Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

After posting from my notes on James 1 last week, I decided to continue to share these notes.

  • Practice what you preach.
  • Don’t just say with the lips, practice with the life.
  • Don’t just talk the talk, but walk the walk.

Or, as my father used to say, “Your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word you are saying.”

James attacks the idea that being a Christian is simply a matter of agreeing to a few spiritual truths without experiencing any real change in behavior or thought.  James addresses several matters in which Christian behavior should reflect Christian faith.

True faith

James 1:5-8 – If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

  • True faith endures in time of trouble
  • True faith believes in God

James 1:9-12 – Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field. The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements. God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

Here, James takes up another theme – one’s relationship to material possessions. There are indications in the New Testament that humble circumstances were a common trial among Christians. In the first place, the explicit appeal to the poor in Christ’s preaching likely attracted numerous poor people among the earliest converts. 

Luke 4:18 – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,

We probably consider our self to be in the group of poor people.  But that is relative. 

Regardless of whether we consider our self to be poor or rich financially, money is the context for some of our most common and spiritually significant trials.

  • We worry about how our financial needs will be met.
  • We sometimes feel a failure because we don’t have as much as others around us.
  • We feel insecure about our ability to manage finances and feel guilty about mistakes we have made in our financial choices.
  • We sometimes can feel self-pity or complain or envy others who can buy and do things we cannot.

Matthew 6:19-24 – Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Your eye is like a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is unhealthy, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.

James attacks 3 functions of money.

  • Money does not mean personal worth.  James points out that even if one is poor, if he has received forgiveness of sins from God, he has been blessed and that is what he should take pride in.
  • Money does not mean security.  James is encouraging Christians not to be deceived by the apparent security of the rich.  His wealth cannot shield him from being humbled.  His wealth cannot buy him eternal life. 
  • Money can distract us from the “real” blessing.  The crown of life.  The word used here is stephanos and refers to the  wreath (garland), awarded to a victor in the ancient athletic games (like the Greek Olympics); the crown of victory.  It is the word used by Paul, Peter and John and refers to the Christian’s ultimate goal.

Luke 12:13-21 – Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

1 Corinthians 9:25 – All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.

1 Peter 5:4 – And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.

We know that one ultimate goal on James’s mind is that of becoming mature and complete, not lacking anything. The crown must include fulfillment of that goal of true life. This crown is assured; it is promised to them. James wants his readers to be certain of this as they endure deprivation now. The crown is promised specifically to those who love him.

This idea of loving God for James carries a strong emphasis on faithfully obeying him as Jesus said in John 14:15. “If you love me, keep my commandments”

 Finally, James has begun the sentence with “blessed” makarios, like a new beatitude recalling Matthew 5:3-10 and especially 5:11-12, where Jesus encouraged perseverance in trials “because great is your reward in heaven.” Putting these observations together, the crown of life would be the ultimate reward, the fulfillment of eternal life and the exaltation with Christ which will be enjoyed by those who, because of faith in Christ, have loved God enough to live faithfully, obeying him even through trials.

James calls us to believe this: the crown of eternal life is worth more than any advantage to be gained by money in this life. Truly blessed is the one whose heart is set on this goal.

James 1:13-18 – And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.

Temptations

We know when Jesus took on the nature of man, that natural side of him was tempted – but without sin.  But as God in His divine nature, He is not tempted to do wrong.

James assures us that God does not tempt us.  We know there may be times of testings to strengthen us but God will never tempt us to do wrong.

So where do temptations come from?

  • The origin is our own evil desire.  James’s term is epithymia, a “desire” or “longing” especially with evil meaning.  So we can’t blame others.  “The devil made me do it.”
  • The action of the temptation is to drag away and to entice. This is a hunting and fishing metaphor (dragged away as by a predator; enticed as by a lure).  When considering yielding to temptation we are in danger of becoming the prey of Satan.
  • The effect of the temptation leads to death.  James uses the image of a woman bearing a child.  First the desire does the conceiving, then that leads to birth of sin and just as a child grows when he is given food and care, so sin will grow into death if we give it food and care. 

 James is warning Christians to see the danger, and so to abhor sin, and therefore to deny the evil desire from which sin comes.

When Difficult Times Come

Looking through my files on lessons I taught when I was in full time ministry, I found these notes on the book of James. I thought I would share them in hopes of encouragement as we have been facing difficult times the past two years. Hope they challenge/encourage you.

The Book of James is a very Jewish book.  It is believed to be the earliest letter of the New Testament, written about AD 45.  Often called the Proverbs of the New Testament – it is practical living for the child of God.

James and Paul seem to contradict each other as Paul says we are saved by grace and James says it is by works that a man is justified. 

  • Paul – We are justified by faith
  • James – We are justified for works
  • Paul – the root of justification is grace
  • James – the fruit of justification is works

Who was James?

  1.  He was the half-brother of Jesus  – Mark 6:3
  2. He was an unbeliever until after the resurrection of Jesus – John 7:3-10
  3. Jesus appeared to him in His glorified body – 1 Corinthians 15:7
  4. He was among the 120 in the Upper Room – Acts 1:14
  5. He appears to be a leader in the early church – Galatians 1:17-21; Acts 12:17
  6. He presided over the first Jerusalem conference in Acts 15 and declared the results of that conference (verses 13-18)

James 1:1

“This letter is from James, a slave of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am writing to the twelve tribes – Jewish believers scattered abroad.  Greetings!”

James presents himself as a servant or slave.  At the very start of this letter, James is identifying himself as one who is self-consciously accepting this way of life for himself. His purpose in this letter does not require that he assert his apostleship (as Paul and Peter do in their letters) or his eldership (as John does in his letters). James’s identity is already known to the church at large. It is only his servant hood to the Lord Jesus Christ that matters to him here, for this is the theme of his letter:

How shall we live as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ?

