conduct of speech. When children of God stumble, what does God do? He lovingly responds to help the erring child recover from the fall. Study Ga 6:1 and context for the biblical pattern of believers helping other believers overcome their faults. Rather than criticize or otherwise pursue one of the tongue sins mentioned in this chapter, make a concerted effort to follow the Ga 6 pattern. Put grace in your speech. Try to help rather than criticize the erring brother or sister.
That ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. To answer requires that someone asks a question. If we respond with gossip, rumor, criticism, or other tongue sins to the errors of another believer, no one will notice. If we respond to their error with graceful speech, it will attract attention. "Why didn't you join in with the others who exaggerated that person's faults? Why didn't you criticize them and gossip the way others were doing?" Our speech should be so different from the common habits of people that the grace on our tongues will draw attention and stimulate questions from those who witness our conduct. Then we will have a golden opportunity to use our tongues to bear witness to our Lord's goodness. Salt that has become so contaminated with dirt and foreign matter that it cannot be used is worthless. It has enough residual salt that it is not good soil, but it has so little salt that it cannot serve as salt. Does our speech follow the dirty path of worldly cynical people around us? When we hear a rumor about another person, are we so cynical, so eager to gossip, that we cannot resist the temptation to put our tongues to work in the same way as those who told us about the problem? Or is our speech so different, like salt from dirt, that we can stand on a godly reputation for graceful speech? If we follow this course with our speech, the faults of others gives us the opportunity to show kindness and grace, the opportunity to serve God with our tongues. We can apply salt to the sin-wounds of the fallen believer and help them find the healing they need for restoration to godly Christian service.
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Why is it so hard to change our habits of the tongue?
2. Why are sins of speech often viewed as not serious? Is the tongue, our speech, an important factor in our discipleship?
3. What does the snail and the onion teach you about the tongue? Do you have any tongue-teeth? Have your words ever caused someone to cry, to hurt, to feel pain?
4. What is your most frequent tongue slip? What pattern of speech most often leaves you feeling that you have compromised your discipleship? What emotions do you associate with that act? Has James said anything that might help you overcome this damaging habit? Why not put some of his words to practice? Single out just one of his illustrations and spend the next week working to apply it more consistently in your speech.
Examine God's Sword
The wild tongue. De 32:33; Ps 55:21; 57:4; 58:4; 59:7; 64:2-4; 140:3; Ec 10:11-14; Ro 3:13.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. Jas 3:9-12.
Imagine an artesian well that sends forth a constant stream of cool pure water. It tastes wonderful. It tastes so good that businesses bottle it and sell it far and wide. Now imagine going to that well one day and discovering that the water has turned salty. What happened? Why did such a drastic change occur? When I was younger, I often visited some friends in central Alabama. They were warm, cheerful, encouraging Christian people. I had only one regret when I visited them. Their water supply was full of sulphur! Think of being very thirsty and reaching for a drink of water, but the water smells like a rotten egg!
Recall your visitations with other believers over the last year or so. Think especially of times you visited with preachers. During this time, did you ever hear these people talk critically about someone else you know? Rumors, unloving criticism, talebearing abounded. Then the conversation turned to a question about the interpretation of a particular Bible verse. The same tongue that sprayed forth a stream of vile poison now began sending forth spiritual-sounding insights and interpretations of Bible truths. Inconsistent? Yes! We have applied James' words to a hundred different ungodly practices over the years. However, James had one thing clearly in mind when he said it, tongue abuse. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
Permitting our tongues to speak words of gossip, criticism, and bitter anger against another person violates God's teachings on moral, ethical, and Christian conduct. We would not think of offering justifications and extenuating circumstances for the sin of murder or adultery. Yet we constantly justify and excuse sins of the tongue. Often we even dignify tongue sins to give them the appearance of virtues! Do you recall the sin of 1Co 5? A man became sexually involved with his father's wife, presumably, his step-mother. Do you recall the Corinthian church's attitude toward this sin? According to Verse 2, the church knew of this sin and were puffed up, arrogant and defensive of it. Rather than mourn that a believer had committed a sin so heinous as to be condemned by immoral unbelievers, they were boastful of their broad-mindedness. We enthusiastically condemn the carnal Corinthian church. We all agree with their sinful conduct. We all agree that their sin plunged the integrity of the church of Jesus Christ into disrespect in the community. What happens when we witness sins of the tongue and look the other way? When we listen intently and go away feeling entertained by the experience? Where is the indignation that a commandment of our Lord was trampled in the dust? Why didn't we confront and admonish the speaker? Is there any difference between this sin and the sin in Corinth? Oh, we try to screen out sins into nice little tiers of degrees. By sterilizing sins into levels of blackness we lay the foundation to justify our particular sins, while frowning righteously at the sins of others. When otherwise godly believers go out of their way to listen to sins of the tongue, and to defend the practice, something indignant should rise up within the hearts of godly people. When James writes to us under the Holy Spirit's inspiring hand that these things ought not to be, godly people who read his words need to agree with him! We must search the depth of our soul and get in touch with that sense of godly indignation against sin, whatever garb it wears, whatever form it takes. We need to confront, not encourage and cheer, sin, including sins of the tongue!
So can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh. The meaning of this statement is emphatic. Not even one fountain can produce salt and fresh water! This lesson imposes a solemn warning upon our tongues. It suggests that at some point, to some degree, the time may come when God will step into our careless inconsistent conduct. He may say, "Enough!" and refuse permission for our tongues to bless him any longer. We would then be left in the sad state of a tongue whose godly ability has become disabled! Is our interest in tongue sins so captivating that we are willing to compromise our privilege of praising God? Are we willing to risk God's severe judgment upon us that will silence our uncontrolled, inconsistent fountain? At some point, careless habits become entrenched behavioral patterns. We never reach the point at which God's power cannot turn us around. We may reach the point at which we have so compromised ourselves with sin that He chooses to take our blessing away and give it to others who will respect it and use it for His praise. Have we witnessed a few -- thank God, just a few -- situations in which a man whom God had blessed with a powerful gift so compromised his tongue that God withdrew the blessing and left him with nothing good to say? Has a heart warmed and enriched by God's kindness sinfully focused on harsh, self-serving judgments against others until it could no longer feel or express the joy of God's blessings? When Jesus taught the parable of the talents, he included a double revelation. All of those who received talents were servants. This is a powerful lesson on discipleship. Those servants who trusted their Master and put his talent to good use received a blessing. The servant who distrusted his Master and refused to use the Master's talent was demoted. The blessing he had was taken away and given to another. One of the most effective talents God gives to each of us relates to our language, our tongue. Have we trusted God and put our word talents to disciplined, kind, godly use? Have we blessed God; literally, eulogized Him? If so, how have we used our tongue toward our fellow-believers? How can we bless God, speak well of Him, and curse a brother or sister in God's family?
When you quietly pray for God to bless your friends or fellow-believers, do you really present your sincere desires to God? When you enlarge your prayer for God to bless those who have sinned against you, have you taken your honest petition to God? We will approach prayer with more caution and reverence than perhaps any other exercise of the tongue. Now let's broaden the landscape. When you surrender to the tendency to gossip, to criticize, to vent words of bitterness and anger against the same people you just embraced in prayer, were you also sincere? Do you think God heard those abusive sinful words any less than He heard your prayer? Which message do you want God to believe? You sent contradictory messages forth from your tongue. Which one was true? God heard one just as clearly as He heard the other! They both carry your label.
In the early days of World War II, Winston Churchill spoke these words to the English people, "The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us . . . . . Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say: 'This was their finest hour.'" Historians believe this speech was the most powerful influence in fortifying the spirit of the British people against Nazi Germany. One speech made the difference between victory and defeat! Do we appreciate the power of our tongue? What wars hang in the balance of our words? Our enemy is not named Hitler. He is not visible to the eye, but he is as real, and far more formidable! Will our words encourage fellow believers to rise to their finest hour? Perhaps some of them do not agree with us in every minor detail. Perhaps some do not follow our stereotype of Christian conduct. They may not dress like us, or speak like us. They may view some of the minor points of interpretation differently. But they are our brothers and sisters in the faith of Jesus Christ. Will we use our words to melt them down in blazing tongue sins, or will we speak words that stir them to rise to their finest hour? What kind of water will we send forth from our fountain?
Get two pieces of paper. At the top of one, write "Bitter waters." At the top of the other, write "Sweet waters." Now list as many speech patterns as you can that fall into each of these categories. Use your own experience, as well as episodes you have witnessed or heard about. Give it time. Go back to the lists and keep expanding them. When you think you have a fairly complete list, test your own speech habits. How many bitter water habits trouble you? How many sweet water habits do you have? Now use the sweet water list to begin a godly program to improve your tongue discipline. It will enrich your discipleship wonderfully!
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Have you ever heard a Christian speak against another believer with cruel unkind words? How much time lapsed before that person used the same tongue to say something good about God? Turn these two questions from that other person to yourself? Examine your own speech for similar episodes. What was the last time you spoke unkindly about another person? How much time lapsed until you spoke something good about God? What kind of example does this pattern of conduct set for others? Does this memory give you a measure of discomfort? What can you do this week to improve that habit?
2. Imagine a person who has been working hard and goes to a water cooler expecting to get a good drink of water. They fill their glass and start to drink deeply. Then they realize that they are drinking salt water. Write your thoughts about a parallel experience you have witnessed in which someone's sinful use of their tongue created this same result. Have you participated in exchanging sweet good water for salty water by your unkind use of words?
3. Fruit trees are known for their distinctive fruit. When you see a certain tree, you expect a certain kind of fruit to grow on it. In similar fashion we build a reputation by our speech. How consistently do our words agree with our discipleship? Does your habit of speech give you a reputation among your friends as a safe person to talk to? Do you respect the privacy and confidentiality of others who talk to you about their problems? Do you have a reputation for talking about the misfortunes of others? Would others in your circle of friends and associates agree with your personal description of your speech and its fruit?
Cursing tongues. 2Sa 16:5; 19:21; Ps 10:7; 59:12; 109:17-18; Ec 7:22; Mt 5:44; 26:74; Ro 3:14; 1Co 3:3-5; 1Ti 5:11-13.
Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. Jas 3:13.
If you were gathered in a large group of Christian people and someone asked for all the people who were wise to raise their hands, what would you do? What would you think of the people who raised their hands? Many believers think of themselves as wise, but they do not care to make a public profession of that thinking. Part of this dichotomy is understandable. We prefer not to make a show of our faith. The other part may relate to a certain self-centeredness. We think of ourselves as wise, strong Christians, but we do not want to take our opinion public, for then we would have to stand the scrutiny of examination. Would our conduct match our profession? Would our words and deeds agree?
This verse challenges our conventional opinions of wisdom and intellect. We think we know what it is. We may even think we are well supplied with these traits. How do we measure them? How do we put our self-opinion to the test? Many believers remain quietly in the background with a false opinion of their personal wisdom, but never put it to the test. Others show by their deeds that they have a warped understanding of spiritual wisdom and knowledge. Perhaps they think wisdom appears in a perfectly sound theological posture. They understand the major biblical doctrines perfectly. They delve into such difficult doctrines as the sovereignty of God, election, predestination, reconciliation of the apparent contradictions of cruelty in life with the providence of God, or other profound biblical teachings. If they pass the theological test, they have proved their wisdom. What need do they have of discipleship? Why should they worry about how they live? They demonstrated theological soundness. Do you remember the scripture that mentions those who are "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth," 2Ti 3:7? They have a strong intellectual interest in the Bible. They enjoy intellectually challenging conversations. The problem is that everything ends there. They fail to absorb any of the Bible's teachings into their conduct. They think they are really wise, good Christians. They resist any hint that Christianity, authentic Christianity, requires a reformed life, a change in the way they act. They will talk with other believers about any doctrine in the Bible, but they will not apply the simplest Bible truth to their daily walk! Is this person wise?
