Front Page
Meditations Contents
Series Theme:  Meditations in James

PART TWO: Chapters 2 & 3

Meditation Title: Overview 




Part 1: Chapter 1






Welcome to Servant heartedness



Scattered in the world



Joyful Testing



Steps to Maturity



Asking for Wisdom



No Room for Doubting



Pride within Humility



Persevering under Trial



Opening the Door of Temptation



Goodness from God



God's Fruit



When Slowness is Good



Cleansed and Planted



The Mirror of Truth



Rein in your Tongue



Practical Spirituality



Part 2: Chapters 2 & 3



Beware Favouritism



Understanding the Rich & Poor



How to Avoid Becoming a Lawbreaker



Judgement & Mercy



Faith needs deeds



Faith needs good deeds



Faith without deeds



Faith is more than just believing



Abraham's Faith



Rahab's Faith



The Responsibility of Teachers



Stumbling Christians?



Steered by the Tongue



Burnt by the Tongue



Inability to Tame the Tongue



Forked Tongue



Humility with Wisdom



Earthly Wisdom



Heavenly Wisdom



Part 3: Chapters 4 & 5



Battling Desires



Right Asking



Enemies of God



God's Jealousy



Pride & Humility



Strategy for Warfare



Approaching God Wisely



Beware what you say about others



Rash Planning



At Peace in God's Will



Opposing God's will



Accountability for the Rich



Unjust Employment



Be patient, stand firm



God is the Judge



More on Patience & Perseverance



Be Simple & Straight Forward



Praying out Sickness



The Place of Confession



The Example of Elijah



Recovering the Wanderer










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Meditations Contents
Series Theme:  Meditations in James

Meditation No. 17

Meditation Title: Beware Favouritism


Meditations in James: 17 : Beware Favouritism


Jas 2:1-4 My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?


When we speak about the ‘world' in Scripture we sometimes refer to the earth on which we live, sometimes the people of the earth, but more often in the New Testament at least, to the godless, self-centred attitudes of so many in the world. ‘World' is equated with a bad attitude. John in his first letter wrote, Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world-- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 Jn 2:15-17). There, five times, John refers to the godless, self-centred, materialistic, atheistic attitude that prevails in so much of life. John sums up those things as sensual desire, covetous desire and pride. All of those things are greatly stimulated by the eyes, by what we see. The world goes on what looks good: smart cars, latest designer clothes, special hair cuts, sensual beauty, macho handsomeness, these are the things the world looks at. Not so James!


The focus of the verses today, says don't look on the outward side. Samuel had to learn that: The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7). Our tendency, so often, is to sum up people by their appearance and if they don't conform to the expectations of the ‘world', we write them off. There are many, many people who feel demeaned by life, put down by people and who now have a low self-esteem as a result. The ‘world' is a hard place that exalts the glorious few and put down the many. James is aware of this tendency and says this should not be how it is in the church. Tragically it is.


Our family once went to a big well-known evangelical church in Wales while we were on holiday. We were camping and, having three young children, we went to church in jeans. The looks we were given and the obvious avoidance of us, would have had James denouncing them loudly. My wife and I were on a caravanning holiday only a few years ago. At the last minute she decided to ‘go to church' in the beautiful village in the West Country where we were staying. Jeans again were her attire. She wasn't looking scruffy; to the contrary, she looked good, but she was wearing jeans. The vicar purposefully avoided having contact with her because she stood out from his garden-party-dressed ladies in hats. One of my sons and daughters-in-law were away at a wedding and stayed overnight. Walking around the town next morning they wondered about going to church. As they walked towards the building they realized that every person going in was either suited or dressed to a high degree. Their smart but casual clothes seemed out of place and they were put off and didn't enter. But large majorities of the population don't have suits or smart dresses, and so would be put off going into such establishments. Such ‘nice' people don't realize how exclusive they are and if you aren't sure what that means, they don't realize how they exclude people from encountering God! As my younger son commented, “Suppose I had been someone at my wits end and came seeking God and found I wasn't dressed properly!”


Do you see the point? James rather labours it but it is just the same. Favouritism, as he describes it, is just the same as looking down on people because they aren't dressed as well as we are. A young man came to our church several years ago wearing a coat of many colours that Joseph would have been proud of. I confess I thought, “I like that! I wish I had the courage to wear something like that!” He carried on wearing it, went through a phase of wearing a lot of ironmongery and black leathers but is remarkably straight today and is still with us. Clothes aren't an issue. Neither is whether someone is a street cleaner, or a bank manager. Jesus didn't make distinctions and neither should we. This is what James is on about, that's why he starts off referring to us as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the all-glorious Son of God, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” ( Phil 2:7). It was the Pharisees who made themselves look something and in doing that they drove a wedge between themselves and the ordinary people. Jesus gathered to himself fishermen, tax collectors and the like. He made no distinction between the great and the humble. When a Jewish leader, Nicodemus, came to see him, he treated him just the same as anyone else. This is the truth of what James says. We neither exalt rich and influential people nor demean poor, uneducated people. Each and every person stands before God in their own right and we accept them as they are. Now, be honest, is that really how it is with you? If not, it's time to read this meditation again.







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Series Theme:   Meditations in James

Meditation No. 18

Meditation Title: Understanding the rich and poor

Jas 2:5-7 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?


For the most part we just live our lives and accept people as they are. In the United Kingdom there is not poverty as parts of the world know it, but there are the poor, those who are on state benefit perhaps; they are there. At the other end of the scale are the great and the glorious, those with more money than they know what to do with, but we only see then occasionally on TV. In between is a range of people ranging from the postman to the banker but, as far as James is concerned, as we saw yesterday, we are to be class-blind. So strongly does James feel about this that he continues on in these next three verses to expound this subject. This new Christian faith is to be something completely different in terms of valuing people, from the ways of the world, and if we didn't get the message yesterday, he ploughs on to stir our consciences in today's verses.


To do this he makes comments first about the poor and then about the rich. First of all, let's consider the poor. He speaks about those who are poor in the eyes of the world with the clear inference that material poverty may be seen as a demeaning thing in the eyes of those who are godless and don't understand these things, but there is another side to it. These people have been chosen by God to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom . So why should this be? When you are poor and struggling, you tend to be much more aware of your personal need and when Jesus comes along the poor tend to be far more responsive to him. From God's perspective the poor are frequently much more like a bunch of responsive little children who want to be adopted than the rich who stand aloof in their self-sufficiency. For this reason alone the Lord's heart is strong for the poor. Yet how did the church then and how does the church today respond to the poor? According to James, the church then at least, was insulting them by paying more attention to the rich and almost disregarding the poor who came into their meetings.


I gave three illustrations yesterday, of modern instances of this happening, not that I or my family were poor but that, by our clothing, in the minds of certain local churches, we appeared poor and were thus given a negative reception. New churches tend to be far less formal and people dress far less formally for church, but do we actually accept those who come in from a different cultural background to the majority of middle class England ? America , I observe, is often equally bad at this. It isn't merely a matter of clothes, if you think that it what I have been saying; it is all about heart acceptance of others, whoever they are and whatever they look like.


But, in case we haven't got the point yet, James pushes on even further. Who is it in the world who exploits the rest of us, either (surmising) by land grabbing, making use of money, or by being a harsh employer? It's the rich! And you are welcoming them and giving them pride of position? Today we tend to think of large corporations as being the big ogres who charge too much interest, give out mortgages that are too big that lead people into financial difficulties, or require their workers to work on a Sunday, or work ‘flexible' hours to make more for the company, but which means that family life is weakened. However large corporations are run by people. Managers are just as culpable as directors of the company. If you are a manager or senior person in a financial institution, have you salved your conscience over these practices by saying, “Well everybody does it; it's business.” Really? You are still answerable to God.


Part of my history was in a Baptist church, and I've seen the same in other similar churches. The deacons or elders were all the big business men of the community, but in today's life, they probably feel uncomfortable or defensive about my comments above. Well according to James you have a right to feel uncomfortable. In many parts of the church it is run by people from middle or upper-middle class cultures. I'm beginning to let loose other people who actually may have a more open heart to God and who may have more faith. These words of James aren't an outdated ranting of an early church leader with a bee in his bonnet! They are the prophetic declarations of a man of God, one of God's chosen voices, and so we would do well to listen to him, as uncomfortable as that may be.


We are to keep a right balance in all these things. It is not wrong to be well educated and well off. It is wrong if we use questionable methods to get to that place. It is wrong if we look down our noses at the poor ( slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong ). It is wrong if our riches make us feel secure so that our spiritual relationship with Him is shallow. It is wrong if we ignore the needs of those around us that we could meet. Oh yes, there are inherent dangers in the kingdom of God for the rich, and we need to be aware of them and avoid them. The biggest danger in terms of church life, as far as James is concerned, is that wealth separates out people and demeans those who don't have it, and wrongly elevates those who do have it. The kingdom of God is about spiritual realities and not material realities, and the poor are often much more well off in the kingdom than the wealthy. We need to take these things on board, because they are as relevant in the twenty-first century in the West as they were in James' time.







