Gems From James -Chapter 4
There have always been those who are avaricious and ambitious.In Jesus day, some of those who sensed the stirrings of theMessiah were at work to establish an earthly kingdom, as Jesusnoted, From the days of John the Immerser until now thekingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it byforce (Matthew11:12). Their ambitions, driven by a fleshly focus, resultedin violence as they attempted to remove by force anyone whothwarted their aspirations for a physiscal kingdom. As the churchdeveloped, Peter warned of the avaricious, saying, In theirgreed they will exploit you with false words (IIPeter 2:3). James, then, is going to require that eachclaimant to the footsteps of Christ examine his heart in thematter of motive, questioning the thrust of his labor in thecontext of the kingdom of God.
- Bitter jealousy The best anyone can do in evaluating the heart of someone else is to examine the fruit of his conduct. But each person can probe own heart if he chooses to do so, honestly assessing his inner motives. But if you have bitter jealousy...in your heart, challenges James (James 3:14). The Christian needs to carry the lamp of investigation into the very depths of his soul, looking for what the writer of Hebrews calls the root of bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). These taproots go deep into a person, cause a lot of trouble, and defile many souls. But James is calling for an investigation into a special kind of bitterness, that which is wound together with jealousy. Jealousy is that green-horned monster lurking in the heart of fleshly man, especially despising excellence in others. Jealousy, for example, often glittered in the eyes of those Jews who first heard the apostle Paul preach in their synagogues. Rather than obeying the gospel, they chose instead to try to destroy him who aroused interest in the crowds, an interest they could not generate. Their smoldering, jealous resentment finally burst into full flame as they had him imprisoned, beaten, etc. This better jealousy, then, in the heart of any believer, will not only send his soul to hell, but will also cause tremendous damage in the church.
- Selfish ambition James is also concerned about selfish ambition in your heart. There are those who love the souls of men and desire that they be saved; and there are those who love position within the church and use the love of souls as a cover for their position ambition. This is pure selfishness, according to the divine analysis, and likewise will send a person to hell and cause destruction in the church.
- In your heart The problem with bitter jealousy and selfish ambition is that they are hidden from physical sight. Because they are not so easy to detect, many of the saints get blind-sided when they are working alongside one of the wolves-in-sheeps-clothing. The hidden bitterness and ambition lay the foundation for their action much like a generals laying out a battle plan; when the strategic moment arrives, bitterness and ambition strike, and countless sheep are destroyed while war is waged for the control of the church.
Those with the jealousy and ambition are warned: Do notbe arrogant and so lie against the truth. Such ungodlinesshas to be rooted out of the heart by the individuals owndesire to be honest and to serve God. His failure to do so isregarded as arrogance - the opposite of humility - and worthy ofeternal condemnation. But, because such jealousy and ambition arehidden in the heart, it is very difficult to prove that theyexist, although those with experience have their senses trainedto discern them by the fruit of the possessor. Hence it is thatthe individual who is jealous and ambitious who is going to haveto deal with his own problem; if he does not, then all sorts ofdestruction is coming down the pike.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritualmen, Paul reminded the church in Corinth, but as tomen of flesh, as to babes in Christ(ICorinthians 3:1). A clear picture is that of a toddlerwanting his special glass with something to drink. Self-willed,he refuses help and insists on trying to get that which is out ofhis reach. Failing and frustrated, his cries resound throughoutthe neighborhood. Such is the core of the human race.Daring, self-willed, was Peters description (IIPeter 2:10). Accursed children, he stated in thesame context (IIPeter 2:14). Men of flesh reject God and are in fact hostiletoward God. In this self-willed mode, they reject His counsel andHis help, and plunge on into the darkness.
Brethren in Christ, then, can obviously be fleshly as babes,or go back into fleshliness due to failure to focus on the thingsof the Spirit. As a result, they also end up as squalling,brawling children, driven by jealousy or selfish ambition,creating disorder and every evil thing within the church of theliving God. This ought not to be!
