Description – The fourth in a series through the book of James
We have spent three of the past five Sundays walking through the book of James. The first Sunday we focused on James 2:14, (Overhead 1)
‘Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions? That kind of faith can’t save anyone.’ We were given a snapshot from a nameless preacher that ‘the Epistle of James is a collection of sermon notes.’ And so I challenged us to look at the book from the eyes of a pastor, the half-brother of Jesus, who is considered to be the first pastor of the Jerusalem church. We were challenged to ‘show me your faith.’
The next sermon (Overhead 2) challenged us to ‘show me your commitment through how you respond to trials and temptation,’ as we looked at verses such as James 1:13 and 14. ‘And remember, no one who wants to do wrong should ever say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else either. Temptation comes from the lure of our own evil desires.’
We were given a picture of a curve ball and the challenges that hitters face from a curveball and that we are thrown curveballs throughout life from both external factors or life situations that we can honestly call trials (as well as temptations) as well as the inner curve balls that come from our warped desires.
In the third sermon (Overhead 3) we were challenged to ‘show me your character…through everyday living’ as we examined verses such as James 1:19–21, ‘Dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Your anger can never make things right in God’s sight. So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the message God has planted in your hearts, for it is strong enough to save your souls.’ Five additional character issues were studied as well; cleaning up our inner self, letting your faith work, the use of your tongue, the treatment of others, and living like we believe.
This morning our walk takes us through the latter half of chapter 3, beginning with verse 13 through the end of chapter 4. It is a segment that, like other parts of the book, jumps around but there are two verses that act like bookends that give us perspective on what is said between them.
The first bookend is our main text this morning, James 3:13 ‘If you are wise and understand God’s ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don’t brag about the good you do, then you will be truly wise!’ The other bookend is James 4:14 ‘For your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.’
The phrase ‘live a life of steady goodness’ is a phrase that I want each of us to really think about this morning and keep in mind as we examine the passages in between these two verses. It is a good description of ‘showing what we got by how we relate to others.’
As followers of Jesus Christ, we demonstrate our faith in how we relate to others, as we, in the words of Pastor Travis Moore, exhibit godly wisdom, submit to (or obey) God, and live one day at a time.
What does Godly wisdom look like? Let’s look at James 3:17 and notice the following phrases:
… the wisdom that comes from heaven is: pure
gentle at all times
willing to yield to others
full of mercy and good deeds
shows no partiality and is always sincere.
Wise people are sought out because they are wise and because they illustrate the best in our passage. Now they are not pushovers, they don’t always say, “Well, live and let live.”
Wise people have an internal strength and resolve that sometimes makes us sit up and take notice. Wise people challenge us to move to a higher level of life.
Now this internal strength comes in two ways. First, it comes in the choice to live a life of steady goodness as we allow the Holy Spirit to change us day-by-day. Second, it comes in the letting go of those things that are described in verses 14 through 16: the jealousy and envy.
Wise people also know how to deal with jealousy and envy. They see the warning signs, and learn how to deal with them before they grab hold of their heart. And as we move on to the next segment of the chapter we have a very clear statement on how to deal with the jealousy, envy, and the other things that poison our souls and relationships.
Let’s first stop at verse 7. ‘So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.’
That word ‘so’ is important here. It is a word that makes the speaker take a breath and then say, ‘such and so.’ It is the end of what has just been said and then the beginning of a solution or course of action about what has just been said.
“So, in conclusion, therefore…” says James, “if you are going to live a life of ‘steady goodness’ then you must humble yourselves before God and resist the Devil.” Why?
Steady goodness has no place for jealousy or selfish quarrels. A steady goodness does not include fights and backstabbing and gossip. There is no place for it.
James goes right to the heart of the matter in verse 1 ‘What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn’t it the whole army of evil desires at war within you?’
The reason there are problems in the church (and James is speaking to the church) is that the Devil likes to get into it like a fox in the chicken coop and have at it! He likes for us to whine and complain and get mad and leave mad. Because if he can get the people in the church mad and out of sorts, the ministry of church diminishes. And a diminished church is a wounded church, that if it doesn’t get well and really, really deal with the conflicts and the residue of the conflicts, it becomes a dead church and the Lord has one less group of people to use on the mission field of humanity. How do we deal with this demon in our midst? How do we ‘resist the devil’ and ‘humble ourselves’ before the Lord.
