|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
PART THREE: Chapters 4 & 5
Meditation Title: Overview
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 36
Meditation Title: Battling Desires
Jas 4:1,2 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.
Honesty about oneself is quite difficult. The trouble is that it's us living this life and we find it difficult to be objective about ourselves. To know yourself is difficult, but of great value when you do. If you know yourself you know how far you can be pushed and you step back before your grace runs out. If you know yourself you know the gifts and talents you have and rejoice over them and give thanks to God for His provision of them. Yes, if you know yourself, you know that any goodness you have is from God. If you know yourself you know that deep down there are harbouring things that belong to darkness which should never see the light of day and which only God can deal with. Being honest with yourself, we have already said, brings humility. Being honest with yourself brings a greater reliance upon the Lord. Being honest with yourself is about knowing what you are like on the inside, for it is what goes on in the mind, in the heart, in the soul, that makes us what we are, and it is sometimes very difficult to be honest with what we are really like.
Our problem is that we like others to think that we're nice and we like to think ourselves that we are nice. This is a problem because when something comes to the surface which runs contrary to that belief, we panic or make excuses and justify ourselves instead of facing it and dealing with it. In other words we allow it to continue instead of putting it to death with God's help.
Every time you struggle to cope with some other person, it is because something in you is not right. If you get angry, hostile, resentful, envious or generally upset over some other person, it is because something is not right in you. This is what James is referring to when he says, What causes fights and quarrels among you? A fight or quarrel is something that starts inside you. We've already talked at length about the tongue which expresses that hostility and brings it into the open and establishes it, but the hostility itself is within you. Whenever we feel resentful about another person, it is because we have something wrong on the inside. James goes on to give us an answer why this happens: Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? Everything, he says, in this context happens because you have desires that are struggling within you. Now this isn't the sort of desire that wants a new car, this is desire that simply wants or needs things for self. This is about desires to be accepted, desires to feel good about yourself, desires to feel in control. Consider each of those.
We have a desire to be accepted. If we have poor understanding of God's love we will not realize that we are utterly accepted by Him, and therefore our life is based on gaining acceptance. We want to feel good about ourselves, but that good feeling will only come when we feel that others take us as we are or, even more, look up to us. If we really don't know who we are in Christ, we will struggle and struggle to become someone, and that includes being in control. When you are insecure about yourself you try to feel in control because then you can feel safe. If we have never some to the place where we know that God is in total control and that He is for us and with us, then we will feel insecure and will be constantly battling to create a sense of control to create this feeling of security.
All of these struggling inner desires are linked as part of our old sinful self which is warring in the world for achievement. What makes it worse, as James says, You want something but don't get it. There is a sense of frustration that drives us on. We want to achieve, we want to be well thought of, we want to be someone, but it never seems to be happening and so we struggle and battle, struggle and battle and, in the world, that is what we see when people move into criminal activity. It's as James says, You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. That killing for many is character assassination. We put down others in our desire to climb higher to achieve prominence, to achieve success, to be someone. These things are all part of the same package. For a few who allow Satan to totally dominate them, they literally kill and we hear of such things daily on our TV screens, but it's all part of the same thing.
This is very real, and is the practical working out of our lives. James will go on to give answers but, again, he first wants us to face the malaise before we see answers. Many Christians shy away from this and pretend everything is all right, but deep down they know it's not. You know you haven't come to a place of wholeness in Christ, a place of security, if you feel uncomfortable with other people, if you find them impossible to be nice to, if everything in you goes tense in certain situations involving people. Don't run away, this is simply an area to expose to the Lord's love and let Him deal with. If you feel uneasy or worse with certain people, it may possibly be because you don't know the social etiquette and don't know how to respond in the circumstances, but mostly it is because you haven't yet come to peace with God over who you are. Can we face that? Can we be honest about it? Can we bring it out in the open and confess it to the Lord so He can come and fill us with His love and acceptance? Let it be.
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 37
Meditation Title: Right Asking
Meditations in James: 37 : Right Asking
Jas 4:2,3 You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
Something goes wrong. What do you do? Do you struggle to cope with it, or do you go down under it, or do you turn to the Lord to ask for His help. A measure of spiritual maturity, I believe, is how fast we turn to the Lord for help. The spiritually wise and mature will place their day into the Lord's hands at the beginning of every day, I believe. There are some people who say, “Oh, I'm an evening person so I have my quiet time in the evening.” It's not a case of whether you are a morning or an evening person. It is a case of whether you think you can get through the day without the Lord, and coming to Him in prayer, as brief as that may be, is a sign of your acknowledgement that you need His help, you need His blessing in the hours ahead of you. Wise people don't wait for a crisis before they talk to the Lord.
Now our verses today need to be seen in context: “You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.” Do you see the connection between the beginning and end of this quote from verse 2? “You want something but don't get it…… You do not have, because you do not ask God.” Do you remember yesterday, as we examined the process that James was speaking about? It starts with insecurity and insecure people struggle to achieve, struggle to get, struggle to make themselves feel they are somebody. They want things but don't get them, so they get frustrated and more stressed. Their overall problem is that they are being godless. The have not sought the Lord and they have not come into a position of Sonship where they can come and ask their heavenly Father for all their needs.
We all of us lack. That's what Sin does for us. We have great big needs which are only satisfied in God. He alone can bring the sense of fulfilment to us that we so long for. He alone can enable us to achieve in such a manner that we are feeling satisfied with who we are. You could say that the main lesson in living in this Fallen World is learning to turn to God. Many don't and so struggle on and get deeper and deeper into the mire of unfulfillment and frustration. It's a hard world without God. But He's there and He longs for us to come to Him like little children; He longs to bless us, if only we will come. So here is James' starting point in these verses: You do not have, because you do not ask God . But note that it is only the starting point.
When we start coming to God and asking Him for help, we are embarking on a major learning exercise, because as we ask we often find that either we're not happy asking for some things, or we simply don't seem to get answers for some of the things we do ask for. James uses a very basic idea to explain why this so often is: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. ” Yes, when we come to God, we learn that motivation is a key issue in God's mind. Suddenly we realise that God is concerned with WHY we are asking. Much of the time we ask simply for our own comfort or wellbeing. In other words we ask selfishly. Now Jesus addressed this in the Sermon on the Mount: “So do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:31-33). What he is saying is, don't worry about the mundane things of provision of daily life, for God will look after them for you and will provide them. Instead be more concerned with what His will is. Yes, it is right to ask for daily provisions: “ Give us today our daily bread.” (Mt 6:11) but pray that as a sign of your reliance upon the Lord. Don't let worry overwhelm you for that is a sign of lack of trust.
No, the key thing about asking God is this: “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt 6:10). The key question is, what does God want for my life? When you have found that answer, then ask for it. Read the prophets in the Old Testament and you will see they declared God's will – and then prayed for it! But of course, that will is not something objective, it is what affects us. So yes, we will find ourselves praying for our needs, but it will now be so that we can fulfil God's will. So it may be quite legitimate to pray for the provision of a car, say, if a car is needful for you to work out God's declared will for your life. But if it's just a case of, “I'd like this…. or that,” then that's simply selfish asking and, as James says, you won't get it.
Spiritual maturity learns what to ask for. It learns what God's will is for my life and then prays it out, and if that will includes material things, then ask for material things, but that is very different from self-centred, godless desires. Think on these things, and then get praying!
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 38
Meditation Title: Enemies of God
Jas 4:4 You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
Observing people taking sides is not a pleasant thing because it is divisive, yet we accept division in society at the many different levels. At its basic level, politics is all about how is the best way to run a country, what sort of rules, what sort of laws, how to look after people. The problem is there are so many different ways, and so different ideas have, in the past century or so, created different political parties and we are encouraged every few years to vote in favour of one party and against the others. There is this natural taking of sides that takes place. In the whole realm of football, people take sides, and support one team as against all the others. It is a taking sides that demands fierce loyalty so often. Wherever there are options and alternatives and competition for one or the other, there is taking sides.
The tone of James letter sometimes suggests that he has heard things about the church scattered far and wide, and some of the things he has heard upset him. The whole issue of favouritism in church was obviously one such thing. Now he speaks with a passion about the church that he has been hearing about, that sides with the world. Now we have commented previously that when the Bible uses the world ‘world' it can mean the physical planet on which we live, the people who live on it, or the attitudes of godless and unrighteous mankind. It is the latter meaning that he uses here.
Probably the classic passage about ‘the world' comes in 1 John 2: “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.” (1 Jn 2:15,16). There the world's ‘life approach' is defined. First, cravings of sinful man . It is a world that is motivated and driven by sensual desires, living according to self-centred desires, regardless of what they are. Second, lust of his eyes desire stirred on by visual impact. This is what the whole advertising industry is about. Make you ‘see' something and then want it, because of those unrestrained desires already there that just need stirring on. Third, boasting of what he has and does , pride that exalts self. To summarise: the world means self-centred living according to desires, that are inflamed by what you can see and which go to building up the ego to exalt the individual.
How is this hatred toward God? First it is self-centred and godless. Second it is purely materialistic – and thus godless. Third it exalts self to the exclusion of God - and is therefore godless. In every way the ‘way of the world' is a godless mentality, and by godless we mean it excludes or ignores or rejects God. No wonder James says that Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. This is another case of taking sides, because there are opposites to choose and if you choose one you will be hostile to the other. If you accept a mentality that is, in reality, self-centred, materialistic and self-exalting, you cannot call yourself a child of God, because all of these expressions are in opposition to God.
