Monday, June 30, 2008

Who is wise and understanding among you?

James 3:13-16 (NKJV)13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.

On one occasion the disciples were debating among themselves who was greatest in the kingdom of God and how to become the greatest. They were concerned to get ahead of their brothers; to be known as those who really served the Lord. And so they came to Jesus on one occasion and asked him, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Jesus responded by calling a little child to himself and seating the child in their midst. He urged them, “Unless you are converted and become like little children, you won’t enter the kingdom. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” In essence, Jesus reversed their paradigm. To get ahead, Jesus told them, you must get behind. The greatest among you will be least of all, he will be the servant of all.

James’ question in our text today is intended to press forward this same point. “Who is wise and understanding among you?” Whether or not any hands were raised, we can imagine that the response of James’ audience is similar to our own. We may not reckon ourselves wise and understanding, but we certainly want to be so. And so James follows his question with an exhortation – manifest your wisdom in works of humility. Get ahead by getting behind. Serve. Look out for the interests of your brothers and sisters more than for your own.

James contrasts this type of wisdom with earthly, sensual, demonic wisdom. Wisdom from below says – “Hey, you’ve got to look out for yourself. You’ve got to pursue what’s best for yourself. The only way to get ahead is by pushing that fellow out of the way.” This type of wisdom, James tells us, is based on self-seekng and envy – it looks out for oneself and when anyone else has something good it endeavors to grab it for oneself.

Contrast this with the character of our Lord and Savior. Jesus came, not seeking His own will, but the will of the Father who sent Him. Jesus came, not to be served, but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. Jesus came, not to take from others what was rightfully theirs but to give to others what was rightfully His. This is our Savior – and it is this conduct that James calls us to imitate in our own lives.

Why? Because if we don’t, if we persist in pursuing our own ideas of what is wise and enlightened, then confusion and wickedness will follow in the wake of our folly. Rather than witness righteousness and peace in our midst, we will observe warfare and sin. Not exactly a recipe for the happy life.

So what of us? How are we doing? You children, are you imitating Jesus in your relationships with your family and friends? When you play a game, are you determined to win at any cost or do you compete honestly according to the rules and with grace toward your competitors? You adults, what of you? When you associate with others, are you consumed with worry about what so and so thinks about you or do you consider instead how you can be a blessing to them no matter what they think? Because if we are all looking out for others, considering them more highly than ourselves, then we will have the fruit of that in joy and peace and righteousness.

Reminded of our propensity to be selfish and envious, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What's in Your Glass?

James 3:9-12 (NKJV)9 With [the tongue] we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

Today we close our exhortations from James regarding the tongue. James offers a stirring rebuke of hypocrisy and asks a series of rhetorical questions driving home the same point again and again – we must control our tongues. Simultaneously his comments illustrate the point he has already made – that this control of the tongue is not something we can conjure up by mere will power but that it must proceed from a heart that has been transformed by the grace of God. By nature we are full of cursing and deceit. We need the Spirit of God to come and transform our hearts in order that we might use our lips to bring glory and honor to our Savior.

Our Lord Jesus explained the source of sins of the tongue in this way:

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” [Mark 7:21-23]
Note carefully that Jesus states that sins of the tongue – deceit and blasphemy as examples – come out of the heart. And James, with his series of illustrations in our text today, makes the same point. “Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.”

So here’s the important question – what is coming out of our lips? Because whatever is coming out of our lips reveals what is in our heart. That which comes out of our lips doesn’t emerge willy nilly. Rather, it reflects what is inside.

Some years ago I illustrated this point with my children by having them fill a glass full of water – so full that the water was cresting at the top - and put it on the table. Then I told them, “Bump the table,” which, of course, they were only too happy to do. Then I told them to bump it again and they did. Then I asked a simple question – “When you bumped the table, what happened?” “It spilled,” came the intelligent reply. “Good! But what came out of the glass? Did dirt come out? Oil? Shampoo?” “No,” they reply, “water – because that’s what was in the glass.”

