James


When Trials Come

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing"

James 1:2 - 4

Receive Trials With Joy

James says to count it all joy when we face trials (2).

We know that trials – hardship and suffering – affect mankind because of sin and our broken relationship with God. All humans will face “trials” of various kinds. But as Christians, we also believe that God has a purpose in everything – including the trials that we go through. So as Christians, how should we view trials?

Trials come about because of our relationship with Jesus. As disciples of Christ, we are constantly faced with opposition. Jesus taught us that a servant is not greater than his master. The world hated Jesus, and it will hate us too. (John 15:18-21) Thus we identify with our Lord in his suffering, and we face trials because of our belief in Him.

Of course, this does not mean that we should actively seek “trials” for ourselves and put ourselves in harm’s way, or act like a nuisance so that people persecute us. But neither should we be afraid of trials. We should embrace them and “count it all joy”.

So why should we count it all joy when we face trials?

Trials Produce Steadfastness

James tells us that trials produce steadfastness (3). Steadfastness is another way of saying perseverance, or endurance. It is a quality of Christian character that shows what true faith looks like. The steadfast man is patient in all kinds of trials because of his faith in God. He trusts God for the outcome. He trusts that God is good and working His perfect plan. He knows that God’s ways are higher than his. Therefore he endures through the testing – he is steadfast. So steadfastness shows that we trust God.

Steadfastness can only be produced through testing – without testing, we cannot tell whether we would persevere. But when the trial comes, then everyone sees that we endure through it – we are steadfast. Most important of all, God sees that we are steadfast and He delights in that.

If steadfastness shows that we trust God (have faith), and steadfastness is produced through testing, then we can say that testing is helpful to reveal our true faith in God. When we are tested, it produces steadfastness and shows that we have true faith. Like the steadfast man, we show that we trust our Father when we endure through testing.

So is steadfastness the ultimate goal?

Steadfastness Leads to Wholeness

Steadfastness is not the ultimate goal. It is a means to an end. The true goal is wholeness – to be perfect and complete (4). God wants us to be complete. He wants our beliefs to match our actions, to live lives that are consistent.

This does not mean we are perfect now. What it does mean is that we are transformed. We are becoming more Christ-like. With each decision we make, we want to worship God. As we persevere through the hardest times, we are worshipping God more and more, in all sorts of tough situations. So steadfastness leads to wholeness.

Additionally, the man who is steadfast under trial is also promised the crown of life (12). Steadfastness makes us whole / perfect / complete as we journey towards Christlikeness now. But steadfastness also holds a future reward for us – the crown of life. The crown of life refers to the joy and blessing of full and complete eternal life with God in the future kingdom. This the future reward that steadfastness brings.

SHow can we respond in the face of trials?

Ask For Wisdom

One of the things we can do is to ask for wisdom (5). Wisdom is the ability to understand God’s purpose, and respond accordingly. Thus when we see trials in our life, wisdom helps us to understand that God is working in us. Wisdom helps us respond in joy rather than despair. Wisdom helps us recognize that we must persevere.

James tells us that God gives wisdom “generously to all without reproach” (5). God gives us wisdom without hesitation. He is unreserved in his generosity towards us. He is very ready to bless us with wisdom

Whoever asks in faith will receive it from God (5-6). In times of trial, the faithful Christian asks God for wisdom, and he is able to persevere. He receives wisdom because he trusts God, and he perseveres also because he trusts God. And the wisdom received is to help him persevere! See how plainly and beautifully God works!

So we must have faith in God. This faith enables us to persevere through trial. We know that the trials will not destroy our faith but prove our faith.

Brothers and sisters, how are we responding to trials today?

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When trials come, no longer fear

For in the pain, our God draws near

To fire a faith worth more than gold

And there His faithfulness is told

And there His faithfulness is told

“When Trials Come”

(Keith and Kristyn Getty)

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Hearing Aid

"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."

James 1:22

BE QUICK TO LISTEN

Our old sinful nature always tells us that our opinions matter the most. It could be driven by the fear of becoming irrelevant to others, or by pride to gain the praise of men. Whatever the case, our sinful selves would always incline us towards insisting on our own ideas. We seek to be understood rather than to understand.

One of the 3 exhortations that James gives us is to be “quick to listen.” This phrase is describing the attitude of a person, that he would be rapidly pursuing the act of listening. The one who is quick to listen seeks to understand and give importance to thoughts that are not your own. And James applies this principle to how we listen to Scripture, the very Words from the God of Truth.

