Monday, August 31, 2015

James 4:11-12

When he was hurried into the pastorate at 18 years old, the gifted and intelligent but youthful Jonathan Edwards knew that he was not fully equipped to undertake such a daunting task. From the fall of 1722 through 1723, he then penned what would become the principles by which he would live his life and make his decisions. In these 70 Resolutions, one thing is very clear, Jonathan Edwards was fully aware of the sinfulness of his own heart, and how he must be constantly combating its often overlooked or excused violations of God’s commandments no matter how unimportant they may seem to others.
Below, I have listed some of his resolutions that dealt directly with the tongue and reveal his modes of combat against the sins of the tongue that we all too often commit. These troubles are the ones we find in James 4:11-12, where instead of using the tongue for health and good, we use our words to tear down others and destroy their reputations. Scripture teaches us in Matthew 18:15-19, and in Galatians 6:1-2, that if you know someone is sinning, it is proper and necessary to go to them personally and confront them about their sin so that they can be restored. However, if you see someone sinning and your natural inclination is to gossip about it to someone else, and “Speak evil of one another” then perhaps someone needs to confront you and seek to restore you from your sinning.
Read down through a few select Resolutions from a Saint of ages past and reflect on his efforts to guard his heart from the sinfulness that he saw in it. Perhaps the challenge would be enough to cause us to consider developing our own resolutions or at least borrowing some of his.

8. Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.

16. Resolved, never to speak evil of anyone, so that it shall tend to his dishonor, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.

36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. Dec. 19, 1722.

38. Resolved, never to speak anything that is ridiculous, sportive, or matter of laughter on the Lord’s day. Sabbath evening, Dec. 23, 1722.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

Reflect: What does Ephesians 4:15 tell us to do with our tongues? Which Resolution of Jonathan Edwards do you think is the most helpful for you?

Friday, August 28, 2015

James 4:5-10

In addressing the false wisdom of the world, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, James pulls together  a quote that we do not find as exactly stated anywhere else in Scripture. However, this statement, in verse 5, “The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy,” addresses a very common topic of scripture. As James has been writing, he has warned us of the inherent dangers of worldly wisdom. It often works itself out in bitterness and in James 3:14,16 it appears as “envying and strife.” The desires in the hearts of those who are pursuing the wisdom of this world is evidenced in their outward striving and envying. This “envy” is the same word that was used in Matthew and Mark to describe the hateful motivation that the Jewish leaders had in delivering Jesus to be executed. It is a malicious darkness that hides in the worldly wise motivations of those who are seeking to further themselves at the expense of others.
Surprisingly, however, the response that James uses to answer this problem of envy is not more strife. Rather, James takes us to a more gospel influenced response – the grace of God. To answer the conflict and strife brought about by worldly wisdom with more conflict and strife, would make the Christian message just another voice yelling for attention. But the response that Godly wisdom takes towards the envious and lusting spirit is nothing short of remarkable. Romans 5 tells us that even when we were His enemies, God didn’t respond with sweeping judgment, rather, He offered forgiveness and reconciliation to all those who come in humble repentance. On the one hand, those who are unwilling to relinquish their foolish commitment to the fallen system of worldly wisdom, “he resists.” But the one who will come in humility, cleansing their hands and hearts of the sinful envying and lusting, to this one, God will “give grace” and “will lift up.”
Seeking to be idolized by those around you, or seeking to establish a level of importance or popularity in their eyes is a characteristic mark of following worldly wisdom. It feeds your fleshly lusts (v.5), and almost always leads to malicious conflict between you and any who do not cooperate in your self-worship. Those who seek to follow Godly wisdom however, and trust that what He says is right and true will respond in other ways. They will see that God is most worthy of worship and that their efforts should be comprised of kindness to their neighbor for the purpose of magnifying their God.