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Series Theme:   Meditations in James

Meditation No. 19

Meditation Title: How to avoid becoming a Lawbreaker


Jas 2:8-11 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.


They say that in the modernist movements of the twentieth century, artists sought to paint ‘universals', things that summed up all other things in that group, such as a human being, or a chair. What James refers to as the royal law, Love your neighbour as yourself is a spiritual example of a universal because it sums up all other laws that protect human beings from human beings, because that is what most laws do. That particular law was found in Lev 19:18 and the Lord knew that each person has a self-love, a concern for their own well-being. What that simple law says is that anyone should view other people as they view themselves. Now if we do that, we will always be concerned for the well-being of others, just as much as we are concerned for our own well-being, and if we do that any other law about human relationships will be covered. Now it is called the royal law because it is a law that comes out of the character of God Himself, and God of course is the King of all things.


The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote : “The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbour as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” (Rom 13:9,10). Jesus had likewise previously declared this: One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:35-40). So, instead of having to think about the technical legalities of any particular situation, we ask ourselves, “If this was me, how would I like to be treated? This is how I ought to act towards this other person.”


But this is not a theoretical, abstract discussion; this is all to be seen in the light of what James has been saying about local gatherings of Christians. In case you'd forgotten, he was castigating them for showing favouritism and exalting the rich and ignoring the poor. Implied in all this, he is saying, “Think about this, how would you feel if you were the poor coming into your congregations? How would you feel if you saw the rich being exalted and yourself being ignored?” There is an obvious answer to that which implies that the behaviour being referred to – favouritism – is wrong, because it demeans the poor and makes them feel bad about themselves, if not about you! This favouritism must stop! It must stop if for no other reason that it is wrong and ‘wrong' is sin. The law of love has revealed you as a lawbreaker. You are not loving part of your congregation as yourself. If you were in their shoes you would not feel good; you would feel hurt, rejected and isolated. Oh no, if you thought the previous meditations were the rantings of someone with a chip on their shoulder about being rejected, you have missed the point. It's all about sin in the local church! Sin is breaking the Law whether it is the ethical Law of Moses or the law of love that summarises it. Did you not realise this? Favouritism is sin and we should never knowingly continue in sin. We should repent of all known sin, and repentance involves giving up the sin.


To make his point even more forcibly James points out that if you break the law on just one point it makes you a lawbreaker. If that doesn't say much to you it's simply that you haven't thought about it yet. If you are a lawbreaker you are a criminal in the eyes of the law. It doesn't matter which law you break; if you break ANY law you are automatically a criminal. Indeed for the purpose of definition every sin is the same, so once you sin by whatever means, it makes you a sinner and that puts you on the same footing as every other sinner, including those that you might have thought were ‘big' sinners. No, a sinner is a sinner. We are all lawbreakers if we knowingly do this thing. Once we say that, we need to add three comments: First God is against knowing-sinners. Yet, second, Jesus died for all sinners. Third, all known sin is to be confessed and rejected. When we do the third thing, the first thing ceases to be, because of the second one.


So, check it out. James has spent quite a while on this subject. If not dealt with it can undermine the very foundation of the Church. If not dealt with it causes division and hurt and is an issue that God is deeply concerned about because it flies in the face of His very character – love. So, are there people we exclude? Are there people we look down on? Are there people we feel negative about, simply because of their looks or the culture they come from? Perhaps it's time to do a reassessment of our church life.







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Series Theme:   Meditations in James

Meditation No. 20

Meditation Title: Judgment & Mercy


Jas 2:12,13 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!


Sometimes in Scripture we move into areas where there is language being used that is not used in common, every-day life, and which, therefore, requires some definition. This is one such place. ‘Judging' is fairly easy because we have TV programmes where people have to perform and are then ‘judged' by a panel. When we talk about judging, we talk about assessing or, to use an older phrase, being weighed in the balances. ‘Mercy' is not so commonly used. Mercy is unfounded compassion. Mercy isn't earned or deserved; it is just given. Now we have to apply these two words to see what James is saying in these rather complex verses.


First of all he makes a call in respect of our behaviour – speak and act . But we are to speak and act in a particular way, a way governed by what is going to happen to us in the future. He says, when you speak or act remember that you are going to be judged or assessed by the law of love that we have been recently considering. That law of love brings a freedom of movement; it allows us to reach out and touch others in very positive and purposeful ways. The law of love will be the yardstick by which we are measured.


Now earlier we didn't go the full extent with the definition of judgement because it doesn't only refer to the act of assessing, it also involves the act of determining what happens to the person being judged. On these performance-TV shows the person or couple who is judged to have been bottom of the contestants, leaves the show and doesn't appear any more. When we read of judgement in the Bible it can be either eternal judgement – where our eternal destiny takes us – or judgement that is short-term discipline, or even long-term if that discipline doesn't bring the fruits that God is looking for when he brings it. Judgement is also used in terms of rewards in heaven.


There is a clear Scriptural teaching that we Christians will receive in heaven according to how we have lived here: If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” (1 Cor 3:12:12-15) and For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad ” (2 Cor 5:10) and “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” ( Rev 22:12). The message is very clear. When we are Christians we have an eternal destiny in heaven with God, but the nature or character of that destiny (to start with at least) appears to be determined by the nature or character of the lives we lived here. That is the judgement that James is possibly referring to.


But we need to consider his comments about mercy as well. Remember that he has just been speaking against favouritism and favouritism puts some people down while it elevates others. The poor needed our kindness and we didn't give it. We failed to show them mercy is what James is implying. Oh yes, this isn't a branch off to some completely different subject; this is an extension of his argument about treating all people equally and well. If you don't show people mercy, is what he is saying, you will not be shown mercy when it comes to your judgement time. When you have finished your performance and are being assessed on it, if you haven't included mercy in your performance, don't expect to be shown mercy. Expanding that word, if you haven't shown undeserved compassion to those who needed it, don't ask for special favours to get more than you deserve in heaven. Everything we have and will have, comes by God's mercy and grace. He doesn't HAVE to give us anything. We deserved eternal punishment, but in His mercy, His undeserving compassion, He offered us salvation through Jesus. That gave us a new eternal destiny.


But within that new life, He still gives us free will to choose how we will respond to His word and His Spirit and, therefore, we can be dilatory and casual and fail to be the people He wants us to be. If we are like that, we need to realise there are consequences. We may not loose our eternal destiny (though I believe Scripture indicates that is possible where there is apostasy) but we may not get all we could get if we had fully entered into the will of God, what He desired for us – which included letting His love reach out through us to those who were poor and needy. Oh yes, there are definitely long-term consequences to what we do or don't do today, and we really do need to consider those in determining how we will live now.







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Series Theme:  Meditations in James

Meditation No. 21

Meditation Title: Faith needs Deeds


Jas 2:14,17 What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? …. In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.


We will over the next few days cover this subject being now laid out by James in some detail, but we will take it step by step. Now there may be some who reading these verses say, “Oh this is so obvious that we don't need to bother with this.” I would suggest that that is far from the truth. My observation is that the truth of these verses is only truly perceived when we give some little thought to it, and in fact this is some of the most vitally needed truth for the church in the twenty-first century.


Our starting point must be to ask, what is faith? Hebrews chapter 11 is the chapter of faith: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1) Faith is about belief. Faith is about believing about the future and it's about believing about what we cannot see. It's believing about the future because if it was about the past we would ‘know' for a certainty, and faith is being sure about what is yet to come. Now supposing God said to you, “Pray for this person in front of you and I will heal them.” Now that is a future event because you haven't yet done it. When you stretch out to pray for them, that is faith. You are expecting something to yet happen because God has said so. In this instance, healing is something you can't see until it has happened, yet when we sense we have heard God's voice, we have an inner certainty that it will happen. This is faith.


Now in our example we referred to God speaking. So how does faith come? faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17 ) In other words, very simply, faith comes when God speaks. Now we may not be very conscious that we've ‘heard a voice' because it may just be the quiet inner witness of His Holy Spirit within us. Yet we hear something and that ‘something' brings a sense of assurance in us, we become sure that it will happen. That is faith.


Now suppose a third part is watching us. We sense we have just heard God. Our observer sees nothing at this point; it is all going on in us. We are sure that God has spoken but so far we have done nothing. Now is this faith? In one sense, yes it is, because we are sure of what we hope for and certain about what we do not see . But how can we be sure we are sure of what we hope for? (Yes, that question is right!) We can only prove it, by responding to what we have been hearing, by doing what we heard. Until then it is only a mind thing and we may be kidding ourselves, but faith is only real faith when there is action involved. Faith starts with belief, so the Hebrews' writer starts out , “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Heb 11:3) We've heard or read, he says, that God created the universe, and so we live in the light of that. He continues on with varying ‘belief' items, until he comes to Noah when, warming to his theme, he says, By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.” (v.7) Noah heard from God and showed his faith by doing something, building the ark. He continues , “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (v.8). Similarly Abram heard from God and showed his faith by going. All of the examples that are then given in that chapter are examples of people DOING.