If we are to be honest with ourselves, there would have been moments where we read Scripture and immediately doubt the truth of the text. Sometimes we react in anger, other times we react by ignoring or imposing our own ideas on the text instead of accepting God’s word for what it is. Therefore James encourages us to have a heart that is “quick to listen” to Scripture

Let us always bear this command in mind this command as we go through some potentially difficult teachings in the rest of this letter. We should not think that we can pick and choose the words of scripture, submitting to text that we like or ignoring those we don’t, but we instead prepare our hearts with all humility to accept God’s teachings as what they are.

A WORD ABOUT LISTENING

As a church that stresses the importance of expository preaching and Biblical theology, we inadvertently do a lot of listening week in and week out. Scripture is read to us, the pastor expounds the word of truth in his sermons, we go through studies to build our theology, and we may even read the Bible in our own private moments with God.

James, being the leader of the church in Jerusalem, would have come across many Jewish Christians with extensive knowledge about Scripture. The whole community was required to memorize the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible) by the time they were 12 years of age, and this was the most basic form of Jewish religious education that the entire community would receive. The Jewish Christians with this upbringing would not just have been listening to Scripture, but would also have understood it.

So it would be a good time for the Jewish reader to pat himself on the back for already doing quite well in fulfilling James’ exhortation to be quick to listen… But James continues on

HAVING EARS THEY DO NOT HEAR

James describes these Christians, the very Christians who have been listening, and studying and taking effort to understand what Scripture says, as a man looking in the mirror. “Looking” (v.24) does not speak of a passing glance, but rather one who is intently staring and observing carefully. The one being described does not only listen to Scripture, but also takes time to study it, examining it meticulously and understanding what God’s word is teaching.

After looking into the mirror and seeing his ‘wake-up hairdo’, the fish bone stuck in his teeth, and the snot running down his nose, this man walks away, continuing about his daily business as though what he had seen did not matter to him. Needless to say that he does not care enough for him to do anything about it. The one who does not allow what he has learned in Scripture to drive him to obedience is self-deceived. He may think of himself as pious and in good standing, but in reality his “piety” is worthless (v.26).

PROMISES FOR THOSE WHO HAVE EARS

In contrast, the ones who act on the knowledge that they have received will be “blessed in his doing” (v.25). The ones whose devotion to God’s Word brings them to greater obedience, not only show the authenticity of their faith, but also would be blessed through the process of their obedience. They will be makarios (blessed), the joyful ones, whose inheritance is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3).

Dearest brothers and sisters, you may have at times been revelling in your new insights to Scripture, or proclaiming the wonders of God’s word among your friends, or experienced the euphoria from studying and to truly know God’s grace and His promises for you. These are good and right but must not remain as head knowledge. May we never allow the growing of the knowledge of Scripture to serve as a substitute for our actual obedience to God.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

The Sin of Favouritism

“So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgement is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgement.”

James 2:12-13

James ended off the previous chapter describing pure and undefiled religion in the eyes of God: To addressing the sin of partiality, or favouritism. The sin of partiality is the problem of paying attention to the rich, while neglecting the urgent needs of the poor.

The principle of impartiality in this passage comes from Leviticus 19:15, “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour.” The overarching context for this is found in Lev 19:18 - “...you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.” In order to understand the implications of partiality, we first need to understand what God means by loving our neighbour as ourselves.

WHO IS MY NEIGHBOUR?

Who better to teach us about this principle than the perfect interpreter of Scripture – Jesus Christ Himself. We can see this in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-39). In the parable, a Samaritan, the worst enemy of the Jews, was giving aid to a badly injured Jew along the road without reservation and even provided for the injured party beyond what was required. That was after two other Jewish religious leaders who left their fellow injured member for dead. To the Jewish listeners, it is as good as saying a terrorist came to rescue an abandoned injured opponent along the street in the middle of a war, and even brought him to a hospital with medical expenses all paid for.

Jesus then asked who was a neighbour to the injured man. The lawyer rightly answered: the one who showed mercy. Therefore Jesus demonstrated that our neighbour is anyone in need who crosses our path. We are to show mercy to these neighbours in need by meeting their needs, the same way we would love ourselves and meet our own needs. This is not just good advice, but when Jesus said “You go, and do likewise”, we are commanded to show care for the needy.

PARTIALITY VS NEIGHBOURLY LOVE

In James’ illustration, he mentions a “glimmering” rich man and a dirty poor man coming to a Christian gathering at the same time. The rich man was given high honour, while the poor man was dishonoured by being made to sit on the dirty floor. This would be a natural reaction by worldly standards, but James calls this sin! This is the exact opposite of God’s heart of neighbourly love!

