James 3:1-12-Words that Reveal Faith-or Not-July 31, 2013

James 3:1-12-Words that Reveal Faith-or Not-July 31, 2013

James in chapter 3 is addressing a church community about two sins of the teacher: intemperate speech (vv.1-12) and arrogance (vv. 13-18).  James also considers and counts himself among this group.  In tonight’s study we will be addressing the former.  Many think that speech is all about what we say, but more importantly what we do not say is just as significant as well.  Proper speech is not just saying the right thing and the right time but also controlling the urge to say what we shouldn’t or would be destructive.  It is easier to lash out at another person that it would be to ask God to heal our hurts and give up our “rights” to ourselves for the sake of the Lord.  I personally know no other more destructive thing members of a congregation can do.

Those who are willing to teach bring on themselves a stricter judgment.  It is because of the power their position and their words have over the body of believers.  There is also here I think a double warning be careful if you are not a teacher how you use your speech as well.  Everyone will stumble at some point in this but it is God who knows the thoughts and intentions of the heart, and how are you not just as guilty if you belittle or try to harm your teacher through your speaking about them rather than to them.

There are many examples of improper speech and these are just a few:  gossiping, putting others down, bragging, manipulating, false teaching, exaggerating, complaining, flattering, and lying.  It is things such as this that are hard to control.  Much like a ship’s rudder the tongue is small but has a great impact on the direction of the future.  The tongue, the source of speech and thus of words and teaching, is very small but powerful.  James’s illustrations highlight the great consequences of even the smallest bit of wrong teaching.

The tongue is presented as instrument capable of sinful expressions.  Uncontrolled speech can spread like a wildfire, and a few short words spoken in anger can destroy a relationship that took years to build.  Before you speak, remember that words are life fire-you can neither control nor reverse the damage they do.  James goes on to say that man has been able to tame all created species, but yet cannot tame the tongue.  If this is true, then why try?  Even though we are not perfect in controlling the tongue it is better to try to fight fires instead of setting new ones.  It is better to, as much as possible, limit the damage of the tongue.

The damage that the tongue can bring can be very destructive both personally and to the unity of the body of believers.  The most difficult thing to deal with is the duality that seems to come from this kind of speech.  In one breath we bless the Lord and Father, and in the next curse those who are made in the likeness of our Father.

The tongue can do both good and harm.  It is this type of speech that creates confusion and disunity in the church.  The danger of speech is beyond what the words themselves express but also what they expose.  The spoken words are not the source but rather the heart and mind of the person speaking them.  In this way they are revealing about the character and nature of a person.

The mouth reveals its source, the heart and contents of the heart, whether evil or good.  James uses examples of sources that only yield only product:  a spring, a fig tree, and a vine can produce only its specific fruit.  Believers likewise are single-hearted and yield good fruit (mature), never a mixture of good and evil.

In a way, all believers are teachers.  We teach those around us, in both our actions and our words.  Thus we must be aware of the power of our words.  With our words we can build up people or we can break down people.  We can strengthen our witness for Christ with our words, or we can weaken our witness for the Lord with our words.  We can increase the unity of the church with our speech, or we can divide the church with our speech.  We were made in God’s image, but we have also fallen into sin.  God wants to change us from the inside out, so that our hearts and minds would make our speech pleasing to God.  In what way do your words reveal the reality of the faith in your heart today?

The Letters of James and John:  Real Faith; BaptistWay Adult Bible Study Guide; 2010

Keeping the Cross at the Center-July 28, 2013

Keeping the Cross at the Center-July 28, 2013

Colossians 2:6-15

Paul reminds the believers in Colossae and us just as we received Christ as Lord we should continue to live for Him.  How do we live for Him?  By being rooted and built up, strengthened and overflowing in thanksgiving.  It is these things that are Paul’s focus reminding the people to not just receive Christ as Savior but to live for Him as Lord.  To live for Christ is impossible without God working in us and through us by His power.  For this living to stand the test of time, outside influences, and internal struggles we must continue to be rooted, built up, strengthened, and overflowing with thanksgiving.

Paul instructs the believers to let no one take you captive by this world’s hollow and deceptive philosophy.  What are those philosophies?  That the material world is all bad, that Christ is not God, that things like greed, pride, selfishness, beauty, and the objectification of people are ok.  These are the type things that leave us empty no matter how much we try to choke down they will never truly satisfy us.  Dr. Gardener C. Taylor one spoke in an interview about the need to keep the cross of Christ central in preaching.  He then used an analogy of children eating sweets saying that if you keep feeding children sweets they will keep coming back and eating them, but soon there will be a price.  The price is that these sweet do not nourish or give strength they only weaken the child, and prolonged eating of sweets will root their teeth making it impossible to eat the real food that does provide the strength needed.  Too often we have settled for the easy sweet stuff of this world or watered down Christianity that never lives up to the fluff, it doesn’t fill us up or sustain us, and eventually will make it next to impossible to receive true nourishment.

Contrasted with the hollowness of this world is the fullness of the deity that lives in Christ.  The fullness of God dwells in Christ and now we have been given fullness in Christ.  Nothing else will complete you or satisfy you like Christ.  The great news is you don’t have to feel empty, alone, afraid, worrying that we don’t measure up to someone’s standards.  The answer is you don’t and I don’t either, we can be full and complete in Christ.  We don’t have to keep eating what the world is feeding, and that is truly a great freedom found in Christ.