Many who profess sound faith in Christ study their Bibles intensely for a few months, or even a few years after their conversion. Apparently, they decide they have learned all there is to learn about the Bible. They discontinue their study. Spiritual growth stops. Often they show a growing arrogance in their personal wisdom and a parallel disdain for any who disagree with them. They demonstrate little or no awareness that the Bible contains dynamic vital truth for every step of their daily walk, on the job, in the family, in the neighborhood, and in the church family of believers. Once they reach this complacent plateau, they shelve the Bible and "Wing it" for the rest of their lives. They wing it right into the rocks of failure! They show their dwarfed spirituality by deciding major moral issues more by the posture of the latest political figure, by public opinion polls, or the position taken by a popular preacher in their denomination or by the latest television preacher. Take a brief look at some of the current television preachers' teachings that Jesus spent three days in hell, literal hell, where he became so contaminated by sin that he had to be born again in order to rise from the dead. Take a look at their teachings that every believer is a little god who, with sufficient knowledge could rise into equality with God. Take a look at their teachings that, if they knew as much about the Bible as Jesus did, they could have successfully died for our sins. All of these doctrines appear with growing acceptance in the Christian community, fed by Hollywood-style television preachers. Where do such things appear in the teachings of the Bible? How do we counter these blasphemous errors? We counter them by spending more time with our eyes on the pages of our Bibles and less on the television screen. Whether or not we fully know it, we show our wisdom, or lack thereof, quite clearly!
Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. The literal definition of the Greek word translated conversation is to turn up, turn over, or turn again. It suggests that we turn over every habitual action in our life, every accepted pattern of behavior. Give them a hard second look and filter out anything that does not fit the pattern of biblical Christian conduct. Why did the translators use the word conversation for this word? I suggest that they knew something we try to avoid. We show the state of our minds by the words we use. Our theme of conversation will reveal the theme of our hearts. If we talk mostly of our bitter disappointment with our profession, our family, our country, or our church, we reveal the state of our soul. We have bitterly disappointed ourselves, and we seek to blame someone, or something, else for the failure. If we constantly use our words to put down others, we reveal that we do not approve of our own conduct. We are unwilling to rise to a higher level of godliness, so we must pull others down to our level.
A good conversation. Do you see the qualifier in this phrase? Spiros Zodhiates in The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament defines the Greek word translated good as constitutionally good without necessarily being benevolent; expresses beauty as a harmonious completeness, balance, proportion. He goes on to describe New Testament examples of the word that mean good as to quality and character, good with a meaning of honorable and distinguished, and good in a moral sense. Does this definition challenge you to change your patterns of speech? Does it nudge you to live on higher ground than you have been willing to practice?
If we accept James' description of the power, and the abuse, of the tongue, we must take a long hard look at our personal speech. We must confront areas within our attitudes and words that have demonstrated the sins of the tongue. We must determine to reform our language and bridle our tongues. Sadly, too many of us approach control of the tongue like another New Year's resolution. We are determined to change our habits. The problem lies in the foundation of the resolution, we. As long as we confront our tongues in our personal strength, we will merely fail again and again. All the illustrations James used in this chapter of the wild uncontrolled tongue-beast that refuses to be controlled rise from the power of our will. Only when we turn our eyes to God and seek His power and His wisdom to intervene will we find the strength to control and reform our tongues. This approach will guide us beyond the tongue to the spirit beneath the tongue. It will plead with God to alter the deepest pools of our sinful nature. It will open up our innermost thoughts and habits to God's cleansing light. Yes, it will reveal our personal hypocrisy, our personal double standards, and our personal folly. Once exposed to God's light, those sins will face His judgment, His reproof, Joh 3:20. If we wish to remain in our evil, we will refuse to allow His light to shine within us. If we wish to reform our conduct, and our conversation, according to godliness, we will open up to His light, even His reproving light!
Meekness of wisdom. Meekness means a mild, humble spirit. Godly wisdom does not stand on the top of the heap and announce its accolades. It works quietly in the shadows. It does not promote itself with ego and approval of the crowds. Like the God-kind of love, it seeks not its own. It seeks to honor God! How bold are we? Are we willing to open up our deepest inner self to God? If so, we can find great hope in our battle to control our tongues. If not, we have already accepted failure. What will it be, my friend? Will we prove our discipleship? Will we show our wisdom through reformed, godly conversation?
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Socrates is credited with the saying, ". . the unexamined life is not worth living . . . ". Do you agree with this saying? Why? How much time have you spent recently examining your life? Have you been pleased with what you found? If another person were to conduct the same examination, would they reach the same conclusions you reached?
2. Why do you think the King James translators used the term conversation for lifestyle or manner of life? Do you think they understood that our words reveal our whole lifestyle, our whole attitude toward life?
3. Name some occupations that require special training or knowledge. What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Can you name jobs that require wisdom or discernment?
4. Where do people often go for wisdom? Are they correct? Where do you think a Christian should go for wisdom? Name some other sources to which people often resort for wisdom? How does their assessment of the source of wisdom affect their lives? How has it influenced yours?
Examine God's Sword
Wise tongues. Ps 107:43; Jer 9:23; Mt 7:24-27; 1Co 6:5; 2Co 8:24; Php 1:27; Ga 6:3-4; 1Ti 4:12; Heb 13:5; 1Pe 2:12; 3:1-2,16.
Meek tongues. Nu 12:3; Ps 25:9; 45:4; 149:4; Isa 11:4; 29:19; 61:1; Zep 2:3; Mt 5:5; 11:28-30; 21:5; 2Co 10:1; Ga 5:22-24; 6:1; Eph 4:1-2; Col 3:12; 1Ti 6:11; 2Ti 2:25; Tit 3:1-2; 1Pe 3:4,15.
But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. Jas 3:14-16.
"I tell it like it is!" "I really gave that person a piece of my mind!" "He made me mad, and I put him in his place, I want you to know!" How often we hear people make these statements when they have just allowed their anger to explode against someone. You get the distinct impression that the person is proud of their outburst. They think they did something memorable. Did they? How does this kind of reaction compare with James' words in these verses?
But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts. What quality of mind did James describe in these words? What attitude do you imagine behind these words?
- Bitter. Strong defines this word as originating with the idea of piercing, sharp, pungent, or acrid. Think of speech and words that match this description. What mood prompts such language from our tongues? Piercing, sharp, acid words usually flow from an angry bitter heart. Whether or not life has been kind to us, bitter words do not improve our state. Bitterness reflects a failure to trust God with our life. Whatever happens, we feel cheated, mistreated, and unappreciated. Acidic resentment and anger overflow from the heart to the tongue.
- Envying. Strong defines this word as heat, zeal, jealousy, or malice. What image stirs in your mind when you think of heated words? In a good sense this word may refer to zeal. In a bad sense it describes envy, jealousy, or anger. It wages war on the good it sees in others. The opposite of the God-like love of 1Co 13, envying seeks its own. It burns with rage. Controlled by this spirit, we refuse to accept God's providence and serve Him in our circumstances, whatever they be. We compare our situation with someone else's. They seem to have it better than we. Had he not stood near his Lord, Peter could have fallen into this sin. "Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me," Joh 21:21-22. Instead of becoming envious of John, Peter worked on his own discipleship. Where are we working, on our personal discipleship or our brother's and sister's sins?
- Strife. Strong defines this word as intrigue or faction. It stirs the notion of a hidden agenda. The literal meaning suggests working for hire. Contention, strife, rivalry, self-interest, scheming, and mercenary interest are all descriptive of this tendency. When bitterness and envy within escape our control, strife occurs. The sin of the heart becomes a sin of action. The tongue has taken full control of our life.
James stripped away the pretentious self-justification we use to cover up the acid rage that often burns within, driving us to sinful use of our tongues. Boast about a raging, burning, self-serving tongue? Such conduct more correctly calls for shame and repentance!
Glory not, and lie not against the truth. Do you sense that James looked into prophetic truth and saw the self-justification so often practiced within the family of God? Strangely, believers often exult in their sinful outbursts. James saw nothing to justify such a sinful reaction. It was tantamount to lying in his mind! When we defend and glory in sinful bitter outbursts of our tongue, we have already lost the battle for the tongue. It won! Authentic discipleship lost!
This wisdom descendeth not from above. Notice the directional quality of this lesson. James did not deny that such conduct had a certain sophistication to it, a certain wisdom. He merely denied that it came from God. It didn't descend! It didn't come down from God; it rose from the pits of hell! Don't blame God for sinful destructive outbursts of your tongue!
But is earthly, sensual, devilish. Where do such emotions originate? If they don't descend from God, it should be fairly easy to determine their source. First, James says it is earthly. It comes from this fallen sinful earth. Then he says it is sensual. The Greek word translated sensual comes from the root for our English word psyche. It originates in the human senses, the mind, not the spiritual senses. Finally, he says it is devilish. Now he gets to the heart of the matter. Don't forget what he wrote in Verse 6, "And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell." Literally, this word means demon-like. When we explode on another person with acidic, bitter words, we imitate demons! We hear a lot of talk about demons, and demon-possession. The nearest thing to demon possession most of us will ever see is the angry outburst of a believer who defends their conduct in self-righteousness. Hell fueled the fire of their tongue. We wouldn't think of boasting if we committed some black moral sin such as fornication. Yet we think it very acceptable to sin with our tongue and to boast about it!
For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. Envy and strife take us back to the beginning of Verse 14. Like planting a certain tree and watching for the fruit, when we plant the verbal seeds of bitter envy and strife, we must prepare for the harvest. James predicts the kind of fruit such a crop will produce. Confusion comes from a Greek word which means instability or disorder. In other New Testament verses it was translated by commotion, confusion, and tumult. Words that cross our lips, fired by envy and strife, will produce commotion, confusion, and tumult. They will demonstrate our own spiritual instability! They will not inspire the recipient, the person against whom we aim them, to higher godliness. They will not encourage that person to greater spirituality. They will not nurture a deeper friendship between us and them. They will destroy the relationship and leave behind them a landscape of confusion, unstable and disorderly.
We find it so easy to send careless, hurtful words across our lips, never considering their potential for damage. When they inflict injury to others, we recoil, "Oh, I didn't mean for what I said to hurt anyone." We waited too long to show such concern. Once we speak the words, they are beyond our control. The only way to control words is to weigh them before we speak them. Test the spirit within that inspires the words. Nothing that happens to us can justify our striking out in vengeful injury to another person. Nothing that stirs our anger and disappointment gives us honorable cause to inflict the same pain on someone else. Another person's sin does not justify mine. We would like to deny that we cradle envy and bitterness in our hearts, but our words speak a world of reality about our heart. We can see these harsh emotions in others, but not in ourselves. Give God your words and ask Him to shine His revealing truth, kindness, and gentleness on them. If they still exist after He has finished with them, they may safely travel from our lips. If they find resistance at His throne, we should trap them in silence and restraint. Our words are a painfully honest window into the emotions and sins that drive us. Do you want to control your tongue? Ask God to apply His power and goodness to the underlying sins in your life. Ask Him to show you the kind of wisdom that descends from Him.
Sharpen Your Sword
1. How do you distinguish honesty from cruelty in verbal responses? Name some personal experiences you have encountered with both. Have you ever responded in cruelty and defended your response as being honest? What were the results? What happened to the personal relationship you had with that person? What did you learn from the experience?
