Gems From James - Chapter 3

So You Want to Teach

The undisciplined flesh wants to skip steps. Halfway done jobs and half-hearted efforts are the hallmarks of those who want to do things the easy way rather than the right way. The prince of darkness, the destroyer and murderer, works on a mass scale as well as on an individual basis to produce undisciplined creatures who have a poor work ethic and bad attitudes. Many of these never have an interest in the Son of God; the seed of the word of God lands in the packed portion of the soil in their cases. But those who become interested in Christ Jesus and obey the gospel often struggle when their faith is to be translated into action. “Faith without works” is the undisciplined approach to the highway of holiness. The problem, of course, is that such a “faith” cannot save.

This lack of discipline tends to carry over into some who want to be teachers in the body of Christ without having done the study and life preparation necessary to be effective purveyors of the word of truth. James and the Holy Spirit continue their warnings.

Any saint who truly wants to be accountable to God will set up feedback mechanisms so that he has some way of tracking his effectiveness. While it is true that not everyone will obey the gospel, the fisher of men must continually be seeking ways to improve his knowledge and communication skills. The “faith without works” mentality is a characteristic of those who want to avoid accountability and built-in feedback; the “faith with works” mentality is one which is willing to step up to the challenge of “stricter judgment.”

 

 

Power of the Tongue

It was not easy for Jesus to overcome temptation and be the victorious Savior. His anguish as He approached the cross is recorded in the gospel accounts, and is easily related to by all those who have walked this earth. Sin, then, is described as that “which so easily entangles us” (Hebrews 12:1). That statement does not mean that an individual has to sin, but it does point out how easily anyone may fall into sin. “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall,” is Paul’s injunction (I Corinthians 10:12).

Connected with victory over sin is control over the tongue. Words can edify, or words can tear down; words can encourage, or words can deflate. Not only are words which are said to others able to save or destroy, but words which people say to themselves also have this same power. The tongue is a tool, and it has great leverage in the lives of mankind.

What begins in the mind must move through the mouth to result in the victorious motion of the life of a Christian. “The mouth,” said Jesus, “speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34). Man in his natural state has a deceitful heart, and therefore his “mouth is full of cursing and bitterness” (Romans 3:14). But the new creature in Christ has a circumcised heart, and through the process of renewing his mind, that which comes out of his mouth directs his life in the path of righteousness. Long gone are “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander”; in the place of that blackness come wholesome words which are good for edification — both for the saint himself and for all who are blessed to come into his presence.

 

 

Taming the Tongue

“The words of wise men are like goads,” recorded the sage Solomon, “and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd” (Ecclesiastes 12:11). “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable,” was another of his wise sayings, “but the mouth of fools spouts folly” (Proverbs 15:2). The tongue is a powerful weapon, for good or for evil. “There is one who speaks rashly like thrusts of the sword,” stated Solomon, “but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Taming the tongue, then, is of critical importance.

The good news is this: that while the human race may not be able to control its tongues, there is a superior race which can. The “chosen race,” a set of new creatures, created in Christ Jesus for good works, cleanses itself of all defilement of flesh and spirit, and with a new heart controls the tongue. “The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good,” stated Jesus, “and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil” (Matthew 12:35). By God’s changing the treasure within through the power of the indwelling Spirit, as the new creature beholds the glory of the Lord, that which flows through the tongue is changed. The Christian’s tongue is now an instrument of righteousness, accomplishing the greatest of all tasks: bringing healing and life to the souls of men otherwise condemned to an eternity of destruction.

 

 

Consistent Speech

“The tongue is a fire,” remarked James, “the very world of iniquity” (James 3:6). Not a good recommendation!

The unregenerate tongue causes a tremendous amount of trouble in the world among the sons of men. Words that wound and barbs that burn are the norm of the day, and trash talk is not limited to football fields or athletic arenas. Day after day the downward drivel goes on, and life after life is destructively impacted by twisted tongues and their crude comments. The tongue in the natural man “is set on fire by hell.”

Not only are destructive comments issued by the tongue, but hidden agendas work through that small but directive organ. “Their throat is an open grave,” is one of Paul’s selected quotations from the Old Testament, “with their tongues they keep deceiving” (Romans 3:13). “By their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting,” he says in another place (Romans 16:18). Such “double tongues” are not consistent in their speech; that which flatters today slanders tomorrow.