It is in Christ that we have put off the sinful nature, having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead.  It was God’s power, not my effort, that both raised Christ and saves us from our sins and for His purposes in the world today.  The power of resurrection lives in us and we do not have to feel empty, but rather filled with Christ.

When we were dead in sin, God made us alive with Christ in forgiving our sins, it cancelled the written codes power over out lives because the laws of this world have no power over those who are dead.  He took it all away, nailing it to the cross.  The power of the written codes were to regulate life, and in death they have no power or dominion.  Christ took the punishment with Him to the cross.  In doing so Christ was disarming the powers and authorities and making these so-called power a public spectacle.  They thought this public death of a man who claimed to be God that they would set an example to any who would dare call Jesus Lord rather than Caesar.  Christ instead makes a public spectacle of them by removing their “supposed” power by triumphing over them by the cross.  The victory was made greater when the first believers saw the resurrected Christ.  Their supposed victory was ours through the power of the cross.

We have talked about Christ and His divinity and now about receiving Jesus, living in His fullness, and giving thanks to God for saving us.  We need to remember to keep the cross as the center because in His cross there is victory in heaven and for daily living.  Living out of our relationship to Christ, an appropriating of what God has already accomplished in Christ.  This puts the emphasis where it belongs in Christian living-not on human willpower or effort but on God’s grace-wand enables such living to be characterized by thankfulness.

Just as we have received Christ Jesus as Lord let us continue to live for Him, being root, built up, strengthened, and overflowing in thanksgiving.  For this the freedom and power of the cross for both our salvation and our daily living.

James 2-If You’re Really Christian-July 24, 2013

James 2-If You’re Really Christian-July 24, 2013

James 2:1-7

We need to find value in all people, not just ones that society finds value in.  Most congregations drift towards a homogeneous existence; people look, dress, and speak in similar fashion.  We should not make a habit of showing favoritism.  The word translated “favoritism” means literally to life up a face.  The idea is that Christians don’t look at someone’s face or appearance to decide whether they will be treated well or not.

James then tells a story to indicate that point of treatment.  James reminds them that God chose the poor to be rich in faith.  One who is hungry or grieving is much more likely to respond to the hope of the gospel than one whose life is full.

The church grows most rapidly among people who face hardships.  The church has grown through persecution and poverty, and now it faces the greatest challenge-prosperity.

Don’t show favoritism.  James then gives an example about pride of position or wealth, and even worse it seems like a biblical example of “that’s my pew”.  Have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  So who really gets to decide the standards?

If we discriminate among ourselves how will the world ever believe that we can love them.  Outreach doesn’t begin with a program but it really starts with the people of God doing life right together with one another.  It will be attractive to others and people will reach out because they do believe that faith in Christ saves and transforms lives.

James goes on to say how God has not chosen those in whom the world we deem rich because really this stands in contrast to the world’s view and value of things, it exposes our sin, and demonstrates how far we are from God.

James 2:8-13

God’s value is not based on the world’s standards.  How are we keeping the royal law to love your neighbor as yourself, if we show favoritism?  To break any part of the total law is to be a law-breaker.  So…speak and act like those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom.  Why should we do this?  Because we will not be shown mercy if we are not merciful.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.

The issue with living here is when we judge others by a different standard than ourselves, we are effectively saying by our actions and words that we prefer that law and under that law we are all law breakers no matter to the degree and deserve judgment without mercy.

“Love your neighbor as yourselves” (James 2:8).  This command to love is evidenced throughout the New Testament.  To show partiality is sin.  When we violate any part of the law, we are sinners.  Since we are all guilty under the law, we should live be the law of liberty.  Only mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:14-26

Genuine faith is transformational.  When Christ is in us, we begin to take on the values and characteristics of Christ.  If you want to know whether a person’s faith is genuine, observe the person’s reaction to another person in need.  It is by helping someone in true need that we may not be given anything in return.  It is in blessing those that cannot return the favor that we are doing the work of God.

The faith (belief) James referred to in this chapter is a false faith.  True faith is belief in action.  The good works were evidence of their faith, not meritorious.  Abraham did not offer Isaac to impress God; he did it because he trusted God.

The so-called faith, described in chapter 2, is a mere intellectual acceptance of certain truths without trust in Christ as our Savior.  James was also not saying that a person is saved by works and not genuine faith.  Rather, he was saying, to use Martin Luther’s thoughts, that a person is justified (declared righteous before God) by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.  “Genuine faith will produce good deeds, but on faith in Christ saves.”

What good is a professed faith if we do not trust our lives with it and for it?  Or worse what good is a faith we talk about that is good and wonderful for us but is not good enough for the rest of the world so we judge them by different standards?  So how good could that faith really be if it is not good enough for anyone else?  We need to live our lives for Him.

Christ does save us not our deeds, but Christ came to save more than our intentions but rather our lives.  In trusting and believing requires action.  It is by its nature active.

Like the tightrope walker going across Niagara Falls pushing a wheelbarrow and when he arrives safely on the other side He asks the crowd how many people have faith that he can go back across.  There were many hands raised, and he then responds great I never thought I would get so many volunteers to ride in the wheelbarrow.

A person is justified not by faith but by what he does, it is this that his faith is real that a man trusts and believes it with his life.  As the body without the Spirit is dead so is faith without deeds is dead.

The Letters of James and John:  Real Faith; BaptistWay Adult Bible Study Guide; 2010