Partiality in modern society may look like this: We curry favour for business networking while distancing ourselves from those who have a financial need. We admire those with high social standing but are suspicious of those who are on welfare hand-outs. We affirm that wealth is a sign of God’s favour but judge that the poor and afflicted are victims of their own sin.

Neighbourly love requires a correct understanding of one’s place before God. All men were dead in their sins, but through God’s mercy and Christ’s completed work, all who respond in faith in Jesus Christ are saved from the judgement of sin and made fellow heirs of the kingdom. This is the same for both the rich and the poor. By dishonouring the poor who love God, you dishonour the one who is chosen by God to be rich in faith and heir of His kingdom (v 5). By honouring the unscrupulous rich who oppress and persecute those poorer than them for personal gain, you honour and participate in the exploitation and persecution of the poor (v 6).

Throughout Scripture, the poor have often been described as victims of injustices committed against them by those who are wealthy and powerful. Nowhere in the Bible does God affirm such victimisation of the poor, in fact God condemns it! Exploitation and persecution of the helpless poor goes completely against the gospel of Jesus Christ, who has taught in accordance with Scripture to stand up for the poor and disadvantaged, and to show them mercy. James calls such rich professing Christians blasphemers of Jesus’ person and reputation (v 7) and we are not to honour such individuals!

God alone is the perfect judge (James 4:12) and sovereignly gives us everything that we are and have (1 Cor 4:7). God’s call to righteousness does not discriminate based on wealth (Luke 16:19-31) or merit (1 Cor 1:26-29). He cares for the poor and afflicted, calling us to do the same. Showing favouritism is wrong because we assume the role of being our own masters and we put ourselves as judge in place of Jesus. It prevents us from ministering to the poor and afflicted whom we are called to care for.

STOP, LOOK, LISTEN

Even in an affluent society like ours, needs are everywhere. We just need to broaden our understanding of the various needs in our community. We first stop being overly concerned with ourselves to pay attention to these needs around us. Let us stop, look and listen.

As humans, we have been created to find total sufficiency in God. But because of the fall of Adam, we find ourselves alienated from God and therefore having unfulfilled dependencies, or what we call “needs”. Therefore needs may not just be physical in nature. There are social needs, psychological needs, financial needs, and most importantly, a need for God.

As God’s people, we find our sufficiency in Christ (2 Cor 9:8) and have been given freedom to live under Christ. Just as God has shown us mercy through salvation in Christ, we are also the means through whom God shows mercy to those in need. “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.” (v 12). Caring for the poor (both spiritually and financially), is the responsibility of all of God’s people, as much as it is the natural progression of all who live as Christ followers (“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” – Matt 5:7).

So let us take the time to look around us and pay attention to the needs of others. Is there someone in the family, at church or in your community who has a need? Perhaps a relative, a next door neighbour or even your domestic helper? Showing mercy and meeting needs is usually a messy, inconvenient and tiring affair. Most times it is humanly impossible to even show mercy in such situations. Will you choose to stay in your safe comfort zone? Or will you choose to love your dirty, caustic, undesirable neighbour as yourself, according to Christ’s law and in the compassion God gives you through a transformed heart?

Saving Faith

"You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;"

James 2:22

James’ main point in this passage is this: True saving faith naturally produces actions of obedience. It is through their actions that believers prove their belief. By living out a transformed life according to their convictions and affections, they prove that their faith in God is genuine.

“Works” in this context is better translated as “actions” to avoid confusion with Paul’s teaching against legalism, which is the “works of the law”. These works that James refer to are works (actions) of love, such as caring for those in need (v.15-16) and not showing favoritism (v.2). In contrast to the legalistic works that the Pharisees engage in, James speaks of the actions that come with sanctification through conversion – a lifetime of growing obedience to God. As the early Christian theologian Augustine explains, Paul said that a man is justified through faith without works of the law, but not without the actions of obedience that James teaches!

James makes it clear that there is only one type of saving faith - genuine saving faith that produces good works in a life continually sanctified by the Holy Spirit, as opposed to dead “faith” that does not save.

GENUINE SAVING FAITH

Genuine saving faith means that the Holy Spirit enters a person’s life to begin the process of increasing conformity into the likeness of Christ. This transformation would be different for everyone – some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matthew 13:8). But the point is that Christians who have attained genuine saving faith will produce good fruit, big or small! Jesus teaches that you will recognize a true believer by their fruits, every good tree bears good fruit (Matthew 7:16-17)!

By their fruits you can tell! This means that our daily living and actions (especially those done without anyone noticing [Matthew 6:1-6]) reflect the regeneration of our souls. Without actions it is impossible to demonstrate the presence of a living faith! It is a changed life that glorifies God and seeks His heart for the world.

