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Establish Your Hearts
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Text: James 5:1-20
“How’s your heart?” This was a regular question that my mom asked growing up. In this final chapter, James demonstrates all the care of a parent for his readers. Even though he repeatedly calls his readers “my brothers” James seems to have a fatherly affection for his people and their hearts. And so James returns to much of what he has already covered in the first four chapters. “We’ve talked about this, but do you understand? Is it in your life? Is it in your heart?” His plea is to “Establish you hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (5:8).
Corrupting Riches, Corroding Hearts (vs. 1-6)
James begins with a scathing charge to the rich whose wealth is corrupted and corrupting, “Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you” (vs. 2-3). Their wealth itself is rotting away just like their hearts. The hordes of money stockpiled for the future will testify against the rich man on the last day, “The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts” (vs 4). These men have lived in luxury and pleasure. But their consumption is fattening themselves up for the day of slaughter. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” Jesus asks, “For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mk. 8:36-37) Pennies in heaven are worth more than piles of gold in hell. Money is enough to damn your soul, but money can’t save your soul. Who can save?
Patient Hearts (vs. 7-11)
After his prophetic rage against the rich, James turns his pastoral attention to his suffering brothers. “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord” (vs 7). A farmer cannot hurry up the timing of the harvest. He must wait patiently on something that he can not control––rain. Patience deals with time. But patience is not passive, slouched with crossed arms in the back seat. Patience actively accepts that God is working. Establish your heart in confidence that the seed is growing and the rains are coming.
While you wait, don’t grumble with one another because you know that “the Judge is standing at the door” (vs. 9). Suppose you and your siblings are home alone while your mom runs errands and she’s given you some instructions––clean up the toys in the living room and don’t fight. But when the look-out perched on the couch announces a simple statement, “Mom’s coming,” what’s your reaction? My guess is that it depends on your behavior the last couple hours. How do we survive patiently the present suffering? Look to the Old Testament prophets or look to Job for your paradigm of hope (vs. 10-11). Patience is required to see that everything that God the Father gives is a good and perfect gift (1:17). You unwrap a gift and it looks like cancer. But in time, you’ll see that it’s the cancer that brought your brother back to the Lord. Or you unwrap the gift and it looks like being excluded from the cool circle. But with patience you see that this hurt gives you a life-long tenderness for those on the outside. What is the Lord’s purpose in all this? That you may see “how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (vs. 11).
To Ring True (vs. 12)
“Honesty is the best policy” is a common expression. James would tweak it to “Honest is the only policy.” Swearing on a stack of bibles or crossing your heart and hoping to die does not make you trustworthy. Doing what you say makes you trustworthy and removes you from condemnation. G.K. Chesterton said, “Above all, I would like to ring true.”
Sickness, Sin, and the Prayer of a Righteous Person (vs. 13-18)
James asks, “Is anyone among you suffering?” Does your mom have colin cancer? Then pray. Are you overwhelmed between the kids, dinner prep, and 4-14 loads of laundry? Then pray. Are you lonely and stuck on the outside of the cliche? Then you can pray. “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” If you’re overflowing with the sweet milk of human kindness, then let a psalm fly! “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of he church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” So what do you do if you find yourself either full of sickness or full of sin? Pray to the one who is able to health both body and soul.
To Save a Soul (vs. 19-20)
James’ final word is an encouragement to seek and save the wandering sinner. A heart established in Lord does what the Lord does. What has Jesus Christ done? The Lord has saved the souls of sinners by covering a multitude of sins. This is love. Is your heart established in the Lord?
Humble Before the Lord
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Text: James 4:1-17
No doubt you have heard enough sermons or attended enough Bible studies to know that pride is bad. And so, pride is easy to ignore, minimize it, or pass it off as that guy’s problem. That guy does have a pride problem, and the Holy Spirit is now speaking through James about your pride. The only solution is to be humble before the Lord because God gives more grace.
You and Your Desires (vs 1-4)
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among?” James is clear on the source of the problem––You! You desire and your desires collide with the desires of others. Desire is a womb that gives birth sin. Sin grows up and goes on a spree of coveting, fighting, manipulating (James 1:14-15).
James levels a surprising charge, “You adulteresses!” (vs 4) The broken relationship that James identifies is not between husband and wife, but between God and his people and their adulterous relationship with the world. What husband would allow his wife to cuddle with another man pretending she’s not a married woman? So why would God allow a Christian to cuddle up to the world pretending she’s not a Christian who has pledged herself to love God. Faithfulness to God does not flirt with the world. To be a friend of the world is to be an enemy of God. And of course, your life can not have peace when you are at war with God.