Perhaps the classic instance in the Scripture of this choice came through Joshua to the people of Israel near the end of his life: if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." (Josh 24:15) Look, he was saying, if you want you can go and serve the idols that our primitive forefathers served, but me and my family will serve the Lord. There was a clear choice you did one or the other. The choice is exactly the same today. You either serve the idols of materialism, or of self-centred human endeavour, or of scientific endeavour or whatever other godless expression of modern life that you can find, or you will trust and serve the Lord. The reality of that choice comes when you see who or what it is that you rely upon. That is why James finds it so important to think about talking to God. Talking to God is perhaps the clearest sign of relying upon Him.
A New Testament parallel is, perhaps when Jesus had been saying difficult things: “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (Jn 6:66-69) Some of those who had been with Jesus now drifted away. They couldn't cope with or understand some of the things he was saying. For Peter, there was no question. Jesus was the Messiah and was the one bringing answers and eternal life. There was no competition as far as he was concerned. That conclusion meant he gave up all rights to his life and went and followed Jesus wherever he led. I once asked a group what they would like their epitaph on their gravestone to be. One answered, “She followed the Lord wherever he said to go.” May that be true of each one of us who call ourselves Christians!
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 39
Meditation Title: God's Jealousy
Jas 4:5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?
Our verse today has a footnote that gives as alternative renderings of it: “ Or that God jealously longs for the spirit that he made to live in us ; or that the Spirit he caused to live in us longs jealously . My attention was first drawn to this verse many years ago when I was a young Christian and was involved in helping someone who was a brand new Christian but who regularly took drugs. On this occasion I had picked up this person from a pub where I knew they would be, and they were stoned out of their mind with drugs. (Put aside all of your “Christians shouldn't….” attitudes; this is just how it was with this person!) With difficulty I got them out of the pub into my car and took them back to my flat where I just dumped them in a chair. They were completely unconscious. Not knowing quite what to do about this, I was talking about loud to them, even though they were unconscious, and without thinking picked up my Bible and started flipping through it until I came to this verse which seemed to stand out, read it an commented, “Wow, do you realise God is jealous for you?” Standing about six feet away from them it looked like an invisible hand had slapped their face, they instantly came to and said, “Oh, what happened?” and were stone cold sober. That's how it happened; think about it what you will, but it drew my attention to this verse which, at that time, I had never seen before. Why might God have acted dramatically like that?
Now James doesn't tell us what Scripture he has in mind but we know the Ten Commandments start with, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Ex 20:3-5). Mostly when we come across jealousy, it is a wrong thing that causes upset, but where there is a legitimate relationship and that is being threatened it is legitimate to feel ‘jealous' for the other person in your relationship. One definition is my dictionary for jealousy is ‘brooking no unfaithfulness'. That's how it is with God and His people. God is jealous for us; He wants nothing to come between Him and us. That's why the first two Commandments are as they are, because He knew that idols could become false substitutes for Him. A Biblical dictionary suggests that the root of jealousy is “to be zealous for”. If God is jealous it is that He is zealous for the relationship that He works to achieve with us.
So what is the context with James' writing, what is he really saying? In the preceding verse he said, “You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” which we looked at yesterday. It is a direct challenge to take sides and to side with God against the world. If God sees us drifting away from Him towards the world and world attitudes and actions, He is jealous for us, He is zealous to draw us back; He wants to challenge any potential unfaithfulness.
Remember the starting point of this letter, where James indicates that he is writing to the scattered church, the church that is living all over the place, away from it's original strong starting place, Jerusalem, living away from such secondary strong places of the church, such as Antioch, and living in outlying places where there are no great support structures, and it is just a small number of Christians in any particular locality. It is in those situations that the pressures of living in the world press in, where the temptation is to take the easy path and blend in with all those around you. These words in James that we are currently considering have a very real urgency behind them.
In the day in which we live there is an equal urgency. In Britain we now have a culture that accepts ‘flexible working' which simply means that people work night shifts or irregular patterns of work, and for some, often on a Sunday. The difficulties that work against gathering with the church on a Sunday have multiplied and I frequently come across situations where, say in a marriage, one member of the couple has to work on a Sunday, and so the other doesn't feel motivated to get along to the church gathering. That means that if spiritual life is not to be dissipated, then the couple need to find alternative times to meet with other Christians, to fellowship and be encouraged and built up. These are very real challenges in the beginning of the twenty-first century with the evolving culture that works against traditional church structures.
The heart behind all of this is a pastoral cry that is concerned for the Christians who could be getting weaned away from the Lord, by the ways of the world. There are increasing numbers of Christians who work increasingly long and stressful hours and who, at the end of the day, are so tired that they succumb to the temptation that says, “I'm too tired. I can't be bothered to go to church (to the Bible Study or to the Prayer Meeting, or whatever). These aren't the be-all and end-all, but they are resource places where the Christian can be revitalised, encouraged and built up. If we go, tired as we may be, to a meeting with other Christians, in the anticipation that we will meet with God, then I firmly believe we will return home later in a far better state, physically, mentally and spiritually, because when we meet God in others, we are blessed and He imparts life. That is what is behind all that James is saying here. Is God having to feel jealous over you?
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 40
Meditation Title: Pride & Humility
Jas 4:6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
The danger or difficulty of meditating on just one verse, especially when we don't have a Bible open in front of us, is that we don't see the context and the context is so often all-important. Yes, we can get a general meaning from thinking about the verse on its own, but it is much more useful to study it in context so that we see why the writer was saying it and what it relates to that has gone before.
So let's take the verse as if it were on its own and then later let's put it in context to illustrate what we've just said above. First, he gives us more grace . God is in the business of giving us grace, and grace in this sort of context simply means the divine ability that he imparts to us to enable us to cope. Many of us struggle with this. We just can't believe that God is standing in the wings, so to speak, just waiting to provide us with all that we need to cope with life today – wisdom, strength, health etc. That is grace, His divine ability imparted to us, but we have to receive it, and more often than not, we have to first ask for it.
But then the verse continues, That is why Scripture says…. It is referring back to the Old Testament, to Proverbs 3:34. We need to realize that the New Testament is built upon the Old. Jesus quoted from virtually all of the books of the Old Testament, and the epistle writers do the same. God's will was declared in the Old and fulfilled or applied in the New.
The verse continues: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. This is the Old Testament quote, the teaching that came through Solomon. Those who are proud rise up and reject or ignore God and basically seek to oppose Him, so He opposes them, for He is God and He is exercising His will for the good of mankind. When we oppose Him we oppose this activity of His. As soon as God sees us coming to the end of ourselves, giving up all of our own self-endeavours, and turning to Him, He is instantly there as a loving Father, ready to pour out all of His wonderful goodness, the resources we need for life, His grace. Yes, when we are humble and acknowledge our need, He is there for us, but He can't provide for us until we turn to Him and become desirous of His help. That's what Solomon was saying, and is now quoted in this verse.
Now let's see what has gone before so we can put it in context to see the wider picture. Having spoken about the tongue in the middle of chapter 3 and then gone on at the end of it to talk about the life style that is a reflection of the wisdom received from God, James has gone on to face us up with what goes on inside us and while doing that we realized that without God we were a mess. The key or turning point is when we come to the end of ourselves and we seek God. Before we do that we have wrong attitudes and motivations which are those of ‘the world', godless humanity, but God is jealous for us and yearns to draw us more and more into a deeper relationship with Him. However for that to happen we have to crucify our pride and come acknowledging our state and our need. When we come like that God's grace is freely available to us. While we are holding on to those old worldly attitudes where self is paramount, we are likely to be in opposition to God (which is a frightening thought when you realize how great and powerful He is!) and we are doomed to failure. It's all about what we let Him do on the inside of us, as He brings His wisdom to bear on our lives and we are allowed to see ourselves as we really are, with all those self-centred desires in conflict.
This is what this is all about; facing up to ourselves so that we can come in humility to God, acknowledging our need of His help, and then receiving His grace which transforms our life. What is His grace but His own presence, His own Holy Spirit, dwelling within us. It is He Himself empowering us, but as we've commented so many times in the past, He will not force Himself upon us, and so He waits until He sees we have a genuine, penitent attitude, which really does see that He alone is our answer. When we come to this place He releases His power in us – and that is the grace we need to cope. It is that which changes us, which transforms us, and gives us the ability to live the lives He's designed for us.
Do you see now the importance of the ‘But' at the beginning of the verse? He's spoken about His Spirit, who He has given us, as yearning for us or being jealous for us when He sees we have a tendency to drift away, and so now he reminds us that God's grace is there to stop us drifting and to help us back into a good place. That's what the ‘But' is about. It's about the provision He has made to draw us back when we are drifting. Isn't that wonderful! He sees us drifting but He doesn't scold or chastise us, because He is yearning to just get us back. It's like when a teenage child runs away. What they have done is foolish, but you are more concerned to have them back than to remonstrate with them! And this is true of God as well. He is there, zealous to bring you back, and for you to be able to do that, you need His grace – and here it is! Receive it today if you have been drifting. It's there for the asking.