The big temptation that Satan puts before us, is for us to just be believers who believe things in their minds but do nothing with it. Thus for instance we have believers who say they believe in the God of the Bible but deny anything that could be Him moving, and they certainly don't expect (or want) Him to do things through them. Passive, inactive Christianity is a denial of the Bible. Every now and then I come across seekers who say, “Well yes, I believe all this about Jesus Christ being God's Son and dying for our sin.” and they remain completely unchanged. Why? Because they haven't seen yet that that applies to them and he died for them, and they've got to ask God for it to apply to them. That is faith, responding yourself to what God says. As James says, What good is it if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? If it stays in the mind and the life is untouched, what good is that. That is not salvation. That person is still stuck in their sins and doesn't know forgiveness or the powerful presence of God's Holy Spirit who only comes when we respond to His word in obedience: We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32).


So you were born again. Was that the end of it? No, just the beginning! From then on you entered into a new life: For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) There is a life to be lived, responding to God's word and to His Spirit. If we don't respond, nothing happens and it just stays in our mind and we and the world get no benefit. So-called faith, that is just belief in the mind, is in fact dead. Nothing is happening, nothing is changing, there is no life here, and God is not able to move. This is a dead situation. Now there is a challenge in all this: without faith it is impossible to please God ” (Heb 11:6) God's salvation through Jesus is meant to change us, change people, change the world, for that is what God's will is. He is only pleased when that is happening, and so if we just remain with a set of dead, inactive beliefs, that is doing nothing! Nothing doesn't please God! God is pleased when His children respond to Him and He is able to move through them and bring blessing to His world. Has your faith got actions to it?







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Meditation No. 22

Meditation Title: Faith needs Good Deeds


Jas 2:15,16 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?


Yesterday we laid down the foundation for working through what James is saying by considering what faith is and how it comes. We started by suggesting that in fact this is some of the most vitally needed truth for the church in the twenty-first century if we are to avoid being church in name only. In the meditation we saw that faith needs to have a ‘doing' element in it for it to be true faith, otherwise it remains simply a mind thing, a dead thing, lifeless and meaningless.


In our verses today James provides an illustration from church life to show how faith without action is a meaningless thing. Perhaps this is better explained if we first consider Jesus' teaching on caring for one another: Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:37-39). Loving your ‘neighbour', anyone near you, was a central core teaching and came a very close second to loving God. To his disciples, Jesus added, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Jn 13:34), implying a sacrificial love that lays down its life for others. If we weren't sure about it, he repeats it: My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:12,13) Now there is no room for doubts or questions about this; it is quite specific – love others as you would like to be loved, and let your love be sacrificial.


Now the point is emphasized by the apostles. Paul wrote, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal 6:10) and John later wrote, If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:17,18). Now even if there was any question about loving outsiders, and there isn't, there can be no question whatsoever about loving other Christians. Moreover John hasn't given us any grounds to make excuses when he said If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need and similarly now, James refers to a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. These two apostles place the situation well and truly in front of us with these two clear references to love being expressed in very practical and tangible ways – especially in the church.


Let's spell it out even more. Yesterday, we saw that real faith has a practical ‘doing' aspect to it. Now we are considering Jesus, John and James saying that practical ‘doing' aspect is to be first and foremost expressed to those in need closest to you. Paul was most specific about this: If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Tim 5:8). The ‘love command' that Jesus gave (Jn 13:34 – see above) is to be worked out in very practical ways. If you don't care for and look after those who are closest to you, you are not fulfilling or obeying the command to love which is at the heart of the Faith.


James rubs the point in even more. There is no point in saying I wish you well without doing something about it. Pious words don't help put food in a person's stomach or clothes on their back. In a day when, in our country, the State provides ‘benefits' for many people, we might think that our obligation under this teaching is removed. Surely, we think, they have food and clothing, so I don't need to worry about them. Hold on, the basic teaching was Love your neighbor as yourself. If you love yourself you want to care for yourself and not in a most minimalistic way. Is it loving to see some one just getting by when you have plenty?


So let's summarise what we have been saying. Jesus and the apostles taught that we are to care for one another and provide for one another when there is need. Faith is responding to God's word which, in this case, came through Jesus, John and James, not merely giving mental assent to it, but actually responding in practical ways so that others in the church who have little benefit from our plenty. Faith is ‘doing' and doing means practical help for those who need it. May we be that sort of church!







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Series Theme:  Meditations in James

Meditation No. 23

Meditation Title: Faith without Deeds


Jas 2:18 But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.


Faith is at the heart of the reality of the Christian Faith. That is why James perseveres with his argument and why we continue with it for a third day. Remember behind all James' teaching is the thought that he is writing to a dispersed people living in the world and so James is saying things that they particularly need to hear, to combat the deception of the enemy in the world. One of the enemy's strategies is to try to get us into an extreme position, so there are some ‘faith' people and there are some ‘action' or ‘deeds' people. The ‘faith' person is a great prayer warrior perhaps, or a great Bible expositor and the rest of the church hold their spirituality in awe. Then at the other extreme is the person who is full of good works, constantly helping the poor and needy but who is never heard to utter a prayer and never spends time with God in the Bible. One of them has their head in the clouds of heaven, but that is all they have. The other has their feet on the earth, but that is all they have.


Now when we look at verse 18 there is a problem. Ancient manuscripts don't have punctuation or quotation marks, and some Bibles change the punctuation marks to include the whole of the debate, but let's accept it for what we have above. James imagines one of these ‘extremists' saying, “Well you're a faith person James; I'm a deeds person. I'm not a great spiritual giant like you, but I do stuff.” James' reply needs to be seen as saying, “Well if you separate the two out, if you think they can exist separately, if you are a Christian show me your faith separated from deeds, and then I'll show you a better way, faith shown by deeds.”


Do you see what James is doing? He is showing us the folly of trying to make faith and deeds two separate things that can exist by themselves. Well, deeds can exist by themselves, that is true. An unbeliever can do good works, and many do. Yes, good deeds can exist entirely separately from religious faith, but faith cannot. As we said in a previous meditation, and we keep on needing to hear, faith that doesn't express itself in some way is merely a mind thing and we can't be sure it even exists. If you say, “I believe” but there are no signs of the expression of that belief, then the reality is that you don't believe; it's just words. “But I go to church on a Sunday morning,” someone might say as a defence to this challenge. If that is the only expression of your belief, then it is rather shallow isn't it? “But I keep the Ten Commandments as well,” I hear you protest. Still rather a shallow faith isn't it, when you line that up with what we said previously about faith – about it being about hearing God and responding to Him in a daily, living relationship.


No, we would do well to consider further a “faith that works”. That little phrase sums up the Christian life well. It is, indeed, a faith that works. It works in the sense that a machine works, and it works in this way because it is simply an expression of how God has designed things to be. When we come into a living relationship with the Lord, we find a new peace, harmony and order appearing. Living God's way, and in harmony and in fellowship with the Lord means that all His resources, His grace, are available, including things like wisdom or strength, and so suddenly there is an observable change that takes place that can only be explained using such words as peace, harmony and order. Suddenly this life starts working as it should do. Until we became a Christian we had been dysfunctional, only working in the material realm, yet we are beings designed to work in the material and spiritual realms. If the latter is missing we can never fully function as we are designed to. No, we suddenly see a faith that is now working.


But even in saying that, what we mean is that there is a visible outworking of faith by the way the life is now being lived, seen by the things the person does . The actual living out of their life, the ‘doing' of it, is what reveals the reality of the faith that is there. The person who goes to church on a Sunday morning but who still remains a self-centred, grumbling and moaning person, godless in every other way except Sunday morning, actually doesn't have faith. The truth is that when God speaks, and a person responds and is born again, that affects the whole of their life. Satan will try and tell us to compartmentalise our lives and keep faith away from work or school or whatever, but when we came to Christ we surrendered the whole of our lives to him and he is to be Lord over every aspect of our existence. The result should be that every aspect of our lives, all the things we do, will reflect that.


Check this out. Are there areas of your life where you try to keep God out? Are there areas of your life where faith does not operate? If there are, you've obviously not realised that God is concerned to bless every aspect of your life, every single thing you do. It's time to let Him have free access to every part of your life so that faith may work in all areas, and that all areas may work as He's designed them to work.







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Meditation No. 24

Meditation Title: Faith is more than just believing


Jas 2:19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder.


