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Monday, July 15, 2024

Patience and Endurance | A Sermon from James 5:7-12

This 12th message in a sermon series on the Epistle of James is about patience and endurance.  I suspect we’ve all had to practice patience at some point in our lives.  And I’m sure we’ve all had to endure something.  (Some of you are probably thinking every Sunday you have to listen to one of my sermons is a act of patience and endurance.)

James shares his wisdom about patience and endurance by introducing two ideas—one very earthly and practical and the other heavenly and spiritual.  The heavenly/spiritual one is about Jesus second coming.  The earthly/practical one is an illustration of a farmer.  Listen to the Word of God in James.

James 5:7-8
Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near.

Jesus and the Farmer
One of the foundational teachings of the Christian Church is that Christ will return again.  The first time He came, Jesus was born in a manger as a helpless infant baby.  The second time He comes, He will come as a conquering King.  Here is one thing I can guarantee you:  Jesus will come back in your lifetime.  Does that seem too bold a claim?  Either Jesus will come back for us all, all at once or He will come for you individually when you draw your last breath.  Either way, you will see Him in your lifetime.

James reminds us.  And he says, be patient while you wait.  Farmers understand patience.  They see patience for what it really is.  Good farmers are not lazy.  They are some of the hardest workers you will ever find.  And yet, a good farmer realizes there are some things they can control and some things they absolutely cannot control.  A farmer decides what seeds to plant.  That’s within their control. 

They can control how they prepare the soil.  They can control the fertilizer they put down.  They decide how long to let the crop grow and how and when to harvest it.  But there are many things they cannot control.  A farmer cannot control the rain.  And as much as farming has become a science, there is still something very mysterious about it.  The farmer sees—perhaps more than anyone else—there is a Higher Power at work beyond themselves controlling how their fields grow.  And so a farmer learns to be patient.  They know when it is time to work, you work hard and you work smart.  And when it is time to wait, you are patient and you wait.  And waiting is not lazy, it often means preparing so you are ready to work when the harvest comes.

And a good farmer demonstrates great faith.  They trust that the harvest will come.  Otherwise, why would they bother with all the hard work of planting and tending their fields?

The Word of God says:  Jesus is coming.  You will see Him in your lifetime.  Either He will come for us all at once or He will come for you personally when you take your final breath.  James says, “Be patient.”  It doesn’t mean, “Be lazy.”  There are things we must do.  Like a famer tending his fields, you need to tend the business of your life.  But be wise.  Tend the things that matter—the things that lead to a fruitful harvest in your life.

And don’t be discouraged by the troubles you must endure.  Christ will come and He will make everything that is wrong right again.  On the final day, His Kingdom will come on earth and His will will be done here too.  Remember, James wrote these words to Christians who had be chased out of their homes, run out of town because they believed and proclaimed Jesus was the Lord and Messiah.
Some of them had lost everything—their homes, their jobs, their businesses.  Some had even lost loved one who had been jailed or murdered.  But the Word of God to them is the same as it is to us: Be patient. Trust the Lord.
Jesus is coming.

And James goes on to say:

James 5:9
Don’t grumble about each other, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. For look—the Judge is standing at the door!

In our patience, we remember, Jesus is watching.  So we don’t just grit and bear it.  No, we live with Joy.  In the midst of trials and suffering, we know that Jesus has already won!  We live lives of love and joy.  We can sing and celebrate!  We can be like the disciples who, one month after seeing their  Lord Jesus brutally executed and buried in a borrowed tomb, boldly preached His ressurection in the Temple courtyard, right in front of the ones who ordered Christ’s crucifixion.  And their joy and excitement was so authentic that hundreds and thousands believed their message.

Are you being joyful in your patient endurance?  I want you to hear me today (whatever you are facing):  God is doing something in your life.  Your waiting is not in vain.  The fact that you are waiting means God is doing something.  And if you are puzzled because your waiting makes no sense, then maybe it confirms even more the fact that your waiting will end with a tremendous, miraculous moving of God.  So don’t lose heart.  And don’t grumble.  Be patient.  Rest in the joy of the Lord.  Celebrate His goodness in anticipation of what He will reveal to you.

James 5:10-12
For examples of patience in suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.