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 41
Meditation Title: Strategy for Warfare
Jas 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
It has been said that Christians, in respect of Satan, tend to veer towards one or other extremes of belief. The one extreme is to see demons in every situation, and the other extreme is to ignore Satan and even deny his existence. Jesus put it in perspective in the so-called ‘Lord's Prayer' when he instructed us to pray, “ deliver us from the evil one ” (Mt 6:13 ), but that came late in the prayer and was only one small part of it. A balanced perspective is to acknowledge the existence of Satan but to keep him in his right place. Let's examine this verse as it stands.
"Submit yourselves to God”. Isn't this the primary call of the whole content of the Bible? Isn't this the call to a right perspective, which sees and recognises God as The Lord, the One who is over and above everything? If, as we read the Bible, we start to catch a picture of who God is, then our only response is to bow before Him and submit to Him. Paul declared that God's ultimate purpose was that, “ at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord .” (Phil 2:10,11). Awareness of greatness, ultimate greatness, causes a response of submission and worship. That is our starting place.
“Resist the devil”. There is first an implicit recognition of Satan's existence here. He's given no great fanfare; we're just told to resist him. There is also an implicit recognition that he requires resisting, which means he comes to us to do wrong. Now that wrong, the Bible tells us elsewhere, may be to tempt us into doing wrong, or it may be to sow doubts in us, or deceive us with lies, or even to come against us with physical hindrances. So, says James, don't let him tempt you to do wrong, don't let him sow doubts in you or deceive you to believe lies, and don't let him bring illness or infirmity upon you. We have repeated that list of things that he does to ensure you take note of his strategies which we are told to resist. Why are we to resist them? Because God is jealous for us and is zealous to help us overcome anything which would draw us away from Him.
“ And he will flee from you .” Have you seen the certainty of that? He will flee! It's not he might flee, but he will flee. Now in saying that, we have to point out the order of things here to ensure that. There is no question of you going against Satan on your own, because on your own you are not big enough or strong enough to deal with him. No, the order is submit yourself to God then resist the devil . You need to go to God and re-establish contact with Him, to put yourself in His hands, and to know His grace and strength before you stand against Satan. It is God's presence and God's grace that will enable to you resist him. It is when he sees God's presence in you that he will flee for he knows there is no point coming against you now.
But there is one little important word that we have left out so far: then . Did you see it? Submit yourselves, then , to God . This means that this verse is a direct follow on to what has gone before. The full meaning of it, the full significance of it, can only be seen when we see what has gone before. Remember what we have recently considered in this chapter. A call to take sides, to side with God against the ‘world', because God is jealous for us, and is zealous for a relationship with us, and so He looks for us to crucify pride and come in humility to Him to receive His grace. How do we do all this? Submit yourselves, then, to God. This verse sums up all that has gone before it. We come to God, we side with Him, we reject the ‘world', and we kill off pride and come humbly to God in submission, for he is our Lord. As we've said numerous times, it is the natural response to all this, and as we do it, we resist Satan and his works, for he only seeks to bring things that will pull us down, that will pull us away from God.
God's objective is to bring us into relationship with Him, and when that happens and we ‘see' Him, then our natural response is going to be to submit to Him. Part of submitting is to be open to the Lord for whatever He wants. A beautiful expression of this was seen in the case of Isaiah. He recorded, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted.” (Isa 6:1). He had an awesome sense of the Lord's presence and holiness and was ministered to by the heavenly creatures (v.5-7), but then, “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (v.8). He didn't need to think about the response; it was automatic. In the presence of the Almighty, Holy God, there was only one response possible: “I said, "Here am I. Send me!” (v.8) In God's presence there can only be that one response that basically says, “Lord, whatever you want I will do it.” That is submitting to God. In doing that we reject all the ways of the ‘world' and we reject Satan's overtures. In doing this we put ourselves in the most secure place possible – right in the centre of the Lord's will. May it be so for each of us!
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 42
Meditation Title: Approaching God Wisely
Jas 4:8-10 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Some Christian leader once said that if they really wanted their church to take in something important, they would need to communicate it six times to their people. It seems it is a bit like that with James. He is so intent on focusing his scattered people on God that he comes again and again in different ways, saying the same thing. There was an Argentinean pastor who used to say that he would preach the same message to his church every Sunday for a year until they understood it and did it. James would have appreciated him. Let's follow our usual pattern and see what these verses say and then see them in the overall context.
He starts with a call to “Come near to God”. Now what does that mean, because God is everywhere, so in one sense He is everywhere and always near us? Well, when we speak about the presence of the Lord we speak about His general presence which is with us everywhere, and we also speak of His ‘manifest presence', His presence that becomes real as He manifests or makes known His presence in a very real way. The call to “ Come near ” is a call to set your heart and mind on God, probably ‘seeking Him' in prayer. David told Solomon, “If you seek him, he will be found by you.” (1 Chron 28:9). God makes His presence known to those who seek Him with all their heart (Deut 4:29). This is a call to stir the heart to seek after God.
He then calls his readers to Wash your hands and to purify your hearts which is the language used of the priests in the Old Testament as they approached God in the Tabernacle or the Temple . It was a call to ensure purity before God. But James addresses specific people: you sinners and you double-minded. Now whether he knows of specific people who fit this category, or whether he is reminding us of our tendency, is unclear. We will assume the latter because this side of heaven we are (redeemed) sinners and we do have a tendency to be double-minded. This is James humbling us. In a previous meditation series on “Why the Cross” we spent the first twelve meditations focusing on our sin, because unless we recognize our state we cannot see the full wonder of our salvation or, as in this present context, we cannot realize the attitude we need to approach God. James is well and truly putting us in our place. Why? Possibly because, like today, there is often a tendency to approach God casually, like a buddy. He is Almighty God who is Holy!
So if we do treat God like that, James gives us our marching orders. “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord.” This really all says the same thing: change your attitude! Grieve and mourn and wail? Realise your wrong attitude and come in repentance with a penitent heart. Humble yourself, put yourself down, realize His greatness and your smallness, His Holiness and your lack of holiness. Get a right perspective and then come to God in the right way. These are strong words.
To see why they are strong we need to remind ourselves of the context, of what has gone before. We've noted that James is writing to the church living in the midst of the world where faith is so easily dissipated. In the materialistic world in which we live today, these appeals of James are of particular significance. Have we taken note of the things in the recent meditations, the call to side with God against the world, the acknowledgement that God is jealous for a relationship with us, the recognition that it is to the humble that he gives grace, so we need to submit ourselves to Him, resisting the enemy's strategies to draw us away. Where we have done any of the things James is warning about, then today's verses apply to us.
1. If we have allowed our thinking and our attitudes to blend in with the world's ungodliness and unrighteousness, we need to take action.
2. If we have ignored God's overtures to draw us to Himself, we need to take action.
3. If we have allowed pride to rise up in us, we need to take action.
4. If we have allowed the enemy to entice us away from God, we need to take action.
Please be careful, these are all very real dangers, which is why we have marked them out like this above. They are each common dangers when we live in the world and things we need to be aware of. If we can be honest with ourselves and recognize that some or all of these things apply to us, then we need to seek the Lord whole-heartedly in repentance and humility. It means we have drifted and we need to take the Biblical steps to return to the place where God wants us.
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 43
Meditation Title: Beware what you say to others
Jas 4:11,12 Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you--who are you to judge your neighbor?
A passage like today's two verses is simple and straight forward, but we might wonder, why is James going off on another tangent? Well he isn't, but again we have to look at what has gone before in this chapter to catch the flow. Remember at the beginning of the chapter James was facing us with the inner turmoil that goes on within us because of not having surrendered everything to God (v.1-3). Then he implied that all these desires that had not been submitted to God were the same sort of thing that the rest of the world wrestled with in their unregenerate state, and he called us to side with God against the ungodliness and unrighteous attitudes of the world (v.4). He then pointed out that God is jealous for a relationship with us (v.5) and longs to give us the grace we need for living, but can only give it to those who humbly seek him (v.6). Out of that came a call to come to God in submission, resisting the tactics of the enemy who would seek to draw us away (v.7), come with a right perspective (v.8-10) and God will lift us up. This has all been a natural progressive flow in his appeal and it is important that we see how one thing flows on from another.
So he has come to a point of appealing that we submit to God, and so what follows? It is important to see this! When our relationship with the Lord is established or re-established, it always has practical outworkings in respect of how we relate to other people. The vertical relationship with God ALWAYS results in changes to the horizontal relationships with people. You cannot have a real relationship with the Lord and it not have impact on the way you relate to people. In passing we might consider how we relate to other people because, as the other side of the same coin so to speak, it is an indicator of the level of relationship we have with the Lord!
James, as a good pastor, knows this, that the Lord wants the expression of our relationship with Him to have an impact on the way we relate to people, and James has it in the back of his mind that he has already written to us about the use of the tongue as being the first outward indicator of how we are on the inside. Right, he says now, if you have submitted yourself to God, check now what is coming out of your mouth in respect of people, because your words now need to reflect your newly re-established relationship with the Lord.
This is a terribly important issue in Christian circles. See what he says: Brothers, do not slander one another. Brothers indicates that he is speaking to Christians, and his simple injunction is don't say wrong things about other Christians. Now I've just suggested that this is a terribly important issue in Christian circles. Listen to the chatter that goes on in church. Listen to the chatter that goes on between little groups of Christians. Here is the challenge from James. If you refer to your minister or leaders, or to anyone else in the church for that matter, are you careful not to offend on this point? ‘Gossip' in the church is wrong chattering that pulls down people. Gossip does not look for the well-being and uplifting of people. Gossip is so often slanderous; it does not wholly speak the truth. Slander is speaking wrongly about others. If we give an opinion about our leaders or about others with whom we perhaps disagree, is it an opinion that puts down or does it uplift? What you speak is a reflection of what goes on inside you, and if you speak untruth, it is an indication of a weak relationship with the Lord, and you need to go back over the previous verses in this chapter because they obviously apply to you. But see what else James says about this.