As we have been saying over these past few days, it is our belief that this matter of faith is one of the most crucial issues for the church of the twenty-first century, no doubt as it has been for the church of every century. The temptation, for every one of us who is a Christian, is to lapse into a belief mentality that is merely an assent to information. I can assent to what astronomers tell me about the planet Jupiter, but it has absolutely no bearing on how I live my life. I can assent to what scientists tell me about the structure of atoms and molecules and even smaller particles of matter, but it has absolutely no affect on how I live my life.


When it comes to the Bible, I have a feeling that there are probably many things which, if we are honest, have little or no bearing on our lives. Thoughts about the Millennium for instance. Different theologians have different interpretations about what will happen and so rather than argue it, which does nothing more than massage the ego, I'm happy to say, “I'm a pan-millennialist – I'm sure it'll all pan out in the end.” Large parts of the Bible, again if we are honest, merely go to reinforce or confirm our faith which is why I always advocate read all of it. In fact I am of the opinion that we can meditate on any passage in the Scriptures and God will feed us through it, and in feeding change us. Yet, I will still maintain that some parts of the Bible will be more alive and vibrant to us than others. The New Testament will far more impact us as Christians with all of its teaching about Jesus, salvation and the life God has for us, than say Ezekiel's descriptions of the new temple he sees in his vision. That's simply being real. But again, there is a danger here in just absorbing information – ‘knowing about'.


We've focused on this one little verse today because in it James is making this further point here about faith – it's not just about having knowledge. Now knowledge is important as I have just been suggesting, (and would never want you to take what I have been saying as a reason for not reading the Bible – read it even more!) and indeed without knowledge it is really impossible to have Biblical faith. We quoted the other day, By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Heb 11:3). The implication there is that we have been told through the Scriptures that God made this world from nothing, and that creates an awesome response to Him. That response is worship and worship is an act of faith. The writer later went on, anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Heb 11:6). Again something in us believed there was a supernatural being, because that is how we are made, but when we came to the Bible we found it was ALL about God. The more we read the more we were convinced that He exists and desires a relationship with human beings, whereby when they seek Him with all their heart, they find Him (Deut 4:29), and when they find Him He blesses them. This knowledge evoked a response in us. That response is faith. The only question is, will we continue to let it evoke responses in us?


You believe that there is one God. Good! says James. Oh yes, knowing about God is a good starting place, is what he is saying, but he's not happy for us to stop at that place. Even the demons believe that, he continues. Why is he saying that? Well demons are fallen spirits who are led by Satan, and they are in rebellion against God. God so permits that state of affairs because He makes use of them, but the truth is that they are not God's children and they are not living in the blessing of God's love and are not called to live by faith - but they still ‘know' about God! You see what James is saying? Even God's enemies know about Him, but that doesn't mean to say that evokes a faith response in them. To the contrary, they shudder with awful fear, knowing that God is All-mighty and one day He will decree their end ( Rev 20:10 ). Oh no, they have every reason to shudder, but that is not faith.


Yes, you can have a variety of responses to hearing about God. It can be the response of the atheist, the response of denial, and for that the Bible calls them fools (Psa 14:1). Then there is the response of the agnostic which, when they hear, is, “Well, I'm not sure,” and so they sit on the fence are remain lost. Then there is the response of the would-be believer who responds gladly and receives salvation, but it is at this point that James challenges us for it's like he says, don't stop believing AND responding. Don't let your Christian faith lapse into a knowledge thing, for it's meant to remain alive and vibrant, a relationship where we go on hearing God and go on responding to Him. Make sure it is, won't you.







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Meditation No. 25

Meditation Title: Abraham's Faith


Jas 2:20-24 You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.


If you think James has said enough about faith to convince us, you would be wrong. It is a measure of how important he considers this subject that he now carries on by giving examples of faith in action. His first example is that of Abraham, often known as the man of faith. Now this is an interesting illustration because Paul had used the illustration of Abraham to prove that we are saved by faith alone : For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Rom 3:28 )….. What does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” (Rom 4:3) so how do the two teachings harmonise?


Well, let's look carefully at what is being said. Let's consider Paul first. He is citing the incident where Abram had been bemoaning to God the fact that he still had no children and the Lord came to him and reassured him that he would have a child: Then the word of the LORD came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir." He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars--if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:4-6). It was by his simple believing that the Lord declared him righteous. Now of course the Lord can see into our hearts and see the genuineness of what is there. God saw that when He told Abram he would have a child, he genuinely believed this would happen and he would go to Sarai and they would continue to try having a child. Yet at the moment he believed, that was the moment that God credited him with righteousness. Similarly when we come to the Lord, He sees the genuineness of our conviction and our repentance and purely on the basis of what He sees, He justifies us. However, we have to emphasise that it is when God sees genuine faith that He justifies and only He knows when that actually is.


Now when James speaks about faith and Abraham, he used the Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness quote simply to confirm what he has already been saying through a different example. He uses the example of Abraham taking his son, Isaac, to be sacrificed. God had told him to do this and, as the writer to the Hebrews says, Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Heb 11:19). Because he reasoned this he went ahead with the preparations to sacrifice Isaac which, as James said, was a case of his faith and his actions working together. His faith believed it and his actions confirmed it. James then uses an important phrase: and his faith was made complete by what he did” Yes, Abraham had faith at the point God told him to sacrifice Isaac, but that faith was made complete or revealed when he went ahead and did it.


So yes, when it comes to our salvation, as Paul said, we are justified by faith, we are justified at the moment we have faith, which God sees to be genuine. We are actually justified without doing anything, so that we may not fall into the trap of believing that we work for our salvation. Yet our faith is proved or completed when we start living in accordance with that faith. James is absolutely right. If we do nothing as a response to what we say we believe it throws doubt on the reality of what we believe. The person who acts out their faith is the one who has been justified.


We need to re-emphasise this, because many people get confused by it. You ARE justified at the point of believing as God sees the genuineness of your belief. When He sees it is genuine and that a transformed life will follow, He justifies. From our perspective, because we do not know the genuineness of what is going on inside, it is only as we see the faith being lived out that we can look back and say, Yes, that person has been born again and has been justified by faith by God. From our perspective, and this is what James is saying, we are proved to be justified by the fact acts that follow. As we said yesterday, it is a faith that works.


So, yet again, the same challenge comes: are we indeed a people who are living by faith, responding in a living relationship to God's word, His word that comes through Scripture and through His Holy Spirit? As Paul said, For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal 5:6), i.e. it doesn't matter what our background is; the important thing is, are we living by faith, expressing His love? May it be like that!








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Meditation No. 26

Meditation Title: Rahab's Faith


Jas 2:25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?


There are times when I giggle at the audacity of the Bible writers as, in a subtle way; they poke fun at the self-righteous, Sunday-only ‘Christians'. As you may have gathered from earlier meditations, I have a problem with ‘ladies in big hats and men in suits' type of religion. It is so frightfully ‘nice' and so far from the reality of Jesus Christ who met with prostitutes, crooks and the general dregs of society. Now I apologise if you belong to one of those rare congregations who can wear nice hats and suits and yet also rub shoulders with the poor and the unrighteous at the same time, but so often the two do not go together. I'm sorry for these descriptions, but they do exist and they do portray a poor imitation of the life of Christ.


I hope you will have been getting the message from these recent reflections on what James has been saying, as he has been speaking to the church, living in the world, and in danger of taking on the world's values. ‘Snobbery rules OK!' is NOT a motto for the church of Jesus Christ; neither is ‘performance religion' acceptable, where you turn up to perform as good people on Sundays but for the rest of the week fail to exhibit the nature and characteristics of Jesus Christ, or exhibit Biblical faith as the Bible teaches. These are the dangers that James is seeking to counter.


The ‘nice' Christian is very happy to hear illustrations involving Abraham, because Abraham was a good man, a man of faith, THE man of faith. Abraham conjures up good images, but Rahab is a bit different! Rahab was a prostitute who lied to save the Israelite spies. A prostitute and a liar! How embarrassing! To make it worse, it's not only James who cites her. The writer to the Hebrews in the ‘gallery of faith' in chapter 11 also cites her: By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient(Heb 11:31). It gets even worse, Rahab is cited in Matthew's record of Jesus' family tree as the mother of Boaz, which makes her the great, great, great grandmother of King David (Mt 1:5,6). Jesus' human family tree included a prostitute? Yes, because even prostitute's get saved! Well they might not in your church, but they do in Jesus' church. (Sorry about that!)


What fun! James who is so meticulous about right behaviour in the kingdom of God , isn't ashamed to use a prostitute as an example of faith – because she was! Now that is a bit of a challenge! It's a challenge because of the way she exhibited faith, and it's a challenge in the light of our own lives today.


Let's consider first how she exhibited faith. You can find it in Joshua 2. They key to her citation is found in the following: Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” (Josh 2:8-11). Do you see it? We have heard Remember Rom 10:17, faith comes from hearing the message”? She had heard what God had been doing for Israel and she believed and she wanted to be a part of them as a result. Her conclusion was, the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.” She became a believer and because she was a believer, she acted to protect the spies. In a Fallen World, sometimes you have to choose the lesser of two evils. Yes there are both evil, but you have to choose one of them to prevent a worse thing. Thus she lied and saved the spies and was taken into Israel and became part of the Messianic family tree. But don't forget what James is teaching: because she believe she acted.