2. Can you identify things in your life that cause bitterness to swell up in your heart? What happens to your contentment, to your joy with God, when these emotions begin to take over?
3. What is wrong with the wisdom of a bitter, envious person? What is wrong with wisdom born out of strife? Has this kind of wisdom ever affected you?
4. What did James mean by the words "Lie not against the truth?" How do you lie against the truth in the way he described? What is the resultant conduct of a person controlled by this wisdom? Has this wisdom ever controlled you?
Examine God's Sword
Bitter envy. Pr 14:30; 27:4; Mt 27:18; Ac 5:17-18; 7:9; 13:45; Ro 1:29; 13:13; 1Co 3:3; 13:4; 2Co 12:20; Ga 5:15-21,26; Php 1:15; 2:3; 1Ti 6:3-5; Tit 3:3; 1Pe 2:1-3.
Earthly wisdom. Jer 4:22; Lu 16:8; Joh 8:44; Ac 13:10; Ro 1:22; 1Co 1:19-20,27; 2:6-7; 3:19; 2Co 1:12; 11:3,13-15; 1Jo 3:8-10; Jude 17-19.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. Jas 3:17-18.
In this chapter James brutally confronted the looseness in all our tongues. He gave us no quarter for refuge. He left us no excuse to sin with our tongue. He frighteningly expanded our concept of tongue sins. He declared war on the tongue, leaving us bruised and shaken. But his war was in the name of his Lord, and ours, the Captain of our salvation, Jesus Christ. Before leaving us, he applies a healing balm to our bruises. It does not excuse sins of the tongue. It does not weaken anything he said. It helps us understand that he fought against our sin, not against us. He was not mad at us. He did not attack us. He attacked our tongue sins. We cannot win the battle for the tongue by merely describing how wicked and devious the tongue can be. We know that characteristic of the tongue by painful experience! We know that his words apply to our own tongues, not just to those who say things we would prefer not to hear. If we expect to win the battle for the tongue, we must enlist help beyond our own personal will power. We must find strength in One whose power for good exceeds ours.
But the wisdom that is from above. Above gives us two clues as to the source of godly wisdom. First, it suggests direction, from above. We painfully viewed the wisdom that is from below in Verses 14-16. James alerts us that we will now investigate a different kind of wisdom, one that originated from God, from above. The Greek word translated above also contains another, even stronger, meaning. It appeals to the highest authority, from the very first authority or source. The wisdom we now examine came from God, our first source and authority. We can go no higher!
Pure, then peaceable, gentle. These three adjectives build a solid foundation for the remaining characteristics we find in God-given wisdom. Pure stirs thoughts of something that is clean, innocent, or modest. You do not expect to find a hidden agenda in something that is pure. Peaceable calls our minds to conduct that is healthful, wholesome, disposed to peace. Peaceable conduct promotes peace, not schism and hostility. It recalls the work of a diplomat, a respected negotiator who can communicate with both sides in a controversy and bring them together. Gentle suggests conduct, and words, that are mild, appropriate, lenient, and unassertive -- gracious tolerance. We live in an age of angry confrontation. People often look intently for reasons to fight, criticize, find faults, and spread their mood to others. Character traits that match these three words, pure, peaceable, and gentle, are often viewed as weak and undesirable, even among believers. Although Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers," we hear many who profess faith in Him speaking more from the opposite camp, "Despised and spineless are the peacemakers." Which wisdom guides our words and our hearts?
Easy to be intreated. Did you ever hear someone speak sentiments with which you wholeheartedly agreed, but they spoke in such an acidic tone that you wished you didn't agree with them? That exemplifies the exact opposite of this term. Easy to be intreated nudges us toward words, and a dominant underlying spirit, that makes our conversation appealing, even to those who disagree with us. Good for persuasion captures the idea. We demonstrate our mastery of James' message when we speak in such a spirit and with such winsome words that those who do not agree with us respect our words and the attitude that drives them. The test of our Christian tongue appears, not in our pleasant agreement with friends, but in our loving, well-balanced dialogue with the unpleasant, hard-to-get-along-with people around us. We have little problem controlling our tongue in the midst of admiring friends. How well do we control our words under the fire of unpleasant, grating personalities?
Full of mercy and good fruits. James calls on us to produce a bumper crop of good fruits. Perhaps his design is that we so fill up our lives, and our tongues, with good things that we have no time, energy, space, or tendencies left for sinful fruits. Words that brim with compassion and goodness will always strengthen and nurture others around us. Fruit refers to fruit fully grown, ripened on the vine, and gathered. It does not refer to potential fruit in bloom. James urges us to grow these fruits to patient maturity, then to harvest them into words spoken and deeds done. Put this heavenly wisdom to work. Grow real results with it. God finds no praise in a constant repetition of "I know I have a problem with my tongue, my temper, and my tendency to gossip. Some day I would like to get this problem under control." Some day you will gain control of your tongue, your temper, and your gossipy appetite. When you die, you will leave those sins behind! James devoted this whole chapter to the idea that we can, and by God's grace should, control them now!
Without partiality. Our words reveal with great power and persuasion the sinful partialities that live within us. Did the poor man who entered the assembly have any doubts as to the partiality, the sinful discouraging partiality, of the person who scornfully barked, "Sit here on the floor?" When you hear, as you eventually will, that someone has spoken unkind words about you, can you fail to sense the painful partiality that person showed in their words? When you feel enticed to speak such words about someone else, recall the pain you felt when similar words were spoken about you.
Without hypocrisy. Originally, the Greek word translated without hypocrisy described someone who was inexperienced in the art of acting. I like that definition for the Christian use of the word, as well. A person who practices hypocrisy constantly puts on a false front, a theatrical act, not their sincere genuine self.
Ro 12 as justification to take a disagreement public, particularly an ongoing disagreement. Does this lesson justify public criticism of fellow believers? The Galatian incident teaches two points of value in this context. We have no indication in scripture that Paul took this story with him to every church he visited and told it to every believer who would listen. He used it once in a related theological lesson to the Galatians. Likely, it was already public knowledge. Secondly, Paul related the details of a settled difference between him and Peter. He did not present this as an ongoing dispute in which he solicited the schismatic loyalty of the Galatian churches with him against Peter! The Bible does not contradict itself! It exempts no one from the requirements of this wisdom that comes from above! It does not teach us in one lesson to maintain as much privacy and love as possible, while encouraging us in another lesson viciously to attack anyone with whom we disagree!
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. How does a farmer prepare for next year's crop? He saves the choice seeds for planting. Godly use of our tongue anticipates the future. It prepares for time to come. It gathers the ripe godly fruits of this season, but it wisely prepares for the next season. Life flows from one season to the other. What we do, especially with our tongues, will impact the fruitfulness or the barrenness of seasons to come. Did you ever notice the change that occurs in people as they grow old? Their old age boldly declares what they did with their life through earlier seasons. They will grow more gracious and kind, reflections of wise seasons in the past. Or they will grow bitter and resentful of everything around them. They reflect foolish neglect, or sinful sowing in earlier seasons. You can see this reflection in their words? Like a flag, raised high in a blowing wind, their words shout out what they did in earlier seasons of life. If they developed the habit of using their words to attack and criticize all who did not live up to their personal needs and expectations, they will fill the idle hours of old age with bitter reflections of all who mistreated them. Life to them is a constant flow of bitter, unfulfilling disappointments. "She betrayed me." "He lied to me." "They neglect me." If we put God's grace, His mellowing, loving, compassionate grace, to work in the early seasons of life, we will discover in the sunset seasons that we have gathered a rich breadth of insights, loving memories, a growing circle of admiring friends, and the strong assurance that our God stood faithfully by us through it all. We will face our future, however brief now, with the joyful assurance that the same God who enriched our seasons will stand beside us in the seasons to come. More with our words than in any other way, we will communicate this message to the next generation that follows us. Every word we speak represents a harvest and, at the same time, a sowing for the next season, the next generation. What kind of seeds are we sowing? What kind of fruit do we gather with our tongues? Today gives us the best occasion we will ever have to nurture the fruit of our lips to ripe maturity. It gives us a golden opportunity to sow the seeds that will mold the next generation of those who love and respect us. What shape have we given the mold?
Listen to your words. They will tell you what you have contributed to the future. Periodically, you will see a bumper sticker on a motor home, "We are spending our children's inheritance." Or you will read about children who become engaged in bitter fights and lawsuits over their parents' inheritance. Even if we had the wealth of the Rockefellers, the material wealth we leave our offspring is of little consequence! Solomon describes the inheritance of the righteous often in Proverbs. Not once does he describe material possessions. He always describes the inheritance of character, of wisdom, and of godly conduct. This is an inheritance our children can spend right now! They need not wait until we die for this inheritance. What inheritance have we given them? Listen to your words and you will know the quality of the heritage you leave behind.
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Memorize the qualities of the wisdom that comes from above. In conduct and attitudes, how do you distinguish carnal wisdom from the wisdom that is from above? How much do these two sources of wisdom control your mind? Your conduct? Are you satisfied with your present wisdom? What can you do to gain more influence from the wisdom that is from above, Jas 1:5?
2. How does a wise person act? How can we sow peace? What results from peace sown by wise Christians? Would other members of your church describe you as one who sows peace? How would they describe you?
3. What kind of life experiences increase our wisdom? What can you do this week to sow peace in a relationship or situation that has been troubling you?
4. Do you tend to hold bitterness in your heart? What can you do to rid your life of these emotions? Are you willing to do what it takes to get rid of bitterness and envy in your life? Are you willing to pay the price for heavenly wisdom?
Examine God's Sword
Wisdom from God. Pr 2:6-7; 1Co 2:6-8; 12:8.
Pure wisdom. Mt 5:8; Php 4:8; Tit 1:15; 1Jo 3:3.
Peaceable wisdom. Ro 12:18; Heb 12:14.
Gentle wisdom. Isa 40:11; 1Co 13; 2Co 10:15; Ga 5:22-23; Eph 5:9; 1Th 2:7-8; 2Ti 2:24-26; Tit 3:1-2.
Fruitful wisdom. Ac 9:36; 11:22-24; Ro 15:14; 2Co 9:10; Php 1:11; Col 1:10.
Impartial wisdom. Mal 2:9; Mt 23:28; Lu 12:1-2; Joh 1:47; Ro 12:9; 1Ti 5:21; 1Pe 1:22-23; 2:1-3; 1Jo 3:18.
Righteous wisdom. Pr 11:18,28,30-31; Ho 10:12; Mt 5:9; Php 1:11; Heb 12:11.
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? Jas 4:1-5.
Study these verses for a few moments. Get yourself oriented. Although the lesson may contain commentary on national conflict, the context, and the specific focus of the lesson itself, deals with conflicts inside the fellowship of the church. Notice the pointed application, among you. Our sinful human nature loves to migrate to extremes. Some in the church try to ignore wars and fightings among believers. Pretend they don't exist and they'll go away. But they never go away. On the opposite extreme, some think the best way to handle wars within the faith is to choose the most "Politically correct" side in the conflict and join the fray with all your carnal power. Jesus didn't teach His followers to decide what was politically correct. He taught them to follow Him! Have we forgotten that fundamental issue of Christian discipleship? By politics I refer to the human tendency to weigh the popularity of an issue with people in positions of influence or power. In a church setting a person who makes decisions on the basis of politics will assess what the key figures in the region might think. Then they will champion that view, whether they think it is biblical or not. The deciding issue of all Christian conduct lies in the teachings of scripture, not in contemporary traditions or political correctness. James follows his typical habit in this lesson. He drags us through a reality check. He slaps our face and says, "Wake up! I want you to listen. I'm going to tell you something important."