He says, “Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it .” What does he mean? Well today, as Christians, we are under one Law, the Law of love: “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.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40). If we slander other people, we are rejecting that Law, and putting ourselves above it. It's like we make a judgment, “I don't need to be bound by that,” and we put ourselves on the level of the Lawmaker, God! You're not keeping the royal law of love, says James, if you speak badly of other people, you are judging it. God is the only one who can put aside the Law. An expression of our real relationship with the Lord is that we keep this law and love others, and if we love them we will not speak badly of them. It is that simple!
After all that we have said about the previous verses and how James calls us into relationship with the Lord, the way we speak about others will be the measuring stick for how real our responses to all of that have been. If we find ourselves speaking wrongly of others, we need to pull ourselves up, go back to God, submit ourselves humbly to Him and ask for His forgiveness. A relationship with God is a very practical thing in the Bible. Ensure it is also in your life.
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 44
Meditation Title: Rash Planning
Jas 4:13,14 Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.
Modern life is a complete mixture. On the one hand people are as locked into their lives as they have ever been, but on the other hand there are greater opportunities than ever before to travel and do different things. Those on the lower end of the social or financial scale who are reliant upon benefits are perhaps the most ‘fixed' in terms of what they can do, for their low income prohibits some of the travel opportunities that others have. Above this level there are those in work who are restricted in their lifestyles to turning up for work at the prescribed times and who look forward to weekends and holidays to escape that routine. Yet their income releases them to take opportunities to travel which, centuries ago, very few ever even dreamed of. Within the more affluent part of society are the entrepreneurs who include ‘Internet kings and queens' as well as ordinary business men. Despite reports of society in ever increasing debt, there are more people venturing out into new enterprises in ways never before thought about. The modern world is indeed a world of seething activity and travel like never before.
If James' words in today's verses had application two thousand years ago when he wrote them, they must be even more applicable today in the light of all we have just said. Think about what James has just been saying. Sorry, but it is important to keep going back over it to take in the overall sense of what he is wanting to convey. Perhaps, to summarise all we have been considering in chapter four, we might say that James' primary concern is that we maintain or restore our relationship with the Lord – which has very practical outworkings for everyday life – and don't get enticed away into the ways of the world by Satan's subtle activities behind the scenes. So how does this apply to what we have just been considering?
In this modern world, perhaps unlike any previous time, one of the biggest temptations is to think we have become masters of our own destiny. Assuming we are not part of the lower income bracket, locked into a very limited lifestyle, the modern Westerner has the ability to plan and go places and do things and reach out in business like no previous generation. The feel that this creates is one of ‘being in control' of being able to do whatever we want. If we want we can save and then travel to the opposite side of the world. Now there is nothing wrong in any of this – as long as it is godly. To reverse that, it is all very well as long as it is not godless. How easy is it to get caught up with all the possibilities of travel or business and really give God very little thought! “I mean, really, who needs God?” is Satan's subtle insinuation. His original suggestion to Adam and Eve was, “you will be like God” (Gen 3:5). His modern insinuation is “You are gods.” Yes, you can do whatever you like – within the parameters of your holiday allowance. You can do whatever you like – within the parameters of your credit allowance. The world is your oyster, go where you will, do what you will. It's a subtle call.
James' words in these verses come like a slap in the face or a bucket of cold water being thrown over us. He's a real killjoy – but he speaks the truth, which we tend to forget. Look at what he says. “you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” Of course I know what will happen tomorrow, we insist in our foolish short-sightedness. To consider these things is not being pessimistic, it is being real and being real helps us come back to the Lord and to strengthen our relationship with Him.
We really don't know what tomorrow will hold. We think we do but consider the following possibilities which we hope won't happen: you develop a serious illness, strange symptoms reveal a hidden serious bodily malfunction; thieves break in and ransack your house; your house catches fire; you have a car crash; you are made redundant, your partner suffers a serious accident, your children get into serious difficulties; your shares plummet; your house floods; a tornado strikes; an earth tremour undermines your foundations; you die prematurely. These are all things that are common in this Fallen World. You believe they will never happen to you, but says James in his own inimitable way, they might!
What is the point dwelling on these sort of morbid things? If we dare face reality and don't flee into a world of denial, we realise the truth – that we NEED the Lord. That awareness, which Satan tries to get us to forget, which is especially easy to do in the world in which so many of us live, is critical. The book of Job is the Bible's wake up call to being prepared for the unexpected. It challenges us to have a good and right relationship with the Lord. Jesus' parable of the two house builders in Matthew 7, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, gives us a stark reminder that ‘storms of life' come unexpectedly and unless we are rooted in a strong relationship with the Lord, we can find ourselves totally undermined when such things come upon us.
These are not negative words from James; they are simply a reminder of the fragility of life that should drive us ever closer into the arms of the Lord. May it be so!
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 45
Meditation Title: At Peace in God's Will
Jas 4:15 Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that."
In the Advent story, when the angels came to the shepherds, they declared, “ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests .” (Lk 2:14). God's desire for mankind is peace, yet peace, so often, seems such an elusive thing. Yesterday we considered the tendency of affluent, modern, Western man to travel and to plan. We envisaged the hard working office worker, locked into their daily routine but looking forward to the two or three week's escape each year to the sun and sea of some far off exotic land. Yet see those same people as they return and so often it takes them three days at least to get over the tiredness of that holiday. Was ‘peace' a word that described them before, during or after their holiday? Rarely!
We also considered the uncertainty of life, the many negative ‘storms of life' that can befall us in this Fallen World. We never know what might come. For some people that uncertainty creates fear – and peace and fear never reside together! The lives of so many people are characterized by busyness and uncertainty and with those two things go stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear. However, none of these things are the things God has designed for our lives. They are in fact the characteristics and fruits of godless living.
Ah, that is the key! We just spoke of ‘godless' living. That is what creates busyness and uncertainty and stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear. You can be very active in God's service but that is a very different thing which may produce tiredness, but there is an accompanying peace and sense of well-being that goes with an awareness of flowing in the will and purpose of God. God has designed us to be at peace and harmony when we are flowing in His will and purposes. When we are not in that place, our life is out of kilter and busyness, uncertainty, stress, tiredness, worry, anxiety and fear are the things we experience. For many, these things are so familiar we assume they are the norm, the way life just is. But that's not the norm!
The norm is what God has designed for us, to be at peace and harmony in His will as we respond to Him and live out His purposes in our lives. There is a verse we often quote: “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). This describes Christians as people who have been designed by God to do good, and the good we do has been planned by God for us. This is the wonder of the Christian life. It is a life designed by God. We find the apostle Paul using such phrases as, “live by the Spirit,” (Gal 5:16) and “led by the Spirit,” (Gal 5:18) and “keep in step with the Spirit,” (Gal 5:25 ). These all imply a life that is guided and directed by God's Holy Spirit which He has put in our lives.
If we can come to a place where we have surrendered our will to God's sovereign will, it takes all the strain out of life. The apostle Paul, again, shows us this. Consider his attitude to his life in the following: “ as he left, he promised, "I will come back if it is God's will."” (Acts 18:21 ) and, “I will come to you very soon, if the Lord is willing,” (1 Cor 4:19) and, “I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits” (1 Cor 16:7). He seemed very relaxed in God's will. What he was basically saying was, “I hope to be able to do this if that is what God wants, but if He wants something else and it works out differently, no problem!” The writer to the Hebrews had the same approach: “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity…. God permitting, we will do so.” (Heb 6:1-3). However we should note that there were times when the apostle Paul did seem to be quite clear about God's will: “I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon.” (Phil 2:24).
They key is being surrendered to God's will and that is what James is trying to bring us to. He knows the very best place to be is right in the heart of God's will and that is a place of faith whereby we simply say, “Lord, please lead me and I will go wherever you want and do whatever you want.” and we learn to rest in that, trusting in the guidance we sometimes get, trusting that whether we are conscious of it or not, when our heart is fully inclined to the Lord, He will be leading us. He never forces us, but when we are surrendered to Him, He gently leads us, sometimes by direct and obvious words of guidance, and sometimes just by the gentle moving of His unseen hand, gently moving us and the circumstances around us. However, He'll only do that as He sees we are surrendered to His will, because He won't force us or steer us into His goodness if He sees a fierce resistance in us.
The Message version of Rom 12:1,2 sums it up well, especially what we've been thinking about in respect of taking sides with God against the world: “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” Isn't that good!
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 46
Meditation Title: Opposing God's Will
Jas 4:16,17 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins
What I find one of the most amazing things in life, is that God seems to allow us to go on in the way we live and tolerates our godlessness, often for many years, without apparently doing anything to correct it. The apostle Peter understood this: “do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:8,9). For instance I didn't come to the Lord until I was nearly twenty two, my mother until her late fifties and my father until his early sixties, and a friend of mine until his early sixties. Examples abound of people who the Lord allowed to go through decades of their lives before He drew them to Himself. Yet, as I have pondered this I have thought two particular things. First, I suspect that the Lord had been speaking many times but we had just not heard. Second, the Lord knows there will be a time when we will be most open to Him and He may have to wait many years for that. He doesn't mind waiting because He knows that our time here on earth is but a prelude to eternity with Him. Of course there are many people who seem never to hear and who never respond, yet God doesn't want that, but will still not force our wills.
