Monthly Archives: April 2010

James 2:8-13, April 28, 2010

James 2:8-13

The Whole of the Law…

James continues his thoughts about the sin of partiality by reminding his readers of the command “love your neighbor as yourself.”  This is a common command that just about everyone has heard in one form or another.  Even those outside of the Christian faith have their own version of the command in their golden rule “Do unto others…” you know how it goes.  It is very easy to focus on the first half of the command and neglect the second.  We focus on loving others and tend to neglect the love of ourselves that must precede the loving of our neighbors.

This is a very tricky subject in that most of us, if we have been in the church, have been taught from a very young age not to be selfish, prideful, and focused on ourselves.  The command does not breech the essential need that we have to put others before ourselves.  Instead it challenges us to love ourselves in view of how wonderfully God has created us.  Psalm 139:14 says, “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  The psalmist expresses here the love that we are to have for ourselves.  It is an acknowledgement of God’s plan for His creation.  The way we have been made is no accident.  We may live in a fallen world and we may be sinners but that does not diminish God’s craftsmanship in His creation.  We fulfill the command when we learn to recognize our worth as God’s creation and are then able to pass that same love to your neighbors.

James goes on to finish his thoughts about fulfilling the law by stating that “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it (2:10).”  If we fail to acknowledge our own worth as being created by God we are unable to fulfill the command to the fullest.  So instead of being obedient to the law of God, we become “transgressors (2:9).”

Now this is my own tangent away from the point that James is making, but the truth of it is often missed in modern Christianity.  Teenagers especially love to hate themselves and focus on their own shortcomings while exalting others, even basing their self-destructive behavior on this command and others like it in Scripture.  James overall point is to draw our attention to the condition of our hearts.  We don’t all judge people by how much money they make.  Sometimes the condition of our heart is misguided in other ways like I have suggested here.  The point of this lesson is to hopefully help us all to think more about where our hearts have missed the point of the commands of God.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

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James 2:1-13, April 21, 2010

James 2:1-13

Partiality…

In chapter 2 of his letter, James begins to describe the works part of how a Christian should live. In chapter 1 he established how faith works in our life and even what a person looks like who says they have faith, but don’t really understand what true faith is and then goes on to talk about how that faith affects us. One of the practical examples of living your faith, according to James, is not showing partiality to people who are easy to love. James uses an example of when a rich and poor person comes into the group of Christians. The Christians that James is writing to favored the rich man over the poor man because of his fine clothes and gold rings. James is drawing attention to a condition of the heart. The condition of the heart that makes us “judges with evil thoughts (2:4).” When we judge someone else based on outward appearance or attitude we sin and the faith that we claim to hold is dead.

So how does this apply to us? You may be thinking to yourself, “I’ve never judged someone for being poor” or “I’ve never shown liked someone more because of how rich they were.” If either of those thoughts have entered your mind, you’ve missed James’ point. We naturally are drawn to certain individuals that we label as “friends” and we naturally are repulsed by others due to some imagined defect, and I use imagined because we make up things to be repulsed about. When we do this we are making ourselves “judges” over people at our schools, workplaces, and in our families. We judge their behavior and choose to love other people more. James is saying that this is sin and kills the very faith that we claim as Christians. It doesn’t matter if a person is rude, annoying, obnoxious, cocky, poor, or rich, they are all deserving of the love of God.

This love has been given to those who have faith in Christ, not to be locked away inside of us, but to be given away. Most people that we reject due to personality differences have been hurt very deeply and are desperately looking for someone to show them love. I challenge you this week to love those at your school whom you have deemed unlovable. Show them the mercy and love that God has given you. I love y’all more than you know. Grace and peace,

JOT

James 1:19-27 April 18, 2010

James 1:19-27

(I encourage you to read these verses for yourself before reading my notes on them)

Mirror, Mirror…

In the second half of James chapter 1, James changes his focus from what a life looks like with and without faith to how our faith should affect us.  James acknowledges that we are brought forth out of darkness and sin into faith by the “word of truth (1:18).”  And it is upon hearing this word that we have faith.  So James’ natural conclusion is that our faith should lead to action.  The “word of truth” is God’s word to us, calling us to Himself and to repentance.  Since the word calls us to act we must become “doers of the word, and not hearers only (1:22).”  If we refuse to act according to our faith first end up “deceiving ourselves (1:22)” which we’ve already talked about, and we also make our faith “worthless (1:26).”  If our faith, or as James calls it our “religion,” is worthless then we have nothing to give to the people around us and we will very often feel trapped in our faith.

So how do we keep from having a worthless faith?  James gives us the example of a man looking in a mirror (1:23).  The mirror is “the perfect law, the law of liberty (1:25).”  So James is saying that in order for our faith to mean something in our lives we must examine the law of God and allow it to change us.  We must ask ourselves “Am I living in obedience to the law of God?”  And as we’ve talked about, the law of God is summed up, as Jesus says, in these two commands, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.”  It is when we walking in obedience that our faith means something.