Reflect: Read Matthew 5:16 and Ephesians 4:32. What is the wisdom of God that we see in these texts?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

James 4:1-4

In James 3, James helped us see the distinction between the wisdom of God, and the wisdom of the world. One leads to peace, the other leads to strife and division. At the beginning of James 4, this same thought is carried out in powerfully evocative language – “wars, fightings, enmity.” Moving beyond the description of the origin of each type of wisdom, James continues by explaining where the regular exercise of worldly wisdom leads.
When a man lives by worldly wisdom, there is constant conflict both externally and internally. In the economy of worldly wisdom, individual greatness is the most important thing. In worldly wisdom, the goal is to be recognized by those around you as the greatest, and most intelligent, and most successful, and most impressive. In the wisdom of the world, the end is the goal, and the means will always be justified if the ends can be accomplished. By this method, men have created empires, militarily and financially, that have propelled them to greatness. But those empires were built on shrewdness and self-service. The inward lusts and desires for power were what drove these men to “make something” of themselves and to leave damage and destruction in their wake.
Similarly, in churches, some Christians strive to garner the praise and approval of others. They seek to establish “their way” and ensure a following that agrees with their desires. Sadly, this happens at the expense of unity. Using the wisdom of the world to function as a church will never end in success. In the wisdom that is from above, peace and gentleness are key, and unity is the mark of true success. The manipulative practices and alliances of Wall Street and the likes have no place in the kingdom of God. The wisdom of the world that causes strife has no place in the church.
When worldly wisdom becomes the basis of operation, James warns that there is only one possible outcome- “ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war…” A desire to mirror ones life after the world will never result in a God-honoring life, and a desire to mirror the church after the world will never result in a healthy and successful church. We must seek the wisdom of God, and not the wisdom of the world. We must never fall prey to thinking that the shrewd practices of worldly business and politics find any place in the church. The church must operate above those baser things.

Reflect: What is the difference in results between churches that use worldly wisdom and those that follow the wisdom of God?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

James 3:13-18

In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, is overwhelmed by a massive burden of which he seeks for nearly the entire story to relieve himself. Along the way, he is informed by a man named Evangelist that there is only one way that he must go to find relief from his burden. However, his journey is fraught with distractions from and detractors of the message of hope that he had received. In my mind, perhaps one of the most notable of these detractors was a man named Worldly Wiseman. Upon seeing the burden that Christian carried, he began quickly to use his age and understanding to offer a solution for Christian to shed his burden. Christian explained that there was a path that Evangelist had spoken of that was the only way to find freedom, but immediately Worldly Wiseman scoffed and sought to display his wisdom to Christian.
Worldly Wiseman: How camest thou by thy burden at first?
Christian: By reading this book in my hand. [he is speaking of the Bible]
Worldly Wiseman: I thought so; and it has happened unto thee as to other weak men, who meddling with things too high for them, do suddenly fall into thy distractions; which distractions do not only unman men, as thine I perceive has done thee, but they run them upon desperate ventures, to obtain they know not what.
Worldly Wiseman and all those who he is supposed to represent in this allegory, challenge the truth of Scripture. They have lived a long life. They have taken several trips around the sun, and this means that they really have things “figured out.” They own businesses or have worked their way to the top of their industry. They “know” how life works. They don’t need to be informed of anything, but rather, they inform everyone. They are wise in the wisdom of the world, and no book, or fanatical believers of a book can sway their minds. Sadly, I think that many even imagine that they are using Biblical wisdom, when in reality they have only used the wisdom of the world.
As James pens verses 13-18, he makes a full display of the distinction of the two types of wisdom in God’s economy. One is divisive, destructive, and leads to bitterness, strife and envying. This is the world’s wisdom. It is cunning and manipulative. It seeks to further itself and serve its own interests, leading only to confusion and evil works. The other is from God’s Spirit and is learned from the revelation of God’s Word. It teaches peace, gentleness, meekness, mercy, and kindness. A distinction must be made between the world’s wisdom that discourages Christians from full and radical obedience to God’s Word, and the wisdom of God that Moses had in Hebrews 11:26 that caused him to esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. We would do well to remember Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…but his delight is in the Law of the Lord.”

Reflect: What are some examples of worldly wisdom that differs from the wisdom learned through Scripture?