So James is challenging us – what is in your glass? Is it joy, gratitude, thankfulness, and contentment? Or is it cursing, bitterness, and deceit? What comes out of our lips is a reflection of what is in our heart. And so Solomon urges us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Reminded that we are often full of cursing and deceit, full of blasphemy and complaint, full of slander and lies, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.

No Man Can Tame the Tongue

James 3:7-8 (NKJV)7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

The last number of weeks we have considered various sins of the tongue – ways in which we can abuse the gift of the tongue and so cause not only others to stumble but ourselves to falter in our pursuit of righteousness as well. The tongue, James tells us, is world of iniquity, and our brief survey of gossip, slander, lying, flattery, and complaining has only scratched the suburbs of one of the smaller cities. Beware the tongue, control the tongue.

But today we move on a bit in James’ text only to be confronted with a quandary. For James has been warning us about the dangers of the tongue presumably so that we will alter our behavior, control our tongue and so bring glory and honor to our Savior. But his declaration in our text today seems to undermine this whole objective. Note what James says.

7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. 8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
If we read this passage carefully we should find ourselves asking, “No man can tame the tongue? Well if no man can tame the tongue what are we doing having this discussion? Why the exhortations, James? If I’m not able to tame my tongue then I’m not responsible to do so, right?” Wrong.

Here we find the biblical authors cutting across the grain of our expectations. The Scriptures simply do not equate ability and responsibility. James holds his readers fully responsible for the use of their tongue – but here we see that he doesn’t assume they have the ability to do what he’s calling them to do.

Well how can that be? How can James hold us accountable for something we can’t even do? The answer is that God created us with the ability to do these things but we rebelled against Him and lost the ability we once possessed. But this does not make us any less responsible.

Imagine, if you will, a father who gives his son a command to mow the yard. But this yard has a special feature. In the midst of the yard is a large pit that, once one falls into, he cannot get out. The father shows his son the yard and exactly how he wants it mowed. He also points to the pit and warns his son to stay away from it. Then the father leaves and the son immediately leaps into the pit prior to mowing the lawn. Is the son still responsible to mow the lawn? Yes. Is he able? No. Is that the father’s fault? No – the son jumped into the pit of his own accord.

This, brothers and sisters, is our state. In our father Adam, we spurned the command of our Lord and ate of the forbidden fruit. Consequently we were plunged into sin and lost the ability we once possessed while still being responsible.

What then is the solution? Is there hope? The only hope is that the Lord himself return, lift us from the pit, forgive us our sin, and restore us to the liberty we lost. Praise be to God that this is the very thing He does when he touches our hearts and calls us to Himself through Christ our Lord.

And so reminded that by nature we have forfeited the ability to do that which God commands and yet remain completely responsible let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord seeking His forgiveness through Christ.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


James 3:6 (NKJV)6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

Thus far in our exposition of James’ admonition regarding the tongue, we have considered variations on the one basic sin of lying. Gossip, slander, flattery, and lying proper are all variations of an deceitful tongue. Today we consider an abuse of the tongue which dresses far more respectably than the other sins. Most Christians know we shouldn’t gossip, slander, flatter, or lie and so, when we commit such sins, we do so surreptitiously, endeavoring to cover our sin with a cloak of respectability. But the sin of the tongue we discuss today seems to need no such cloak. It struts about the street in a bright white suit with penguin shoes, parading itself as the epitome of honesty and respectability. So what is this nefarious abuse of the tongue? When our toddlers do it, we call it whining –but among adults we call it grumbling or complaining.

Lest everyone riot and storm the pulpit, declaring in no uncertain terms that complaining is not a sin, let me take a moment to read from the Apostle Paul. Philippians 2:14-15 declares:

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.
Let us take note of what Paul tells us about complaining. First, note that he tells us that those who don’t complain will be blameless and harmless. In other words, if you want to be blameless, then you must avoid complaining. To complain is not to be blameless but blameworthy. Second, note that Paul says that the way to be children of God without fault is to avoid complaining. Now, of course, you can choose to be children of God with fault and complain. But, Paul says, if you want to be known as children of God without fault, then you will avoid complaining – for complaining is a fault. Third, notice that those who avoid complaining will shine like stars in the universe. How so? Because nothing so clearly characterizes the world as grumbling or complaining. Did the plumbing break? Complain. Is it raining again? Complain. Is it hot again? Complain. Are the dishes dirty? Complain. Is the traffic moving slow? Complain. Complaining comes as naturally to fallen man as swimming to a fish. And how does Paul characterize this complaining? As darkness. Complaining, brothers and sisters, is a sin.