Pride and Humility (vs 5-10)
Our natural tendency is to love the world, envy others, war against God. But God gives grace. Therefore, Proverbs 3:34 says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The difference between pride and humility is whose opinion of yourself takes priority––yours or God’s. Pride prioritizes your own opinion of yourself over God’s opinion of you. Humility prioritizes God’s opinion about you over your own opinion about yourself. If you skip over “But God gives more grace,” then the following list of commands is reduced to seven tips for a happier self that don’t really help. “Submit yourself therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (vs. 7). To submit means to place yourself under the authority. Your will, your desires, your agenda, your life is to be placed on God’s will for you, God’s desires for you, God’s agenda for you, God’s life for you.
But what’s the devil doing here? Well, what does the devil do? The devil stirs up conflict. The devil attributes false motives to others. The devil loves to see the righteous fall and chips away at their reputation. The devil sounds a lot like the person James described in the first verses of James 4. So the danger is that you become like the devil. To prevent this, submit yourself to God including your tendency to act devilish, and the devil and your devilish desires will flee from you. You do this through humbly repenting and confessing your sin (8-10).
Pride and Playing God (vs 11-12)
And in case we still haven’t got it, James comes in for anther pass. “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers” (vs 11). When you slander, you’re not just speaking evil against your brother, but against God’s law. The problem James sees are those who climb up on top of the law and hurl eggs at those below the law. If you use the law to gain elevation to better beat down your neighbor, you don’t really love your brother, the law, or the Law-giver. This again, displays pride rather than humility before the Lord. “Who are you to judge your neighbor?” James asks, “Oh, you’re not God. Fine, don’t play God.”
Life with a Question Mark (vs 13-17)
Come now, you movers and shakers, you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? It’s a large question mark. How can you presume to mark your calendar a year from now when you don’t know what the next minute will bring? So James instructs us to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” We live in God’s providence. In His plan, there are no accidents, no flukes, no plan Bs, no maverick molecules. We ought to plan and schedule and have a full day set out. But write in your calendar in pencil knowing that God holds the eraser. If you don’t submit to this reality, you are arrogant and evil.
This returns us to the absolute need to be humble before the Lord. You don’t know what your future holds, but you do know the One who holds your future. Oo be humble before the Lord. Do you have any doubt, any pride, any conflict? Are there deep disappointments in your life, dysfunctional family, an unfaithful spouse, a lonely, dark period, a harsh dad? In all of these, the answer is same––humble yourself before the Lord because God gives more grace. God begins to give you grace in Jesus, who is your peace, your humility, your assurance in judgment, your confidence for the future.
Wisdom For A Harvest of Righteousness
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Text: James 3:1-18
How do you live as a Christian? It takes wisdom says James and the kind of wisdom that comes from above. Wisdom is working faith does faithful work. James has already spoken about faithful work in your trials and temptations, being quick to listen, slow to speak, caring for the poor and defenseless, loving your neighbor as yourself. James will now have a thing or two to say about how we use our words. Do you get the sense that it’s all important––every part of your life matters. Christ has given you life so Christ should be in all your life. That takes God-given wisdom, the wisdom from above. The result of wisdom––a working faith that does faithful work–– is a harvest of righteousness.
Stumbling Teachers and Tongues (vs. 1-2)
James opens with a general warning to his readers that not many of them should become teachers (vs 1). The reason for this is that teachers will be judged with greater strictness. Teachers have great influence with their position, especially in their use of words, so they should take extra care.
The health of your tongue is an accurate indicator for the health of your body (vs 2). Just imagine that you are now sitting on the doctor’s examination chair with the crinkly paper, and Dr. James wheels up to you and he says, “Stick out your tongue. I want to see the state of your soul.” The words of your mouth reveal the condition of your heart.This prognosis is confirmed by the Great Physician Jesus, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:45). Words are eternally important and powerful. And so James wants us to understand what we’re dealing with.
Little, But Powerful (vs. 3-5)
James observes that little tongues do great things. Three metaphors make his point: little bits control strong horses (vs 3), little rudders turn mighty ships (vs 4), little sparks ignite vast fires (vs 5).
Deadly and Untamed (vs. 6-9)
The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness (vs 6). For James, The world is the structure of life set up in contradiction to God’s life and God’s righteousness. James asks in chapter 4, “Don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” James says that pure and undefiled religion before God is to keep yourself unstained from the world (1:27). And yet, we have a world of unrighteousness contained between our teeth that stains the whole body. If the tongue is unchecked, if the fire is not quenched, then your whole life will be consumed and eventually crackle in the fires of hell. The tongue is deadly and is capable of death. And it can’t be tamed. There’s a Crocodile Dundee for every crocodile and a snake charmer for every snake and sea world trainer to every killer whale, but no human can tame the tongue (vs 7-8). Beyond that, the tongue is schizophrenic, blessing God and cursing the image of God (v. 9).
The Source (vs. 10-12)
James asks some common sense questions to get to the source of the problem. “Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” Look to the source of the spring, look to the trunk, look to the vine, look to the heart. Good words come from a good heart. Evil worlds from an evil heart. Righteous words from a righteous heart. World-stained words from a world-stained heart.