- Dont ask, dont receive They want and dont have, so they commit murder. Self-willed, falsely independent, they plan on getting what they want by their own efforts and power. In this mode of thinking, they could care less about whether what they want is pleasing to God; as a result they are not about to ask for Gods help. You do not have, James simply said, because you do not ask (James 4:2).
- Wrong motives There is a God in heaven who tests the hearts of men, who knows their motives. When Christians lose consciousness of God, then they easily drift into having a hidden agenda, working on something for personal gain or position. Blinded, their prayers become perfunctory, centered on Gods giving them what they want right now. You ask, observed James, and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives... (James 4:3). Generally speaking, God answers prayers only for those who are properly immersed into Christ. Not only that, He requires that the professed follower of Christ make his petitions with the proper motive. Prayer is serious business to God; the saint needs to have that perspective also.
- Pleasure problems Seeking for earthly pleasure or comfort is the exact opposite of following Christ. Jesus said, If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospels shall save it (Mark 8:35,36). The pull of pleasure is strong; Moses, for example, is heralded as one of Gods heroes because he chose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God [rather] than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin; considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt (Hebrews 11:25,26). So if a Christian falls back into seeking the pleasures that wage war in your members, his prayers are cut off. You ask and do not receive, is the reiteration from James, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures (James 4:3)
God wants His children to learn to say, Please,before He grants their requests; He is a good Dad, and thinksthat the family should be educated in good manners. He alsothinks that the kids should learn to share their cookies, and notfight over the toys. When they get themselves settled down, whenthey get their attitudes adjusted, and when they are ready tohelp clean the room, then Dad is interested in listening to whatthey have to say. Dad can provide a lot of help, but Heisnt going to until His conditions are met.
Our God, says the chorus, is an awesomeGod, and He reigns in power and love. Our God, it can beadded, is a jealous God. I am the Lord, Heemphasized, that is My name; I will not give My glory toanother, nor My praise to graven images (Isaiah42:8). He is the Creator; why should another get the credit?He is the Redeemer; why should another receive the thanksgivings?Satan, in his envy and arrogance, has waged a long war againstGod, siphoning off the allegiance that rightly belongs to theloving Father and shunting it off into any and every form ofidolatry. But the great God, rich in mercy because of His lovefor the lost, devised a means of communicating His undyingdevotion to man through the message of the cross of Christ.For He was foreknown before the foundation of theworld, noted Peter, of the Lords predetermined plan,but has appeared in these last days for the sake of you,who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from thedead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are inGod (IPeter 1:20,21). Through the gospel, the Gentile world comesto believe in God, and is now susceptible to being wooed andwived.
- No death to do us part He who hears My word, said the Lord Jesus Christ, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life (John 5:24). Having tendered His expression of love in the gospel of Christ, the great King awaits the response from those whom He has called. When His intended confesses that He is Lord, and submits to His government in obeying the gospel, then His commitment is that there is nothing that will separate them in this union of true love. For I am convinced, affirmed Paul, that - death - shall [not] be able to separate from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38,39).
- Strained relationship A wandering eye or illicit magnetism has been the destruction of many a husband/wife relationship, redirecting the affection that should exist between the spouses. The rightly jealous God, sensitive to the drift that is taking place in the affections of His intended, proclaims His wake-up call: You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? (James 4:4). The world is a wily competitor for the attention of the saint, using the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life to accomplish its ends (I John 2:16). So when the seductive allure of worldly pleasures is beginning to suck the saints into its orbit, God rightly calls them adulteresses. There is no possibility of making this a successful love triangle; just even being friends with the world is an open expression of hostility toward the Father in heaven.