Jeremiah Being Thrown Into a Well
James’ words here remind us that we are not alone when we must wait or suffer or endure.  For the prophets of the Bible who came before us also suffered.  They were righteous, faithful people.  But they were rejected by the world and suffered.
Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet.  For not only did his own people throw him into a well simply for saying the Truth God told him to speak, he also had to endure watching his own people conquered by the Babylonians and dragged away into exile.

So if you are suffering, don’t jump to the conclusion that God is angry at you.  If you are living the way God wants you to live, be encouraged.  Sometimes God’s people suffer.  But God will make it all right one day.  So trust in Him.  Trust.  In. Him.  And be patient.

James 5:12
12 But most of all, my brothers and sisters, never take an oath, by heaven or earth or anything else. Just say a simple yes or no, so that you will not sin and be condemned.

These words of James echo Jesus’ words
(and remember, Jesus was James’ brother who grew up in his same household).
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:34, 39), “
Do not make any vows!”  “Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one.

I could preach a whole sermon just on this.  But for today, let me just keep it simple so we can finish up.
The point is we need to live our lives with authenticity and integrity so our word is our bond.  What’s the point in saying things like:  “I swear to God” or “I swear on my mother’s grave.”  Why should we need these useless expressions to prove we’re speaking the truth?  If you live a life of integrity, people who know you they can trust you.  And they will see your life and they will trust your word.  So live with integrity and
let your yes be yes and your no be no. 

As we close, I want to invite you to reflect on God’s word to you today.  What has God said to you in this Scripture and this message?  Take a moment to consider how you can apply this teaching on patience and endurance in your own life.  Is there a situation where you need to trust God more, to wait patiently, or to act with faith like the farmer tending his fields?

Perhaps you feel called to let go of something you can't control, or to work diligently in the areas where you can make a difference.  Maybe you need to find joy in the waiting, trusting that God is at work even when you cannot see it.

As we bow our heads and pray, I encourage you to respond to what God has spoken to you today.  Whether it’s a renewed commitment to trust Him, an action step you need to take, or a prayer for strength in your current situation, lift it up to the Lord.

Serenity Prayer
God, grant us the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change,
the courage to change the things that we can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Monday, July 8, 2024

A Warning for the Rich | A Sermon from James 5:1-6

We are now in the last chapter of the Epistle of James.  Lord willing, we will spend 4 more weeks studying this letter that was written by Jesus’ half-brother.  The message today might make you feel uncomfortable.  I want you to know it makes me feel uncomfortable too.  Why?  Because James gives a stern warning to rich people.  And although I don’t consider myself a rich man, I do realize I live in one of the most prosperous nations on the planet. 

According to, the USA has the 7th highest avg annual income in the world - $70,930/year.  Now the average income of the whole world is $9,733/year.  The average annual income in Afghanistan is only $390/year.  So maybe that puts some things in perspective for us.  And God’s Word to us today in James is challenging.

James 5:1-6
1 Look here, you rich people: Weep and groan with anguish because of all the terrible troubles ahead of you. Your wealth is rotting away, and your fine clothes are moth-eaten rags. Your gold and silver are corroded. The very wealth you were counting on will eat away your flesh like fire. This corroded treasure you have hoarded will testify against you on the day of judgment. For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

You have spent your years on earth in luxury, satisfying your every desire. You have fattened yourselves for the day of slaughter. You have condemned and killed innocent people,[a] who do not resist you.

A Warning to the Rich
James speaks to his 1st century Jewish Christian readers to remind them not to become like the rich and powerful who persecuted them.  Many of his readers may have been wealthy.  Many of them had suffered and lost much wealth at the hands of non-Christians who persecuted them.  And as always, James is very blunt.  He warns the wicked rich using terribly vivid imagery of the troubles the wicked rich will endure.  Your wealth will rot away.  Your fine cloths will be moth eaten rags.
Your silver and gold will corrode.  The wealth you counted in will eat your flesh like fire.
And all your wealth will testify against you in court on Judgment Day.  That makes you squirm in your seat a little bit—if not for yourself, then for anyone who faces it.

Money IS NOT the Root of All Evil
It’s important for me to correct a often misunderstood statement in the Bible.
Contrary to popular belief.  The Bible never says money is the root of all evil.

