Monday, March 25, 2019

Two Ears, One Mouth

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

(James 1:19-20 ESV)

We all have something to say. In fact, we have an opinion about everything. And we do all that we can to make sure it’s heard.

We express ourselves verbally as we visit with our friends. We do so as we chat on the phone or take part in meetings. We do so by posting our thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, and every other online resource. We even go as far as arguing with complete strangers.

In short, we are quick to speak. We’re quick to run off at the mouth. We’re quick to say things that ought not be said.

We also tend to be slow to hear. We have so much to say, we have so much that we want everyone else to hear, that we fail to listen to others. We fail to hear what they are expressing. We fail to hear what they what to be heard.

Lastly, we are quick to anger. We get upset about everything. We feel slighted by the most minor offense.

These feelings of anger often result from our unwillingness to listen to what others are trying to say. They result from a rush to judgment on our part. We assume the worst of others, allowing these feelings of anger to well up within us.

This is a problem. It’s a problem, James tells us, because the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. It leads us, instead, into sin.

Our anger causes us to lash out. It leads us to say hurtful things. It may even lead us to damage the reputation of another.

We’re quick to label everything as “righteous anger.” But few things truly fall into that category. Our anger erupts as we entertain only our feelings and accusations. It erupts as we’re slow to forgive someone who has wronged us, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Let us, then, heed the words of James. Let’s speak only after we’ve heard. Let’s speak only after we’ve had time to consider.

Even if we have to bite our tongue, let’s make an effort to do so. Let us hear people out. And let us be quick to understand and to forgive when necessary.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Saved by the Power of God

“Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

 (James 1:18 ESV)

One of the most prevalent doctrines in the church today is that we are saved by our decision or choice. We’re told that we are to make a decision for Christ. We are told that we must choose Christ.

However, we find in Scripture that this is not possible. We find that our salvation has nothing at all to do with us. In fact, we don’t play any role in it whatsoever. It is the work of God alone, from beginning to end.

We see this brought out in the above passage. James tells us that God brought us forth, that he saved us, of his own will. In other words, we aren’t saved because of our own choice or decision, but God’s.

We see this in the words of Jesus as well. In John 15:16, Jesus says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” Again, it’s by God’s will that we are saved.

In our sinful nature, we want nothing to do with God. Left to ourselves, we would never choose Christ nor make a decision for him. By nature, we long only to rebel against the Lord and to live for our own desires.

Our natural state is described by the apostle Paul in Romans 3. Starting in verse 10, he says: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."

James tells us that we are brought forth, that God saves us, through the Word of truth. He saves us through the gospel. It’s only as we hear the Word of God that we are enabled to believe in him and be saved.

However, even this results from the power of God. It results from the power of God because, apart from him, we can’t understand the gospel. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18, the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing. It’s foolishness to them. And, as he says in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

It’s only as God works in our hearts, by his Word and Spirit, that we are saved. It’s only as he provides to us his Word, and his Spirit enables understanding, that we can believe and be saved. Again, from first to last, our faith is a work of God.

This does not suggest that God will forcefully save us. We are able to reject him and this great gift that he offers. However, we cannot and will not be saved by our own decision.

This also doesn’t suggest that God will choose some to be saved and others to be damned. Scripture assures us that, by his death, Jesus atoned for the sins of all people. It assures us that it’s God’s desire for all to be saved.

However, it tells us that we can take no credit whatsoever for our salvation. It wasn’t accomplished by a choice that we made. It wasn’t accomplished by our response to an altar call. And it wasn’t accomplished by a prayer that we prayed. All of these are the result of faith that was kindled in our hearts by the Word and Spirit of God.

This may be troubling to some but, in reality, it’s very refreshing. It’s refreshing because I don’t have to worry if my motives were pure enough when I made my choice. I don’t have to worry that, perhaps, my prayer wasn’t sincere enough when I offered it up. Nor do I have to wonder if, when I responded to that altar call, it was truly good enough. I have full assurance that, by faith, I have been saved. I’m assured that my salvation is an act that was accomplished by God apart from any effort or merit on my part.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Blessings from Above

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

(James 1:16-17 ESV)

Most of us recognize how fortunate we are. We live in a very prosperous land. We live in a place where even the poor are wealthy by the standards of the rest of the world. We have all that we need from day to day.

We have a home, in which to rest and keep safe. We have food to sustain us from day to day. We have so much clothing, it clutters our home. We have our health. We have the strength and talent to work. We have family and friends who support us and share life with us. We could go on and on, listing the blessings we possess.

However, even though this is true, we often take these blessings for granted. We think and act as though we’re entitled to them. We think and act as if we’ve earned these blessings.

It is true that we work and earn the money to pay for the things that we need. All we have to do is look in our checkbook to know this is true. But we fail to realize there’s much more to it than that.

As God reminded the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 8, it’s because of the Lord that they lived in such a bountiful land. And even though they worked for the wealth they possessed, it was the Lord who have them the strength to work and the power to get wealth. They would have nothing apart from the Lord.

The same is true for us as well. Without God, we would have nothing. Without the Lord, we wouldn’t even exist. As James reminds us in the passage above, everything we have, every good and perfect gift, is from above. It’s a gift from God.

And this is something that is constant. It remains true throughout time. It remains true because our God is unchanging.

May we, then, recognize this truth and give to him the praise and glory he’s due. Let’s offer to him our thanks for the many blessings we possess. And may we continue to trust in him, each and every day, knowing that he will provide for us everything we need.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Owning our Desire

“Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

(James 1:13-15 ESV)

Our natural tendency, when we are tempted or when we fall into sin, is to direct the blame elsewhere. We blame others, who’ve caused the temptation, even if it was unintentional. We blame others, whom we accuse of causing us to sin.

We even go as far as blaming God. We blame him because he allowed the circumstances which led to our temptation or sin. We blame God because, in our mind, he didn’t do enough to help.

Going back to the beginning of the Bible, we see that this was also the case with Adam and Eve. When God confronted Adam about his sin, he pointed the finger at Eve. And, indirectly, he also pointed his finger at God, who’d given him this woman.

When God confronted Eve, she did the same thing. She also placed the blame elsewhere. She blamed the serpent, who had deceived her.

We often fail to acknowledge that we ourselves are the source of the temptation. As James points out in the above passage, we are tempted when we are lured and enticed by our own desire. So, then, it’s our desire, it’s our sinful lusts, that cause temptation.

The same is true when it comes to sin. Sin flows from our wicked desires. When our desire conceives, James says, it gives birth to sin.

The result of this, of course, is our judgment. Because of our sin, we receive the penalty of our sin. When sin is fully grown, James says, it brings forth death.

I’m not denying that others can sometimes play a role in enticing us. I’m not denying that Satan himself can play a role in this. However, the reason it becomes an issue for us is because of our own sinful nature. Apart from this nature, the provocations and allurements of others would not be an issue.

What we learn from this is that, when we are tempted, we cannot blame others. When we sin, we cannot blame others. We must own our desires, we must own our temptation, and we must own our sin. We must acknowledge it to the Lord, seeking his forgiveness and strength.