James – Wisdom
Good Morning, Saints! Good Morning, Sinners!
Randy and I went to a pastor’s convention of sorts to learn from great leaders of the faith, those who had served with wisdom, those who “knew the ropes” of ministry. One particular day, we clamored to get into a packed room where one of the famous ministers would be speaking.
Max Lucado quickly walked into the room with a hearty, “Good morning, saints!” We all gave an equal greeting back, “Good Morning, Max!” Without a pause, Max then said, “Good Morning, Sinners!” You should have heard the mumbled, softer greeting of “Good Morning.” We knew we are sinners saved only by grace. That was the point of the speaker’s intention. He could have stopped right there for we were taught a great lesson. We are made holy by Jesus’ blood, not of our own. We were humbled. Hold that thought.
When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does. Outsiders, on observing this, conclude that there is nothing to the religion business except, perhaps, business–and dishonest business at that. Insiders see it differently. Just as a hospital collects the sick under one roof and labels them as such, the church collects sinners.
Many of the people outside the hospital are every bit as sick as the ones inside, but their illnesses are either undiagnosed or disguised. It’s similar with sinners outside the church.
So Christian churches are not, as a rule, model communities of good behavior. They are, rather, places where human misbehavior is brought out in the open faced, and dealt with.
The letter of James shows one of the church’s early pastors skillfully going about his work of confronting, diagnosing, and dealing with areas of misbelief and misbehavior that had turned up in congregations committed to his care. Deep and living wisdom is on display here, wisdom both rare and essential.
Wisdom is not primarily knowing the truth, although it certainly includes that; it is SKILL in living. For, what good is a truth if we don’t know how to live it? What good is an intention if we can’t sustain it?
According to church traditions, James carried the nickname, “Old Camel Knees” because of thick calluses built up on his knees from many years of determined prayer. The prayer is foundational to the wisdom. Prayer is always foundational to wisdom.
There is so much wisdom contained in this short letter of James but as before we will only capture the highlights of how to live skillfully.
James – Wisdom for Living In Jesus Name
James 1 Faith Building
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
Joy?, we ask. Joy comes “in the morning”, during or after the challenge when we ask, God what are you teaching me in the trial or circumstance? Joy (and relief with peace) comes in realizing God was/is in control of the situation through it all. Eternal, inner joy settles in us when we realize the wisdom (skill) we honed in the process for the next challenge in life.
“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
We are “blessed” by maturing in the character traits of Jesus who persevered under extreme criticism, slander, mocking ridicule, beatings, followed by laying down his life for ours, being nailed to a cross.
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
James 2 – No Favorites!
“My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.”
“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.”
BELIEF AND BEHAVIOR
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?”
“Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”
Sometimes our actions, driven by our faith, speak volumes!
“As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
James 3 – The Tongue
“Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.”
We are not perfect. We are perfectly forgiven, and continually being perfected, being made perfect and holy only by the love, grace and mercy of God through Jesus, His Son.
“…the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”
“…no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.”
Good Morning, Saints!…Good Morning, Sinners!
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
“…if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”
James 4 – Ask What God Wants
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?”
“You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.”
“You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
“Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”
“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Promise of God’s Help!)
WASH YOUR HANDS! (Smiling, because of our current situation, but it fits, does it not?)
“Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
James 5 Hoarding Wealth
“You have hoarded wealth in the last days.” (This includes toilet paper, just saying.)
“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming.”
“Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!”
“As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered.”
“The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” (He will help us!)
“Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.”
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.”
“And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
The assumption is that people sin against each other, not just against God, and at work that is certainly the case. We face daily pressure to produce and perform, and we have limited time to act, so we often act without listening, marginalize those who disagree, compete unfairly, hog resources, leave a mess for the next person to clean up, and take out our frustrations on co-workers. We wound and get wounded.
The only way to be healed is to confess our sins to one another. If someone just shot down a co-worker’s promotion by inaccurately criticizing that person’s performance, the wrongdoer needs to confess it to the one wronged at work, not just to God in private prayer time. The wrongdoer may have to confess it to the rest of the department too, if he or she is really going to heal the damage.
Evaluate. Do you feel like a saint or a sinner today? Talk to God about it. He already knows and knows you. He is the best one to ask.
Need wisdom, skills for living well? Ask God. He stands ready to pour out His wisdom, insight and understanding, helping us to see from His higher perspective.
What is our motivation for confession and healing? So that we may serve the needs of others. “Whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death”. Saving someone from death is serving a very deep need! And perhaps— since we are all sinners—someone else will save us from death by turning us from the error of our ways.
We need each other. We need God. Every hour of every day.
Thank you for these words of wisdom, the immediate, applicable skills for living in ways that please you. Thank for Truth. Help us with more of You in us. Give us large doses of your wisdom today. Then help us to live it.
In Jesus Name, Amen