Now let me be very clear here.  This does not mean that if you sin that your faith is now worthless.  When your heart is seeking after God and you are actively wanting to obey Him you are walking our your faith as you should and do not fall under the category of one who is deceiving yourself.  We are going to sin until Christ returns.  That is an important part of our faith.  We must understand this, otherwise it is easy for us to be deceived.  We love to believe the lie that if we sin we are no longer following after God.  Sin is a reminder of our need for God’s grace and strength.  It should prevent us from becoming full of ourselves and believing that we can do it on our own.

We deceive ourselves when we look into the mirror of the law and, as soon as we are not looking at it, we forget that we are sinful and believe we do not need to change.  Often we believe the lie that we are good people and therefore do not need to change.  Very often we refuse to look into the mirror in the first place and choose to look at the lives of others and compare their faults to our strengths.  We tell ourselves “At least I’m not like them…” “At least I don’t get drunk or have sex…” “At least I’m not doing this like those people…” And when we look into the reflections not based on the perfect law, our vision is distorted and we believe the lie that we don’t need to be changed.  We believe that we don’t need God’s law to change us as long as we still consider ourselves “Good People.”

Take a good look into the perfect law and we will all find that first and foremost we do not seek God as we should.  And secondly we will find that we need God to change us.  This is why it is so important for us to read the Bible.  If we don’t count the Bible as an important part of our everyday life, we will never see our reflection clearly.  It will always be distorted and we will end up deceiving ourselves.  Get into the Word and ask the Lord to show you where you are in need of change and then be willing for Him to do it.  It will take some time.  Don’t get discouraged if you mess up.  Just keep believing the truth.  I love y’all more than you’ll know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

James 1:16-18; 22-25 – April 14, 2010

James 16-18; 22-25

Do not be deceived…

This lesson is in response to a note that was left on my desk earlier this week. I’m still waiting to hear who wrote the note, but I was very glad to receive it. The note reflected a very common feeling that is shared by many children of God. The note asked, “If he (God) is so great and powerful, where is he when you need him?” It is this type of questioning that we can fall victim to as fallen, emotional individuals. This feeling of loneliness and being forsaken by God is in direct contrast to Joshua 1:5 where the Lord tells His people “I will not leave you or forsake you.” Allowing our emotions to get to the point of asking this question means that at some point in our walk we have believed a lie. In the first chapter of James, the author is trying to express to us that when we have difficulty trusting God, the One who is perfect, holy and good, then we must have traded our faith for doubt through believing a lie.

It is very easy for us to become distracted in our faith. In Matthew 14 we are given an excellent example of one who took a step in faith but became distracted by the elements around him. Ultimately, Peter traded the truth of who Christ was for a lie, and it cost Him being able to experience the fullness of his faith. Matthew 14:22-33 recounts Christ walking on the water and calling Peter to do the same. Peter stepped out of the boat in faith and was given the power to walk on the water through Christ. With his focus on Christ, he was able to do what no other man had ever been able to do. Then his faith wavered and he began to focus on the wind and the waves, the physical elements that caused fear and doubt to form in his heart. He no longer trusted Christ’s power over nature despite the fact that he had already seen Jesus command the wind and the waves in Matthew 8. Peter’s faith wavered and his focus shifted from Christ, to his physical situation, and finally ended up on himself. Peter cries out for Jesus to save him.

At this point, we can only guess at Peter’s feelings as he began to sink. What am I doing out of the boat? Why have I been asked out here and then left alone to drown? Where is the power that held me above the waves only moments ago? Peter’s feelings were the same as the one who left the note, and the same as the rest of us who have felt the same way. We choose to believe the liethat God has abandoned us because we cannot see past our own feelings and physical situations. We “deceive ourselves (James 1:22)” and lose sight of the truth of who God is and we choose to believe a lie that is based on our feelings and circumstances. Our faith must not be dictated by how we feel or the things we go through in life. Our faith must always be grounded in the truth of God’s Word.

It is for this reason that we have been emphasizing and will continue to encourage all of you to take time every day to read the Bible. Our faith is strengthened and we are less likely to be deceived if we spend time with the truth every day. We will continue looking at how faith should affect us this Sunday night as we continue to work through the rest of James chapter 1. Love y’all more than you know. Grace and peace,

JOT

James 1:1-18

James 1:1-18 (I encourage you to read these verses for yourself before reading my notes on them)

James is a book that gives a very clear picture of what it looks like to walk in the Christian faith.  James sets out to remind Christians that there is more to living the Christian life than just saying that you believe.  There must be action that reflects that belief.  In this brief introduction, James assumes that we have faith in Christ and that we are wanting to walk in that faith.

Before getting into the text, let’s answer some important questions about faith.

What is FAITH?

Hebrews 11:1 says that faith “is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  So faith is our trust and belief in thing God has made known to us even though our eyes cannot see it.

Who or what is it that we have FAITH in?