Now the second challenge that comes out of this is to respond as least as well as Rahab did. If a prostitute can respond to the Good News that “God is here,” (because basically that is what she heard and believed and responded to), how much more should we respond to the wonderful news that He has come in the form of His Son, and now in the form of His Holy Spirit who lives within us. Recently in these meditations we considered the rewards we receive in heaven, and perhaps we may find some surprises there. Could it be that those who comes from socially much inferior groups to some of the ‘nicer' parts of the country, may receive greater rewards because they responded more fully, being more aware of their need? If the local drug dealer turns to Christ and his life is totally transformed and he lives a real life of faith, how does that compare with the person who thinks they are all right,. simply goes to church on a Sunday, and sees little change in their life and knows nothing of the faith experience we have been speaking about recently? Challenging stuff here in James!








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Meditation No. 27

Meditation Title: The Maturity of Teachers


Jas 3:1    Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.


We have often commented in these meditations that it is important to note the context and catch the thought pattern of the writer. When we come to chapter three, if we are not careful it could seem as if James is jumping to a new subject, but he's not. If you scan back over the previous chapter you'll see again that James has been concerned to emphasise to these scattered Christians the importance of living out practically, the Christian life, a life of faith. Earlier, at the end of chapter one, he had cautioned us against letting our tongues run away with us. In the second verse of chapter three, which we'll consider in detail tomorrow, he says, We all stumble in many ways .” In other words James is wanting us to look at our lives to see that they conform with God's expectations as seen in the New Testament, but at the same time realize that we all fall short and miss it sometimes.


In those days, the height of having become someone who had mastered life, was to become a teacher. A teacher wasn't just someone who imparted information, they were considered to be those who were mature and wise and who could impart truth from a life that showed by its fruits that it had grown in self-control and wisdom. Now of course James is speaking to the church and this applies doubly so. As he has been saying for a large part of this letter so far, we are called to be those who cope with the trials of life (1:2-18), those who DO what God has said (1:19-25), those who can control their tongue (1:26,27), those who do not have wrong assessments of people (2:1-13) and those who live out their faith in real and practical ways (2:14-26). Now if you can say you've got on top of all these, he implies, then you can be a teacher of others, to lead them also into these things.


In fact, the way he says it comes with a warning. You really don't want to be a teacher unless you have got it all worked out, because if you stand before others, telling them how to live, and actually haven't done it yourself, then God is going to hold you accountable. You will be in trouble! In a sense this is just a further call to self-assessment. That is what this letter is really all about. He is saying, look I know you have been scattered into the world, and so you are having to learn to live in the world without the strength of Jerusalem upholding and encouraging you, so I want to remind you of what you have been called to and I want you to check yourselves out against that. Don't think too highly of yourselves because, probably there aren't many of you who will have reached such maturity in these things that you can become teachers of others.


We also have to see these things in the wider context of the whole New Testament. Jesus scolded the teachers of his day who loved being acknowledged publicly for what they were (Mt 23:7). He looks for humility in such people. That is a first thing to note. With maturity comes humility that does not seek for position. Indeed a teacher should be a servant: Nor are you to be called `teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt 23:10-12). So a teacher is to be a mature person who does all that James has been speaking about, so that maturity will bring wisdom with humility, to act as a servant of others, not as one who lords it over others. With all these warnings against being a teacher, one might think that the New Testament teaches against becoming a teacher, but the contrary is true.


In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:19). His implication is that after practice comes handing it on to other people. Indeed Jesus' closing instructions at the end of Matthew's Gospel were to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20). Teaching, or imparting to others all that Jesus had taught, was to be a very real part of the life of the church.


The writer to the Hebrews expected people to mature and to become teachers: We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again.” (Heb 5:11,12). Now there is a challenge to the church where most people are happy to sit back and do little. No, says the teaching of the New Testament, the role of the leaders is to bring YOU into a place of maturity so that YOU can do the work: It was he who gave some to be ….pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may …. become mature(Eph 4:11 ,12). So James' call is a call to self-assessment, but it is not an excuse for immaturity. Our call is to become mature and to impart the truth to others. May it be so!








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Meditation No. 28

Meditation Title: Stumbling Christians


Jas 3:2 We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.


Have you ever wondered why all the pastoral letters of the New Testament were written? The simple, short answer is because people aren't perfect. Once we can accept that simple truth, the Christian life becomes so much more simple. If you haven't realised that, then when you do fail you will feel guilty and the guilt will cling and keep on making you feel bad. When James says We all stumble in many ways he is saying it to both reassure and to challenge. When I was a younger Christian I encountered those who preached perfection, and because I knew I was not perfect, I felt really bad about myself. I didn't realize that when Jesus said, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48 ) he was giving us a target to aim for, something to work for.


Now theologians sometimes refer to ‘imputed righteousness' and ‘imparted righteousness'. Imputed righteousness is the righteousness that God imputes or credits to us when we receive Christ's salvation. He declares us righteous in His sight on the basis of the work of Christ. When we receive Christ we are ‘justified' or, as some have said, God makes it so it is “just-as-if-I'd” never sinned. In His sight we are declared righteous. But any honest Christian knows that from time to time they get it wrong, and there are character imperfections in us that need working on, and this is where ‘imparted righteousness' comes in. He has given us His Holy Spirit who is totally righteous, and as we learn to let Him lead us and express Jesus through us, so His righteousness is imparted to us and expressed through us.


John in his first letter also alluded to this: I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1). In other words sin, or getting it wrong, should not be a common thing in our lives now, but the reality is that we will stumble, we will trip over our feet and get it wrong sometimes. John gives two answers to that. Answer number one: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness(1 Jn 1:9). That is our side of it. Answer number two: if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence--Jesus Christ.” (1 Jn 2:1). That is God's side of it, Jesus speaking up in our defence, reminding the Father that he has died for all our sins. The challenge that comes with all this, is can we aim to keep sin out of our lives as much as possible?


But then James says something that seems both an impossibility but at the same time a challenge: If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. The person who is careful in what they say and is never at fault in speaking, is a perfect person and that ability to speak righteously reveals the heart that is within and that heart enables us to control our whole life. Now is it possible to be perfect? Well, we've already covered that above in the first paragraph. Maturity is certainly something that the Bible suggests we can achieve. The writer to the Hebrews commented, solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:14). There are therefore mature people. Paul also said, We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature.” (1 Cor 2:6) implying the same thing. James said earlier, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:4). There he linked it with being complete or whole. Jesus' call to perfection in Matthew 5 is actually a call to wholeness or completeness. So, rather than worrying about being ‘perfect', and constantly feeling bad when we spot things that are less than perfect, can we instead aim for maturity, for wholeness and completion? This then becomes a goal to work for rather than a means of condemnation. Recognize that you have some way to go, but actually set yourself the goal of letting God change you, like his word says (2 Cor 3:18), to become more and more like Jesus.


There are two things we can do to facilitate this process of change. The first thing is to let the Holy Spirit search you and help you face up to how you fall short. This is similar to the assessing that Paul says should go on in us when we come to take Communion: A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” (1 Cor 11:28). There are some things that will be obvious and we need to confess them and deal with them. Some things we may feel we need the Lord's help to overcome. Ask Him. The second thing is simply to develop your relationship with the Lord. As we do that, His presence will change us. Now there are basic disciplines that Christians through the ages have found build and change us – reading the Bible, praying, worshipping, fellowshipping with other Christians, being a witness to others – all these things work in the process of changing us.


So, to summarise, recognize that sometimes you will get it wrong but there are two things to help us there (see above). Don't be content with those imperfections: confess them, seek God's help to overcome them, and at the same time work positively to develop your relationship with Him. Be changed!









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Meditation No. 29

Meditation Title: Steered by the Tongue


Jas 3:3-5 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.


We take life for granted. We don't think about the things we do, because they are so natural. We get up in the morning. We get dressed, eat breakfast, go out for the day, come home, eat, rest and sleep – every day! We have eyes to see, ears to hear and mouths to speak, and we take them all for granted. Take the mouth for example. We may get up in the morning and so we groan about the day negatively. We turn on breakfast TV, or breakfast radio, or read a morning paper, and grumble about the state of the world. We complain about a bus or train being late, or about the weather. We criticise people in the news and at work. And we wonder why we feel so negative about life. We speak thoughtlessly to someone and we hurt or upset them and a relationship is broken. We speak hastily and the die is cast and a decision made that was unwise. Our mouths play a large part in expressing what we feel, in determining what we feel, and in creating or breaking relationships with other people. Oh yes, our tongue is a powerful bit of our body, and the wise person thinks about this.


