Gems From James -Chapter 4

Quarrels andConflicts

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.

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 individual’s 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.

 

 

Asking andReceiving

“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 Peter’s 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!

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 Heisn’t going to until His conditions are met.

 

 

Spiritual Fidelity

“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 Lord’s 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.

God is rightfully a jealous God, but He also knows that“the 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.

 

 

God’s Desire

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 good”now 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 intoGod’s 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 a“chosen race” of spiritual people, and fitted to walkand fellowship with God. “As is the heavenly, so also arethose who are heavenly” (ICorinthians 15:48).

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 God’s 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 theLord’s Supper, the participation with Him through His bodyand blood. May the saints regard the Lord’s intense jealousyhighly!

 

 

Greater Grace

“We all stumble in many ways,” was James’assessment 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 than“the Shadow” knows!

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 throughGod’s 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!

 

 

 

Two Doors

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.

“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 can’t 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.

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 God’s purpose. “Theobedience of faith among the Gentiles,” preached Paul, is“for His name’s 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.

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 these“experiences” 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 earth’s 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.

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).

 

 

 

Arrogance

“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 be“against 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.

The mind of man iscapable of creative rationalization and clear justification forwhat it is that he intends to do anyway. The fact that the words“rationalization” 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 Calvin’steachings 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 Christian’s choice. The“Wesleyan holiness movement,” contemporaneous with theearly Restorationists, was based on the platform of Calvinism,wherein likewise there was no choice. Their system involved a“second work of grace”; the individual prayed until the“Holy 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.

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?