Now I say this in the light of where James has brought us to. He has spent the last chapter calling us directly and indirectly into relationship with the Lord, and away from the world. As we questioned before, we're not sure if he had specific people in mind when he wrote who he knew were like this, or whether he was speaking generally because he knew that we are all prone to this sort of thing. We'll again assume the latter. He has just written about our tendency to plan life ignoring God, and now he sees people even bragging about what they do. ‘Christmas letters' come to mind in this respect. An article in the paper commented on the trend of sending out Christmas letters that tell of all the holidays the senders have had that year, making those who can't afford such things feel bad when they are recipients of such letters. To display such activities of the past year must be a form of boasting, however naïve the senders may be. “Look at what we have done” is clearly the sense of these letters. Such letters must evoke comparisons and even envy. Indeed that has got to be a form of boasting.
However James' comments have more of an edge to them than merely chiding against pride – although he is not averse to doing that as we've seen previously in his comments about favouritism in church. Yes, he says, boasting is evil, pride is evil, doing your own thing is evil, making others feel bad is evil, but there is something more. He speaks of anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it . There is an implication here that there is more to this flitting around, doing what you will, going where you will. There is the implication that Christians – for remember, he is writing to Christians – know within themselves that there is another way they ought to be living, but don't. Because we have the Holy Spirit living within us, He will be speaking to us to guide us, correct us, and lead us to be doing other things, things that are not just self-centred, things that bless others in the will of God.
Of course these things raise far bigger issues, issues about use of time and money and other people. We have spoken about it being the well-off members of society who can afford a variety of holidays, afford to spend their surplus money on self. Isn't it right to take times away to recharge our batteries? Yes, of course it is. That isn't the point that James is making. His point is the origin of our travels or our activities. Is it the Lord? Do we refer all our activities to the Lord, recreational as well as work, and especially work?
James is right in our face on this issue. Look, he says, if your conscience or the Holy Spirit within you is bugging you about other possibilities, other ways to live your life, other things to do with your life, and you disregard either of them, if you disregard what you know is right, don't you realise that that is sin.
Can it be that many of us are inadvertently sinning, simply because we carelessly disregard the quiet voice of God speaking to us, seeking to lead us into a less self-centred, more God-centred lifestyle, one that is far more fruitful, that impacts and changes the world instead of allowing the world to change us, as this chapter has been saying?
When it came to Communion, the apostle Paul had to chide the Corinthians: “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 11:27-30). He was chiding them because they were not caring for one another, and the result was that some of them were being taken to heaven prematurely! If that applied then, how much more in the context of what James has been saying. Put in its simplest form it says that God may often tolerate non-Christians slowness of response, but once we are in the kingdom, we are answerable to the King who will hold us accountable. Food for thought?
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 47
Meditation Title: Accountability for the Rich
Jas 5:1-3 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.
There are commentators who maintain that these verses cannot apply to Christians because of the harshness of them, but elsewhere in this ‘letter' the references have been to those in the church, and one has to ask the question, if this was to unbelievers, when could they possibly have it read to them? For a third time in these recent meditations we will suggest that either James knows specific people or churches where there are people like this, or that he is giving a general warning – in this case to the rich – because he knows the general tendency or the characteristics that so often go with the situation. We will assume the latter, although it is also interesting to view these first six verses as a cry against the rich, when very few Christians we rich. It thus becomes a cry against those who oppress the Christians. However, we will consider it as a cry to include Christians.
Remember two main things that we have picked up in this letter. First, that James is speaking to those of the church who have been dispersed or spread out across the world and who are no longer under the close comfort, direction and protection of the original church at Jerusalem. Second, his fear, and therefore his warnings, is directed against the tendency of Christians to become assimilated into the world. Again, as we look at these verses, we must comment that although they obviously applied to Christians in the first century, they apply even more to us living in the West at the beginning of the twenty first century, which is a time of unparalleled affluence.
We also need to remember a general principle that comes out of the Bible. God is not against material prosperity, but is against reliance upon it that draws people away from Him. When we observe the wisdom that God gave Solomon, we see that much of that wisdom was used to make the country prosperous and him richer than anyone else in the world. In Solomon's case it wasn't the riches themselves that drew Solomon away, but the multitude of foreign wives he had. We also find many references in Scripture to God's desire to prosper us, and it is clear that that includes materially as well as spiritually.
No, the big concern is what effect riches have upon us. Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Mt 6:24). If you make money your master, if it is the thing you focus your life upon, then you will find it impossible to maintain a healthy relationship with the Lord. When James now speaks like and Old Testament prophet, it is simply to create a picture that warns any Christian who might fall into the trap, living out in the world, of being seduced by money and possessions. Remember Jesus' teaching that followed that reference above: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) The ‘all these things” are material provisions. Possessions are not to rule us; we are to rule over them. Our focus is not to be possessions, but on doing God's will. When we do that, then God provides the possessions.
With all that in mind, we are then ready to consider what James actually says here. Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Now this may be a general warning or it may be a prophetic insight that for them, at that time, there was coming a time of upheaval when riches would mean nothing. Especially for those who rely upon riches, such a time is a time of misery. When we push ourselves financially, and then go into times of recession, these are especially difficult times. The wise Christian never puts their life into a position where recession wipes away their assets or puts them in jeopardy.
See what more he says: Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. James envisages the effect of simply storing up material possessions and not using them. The builder of bigger barns in Jesus' parable (Lk 12:16 -21) couldn't use his barns and his wealth because he died unexpectedly. The warning here is that if you just leave wealth to store up you won't be able to use it because of the danger of it deteriorating. How many have stored away expensive pictures or furniture only to find them attacked by woodworm or mildew. Possessions, of whatever sort, are not for hoarding, but for using. What is even worse about this, is that there is a world in need that we could be helping with our surplus. It is right to make provision for family and the future but if it goes beyond reasonable provision, we have to be careful that we are not putting ourselves beyond God's protection when it comes to all that affluence.
Finally he says, “Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.” When all our plans to stock up, fail because the stock market fails or our possessions are stolen or they literally rot, our human plans of self-sufficiency are shown to be folly, and they testify against us. Moreover we feel really upset about what has happened. The phrase, they eat your flesh like fire is a graphic prophetic form of picture that shows the anguish we feel when this sort of thing happens. If you spilt petrol on you and it caught fire, the encroaching flames would eat at your flesh causing immense pain. When all your stored riches come to nothing, the anguish is the same if you have placed all your reliance upon them.
This is the warning James is bringing us, in his desire to draw us back from the ways of the world. Go down the same path they go down, is what he is implying, and you risk suffering the same anguish that they will suffer. The warning is against relying upon riches, against relying upon money and possessions. The warning is for drawing us back into a closer relationship with the Lord, where we make Him and His will our central focus, and money and possessions are merely icing on the cake. A salutary warning for many in the day in which we live!
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 48
Meditation Title: Unjust Employment
Jas 5:4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.
One of the things we have sought to draw out again and again in these meditations is the truth that spirituality, if it is real, will have practical outworkings. In other words, faith is expressed in a godly and righteous lifestyle, and more often than not this is about how we respond to or deal with other people. Now rich people get rich because they have the ability to get poorer people to work for little (by comparison) and to get other people to pay larger sums of money so that profit is made. That is a simple economic assessment. Profit is made because the entrepreneur sells his products for more than it costs him to make them. None of us would argue with this, because without a profit no producer is going to make the goods we use in modern life. God isn't against modern goods, but if their manufacture involves keeping the poor, poor then He has, we believe, an issue with those manufacturers who exploit the poor.
God's intentions in these issues are clear in that they are revealed in the Law that He gave Moses. We find, “Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.” (Lev 19:13). In other words, when you hire a man on a daily basis to work for you, don't delay paying him at the end of the day. Such a man hiring himself out for daily work is not likely to be well off and so he needs the money straight away to buy provisions for his family. To withhold his money is to deprive his family unfairly. Similarly, “Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.” (Deut 24:14,15).
There the Law was quite specific. Whether it was an Israelite or a foreigner, ensure you pay the man working for you promptly. Failure to do that is sin, and you have an issue with the Lord. Perhaps a modern equivalent to this is modern large companies holding back money owed to smaller companies or individuals, a fairly regular and unrighteous practice. Not only did the Law speak against this sort of thing, but the prophets also denounced it: “Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.” (Jer 22:13) and “ So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty.” (Mal 3:5). The practice of holding back wages that have been earned is clearly injustice and is unacceptable in God's sight.
Now James picks on this subject because, as we've said several times previously, he either has heard about this injustice, or he knows that this is how the rich employer so often works, so that he denounces it and is saying by implication that this must not happen when Christians are involved. The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you is a prophetic way of saying simply that this injustice is crying out to be deal with. There he says it is the wages that are still in the coffers of the rich that should have been paid out to the poor worker that is crying out to God. But then he goes further: The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almight. Those who are being exploited cry out in their anguish and frustration, and God hears their cries. When there is injustice, it is like that thing cries out to God and draws God's attention to it. It needs dealing with.