- Pull of peer acceptance It is built into mankind to want acceptance, whether it be family, fellow workers, or even an imaginary group that never really existed. What God wants is for people to want His approval and have the values which are acceptable to Him. But because He is not visible, the world has its opportunity to create the appearance of desirable opportunities for fun and fellowship - for example, the beer commercials which depict what fun and frolicking a bunch of drunks have at their parties. Therefore, James informs us, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4).
God is rightfully a jealous God, but He also knows thatthe world is not a real friend, but a mortal enemy ofthe saint. The world has all its fleshly appeals, but like aspider it sucks the eternal life out of anyone caught in its web.The warning of God, then, is for the benefit of the Christian:anyone who is a friend of the world, or even wants to be a friendof the world, is no friend of His.
Adam was formed from the earth. Because he was of the earth,the focus of his attention was on earth, and he was therefore nota particularly spiritual or heavenly-minded man. Adam was not thekind of man with whom God could have the type of fellowship Hedesired. Thus it was only a matter of time when the earthyyielded to temptation, and that which was very goodnow was corrupted and loathsome. And his descendants fare nobetter, as noted by the apostle Paul, As is the earthy, soalso are those who are earthy (ICorinthians 15:48). From the time of Adam to the beginning ofthe church as recorded in Acts two, there was no one bornof woman who could be a companion of God.
The Father, however, was not content that such should be thepermanent condition of the race He created. Working specificallywith the nation Israel, whom He brought into existence by miracleand preserved through miracle, the Old Testament scriptures werewritten, idolatry was driven out, and a people was prepared forthe message of redemption through Jesus Christ. Now I shallrestore the fortunes of Jacob, Ezekiel had prophesied,and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I shall bejealous for My holy name (Ezekiel39:25). The message of mercy and redemption led directly intoGods offer of His Spirit. And I shall not hide Myface from them any longer, were additional words, forI shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel (Ezekiel39:29). And I will put My Spirit within you, thegreat God had promised (Ezekiel36:27). Consequently, when the terms of pardon were firstannounced by the apostle Peter on Pentecost, the promised Spiritwas emphasized. For the promise, Peter had stated,is for you and your children ... (Acts2:39). These new creations were then described by the apostlePaul as having begun by the Spirit (Galatians3:3).
Born of the Spirit, born from above,the saints are no longer mere men; rather they are achosen race of spiritual people, and fitted to walkand fellowship with God. As is the heavenly, so also arethose who are heavenly (ICorinthians 15:48).
- The appeal to scripture The world, having lost one of its own to the cause of the gospel, fights back. Working its allures on the weaknesses of any of the saints, it attempts to draw them back into its fold, counteracting the tremendous effort God had made to produce a people of a spiritual wavelength capable of fellowship with Him. James thus appeals to all those Old Testament scriptures, their lessons, and their promises; Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose (James 4:5).
- Gods jealous desire God had long looked forward to a people that He could walk among, in whose midst He could dwell. Now some of them were taking His efforts and desires lightly, wishing to be friends of the destructive world. James collects the general thrust of the word of God in these terms: Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us? (James 4:5). All the burning intensity of the Almighty God is focused on His desire to fellowship with those created in Christ Jesus through His Spirit; this should register strongly with the saints.
As fine and humble a man as Moses was, he was of the earth,earthy. As fine a man as David was, a man after Gods ownheart, he was of the earth, earthy. The same could be said ofDaniel, of any of the Old Testament greats. But there was not oneof them that was spiritual enough really to fellowship with God.Only those truly born again are fitted to eat with Him in theLords Supper, the participation with Him through His bodyand blood. May the saints regard the Lords intense jealousyhighly!
