Thursday, July 31, 2008

Contrasts versus Parallels

James 4:4-6 (NKJV) 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? 6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”

One of the persistent problems that nags the modern church is the tendency to draw contrasts where Scripture draws parallels. We pit portions of the Word of God against one another and soon end up endorsing a version of the faith that bears little resemblance to the faith introduced by Christ.

James’ stark language in our text today highlights a couple areas where the modern church has gone astray in this regard. As a result, his words make us uncomfortable.

Take, for instance, James’ sharp contrast between being a friend of the world and a friend with God. One of the practices that our Church has embraced with all the abandon of a football fan when his team wins the Superbowl is the singing of the psalms. And one of the things that happens when you start singing the psalms is the frequency to do double takes. Here you are singing along merrily with narry a thought for what’s on the page when – pow! – the words leap up and smack you in the face.

“Treat them like Midian, like Jabin’s army. Treat them like Sisera at Kishon’s brook.”

Sisera? Wasn’t that the fellow who had the tent spike stuck in his head? Treat them like Sisera? Who’s that “them”? Oh – it is the enemies of God. Enemies? God has enemies? I thought God loved everyone. Hasn’t all that nasty stuff changed with the coming of Jesus? God doesn’t actually have enemies anymore, does he?

These questions and comments reveal how far removed we are from a biblical mindset. But notice how well the stark language of the psalms meshes with the language of James in our text today. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God. Consequently, he who desires to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” An enemy of God? Yes. James draws a parallel where the modern church draws a contrast.

And notice, as a second instance, that James draws this parallel in the Church of God. There is a tendency in some pietistic circles to imagine that the historic church is composed only of those who have been regenerated – whose hearts have actually been transformed by the grace of God. These folks argue that whereas ethnic Israel, the people of God in the OT, consisted both of people who were personally saved and of others who were unsaved, the church consists of only those who are actually saved. As a result of this teaching, some churches frequently go to great lengths to make sure no bad apples ever get in the bunch. “Yes, in order to be a member of Praise the Lord Church, we require you to write a ten page essay describing your wretched, sinful condition prior to your supposed conversion and, if we judge that you’re really converted, we’ll let you join.”

But note how James’ words don’t mesh with this perfectionistic doctrine of the church. To whom is James writing? To the Church of God – saints dispersed throughout the Roman world. And what does he routinely call them throughout the letter? Brothers. And what does he call some of them now? Adulterers and adulteresses. In other words, James is poignantly aware that bad apples do get in the bunch – and the job of leaders in the church is to exhort and discipline such folks as necessary. There are personally saved and unsaved folks in the historic or visible church even as there were in ancient Israel. Once again, where the modern church draws a contrast between Old and New Testaments, James draws a parallel.

And so James’ words serve as a wake up call to all of us who are in the Church of God. Whose side are you on? Are you trying to be friends with the world, friends with the system of belief that sets itself against God? Then beware! No amount of kneeling in confession, listening to sermons, or eating the Supper will save you from the wrath to come. Repent, turn from your sin and acknowledge that you have been unfaithful to the Lord. No man can serve two masters – for he will love the one and hate the other.

Reminded by James’ words that we stand in constant need of the grace of God to deliver us from our duplicity, let us kneel and confess our sin to Him.

Monday, July 21, 2008


James 4:1-3 (NKJV)1 Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

Much speculation ensues in the modern world as to the cause of strife and warfare. Listen to the pundits analyze world affairs, and you’ll hear numerous reasons proposed for why the latest firestorm has lit up the night sky. The folks are just so poor. These folks are religious zealots. The high price of food is causing riots. If only they were better educated.

What is the basic problem in the world? Where do wars and fights come from? The question that James poses is a question that the modern world continues to ask. Unfortunately the answers given are rarely helpful, usually only partial truths. Consequently, our solutions are impotent. We put a band-aid on the visible wound but fail to stop the bleeding within.

So where do wars and fights come from? James tell us plainly – they come from covetousness, envy, desiring the good things that God has given to others. How does James describe this for us?

First, he says, “we lust and do not have.” We look around at all the good things God has given our neighbor and, rather than rejoice for them, we lust for ourselves. Whether what we desire is their Tonka truck, their mp3 player, their nicely proportioned body, their spouse, their car, or their mansion on the lake– we hunger for what they’ve got. And this hunger, this lustful desire, is the source of wars and conflicts.