Where do conflicts originate within the family of believers? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ouch! That hurts! Lust was translated from the Greek root for our English word hedonism. We normally limit this word to sexual self-serving pleasure. In James' context it refers to any form of self-serving desire. Perhaps the desire for popularity, for a position of leadership and importance, drives a person to do certain things that fall within James' scope of discussion. James views this conduct as originating within the same carnal, depraved, sin-nature where hedonism, sexual self-gratification, lives. War comes from a word which means to serve in a military campaign. Notice the operative word, to serve. When we follow our carnal appetites into spiritual war, we are never the leader! We have volunteered for service in another man's army. In most cases the commander-in-chief of spiritual wars is Satan himself! Does it seem a contradiction that someone in the church would serve in Satan's army? It is a contradiction, but it happens all the time. It happens every time you see personal conflicts within the family of believers. Theological differences occur. Some of them are important and must be stopped. We stop those issues by fighting our spiritual enemy, spiritual wickedness in high places, not the flesh and blood of our brother or sister in the faith, Eph 6.
Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Study the progression of conduct within this lesson. The conflict within the church family begins with a sensual, carnal desire that centers on self, not on God or on others. It manifests itself as lust, a desire to have what does not belong to you. When you can't have what you lusted for, the desire drives you to fight for it. When you lose the battle, you must wrestle with anger and bitterness that thrive on your carnal disappointment.
Since this battle occurs primarily in the spiritual realm, you think you are right and your opponent is wrong. Therefore, you think that, if you pray, God will surely come to your defense and grant your wish. You ask Him to fulfill your desire. He will not grant it. Why? The motive was wrong. You asked amiss. Your desire rose from your diseased sinful heart. You wanted it for your personal gain. Oh, you did a masterful job at rationalizing your desire. You wanted to defend pure Christianity. You wanted to protect innocent sheep from those wolves in sheep's clothing. James bluntly reminds us of our own sin that contributed to the problem. He nudges us to self-examination, not to an unkind scrutiny of others. When we focus on a wolf in sheep's clothing, we must first look at ourselves. Are we acting like a sheep or a wolf?
Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Within this context, James has already established the link between our sinful nature that drives sinful sexual practices, hedonism, and spiritual wars. He continues this metaphor. He applies a term that normally applies to violation of the marriage contract to the discipleship contract. In Ro 7 Paul reminded the Romans that Christ's death killed the law to them so that they could become married to the resurrected Christ. Here James confronts believers who have professed a marriage relationship, a life-long covenant of discipleship, with Jesus Christ. He grabs them by the emotional collar, looks straight into their eyes, and tells them that their carnal war against other believers is the spiritual equivalent to adultery. They broke their marriage covenant with Christ. Their personal desire for prestige, victory over another believer at any cost, claimed the throne of their life. They turned to worship this desire and abandoned their worship of Christ. This carnal war for personal victory constituted a clandestine spiritual affair!
Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? It is unlikely that James had a particular verse of scripture in mind with this saying. Rather, he appealed to the general theme of scripture that defines the sinful carnal nature in terms of its conduct: it constantly lusts to envy. Lusteth comes from a word which describes an intense carnal yearning, to dote upon, to crave intensely possession, to desire earnestly. What is it that so draws our carnal nature? Like iron filings in the presence of a magnet, this nature pulls its lustful desires into its magnetic field. What is the magnet? Envy comes from a word which means ill-will, jealousy, or spite. Jealousy craves what belongs to another. Jealousy so overpowers the person it controls that it will prompt them to ill-will toward the target individual. It stirs the creative imagination to justify their feelings, and their actions of open war, against that person.
What weapons most often appear in the battles that we witness within the family of God? The leading weapon is the tongue! We use it to form strategic attacks upon our adversary. We use it to discredit our brother with whom we disagree. We use it to cast doubts in the minds of other believers who respect this person. We slice and cut. We maim and kill their good name, their godly witness, merely because we have volunteered service in the army of Satan for our personal gain. We have become a moral, ethical mercenary in the spiritual battle of the centuries!
Does this lesson from James hit us hard? Yes, it does! He intended to hit us where it hurts the most. He wanted to get our attention in such a way that we could not forget what he said. We pursue our ego, our self-justified criticisms of a fellow believer with an external image of righteous indignation. James cuts through the facade. He slices away the depravity that feeds this conduct in the family of God. He exposes the demon in its true dress. We have all faced this demon at times. He dressed up in the robes of a saint and appealed to us. He told us that we are the Elijah of the moment, the only person between God's holy truth and its demise. We must fight against this person, this tendency, or God's word will fall to the ground without a witness. Do we forget the lesson God taught Elijah? God never leaves Himself without a witness. At the very time Elijah thought he was the only man left, God had seven thousand men waiting to serve Him. Elijah fought God's battle under God's leadership. According to Eph 6, our enemy is not flesh and blood. It is not a brother or a sister who holds a different view, or does something differently than we. Our enemy is the spirit of Satan. He resides within our sinful nature, just as he resides in that nature within the person we would rise up to oppose. We should declare war on spiritual wickedness in heavenly places, but we have no commission from God to declare war on our brothers and sisters who may be influenced by that spirit. In
Lust. Pr 1:19; 1Ti 6:9-10.
Friends with the world. Joh 15:19,23-24; 17:14; Ga 1:10; 1Jo 2:15-16.
Guard your spirit. Ps 37:1; 73:1-17; 106:16; Pr 13:10; 14:30; 21:10; 24:1; 27:4; Jon 4:1; Mt 20:24; Mr 10:41; 15:10; Lu 19:39; 22:24; Joh 3:26; Ac 6:1; 7:9; 13:45; 17:5; Ro 4:3; 13:13-14; 1Co 13; Ga 5:17; Php 1:15; 1Ti 6:3-5; 1Pe 2:1-3 .
But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. Jas 4:6-10.
Once again, James chooses a strategic time to apply balm and encouragement to his challenging admonition. In this lesson we see two aspects of vital Christian living. We are sinners, and we live among sinners. God gives His children grace and strength to overcome their sins. These two points are like two sides of one coin. They go together. Through the Holy Spirit's conviction, and through supportive instruction in scripture, God shows us our sins. He makes us uncomfortable with them. Then He points us to His loving grace, His forgiveness, and His constant encouragement to repentance. What a beautiful combination!
But he giveth more grace. Without the verses that build up to this point, it would seem incomplete. We would wonder why He gives more grace. More than what? What purpose requires this increased supply of grace? As we look back over the preceding verses and integrate their instruction with this lesson, we see God's pattern. James just completed his direct attack on sins of the tongue in Chapter 3. He opened Chapter 4 with a heavy artillery attack on wars within the family of believers. He attributed sins of an uncontrolled tongue to a fire which originated in hell. He attributed wars among God's children to a self-serving lust that originates within our sinful nature. Notice the verse just prior to this statement. "Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?" Now unite these preparatory lessons to the encouraging word of grace.
None of us can honestly say that we have risen above problems with our tongue. We struggle with that problem every day. We appreciate Jas 3 because we have lived with this unruly, hard-to-control member. Few within any Christian fellowship have escaped some appearance of schism within a local church, or between local churches. We have witnessed the sad state of wars and fightings among children of God. These two problems top the list of the most troublesome issues to discourage growth in the faith and increasing service to our God. We can walk away from the field in self-determined defeat and give the battle to Satan. But God will not join us in surrender! He gives more grace! He gives more grace to help us gain control of our tongues. He shows us the way and encourages us to deliver our tongues from the flames of hell and place them under the domain of grace. He shows us the ugly reality of wars and fightings among believers, often word battles that aim more for defeat of our opponent and ego-nurturing victory for ourselves than at truth for God. Then He shows us how to nurture family affiliation, loving relationships, and peace among our fellow-believers. He gives more grace!
Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Biblical humility contains the mysterious ingredient that gains the victory in both of these troublesome issues. What attitude do you most often notice about people who do not control their tongue? They are convinced that they are as right as the Bible. They leave little room in their thinking for the possibility that they might be wrong, even in a minor point. You see little humility in this area of their thinking. What attitude do you most often notice in a person who has initiated a war among believers? He takes on a spirit of righteous indignation -- well, indignation anyway -- toward his opponent. He builds his attack on the premise that he is absolutely right. He leaves no reasonable allowance for error in his position. What do these two attitudes have in common? No humility! Biblical humility is not a pretentious attitude of self-serving self-effacement. Biblical humility appears in our unqualified submission to God and God's teachings.
The minute we acknowledge a problem with our tongue and submit it to God, we have begun the process that will overcome the nasty habits of that unruly member. As long as we fiercely defend the piety of our tongue, we license it to run out of control. The moment we acknowledge our tongue sins, confess them to the Lord, and seek His grace to regain control of our words, His grace will begin the work. Tongues under grace taste far better than tongues under fire.
When we deal fearfully and lovingly with differences between us and other believers, considering the possibility that we, too, may be in error, we will soften our harshness toward the other person. War will turn to godly prayer. We will seek God's intervention to correct the family problem. He will give more grace! His grace provides the means for peaceful resolution of difficult problems.
In rapid-fire style James rattles off a pointed list of commands. Notice the sequence. Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil. Draw nigh to God. Cleanse your hands. Purify your hearts. Be afflicted. Mourn. Weep. To whom did James address these pointed commands? They all focus on the reader. As I read them, they point to me. They force me to look into the mirror of my own conscience. I must submit to God. I must resist the devil. He didn't say one word to the person I criticize or fight. Apply this list to each area of your discipleship. Go over the list, inserting that area of your discipleship that seems most difficult to you. For example, Submit your tongue to God. Resist the devil's fiery control of your tongue. Draw your tongue nigh to God. Apply the whole list to every area of difficult discipleship, to every area where you experience problems maintaining godly control of your sinful tendencies.
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. What an encouraging promise! When you sense that tendency in your tongue to send forth its poison darts, recall that you stand in the very face of God! What does He think of your words? Will He approve? If you have any doubts, stop immediately! Submit those words to Him! The promise is wonderful. It contains a certain blessing. He shall lift you up. He shall lift you up over your former slavery to your sin-controlled tongue. He shall lift you up over your lust for power and dominance over another believer. He shall lift you up over wars and fightings among believers.
We believe that God's grace, His sovereign power, His determined will, and His saving grace delivers the sinner from eternal ruin and secures him to God's inheritance of the saints in light. Do we believe that same grace is capable of taking control of our tongues, our egos, our relationships with others in God's family? That, my friends, is God's promise in this lesson. He designs to make His grace real and vital in our personal habits, our tongues, our relationships, and our faith. You may say, "But I grew up in a home where people always spoke up without thinking. They just said whatever they wanted." Or "I have red hair and the stereotypical disposition that goes with it. When something rubs me the wrong way, I get hot and show it in my words. I can't help it." No, you are wrong. He gives more grace! He intends to bring our tongues under the control of His grace. May we find that spirit of powerful submission to God's ever-increasing grace. Give it a try. What will happen to your tongue under grace?
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Whom does God oppose? To whom does He give grace? Why does He give more grace? What does He expect from the grace He gives? Can you identify a particular experience in which God gave you more grace to help you in a difficult situation? Do you seek His grace in times of difficulty?
2. What steps should we take in drawing near to God? Under each of these categories, can you name something you need to correct? Something that may be standing between you and a closer walk with God? How committed are you to removing that obstacle? How hard have you worked to remove it? Does it involve your tongue, your speech?
3. What sins of attitude and speech do you need to confess to God today? Is there some reason that makes you hesitate to confess them?