God is concerned for the poor. God is concerned for justice and it is no excuse to say, “Well, everyone does it.” That is no excuse; it is still wrong! If the employer is a Christian that is doubly bad for they should know better. How can you say you love your neighbour (Lev 19:18, Mt 22:39) is you are exploiting him. If you are a Christian and you are involved in these practices in any way, you are involved in something that the Lord speaks strongly against.
We conclude as we started, with a reminder that spirituality always has practical outworkings if it is really spiritual, because God is concerned about the very way we live. We may appear very spiritual, reading the Bible, praying publicly, and worshipping on a Sunday, but if the weekday life involves doing something that the Lord is against, all that apparent spirituality is meaningless. Check out your working days!
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 49
Meditation Title: Be Patient, Stand Firm
Jas 5:7,8 Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near.
There is a general principle in life: looking forward to the future helps us cope with the present. People working in offices, factories, or wherever else it may be, know this. They look forward to that two week holiday that they have booked and the thought of the time away helps them through the tiredness of daily routine until that time of escape comes. Perhaps they even look forward to the weekend, to help them through Friday. It is also a Scriptural principle. The writer to the Hebrew wrote: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross , scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2). Jesus coped with the Cross knowing it was the necessary way forward that would result in him being restored to the glory of heaven, and an even greater glory now he had achieved the purpose of God to bring salvation to the world. Faith is all about believing in the outcome of what God says. For example, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world.” (Heb 11:7) Noah believed God when He told him to build an ark to escape the coming flood. He worked on the basis of what was to come. Speaking about the various things Abraham did, the writer to the Hebrews said, “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb 11:10). In other words Abraham stepped out in obedience to God in the belief that the Lord would lead him to a place a permanence, of security. He was motivated by that sense of something yet to come in the future..
Now we have commented previously on the use of the word ‘then' and James uses it again here. It is a word that links the present with the past, with what James is now saying with what he has just been saying. There are two ways we could interpret this. The first is to consider, as we mentioned briefly two days ago, the possibility that the rich are in fact those who have been persecuting the poorer Christians and making life difficult for them – so they would be looking for a future escape from their present plight. The second is to view the past paragraph as applying to Christians who fail in this present world but need to persevere in getting it right, because the Lord is about to come. Both may be true.
James is saying, cope with all these things, triumph and overcome in all these things, because the Lord is coming. The problem about that is that we don't know when. That's why James then gives us an illustration of patience - See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. Farmers learn that patience is an essential commodity; you have to be patient and wait for the plants to grow, the seasons to pass and harvest to come. In the same way, James implies, we need to be patient in waiting for the Lord to come.
Now at this point we run into a difficulty. We find that James has a high expectation of the Lord's immanent return: the Lord's coming is near. It seems that the early church had a very high expectation that the Lord's return would be in their time. The New Testament clearly testifies to this: “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” (Rom 13:12) and “let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:25) and “The end of all things is near ” (1 Pet 4:7) and “He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon.” (Rev 22:20). Now we could try and explain this with, “ With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Pet 3:8) but the more likely answer, we suggest, is that when prophetic people exercise their ministries (and the New Testament writers were each being prophetic when they wrote like this), it is as if in their spirits they are transported forward to the time of fulfillment and so it seems, when they later think about it, as if it is very close.
Now there are three ways that Jesus can ‘return' or come into your experience in a tangible way. The first is when you die, and at that point you come face to face with him. Of course we never know when that will be. It could be tomorrow or next year. The second way is when the Lord comes in revival. This is simply when God turns up in great power, as has been seen many times in church history of the past two thousand years, and when that happens it is like you are face to face with the power and presence of the Lord. The third is when Jesus will return at the end of time, a time when he will clearly be visible (see Acts 1:11, 1 Thess 4:16 [note, ‘loud shout'], 2 Thes 1:7) and when the whole earth will be brought face to face with him (Rev 19). The message behind each of these possibilities is, make sure you are ready to face the Lord when he comes. Yes, James' encouragement is in respect of holding on until the Lord comes, but his coming is also a time of accounting, and therefore if anything we have considered in the past two meditations applies to us, then we need to do something about it. As Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8). That applies to each of us.
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 50
Meditation Title: God is Judge
Jas 5:9 Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!
On the basis of this verse and what I have observed over many years as a Christian, I suspect that there is a lot of judging going on in the church – by God! Now because the Gospel of grace is preached in the church, Christians sometimes think it doesn't matter what they say or do, because they will be forgiven by God through the work of Christ on the Cross. Well this is a big subject that needs a variety of answers.
The first answer is that God's salvation is for all who repent and put their lives into God's hands. Now implied within that is that they surrender to Him and are obedient to His word and to His Spirit as they ‘follow Jesus'. Is it possible for salvation to be lost? I believe on the basis of such verses as Ezek 18:24 and Heb 6:4-6 (as well as many other incidental verses) it is, but not by occasional lapses but by purposeful apostasy.
The second thing to note is about the question of whether a Christian can ‘get away with' sin. Paul taught that we have died to sin and should therefore no longer sin (Rom 6:1,2). Sin, for the Christian, should ever only be the occasional lapse when we are tripped up by the enemy. John wrote, “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 defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) i.e. we shouldn't sin but if there is a lapse, Jesus will be there for us.
But supposing we accept a particular behaviour that we tolerate because we think it is all right – such as grumbling against others – but which isn't! Does God just sit back and let us ‘get away with it'? Well, remember that His purpose is to change us into the likeness of Jesus (2 Cor 3:18). He is not going to put that purpose aside because we have decided we like doing this particular thing. Oh no, He will take action to deal with that in us. The writer to the Hebrews understood this: “My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son .” (Heb 12:5,6). Later he wrote, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (v.11). No, if you tolerate unrighteousness in your life, then along the way you will encounter circumstances that the Hebrews' writer refers to as ‘hardship' – “Endure hardship as discipline.” (v.7). Will you lose your salvation? No! Will you incur God's discipline? Yes!
We say all this, of course, in the light of our verse in James today. God will discipline me for grumbling, you ask? Again the writer to the Hebrews points us back to the Old Testament when he says, “we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. So, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert ” (Heb 3:6-8). There he was referring back to the time when Israel ‘grumbled' in the desert and were judged for it. Many of them died (Num 11:1-3). Miriam and Aaron grumbled against Moses and Miriam was left leprous (Num 12:1-15). Because the people grumbled against going into the land, the Lord forbad that generation form entering (Num 14:26 -29). Grumbling in each of these instances was complaining about the leadership of the people. That's where grumbling occurs, when God's people are negative about their leaders, and this is also grumbling against God (because they are His representatives.
So it is that James realizes the severity of grumbling and warns the church against it. Yet he doesn't spell out the negative consequences of disunity in a church, he simply reminds us that we are accountable to God: “you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” i.e. God is watching and He will not let this go. He will see it, know exactly what it is – sin – and will come and deal with it.
We have already commented recently on Paul's warnings over Communion but it applies again here: “For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.” (1 Cor 11:29 -32). The Corinthians were being casual about how they came to God and were abusing one another. Because they would not heed the Spirit of God within them, the Lord had simply taken a number of them to heaven to be with Him. He wouldn't let them carry on there on the earth in the church.
When a couple named Ananias and Sapphira decided to lie and appear more holy than they were, the Lord used them as an example to the rest of the church and took them to heaven. That doesn't mean they lost their eternal salvation but it does mean they were taken out of His plans here on earth.
There are serious issues here, and perhaps they may be summed up as, don't be casual about sin, for you will be answerable to God and the very least He will do is discipline you here and now in your present circumstances. We would prefer not to think about the alternative, as we value our lives here on earth. What does this verse say? God holds us accountable. Think about it.
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 51
Meditation Title: More on Patience & Perseverance
Jas 5:10,11 Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
The temptation to give up is sometimes a very strong temptation. We have a poster which includes some of the following lines: “People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centred. Love them anyway….. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway…. People really need help but may attack you if you help them. Help people anyway….. Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you've got ANYWAY .” Whoever originally wrote those words knew that sometimes life in this world is tough but we have to decide to keep on anyway. To give up is to let Sin and Satan win. To give up is to be trampled on and to lose wonderful possibilities of a better tomorrow. When we're tired, feeling jaded, worn out, and the enemy seems to jeer at us, he's trying to get us to give up. It's a strong temptation, but Paul wrote: “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it. (1 Cor 10:13 Message version) The words of that verse tell us a) our temptation is common to life, b) God won't let you be pushed further than you can cope with and c) He'll be there to help you.
James has just said, “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near” (v.8), the ‘too' referring to the example of the farmers he had just spoken about as having to wait patiently for their harvests. In the face of unrighteous people or, even, of having to struggle with our own unrighteous attitudes or behaviour and sometimes failing, the temptation to just give up is often strong. Hence we need these words of encouragement: be patient and stand firm and now these words about the prophets. Look what James says.
“Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” The subject of his concern is having patience, waiting for God, or God's grace, to turn up when we are suffering. If you want an example of how this worked out, he implies, look at the Old Testament prophets. He goes on, “As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.” In the teaching of the day, the prophets were revered for their loyalty and faithfulness to the Lord. Despite the opposition they received, they hung on in. The reality is that despite what was thrown at them, they survived and were triumphant.
“You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” James then cites the particular example of Job who persevered in the face of lots of bad things happening to him. Yes, the enemy afflicted him but the end of the story was God blessing him and restoring him to what he had known previously – in fact twice as prosperous as he had been before! (Job 42:10).