James uses Abraham (v.21) and Rahab (v.25) as examples to show that they were able to prove their faith as real because they were willing to act on it. They were shown to be righteous by their actions, giving proof of their spiritual state. What Abraham and Rahab did were acts of faith that outflows from the heart!

22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

What is the point if we have faith without expressing it through actions? Perhaps we can also think of it this way – Is there any way by which we can fully contain the outward expressions of our hearts when we are overflowing with the Spirit? Absolutely not! We would be dying to express it, unless the faith in our heart is nothing else but empty.

Piper explained “Delight is incomplete until it is expressed. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise! I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” What Piper is effectively saying is that the stirrings of our hearts must lead to actions for it to be complete!

Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son not only showed his faith to be real, but also through his obedience, his faith was made mature. As Hebrews 5:14 explains, “the mature are those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Such obedience as demonstrated by Abraham is the end result of justification which brings a person to complete and wholesome faith (Philippians 1:6).

DEAD “FAITH”

Dead “faith” on the other hand is one that is without the love of God. Anyone can claim to have faith, just as how they bless others in the name of the Lord yet effectively leaving them to die without providing necessities for their survival (v.16). These so-called Christians show no evidence of God’s love in them through their actions.

Dead “faith” is as good as a lifeless corpse (v.26). A body without a spirit is just a corpse. It is dead. Likewise, “faith” that does not reveal itself in actions is dead.

Dead “faith” is equated to the belief that demons have (v.19). Even the demons believe in God! And they do something about their belief – they tremble in fear instead of obeying the Alpha and Omega. Knowledge is insufficient for salvation! Demons have the correct understanding of God being the Almighty one so much so that they shudder! Such belief is necessary yet not enough for salvation. Genuine saving faith requires understanding which translates to actions as explained above.

LET US WORK TO MAKE OUR ELECTION SURE

More often than not, we struggle to obey Him. Nevertheless, Jesus said “Abide in me” (John 15:4). We cannot bear fruit unless we abide in the vine which is Jesus. Abiding in Jesus simply means keeping His commandments! Only then can our joy be full! This reinforces that faith without action is incomplete.

We know that we are of Christ when we deny ourselves. As Pastor Sherman teaches, the living proof of our faith and love for God is when we do everything we can to overcome obstacles that gets into our way of obeying Him. So let us do everything we can to obey Him!

And this is what it means to “be all the more diligent to make our calling and election sure by working out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12-13).

Let us give up our doubts and turn to the gospel. Jesus had already completed the work on the cross. He has taken our sins and empowers us to live for Him. The Holy Spirit is in us and we have the power to obey the Lord! All we need to do is simply trust and obey in God, again and again.

Therefore, let us all work brothers and sisters! Let our faith be proven to be genuine saving faith through a life of obedience and sanctification.

Controlling the Tongue

“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.”

James 3:2

James teaches that the key to self-control and spiritual maturity is to control the tongue, which means our speech. Speech does not only mean the words that come from our mouths, but it also includes what we write to communicate our ideas. This is especially relevant to our modern day context, with the advent of social media and other forms of digital communication.

So why is controlling the tongue the key to self-control and spiritual maturity? James explains the power and nature of the human tongue and how it relates to a person’s entire being.

THE DIRECTOR

Horses have bits, ships have rudders and cars have steering wheels. The tongue, like bits, rudders and steering wheels, has the ability to influence the direction that the body and mind takes in its thoughts and actions. James goes so far as to say that if the tongue were able to speak for itself, it can boast of its power to achieve great things, both good and evil (v 5).

Just like the horse rider, ship pilot and car driver are responsible for directing their respective vehicles in the right direction, we also have the responsibility of correctly directing our thoughts and actions by mastering the control of our tongue.

James compares our tongues to a small spark that has the power to burn down an entire forest (v 5). Here he implies that the tongue is naturally destructive. So the tongue not only influences ourselves personally, it also exerts a potentially destructive influence over others if left unchecked.

So what does a tongue left unchecked look like?

THE EVIL NATURE OF THE TONGUE

James reiterates that the tongue is a fire – destroying and consuming everything within its influence. A scholar described the tongue as “the point of entry for the world’s greatest evils. Its boasts inspire multitudes to evil, especially the words of false teachers. Thus, whether inside or outside the church, the wickedness of the world is an immense blaze set by the little fire of the tongue.” James describes the tongue as a “world of unrighteousness” (v 6). This means that an uncontrolled tongue is the representation of worldly evil by its very nature.

