Monday, May 11, 2015

James 3:5-12

If the eyes are the window of the soul, then the mouth is the exhaust vent. In Matthew 12:34-35, Jesus puts it this way, “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” With piercingly accurate evaluation, Jesus described the source of all of the evil things a man says – the heart. Not too many people recognize this or live with this reality. It is not uncommon to hear the flailing apology of someone famous who has been called on the carpet for an action or a statement that they regrettably have been caught saying or doing. It often sounds something like this, “I just want to say to all of my fans that I am sorry that I said this horrible thing, I don’t know what I was thinking. It isn’t me to say something like that…” However, as they apologize, it becomes abundantly clear that they do not understand the truth of which Jesus spoke. The fact that they said the horrendous thing demonstrates precisely who they are. They may deny it, but the facts are in, from the abundance of their heart, their mouth spoke.
And when the sin of our hearts becomes the sin of our lips, there is very little that we can do to stop the damage that we have done. We don’t have access to the Men In Black little flashy thing, so once our words go out, they cannot be taken back. For this reason, James uses two pictures to illustrate the tongue. The first is that of a fire. The tongue starts out as a biting little flame, but once it casts its enflaming spark on the heart of another, the ravaging fire burns out of control. There is no amount of “I didn’t mean to say that,” that will ever heal all of the damage done by the fire of our tongues. The other picture James uses is that of a wild beast. Recently the news has carried a couple stories of people or children tragically falling into exhibits at the zoo. The zoo may have been able to take the animal out of the wild, but they were never able to take the wild out the animal, and the poor victims felt the consequence of the wild animals. Our words similarly can bite and devour, leaving nothing but destruction behind.
The tongue was made for worship of God, not the destruction of man. When we depart from using our tongues for anything but the glory of God, we often deteriorate into lesser forms of speaking. The beauty of James’s illustrations is that both the flame and the wild beast can be tamed. The flame can be controlled and used for something good: cooking and heating. The beast can be tamed, and brought in to work for the one who tamed it. Similarly, all hope is not lost for the one who has an unruly mouth. We do not simply dismiss him as being useless and worthless. Rather, as a sinner, he needs to use his mouth to repent and he needs to turn in faith to God. Instead of using his mouth for destruction, he can use his mouth for worship. However, before the tongue can ever be healed of its sin-cancer, the heart must be changed. Apart from the inner-working of the Holy Spirit by the Word of God, the filthy mouth will continue to pollute and putrefy, but if the Holy Spirit comes in and cleanses, then the purification of the heart can happen and the tongue can be cleansed. The fire and the beast can be tamed for good uses, and the tongue can be purified for its original God-ordained design.

Food For Thought: What was the tongue created by God to do? How can our sinful tongues be fixed?

Friday, May 8, 2015

James 3:1-4

As we have seen throughout our study of James, it is abundantly clear that as Christians we should not be overrun and defeated when we face difficult trials and hard times. If after inspecting ourselves for sin, we find that we have a clean conscience before God, then our difficult times are coming from one place: the hand of a loving, kind, wise God who is seeking to sanctify us. Instead of being discouraged by the trouble, James tells us that our response should be joy, because God is seeking to accomplish something very important in us.
For believers, the temptation is to respond in any way other than joy. Unfortunately, often the first way that we react is by sinfully forgetting that trials come as a gift of God’s goodness to grow us and conform us into being more like Jesus. After we have forgotten God’s goodness and wisdom, we often turn to a second sin: complaining. Failing to see that God is working things for our good, we instead think that difficult circumstances have come from misfortune, or accident, or even that they have merely originated in the heart of those who do evil. Instead of realizing that all things are being woven together by God for our good, we turn to murmuring and complaining.
The tongue that should be rejoicing in faith and hope turns so quickly to accusation and cursing. This should not be the case. As believers, we should be different. It should not be our natural disposition in trouble to lay out a verbal platter of sympathy inducing delicacies. Neither should it be our response to fling putrid and rotten words or feelings on those around us drawing them into fury or anger with our disgusting words. But too often we fail to allow God’s work to be completed in us. Too often we turn our mouths towards sin instead of rejoicing in the good work of God. Too often we find comfort in the sympathy of others or the empathetic rage of others instead of the goodness and wisdom of God.
The mark of a “perfect man,” or a mature Christian, according to James 3 is that he is able to control his tongue. Instead of viciously unleashing a vitriolic diatribe, the mature Christian is able to bridle his tongue. James makes a direct connection between those who bridle their tongue and those who exercise self-control and temperance through bridling their whole bodies. Conversely, the comparison that Scripture is trying to get us to see is that the person who cannot control their tongue more than likely does not find regular victory over sin.
The tongue is a tattle-tale. It reveals the heart. As Christians, it should be our goal to count it joy in the midst of God-sent trials, not to turn to complaining and other sinful uses of our tongues. If our hearts are not trusting in God in the midst of trouble, then our tongues will reveal it. Similarly, if our tongues naturally default to complaint and frustration in the midst of trial, it is probably an indication that our hearts are not trusting God’s goodness and wisdom.

Food For Thought: In what way is the tongue a “tattle tale” when it comes to our attitude in trials?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

James 2:14-26

God of His own kindness extends grace only to those who come in faith. Those to whom He does not extend grace receive punishment and judgment. Having heard that only those who come in faith will receive the gracious forgiveness of God has led many to claim that they have “faith.” Sadly, a categorical misunderstanding of saving faith has led many of those who have claimed “faith” to continue life convinced that they are saved from the impending wrath of a just and holy God, while all the while being positioned directly beneath that wrath and judgment.
It is because of this that we must be very certain that we don’t just assume that we have saving faith, and end up like the poor soul Jesus describes in Matthew 7, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Here a poor soul was convinced that they were truly converted, when in reality, something was regrettably missing. They did not truly have saving faith, rather, they had convinced themselves that they were converted while all the while remaining under the wrath of God.
For this reason, understanding saving faith and how one is truly saved is vitally important. Saving faith is a reliance and dependence on what Jesus Christ accomplished in His perfect life, substitutionary death, and enlivening resurrection as our only hope for peace with God. We cannot be stuck in the mindset that there is anything we can do to earn right standing with God, instead, we must realize that through this resting and relying faith in Jesus alone, we can have forgiveness of our sins and peace with God. Like the hymn writer August Toplady wrote, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”
When we come to James, we must understand that God extends grace alone through faith alone. Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that, not of yourselves it is a gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” However, we must realize that what James writes is equally true since the Holy Spirit inspired both Paul and James, and both of their letters are the very Words of God. James writes that there is another indicator in the type of faith that you have whether or not it is saving faith. What indicator does James give? Your works, or your lifestyle.
John Calvin is often quoted as saying, “We are saved by grace alone through faith alone, but not by a faith that remains alone.” In essence, what Calvin is trying to say is that those who come in faith to Christ will be saved, but a great evidence that they have been saved is that their faith causes an outworking of obedience to God. Saving faith breeds obedience. A lack of saving faith breeds constant disobedience to God.
So what do we do with this news? I think we should constantly look to Paul’s writing in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves.” You can continue on self-convincingly damned, or you can continue on in the confidence that you are trusting in the work of Jesus Christ to save you. What will it be? Examine yourselves.

Food For Thought: What evidence does James teach will exist if someone truly has saving faith? How are you doing?