4. What can you do today to draw near to God?
Examine God's Sword
God, the proud, and the humble. Ps 9:12; 138:6; Pr 3:34; 6:16-19; 15:33; 18:12; 22:4; 29:23; Isa 2:11-12,17; 57:15; Mt 23:12; Lu 1:52; 14:11; 18:14; 1Pe 5:5-6.
Submission to God. Ps 32:1-5; Mt 11:28-30; Ac 9:6; 26:19; Ro 10:3; 14:10-12; Eph 5:21; Heb 12:9; 1Pe 2:13-15.
Resist the devil. Mt 4:1-11; Lu 4:1-13; Eph 4:25-32; 6:11-12; 1Pe 5:8-10.
Drawing near to God. Ps 73:28; 145:18; Isa 29:13-14; 55:6-7; Ho 6:1-2; Heb 7:19; 10:22.
Clean hands. Ps 24:3-5; 26:6-7; 51:6-7,10; Mt 23:25-26; Lu 11:39-40; Ac 15:9; 2Co 7:1; 1Ti 2:8; 1Pe 1:22; 1Jo 3:3.
Mourning. Ps 119:67,71,136; 125:5,5; Mt 5:4; Lu 6:21; 2Co 7:9-11.
When God lifts you up. Ps 27:6; 28:9; 30:1; 113:7-9; 147:6; Mt 23:12; Lu 18:14; 1Pe 5:5-7.
Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another? Jas 4:11-12.
A literal rendition of the Greek word translated speak evil would be to speak down. Verbal put-downs are undoubtedly among the most cruel of tongue sins. Like the teeth on the tongue of the snail, verbal put-downs cut and devour those who suffer this kind of verbal attack. We can pretend to be ever so innocent as we slice and put down the recipient of our biting words. No amount of rationalizing or self-justification, however, can alter the force with which this lesson directs our conduct. James puts us on the uncomfortable horns of a dilemma in this lesson. Do we view ourselves as being subject to God's law or as judging God's law and being personally above it? When we put down a fellow believer with our words, do we realize that we have spoken evil, talked down to, God's law? In his brief pointed manner James reminds us that God's world view allows for only one lawgiver, God Himself. He allows for only one who possesses the right to judge, God Himself. When we judge another person in the family of God to the extent that we speak evil of them, put them down, we have challenged God's position as lawgiver and judge. We put ourselves in the place of God.
One way in which we judge the law and substitute ourselves for God by indulging this conduct is our selective obedience of God's law. We pick and choose the laws we want to obey. Unfortunately, that means we also pick and choose which laws we will not obey. God has not granted us that liberty. As an example, what does God think of our keeping the moral tenets of the Ten Commandments, while we choose to ignore the brotherly respect of Mt 18? James' words can either mean "Stop speaking evil one of another" or they can mean "Don't speak evil one of another." Whether we practice it or we are considering it, James tells us to stop. The Bible speaks of a few things that God suffers. He allows them, but never approves them. James does not dignify speaking evil with this kind of liberty. He forcefully prohibits it!
God calls on us to be doers of His law, not judges of it. Think about the lawyer who asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment. No doubt, he had thoughts of dedicating special effort to obey the greatest commandment, while slacking off on some of the lesser ones. Jesus surprised him with a quotation from De 6:5, "And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." Jesus then added that loving our neighbor as ourselves was just as important. Notice the last verse of De 6, "And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us." Unless we observe all of God's commandments, we cannot claim righteousness before Him. God frowns upon selective obedience to His laws. He gave them all for our instruction and obedience. A study of the Ten Commandments will reveal that the first four commandments relate to our service toward God. The remaining six deal with our relationship with our fellow man. In giving this two-step response to the lawyer, Jesus forcefully said, "All of God's commandments are equally binding. You must keep all of them alike." This makes James' statement more clear. If we criticize the law, speak down toward it, we reveal that we have elevated ourselves to godhood. We have replaced God by deciding which of His laws we should keep and which we may ignore.
How does this lesson relate to our control of the tongue? God says much in His Book about sins of the tongue. The moment we exempt our tongue from obedience to God's law, we have judged that God's law for the tongue does not apply to us. It is not important. How long would godly Christians tolerate the idea that each believer could exempt certain other parts of their bodies from submission to God's law? Such a notion would face immediate and powerful rejection as depraved and wicked conduct. Rightly so! Why then should we think it so very acceptable to exempt our tongues from submission to God's law? What's the difference?
Verbal put downs can take on all shapes and forms. They can be to our face and ever so subtle. The person who uses this tactic will often find the need to say, "Oh, I didn't mean it that way. I would never say anything like that about you." Watch the adjectives people use about their own actions, compared with the adjectives they use to describe others. Little is a common put down adjective that appears in this category. A member of a congregation comments to the preacher on a sermon he just heard, "That was a nice little talk you gave." Translated from the Greek, this holy put down means "Preacher, that was the worst excuse for a sermon I ever heard. Can't you beat that?" One preacher to another might comment on his brother's effort at interpreting a particularly difficult passage, "I used to believe that before I really studied those verses."
More often speaking down about a person occurs in their absence. When a person is not present, the evil tongue that speaks down about another person finds full expression to voice its evil freely. If God requires that we love our neighbor as ourselves, the moment we initiate a biting put down of another person, we break God's law. Perhaps the best way to put this whole subject of the tongue in perspective appears in the Golden Rule, "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets," Mt 7:12. Be honest with yourself. Would you like to know that every time you turn your back people who claim to be your friends are cutting you to ribbons with their words? Would you like to think that people constantly talk about you in harsh unkind words when you are not present? Of course, none of us like that idea. Indignantly, we protest that such conduct is unbiblical, unchristian. Well! Think about that the next time you consider talking about someone in an unkind manner. When you consider talking about how unruly their children behave, think of people saying the same thing about your children. "Oh," you say, "But my children are wonderful." Perhaps they are, but the issue is not reality, but what we say. The person you are ready to put down may think their children are wonderful, except when they play with your children! When you are ready to talk about another person's spouse, ask yourself how you would feel to know that someone said the same thing about your spouse. When you choose to serve as the church's megaphone, telling everyone all about a member's unfortunate problem, ask how you would feel to be in that person's shoes. If it were your misfortune, how would you react to the knowledge that one person in the church was telling everyone about your problem?
The best guard of the mouth is the law of love. When we place love as the sentry of our mouth, it will stop anything that cannot pass the love test. Does the urge to talk about this person's misfortune rise from love? How would I feel if that person walked up behind me and heard every word I spoke about them? It doesn't matter nearly so much whether that person hears or not (Usually when we choose to talk about people too much, they will eventually hear about it.), what should matter is that God hears every word we speak. Did we judge His law or obey it? Did we speak evil, talk down, about His law or magnify it? Whatever we do, or say, toward the least of His brothers and sisters, we do and say toward Him. If we would not consider talking down about Jesus, why seek an opportunity to talk down about one of His children?
Sharpen Your Sword
1. Do you have a problem with verbal put-downs? Do you listen intently to others? If someone questioned them after a lengthy conversation with you, would they think you had listened? How much of the time did you talk? How much time did you allow the other person to talk? Do you hear their words, or do you really hear their thoughts and feelings?
2. When someone in your group, work, family, or church, wants to do something different than you want, how do you handle the difference? Do you try to force them to go along with you? If their view prevails in the group, how do you react toward the project? Do you support it? Boycott it? Talk it down? Try to undermine it? Do you feel threatened when you don't get your way?
3. David wrote, "Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips." Someone has said that we should set four guards on our words. If the words we consider speaking pass these four guards, we may speak safely. If not, we should avoid the words. The four guards are
Verity. Is it true?
Charity. Is it kind and loving?
Necessity. Is it important? Is it necessary?
Prudence. Is it timely? Is it wise?
How would these four guards change your speech? Do you feel any conviction to set these guards on your lips? Do you have any desire to pray, like David, for God to set His watch on your words? Do such practical, hard hitting matters make up a regular part of your prayers?
Examine God's Sword
Evil speaking. Ps 140:11; Eph 4:31; 1Ti 3:11; 2Ti 3:1-5; Tit 2:3; 1Pe 2:1-3.
Our lawgiver. Isa 33:22.
Discerning or sinful judgment. Mt 7:1-5; Lu 6:36-38; Ro 2:1; 9:20; 14:4,13.
Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Jas 4:13-16.
Much of this work has emphasized sinful words against other people, gossip, criticism, innuendo, talking down, etc. Throughout this small practical Book on Christian discipleship, more than any other New Testament writer, James emphasized discipline of the tongue. His stress on the tongue is equalled only by a similar emphasis in Proverbs. We must learn that authentic Christianity, godly conduct, is so intertwined with our control of the tongue that we cannot separate them. Our words will either brand us as pretentious and self-serving or as true followers of Christ. Therefore, we must apply much of our Christian restraint and direction to the discipline of the tongue.
In this lesson James takes a brief, but important, survey of sinful word missiles against our fellowman. He takes us to faith's door. He opens dialogue on a very common practice among all of us and brands it as contradictory to faith. James does not criticize reasonable planning. He criticizes the practice of making plans that fail to include God. How quickly we fall into the habit of deciding on a course of action; then we pray for God to bless our decision. We reversed the biblical order of action. First, we should pray to God for direction. Perhaps the course we thought to pursue is not what God would have us do. We need to take our decisions to Him and seek His blessings before we proceed.
The illustration James presents shows a man planning a full year of travel and business without any mention of God. It involved travel to a distant city. How will this travel impact his family? Can he maintain contact with fellow believers in that city? Is there a church in the city or near enough that he can maintain his active participation in regular worship? Perhaps he should consider a different line of business that would allow him to remain home for that year.
Our society has become mobile, more so than any past generation in our country. In California the statewide average time a family owns a home is now less than seven years. This is an average! At times families may move from one neighborhood to another. Often they move to another city or another state. They must uproot their circle of friends and family in their native area to make the move. Could their move have something to do with a deeper, more fundamental decision to change their lifestyle? Where on the scale of values does their faith and their personal, active church participation fit into the choice? Many will accept a promotion with their employer and move to an area without giving the slightest thought to church or other believers in the area to which they move. Once they become established in their new area, they think about looking for a church. Many slip into careless discipleship and choose to avoid any form of public worship in their lives. They become lonely Christians at best. More often, they defect to the enemy. Only when a family member dies or they unexpectedly face a major crisis do they consider looking for a church and a pastor to minister to their spiritual needs.
When you recall that James was likely writing to members of the Jerusalem Church that had been scattered abroad by persecution, this admonition takes on even greater importance. They had been disrupted once because of their faith. Now they were making choices that would disrupt their whole lives without any consideration for their God and their church.
For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. Compare this quotation to the first one. In the first quote the speaker merely announced that he planned to go to a certain place, stay for a year, and work to turn a profit in his business. Now analyze this quotation. If the Lord will. It begins with God! Before going anywhere, this person sought God's will. If God made it known that His will called for different action, the speaker would gladly follow God's will. Next we shall live. Here we see the bedrock of the whole lifestyle God promoted throughout James' epistle. Our very existence depends on God's will. We could die tomorrow! Why make plans for a year in advance that allow no room for God? The first person followed a lifestyle that ignored faith in God. He didn't choose a path with God's guidance. He didn't think of seeking God's will before choosing which city. Further, he left no room for God in his plans for that year. We read about buying, selling, and making gain. Notice the man said nothing at all about God. If God gives us the breath we need to live through the day, we should give him a priority measure of consideration in our plans for the future. If the Lord wills, we shall live. If not, we shall die! In the words of Paul, either way "We are the Lord's." Once we make our decisions on the foundation of God's will, we can do this, or that. Notice the broader possibilities in this plan. Perhaps God wills us to do this; perhaps He will guide us to do that instead. If it comes from Him, we will do it. We need to learn how to hold life's steering wheel a little looser! White knuckle Christianity, like white knuckle driving, will tire you out. It is exhausting! Also, God, as our Father, wants what is best for us, for the abundant life. Rich happiness lies in the path of His choosing; therefore, white knuckle Christianity leads to a narrow life because our field of vision is so narrow. We deny ourselves God's perspective, depriving ourselves of the fullness God intends us to have.