Romans 3:21-26 gives us a clear picture of who we have faith in.  It says that God, who is the perfect Creator of all things, sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for the sins of mankind.  And it goes on to say that when we believe that God has done this for us through Christ, we are saved or justified before God and are now able to live eternally with Him.  We are saved from the punishment of sin, which is death.  So we have faith in God and what He has done for us through Christ on the cross.

Where does FAITH come from?

Romans 10:17 says that “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  We have faith through the work of the Holy Spirit who reveals truth to us about our need for a savior.  God is constantly calling us back to Himself and away from sin, so when we hear the “word of Christ” and are open to the truth of that word, we are saved through our faith in what Christ has done for us.

So now that we have established some things about faith, let’s look at what James has to tell us about faith.

Verses 2-4 – James begins by encouraging Christians to think of their trials as a joy.  This goes against our normal reaction to trials and tests of our faith.  These “tests” are the times when we are tempted to wander away from God, like when we would prefer to disobey our parents or cheat on a test at school.  Naturally these tests come in different degrees with some being as difficult as losing a loved one, parents divorcing, or struggling with relationships with the opposite sex.  But James assures us that if we pass these tests of faith we will be made perfect and complete, lacking nothing that we need.  So we see a progression here:  we have faith in what God has done and the trust him to the point of obedience which then makes us “steadfast” in our faith which then leads to perfection as the Lord changes us through obedience.  This perfection is not the same perfection that we will have when we reach Heaven.  This perfection is a change within us that makes us more like him.  It means that as we have faith we are made more like Christ, even though we are still sinners and live in a fallen world.  So the process of faith is like this:  first we have faith in God, then we act on what we believe in during trials and testing which makes us steadfast, then we are made more like Christ and are perfected by Him.

Verses 5-8 – Here James makes a slight footnote to the three verses before it.  He knows that human beings fall, make mistakes, and are overall disobedient to God.  What we lack is the wisdom of God, and so James says that we should ask for wisdom and it will be given us. Wisdom is a companion of faith.  If we simply believe in something but take no action upon that faith (the action of obedience is wisdom) then we become like “a wave of the sea (v. 6),” unstable and changing.  The wave is in direct contrast to someone who acts in faith that then becomes perfect and complete (v. 4).  So even if we have faith, if we lack the wisdom to follow God in whom we have faith, we do not reach the place of perfection and completeness because our actions do not match our faith. James goes on to explain in verse 7 that if we don’t have faith in God, as in we don’t believe we can really receive wisdom from Him, then we become “double-minded (v. 8),” having one mind that wants to believe in God and one mind that wants to hold to the thinking of the world.

Verses 9-11 – Next, James gives two examples of people who are continually in a “test” of their faith. The lowly brother and the rich man both struggle with having a mind divided because of how easy it would be to lose faith in God due to their situations.  The lowly brother must constantly fight the desire to do things in his own power instead of trusting God.  His situation requires him to trust that the Lord will provide for his every need.  The rich man must continually look past his physical blessings and by faith recognize his constant need for God’s grace and salvation.  Both kinds of people must fight to see beyond their earthly situations to rely fully on God.

Verses 12-15 – In these next verses James returns to the subject of remaining steadfast in our faith. He reminds us again that if we stay true to our faith, we will receive eternal life through what Christ has done.  But James also reminds us that it is not God who brings temptations to us.  Even though the Lord allows us to be tempted, He is not the one who tempts us.  We have deep within us a desire to have control, to rebel against God, and to do things in our own wisdom.  Here James gives another cycle that we can fall into if we do not have faith and receive wisdom from God.  It begins with the desires deep within our nature.  It then grows from a desire to sin, and sin ultimately leads to eternal separation from God or death as James says.  So if we say that God tempts us we have misunderstood who God really is and therefore do not really know Him and we have misunderstood the nature of sin which comes from our fallen nature.  As we will see in the next verses, James wants to make it very clear that sin is not due to God tricking us or manipulating us just so He can punish us, but is a result of our disobedience and to our misplaced faith.

Verses 16-18 – James reminds us again that the Lord only gives us what is good and perfect, and He does not change.  It is because of the steadfast (or unchanging) nature of God that we can put our faith in Him.  If He were constantly changing His mind about what was true and good, we would have no reason to put our faith in Him.  James reminds us that the God we believe in is worthy of our faith because He is unchanging.  And when we hear the “word of truth (v. 18)” that He has given us through Christ and we believe it, we are then ready to be used by Him as an example for the people around us.

Conclusion – James wants us to first realize how faith is necessary in serving God.  But this faith is empty unless it is joined with wisdom (wisdom is acting according to our faith) that comes from God.  If we don’t have wisdom or do not truly have faith, we become unstable and double-minded.  And when we are unstable or double-minded we risk falling into the cycle of sin which then leads to death.  But if we accept the wisdom of God through faith we are saved from death and given life through Christ.

Please feel free to ask any questions for clarification.  I promise not all of these posts will be this long.  I’m working on focusing things down so that there’s not so much information at once.  Love y’all more than you’ll know.  Grace and peace,

JOT