We all stumble in many ways, was Jamesassessment of Christians in general (James3:2). Quarrels and conflicts, lusting and murderous intent,selfishness and self-serving - these are all issues that must bedealt with on a regular basis inside the fellowship of thesaints. Why do those who claim the name of Christ sometimesdesire to be friends with the world? Why do they often drift intothe shoals of wrong motives, or be once again battered on thereefs of pursuing their own pleasures? The answer is that thepull of the world is strong. The temptations to follow after thelusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the boastful prideof life keep presenting themselves to sense gates of the saints;continual watchfulness and continual renewal of the mind areabsolutely necessary for each follower of Christ to have victoryover these. But before his programming is complete, before he hasthe mental and spiritual discipline for total victory, he oftenstumbles, and occasionally makes a severe veer into the rough ofthe world. He might allow himself to become discouraged over thegreat work involved in building the true temple of God, and findhimself once again desiring the old friends of the easierway. He may find himself reverting to the old habits ofsnapping, biting, and devouring others when he has a badday. Who knows what evil thoughts still lurk in the febrileminds of those who assemble to break bread? Someone greater thanthe Shadow knows!
- Greater grace The honest disciple of Christ, having fought some of the battles with his mind and having lost, may find himself distraught or discouraged, and really concerned that God may be disappointed in him. This is where the grace of God comes in - Gods willingness to overlook transgressions so that the stumbler might pick himself up and get on with the long race. But He gives a greater grace, is James comment (James 4:6). It is hard to believe, but the grace of God really is greater than any sin or combination of sins that a Christian might commit. Under certain conditions!
- Grace for the humble The proud in heart, the arrogant who archly inform God that He has to forgive them, are in for a rough surprise on Judgment Day. God has great grace, but... Therefore it says, God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. The humble stumbler receives Gods grace when he requests it; the loud proud and the errant arrogant are outside the light beam of His favor and continue to plunge into the darkening abyss.
- Submit The key to all fellowship with God is a remembrance of who He is, and a consciousness of the fallen condition of the redeemed. The one who has forgotten his purification from his former sins, according to Peter, is blind or short-sighted (II Peter 1:9). The word of God, painting the picture of the great King, wrathful where necessary, opposing sin and injustice, but with lovingkindness toward those who fear Him, produces reverence for Him (Psalm 119:38). The solution: Submit therefore to God (James 4:7).
The proud heart simply will not bow before God. It may pretendto bow, but it will not admit its mistakes and submit to thewhole will of God. By contrast, and with eternal consequences,the humble beats his breast and petitions the Almighty forforgiveness and an opportunity to try again. The entire host ofheaven stands in opposition to the heart that is lifted up indefiance, but the humble is strengthened with power throughGods Spirit in the inner man. In the entire New AmericanStandard Bible, the phrase humble in heart appearsonly once. It belongs to Him who said, Take My yoke uponyou, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; andyou shall find rest for your souls (Matthew11:29). Learn from Him!
Every day the saintof God must make a choice. Every day, when his eyes begin touncloud themselves from the slumber of the night past, he seestwo doors before him. One is the doorway to light and life, andthe other is the doorway to darkness and death. The doorway todarkness is gilded with all sorts of glitter; flashing lightsaround the door frame beckon, and appealing sound effects callattention to the action within. By contrast, there isno pretense at the daily doorway to life; a simple doormat liesat its quiet entrance, calmly reminding those who would enterthere that God is love. Every day the saint mustchoose which doorway he will enter. Choose he will, bydeliberation or default.
- Submission The doorway to life requires the abolition of pride. God is opposed to the proud, James had quoted, but gives grace to the humble. The bond-servant therefore affirms this need for the saint: Submit therefore to God (James 4:7). Expressions such as stiff-necked, uncircumcised in heart and ears are those which resound for those who refuse to submit to God. The true follower of Jesus Christ willingly figures out what Gods will for his life is, and with joy charges into the projects of the kingdom.
- Resistance The entrance to darkness and death is the devils doorway. He works on all the edges of fleshly desire, picking and probing to find a weakness in the saints resolve. The encouraging words come: Resist the devil and he will flee from you. It is exciting for the challenged Christian to know that Satan will actually rush from the premises when he is resisted. The disciple of Christ simply needs to remember that Satan is the one offering the temptation, and to follow that with the will to resist.