“The good man,” said Jesus, “out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil” (Matthew 12:35). In order for the tongue to bring forth the sweet water of pure conversation, the source or “the treasure” has to become pure. Through the principles of the new creation as laid out in the New Testament writings, that source can become pure and the tongue can be tamed. “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good,” was Jesus’ instruction, “or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). The captives who have been liberated by the conquering King Jesus thus fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah: “So they will be called the oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).

 

 

Who Is Wise?

In quelling the apostles’ rising feeling against James and John, Jesus illustrated what it was going to be like to be one of His imitators. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served,” He affirmed, “but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The Christian is saved to serve, to give and not to get. “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant,” emphasized the Lord Himself, “and whoever wishes to first among you shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:43,44). The focus, then, of the true bond-servant of the Lord is outward rather than inward, and his thoughts are directed toward how he might be most effective in assisting others in their spiritual growth.

The truly wise knows which way to walk. He comprehends how to set the direction for himself and for those whom he influences, he disciplines his body and tongue, and he has the experience to see the evil lurking just underneath the surface and how to glide past it into the good and right and true. He has the gentleness and patience to reach the lost and encourage the saints, but he also has the toughness of will to move the lost and wandering to repentance. It is a good challenge: “Who among you is wise and understanding?”

 

 

Bitterness and Selfish Ambition

There have always been those who are avaricious and ambitious. In Jesus’ day, some of those who sensed the stirrings of the Messiah were at work to establish an earthly kingdom, as Jesus noted, “From the days of John the Immerser until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). Their ambitions, driven by a fleshly focus, resulted in violence as they attempted to remove by force anyone who thwarted their aspirations for a physical kingdom. As the church developed, Peter warned of the avaricious, saying, “In their greed they will exploit you with false words” (II Peter 2:3). James, then, is going to require that each claimant to the footsteps of Christ examine his heart in the matter of motive, questioning the thrust of his labor in the context of the kingdom of God.

Those with the jealousy and ambition are warned: “Do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth.” Such ungodliness has to be rooted out of the heart by the individual’s own desire to be honest and to serve God. His failure to do so is regarded as arrogance — the opposite of humility — and worthy of eternal condemnation. But, because such jealousy and ambition are hidden in the heart, it is very difficult to prove that they exist, although those with experience have their senses trained to discern them by the fruit of the possessor. Hence it is that the individual who is jealous and ambitious who is going to have to deal with his own problem; if he does not, then all sorts of destruction is coming down the pike.

 

 

Wisdom – But Not From Above

Christians need to be aware that the earthly realm is not nice. It is in fact a war zone, where every trick in the book and every intimidation tactic are being used on a daily basis against the souls of men. The saints in Ephesus, for example, were warned not “to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). That men would be tricky, that they would craft their lies, that they would actually take the time to set up spiritual scams make it clear that there is some intelligence or wisdom on the dark side, a shrewd craftiness that followers of the Most High must be constantly aware of. “This wisdom,” commented James, “is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic” (James 3:15). It is going to take scriptural knowledge, experience in handling the sword of the Spirit, intelligence, awareness, and wisdom from above to perform productively in this war zone.

The wisdom from above is manifested in the good behavior of its possessor, and it is possessed by those who have prayed earnestly for it from heaven. The earthly, natural, and demonic wisdom, however comes as a result of following ambition or a desire to hurt someone else. Driven by the natural fleshly desire of man, and whipped into an inner frenzy by Satan himself, the wisdom of darkness now begins its rampage. Stealthily, craftily, and at strategic moments openly, this wisdom foments division and destruction. Congregations are split, those who “were not of us” leave, weaker members and the young are spiritually injured, and everyone suffers in really having to work to keep attitudes focused and positive. This wisdom, clearly, “is not that which comes down from above.”

 

 

 

Disorder in the Ranks

Christians need to remember that the Almighty is at war with Satan, and that His army is the church of the living God. The church, therefore, does not exist for the benefit, pleasure, and performance of the brethren; the assembly of the saints exists solely for the purposes of God. When the individual turns from darkness to light, receiving the blessings of forgiveness of sins and the indwelling Spirit, he must recognize that he has signed on to serve. Self is buried in the waters of immersion, and a soldier of the Lord has arisen from that watery grave. “I have been crucified with Christ,” asseverated the apostle Paul, “and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). Running counter to the program God is individual selfishness. Where the prince of darkness, therefore, can find the opportunity in the still unburied fleshly desires of a saint, he will do everything he can to incite such selfishness.