James has been guiding us to think about our lives and has been challenging us about the nature of them as we live them out in the midst of the world that is so often hostile to us and to God. He's talked about the link between faith and deeds, and he's gone on to allude to spiritual maturity, something we should be aiming for. Have you ever used Google Earth or some other satellite system that looks down on the earth? You see the earth from a distance and then you can zoom down and roads become visible and then, as you get nearer, buildings take shape, and then details can be seen and, if it was a real shot, even people seen. We zoom in and more and more detail is seen. That's what James is now doing. He is zooming in on our lives and focusing specifically on that all-important organ, our tongue!


He doesn't go into immediate teaching about it; he paints pictures that make us think about it. He speaks first about the bit in the mouth of a horse. It's a very obvious picture. As the rider pulls on the reins the horse's head is pulled round and its body follows the direction of the head. The implication is that we go where our tongue takes us. There is a sense that the tongue controls the whole body. Yes, we know that the tongue speaks what is in the heart: out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Lk 6:45). As we feel on the inside so we speak, but it is as we speak so our direction is set. We speak and others hear what we say, and we are committed. If we keep quiet, we are not committed; it is only as we speak is our path set. What we say, we tend to do.


Then James gives another picture, that of a ship. Oh yes, he says, there may be big waves and strong winds, but it is the rudder of the ship that determines where it goes. The rudder is so small in comparison to the rest of the ship, but it is still the part that determines the course of the boat. The same implication is there. Our course is determined by such a small part of us. Someone offers us as job. We say, “Yes, I'll take it.” Our course is set by our tongue. Someone chides us for wrong behaviour. We lash back with our tongue defensively. Unfortunately they were our manager, and our future hope of promotion has just gone. Our course is set. In a marriage, a row ensues and angry words create division. No healing words are spoken and the rift gets bigger. A course is being set. It is our words that set our course. Think back over the past week or month and see if you can identify times when your words set the course of what was to follow. Think about things that are yet to happen today or tomorrow and consider how your words will set the course of what is to follow.


James gives a strong warning to finish this verse: the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. What is boasting? It is speaking out and making claims that are untrue, claims that we are bigger and better than is really true. The tiny tongue can say such silly things, but they are things that make other people think less of us; they are things that lead us further into self-deception. Boasting reveals pride and it reveals foolish thinking, but even worse, it leads us along a course that is damaging to us.


Before we go anywhere else with James in this consideration of the use of the tongue, can we realize how significant our words are? Can we realize what our words do? Can we see that they reveal the state of our hearts and the also commit us to the path ahead. We will, in the days ahead, be determining our paths, partly by what we will be saying. That needs thinking about!








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Meditation No. 30

Meditation Title: Burnt by the Tongue


Jas 3:5,6 Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.


There are two sorts of TV programme that don't excite me. One is the morning TV where there is a studio full of people talking about a contentious part of life. The other is so-called soap operas. Imagine both of them without any sound. First of all imagine the contentious couples debate if they, and the other participants, were dumb. Nobody would watch it, would they, because it is the angry words spoken that stir people's interests. Imagine the soap operas as real life dramas and imagine again the people being dumb. Most of the ‘difficult situations', that go to make up the interest of these ongoing television fillers, are what they are because of what the various people say .


Oh yes, the tongue is the instrument that has this devastating potential for causing upset and upheaval. Having just written about how the tongue guides our life, James now goes on to warn us of the tremendous power of the tongue. Solomon was aware of this when he wrote Proverbs: With his mouth the godless destroys his neighbor(Prov 11:9) and Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.” (Prov 11:11) and A fool's lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating.” (Prov 18:6) and A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” (Prov 26:28). Note the things in that short list that the tongue is capable of doing: destroying a neighbour (presumably by slander), destroying a city (presumably by lies, deceit, and generally leading into unrighteous business deals), personal strife (probably by rudeness and verbal attack which invites retribution), and general hurt and ruin by harshness and flattery which deceives.


If you are a watcher of these “sort out the problems” morning TV programmes or of soap operas, next time think about what all the people are saying. Observe where there are words that are attacking, words that are demeaning, words that are violent, and think how different the situation would be if the exact opposite sort of words were spoken instead. James says, Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark and so watch and see how a few words can ignite a situation and cause hostility and upset and division and hurt and anger and….. the list goes on! In families there are words that should never be spoken: “I hate you!” or “I wish I'd never been born!” or “You're ugly” or “You're stupid!” Each one of these is a small spark that has devastating effects. Once said they cannot be withdrawn and they set a fire of passion blazing which is not easily put out.


But James pushes it further. He says, The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. That sounds awful! Why is he using the analogy of a fire? Because a fire is something out of control and capable of spreading destruction. But why does he say that this fire is a world of evil among the parts of the body? Well we sometimes speak about how we ‘compartmentalise' our lives, and he's saying imagine our bodies like different compartments. If you imagine the tongue as one ‘department' in the running of your life, it seems that in so many people it is a department that is evil. It may be the expression of the heart, but it is the visible, or rather audible expression of evil. The mouth is the propaganda machine of the human body, that is able to reach out and influence or harm others by the words that come out. It is seen in many people as evil, speaking out hurtful, harmful words.


But he goes on, It corrupts the whole person. If you corrupt something you spoil or mar it, you taint it or pollute it. Speaking out words is very influential, and tragically most of us don't realise this, so that when we put something into words it's like it strengthens something in us. While it only remains a thought, it is fairly powerless, but once we speak it out, it seems like it has the effect of spreading that negative right through us, so it is something that becomes more established in us. If our lives were like a glass of clear water, when we speak negative, unkind, hostile, impure, unrighteous words, it is like black ink is being dripped into that clear water and it is polluted and no longer clear. The words have the ability to change the life. The heart was wrong, but the words established that wrong in a deeper, firmer way.


But James then piles on further pictures: It …sets the whole course of his life on fire. If the tongue is a fire, then the words are like flaming pieces that soar up into the air and where they land they spread the fire. As we've just suggested, when the words are spoken they affect the rest of the life. We used the analogy of clear water; James uses the analogy of fire.


Then he finishes with a strange expression: and is itself set on fire by hell. Can I use an analogy that I use often, that of anger? A person may use anger to get their own way, but that is unrighteous. Now if a person uses unrighteous anger regularly, then they open themselves up to Satan's influence and he can press in on that person so that their anger flares up and is completely uncontrollable. Now the same thing is true of the tongue. Some people use the tongue to put down others, as a means of having influence over them, but this is unrighteous. So what happens is that when they do this they make themselves vulnerable to Satan (and hell is just shorthand for ‘the powers of darkness and all that they bring') and so Satan takes the fire (emotional words) that they have used, and blows on it so they become completely out of control. What this person finds is that no longer can they control what they say; they are motivated or driven by these emotions which are beyond their control, and the fire burns and burns and burns until the person is destroyed. Did you realise the terrible power that is there in the use of the tongue and the forces of destruction that can be released by it? Well think about these things.









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Meditation No. 31

Meditation Title: Inability to Tame the Tongue


Jas 3:7,8 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.


There is often perceived in men or women a pride that says, “We are the peak of evolution and we can do anything. We can harness energy, use technology, bring health and longer life. We can manipulate atoms and genes and even create life. We are the lords of the universe.” They may not say it in so many words, but those are the sentiments that the pride of man brings out. In daily life, especially when we are young, we wake up in the morning feeling good, the sun is shining and everything is going well, and we feel invincible. And then we speak unwisely and harshly, and the world turns grey as the ugly truth is revealed: I can't even control my tongue!


So far we have observed James' descriptions of the tongue as he shows us that although it is small it can determine our path. He's also pointed out that although it is small it has the power to wreak havoc and destruction. The warnings are clear: if only we would learn to harness our tongue we could use it to bless and build, encourage and energise, congratulate and create. But there is the problem and it is that which James focuses upon now; we can't control it! He will go on to suggest what needs to happen but for now he focuses on this terrible truth.


People use their minds to train themselves to be able to do great things. They discipline and stretch their physical abilities to be healthy and strong, but when it comes to focusing on harnessing something as small as the tongue, we find it is a different thing. Singers can control their vocal cords. Ventriloquists can produce words without apparently moving the mouth, but when it comes to the words themselves and the emotions that are behind them, we seem so often completely unable to be in control. Words come out we wish we'd never said, feelings were expressed that cause hurt and upset, and once out cannot be put back in the box. James makes us think about the natural world. We can capture and train wild animals that seem so large and aggressive, but when it comes to something as small as the tongue, we are helpless it seems. The tongue seems to have a life of its own at times and it seems impossible to tame it.