How so? James tells us. “You murder and covet and cannot obtain.” In other words, having eyed your neighbor’s car, his intelligence, or his new sneakers and having desired them for yourself, you proceed to wish ill for your neighbor. “Oh, if only he would die and leave his money to me.” “If only his wife would die suddenly and I’d come comfort him and he’d marry me.”

And then, having wished this evil upon our neighbor, it is simply a small leap to perpetrating the evil. Imagine you’re envious of a new game that your sibling received but won’t play with you. “Oh, I’m sorry brother, I didn’t realize that was your game I was stepping on.” Imagine you want that promotion at work but Jenkins stands in your way. “Boss, I thought I should let you know, that I’ve observed Jenkins playing games on his computer during work hours.” Imagine you’re Hitler during World War II. “The Czechoslovakian people have repeatedly harassed the Germans living within their borders, and so now I am justified in taking the Sudetenland like I wanted to do all along.”

“Wrath is cruel,” Solomon informs us, “and anger is a torrent, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Pr 27:4)

What is the solution to this type of lustful desire? To turn one’s eyes to God and trust Him to supply all one needs. “You do not have,” James declares, “because you do not ask.” But beware. Why are you asking? Are you asking for the glory of God and the good of His Kingdom, or are you asking simply to satisfy your lusts? Because if the latter James declares, “You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.”

Reminded that covetousness is a sin and that it is the source of quarrels and conflicts in marriage, in the home, in the workplace, in the church, and in the world, let us kneel and confess that we have coveted our neighbors’ goods.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wisdom from Above

James 3:17-18 (NKJV)17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. 18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

Having described the nature of earthly wisdom, characterized as it is by envy and self-seeking, James goes on to describe heavenly wisdom. Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by imitating, not the wisdom of the world, but the wisdom that comes from God. And what does this wisdom look like? It is this that James tells us today.

And note if you will the complete contrast that exists between the wisdom of man in his sin and the wisdom that comes from God. The wisdom from above is not envious, but pure; it is not contentious – seeking its own – but peaceable; it does not create confusion, but is gentle and willing to yield; and instead of producing “every evil work,” it is full of mercy and the fruits of benevolence. And what are these fruits? Kindness toward all, being without partiality, as well as absolute integrity, being without hypocrisy. In short, wisdom from above imitates the One Who is above, the Lord Jesus Christ.

James informed us that the wisdom from below is full of self-seeking and envy. It looks out for number one and, when number two has something special, seeks to co-opt it for number one. The wisdom from below is never content. It is grasping and resembles the heart of the miser – ever greedy, never full, never satiated, but seeking more and more for oneself – whether the thing sought be money, glory, thrill, respect, pity, or fame, the goal is always to get more.

The wisdom from above, however, is not this way. Since it resembles the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who is full and has been full from the foundation of the world, the One who Created the world out of the overflow of His joy and fullness, the wisdom from above is likewise full to overflowing. It is peaceable – content, well settled in the mercies that God has bestowed and thankful for the bounteous goodness He has displayed. It is full of mercy and good fruits – the peaceableness and contentment manifests itself by bubbling over, sharing with others the grace that has been shared with it. And precisely because it is sharing what has already been shared with it, the wisdom from above is not shrill, not anal, not apoplectic but gentle and willing to yield. It is willing to consider the wisdom that others possess, willing to acknowledge superior views, willing to live with minor differences – rather than stubbornly maintaining its own way and demanding compliance.

So what of us? As parents how are we doing exhibiting the wisdom from above in the training of our children? How patient are we with them? Is our correction proceeding from the overflow of a heart filled with love for God and love for our kids, or is our correction flowing from our irritability and desire for respect? Are we looking out for our children’s best interest or ours? Mind you, the end product, the goal we are achieving may be the same. We want our children to be obedient, respectful, joyful – but how do we get there? With the wisdom from below or the wisdom from above? James tells us – get there with the wisdom from above.

As young men and young women, how are you doing manifesting the wisdom from above in the way you treat your siblings and your parents? Could the fly on the wall describe you as gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits? Or would he instead describe you as envious and self-seeking, looking out for your own good regardless of the consequences?

Reminded that we often fail to be wise and understanding, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.