Name the single most fearful decision you face. Write it down on a sheet of paper. Write down the reasons you think of it with fear. Now write down several ways in which this situation could resolve itself to your satisfaction. List the pros and cons in two columns. You have just followed a common practice people recommend to help us make difficult decisions. Is anything missing? Yes, the same missing ingredient from James' first quotation is missing from this idea. No matter how many lists you make, how many pros and cons you name, how much time you spend weighing one against the other, you cannot make a good decision without God at the top of the page! God can turn all the pros into cons or all the cons into pros by the simple injection of His will.
Ac 16:6-15 contains a perfect example of God's hand in guiding our life. Paul and his travel companions thought to preach in a certain area, but the Holy Spirit would not allow it. They traveled on and thought about going in another direction. Again the Holy Spirit prohibited them from going. Notice that they didn't sit around feeling sorry for themselves until God gave an answer. Neither did they retire from life until they understood the course God had in mind for them. They didn't wait passively to discover God's will for their lives. They kept busy doing God's will, as much as they could determine it. In His time God revealed a man dressed in the clothing of Macedonia. He said, "Come over into Macedonia, and help us." There was no doubt that God had sent them to this region of Greece. They left immediately. How would you react to such a revelation from God? Perhaps they tried to remember the exact facial features of the man in the vision. Would they find a man who looked exactly like the man in the dream? When they arrived at Philippi, they found a group of women who gathered by the river to pray. They found a woman, not a man, but they found God's will. Almost certainly this riverside meeting was the beginning of the cheerful Philippian Church to which Paul later wrote. God always keeps pleasant surprises in store for us, just as He kept Paul out of the loop, except that he was to go to Macedonia. Was Paul disappointed because he found a group of women, not the man in his dream? No, he found the fulfillment of his dream! May we train our words to consider God in all that we do. He will guide, and He will bless our faith.
Sharpen Your Sword
1. If you knew you had only one year left to live, what are the most important things you would like to do? Why not do them anyway?
2. When you consider major decisions in your life, do you ask God to show you His will? In order of priority how do these factors rank in your decision process? God, your ability to serve God as the first priority of your life? Family, your ability to give of your time and energy to your family? Church, your ability to support, attend, and participate in the regular activities of your church?
3. To what does James compare our life? How does this view affect your present lifestyle? Your present priorities? What one thing can you do this week to move your lifestyle more into line with the life-view James described? To place your plans for the future more in God's hands?
Examine God's Sword
Tomorrow. Pr 27:1; Isa 56:12; Lu 12:16-31.
Brevity of life. Job 7:6-7; Ps 39:5; 89:47; 90:4-6,10; 102:11; 109:23; 1Jo 2:17.
God's will in life. Pr 19:21; Lu 12:47-48; Ac 18:21; Ro 1:10; 2:17-23; 15:32; 1Co 4:19; 16:7; Php 2:19.
Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Jas 5:1-4.
How easily we stereotype people! We say that a person is "rich" and a certain image comes to mind. We say that a certain man is a preacher, and we caste him in a particular mold, even though we never met him. We stereotype people in so many ways At first glance, we could accuse James of stereotyping the rich, but a closer look will dismiss the charge. James described a certain class of rich people, not all rich people. These rich people unscrupulously gained wealth at the cost of the less fortunate. They showed no conscience toward those they injured in their accumulation of riches. People who live in this fashion, never showing any conviction of conscience, any conviction of the Holy Spirit, or any compassion for the needs of others manifest the spirit of the wicked whom God will punish in the last judgment. Perhaps they are the Lord's, but their conduct does not witness their spiritual state.
God can save rich people just as easily as He can save paupers. His grace knows no limits in its ability to cover all the sins of all His elect. However, the same grace that saves a person also changes their moral view of life. It imputes the righteousness of Christ within them, and it imposes the righteousness of God upon their conscience. Herein lies the significance of the scriptures that teach about God's law being written in our heart. God does not write His law in every person's heart. Some people live and die with no evidence of tenderness toward God. Others manifest in some way or another that a wonderful change occurred within them, a change they could not accomplish or cause. We should exercise caution in our opinions of a person's eternal destiny. We cannot look inside their heart. We cannot see what God has worked in the secret chambers of their soul. The scars of painful experiences may obscure that work to the common eye, but God knows them that are His, 2Ti 2:19. The seal of His blood applied to the heart cannot be broken! We cannot predict the degree of response or obedience that becomes visible to the ordinary eye, once God's grace has saved a person. For that reason, we should exercise caution in predicting that all the elect will hear and obey the gospel to a certain extent that gives us personal assurance. We are not God! We narrowly see external evidences and changes in conduct that give us reason to judge whether God has worked within a person's life. God reserves the matter of eternity to His own choice and grace. We should avoid two extremes in this area of observation. We should avoid condemning every person who does not agree with us, presuming that their error justifies our thinking they will suffer eternal doom. This attitude fosters arrogance and pride. We should equally avoid the idea that the slightest single episode of good conduct gives evidence that the person is saved, essentially a thinly veiled attempt to teach universalism, the idea that every person ever born will live in heaven. The Bible frowns upon both views. So should we! The subject of this lesson addresses sins in the gaining, and in the use, of wealth. That issue should instruct us here.
By God's inspired direction, we find in this passage an indictment of a wicked rich man. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Notice the verbs that describe the condition of all his riches. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Translate these measures of wealth into their modern equivalent. We might speak of a wealthy person's stock portfolio, real estate holdings, and corporate investments. How differently James described the state of their wealth! The riches they trusted were corrupted, like spoiled rotten meat. The beautiful clothes they enjoyed wearing were full of moth holes. Their gold and silver were oxidized. The rust, the progressive decay of their wealth, spoke out against them. Hear the testimony from the witness stand of ill-gotten wealth. It carries the blood of those whom it abused. It reveals the neglect of precious people and values it ignored on the way up. Once again, James expands our thoughts on the power of words. In this example, we hear the words, the verbal testimony, of ill-gotten wealth crying out for all those who suffered under the unfeeling, immoral hands that fought to gain it.
James does not condemn wealth. The Bible mentions a number of godly wealthy people. Every godly work which we should pursue will eventually require money to support its progress. The Bible condemns people who allow wealth to control them. Notice the words, the testimony, that God hears from these wicked rich and their sins. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Notice the words that remind us of the tongue, of words wickedly framed and used to justify sinful injustice. The laborers' hire, fraudulently understated and underpaid, cries out. The words, the painful outcry for help, of the unfortunate who worked for these rich call out to God for relief. Although we see no immediate evidence of God's intervention, James reminds these wicked rich that God has heard the cries of these people. The wicked rich impose their wills and injustices upon the poor, indeed upon any whom them can overpower, with no concern for what is right. Who will stand up for that worthless pauper against this wealthy person of power and influence? James answers the question. The Lord of sabaoth hears those cries! Saboath comes from a Hebrew word which means armies, a large host of soldiers. Although no person on earth will rise to oppose all the injustice of the wicked, the God of large armies hears their cries. He will rise up in judgment to right the wrongs, to correct the injustices, and to bring every wicked work of wicked men to the light of his unerring judgment and certain punishment.
Perhaps the most common reason we permit our tongues to speak inappropriately relates to our sense of justice. However warped, however colored by our personal sense of pain or disappointment, we see something that we dislike. We watch as it progresses with little opposition. We decide that someone must stand up to resist this evil. Seeing no one, we speak out. In this, we fail to recognize God's certain judgment! Do we doubt His holy character? Do we question His sense of moral right? Do we deny His ability, or His determination, to bring every sin to judgment, Ec 12:14? Godly character requires a patient spirit. God has not given us insight into His time table. He didn't tell us when, or how, He will judge a particular sin, but He has told us He will do so! Either in the blood of Christ, God's payment for the sins of all who will live with Him in eternity, or in His eternal judgment, God allows no sin to escape His holy justice!
This lesson challenges our discretion. How do you manifest your rejection of sinfulness without putting yourself in God's judgement seat? Passive silence when you could speak out against sin may be as wrong as presumptive judgement. God raised Esther for the purpose of intervening for His people. When he puts us in a position to voice our rejection of sinfulness, we should take that opportunity as a godly mandate. However, this lesson aims at self-righteous, self-serving judgement that substitutes our judgement for God's. When you face the rising tide of evil with only a tiny spoon in your hands, oppose it, but leave the final outcome in God's hands, with his judgement. Our sense of godliness should never become so presumptious as to stand in the place of God.
The danger of this lesson is twofold. The wicked view wealth as a symbol of power and as the means to gratify their sinful appetites. They give no thought to the pain they inflict on others in the process. In their mind, might makes right. The second warning applies to believers. Wealth will not answer the cry of the soul for peace and purpose in life. Neither will it give lasting security for the future. Often it complicates the quest for authentic godliness. It encourages a false sense of security outside of God and our sense of faith in His goodness to provide our needs. It nurtures a sense of contentment with this world that clouds the soul's desire for God and the world to come. Spiritual revival and vibrant godliness often follow times of intense hardship. They seldom follow times of intense material wealth. Notice Paul's instructions to the young preacher regarding the gospel message and wealth.
But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 1Ti 6:9.
Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate. 1Ti 6:17-18.
1Ti 6:9 addresses those who want to become wealthy. They will be, desire to be, rich. Their inordinate desire for wealth will nudge them to compromise their faith and lead them into many compromising situations. They live in danger of spiritual shipwreck.
Verses 17 and 18 of 1Ti 6 instruct those who are wealthy. It cautions them against the sinful excesses James described. It reminds them of the uncertainty of material wealth. It urges them to focus their lives, and their material wealth, on godliness. Material wealth, the kind of wealth we measure by bank accounts, stock portfolios, and financial investments, is, at best, uncertain. Spiritual wealth, on the other hand, is certain. A market crash cannot devalue that investment. A fraudulent contract cannot rob us of those holdings. Ready to distribute, willing to communicate. Both of these instructions acknowledge the value of wealth in the hands of a godly person who puts his wealth to good use. Occasionally, we will hear stories of wealthy people who profess Christ, but boast that their religion has never cost them anything. What they have is not New Testament Christianity! The New Testament Christian emphasizes spiritual wealth and freely distributes his financial blessings to the needs of others and to the welfare of the cause of Christ. Covetousness, the selfish holding onto what we have and the greedy reaching for what does not belong to us, the New Testament calls idolatry! Boastful hoarding of one's wealth more matches the wicked rich of Jas 5 than the godly rich of 1Ti 6.
Primarily in his writings to the Corinthian Church, Paul taught the model of New Testament giving. We are to measure the amount we give in proportion to the degree to which God has prospered us, 1Co 16:2. If God blesses a person to gain wealth above their need, it comes from His prospering. He blesses them so that they may supply a need within His family. They should recognize His prospering hand in their finances and distribute according to His prospering. Paul taught that New Testament giving should relate to a steady purpose of a godly heart, not to the rich person's desire to manipulate others or control the church, 2Co 9:7. The whole concept of New Testament giving carries the idea that our giving should take top priority in our financial management, just as Jesus Christ and His royal law of liberty should take top priority in our moral and ethical conduct. This implies that our giving should be sacrificial. The amount we give to godliness should be our first financial priority, not our last. If we make giving our last priority, we will never have anything significant to give, only the leftovers.