- Drawing near God in heaven is not some impersonal force, something that wound up the universe and let it go. Rather, the Father is a caring personage, desiring fellowship in an intimate way with each of His children, patiently waiting for any opening to deepen His interaction with them. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you, James informs the brethren (James 4:8). What a promise! Because the promise is in the realm of faith, the struggling saint sometimes has difficulty in believing that the promise is true because he cant detect with any of his senses that God is nearer. But it is a powerful, encouraging, and endearing truth that when a child of faith moves toward God, God moves toward him for strength and comfort.
- Cleansing The member of Christs body who has been stained with sin due to his fellowship with the world needs to remember that God is a holy God, and nothing unholy or unclean will be permitted in His presence. Having temporarily been enamored by the pull of the world, the saint needs to reflect on his action and attitude when he decides to draw near to God. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, is James exordium, and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:8). Only in James are Christians ever called sinners, and here it applies to someone who has had one foot in the world and one in the church. The statement is pretty blunt, but obviously pretty necessary.
Who mayascend into the hill of the Lord? the psalmist had asked.And who may stand in His holy place? The answer tiesin with the appeal of James, He who has clean hands and apure heart
(Psalm24:3,4). Those who choose the doorway of death choose theroute of defiled hearts and hands dipped in the filth of theworld. But those who this day choose life put the past behindthem, draw near to God, purify their motives, and put their handsinto clean work. Choose fellowship with the heavenly Father, andlive!
At the House ofMourning
It isbetter, said Solomon, to go to a house of mourningthan to go to a house of feasting (Ecclesiastes7:2). Death has taken place in the house of mourning, and thesage of old commented, that is the end of every man, andthe living takes it to heart. The person who seriouslycontemplates his own death will take a serious look at gettinghis eternity straightened out; the one who fails to do so isearth-centered, and therefore open to the pull of Satan.The mind of the wise is in the house of mourning, thewise added, while the mind of fools is in the house ofpleasure (Ecclesiastes7:4).
The Christian whofalls back into the ways of the world ends up with his mind inthe house of pleasure. Double-minded, driven and tossed by thewinds, this poor soul cant make up his mind whether hewants to go to heaven or drift into hell. He has to be remindedthat friendship with the world is hostility towardGod, and that the loving Father, jealously desiresthe Spirit which He has made to dwell in us. God does notwish an eternity in hell for anyone, especially for those whoonce were delivered from the domain of darkness. He thereforeappeals to them to join Him in the house of mourning, that theymay come to their senses and see the value of eternity.
- Seriousness of sin In the house of mourning, the view of eternity is clearer. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street, asseverated Solomon (Ecclesiastes 12:5). And what is it that would keep a man out of the proper eternity? The answer is likewise clearer at the door of death: sin! The saint who has let himself be pulled back into the path of sinners is exhorted, Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom (James 4:9). Godly sorrow, according to the apostle Paul, produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation (II Corinthians 7:10). Without this misery, without this mourning, without this weeping, there will not be sufficient recognition of how these sins offended the Almighty, and there will not be sufficient drive to effect real change. The hapless hilarity and the melting merriment in the house of pleasure have to be recognized for how temporary they are, and the now contrite heart is to be sacrificed to the Lord.
- Hope in humility In the days of yore, sackcloth and ashes were the garments of those who humbled themselves before the Lord. When the angel of the Lord stood with drawn sword over Jerusalem to destroy it because of Davids sin in numbering the people, Then David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces (I Chronicles 21:16). This wearing of sackcloth, itchy and uncomfortable, was an acceptable means of showing God the contrition of the wearer, especially when accompanied by the wearers sitting in ashes. The saint in the New Testament does not have to go to such lengths to garner the attention of the Almighty, having Jesus as an Advocate, but he must have the same attitude. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, James writes, and He will exalt you (James 4:10). Admission of straying from the way of truth, misery over the grief caused the Father, and making the mental commitment to move forward in the righteousness of faith is the humility the Father is looking for.