Notice, then, the exhortation that Paul gives us – “Do all things without complaining or arguing.” Take just a moment and consider what Paul is telling us. Let me read it again. “Do all things without complaining or arguing.” Did you catch that? When does Paul give us permission to complain? Well, as a matter of fact, he doesn’t give us permission to complain anytime. He tells us to do “all things” without complaining or arguing. Do you know what “all things” means in the Greek? It means “all things.”

Are you changing a diaper? Don’t complain. Are you disciplining your son or daughter? Don’t complain. Are you fixing the car? Don’t complain. Are you filling your gas tank? Don’t complain. Are you taking out the garbage? Don’t complain. Are you doing your chores? Don’t complain. Have your parents given you a command that you don’t like? Don’t complain.

Ah, we say, but that’s so fake. Why shouldn’t I express my real self? Why shouldn’t I complain? Well the answer lies in the way Paul identifies us – we are children of God. This, of course, implies that God is our Father. And because God is our Father we know that He loves us and cares for us – He knows precisely what we need at any given moment and so crafts the moments of our lives that all comes for our good and for His glory. If that is true – if it is true that our Father crafts all these things for our benefit – then we shouldn’t complain, we should give thanks. We should be overflowing with gratitude. God has orchestrated this very moment for our good. What could be a greater cause for thankfulness? And so Paul calls us to be children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and complaining generation. How? By overflowing with gratitude.

Reminded that we are prone to use our tongue to complain about our circumstances and our tasks rather than to give thanks to our Father, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.


James 3:6 (NKJV)6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

Gossip, slander, lies – these are some of the sins of the tongue we have displayed in our exposition of James’ warning that the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. This morning we look at flattery, a closely related cousin to our other vices.

To flatter is to praise excessively or fulsomely especially from motives of self-interest. It attempts to gratify or appeal to the self-love of its victim by artful and interested attentions. Hence flattery, when uncovered, exposes not only the insincerity of the flatterer but the vanity of the one flattered. As Dale Carnegie once quipped, “Flattery is telling the other person precisely what he thinks about himself.”

Flattery is the stock and trade of certain segments of society. Politicians regularly utilize the vice to ingratiate themselves with voters and get into office. The adulteress in Proverbs uses it to lure men to destruction. Men use it to seduce women who are lonely and in need of companionship. Girls use it with teachers to get better grades. And grown women use it in the workplace to get promotions. The list goes on and on.

Flattery is another form of lying. Proverbs 26:28 draws a parallel between the two sins. “A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it, And a flattering mouth works ruin.” Notice then that genuine compliments are not in view. Nor are kind remarks given for the benefit of the hearer – telling your four year old that her picture of mom looks lovely even though it appears to be a cross between a dragon and a warehouse building. Flattery of the forbidden kind uses others simply as stepping stones for one’s own advantage. “A man who flatters his neighbor Spreads a net for his feet” (Prov 29:5).

And so beware – not only of flattering others but of being flattered yourself. Do not permit your vanity to lure you to destruction. Nowhere is it more necessary to be alert in this regard than in the way we view our children. Some parents simply refuse to acknowledge their children’s faults. If your “cuddly little one” is a hellion in others’ company then you’ve got a problem to deal with. So how can you protect yourself from being a victim of flattery? Learn to love reproof and correction; ask others to evaluate you honestly; ask others what the primary problems with your children are. “He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward Than he who flatters with the tongue” (Prov 28:23).

Reminded that we have not only flattered our neighbor but that we have been vain and allowed ourselves to be flattered, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.