“The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” The fact that tough things happen in this world, doesn't detract from the truth about God's character. He is still full of compassion and mercy. He is still a God who feels for His people and is moved by the plight of His people. Remember Moses' first encounter with the Lord: “The LORD said, " I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.” (Ex 3:7,8). Compassion is a heart moved by plight. God doesn't stand afar off when we are going through tough times. No, He is right there and He feels and understands all we are going through and is there working to bring good through it (Rom 8:28 ). More than that He doesn't assess every situation and say, “Oh well, they deserve it!” and leave us to it. No, He knows our frailty and despite our stupidity, so often, He comes and rescues us. It is an act of pure mercy. Not deserved but nevertheless given.
Yes, James knows that living in this world brings both opposition from other people and opposition from sin that we struggle with. He knows that we struggle with the temptation to give up, and so he encourages us to persevere, patiently waiting for the Lord to turn up and intervene. He cites working illustrations – farmers – and spiritual illustrations – Old Testament prophets. Having to wait and be patient is a familiar thing, a normal and natural thing in this Fallen World. So his word comes: hang on! But it's more than that; it is, hang on – because God WILL turn up, as surely as harvest does and as surely as He did for His prophets of old. So look up and look around. The Lord is coming for you in your situation!
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 52
Meditation Title: Be Simple & Straight Forward
Jas 5:12 Above all, my brothers, do not swear--not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your "Yes" be yes, and your "No," no, or you will be condemned.
I don't know if you've ever come across the practice of children crossing their fingers behind their backs to annul the promise they are making to other children, but that's rather like what was happening in James' time. Put in its most simple form, it is people excusing themselves from promises they have made. Children, especially, are good at using words to tie up friendships or try to bring honour to an agreement. Ah, that is what is at the heart of the whole problem of agreement; it is trying to bring honour to it. When someone swears an oath on a Bible in the witness box in a courtroom, the court are trying to make that person feel there is a solemnity in that oath-taking that will ensure they honour the court and tell the truth. People ‘swear' by their mother's grave, or goodness knows what, to try and give the other person a sense that they will honour their promise, or to reassure them that they are speaking the truth. Ensuring an agreement is honoured, or convincing others that you are speaking the truth, is sometimes difficult if your credibility or integrity is at stake. It's a very important area of life.
It was to counter this dubious trend at that time that James wrote this verse. There had come a practice of distinguishing between oaths that were binding and those which were not. If God's name was invoked, that made it binding, but otherwise oaths were not considered binding. Also oaths were used a great deal which also tended to undermine their trustworthiness. The whole point of an oath is that it is solemnising something that is special, something rare. The oath makes it special, the oath makes it something that everyone should feel MUST be kept. If an oath was used all the time, that would completely demean the use and value of oaths.
Oaths are all about validating the truth, but the truth should not need to be validated. If we are Christians we should, above all other people, be concerned to live in the truth and speak only the truth. This may limit our lives but it is what is required. Now this is such a simple yet profound thing that we need to repeat it again and again until we really do take in the significance of what is being said. The truth should not need to be validated by us, only on special occasions where there is a particularly significant or serious matter at hand, where we wish to convey to all onlookers that we are utterly, one hundred per cent, serious with no possibility whatsoever of doubt creeping in over our sincerity.
The writer to the Hebrews (Heb 6:13,14) cited God's promise to Abraham (in Gen 22:17 ) which he considered an oath. A promise by God is the most serious of promises because God NEVER lies (Num 23:19), therefore if He resorts to a promise, it is a most serious thing. If He promises to do something that is the equivalent of taking an oath in His own name. Jesus clearly felt himself under a similar responsibility before the charge of the high priest: “The high priest said to him, ‘I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.' ‘Yes, it is as you say,' Jesus replied.” (Mt 26:63,64). Paul involved God as his witness on rare occasions when he wanted to convince his readers: “God, whom I serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times” (Rom 1:9,10). Oaths should, therefore, be used very rarely, to ensure they keep their sense of seriousness, and they should also only ever be used to create that sense of utter seriousness, to confirm a promise in the eyes of the onlookers in such a measure that there can be no doubt about the integrity of the person making the oath.
Now James starts with verse with' “Above all.” Now remember that in this chapter he has been warning against unrighteous rich people who cause trouble for the poorer Christians or warning against the tendency to let riches bring you into unrighteousness. He has counseled his readers to be patient as they wait for God to come and sort out either the unrighteous rich or the struggle of the individual with sin and temptation. He has called them to be patient as they wait for the lord to come and do this.
So what he is now saying is, while you are waiting for all of these things to be resolved, ensure that over all of that, you ensure that you keep your lives simple and truthful, avoiding the deceitful tactics that the rich (implied by context) and others use. YOU remain truthful and in simple honesty, having an integrity that ensures you don't have to keep bolstering up your appearance by lots of oaths or other techniques to justify your position and integrity. May it be so for us today!
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 53
Meditation Title: Praying out Sickness
Jas 5:13-15 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.
There is one particular facet of the Christian faith that is so simple and yet so profound, and which goes to the very heart of belief and behaviour. It is that the Christian life is divinely supernatural. What we mean by that is that our faith, our belief and our behaviour, if it is the faith etc. displayed in the pages of the New Testament, is to be saturated with the life of God. We are what we are because of God, we think what we think because of God and, finally and almost most importantly, we live lives that are guided and empowered by God. In other words we are people who are humanly impossible – but God enabled – and we do things that are humanly impossible – but are God enabled. Nowhere is this divinely supernatural element more evidenced in us than in prayer.
James has just been exhorting us, as we saw yesterday, to live simple straight forward lives of transparent honest and integrity. He now peppers our consciousness with a variety of expressions of life involving prayer, as the most simple and straight forward way of expressing our relationship with the Lord. For James, prayer is a divinely supernatural activity that should be at the heart of our lives. He's talked a lot in this letter about living in a world full of difficulties and so it is natural as he talks about prayer to ask, Is any one of you in trouble? because he almost expects that. Things do go wrong in this Fallen World, so he knows at any one point of time some of us will be struggling with difficulties of living in this world. What to do about it? He should pray. How simple, how obvious, but how often do we not think to do that? Whether it is over such mundane things as a headache, or of losing or misplacing something, or of learning something new that seems difficult, is our natural first response to turn to the Lord and ask for His help?
We said this was both simple and profound. We said this was all about living divinely supernatural lives. We're not going to pray unless we believe God will answer and do something to bring change – well, we might pray from superstitious belief or from legalistic ‘I ought' motivations – but it is the belief that God is our loving heavenly Father who loves to do things for His children that brings the best motivation to pray.
But it's not only when things go badly that we should pray; it's also when they go well. Is anyone happy? asks James. We are happy when things are going well, when our horizon is not blighted by difficulties. Don't only pray when things are going badly, implies James, but also let the joy that is in your heart when things are going well rise up in songs of praise directed to God. Sing praise to God. Songs are an expression of a joyful heart, so let your heart be released and let songs come forth that praise God for the good things He has done for you. Let this be your expression of thankfulness.
Is any one of you sick? asks James next, casting around to think of times when prayer should be the most natural of responses. It's difficult to pray when you are feeling ill; it's not a time when faith rises and you feel strong and good in Christ. Perhaps that's why Jesus healed so many people, because he knew that sickness blights our relationship with the Lord and makes us focus on ourselves. No, James understood all this, which is why he knows we need help when we are sick. When you're sick it's difficult to see past the symptoms but the least we can do is call for help. The elders of the church are the leaders God has called into being (well they ought to be) to carry His authority and to exercise His power in such cases. So call for the elders and ask them to pray for you.
He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord . There is the order of things. YOU call for the elders. YOU know when you need them. It's not for them to come until faith in you accepts your position and is ready to receive their input. When they come they should do what the saints of old did as a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit coming to enable, they should anoint with oil. This is simply a faith sign, a visible help to faith that conveys an important truth. It is the coming of God by His Spirit that will bring healing, not anything magical. Note the phrase, in the name of the Lord . It is as they come aware that they are simply God's representatives, seeking His guidance and direction and power. As they come like this, they come in a right attitude and are open for that divinely supernatural leading.
And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well . How simply it is said. It WILL make the sick person well. What is the ‘it' we've just referred to? The prayer offered in faith. Remember faith comes from hearing God, and so this prayer is a prayer that is energized by hearing God's word and believing it. These elders have heard God speak into them His truth about healing and they know He wants to bring it. They pray in response to that, and therefore because they pray in line with His will, He comes and answers and brings healing.
The Lord will raise him up. Have you been cast down by sickness? Then call for your church leaders and ask them to pray for you according to what James says, and the Lord will lift you up. It may be as He heals you instantly or it may be as He starts you on a path of healing, but in whatever way it is, you will find yourself being lifted up.
There is more to come about this in the following verses, but for the moment there is plenty here to stir our hearts and minds into faith. Go back over these things. Check them out, one by one. Pray, or seek prayer. It is the doorway to this life that is divinely supernatural. Be blessed in it!