The selfish individual thus becomes a traitor to the cause of Christ. And traitors are especially dangerous. They walk among the brethren, and are trusted as one of them. They speak the language of the saint; they are familiar with his terminology and nuances of expression. They are invited to the center of fellowship gatherings, and are trusted in meetings of strategy. These betrayers know the offensive strengths of the local battalions of God, and they are conscious of holes in their defenses. As such, when they decide to do damage, their actions are like the explosion of a pipe bomb inside a theater. The death toll is high, the carnage and injury is horrific, and the time to repair damage is considerable and expensive. Such are the products of “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying,” and such traitors justly “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:20,21). “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,” affirmed James, “there is disorder and every evil thing” (James 3:16).

Where disorder and every evil thing exist for a congregation naming the name of Christ, there is jealousy and selfish ambition somewhere. It is the job, particularly of church leadership, to find where the jealousy and selfish ambition are, and intelligently root it out. Until that is accomplished, Satan will have his pipe bombs inside the theater, and the church will not be able to move forward.

 

 

Wisdom That Is Pure

“You know,” stated Jesus to the apostles, “that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them” (Matthew 20:25). These rulers and great men got there because that was their driving ambition. They learned that, in this world, the way to get ahead or get to the top is by climbing over the dead bodies of their opposition and by continuing to crush their competition. They not only “talk trash” to intimidate their rivals, but they resort to brutality and torture as well. “The poison of asps is under their lips,” commented the apostle Paul, “whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood, destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known” (Romans 3:13-17). Most of those who “make it to the top” in the business and political world are intelligent, cunning individuals, who are indeed guided by wisdom, a wisdom that is not from above but “earthly, natural, demonic.” The history of this world is replete with conspiracies of men who operate with demonic wisdom for their own riches, position, and power. “Concerning evil,” analyzed the prophet, “both hands do it well. The prince asks, also the judge, for a bribe, and a great man speaks the desire of his soul; so they weave it together” (Micah 7:3).

But the saints of God of are not of this world. They have been called out of darkness to live above the world, to function in accordance with the dictates of a higher calling. They have been “born from above,” and therefore are guided by “wisdom from above” (James 3:17).

There is no escaping the essentiality of purity in connection with Christianity. “Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him,” affirmed the apostle John, referencing seeing the Lord at His coming, “purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I John 3:3). James’ application of purity to the issue of wisdom cannot therefore be sidestepped: “The wisdom from above is first pure.” If the saint wants godly wisdom, he must purify his heart!

 

Wisdom That Is Peaceable

“Upon this rock,” said Jesus, referencing the bedrock truth that He was the Christ, the Son of the living God, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Matthew 18:18). The picture is that the church is storming the stockade of Hades to deliver its captives, and those gates fall before the onslaught of the gospel. The implication is that Hades is not anxious to release its captives, and that the warfare for spiritual freedom is intense. Hence it is that the saint of God, the spiritual warrior, needs to be secure in the knowledge that his position is impregnable, that he is certain of victory so long as he continues to carry out the General’s battle plan. This is what is contained in the expression that “the wisdom from above is … peaceable” (James 3:17). Wisdom from heaven and spiritual counsel provide the calm assurance that God’s child, regardless of his external circumstances, is on the right track and that God his Rock is standing with him (or provides means by which the struggling saint can get on that right track). The great God and All Wise Father has provided some awesome assurances so that the faithful follower of Christ has the proper focus, winning the war for the release of the captives rather than being battered and disoriented by the vagaries of earthly existence.

The holy ones of God have always been those who believed what God said. The wisdom from above, spoken in the scriptures by the Almighty, provides the calm assurance that all is well, that things are proceeding in accordance with the mighty hand of God. And a person who provides spiritual counsel will always take the saint to that written word, establishing the peaceable, impregnable position of the faithful.

 

 

Gentle and Reasonable Wisdom

The “gentle giants” of the faith are those who have the spiritual strength to reach down and truly help those who need wisdom. They can get to the point without engaging in “put downs.” They can strengthen others without putting them in straight-jackets. They walk in the footsteps of the gentle Jesus Himself, of whom it was written, “A battered reed He will not break off, and a smoldering wick He will not put out, until He leads justice to victory. And in His name the Gentiles will hope” (Matthew 12:20,21). Battered reeds have to be handled gently, and smoldering wicks require a lot of intelligent care before they can burst into full flame. “Wisdom from above,” says James, is “gentle, reasonable …” (James 3:17).