He wrote his letter to the Jewish believers scattered abroad.  We know in that time many Jews lived throughout the ancient world, but in addition to those already living abroad, no doubt many included those who fled Jerusalem after the persecution broke out that we read about in Acts 8.

Acts 7:54-8:4 – NOTE:  It was NOT the 12 apostles that spread the gospel – it was the lay people. 

Greetings – The word James used is “chariein” and it means basically “to rejoice exceedingly” or “to be well.”  Used as a greeting James was essentially saying “joy to you.”  “Joy to you” seems a great way to start a letter to friends.  Hey, I’m wishing you joy, happiness, that you do well.  We do this for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas.  On continuing to read this letter it is clear that James is not just being friendly in wishing his readers joy.  After saying “joy to you” he immediately speaks of times of difficulty, trials, tests.

James 1:2-4

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.”

  • What do you consider trials?
  • What is your response to difficulties?

Romans 5:3-5

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Matthew 5:11-12

God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

trials –  difficulties  

testings – This term in adjective form means “genuine” or “without alloy”; so the noun refers to a “test to prove genuine.”  Not like our school tests designed primarily to reveal what the students already know.  The biblical concept of a testing, as James uses it here, is one that reveals the genuineness of the person’s faith; but James says the test is also designed to develop something that is not yet present in full measure in the person.

mature character – complete in all its parts – going through the necessary stages to reach the end goal.  

trials/testings  — perseverance/endurance  — mature character

  • Do we thank God for the trials?  What do we rejoice in?  What about a trial brings us joy?
  • Resisting that piece of pie – not a source of joy    BUT  losing that extra 10 pounds – great source of joy.
  • Walking on the treadmill an extra 10 minutes – not always a source of joy   BUT gaining strength – great source of joy.
  • Student giving up their favorite TV show to study – not a source of joy  BUT getting an “A” – great source of joy

James was writing to fellow Jews who were facing difficult times.  He is encouraging them to let these times help them grow in the Lord and not be an interruption in their relationship as a servant to the Lord.

  1. Is any trial a reason not to be joyful (1:2)?
  2. Are the differences in poverty and wealth to cause favoritism (2:1-13)?
  3. Even in trials, shall we be cursing other people (3:9)
  4. or grumbling against each other (5:9)?
  5. Is loss of anything a reason to fight with each other (4:1-2)?
  6. Is sickness or other trouble a cause to cease praying or trusting in God (5:13-14)?

James says “Don’t let difficult times stop you from obeying and following the Lord.  In the middle of trials, that is the time to put into practice what you say you believe. 

James 1:5-8

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”

How do we gain strength and wisdom in times of difficulties?  How do we maintain the right attitude and find a solution to the problems we face?

Proverbs 2:3-6

Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures. Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord, and you will gain knowledge of God. For the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Matthew 7:7

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.”

Do you ever doubt?  Is that wrong?  Will God answer our prayers if we doubt?

Mark 9:23-24

“What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

Acts 17:11

“And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.”

It is entirely different to wonder why God allowed a certain event than it is to directly question God’s goodness. Having doubts is different from questioning God’s sovereignty and attacking His character. In short, an honest question is not a sin, but a bitter, untrusting, or rebellious heart is.

God is not intimidated by questions.

Count it All Joy? You Have to Be Kidding me!!

What a year 2020 was! Coronavirus – and all the uncertainty and problems that has created. Loss of jobs/income, loss of ability to travel freely to name just a few. Division over wearing a mask or not wearing one.

The election also brought such division and unrest.

The arguments over BLM.

We were looking forward to 2021 – but now that it is here – I am not sure this year is shaping up to be much different than 2020.

So as Christians, how are we supposed to respond?

I turn to the writer of James and see that he started off his letter with the words “Greetings.” The word James used is “chariein” and it means basically “to rejoice exceedingly” or “to be well.”  Used as a greeting James was essentially saying “joy to you.”  “Joy to you” seems a great way to start a letter to friends.  Hey, I’m wishing you joy, happiness, that you do well.  We do this for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas. 

However just after he says “joy to you” he begins speaking of anything but joyful times or situations. On continuing to read this letter it is clear that James is not just being friendly in wishing his readers joy.  After saying “joy to you” he immediately speaks of times of difficulty, trials, tests.

Difficulties. Tough times. Kind of like we have been experiencing. Situations that do not naturally led to joy.

The word he uses for testings is not referring to something like our tests in schools that are designed to reveal what the student knows. Rather, James is referring to something that reveals the genuiness of one’s faith, but he also implies this test is designed to develop something that is not yet fully developed in a person.

He says:

trials/testings = perservance/endurance = mature character             

James was writing to fellow Jews who were facing difficult times.  He is encouraging them to let these times help them grow in the Lord and not be an interruption in their relationship as a servant to the Lord.

Questions he raises and which I submit to you:

  1. Is any trial a reason not to rely on God and allow His joy to fill your heart?
  2. Even in trials, is there ever a reason a Christian should curse another or call them names?
  3. Even in difficult times, is there ever a reason a Christian should engage in grumbling about others?

James says “Don’t let difficult times stop you from obeying and following the Lord.  In the middle of trials, that is the time to put into practice what you say you believe.”

In my words I would say “put your money where your mouth is.” Growing up in church we heard all about the Sermon on the Mount and all Jesus said about turning the other cheek, loving your enemies and praying for them, being peacemakers. Sadly it seems many have either forgotten those words – or have tried to make them mean something else.

I ask you: Did Jesus “really” mean it when He said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”