The straying saintwho will come to the house of mourning and who will come to hissenses will find rest for his soul. Ultimately he will receivethe greatest exaltation of all when he hears the commendation ofthe King on His glorious throne: Well done, good andfaithful slave
enter into the joy of your master (Matthew25:21).
SpeakingAgainst A Brother?
Those who come toChrist are a remarkably diverse group. Some are barbarians to themax, some are refined Greeks of learning and station. Slave,freeman, male, female, rich, and poor are all lumped together inthe body of Christ to serve Gods purpose. Theobedience of faith among the Gentiles, preached Paul, isfor His names sake (Romans1:5). But now God has placed the members, heaffirmed in another place, each one of them, in the body,just as He desired (ICorinthians 12:18). All these diverse members, of varyingbackground, custom, and family norms, must remember thatultimately they have been collected in the local congregation bythe will and plan of God. They did not choose who their brothersand sisters are; part of their job description is to learn toaccept one another and learn to work together for the commoncause of Christ. Wherefore, adverted the apostlePaul, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted usto the glory of God (Romans15:7).
One of thechallenges of all this conglomeration is for each Christian notto be critical of the ways of those differing lifestyles. Gone isthe uniformity of a simple village culture, whose norms have beenestablished for a thousand years, whose residents eat the samefood, herd the same flocks, plant the same crops, who have theirestablished rituals for courtship and marriage union. An excitingmix of citizens of heaven has come into the church of Christ,whose culture will merge and meld into the culture of thekingdom. Thus, those natural tendencies to criticize thepeculiarities of others have to be eliminated.
- Speaking against one another James instruction is plain: Do not speak against one another, brethren (James 4:11). This speaking against one another is a vain attempt to elevate self by shoving others into the mud. Criticizing the dress of another, the type of cloth on the table, or the brand of pickup is not only not productive, it is destructive to both the criticizer and the criticizee.
- Judging the law? He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, James affirms, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it. James and the Holy Spirit engage in a little progression to establish the seriousness of such criticism. First speaking against a brother is shown to be the same as judging. Then judging the brother is shown to be equivalent to judging the law. Following this, the judge of the law is established to be above the law; he does not have to be a doer of it because he is a judge of it. For a Christian to claim to be above the law is obviously audacious. The disciple of Christ then is brought into consciousness of the seriousness of speaking against a brother.
- Equal with God? James jerks the chain on the saint who has been running his mouth one more time. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, is his statement, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor? (James 4:12). Good question, Who are you? There is only one Lawgiver and Judge; is that you? There is One able to save and to destroy; is that you? If not, you had better just shut your mouth!
The follower ofJesus needs to move from being a criticizer to being a builder.Whatever is true, exhorted Paul, whatever ishonorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever islovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellenceand if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on thesethings (Philippians4:8). The mind that lives in the midst of the excellent andpraiseworthy is looking for the good in brethren, and will ceaseto speak against them. Ninety days of constant praise is often aneedful solution.
If the Lord Wills
This life on earthis all that anyone breathing has had. There are a few kooky folkswho have been tricked into thinking they have remembrances from aprevious life, but these are under devilish delusions. And thereare some who think they have had an out-of-body experience, orwho went to the edge of death and came back. But theseexperiences are shaky at best, and offer no reliableguide to the realm of the unseen. The realm of the unseen the realm of faith is only revealed by the scripture. Butmost of earths residents, unwilling to trust the word ofGod, operate by the experience they have had on earth and end upfocusing on survival and earthly pleasure rather than makingtheir decisions in accordance with the dictates of eternal life.In fact, the pull of earth is so much in the face of followers ofChrist, and some of its seductions so alluring, that the saintssometimes are sucked back into its orbit. James steps in toassist those whose attention is being affixed by the profitmotive.