Let’s read verses 5 through 8 ‘What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful ? He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, “God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble.” So humble yourselves before God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. Draw close to God, and God will draw close to you.’
When you confess your sins and ask the Lord to forgive you of those sins, the Holy Spirit enters our lives and begins to change our behavior, our values, our priorities, and everything else about us. However, the more we resist the Holy Spirit the more difficult it becomes to live victoriously with and for the Lord.
And one of the ways that we resist and hold back the work of the Spirit in our lives is when we live in disobedience and that includes allowing jealousy and envy to take root in our heart and soul which displaces the power and effectiveness of the Spirit to help us live for God. In other words, we begin to live faithlessly and it is very important for us to live faithfully because as we do so, we are able to overcome temptations such as jealousy and envy.
How do we deal with jealousy and envy and their results? 1. We humble ourselves through sincere confession and repentance to God and also, if necessary, to the person or persons that we have done battle with. 2. We choose, each and every day, to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us grow stronger in our ability and desire to be more faithful to God. 3. We actively resist the Devil when we run to God and say “Help me Father!”
And these are all choices that we must make each and every day to grow up and become that wise person that God wants each of us to be. In showing our faith, it is not enough to just say that we are Christians but show that we are Christians, as we must deal with the war within us. And the first step is to be humble enough to admit that we have a problem and that we need to ask God for help and then begin to change.
But there’s more… ‘Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you hypocrites. Let there be tears for the wrong things you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.’
I ask a wild question this morning, “Have we ever been truly sorry for our sins?” That is what this passage is talking about, true repentance. Not some emotional frenzy, but an honest and heartfelt sorrow at our sins followed by a change of heart and mind that leads oneself to, or back to, God.
James is talking about radical surgery here. It is not a mere ‘sorry’ but a genuine, cut to the heart, sorrow over what we have said and done. It is a humbling attitude that literally puts us on our knees as we seek God and His forgiveness.
Pastor Marilyn Murphree tells the story of a bishop who was invited to Sunday dinner. “During the meal,” she said, ‘he was astonished to hear the younger daughter state that a person must be very brave to go to church these days. “Why do you say that?” asked the bishop.”
“Because,” she answered, “I heard Dad tell Mom last Sunday that there was a big shot in the pulpit, the canon was in the vestry, the choir murdered the anthem, and the organist drowned everybody!”
Drawing close to God with the very evident result of a life of ‘steady goodness’ is, however, only one aspect of ‘showing what we’ve got by showing that we care for others by how we treat them.’ Our next stop is one that is always comes up when we deal with conflicts between people – the issue of a ‘critical spirit’ or as we read in verses 11 and 12, ‘judging.’
Let me state two equally important and true things about human beings and this issue of ‘judging.’ First, no one likes to be judged. Second, we all judge.
We hear, and say, ‘I’m not the one to judge but God is.’ And that is true. In Matthew 7:1 Jesus says, “Stop judging others, and you will not be judged.” What does He mean? Does He mean, ‘Live and let live?’ ‘You do your thing and I do mine?’ Where has that attitude has gotten us today? It is un-Biblical attitude.
In one of the commentaries that I looked at it said this about Jesus’ words, ‘Jesus’ statement, “Stop judging,” is against the kind of hypocritical, judgmental attitude that tears others down in order to build oneself up. It is not a blanket statement to overlook wrong behavior of others but a call to be discerning rather than negative. Jesus said to expose false prophets (Matthew 7:15-23), and Paul taught that we should exercise church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:1, 2) and trust God to be the final Judge (1 Corinthians 4:3-5).’
James is saying the same thing. Yes he does say, ‘You are not a judge and God alone has the power to save or to destroy.’ But, what is James doing? Is he judging those who judge others?
He is holding the people, fellow Christians, accountable for their actions and attitudes and that is not being judgmental but being a good pastor. The Holy Spirit holds us accountable for our actions and we feel it in the conviction that we experience when we know in our hearts that something is not right.
These are hard things to talk about but important things to talk about if we are going to ‘live a life of steady goodness.’ Now we come to our second bookend that should give us some perspective on all of this.
For a moment, I want each of us to imagine our funeral. Think about seeing yourself in the casket. Assume that you have attended church regularly up to that point in your life and that you claim to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ.
What kind of a Christian do you think you would be called? (Overhead 5)
Would you be called what L. Durham calls a QUESTION MARK Christian, a PERIOD Christian, a HYPHENATED Christian, a COMMA Christian, or an EXCLAMATION POINT Christian?