There are so many self-help books on the shelves of bookshops today, even books on how to say things nicely, but however many books we read, on a bad day we realise we are still not in control of this small part of our body which, as James says, seems so full of restless evil. We can start the day out, full of good intentions. We can make New Year resolutions, but it doesn't take very long for a situation to arise where we find our mouth speaking out strongly and hurtfully. If we had a hidden TV camera team filming us all day and every day for a month, how many of the words that were recorded would we be happy to be seen on the small screen? In seeing it being replayed, how many times would we regret the words and wish either that we had said nothing or had said it differently? Perhaps it takes a wider judging audience to face the truth about ourselves. That is what James is trying to do, to get us to think about our speech and face the truth about ourselves, because until we do that we will not see the need and if we don't see the need we will not turn to the Lord for His help.


That's what Scripture does so often: show us our need, show us our potential in God, so that we go to Him for His life changing power. That is James aim, and that is why we continue to consider these things. But focussing on two verses gives us a limited view. Yes, it helps us see our need but it doesn't explain WHY and it doesn't give us answers. For the ‘why' of our tongues actions we have to go back again to what Jesus said about our mouths: For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks (Mt 12:34). Yes, this is the truth. The mouth reflects what is in the heart, what is there deep inside us. The heart is our state of mind and will. It is the innermost reach of our personality, the cause of what we think and feel. It is in many ways a mystery. Why do we have these inner inclinations, which sometimes conflict with what outwardly we'd like to be? Yes, when we think about it, we'd like to be cool, calm and collected, able to answer every unkind word from others with graciousness, able to respond to every hostile question with wisdom. Yet, we find, so often it isn't like that. Why is that? It is because our heart has not been changed.


At the centre of the New Testament teaching is the recognition that to be Christians we have to die to ourselves, we have to die to self. The call is to put God first, then others next and ourselves last. It sounds a good theory and when it works we find we are most blessed, but so often self pushes to the front. The difficult truth is that the heart is only changed by difficulties. ‘Character' is another expression of what the Bible refers to as the heart, the way we truly are. Paul said, we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character;” (Rom 5:3,4). Our character is formed as we learn to endure in difficulties. You'll know how much the Lord has formed your character, how much He has moulded your heart, by the words that come out of your mouth when the circumstances are difficult and people are not being nice. At that point, your mouth will reveal what God has been able to do in you. Now there is a strange thing. It is only as He is able to do things in you, and that is determined by your willingness to let Him do it, and that is a matter of will. Don't focus on the tongue. See it as a revealer of what you're like inside, but having done that, ask the Lord to transform you on the inside. That's what this is really all about.








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Meditation No. 32

Meditation Title: Forked Tongue


Jas 3:9-12 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.


We don't seem to have many Western films these days, especially those showing American Indians, now referred to as native Americans, but when I was young it was the day of the Western and the ‘Indians' were both warlike and noble. Thus they had codes of honour and truth was one of them. When they encountered a white man who they believed was lying to them, they spoke the immortal phrase, “White man speak with forked tongue.” The picture of a tongue that speaks two different things is a good picture and it's one that James now picks up on in his teaching about the use of the tongue.


He has spoken of the tongue being the thing that directs our path through life, a thing that though small has the potential to wreak havoc, and yet a thing that is impossible to tame, and now he focuses on the ability we seem to have of being able to speak good and bad from the same mouth. He starts off pointing out that Christians have this awful ability to praise God one minute and curse people, who are part of God's design, the next. Here we have our Christian on a Sunday morning, singing for all their worth, joining in the worship whole-heartedly and, in some circles, raising holy hands and perhaps even dancing. When you look at them you think what a spiritual person they must be. But follow them home, follow them into the school, college or workplace the next day, follow them through the week and watch what they do and watch what they say. Here they are in a discussion at home about the neighbours who they are roundly condemning for a variety of reasons. True, these may not be Christians they are talking about, but they are still part of God's creation, and the sadness it that they haven't come to know Jesus as their Saviour yet, but we don't see it like that and so we demean them in our conversation. It's tantamount to cursing them.


Then there's the conversation in the classroom or office about someone senior in the place. We don't like them, or they're not very good at their job, and in our talk we pull them down. We don't feel sorry for them and we haven't prayed for them, we just pull them down in our talking, and it's tantamount to cursing them.


This, says James should not happen, and to put weight to that declaration he illustrates it. Stop and think about it, is what he is implying. If you have a spring of water, can pure water and salt water come out of the same spring? No, of course not! And if we still haven't got the message, he adds in a further illustration. Can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? No of course not. These things go against nature. They are not designed that way, and so it should be with the mouth. We should not be saying good things one minute and bad the next.


Solomon gave us an interesting proverb: The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit .” (Prov 18:21). First of all he notes the power of the tongue. With your tongue you can bring either ‘life' or ‘death'. You bring life by leading someone to the Lord, or by sharing His love with them. That person is blessed by what has happened to them because of what you have said. But you can say wrong things and lead people into low places of depression, anxiety, fear or even temptation. You can lead them into a place of spiritual or even literal death, by the use of your tongue. But implies Solomon, depending on the direction of your heart, you will love that use of your tongue and as a result of using it in that way you will reap the fruits of that – either life or death. If you joy in bringing blessing to other people by the use of your tongue, you will be blessed. If you enjoy using your tongue to pull down others, you will be cursed and will pull yourself down. But Solomon saw it as one or the other. You cannot joy in both things, and in that he is saying the same as James.


Perhaps there is one further facet of this we should consider to ensure we are wise in our understanding. Equated with this are truth and lies. For instance Solomon said, He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue.” (Prov 28:23). He saw that sometimes rebuking a person is a good thing. Telling someone off or pulling them up, for having done something wrong, is a good thing. We shouldn't see the good use of the tongue as being only saying nice, comfortable words, because sometimes those words are not appropriate. If you flatter someone and in fact they have been doing wrong, then your words were not appropriate. Truth is a key element to be considered with our words. We should not be speaking truth one minute and untruth the next. Somehow we are to speak truth all the time. Perhaps that is why Paul refers to speaking the truth in love(Eph 4:15). Perhaps there are times when we need to seek the Lord for His wisdom (Jas 1:5) to know how we are to say corrective things that build up rather than pull down.


These are just a variety of ways that we can let ourselves down and fail the Lord. These are things He wants us to think through and work on. The tongue, as we have been seeing, has the potential to guide us, or bring destruction. It is only changed when our heart of changed and it should not be bringing good one minute and bad the next. Our tongue has the capability of speaking truth with love and bringing the wonderful love of God, and therefore His blessing in to many people's lives.The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.” (Prov 10:11). May it be like that with us all the time! Ask the Lord to help you be that each day.








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Meditation No. 33

Meditation Title: Humility with Wisdom


Jas 3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.


We have in this day, in the West, many TV games shows that test knowledge. We may watch and wonder sometimes at the shear breadth or depth of knowledge that a particular contestant shows. We move on to programmes about specialist subjects and we watch and listen to men or women who are ‘experts' in their field, regaling us with the wonders that they know about. We think how great these people must be. We wonder at their learning, their scholarship, and their experience of life. And then the media tells us something about their personal life, and we hear they have just parted from their third partner, and a little nagging doubt rises in our mind. Then there are politicians or some of the world's shakers and movers. We watch on TV as their latest achievements are being lauded and we think about what incredible people they must be. We slightly wonder about some of the people who are their friends, because they are those who live in the shadows, and we wonder. We don't ‘know' but we wonder. But God knows.


God is and never has been impressed by outward signs. We've seen that before with Samuel (1 Sam 16:7). The disciples were impressed by big buildings (Matt 24:1) but Jesus had bigger issues on his mind. No, we can be swayed by rhetoric or apparent knowledge, but God has different criteria for assessment of people. You can be very knowledgeable but godless. You can bring great changes in the world, but be unrighteous. Have you spotted the link yet with what James has been saying about the tongue? The tongue has the power to deceive us. We just mentioned ‘great people' on TV who astound us with their words. There are politicians and world movers and shakers who speak and the world holds its breath. Oh yes, words are the currency of these people, but the trouble is, that so often they are godless and unrighteous people, and in God's eyes they mean nothing. Their words do not impress Him.


So James seems to spin us on our axis and we point away from thoughts of the tongue and move to a wider sphere of thinking. Ah yes, thinking comes in here: Who is wise and understanding among you? Wisdom and understanding; these are things of the mind. They are the fruits of what has gone on inside us. Wisdom is the knowledge of ‘how to'. Moses was able to say to his people: See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” (Deut 4:5,6) God had spoken to Israel and given them His Law, which were simply rules on how to live wisely in accordance with the way He had designed people to live. If you follow them, said Moses, the nations round about will see your wisdom and comment upon it. It will be clearly visible. Wisdom is something that is practically worked out in life.


Understanding is knowing why things are. Understanding goes beyond simply knowing ‘how to'; it knows why is it right to do it. It knows the reasoning behind it. Of course as God's people we know that it is right to follow God's ways because He is all-wise and He is the Designer-Creator of this world and so He knows best. The psalmist wrote, I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.” (Psa 119:104). As He studied all that God had given Israel he came to understand the ‘how' and ‘why' of life. The more we consider God's word as we seek His face, the more He gives us understanding of His ways.