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 54
Meditation Title: The Place of Confession
Jas 5:15,16 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
Confession, in some parts of the church, has sometimes been turned into a ritual. If you “go along to confession” it becomes a ritual, something that is done because it is expected of you and it makes you feel better for a minute of two. True confession comes out of a broken and contrite heart. In Scripture, probably the greatest example of confession comes in Psalm 51, where the heading tells us that David wrote this after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin over Bathsheba. It starts out, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (v.1,2) Confession comes to God with an awareness of needing God's mercy, for having offended God. There is an awareness of needing to be cleansed and forgiven. Look how he continues: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight ” (v.3,4). David realized that all sin is against God and that it is evil! When the Holy Spirit convicts, this is what follows. Later he goes on, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” (v.10,11) Real confession is concerned to be cleansed from the sin and reinstated in right relationship with the Lord (where the sin will not be repeated!) Having heard a number of people on counseling situations, confessing to the Lord their sins, I have to say that rarely is there whole-hearted, unrestrained pouring out of sorrow to God for those sins. Mostly we have a great deal of difficulty in genuinely facing what we've done and genuinely saying, “That was wrong, that was evil, and it affronted God.” but that is real confession!
James' references to confession flow in the context of healing and after the words we considered yesterday he says, “ If he has sinned, he will be forgiven”. Suddenly forgiveness and healing are linked. Not every sickness is linked to sin, but some is. Sometimes our sin has caused or made us vulnerable to the sickness, and so for the healing to flow, the sin has to be dealt with first. There is a very strong principle here which accounts, we suspect, for why there is so much illness in the world today. Having said this, James realizes that this needs further explanation.
He continues, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” There can be no other explanation for what he says other that what we have said in the above paragraph. There is a divine order here: sin – sickness – confession – prayer – healing. It is interesting to note that TWO things are needed: confession AND prayer, confession by the sick person and prayer for healing by the elder. An Old Testament example of this is, “Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech, his wife and his slave girls so they could have children again,” (Gen 20:17 ) after Abimelech had had dealings with God. He confessed but God required His representative, Abram, to pray for him. The prayer of the elder adds significance to what is happening and he acts as God's representative to declare forgiveness and healing.
In the New Testament the classic example of this is Jesus and the man let down through the roof. “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, "Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Lk 5:20). The man's willingness to come to Jesus was equivalent to his confession but before he is healed, Jesus pronounces forgiveness. Jesus knew there was a sin and forgiveness issue here and so dealt with it. He subsequently brings the healing: “He said to the paralyzed man, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (v.24). There is a clear link between the sickness and the need for forgiveness followed by healing. We should note, however, that this is not always the case as John shows us in his Gospel. “As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” (Jn 9:1-3) Sin was not the issue behind this man's blindness. He was just part of the Fallen World, and so Jesus simply brought healing without the need of confession and forgiveness.
James concludes, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. The righteous elder praying for a sick member of his flock, is in the position of God's representative and, as long as he is a righteous man, he is therefore in the position to bring prayer to bear that has a powerful impact – to bring healing.
Perhaps one of the biggest questions to ask, that arises out of these verses, is do we have an open and submissive and humble heart that is willing to seek out its spiritual leadership and confess, when we become aware of our sin? Such confession is an indication of a heart that is indeed open, submissive and humble, and that is the challenge, because that is the sort of heart we are all supposed to have.
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 55
Meditation Title: The Example of Elijah
Jas 5:17,18 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
Most of us can look back and see people who, if they weren't quite role models for us, were certainly people who impacted our lives (for good or bad) in some way. Perhaps we took them for granted, but nevertheless they still made an impression upon us. They might have been a family member or they might have been a friend or a teacher or a leader of some kind. It is natural to look at other people and be touched by their good example, especially. Many Christians come across a character in the Bible who seems to stand out to them and impress them in some particular way. We learn, not only by direct teaching, but also by example.
James uses just such an example to help us focus even more on what he has been saying. Do you remember back in chapter four he called us to side with God against the world? He called us to live lives submitted to God, lives lived out in the light of our relationship with God. Yes, it was our relationship with the Lord that he went on to talk more about, until in recent verses he comes to talk about prayer as a natural expression of that relationship. In trouble? Pray! Happy? Pray! Sick? Pray! Guilty? Pray! Oh yes, as we've said previously, prayer is the classic expression of faith, of this relationship with the Lord being lived out.
But now he wants us to also realise the impact of prayer, the power of prayer, the importance and significance of prayer, and to do that he uses Elijah as an example. Now he's aware that because Elijah was a great prophet who was remembered for doing great things, we might consider Elijah was right out of our league and therefore not identify with him. Hence he starts off, “Elijah was a man just like us.” Yes, he did do some great things, but in many ways he was a very ordinary sort of person. Read Elijah's story some time (1 Kings 17 on) and you'll see that he really did have feet of clay sometimes, a very ordinary man. But He prayed . Elijah had a relationship with the Lord and it was that which made him stand out for some of the things the Lord enabled him to do.
But more than that, He prayed earnestly. As he came to God, he obviously caught something of God's heart, and prayed it some more. As he prayed he found he was getting an assurance from the Lord about what he was praying so, He prayed earnestly that it would not rain. Now when we look up his story we don't find that part recorded. All we find is, “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1). Because he was so sure that he had heard God, he conveyed it to Ahab the king. Now if you're like me, I guess that at that point, he is really praying! Once you step out in faith on what God has said, you really want to be justified and see it happen!
Well, he prayed and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Was it Elijah making it not rain for that time? No, it was the Lord, but Elijah shared in it in as much as he shared in the Lord's heart and was the messenger to convey it to those on the earth who would be affected by it. Then James tells us, “Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain”. Again we are not told in the Kings accounts exactly what he said. What we find is, “And Elijah said to Ahab, "Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain." So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel , bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.” (1 Kings 18:41,42). Still in the Spirit, following his episode with the prophets of Baal, Elijah turns to Ahab and finds himself basically saying, “OK, now it will rain, now the land has been cleansed of this apostasy.” What is this climbing to the tope of Carmel and bending face down and outing his face between his knees? He is praying, and he carried on praying earnestly, for the same reason as before, until the signs of rain came, followed very rapidly by the rain itself.
Now did you see something in that? If we are right in our assessment of how things happened with Elijah, he had a relationship with the Lord in which, as he prayed, the Lord conveyed His heart to Elijah. All that it needed was for Elijah to respond, which he did, which then provided an even greater motivation to pray. In all this it was God taking the opportunity of the relationship He had with Elijah, to make His will known on earth before He acted. Both times He wanted to do something, and used Elijah to convey it. Both times, as James says, it was as Elijah prayed that he caught the sense of God's will and was able to declare it. Prayer is the doorway to heaven whereby we catch the will of God and are able to express it on the earth. As we express what God has conveyed to us, He then does it and people realise that it is indeed an act of God and He is glorified.
This is why James wants us to maintain this relationship with the Lord, rejecting the world's advances, so that we can become instruments to bring glory to God. Isn't that wonderful! Let's be that!
|Series Theme: Meditations in James|
Meditation No. 56
Meditation Title: Recovering the Wanderer
Jas 5:19,20 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins
Someone in the past has said that the church is the only army that shoots its injured! Having watched the church over quite a number of years, it does seem that there is this tendency that writes off, or ‘shoots' those who fall. The only thing is, that when Jesus said, “This is my command: Love each other,” (Jn 15:17), he didn't add, “only when you are all doing all right!” Paul, in his letter to the Galatians said, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Gal 6:1). Note the word, restore. Yes, there are times, when there is no repentance, when it is right to bring spiritual discipline (see 1 Cor 5), but we need to constantly remember that Jesus died for sinners and is there for us when we fail (1 Jn 2:1), desiring to draw us back into a good place with God.
Now why, I wonder, does James finish his letter on this note? Is it perhaps that he is aware that he has spoken a lot about having a right relationship with the Lord and he has almost given ammunition to the ‘Pharisees' among us to pick up on some of what he has said and use it like the Law to point fingers at those who appear less spiritual. This is the point, isn't it, that living in the world as we do, we are prone to drift. Hence he says, if one of you should wander from the truth. It is easy to get distracted living in this Fallen World, and drift off the path. These are a whole range of things that James has covered, that indicate this possibility. So James is picking up on the possibility that his readers may be left pointing fingers at those who don't quite measure up. It's interesting that he seems to assume that the response will be and someone should bring him back but perhaps that is his gentle way of nudging his readers into that position. The fact that he then continues, Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins seems to indicate that he is having to remind or encourage them into doing that.
It's as if he is saying, “Look, isn't it much better that you should reach out to those who are drifting and draw them back. If they are left to themselves they could completely drift away to the worst possible end. If you draw them back you'll be recovering them and their past failures will be just that, in the past!” Although there are times in this letter when James appears right in your face over particular issues, as he comes to the end of it, the real concern of the pastor comes out, grace abounding.
When we consider, as we have done all the way through, that this is a letter to the church that is now dispersed into the world these are word specifically for this situation. The final closing words of this pastor-teacher are basically, “Keep it together guys, pick up those who are falling, hold together and be there for one another.” That in a nutshell, is what the corporate Christian life is all about – God is there for you; you be there for one another. It may appear an abrupt ending when we first see these words, but when we consider the context and all that has gone before, we see they are words of concern for the church to be the church. Where else do you find a group of people who are not driven by discipline (army corps), competition (MP's and companies), or legalistic rule-keeping requirements or cultural expectations (some world religions)? Within the church, the motivation is the love of God that has been experienced and the presence of God who is love (1 Jn 4:8). Love is the motivating and energising force that we know. May our lives reflect the heart the James shares as he closes this letter.