James goes on to describe the effects of an uncontrolled tongue and speech. Corrupt speech comes from a corrupt heart and has the ability to corrupt the whole person, from one’s actions all the way through to their personality (cf Mark 7:20-23). Consequently, the thorough corruption of the person sets one up for an entire lifetime of evil. The evil tongue is so sinful that James described it as being inspired by hell (v 6).

We can see this in cases of abuse. Most abuse start verbally, which stem from evil intentions within the abuser. Left uncontrolled, verbal abuse may escalate to physical abuse. Abusive behaviours become deeply ingrained in the abuser and it requires immense effort to undo those behaviours. There is hardly a case of abuse where corrupt speech is not involved.

Besides its tendency towards evil, there is something else about the tongue that makes it difficult to control.

THE HYPOCRITE

James explicitly says that humans have the power to bring all kinds of animals to submission, but no human can tame the tongue. Why is this so? Because the tongue is a “restless evil, full of deadly poison” (v 8). The Greek word for “restless” is the same word that is translated “double-minded” in 1:8. This means that the tongue has the natural tendency for unstable and “double-minded” speech.

On top of that, our tongue can be exceedingly deceptive. Such deception is described throughout Scripture as “deadly poison” (cf. Ps 140:3; Rom 3:13), and rightly so as parallels are drawn to the serpent’s deception in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1-5). The double-minded and deceptive nature of the tongue is what leads many to fall into evil.

This point is illustrated in verse 9, where we bless or speak in adoration of God, but within the blink of an eye we curse and dishonour those who are made in the image of this same God. Is this not blatant hypocrisy? And James calls it so, emphasizing strongly that this ought not to be a Christian’s way of life. God commands believers to live in purity and holiness, therefore even though we all stumble in life (v 2), we must not tolerate such hypocrisy as the pattern of our lives.

We see that speech has power over our thoughts and actions. We also see that the tongue, by its very nature, is corrupt and deceptive. Therefore it is exceedingly difficult for us to control. With all these working against us, what can we do to control our tongues?

THE RENEWAL OF THE HEART AND MIND

What we say comes from the dominant intentions of our hearts and minds (Matt 15:18). Therefore to control our speech, we must first have control over our hearts. However, because our hearts come with its sinful desires (Matt 15:19) and part of it is a stubbornness to go against God (Rom 1:18), we can never have control over our hearts in our own power.

We can only gain the ability to control our hearts through the regeneration and work of the Holy Spirit. When our hearts are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, we are promised the fruit of the Spirit, and one attribute of the fruit of the Spirit is self-control (Gal 5:22-23). And as we work out of the regenerated godly desires of our hearts, God promises to work on our wills and desires according to His good purposes (Phil 2:13).

As God works in us to grant us control over our hearts, we can then put aside our sinful desires and renew our thoughts according to God’s word (Eph 4:22-23). The result is the ability to control how we speak to others in a non-destructive and non-hypocritical way (Eph 4:25). When one comes to true faith, the outcome is a natural desire to speak truth without hypocrisy and self-deceit (James 3:11-12).

So my fellow brothers and sisters, it is time to examine yourselves. Have you dishonoured anyone in your speech lately, especially those who have authority over you (e.g. church leaders, bosses, parents)? Does gossip and slander come up in your conversations with friends and colleagues? Do you curse someone who offended you under your breath? Repent! Ask God to renew the desires of your heart! Renew your mind through the careful study and application of Scripture to your life!

As you fill your heart and mind with the things of God, you will find it more natural to control your speech. This is the key to godly self-control and spiritual maturity.

James 3:13-18

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.”

James 3:13

James continues to unpack the second major theme of his letter on wisdom and speech. He begins here by asking a question (v13a): “Who is wise and understanding among you?”

The word “wise” in Hebrew involves both intellectual understanding and practice. This means that a wise person possesses the right knowledge in theory, and lives according to that knowledge.

To help us be more discerning with regards to wisdom, James contrasts the characteristics of true and false wisdom.

TRUE WISDOM

True wisdom is described as being “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (v17). Wisdom that is pure is unmixed with the world or anything demonic, and remains singularly focused on God (Mt 5:8). Such wisdom is supernatural and can only come from God himself (1:5-8). Thus pure, unmixed goodness and devotion to God forms the basis for the other traits of true wisdom.

Besides being pure, true wisdom ought to be “peaceful” and “gentle”. This means that though one is wronged, he is willing to forego his right to retaliate. Jesus himself demonstrated what peaceful gentleness was -- when he was wronged, he did not retaliate, but instead fully entrusted himself to the fair judgement of God, the Just Judge (1 Peter 2:23).