- Come now When the attention of the hearer is to be arrested, and he is to sit down and listen to a reasoned presentation, the scripture says, Come now. Come now, says James, you who say, Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit. (James 4:13). The elder, experienced in the ways of the Lord and tendencies of brethren, tells them not to be so rambunctious. Come now, he says.
- Perspective There is nothing wrong with going to such and such a city. There is nothing wrong with planning to spend a year there, engaging in business and making a profit. The problem was that the rambunctious saint was forgetting something of extreme importance. Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow, James reminded them. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:14). Even though earthly life is all that anyone can know by his own experience, and that life on earth therefore tends to occupy a foremost sector of a persons thoughts, Gods word brings things into perspective. The saint doesnt know whether he will be alive tomorrow, or whether he will be too sick to carry out his magnificent plans. And should he live to ripe old age, he is still reminded that the longest life is still nothing but a wisp of vapor, gone in a comparable instant. The eternal perspective is never to be forgotten in any of earths dealings.
- If the Lord wills There is a Mighty Hand which guides and governs the affairs of men, who holds the key of death and of Hades. The Lord, stated the prophet Zechariah, stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him (Zechariah 12:1). Those spirits are formed at the will of the Lord, and those spirits are called home at the will of the Lord. Thus the saints are reminded, Instead, of rambunctiously charging into life, heedless of eternity, you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that. (James 4:15). Only by the will of the Lord does any saint live, and only by the will of the Lord is he going to be able to accomplish his goals.
When the disciplesof Christ preface their thoughts and their statements with,If the Lord wills, then they are conscious of theclaims of eternity on their immortal souls. And thus conscious ofeternity, they are more likely to make their decisions based oneternal values rather than the short-term basis of earthlyexistence. If the Lord wills, we shall live, is aconstant reminder that the Christian may be taken from earthtoday. If the Lord wills, we shall do this or that,is a constant reminder that The mind of man plans his way,but the Lord directs his steps (Proverbs16:9).
For the Lordof hosts will have a day of reckoning, asserted Isaiah.For behold, the day is coming, added Malachi,burning like a furnace (Malachi4:1). That day of reckoning, according to Isaiah, will beagainst everyone who is proud and lofty, and againsteveryone who is lifted up, that he may be abased (Isaiah2:12). And the pride of man will be humbled, and theloftiness of men will be abased, and the Lord alone will beexalted in that day (Isaiah2:17). As James had earlier noted, God is opposed tothe proud (James4:6). The sifting that is done by Jesus winnowing forkseparates out the proud and the arrogant, leaving for the harvestthe good grain of the humble in heart. The arrogance stemmingfrom the boastful pride of life thumbs its nose in the face ofGod. It essentially claims that it does not need God, that it cango its merry way on earth and that it can waltz into heaven onits own terms. Arrogance reeks with the stench of the rebelliousSatan, and is severe condemnation when applied to someoneclaiming the name of Christ.
- Boisterous businessmen Today or tomorrow, says the heedless one, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit. Where does God fit in the planning? Where is the seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? The boisterous businessmen need to tone it down a notch, and they need to get their perspective back by saying, If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.
- Evil arrogance But for the heedless one who continues on his way, James has something to say, But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil (James 4:16). The one who fails to make God a part of his plans, plans to fail, eternally! This reckless neglect of including the will of God is called boasting, and the strong word evil is attached to this abandon. Serious business indeed!
- Do the right thing There is often subtle resistance to doing the right thing, a downward pressure saying that right now is not the right time. But James, elder in Jerusalem, experienced in the weaknesses of those even who claim the name of Christ, emphasizes, Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin (James 4:17). No excuses allowed! The right thing would be to consider the things of the kingdom first. The right thing to do would be to pray for wisdom before charging off into some profit venture. The right thing to do would be to say, If the Lord wills. And for the one who fails to do these things, to him it sin.