Contrast in your meditations the vast difference between Christian giving and financial management and the unprincipled greed of the wicked wealthy in Jas 5. Never allow the desire for wealth to dim your tender heart for the needs of others. Never allow it to dull your sense of godly right and equity. The God of armies hears the cries of His suffering people. We need to hear them, too.
Sharpen Your Sword
1. How much would it take to be considered rich in your social circle? If you were to receive $1 million, tax free, what would you do with it? How would it change your life? How would it change your faith? How does money change people? Would you be different or the same?
2. In the lesson quoted from 1Ti 6 what is the difference between those who are wealthy and those who seek wealth? What insights can you gain from this difference?
3. What does wealth do to our relationship with God? Would it represent a hindrance or an assistance in your life? What would it do to your sense of dependence on God? What would it do to your view of life after death? What problems are not solved by wealth?
4. How does God want us to use our money? What do you have that money can't buy? What can you do with your present possessions to show your discipleship? In what priority position should we place our giving to church and related causes? How should this affect the amount we give, compared to what we now give?
Examine God's Sword
Danger in wealth. De 32:15; Ne 9:25-26; Ps 49:6-20; 73:3-17; Pr 11:4,28; Jer 9:23-24; 17:11; Mt 6:19-21; Lu 12:16-21,33-34; 1Ti 6:9-10.
The God of armies. Isa 1:9; Ro 9:29.
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. Jas 5:5-6.
This study of James began with six godly foundations, internal disciplines, God's constant flood of gifts and blessings. When we come face to face with a painful injury our uncontrolled tongue inflicted upon another person, we quickly resolve to work harder at watching our words. We determine to be more careful with our words in the future. Such resolve will quickly wear off, and the old habits of careless tongues will revive, merely forced underground temporarily. How do we gain control of our tongues? We start with the foundations! Become a Nehemiah. Rebuild the walls and restore the foundations of the city, of your life. Start from the ground up. As you incorporate God in your foundations, you will find authentic discipleship more comfortable and natural. We live in a time more characterized by theatrical Christianity than authentic Christianity. Put on a good appearance. Look and act like a Christian. Absorb those Christian values into your soul? How frightening! James rips down this store-front Christianity. He makes the case as pointedly as any New Testament writer for reforming, renovating, repenting, forgiving, Christian ethic that starts in the marrow of the soul. That is why he started with those foundations.
Next James attacks our tongues, and all our other actions that prefer license to sin over the law of liberty. He drags us, reluctant at times, along with him to the realization that our words reveal more about the state of our soul than almost anything else we do. Repeatedly, he takes us back to that unruly member. He tells us "If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain," Jas 1:26. He hit preachers hard in the first part of Chapter 3 for their responsibility as leaders and examples. He left no quarter for any of us. I have never known a person, however godly, however devoted to Christian virtues, who could read Jas 3 and avoid the stinging rebuke of James' words. James hit my bulls-eye over and over again. He rebuked me painfully, but he also encouraged me to submit my mouth to Christ just as fully as I must submit every other member of my body to Him. Licking my sore pride and nursing my bruised ego, James, I thank you. Authentic loyalty to the Lord Jesus Christ must take priority if we are truly to be His disciples in word, deed, and truth.
With this lesson, we begin the conclusion. James has now finished those harsh rebukes. He has torn away the garbage of error. Now he begins a positive encouraging conclusion that includes a number of examples and spiritual exercises to strengthen our godliness. He shows us godly tongue control through a number of worthy examples.
Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. This sentence relates to the wicked rich whom James introduced at the beginning of Jas 5. They would sacrifice any virtue or compromise anyone in their quest for riches. Their first objective was personal gain. How many lives had they sacrificed on the alter of their riches? Their families? Their spouses? Their children? Godly causes? They had conducted their pursuit of wealth like a butcher in a slaughter house. Personal pleasure, wanton fulfillment of their appetites was their most important pursuit.
Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. How far should we take this idea of Christian non-resistance? The answer is not easy. Nor will the thoughts offered here settle the question. I will limit my response to issues of discipleship, personal relationships within the family of God. However strongly we disagree with the wicked rich James rebuked, they appeared among the ranks of believers who were scattered abroad in the Jerusalem persecution. He presumed that they were reading his personal pastoral epistle as he addressed them in the first person. Few, if any, would defend them or their actions as exemplary Christianity.
The issue of non-resistance within God's family appears far more restricted and defined than the same issue in the broad range of cultural and societal considerations. In the Old Testament God commanded Israel, his chosen nation, to go to war against various hostile neighbors. In the New Testament, as he prepared the disciples for his departure, Christ told His disciples to arm themselves with a sword. These two examples appear to oppose the idea of broad, absolute non-resistance. In the Sermon on the Mount, a private message from Jesus to His followers, primarily intended to govern their conduct among themselves, He taught them how to deal with problems in His family. "Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." Mt 5:38-42. Even the most dedicated believers in societal non-resistance avoid the scope of this lesson. When they are involved in a traffic accident and the other party sues them for damages, do they deny their own insurance coverage and offer to give the other person double the amount for which they sued? This lesson flows naturally and wisely when interpreted as a guide for personal relationships within the family of God. It does not flow so smoothly when interpreted outside that context.
In Eph 6 Paul taught us to put on the whole armor of God, to prepare for a monumental spiritual battle. He did not advocate non-resistance in that battle! In Verses 11 and 12 of that chapter he reminded us of the battle lines. Before we go to war, we must identify the enemy. Our spiritual enemy is the devil, not flesh and blood. Our brother or our sister in God's family is flesh and blood. They are not our enemy! God does not teach us to declare war on them! "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."
The scriptural pattern requires that we handle differences peacefully within God's family. We turn the other cheek. We give our coat. We walk the extra mile. Oh, how we need to learn this lesson! God drew the battle lines. He revealed our enemy. We must arrange all our battle strategies, our spiritual weapons, against that enemy. God does not approve when we shoot our wounded brother or sister in His family. God does not bless when we declare tongue-war against one of his own.
He doth not resist you. Resist comes from a Greek word which means to arrange against. He does not declare war against you. He does not resort to the same sinful tactics you employed. He does not try to fight fire with fire. How often, how sadly often, children of God respond with the spirit of the sinful world against hurts inflicted from others in the family of God. "He hurt me; I'm going to hurt him." "She spread an unkind rumor about me; I'm going to grab any opportunity I find to spread a rumor about her." "He embarrassed me in the presence of others; I'll find the occasion to embarrass him." "She put down my family; I'll tell the church what I know about her family." "He put down my best efforts of discipleship; I'll watch for his mistakes and spread them far and near." "I don't get mad. I get even." Wrong! In keeping with his Lord's Sermon on the Mount wisdom for godly harmony within God's family, James strengthened the godly restraint of these poor Christians. We must learn to control our tongues in times of hurt or anger. We must learn to give, not to take. The righteous just of
Jas 5. Make a list of Paul's description of our spiritual enemy. What adjectives did he use to define our enemy? Does this description approve of your treating a friend, family member, or someone in your church as your enemy?
Examine God's Sword
Godly non-resistance. Isa 53:7; Mt 5:38-42; Lu 22:51-53; Joh 19:8-11; 1Pe 2:21-24.
Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door. Jas 5:7-9.
Twice in his concluding exhortations, James will mention the value of patience. Three times in this lesson alone, he reminds us of patience's virtue. Looking into the mirror of honesty, we probably see ourselves more often tapping our fingers with nervous impatience than waiting patiently for the Lord. We want everything good, and we want it right now. Patience builds on faith. The word translated patient in this lesson deals with personal relationships, not with circumstances. Another word in New Testament Greek deals with circumstances. James is dealing with the way we handle our personal relationships here. That knowledge immediately takes us to anything that flavors or impacts the spirit of our relationships with others. Impatience with another person appears in our words. We want them to hurry up and be quiet so we can tell them about our problem, our opinion, or whatever we consider important at the moment. We are me-deep in our interests that we become impatient when we cannot exercise the me-muscle of our tongue. How refreshing is the self-denial of authentic Christianity!
Most relationships do not grow deep and fruitful overnight. Neither do they go sour overnight! A farmer must plant his crop with faith in the harvest. He does not sit by idly during the growing season. His work never ceases. There is always work. He must see that the seeds get early water to sprout and begin their healthy growth. He must nurture the tender plants as they break through the ground. He must carefully remove the weeds, but preserve the precious plants. He must see that the ground is soft and fertile. As the plants grow, they need more water to continue their growth. Otherwise, the fruit will be stunted and of little value. Finally, he must know the right time to reap the harvest. Relationships are much like a farmer's work. We must follow wise graciousness in the early stages of a relationship, or the other person will view us as a temperamental grouch. We must discern the kind of interaction that will prevent sinful weeds from developing in this relationship. Through the experience of living, we build a large number of relationships. Each one dictates an appropriate response from us. Our relationship with our spouse calls for one set of rules and conduct. A relationship with a member of the opposite sex on the job or in the church calls for a very different set of rules and conduct. Allowing what is appropriate in your marriage to prevail in another relationship will cause disaster. The Bible reflects the multitude of relationships we will experience. It contains countless examples of success and failure, both of which wisely instruct us in the appropriate development of each.
As a relationship develops, different responses must occur to nurture its continuing fruitfulness and its survival through the seasons of life. In the early stages of a relationship you may invest a tremendous amount of time and energy to build it, sometimes to the neglect of other things. If you try to maintain that same exclusive spirit later in the relationship, you might smother the other person. Little children often think they can be friends with only one person at a time. The best way to create problems on the playground is to put three children together. One will surely end up on the outside. Biblical wisdom teaches us that we can, and should, approach our friendships in a more mature spirit. We can enjoy friendship with many people at once. Their friendship with others does not endanger their friendship with us. Only empty, fruitless friendships try to exist in this spirit of exclusivity.
Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Like the farmer, be patient in your relationships with others in the family of God. Stablish means to build strength and stability into your own character and into your relationships. Set your life course in a fixed direction. Don't waver and falter between your Christian values and your sinful depravity, particularly in your relationships with others. Set a godly course that all who know you learn to expect, and to respect. Our closest relationships, our best friends, will not always walk with us every step of the way. Friends accept differences in a spirit of love and respect. Because a friend does not walk with you at one particular time, or in one particular issue, does not mean they are no longer your friend. You know them, and you value the friendship enough that you will allow that difference. You know that you both walk the same path, even though each of you may not always walk in lock-stepped marching steps down the path. Friends with godly relationships, built on patience and stable hearts, do not exaggerate their friends' differences to others. They do not criticize every step that differs from theirs. They show love and patience. They know that soon they will be together again on the pathway of godliness.
The coming of the Lord draweth nigh. Discipleship brings us nearer to God, and it brings God nearer to us. True discipleship does not constantly watch a fellow disciple's actions. They both watch their Lord. Though they may walk pathways that differ occasionally, the dominant course of their lives draws them closer to their Lord. That course will automatically draw them closer to each other.
Grudge not one against another. Don't impose grief or difficulty on your fellow traveler. Don't do or say things that make their life more difficult. Be cautious that you do not put yourself into the position of being their personal Holy Spirit, deciding what is right and wrong for them and trying to make them feel guilty because they don't agree with you at the moment.