To be “open to reason” shows a willingness to be corrected. Such a trait encourages a person to grow in meekness and humility. A person then develops a healthy understanding of his unworthiness before God and a corresponding lack of pride in his dealings with others. As such, true wisdom proves itself to be “full of mercy and good fruits”. True wisdom is also “impartial”, being without prejudice.

Finally, true wisdom shows itself to be “sincere”. This implies a firm commitment of mind and heart of the believer to live a life consistent with the virtues above. A believer who is characterised by these virtues is be able to impact the world for God’s kingdom, by a way of life whose goodness is plain for all to see.

FALSE WISDOM

True wisdom is contrasted with wisdom that is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic (v15). “Earthly” represents the rejection of God, as it is earthbound and restricted to this world. “Unspiritual” means that this wisdom is spiritually dead; it is not divine in nature but merely human. “Demonic” shows that such wisdom is actually demon-inspired. These are the marks of unholy and false wisdom.

The heart of false wisdom is self-centredness, which harbours bitter jealousy and selfish ambition, and leads to boasting and even being false to the truth (v14). For example, in a subtle yet dangerous way, we may deceive ourselves and others in claiming our own wisdom to be from God, when in fact it is informed by the sinfulness of our mind.

When jealousy and rivalry are allowed free rein, there is disorder and every other sort of wicked deed may follow (v16, Eph 4:31, Gal 5:19-21, 26). This goes against the very nature of true godly wisdom.

THE EFFECT OF TRUE WISDOM

In verse 18, James concludes that “the harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace”. The effect of true wisdom is both peace to the individual and peace to those around him. And true wisdom ultimately bears the fruit of righteousness, which is pleasing in the eyes of God.

But what does it mean to bring peace? The concept of making peace goes far beyond a shallow avoidance of problems and uncomfortable issues to “keep the peace”. True wisdom does not compromise with sin to maintain peace. But even when fighting against sin, true wisdom hungers for true peace, a yearning to heal and restore all divisions with lasting reconciliation with God and fellow-men as its goal.

The effect of true wisdom leads one to restoration, just as God leads us to the wholeness that He desires of and for us individually and as a church (Eph 4:2-3, 1 Thess 5:23, Gal 5:22-23). Jesus himself said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Mt 5:9), making “sowing peace” one of the marks of true Christian living.

Therefore, the application of true wisdom that is motivated by peace will result in lasting, reconciling peace among men and between man and God.

SEEK TRUE WISDOM

Everyone lives according to the two types of wisdom. The question is: which one do you live by? As you closely examine your own pattern of living, you will be able to determine the type of wisdom that dominates your life (Lk 6:43-45).

We need true wisdom from God to live a life that glorifies him. If we are left to ourselves and our own unaided human reason, we are hopeless (Rom 2:5). The psalmist makes it clear that the fool is the one who says in his heart that there is no god (Ps 14:1). Such a person is corrupt. A life without Christ-inspired wisdom is not true life at all! The good news is that Jesus commands all sinners to turn away from false earthly wisdom and turn towards His perfect wisdom instead (Rom 3:23, Mt 4:17, Lk 5:31-32). Because when Christ returns, every person will have to account for their lives before him, and we cannot stand before his judgement with our demon-inspired wisdom (Ecc 12:14, Rom 2:6-11, Rom 14:12).

Are you struggling against false wisdom? If you desire true wisdom to please God, pray for it and not doubt, and you will receive (Php 1:9, Rom 12:2, Col 1:10). However, it does not end as a form of passive idleness - you must actively put to death your sinful wisdom daily as you live, while waiting and trusting the Spirit to work within you. (Rom 6:12, 8:13, 2 Cor 7:1, 1 Jn 3:6)

Do you find yourself living according to true godly wisdom in certain areas of your life? Praise the Lord for His work in your life! Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (Php 2:12, Prov 9:10). Let us “sow peace” by holding others accountable for every thought and action that goes against God’s reconciliation and wisdom, both believers and unbelievers alike (2 Cor 10:5). May we also pray for one another to grow in true wisdom and understanding, to the glory of God.

How To Identify False Security

“Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this and that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil."

James 4:15-16

We have all probably experienced an unpleasant situation where we thought we knew something – only to find out that we were wrong. But before the news was broken to us, we felt sure of ourselves. We were confident about what we knew. Such confidence is false security, and it can be deadly. James speaks about false security that Christians experience, and he tells us how to remedy it.

Where does our false security come from?