The verse people misquote to proof-text this is 1 Timothy 6:10, which says, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  It is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil.  That’s an important distinction. 

If you know your Bible, you will realize there were many godly rich people who were part of God’s story.  Abraham is revered as a holy man by three world religions--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Yet Father Abraham was a wealthy nomad who had large flocks of livestock and a the large household of a wealthy man by the standards of his day.  One of Abraham's descendants, Joseph, was part of that wealthy household.  Joseph lost it all when he was sold into slavery by his treacherous brothers, but he eventually rose to power as second in command to Egypt's Pharaoh (who was arguably the wealthiest and most powerful man in the world at that time).  David started out as a lowly shepherd, but then became King of Israel and lived in a palace with the wealth and power of the nation at his disposal.  Then the Bible says David's son, Solomon, was the wealthiest person in the world.  There were also several wealthy people who supported Jesus’ ministry and the Christian church in the New testament – Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man who donated a tomb for Christ burial.

There is nothing wrong with having wealth.  It’s how you get your wealth and what you do with it and your attitude about it that matters most.  James warns the rich who got their wealth by unjust means.  Verse 4 says, “Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay.”  These were people who had little power.  The landowner could promise to pay them a certain wage, but if he decided to cheat them, what recourse did they have?  (There weren't even any labor unions back then.)  And these were also people who lived hand to mouth, so if the landowner didn't pay them on time, they would certainly go hungry.  James says when rich people act like this, God hear the complaints of the people they cheat and He see the rich people's wickedness and He will judge them.

As God’s people, we are to be holy as the Lord is Holy.  What does it mean to be Holy?  It means to be set apart, to be different from the sinful world.  It means to be like God.  

God is righteous.  He does not cheat and steal.  He does not mistreat and use people.  Therefore, we must not cheat, steal, and mistreat people either.  We must be kind and generous and gracious, just as God is kind and generous and gracious  We must be fair, just as God is fair.  

My daughter is a waitress.  She usually makes a decent wage, but a good portion of here income comes from tips.  When people don't tip the customary amount, she suffers.  And I know many people say they are god tippers if the wait staff  does a good job.  I understand your sentiment.  But what if God treated you the way you treat your waiter or waitress?  What if God was watching over you looking for any mistake you made as an excuse to withhold blessings from you.  We would all starve to death because we make many mistake.  But that's not how God is.  God is gracious with us and blesses us even when we fail.  We ought to be the same with people in our dealings.  We should seek to be holy as God is holy.

If you read about the heroes of the Bible, the holy ones who had great wealth, you will find that they kind and generous and fair.  They also did not put their trust in their wealth; they depended on the Lord.  King David, who was a powerful king who wrote so many of the Psalms, wrote in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
And Solomon, who the Bible says was the richest man who ever lived, wrote in Proverbs 11:28, “Trust in your money and down you go!  But the godly flourish like leaves in spring.”

David and Solomon were wealthy men, but they didn’t trust in the riches to keep them safe.  They knew the Lord was their strength and their shield.  As Americans who live in one of the most prosperous nation in the world, we also must hear and head James’ warning.  Don’t trust in your wealth to keep you safe.  Put your trust in God.  And be very careful not to cheat and steal to gain or increase your wealth.  Be honest.  Be fair.  Be gracious.  And don’t hoard your wealth.  Be generous.  Don’t waste your money in careless living, but also be careful that you aren’t stingy. 

Chick-fil-A vs. McDonald’s
Have you ever noticed the difference in quality between Chick-fil-A and McDonalds.  Chick-fil-A just seems to have better quality food and service.  Chick-fil-A is a company that operates on Christian values.  They make a bold statement about their Christian identity by closing on Sunday.  That means they potentially earn 1/7th less than McDonalds (who is open seven days a week).  But Chick-fil-A still manages to pay their employees an average of $0.50 more per hour than McDonalds.  Christian values lead Chick-fil-A to care more about their employees and treat them better.  

It’s not so much about our wealth, but our attitudes and values surrounding wealth.  As Christians, we must understand we are blessed so that we can be an blessing.  Our blessings are not just for our own selfish gratification.  Christians are blessed so we can be a blessing.