List to what Durham says about each of these ‘Christians:’
Regarding the ‘question mark’ Christian we read, ‘When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Does your lack of commitment leave a lot of unanswered questions about your Christianity? Does your attitude toward Church worship services and programs cause people to wonder if you are really converted? Does your irregular attendance signify to the other believers that you really don’t like being in the company of other believers?’
Then there is the ‘period’ Christian of which Durham says, ‘A Period Christian is one who already knows all there is to know
about the Lord. Their minds are closed to new ideas, new ministries and new methods. You might as well place a period after their name, because as far as their concerned, they’ve gone as far as they are willing to go in this life. It doesn’t matter how many training courses or
institutes or workshops you sponsor, they won’t come, PERIOD.’ (By they way, Durham recognizes that this kind of Christian has nothing to do with age, but with attitude.)
The HYPHENATED Christian is the member who suffers from Spiritual Schizophrenia. They have a SPLIT PERSONALITY. You have to hyphenate their two separate lives, kind of like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Sunday is Dr.
Jekyl’s day, but Monday, Mr. Hyde returns. No single definition describes their personality.
They’re subject to acts of Sainthood as
well as acts of SIN. They shout on Sunday and Pout on Monday. On Sunday they’ll hug you, and on Monday they’ll mug you. In church
their angels; at home their devils. On Sunday they sing Hallelujah; during the week they try to “Sock it to Ya”.
No simple definition can
describe their erratic and unpredictable behavior. They are Saint-Sinners, Sincere-Hypocrites, and Witness-Gossipers.’
Then there is the ‘comma’ Christian about which Durham says, ‘A comma is a small punctuation mark, which separates words, phrases or clauses. A comma is NEVER used at the end of a sentence. Whenever you see
a comma, you know that there is more to come. That’s what a comma does; it warns you that after a short pause, more will follow.’
Durham continues, ‘They’re first in line to
volunteer, despite their already busy schedule. Yes, nothing they do earns them a period, just a COMMA, until they serve once again. A COMMA Christian has a long list of activities on their schedules. No time for question marks, periods or hyphenated lifestyles!’
Finally there is the ‘exclamation point’ Christian. ‘There is nothing greater,’ writes Durham ‘than being called an EXCLAMATION POINT Christian!’
The Exclamation point is a vertical line underscored by a dot. It signifies some dynamic, powerful and enthusiastic interjection.
Exclamation Points are reserved for life’s strong points and profound accomplishments that excite the spirit and set our hearts on
Now that’s how Christians ought to be! There ought to be some excitement in our service. No ordinary life gets an exclamation point. No sad-sack Christian. No complaining Christian, no crybaby Christian, no “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” Christian.
The Exclamation Point Christian has something to shout about. They make a
joyful noise to our God who made this world and everything in it.
They’re spirits are overflowing with Hallelujah’s for the Savior who died on Calvary to save them from eternal death. Jesus deserves an EXCLAMATION POINT response. No other punctuation mark will do. No time for Question Marks, Periods, or Hyphenated lifestyles.
They have a life to live… EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have work to be done….. EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a victory to achieve…. EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a devil to defeat…. EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a storm to face…. EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a prayer to pray…. EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a promise to claim… EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a hunger to be satisfied…. EXCLAMATION POINT!
They have a thirst to be quenched…. EXCLAMATION POINT!
A cross to be carried,
A Book to be studied,
A habit to conquer,
A temptation to overcome,
An enemy to love,
A burden to lift,
A command to obey,
A friend to help,
A job to be accomplished,
A course to be completed
A fight to be fought,
A race to be won, EXCLAMATION POINT!
‘For your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone,’ says James. And when it goes, do all the arguments, and petty issues, really matter?
Do all things that we think are important in this life and the here and now, are they going to be important then?
I think that I have said all that I need to say this morning. I am going to let the Holy Spirit do the talking now.
The altar is open do what you have got to do, here (point to the altar), here, (point to the heart), here (point to the congregation), and there (point to the windows.) Obey the Spirit and run to the Father. Amen.
Sources: ‘Sermon note’ illustration is found in the introduction to RVG Tasker’s commentary on James.
Bishop story is from Marilyn Murphee’s sermon at www.sermoncentral.com
Comment on Matthew 7:1 is from the ‘Quick Verse Life Application’ on CD.
L. Durham’s sermon, ‘What punctuation mark best describes your life?’ is found at www.sermoncentral.com