False security comes from thinking that we are in control

James makes an example of some believers (13) who were in the trade industry. They had made plans to go somewhere to do business. Making trade and doing business is not in itself sinful. Their problem was that they thought that they were in control of their futures. They made plans thinking that it was certain. Although not apparent in the passage, their attitude was one of self-confidence.

To this, James responds by reminding them that they do not even know what tomorrow brings. The continuation of their life is not even certain. Death, disease or disaster can strike at any time. James goes so far as to say that we are a mist that appears for a while and then vanishes (14). Human life is fleeting and fragile; it is foolish to make plans and behave as if we were invincible.

This is the false security that their self-confidence brings – they make plans thinking that their life tomorrow is certain. This brings to mind the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) who said to himself, “Soul, eat drink and be merry” – only to have God say that his life would be demanded of him that very night.

Note that James is not rebuking these merchants for planning. He is rebuking them for their worldly self-confidence. We must be careful not to misunderstand James to say that we should not plan. Planning is good. Savings, investment and insurance are means of stewardship and can be used for God’s glory. On the contrary, a careless attitude with our belongings shows our contempt for God and what he has entrusted us with.

With this in mind, James rebuked them not because of their plans, but because they trusted in their own planning rather than God’s rule. They thought that they were in control, and it gave them a false sense of security.

We should take a moment to examine ourselves. Are we seeking false security? Do we find security in the things of this world? Do we go through our entire week without once considering, reflecting and marveling at the control our God has over the entire universe? Do we think of him as we go about our daily routines? Or is God just an afterthought? Is he just another of the many things we need to manage as a part of our busy schedules? May God give us honesty and also strength to deal with the true condition of our hearts.

However, James does not stop at false security. Certainly, we must renounce our self-confidence and repent of the false security that it brings. But it is not enough to admit that our life is transient and uncertain – such a statement is not even particularly religious. The solution to false security is not only to admit that we are transient and not in control. The solution to false security is to find true security.

Where can we find true security?

True security comes from knowing that God is in control

The key to true security comes from knowing the truth. It is to recognize who is in control of our lives. The truth is that we are not in control. God is in control. That also means that we do not know what tomorrow holds. Only God has that knowledge.

When we know that God is in control, not only will we make plans but we will also commit the plans to him, recognizing that he is the one who makes our plans succeed or fail. We will also take care to make sure that our plans are in accordance to his will, since we know that nothing happens outside his will, and we are going to fail if we set ourselves up against God’s will.

Is it enough merely to know that God is in control?

Doers and not just hearers

All knowledge affects our actions. If it does not change the way we do things, we obviously do not know it or do not believe it. If I think that there is a fire in the next room, I will get off my chair and get out of the house. If I think there is a crocodile in the river, I will stop swimming in it. Ignoring the danger does not make it disappear. Doing nothing about the danger shows that we either do not know or do not care. Similarly, whatever knowledge we have affects our living. Ignoring the facts will not make them any less true.

So how would knowing that God is in control change us?

Knowing that God is in control changes the way we think. Just like believing the room is on fire causes us to run away from the fire, believing that God is in control changes the way we plan and decide. We no longer plan as if we hold the key to our own success. Instead, we plan carefully, trusting the Lord for the outcome, and we do it with the aim to please God.

Furthermore, James says to be doers and not just hearers. Knowing the right thing to do but not acting on it would be sin. James says that whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin (4:17). This is known as a sin of omission – not doing what God wants us to do. In this case, God wants us to know that he controls all things, and to live according to that.

We need true wisdom from God to live a life that glorifies him. If we are left to ourselves and our own unaided human reason, we are hopeless (Rom 2:5). The psalmist makes it clear that the fool is the one who says in his heart that there is no god (Ps 14:1). Such a person is corrupt. A life without Christ-inspired wisdom is not true life at all! The good news is that Jesus commands all sinners to turn away from false earthly wisdom and turn towards His perfect wisdom instead (Rom 3:23, Mt 4:17, Lk 5:31-32). Because when Christ returns, every person will have to account for their lives before him, and we cannot stand before his judgement with our demon-inspired wisdom (Ecc 12:14, Rom 2:6-11, Rom 14:12).

This is what James means when he asks his readers to be doers of the word, and not hearers only (1:22). We must recognize that God is in control. And we must have an attitude of dependence on him.

What does an attitude of dependence look like?

If the Lord wills

James suggests that we ought to say, “if the Lord wills, we will do this and that”.

What does this phrase mean?

It is a remembrance that all things are subject to the will of the Lord. Even our lives, and what tomorrow holds, are things which only God knows. We cannot predict with certainty what will happen in the future. We do not even know for sure if our plans for later will happen. Saying “if the Lord wills” is meant to be a humble admission that God is Lord, and we are merely creatures. It is a cry of dependence on God. It recognizes that we cannot do anything unless God allows it.