The mind of man iscapable of creative rationalization and clear justification forwhat it is that he intends to do anyway. The fact that the wordsrationalization and justification withthese negative connotations exist in the English languageindicates that such convolutions are pretty common. Jamesattempts to put a stop to such rationalization by those whosepalms were itching with the pull of potential profit. He makessome blunt statements, using verbal two-by-fours to try to getthe attention of these arrogant ones who are so ready to plungeinto spiritual oblivion through neglecting to consider the willof God. Come now, he says to the boastful, trying toget them to listen.
All saints need tocarefully consider the exhortation from James in this section.His words to one who knows the right thing to do,and does not do it, to him it is sin should causeeach Christian to consider his priorities and his motive everyday. Dereliction of duty apparently is grounds for court martialof the soldiers of God.
Three Kinds of Sin
As earlyRestorationists such as Alexander Campbell worked their way intothe New Testament, the major religious resistance theyencountered was Calvinism. A major tenet of John Calvinsteachings was total depravity, the idea that children weresinners and evil from birth. Sin therefore was not a choice; sinwas endemic in the bad, bad body, and everyone who had a body hadto sin. Correspondingly, every good action a Christian took waslikewise not a matter of his choice. God is the absoluteSovereign, and His sovereignty, according to Calvinists, was suchthat God accomplished the good action through the Christianwithout that being the Christians choice. TheWesleyan holiness movement, contemporaneous with theearly Restorationists, was based on the platform of Calvinism,wherein likewise there was no choice. Their system involved asecond work of grace; the individual prayed until theHoly Spirit fell afresh on him, and he was nowsanctified, and was elevated to a plateau (apart from his choice)where he could not sin. This was called sinlessperfection. The common characteristic of both movements isthat, in either case, to sin or not to sin is not a choice.
The Bible, bycontrast, teaches that all sin is choice. Just as Adam and Evechose to eat of the forbidden fruit, so their descendants sinwhen they choose to follow the ways of darkness rather than towalk in the light. And the New Testament affirms that allcategories of sin that can be committed by a Christian are sinsof choice.
- Sin of commission Sin is lawlessness, affirms the apostle John, or, as the King James Version translates, Sin is transgression of the law (I John 3:4). Such transgression is what condemns the individual in the first place; when he breaks one of the commandments, he commits his first sin. To commit such a sin, the resident of earth must make a choice. All have turned aside, is Pauls quotation (Romans 3:12). Such turning is the result of conscious action by each individual, and God is therefore just in exercising His eternal punishment (Romans 3:26).
- Sin of omission Another type of sin is failure to act; that is, omitting to do that which should be done. James explains: Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin (James 4:17). Once again, this is a sin of choice; it is a sin of knowing, but failing to follow through. It is also clear that there is no sin when the individual does not know the right thing to do.
- Sin of motive The terms of the new covenant also require that the saint have the proper motive for his action. Whatever is not from faith, adverts the apostle Paul, is sin (Romans 14:23). If a Christian performs the right action, but it is not fueled by the faith of the New Testament, that action is still sin. Consider, for example, a person of Jewish background newly converted to Christianity. Lets say he was eating a pork roast at a gathering with other brethren because everyone else was, but he personally was not sure whether he could eat pork and be pleasing to God. Then his eating was sin because it was not done with the understanding of New Testament faith. Once again, this is a sin of choice.
Calvinism has creptback into churches of Christ. It is openly affirmed, for example,that a person can sin at four or five years old without knowingit, obviously denying that sin is a choice. It is openly affirmedthat the body was meant to sin, that it was made to sin; suchstatements also deny that sin is a choice, affirming that thebody is going to sin no matter what.
But the faithfulword of God places the responsibility for sin on the individual,making it clear that all sin is choice. Choose, then, this daywhom you will serve. Will you serve sin, or will you serve God?