James then challenges us. He basically says, if you understand life, then you will live God's ways and if you live God's ways, those ways will involve goodness, and people will see good deeds coming out of that knowledge and understanding. Just like Israel , as we saw just now, those round about us will see and wonder. But don't we wonder about the life of the great and the glorious? Yes, until we start hearing about their personal lives which reveal the sort of people they are. This is where James differentiates between these people and the people of God. The people of God, he is saying, live out their lives in humility. Yes, here is an unusual characteristic in today's age! Humility is about having a realistic assessment of yourself. When you really know yourself there is no room for pride (the opposite of humility). When we really know ourselves we know that without God we are lost. Without God we know our lives are pretence, a sham. We know that although we may look good on the outside, inside we're something quite different. This realistic self awareness is humility. This humility comes from wisdom. Solomon said, The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Prov 9:10). An awesome respect for Almighty God brings wisdom and that wisdom brings humility as we realize our smallness and His greatness. As we live out our lives in the light of this, it will be seen, goodness! May it be so!









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Meditation No. 34

Meditation Title: Jesus, the Son of Man


Jas 3:14-16 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.


Deception is a strange thing. Here, for instance, is a ‘wise' man. He is a business man. He spends all hours at work. He makes phone calls and he talks with his employees and he plans and schemes and makes profit. He is an ambitious man and he pushes out the boundaries of his company and takes over some smaller companies. He builds a new head office and people marvel at his business acumen. He builds bigger and bigger. He has a veritable empire. Along the way he sees his competitors and is envious of their activities. He plots and plans and schemes and takes them over, takes what he wants from their businesses (strips their assets) and then casts them aside. He holds big parties, he meets with the media, and he boasts of his great accomplishments. He laughs at the thought of God. He has three houses, a large yacht, a Lear jet, and homes abroad. He has everything, and then he dies. In death he finds himself standing before God and realises he is standing in tattered rags and that he has nothing. When asked what right has he to be there, he realises before the openness of God, that he has no answer, he has nothing. This story is exactly what Jesus described in his parable of the rich fool (Lk 12:15 -21), He starts it with the words, a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (v.15) and finishes it with, This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God (v.21).


We might have thought the man in the story was a wise man, storing up material prosperity, but James thinks otherwise. Note each of the characteristics of this man as described: if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. These are the characteristics of the world. These are what the world accepts and even applauds. These are thing things the world expects from the great and the glorious. Listen next time when a great entrepreneur, or a pop star, or great politician is on TV. Listen to their words and observe the characteristics of them. They think they are wise because, after all, they have arrived haven't they? But arrived where? At a place of spiritual poverty!


Observe James' description of this sort of ‘wisdom' that the world applauds: Such "wisdom" does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. This is not wisdom or the way that comes from God. This is actually not wisdom at all. True wisdom only comes from God. This ‘wisdom' (which is no wisdom!) is earthly; it has its origins in the selfish, self-centred, godless minds of people who care nothing for God and are only concerned for themselves. They are unspiritual; there is a complete absence of anything spiritual in their lives. Their spirit is dead; there is no movement in respect of God. They are deaf to His words to them and their heart has no concern for Him. They are in fact energized and motivated by the devil. Now that is strong language you may think, but that is what James says – and so does John: We know that …. the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19). If you do not surrender your life to God, then you are left in the hands of the Lord's chastising angel, Satan, and he plays on the sinful desires in each unregenerate person, driving them onwards to bigger and better things with their ‘worldly wisdom', and towards destruction. The richer they get, the poorer they get, but of course they don't realize it until they stand before God with nothing.


Note also what James says accompanies this sort of ‘wisdom': For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. Envy and selfish ambition are the driving forces of this so-called wisdom and wherever it is, when you look into what is going on, you find ‘disorder'. Disorder is confusion and upset like you have when there is anarchy. Here is this man working out his schemes and causing upset in other people's lives and businesses. He is a law unto himself and he ploughs through other people's lives and activities like a bulldozer, leaving havoc and mayhem in his wake. He causes upheaval on the earth. Moreover James speaks of every evil practice. The way this man thinks and works is evil. Evil just means it is utterly wrong.


Now you may have been reading all these descriptions and my story above, and have thought, “Well I'm glad I'm not like that!” Well perhaps you aren't as big a person as the man of my illustration but, in all honesty, is your way of thinking somewhat similar to his? What genuinely motivates your life? Is it a genuine desire to please God, and to do things God's way, or do you struggle and strive, thinking, planning, reasoning and working all hours to achieve material prosperity? Are you sometimes a little careless about moral integrity when you cut corners or don't entirely speak the truth in business? You see you may not do it to the extent of the man above, but if you do it even a little bit, there are adjustments to be made according to James. Check it out. Be honest. What is your life like? Can you honestly stand before God and say you never operate with the ‘worldly wisdom' we have been considering today? Ensure that you can!










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Meditation No. 35

Meditation Title: Heavenly Wisdom - Heavenly Guidance Guidelines


Jas 3:17,18 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.


Yesterday we pondered on the so-called ‘wisdom of the world' which, in fact, is no wisdom at all. Wisdom, we have said, is the knowledge of ‘how to do'. That can range from ‘how to do' life generally to ‘how to' specifically bless someone, an individual, or ‘how to' work out a specific problem. We know wisdom was lacking when we completely mess up a job or a relationship, because we always assume that wisdom ‘works'. It is one of the characteristics that we perhaps take for granted that we should maybe add to our definition: wisdom is ‘how to do so that it works out well'. Yes, please hold onto that because it is important: wisdom implicitly works. It's not ‘how to do it badly'; it's ‘how to do it so it's a success'.


Now yesterday in the previous verses James spoke about earthly wisdom, but he doesn't leave us simply with the negative; now he completes the picture with a positive picture of the characteristics of wisdom that comes from God. At the beginning of the letter, James told us, If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (1:5) As Christians, the source of our wisdom should, therefore, be the Lord. When we are confronted by a difficult set of circumstances we should turn to Him and ask Him to tell us how to deal with them. When we do that we suddenly find that ideas start flowing. Follow them, they are from the Lord. Is this wisdom from the Lord or is the enemy trying to trip us up? Well this is where these verses are so important because they describe the nature or characteristics of the outworkings of wisdom that comes from God. If your guidance seems to produce the opposite of these characteristics, then they are not from the Lord. If these characteristics appear, you are on safe ground.


He says this wisdom is first of all pure. Pure here means that is morally untainted, so if there is anything morally questionable about it, it's not God! God will not guide you into anything that is morally questionable, so if your conscience worries you about a particular path, stay away from it.


The second description is peace-loving. God is constantly seeking to lead us into peace so if your guidance seems to lead to upset, think again. Wisdom coming from God will always seek to bring you into harmony with other people. It unites, not drives apart. It heals, not harms.


The third description is considerate. When we are considerate we think about what is good for other people. Remember Jesus' teaching: do to others what you would have them do to you (Mt 7:12). When you are thinking how to deal with other people, let a check be, how would I like them to deal with me in similar circumstances?


The fourth description is submissive. That seems an odd description for wisdom until we remember Paul's teaching, Submit to one another (Eph 5:21) or as he expounded it to the Philippians, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3) and went on to describe the submissive way Jesus came. When we come submissively we come in humility counting others better than ourselves. That is a heavenly attitude.


The fifth description is full of mercy. Mercy is that characteristic of God that loves and doesn't mete out what a person deserves but instead gives them good. Mercy is unwarranted blessing where perhaps circumstances suggest that the opposite was deserved. Wisdom from God means we will always seek to bless others.


The sixth description is full of … and good fruit. You know what the fruit of the Spirit is – love, joy, peace etc. (Gal 5:22,23). Well let your wisdom be seasoned with these. Let your wisdom be permeated by goodness, for that is what comes from God.


The seventh description is impartial . Wisdom from God does not take sides. Do you remember Joshua's question of the man outside Jericho : Are you for us or for our enemies?” (Josh 5:13) and the man replied, Neither, but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” (v.14). In other words, I'm God's commander and God doesn't take sides. God wants us to bring blessing to all sides, and James has already spoken strongly about not allowing favouritism in the church!


The eighth and final description is sincere . When we are sincere there is an absence of guile, there is no scheming. We are open and honest. We will also have to be loving and gracious to temper this, so that it is not a selfish sincerity but a sincerity which is linked to all the other characteristics.


Eight descriptions! Eight is the number of resurrection in Scripture, the number of God's resurrection life, which follows death. When we die to self, and seek God for His wisdom then life will flow, which is why James concludes, Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. When we come with this sort of wisdom, then we come as God's ambassador, we come as a bringer of peace, and righteousness will be seen to be the end outworking, or harvest, of all of this. Righteousness, you may remember we have said, is simply living and acting in God's prescribed and designed manner, and that is life. May we be bringers of such life as we turn to Him and seek His wisdom.