It is certainly not a magic formula which we utter in order to bring all our plans to fruition. Much like “praise the Lord” and “in Jesus’s name”, the phrase “if the Lord wills” can potentially be misused. How can we avoid this?

Remember that God is more concerned with our hearts than our external behavior. Our external behavior is important, but it reflects what is in our heart. Changing the outside without changing the heart is pointless. We often say “as the Lord wills”, but in our hearts we only want our way. God is not concerned with the vocalization of the phrase, but that we live according to the principle.

When we inwardly depend on God and recognize that God brings all things to pass according to his will, then, we will say with true conviction, “if the Lord wills”.

Take a moment to consider what God is saying through this passage. Do we recognize the fact that nothing happens unless he allows it? Or have we been living as though we are the masters of our own lives? Does our life and decisions match what we say we believe about God? Or are we living a double life where our actions do not match what we say? May the Lord give us mercy and humility to repent and power to be transformed.

Prayers to Heal

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working"

James 5:7-20

These passages near the end of James reveal a little bit about what the first listeners to James’ letter were facing. Suffering physical external circumstances, and sickness, illness deriving from within the body, afflictions that were seen by the early believers as something they were unable to control.

Are illnesses caused by sin?

There are many places in Scripture where sin is viewed as the reason for certain sicknesses or afflictions that people are suffering. In 1 Corinthians 11:27-30, Paul, in speaking about those who partake of the Lord’s supper in an unworthy manner says “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” In John 9, Jesus’ disciples thought that that the man was born blind because of the sin of his family. Although Jesus also taught that this was not the case (John 9:1-3).

So how then are Christians to respond to these truths?

Sin may have had a role in bringing you illness, or it may not. Whether the particular affliction we are going through is a direct result of sin is not the question we should be asking. Our focus should instead be pointed to the presence of sin in our lives. The very real (and painful) presence of sickness in the body points to the equally real and damaging sickness of the soul.

The solution presented by James is to seek out a 2 pronged prayer for healing. A healing of not just the sickness of the body but the sickness of the soul.

A prayer to purge sin from our bodies

Mere knowledge and acknowledgement of our sins is not enough. Christians are called to live a life of repentance to live a life waging war against sin. Confession is one of the ways we have that helps us to do battle against sin.

What is confession?

Confession is not just a therapeutic re-telling of bad actions that one has done in order to ‘get it off your chest.’ It usually involves the spiritual leaders of the church, usually not just our closest friends, and is a much more public affair then most of us would be comfortable with. All in all, it gives the confessor no room to wiggle his way out of his sin. It is a commitment made while understanding that the only way forward is to do battle against it, having the entire community hold him accountable to it.

Something else for us to note, confession is not only ‘confessing’ our safe or acceptable sins, one that we think people look on and still think that we are not so bad after all.

Needless to say, it is hypocritical of us to think that confessing our ‘small sins’ that will make us look good in our churches, our community or even in the eyes of God, but think that we can get away with our other sins as well. Confession is thorough. It gets down to our thoughts, our feelings and what we do in private.

Christian, have you found it in yourself to confess your sins to one another? Do you see the problem of sin in your life to be so repulsive that you will do anything to be rid of it? Find a prayer buddy! Talk to your cell group leader! Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.

A prayer to purge sickness from our bodies

It is by God’s power which will heal the sickness from the body. James says for those who are sick to call the elders to pray for him. (v.14) This prayer is not a magical sentence, or a step by step guide to call on upon the healing power of God through the anointing of oil. This rather reflects the heart being orientated towards God, opening to the power of God for him to intervene in the situation of the suffering individual.

Times of weakness should lead Christians to increased dependency on God. If there comes a time of suffering, the one we are usually most concerned about is ourselves. We are always trying to make ourselves feel more comfortable. For more severe illnesses, we might even be fearing for our very survival.

James’ answer is for one to trust in the healing power of God. The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick and the Lord will raise him up (v.15). To believe in the power of God and God himself will grant actual physical healing of the body.

A lifetime of repentance and faith

Having trust in God and walking the life in battle against our sins are the ways of a Christian life. Our walk as believers in the Lord Jesus should not differ in times of health and in times of great illness. Is anyone among you suffering? Is anyone cheerful? Is anyone sick? The church is the bride to our Lord Jesus Christ. May we continue to live a life committed to repentance and faith in all of our lives; in good times and bad times, through poverty or riches, in sickness and in health, until death brings us to Him.