Hard Times
There is a saying going around that I think makes a lot of sense.  It says that hard times create strong people.  Strong people create good times.  Good times create weak people.   And weak people create hard times.  That seems to be true in my experience.  (And when I say strong or weak people, I’m not talking about physical strength; I’m referring to the strength of a person's character.)  When times are hard, people have to buckle down and live right and work hard to survive.  It builds strong character that improves society and leads to good times.  But when times are good and easy, people tend to get lazy.  And lazy people tend to develop weak character.  They live too high on the hog and their entitlement attitudes lead to hard times.  It’s a cycle I see play out in society and in families. 

Where is our nation in this cycle right now?  It would seem to me that we have been living through some very good times.  We are the 7th most prosperous nation in the world.  But we are also seeing increasing inflation and times are harder in the past couple years than they have been before.  Perhaps it is because we are getting lazy and are living too high on the hog.  It’s leading to hard times.  I certainly can see in my personal dealings with people in our town that we have too many weak characters who feel too entitled to blessings without having to work for them.  It does not bode well for our community or our nation.

But maybe there is hope!  As Christians we are called to be different, to be holy as God is holy.  We are to be the salt of the earth.  We are to be people of good, strong character and values.  Pray that you are being part of the solution and not living in ways that lead to hard times.  

Remember Jesus Christ, who is the King of kings and Lord of lords.
  If anyone was entitled to take it easy and live well, it was Jesus.  Yet Christ left the glory of heaven and humbled himself as a slave and even laid down His sacred life for us.  He came not to be served, but to serve.  And we who follow Him as Lord are called to do the same—to live selflessly, to give sacrificially, to be a gracious blessing to people (not because they deserve it, but simple out of an abundance of grace). 

Every time we celebrate Holy Communion, it is a reminder of how Christ laid down His life for us.  His sacrifice gives us life and strength.  Let’s remember to live for Him because He died for us.  It will make our lives and the lives of everyone around us better.

Monday, June 24, 2024

Life is a Mist | A Sermon on James 4:13-17

I woke up early this morning and decided to get on up and come to church and finish up my sermon on James 4:13-17.  As I drove in through the dark morning air around 5:30, there were a few fingers of thin fog crossing the road in the dips and depressions along the way.  It was pretty.  But it’s so dry, I knew the mist would evaporate before you got up to make your way here. 

But the mist brought to mind this morning’s passage from the Epistle of James for it says our lives are like a morning mist that is here for a short time and then vanishes.


James 4:13-17
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes.  All such boasting is evil.  17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.


Proverbs 16:9
It is said, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.  I believe that whole heartedly.  I’ve always been a planner.  It’s something my Mom instilled in me at a young age.  

When I was in the 3rd or 4th grade.  I was always pestering my mom to buy me those little toy airplanes with the windup propellers powered by a rubber band.  So she said, "I think you can build one of those yourself."  She started saving the Styrofoam trays that came in the meat packages from the grocery store.  She would wash them and then give them to me and I would build airplanes out of them.  I got creative and made all different designs.  It was a lot of fun.

My mom said, “You know, you like building those so much you might like to be an engineer who designs airplanes.”  And I thought she was probably right so I started planning how I could be an engineer one day.  And my mom in her wisdom said, "You know if you want to be an engineer, you'll need to make good grades in school so you can go to college."  And that encouraged me to do beter in school.  So from the time I was only 8 or 9 years old, I was already planning ahead for my future.  I planned to grow up and design airplanes for a living.


But God had other plans.  Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.”  When I graduated high school, I didn't have enough money to attend college to be an aerospace engineer.  But a college in Marietta offered a  full scholarship to be a textile engineer.  So, my plans changed.  And as I neared the end of my college degree, God changed my plans again.  I started to feel God calling me to be a pastor instead of an engineer.  Jesus told the fisherman Peter, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  To me, Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you an engineer of me, discipling them to grow closer to God."  So my plans changed again and I started pursuing a life of ministry as a Methodist pastor.

James says very bluntly, it is arrogant, sinful, and presumptuous to make plans without considering the Lord’s will.  More than that, if Jesus is truly our Lord (as Christians say He is), then we ought to be 100% sold out to Lord’s will (as opposed to our own).   So we ought to seek to do the Lord’s will and not just ask Him to bless our own plans. 