This wisdom from above is to be prayed for. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God,” was the earlier instruction from James. Those who truly desire to be gentle and reasonable in their dealings with the frailties and foibles of the human race will pray for such wisdom.

 

 

Full of Mercy and Good Fruits

When Satan was able to get King David to take an ill-advised census, the Lord asked David what sort of punishment he should receive. David’s response is instructive: “I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great. But do not let me fall into the hand of man” (I Chronicles 21:13). When the thin veneer of civilization is removed and the blood lust of man runs unchecked, the real ruthlessness and brutality of his character is exposed. “Their feet are swift to shed blood,” was Paul’s selected quotation, “destruction and misery are in their paths, and the path of peace they have not known” (Romans 3:15-17). Man, master of the “feeding frenzy” and participant in the “pile on,” is not naturally merciful. Against this backdrop comes “the wisdom from above,” and pretty obviously “from above”: It is “full of mercy and good fruits.”

God gives wisdom to those who ask in faith, without doubting, “generously.” Hence the wisdom from above will be full of mercy and good fruits. The mercy rendered cheerfully by those who have such wisdom will be ongoing, not a one-time special occasion circumstance. The good fruits of the spiritually wise are a continual round of wise decisions and counsel, steering people in paths of righteousness and keeping them from the destruction of wolves and false prophets.

The way to become full of this mercy and demonstrative of the good fruits is through the process of “getting the study, keeping the study, and expanding the study.” In dealing with people’s problems down in the trenches of their warfare, the saint really learns to pray for wisdom. Here he is responsible for giving the mercy and guidance necessary for new contacts taking the first steps on the road of spiritual freedom. Here he has the opportunity to get feedback from his track record (or lack of one), and grow in the grace and knowledge of our God and Savior. Here he can become tested and ultimately “full of mercy and good fruits.”

Unwavering, without Hypocrisy

Consistency of good character communicates more than millions of empty words. Christ, then, “became to us wisdom from God” (I Corinthians 1:30). “And the life was manifested,” said the apostle John, “and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us” (I John 2:2). The consistent character of the great God was thus communicated to mankind, that all might trust Him for salvation and all lesser things of earthly existence.

Furthermore, this life was manifested that the brethren might develop that same consistency of character. “For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises,” animadverted Peter, “in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (II Peter 1:4). The All Wise God has thus made provision for His spiritual offspring, that they might progressively shed the thought patterns of the past and shine as consistent lights of good character in the midst of a darkened and perverted generation. “Partakers,” Peter said — joint participants — “of the divine nature!”

The consistency characteristic of those saints who are unwavering and without hypocrisy is what makes the rest of the world sit up and take notice. These are the ones who are wise in the conduct of their personal affairs, and these are also the ones to whom spiritually weaker saints should turn for advice and counsel. “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy” (James 3:17). Pay attention, very close attention.

 

 

Fruit of Righteousness

How does a Christian evaluate himself and his performance? Such evaluation is important, as the scripture says, “I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment” (Romans 12:3). There is danger that the saint may be running a personal agenda, as Paul warns: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit … do not merely look out for your own personal interests” (Philippians 2:3,4). The New Testament is replete with warnings about caving in under pressure, or using liberty in Christ as a cover for licentious activity. And the one who truly follows the teachings of Jesus and who works in the church for the glory of God often faces accusations from those who are fleshly-minded, who cast aspersions upon the spiritually-minded to deflect attention away from their own short-comings. “By this we know that we love the children of God,” are words of stability and perspective from John, “when we love God and keep His commandments” (I John 5:2). “And the seed who fruit is righteousness,” is James’ contribution, “is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18).

By their fruits, said Jesus, “you will know them.” And by your fruits, you will know yourself. If what is behind you is a trail of “disorder and every evil thing,” then you know that jealousy and selfish ambition are driving forces in your life. But if the legacy you are leaving behind is producing people who are being reconciled to God in accordance with scripture, and that the fruits of your efforts are people whose mind is set on the things of the Spirit, then you know that you are sowing the proper seed, regardless of the accusations of your detractors. Sow on!