Lest ye be condemned. Condemned comes from a judicial term for a guilty verdict. James joins his Lord in warning against trying to be judge and jury instead of fellow disciples. When we judge our brother's or sister's differences with us harshly so that we feel justified in talking about them to others, criticizing them behind their back or stretching things they said or did out of context to their injury, we cast ourselves in the role of judge. We see ourselves as above the law, but we severely judge others around us as being under the law, and as being guilty of failure. James warns that the sentence we pass upon the person we grudge and talk down, we pronounce unknowingly upon ourselves. We condemn them. We can tell anyone who will listen exactly why they are wrong and we are right. We put ourselves into a serious problem in this conduct. We compete against God in a role He reserves for Himself. He will not approve that role, nor will He bless us in trying to fill it.
Behold, the judge standeth before the door. This verse describes an imminent judgment, not the final judgment at the end of time. Our loving Father cares enough about his family to chasten sinful conduct. When we begin to judge our fellow-believers, we invite the Judge to enter and to judge us, not knowing the threat our conduct brings upon us. What can we do to avoid this danger of chastening judgment? We can build patience in our relationships with others. We can nurture tolerance and kindness in our interpretation of their actions and words. We can show them the kindness we would like for them to show us in similar tests. Then we will have no need to fear the imminent coming of the Judge. We have followed his discipleship command, "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Mt 7:1-3.
Sharpen Your Sword
1. What kind of experiences test your patience? How much patience does a farmer need to gather his crop? How does this illustration instruct us in our personal relationships?
2. What happens to Christians who grumble and criticize other believers? Do you have any tendencies or special weaknesses toward this sin? Is there some particular situation in your life right now that is testing your patience toward another Christian? What have you done to discover God's wisdom and grace to help you handle this situation in a godly manner?
3. If you were to make a list of all the friendships you have lost in the last five years, along with the factors that contributed to the break up of the friendship, how many times would careless words appear on the list? How many times would other sins of the tongue show up as factors? Are you wrestling with a precarious friendship right now? Has your tongue contributed to the tension in the friendship? Why not approach that person, confess your tongue sins, and ask their forgiveness?
Examine God's Sword
Patience. Ps 37:7; 40:1-3; 130:5; La 3:25-27; Mic 7:7; Lu 8:15; Ro 15:4; 2Co 6:1-5; Ga 5:22-25; 6:9; Col 1:9-11; 1Th 1:3; Heb 12:1-3.
Grudge not. De 19:18; 2Co 9:7; Ga 5:13-15; 1Pe 4:9.
Condemned disciples. Mt 6:14-15; 7:1-2.
Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. Jas 5:10-11.
Remember the cliche, "A picture is worth a thousand words." Read the Book of Job. Let your imagination take you into this man's life. Sit around the fire and listen to him and his "Miserable comforters" discuss his troubles. Then slip back into your life. Sit in your comfortable couch or easy chair and think about your troubles. Pity parties and "I can beat that" tendencies fade away. We all recoil in silence in the face of Job's trials. None of us would stand up to Job and say, "You think you have troubles. Listen to what happened to me." Some of us will quietly respond, "Oh, I know I should be thankful. Things could be so much worse than they are." What that statement says is "I know I should be thankful, but I'm really not. I have a gripe at God for not taking better care of me." We think of a thankful heart as a spontaneous response to an extraordinary blessing from God. No, the Bible makes a thankful heart the topic of a commandment, just like one of the Ten Commandments. We wouldn't think of giving space in our minds to the response, "Oh, I know I shouldn't commit adultery, but . . . ." One is just as much a commandment as the other! One requires that we take control of our sinful appetite. The other requires that we take control of our tongues and our minds.
When Job resisted sin in all his trials, refusing to charge God foolishly, he maintained control over his tongue, his words. If God blessed Job in such an extreme test to control his words, surely His grace is sufficient to assist us in winning our battle for the tongue.
Take, my brethren, the prophets, who have spoken in the name of the Lord, for an example. From Abel to Malachi, we can't find an Old Testament prophet who didn't go through the fires for God. Trials, temptations, and rejection by his countrymen were commonplace in the prophet's agenda. Why do we call Jeremiah the weeping prophet? God sent him with the advance notice that the nation would refuse to hear him, but he delivered God's message faithfully just the same. How would you like to preach to a church all of your life, knowing that they would never obey your message? While James singles Job out as his example, we can study every prophet in the Old Testament and learn the same lesson. They considered God and his message more important than abuse of their tongues in slanderous rumors and criticisms of their fellows. They considered their position a sanctified office, dedicated to God. As such, they could not give any of their appetites license to disgrace God's calling, including their tongue.
For an example of suffering affliction, and of patience. They suffered hardship for God. They suffered loss of popularity, at times total rejection by their countrymen, for God. How did they respond? Occasionally we find them momentarily giving way to self-pity, but not for long. God never approves of the "I'm such a failure. I might as well just give up and quit trying" spirit. God went to Elijah in his moment of self-pity and asked him, "What are you doing here?" Does He do any less for us? The issue of their enduring affliction grows in our minds as we consider how they endured. The Greek word translated patience means forbearance, literally, long-tempered. They took control of their tongues and their tempers for God. No prophet responded, "Lord, you know how short-tempered I am. I fly off the handle when I get mad. Maybe you should call someone else." God lead them through the fires to stabilize their tempers and to show them that He was in control. Instead of losing control and demonstrating a short fuse, under God's guiding hand they learned to become long-tempered. They learned to endure under faith in His guiding hand. You see, God didn't call prophets who were bigger than life. He called ordinary men and nurtured them to grow to the position He assigned to them. He does the same with you and me. He calls us in our ordinary setting, but He guides us to rise to His calling for our lives. We need to forsake our me-deep spirits and dispositions, get in touch with God's truth in scripture, and absorb His grace into our lives so deeply that we overcome our carnal temperaments.
Behold, we count them happy which endure. As we read the trials of Old Testament prophets and New Testament saints, we consider those faithful men and women fortunate indeed for their faithful endurance. Simple as it seems, that attitude toward them confesses our desire to follow God with similar faithfulness. Why wait? Why think of being faithful to God sometime in the future? Why not begin the process of reforming faithfulness today? Study those examples and learn that God repeatedly elevated ordinary men and women to fulfill His calling with faith and conviction. His providence opened doors before kings and nations. He opened heaven's windows and supplied their needs. Will He do less for us?
Endure. In an earlier chapter we looked at a lesson which focused on patience toward people. This word describes patience toward circumstances. The order of these lessons instructs us. First, we learn to apply a loving patient spirit toward difficult people. Then we can apply that same spirit toward difficult experiences. First, we trust God to strengthen us in our relationships with less-than-perfect people. Then we trust Him to guide and protect us through less-than-perfect situations.
Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. Mention Job and what do you think? For most of us, the first word that comes to mind is patience. We read the story of his life and marvel at all the terrible things that suddenly, tragically caved in on him. There can be no good time to learn that your children have been killed and all your possessions have been lost! Much of the Book of Job records this man's search for meaning, for answers to the big "Why?" question. Like us, he questioned, he faltered, and he asked God, "Why me?" God did not rebuke Job for that search. He will not rebuke you either! Patience in difficult circumstances directs our minds to the "Why?" question. It also directs us beyond the "Why?" to the "What?" "Lord, what do you want to teach me with this experience? Help me to learn from this difficult experience. Help me learn to trust you more. Help me learn to be strong for others. Help me magnify your name, even in this affliction."
In all the pain of the moment, when dark clouds gather and rain on our parades, we need Job. We need his message. We need to look beyond the clouds to the end. In the end God, faithful and true to his character, blessed Job more than in the beginning. He promises the same for us!
Sudden, painful experiences often set our tongues loose in sinful words. We feel the pain of the moment and look for someone or something to blame. We want to strike out with anger and hurt at whatever brought this terrible thing upon us. When we most needed the comforts of the fellowship of believers, someone in the church said something hurtful to us. When we most needed the encouragement of the gospel, the preacher delivered a rebuke against unbelief. In the midst of a struggle on the job your spouse or one of your children sent a slicing comment your way. The list never ends! When you next experience one of these painful moments, remember Job. Like Job, stand solid on your God. Hold your faith in Him. Trust Him to stand beside you through the pain of the moment and to teach you something wonderful and good through this experience. Don't forget God's end! He is full of pity and of tender mercies. He will send a bountiful supply of those blessings to you! Show Him your faith and your love. Keep your heart. Keep your faith in Him. And keep your tongue!
Sharpen Your Sword
1. We tend to study the Bible as if it were a systematic theology text book or a confession of doctrinal faith. Try studying the life of three biblical personalities as a character study, an examination of their life, their trials, their humanity, and God's involvement with them through all their experiences. What do you learn from each of these people? Would this be a good way to study your Bible?
2. What can you learn from Job's life? From his mysterious trials? What does his experience do to reassure you of God's goodness, despite moments of confusion, apparent contradiction, and pain?
3. What do the experiences of the prophets tell you about the current teaching among some that pleasing God guarantees health, wealth, prosperity, and creature comfort?
4. What impact do you see from the examples of the prophets on your speech? How does patience in trial relate to your tongue? What do you do with your tongue when unexpected difficulties cross your path? Can these lessons help you reform your speech?
Examine God's Sword
Prophetic contributions. Mt 5:17-18; 10:22; Ro 15:4-6. Use your concordance to check the numerous appearances of "It is written," or other words that indicate a New Testament quote from the Old Testament. Study both appearances, Old and New Testament, of the words.
Job's example. Job 1:21-22; 42:10-17.
God's encouraging pity. Ps 25:6-7; 51:1; 78:38; 86:4-7,15; 103:8-22; 119:132; 136 (The whole psalm), Isa 55:6-7; La 3:21-24; Lu 6:36.
But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. Jas 5:12.
Many believe that this verse, along with Mt 5:33-37, prohibits Christians from taking oaths of any kind, including sworn testimony in a court. Individual conscience and personal liberty should prevail in that area. To those who make this interpretation, God bless their desire to follow scripture to the best of their understanding. To those who interpret the lessons differently, God bless their desire to study scripture and to apply it to their lives. Without question or controversy we can safely interpret both responses as reflecting integrity and dependable honesty in a believer's words.
The Bible does not require, nor justify, cruelty in our words under the guise of honesty. God does not bless the razor sharp tongue's slicing up another person, leaving them bloody and dejected by harsh cruel words. Most often such conduct reflects malice in the heart of the person who allowed their tongue-teeth to bite another. "Well, what do you want me to do? Be a hypocrite?" some will ask. No, scripture does not approve of hypocrisy any more than it approves of cruelty. Perhaps the best way to discern the biblical course with our words is to examine our motives. What spirit prompts our words? Do we want to speak those harsh cutting words because the person we attack has done or said something we dislike intensely? If so, our pretense of honesty serves to cover up the true motive, revenge and anger in our own heart. Anyone who enjoys slicing up other people with their words should be avoided. They carry a big weight of anger and hostility that they have refused to confront and neutralize with scriptural methods. Often the very person who defends their cutting words under the guise of honesty will react with violent anger if another person tries to treat them in exactly the way they insist on treating people. In effect they say, "I am perfect, so anyone who talks like that to me is either lying or confused. But I have extraordinary insight into other people's errors, so I must talk in this way to prove my honesty." A brief review of our study of James will quickly reveal a number of errors in this spirit. It reeks of pride! It unites the hellish fires of pride, anger, and malice to the tongue. Remember Jas 3:6.
In some setting we cannot doubt or deny that this lesson prohibits binding the integrity of our words to an oath. The question around which the historic debate over oaths revolves lies in the setting and the extent of the lesson. In both this lesson and in the Sermon on the Mount, the context deals with personal interaction between believers, disciples, not with the Christian's appearance in a court of law. If context applies the lesson, we must apply it to o