I’m still a planner, but I’ve learned some new principles about planning from Jesus over the last 30 years that I want to pass along:

Godly Planning

First – Acknowledge God's Sovereignty.

God is sovereign.  That means God is in control of everything and has the power and the right  to decide what happens.  James 4:15 says, "Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’"

When making plans, consistently acknowledge that God is in control and that His will should take precedence over your own.  Of course, this is an attitude and a state of mind, but it can help become our state of mind when we actually say things like "if it is the Lord’s will" and genuinely mean it.

Second – Seek God's Guidance Through Prayer.
Rather than coming up with your own plans and then asking God to bless them, start by seeking God will from the get-go.  Not only is it more efficient, it actually helps you grow closer to the Lord and practice being in-tune with His Holy Spirit. 

Proverbs 3:5-6 - "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight."

Prayer is essential to Christian living.  Regularly pray for wisdom and guidance when making plans.  Ask God to reveal His will for your life and to direct your steps.  And then follow Him in faith.

Third – Be Open to God’s Redirection.
Make your plans with great humility.  Don’t be so set on your plans that you cling to them if God wants to change them.  And God might change your plans for any number of reasons.  
Your plans might not be His plans.  Which plans do you really want to follow?
Your plans might only align partially with God’s plans.  For me, going to college was only partially God's plan.  I needed to go to college to fulfill my calling to be a Methodist minister (Methodist pastors must first get a bachelors degree and then go on to seminary for a masters degree).  Any bachelor's degree would do.  But God had to alter my initial educational plans and I had to be willing to obey and adapt.  

God may change His plans based on something you don’t know about.  He always knows better.  Do you remember what you were doing on the morning of March 12th, 2020?   I do.  It was a thursday morning and I was preparing to serve as a chaplain (spiritual director) on a Walk to Emmaus spiritual retreat.  We had all heard of COVID-19, but it wasn't something that was really effecting our lives much on Thursday morning, March 12th.  But by the evening that day, my retreat and the whole world was shut down.  Even church that coming Sunday, March 15, was canceled.  Not just my church, but almost every church in the country.  No one was supposed to gather in the sanctuary.  What were we going to do?  But God, in His wisdom, had helped us plan for it without our even knowing it.

Three years earlier (back in 2017), I had had a casual conversation with another pastor in another town who said they had started livestreaming their service on Facebook.  "Yeah, we iust have someone hold up their smart phone and lives stream it."  I though, "Hmmm...  We could do that." So we started doing it in our church.  I got a few volunteers and we had people stream very bad quality recordings of the service.  By January of 2020, we decided if we were going to keep live streaming, we really needed to up our game.  So we installed our first real camera in the church balcony for the purpose. We thought it would be easy--just add the camera, but it caused all kinds of technical problems.  And we experimented through January and February and by March we had all the bugs worked out.  So when March 15th rolled around and we couldn't have in-person church, God had already helped us get everything ready for a full livestream service without our even knowing what He was planning!  God is good!  He sees things you do not.  So stay in touch with His plans.

Proverbs 19:21 – "You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail. "  When it comes to planning, remain flexible and be open to changes in your plans, understanding that God may have different and better plans for you.  Be willing to adapt when circumstances change, trusting that God is guiding you.

Fourth, Involve Wise Counsel.  Proverbs 15:22 says, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed."  Christians live in community.  We don’t practice our faith alone.  I don’t care what anyone says, your faith in God is not a private matter.  It is not just something between you and God. Don’t believe that lie.  Faith in Jesus Christ has never been something that was a private thing.

Jesus called 12 disciples and they lived out their faith together.  Christianity in the New Testament was always an interaction between people living together.  Even before God created people or the world, He was not alone because God is a Trinity.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit live together in a perfectly harmonious relationship.  And we are made in God's image.  Therefore, we are to live in community.

So, when you make plans, you ought to seek the wise counsel of your brothers and sisters in Christ.
One of the biggest mistakes when I answered the call to ministry was trying to figure it out all on my own.  I didn't talk to anyone about it.  I didn't even talk to my wife.  How sad.  It caused unnecessary strife in our marriage and even delayed my calling by three years.  All I had to do was talk to her.  