This should cause both deep fear and great hope. What chance do you have to scrub the stain of sin from your own heart? The problem is not the chunk of muscle and taste buds in your head, but the desires of your heart. This can only be addressed by wisdom from above.
Wisdom from Below, Wisdom from Above (13-18)
“Who is wise and understanding among you?” Wisdom is a working faith doing faithful work (vs 13). What if bitter jealousy and selfish ambition seep from your heart? You don’t have real wisdom even if you claim you do. “This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic” (vs. 15).
Wisdom from above comes first as “pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (vs 17). This kind of life produces a harvest of righteousness. What happens to this harvest of righteousness? It is given for the life of others. Life is given when wisdom is sown, and then life is given again when wisdom is reaped.
The Apostles Creed 3: Almighty
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What we now know as the Apostles Creed descended from an earlier form of the creed, known as the Old Roman Symbol. The beginning of the creed dates from as early as the second century. We do not have any direct evidence that it was penned by any of the apostles, but it is an admirable summary of the apostolic teaching.
We have confessed our faith in God the Father, and looking ahead we saw that He is the Father of Jesus Christ. We are not confessing faith in some kind of an abstract definition. And yet, like all particular persons, God the Father has attributes and characteristics, which means that we do have to get into some definitions. The first one mentioned here is that He is the Almighty.
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the virgin, Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into Hades. On the third day He rose again from the dead, ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
Summary of the Text:
The Creed was originally written in Greek, and the word here rendered as Almighty is pantokrator, meaning omnipotent or almighty. This is an attribute of God that is an overarching description, and that same word is used in various places in the New Testament (2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 1:8; 4:8). But as we arrive at this description of Him, we have to be careful not to detach it from what Scripture reveals to us everywhere else.
The Divine Attributes:
When talking about God, we do have to talk about His attributes. There is no other way for finite beings to discuss an infinite being. And in addition, we know that this is lawful for us to do (and not impudence) because the Bible does it all the time. And so we must recognize that these are attributes that can distinguished from one another, but never separated. For an illustration we can easily distinguish height and breadth. A child can do that. But separating themselves would be another matter. So we can distinguish God’s power, and kindness, and holiness, and love, and so on. But we cannot separate them; they are all one in the divine simplicity.
That said, we need to distinguish certain aspects of God’s being that He delights to share with us and others that He does not share. In fact, He cannot share them with us in the very nature of the case. He communicates His holiness and His love to us, for example, but not His omnipresence.
When God communicates His love to us (Rom. 5:5), for example, He is making countless finite creatures more like Himself, and this is a process that will continue on forever and ever. We will always have head room, always have room to grow. But there are certain characteristics that God could not share without creating a second God alongside Himself—which is absurd, as nonsensical as a four-side triangle.
Admonishing the Sophomoric:
So this leads to a predictable question. If God is Almighty, well, then, can He make a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it? This assumes a false understanding of what the infinite power of God actually means. Of course He cannot make a rock like that—there are many things the Omnipotence cannot do. God cannot be tempted (Jas. 1:13). He cannot lie (Num. 23:19). He cannot undo His own omnipotence. God cannot do anything in violation of His own nature or character. Putting it the other way around, God can do absolutely anything that is consistent with His nature and character.
As C.S. Lewis said somewhere—quite trenchantly—nonsense doesn’t stop being nonsense just because we are speaking it about God.
The Place of Logic:
And here is another place where some rarified theology is of immense practical importance. Some people object to reasoning like this because, they say, “logic doesn’t apply to God.” But if that is the case, then we should all eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die. If logic does not apply to God, then “I will never leave you nor forsake you” could easily mean “for now,” or “unless I change my mind.”
The foundation stone of logical reasoning is what is called the “law of identity”—A is A. Other laws accompany it—A does not equal not A, the law of non-contradiction. But before your eyes glaze over, let me ground this in the express word of God. “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8).
But we still have to be careful how we talk about this. If logic is subordinate to God, and subject to arbitrary change, then we are all in this terrible spot. But if logic is senior to God, and He somehow submits to it, then this is the will and voice of another God, the true Most High God. And that is absurd. So what this means is that “right reason” or “logic” is an attribute of God. When we are talking about consistency, we are reflecting what God is like, and that means what God is everlastingly like.
Our Refuge and Strength:
Now let us go back for a moment to the Fatherhood of God for a moment. It striking that one of the few places in the New Testament where the same word for Almighty is used has a close relationship to the Fatherhood of God, just like in the Creed. “And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:18).
When the Bible talks about the power and strength of God, it overwhelmingly does so by describing His might on behalf of His people. The strength of God is not abstract doctrine given to us for the entertainment of abstruse theologians.
Boil this down. What this means that you in the will of God outnumber absolutely everybody. “For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, Neither did their own arm save them: But thy right hand, and thine arm, and the light of thy countenance, Because thou hadst a favour unto them” (Ps. 44:3). And if you would see the right arm of God, then you must look to Jesus Christ.