Humility involves recognizing that you don't have all the answers.  When you plan, seek advice from trusted, godly friends, mentors, or leaders who can provide wisdom and perspective.


Life is a Mist
I hope you take to heart James’ sobering reminder that our lives are like a morning mist—brief and fleeting.  Just as the mist evaporates with the rising sun, our time on this earth is short and uncertain.

As I drove to church early this morning and noticed the drifting mist, I thought of the many people I have known—people my own age or even younger—who have already passed on.  I’ve been thinking about that lately.

My youngest daughter will be a senior in high school this coming school year.  Then, Kelly and I will enter a new stage of life.  I sometimes wonder what it will hold.  Will we continue to be happy and healthy?  Will there be a diagnosis of cancer or something worse?  I don’t know.  I hope for the best.  But I also know there are no guarantees.  Life is a mist.  We do not know what tomorrow holds, and we cannot control the future.  But we do know who holds the future, and that is God.

James urges us to live with humility, acknowledging God's sovereignty in all our plans.  We must recognize that while we can make plans, it is the Lord who directs our steps.  This means being open to His guidance and redirection, seeking His will through prayer, involving wise counsel, and being flexible enough to adapt when circumstances change.

Now, in light of the brevity of life, I want to challenge you to respond to this message today.  If you have not yet given your life to Jesus Christ, do not delay.  Accept Him as your Lord and Savior right now.  Don’t put off the most important decision of your life.

For those of you who are already Christians, consider if there is something God is calling you to do that you have been postponing.  Maybe it’s reconciling with a loved one, stepping into a new ministry, or making a significant life change.  Whatever it is, don’t wait.  Take action today.  Remember, James said “it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

Our lives are but a mist, and we must make the most of the time God has given us.  Let's choose to live each day with purpose, seeking God's will, and trusting in His perfect plan for our lives.

Closing Prayer
Sovereign God, we come with humble hearts, acknowledging Your rightful rule over our lives.  Help us to live with the awareness that our time here is short and to make the most of every moment by seeking Your will.  For those who need to make a decision today, give them the courage to act now.  For those who need to take a step of faith, provide them with Your guidance and strength.  Thank You for being our constant guide and support.  In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.


Monday, June 17, 2024

Warning! Do Not Judge! | A Sermon on James 4:11-12

Today, we continue our series on the book of James.  Last week, we learned about choosing God's way over our own selfish desires.  Today, we'll look at James 4:11-12 and talk about the power of our words.  James says a lot in this short passage about how we speak to and about others.  Let's see what we can learn. 

James 4:11-12
Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

Don’t Slander One Another (James 4:11)
James starts out by telling us not to slander one another.  Slander means speaking falsely or maliciously about someone, damaging their reputation.  When we talk badly about others, we hurt them and ourselves.  We are all part of God's family, and He calls us to love and support one another, not tear each other down.

Let me give you an illustration.  If you are on a baseball team, it's important for everyone on the team to support each other and work together to win.  But if someone is spreading rumors about their team mates, it creates division and distrust in the team and makes it much harder to work together and succeed.  Well, as Christians, who is on our team?  Everyone in our church is on our team.  We aren't competing against eachother, but against the powers of darkness among us.  So we should not slander and spread rumors because it creates distrust and makes it harder to work together and succeed in bringing God's Kingdom on earth.  

And if you think about it, there are other people on our team even outside our congregation.  Everyone in a Bible believing church is also trying to make disciples of Jesus and bring God's Kingdom on earth.  So, we are not competing against other churches in our community.  We all have the same goal.  If they succeed, we succeed.  If we succeed, they succeed.  So let us not bring division in God's universal church or spread rumors and slander.  Let us root for each other and pray for each other to all succeed.

And if we have a broader definition of success, we could include our whole community and our country as being on our team.  Don't we want our community and country to succeed?  Then let us not tear each other down, but build ach other up as much as it is in our power to do so.

What are some ways Christians may be guilty of slander?
Gossip – Sharing unverified or private information about someone else's personal life.  Talking behind their back about their mistakes or failures.

Spreading Rumors – Passing along information that may not be true or is exaggerated, which can harm someone's reputation.  Speculating about someone's actions or intentions without knowing the full story.

Criticizing Leadership – Speaking negatively about church leaders or decisions they make without understanding the full context or offering constructive feedback.  Undermining authority by questioning leaders' integrity or abilities.

Judging Appearances or Behavior – Making negative comments about someone's clothing, appearance, or lifestyle choices.  Criticizing how others raise their children, manage their finances, or conduct their marriages.

Undermining People’s Faith – Questioning the sincerity of someone's faith or relationship with God based on their actions or struggles.  Making disparaging remarks about someone's participation or lack thereof in church activities.

Complaining About Others – Expressing frustration about the behavior or habits of fellow church members in a way that is unkind or unfair.  Creating division by speaking negatively about different groups or cliques within the church.

James says, "Don't Slander!"

Judging Others (James 4:11-12)
James goes on to talk about judging others.  He says when we judge others, we put ourselves above God's law.  "The law" is the moral and ethical teachings given by God, particularly the command to love one another.  Remember, Jesus said the greatest commandment (law) is to love the Lord your God.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). 

 James 2:8 mentions this "royal law" found in Scripture: "Love your neighbor as yourself."  When we speak against or judge others, we are not acting in accordance with this law of love.  Rather, we act as though we are above than the law.  In essence, we are saying God's law of love does not apply to us, or that we know better than God.  We put ourselves in a position to judge the holy law of God itself, which is both presumptuous and wrong.

Judging vs. Discerning
Now, whenever I talk about not being judgmental, I need to remind us of the difference between judging and discerning (or between being judgmental and making good judgments). 

There’s a difference.  For example:  We are currently searching for a new children’s minister for our church.  We are taking applications and trying to choose the best candidate.  How can we hire the right person unless we interview and “judge” the candidates? 

The kind of judgment James speaks against is a condemning, self-righteous attitude that looks down on others and assumes a position of moral superiority.  This leads to thinking or speaking negatively about others, spreading rumors, and causes division.

This is not the same as discernment, which provides constructive guidance with love and humility.  When we interview people we exercise discernment and wisdom.  This includes evaluating a person's character, qualifications, and behavior.  But the goal is to find the right person for the job, not to tear anyone down.

But what is someone is not acting right?  What if their behavior is clearly wrong?  What then?

If we have someone in our church whose behavior is unacceptable, we go to them in love to hold them accountable to build them up and help them be more like Christ.  Jesus even gave instructions for addressing sin among believers in Matthew 18:15-7.  He taught us to:

  • Go to the person privately and gently and respectfully point out their fault.
  • If the person doesn't listen, take one or two others with you to help mediate and confirm the issue.
  • If the person still refuses to listen, bring the matter before the church. The goal is always restoration and reconciliation (not proving you are right by tearing someone else down).
So there is a clear difference between being judgmental and making good judgments.

Humility is Key (James 4:12)
Remember, there is only one true Judge.  Our role is to love and serve one another with humility.  Humility is the key.  It reminds us we have our own faults and need God's grace too.  When we speak with humility, we build others up instead of tearing them down. 

How we speak to and about one another is important.  We are called not to slander or judge,
but to speak with love and humility. By doing this, we honor God and build a stronger, more united community.

It’s Our Job to Build a Better Future
It breaks my heart to see so much division and slander being thrown around in society.  The ignorance, disrespect, and vitriol that characterizes our public discourse is troubling.  It is ungodly, unholy, and unhealthy.  What kind of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren?

If it concerns you too, then I invite you to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.  Christians are called to be different than the world.  We are called to be salt and light—to be a positive influence on our broken world.  And we can, because we have the power of God’s Holy Spirit living inside us.

The way we make a difference is to live differently, to speak differently.  We are called to be holy as God is holy, to love as God loves, to act with humility and to treat people with dignity and respect.  The way to change the world is not to gripe about it, but to be the change we want to see.

Baptism of Joshua Kirk Ikerd
In just a moment, we are going to baptize baby Joshua, the son of Kelsey and Chad Ikerd.  Whenever we baptize our children, we promise to do all in our power to support their life of faith.  It occurs to me today this includes doing all we can to make the world they inherit a better one.  One of the chief ways we can do that right now is to act with humility and to treat people with dignity so the world becomes a more positive and loving place to live.  Will you do that?